Thursday, July 20, 2017

Greenbelt’s laugh-a-minute reunion – Part 2

Mark with his Zadie in ’86 – a chip off the old block?
Maybe Harry was a wannabe comedian. Luckily he lived to see my son actually become one. I dedicate this post to Harrys grandson, Mark, in honor of his upcoming marriage. Its the transcript of side two of an audio cassette tape. (Side one is the previous post on this blog.) Harry kept the jokes coming at a 1996 reunion party for residents of Old Greenbelt, MD, the D.C. suburb where young, pioneer families grew up as close-knit neighbors. At the party, one woman recalled that it took a village to raise Greenbelt children, citing Hillary Clinton’s vision at the time for children of America. Between others reflections, Harry piped in with more jokes.

A little boy is walking down the street with a wagon, and all of sudden the wheels fall off the wagon, and the little boy says, “I’ll be damned.” And he reattaches the wheels to the wagon, and he walks a little further, and the wheels fall off again. And the boy says, “I’ll be damned.” Well the minister was walking behind him, and the minister says, “Young man, it’s not nice to say I’ll be damned. Instead when something unusual happens, say Praise the Lord.” So the kid walks a little further, and the wheels fall off again, and the kid says, “Praise the Lord.” And low and behold, the wheels pick themselves up and reattach themselves to the wagon. And the minister said, “I’ll be damned.”

Two cavemen were sitting by the fire. Outside it was raining and sleeting and thundering and lightening. And one of them turned to the other and said, “You know, we never had this kind of crazy weather before they started using bows and arrows.”

The dinosaurs were holding a revival meeting, and one of them turns to the other and he said, “You know it’s obvious that we will survive the coming problems of the Ice Age because otherwise we would cease to exist.”

People don’t always say what they mean. An example: A farmer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was suing an automobile driver for having been injured in an accident. And they’re in court, and the lawyer for the defendant is questioning the farmer. And he said, “Isn’t it true that at the time of the accident you told the sheriff that you were feeling fine, that nothing was wrong?” And the farmer said, “Well, let me explain.” And the lawyer said, like lawyers do, “Just answer yes or no.” The farmer says, “I have to explain. It was like this. I got up in the morning. I hitched up my horse and wagon. I threw my hound dog in the back of the wagon, and I started going toward town. And just when I got to the top of the hill, this great big automobile plowed into me from behind. It threw my horse to one side of the road; it threw my dog to the other side of the road; and I was pinned under my seat. Then the sheriff came along. He went to look at my horse, the horse had a broken leg, so he pulled out his gun and he shot him dead. He went to look at my dog, the dog was badly hurt, he had a broken back, so he shot him in the head and killed him. Then he came over to me and he said, ‘Well, and how do you feel?’ And I said, ‘I never felt better in my life!’” So you don’t always say what you mean.

A little boy came home from Sunday school, and his mother said, “What did you learn today?” “Well, our teacher told us about Moses, who rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians. When they came to the Red Sea, Moses called for the engineers to build a pontoon bridge. After they had all crossed, they looked back and saw the Egyptian tanks coming. Quick as a flash, Moses radioed headquarters on his walkie-talkie to send the bombers to blow up the bridge.” And his mother said, “Is that really the way your teacher told that story?” And he says, “Mom, if I told you the way she told me you’d never believe it.”

You know, there are all kinds of great errors in newspapers. I ran across this one: The highway commissioner said that detour signs will be conspicuously placed so that no one will have any trouble getting lost.

Here’s another one: The Northampton man has been sentenced to five years in prison for shooting but not killing his estranged wife.

A woman was filling out an employment application when she came to the square marked “age”. She didn’t hesitate; she wrote down “atomic”.  The last question on the form was “What are your aims and ambitions?” Again she didn’t hesitate. She wrote “I want to go as far as my education and sex will allow.”

The airline was advertising “Our airlines now have four hostesses instead of two, and with wider seats, too.”

[Replying to an attendee’s story about fundraising for the Jewish Community Center] I gave driving lessons for the JCC, and I had one particular student … You know, learning how to fly is not an easy thing, but it’s comparable, well, let’s say, you’ve got to have at least 18 to 20 hours of dual instruction and then another 18 to 20 hours of solo flight before you can get a license. Well I taught this lady probably 200 hours and she never was able to drive the car. She probably could have learned to fly faster than that. But you see she’s paying the shul by the hour, so the synagogue made a lot of money by her taking driving lessons. It was a good way to contribute.

A man put a coin in a vending machine and watched while the cup failed to come down. One nozzle sent the coffee down the drain, while another poured the cream in after it. “Now that’s what I call automation,” the man said. “It even drinks it for you.”

Now who can answer this very simple question? Which month has 28 days? [Audience member yells “Every month.”] You’re too smart.

This is an election year, ya know, lots of campaigning going on. This Republican is telling his friend how to get votes. He said, “What I do,” he says, “every time I take a taxi cab I give the driver a very generous tip and I tell him to vote Republican.” The other guy says, “I’m a Democrat. I’ll tell you what I do. Every time I take a taxi cab, I don’t give him any tip and I tell him to vote Republican.” If anybody here wants to vote Republican, you’re excused.

I’ve got a medical joke for you, Bill. This guy wants to buy life insurance and he’s filling out the applications, and there’s a question that says, what is your weight? So the man filled it in, 189 with glasses. So the insurance man said, “You know, this is kind of unusual. Why don’t you put down your weight without the glasses?” Well, he says, “I can’t read the bathroom scale without my glasses.”

This is one that tells an essential difference between men and women. A college English professor wrote these words on a blackboard: “Woman without her man is a savage.” And he said to the class, “Punctuate that sentence properly.” The way the males wrote it, “Woman (comma), without her man (comma), is a savage.” The way the women wrote it was, “Woman (exclamation point)! Without her (comma), man is a savage.” Emphasis on words.

The big joke going around Moscow right now, where everybody hates Yeltsin … So these people are in line for a store to buy food, and the line is very, very long, several blocks, and one woman gets out and she says to her friend, “I’m going over to the President’s house and I’m going to slap that Yeltsin right in the face.” And she left. A little while later she came back, and her friend said, “What happened?” “That line was longer than this one.”

The Russians were in the United States visiting manufacturing facilities. So they’re trying to privatize and all that. So they’re visiting one factory, and all of the sudden the whistle blows, and everybody in the factory goes out, and the Russian says to his host, “They’re all running away. What are you going to do?” And the guy says, “No, don’t worry, they’re just going out to lunch.” A half hour later the whistle blows and everybody came running back and started working. The Russian was amazed. He thought once those guys got out they’d never come back. Now the manufacturer said to him, “Which machine do you want to buy?” And the Russian said, “Never mind the machinery, I want that whistle.”

An [?] sultan kept his harem several miles away. Every time he wanted one of his wives, he sent his servant to get her. The sultan lived to be 95; the servant died at the age of 30. This proves that it’s not the women who kill you, but the running after them.

Anybody else want to talk? I can keep on all night you know. …

In a few minutes they’re gonna take away the tables and maybe do some dancing. OK, I’m gonna turn on the music. Those who want to dance, dance. Those who want to circulate, talk to each other. But let me conclude with this little story.

There’s a company that produces soap and perfume. And they had a contest for the best advertising slogan. And the one that won: If you don’t use our soap, for heaven’s sake, use our perfume.

At this point, Harry turns on the tape of music. We hear the first song: “Meet me in St. Louie, Louie. Meet me at the fair …” After a few more bars, the event tape-recording turns off. I have no doubt that Harry put together the music tapes for that evening.

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Harry as funnyman at reunion in ’96 – Part 1

Harry loved jokes. On March 23, 1996, he kicked off an event with lots and lots of them, chuckling as he went along. And judging from the laughter on the audio cassette tape, the audience enjoyed them, too. Harry was the master of ceremonies at a reunion party for elders who had lived in Greenbelt, MD, as young adults. The tape reveals nostalgic voices of people I knew; like my family, many left Greenbelt in the 1960s or so, and many stayed friends. Harry was 74 years old at the reunion, and I’m guessing most attendees were, too, give-or-take 10 years. He must have pulled from his stockpile of jokes and stories, and his experience as well. 

I brought a few notes. You know I learned from Mort Beroza that you have to put it all on 3 by 5 cards. Now, I promised a few people that I’d have a few stories I’d like to tell. First of all, people have asked me how come I chose this hotel to have a party in? And the answer is, I, who am a student at the University of Maryland and read the Maryland Diamondback every now and then, saw an ad, and it said, if you want to have a successful affair, it’s the Maryland Inn, the Best Western Maryland Inn. So I figured what can we lose? And that’s why I chose this hotel, and I think it’s great.

