Sunday, April 9, 2017

THE F WORD

The word does not appear in my 1963 copy of Webster’s International Dictionary of the English language. Nor does it appear in the 1977 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus or in Black’s Law Dictionary.

It does, however, appear in more recently published resources. The Urban Dictionary, for example, contains a complete discussion of the word, its etymology, and the various ways in which the word is used as a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb.

It is, I suppose, a commentary on the changing American culture that the dictionary now contains a definition that mirrors the comedy routine made famous by George Carlin more than a generation ago.

Half a century ago, our oldest son, returning from a public swimming pool, asked his mother what the word meant. Fortunately, I had already explained sexual intercourse to him in an age-appropriate manner. She simply told him it was a crude and vulgar reference to the basic human reproductive function.

She suggested that when he heard people use that word, he should say a prayer for them.

I shutter to think of the amount of praying we would have to be doing these days to keep up with that admonition. Some enterprising soul has created a web site called “F Bomb” on which are traced Tweets world wide in search of various expressions of the word.

A map of the world displays another pin whenever new F Bomb is tweeted. There are pins from South Africa to the United Kingdom, but the busiest part of the world is the eastern section of the United States. And, of course, California.

Of particular note to Web Watchers, like myself, is the frequency of F—ing and F---ers that appear in blog commentary. It seems that every time a writer publishes an opinion on any subject from politics to football, someone will take exception and enhance their comment with an F bomb or two.

It is the surest way to terminate any attempt to maintain a rational discussion or debate.

The Urban dictionary tells us that a principal use of the word is to express emotion; to emphasize; to reinforce the impact of a word or a sentence.

The pity, of course, is that the word replaces all of the expressive and powerful English words and phrases that once made our native tongue the envy of writers and composers. The unhappy result is that this single multipurpose word is dumbing down our nation.

There was a day when one might have excoriated a neighbor as annoying, aggravating, exasperating, vexatious, bothersome, a pest, an annoyance, even a pain in the neck. Today’s one-size-fits-all colloquial assessment, would probably be something like: “He’s a dumb fuck.”

For the post-millennial generation the ubiquitous F bomb says it all, whether ‘it’ is good, bad or indifferent. Along with the mindless repetition of the word “like” it has become a hallmark for the numbing of the American brain.

The entertainment industry, the prodigal offspring of a stage once dedicated to uplifting the human experience, has embraced the F bomb culture and given it the secular imprimatur that insinuates it into daily life from the Saint Lawrence to the Santa Margarita.

I first came upon the frequent use of the word when, as a college student, I was working in a stone yard. It was hard, manual labor, and the men in the yard were older than I, and veterans of WWII. Their language reflected the men-only culture of the draft-populated military.

Lots of young men learned to use the word in the service. When my older brother Terry, of sainted memory, came home on leave from the Navy, he
had already – in boot camp – acquired some of the jargon of a sailor.

At one family dinner he casually asked me to pass the f….kin potatoes. 

If anyone else around the table heard it, they didn’t let on. For my part, I was left to wonder whether potatoes simply grew out of the ground, or whether they were the product of some sort of vegetable copulation he had learned about at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Racine, Wisconsin.

Friday, March 31, 2017

THE BIG C

Doctors call it gross hematuria. I call it red pee.

By whatever name, it’s scary stuff. Scary enough to send me to the ER at McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital on Monday.

A few hours in their tender care and a CT scan yielded a diagnosis: transitional cell carcinoma of the left kidney. Doctor Z gave Polly and me a couple of pills, just in case we would have trouble getting to sleep.

When you have six children, all mature and highly educated, and you tell them you have cancer, the immediate mobilization is a marvelous thing to behold.

Get a primary physician in Lansing; get a top urology expert and a first rate oncology doctor. Make appointments ASAP. Have all CT scans and medical records delivered immediately. Step up the remodeling and furnishing of the condo at Burcham Hills in East Lansing. Urgent emails, text messages and phone calls create the kind of teamwork buzz I remember from my days of political campaigning.

Their concern, of course, is heartwarming, but I suspect that my reaction to the news has not been what it would have been thirty years ago. When you are 87 years old, death is like politics; you can talk about it, but you can’t change it.

