tremonius (tremonius) wrote,

"She Reads, Man!"

[both.JPG]It is 1969, the year I went to Ft Sill. Forty years ago this month, Joe Namath appeared at the head of his AFL Jets in the third Super Bowl. He was a young quarterback, so the grizzled and heavily favored NFL Colts figured they'd blitz him plenty. But every time his wideout saw the linebacker break, he'd cut into a quick post behind him and Namath would have the ball in his hands.

The Colts soon stopped the blitzing. "He reads, man," said one of them. It was the first year the AFL won the championship.
Reading. The means of working out measures to derive points at evidence in your own private trial. If you don't read, you're sitting in the stands, and all you know is what the cheerleaders say.

We're with you, team, so FIGHT!

We're from Bonham High School and
We're on the ball;
We're from Bonham High School and
We know it all!

This is hearing-knowing. This is passive. This is us.

The boys from our town who went to the Big City were defensive, most of them. They deplored the cosmopolitan and the complex, although they secretly longed to be considered one of that set. Wouldn't find me dead in a place like that, they snorted, and it was true, they wouldn't ... unless they were invited.

LBJ was a rube from the hill country gone to Washington, and he never forgot it. Fond of telling about the makeup of his cabinet, after he was elected president by Lee Harvey Oswald. 

...Johnson ... would remind people again and again that in the chamber where these great decisions were made, there sat the head of the Ford Motor Company, a Rhodes scholar, the dean of Harvard University, and one graduate of San Marcos State Teachers College. - The Best and the Brightest; David Halbertstam.

He really rubbed their noses in it, these effete Kennedy upperclass snobs. Made them convene for privy council meetings with him on the toilet. Insulted them before staff. Sat with his feet in the lap of one of his bootlickers. They had to take it all because they were at the apex of their careers and there was nowhere else to go of equal standing, and career is everything.
The virtue of his style, as Joni Mithcell sings to us, inscribed in his contempt for theirs. But reading was one point where the circles intersected. There is something elemental about reading. 

Hugh Sidey of Life, who had written of Kennedy's reading habits, decided to do a similar article on Johnson's. He started with George Reedy, who told him that yes, Johnson was an avid reader. What books? Sidey asked. All Reedy could think of was Barbara Ward's The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations, a book on how the rich should help the poor which Johnson liked because it was similar to his own ideas. From there Sidey went to see Moyers. Yes, said Moyers, he was an avid reader. What books? Well, there was Barabara Ward's book The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations. And from there to Valenti, who said Johnson read more books than almost anyone he knew. What books? Valenti hesitated and thought for a moment, then his face lit up. Barbara Ward's The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations ... - ibid

There is a rule you learn when first confronted by a used car hustler who assures you of his honesty and it runs like this: That quality most touted is least in evidence. Here is a more recent interview in People magazine with the Palin pantomime from the last election cycle (and, we can all hope, the next several).


How do you get that knowledge? 
SP: I'm a voracious reader, always have been. I appreciate a lot of information. I think that comes from growing up in a family of schoolteachers also where reading and seizing educational opportunities was top on my parents' agenda. That was instilled in me. 

What do you like to read?
SP: Autobiographies, historical pieces – really anything and everything. Besides the kids and sports, reading is my favorite thing to do.

What are you reading now? 
SP: I'm reading, heh-heh, a lot of briefing papers on a lot of issues that are in front of us in this campaign.

What about for fun? 
SP: Do we consider 
The Looming Tower something that was just for fun? That's what I've been reading on the airplane. It's about 9/11. If I'm going to read something, for the most part, it's something beneficial.

Remember the early days of this regime being flushed down the drain as I write this? Dohbya uttered the timeless mantra of morons everywhere: "I read people, not books." And then along came a people, and he read him. He deciphered his soul by gazing fondly into his eyes. Putin. 


Now he is - you guessed it, a "voracious reader," according to his tout. (The Bush Legacy League reminds me of several still vivid moments from my days on the ball fields of the VA Center. I'd watch one of Deadeye's fastballs zip right down the center of the plate, waist high, slap into the mitt. Shoot, I just stood there, admiring. I figured my chances of hitting were about the same as Mr Ed English, the plate umpire, missing. Maybe he didn't see it right. It might've looked outside to him, just an inch or so, but still. Mr Ed English would pause a moment only before raising that right arm, but I'd think, in that time, maybe. That's this Regime Remodel, now under way, what it's all about. Maybe history won't see it like it was.)


But the campaign for faux literacy is a strange one. If you take all your meals under the golden arches, it will show. And if you spend lots of your time in gyms, there are obvious results. It's the same with reading, and anyone who does will know these dimwits are lying and anyone who doesn't won't care.