Those of you who have wine, here’s a toast to the good old days when we weren’t so good ‘cause we weren’t so old. Now here’s how you can tell when you’re getting old. Here’s a story I promised Martha Kaufman I would tell. (Are you listening, Martha?) The other day I bumped into Martha after many years, at the News Review office, and she said, “Harry, you’re looking wonderful.” And that’s the story – when you’re young, people come up to you and say hello, how are you? They don’t expect you to answer. When you’re middle aged, they say how ya feeling? But when you’re old, they say gee, you’re looking great, you’re looking wonderful. And to all those people I said tonight you’re looking wonderful, I didn’t mean to imply that you’re old; actually you do look wonderful. To tell you the truth, everybody looks wonderful to me.

Middle age, they say, is when you’re old enough to know better but young enough to keep doing it. And – there’s a delayed laugh, ya get it? It’s the time of life when you’re suspended between why not and why bother? You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and they refuse to tell you where they’re going.

One of life’s very pleasant moments is when your children get to the age when you pretend that you know everything. Although my grandchildren now think I know everything. Grandchildren, you know, that’s God’s way of compensating for growing old.

You know when we were young, everybody told us to listen to our elders. Now everybody tells us to listen to our youth. I don’t know what to do – I don’t listen to anybody. And the problem with doing things to prolong your life is that all the extra years come when you’re old; you can’t enjoy them.

And there is a story I want to tell you before we eat. People very seldom say what they mean or mean what they say. Like the fashion expert who said that the trend in mini-skirts will continue. Well, it looks like the end is in sight.

A little kid went to the ballet with his father, and he’s watching all the girls dancing on their toes, and finally he says to his father, “Why don’t they just get taller girls?”

An Englishman, an Irishman and an American are flying over the Sahara Desert. The Englishman said, “A beastly place.” The Irishman said, “That’s the devil’s home.” The American said, “What a great parking lot.”

The Frenchman, who had spent a lot of time in the United States, was asked the most striking difference between the Americans and the French. The real difference, he said, is apparent in the fall of the year. The American is sad that the days are getting shorter, while the Frenchman is happy that the nights are getting longer. We don’t have the French view of things. (Al, are you confessing?)

First, I got to tell ya, not everyone here knows everyone else, so you gotta really spend a little while talking to each other, introducing yourselves. And, if you feel so inclined, when you come up to get your food, go back to somebody else’s table. And sit and chat with people you don’t know. And, during the course of the evening, anybody who wants to talk about the old days in Greenbelt, or about anything else if you have some stories to tell, feel free to come up; I’ll be happy to sit down. Meanwhile, I’ve got a few things I want to say.

The Dutchman was telling … Did you know that the Netherlands flag was red, white and blue? Just like ours. And the Dutchman was talking to an American and he says, “Our flag is symbolic of our taxes – we get red when we talk about them, white when we get our tax bills, and blue after we pay them.” And the American says, “Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s the same in the United States, only we see stars, too.”

You know, a generation ago, most men when they finished work they came home to rest; now they come home and they need exercise. Why is that?

OK, as Nat keeps prodding me, anyone who wants to come up and reminisce … I just want to give you a few short statistics. The story of the creation of the world is told in Genesis in 400 words. The greatest moral code, the Ten Commandments, contains only 279 words. Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg address is only 266 words long. Anybody want to talk and reminisce? Keep that in mind.

If you tell a man that there are 300 billion stars, they’ll believe you. But if you tell him that a bench has just been painted, he’ll want to touch it to be sure.

Here’s a story about tourists from New York and Miami. He was struck by a car in the street. A crowd gathered, somebody called an ambulance, and another person covered the man with a blanket. And he said, “Are you comfortable?” And the guy said, “Yeah I make a living.”

A man bought a few boxes of cigars, and he insured them against fire. After he smoked them, he put in a claim against the insurance company that they had been destroyed by fire. The company refused to pay, and the man sued. The judge ruled that the company had given the man a policy protecting against fire and had to pay. So as soon as the man accepted the money, the company had him arrested under charge of arson. That’ll teach him.

Why is it that goods that are sent by ship are called cargo, while goods that go in a car are called a shipment? The peculiarities of the English language. When a girl says you’re going too far, she means you’re getting too close. Copyright is what takes away the right to copy. Flammable means the same thing as inflammable. And valuable means the same thing as invaluable. And ravel means the same thing as unravel. A very peculiar language. I’ve been trying to teach English to speakers of other languages at the University of Maryland. And it’s incredible how difficult it is to try to explain the meaning of words to a person for whom English is a foreign language.

A reporter was sent out for a man-on-the-street opinion survey concerning the modern woman. The first person he encountered was a man who had just passed his 102nd birthday. (Pay attention, Al.) “I’m afraid I can’t be much help to you,” replied the old gentleman regretfully. “I quit thinking about women almost two years ago.” (You’re all gonna get an exam about this later.)

The Navy recruit lost his rifle on the firing range. He was told he’d have to pay for it. He protested. He said, “Suppose I was driving a Navy jeep, and somebody stole it, would I have to pay for that, too?” And he was told yes. “Now,” he said, “I know why the captain always goes down with his ship.”

An old miser called his doctor, he’s on his death bed, and he says, “They say you can’t take it with you, but I’m gonna do it. I’ve got three envelopes, and each one has $30,000 cash. I want my doctor, my lawyer,” and who else? [Audience member says my accountant] OK, my accountant, I’ll go with that. “I want each of you to throw an envelope into my coffin just before they lower me into the grave.” So at the funeral, each man tossed in his envelope. On the way home (it was a pastor, not an accountant), the pastor confessed, “I needed the money for the church, so I took out $10,000 and threw only $20,000 into the grave.” The doctor said, “I’m building a clinic, so I really needed $20,000, so I only threw in $10,000.” And the lawyer said, “I’m ashamed of you both. I threw in a check for the full amount.”

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey, along came a spider and sat down beside her and said, “curds have cholesterol, whey is fattening, and sitting on that tuffet will give you back trouble before you’re 40.” That’s what’s going on in our lives today, dangerous foods. There was one guy taking a survey … you know, all kinds of foods are going to kill us sooner or later, and meat, you know, is murderous (red meat); vegetables are vicious; the water we drink is poisonous. And he pointed at one guy in the audience and he said, “Can you tell me what it is that most of us eat at one time or other that’s the worst thing in the world for us?” And without hesitation, the man answered “wedding cake.”

When Harry wasn't telling jokes, he was taking photos
OK, this is the story before we eat. It seems that Mr. Ginsburg is going on a cruise all by himself. And like they do on cruises, they assign you to a table, and he was assigned to a seat at a table with a French gentleman who spoke no English. First night out when he got to the table, the Frenchman stood up, bowed, and said, “Bon appetite.” Not to be outdone, Ginsburg stood up, bowed, and said, “Ginsburg.” Well, this went on every evening at the dinner table. On the last day, Ginsburg was talking to a friend and said he was glad the cruise was coming to an end because he was getting tired of that Frenchman introducing himself every night. “But Mr. Ginsburg,” his friend said, “that is not his name. It’s a French expression that means have a hearty appetite or enjoy your meal.” “Aha,” said Ginsburg. So that night, he beat the Frenchman to the table, and when the Frenchman approached, he stood up, bowed and said, “Ginsburg.”

So now enjoy the dinner. I have some more stories for after we eat. … Let’s start at that table where my sister is sitting.

If anyone would like to listen to the audio tape with the reunion attendees telling jokes and stories, please contact me. Stay tuned for Part 2 – the other side of the audio cassette tape.

Copyright 2107, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Harry’s wrap of ’50s Pentagon memories – Part 4

Here’s the last of Harry’s pages of notes in his computer files on the Pentagon publishing operation in the 1950s. They were last edited March 3, 2010, although that could be the date he reorganized the files. These reflections follow the previous three posts on this blog. Together they reveal a snapshot of our father who carpooled to the Pentagon when my brother and I were very young. 

By the end of the 1950s, we had pretty much achieved some stability in the Current News operation. The Air Staff had established a printing plant next door to our office and, by written agreement, had assigned top priority to printing the Current News. I kept that written agreement handy because I frequently had to use it to shout down some Air Force Colonel who wanted his stuff, whatever it was, printed ahead of the Current News. Anyway, we were distributing between 400 and 500 copies to the Air Force – both the civilian and military staffs – and another 300 to 400 to Office of Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. 

