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Who’s the Fairest Gun Advocate of Them All?


I’ve been speeding a lot of time on Facebook lately engaging my fellow citizens in a spirited discussion on issues of our time.

Recently some intellectual historians have been bandying about a graphic informing citizens about who supports their gun rights and who doesn’t.  I have a very high tolerance for foolishness as this column amply illustrates.  But this particular piece, brought out the fact checker in me.

Sure, it’s an article of faith in these climes that anyone who opines that there might possibly be some limits to the second amendment is a traitor, communist or – egad! – a Muslim.  But as one who has steadfastly avoided and in fact decried comparing Donald Trump to Hitler or Mussolini (how blind is he who will not see?), I really must say that this this graphic hits a new level of silliness.

Facts are stubborn things:  OK, George Washington lived in the country – as did most everyone else in his day – and could make the case that a flintlock was necessary for protection.  Since he did, in fact, lead a well-regulated militia, one could logically conclude that he ‘thinks I should be able to own guns.’

Thomas Jefferson:  ditto on living in the country, but he was, after all, a secret Muslim.  I know because I clearly recall seeing it on TV…or maybe u-tube.

Being a very short person who also lived in the country, James Madison, probably toted an AK47 nearly everywhere to fend off huge bullies like Washington and Jefferson; however, it should be noted that when the British terrorists came to burn his White House, he chose not to exercise his right to bear arms in a fight to the death, instead fleeing with wife Dolly to the relative safety of Octagon House bearing a portrait of G. Washington.  Ever the critic, one thinks that perhaps Andrew Jackson, who killed a chap in a duel with an unlicensed gun, might have been a better example, but I guess his Democrat ties got him voted off the island.

From here, the ground even shakier.

Mr. Lincoln did preside during the war of the Northern aggression to deprive poor Southerners of their constitutional states’ rights to own other people.  And he certainly wasn’t shy about using military force.  But there is no record of his carrying a weapon of any sort when terrorists struck Ford’s theater…how different the outcome of that sad day might have been if he had. And one can only speculate whether, as he lay dying, Mr. Lincoln took time out to reconsider his alleged position on Mr. J.W. Booth’s right to bear arms.

It is highly doubtful that Mr. Gandhi, a noted pacifist, was in favor of anyone owing or using guns, even less so after a person fatally shot him with one.

As for Dr. King:  He did apply for a gun permit out of what turned out to be a well-founded fear that some white folks wanted to shoot him, but subsequently repudiated that decision: “How could I serve as one of the leaders of a nonviolent movement and at the same time use weapons of violence for my personal protection?”

Now for the fun part:  King George III was mad as a hatter, which would not disqualify him from owning a weapon in his former colonies, and had no objection to his well-regulated militia popping off rounds hither and yon.

Heir Hitler, a very bad man, and I shared only 18 months on earth together, so I doubt that my gun rights really appeared on his radar. But if anyone ever supported well-regulated militias with guns, it was he…Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gestapo, death head brigades…a real gun advocate, he deserves honorary NRA membership.

Joe Stalin, also a very bad man, did lead a well-regulated militia against the Hitler’s minions and killed several million people, often with a gunshot to the back of the head. I don’t know how he felt about my gun rights, but he certainly liked his. Another potential NRA member.

Mao, another very bad man, opined that power emanates from the barrel of a gun, a position philosophically in tune with unfettered gun rights advocates. He also led a well-regulated militia against the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese.  And what were the red guards if not a militia?  Sign him up, Mr. La Pierre!

Kim Jong Il was no Hitler, Stalin or Mao, but a pretty bad chap, tho hardly as bad as his dad. (Those Kims are really hard to keep track of!)  He was born in Russia, but spent much of his life – when he wasn’t kidnapping nubile actresses – trying to throw foreigners out of Korea.  (Kinda like Ted-From-Toronto Cruz, but I digress.) By creating a million-plus man Army, he made Korea the most gun-rich land per capita this side of Montana. A real second amendment advocate!

Granted, Obama Care is – depending on which lunatic is shouting into the microphone at the moment – the moral equivalent of Nazi-ism or slavery, but I personally know our President is not against my owning a gun.  Just a few nights ago after we finished prayers at the secret White House mosque, we decided that a little crack cocaine would help us think outside the box on ways to take Christ out of Christmas and smuggle 5-year-old terrorists into the United States. When I volunteered to go down the street and procure some, the Prez said, ‘better safe than sorry,’   and presented a hand gun he grabbed  from a sleeping secret service agent so I could shoot any policeman who accosted me.

If you don’t believe me, check out the video.

It’s online unless the mainstream media have managed to suppress it.



