Monday, April 16, 2007

Worse Than in the Old Days? Part I

My elders used to say that everything was going to hell and that it wasn't like that in the old days. Whether it was jazz music we were playing or the fact that we used rough lanquage or that our manners were not quite up to speed. That is the reason that in my advancing age I am slightly hesitant to say that the moral and ethical climate and standards in the United States has sunk to a new low, lead by, but by no means confined to, the deadbeats in the Bush administration.

A few examples in recent day: there is "Going, Going...." Gonzales - little Alberto testifying before Congrass that he knew nothing about the plan to remove a number of U.S Attornets across the country It turns out that his Chief of Staff briefed him regularly on this subject over a period of months. There were also e-mails to and from Harriet Myers ( before her abortive run at the Supreme Court) that spell out his knowledge of this plan. Some of the e-mails unfortunately have been "lost".

Then there is Wolfowitz ( who was not awarded the Medal of Freedom as was George Tenet, but instead was sent over to the World Bank ( tax free substantial salary) to make sure World Bank subsubdies went to nations who toodied up to George Bush. Wolfie also wanted to clean up favoritism and individual corruption at the Bank, but conveniently forgot that these standards also would apply to him. So when he participated in arranging a new job and a very high salary for his girl friend, he first denied he had anything to do with this.
Another bald face lie which he had to retract very quickly. In my view Wolfie is "toast" altho the mechanics of removing him may take a few weeks..........At least Joe Bolton (who as Bush appointee as Ambassador to the UN showed again Bush' contempt for all international institutions and agreements) stuck by his own nutty ideas of not talking to countries like Iran and North Korea. Bolton was described by one of his colleagues in the State Department as a "kiss up. kick down " kind of a guy. A new and valuable description of certain people we have all had to deal with from time to time.

I don't belief it was like this in the old days. We had FDR as President for thirteen years and there was hardly any scandal in high places. Sumner Wells, a very high official in the State Department , was said to be 'gay" - altho that word had not yet been corrupted, and was said to have had an affair with a Pullman porter and was thereafter sidelined. One can't imagine Henry Stimson or George Marshal or the "the old curmudgeon", Harold Ickes being caught in any kind of lie. Henry Stimson once said that gentlemen did not read other gentlemen's mail and there fore disapproved of some intelligence techniques. It really wasn't this bad in the old days.

Then we have the Vice President. Tim Russert asked him if he had spoken to his close associate Sootter Libby since he had been convicted of a felony and , many people think, had lied to protect Cheney. No, he had not spoken to his old associate. There"wasn't any reason to". That is not a matter of ethics; it is a matter of decent human conduct.

But move on from Government. You remember Enron and the likes. And now find out that many respected companies are accused of and some have admitted pre-dating stock options so the option holder could not just make a little money, but make a real killing and a sure thing. Now have Halliburton and the non-competitive contracts to do work in Iraq and than on top of that double-billing.

Finally - for now - the Universities are far from scandal free. Administrators bought and sometimes asccepted as gifts stock in one of the companies providing student loans -as clear a conflict of interest as one can imagine. It was easy for them to give the company a preferred postion. We have not seen that last of this one by a long shot.

Then - not quite in the same category - is the CEO of Ford who got paid 28 million dollars for four months work. This may not be stealing, but only because the common law under which we operate could not imagine such a deed. To be continued ----Part One

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Commuting to NYC in the 1960s

I the 1950s and 60s when we WW2 vetswere making our way in the worlf I was living in Norwalk, Connecicut and working New York city. It took quite a long time to get to work. I would get up at 6:15 am and rush to get the 7:11 train to New York . No breakfast, a cup of coffee on the train, get another hour of sleep before the train pulled in. But in those days the New Haven railroad was on the rocks and it was never certain when we would arrive.......But that was nothing compared to the trip home. I would rush to catch the 6:01 train and sometimes make it. If not, the next train was the 7:02 which meant getting home too late to see the kids IF the train was on time , which it seldom was'

There was a bar car on the train and on the 7:02 it was filled with the advertising crowd going to Westport in full flight having had a couple of shots before boarding. The bar car was so crowded and so filled with smoke you could barely see one end of the car to the other. Everyone in high gear and particularly on Fridays nights after a long week it was a sight to behold. Often in those days the train was very late and it was never certain when we would arrive at the Darien station. When we got there, some forgot to get off and since we had no cell phones, we could not tell our wives who we hoped would be meeting us when we might arrive.

