The Quotes 💣
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind 🐎
~ Stephen Crane 1871–1900 (War Is Kind)
Water is taught by thirst;
Land, by the oceans passed;
Transport, by throe;
Peace, by its battles told;
Love, by memorial mould;
Birds, by the snow ⛄
~ Emily Dickinson (In LI, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)
I don’t read books. I write them 😂
~ Henry Kissinger
I’m in the mood, I’m in the mood, I’m in the mood
I can write it on the door – I can put it on the floor
I can do anything that you want me for
If you want me to
I can do it right – I can do it wrong
‘Cause a matter of fact it’ll turn out to be strong
If you want me to 🎸
~ Robert Plant (Lyrics from In The Mood)
Who ran to help me when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
Or kiss the place to make it well?
My mother 🐱
~ Jane Taylor 1783–1824 (“My Mother” from Original Poems for Infant Minds)
My Promise To You
“What you’re about to read is easily the best essay ever to appear on this blog!”
Wait… With a statement like the one above, is there any doubt left in your mind that all this writing has gone to your blogger’s head? So here’s what I’ve got to say in my defense: “That it very well might have—and yes, I agree that that’s both indefensible and untenable—but I am sticking to my story that this will be the best essay ever. For starters, I haven’t written it. So you already have something going for it from the get-go!” 🏄
“Hey, wait… Did you, like, pluck the essay out of thin air or something?” That’s what I hear you questioningly say, anyway. And to which you add, “Yo, Mr. Smarty-pants Blogger, look here! We have heard of spontaneous combustion, okay? But spontaneous synthesis, and that, too, of an essay! Oh my. All this essay-writing really has gone to your head, Mr. Writer-pants” To which I respond like so: “To soothe your frayed nerves, allow me to be the bringer of good news—both clarifying and revelatory, your doting Mr. Blogger-pants wants it that way anyway—that you are about to read a spectacularly well-written piece of writing.” 🏆
Goodbye Blogger, And Good Riddance!
Woohoo, I hear you all say, all at once, too, at the top of your lungs! And I totally understand the sentiment: while I love you, dear Reader, and cannot imagine a life without you, you all definitely need a break from me! It’s all good; my feelings—and whatever scant little remains of my bulldozed-over ego—won’t smart one bit <insert one pathetic whimper right here> 😪
I’ll be back—probably sooner than later—with yet another one of my blithering essays… 💁
Meanwhile, you are justifiably all set for some merrymaking now; after all, the holiday season is nearly upon us 🚕
So sit back, relax, and—as they say in those annoying announcements in the movie theater just when the main show is about to start—”enjoy the show” (Yeah, like, thanks for that earth-shattering disclosure; otherwise, we might have kept thinking that we came to the theater to sit on porcupine quills while holding a smoldering charcoal in each hand!) 🔥
Only, it’s far better this time. We’ve got you covered with quality, mind-expanding—no, not that kind—entertainment this time; plus you don’t even have to buy something like a movie ticket, which is a boon for cheapskates like yours truly (Can’t I say “yours truly” just one more time? Pretty please? Unless, of course, you haven’t totally disowned me after seeing what great writing is meant to be, which will, of course, be on display in our guest essay; hey, I try, you know) 🐬
So go fill your coffee mug with Nescafe’, settle down (as for me, I’ll merrily sip my lemonade), and savor the splendor which is the piece of writing by Kitty Fassett. It’s coming right up 🎬
Rundown Of The Tantalizing Sections (aka Sojourns) In The Guest Essay
Let’s get ourselves a bird’s eye view of the pit stops we’ll make during our upcoming excursion ⛷
- A Natural-Born Organizer
- A Stark Obituary
- The Father I Knew?
- Chocolate Cream Pies, A-Mile-High
- I Will Remember You (As Well As My Detective Work)!
- Transferred To The Pentagon
- Of School And Chewing Gum Wrappers
- An Organizational Genius Rises To The Occasion
- Sobering Events In The Wake Of President Roosevelt’s Suddenly Death
- Departments Start Jockeying For Clout
- The Cold War, And The Mission Overseas
- A Brainchild Of The Manhattan Project
- The Mathematical Genius Returns to West Point!
- Mother, Ever The Gracious Hostess
- In August Company
- An Unwitting Manchurian Candidate
- Enter The 1600-Page Calculus Book (aka “Green Death”)
- Meanwhile, Vietnam Was Bleeding…
- Retiring From The Army, After 43 Years Of Service!
