Monday, August 31, 2009

Bill Russell: Three Stories

Bill Russell is now in his early seventies. One of his claims to fame is that during his basketball career, his teams won two NCAA championships, a gold medal in Melbourne, and in his long career with the Boston Celtics, his teams won 11 championships. He was a superlative athlete. If you take the time to read his books, you’ll find that he is a great storyteller.

In the early part of his career, America, south of the Mason-Dixon line was almost entirely Jim Crow. He once drove his family from Boston to Monroe, Louisiana to visit his grandfather. Once they got south of Washington D.C., he and his children had to sleep in the car. On one occasion, a hotel worker informed Russell that he could stay in the hotel with his teammates, but he wanted one favor. When Russell asked what that was, the worker told the 6’10” black man, “Try to be inconspicuous.”

In 1966, Bill Russell because the first black head coach in the NBA and the Celtics played in an exhibition game close to his hometown. Russell’s grandfather Charlie Russell (Mr. Charlie) attended the game with Bill’s father. Mr. Charlie Russell’s parents had been slaves. Before the game, Bill Russell’s father tried at some length to Mr. Charlie how the game worked and asked if he had any questions. Mr. Charlie was silent for a moment, then asked, “Do them white boys really have to do what William tells them?” Later that evening, Russell’s father and grandfather visited the Celtic locker room. Suddenly, Mr. Charlie started to cry. He’d been standing by the shower and noticed that two of ill’s teammates, Sam Jones (a black man) and John Havlicek (a white man) had been showering together like it was nothing. Mr. Charlie said, “I never thought I’d see the day when water would flow off a black man onto a white man and off a white man onto a black man.”

At the end of his career, Russell decided he wanted to open a restaurant in Boston. The first problem he encountered was that the Boston police let it be known that they expected free meals in return for not ticketing his patrons’ cars. This proposition offended Russell’s sense of integrity and he refused. His patrons received lots of tickets, but he stayed in business. Shortly thereafter, Russell discovered that, although he had plenty of patrons, he was not making any money because his employees were robbing him blind. One day, one of Boston’s wise guys (WG) approached him with a proposal to solve his employee theft problem. The secret was to wait until they caught an employee in flagrante delicto, grab the culprit, take him for a ride and beat him close to death. The proper technique was not just to break the thieves’ legs and arms, but to beat him so severely that he would have a number of months in the hospital to worry about whether he’d ever be able to work again. At that point, the wise guy explained, the secret was to approach the severely injured malfeaser and explain that his luck had changed. He would now have a job for the rest of his life explaining to new employees the consequences of stealing from the restaurant. Disgusted, Russell refused the offer and regretfully, shut down his restaurant.

One of my favorite Bill Russell stories is addressed especially to non-Americans who think they know everything about racial conditions in the United States. In 1965, a team of collegiate basketball players took a tour behind the Iron Curtain and did so poorly that Radio Moscow crowed that this was one more indication of America’s decadence. Someone in the State Department who had President Johnson’s ear decided that we should teach those Russkies a lesson. The NBA put together a team of the league’s finest players (including Russell, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robinson, Jerry West and several other notables) and sent them on a tour that was not so much for goodwill, but the basketball equivalent of an all-out nuclear strike.

While strolling through downtown Warsaw, Bill Russell was a conspicuous sight. He was approached by a group of Bulgarian students who asked if he was American. They quizzed him on racial conditions in the United States. Bill Russell spent about half an hour giving them very straightforward answers, as is his nature. He had a hard time keeping from chuckling, however, as those enlightened Bulgarians reassured him that he would not received that kind of treatment in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. Finally, their professor told him, “That was very interesting Mr. Russell. Now, would you please sing a song or do a dance for us? How about “Go Down, Moses?”” I’m happy to say that Bill Russell has an excellent sense of humor.

Military Mathematics

During World War II, the population of the United States was around 150 million and 13.5 Americans served in the military: one out of every eleven Americans. Today, we have 300 million people, and the total military establishment comes to a bit less than 1.5 million: one out of every 200 Americans are serving. Anyone who argues we have a military-industrial complex should keep those figures in perspective.

At the Palace of Friendship

When I visited Moscow in the Spring of 1986, with a group of American law students, we retreated to an evening at “The Palace of Friendship,” a place for foreign visitors to mingle with Russian students who get the benefit of sharpening their language skills. They also promulgate the official party line, of course.

A couple of things are vivid in my memory, over twenty years later. First, it was *abundantly* clear to me that Russian students have *dramatically* different standards for personal hygiene than do Westerners. If I ever go back, I will carry a suitcase full of soap and bubble batgh. The other thing I’ll never forget is listening to a young Russian lad inform me that, in America, we have a military-industrial complex. I politely managed to not laugh out loud. I did, however, point out to him that, since January of 1973, every member of the United States Armed Forces is a volunteer. We haven’t had a draft in America since 1971. In Russia, on the other hand, any eighteen-year-old boy who doesn’t have serious Communist Party connections can count on spending two years in Siberia in the Soviet Army.

There was *dead* *silence* for a moment. Then the young fellow managed to say, “We have different institutions in different countries.” Freaking-A skippy!

Two Observations from Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain lived into his sixties and saw a great many changes in his life. One of them was certainly the changing role of black people in America. He once pointed out that, as a youngster, he was referred to as a “colored boy.” Then the term “Negro” became fashionable. Then “black.” Then “Afro-American” or “African-American.” Or, sometimes, “a man of color.” Said Wilt:”I started out as a colored man, and ended up a man of color.”

For non-sports fans, Wilt Chamberlain was a gigantic man, seven-foot-one, who was 280 pounds of muscle. He was possessed of athletic ability that, at times, seemed to be not of this earth. He averaged over fifty points in a season and scored over 100 points in a single game, and these record have not even been approached.

In the recent remake of the film Bedazzled, Brendan Fraser appears in a variation on the Faust legend. He sells his soul to (The Devil) Elizabeth Hurley in exchange for seven wishes. In one of these scenarios, he plays an invincible athlete who, as the announcer describes, topped the single-game scoring record set in Hershey, Pennsylvania. As a true sports aficionado, that seemed appropriate. If anyone in the NBA ever exceeds that record, I would think that the only possible explanation would be that the guy who did it must have had a pact with Satan.

Once when a sportswriter commiserated with Chamberlain, it emerged that, though the man had accomplished amazing athletic feats, he was not popular save for in his hometown. Said Chamberlain with a shrug, “No one roots for Goliath.”

When Americans lament that their country is unpopular in the rest of the world, perhaps they should remember this as a partial reason why.

Thoughts on Humor

Two things are funny: exaggeration and reversal.

For instance, if I ask you for $1.25, is that funny? No. One time, Mark Twain wrote a letter to Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the world at that time. The letter said, “Dear Mr. Carnegie, You seem to have achieved prosperity. Could you please send me $1.25 to buy a prayer book. God will bless you. I feel it. I know it. So will I. P.S. Don’t send the prayer book, send the $1.25; I want to make the selection myself.” (If I should ever happen to meet the employee in charge of handling Bill Gates’s correspondence, I would like to ask him how many requests they’ve received for prayer book funding.)

Have you ever purchased some merchandise, found it unsatisfactory and tried to return it? That’s not funny. However, if a man walks into a pet store and tries to return the parrot he bought an hour earlier because the aforementioned parrot is dead, and the clerk tries to persuade him that the Norwegian parrot is merely asleep, pining for the fjords, you have the makings of a comic masterpiece. Further, the parrot is not merely dead, it is deceased. It is no more. It has joined the choir invisible. If you hadn’t nailed it to that perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. That is an ex-parrot.”