The Day of the Inguina

Dr. Kathleen Cleland -- The Hot Officer Chick With Knives

The Day of the Inguina:  Somehow, I came down with a double(!) Inguinal hernia  (“busted groin” in Texan).
Being of Irish decent, Ms. Scanlan (Da Wife), naturally considering my lifestyle, attributed the malady to drinking martinis, downloading Internet porn leading to prodigious self-abuse and, of course, smoking.
That despite assurances from a bevy of (anti-smoking, it goes without saying) docs that none were the cause, while, perhaps, all aggravated the condition. The condition also aggravated Ms. Scanlan since it limited my ability to stand up at the stove cooking away on delightful dishes for hours, gave me an ideal excuse for not carrying her heavy soda up the stairs in our town house and – to a lesser, but not insignificant degree – adversely impacted the efficacy of my, ah, marriage tackle.
It was also necessary on occasion for me to push the intestine back in its ‘little house,’ an act deemed not appropriate in many, especially feminist, venues.
Since the condition was, in fact, aggravated by my favorite vices (see above),my  the usual denial strategy, which has worked well over the years for smoking-related afflictions, failed utterly in this case.
I called my dear primary care physician, Dr. Stephen Cornwell, who diagnosed the hernia over the phone and had me drop by his stylish digs.  After the ritual ‘stop smoking, stop drinking and lose 20 pounds’ litany, he admitted that only a surgeon could fix it.
Based on my desire not to have a dude doc fiddling around with my nether parts, he recommended an outstanding female surgeon, Dr. Kathleen Cleland (above). I later found out that good Dr. Cleland was a former Army surgeon who served on our side in Iraq.  And when I met her, I discovered she is, well, a prodigious beauty.
I do some work for a group of mostly retired female military officers and have dubbed them, no doubt to their extreme delight (sic), ‘hot officer chicks.’  Thus Dr. Cleland – she actually didn’t seem to mind – instantly became ‘The Hot Officer Chick with Knives.’  This was a win-win surgical situation. Either she cures my hernia and lets me return to what Dr. Cornwell calls my ‘odious lifestyle’ or the last thing I see is a hot blonde coming after me with a sharp instrument.
Like what’s to think about?
Well, the thing I should have through about was medical clearances:  Part of the rampant discrimination against real Americans (a.k.a. smokers) seems to be docs’ fear that their gummed-up lungs will cause them (the smoker, not the doc) to croak on the operating table.  While Dr. Conwell ran all his tests, shook his head in wonder and pronounced me healthy as an ox, the lung doctor was a bit of a harder sell.
Dr. Adlah Sukkar, basically speaking, wanted me to stop smoking for 37 years and to never have lived in Taipei/Tokyo before their Green emergence before she would authorize the procedure.  And she made me take a battery of lung tests (that culminated in the technician, an attractive Philippina, shouting, “More, more.  Don’t stop! Harder.  Harder! Don’t stop!” to encourage me to propel a Ping-Pong ball up a tube to test my exhalation.  That test didn’t end well as I laughed so hard I spit out the tube into which I was breathing.)
I finally asked Dr. Sukkar if she used one of those Philips toothbrushes. When she admitted she did and displayed a most attractive smile, I explained:  “Those tooth brushes vibrate to get plaque off your teeth to prevent tooth decay; smoker’s cough vibrates your arteries and stuff like to get rid of plaque that causes Alzheimer’s.”
I finally got the clearance and Dr. Cleland’s great staff managed to track down all the paperwork. Dr. Sukkar’s folks – she’s a fine, caring physician, but her staff can follow neither simple written nor spoken instructions – had lost, misfiled or misdirected.
I got the word Tuesday and the procedure was scheduled for today, Friday Feb. 18.
This was somewhat a cruel act as it gave Ms. Scanlan very little time to agonize over my fate or, perhaps more importantly, to master skills like using the TV tuner, turning on her cell phone and coping with computers, all tasks for which she relies on me.  Every form of refuge has its price!
Now Alexandria Hospital is a good place… as hospitals go.  Valet parking.  Kind and efficient staff.  Close to our digs.
But it’s a hospital and one can generally assume that when one arrives at a hospital (no cigarettes after midnight) before 6 am, nothing worse is going to happen to him/her for the rest of the day.
Actually, nothing did. The docs, fearing lung complications, decided to give me an anesthetic cocktail that put me out for the count with no ‘drug-over’ and no recollection of the surgery.
Despite the hara kiri on my lower belly, I awoke with two tiny scars (sorry fans, no bikinis this summer), full possession of my faculties such as they are, and no…zero…zip pain.  Not even discomfort so-far, tho Dr. Cornwell says I might need a pain pill when the local wears off.
Released four hours after check-in, Da Wife and I had lunch in a restaurant with a smoking section and then went home.  Total time expended: 6.5 hours.  Marriage tackle seems to be responding to the normal stimulus.
Exhausted from the ordeal, Ms. Scanlan took a nap; I caught up on some website revisions and wrote this blog.
The last thing I saw before I went under was a blonde hot officer chick coming after me with a knife…  AND I woke up to return to my odious lifestyle.
See, Obama-care is the best of all possible worlds!

