Skip to comments.IN MEMORIAM: EDWARD WALTER ZEHR, PATRIOT 1936-2001
Posted on 12/19/2001 6:54:18 PM PST by Jean S
EDWARD WALTER ZEHR, PATRIOT
I never met Ed Zehr. I never even spoke with him by telephone. But thanks to the magic of e-mail, we were often in touch with each other, and I came to think of him as a valued friend and esteemed colleague in the writing trade.
He was an extraordinary, multi-talented human being, brilliant, thoughtful, awesomely intellectual in the best sense of the word yet modest and unassuming. Tragically for us, he was also the most intensely private of men (even his closest relatives might go as long as five years without hearing a word from him) - a fact that prevents us from knowing all that we yearn to know about this gentle genius who held so many of his hordes of admiring readers in his thrall.
According to Carolyn Zehr, Ed's sister-in-law, the photo above " was taken at Dulles Airport where Ed's sister and brother-in-law met him for lunch probably 10 years ago, this after not hearing from him for some 5 years. She was on a trip, stopped in DC and found him in the phone book. Until Barbara and Bob got computers and could do e-mail, it was not unusual for us not to hear from Ed for several years at a stretch."
That's a man who valued his privacy - in spades. It's also a man so immersed in the pursuit of his countless interests that he resided mostly in his own monastic world. Writing, after all, is a solitary pursuit. What comes out through the fingers is a product first churned in the mind, and that churning requires a lot of privacy and a lot of silence. And what you read seldom bears any real resemblance to the writer's original draft. Like all great writers, Ed edited. and edited again. And then edited once more. What takes you ten or fifteen minutes to read, took the author hours to write and edit.
Ed was also a voracious reader, poring daily through a host of foreign newspapers, browsing internet news sources, digging out obscure facts from what appears to have been a huge library. All that research and reading and writing and editing takes time - and, as I said, lots of solitude.
The name Thomas Jefferson leaps into mind when I think of Ed. I recall what John F. Kennedy once told a White House dinner party attended by some of the world's most brilliant men and woman - he said that there hadn't had so much brain power in that dining room since Thomas Jefferson dined there alone. A similar tribute could easily be paid to Ed - there was more wisdom, more good old fashioned common sense and more down down-to-earth wit in one of his columns than you'd find in reams of copy in thousands of pages of op-ed columns of the New York Times.
Ed was genuinely Jeffersonian in the sense that his range of interests went far and wide across the spectrum of intellect. An accomplished engineer with a string of impressive degrees in his chosen field, he was a writer of startling ability - an observer of the current scene able to elucidate whatever subject he approached with matchless wit and clarity.
He looked at the most serious issues with the eye of a pixie. When he aimed his pen at one of the many political mountebanks that were unfortunate enough to find themselves in his sights, he plunged the nib so deep into their inflated egos you could almost hear all the gasbaggery hissing out.
In January of last year, deeply impressed by what I'd seen of his work at Washington Weekly, I sought and got his permission to run his columns in the commentary section of Wednesday on the Web. I ran the first of his columns on January 11, 2000. It was massive in content and range. He simply ticked off the entire history of Western civilization without missing a beat. It left you breathless in its scope.
I was hooked. Not long after we began an infrequent exchange of e-mails dealing with a host of subjects ranging from the work of Carl Jung - Ed was Jungian to the core. We had a long discussion of the concept of time and space as being facets of life in this world not present in eternity and what that meant in religious terms. He made my day when he responded to my e-mail reflecting on the subject as telling me "My, you're good at this." From him that was a compliment never to be forgotten.
His brother Bob says that Ed's enormous scope of interests included working on complex mathematical problems having to do with spheres, vectors, geometry, the Golden Ration, the Fibonacci series. He had also written analyses of T. S. Elliot's work, according to his niece, Emily DeMoor.
In one e-mail Ed said he was excited about a discovery he'd made in studying the more arcane levels of the science of mathematics. He said it was mind-boggling. Being a mathematical simpleton barely able to balance my checkbook, it was all lost on me. Unfortunately, it seems that whatever this breakthough was, he took it with him into that world devoid of time and space.
His brother Bob sent me this rundown of Ed's professional background: Washington U., St. Louis, B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, McDonnell Aircraft, St. Louis, Missile Engr. Div., engineer Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. Army basic training, Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Al. Army draftsman (where he met some of the big names in the early days of the missile industry), Space General of Aerojet Gen. in L.A. missile engineering, Univ. of Southern Calif. LA, masters degree in Mech. Engr., Martin-Orlando missile engineering Messerschmidt, Munich, Germany, Tornado fighter, autopilot design, Grumman Aircraft, Long Island, autopilot engineering Grumman, Reston, VA space station contract.