They make jokes about Pam Anderson. A generation ago, about Raquel Welch. A generation before that, Mae West. I once told a female friend that, while I thought her breasts were excellent, they weren’t very funny. Fortunately, she did get the joke.

I’m friends with a fellow who is quite large, someone would say Brobdinagian. A few years ago, when he was laid up with knee surgery, I was tempted to inquire if he had suffered an injury as a result of falling off of a beanstalk.

Some humor combines both exaggeration and reversal. Several years ago, Leona Helmsley went to jail for income tax evasion. She will always be remembered for her comment, “Only little people pay taxes.” If the writers at Saturday Night Live, they would have arranged for an outraged editorial reply from Shaquille O’Neal and he pays millions of dollars in taxes.

In Back to School, Rodney Dangerfield portrayed the owner of a chain of big and tall stores. In a commercial he asked, “Are you big? Are you tall? When you jog, do you leave potholes? When you make love, do you need directions? (And my personal favorite) When you go to the zoo, do the elephants throw you peanuts?”

I’m not particularly fond of Joan Rivers’s brand of comedy, as she often comes across as mean-spirited. In real life, however, she had an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. As a teenager, she was fixed up on a blind date. When the gentleman arrived, he took one look and bolted. Many years later, she saw the man, who had no memory of the incident. He was quite taken with her. After all, she was now the famous Joan Rivera. He had no idea that she was contemplating harming him in serious ways. Ironically, Laugh-In did a sketch about a similar situation that turned out to be quite hilarious. (Yes, I remember this bit forty years later.) The setting for the sketch was that in a parallel universe, everyone wears glasses, has freckles and bizarrely askew hair. Dick Martin plays an obnoxious young man who, upon arriving to meet his blind date, announces that he is not going to go out with, “a dog.”

Ordinarily, that would be a horribly cruel thing to say. However, in the sketch, the woman being so cruelly insulted is Raquel Welch, the audience was howling. They even managed to come up with an excellent ending for that sketch. Raquel pretends to fight back tears and finally says, “Don’t you think I wish I could be beautiful?” She frizzes her hair, crosses her eyes and blows a raspberry. At which point, Dick Martin falls head over heels for her. Moral of the story, if you’re Raquel Welch, you always come out on top.

Elle McPherson's Primary Occupation

Is there anything funnier than a story that you think is going to be raunchy, but turns out clean? Here’s one I heard from my dear old mom while I was still in middle school. The story goes that a businessman took a trip to New York City and took along his middle school-aged daughter. He took her to dinner at a nightclub where he discovered, to his enormous chagrin, that one of the featured acts was a stripper. The story goes that when the featured entertainer had gotten down to three strategically placed, multicolored ribbons, the businessman’s daughter nudged him and said, “Hey, Dad. Look! Our school colors!”

I was reminded of Mom’s story recently while watching a commercial that featured a father trying to placate a crying baby boy. Dad gets on the Internet and brings up a photo of Elle McPherson modeling swimwear, as is her specialty. As I watched, I could well imagine howls of outrage from feminists appalled at the idea of exposing a very young boy to such a sight.

The commercial’s plot twist came at the end when Elle McPherson appears, picks the kidster up, smooches him and announces that he’s such a good boy.

To everyone else, Elle McPherson might be a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue superstar, but to that kid, he was Mom.

A Clean Polish Joke

I attended law school at Notre Dame Law School, located in an area with an overwhelming Polish population. The story goes that a fellow in South Bend, Indiana went to see an optometrist who asked him to read the bottom line on an eye chart. “Shoot,” the man said. “Those are my two next-door neighbors!”

A Polish Polish Joke

When I was a kid, most of the Polish jokes I heard were just plain nasty. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that the Poles have a wonderful tradition of comedy, usually directed at Germans, Russians and members of the Polish Communist Party. As anyone familiar with the Polish Solidarity movement is aware, no group of is more virulently anti-communist than Polish Workers.

Shortly after the takeover, Party members sought to instruct workers with communist doctrine, with extremely poor results. The story goes that a Party representative addresses a gathering of disaffected Polish factory worker, the representative askes, “We begin at the beginning! Who is Marx?”

One in the audience shouts, “Groucho, Harpo and Zeppo!”

“No, no!” Says the representative. “Marx was the father of modern communism.”

A few in the crowd say, “Can we go home yet?”

“No! Who was Lenin?”

A voice in the crowd: “We don’t know. We don’t care!”

“Well, comrades, if you came to meetings, you would know that he was the father of the Russian Revolution.”

Someone in the back shouts, “A question for you, Party representative: who is Novak?”

Flustered, the comrade Party representative said, “No, who is Novak?”

“Well, comrade,” said the man in back. “If you spent more time at home instead of coming to these stupid meetings, you would know he’s the man who’s making love to your wife!”

Bill Cosby Was Right

A while back, Bill Cosby received a lot of criticism for a speech he gave in which he said that parents would be well-advised to carefully consider how they name their children. As an attorney who spends a great deal of time doing criminal defense and getting civil protection orders, and who has had occasion to meet Daylesha, Tareka, Taquonia, Delniqua, Lakeon, Jamilla and Synaisha. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Cosby.

Cultural relativism be damned, political correctness be damned.

Osceola, Arkansas

My father was born in Osceola, Arkansas on December 28, 1919. For anyone who saw the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, Osceola is a county seat town in the north of Arkansas, about fifteen miles from Dyess, Arkansas, where Johnny Cash grew up. In the film, there is a scene where the entire Cash family is picking cotton and someone says it will be one hundred and two degrees by noon. Speaking as someone who made a dozen week-long visits to visit my paternal grandmother in Osceola, always in the summertime, my reaction was, “Goodness, they’re having a cold spell.”

Admiral Halsey - Much More Than a Song From a Former Beatle

Last week, while meeting with my collaborator, I mentioned Admiral Halsey. To which my young friend inquired, “Wasn’t he a British admiral?” I almost choked on my latte. When I informed him that Admiral Halsey was a great American admiral, he asked, “If he wasn’t British, why did Paul McCartney mention him in the song ‘Hands Across the Water?’”

Oh, Jesus Christ and General Jackson. Pardon me for using Admiral Halsey’s favorite expression.

William Halsey graduated from Annapolis in 1904 and spent more than three and a half decades to fight what turned out to be a war with Japan. In some respects, his record was similar to Churchill’s. He made some operational errors, but as an inspirational leader, he had no equal. On the evening of December seventh, 1941, he was on board the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise as it entered Pearl Harbor, just hours after the devastating Japanese surprise attack. Everywhere, Americans were shocked that we’d lost 2,000 men and so many ships had been severely damaged. Halsey looked at the burning wreckage and said, “When we get done out here, Japanese will be spoken only in Hell.”

From that day forward, Halsey was eager to take the fight to the enemy, even with the skimpiest of resources. He was the commander of the Naval task force that launched the Doolittle raid against Tokyo in April, 1942. A few months later, he had the bad fortune to be seriously ill with dermatitis. It was so severe that he had a lengthy stint in the hospital, causing him to miss the Battle of Midway: a lifelong regret.

When Halsey finally left the hospital, Admiral Nimitz, commander of the Pacific fleet, invited him to a game of horseshoes. It was not merely a social call. Nimitz watched carefully to see if Halsey’s hands were steady. Apparently, they were. In October of 1944, Nimitz sent Halsey to command the Allied forces defending Guadalcanal. That proved to be an inspired choice.

