Friday, March 17, 2017

Those Filthy Irish

An Anti-Irish 19th Century Cartoon, public domain, Wikipedia.

Greetings All:

It's St. Patrick's Day.  For those of us of Irish heritage, it is a day to celebrate being both Irish and American.  I say that for in America, St. Patrick's Day has become an informal national holiday.  The saying, "Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day" will be repeated more than once.

Where I reside, the celebration will continue thru Saturday when "The Grand Parade" is held.  Our local St. Patrick's Society hosts this terrific parade, the only one where the route covers two states.  This is a highlight of the weekend.  There will be bag pipes and flags, and bands and floats and candy and fun, lots of fun.

The poster for this year's "The Grand Parade."  Photo by J. Berta

All across America, people will gather to celebrate the day.  You would be hard-pressed to find someone who is not proud, if not eager, to be a part of these festivities.  In fact, this entire month has been, by Presidential proclamation, decreed as Irish-American Heritage Month.  President Trump's opening paragraph of this proclamation reads:  

"Irish Americans have made an indelible mark on the United States.  From Dublin, California, to Limerick, Maine, from Emerald Isle, North Carolina, to Shamrock, Texas, we are reminded of the more than 35 million Americans of Irish descent who contribute every day to all facets of life in the United States.  Over generations, millions of Irish have crossed the ocean in search of the American Dream, and their contributions continue to enrich our country today."

Impressive, even if I am admittedly biased.  (I'm half-Irish on my Mom's side.)  The Irish are unquestionably part of America society and culture and we've got good reason to be proud of that.  Yet that was not always the case.  

The opening image of this blog is from the19th century in Harper's Weekly.  The Irish were far from the beloved people they are today in America.  If anything, they were despised, and feared.  They were different.  They drank, they were Catholics, they had a thick accent, they had lots of kids.  To those in power, the Irish were a threat to the order of things.  Thus began the campaign of rage against them.  The poster below is but one ugly example of the bigotry served up against people whose only crime was fleeing famine.

Perhaps no better city than sadly shows just how bad it was for the Irish upon their arrival than Boston. Boston, a base of Irish-American pride and the home state of America's only (to date) President of Irish-Catholic heritage was no place where "everyone was Irish."  No, no my friends, it was a place seething with rage by the locals against their new (and MOST un-invited) neighbors.

Edgar B. Herwick III has a dynamite article entitled, "Turning Boston Irish Was A Fight-Literally."  I have a link to it above and it's worth a read.  Here's an excerpt from it that sums up the attitude of some of Boston's "established" residents:

"'America was reserved for them and they were now having to defend themselves against the foreign papists, the Catholic hordes as they called them, coming from Europe,'" said Peter F. Stevens, journalist and author of 'Hidden History of the Boston Irish.'"

Simply put, some in America just didn't like those those filthy Irish.  And don't bother looking for work here Paddy...

"No Irish Need Apply" London,1862, public domain, Wikipedia.

Then came the fight that the south had been spoiling for with the attack on Fort Sumter.  The Civil War plunged America into the bloodiest abyss it had ever seen.  Soft green fields became a crimson colored charnel house.  After battles raged and the guns finally, mercifully fell silent, bloated bodies lay upon the ground as far as the eye could see and the nose could barely stand.  Approximately 620,00 died during that war.  Adam Goodheart's book, 1861:  The Civil War Awakening, tells the tale of that first year.  Here's The New York Times book review on it.

From this chaos of death and fear, heroes arose.  They included The Irish Brigade.  In 2011, Matthew Brennan wrote did a particularly insightful article entitled "The Irish Brigade:  Heroes of the Civil War," for Irish America magazine  about the costs borne by the battle of these sons of Ireland and now America.

At the front of the line was Thomas Francis Meagher.  Here is how he is described the article:

"The history of the Irish Brigade is tied inextricably to the story of their first and most celebrated commander, Colonel, later Brigadier General, Thomas Francis Meagher. Depending upon the sources one relies upon, Meagher was variously an inspired leader, a hopeless drunk, a patriotic American, an ardent Irish nationalist, a closet Fenian, or an inveterate politician. The complex reality was that he was, at various times and under different circumstances, all of these things."