Wal-Mart and Women – Don’t Play it Again, Sam!

A million monkeys hammering randomly on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare.  So I guess it was in the cards that the determinately whacky San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit would eventually write a decision that made sense.

Sure enough, the Ninth Circuit ruled last month in favor of a class action pay and promotion gender bias suit filed by female Wal-Mart workers.  That means that sometime before those monkeys complete their rendering of the complete works of Dostoyevsky in the original Russian, the case involving Wal-Mart’s systematically paying women less than men may and keeping the change may – just may – go before a jury.

So why does a most-of-the-time libertarian, occasional recalcitrant right-wing national security hawk and full-time male hale socking it to Wal-Mart – even if it makes AT LARGE’s next purchase of socks produced by Third World kids a penny or two more expensive?

Let’s see. 

Well first, paying women less than men for doing the same job is against the law.  (Just like crossing U.S. borders without papers, tho I don’t think the tea party folks are on the side of the angels when, so to speak, it comes to equal pay for women.) It’s also really wrong, bad business and – note to Sam’s Club members – not very manly, if you’ll pardon my 20th Century vocabulary.

Finally – those cheap socks aside – Wal-Mart’s discriminating against women is bad for AT LARGE and other guys who know happiness, nay survival in this economy is based on having a working wife.

(Didn’t you hear, Sam?  Nowadays, working women spend their salaries on ‘luxuries’ like food, mortgages, car payments and occasionally buying martinis for aging columnists at The Palm, not just on necessities like make-up and frilly dresses manufactured by Eastern European kids.) While Wal-Mart doesn’t seem to mind hosing women, they’ll be in big trouble if our wives ‘sock it to ‘em’ and make hubbies buy our automatic weapons, power tools, gym shoes and XXL sweat pants at a competitor’s store.

So the recent Wall-Mart decision is a source for optimism, but, alas, only limited optimism.

 Judging from media reports, Wall-Mart gender discrimination in pay and promotions was – maybe still is – egregious.  Should the case come before a jury of the discrimination victims’ peers, the women who initially sued and and others who join in the class action may well win big bucks.  But the case has already been going on for eight years and may go on for decades– unless Wall-Mart suddenly realizes that bad law suits (as opposed to ill-cut men’s suits) are bad for business.

Which brings us to the main lesson for women who are facing sex discrimination in their jobs right now: When you’re being economically violated, it’s no time to ‘lie back and think of England.’ Just because such practices are wrong, unfair and illegal, you can’t let ‘George,’ or Wal-Mart plaintiffs Betty Dukes, Michelle Braun and Dolores Hummel et al take care of it for you.

Don’t get mad, get even! Get help and a lawyer…now!


Real Americans won’t reconcile with ‘deem and pass’ benefits

Over the past 50-plus years from the Senate floor, Congressional galleries and on CSPAN, AT LARGE has watched passage of legislation that has changed America and perhaps the world.

Almost none of this significant legislation has passed without naysayers.  Not content to say something along the lines of ‘Hey, this isn’t a super great bill,” opponents invariably predict cataclysm, even apocalypse should a bill they oppose become law.

It’s déjà vu all over again when it comes to healthcare reform, popularly known as Obama-care. (The latter nomenclature may be telling:  Seems to me that a lot of folks who oppose healthcare reform care less about healthcare that they care about opposing President Obama, but that’s another story.)

Sure, proponents picture babies and old folks dying in front of unreformed, un-socialized hospitals.  And opponents picture a hellish America where the sun never shines after the government takes over our beloved, all-American insurance companies.  But that’s par for the course.

In the last couple days, however, the healthcare reform silliness reached, well, epidemic proportions on both sides of the aisle and ideological spectrum when discussion shifted from the details of reforms/non reforms to the procedure by which a bill might pass.

If one wishes to retain an appetite for law and sausages, it is best to watch neither made. So whether it’s the transmutation of intestines into andouille or the grinding of a controversial bill into law, the process can be fairly unappetizing.

But history judges sausage on its taste.  And after the legislative dust settles, a law is judged not on how it passed Congress, but on what is does to or for Juan and Jane Q. Public.