Carolyn, his sister in law, wrote this obituary for a local newspaper. It provides a barebones account of his life :
"Edward Walter Zehr, 65, died on November 5th in Reston, Virginia. He was born in Bemiston, Alabama, grew up in Bemis, Tennessee, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and received his advanced degree from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He worked as an engineer in Huntsville, Orlando, Los Angeles, New York and Munich, Germany. After retiring from Grumman Aircraft Company, he began a second career as a conservative columnist for WASHINGTON WEEKLY and WEDNESDAY ON THE WEB, internet publications.
I can't end this tribute without allowing Ed to speak to us from eternity. After all, this is an editorial so I'll let Ed be the guest editorialist with excerpts from a column on environmentalism gone mad he wrote last July 30 that speaks volumes about his patriotism, wisdom, common sense and exceptional writing skill:
The Ideological Ambience
" 'Will we ever experience fascism in this country?' asked an inquiring reporter of "Kingfish" Huey Long, the depression era dictator of Louisiana. 'Yes,' said the Kingfish, 'but we'll call it democracy.'
"The Kingfish had learned that hard times bring out the worst in people. Many are willing to sell their vote to the highest bidder, enabling the charlatans who pretend to represent us to buy us with our own money. This inherent flaw in political systems based on self-determination has been recognized for as long as such systems have existed. Socrates is said to have commented on this, but then he was always grumbling about something. In more recent times, the royalist, anti-democratic British historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay observed that 'democracy will last until the populace learn that they can vote themselves emoluments from the public treasury.'
"Macaulay was a staunch opponent of independence for this country, insisting that our form of government would never work for the reason cited above. He may yet prove to be right -- the issue is far from settled. Every society has its quota of degenerate, weak-minded nitwits who are prepared to barter away their freedom (and ours) for the proverbial 'mess of potage.' (This archaic term refers to a thick stew of vegetables, such as was served up to inmates in institutions back in the bad old days. When their keepers were feeling well disposed -- which was not often -- they might even add a lump of meat or two).
"Since the depression of the 1930s, the Democratic Party has been the chief advocate of programs contrived to buy up our liberties in exchange for government largess paid for with our money. Of course, the money gets redistributed just a little, horrible bit in the process, which is really what makes it all seem worthwhile to underachievers. So what's wrong with that, ask the liberals in all apparent innocence. Too much wealth is concentrated in too few hands, so why not spread it around a little?
"What's wrong with that, in a word, is positive feedback. Okay, that's two words, but it still describes with penetrating succinctness the fatal flaw in all political/economic systems based on Marxist ideology, including socialism, however well disguised. The characteristic of all self regulating systems subject to positive feedback is that the system's output stimulates more of the same input that produced it. Thus the output, free from all constraint, builds up and up and up -- until something breaks. At least that's the theory. Such systems are said to be unstable.
"A political system based on buying the acquiescence of the voters with emoluments from the public treasury is grossly unstable on the face of it -- each new freebie only whets the public's appetite for more. The more they get, the more they want -- the more they want, the more they get. Since freebies are not inexhaustible, the feedback loop cannot go on diverging forever.
"So why did it take the better part of the 20th century for the Soviet Union to collapse? The answer to that is obvious -- the Soviet economy was not self regulating. Nor was the political system. Both were run 'open loop,' that is to say, everything was done on command from higher authority -- there was typically no appreciable feedback. Such a political system is called despotism. Even so, the Soviet System lasted for less than a century -- just long enough for the younger members of the ruling class to realize that the game wasn't worth a candle. The system 'worked', but very badly.
"Democrats seem to envision a political/economic system based on a kind of watered-down Marxism, such as most European countries now have. Such systems are supposed to work because the Marxism is 'moderate' (i.e. 'socialist') and the politics are 'democratic,' which, in modern terms, means that public assent is bought with the public's money, while the truth about what is going on is dissembled with a massive smokescreen of propaganda provided by a compliant media.
"But in truth, the economies of most European countries really don't work that well. That is partly because Europeans do not work all that hard -- I happen to know because I worked there for the better part of a decade. I'll admit that I found their laid-back ways appealing, but I can't say as much for their stagnant economies. The European living standard is noticeably lower than ours. And the demand for government freebies keeps building up, stimulated by the incitement of power-hungry politicians. The instability is undoubtedly there, but it is a slow one that could take a long time to diverge to unmanageable proportions, barring some unforeseen economic crisis.