Random photos on this page from 60s and 70s
Aside from the military services, we were also giving about 100 copies a day to the other Defense Agencies, such as Defense Intelligence Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, DARPA, etc. We were printing the front page of the morning edition, which we now called the Early Bird, in yellow paper to distinguish it from all other papers on the peoples’ desks. We had also started printing a main edition. The Early Bird had, since the very beginning, come out at 6:00 a.m., so that the chauffeur could get a copy when he went to pick up the Secretary of the Air Force in the morning. The Secretary would read it on the way to work and by the time he got there his juices would be flowing freely. By 1960, the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Navy and Secretary of Defense all made the same arrangements. This aspect of our distribution problem became a real headache as time went by and demand grew. But more on that later.

In order to meet our 6:00 a.m. deadline for production, we had to start screening and clipping around 2:00 a.m. This is where the work became an adventure. We could get the Washington Post okay – the first edition came out around midnight and was available to the Post’s loading dock then – likewise the Wall Street Journal, which was also printed locally. Fortunately, we had people on our staff who volunteered to start work at 1:00 a.m. and fetch those papers. For a while, several of us took turns doing it – a terrible chore for me about once every two weeks – but in 1961, when Leon Simms came aboard, he took over that job permanently – Leon, a man for all seasons. More about him later.

The out-of-town papers were another matter. Most East Coast papers came to Washington by truck – from Boston the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor; from New York the NY Times, the Long Island Newsday, the NY Daily News (afternoon) – also the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, and from the South the Richmond Times Dispatch, the Atlanta Constitution, and a few others I can’t recall at the moment. They all arrived at an out-of-town newsstand in Bladensburg (border between D.C. and Prince Georges County in Maryland – a scary neighborhood around 4:00 a.m.) We also took turns picking them up until Leon took over.

My mom (blue dress) attended many Pentagon events
I should also mention that the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle came to National Airport on the red-eye flights around 6:00 a.m., and we made arrangements to have them delivered to us by about 7, so those papers, and Washington’s afternoon papers – the Times Herald and the Daily News, all went in the Main Edition which came out at noon. By that time, Sgt Earley had retired [she was the namesake for the original Early Bird], I still had several (three or four) enlisted personnel working for me, and we still had three or four officers from Major to full Colonel in the office whose main job was writing speeches and congressional testimony for the Secretary. That was an activity that Murray Green and I both were actively involved in and for which we needed Top Security Clearances.  

I seem to recall that I had to be re-investigated and re-cleared every five years or so. Also, every two years or so we got a new Colonel in charge of the office. We got two kinds of Colonels – either it was his last active duty assignment before retiring or it was his best assignment on his way up the ladder – a prestige job working for the Secretary. Every one of them was a sharp, intelligent, top-notch guy.

So, we had two deadlines a day and the situation was fairly stable – except during snow storms and really bad weather when the trucks didn’t get to Washington on time – occasionally hours late. I remember (sidebar here) when truck drivers were mad about the 55 mph speed limit that was imposed nationally – 1973 was it?? – so coming in from the north on the NJ Turnpike they breezed along three abreast blocking the whole road so nobody could pass them and came in two or three hours late. This went on for weeks until they were finally permitted to speed on the turnpike without getting ticketed. Anyway, everything changed in 1961, when Kennedy came into office and McNamara came in as Secretary of Defense and Gene Zuckert came back as Secretary of the Air Force. 
When Zuckert came back, he greeted me as an old friend. I told him I was especially glad to see him come back because, while he was number one on the roster of Office of the Secretary of the Air Force personnel, it was also true that he followed right behind me on the alphabetical roster, which meant he was also last – sort of like George Washington, first and last in the hearts of his countrymen. One of the first things he did was fire the Administrative Assistant, my boss John McLaughlin. After John, there were a number of Administrative Assistants – Phil Curran, Tom Nelson, Joe Hochreiter, John Lang and Bob McCormick. I got along well with all of them, but it was an efficiency expert who was brought in some time in the late 1960s to examine the workings of the Secretariat, who jolted me by saying that the reason I got along well with my bosses was because they made a special effort to get along with me. More on that later.

(Although Harry ends with "More on that later," I haven't come across further reflections in his old files. If I get my hands on more, I'll let you know. You can get an overview of his years at the Pentagon in the book "Distorting Defense, Network News and National Security" by Stephen P. Aubin. )
Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Historical notes highlight Pentagon players – Part 3

Harry was fond of boss Zuckert (on right, above and below)
On this page we see more reflections from Harry’s early Pentagon years. Whether he intended anyone to see them (other than the original recipient) we’ll never know. As our family reads these notes, however, we can pair some of his experiences with the Pentagon photos taken during his career. I found these notes dated Jan. 3, 2010 in computer files, though I think he wrote them years earlier.

When I came to the Pentagon, the United States Air Force, as a separate service, was just two years old. The first Secretary, Stuart Symington, was just leaving and the second Secretary, Tom Finletter, was just arriving. One of the Assistant Secretaries was Eugene Zuckert, whom I met early on and took an immediate liking to. The Special Projects Office was run by a couple high-powered Colonels, established to do special jobs for the Secretary.  

The thing to remember is that the Air Force was still trying to organize itself and the Secretary had all kinds of organizational problems in trying to adjust its civilian staff to do the administrative things while the military side was trying to adjust its staff to get out from under the Army and do the military things – and there was a lot of confusion about who was responsible for what. The civilians had no responsibility in operational matters, and the military had some partial responsibility and a lot of interest in administrative matters. Thus there was a lot of tension between the Deputy Chiefs of Staff and the Assistant Secretaries, while the Secretary and the Chief of Staff were mostly cordial. All the discord took place at the second tiers and Gene Zuckert set the original ground rules at that level and got most things smoothed out. Another Assistant Secretary was Roswell Gilpatric, though my mind’s a blank as to when he came in, but I got to know him, too, and he was more of an intellectual than the others and did a lot to enunciate and clarify Air Force thinking in those early days.
Anyway, the Colonels and a couple other civilians in the office were mainly occupied in doing things for the brass – the Secretary and Asst Secs and also the Chief – writing speeches, and preparing congressional testimony. Remember, on top of everything else, the war in Korea was just getting underway and the Air Force was scrambling to get into it. Busy as the office was, they turned over the less important stuff to me, the newest member of the staff. By the way, two other people were hired at the same time as I. One, Louise Gronniger, stayed on with me until she retired, a few years before I did.

So, like I said, I got the less important odd jobs thrown at me. One was the newspaper clipping service which became the Current News. Another was the requirement, which some congressman wrote into the law – the National Security Act, I believe – that each Agency must submit an Annual Report. So the Secretary told the Chief to prepare a draft and the Air Staff set up a historical office to write Air Force Histories and then the Chief told the Secretary to prepare a history of the Secretariat to include in the official Air Force History … so, this round robin led to me being assigned to write not only the Annual Reports, which I did for many years, but also a classified history of the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, which I also did for many years. That, in turn, led to me being asked to write an annual account of USAF progress/history each year for various encyclopedias. And that, in turn, led to me being asked to write articles for various magazines, which I did a lot of on my own time at home so I could get paid with a clear conscience. But that’s another story.

By the end of the 1950s, the Current News had grown substantially. We were now getting more newspapers and doing more screening and clipping and putting out more pages in the morning.  I think it was in 1959 or 1960 that we went from 6 to 8 pages. By this time the Air Force Printing Plant was in operation. They had a lithograph printing press. And they had a machine that could take a picture of a Current News page and make a plastic/paper mat which could be put on the press and inked up and reproduced in hundreds of copies. We were making and distributing about 500 copies each morning. And it was no longer exclusively for the Air Force – mostly but not exclusively. We were giving copies to the Secretary of the Army, Sec/Navy, Sec/Def, and Joint Staff. Plus, all kinds of people were coming into the office to pick up any extra copies laying around, if possible.

Harry (right front) with office crew, 1960s
Lots of things were happening in 1960, not only in our office. Eisenhower was finishing up his eight years as President and a new campaign was getting started. Kennedy was entering the national scene, this young Senator from Massachusetts, and Nixon was hoping to graduate from Vice President to President to succeed Ike. Those were exciting times and our office was getting busier. But let’s back up a bit.

During the decade of the 1950s, several organizational things happened. We were still the Special Projects Office and there was always a Colonel at the head of it with a civilian as the second in command. The civilian was Murray Green, also a Reserve Colonel in the Air Force. Now, the Colonel had a military staff, usually three or four officers helping him with all the writing he did for the top brass. The civilian had a half dozen of us helping, also, with writing and other projects for the brass. I was pretty much the number two civilian, running the clipping service and writing the histories, etc., and also helping with the writing chores. Every now and then I was assigned the major responsibility for writing a Secretarial speech. But, mainly, I was administratively running the office. That is, keeping the time and attendance records, making sure all the personnel matters were attended to, etc., taking care of all the performance evaluations, writing up the award and commendation recommendations, and, also handling disciplinary matters, as well. I still had several, three to five, enlisted personnel working for me as well as a few civilians.