That was the begining of the commuters' weekend. All the pent up energies of the work week disolved into Saturday night parties - filled with much booze and intermigling among the wives and women friends who had been home taking care of the kids and had their own pentup desires. One night I remember the train broke down in Rye and we decided to leave the train and get a rental car in Rye and made it home much before the train got there.

I remember the night that the lights went out in NYC. I was walking to Grand Central when all went black. But I was right near a Hertz car rental. I got the last car they had and got home much to the surprise of my family who figured a I was blackedout in NYC! They thought I was pretty smart!! I hear that the trains now do run on time and that it is a much easier commute, but we wnt through a ten year period that made every trip a new event. But somehow at the time it all seemed part of the game.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


TonightI had a call from an old pal that i went through WW2 with. We didn't talk about the War . We talked about our health and the horrible situation in Iraq and how this miserable leadership has put our dear country in such an impossible situation. But he made me think about courage because my friend at the height of the battle of Cassino in the Italian campaign had a German shell explode about ten feet from the jeep he was driving and his Lieutenant and friend sitting besdide him in a jeep was hit right through the stomach and died in his arms about 30 minutes later. My friend was untouched thanks to the Jeep motor which deflected the blast. But two weeks later my friend was back in his ambulance on or near the front line doing his job. That is courage.

But now in our old age --85 years old - we need and hope to have courage again - a different kind - to fight old age and the deterioration of some of our faculties and not be discouraged by our own situation and the situation of our country for which we did our part back then.. My friend carries his oxygen tank with him and continues to lead a full life , interested in all his activities. He carries the scars of that war with him, but to see him and talk with him you'd never know abut the past. War, when you have really been in it, does damage all through your life which you have to cope with. Churchill said: Courage is the most important quality. It insures the rest, With it you can cope and go forward and do your job.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Gosh, we were lucky

"A tinkling piano in the next apartment
A stumbling word that told you what my heart meant
O, how the ghost of you clings
These foolish things remind me of you"

The words of the song come back so easily from fifty or more years ago and remind me of the 1930s when my genration grew up == just in time to be drafted or to volunteer for the Armed Services to help fight the war against the Nazis and the Japanese. Some might say we were unlucky , but most of us did not feel that way. We wanted to be part of The Great Crusade.

But in another sense we were very lucky. The 1930s was a time when movies and radio and recordplayers were just coming into their own and were changing popular culture, and we in this country had the best of many , many talented song writers, bands, singers and dancers.. I'll put my personal favorites in parentheses - Cole Porter (Night and Day); Harold Arlen ( Paper Moon); Ira and George Gershin ( you name it ), Irving Berlin, Jerome Kerns (A Fine Romance); Rogers and Hart ( I didn't know what time it was)

How lucky can you be to have grown up with the great bigbands: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Bunny Berigan and so on. Any middle class guy could take his girl to hear them play and dance the night away.

.....The Glen Island Casino in Rye, New York was about forty miles from where I lived with my family and as soon as I was sixteen and had my drivers License, I could take the family car, pick up my girl and listen and dance to one of those great bands and get home by 1 a.m.

Now that we have been through ( or are going through the horrors of "rap") how good those old songs sound. In "these foolish things" I could not remember the ending of one line, but my wife of fifty years easily supplied it. They were wistful songs. You had either lost your girl or weren't making any progrees with her or you imagined she was Ginger Rogers and you were dancing with her.

The we went off to war and it all changed. But the memories stayed and undoubtedly helped carry us through some tough spots. Today whe we see a rerun on tv of Fred and Ginger these old feeling come back and we can remember that special kiss when the band started " Goodnight Sweetheart" and the lights went down.