Brigadier General, Thomas Francis Meagher. public domain, Wikipedia

The Brigade acquitted themselves upon the battlefield, fighting in some of the most bloody of battles.  Brennan concludes his article with this tribute: 

"By the end of the war, more than 950 men of the Brigade had died on the battlefield. Overall, the Irish Brigade saw over 4,000 men killed and wounded; more men than ever belonged to the Brigade at any one time. Yet at the same time they etched a name for themselves in history. With their blood and courage they made a name that was carved so deeply into the American heart that there would never again be a question as to whether the Irish had the right to call themselves…'Americans.'”

The Dropkick Murphys did a fantastic cover of "The Fighting 69th."  Please click the link below if you'd like to hear it and see an amazing slide show of Veterans.

The Following caption is taken from the Irish American  article mentioned above:  "'A Donnybrook at Dusk" by Bradley Shmel; Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher; Savage Station, Virginia. Union field hospital after the battle of June 21. / Photo by Courtesy of Bradley Schmel; Library of Congress; James F. Gibson/Library of Congress."Fair use/sharing authorized.

So one might reasonably conclude that any racial animosity ended after the rest of America saw what good Americans the Irish were.  Yeah, not so much.  That opening image for this post...was from 1871.  Yup, well after The Civil Ended.  Sometimes, prejudices stick around.

So for those of us who are of Irish heritage, by all means, let's celebrate today, this weekend, all month.  It is a time of celebration and I do hope all eyes are a' smiling.  Hoist a cup and toast all those who came before us.  

But let us also recall that at one time we were the persecuted.  Had Twitter been around 150 years ago, we'd be the ones attacked and vilified.  It was the Irish and their reproduction rates that caused fearful Protestants to bemoan these "other babies."  America was starting to look...a bit different.  That scared those in power.  "All those filthy Irish," they would say, shaking their heads...and fists.

What is to me so tragic about the blatant bigotry of this past time is that the Irish were not given a chance to become Americans, to assimilate.  Even when they did, paying the price through their toil and spilled blood, it was not good enough...and it never would.

My favorite poet is Yeats.  He captures the grand beauty and silent heartbreak of life.  I'll wrap up this blog post with this poem.

"I Am Of Ireland" by William Butler Yeats

'I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,' cried she.
'Come out of charity,
Come dance with me in Ireland.'

One man, one man alone
In that outlandish gear,
One solitary man
Of all that rambled there
Had turned his stately head.
That is a long way off,
And time runs on,' he said,
'And the night grows rough.'

'I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,' cried she.
'Come out of charity
And dance with me in Ireland.'

'The fiddlers are all thumbs,
Or the fiddle-string accursed,
The drums and the kettledrums
And the trumpets all are burst,
And the trombone,' cried he,
'The trumpet and trombone,'
And cocked a malicious eye,
'But time runs on, runs on.'

I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,' cried she.
"Come out of charity
And dance with me in Ireland.'

William Butler Yeats, Irish Man of Letters.  Public domain/fair use claimed regarding this photo.  Photo credit to the Academy of American Poets, link to website here.

What I love about this poem is what I will call the imagery it creates in the soul.  For me, being "of Ireland" is not so much about a place but a belief, a state of mind.  I think it is quite possible, if not preferred to be of Ireland in one's heart while having both feet firmly planted in America, endeavoring to contribute to building that "more perfect union."

So here's to remembering those who came before us.  Let us recall, not with bitterness but was the honest measurement of history's ruler what the Irish suffered in America. Here's to those "Filthy Irish." 

A bheith go maith le mo chairde,


Sunday, March 12, 2017

What vs. Who

From the recent Rotary pres-elect training in Ames, IA.  Photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

I haven't posted for a couple of weeks.  In that time, I've had a number of things going on, including MC'ing our local Veterans' Conference, spending a quite cold weekend in Wisconsin and then this past weekend behind "enemy lines" at Iowa State University for the North Central Regional Rotary Presidents-Elect Training Seminar.

Rotary International is a service organization I joined a few years back at the invitation of my neighbor Dave.  Founded in 1905 by Paul Harris (an University of Iowa Law School alum) it is truly an international organization.  Yet its strength (in my opinion) is in the local groups and the people who volunteer their time in their communities.

Paul Harris memorialized on a Brazilian postage stamp, 1968, public domain, Wikipedia

Likely best known for its work in eradicating polio, Rotary has been front and center in the efforts to rid the world of this horrific disease.  According to the Center For Disease Controls and Prevention, CDC,  polio is on the ropes.  Here's hoping for a knock out blow, and soon!