Harry appears as the photo-bomber in several old Pentagon shots
When the top two Colonels left and another was assigned, there was some organizational turmoil between the Secretary and the Chief and for a while the Chief of Info was assigned to the Secretary and my office was assigned to Info. (Later they changed their name to Public Affairs, as opposed to Private Affairs or Secret Affairs.) Then for a while Public Affairs was assigned to the Secretary and my office to the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary. There it remained until after I retired. Public Affairs, on the other hand, bounced back and forth between the Secretary and the Chief of Staff until they finally decided that it worked for both, and I guess it’s still reporting to both.

* * *

The next page of reflections in Harrys files I had already prepared as a blog post (in two parts) in 2015. It refers to his role in a McCarthy-era case while he was working at the Pentagon in the 1950s and living in Greenbelt, MD. That page begins like this: 

If I repeat myself in these looks back, it’s because as things occur to me, I get a different perspective in my reflections. Anyway, in the early ’50s, my office was moved to the Public Relations office for maybe six months or a year and then back to the Secretary’s office, although our work was for both the Secretary and the Chief – it’s just that their staffs kept juggling things around before they finally settled down and we were placed under the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary. At that time, the AA was John McLaughlin, who had been there from the beginning in 1948. In 1953, I came forcefully to the attention of the Secretary. Here’s what happened.
In earlier posts, Harry refers to this movie (IMDb photo)
This has nothing to do with my Air Force career. You may recall that this was the era of Senator Joe McCarthy, who accused the State Department and the Defense Department of harboring a bunch of communists. Security considerations took precedence over everything else in DOD. Early in 1953, the Navy Department fired five people as security risks. ...

You can read the rest of that page of reflections in posts on this blog from November 2015: "Harry recounts McCarthy-era case in our Greenbelt, MD, hometown" 

(Stay tuned for the last page of Harrys historical notes on his early years at the Pentagon.) 

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Harry recounts ’50s-era Pentagon publishing – Part 2

Harry’s notes below appear to be continued from those in the previous post on this blog. There he recounted how the Early Bird, the Pentagon’s former signature publication, got its name in the 1950s, and the start of the long-time Current News. I found these last edited April 3, 2009. So, who in the world will be interested in this bit of Pentagon history? Possibly the Pentagon historians – and those of us who still marvel at learning more about Harry’s remarkable life.

In the early ’50s, the demand for our daily clips grew beyond our ability to produce it. The problem was reproduction. The Secretary of Defense wanted a copy and the Joint Staff, too (this was before there was a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), so we were buying multiple copies of the newspapers and cutting five copies of articles and pasting up five copies of the Current News. 

In addition, we were making a few more copies on the Photostat machine, but I kept looking around for other ways to reproduce it. Of course, we could get it printed just like newspapers, but that would mean setting up a printing plant, with presses and all, which was impractical if not impossible. I looked at mimeograph machines and that would work if we retyped everything on those mimeograph wax-sheet stencils, but that was also impractical. 

Harry (with moustache) and Pentagon colleagues, 1950s
Then I found a mimeograph machine that would work. It was a German machine, a Gestetner, that used a rubber stencil. The way it worked was, there was a separate machine that was used to copy anything on to a rubber mimeograph stencil. It could copy newsprint and sketches or drawings okay (pictures, too, but with poor resolution), so we still had to paste up our pages, then copy them on a stencil and then run them off on the mimeograph machine. The only drawback was that it took about five or six minutes to make each stencil, so, for four pages it would take a half hour, including the time to change stencils, etc. We were doing all this at about 6:00 a.m., trying to get copies ready to give the Secretary, et al. at 7:00 a.m., when they got to the office. Each stencil, by the way, was good to run off about 100 copies, which I thought would be more than we would ever need. Little did I know!!

When I demonstrated the wonders of these machines to the blueprint department where they were using the Photostat machines, they were so impressed that they bought several of them and started replacing their Photostat machines, and I got a special price from Gestetner to buy a second stencil-making machine and a second mimeograph machine. With the two machines, we were able to make all the copies we needed and still meet our deadlines. This worked pretty well for several years in the early and mid-50s.

He earned the highest civilian award many times (sample medals below)
We were now printing very legible multiple copies that looked very professional, and getting to be known as the Current News. And, as our capacity to reproduce copies increased, the demand for copies increased as well. We were doing this almost exclusively for the Air Force, though we were giving a few copies to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff. Then the Secretary of the Air Force wanted all the Assistant Secretaries to get it, and the Chief of Staff wanted all the Deputy Chiefs of Staff to get it, and all of them wanted their Execs to get it, and their office staffs, etc, etc. Then suddenly we found ourselves running off a couple hundred copies using both machines and still not able to meet the total demand. An interesting sidelight is that the stencils, which were guaranteed or advertised as good for about 100 copies, started stretching and warping at about the 125th copy. They were, after all, a very thin rubber, and we spoiled a lot of them when we first started using them just in the handling. So we worked with the Gestetner reps in helping them improve their products. 

I had never paid much attention to organizational arrangements, but suddenly I was confronted with an unexpected problem. My office was a separate division under the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force. Next door to me was another division that handled all the mail coming in to the Secretariat as well as several other things and, in one of the many reorganizations taking place in those early days (remember, the Air Force as a separate Service was only two years old and still trying to organize itself), that division was transferred to the Air Staff, specifically to the Asst Chief of Staff, I think. That organization claimed responsibility for all Air Force printing requirements in the Pentagon, including the Current News. They wanted to appropriate my Gestetner machines and take over all my reproduction needs, and I told them to go to hell. (Ever the diplomat, me.) It escalated right up to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff, who agreed to let me retain my machines and do my own printing, until the Air Staff could come up with an improvement on my operation.

So … the Air Staff took over a block of space next to my office and set up a reproduction facility which eventually became the Air Force Printing Plant. They invested several million dollars in strengthening the floors there to hold hundreds of tons of printing equipment, which rivaled the Navy Printing Plant down in the Basement of the building. And, in time, they did, indeed, come up with a better system, at which time I was happy to turn over the printing business to them. It was, however, agreed to between the Secretary and the Chief of Staff – in writing that I had a copy of in my files – that the first priority in that Plant was the Current News.

In later years, I had a lot of run-ins with Air Staff Reps, and one recurring one was when they wanted to delay the Current News printing in order to print something else with greater urgency, in their view, and I objected. The poor guy who ran the Plant had to do what his boss told him to do, and when he told me so, I had to go over his boss’s head either to the Chief of Staff or the Secretary, and I always won and they hated me for that.

He also saved the wall plaque below, like the one on the wall above

(Stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4 of Harry’s historical notes.)
Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Memories for the Pentagon historians - Part 1

Since I began this blog in May 2015, I’ve focused on paying tribute to my dad through writings discovered in his files. In so doing I’ve delighted in connecting or reconnecting with family and friends who knew him, as well as many who didn’t. Another reason for this blog: to “file” Harry’s writings in a permanent, searchable space – even writings that may interest few. So, perhaps somewhere out there, someone is wondering how the Early Bird – one of the Pentagon’s bygone signature publications – got its start. Harry may have sent these reflections to a colleague for a 1998 book. (See photos at end of this page.) Here is the first of four pages from his files. Stay tuned in coming weeks for the next three.

Here’s a story I’ve only told to a couple people, and I’m not even sure who any more. How the Early Bird got its name. In 1950 we started the Current News, just two copies – one for the Secretary and one for the Chief of Staff. The Secretary was Finletter, and the Chief was Hoyt Vandenberg. They were both fully occupied with what the press called the B-36 Hearings – really, the Hearings by the Armed Services Committees of the House and the Senate. Basically, it was about the roles and missions of the Armed Services. The Air Force wanted the nuclear bombing mission with the B-36 to carry it out – long range strategic bombing. The Navy wanted it, too, but with aircraft carriers and submarines. Missiles were still on the drawing boards. 

Harry (far left) in his Pentagon office, 1950s
Anyway, the office I had just been hired to work in was being expanded a little – it was called the Special Projects Office which worked directly for the Secretary of the Air Force, and a couple of high-profile Colonels ran it together. Mainly, they wrote speeches for both the Secretary and the Chief of Staff, and they did all kinds of other odd jobs when called on. They also had some high-profile Reservists who came in from time to time to help out. Anyway, I was assigned to brief the Secretary each morning on what the newspapers were saying about the Hearings. Now, the Korean War was just getting started and the whole Pentagon was scrambling to figure out what the U.S. military was gonna do about Korea and we were just starting to send people and equipment to the Pacific to bolster what was already in Japan and on Okinawa. 

