The Polite Observer

A Journal of Thought and Opinion. Not that You Asked….

Not That I’m Prejudiced, But…

I have to admit to one form of prejudice. As hard as I’ve tried to overcome my upbringing, and my life experience, and as hard as I try to remember not to paint everybody of  certain category with the same brush, I have to ‘fess up and admit that I do have a negative image of one particular minority group. I am ashamed by this, but I must, in all honesty, admit it. I am prejudiced against the rich.

There—I know it’s even considered offensive to call them, “The Rich.” I know they prefer “Job Creators” or “Those With Gumption to Make Things Happen” or “The Private Sector” or whatever they want to be called this year—who can keep up? At least I don’t call them “The Man,” “Greedheads,” or “Capitalists” or even sling about the R-word in mixed company like some people I know do. But then, It’s not that I hate them—not really. I do get a little nervous around them, sure. I shouldn’t judge people just because of their socioeconomic status, but…well, you know. One hears stories.

I know, I know. Just because someone is, you know, rich doesn’t necessarily reflect on his character. Well, yes, I said “his,” but it is statistically provable that nearly all Wall Street crime and Imperialist intervention is a function of rich males. Martha Stewart notwithstanding. It’s a fact. Oh, I know it’s supposed to be because of the

Please don’t judge me too harshly. Some of my best friends have been well off. Still, I do have a somewhat biased view of people who—shall we say Have More?—you have to admit you have had these thoughts too.  And yes, just because I see someone climbing into a chauffered town car outside the opera, that doesn’t mean he is going to downsize my place of employment or send my job to the Dominican Republic. Most of them don’t do that sort of thing, though one has to admit that when it comes to that sort of behavior, they are—shall we say Over-Represented?

It’s all over the news media, and one can’t help feeling afraid. One of us would have to be crazy to walk through what we can only call an affluent neighborhood—it is very likely that here will be some kind of confrontation with police or private security, and who needs that? Really, I’d never set foot in Bel-Air or Beverly Hills or Bloomfield Hills or places like that—especially after dark. It’s just not worth it. Anything could happen, and who would take care of my family then?

I have had friends—good friends—who had to move when some private-school types started moving into their neighborhoods. At first my friends tried to be cool about it—hey, why not? Open and accepting, right? But then the signs started appearing. Gates. Fences, Surveillance cameras. Next thing you know, buildings started being remodeled, industrial lofts became “gracious living spaces,” and the property values and rents skyrocketed. Complaints to landlords fell on deaf ears. And the old, working-class neighborhoods started to smell of Benz exhaust and arugula. The streets were lined with places selling two-dollar cupcakes. It was time to leave.

Fortunately, I live in a place where that hasn’t happened—yet. And there are lots of positive role models among the wealthy—like Bill Gates—a wealthy gentleman, and very much a credit to his tax bracket. I know all this, but I can’t help feeling—nervous. It seems like the well-to-do no longer seem to know their place. One is even running for President! My father, who grew up in a less sensitive age, would have called him a “rich bastard.” No doubt if he got in there would be more tax breaks and giveaways for the well-heeled. They always take care of their own. You know how they are.

Worse yet, some of these well-to-do people aren’t even American citizens! They have come here through upper-class immigration loopholes strictly to get on the government gravy train and collect tax exemptions and business incentives. There’s no sense of loyalty to America or to anything else.

These are dark thoughts, I admit. I mean, everyone in America should have the same chance to find meaningful work—but the rich are not interested in labor. They (and yes, I may be overgeneralizing) just want to take that dividend check and plop it right into hedge funds or a Cayman Islands bank. They have no concern about how that affects the larger community.

Like I’ve said, the rich—and I am not afraid to use that word, because that’s what they are—are not universally evil. Some are decent, hard-working individuals.

But still—would you want your daughter to marry one?

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Fakin’ It at the Foot of the Altar

This is a story that takes place in Monterey, California, when I was nine or ten. I had become an altar boy at the military chapel at the Presidio of Monterey.

Relax—it’s not one of those stories. In fact, in the year or so I was an altar boy at the Presidio chapel, I never once had an uncomfortable moment with any of the priests I worked with. Perhaps I was lucky, but more likely they were just a bunch of decent guys who lived what they claimed to believe. [Sadly, I have close relatives who were not so lucky. Google Pinkosh v. Diocese of Honolulu for details.]

Anyway, we altar boys were the traditional crew of young beasts and sinners that churches inevitably get stuck with. No doubt this was because we were boys. For the most part, nine- and ten-year-old boys are young heathens. We made little exploding frisbees out of coffee stirrers and threw them at each other. We told disreputable and highly inaccurate stories about what sex might be like (it being all theoretical for us at that point). We snooped around the vestry if we could do so without being caught. Pretty mild stuff, actually, but compared to serving Mass it seemed dyed black with wickedness—well, medium brown, anyway.

It being a military chapel, the priests worked in an unpredictable—for us—rotation. There were a couple of Army Chaplains, some locals, and a lot of old chaps. A really mixed bag compared to a lot of civilian parishes.