"Such a crisis might be induced artificially by an irrational act such as adopting the Kyoto Accords, designed to bleed off wealth from the developed countries for the enrichment of the corrupt Third World politicians who manipulate the U.N. to their advantage. Naturally, environmental idealists do not see it that way -- they live in a stylized wish-fulfillment fantasy world in which politicians do not act like politicians and people behave like cartoon characters of their imagining, totally subservient to their every whim.
"In a desperate effort to save face, a number of countries reached agreement on a watered down version of the Kyoto accords last week. By giving industrialized countries extra credit for forests and farmlands, which absorb CO2, against their obligations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions the conferees greatly reduced the liability of these countries, inducing stragglers such as Canada and Japan to go along with the sham. The greenies were not fooled -- MSNBC reports that the World Wildlife Fund complained 'the heavy allowance for these carbon sinks effectively reduced the commitment in the Kyoto accord to cut emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels. The real reduction would be closer to 1.8 percent ...' In other words, the new agreement reduces the commitment by 65 percent.
"Philip Stott, a professor of biogeography at the University of London and one of Britain's leading climatologists says that, "Even if all the countries achieved all the cuts in emissions proposed [in the original Kyoto protocol], the effect would be a temperature change by 2100 of 0.07 to 0.2 [degrees Celsius] at best." Thus, if we assume a linear relationship between reduction in CO2 emissions and reduction of temperature change, all this huffing and puffing should suffice to impede global warming by 0.02 to 0.07 degrees Celsius. Even the greatly reduced commitments of the new agreement are largely cosmetic -- the conferees spent days haggling over the enforcement provisions until the agreement had been rendered exceedingly difficult to enforce. Even so, Australia has given indications that it is going to bail out of the new agreement unless all penalty provisions are removed from it. The effect of this will be a further delay in adoption of the agreement. The Sydney Morning Herald comments, 'it is understood Australia had won support for its delaying tactics from the US, Canada, Russia and possibly Japan.' All of which reinforces the impression that the real purpose of Kyoto is to provide European socialists and their pals in the American mainstream press with more hot air to blow at the Bush administration.
"With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Marxists have taken refuge in the environmental movement, their last, best hope for keeping alive the fantasy of a command economy. Since Marxist economics have proven useless as a means of providing for the wants and needs of the people, the new crypto-Marxists have resorted to an attempt to shock and terrify people with 'scary scenarios' of global environmental disaster, whether it be an impending ice age or catastrophic global warming. (Eco-extremists are nothing if not flexible). The bottom line of their message is, "unless you do EXACTLY as we say, you are all doomed to utter ruin if not extinction. " Environmental catastrophe has replaced nuclear winter as the left's "kinder-schreck" (bogeyman) of preference. The object of the exercise is to frighten the public into accepting a much reduced standard of living.
"That is not to say that all greenies are scoundrels. I've known a few and they all seemed like nice people to me. It's just that they are a bit naive about such things as economics and politics. I once worked for an early member of the Green Party in Germany. He spent hours lecturing me on the 'lessons' of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. But in most respects he was as nice as he could be and a very good supervisor. He was highly idealistic, however, which made it difficult for him to compromise once he had made up his mind about something. This can be awkward in a management environment where lots of give and take is involved -- consequently his tenure was a short one.
"The people who guide and manipulate the environmental movement are another matter. Mark Vande Pol writes that 'What was once a group of dedicated volunteers is now becoming a brutal phalanx of corporate foundations, government agencies, lawyers, and global power interests, all manipulating private resource value for ulterior purposes.'"
That's the voice of sanity that death silenced.
In his last e-mail to me, responding to my request for a picture of him he wrote: "Dear Phil, I've just sent you a piece for this week. It's longer than I had intended. I'm finding that I need more time for research these days, so the columns will probably be shorter. As for the mug shot, I'm working on it. Ed"
He sent that the day he died. Alone in his apartment. His lifeless body undiscovered for weeks, a victim of that overwhelming need for personal privacy.
In an aside to me his sister-in-law Carolyn wrote: "From a personal standpoint, I always enjoyed Ed's company, even when, on his return from Munich, he came for a 2 week visit and stayed 13 months! Not only was he an exceptionally intelligent man, but he also had a great sense of humor. He was conversant on just about any subject you could mention, yet never flaunted his knowledge by "talking down" to anyone. I will miss our frequent e-mail exchanges."
So will I.
Requiescat in Pacem, Ed. Now you know all the answers.
Omigosh! The CS list! It was always a treat to get a private reply from Ed Zehr.
(And thank you, JeanS, for regularly posting his work for the past few years).
And it showed. He nailed his subjects, backing his assertations with multiple examples. You know, the way a commentator is supposed to write. With 3 Ed Zehrs, one could topple the liberal media without firing a shot. I'll miss his writing dearly.