I was reminded of all this when I recently picked up one of my alltime favorite history books - "The Borrowed Years 1938-1941" by Richard Ketchum. A marvelous picture of the social and political life in the United States in the years between Munich and Pearl Harbor. Get it if you have not read it. It is truly the way it was for many of us who lived it.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Disaster repeated

Apparently the president is going to recommend sending additional combat troops to Iraq. Have we learned nothing from the past? If we do that, the reaction of the Arab world will be: Invasion #2. We told you that the US meant to stay in Iraq and secure the oil and remake our world in the image of the US......Woodrow Wilson's phrase "Make the world safe of democracy" will again lead us down the garden path to further disaster. We can only hope that the Democrats and a number of Republicans will oppose any such plan . I see that McCain is now ataching a number of caveats to his approval and I believe that even his modified position will finish his chances of the Republican nomination. The Generals on the scene oppose it, but the President goes ahead even though he has been telling us for years that he takes his cue from those on the spot. I pray and hope that "the country" in whtever form will rise up and put a stop to any such plan. Too bad we can't do what they do in the corporate world and with unsuccessful football coaches - give him a huge bonus and the boot.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Death and Dying

Here i am in my middle 80s and yet I am startled and of course very sad when one of my contemporaries dies. This weekend I lost two old buddies that I have known for more than 60 years and more intimately the last 5-6 years than when we were in college. What business did you have , dying like that ? And you did not tell me in advance so that we could reminisce about the good times and the ups and downs of our respective lives. One of them took a bad fall and cracked his head and the subsequent operaration could not save him -- I just can't believe that that ebbulient, lively, optimistic spirit is no long with us.........................we WWII Vets are fast going. I want to hang in there very badly and see my daughters through their problems and my grandchildren strike out on their own. I am not a careful person, but I am trying reform and drive more slowly and walk more carefully and get plenty of sleep. Let's hope that works. I particularly want to get through to the Fall when Ken Burns' 14 hour documentary on WWII - called THE WAR - is on public tv.....................A modest hope and one that I am sure I will fulfill. As sure as one can be about anything in this uncertain life.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Television Dinner at Andy's

Back in 1969 or 1070 I had just become involved in public television as the chief aide to Frank Pace who had been appointed by President Johnson as the first Chairman of the Board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting - this was time of the real beginning of what we now know of as pulic tv. We were living in Rowayton , Connecitcut, a wonderful, almost unspoiled town on the Long IslandSound. This small town was notable among the other suburbs as having a number of writers , painters, journalists and a playwright. Jimmy Ernst, Gabor Peterdi, Harry Marinsk , Dick Griffiths among others....It wasn't an expensive place to live or rent in those days and some of the artists of all kinds in my generation were beginning to come into their own.

Andy Rooney - at that time either with CBS or NBC I don't remeber which - lived about five miles from our house with his wife Marg who taught my kids at the local elementary school. One summer night Andy and Marg invited us to a small dinner party at their house. On arrival I was pleaed to see that one of the other guesta was Harry Reasoner who was further advanced in his career and had already made a considerable mark as a television journalist.

Everything was very pleasant through the cocktail hour, but during dinner Harry made, what seemed to ne. a violent attack on public television. He said that government had no business getting involved in Tv - whether it was news or entertainment and surely no journalist who was getting paid directly or indirectly with Federal money could be counted on to give unbiased reports. I took strong exception to this point of view and the argument got quite out of hand to the somewhat embarrassment of the other guests....But before leaving it calmed down and we all shook hands amiocably, at least on the surface.

The nest morning about ten o'clock I was in my office at WNET/Thirteen , the NYC public tv station, when a messenger arrived with Harry's card and a short note which read: "Ward, last night I broke the cardinal rule of Fairfield County. I discussed a serious subject after more than two martinis. Plse accept my apologies.".. I have always thought that was such a gracious act on Harry's part. In one form or other, I have used it on two occasions in the past forty years of dinner parties when I felt I had perhaps gone too far. Some people, I am sure, would say that I might have used it on more than the two occasions. In succeeding years I got to know Harry and much admired him........This incident came to mind over the weekend as I was watching on C-Span a remarkale interview with Andy Rooney during which he talk about many of his interestiing experiences in WWII.