Another feature of the military chapel is that it was shared with other groups from other faiths. All Christian, as far as it went, with the possible exception of the 2:00 PM “SUN Worship” that the sign in front listed. Welll, we knew it was just an abbreviation, but we’d chuckle when imagining folks up on the roof chanting away, losing heart if a cloud should block the light.

Like I said, nine- and ten-year-old boys.

The heart of the operation was a man named John Henry. That was his name: Specialist 4 John Henry. He was the “Chaplain’s Assistant,” which meant he was essentially the go-to guy for everything that went on at that chapel. He made sure we altar boys knew when to show up and what to do when we got there. He took down the gold crucifix and removed the gold candlesticks after the Roman Catholic mass and replaced them with more a more modest plain cross and candlesticks in silver for the Protestants who were up in an hour. He even ran two enormous Christmas plays and a Passion play during my tenure there.

John Henry always warned us about the  Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. These had become optional under the changes in the Mass under Pope Paul VI, but as John Henry reminded us, “Some of the older priests still like to say them, and so you’d better learn them.” These prayers were, back in the day, quite lengthy and in Latin, and required the altar boy to resond a few times in Latin.

Fortunately, the version they were using when I was an altar boy were in English, and consisted of three statements by the priest, each having a response from the lad in question. I would like to tell you now how those went:

But I can’t. I tried Google, but all I could find was an older Latin Version, the English translation of same, and all of that on Websites about the Roman Catholic Tradition, which seems to belive the Mass was perfected about 1570 or so. There’s also a lot of stuff about home-schooling one’s children and impeaching Obama.  I am not making this up!

I can’t tell you much about the version we used, because I never bothered to memorize it. I know, three sentences. Well, it was difficult because:

  1. They were three sentences of Biblical language unlike any I spoke normally, and…
  2. I was too busy slacking off to bother sitting down for the time it would take to remember them.

Like I keep saying: nine- and ten-year-old boys.

My ne’er-do-well peers were all similarly unconcerned about learning those three responses. As far as we could tell, when John Henry said, “some of the older priests,” he meant Father Bolenciwicz, and old Polish priest who muttered the Mass with a very heavy accent.

I knew that the schedule, being somewhat unpredictable, meant that I would end up serving for Father Bolenciwicz sooner or later, so i would have to memorize those Prayers at the Foot of the Altar sooner or later.

Guess which I chose.

Finally, I made a half-assed stab at it, and to this day it is as clear in my mind as it was back then:

Priest: Something. Something. Something.

Me: Something else. Something else. Something else.

Priest: Something. Something. Something.

Me: Another something. Another something.

Priest: Yadda Yadda Yadda.

Me:  And your people shall rejoice in you!

Yes, all that time and I had only one line of three memorized. I was pathetic. But time was on my side, I felt.

But one day time ran out.

It was a afternoon Sunday mass. These were not as busy as the 9:00 AM Mass, but there were a number of people who went to that mass. The chapel tended to be about a quarter full. So I hustled up the hill from our house on Larkin Street to the chapel. I got there in plenty of time, only to find out that the Celebrant that day was—and this wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise—Father Bolenciwicz!

I was doomed. Unless I could wrack my brain and remember the first and second responses. I slipped on the old cassock and surplice, all the while thinking of two things: what were the responses, and what would happen when it became obvious that I did not know them? It would be very embarrassing.

Father Bolenciwicz came in in plenty of time, donned his vestments, mumbling the prayers that accompanied each item, and then sat down. He was quiet and did not say anything. We had a while before Mass was due to start. I went out to light the candles on the alter and by the lectern. I was a real whiz with the cable lighter/snuffer. I sometimes cringe when I see people today smushing the candles out–one should be able to snuff a candle *without touching it!*

I went back in, and then it was time to go. Father Bolenciwicz took up the chalice, topped with the cloth like a stole, the small dish, the folding envelope that held the host, all of these covered with the cloth that matched whatever color of vestment the liturgical calendar called for. I took up a small cruet of wine and one of water. We went out a side door, walked to the steps leading up to the sanctuary, and we knelt.

It was time!

And then Father Bolenciwicz mumbled—he was a mumbler—the first line of the dreaded Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. Any hope that I might get cued disappeared. So I did the same. He mumbled and I mumbled. It sounded like this:

Father B: Mumble Mumble de Mumble.

Me: Mumble Mumble Mum.

Father B: Mumble mumbledum mummus mumble.

Me: Mumble mumble mumblety bum.

Father B: Mumble mumble Mumble…

Me: And your people shall rejoice in you!

Hey, a clear strong finish. And on to the Mass, which I knew well.

After Mass, Father Bolenciwicz said, “Come here. I need to tell you something.”

I approached, my heart in my throat.

He lifted his hand and placed it on my shoulder. “You are very good altar boy. You are the only one who knows his Prayers at the Foot of the Altar.”