However, the works of Rotary are best seen not around the globe but around the block.  Local Rotary clubs spend their time, talent and treasure working to better the communities where they reside.  I am proud of the work my club does.

Yet if I am going to be honest, I am more than a bit apprehensive about this upcoming year.  I have a difficult time saying "NO" to joining groups and I am not exactly bored with my professional pursuits.  I think that when I committed to being on the leadership track for my club that I took comfort in the fact my term as president was years away.  Now, those years are now a few months.  Gulp.

It will be a LOT of work.  I want to do a solid job as club president and know that there will be moments of frustration.  I want to limit those and instead focus on the meaningful work that our club will do.  I am also profoundly aware of this inarguable fact:  I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by a terrific group of people genuinely committed to Rotary's mission.  I am already in their debt for their support for working together on this collective mission of "Service Above Self." (Rotary International's motto.)

Still, I know myself well enough to recognize there will be moments where I will be tired, overwhelmed by life, upset about something major or ridiculously trivial matter during this year term.  I want to be able to keep things in perspective and also view this year of service as a positive experience, not an event of dread.  Actually, I have been thinking about this matter for some time now.  It just all came to a head for me this weekend during the seminar.

On Friday afternoon, I was in an educational session when a new friend said something that hit me, hard.  She commented, "I want my club members to stop being Rotary Members and instead be Rotarians."

As the weekend went on, I kept thinking about that statement.  For me, it crystallized the whole "what" vs. "who" debate I suspect most, if not all of us experience in life.  In this context, it was the "what" of being a Rotary member versus the "who" of being a Rotarian.

Here's what this means to me:  Rotary membership is a public affirmation that I am a member of an organization whose mission, values and actions are things I support.  Being a Rotarian is saying to myself:  "I endeavor to live Rotary's mission, values and actions in my life."  I'll keep you posted on how it goes, yet in the short time I have been thinking about this, my apprehension about next year has gone down.

It can be applied to any group or organization, political party or religious affiliation.  This analysis may also be helpful in deciding if groups/organizations you have been a part of may no longer be as important to you if the "what" is kinda there and the "who" is really hard to find.

And I think it is OK to fail sometimes, to get angry, or frustrated or say, "I've had IT!" for today.  Where the relief, the energy to resume can come in is when you recognize that because (fill in the blank _____) is a part of who you are, it is easier (impossible not to, actually) get back on the horse.  

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche has a great quote:  "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."  And along with the "how" comes the "why."  I'd encourage you to watch this TED Talk by Simon Sinek.  I am pretty sure I have shared this talk before and it's even more appropriate for this post.  He is an author whose book, Start With Why helps (at least me) "get" the concept of what really matters.  

So as I get ready for my year as club president, I hope I can recall that I am first a Rotarian and my Rotary membership is a distant second.  If I can do that, then this next year (starting in July) should be one I will not forget and look back on with almost exclusively fond memories.  

I will leave you with a photo of "The Four-Way Test."  It nicely sums up what I believe all Rotarians strive for in their daily lives.  

Our Rotary Club's banner for "The Four-Way Test."  Photo by J. Berta

It's a great way to approach life and I know many people who perhaps unconsciously live their lives by this test.  They may not be Rotarians, yet sure live like one.  In the end, that is all that matters.

Be well my friends,


Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Courage To Stand Alone

The set door to PVHS' production of 12 Angry Jurors.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The last two evenings, I had a wonderful experience.  I watched my daughter Cassie perform in the Pleasant Valley High School production of 12 Angry Jurors.  It was terrific!  At the curtain call, we all stood up and applauded.  Now if one were to indict me as a biased parent, I'd plead guilty, of course I am.  Yet at my sentencing hearing, I'd offer as...mitigating facts THE fact that this was an amazing show put on by an incredibly talented cast.  

The program from Pleasant Valley High School's production of "12 Angry Jurors."  Photo, J. Berta.

For those of you not familiar with the story, here's a brief overview:  An 18-year-old from the slums is accused of murdering his father with a switchblade knife.  As the show opens, the judge is heard offstage giving the final jury instructions.  A court bailiff opens the door to the jury room and in file 12 people.  They have a task before them- to determine the fate of the defendant.