“Oh, no!” say the bed-wetters, their delicate bladders bloated with the right’s Kool-Aid. “The Democrats will pay a terrible price if they pass even a good bill through sneaky parliamentary maneuvers. The American people will exact terrible vengeance.”

Wow!  That’s heavy stuff!

So wanting to find out more about the righteous wrath storm to come, AT LARGE dusted off his heretofore faithful crystal ball and dialed up a scene two years after Obama-care became the law of the land.

A typical American family is sitting around the kitchen table discussing finances.

“Little Jared needs an operation to repair his pre-existing defective heart valve that will kill him in 18 months without surgery.”

“What should we do, honey?”

“We could use money from our insurance coverage to pay for the procedure, dear…”

“Goodness, no! I’m not going to take money that came from legislation that passed Congress on an underhanded, self-executing ‘deem and pass’ procedure thought up by Nancy Pelosi and that darn House Rules Committee.”

“I love you even more when you stand on principle over House rules, darling!”

“And I love you, too, sweetie. We’ll just sell little Suzie to human traffickers so we don’t have to take that filthy Democrat money.”

“And if there’s cash any left over after the surgery bills are paid, we can send it to Speaker Boehner for a new spray-on suntan treatment!”

I normally trust my crystal ball.

But if you buy that scenario, you’re smoking something that didn’t come from your neighborhood pharmacy. 

And don’t hold your breath until the insurance company reimburses you for that stash!


Augusta has Wood(s): Tiger to play with his golf balls for a change

For the third time today, some seemingly sapient citizen has solicited my views on Tiger Woods. 

It seems that Tom Cat, oops, I mean Tiger, shall seek redemption for several-score sins involving cocktail waitresses, among others, by participating in the Masters Golf Tournament played – if that’s the right word for an activity that generates millions, if not billions in revenue – at the Augusta National Golf Club. The announcement comes in the wake of Mr. Woods’s ‘graduation’ from a ‘sex addition’ cure.

AT LARGE is a font of knowledge on many, perhaps all subjects and rarely leaves home without prepared bon mots on a rich variety of causes célèbre lest the ravenous media pack, casual passersby or, especially, cocktail waitresses solicit my comments on the events that alter and illuminate our times. 

But I don’t give a good God-damn about golf!

It is a silly, frustrating activity. Why? Because taking more than 18 shots on 18 holes can be regarded as subpar even if you finish below par.  So much like a visit to a casino or an argument with a spouse, a round of golf always ends in failure. 

Even worse, golf involves fresh air, which has been scientifically proven to hasten aging.  It is conducted outside, where one can catch a cold, perspire, muddy up one’s costume, be bitten by ticks, cross paths with rabid animals or get leaves in one’s hair.  Since Lucky Strike stopped sponsoring tournaments, you probably can’t even smoke on golf courses anymore.  Not AT LARGE’s cup of tea!

A while back, friend and noted feminist Martha Burk took offense because the Masters Augusta National venue doesn’t allow women to join the club, which, one could argue, is none of her business; however, most of the big buck membership fees for hard driving corporate types is tax-deductable, meaning less lucre for the government to spend on, say, killing our foreign enemies, bailing out too-big-to-fail banks and hiring school teachers.  That, arguably, is her business and — assuming we pay taxes — our  business, too! And in fairness, if women can fight in Iraqi deserts, why can’t they play in Augusta sand traps?

Just before the conversation, I had suffered severe brain damage flying in first class next to a duffer who told me in agonizing detail about each shot in his most recent 2,000 rounds of golf. I prayed for a hijacking before mercifully sinking into an all-but irreversible coma.  With this horrific experience fresh, I tried to persuade Ms Burk that all-male clubs like Augusta National, the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility and the National Football League were necessary as a means of insolating rich golfers in plaid trousers, terrorists and violence-prone individuals from, well, me — not to mention The Little Ladies.

Surprisingly, she didn’t listen and annual protests over the Masters have become a rite of spring.

Surprised that Tiger Woods picked the ‘no women need apply’ Augusta National for his post-sex addiction therapy coming-out party?  It actually makes sense: Do you want to loose a recovering sex-aholic brandishing his driver and on his first outing at, say, a cocktail waitress convention? Sounds like a recipe for disaster!

That said, I am mystified by TW’s original sin:  If the world’s third richest man can’t relax and unwind a bit at the 19th hole, like why bother?  (Same comment on recent history: Why go through the travails of getting elected president of the U.S. if you can’t tryst with Miss America?  Or run for congress if you’re denied tickle parties with ‘single male staffers’ (the media’s word, not mine!)?

