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.

Monday, January 9, 2017

On Fire, Forgiveness & Remembrance

The fireplace at Cunnick-Collins Funeral Home.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Friday night, January 6, 2016, about 6:25 p.m.

I am sitting on a couch.  Outside, winter's fury is on full display.  It's in the single digits with the wind chill adding to the misery.  Yet I'm warm and comfortable.  Before me roars a fire.  Although the wood is fake and the fire's fuel is gas, it is still pretty to behold, and comforting, but only to a point.

After all, how comfortable can one be in a funeral home?  How comfortable should one be at a funeral home?

The funeral home in question is Cunnick-Collins in Davenport, Iowa.  I was there for the visitation of my friend and my Mom's best friend, Mary Elizabeth Sievert.  Mary passed away shortly before the new year.  Her funeral was delayed to allow her family from California time to travel here.  I can only imagine how the cold felt to them.

Mary Elizabeth was nothing short of an amazing woman.  She was an educator, mentor, civic leader, an antique expert and simply put, a wonderful lady.  One of my favorite stories about her is when she was teaching Chemistry at Central High School and was speaking to a female student about her career plans.  When the young lady said she was going to be a nurse, Mary Elizabeth challenged her to go to medical school.  She did.

At her funeral Saturday (January 7, 2016), there were many in attendance who were their to honor her both for her professional accomplishments and the person she was.  Although Mary did not have children, she had many, many dear friends.  I consider myself quite fortunate to be one of them.  During the sermon, the Pastor commented, "Mary was the favorite aunt you wished you had."  He was right.

Although we were all terribly saddened by her passing, no one (at least that I know) would ever said her life was not lived to the fullest and she made the most of her time here on Earth.  If you'd like to read her obituary, here is the link.

For some of us, like Mary, life ends after many decades and a lifetime of memories with few, if any, regrets. 

Unfortunately, that cannot be said of all.  Case in point:  Mr. Charles "Sonny" Liston.  Liston was a boxer and at one point, the heavyweight champion of the world.  Then he stepped into the ring with Muhammad Ali.  Once was enough to de-throne Liston, twice was enough to effectively end his career as a boxer.  His life spiraled down from there.  Here's the Wikipedia link if you'd like to read more. about his life.

Less than six years later, Sonny Liston would be dead.  Today (January 9th) marks the 46th anniversary of his funeral.

I have not thought of Sonny Liston often.  For the life of me, I cannot recall what led me to find this terrific article by Shaun Assael, "The Last of Sonny Liston."  You can read it here.  In it, Assael re-visits Liston's last sad days in December of 1970 and his death on or about December 30th.  There are rumors that Liston had been murdered.  The Assael article raises the possibility Liston might have been killed.  However, no one will ever really know for sure what took Liston down for his final ten-count.  The coroner finally ruled Liston's death as by "natural causes," yet I suspect the questions around his passing will continue for years to come.

What is undisputed is Sonny Liston's funeral was packed with friends, well-wishers and likely some of the curious.  Assael writes, "The funeral itself was a crush. Between seven hundred and a thousand mourners were trying to get seats in a mortuary that fit four hundred."

Yet noticeably absent from his funeral were his former competitors from the ring.  Again, from Assael's article:

"Joe Louis, one of six pallbearers, was the only heavyweight champion there and came late because, as he explained, he was shooting craps and 'Sonny would understand.'”

Something tells me Sonny would.  Sonny Liston, a man perhaps not known for compassion surely would have forgiven his old friend.  It is a shame he could not forgive himself and released him from a death sentence of substance abuse...and a broken heart.

And speaking of forgiveness, let's shift to football for a moment.  The NFL playoffs are at hand.  The field has been winnowed to eight teams.  One team not playing next week is the Oakland Raiders.  The Raiders are an interesting team.  Known for their silver & black uniforms, a certain swagger and rabid fans, they have experienced a resurgence this past year.  No doubt their former owner, Al Davis is smiling down on his team.

Al Davis made the Raiders and was the Raiders.  With his (literally) trademarked slogan, "Just win baby," he set the tone for a team and and era.

