Wednesday, March 14, 2018


I watched a couple of clips from this movie today, R. Lee Ermey is quite the DI. Then I watched the clip, "Pyle's greatest moment" or something like that.

Having never seen the movie, and not admiring Kubrik's work that much, I didn't know what to expect. That clip where the actor portraying Pyle says, "Hiiiii, Joker." and "Seven. Point. Six. Two. Full. Metal. Jacket." and what comes next was described as the single most frightening scene in a movie EVER. Maybe not that, but close.

Many of you have heard me tell about my miserable experience in the Army, including the guy in our platoon named "Rooney." Lots of the kids couldn't do the monkey bars and other PT stuff, but Rooney was a special one. Remember this is the time of the draft, so you got anything. The drill sergeant whose name I forget although I can still see his face plainly, was not as clever as DI Hartman in the movie, nor was he as stupid. He recognized that Rooney needed special help.

The platoons were broken up alphabetically, so Rooney was in my platoon and I was assigned one morning to teach Rooney how to make a left face, a right face, and about face. Never got it.

Again, I recall recently telling the story that was the final straw for Rooney. It was the day we got gassed. The Army determined that we needed to have confidence in our gas masks, and the best way to do that was to have us experience CS with the mask on and with it off. The procedure was explained: you stood in line, the first guy in line would stand at attention, take off the mask, announce his name and serial number (your social security number), salute and be dismissed by the drill sergeant.

Rooney didn't understand all the instructions. When the first guy in line was told to take off his mask, Rooney took his off, too. I didn't personally see all this, I was too busy discovering how miserable you can be when gassed and he was behind me, but it was not a good situation.

Soon after, the Army was smart enough to send Rooney home. Credit the people in charge that they gave it a go, he actually went as far as throwing a live grenade, but eventually it was determined that he would have been a danger to himself and all of us. No Full Metal Jacket for us in 1970. BTW, it would have been nearly impossible for that scene to occur in reality, weapons and live ammo was locked up tight.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


The Jewish holiday of Purim started yesterday at sundown and continues to sundown today, March 1, 2018. I’m not particularly interested in Purim, but this is just the setup for the amusing paragraph below written by a woman and published in the Tablet. You can skip the historical background if you want.

Purim is the celebration of the saving of the Jews from the evil Persian minister, Haman, who was determined to kill them all. Traditionally, it is a day of gaiety, eating and drinking while making noise and wearing costumes. Sort of a combination of Mardi Gras, Christmas (there are small gifts of food and drink) and Halloween.

Like so many Jewish holidays, there are traditional foods that go with the stories of the heroes of the day. This hero is Queen Ester whose Biblical book, The Book of Ester, tells the story about her role and that of her first cousin, Mordecai (who was, perhaps her husband?) and the food is the cookie, the hamantaschen.

Brief story—Haman, the evil aide to the king (most likely, Xerxes of Persia), was angered that Mordecai would not bow down to him, so he contrived and edict of the king to exterminate the Jews. Through the efforts of Ester, the king discovers the truth that Mordecai saved his life, and the edict is reversed.

I find these stories fascinating, and the manner in which the Jews have not only survived multiple extermination schemes but steadfastly passed their faith down generation after generation is rare in the history of humans. But now, the point of all this, the paragraph.

Before my mother-in-law stopped baking hamantaschen, she passed her recipe on to me, on three index cards covered with her loopy, barely legible handwriting. The recipe instructed me to brush the tops of the cookies with milk before baking, and then sprinkle them with sugar. But on the back of the last card, at the point where the cookies are out of the oven and already cooling on the rack, she’d added one last note: “I don’t bother sprinkling with milk and sugar—it doesn’t add anything.” This last sentence, informing me that what I had just done wasn’t really worth doing and didn’t meet with her satisfaction anyway, pretty neatly expresses the essence of our relationship.

Thursday, February 22, 2018


Before those involved could have a chance to mourn or deal with the horror of the shootings, so-called experts were spewing opinions on who (or, usually, what) is to blame.

The most common is to blame the guns. Sure, the NRA is not my favorite, they are pretty radical and have strayed from their roots of teaching gun safety and so on. Lots of other culprits, like the parents. Or the school system.

The New York Times took the opportunity to blame society saying in an opinion piece that the shootings are because young men are not given the tools by society to deal with (whatever, it gets too murky for me at this point). Ya mean they're crazy? Yep, got that.

In typical fashion, NYT will lead you to believe that all members of society should stop, abandon all normal behavior and stand on their heads in deference to some extremely small minority of misfits behaving in an aberrant, dangerous manner. Hugs all around, folks.

As you can tell, I reject that view. But in a conversation with one of my oldest friends (Jimmy) last night, I think we agreed on one thing--society has not found an effective way to protect our school children from this. Grandpa Joe Biden decided that the way to do it was to ban guns from schools. Apparently, the shooters didn't read the signs. But it made it impossible for anyone to shoot back. Thanks Joe.

How can the society protect our school children? Well, banks choose to hire armed guards, because history proved that if they didn't, guys with guns would come and take the money. Old time bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robs banks, and his answer was "That's where the money is." One strategy would be to hire guards. Another, to arm teachers. An argument by my liberal friend was that there isn't enough money to hire teachers, let alone guards. I reject that argument. The stakes are too high.