I’ve read memoirs of men who served on Guadalcanal who relate that when the news arrived that Halsey was running the show, soldiers, sailors and Seabees alike were cheering and jumping for joy. In one carrier battle, Halsey’s flagship took a near-miss that literally knocked Halsey off his feet. When he struggled to regain his footing, Halsey was a bit unsteady because of his shaking legs. A young seaman a few feet away was trying to keep from snickering. Halsey demanded to know what the sailor’s rating was. Upon learning that he was a yeoman second class, Halsey replied, “Not anymore. Any man brave enough to be laughing at me when I’m a little shaky deserves a promotion. You’re yeoman first class.”

Critics can point out the errors Halsey made, especially at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was found responsible on two occasions when the Third Fleet was unable to avoid a monsoon. The most important thing about Halsey’s leadership is that he was completely confident of success and he imbued the whole Pacific Fleet with that confidence.

One apocryphal story has it that when his intelligence officer informed him that they’d intercepted a Japanese radio transmission from headquarters to a reconnaissance unit inquiring about the location of the American fleet, Halsey was held to have said, “Send them our location.”

Perhaps Halsey’s most inspired bit of psychological warfare took place when a newspaper reporter asked him if his aircraft were going to bomb the Imperial Palace. Halsey knew perfectly well that it was American policy not to target the Imperial Palace. However, he did manage to say something calculated to completely enrage every Japanese Army and Navy officer throughout the rapidly shrinking Japanese Empire.

This brought many laughs from the assembled reporters and, no doubt, howls of outrage from the Japanese. Furthermore, it later caused dismay for the mail clerks on Halsey’s ship. A few weeks after Halsey’s declaration, the mail clerks were dumbfounded when Halsey began receiving large numbers of bulky packages. Upon opening them, Halsey’s staff was flabbergasted to discover that their boss now had a collection of saddles, bridles, riding crops and spurs big enough to outfit a whole league of polo players.

In the immediate aftermath of V-J Day, Admiral Nimitz sent Halsey a message to pipe down on the insulting remarks. While they may have been useful in wartime, they were counterproductive in a time of peace.

Somewhat to Halsey’s chagrin, the pool of reporters did insist on photographic him riding a white horse. (Alas, not Hirohito’s mount.) Since Halsey was past sixty at the time, he was not going to enter any steeplechase events.

My favorite Halsey story is perhaps apocryphal. The story goes that, immediately after receiving word of the Japanese surrender, one of his staff officers saw Halsey sitting in the Officer’s chair of his flagship, the USS New Jersey with tears running down his cheeks. Halsey commented softly, “Thank God I am never going to have to send another young man to his death.”

Visiting Woody’s Grave

On occasion, I pass Riverside Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. Last week, I dropped by Section 12 to pay my respects to my old friend Woody Hayes and his wife Ann. That experience brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. It has been over thirty years since Woody coached his last game for Ohio State, and over twenty-two since he died. He still has a whole lot of friends in Columbus. Woody and Ann’s grave site invariably looks like an Ohio State gift shop. This week, I counted an American flag, a small Ohio State banner, a tiny scarlet and gray teddy bear and a couple of buckeyes were placed atop his tombstone. On this day, someone had spelled out O-H-I-O in pennies on the tombstone.

I remember the last time I ever saw Woody, and in part of my mind, I felt Woody was immortal. My realistic side told me he was a frail, 73-year-old man who was clearly not long for this world. Before I left, I managed to say, “Coach, I’ve always loved you like a favorite uncle.”

I still remember how Woody smiled that day and I’ve always been glad I managed to say that too him before it was too late.

Rest in peace, Woody.

Monday, August 24, 2009

James French's Famous Last Words

James D. French was an Oklahoma prison inmate serving a life sentence, when he killed his cellmate. The state of Oklahoma heartily disapproved of that sort of behavior, so, in August, 1966, Mr. French as strapped in for a ride on "Old Sparky", Oklahoma's electric chair. When asked if he had any last words, he replied,
"How about this for tomorrow's news headlines:... 'French fries.'"

William Knofel's Claim to Fame

William Knofel was known a really bad guy in Butte, Montana back in the 1950s. He did time in the Montana State Penitentiary, was a prime suspect in a murder investigation, and somehow managed to escape from the Butte city jail *three* times. One day, a jailer noticed that Knofel was in a cell right next to a young man locked up for reckless driving....named Robert Craig Knievel. The guard commented, "What a place! We've got Awful Knofel and Evil Knievel!"
Mister Knievel adopted the name "Evel", and made a career out of driving recklessly.

James Caan, Da Bears, and Susie

In 1971, James Caan made the movie "Brian's Song," about Brian Piccolo, the Chicago Bears football player who died young of cancer, several real life Chicago Bears player appeared in the film, playing themselves. (Who better to play Dick Butkus than Dick Butkus?) They'd been teammates of Piccolo's, who had died the year before.
He managed to get along with Da Bears pretty well, although they did play one prank on him. They took Caan out partying one evening and one of the Bears said, "Hey, let's go get Susie!"
By acclamation, everybody thought it would be a *great* idea to go get Susie. So they pulled up in front of a large house, and told Caan to go get Susie. James walked up to the door, and knocked. Shortly thereafter, the most gigantic man James Caan had ever seen in his entire life answered the door and demanded "Whaddaya want?"
Said Caan: "I'm here to pick up Susie!"
The giant replied, "Get outta heah!"
"But I'm with the Bears," Caan said.
"GET OUTTA HEAH!" roared the giant.
At that point, James Caan beat a hasty retreat back to the car where his 'teammates' asked him, "So where's Susie?"
"I don't know said Caan. "Some big mean guy told me to get lost. Who was that guy, anyway?"
"Oh, *him*? That was Susie's husband."

A Freaking Funny Story

Quite a few years back, a friend of mine who was a career U.S. Marine got selected for duty as a Drill Instructor. This is one of the ultimate ambitions of any enlisted Marine. I was amazed when he told me that the new Marine Corps policy absolutely forbade use of the “f-bomb” within the earshot of recruits. I had a vision of 50,000 Marines about to storm Iwo Jima in 1945 being told they were not allowed to swear upon pain of being sent home. After which, a chorus of 50,000 would be heard saying, “F*** this s***.” I hung out with this guy enough to come to the conclusion that he was onto something. There are some words that you save for special occasions, otherwise, they lose their effect.

For instance, I got in the habit of saying “shoot,” “shucks,” or “shuckydarn,” which I got from Garfield, but who’s going to get offended. Several years later, while I was working as a public defender in Bethel, Alaska. My coworker’s two-year-old was bounding around the office. I had been having trouble with my printer. When I got back to my office, I found papers sticking askew from the printer, and the machine was making an ominous buzzing noise. I shouted, “Shucks!” at the top of my lungs. Half a second later, a two-year-old voice behind me shouted, “Shucks!” That night, I called my friend, the First Sergeant, in San Diego, to thank him for the good example he set for me. I know that little girl is going to learn to use all kinds of language, but she didn’t learn it from me on that particular evening. I learned to clean up my language from a Marine Corps Drill Instructor. Who would have thought it?

As a small tribute to that fine gentleman, I think it would be both fitting and fun to take the most profanity-laced story I’ve ever heard in my life and create a G-rated version:

A soldier gets back from a weekend pass. When a friend asked him how it went, he said, “Well, first freaking thing I did after I get off the freaking base was I go to this freaking bar. I sit down on a freaking chair and I see this freaking broad and I go over and we start freaking talking and I buy her a couple of freaking drinks, and the next thing you freaking know, we go back to her freaking place.” When his friend asked what happened next, he replies, “What the freak do you freaking think we freaking did? We had intimate relations!”