It is what it is.

Our Christian heritage tells us that we are dust and unto dust we shall return; that we know not the day nor the hour. Good enough. If I were scheduled to face a firing squad tomorrow morning, I probably wouldn’t sleep very well tonight.

But that is not the case. Tomorrow will be like today. Another blessing. Another miracle of sentient existence.

The old body gets a little creakier every day, that’s true. The hugging and kissing, daily habits of a lifetime, get a little more satisfying and appreciated; the smiles and the laughter are a little more precious and necessary.

But life goes on. I will watch the news. I will do Sudoku puzzles. I will write blogs, read books, browse the world wide web, and chew gum.

And I will hug my darling Pauline. Until I can’t any more.

I have spent the last half century trying to make a difference in this old world. It is a preposterously egotistical ambition. Like a grain of Lake Michigan sand trying to create a dune.

Still, I have always believed it is worth the effort. Sharing in the important work of administering justice to my fellow citizens, helping to create access to the legal profession for new generations of Americans and on more than a few occasions, just trying to make things a little better for some folks who needed help; it’s not a mighty sand dune, but it’s not chopped liver.

The popular mantra sweeping our nation these days is “Make America great again.” All well and good, but I hope our people will pay heed to the famous words quoted by Dwight Eisenhower in a 1952 campaign speech:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers—and it was not there. . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests—and it was not there. . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce—and it was not there. . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. 

America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good,she will cease to be great.

In the last analysis, the most patriotic and efficacious thing that most people can do with their lives is to try to behave themselves. Or as my sainted father, Joe Brennan, advised: “You know what’s wrong and you know what’s right. Do what’s right.”

Dr. Z from the Emergency Room called yesterday to say that the CT scan also shows a penny-sized nodule on my left lung.  

The big C is the big C. It is what it is. I’ll try to behave myself a while longer.                                                                              

Thursday, March 16, 2017

PUPPA

My oldest daughter, Peggy, is a brilliant woman. After earning her Master’s Degree in advertising from the University of Illinois, she walked away from a promising career as a successful account executive at Foote, Cone and Belding to devote full time to mothering four beautiful daughters.

And advising her lawyer husband, Dave, on how to market legal services.

She visited us this week, and, as always, engaged us in the most enjoyable and affable conversation.

We got on the topic of grandchildren, and she told us a touching story about the funeral of the father of a friend of hers. The eulogist asked all of the deceased’s grandchildren to stand and be recognized. Nine young men and women stood.

Now, said the speaker, would any of you who believed that you were your grandfather’s favorite, please raise your hand. Instantly all nine of them raised their hands.

Our nineteen grandchildren range in age from thirty-four to fourteen. They are scattered from Savannah, Georgia to Los Angeles California. At last count, they had accumulated seventeen degrees from a dozen universities.

I got them all together for Thanksgiving dinner up until a few years ago. It was always a real kick to see them as adults chatting affably with cousins they knew from childhood.

There was inevitable talk of the Pookie room, at the foot of the back stairs in our house on Park Lake Road. It was a special hide away for preschoolers, crammed with toys and crayons. Adults were not welcome.

And they remember the year Puppa rented a bus which hauled the whole clan to a touch football game, a barbeque and other adventures.

Family gatherings now focus on weddings. We have had three so far, with another in the offing for October. Polly and I revel in the fuss they make over their octogenarian ancestors. They always make us feel very special and very specially loved.

Polly is in charge of the birthday cards and the Christmas presents. The burden of buying gifts, even for the inveterate shopper to whom I am married, has finally dictated that we content ourselves with sharing financial largess at Christmas and on birthdays.

Having some vivid memories of the economic pinch associated with being a young adult, I am not surprised to hear genuine gratitude when the checks are distributed.

Like her sainted mother, Peggy is never shy about expressing her views about my role as Paterfamilias.

And, of course, as always, she got me to thinking.

What exactly should be the relationship between an 87 year old grandfather and his twenty-something and thirty-something grandchildren?

I had to concede that few, if any of my grandchildren and/or great grandchildren, will ever accede to being my favorite. Indeed, among my siblings and myself, the idea that any of us would be favored by our parents was unthinkable.