(For the record: AT LARGE  only dallies alone or with the missus! If I erred in this department – in the words of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey – ‘The last words I would hear on this earth would be my wife asking, ‘How do you reload this thing?’”)

Not to say Tiger hasn’t paid dearly for driving into the marital and PR rough: He’s lost endorsements valued at millions, tho last I heard, Gillette was sticking with the Woodsman. (It was a close shave, but I guess they like folks who live on the razor’s edge.)

Since every time Tiger swings his stick, it pumps millions into his pocket and the economy, I think he’ll be all right.  But if worst comes to worst and he’s down to his last $10 million, TW can always sell himself in Asia.

Tiger part are very popular as aphrodisiacs in those climes and whatever else you say, Tiger’s parts have plenty of endorsements!




Unlike lightweight media chided by Rep. Patrick Kennedy on the floor of the House yesterday, you won’t find AT LARGE piling-on when a politician’s personal foibles fall victim to a fourth estate feeding frenzy.

This noble attitude is due in part to self-preservation, the realization that I could be next due to misinterpretation of some perfectly innocent remark.  Recently, for example, a seemingly stable woman I ran into over martinis at the Palm Restaurant bar flew off the handle for no discernible reason.

The unseemly behavior took place when The Little Woman (TLW) arrived for dinner a half hour late, as is her wont.

Overjoyed at glimpsing the love of my life enter this prime capitol cholesterol kingdom, I ululated loudly and cried out, as is my wont:

“Don’t let me see that ‘nekkid’ on payday!”

TLW, well aware that there are no new jokes, just new wives, took this in stride, slapping me soundly about the head and shoulders with her Kate Spade handbag. Beauteous bartenders Mary Pat and Danielle – neither of whom has been immune from such deserved and heartfelt compliments in the past – understand that keeping a trophy wife’s humors flowing is an essential element in curbing the aging process.  They, too, reacted with both aplomb and a plum, accidentally spilling a sloe gin fizz on my nether parts. (Washington is a tough town!)

Case closed?  Not exactly.  My cocktail companion – out of sisterly solidarity, I guess – went off, accusing me of verbal spousal abuse and worse.

Fortunately, no media jackals were in the area to trumpet her embarrassing behavior in mainstream publications like the National Enquirer or Washington Post.

With the scars from such an experience unhealed, AT LARGE initially planned to skip dinner when it came to feeding on the political carcass of now former-Rep. Eric Massa (D, NY).  He’s the salty solon who left Congress amid charges that he sexually harassed staffers, the chap who – proving that a lawmaker who defends himself has a fool for a client – gleefully recalled on Fox News ‘tickle parties’ at a house he shared with several congressional aides.

But serious journalists learn to look beyond the prurient to provide their beyond-the-beltway readers with insight into the backstage machinations of the political elite.

So duty calls.

The Corning Conspiracy

When I first heard about the Affair Massa, alarm bells went off:  Was the whole thing the result of some vast – or half-vast – right wing conspiracy to embarrass the administration and retake Congress? (If you live long enough in Washington where everything is political, this sort of thinking becomes inevitable.)

It’s not hard to picture: Someone – my guess would be Newt Gingrich: this sort of long-range thinking is right up his Machiavellian Alley – approaches a wannabe congressman. Persuades the life-long Republican, Naval Academy graduate and retired Navy captain to ‘take a round’ for The Cause…switch parties…run for congress in a year when even a Megan’s List enrollee could win as a Democrat…vote against the programs he supported during the election…pick a fight with the White House chief of staff and House leaders…get involved in some kinky behavior…resign and trash former colleagues…remind Middle America that Democrats are a little, well, weird and want to insert the evil government in your Medicare.  Pure genius.  Pure Newt.

It’s not a hard-to-buy scenario in an ongoing political silly season in which loony tunes Democrats whispered that John McCain may have been a Manchurian Candidate under control of his former Vietnamese captors and Twilight Zone Republicans continue to proffer ‘proof’ that the president was born in Indonesia.

Most reports would stop there, but once AT LARGE’s little grey cells get to work, there’s no stopping them.

Upon further reflection, AT LARGE now believes that Eric Massa is a prophet who should be honored in his own time for showing us the way to restore comity to the American political scene.

Comity or comedy?

Comity?  That’s Washington-speak for acting like real people, folks who can disagree without being disagreeable…without calling their rivals communists, fascists or smokers.

