Thursday, May 12

Remembering George Carlin

Two stories in the local paper (The Island Packet, Hilton Head, SC) this morning reminded me of things George Carlin, he of the acerbic wit, said. Carlin had to be taken with a grain of salt; after all he was a great comedian who had mastered the English language, sometimes putting academics to shame. 

Thieves stole a trailer full of tools from the Habitat for Humanity property. They are still unknown. These are the kind of people Carlin said should be tied to a gurney and beaten with a piece of heavy mining equipment.

A second story quoted a South Carolina legislator who introduced a bill that lets bankrupt residents hold on to $5,000 worth of guns as referring in his remarks to “my daddy” and “my granddaddy.” Carlin had distain for such terms he said were “favored by rebel a**holes.”
(Full disclosure: When I was in the state legislature back in the early eighties, I spoke and voted against allowing people to hold on to expensive TVs in bankruptcy proceedings. I was referred to in the debate as a scrooge.)

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Monday, May 2

Reunion in Spartanburg

There are so many impressive things to talk about after a visit to the BMW assembly plant in Spartanburg, S.C., one does not quite know how to highlight just a couple. I’ll try.

When the body of a car goes to the paint chamber it has doors on it. After the painting the car moves along the assembly line and a robot removes the doors so work on the interior can be done. Much later along the line these doors will be mated to the exact auto body they came from by another robot. 

A different robot installs the sun roof, when one is called for, and 37 screws are tightened simultaneously by this robot. I’ve never had a screwdriver that would do 37 screws simultaneously. 

This visit to the BMW facility was part of the weekend at the Carolina’s-Georgia CIRA (Central Intelligence Retirees Association) Chapter. I am an honorary member of the chapter, and certainly appreciate the status. 

We had walking tours of Spartanburg and it was enlightening to learn of the efforts in dressing up the city, making it attractive to young people and families. Music in Morgan Park was highlighted on Thursday and Friday nights. Families sat on the grass, children ran around barefooted, and on Friday night an African-American woman carrying a cane danced her feet off to the music. She was inspiring. Also amazing were the number of red-headed children. Is it the water in that part of the state?

We had a speaker at the Saturday night dinner from the CIA Publications Review Board. Former employees and contractors, in fact anyone who ever signed the secrecy oath at the Agency has to submit proposed publications for review prior to being sent to any publisher. She also said surviving family members are requested to submit obituaries of deceased CIA personnel to insure no classified information is being revealed. 

The speaker told us there is a 12-18 months backlog of work for the PRB to review; she candidly admitted later that not everyone proposing to write is a great writer. Non-fiction authors doing their life story probably do better than aspiring fiction writers. John le Carre, Philip Kerr and Alan Furst can rest easy 

It was a good time to meet and greet old friends, catch up on family affairs and just enjoy good fellowship. Am looking forward to the 2017 reunion to be held somewhere in North Carolina.

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Wednesday, March 30

A water mistress who masters the pool

In addition to a daily newspaper I subscribe to fifteen publications, some weekly, semi-monthly and monthly, but Vogue is not one of them.

I picked up a copy of the April issue, however,  because a good friend's granddaughter is the subject of a feature story - Free Style - (page 250) dealing with her amazing accomplishments as a young swimmer. 

It is safe to say the six-feet tall Kathy Ledecky of Bethesda, Maryland, could out swim Tarzan, Jane, Boy and Cheetah all at once. Heck, she has already bested every one else. 

At the age of 15, this phenomenon made her debut at the London Olympics four years ago, winning a gold, and has since won golds in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 meter freestyle races at the FINA World Championships in Russia last August. 

The swimming world is wondering what Miss Ledecky, now 19-years of age, will do to top all this at the Olympics in Brazil this summer. She trains up to 30 hours a week, and has broken her own 800 meter freestyle world record four times since 2013. 

The Vogue feature deals with the maturity and pose of this 19-year old who has deferred her scholarship to Stanford for a year to train for the Olympics.  Last fall she took a couple of classes at Georgetown: Chinese history and politics, to keep herself sharp.

Even if I was not acquainted with her grandmother, the Vogue (April 2016) essay, Free Style, would be enlightening and entertaining reading for the simple pleasure of knowing about this "once-in-a-lifetime" American swimming phenom. 

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Tuesday, March 29

Off we go into the wild blue yonder...