This play is an adaptation of the famous 1957 movie, 12 Angry Men.  Henry Fonda plays the lone hold out against an otherwise unanimous jury voting for conviction.  This is the role my daughter plays.  In the program, her character has no name, only a number, Juror #8.  Her description, "The Truth-seeker."

Henry Fonda, Juror #8, with the alleged murder weapon (a switchblade knife) from the original 12 Angry Men, original photo unknown, this photo taken by J. Berta, fair use claimed.

This show has earned a place in both in our popular culture and society.  This is what happens when a story has relevance to the larger aspects of our lives.  I found this article from The Guardian on how a former juror related this movie to his experience.  Dr. Brian Bornstein wrote about this show in Psychology Today.  He sums up the show this way, discussing how the use of the word, "angry" is not precisely accurate, yet important to explaining the show:

"Angry. This is a misnomer, even for the play itself. Only one, maybe two, of the jurors are genuinely angry, though most of them are at times frustrated, passionate, or troubled. Studies of actual jurors show that the two most common emotions are probably engagement and boredom. These seem like polar opposites, but of course cases vary widely, as do the interests and personalities of individual jurors. As in the play, the overwhelming majority of actual jurors take their job seriously and strive to be conscientious and fair."

If you love, or even like theater, this is a great play.  It's great because for this show to work (and it worked both nights) all of the cast has to be in sync.  Please allow me to explain.

Unlike most shows where characters go on and off stage, the twelve jurors are in the same place for the entire show.  As one might surmise, it is a jury room.  As the audience, we are given the treat of getting to sit up close as this show was in the Black Box Theater.  Unlike a traditional theater with a raised stage, in this setting, the audience is on the same level as the actors (with the exception of the rows further back that are slightly raised to be able to see.)  For a show like this, it makes for an amazing theater experience.  From where I was sitting, I could see this quite clearly.

The Jury Table from 12 Angry Jurors.  Photo by J. Berta.

There are other unique features of this play.  With the exception of the Bailiff, the other actors, (the jurors) are all on stage for the entire show.  I cannot recall seeing another show that uses this technique.  

So what you have is a show in an intimate setting and with everyone on stage at the same time.  After seeing the show twice, I had the luxury of getting to focus on the individual characters and their acting.  Mr. Francis Dunbar, the show's director, made great efforts to ensure that the characters were communicating without saying a word.  A piercing glance, a gesture, a sigh, even a cough.  All of this contributed to making for a great show and terrific theater experience.

If there is a takeaway from the show is the importance of standing for one's beliefs.  As with most criminal trials tried to a jury, there must be a unanimous vote to reach a verdict.  In 12 Angry Jurors, the first vote is 11-1 for conviction.  The lone holdout is Juror #8.

Unlike other shows which take a while to build tension, this show is a sports car, going from "zero-to-60" in a blink of an eye.  Some of the jurors are furious at this holdout, others surprised and a few not sure what should happen next.

Without giving the show away, I'll simply say that this is a tale of courage.  A couple of times during the show, Juror #9, The Old Man, says:  "It takes courage to stand alone." And it does.

Yet I would argue that there are many forms of courage.  Along with standing alone there is the courage to change one's mind when the facts force the issue.  What is so fascinating to me about this show is the view we get of these jurors, what matters to them, their pride, their prejudices, their fears and yes, their nobility.

I've been a lawyer for almost 23 years.  In that time, I've come to the conclusion that as imperfect as the American justice system is, there is likely no other better (and practical option.)  Do guilty people go free and commit other crimes?  Yes.  Are innocent people wrongly convicted and subjected to unjust confinement?  Sure.  There are ample examples of the inequities of our system of justice.  If I was forced to name one reason why this occurs is that we, as individuals, are not computers.  Even with our best efforts to be honest and fair and just, sometimes we miss something.  I believe Marcus Aurelius said it best: "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."

Most of us will not have to bear the burden of the jurors in 12 Angry Jurors.   We will not have a person's life in our hands.  Yet we all will, at some time and in some place, be confronted with a choice.  The choice of going along with the crowd or saying "no," or even, "not yet."  We will have to decide if we have the courage to stand alone.

And when we do, there will not be an audience applauding for us when it's over.   

Be well my friends,

Monday, February 20, 2017

"It's to you, Harry..."

On election night, 1948, photo credit, Bryon Rollis, AP, fair use claimed, full link here.