- Of Mischief And Scintillating Poetry
- Old Soldiers Never Die; They Just Fade Away
Now how about that for an intriguing set of themes coming our way, eh 🚂
Drawn and Quartered
And that was merely a rundown of the fun stuff coming your way in the essay (Pop’s War). I hasten to add that while I haven’t modified the contents of Pop’s War in the least—it’s brilliantly written to the point where every single word pulls its weight, guaranteeing all attempts at modifying it as acts of misguided folly—I have taken the liberty of dividing my guest’s essay into (hopefully appropriately-named) sections for your ease of reading.
Um, so it had been brought to my attention that my delicate readers balk at the sight of a wall of text 😧 And therein lies the crux of my drawing and quartering the lovely essay into smaller—read palatable—pieces. Reese’s pieces, all the more delectable 🍒
Oh my! And hey, listen, I love you dearly all the same; you can balk to your gentle heart’s content 😉
But I’m getting ahead of myself…🐎
With A Drum Roll, Introducing The Author!
But first things first. So by way of the briefest of introductions, Ms Fassett’s distinguished training and background in music (Vassar College, and the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music) are important aspects of her brilliant career. She is a true intellectual in every sense of the word. While you may not have heard her name in literary circles—or in the blogosphere for that matter—let me assure you that she is not an unsung heroine 🎶
I say so because if you’ve read the stellar new book entitled Plato and the Nerd—please tell me you have read it—then you’ve already heard her voice; the unmistakably distinguished imprints of her fine intellect, musical rhythm, and grace resonate throughout the pages of the socio-technological echo chamber of a masterpiece that is Plato and the Nerd.
Of A Gem From The MIT Press
Before anyone considers the option of conking me on the head with a baseball bat or something, thinking that maybe I’m going to digress again—I have been known to occasionally, um, digress—let me assure you that it’s nothing of that sort: I’m about to share some totally germane stuff… Cool, cool? 😎
Hey, for crying out loud, where’s the trust factor? I do try to offer more than mere digressions by way of my essays now 😿
So it goes like this: I’m a huge fan of the sterling books published by The MIT Press. Let’s briefly talk about just one of them—the relevant one, yep, since you all seem to want to place a moratorium on my digressions. We’ll talk about my corresponding psychic pain at a suitable time. Later. Relax, much later; not in this essay for sure! Here, then, is the awesomeness from The MIT Press that I’m babbling about:
Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology (The MIT Press) by Edward Ashford Lee 📣
Closer to hand, here is what its author, Professor Edward Ashford Lee—the Robert S. Pepper Distinguished Professor in EECS at the University of California at Berkeley—had to say about the individual whose essay you are about to read. Thus, in the “Acknowledgments” sections of Plato and the Nerd, Professor Lee shares some thoughts which are rightfully glowing (for the author of the essay you are about to read) and altogether too modest (for himself). He says:
Most especially, however, I would like to thank two very special people who played a major role in the development of this book. The first is Heather Levien, who, unlike me, really knows how to write and without whom this book would be a disorganized pile of random ideas. The second is my mom, Kitty Fassett, a professional musician with an aversion for mathematics but a true intellectual and also a great writer. Without her help, this book would be unreadable to nonspecialists. She was my guinea pig, telling me each place where a nonspecialist might get lost.
With that, here comes our brand new guest essay—let’s dive right in to the beguiling mystery and intrigue that is Pop’s War, shall we? 🏊
Pop’s War: My Father, The CIA, And The “Green Death”
A Natural-Born Organizer
My father was an organizer. He organized everything and everyone into military formations as if preparing for war. His instructions always appeared in the form of military memoranda—detailed like marching orders, leaving nothing to the imagination and no room for mistakes or creative interpretation. He organized his death as meticulously as he organized his life, and when the grim reaper suddenly ambushed him, my father was ready.
A Stark Obituary
I was in my fifties when he died, his only child, and the task fell to me since my mother despaired over it and my aunts and uncles resented it, having never gotten along with him in the first place. Like a robot, I followed his directions, unaware of their content. Therefore it gave me a jolt when I saw the sensation-seeking headline composed by the Louisville Courier Journal: “CHARLES NICHOLAS DIES. WAS AN ORGANIZER OF THE CIA.”
The Father I Knew?
Was this the father that I knew? The obituary spoke only of his career, of which I knew little, and in trying to learn more I found myself going down a rabbit hole. The article described my father the warrior—one I could recognize, with a solid build, steely gaze, and stentorian voice demanding absolute obedience.
Chocolate Cream Pies, A-Mile-High
He had spoken of some kind of Intelligence involvement during World War II in an organization called “G-2”, while he sat behind a desk in the Pentagon—a building I remembered from my childhood for its cafeteria where they served chocolate cream pies a mile high. After the war he moved his office to a mysterious edifice called “The New War Department Building,” which I could only visualize as a glowering structure restricted to members of some secret fraternity.
I Will Remember You (As Well As My Detective Work)!
I knew painfully well that he had taught mathematics. His attempts to teach it to me had left us both limping from the battlefield. That was during his third tour of duty at West Point, the second time having been cut short by the catastrophe at Pearl Harbor, after which he was ordered to Florida. There we settled into a musty-smelling pink house and hung black curtains on the windows to make us invisible in case of night-time bombardment.
Transferred To The Pentagon
It was from Florida that my father was transferred to the Pentagon. Our life in the nation’s capital was bleak as we moved from one rental house to another while my mother scraped together meals from scant wartime provisions. Sometimes we ate horse-meat prepared for Pickwick the cat, and sometimes Pickwick, adored and patronized by my father, would lay siege to our own meager beef rations on the dining table.
Of School And Chewing Gum Wrappers
Meanwhile, I was enrolled at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School, where my classmates bragged about their fathers who were leading armies in Europe, but how could I brag about my father who was sitting at a desk?
An Organizational Genius Rises To The Occasion
As a mathematical and organizational genius, my father was a perfect candidate for the nascent CIA, born after the war under the name of “CIG,” or Central Intelligence Group. Pop had just joined it when West Point offered him another professorship. He loved West Point—its discipline, order, and predictability. In a letter that I found after his death he sorrowfully declined the offer, stating that the CIG needed him: “The Group is scarcely old enough to walk alone, and is in that difficult stage of attempting to function while it is still organizing.”
Sobering Events In The Wake Of President Roosevelt’s Sudden Death
The OSS met its demise five months after President Roosevelt’s sudden death. His successor, Harry Truman, feared Donovan’s charisma and gave him ten days to dissolve the organization. Having to cobble together a replacement agency that would provide information to guide him through the emerging Cold War, Truman dragged in a reluctant Rear Admiral, Sidney Souers, to head the new organization.
Government Departments Start Jockeying For Clout
These farcical beginnings erupted in jealousy between the Army, Navy, and State Department, each balking at the idea of any central organization that might reduce its individual clout. My father tolerated the brass from the armed services but deplored civilians from the State Department. The CIG was short lived, however, and by the time it evolved into the CIA, Pop had survived as its Assistant Deputy Director.
The Cold War, And The Mission Overseas
Around that time he went on some kind of overseas mission which he couldn’t talk about. As he departed I asked my mother “Will we ever see Pop again?” We had good reason for alarm. The early Cold War was a nasty time, with agents on both sides collecting German scientists and often murdering one another.
A Brainchild Of The Manhattan Project
Although Pop never divulged the reason for this cloak-and-dagger escapade, I wondered if it had to do with the aftermath of the “Alsos Mission”—a name only whispered in our house until its scientific leader, Dr. Samuel Goudsmit, wrote a book about it and Goudsmit acknowledged my father as the Mission’s guiding spirit.
The Mathematical Genius Returns to West Point!
After my father returned to West Point in 1949, he maintained contact with Dr. Goudsmit, and documents I found after his death indicated an ongoing connection with scientific intelligence, with access to classified information within the Atomic Energy Commission. In our new quarters at West Point I sometimes overheard him ranting about communists—probably aware that a spy named Klaus Fuchs had handed over the U.S. atom bomb secrets to Russia.
Mother, Ever The Gracious Hostess
But at West Point my mother could enjoy life in more comfortable surroundings. She was a perfect army wife, my father’s prize student in household organization, despite having been, unlike him, a child of privilege. She liked nice things—silk underwear, pretty clothes, and, more than anything else, attention by her peers. Although never much of a cook, she had a few favorite recipes and a flair for hosting candlelight suppers.
In August Company
In this new guest-friendly atmosphere I was privy to conversations with some of our distinguished visitors, including on occasions the famous Dr. Goudsmit. He had a charming Dutch accent, and over cocktails and dinner he and my father could now talk openly about the Alsos Mission, while reminiscing about an American spy named Moe Berg, a multilingual intellectual Jewish professional baseball player, who, steering his own course, reneged on his assignment to capture, dead or alive, Germany’s brilliant nuclear physicist, Werner Heisenberg.
An Unwitting Manchurian Candidate
My mother, who understood none of this, was nonetheless a gracious hostess and my father was proud of her social skills. But he was less proud of mine. As a lazy and rebellious teenager, I was sent to a convent school to be straightened out by nuns. However, my vacation days needed structuring.
Enter The 1600-Page Calculus Book (aka “Green Death”)
By now Pop’s primary obsession was his magnum opus: a 1600 page calculus book—an army style directive in sixteen green volumes which, like his death plan, left nothing to the imagination. He spent five years writing it and I was his guinea pig. He viewed mathematics as an art form of the highest order. I viewed it as a form of torture. He viewed the West Point cadets as potential warriors with minds trained to think in equations. I viewed them as a bunch of sex maniacs.
Meanwhile, Vietnam Was Bleeding…
But the Vietnam War was in progress and Vietnam wasn’t Vicksburg. At Vicksburg there had been no traps in the jungle floor to impale unwitting soldiers, nor sheer numbers of enemy forces appearing out of nowhere. General William “Westy” Westmoreland, who had once been one of my father’s math students, was up against a new kind of nightmare.
Retiring From The Army, After 43 Years Of Service!
Meanwhile, Pop bullied the West Point academic board into doubling the class hours devoted to calculus. After his death his successor remembered him as “a stern disciplinarian.” It appeared that the academic board had been as terrified of him as I had been in my childhood.
Of Mischief And Scintillating Poetry
He had a mischievous streak and I remember his instructions to an employee on the makings of a martini: “Fill a large glass with ice, pour in a jigger of gin and just a drop of vermouth,” he said. “Then when my wife isn’t looking add two more jiggers of gin.”
Our concern in the Strait of Hormuz
Is the flow of petroleum and booze.
If Khomeini’s curse
Keeps making things worse
We’ll invoke the aid of the Jews!
Old Soldiers Never Die; They Just Fade Away
I miss him. I miss the light that shone through once the career pressures had lifted. But to this day the voice of the warrior still speaks from my mind’s darker recesses—less audible, but persistent, still organizing and still directing. In General Douglas MacArthur’s own words at the time of his farewell speech: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
I can predict your exact reaction at this moment, your having just finished reading a fine piece of scintillating writing: Uh-oh, the blogger is… Back! <insert one primal scream right here> 😱
Yep, and it’s quite all right; I mean, I can’t deny your perfect right to feel emotions as and when they wash over your psychic landscape. After all, feelings are our primary interface with the (external) world… Okay, so I hear some more of that moaning and groaning back there, a sure sign that my readers are awakening to the realization that the essay is already done—see, didn’t I tell you at the outset that it was going to be awesome?—and you are left with me yet again 🍂
May I suggest that a bit of cognitive reframing is in order? That, by the way, is just a fancy way of saying: listen up, all good things come to an end, yo. Yep, from now on, it’s just you and me; unless, of course, I get more volunteers who would also like to submit their guest essays for publication around here. Again, don’t get your hopes too high; you just might end up having to read yet more of my drivel. Just sayin’ 🚛
Why Call it an “Experimental Afterword”?
Well… Here’s why. All that I had in mind—in calling this section an “Experimental Afterword”—was this: How about we leave some room here to serve as an open-ended “scratchpad” area that I can circle back to, adding thoughts as postscripts right here rather than tacking them on by way of orphaned, decontextualized comments separately at the end of this essay 🎭
Think of this as a scratchpad; and yes, I sure would appreciate your not thinking of this section as a dumping ground of sorts 🚮
Something tells me it’s going to be a lot of fun 👻
Here We Go
Okay you poor souls—hey, this is not the Grim Reaper, so relax—it’s just your blogger, taking himself up on his own offer (to add postscripts here), about to run with his purported “Experimental Afterward”, which is the quicksand you find yourself in at the moment. Don’t despair, though. Help is on the way. Meanwhile… Woohoo! Gotta have some fun, you know, from time to time 😹
So I’m now going to foist—on you, poor souls, who else do I have to do this sort of thing to?—some of my own blithering writing that just happens to be directly related to Kitty Fassett’s sterling (guest) essay here, beginning with… 🚧
- Kicking it all off with this very first of the postscripts, which I’ll be periodically tacking on, along with some, ahem, endearing comments-in-context: A set of three unique pictures, courtesy of Professor Edward Ashford Lee—the Robert S. Pepper Distinguished Professor in EECS at the University of California at Berkeley—who happens to be the author of Plato and the Nerd:
All three pictures are—recursively enough—pictures of “Pop” that hang in a hallway at West Point, featuring the mathematical sciences faculty and staff of the world renowned military academy in the United States (These pictures were taken in 2011) 📷
First picture: Professor Lee of UC Berkely (on the right-hand side) doesn’t recall who the soldier is, standing right next to him (on the left-hand side). At any rate, sandwiched between the two gentlemen, the picture of another distinguished gentleman (“Pop”) is in the middle: Out of the three framed pictures on a wall at West Point (all vertically aligned as you’ll note above), Pop’s picture is smack center 📕
Second picture: Again, it’s Professor Lee the author of Plato and the Nerd—yep, the same gentleman you saw earlier in the essay proper by Kitty Fassett, managing to stand tall as we saw him in that other picture while clasping a boatload that is the set of sixteen green volumes which make up Pop’s calculus book, aka “Green Death” that were (still are?) part of the mathematics curriculum at West Point. Oh, and that was before we segued into my commentary, because, after that, frankly, it all plain devolved into my pseudo-narrative improper; you see, Ms Fassett’s writing (and I’m sure you will vigorously agree with this) is and will remain the calculus—now far be it from me to play with punctilious puns—by which I will henceforth judge my own writing. After all, what else is calculus (now just make sure that your college professor is kept in the dark about this definition) but “a refined system or arrangement of intricate or interrelated parts.” But I digress… Anyhow, in the picture above, Professor Lee proudly poses alongside Pop’s picture at West Point. Nice! 📗
Third picture: Hey, come back! Not you dear Reader—I can totally understand your feverishly trying to make good your escape (from having to read my writing at the first opportunity that presents itself) even while I keep referring to you with endearing terms, sniff sniff—I’m talking about the people in these pictures… Where did they all go? Can anyone tell me that? Let’s figure that out later… Meanwhile, here we get a darn good panoramic view of a hallway at West Point which features the mathematical sciences faculty and staff of the world renowned military academy in the United States 📘
- Here’s a question for you: “How many of those sparkly em-dashes can a writer surreptitiously smuggle into an essay before the Reader cries uncle?” Got it? The first Reader to answer this question—you can respond simply by posting a comment on this essay by using the “Post a Comment” section at the end—will get her (or his) very own autographed copy of my blog as a prize 🏆 This is clearly an open-ended question; open-ended answers are more than welcome! Let your creative juices flow 🍯 Woohoo! 🌀
Hmm… You may be wondering—actually, I, too, am—about what exactly “an autographed copy of a blog” even means in the first place. Details, details; extraneous details, I say. We’ll worry about them later. What, me worry? 🐌
Closer at hand: Does anyone even realize the boatload of those sparkly em-dashes I managed to surreptitiously slip in to the supporting—hey, not “derailing” you wisecrack back there!—commentary for our guest essay? Hah! See, I’m not that befuddled a dimwit after all, dear unsuspecting Reader 💑
- Defying my expectations (as well as my erstwhile prediction), my well-wishers have somehow managed to convince me that perhaps I’m not as deliriously dimwitted as I make myself out to be; you know, my mercilessly poking fun at myself and stuff. Hey now, so I was going to play the devil’s advocate and tack on a parenthetical note right here, but decided against it; go on and heave a well-deserved sigh of relief. Yep, and it’s my well-diggers—excuse me now—well-wishers who some of us have to thank (and for some of us to liberally malign) now for the magic they’ve wrought on your blogger. Truly something out of the Harry Potter milieu 🔮
- You knew it, didn’t you?: The marvelous and engagingly told tale of secrecy and intrigue—I for one found Kitty Fassett’s essay a page-turner—was going to lead us all to a latter day stealth operation… Yes, you got it: skunk works, like so 🚀
Wait, nooooo! Not that kind of skunk works. What I had in mind was this: 🐝
(Ooops 😳 Disaster narrowly averted, though. Whew!)
Needless to say, I stand sobered in remembrance of Mark Twain’s caustic reminder on a related note when he had reminded us that
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. 🐛 🌂
- Note to Akram, or to his Fabled Followers: Frown later, add postscript now… What postscript?
- Note to Akram, or to his Ravenous Readers: Regale us with a postscript here… Whaaa…
- Note to Akram, or to his Crooning Cronies: Careth thou, addeth here… Say what?
- Note to Akram, or to his Nimble Nemesis: Name thine note here… Like, what?!
- Note to Akram, or to his Power Players: Parlay prodigious plot… Watt did you say, hotshot?
- Note to Akram, or to his parsimonious persimmons: Patch postscript savory… The whole lot!
- Hey, stop already, in the name of all things sacred 🚯
- Anything left to add…?
- …at all? 👒
- Hello… Is There Anybody Out There? 🔭
- Anybody at all? 📡
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I was the 6th Kobes to graduate from West Point. My grandfather taught at WP from ‘41-‘71. How can I find the “Green Death” and purchase a copy? Do you know of any copies hanging around?
Delighted to read your note, Brett. So this essay is actually by our distinguished guest writer, Kitty Fassett. While I certainly do not have a copy of the famed, 1600-page Calculus textbook (“fondly” known as the “Green Death”), I’ll try finding out more… Stay tuned.