Harry got awards in the 1950s and regularly during his career
There was no such thing as a Xerox machine. What I did each day was cut out articles from The Washington Post and the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal and a couple afternoon papers from the day before – the Washington Times Herald and the Washington Daily News. I got several copies of each paper so I could cut out two copies of each article and paste them up in what subsequently became our standard format. If the Colonel wanted a copy, I had to cut out a third copy of each article. Well, what with the Hearings and the war heating up in Korea, the DOD and the Air Force was starting to get more and more coverage in the press and pretty soon it was more than I could handle and still get it to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff early in the morning. 

He often was crowned the “Pentagon Poet Laureate”
So, a couple enlisted people were assigned to help me; one of them was the oldest enlisted woman in the Air Force who had been one of the first women to enlist when WWII started. She was 60 then, which I thought was ancient (I was 29), and the Secretary had to sign a waiver to extend her because 60 was the mandatory retirement age. She was a Master Sgt and her name was Amabel Earley. She stayed for two years and she was great. When she retired she went to live in the distaff retirement home. One of the newspapers, I think the Post but I’m not sure, ran a big story on her when she retired, a glowing story really complimentary, and I remember how mad she was because they called her the oldest enlisted woman in the Air Force. Well, she was the one who put the Current News together for a couple years mostly, and while it was still called the Current News, we began referring to it as Earley’s Sheet, which soon became Earley’s Bird, which eventually became the Early Bird

Right from the beginning, I was trying to figure out how to reproduce it. I found the office in the Pentagon that maintained all the drawings and architectural sketches of the building and those things were reproduced on a Photostat machine, which they let me use. The trouble with that was that everything came out of that machine as white on black and some as black on gray, which made them hard to read. But we were able to make four or five copies that way, which was still better than cut and paste.    

It wasn’t until several years later that we put the title Early Bird on it, and I’ll tell you that story another time. 

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman 

These snapshots show the 1998 book cover and some of the pages that recount Harry’s work in the Pentagon. When I contacted author Steve Aubin, he commented: I’d be honored to have parts of my book chapter used to help tell Harry’s Pentagon story. He gave me a file folder of original documents that helped me write that chapter. I thought it was a story and a part of history that needed to be preserved. Participating in a small part of that history when I worked for Harry made a huge impression on me personally and professionally. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Poems honor marriages, friends not forgotten

Two years ago I began this blog to show us more about Harrys life through his left-behind writings. In this post, we see yet more colorful memories from his personal files! When our family lived in Greenbelt, MD, 1949-1963, my parents made lifelong friends with many dozens of families. Those were pioneering days in the governments experimental community outside of D.C. I’ve reunited with some of the “children” of those families as our parents have aged and passed away. I dedicate the following four poems – a few of likely hundreds – to them, and to all the other Greenbelt kids out there.

Aug. 22, 1993
To Irene and Sid Spector on their 50th Anniversary

Marriages, the sages say, are made in Heaven, every day,
But this I say, for what it’s worth, a few good ones are made on Earth.
At least, my friends, they used to be, when we were all still young and free,
And each man chose himself a wife, to have and hold throughout his life,
And every woman gave her heart until, they said, ‘death us do part’.
So pass the word around the nation, educate each generation,
While we, the older ones, you know, who hit our fiftieth long ago,
Celebrate again tonight with someone else who did it right.

These newlyweds, this pair of clowns, who spread good cheer with smiles, not frowns,
This marriage is a great success, a miracle, no more, no less,
Because they worked to make it good, they didn’t have to knock on wood.
The Spectors, Irene and her Sid, if anyone did good, they did.
For after all is said and done, they have more friends than anyone,
They share their love with all their friends, their friendship knows no bounds or ends,
They set the pattern and the form for love that’s genuine and warm,
Their love, a source of pride and pleasure, their friendship all of us can treasure.

So here’s a word of sound advice that bears repeating once or twice,
To keep all couples on their toes, and we all need this, heaven knows,
Love is just like bread, they say, it must be made fresh every day,
So each day make your bread anew, and each day love each other, too.
And if we all keep love’s sweet score, we might survive for fifty more!

Nov. 1, 1992
To Fran and Jack Sanders on their Golden Wedding Anniversary

The Year was 1942, and all throughout the land,
Our generation danced to music played by each Big Band,
When Benny was the King of Swing, on boxes called a juke,
And Basie was a royal Count, and Ellington a Duke,
When Harry James and Miller, Glenn, the Dorseys, Sammy Kaye,
All taught us how to jitterbug, and how to swing and sway.
Sinatra sang the songs of love, and so did Crosby, Bing,
And all of us knew all the words and helped the singers sing,
Sweet music filled the airwaves every night and every day,
And we could name each major band when it began to play.

Oh, we were all so very young, the world was younger, too,
When Jack and Frances found a love that stayed forever true.
And so these two got married, by a local judge, at first,
Which wasn’t really proper then, but that was not the worst,
To consummate the marriage Sanders’ Grandma made them wait,
For a Chuppa and a Rabbi who could bless their wedded state.
With their mutual commitment made, for better or for worse,
Then Greenbelt afterwards became their hometown universe,
And here they raised two kids with love, and made their home secure,
And here they made a host of friends whose friendships still endure.     

And then, as it was preordained, believe this, friends, or not,
The Sanders both were doubly blessed – six grandkids were begot!
Well, fifty years have now gone by as quickly as a wink,
It seems they’ve hardly had a chance to turn around or blink,
And both of them are older now, and wiser, so they say,
But deep inside they’re still as young as they were yesterday.
With family and friends around for them to be among,
The love that lives within their hearts will always keep them young!
So here’s to Fran and Jack tonight, and to their family,
And here’s to all our children, friends, our immortality!

Jan. 7, 1983
To Jack Sanders on his Retirement

He has made his final call upon each liquor store and bar,
And now he’ll have some time to spend in cleaning out his car!
He will have more time for golfing and for treating Fran with style,
Which will surely keep her smiling for at least a little while!

He’s achieved a reputation as a connoisseur of wine,
He knows which brands are bad or good and which are really fine,
But now that he’s retiring he no longer has to drink it,
He doesn’t have to sample it or sip it, let them sink it.

So now he’s free to switch from wine and learn to savor beer,
For beer has many properties that bring about good cheer,
And beer makes better lovers, I would wager you or bet,
And you may take my word on that, but please don’t ask Jeanette!

Now we all can raise our glasses in a sweet retirement toast,
To a guy with more admirers than most of us can boast,
May all the many years ahead be happy and carefree,
And may funds continue flowing into Social Security!

Feb. 15, 1975
To Ratzkin, Shinderman and Pines on their 60th Birthday

Now if anyone had told us just a year ago today,
That we all would here be gathered from our homes so far away,
We’d have laughed at them and asked if they had lost their foolish minds,
Yes, but here we are to honor Ratzkin, Shinderman and Pines!

And all of us have traveled here from near and far away,
To celebrate and dedicate this most auspicious day,
To sing our Happy Birthday songs, those well-remembered lines,
For three good men named Shinderman, and Ratzkin, too, and Pines!

We have shared so much together, through so very many years,
Both our simchas and our sorrows, both our triumphs and our tears,
We have shared some stormy weather, we have shared some happy times,
And now we’ll share your birthdays, Ratzkin, Shinderman and Pines!

And each one in attendance, by his presence in this place,
Is expressing his affection with a special touch of grace,
Just attending is expressing all the love that you have in ya,
For it proves how much we care for Ratzkin, Shinderman and Pinya!

So here’s to number sixty, just in case you’re keeping score,
And here’s to all the years ahead, at least as many more,
And here’s to birthday greetings, in a poem that really rhymes,
And here’s to all the friends of Ratzkin, Shinderman and Pines!

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Timeless news-reading tips in 1973 speech

Harry saved the publicity for a 1973 speech
Click on photos to enlarge

Do you remember 73? Two weeks after President Nixon’s second inauguration, on Feb. 4, 1973, Harry delivered the following speech at a D.C.-area synagogue event. He was 52. After he died, I noticed the audio cassette tape of the speech mixed in with his music collection. Its valuable now since we have so few recordings from those days. The transcript below is long and conversational, and you can only imagine his tone quite forceful in spots – so typical of Harry. However, much of his advice and his analogies seem timeless. And his humor, well, it’s so Harry, too.   