Now his son Mark has taken over the reins.  Mark Davis is an interesting guy in his own right.  This story from Tim Keown discusses  how the younger Davis drives a 1997 minivan and his other quirks. 

The two Davis' did not always get along and that is being charitable.  One could understand if Mark Davis had relegated his father's memory to the top shelf on a trophy case.  A place of honor, but also one away from the current team's actions, distantly visible and covered with dust.

Davis chose to go another way.  Keown writes:

"A week after his father died, Mark had a torch installed at the Coliseum with one word -- al -- inscribed on the base. Before every home game, Davis picks someone to light the torch, and he has used the honor to forgive old sins. Marcus Allen, the former running back who famously feuded with Al, lit the torch early in the 2012 season. Almost two months later, it was coach Jon Gruden, who was traded to Tampa Bay after leading the Raiders to a pair of division championships."

What a fitting tribute to his father.  Al Davis was like a wildfire scorching the dry brush that was the NFL a half-century ago.  Now, that fire has been captured and focused into a legacy of remembrance.  Mark Davis has also found a way to forgive past hurts.  Some may say even the sins of the father.

From the Oakland Raiders Facebook page, fair use claimed and a good-faith basis to believe sharing for the limited purpose of this blog is authorized.  Here is the Raider's Facebook caption:  "Former Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha lit the torch in tribute to and in memory of Al Davis prior to yesterday's game:"

I follow only one podcast with any regularity and it is Tim Ferris'.  He continues to impress, amaze actually, with the people Tim has on his show as guests who share with us their outlooks on life.  Their accomplishments, while wildly impressive, are more like the wrapping on a sandwich that serves the purpose of protecting the nourishment of the ideas, the philosophy of his guests. 

One such guest who fits this bill is Dr. BJ Miller.  He is a doctor who has done amazing work in the areas of death, dying, and hospice care.  One of the reasons he has such a passion for this is due to his intimate understanding of how close we are to death.  When he was a college student at Princeton, he suffered a catastrophic injury, costing him both legs below the knee and the majority of his left arm.  For some, that would be prescription of lifetime misery, aggravated by substance & alcohol abuse.  Not Dr. Miller.  Instead, he took this experience and used it to be his inspiration for a career of service and leadership.  He epidermises the expression:  "Physician, heal thyself."  

If you want to check out the podcast to Ferriss' show with Dr. Miller, please click here.

In addition, Dr. Miller has a TED Talk that I watched Saturday about two hours before Mary Elizabeth's funeral.  I have seen a LOT of great TED Talks.  This one is clearly on the medal stand and here's the link.

I have watched this talk three more times since Saturday.  I was captivated by Dr. Miller's passion and compassion for approaching the end of life.  His near-death experience and THE death of parts of his body give him a perspective no one would wish to have.  Still, it is both his history and his present story.  He embraces it.

He tells the story of when he was in the hospital recovering from his injury, still reeling in burning pain that a nurse smuggled a snowball into his room.  With his remaining hand, he held it, watching and feeling it melt.  Soon, it was gone.  Still, for a moment, his moment, the snowball was his.  I'm not doing this story justice because you cannot see the look of joy, reverence even, in Dr. Miller's face as he re-tells this story.  Please see for yourself if you would like.

At the end of Dr. Miller's TED Talk, he has this most amazing thought:  He returns to the snowball from many years ago.  Then he says:  "If we love such moments (the snowball story) ferociously, then maybe we can learn to live well not in spite of death but because of it.  Let death be what takes us, not a lack of imagination."

It is clear that Dr. Miller has forgiven himself for the decision that changed his life forever.  Countless hospice patients and those who get to hear his words are much better off because of that decision.

Saturday, January 7, 2016, about Noon.

The church doors open, letting in both sunlight and cold air.  It is time for Mary Elizabeth's earthly form to begin her final journey.  

I have never carried a casket before.  It was certainly not light, yet the weight was not unbearable.  While the cold was prominent, it was not nearly as bad as the previous evening.  It did not penetrate through my suit as much as enveloped me, as if to say, "I'm here."  I was not wearing gloves and while the metal handles of the coffin were cool, it did not produce the skin-ripping cold sensation that surely would have occurred the previous evening.  It was as if the fury of winter elected to pause, not unlike the car I saw stop driving on Locust Street, in honor of Mary Elizabeth.