Greetings All:

It's President's Day.  Contrary to the wishes of Homer Simpson, we no longer get to claim both Lincoln and Washington's birthday as a holiday.  Instead, we honor all our presidents today.  There will be no mail and I'm pretty sure garbage "night" is now Wednesday as trash pickup is bumped a day ahead.  There is no school and while I will get (some) work done today, I won't be wearing a tie.

I have not written for a couple of weeks.  I've got a couple of posts in the works but I wanted to slip in this one as it is a day to recall those who held a certain Federal office.  

When one thinks of our Presidents, who comes mind?  There's the two previously mentioned:  Washington and Lincoln.  Our current President, Donald J. Trump, regardless of how one feels about him, certainly has created news.  He replaced a man, Barack H. Obama, who also caused strong emotions to stir in people, both positive and negative.  

Then there are the Presidents we've kinda forgotten about.  Martin Van Buren was the eighth President.  (And yes, I had to look that up to be sure I was right about that fact.)  You can read more about him 

I refer to myself as a "hobby historian."  I love the subject yet the more I learn about it, the more I realize how much I don't know.  It seems like with every book or podcast I come across, I learn more about it.  History, after all, is about people.  Oh sure, there's the history of the planet and the death of the dinosaurs, but what really matters to us is the people and what they did that impact our lives today.

For America, there is no person who can impact history, for good or for ill, than the President.  We've had 45 of them and each one played his part on the historical stage.

Then there were those who never achieved that office.  Hillary Clinton (whom I voted for in two primary and one general election) came agonizingly close.  Then, there were those who were part of the government, a "heartbeat away" as they like to say.  History is replete of those whose ambitions were denied by the electorate.  

Oh, and history would be incomplete without villains.  Thanks to the amazing musical, "Hamilton," the world knows about the treasonous acts of Vice President Arron Burr.  Here was another guy who wanted the top job and was ruthless in his pursuit of power.  Old Nicky M would have have been proud of him, to say the least. 

How about we here a little music on this subject, shall we?  Thanks to our friends at YouTube we can watch the first performance of "Hamilton" at the White House in 2009.  Here you go, enjoy!

So as to my favorite President?  Well, I have many that I admire.  Yet if I had to ping one as my favorite, that would be the man from Independence, Missouri.  A failed small business owner and a man whose own mother-in-law voted against in the 1948 election.  His formal education ended after high school and he was about as far removed from his boss, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in class and status.  He enjoyed bourbon (Old Grand Dad was a favorite, as I recall) and playing poker. 

Rumor has it (although an exhaustive 12-minute internet search failed to confirm this fact) Truman was playing poker when he was summoned to the White House on April 12, 1945 around 5:30 p.m.  It was then he learned that he was about to sit down at a table of truly "no limits."  FDR had died and a few hours later, he was President of the United States.

Unlike others, Truman had no sincere presidential ambitions.  He had already exceeded expectations.  He was not picked to be FDR's running mate in 1944 not so much for who he was, but for what he was not.  The current Veep, Henry Wallace, had gotten uncontrollable.  Another candidate, James (Jimmy) Burns had exemplary political credentials, yet was from South Carolina at a time where segregation was sadly still in full effect.  Truman, from Missouri, was a solid, safe choice.  

Truman did have certain character traits that were admirable.  He was a hard worker who took his role as a Senator seriously.  He had been an artillery captain in World War I and could relate to the life and death decisions war leaders have to make.  He was also well-liked by colleagues.  It may seem hard to believe in this era where the battle lines in our current political world are akin to the trench warfare Truman saw (and heard and smelled) of World War I, yet back then, politicians talked to each other.  They socialized together and (gasp!) were even friends.  All these qualities made him FDR's VP...for about 83 days.

Truman was far from a perfect man.  He had a temper and might have made decisions that were driven from too much of an "all politics is local" standpoint.  Yet he was a man of principal.  He desegreated the military in 1948.  When Stalin shut down the roads to West Berlin, Truman refused to take the bait and start World War III, instead initiating the Berlin Airlift.  This effort not only prevented war but kept West Berlin free, miles inside the Iron Curtain of post-war Soviet domination.  

Truman was not supposed to win election in 1948.  The photo that opens this blog post is of him showing the (dare I say it, "fake news") incorrect headline of him losing to the presumptive winner, Thomas Dewey of New York.  Talk about drawing an inside straight...