Speaker Introduction
Our speaker today has had a long and distinguished career in the Defense Department. When you consider what has happened in the last 25 years, it’s a remarkable achievement that he’s been able to stay there so long. His subject is an intriguing one: how to read between the lines. He’s going to give us some ideas of what to look for in reading newspapers and magazines. He speaks from a background of tremendous authority. He’s served [as a civilian] with the Air Force for 25 years, but he has also served in the office of the Secretary of Defense as executive agent to prepare news analyses and public opinion trends. He has continued in this work through all his career. I don’t want to take any more time except to tell you that all his remarks will be “operative”. It gives me great pleasure to give you Harry Zubkoff, whose title is civilian chief of the office of research and analysis for the Secretary of the Air Force, and chief of the executive agency for the Department of Defense to prepare analyses and public opinion trends. Mr. Zubkoff …

“How to Read Between the Lines”

I do have to say Dan, when I get an introduction like that I can’t help wishing my parents could have been here, because my father would have really enjoyed it, and my mother would have believed it.

Photos on this page show Harry in the workplace, 1970s
You know the first time you ask somebody to speak, you’re taking a calculated risk. The second time it’s a known risk. I must say I admire you. I just hope you’re not going to be disappointed. It’s like the lady who went into the store for pantyhose. The next day she came back and wanted her money back, and the clerk said, “What’s the matter? Didn’t they come up to your expectations?” And she said, “No, they come up to my knees.” I’m gonna come up to your knees.

What I want to talk about today is the press. And I’m going to try to give you an objective and a factual view, though I must confess, I suffer from the same affliction as the author of that book, “The Unbiased History of the Civil War from the Southern Point of View.”

You see the problem with the press is it’s not unique to this country. I read this little item not long ago about Queen Elizabeth when she went to France recently. She was really shocked to learn about her image as projected in the French press, and she made a count. In the French media, she had been reported as being pregnant on 92 separate occasions. She had suffered 149 accidents; had 9 miscarriages; abdicated 63 times; was on the verge of breaking up with Prince Philip 73 times; on the edge of a nervous breakdown 32 times; and had 27 attempts on her life.

That’s the way the press operates most all the way around the world. But I don’t want to talk about the lies; they’re relatively easy to spot. Like Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that makes you a fool; it’s what you do know that ain’t so.” And that’s what’s happening.

* * * 

Now the manner in the way the press handles the news these days has been dubbed as “news-think”. News-think is a frame of mind. What the press is trying to do is put news in the paper; whether it’s news or not, everything has to be labeled news. And this is what we have to worry about. It’s not so much that what we read is the real story about what’s going on; it’s whether it’s a story at all. Because the news is filled with non-stories. And the way to make a non-story look like a story is to put a headline on it, a byline, and sometimes a date line. But any of them could have been written within a period of about 20 years.

In fact, we had some research we had to do not long ago comparing some stories about Vietnam with some of the stories about Korea. And would you believe that in 1952 as in 1972, you could not have told the difference between the stories on Korea and the stories on Vietnam? I think some of the newspapers simply lifted some of the stories out and changed a word here and there. So you have to worry about whether something is a story.
* * *

Also they have a great many subtler devices. You take some of the words they use, the headline writers. They use: attack, accuse, hit, denounce, berate. So you don’t just make a comment or two about a city master plan, you assail it. Even if all you did was scratch your head and make a comment, your opponent could have been your best friend, but it’s your opponent who assails you.

Come to think of it, I ran across this poem here, and I gotta read it, talking about somebody saying something. “As any reader knows, a news source can charge, declare, affirm, relate, recall, aver, reiterate; allege conclude, explain, point out, answer, note, retort or shout; rejoin, demand, repeat, reply, ask, expostulate or sigh; blurt, suggest, report, or mumble, add, shoot back, burst out or grumble; whisper, call, assert, or state, vouchsafe, cry, asseverate; snort, recount, harrumph, opine, whimper, simper, wheedle, whine; mutter, murmur, bellow, bray, whinny – and once in a while, say.”

Now the use of those kinds of verbs, you see, all bring out a picture in a reader’s mind. And it’s done on a calculated basis, really. And reporters use the same kind of a thing. For example, a couple guys in downtown Washington exchange shots. It’s reported as a shootout. Then you’ve got a story, you see. If it’s three people, they call it a riot. Then they put the story on the front page. Now, that alone makes it news, whether it’s a story or not, that’s news, it’s on the front page. I think if we could eliminate the front pages, we’d be a lot better off – like eliminating the last car on the railroad train.

* * *

One of the things they do is tagging. And they also do trending and counter-trending. Now tagging consists really of putting an identifying label on something or someone; very prejudicial. And then you identify them from that point on exclusively by that label. For example, they used to say about George McGovern, he was a mackerel, which is a colorless fish with a large mouth. And for this reason, nobody gave him a chance to get the democratic nomination; he got it anyway. Lyndon Johnson, he was power mad. Bobby Kennedy was ruthless. Gene McCarthy was lazy and cool. If the person they’re talking about manages through sheer guts to show another side of his personality, then the news says he’s changed or matured, and that means he’s ready for a new label.

Of course they ran into all kinds of problems with President Nixon, because they couldn’t come up with a label, so they called him the new Nixon. And then every once in a while to take care of those people who didn’t like Nixon, they would say, there’s a flash of the old Nixon. So it was either the new Nixon or the old Nixon depending on whether you liked him or not.

Also this business of labeling, it’s really overdone. They talked about, for example, the Chicago Seven; there was the Gainesville Eight; the Tweduck Four, and all the rest of them. These are prejudicial labels, that’s what they are, and they automatically color your mind. When they had that Oklahoma state prison riot, somebody wrote the Oklahoma State Prison 500. But that one didn’t take hold.

* * *

Now there’s this business of trending. Trending occurs when the news media decide that events in some area are moving in a given direction. And then all the information on that subject reinforces the idea of the trend. A good example is the way the news handled youth. In 1967, the youth was moving away from politics. It was a trend. In 1968, they were trending back into politics; in 1969 they were getting out of politics; in 1970, they were getting back in again.

The Cambodian incursion, you may recall, that got the youth back in in full fury. Before you knew it, though, they vanished back into the woodwork. Then they were registering in droves for the 18-year-old vote, and the trend was decisive political influence by the youth, that is, if they bothered to vote. Whether they voted or not, I doubt if it would have made any difference. Incidentally, they didn’t vote.

So, that’s trending. Now, counter-trending, that’s the time-honored, journalistic tradition about a man biting a dog. You see, it’s not news when a dog bites a man, but it’s news when a man bites a dog. So, what happens is, when the public has a certain perception about a trend that’s going on, one way to make a news story is to say that it’s going in the other direction. You deny the original trend, which the newspaper established in the first place. You say the country’s gradually moving to the left. So somebody says the country is moving toward the right. As soon as everyone’s convinced we’re moving toward the right, somebody else puts in we’re moving toward the left again. Well that’s what happens.

So news makes news by contradicting itself. That’s the great trick of the trade.

* * *

I want to give you a few more examples about words. You see it more clearly when you read the sports stories. Of course you have to give the sports reporters lots of sympathy. They have to report day after day the same kind of situation. You can’t hear anybody say, today Washington’s going to play. You can never hear the announcers say that this is a pretty routine game, performers are no better than average. All he’s got to do every Saturday or Sunday afternoon is say what a great football game this is. This is one of the most exciting games he’s seen in years, and he wishes everybody could get to see it. The thing is sports are too dull to read about, so you have to listen to the voice.

Also in sports, all games are tough, every opponent is tough, every win is tough, every loss is tough. All the plays are beautiful. In the [inaudible], they always fire their scores. You never hear about an ugly forward pass; they’re all beautiful forward passes. And did anyone ever hear about a dirty-cut athlete? They’re all clean-cut.

Then journalists also coin new words every now and then, enough to drive you out of your mind. Like simplistic. That’s a journalism word, simplistic. Then there’s finalize, relevant, charisma; and irrelevant is almost as good as relevant. Also, cigars and pipes are simply never smoked, they’re always puffed. Nobody eats sandwiches, they always munch on sandwiches. You never drink a beverage, you always sip a beverage. When King Edward abdicated – some of you are in my generation, you may remember – he used the phrase which has endured and will endure forever: at long last. It means exactly the same thing as at last, you see, but everybody who wants to be fancy says at long last. It will never fall out of the language. That’s because journalists keep repeating it. At long last.

We suffer from cliché-itis. You get words like an in-depth report, an ill-informed source. Anybody ever hear of a semi-final analysis? Or how about a shallow report? Or a poorly informed source? All the sources are well-informed; that’s the name of the game. Nobody calls a spade a spade anymore; it’s now an agricultural implement.