Dyslexia works some eerie voodoo on the human soul in Ruth Rendell's A Judgment in Stone. And there's Bartleby the Scrivener, another white whale story from Melville, but this one about reading and how one might with dignity ask for help without actually doing it. 


In 1969, I took a course in remedial reading. 


I found myself in Ft Sill, with none of my former identity following along, amidst an army which did not read. I was one who firmly believed in the wisdom of W C Fields, who said, "Ah, yass, my doctor tells me if I don't stop drinking I'm gonna go deaf. But the stuff I've been drinking is so much better than the stuff I've been hearing ..."


Always what I read was better than what I heard, and here I was alone among strangers. If this, then that, was how reading goes. So one very fortunate moment occurred early on when Hennings came by the day room where I was on duty and asked, "Do you type?"


There are walls and walls of Army Regulations, and events every day which depend on them, and thousands who go about the post acting and thinking based upon hearsay. One who takes the volumes down and looks through them and finds out anything relevant may make a place for himself, I figured. I became a Battery Clerk, and was able to spend my entire remaining commitment, exempt from duty, right there and not in Southeast Asia. I was very fortunate, and it all began with Mrs Jennings and Typing I and II back at Bonhi, and because none of the lugs around me took that class.


Sgt Day done run away. He had 28 days left to ETS when he would be going home. I went with the apprehension team that brought him to the unit from the MP station. "Aw, you know," he explained. "You go out, you get drunk..."


All those who moved under that wall of regulations in every orderly room knew what happens next. He was gone three months, so he serves three more months and then his good time, that 28 days, begins. Everybody knew it. I didn't know it. I was ignorant. I couldn't find it in my books.


But why is my Personnel Officer and his NCOIC sitting in our orderly room one day shy of 28 from the time Sergeant Day was returned to military control? They are clearing post for him, to expedite. They had a call from one of those tough old buzzards at Finance, a civilian employee. She said, how come Sergeant Day hasn't cleared post? They said what anybody would say, what everybody knew. He's got a long time to go yet.


No, he doesn't, she told them. He is out of the Army this time tomorrow. Y'all hurry up, now, y'hear?


CWO Williard still did not understand exactly why it was Sergeant Day was leaving our happy crew so early. He said, if this, then maybe that. But the buzzard at Finance, she knows what's so is what all the ARs up on all the walls say, and not what everybody knows. She reads, man. 


For everybody else, the rules were pretty simple.


"We're with you, team, so FIGHT!"



  1. Let us not presume that reading and understanding and acting upon that knowledge are the sole province of those Harvard and Rhodes scholars who so aided and abetted the Madness of King Lyndon when he was becoming more and more stuck in his Vietnam tar baby. Anyone with security clearance could've easily learned the facts from CIA: for the period of the war the GNP of North Vietnam rose at its prewar rate of 6%, despite the intense bombing. In three years of war the US had barely touched the manpower pool of the North. Estimates were that no more than 40% of the males ages 17-35 had served in the Army, that more than 200,000 North Vietnamese became of draft age every year, and only about half of them had been sent off to the war. Their main-force army had grown during the war from 250,00 to around 475,00. The US was not even keeping up with their birth rate. So much for the vaunted Attrition strategy. But the enablers built a solid cocoon around a president drifting away from reality by the day. If you were even pessimistic about the war, you would be kicked to the curb and someone more cheery would be in your place. But the fallacy of their cooked figures was shown during a military briefing to a panel of the top civilian officials called the Wise Men, which included former Supreme Court Justice and UN ambassador Arthur Goldberg, who was not on the team of LBJ enablers.

    The briefing began with the military officer saying that the other side had suffered 45,000 deaths during the Tet offensive.
    Goldberg then asked what our own killed-to-wounded ratios were.
    Seven to one, the officer answered, because we save a lot of men with helicopters.
    What, asked Goldberg, was the enemy strength as of February 1, when Tet started?
    Between 160,000 and 175,000, the briefer answered.
    What is their killed-to-wounded ratio? Goldberg asked.
    We use a figure of three and a half to one, the officer said.
    Well, if that's true, then they have no effective forces left in the field, Goldberg said. What followed was a long and very devastating silence.

    - from The Best and the Brightest; David Halberstam


One non-reader writes (although not to me) about the possible purpose of these columns, as: "He impresses me as someone who writes to impress some one else, maybe himself too." Well, maybe, I'll have to wait for the cheerleaders, but in the meanwhile, here is another LBJ vignette which works perfectly as an allegory for binding local legend with universal myth, sort of the mission of Positively 4th St.


"He (McNamara) wields that computer and those figures like King Arthur wielded Excalibur," Jack Valenti told the President.
"Like what? the President asked.
"Like King Arthur wielded Excalibur," Valenti repeated.
"More like Sam Rayburn with a gavel, I think," the President said.
"Same thing, Mr President," Valenti answered.

- ibid






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