Once upon a time, the halls of power were a much friendlier place. Legislators disagreed on issues, but were often personally close. When legendary liberal Hubert Humphrey faced a tough Senate race in Minnesota, arch-conservative Mississippi Senator Jim Eastland, it is said, offered to travel north and campaign ‘for or against Hubert,’ which ever would help Humphrey most.  Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield dined daily with rock-ribbed Republican Senator George Aiken, despite spirited philosophical battles over policy and later became friends with President Reagan.  

(This sort of friendship still continues:  As a senator, Vice President Joe Biden became close friends with by no means liberal Senate icon Strom Thurmond. Speaking first at Strom’s 100th birthday party, Biden preempted all the good lines in then-Majority Leader Trent Lott’s staff-prepared speech, leading Lott to wing it and make the ‘unfortunate remarks’ that cost him his post.) 

Somewhere along the line came the transmutation of policy disagreements into politics of personal destruction.

Lowlights:  The Ds falsely tarred and feathered Ed Meese and labeled former John Tower a grumpy drunk when the ex-Texas senator was nominated as secretary of defense during the Reagan years.  The GOP went for payback during the Clinton years beginning with future speaker Newt demanding that all his troops call all Democrats ‘weird’ in every speech and culminated with the impeachment of you-know-who. Then came Florida, with the Democrats, who long portrayed themselves friends of the mentally challenged, dubbing G.W. Bush ‘moron-in-chief,’ scurrilous attacks on nominees and Shiite Republicans trying to grab Sen. John Kerry’s medals. It continues today on both sides of the aisle.

Bonding over cold eggs

Worse yet, the venerable collegial cocktail hour succumbed to the breakfast meeting/fundraiser. This was a revolutionary, perhaps cataclysmic development.  Once a sacrament at the Senate sides’s Monocle Restaurant, Speaker Sam Rayburn’s Board of Education, the Capitol Hill Club’s weekly Poet’s Club session, the National Democratic Club, never-ending evening fundraisers that featured local cuisines, copious hooch plus a chance to get to know colleagues as people, not one-dimensional political caricatures, stiff drinks were the lubricant that kept government gears grinding – while now and then sending legislators to rehab and/or bathing in the Reflecting Pool.

Even if they disagreed, say, with former Senator John Breaux, or Senator Margaret Chase Smith, players got together for a cup of kindness, chat and compromise over Louisiana gumbo or Maine lobster and appropriate beverages.

No more! The only way one can make friends over breakfast is to nudge a single guest awake and call room service! Cordial, congenial confabs over dried out scrambled eggs, day-old fruit cocktail greasy bacon and lukewarm coffee at 7:30 am? Now way!  With the breakfast meeting/fundraiser, Washington insiders forsake firsthand knowledge and get to know each other through Fox News, Saturday Night Live and ‘slam book’ press releases.

A ticklish situation

As in all fast-breaking news stories, many questions remain unanswered.

Did Midshipman Massa first learn of tickle parties at the Naval Academy?  Did his fellow Annapolis graduate Jimmy Carter hold tickle parties to fight malaise?  (AT LARGE may take a bye on researching this angle:  Some pictures are too disturbing to contemplate, even mentally!) Did Capt. Eric Massa ever have a tickle party with cashiered Captain Holly Graf?  Did Massa’s nude encounter in the Congressional gym locker room with the White House chief of staff go south because no one was inviting the president to tickle parties?

And most importantly:  If everybody who doesn’t get along with Rahm Emmanuel were driven out of Congress, who would be left to turn off the lights?

But, lingering questions aside, Eric Massa may be regarded by historians as the harbinger of a new spirit of comity, congeniality and cooperation in Congress.

Only time will tell, but in this long day’s night of the long knife, the body politic would be far better off with a lot less character assassination, fewer breakfast meetings and a lot more tickle parties!

Where do I sign up?


Of Captains Queeg, Sharpe, Snipes, and Graf

It is generally understood that as a columnist I am an expert on nearly everything. True enough.

But AT LARGE has unique qualifications when it comes to commenting on the case of Navy Captain Holly Graf – she’s the erstwhile commanding officer of the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens whose career ran aground, the Washington Post reports, for “subjecting her crew to “cruelty and maltreatment” aboard a warship in the Pacific.

You see, for a year or two during the early 60s, I was subjected to cruelty and mistreatment – most of it richly deserved – as an enlisted sailor in aboard the USS Pyro, an ammunition ship that plied Pacific, tho not always pacific, waters from the later 1950s to the early 1990s. The Old Navy when ships were made of wood and men were made of steel? Sure, but that credential makes me better qualified than most to comment on fey skippers.