One of my grandsons left for Air Force basic training at Lackland Air Fore Base in Texas yesterday.  His family had a launch party for him on Sunday, with about 30 friends and family members on hand to wish him well. I did not make the tips but earlier sent him a letter expressing my pride in his enlistment and wishing him well. This is that letter:

March 20, 2016 

Dear Matthew,

When you go to bed next Sunday night, Easter 2016, you will close a chapter in the book of your young life. On Monday, March 28, you will turn a page and begin to write the next chapter entitled,  My Air Force Life. 

What you write will depend on many things, not the least of which is the interest you take in the new and exciting world you will discover around you. When I entered the Air Force, also on a Monday, April 21, 1951, it was a major eye-opener for me. Like you I had lived all of my life in one town surrounded by family and friends whose lives were much like mine. But when I boarded the train all this changed. Family stayed behind, friends scurried around some where, and I was with new faces who had different backgrounds and histories. But, before long we were a small part of a large team: the USAF.

I served the Air Force well and it did well by me. You will get out of it what you bring to it and what you put into it. On that basis I know you will do well and this new chapter will be filled with memories you will cherish forever. Be true to yourself, your fellow Airmen, your superiors and your country. Be proud of the uniform you will wear and remember the sacrifices of thousands who have gone before you and built the finest Air Force in the world.  They have left you with a heavy charge to carry on the traditions.

I am proud to be your Grandfather. You are a fine young man and your late Grandmother Mary, who also served in the Air Force, would be as proud of you as I am.

God Bless you, Matthew, may He keep you safe and strong. With you in the Air Force, I know our country will always be safe and free.

Love from Grandpa

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Tuesday, March 1

The Overcoat: Stolen, Worn, Gone

A film editing error

A couple of week sago I went to see Bridge of Spies, a film based on factual events recounting the swap of convicted Soviet Spy Rudolph Abel for U.S. U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. The film stars Tom Hanks in the role of James Donovan, a New York Attorney, who is pressed into defending Abel when he is caught by the FBI, and is later enlisted by the CIA to negotiate the swap. The time is the late fifties and early sixties: the early days of the late and unlamented Cold War. 

Over the weekend, I bought a DVD copy of the film to add to my collection of such films. Last night I viewed it again,

As the story develops, in 1962, Donovan (Hanks) is on his way to the Soviet Embassy in East Berlin in bitter cold weather when he is stripped of his overcoat by some street thugs. 

In the Embassy he talks with a man who claims to be only a Second Secretary, but we learn later is the KGB chief in Germany, who makes fun of the lost coat. He gives Donovan the address of an East German lawyer named Wolfgang Vogel, representing an East German woman who claims to be the wife of Abel. 

In the meeting with Vogel, Donovan is wearing his stolen overcoat. Later when he is back in the CIA safe house nursing a cold, sipping tea, and wrapped in a blanket he asks the CIA chief to get him a coat since he lost his own doing “spy stuff.”  For the rest of the film he wears a new coat. 

Obviously, as is often the case, scenes were short out of sequence to be later put together in the editing process, and something like this should have been caught by the editors and the scene probably re-shot.  It doesn’t materially affect the fine film that Steven Spielberg has produced but it is an interesting oddity. 

Mark Rylance plays the role of Abel, and for his performance won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor this past Sunday night.

The Abel for Powers swap was only one incident in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, but this exciting film helps us to understand the dangerous times the Cold War presented for the world. 

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Saturday, February 20

You are there (with apologies to CBs)

You are there (with apologies to CBS)

The radio program,You are There, first broadcast on CBS made a transition to television in 1953, with Walter Cronkite as the regular host.

The series featured various key events in American and world history, portrayed in dramatic recreations. Each episode would begin with the characters setting the scene. Walter Cronkite, called “Mr. Believable” by Howard Cosell, from his anchor desk in New York,  would give a few words on what was about to happen. An announcer would then give the date and the event, followed by a loud and boldly spoken "You are there!"

At the end of the program, after Cronkite summarizes what happened in the preceding event, he reminded viewers, "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times... all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

Looking back on my week, the events hardly could be considered to “alter and illuminate our times…” nevertheless you can be there.

President’s Day opened the week and the banks and stock markets were closed. This spared everyone from losing money in the market. Then I had a meeting with a tax advisor who answered some questions that arose out of my having to file a 1040 for the first time since my wife died in August 2015 This was very helpful. 

In the middle of the week the weather turned warmer and I walked 2-3 miles each day. One day, I met a neighbor who had given me a plate of home made cookies for Valentine’s Day and I thanked her again for her thoughtfulness. I had called and left a message on her answering machine when I found the cookies outside my door. 

I had my carotid arteries checked and the technician gave me a thumbs up and said, “I wouldn’t worry if I were you.” This I found comforting. Later in the week I had an echocardiogram and it appeared to go well, but the technician gave the usual response, “The doctor will read it and be in touch with your cardiologist.”  