John Wayne, What a Difference a Generation Makes

I very much enjoyed reading William Manchester’s account of his service in the Pacific during World War II, Goodbye Darkness. His Marine Regiment fought on Okinawa and suffered 81% casualties. Of his circle of friends, one got a million-dollar wound, one was grievously injured, one came through without a scratch and the rest all died.

Manchester himself got a million dollar wound, meaning he had a slight injury bad enough to take him out of combat, but not bad enough to permanently disable him. However, after a day of enjoying good food, clean sheets and radio broadcasts, he went AWOL to rejoin his unit. The next day, Manchester’s luck ran out. He was seriously injured by a huge Japanese mortar shell that killed two of his friends. He had walked back to the aid station, but was carried off of the island. He spent the next few months in a hospital in Hawaii. During his stay in the hospital, he was in a large group of Marines who had been wounded on Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Some of those young men were so badly injured that to attend a movie at the base, they had to be carried in on stretchers.

One night, someone in the public relations department did something that probably seemed like a good idea at the time. The actor John Wayne showed up at the theater in his cowboy outfit. The young Marines watched in stunned silence and then they booed John Wayne off the stage. As Manchester later related, John Wayne was a n actor doing a macho act, and those young Marines had had macho acts up to their eyeballs.

From the research I’ve done, John Wayne was not a draft dodger. At the time of Pearl Harbor, he was 34 years old, a married man with four children. He could have joined the service if he wanted to, but chose to pursue his career instead. (Editorial comment: I don’t think it’s reprehensible, but it is interesting that Wayne’s pal, Jimmy Stewart, a year older and also married with children, volunteered to join the Army Air Corps and enter the war as a full colonel in command of a bombardment group of B-24s.)

Ironically, twenty-six years later, in January 1973, when the POWs from the Vietnam War were welcomed back , President Nixon invited them to a dinner at the White House. One of the special guests that evening was none other than John Wayne. He played his role quite well. The Duke stepped up to the podium and said, “I’d be proud to ride off into the sunset with you anytime.” The POWs graciously have Wayne an ovation.

It’s interesting how two different generations perceived the man.

One Night in Pohnpei

In September of 1999, I attended a Public Defender Conference in Kolonia, Pohnpei. One night, something happened which a great many people think is too strange to be believed. But it is not too strange to have actually happened. I awoke in my bed to discover that a young woman had climbed in next to me. She wasn’t wearing a stitch.

When I politely inquired what she was doing there, she told me, “You are so nice.” I thought, “Gee, I’m always glad to make a good impression.” She told me that I was especially nice in comparison with the young men who were coming on to her and telling her that she would “get sick,” if she didn’t let them have their way with her.

I was surprised to put it mildly. When I was younger, I tried all kinds of lines on women, but had never even considered that one. While it was nice snuggling with her for a moment or two, I did consider, a) I didn’t know how old she was (though she was definitely past puberty) and b) it would probably be hard for her to produce a notarized copy of her birth certificate and c) the law library would definitely be closed at that hour, so I didn’t know what the age of consent was and d) I did not have any type of birth control and I didn’t like the idea of possibly having a lifelong reminder of my trip to Micronesia.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I could have been vulnerable to a nasty scam, but, in retrospect, that was not her intention. I snuggled her a bit, smooched her and I very politely sent her on her way. Along with everything else, I didn’t want a woman scorned on my hands.

If I’d been ten or twenty years younger, I might have jumped at the chance. In the ten years since that time, I have wondered why more women can’t take such a cooperative tone towards me.

The Perfect Straight Line

Don’t you just love it when someone hands you the straight line?

I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, but I guess I spend an excessive amount of time and sounding off on YouTube. Recently, when I expressed my disgust for Islam (how can anyone take a Supreme Being seriously when he supposedly decrees a 354-day calendar and can’t be bothered to learn any language other than Arabic? Seriously, folks. The United Nations can manage six, but Allah can only do one?)

Anyway, some irate Koran-thumper denounced me as “an American cowboy.” That gave me the opening I needed to respond with the timeless words of Bruce Willis from Die Hard.

YIPPIE KIE-YAY, M***********!

Mrs. Kutnetzov and Russian Rehabilitation

When I was a student at Ohio State in the late 1970s, I got to know a family of Russian Jews named the Kutnetzovs. Kutnetzov, incidentally, is Russian for “Smith,” so I could only assume Mr. and Mrs. Kutnetzov may have gotten snickers when they checked into Russian hotels. They had gotten out of the Soviet Union during the debate over the Jackson Amendment. As a result of knowing the Kutnetzovs, I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for the late Senator Scoop Jackson of Washington.

Both Kutnetzovs taught engineering at Ohio State. Their son and daughter both graduated cum laude. (One summa, and one magna, as I recall.) After that experience, any time I heard someone on television advocating helping Russian Jews emigrate to Israel, I wanted to shout, “No! If they’re anything like the Kutnetzovs, we need them here!”\

I got to know the Kutnetzovs well enough that one day Mrs. Kutnetzov told me about her parents. That story has stayed with me for more than thirty years. Both of Mrs. Kutnetzov’s parents were engineers. One day, in 1935, when Mrs. Kutnetzov was still a very small child, her parents disappeared. She received word that her father had been executed for being a traitor to the Soviet Union. Her mother had been deemed a traitor as well, but had been sentenced to internal exile. She had been shipped to Siberia. Mrs. Kutnetzov did not see her mother again for more than a decade. She was raised by an aunt and uncle and she came very close to starving to death in the Siege of Leningrad.

On another occasion, she told me that she had seen the film, Little Darlings, starring Tatum O’Neal and Kristy MacNichol. The contest between the girls to see who could lose their virginity first did not bother her, but even today I cringe at the anguish in Mrs. Kutnetzov’s voice when she told me of how shocked she was at the sight of American youngsters engaging in a food fight. I can only imagine what people who have looked starvation in the face would think.

In the early 1960s, Mrs. Kutnetzov got a postcard announcing that her father had been “rehabilitated.” That was the Soviet government’s way of saying that her father was still dead, lying in an unmarked grave for the past twenty-six years, but he wasn’t guilty of anything, so he has been “rehabilitated.” In that regard, I hope it was some small comfort to Kutnetzov and SEVERAL MILLION families in the former Soviet Union.

Kevin Sorbo’s Refreshing Perspective

Some people might know Kevin Sorbo from his portrayal of the title character in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Mr. Sorbo is 6’3”, weighs 215 and keeps himself in very good shape. I once heard him tell a story about a time when he went to work out and he heard a group of giant guys who were making fun of him. Mr. Sorbo handled that situation very well indeed. He walked over to the biggest of the giants, laid his hand on his shoulder and said, “Pal, I want you to know that you’re bigger than I am, you’re stronger than I am, and in a fight, you could kick my ass. There. You feel better now?”

I think Mr. Sorbo has a refreshing sense of perspective.

Tattoos: Now I’ve Seen EVERYTHING!

Now that I’m past fifty, I’ve seen my share of bizarre tattoos. In my humble opinion, I think that some tattoos on career sailors and Marines can look quite impressive. Just a simple anchor or a Marine emblem.

However, women who wear small tattoos, a rose on the wrist, well, not so bad. Tattoos from wrist to shoulder tend to say to me that you want the entire world to know that you’re a long-time junkie who doesn’t want the track marks to show.

When I was in Alaska, I once had a client who had tattoos not only on his hands and neck, but one right below his ear that said, “F*** A B****.” (His version was without the asterisks.) I wonder if he consulted a job coach about his choice of body art.