Which brings us to the title of this opus:

You all know Capt. Queeg, the fictional anti-hero of the Caine Mutiny Court Martial. (Attn. Birthers and Tea Party people: Cowpens, Caine. A coincidence, I think not!) Humphrey Bogart, ball bearings… Capt. Queeg was – to use the clinical term – mad as a hatter, and got his just desserts, but not his strawberries back in the end. (Good flick! Tho the Caine doesn’t have much to do with the rest of this story, I couldn’t resist the ‘strawberry and just desserts’ line.)

Capt. Richard Sharpe – hero of a fictional PBS series about Brits fighting Napoleon in Spain – was an Army, not a Navy captain. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with such nuances – including more than a few commentators on La Affair Graf –- an Army captain is a Navy lieutenant; a Navy captain is the same rank as an Army colonel, but anyone who commands a ship is called ‘Captain,’ regardless of actual rank. Anyhow, Sharpe was commissioned from the ranks and a major subplot in the series centers on the ex-sergeant’s travails in earning the respect of both enlisted and commissioned colleagues in the class-conscious British military because that former enlisted status makes him ‘not a proper officer.’ More on this later.

Which brings us to Capt. Beecher Snipes, who commanded the Pyro when I first came aboard: Snipes might well be described as a ‘crusty sea dog.’ Now, the ‘auxiliary fleet’ comprised of ammunition ships, oilers and such – armed freighters – wasn’t generally a card that needed to be punched by officers sailing for naval ‘stardom. But as a ‘deep draft’ command, the Pyro and its ilk were stepping stones to commanding an elite ship, specifically an aircraft carrier. That was where Snipes was heading.

Not! Shortly before I graced the Pyro’s decks, the ship was returning to its homeport in Port Chicago, CA, outside San Francisco. As required by law, a civilian pilot was steering the ship. To make a long, sad story short, the pilot, slightly tipsy, it turned out, ran the ship aground. Civilian pilot required by law or not, as captain, Snipes was blamed based on the venerable Naval principal that the commanding officer is responsible for everything good and bad that occurs on or to his/her ship. Carrier command: Scuttled. Hopes for an admiral’s star: Sunk. Naval career: Effectively over.

But the Old Navy took care of its own (after taking care of its own’s career, so to speak). Capt. Snipes retained command of the Pyro.

Now you have to understand that then – and probably now – a Navy ship could be described as Lord of the Flies Goes to Sea. Except for the captain, the number two ‘executive officer’ and perhaps a couple senior enlisted people, the term ‘adult leadership’ is an oxymoron.

A ‘salty old’ chief petty officer might be 29. Most of the officers – generally decent and admirable sorts then and now, but don’t tell them I said so! – were fresh out of college ROTC programs and more than a little over their heads in deep water, at sea at sea, so to speak. The only fellow from Annapolis on the Pyro was the son of a Chesapeake Bay waterman who enlisted, like more than a few of us, faced with a choice of a hull number or a cell number. What with their fate for the most part in the hands of juvenile delinquents, college boys, old rummies and such, captains – remember they’re responsible for everything that happens on a vessel under their command – tend to get a bit testy.

Tho a dead man walking career-wise, crusty Capt. Snipes got even testier after the sandbar sojourn, throwing himself into on-the-job training of future Navy leaders while riding the ocean blue atop 27,000 tons of ammo.

He colorfully berated everyone, but especially officers when they screwed up, often, oh dear me, taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Representative examples:

• Once, Capt. Snipes spied a line (rope, in civilian-speak) hanging off the ship’s fantail. He summoned the second division officer, a seeming intelligent, but gangly and given to stuttering under pressure lieutenant named George Frye to a crowded bridge for 12 minutes of verbal abuse culminating in the benediction – with some two score iterations of the ‘f-word’ removed – “The next time I see a line hanging off the back of my boat, I want you to be on the end of it.” There is no record of Lt. Frye, who, scuttlebutt reports, later won a Purple Heart for running into a low hanging bulkhead door during Vietnamese patrol boat attack scare, whining to higher authority about the reaming or any indication that higher authority would have reacted to such whinging with anything but orders to ‘man-up.’
• Two petty officers sneaked off an authorized beach to an unauthorized brothel in Okinawa, missing the boat when the Pyro suddenly sailed away to elude a typhoon. Eventually, they were returned to the Pyro from an aircraft carrier at sea (using an accommodation chair, a skimpy seat attached two lines connecting the rolling ships – the transfer itself being a form of punishment which would have certainly sent the Cowpens crew crying to Mama). While the AWOLs were still literally swinging softly in the wind between boats, Capt. Snipes convened a non-judicial punishment ‘Captain’s Mast’ with a megaphone, finding them guilty and restricting them to the ship until ‘you die, I die or Christ calls forth the f***ing dead.’ No doubt traumatized by the verbal abuse, the sailors still declined to report the “cruelty and maltreatment” to their union reps (sic).