Besides, pouring lots of money at education doesn't provide more successful outcomes for students. Take Kansas City Public Schools--several years ago, their records showed that they spent $19,000 per student per year, and the results are appalling.

So, blame guns, society, parents, Republicans (you have to blame Republicans, don't you?). But the fact is that we as adults and "normal" citizens have failed to protect our school children. That is a task that we should not allow to be accomplished 98% of the time--it needs to be all the time.


Spring training started last Monday. Games start this weekend, and I just missed it. Too much CNN and MSNBC, I guess. Out of touch with the important stuff.

To me, the start of spring training is so much more significant than some rodent in Punxsutawney predicting the end of winter, because when full squads report, winter is officially going to end.

The East Coast has been chilly and miserable this winter and the midwest is still in the middle of some cold weather--it was ice and snow a couple of days ago, then 6 degrees in Sioux City with a NW wind at 25 mph. Yep, that's winter on the Plains. Did you ever wonder how people got along in teepees with that kind of winter?

My Royals are "rebuilding." So many from that World Series Championship squad are gone due to free agency, so the code word for "watch out" is "rebuilding." Alex Gordon, 34 years old and in the last two years of his big contract, promises they will play hard. Wonder when baseball GMs will quit throwing money at aging stars? Gordon never lived up to offensive potential as a youngster, but was a fan favorite and really good defensive outfielder. In the first two years of his current contract, his batting average is .214, a shade under the Mendoza line and a liability in the outfield. But, if you wear Big Red Goggles and bleed Royal's Blue, he is still ok.

I hope we're not in for a bunch of years like we endured back in the day. As Buddy Bell said about the 2005 Royals, "I never said it couldn't get worse."

Still how bad can it be when Spring Training is underway.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


The place where Ray Ellis was born, grew up, spent his adult life and died has been obliterated. Make way for a pivot sprinkler. He was a bachelor, lived with his mother, no offspring (and I will bet the farm on that one). The 1950's equivalent of a Millenial.

Except Ray worked, and he worked hard. Not effectively or efficiently, but hard. Ray gave me my first "real" job, I was 12 and he was a neighbor. About $1 per hour, and it was hauling alfalfa bales and stacking them on a pile in the yard. I earned enough over three days to buy a baseball glove that cost $30 in Columbus at the sporting goods store. If I were flipping burgers in today's world, that glove would be worth about $300...but since it now comes from Haiti or someplace, it doesn't cost that much.

My brother and I would laugh at Ray for keeping the hog feed in the cattle pen and the cattle feed in the hog pen. Then transported back and forth with 5-gallon buckets until his arthritis made him so stooped that he resorted to 2.5-gallon buckets.

The hogs that should have been castrated young were left to grow and my brother and I didn't laugh so hard when we had to hold them when they were as big or bigger than we were. Their breath is not heavenly, either.

A woman who works at the local post office where I live could be his mother's, Nettie Ellis's, sister. Except Nettie was probably born in the 1880's. I hesitate to broach that subject with this lady...the story would get too complicated, and for what?

Why does Ray come up in my mind so many times? Maybe due to the work, the pay, the peculiar smell that his 1951 Chevy car had--he had been to town, bought five gallons of 2-4-D concentrate to spray for weeds, and it spilled all over in the trunk. The car was new for about 5 minutes, I guess. It was awful.

Maybe all those things, but maybe because all remnants of his life have been wiped clean. No physical evidence, no offspring. And damned few people who remember him. Well, Ray, I do. Vividly. But it is unintentionally nihilistic--because that just doesn't mean a blasted thing.

Make your own vows and conclusions from that.

Carry on.

Sunday, January 28, 2018


This is not, really, a book review, but some observations after reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer. My thanks to Amy W for borrowing the book in my name, it was perfect.

By the end of 1944, the war in the Pacific was pretty much determined, but the details were not. The battles of Midway and the Coral Sea had depleted the Japanese Navy and the Marianas Turkey
Shoot virtually eliminated their air power, and that turned out to be what they desperately needed. Maybe that is why we don’t hear much about the Battle off Samar, part of the “Leyte Gulf” operations that freed the Philippines, but subsequent operations (Iwo Jima and Okinawa come to mind) have been reviewed extensively.

The book reads like a novel, details the lives and exploits of key players and has the benefit of nearly 60 years of scholarship, memories and investigation. Still the US Navy’s down play of the battle is probably traced to its reluctance to skewer a couple of its heroes, Admiral Kinkaid for one, but in particular Admiral “Bull” Halsey who was trumpeted as a hero in the home newspapers before and after the battle, despite his arrogant and obsessive actions that took his powerful fleet out of the battle, far away. If too bright a light had been shone at the time, his failure would have been clearly seen.

Read the book, feel the horror of the carnage and the heroism of men who epitomize the “Greatest Generation.” Their eager call to duty is difficult for me to imagine in today’s climate.

So many of the observations made about the survivors at reunions tap into my experience—long-term bonds with comrades from long ago and an image of self and others that is much younger. I recognize people outside that group as old men and women, but we are forever young.

I should make some sweeping recommendation about “everybody should recognize the sacrifices” but that would be presumptuous and worthless. For me it was another reminder of how lucky we are to have had those men, many stricken down at the start of their lives, who stopped the Nazis and the Japanese. It would have been a different and lesser world today.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


OK, you talk about a First World Problem! We have had a blizzard, a snow storm and a lot of days below freezing and nights in the single digits.