I had honestly thought that would be the worst tattoo I would ever see in my life until this past week. I saw a not-so-young woman who had tattoos all over both her collarbones and a 2.5-times life-size cockroach tattooed on her cleavage.

Comment one: If that was not a 2.5-times size cockroach, I really don’t want to encounter a roach that size without being in possession of a shotgun.

Comment two: I realize that some women have problems with self-image. However, anyone who thinks their cleavage who will be improved by the sight of a giant cockroach is in need of help.

Once Overheard at Miss Barbara’s Day Care

One of my dearest friends is an extraordinary woman named Barbara who has three very precious and very rambunctious college-aged kids. During the day, she operates a day care center and expertly rides herd over between five and ten preschoolers. I’ll never forget the day that, while doing my best impression of a fly on the wall, I heard Miss Barbara say, “Does the dog belong on the table? No. The dog does not belong on the table. Get the dog off the table.”

She gets my vote for Supermom.

USS Josephus Daniels, CG-27

I once spent three months (November 1988-February 1989) on board the guided missile cruiser the USS Josephus Daniels teaching English and History as part of the Navy’s Program for Afloat College Education. (PACE). I was a civilian, employed by Central Texas College.

Josephus Daniels was a newspaper editor who Woodrow Wilson chose to be Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1921. He was, incidentally, one of the last men who ever got to give Franklin Roosevelt orders. FDR was his assistant.

Later, when Roosevelt was elected President, he made Daniels his ambassador to Mexico. That’s why the coat of arms of the Josephus Daniels features a quill, an anchor and the Mexican eagle. Daniels is one of the few Secretaries of the Navy who is remembered to this day because, in 1914, he decreed that all Navy ships would be “dry.” Officially, no alcohol has been allowed on board US Navy ships in almost a century.

In 1980, theUSS Nimitz had been at sea 100 days straight during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The Navy arranged for the crew to have a “Beer on the Barge.” They pulled a barge alongside the Nimitz, and allowed the men to imbibe.

This situation does remind me of a WWII US Navy/Royal Navy story. When a Royal Navy task force joined Halsey’s third fleet in the Pacific in the war’s closing days, Admiral Halsey paid a courtesy call to the British admiral aboard the battleship HMS Howe. Britain invited Admiral Halsey back to his quarters for a drink. Inside the admiral’s quarters was a beautiful liquor cabinet that was inscribed in gold lettering: God Bless His Majesty, King George VI. Impressed, Halsey asked if he could send his ship’s carpenter over to make a copy of the cabinet.

A few days later, the British admiral paid a return visit and Halsey invited him back to his quarters for an orange juice. The British admiral did a double take and said, “That’s right, your ships are dry.” When the British admiral walked into Halsey’s quarters, he saw a beautifully carved liquor cabinet full of fruit juice. Inscribed at the top were the words, “God (…) Josephus Daniels.”

Captain David Buck

When I was on board the USS LaSalle in the Persian Gulf in early 1984, the commanding officer was Captain David Buck. He was a gray-haired man of close to fifty, and he slightly famous for having written a country song entitled, “The Fadin’ Renegade.” As a lowly Petty Officer 2nd class, I didn’t have much contact with him. I spent my time on the LaSalle working port and starboard shifts, 12 hours on/12 hours off in the signal center in the Signals Intercept Section behind a vault door. I was on the midshift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. One time, way past midnight and perhaps an hour before dawn, I had occasion to walk down the passageway outside SESS, which was located up in the upper deck officer’s country.

AsI made my way down the passageway, I passed Captain Buck. He was wearing running shorts and a running shirt, and even in the dim light, I could see he had worked up a serious sweat. I didn’t say a word, but the image remains with me more than twenty years later. I was so impressed that he was the type of officer who would be seriously PT-ing when just about everyone else was in their racks.

Soil Conditions

I have an honorary nephew named Bryant who is about to turn twenty. I’ve known his parents for over a quarter of a century now, and they are extraordinarily fine people. Forgive my puns, but they’re both people anyone can look up to. After all, Mom is six feet even and she has to stand on tip-toe to kiss her husband. Bryant has had the benefit of both good DNA and his mother’s extraordinary cooking, which has allowed him to grow up and up and up, so his height is undetermined. I’ve heard he’s a smidgen closer to seven-foot than he is to six. I always kidded his parents that Bryant must have led a charmed life in school. From Kindergarten through twelfth grade, on the first day of school, every new kid in his class would stand in line to make friends with that young giant.

Anyhow, on his most recent birthday, I had a good conversation with him. (My first decent conversation with a teenager! Most teenagers tend to regard old people with the same regard as for furniture.) I asked him if he’d been getting much “How’s the weather up there?” He said, “Yes, as a matter of fact…”

I told him, “Look, Bryant, I’m the cool uncle and a lawyer. As tempting as it is, don’t spit on them and tell them it’s raining. Instead, reply, “Weather’s fine up here. How are the soil conditions, shorty?’”

I hope I’ve done a small bit to improve that fine young man’s life.

The Reverend Rankin’s Residence in Ripley (Believe it or Not!)

I recently read a story that made my jaw drop. Way back in the early 1800s, there was a Presbyterian minister named John Rankin who settled in Brown County, Ohio, about fifty miles upriver from Cincinnati. He was so successful that he managed to buy a house on top of the highest hill on the Ohio side of the river for many miles. From his house, he could see for miles, both up and down river. Reverend Rankin was very popular with his parishioners on the Ohio side of the river, but he made a point not to cross over to the Kentucky side because he knew many of those people hated Reverend Rankin and would very much have liked to have killed him. You see, Reverend Rankin was not only a fervent abolitionist, he was a conductor on the Underground Railroad for almost forty years.

There are some clergy who see themselves as the lambs of Jesus, while others see themselves as “kickass servants of God.” (The latter is a nod to George Clooney’s character from From Dusk Till Dawn.) His views were phenomenally ahead of his time. He and his wife had eighteen children of their own, took in five orphaned nieces and nephews and a black girl who was a runaway slave they raised as their own.

The local college admitted one of the very first black students in the entire United States, Benjamin Franklin Templeton. One day, with no provocation whatsoever, a Southern student attacked Templeton with a whip and nearly killed him. A crisis ensued because every Southern student threatened to withdraw if Templeton was not expelled. Reverend Rankin stepped into the breach and effected a compromise. He took Templeton into his own home and tutored him so he could finish his degree. (The Rankins must have had a *VERY* large breakfast table!)

Rankin always kept a lantern burning in the window of his home and runaway slaves knew that if they could reach that beacon on the top of the hill, they were as good as in Canada. In all his forty years as a conductor, he never lost a passenger.

As much as Reverend Rankin’s story impressed me, I was amazed to learn that Rankin was a friend of Harriet Beecher Stowe. He told her that perhaps the most heart-wrenching thing was that, one cold winter night, he saw a runaway slave woman running across the ice of the Ohio River with a baby in her arms. Slavecatchers were in hot pursuit. I was absolutely astounded to learn that the story of Eliza and her baby was inspired by a true incident.

The postscript to Reverend Rankin’s story: By the time the Civil War broke out, all six of Reverend Rankin’s sons served in the Union Army. The Rankin family enjoyed great luck; all six survived the war. If you’re ever in Brown County, Ohio, you can visit Reverend Rankin’s home, a historic landmark.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A First Sergeant's Successful Psych!

About thirty years ago, a young Marine sergeant was about to get out of the service. He went to see the his First Sergeant, who asked him about his future plans. The young sergeant announced that he was getting out because "I'm tired about the pencil necks around here"

The First Sergeant replied "Yeah, and that's the way it's going to stay if good men like you leave."