I did see the cardiologist and he said everything looked good, except that my aortic valve was not functioning at maximum level. There is some stenosis and we will need to watch this and take appropriate action down the road. As this worsens, replacing the valve by surgery or transcatheter aortic valve replacement are options. Neither of these sounds like fun. Just as no one says they want a two-week vacation in Biloxi, Mississippi, no one wants heart surgery or other poking around. We will check this again in a year. This was comforting. If it was reaching critical mass stage the re-check might have been in three or six months,

Things were much easier with my podiatrist. He clipped my toenails, checked the pulse in my feet (pronounced it good), gave me some advice about the type of socks to wear and sent me on my way. Young people may ask, “Why don’t you clip your own toenails like I do.” I don’t because I am 84 (chronological age, not indicative of my zest for life and joy in living),  and more often than not clip the skin around the nails and this could lead to infection and foot trouble. We only get two feet in this life and they are more valuable than your wallet and credit cards, two things you take darn good care of. 

I did some yard work, trimming bushes and putting water in a bird bath. Early in the week the water in it froze. I watched a small bird one cold morning pecking away at the ice without success at breaking through and unable to get water. I added a large pan of warm water which cooled quickly in the 45 degree temperature.

There was the inevitable shopping. I made a list before I went and planned to shop at two locations. Things went well at the first store and when I realized I was going to get only two items at the second I changed my mind. Strawberries and blueberries are better buys at the second location but I picked them up where I was. Saving a few pennies was not worth the hassle of driving, parking, shopping and checking out at store number two. While I was still in number one getting some sliced turkey, two men were serving me and a woman was standing by with her ticket in her hand. That is how they keep shoppers in order. “Get your ticket.” I told one of the men to wait on the woman, “She has to catch the train to Topeka.” The woman laughed but the man, who obviously did not understand my humor, moved over to her quickly.

During the week I spent time on the computer, did the wash, completed household chores, and kept faith with some creditors by paying my bills on time. I read a lot (news magazines) and watched TV (a lot of trash to ignore.) 

Oh, I got at least two dozen telephone calls from Republican Presidential candidates and listened to a couple but just hung up on most. Today, February 20, is the Republican Presidential primary and voting is at the community center. I am going to sit this one out and cast a ballot in next week’s Democratic primary. 

This is hardly the stuff of “those events that alter and illuminate our times... all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

But it is my times… and I log them for posterity

Monday, February 1

Advice for a young man in 2034

Last month my first grandson and his lovely wife celebrated the first birthday of my great grandson. He is a handsome, delightful, bubbly Little Man (we call him that). His parents have asked family and friends to not post pictures or other data about Little Man on social networks. Naturally, I defer to them.

At Little Man's birthday party his mother had a jar for people to put comments in for him to read when he is twenty years old, in 2034. She kept the jar open for a few days for those who wished to write a more extensive note or letter. I took advantage of this opportunity to write the following:

January 5, 2016

Dear Great Grandson 

When you read this on your twentieth birthday I will be gone and in your rear view mirror. The Good Lord willing, I will have my hand on your shoulder from afar. 

What is your life like in 2034? I have witnessed changes in my personal life and the lives of those around me that have been some of the greatest achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries. Some of these may still exist in 2034, others will have been supplanted by fresh ideas and accomplishments.

When I began life in 1931, a man walking on the moon was fantasy. Yet it became a reality in my lifetime. Where does man walk today? Take notice of it and appreciate it because it is growth built on earlier accomplishments while you were a baby, a young boy, a teen-ager and are now on the cusp of being a man.

Since I do not have the pleasure of knowing life in 2034 I cannot exult in the roads open to you and your future. I can, however, share some verities that will stand you in good stead. 

One, love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and soul. Two, love and respect your parents now and forever. They were so excited at your birth and being a part of your life. You may have brothers and sisters and they are family. One thing I stressed in my family’s life was to never raise your hand or take sides against a member of the family. As I reflect now in 2015, I am proud to say all my children love one another and help each other, and are a comfort to me and were to their late mother, Mary. 

Most of all, be yourself young man. Dare to dream and achieve what your heart desires. You are from good stock and you can do whatever you set your mind to. And when you reach the final curtain may you be able to say, as I do, that life was worth living, I had a great time, I would do most things again and my regrets are few. 

God Bless you my first Great Grand. Ask your folks about me, learn the good and the bad, and keep me in your prayers.

I loved you.

Francis X. Archibald
Great Grandpa (AKA: Pe-paw)

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