* * *

Now listen to what the newspapers do. From a recent news account: “Last week Henry Kissinger flew to the Middle East to explore the possibilities.” Explore is the key word. “Last week a representative of the Kremlin flew to the Middle East to exploit the growing tensions surrounding the tenuous cease-fire.” Actually the use of these words represents a trap. If you happen to agree with the implications of those two statements I just read, then you think it’s straight reporting. But if you disagree, then you immediately see the bias.

So take a careful look at the words they use in the newspapers. Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. Try to take the other guy’s point of view. Pretend you’re an Arab. And all the sudden you’ll see all kinds of biased reporting in the paper. The truth is, the newspaper is overwhelmingly pro-Israel, and it’s reflected in the story. We’re happy that they’re pro-Israel. [Audience member says “Not the Post”.] No, not the Post, not Christian Science Monitor, not Newsweek. But most of the papers are pro-Israel.

Anyway, our press is really more sophisticated than the press in the communist countries. They don’t have to use words like lackey, or, the favorite word in the Chinese newspapers is running dog, or the imperialistic war mongers. We’re a little more subtle, but results are still pretty much the same. And a lot of it is not done consciously, which is even worse. Do you remember the incident in that Paris Summit meeting? Well TIME magazine and a lot of the news media described Krushchev – listen to these words: intransigent, belligerent, almost incredible, bellowing like a wounded rogue elephant, intemperate ramblings, diatribe, etc. – all loaded words.

The U.S., on the other hand: replied tartly, asserted coolly, and was stern. You see, the Russians, when they’re not bellowing, they’re dower. A stern American politician is a dower Russian political. Our people make speeches, no matter how boring. But a guy like Castro, he speechifies. Sometimes he speechifies excessively. You can just feel the demagoguery in these words. You don’t have to hear a word about what he said, but you’re automatically turned off by the way the papers report it.

* * *

So the papers are reflecting a bias. They don’t like to say that, they deny it, but it’s there just the same. You know the papers use to talk about the peace demonstrations and the peace movement. What they really meant was the Vietnam War movement – not the same thing at all. And just as an aside, a great many of those peace pushers are now urging the United Sates to help Israel’s war effort. Even to the point of a confrontation with Russia. Well, it’s not that they’re for peace, it’s that they’re very selective in the kinds of wars they want to fight.

The papers were kind of schizoid about the whole thing, too. You see, they tried to give the anti-war people an aura of respectability, the peace movement, but then in the next breadth, they talk about their …

[At this point someone turned over the cassette tape, so they lost a bit of the speech.]

… Florida was not particularly sophisticated – I hope there’s nobody here from Florida. It’s all right to go there for a vacation – but! Listen to Smathers, how he lit into Pepper. [FYI, George Smathers and Claude Pepper were Florida senators in the 1950s and ’60s.] He said, among other things, that Pepper was known around Washington as a shameless extrovert; that he reportedly practiced nepotism with his sister-in-law; that his own sister was once a thespian in New York City. And worst of all, Pepper himself before marriage practiced celibacy. Needless to say, Pepper lost the election. I’d figure he’d lose it again today because you can’t practice celibacy and win an election in 1972.

But people really do react in a peculiar way to words, and the newspapers take advantage of it. Now this is the tragic part of it, because people ought to know better. You see the world is not what we think it is. I mean everybody views the world based on his own background, his own education and experience. Everybody reacts to the information he hears and reads and sees. But most of all, of all the ways to see what’s going on in the world, we depend, of course, on the media to furnish us with all the information.

I’ll tell ya, for those of us like me who have been associated with the military departments for a long time, we simply do not recognize some of the information about the military presented in the media. It’s distorted; at least to us it’s distorted. The individual facts seem true enough, but often, equally significant facts which would cast a different light on a situation are not mentioned. And, I’m sure you all know that the papers are full of one-sided, unfavorable stories about defense. And the same information keeps appearing in the papers. Like one of the great myths: defense spending keeps going up and up and up. And no matter how many times or who says that it’s going down, it makes no impression because it’s not repeated. 

* * *

I often wonder, is the problem with me or is the problem with the media? I think it’s with the media. I did a little research. You know, we’re being educated by the media, mostly television these days. The educators are estimating that by the time a child goes to kindergarten, he has watched over 4,000 hours of commercial TV. That’s a lot of commercial TV, and that’s a lot of mistaken impressions that kid gets. By the time a kid graduates from high school, he’s watched 15,000 more hours of commercial TV. By that time he’s through, he’s had it, he’s brainwashed.

This mass media education is called, it’s a highly specialized thing called modern propaganda. Now modern propaganda, you see, is different from the ancient propaganda. Modern propaganda is not lies or tall tales so much; it’s based on facts. It operates with all kinds of truths, and half-truths, and limited truths, and truths taken out of context. One way to characterize propaganda is what I’m telling you today. If the result of this talk is that you read your newspapers more carefully and apply some discrimination and thought to what you read, I will have been successful in getting across some modern propaganda to you, because propaganda provokes a little action.

* * *

There’s a guy in France at the University of Bordeaux who’s generally considered one of the experts in propaganda. His name is Jacques Ellul. He said that in order for propaganda to work, it has to be aimed at educated people. And he says that intellectuals are actually the most vulnerable to modern propaganda. Why? A lot of us pride ourselves on being intellectuals. Well the reason is because intellectuals absorb the largest amount of second-hand, unverifiable information. Further, they have a compelling need to have an opinion on every important question of our time.

All of us know everything there is to know about anything. How many of you say, “Do you know about this?” and their answer is “I don’t know”? No. They all know something. So they all have opinions. And they’re the most easily influenced to have opinions because they consider themselves – all of them – capable of judging for themselves. That’s a great fallacy, we can all judge for ourselves.

So all you see under the influence of propaganda, all these drives that we have, they – unclear, often without any objective – sometimes become powerful, direct, precise. Propaganda gives us the objectives, organizes our traits into a system, freezes us into a mold. Any prejudices we have are going to be hardened by the propaganda. You see, we’re told that we’re right in harboring these prejudices. So then we find our reasons and justifications. And the stronger the conflicts in any society, the stronger the prejudices. And propaganda intensifies these conflicts, intensifies the conflicts.

* * *

So we see a lot of irrationality brought about by propaganda. For example, something that I call the doomsday irrationality goes like this: The world is in terrible shape. We’re dying of pollution. The air, the water – in another 20 years it won’t be fit to breathe, or drink.

I happened to grow up on the shores of Lake Erie. I’ve been reading about Lake Erie being a dead lake. They’ve got me convinced, Lake Erie is a dead lake. I was in Buffalo just a couple months ago. Looked in the paper and found that this year in Lake Erie was the biggest fishing take ever in history. The truth is it all went into gefilte fish, Lake Erie white fish. But that wasn’t in any paper except the Buffalo paper, and it was a trade paper at that. All the other papers are saying Lake Erie is dead. Not only that, we went out to a beach on Lake Erie and went swimming and the water was beautiful. And Lake Erie is supposed to be so polluted according to the papers that it’s worth your life, like going into the Potomac.

Another one of the irrationalities (I’ll be glad to argue with all the environmentalists), the irrationality about DDT – I’ll be glad to talk to you about that. Then there’s the love-hate syndrome. Love among the youth, anyway; you love everybody, except you hate the pigs; you hate the authorities and you hate the establishment – and you hate the military industrial complex. Which is another irrationality. I don’t know what the military industrial complex is. I’ve been living in the military all my life practically. I think it’s a myth! The establishment is a myth. What the heck is the establishment? All of us are the establishment – that’s what everybody is. You know it’s the image of a monolithic, impenetrable, inhuman being that controls our lives, and it’s capable of controlling our lives and nobody can change it! There’s no such thing. What’s the corporate state? Does anybody know what the corporate state is?

Another one of the great myths today is that we’re rapidly running out of energy. This one hits home because energy is in the paper today – we’re rapidly running out of energy. It just isn’t so. There are all kinds of statistics around to prove it isn’t so. There is a great powerful motive on the part of some element to want to push the line that it is true. The motive is money of course.

Well anyway, propaganda, it’s a phenomenon, and you have to recognize it. You have to learn to recognize it.

There’s another myth that technology causes more deaths. Everybody’s heard that one. Actually technology does not cause more deaths. Every one of us is going to die only once. We’re not immortal. So there aren’t going to be any more deaths from technology. What it does is maybe shift the statistics a little bit. Because you take the percentage of people who are killed by automobiles; it’s been going up since the beginning of the century. You can say that the technological development of the automobile brought about some earlier life terminations for some people, but it remains that the overall average life span since the beginning of this century has increased from about 47 to 70 years. And largely, if not entirely, because of technology. Technology doesn’t bring about deaths, it extends life.