That young sergeant did get out of the Marines...about twenty years later. And when he took off his uniform for the last time, he was wearing First Sergeant's stripes. At 2400 hours tonight (Pacific Time) he celebrates another birthday. (That's midnight on the morning of August eighteenth, for you silly-villians!)

Happy Birthday, First Sergeant!

Attention Yalies! (and EVERYBODY ELSE too!)

I guess it is an indication of what a diverse group of people I know that this mailing list contains the addresses of *3* Yale graduates. I hope that they and *everybody* *else* will *carefully* read Christopher Hitchens' latest column. It's called Freedom of Expression, people! USE IT OR LOSE IT!!!

Yale Surrenders
Why did Yale University Press remove images of Mohammed from a book about the Danish cartoons?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Spitzer and Sanford

Recently we've seen two state Governors make spectacular fools out of themselves: Eliot Spitzer of New York (who got caught not only patronizing a call girl, but paying for her to cross state lines- which put him in violation of the Mann Act. Pretty ironic for a guy who had previously *prosecuted* callgirl rings), and Mark Sanford of South Carolina (who went missing for days visiting his Argentine girlfriend.)

Just wondering: does anyone care to venture an opinion as to which behavior is more egregious?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Birthday to John Finn

On December 7, 1941, John Finn was a Navy Chief Ordinanceman, who, awakened by the Japanese attack, hurried to his duty station, and although wounded *repeatedly*, stayed at his machine gun position the whole morning firing at Japanese planes. In September 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, awarded Chief Finn the Congressional Medal of Honor.

July 26th is John Finn's 100th birthday. Happy Birthday, Chief!

(I'm sure you can figure out which of them is John Finn.)

Beer Brands

Recently, we've seen the Coalition of the Swilling, Ale to the Chief, and the Audacity of Hops. These guys manage to zing just about *everybody*.

Homophobia in Columbus

Every week, I meet with a young grad student at Ohio State, who ably assists with with composing my essays. He recently told me a story- my fellow Columbusites can probably guess the punchline.

He told me of a new professor who came to teach at Ohio State, and, one afternoon in the latter part of November, took a stroll around the OSU Campus- which is the biggest single campus in North America. This particular fellow (my colleague relates) happens to be a member of the gay community, and *perhaps* he felt his dress and manner makes it *obvious* that he is a member of the gay community. Anyhow, as he walked along, he was dismayed to find that he was getting all kinds of very dirty looks, and some *very* unfriendly comments (ie, YOU SUCK! GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!, et. al.) He later commented to a friend, who was a longtime Columbus resident that he had *never* encountered such hostile, homophobic people.

His friend asked, "Is this your first day in Columbus?"

"Were you wearing what you're wearing now?"
"Look...this is Ohio State, and this is the week we play *Michigan* and you're walking across campus wearing *maize* and *blue*. So *change* *clothes* before somebody kicks your ass." (slight hyperbole)

So maybe he got himself a new wardrobe in scarlet and grey. No problems since.

Happy Paul Tibbets Day!

My father was in San Francisco in the late summer of 1945. He's told me that there was a popular saying amongst servicemen at the time: "The Golden Gate by '48"- some people figured that the war might drag on for another three years. I recently learned a fuller version was:

"Home alive in '45
Back in the sticks by '46
It'll be heaven in '47
The Golden Gate by '48"
(to which some pessimists added, "Bread line by '49")

I've been to the island of Saipan, and seen Marpi Point, so I figure I have a better idea than most people what was scheduled to start on November 1, 1945. My father was slated to flying in a B-29; my uncle was due to be in the follow-on echelon in Operation CORONET- the invasion on Honshu in March of '46.

Some people condemn Colonel (later Brigadier General) Tibbets for carrying out President Truman's orders 64 years ago today- try finding *one* veteran of the war who is not thankful for the way the war ended.

Paul Tibbets spent most of his life in Columbus, Ohio- he died Nov. 1, 2007, at the age of 92. (I will *not* speculate as to hether that was a sign of Divine Favor)

Lt. Cmdr. Speicher

I recently read that a Marine patrol in Iraq found the remains of Navy Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher, who'd been missing in action since January, 1991. I hope it is some small consolation to his family to have a final answer at last.

I did a bit of research and learned that Lt. Cmdr. Speicher was the *only* MIA from Gulf War I- now there is not a single one.

During Viet Nam, there were 1,350; Korea 8,177; World War II 78,750. Whatever you think of the Gulf War, that's a very impressive record.

Don Rickles

I've alays enjoyed Don Rickles' humor, and this past weekend, I had an "ah-ha" moment. As an Aspergian I have an unfortunate tendency to say that (unintentionally) tick people off, *much* to my dismay. Don Rickles, on the other hand, has spend the last four decades intentionally insulting people- and *everybody* laughs. Don Rickles is a very lucky man.

Private Jefferson’s Story

Once, while doing my two weeks with the Army Reserve, I met a very nice young fellow named Private Jefferson. He told me that his boot camp drill instructor told him to amuse the rest of his company of basic trainees by singing the theme from the TV show, The Jeffersons, “Movin’ On Up.”

At this point, I’m sure many of you are wondering why this unconscionable misdeed was not reported in the press and receive 24/7 news coverage. (You know those two race-baiting pigs Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would want to get involved.) I think the answer is because Private Jefferson happened to be white.

The Contrast Between

In the original Dirty Harry, there was a scene between Clint Eastwood and a grade school-aged kid. That grade school kid was named Mario Van Peebles.

Melvin Van Peebles made a movie called Watermelon Man that came out around 1970. A white insurance agent wakes up one morning and discovers that he’s black. His wife swiftly goes straight to hell. His neighbors threaten him if he doesn’t move out, he loses his job, his wife leaves him. The message is clear: If you are black in America, you are totally screwed.

A generation later, Melvin’s son Mario got his own television series: Sonny Spoon. He played a private detective and master of disguise. The joke is that it’s a dramedy in which Van Peebles, as Detective Sonny Spoon, would solve cases by repeatedly changing his identity. For example, as a clergyman, a government inspector, a general, or, upon occasion, a woman. I can only imagine that the younger Van Peebles enjoyed hamming it up in so many different roles. The message of Sonny Spoon was 180 degrees from that of Watermelon Man. What can a black man be in America? Anything he damn well pleases.


One of my dearest friends from law school is Jean, my “honorary sister” from Cain-tucky. Jean has done quite well for herself. I tease her that she met a wonderful guy who set her up in a palace in Versailles. (South of the Ohio River, that’s pronounced “ver-sales.”) Many years ago, I told Jean that she is possessed of such uncommon common sense that she has a lifelong license to play “Dutch Auntie” whenever she has advice.

In recent years, she has gone through some pretty tough times with her parents. Her father died a year after suffering a terrible, incapacitating stroke. In the past year, she’s had to deal with her mother’s worsening Alzheimer’s. Once, after I’d sent an e-mail to Jean commenting that I’d had a difficult time dealing with my father. She told me that any day I didn’t have to change my parent’s diaper is a good one. That is good advice I have taken to heart.

Today, Jean has every reason to be proud of herself. On Saturday, when I visited my father and gave him a ride to the local grocery store, I could, figuratively speaking, hear a calm, steady voice from the back seat (with a banjo-twang Kentucky accent) tell me to settle down and go off on him, even if he can be quite annoying. Just before I dropped my father off, for some reason, we were talking about dogs. I heard him comment, “I was surprised at how attached I got to Muttkins.”