Truman never had the benefit of a transition period.  He was both mocked and despised by many, including those whom owed him their service and subordination.  Still, he kept playing the cards he was dealt.  Here's a good read on Truman that articulates this point better than I can.

I don't play poker often, hardly ever, actually.  I've heard it is a game that requires a variety of skills to be employed simultaneously.  I suppose aside from the math skills, one has to read people as well as cards. Truman played this game well, very well.  (Please read this terrific story by a true historian,Michael Beschloss that is linked in the previous sentence.)
And I do not mean just at friendly card games.  I also mean at the most dangerous poker room in the world from '45-53.  

Retired President Truman playing poker, photo from the Truman Library, fair use claimed.

If you play any type of strategy game, from cards to chess, sometimes the thing you DON'T want is to have to make a decision, a move.  I probably lost more games of chess against my Scoutmaster growing up because I made the wrong move late in the game.  Yet sometimes in a game, in life, you don't have the option of not making a move.  That can be an inconvenient fact, aggravated by the fact your opponent probably knows what your going to do next.

If you love, or even like history, then I highly, highly recommend you check out Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast.  He is an amazing storyteller and goes into a deep dive of historical fact with the skill of a seasoned screenplay writer.  I have a link above to the episode I just listened to, "The Destroyer of Worlds."  I'm compelled by my conscience to point out that Mr. Carlin captures the poker analogy wonderful and I'm (kinda) backing up the truck to steal this line for my blog post.  (In fact, I will reference this podcast likely again in a future blog post.  But let's see if I stay focused enough to finish it...)

So here's to my favorite President, Harry S. Truman.  He played the cards he was dealt about as well as possible.  When the game turned to Truman, be it in a friendly game in Kansas City or on the world stage, he kept his poker face when someone said, "It's to you, Harry."

Be well my friends,


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Perhaps So

Today's Quad Cities Times sports page, fair use claimed, photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

The 51st Super Bowl (played February 5, 2017) is in the record books.  It ended with the New England Patriots, once again, winning the Lombardi Trophy.  This is number 5 for New England, an impressive feat indeed.  Here is CNN's take on the game.  

It was an epic comeback, likely to be considered the greatest Super Bowl of all time.  For the Atlanta Falcons, it is a painful experience and likely to be a painful memory for years/decades to come.  I do feel for their fans, as this had to be a devestating loss.

At the center (or more precisely behind the center) of this storybook comeback was New England's quarterback, Tom Brady.

Much has been written of Tom Brady' process as a quarterback and that was prior to this game.  Since he engineered the miracle comeback, the accolades continue to pour in about the virtues of Tom Brady.  Whether it is his leadership traits, his philosophic   pursuits, or his uncompromising uncompromising health regime, he is a unique individual.

I've never been a Tom Brady fan.  I recall a few years ago that I saw him during the National Anthem (long before the current controversy regarding a certain other quarterback) I saw him not placing his hand over his heart and I hammered him on Facebook.  Then there was the whole "Deflategate" matter.  Some say the Commish threw the book at him.  I think he got off easy.  In any event, that is in the past.

The simple fact is Tom Brady led his team to the most improbable Super Bowl victory ever.  In the face of seemingly overwhelming odds, he found a way to win.  He was never rattled.  He never panicked.  He tuned out the noise and simply threw completion after completion after completion.  When the game went into overtime and New England won the coin toss, it was as if the game was over.  Tom Brady was on a roll and he was not going to stop until he found the endzone.  Sure enough, he did.

If I want to be truly honest with myself, my ire with Tom Brady is driven in part by a silly, stupid resentment of his discipline.  I want to say to him, "Eat a cheeseburger, drink a beer, stay up late, sleep in, skip the gym."

And I suspect if I were to ever have that conversation, Tom Brady would smile at me and politely say, "No thank you."  He would go about his business, not caring what I did or what I thought.  In many ways, Brady is a practitioner of Stoicism- focusing on what he can control and nothing else. 

I grew up in the 70s.  One of my heroes growing up was Kenny "The Snake" Stabler.  He quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders to a Superbowl victory in 1977.  Here is a review of that game. In fact, back in 2000, I got a football signed by him at a casino in Bettendorf.  He was an early icon of the game.  Here's a solid account of his his exploits.

Stabler was the other side of the coin to Brady.  Where Brady's life rivals that of a monk, Stabler's life was one of a well, 1970s quarterback.  He drank and caroused and drank some more.  Yet come game time, he was ready to play.  One could argue the Raiders had an unfair advantage as they often had twelve players on the field, 11 in uniform and Stabler's hangover.