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, so Capt. Snipes became a bit eccentric at play as well as at work. When delayed in reaching libation(s) at the Subic Bay Officer’s Club because more senior skippers’ launches – small boats used to travel to inhabited areas from deep water berths where ships, especially ones stuffed with explosives, were allowed to anchor – were lined up to land at the pier, he improvised. The skipper ordered the launch to pull up next to two destroyers tied up side-by-side, chinned himself aboard the outlying ship, shouted, “Pyro crossing!,” went ashore and headed for the nearest bar.

In my brief and by-no-means glorious naval career, Beecher Snipes’s eccentricities were more the rule than the exception: One on-his-way-out-to-pasture skipper spent his final days in Yokosuka, Japan, hiding behind buildings and writing-up sailors who failed to salute him; another was fond of telling editors of the base newspaper, “This ain’t no Goddamn democracy; it’s a dictatorship and I’m the f***ing dictator.”

But save in the case of the ‘salute police skipper,’ most enlisted and junior officers overcame their traumas to develop a grudging respect and even affection for crusty captains. Tars bragged on having survived the salty skippers’ reigns when moving on to their next ship. (In the Navy, there are only two good ships, your next one and your last one!) Remember, the verbal ‘cruelty and abuse’ is only verbal (sticks and stones many break my bones…) and tongue lashings in many cases both taught a memorable lesson while substituting for far more draconian punishment. After all, these were ‘proper officers.’

Which brings us to Capt. Holly Graf.

While I personally witnessed or have first hand testimony on the tales related above, I – thankfully, the good captain and I probably wouldn’t have hit it off – wasn’t on the Cowpens.

But steering the risky course of relying on media reports, some questions arise about why the Navy chose to deck the halls with Holly’s head.

1) Allegedly, Capt. Graf “humiliated crewmembers in front of the rest of the crew by calling them ‘idiots’ and ‘stupid’ as she spat a stream of obscenities.” Temporarily putting aside the fact that sailors tend to ‘swear like sailors,’ were the recipients of the tongue-lashing, in fact ‘stupid?’ Did they, perhaps, do something ‘stupid’ or ‘idiotic’ that put the ship or crew in danger? Say, lock missiles on a civilian airliner? Did the nature of the tongue-lashing cause them to mend their ways? And did this form of, ah, guidance, take the place of a more draconian punishment that was at the skipper’s discretionary disposal?
2) Her rather extensive vocabulary of four-letter words may have been enough to ‘make a sailor blush’ and ‘intimidated her crew.’ Tough! I guarantee you that any captain who can’t intimidate the crew at some time or another needs to examine other career paths. And don’t forget: Bearing the brutal brunt of military style verbal abuse and the ability to withstand a ‘stream of obscenities’ is, believe me, good practice for marriage.
3) Google Gen. Patton if you don’t believe me: Not-so-nice people sometime make great leaders. Graf’s methods aside, was the USS Cowpens a better, more efficient, more combat-ready ship after Capt. Graf’s truncated tenure than before she arrived?
4) Then there’s the so-called ‘drag race,’ over which the civilian media tends to ‘tsk, tsk’ at Capt. Graf while grudgingly conceding that Navy investigators cleared her of ‘endangering the Cowpens.’ You call it a drag race; I call it operational testing. Specs aside, a commanding officer needs to know what a ship will do in an emergency situation where a knot of performance plus or minus can make the difference between a near miss and a torpedo amidships. There’s an expression for not testing capabilities before shots are fired in anger: dereliction of duty.
5) Doesn’t rank have its privileges anymore? Asking juniors to walk a dog or, horror upon horror, play the piano at a party is a tradition – albeit annoying if you’re the junior – that lives on in most hierarchies from the State Department to the Vatican. But dusting the ivory at a holiday fete isn’t comparable to flogging and is probably a far better deal than a midnight to 4 am. watch on New Year’s.
6) Someone’s gotta say it: If the complaining seagoing wimps and whiners can’t bear a little captainly ‘ca-ca’ mouth from Capt. Holly without losing self-esteem and ‘getting all upset,’ what’s going to happen if they ever cross paths with, say, a foul-mouthed Iranian POW interrogator, a Marine gunnery sergeant or go to work for Donald Trump, for that matter?

And finally we get to the question that no one seemingly has dared ask.

If Capt. Holly Graf were a ‘proper – read ‘male’ – officer,’ would she still be cussing up a storm on the Cowpens or even sewing on a star?

Damned if I know.

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Jared Cameron

It is better to smoke a single candle that to curse the darkness