At that point, I gritted my teeth, felt myself putting a death grip on the steering wheel and (figuratively speaking) heard Jean shouting in my ear not to lose it.

When I was growing up, after years of pleading from my three brothers and me, my father finally allowed us to get a dog. We got a mostly beagle mix who we dubbed Muttkins, as the feminine from “Mutt.” Muttkins was excellent at barking nonstop and for evading capture if she got loose. (Unless, of course, an animal control officer showed up, in which case she would roll on her back with her paws in the air, sticking us with a twenty-five-dollar ticket.)

In the summer of 1977, I was a student at Ohio State and the only Mitchell brother still at home. Muttkins was over ten years old. Though gray at the muzzle, she was still in good health. I was due to spend the summer on the Ohio State Oxford program studying at New College. About two weeks before my flight, my father left on a study trip. Shortly before I left, he told me, “When I get back, I want that animal disposed of.”

I had a week or two to try to find a new home for a past middle-age mutt. I’m afraid I didn’t have the moral courage to take Muttkins in to be euthanized. After some frantic asking around, an Ohio State classmate agreed to take Muttkins in temporarily. I asked her to find a new home for her if she could. To this day, I don’t know what became of Muttkins. To this day, I still second-guess my decisions. Should I have bitten the bullet and taken Muttkins to the vet to be euthanized, as my younger brother says, “In real life, you don’t get to look at your report card.”

Anyhow, this past weekend, I managed to bite my tongue instead of telling my father how I feel about the whole thing.

Educating Silly-Villians: Ship Names

USS stands for “United States Ship.” This prefix was used since day one. During World War II, the United States had a very workable ship naming system. Battleships were named for states, cruisers for cities, destroyers for distinguished individuals, aircraft carriers for battles and submarines were named for fish.

Since then, some time after the war, some Admiral had an epiphany, realizing that “fish don’t vote.” As battleships are obsolescent, we reserve state names for our most powerful warships and ballistic missile submarines. (The Ohio Class, the Virginia Class...) Fast-attack submarines are now named for cities.

Nuclear Pyramids

My brother Bruce has always been a virulent opponent of nuclear power. When I pointed out to him that the United States Navy has been operating nuclear reactors in our submarines since 1955, and our aircraft carriers since 1962 without a single incident, he has no reply other than, “I don’t like talking politics with you.” (Further, the French now get 80 percent of their electricity from nuclear power.)

Now that it’s been thirty years since Three Mile Island, it will be interesting to see if Bruce will ever admit that he was wrong. I’m not going to hold my breath.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi

Was either the luckiest or very unluckiest of men. On August 6th, 1945, he was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. Although seriously burned, he managed to make it back to his hometown in three daysand was at a meeting with his employer, explaining what had happened when the meeting was rudely interrupted by the second atomic bomb over Nagasaki. Amazingly, Mr. Yamaguchi is still alive at the age of ninety-three.

Police Stops

A whole lot of trees have died and ink has been spilled over the Henry Louis Gates arrest. I am withholding final judgment until we hear the tapes of the call.

I will opine that, with today’s technology, I think that it would be an excellent idea for police to be issued cop-cams that would provide photographic and aural evidence of any arrest. Attorneys know that all kinds of people commit perjury, but Officer Cyclops tells no lies.

Many years ago, I had a gig circulating petitions door-to-door. Since I’m a bigger-than average man and would be knocking on the doors after dark in the winter months, I had quite a few close encounters with the police. I never experienced any serious difficulties. First, because I always took the precaution of wearing a necktie. (Ask any cop the last time he arrested a burglar wearing a necktie.) Second, I always kept my identification in my *shirt* pocket and reached for it very slowly. (Nobody carries a pistol in their breast pocket.)

I will never forget one occasion in early January of 1980. A cop had stopped me and radioed back to headquarters that someone was circulating a petition. There was a pause at the other end of the line. I heard the station sergeant say, “Hey, that’s a basic Constitutional right.” I was so glad that that desk sergeant had gotten the word about the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Mild Surprise at Internal Affairs

As a criminal defense attorney, I’m trained to look at police action with great skepticism. In that respect, I kid my former next-door neighbor Rod Wittich that he is a bad influence on me. He has had an exemplary career with the Columbus Police Department. In his twenty-seven years with the force, he has done it all: patrol officer, patrol sergeant, sex crimes detective, internal affairs investigator and now, traffic division lieutenant. (Very few police ever make sergeant, so Rod has done quite well for himself.)

Several years ago, I met his internal affairs partner and was mildly surprised by the fact that she was black. (For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t understand my point, I frequently hear people complain that police do not understand women or minorities. That is not the case.)

Tragedy + Time = Humor

If you’ve had a really bad day, and someone tries to cheer you up when you’re not in the mood, a classic response is, “Aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?” By that same token, now that the last survivor of the Titanic has passes away, it’s pretty safe to make jokes about that unsinkable ship. However, if I happen to be in earshot of the sons of the Prince of Wales, I would certainly refrain from asking a riddle: “Why did Princess Di cross the road?”

“Because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.”

Eddie Albert

Eddie Albert is one actor who changed his name for a very good reason. His original name: Eddie Albert Heinberger. Can you imagine how often he was called “hamburger?”

By amazing coincidence, Eddie Albert, who had a commission as a Naval Reseerve officer, happened to be on the scene in a landing craft with such a draft so shallow that he was able to float through the water. He personally carried forty-five Marines to safety and supervised the rescue of another thirty. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism. Eddie Albert lived a month past his ninety-ninth birthday. I think it’s safe to say that the morning of November 20, 1943 was his finest hour.

Lieutenant Colonel “Buzz” Peterson

Pop quiz, everyone: On a scale of zero to one hundred (zero meaning totally untrustworthy, one hundred meaning totally trustworthy), what score would you want a military office to earn before they were given the responsibility for “carrying the football.” That, of course, is the attaché case accompanying the President that contains the nuclear launch codes. Personally, I’d say either one hundred, or as close as humanly possible to that remark.

Lieutenant Colonel “Buzz” Peterson of the Air Force was assigned to carry the football for President Clinton for a number of years. After his retirement, he wrote a very interesting book. It has been my experience, at this point, hardly anyone is going to change their opinion about the Clintons. Be that as it may, I highly recommend the book.

Maudine Ormsby

In its history, The Ohio State University has crowned over one hundred homecoming queens. However, none have achieved the undying fame of Maudine Ormsby. This is because of the fact that Maudine Ormsby was a cow.

In 1926, a group of students at Ohio State’s College of Agriculture were disgruntled that the Law School’s candidate for homecoming queen had won election several years running. (Editorial comment: You have to watch those law students!) So they entered a prize-winning Holstein cow named Maudine Ormsby as their candidate for Homecoming Queen. Maudine won the election and was duly honored with a tiara and a ride on a homecoming float in theparade. (Don’t ask me how they got the critter on the float, or how they got her off of it.)

I recently learned that the Law School’s candidate for Homecoming Queen that year had withdrawn her name from consideration after learning of the bovine’s candidacy. However, she managed to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. She had a fine career teaching school for more than half a century and lived to a very advanced age. I’m sad to report that the spoilsports at the cemetery where she is buried turned down her and her family’s request to have a headstone placed on her grave that would have read: “But For Maudine, Here Lies a Queen.”

My Conversations with General Rosson: Mines are Fine

I spent the summer of 1977 studying at New College, Oxford as part of The Ohio State University’s program. While I was there, I had the good fortune to meet retired General William B. Rosson, who had served in Vietnam as a Division Commander, a Corps Commander and as General Westmoreland’s chief of staff. General Rosson was at Oxford earning a Master’s Degree in International Relations. (In response to my collaborator’s question, even though General Rosson could get any job in the field in the private sector, he was earning an advanced degree because he jolly well wanted.)