In fact we used to joke that our mother must have stood before her bedroom mirror and recited the words from Snow White: mirror, mirror on the wall…

Mother was meticulously even handed. Indeed, she was ‘the fairest of them all.’ She loved all five of us exactly the same. Period.

Which is not to say that I do not see each and every one of my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren as special and specially wonderful.

They all astound me, amaze me, and amuse me. They are fun to be around, interesting to talk to, and full of challenging ideas and exciting experiences.

Yes, Peggy, I should call them once in a while. Just to talk. Just to say hello. Just to let them know that I think about them and care about them.

Even if I can’t remember all the birthdays.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

FOGGY BOTTOM


March 10, 2017
Dear Judge Brennan,
By way of brief introduction my name is Patrick Sell and I am a Foreign Affairs Officer in the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC. My office, the Office of the U.S. Speaker Program, coordinates virtual and traveling speaking engagements, connecting American experts with foreign audiences to advance American foreign policy priorities. We receive regular requests for speakers to discuss the current state of American politics. American Embassies abroad look to our office to connect them with American experts in this field.

I am writing to see if you would ever be interested in working with us on any future U.S. Speaker Programs? If so, then I would be happy to have a brief phone call with you to tell you more about the U.S. Speaker Program. Please e-mail me at SellPJ@state.gov if you are interested.

Thank you, in advance, for your consideration of this request.

Kind regards,
Patrick Sell

March 10, 2017
Patrick:
I would be happy to discuss the Speaker Program with you.
My phones: Land Line: 231-526-0065  Cell: 352-346-5891
I should be available most any time.

March 10, 2017
‎Dear Judge Brennan,

Thank you very much for your response and for your willingness to participate on our public diplomacy initiatives. I am currently out of the office, but one of my colleagues will be in touch with you early next week to discuss the U.S. Speaker Program.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Kind regards, Patrick

On Monday, March 13, 2017, I received a telephone call from Brandon Lambert, a colleague of Patrick Sell. He described the Speakers Program as one in which the State Department underwrites one or two week’s overseas travel for selected private citizens, the purpose being to talk to people about our country. The federal government, he assured me, pays for travel and lodging and provides an additional modest allowance of $200 per day.

Mr. Lambert told me they would want my curriculum vitae. I told him they could look on Wikipedia. He said that their office knew nothing about me except that I had been a supporter of Donald Trump for President.


March 13
Patrick:

I spoke with your colleague. He said that your office knew nothing about me except that I was apparently a supporter of Donald Trump. On reflection, I am of a mind to decline participation in your program. It has the smell of the swamp #45 wants to drain.

TEB

March 14, 2017
Dear Judge Brennan,

My apologies for my late response. I am on personal leave and am only checking emails periodically.

I also apologize for this unfortunate exchange. Evidently I didn't properly brief my colleague before I left. My job is to recruit a wide variety of experts on various topics. It's true that I came across your name on a list of experts who endorsed President Trump in the recent election. But it's your judicial experience, and your higher education experience, that makes you a great candidate for our programs (if you so choose). We run multiple Speaker Programs on judicial capacity building, for example, and I believe your time on the Michigan Supreme Court would be valuable to the foreign judges. We also discuss ways to promote American higher education- another area of expertise for you.

I am back in the office on Friday and would love to have a telephone conversation to discuss our offerings. But should you feel that this is not a good use of your time then I completely understand.

Kind regards,

Patrick

March 14, 2017
Patrick:

You didn’t mention the reason you are on ‘personal leave.’ As a taxpayer, I would hope that you are busy looking for employment in the private sector.

Your candid admission that you found me on a list of “experts” who supported the candidacy of Donald Trump takes some explaining.

Why are State Department employees looking for Trump supporters who might be interested in all-expense-paid overseas travel coupled with pocket money of $200 per day?

The light goes on. This program certainly wasn’t invented after January 20, 2017. No sir. It is better than even money that this program has been going on for a long time.

Next question: for how many past years have employees of the State Department been culling over lists of Presidential campaign supporters to find candidates for overseas travel?

Foggy Bottom is well named. It sure sounds like a swamp.

TEB