Brady and Stabler, two men so different and yet, so much alike.  I started writing this post Sunday night (it's now Thursday) and was thinking about Stabler this whole "Superbowl Season."  Then tonight, when Carly was at dance at the Family Museum, I took the minute walk to the library and perused the new book selection.  Despite the fact I am w-a-y behind on my current reading, I grabbed this:

Mike Freeman's book on Ken Stabler, fair use claimed.  Photo by J. Berta.

I have just read a few pages of it and suspect before the weekend is over, I'll have burned thru it.  Of what I have read, it covers the expected material, yet it also goes deeper into the man.  The back cover sums it up nicely:

The back cover of Mike Freeman's book on Ken Stabler, fair use claimed.  Photo by J. Berta.

As the photo might be hard to read, here is part of the back cover:

"In the 1970s, football was a militaristic, blind apparatus, where personalities were crushed under the weight of uniformity.  But quarterback Ken Stabler was something else."

Yes, yes he was.  He told the NFL:  "I'm going to party and be ready to play on Sunday, your rules, your assumptions of how I should live be damned."

Fast forward forty years, another quarterback steps forward.  He too challenges convention, by his diet, by his shunning of the weight room for resistance band, by declining alcohol and dairy and late nights.  And most of all...not giving a damn what anyone thought of him, save his family and teammates.

Is Tom Brady the greatest ever?  Perhaps so. And I suspect that if we could sit down and visit with Kenny Stabler, he'd likely concur.  He'd concur for Brady's exploits on the field.  He'd concur for how he's led his life (on his terms.) 

Now who am I to argue with The Snake?

Be well my friends,

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

As January Fades

Our kitchen calendar, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

January is over, one month down.  Here in Iowa, winter still rules yet the cold has not been as biting.  We have no snow and the days are tantalizingly getting longer.  I'm under no illusions that there is still a LOT of cold left before spring arrives.  Still, watching January fade does not bring me any sadness.  There are 49 days of winter left, come on, spring, come on, spring!

As I look back on this month, I am surprised at how fast it flew by.  Certain things I had hoped to accomplish are still on track.  Others are still on the drawing board.  Some are DOA.  

Let's take one for example-exercising more.  Overall, it's been a pretty good month.  Yet today I totally slipped and talked myself out of getting on the treadmill.  I was even wearing running shorts and all I had to do was put on shoes and walk about 50 steps to the machine.  I even have a book I look forward to listing to ready to go.  But it didn't happen.

Why?  There are the natural culprits:  Motivation, prioritization, ineffective time management.  All true.  Yet I would say that the biggest reason I did not get on the treadmill was I was not convinced of its importance, its significance.

My not exercising is just one example of why certain things I "wanted" to do did not happen.  If I do not see the importance in an activity, I will not do it.  If I do not view it as a high enough priority, it will not happen. 

One of the best things we can do as we head into February is to re-engage with our goals for 2017.  Goals help clarify the things that are important, significant and a priority in our lives  My friend, keynote motivational speaker Dave "The Shef" Sheffield sums it up nicely in this video.   I invite you to watch it.

Along with revisiting our goals is the equally important task of deciding what is not as important.  It is ok to not respond to every post you see on Facebook.  (Are you really going to change your friend's opinion about "__________"?)  Join a group?  Serve on a committee?  Attend a charitable event?  These are all worthy endeavors but it is something that is assisting you in doing the big things that will help make 2017 your best year ever?  There is nothing wrong with saying NO and I am attempting to do that myself.  It is somewhat of a trite comment but it is true:  By saying "NO" now you can say "YES" to other, bigger things down the road.

So here's to the next 11 months of 2017.  I hope it is terrific for you.  Here's to all of us re-engaging with our goals as winter, like January, fades.

Be well my friends,

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"Get Up!"

Vice-President Biden and I, Camp Victory DFAC, 4 July 2009.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

4 July 2009, Camp Liberty, Iraq

My phone rings at my desk, the voice on the other end is friendly, yet direct.  "If you'd like to have lunch at the _____ (I forget it's name) DFAC (dining facility), I'd be there no later than 1100."

After assuring it would be cool for me to be out of the legal office for a while, I made damn sure I was early for "lunch."  