He was close to sixty years old at the time, but to say he was an imposing figure would be quite an understatement. He was built like an NFL linebacker. I later learned that he had been wounded in the fighting at Salerno in 1943 and had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. (That’s just one down from the Congressional Medal of Honor.) I also later learned that he held two other distinctions: of the Army’s ten four-star generals, he was the only one not to have attended West Point and was the only life-long bachelor in the bunch. (Editorial comment: any soldier who can attain the rank of full General without being a member of the WPPA must have been extraordinarily.) He also once had been the Superintendent of the U.S. Army War College in Leavenworth, Kansas and Commander of the Green Berets.

Rosson had a sense of humor. Once, while serving as liaison to a British Army unit, they got a visit from Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, a man known for having a very high opinion of himself and no gift for diplomacy. On this occasion, Montgomery announced that he had earned thirty-eight ribbons and then asked each officer present how many ribbons they had. Rosson managed to keep a straight face when he replied, “Thirty-nine.” (Word has it, after that, Rosson was very popular with his British colleagues.)

I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss matters of national security, military history and more with General Rosson on three occasions for a total of five hours. One thing that stays in my mind more than thirty years later is that I asked him why we didn’t, in effect, let the Navy win the Vietnam War by mining and blockading the port of Haiphong. As any student of the Conflict knows, eighty-five percent of all North Vietnamese war materiel entered the country through that port. In 1962, we “quarantined” Cuba to prevent further missile shipments to that country, while the Soviets were outraged, they didn’t dare risk a confrontation with the world’s strongest Navy in America’s front yard.

In 1972, President Nixon finally mined Haiphong Harbor, shutting the port down. It was six weeks later that the North Vietnamese finally signed the Peace Accord. I mentioned that I was aware that, in the closing months of WWII, B-29s had dropped mines in Japan’s coastal waters to attack Japanese merchant shipping with absolutely spectacular results. By V-J Day, Japanese imports were down 90%. Rosson told me that he thought that would have been an excellent idea and that the civilian leadership refused to agree to that step. It is, of course, the knee-jerk response that, had we done the same thing in 1964, the Soviets would have, the very same day, launched an all-out nuclear attack resulting in billions of deaths, the end of civilization and the extinction of not only the entire human race, but the spotted owl as well.

It was not until quite recently, during one of my web surfing expeditions, that I learned that, not only General Rosson, but General Westmoreland, Admiral U. S. Grant Sharpe, the Pacific Theater Commader: Admiral Moorer, the Chief of Naval Operations, and General Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all supported the measure. However, Secretary of Defense McNamara and President Nixon rejected that idea.

I was stunned to learn that U.S. planes did mine many of North Vietnam’s navigable rivers, but avoided Haiphong because of possible political repercussions.

There are many sad legacies of the Vietnam War. One of the saddest, I believe, is Lyndon Johnson refusing to use a potentially devastatingly effective weapon. President Nixon also failed to use it for almost another four years. There is no question that, in America, the military is subject to civilian control. However, when an Administration repeatedly ignores the advice of its top military advisors, they bear a terrible responsibility for the defeat America suffered in Vietnam. To ask Harry Truman’s question, where does the buck stop?

A short postscript about General Rosson: He died in 2004, but in the year after he earned his degree at New College, he married for the first time at the age of fifty-eight. He married a woman named Bertha Mitchell. (No relation.)

Movie Review: The Home of the Brave

The Home of the Brave was, in effect, four different films since it follows four different characters who finish a tour in Iraq and then return home. Lucius Jackson (aka 50 Cent, 49.5 more cents than I would pay for a complete collection of his ‘music’) plays the oldest of Hollywood clichés, the stressed-out vet who can’t adjust and winds up coming up second best in a shootout with a SWAT team.

Samuel L. Jackson plays a doctor who comes home to find that his marriage is a bit shaky and his teenage son is completely out of control with some serious anger issues. The family manages to patch things up. Jessica Biel plays a schoolteacher who has lost an arm to an IED explosion. Her marriage breaks up but eventually, she hooks up with Mr. Right. (Editorial comment: A woman who looks like Jessica Biel losing an arm, though tragic, is not a complete dealbreaker.) I point out that this is a case of art imitating life. The Armed Forces have made an extraordinary effort, first in saving the lives of soldiers who, in earlier conflicts, would have died rather than suffering an amputation. Secondly, it is extraordinary what modern prostheses can accomplish. The fourth storyline concerns a young soldier who completes his tour, goes home, takes a look at civilian life, and re-enlists. Again, I think that’s life imitating art. A very high percentage of our troops serving overseas have done second, third, fourth and even fifth tours.

Bottom line on the four storylines: one thumb down, one so-so and two two-thumbs-up.

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker concerns a small team of explosive ordnance disposal specialists in Iraq. In the past six years, Hollywood has put out an unbroken string of anti-war films, which have, pardon the pun, all bombed. It is my carefully considered opinion that Hollywood has not made a good film about Iraq…until The Hurt Locker.

I was very impressed by great performances by a cast of unknowns and by the fact that the storyline was completely unpredictable. The film does not depict American troops as saintly; they are, rather, very real men doing a very tough job under positively ungodly stress.

Well before the halfway point of the film, I gave up trying to anticipate what was going to happen next. In that film, as in life, sometimes you can only expect the unexpected. I highly recommend it.

Cold, Hard Cash

Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA) was convicted of eleven of sixteen felony counts. He’s the guy who was caught with a stash of 90,000 dollars in his freezer. To say that he liked cold, hard cash would be entirely too obvious. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for the whole thing. (sarcasm...)

As Mark Twain said, “America has no distinctly criminal class except for Congress.”

Or, as Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

While I hope Mr. Jefferson does a LENGTHY prison sentence and not some eighteen-month stint at a country club, he might have a bright future ahead of him playing Yoda in the next Star Wars film.

Tony Sirico: Art and Real Life

For anyone who cares to ponder whether Aristotle was right when he declared that art reflects life, or Oscar Wilde when he proclaimed that life reflects art, should consider the case of Tony Sirico, best known as “Paulie Walnuts” of the HBO crime drama The Sopranos. In real life, Sirico did not one but two stretches in prison as a member of the Gambino crime family before he had the extraordinary good fortune to have a career as an actor. Sopranos trivia buffs will be pleased to know that Mr. Sirico had a clause in his contract that guaranteed he would never be asked to portray a law enforcement informant. Some people might say that Tony Sirico is still a goodfella at heart. Others might say that he is still a sociopathic thug who is lucky not to be spending his sunset years in a maximum-security prison or simply, “sleeping with the fishes.”

The character of Paulie Walnuts was a bit of a buffoon, given to bizarre comments and malapropisms. He was also the guy who broke into the house of a friend of his mother’s searching for a stash of cash. When the elderly lady caught him in the act, he smothered her. In another episode, members of the Sopranos crew had run up a four-figure restaurant tab which Christopher was expected to pay. Incensed, Christopher did not leave a tip. When the maître d’ confronted them in the parking lot and cursed them for their stinginess, they cursed back and eventually, Paulie shot the man to death. Immediately thereafter, Paulie and Christopher had a tender moment of reconciliation when they both realized they had gone a bit too far. I’m stunned at the irony that Tony Sirico did things like that in real life. Although he’s had the extraordinary good fortune to become wealthy as an actor, sometimes, good things happen to very bad people.