I never think of that incident without mixed feelings of pride and guilt. I went on to bigger and worse sins, and I no longer follow the Catholic—or even the Christian—path, but I still feel bad about faking it with Father Bolenciwicz. I am sure he went to his Master many years ago, and was rewarded as the good man he was.

As for myself, I feel that the incident may have taught me the wrong lesson.

Exploring the Lost Cities of Geo

Here is something that I thought I’d never see again. It’s my first website! Like many people back in the late 1990s, I decided that the world needed to hear my opinions and sample my creative work.

Well, that hasn’t changed, apparently, but the level of sophistication has. To be accurate, the sophistication of the tools has improved; whether my thinking or my content has improved is really not for me to say.

Back then, kids, we didn’t have this fancy WordPress or Blogger; we had Geocities and you actually had to know a little HTML. Which is why the pages often looked so bad; we were not skilled enough in HTML nor experienced enough in design to make an attractive webpage.

To give myself a little credit, I never had red lettering on a chartreuse background. Nor did I use flashing text. There are limits even to my poor judgement.

Geocities was closed down in 2009. The operator, Yahoo, certainly gave us plenty of advance notice and we were able to download our materials. But it closed down, and the rest was history.

But there are those who wish to archive everything on the web, and there is a new Geocities: www.geocities.ws

And so I can go back and see my first website in all it’s glorious lack of consistency, taste, and value.

Actually, I am being too hard on myself. Other than big plans and small effort, it’s not really all that bad, but it never really got much of an audience, and I lost interest and became too busy to think of it much. This, of course, is how adult life goes. My front page gives the usual apologies for the lack of new content, and makes the usual promises of more activity.

And there it has sat for 11 years. The three-year-old child referred to is now a young woman of fourteen, I’m officially qualified as an old fart, and I still write at a snail’s pace.

Geocities.ws will actually let you reclaim your old pages and edit them. Unfortunately, It does this by scanning your page for email addresses and assuming that one of them is yours. One _was_ mine, but it was a _Mindspring_ address which has been purely defunct for many years. I am sure I can get control by contacting the good folks at the new Geocities.

But why bother? Let archives be archives. The old pages are there should anyone want to see them. My efforts should be going to newer work and I should be moving on. All the same, there they are. Look on my works, ye mighty, and be kind.

Protecting Our Homeland

Are we doing all we can to protect our nation’s borders?

I for one think that we must protect our nation, with its 2000-year-long history of democracy and freedom, from the positively threatening influence of foreign ideas and morals. Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against foreigners–it’s only the non-American ones that I see as inimical to our way of life. It may sound like a slippery-slope argument, but ask yourself this–will there come a time when Americans have no place in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, birthplace of One of America’s Founding Fathers, Jesus Christ?

People have suggested that we build a security fence to keep out those who do not belong in a nation like ours. Proposals vary from short stretches dividing the most populated regions along our border, to a complete barrier from one end of the border to the other. Like so:

Fence01

Even a six-year-old kid can see what’s wrong with this plan, (especially if the kid went to school in Korea or some other place where they take education seriously). It does not do enough to protect America from undesirables. Think about it: Imagine people coming to America from their backward, badly managed places of origin. Oh, they say they want to come and work, but the next thing you know, they are having kids, clogging up the drive-thrus, causing the property values in our trailer parks to decline, and winning all the lotteries.They will work for cash because where they are from wages are low, and people do not respect government. Want to compete with them? Plus, they are almost impossible to understand when they speak. But that is not the true danger…

The true danger is that these people have absolutely no understanding of the true American values. Where they come from their legislatures enact laws that are absolutely contrary to everything that is good and fine about America.

Thus I present MY proposal for America’s Security Fence:
Fence02

As you can see, this would more properly protect Our Nation, the birthplace of Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, and Lionel Jefferson. No longer would we have to explain to our children about “Why are those people talking so funny?” “Why are they throwing bottles out of their truck?” or “Are they really gonna shoot us?”

Of course, the aforementioned bright Korean kid could also spot that the cost of such a barrier would be much, much higher than the original plan. (He’d probably also give you the exact factor of increase, the little show-off). So here is my revised plan:

Fence03

As you can see, this plan will let people all through the USA–nay, the entire continent–sleep more peacefully.

Especially those who are not straight white males…

So Do We Really Need Another Web Log?

I find I am starting a web log using the opportunity offered by WordPress.com. From looking around about me at the works of others, I find I must question the entire enterprise. Who might want to read it? I have to admit that I wish to write it for its own sake; it is questionable whether or not it will attract any sort of audience. All the same, when one writes, an audience should always be assumed.

Thus I would like to address my failings in previous attempt to express my Polite Observations by making unto the public the following commitments:


  • To write frequently, but more important, currently
  • Never to waste the public’s time nor patience posting entries apologizing for or excusing my having not written for a great while
  • To study upon what I write, and to cite whence my information has been obtained
  • Finally, to attempt mutual understanding by attempting to shed light on various subjects, and not simply to generate heat