January 14, 2016, The White House

In what was briefed as a private meeting, Vice President Joe Biden instead walked into a packed room full of friends, colleagues, admirers all.  "Chief" (no pun intended, well, on second thought, let's go with a pun) among them was President Obama.

After singing the praises of his partner and loyal Vice President, President Obama, for the last time, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Vice President.  I almost missed the story.  However, thanks to the Facebook feed, I caught it.  Here is The New York Times article.

NPR was generous enough to carry the presentation in its entirety.  Here is their story's link.  It's 38 minutes, yet it is worth a watch.  (And hey, there is an ice storm headed our way, so you'll have plenty of time to check out all these videos prior to and after the Packers game tomorrow.)  

It should be noted that not only was the Vice President awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom but it was also "With Distinction."  The Veep is in truly elite company with His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, and  Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, with this additional honor.  An honor I will say is well deserved.  Here is link to The White House's webpage to learn about the medal and past awardees, 2009-2016.

Here is how the medal is described by President Obama:

"The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation's highest civilian honor—it's a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way." 

Needless to say...a big deal.   Sorry, I could not resist.  This is, after all, vintage Joe Biden.

In all seriousness and with all due respect, I was so thrilled to see our Vice President be awarded this honor.  President Obama paid a fitting tribute to his friend and partner, his Vice-President and our Vice-President.

June 9, 1987, Des Moines, Iowa

I am standing in a hotel ballroom.  I'm 18 and aside from being excited about getting served at the bar, I was in awe of the man at the podium, speaking.  It was Joe Biden, then a Senator and a rising star in Democratic politics.  I jumped on the bandwagon as a volunteer and it was a wild, wonderful ride.

The poster announcing the presidential campaign of Joe Biden.  Poster photo courtesy of my friend Joe Hansen.  Please note the words of praise to one Joe to another one.  (Hansen helped run the Biden campaign in Iowa in the spring and summer of 1987 until Biden withdrew from the race.

It also ended abruptly.  After allegations of plagiarism, Biden withdrew from the race before it even began.  it was my first political heartbreak.  It would not be the last.

The next time I saw Biden was two decades later.  The "lunch" invite I had was to meet him, courtesy of his son, Beau.  Beau, God rest his soul, was a member of the Delaware National Guard and we had met earlier in the year.  I mentioned to him that we had met at his Dad's announcement back in '87.  We did not see much of each other in Iraq, yet we did have a few meals together and did work stuff on occasion.  He also knew I was a big fan of his Dad.  It was him on the phone back on 4 July, inviting me into the event with his Dad.  Thanks to Beau, I was able to get the photo that opens up this blog post.  

Back to The White House...

If you pull up the NPR video to the 5:50 mark, you will hear President Obama talk about how Vice President Biden's family would inspire and challenge him to deal with the adversities of life.  They had a simple message:  "Get up!"  If there is a mantra of Joe Biden, it may be those two words.

His whole life has been about getting up.  He got up at 30 when his wife and baby daughter were killed in a traffic accident and his two young sons were critically injured.  He took the oath of office for the U.S. Senate from his sons' hospital bed.  He got up after having to exit the presidential race (for something that by today's standards is laughable).  He got up after a major health scare.  He got up after being denied his party's nomination and faced the reality that his presidential ambitions were done.  And he got up when his son Beau died tragically of cancer.  All the while, he continued to be true to what he believed and himself.

After he was awarded the medal, The President invited the Vice-President to address the crowd.  Although it was clear he had no prepared remarks, he spoke with an eloquent candor.  Gone was the confident man of '87, full of ideas and a righteous belief in himself.  Instead stood a man who had lived a full life, who had weathered the storms of his life, storms that would have knocked out others for good.  He had a perspective that can only come with age...and service.

At one point in his remarks, he quoted the Talmud:  "What comes from the heart, enters the heart."  Whether one is a fan of the Vice President or not, one cannot deny he is a genuine, decent man.  One whom has had much come and enter his heart.

I invite and encourage you to watch this video, courtesy of Elite Daily.  It sums up the life that has been lived with love, heartbreak, determination, defeat, resolve, resiliency, joy, laughter, faith, achievement, setback, and above all,...getting back up.  

Congratulations Mr. Vice President on this award, well deserved indeed.

Be well my friends,

Author's note:  The links to videos and other media is shared with a good-faith assumption sharing is authorized, thank you.