* * *

Trouble is, once one of these myths or prejudices take hold, it’s very, very difficult to dislodge it. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible. You have to wait for a new generation. That’s what they have to do in Israel, wait for the next generation.

What we have to do is attack these myths before they gain a foothold. And the only way I know of to attack them is to read with some discernment.

One of the things I often do – do you ever read the newspaper and you get so furious about what you’re reading and you’re writing a letter to the editor in your head – a blistering, long letter to the editor. It never gets written, it never gets sent, but it’s good psychologically to work on it. I think we ought to write more letters to the editor. We ought to not just walk around with the letters in our head, but put them down on paper and send them out.

There’s another interesting statistic: 0.1 newspaper space is to the letters to the editor’s column. Over 35 percent of the readers read the letters to the editor’s column – the biggest percent of readers for any one subject. Why won’t the newspapers expand the letters to the editor’s column? Ask them. [Audience comments inaudible]

* * *

We all know what’s wrong with newspapers; deep down in our minds we know. The thing I want to say about these newspapers, though, if you get the impression from my criticism that I completely disagree with newspapers, it’s wrong. Frankly I think we have a pretty good press in the United States. The problem is you have to learn how to read it. Everybody thinks the television and movie image of our presses, these honest and fearless reporters always going out after the story, searching for the truth and writing it against all odds, and all that – well that’s not what newspapers are all about. Only once in a while is there something like that. I think the Watergate story is one of the most unusual developments of American journalism history, really. But it’s an exception, it’s not the norm.

And another thing, the opinion pages – Outlook in the Washington Post – or the New York Times opinion section. These sections are closed in a way to any other viewpoint but the current, fashionable, intellectual conceit. And people who try to put in different points of view are seldom, seldom successful.

But anyway, you get these newspaper stories and you think they’re trying to get the truth, and you look at every story and you think you’re getting a picture of the truth. Well it’s not so. What you have to do, you have to look at the newspaper as a whole. It’s a whole conglomeration of stories. Collectively, all these stories give you an impression of what’s going on the world, what’s going on in the country, what’s going on in the city. We live in a dynamic world, a shifting world, everything’s moving, everything’s changing. The press is like an impressionist painting; you get too close to look at details, they don’t mean anything. You have to step back and get the whole picture. Then you get a feel for what’s going on.

It’s like when you look down through water, and you know how light is refracted, the refraction of light and water, when you’re trying to judge the size and shape of something under the water. Well, the water corresponds to all the preconceptions through which the news always travels. And reporters, you see, they acquire these preconceptions. They learn by experience the kinds of stories that never get into the papers, the kinds of stories that never make the six o’clock news on television. And so they learn to color their stories so they will get in the papers, maybe even give them a byline. Maybe they will get on TV, give them an extra bonus of fifty dollars. They learn to tell which people are news and which are not news. Most of us are not news. That’s because we lead normal lives. You want to get in the newspaper? Kill your neighbor.

* * * 

Incidentally, I want you to know that when Agnew started talking about the media, and he was so critical, it didn’t surprise me; I’ve always felt that way. Where I differ with Agnew of course is his interpretation of objectivity. He’s like the guy who says there’s a terrible disease called cancer; the cause of it is international Zionism. So get rid of international Zionism, you won’t have cancer anymore. Of course it’s silly, but that’s the way it was.

I agree that the press needs criticism, but it also is a pretty good institution, if you look at it the right way. Just don’t have great expectations. Look at it for your impressions. And if you want to read and find the prejudices, just read the verbs, read the adjectives.

Actually newspapers do a better job than TV; TV gives you only headlines. They give you pictures, most of which are – unless it’s an actual news event taking place at the moment – most of them are distorted. They simply can’t put on the same kind of deep report that the printed press can give you. You see, news magazines, they emphasize a snappy style. Everything’s got to be snappy in a news magazine, cut short – they’re giving you all the news in a week, let’s say. Not true, but it’s news just by virtue they put it in the magazine. Lots of non-stories. All the serious books – the monthlies, the quarterlies, the semi-annuals – every one of them is a captive of a different point of view. Some of them are good if you happen to agree with their point of view. A lot of people only read the things they agree with. I always wonder about that. If you want to keep up with your prejudices, you have to read the other guy’s points of view.

The only thing that could be better in terms of the press is books, and the only trouble with books is that they come too late. Good interpretive books have been written, but by the time they get published, their interpretations have been overtaken by events. You know the first really good analysis of the campus unrest we were having a couple years ago, came out around the time the students were going back to school, started worrying about their grades, and about the jobs, and about their futures. And the new left – what’s happened to the new left? Anybody hear about the new left lately, in all the headlines about a year ago? They went right [audience says the same], right.

* * * 

Well the thing is nothing stays still long enough for a leisurely examination. Unless it stays on the front pages for months on end – and the only thing that’s been on the front pages for months on end is Watergate. Of course, everybody’s saturated with Watergate, and it’s left an incredible impression on our minds. Now, I ask you, if President Nixon were genuinely innocent of the whole business, do you think he will ever, ever be judged innocent by the people. No. I don’t know whether he is or not. (Erase that tape.) [Audience laughter]

Everybody remember the stories about the secret bombing in Cambodia that broke a few months ago? I want to tell you about the newspapers, about secret bombing. We did a research project on it. I had some very bright, young, summer students with me this summer, and they took this on as a project, when the newspaper stories came out about secret bombing in December 1969 and January 1970. These kids went back through the papers for those days. And, they found literally – literally I say – hundreds and hundreds of stories about the bombing in Cambodia back in 1969 or ’70. There was no secret bombing. I don’t know why they called it a secret bombing! [Audience comments inaudible] Nevertheless, if it was a secret I would hate to see something that was out in the open.

Anyway, you don’t read the newspaper stories. I’ll tell you what really happened. People weren’t aware, didn’t realize the implications of what they were reading. But you can get a sense of where we are and where we’re going if you look at the whole paper. And you try to relate all these seemingly unrelated bits and pieces of information that you read about. You get it. You’ll get the idea. Papers don’t spell out everything that’s going on. They provide a lot undigested information, and you gotta do a lot of mental work yourself in order to figure out what’s going on. I’ll tell ya another thing. Anyone who reads the paper shouldn’t be surprised at that secret bombing.

 * * *

But here’s another one. Everybody these last couple of weeks was surprised. Europe generally did not support the United States, did not support Israel, did not support the United States in its efforts to resupply Israel. And everybody got furious, everybody got surprised. I don’t see why we should’ve been surprised. We could have been disappointed, sure, but not surprised because the papers for the last year or two have been full of stories about the European energy problems.

Everybody knows that 80 to 85 percent of European oil comes from the Arab countries. Where do you think their interests lie, with Israel or with their own economic well-being? If they lose that oil, the whole continent’s economy goes down the drain. Who do you think they’re gonna support? Their selves or Israel? In fact, economic considerations are the prime motivating forces for all nations. And don’t ever delude yourself that that’s not true.

Take a little country like Iceland. Iceland depends on cod, fishing, that’s the major economic of Iceland’s economy. So they extend their territorial waters out to 50 miles. Well, England and Denmark and West Germany also fish in those waters, and they also need those fish. You know, Iceland has five ships in the Navy. They took on the British Navy, the West Germany Navy, the Denmark Navy. They shot at them, they boarded their boats, they arrested their people! They’re ready to go to war; you think they could win a war with England or with anybody? They can’t win any war! But you scratch them where it hurts economically and they’re gonna go to war! Everybody knows that. Yet, when that was in the papers, everybody was surprised because Iceland is fighting for its fish. They shouldn’t have been surprised. It was all in the newspapers long before they started.

I’ll tell ya, if I were an Arab oil-producing nation, I’d be worried. Because the colder Europe gets this winter, the more chances are that Europe is going to take some direct action. So don’t be surprised, because it’s in the papers. Incidentally, the secretary general of NATO has said that they consider the cut-off of oil a hostile act. Now what does that mean? That’s a cause for war, of course.

* * *

Well, I don’t want to take up too much time. I just want to tell you this. I got two things to tell you before you start clapping.

You see, the newspapers are good, as I say, for telling you the trends, where we’re going, how we’re gonna get there maybe. They put out early warnings. But it’s like, you know the coal miners used to take a canary down into the shaft to smell the gas. If the canary died, then the coal miners got out fast. Well, that’s what the newspapers are for. They’ll give you the trends, they’ll give you the tip-offs to what’s gonna happen. All you have to do is think about them, be aware of the implications. Everything that affects society and that affects the world is gonna be in the press.

You know, Will Rogers once said, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” And that’s true. I say amen to that. Just no better way to know what’s going on in the world than to read the papers. So start reading and start clipping.

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman