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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

My Military Career, Some Post-Election Thoughts, Questioning Reality and a Letter


My Military Career

When I was a kid, one of the things I learned in the Boy Scouts was Morse Code.  Once you learn Morse Code, it sticks in your head.  A few years later, after finishing college, I was drafted into the United States Army.  It was 1954, and hostilities were commencing in Korea, where the United States was providing troops for a “police action,” an involvement which resulted in 33,000 American deaths.

During Army basic training at Fort Dix, we were taken into a room where we were given a battery of tests, intended to determine if any of us possessed skills which the Army could make use of, besides being an infantryman.  One of these tests involved Morse Code.  We were given headsets and were instructed to listen and write down letters being sent in Morse Code.  It was first explained that in Morse Code, the letter “T” was a dash, the letter “I” was two dots and the letter “N” was a dash followed by a dot.  The entire test was composed of these three letters, sent in random three letter groups more and more rapidly.  The whole thing could not have taken more than three or four minutes.  Of course, I aced the test, thanks to Boy Scout Troop 37, and that’s how I got into the Army Security Agency’s code intercept school at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.  

Army Morse Code Class

The object of the school was to get its students to be able to type five letter groups, sent in Morse Code, at a speed of at least 60 characters a minute.  Troop 37 had never taught me that so after three or four months of school, my career as a Morse Code interceptor ended, and I was instead made into a Non-Morse Code interceptor.  In any event, my Fort Devens duty didn’t involve any clean up details or KP (kitchen work) and being just outside of Boston was not a bad deal.

I later found out that the guys who mastered high speed Morse Code interception usually ended up where such transmissions were taking place, which was where troops were in action.  In early 1955, that meant Korea in a van parked in a snowy field somewhere north of Seoul.  The Non-Morse interceptors, like me, ended up in big hangars taping all kinds of radio signals from all over the world.  Of course, today, all of that stuff is done by satellite.  Anyhow, the place I was sent to was Herzo Base, about fifteen miles south of Nurnberg in Germany.  It was a 24/7 operation with four crews rotating, but that guaranteed us all a lot of time off.  Of course, there were no “details” to work on, and we chipped in $5 a month to have German civilians do the dirty work in the kitchen and keep our barracks clean.  Everybody stationed there was able to get in a lot of European travel, and by then, even though the Second World War's destruction was visible, European recovery was well on its way.

The old Herzo Base where I served

Herzo Base had been a Luftwaffe air base and the buildings were all solid and well built.  There was a nice library and club, and the antenna field (that’s how the radio signals were intercepted) doubled as a golf course, where American soldiers from all over Germany came to compete in the “Steel Trees Open” each year.  Down the hill from the Base was the quaint German town of Herzogenaurach, which had some nice restaurants and medieval buildings and was the home of two small soccer shoe manufacturing companies which had been there from before the war. 

           Herzogenaurach street scene

That’s a whole other story, but suffice it to say that both still have their corporate headquarters in Herzogenaurach and you know them today as Puma and Adidas.  In fact, Adidas has taken over what was Herzo Base for their operation which now includes office buildings, a shopping mall, restaurants and a large luxury hotel, all where I used to sit and fiddle with radio dials.

One of the buildings in the Adidas complex on the site of Herzo Base

So here I am, sixty years later, living in a very active retirement community in South Florida.  Even though there are only 600 families here, there actually is one guy who was in Crypto-Analysis at Herzo Base, which was in the next hangar down (remember it was once an air base) from the guys doing Non-Morse Intercept, at about the same time I was there.  Small world!

One day I was looking out the French doors facing the pool from our clubhouse lobby, when a gentleman standing next to me commented on something going on in the pool area: “dot dot dot, dot dot dot dot, dot dot, daaash.”   Once learned, one never forgets Morse Code, so I quickly translated what he was saying, and said to him, “Shit?”   “Where did ya learn Morse?” he asked.  “In the Army,” I said.  “Devens?” he asked.  “Yup,” I said.  Turns out he was one of the Morse Code instructors there, about a year before I got to the place.  Yes, it’s a small world indeed.
Jack Lippman


King of the Universe

(Here's a work in progress which will be submitted to the next session of a writers' group to which I belong.  The suggested general topic for the session was to write something "questioning reality." )

Sometime in the not so near future, an astronaut was seated across from a Rabbi.
“I cannot believe the stuff you’ve been teaching, Rabbi.  That God created everything in seven days. That on the first day …”

“Stop,” the Rabbi said.  “Don’t take my word for it, my boy.  It says it right here in the Torah!”  The Rabbi read from a book before him, although he knew it by heart.

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.  Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.  And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.  And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.  And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”

“That’s the way it happened.  Read on!  And everything else was created over the next five days.”

The astronaut stared at him.  “Do you expect me to believe that stuff?”  The Rabbi said nothing.

“Look,” he continued.  “I’ve been there, to the moon first, then Mars, and three long trips out beyond our solar system.  I’ve seen it all first hand and that ain’t the way it happened, believe me; I have my ideas on how it happened and no way is that the truth.”

“Go on. Please tell me more. It sounds fascinating,” the Rabbi said.

“When you’re way out there in space, you see things from a different perspective.  You look back at the Earth from wherever you are and you see it rotating on its axis so that only half of it is ever facing the Sun at one time. 

That’s what makes day and night, not God, and it has always been that way, so long as the Earth has been rotating, even before there was life on the planet, or anyone to write fairy tales about how night and day came to be.  And carrying it a bit further, I have seen with my own eyes, on my most recent trip, the Earth in an orbit around the sun, not quite a perfect one so sometimes it tilts more to one side, which gets it a bit closer than at other times.  One trip around the Sun, we call that it a year with four seasons.  And the rotation of the moon around the Earth; we count that in months.” 

“You know, what we call “time” only pertains on our planet.  It should be called “local time.”  It just happens to be the way we keep track of the rotation of the earth on its axis, and its perpetual trips around the Sun, and the Moon’s rotation about the Earth. Some other rock spinning on its orbit around some other bigger rock, or sun, couldn’t care less about the bookkeeping of rotations here on Earth we call “time” through the calendars and clocks we have built to document it. “So, forget about time.  There’s no such thing … except locally. This planet has an ego problem, and that book in front of you only serves to perpetuate it.” The astronaut pointed at the book and continued.

“That book starts with the words, ‘In the beginning.’  Well, here’s some news for you.  There isn’t any beginning and there isn’t any end.  I’ve been there!  It's like a circular fluorescent bulb.  You keep going around and end up where you started.   Hey, there’s an awful lot of stuff out there, actually an infinite amount, rotating and moving, all because of a gravitational or magnetic pull or some sort of attraction to some other bodies out there, and our tiny little Earth is part of it.  It all takes place in space, and space, quite literally, is timeless.  Nothing ages in space.  Things may evolve but that's different. Space is endless.   It doesn’t begin anywhere and it doesn’t end anywhere.  It just ‘is.’  And I’ve seen it and traveled through it.  Timeless, endless, nothingness!”
Hubble Telescope View of Who Knows What

"I wish I had my Ph.d. in astrophysics so I would know a little more than I do. But I do know enough to know when something is just not true, like … what is the Yiddish word ...  bubbamaiiseh?.... like that story of what you say happened on the first of those seven days of what you call Creation."
“Six,” the rabbi, growing impatient, interrupted. “On the seventh day, the Lord rested.  Look, the Torah says God created the heaven and the earth.  Let’s forget about the earth for a minute.  That’s just where we happen to be.  But could not the heaven God created be this all-encompassing, never-ending “space” you speak of?  And “time,” merely his gift to us to enable us to exist in space?
The astronaut smiled.  “Rabbi, I am Jewish, was bar mitzvah and you know I go to shul at least on the Holidays.  I can see how some explanation of all of this was necessary for the leaders to hold together the semi-literate tribesmen they were shepherding across the barren wastelands of the Middle East millenniums ago.  They had to give them something to believe in, something to explain what they were incapable of understanding on their own.  So they wrote that book you have in front of you. It has held our people together for almost six thousand years of what we call time.  I have to grant you that.”

The Rabbi spoke.  “Scholars, Rabbis, Talmudists have all wrestled with these questions throughout the ages.  Some believe that the Torah existed, but had not yet been given to our people, even before this thing you call space came into being, even before that ‘beginning’ which is described in the first verse of Genesis.  After all, don’t many of our prayers refer to God as ‘Melech HaOlam,’ which translates into English as ‘King of the Universe’? Would you like to make it ‘King of Space’ instead?  Would that make you happy?”

“So I should tell my gentile friends we Jews worship the “Space King,” the astronaut snickered.  "Sounds like a trimmed-down line of appliances made to fit into small kitchens."

“Look,” the rabbi continued.  “You believe what you want … but consider for a moment that you have the ability to think about things like this.  You have consciousness.  Unlike insects or lower creatures which behave entirely on reflexes and instincts, humans are conscious of their actions, have brains capable of great achievements, know wrong from right, can make choices and can have discussions like we are having right now.  No other creature, at least on Earth, has that ability.  Think about that for a moment when you doubt the role of God.  Look what he has given us.”

Meanwhile, very, very, very, very, very far out in space, an entity with a level of consciousness far, far, far beyond that which human beings on Earth possess, and using technologies that would not be developed on Earth until the equivalent of millions of years of our planet’s time passed, if ever, was aware of the conversation between the Rabbi and the astronaut.  It was pleased with what it was hearing, and then, turned to devote itself to other matters.


Some Post-Election Comments
The Democratic Party worked very hard to gain the support of women, blacks, Latinos, gay and lesbians, gun control people, immigrants, those without health care and those who cannot afford college.  They felt that these groups, taken together, would be stronger.  And indeed they were!  But that was not good enough. 

Their “togetherness” excluded white, straight males who really didn’t care much about health care or college, but who were scared stiff, overwhelmingly so, about the continuing disappearance of the jobs that they and their fathers before them had had all across America.  And there are many of them.

What programs either party had to address this problem were immaterial.  What counted was recognizing that their campaign had to address this issue, disappearing jobs, to those voters to whom it meant a lot, the right voters.  Donald Trump did this better than Hillary Clinton did.  And that was the election.  What gets done to address this problem is another problem entirely.

So far nobody, Democrat or Republican, has faced up to the fact that we will never again have enough jobs in this country to put everyone to work on a fulltime basis.  Lower labor costs overseas, but more importantly, advances in technology at home, will see to that.  In the past, when one could not get a job, they moved on to another part of the country where jobs were plentiful.  But that is no longer possible.

So we must, as I have stated many times, ration jobs.  Early retirement and a limited hour work week should be mandatory.  A four day work week might be a solution.  And since such limited employment will result in reduced paychecks, someone must step in to fill the gap.  It could be government.  It could be the employer’s business.  It could be a combination of the two. Either way, the public will pay for subsidizing the smaller paychecks “job rationing” will bring along with funding earlier retirement benefits, via higher taxes and/or higher prices.

Somehow, and here’s where a solution might be found, an increased Gross Domestic Product, perhaps going up four or five percent each year, might provide the nation with the financial resources to successfully institute job rationing and early retirement.  Wouldn’t that be nice.

           *    *    *    *

But getting back to the election results.  I liken our political parties to football teams with lousy offenses, but tremendous defensive units.

When one of them stops the other team and get the ball, their offense is ineffective and they have to punt after three downs.  Brute force works well for a team's defense but a successful offense requires much more skill. So the only chance one team with a weak offense has of winning is if their powerful defense intercepts a pass or recovers a fumble and turns it into a touchdown! 

If Hillary Clinton had won the election, there would have been four years of incessant criticism, investigations, accusations and innuendo which would have prevented her from accomplishing anything. She would have been like a quarterback who is constantly being sacked.  Bannon and company would sink their fangs into her Presidency and never let go.  

But now the shoe is on the other foot.  The Republicans have the ball and now they must attempt to come through on the promises Donald Trump made.  Not all of them agree with him either.  Will they repeatedly be forced to punt after three downs?  Or will the Democrats intercept a pass or recover a fumble.   And what good would turning it over to their offense do?  Only time will tell.


My Big Mouth

Here’s a letter I’ve sent to our two local newspapers:

Now that the election campaigning is over and the country has elected Donald Trump to be our next President, the news I’m reading in the papers and seeing on TV is a little different from what was in the news before Election Day.  We’re seeing the President we elected and those around him whom he is bringing to positions of power from a different perspective.  I suspect that if the Republican primaries and the General election were held today, based on what’s in the news today, their results might be different.  

I'll let you know if the Sun Sentinel and/or the Palm Beach Post publish it.

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Jack Lippman 

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