As we approached the hearst, the sidewalk was uneven in spots.  We had to step onto the grass to position the coffin for entry.  Although I am clumsy by nature, I did not have any fear of tripping or rolling an ankle.  I felt as if the other pall bearers and I were being guided during our brief, yet important task.  As we walked back into the church, the sun was high, shining brightly, a first cousin to the fire of the previous evening.  

Death is going to come to all of us.  Whether you are famous, once famous, notorious, or a wonderful, descent person, all will leave this world.  My Dad has a terrific line:  "If you don't die young, you're gonna get old."  For those of us among the living, we would do well to learn from the lives of those who have departed this world.  Mary Elizabeth had neither the fame nor adoration of a Sonny Liston.  Then again, she never succumbed to the tragic set of circumstances that befell Liston.  I am convinced she received the far better part of the bargain. 

As I conclude this post I think back to the fire at Cunnick-Collins from Friday night.  I think of its fire as both a source of heat for my body and comfort. for my soul.  Fire is perhaps the greatest contradiction we can ever know.  It cannot give us warmth unless wood is put upon it and only in destroying the wood through flame can the heat be harvested.  I think Marcus Aurelius said it best: 
"The blazing fire makes flames and brightness out of everything thrown into it."  

When fire is focused and controlled, it can bring us warmth and comfort.  When fire is free of boundaries, it can wreak havoc on a horrific scale.  The same is true for memories.  Focused and kept in perspective, they can be a basis for forgiveness and self-improvement, regardless of past circumstances.  However, memories of past defeats left unchecked can metastasize into rage.  This rage will paralyze and prevent one from moving forward with after a life chapter is complete.  Sadly, Sonny Liston suffered from this malady.

Mary Elizabeth Sievert was someone we can look up to, admire, emulate and celebrate for a life well lived.  For many, including me, she was a fire, burning bright, and so will be her memory. 

R.I.P. Mary Elizabeth.  Please hug my Mom for me, thanks.

Be well my friends,

This was was originally published on January 9, 2017.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Our microwave announcing the New Year.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

So here it is, 2017, Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a great time welcoming in the new year.  I know we did.  It's been a while since I wore a suit and tie on New Year's.  I recognize that some of you had to work and thanks to those who did to help make our night fun.  I especially appreciate the Uber, cab and other drivers who were out there and helped all of us get home in one piece.  

As it is New Year's Day, it is also a "holy day of obligation."  Although I did not make it to Mass, I will share some of Pope Francis' New Year's Day message:  

“The new year will be good in the measure in which each of us, with the help of God, tries to do good, day by day, that’s how peace is created,...”

Sage advice.

And as is New Year's Day, I suppose it would be appropriate to give a nod to U2's song by the same name.   I always liked the video, yet I think I like this live version more.  The band are no longer the fresh-faced rockers of the 80s.  They are older.  Then again, aren't we all.

This is one of the more odd New Year's from a calendar standpoint as it is a Sunday, so the holiday is observed tomorrow.  I suspect some of you are doing what we're doing:  Lying around and enjoying the day.  Iowa just knocked off Michigan in basketball and tonight Green Bay takes on Detroit for the North Division Championship in the NFL.  With tomorrow being a holiday, there is a bit of luxury with today to not focus too much on the week (and year) ahead.  I think that is good thing.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am not a big fan of resolutions.  I am a huge proponent of goal-setting.  I mentioned Vic Johnson's book, The Thirteen Secrets of World-Class Achievers yesterday and I invite you to read or listen to it.

I will pass along for today another suggestion- listen to Simon Sinek's TED Talk.  Here's the link.  I have watched this talk a number of times and just reviewed it again today.  I think it is terrific.  I particularly like how Simon breaks it down into something basic, his "Golden Circle" of WHY? HOW? WHAT?  He nails why Apple is the market leader but it's applicable to any of us.  Any of us can do what an Apple does if we determine what is our "WHY?"

So I'd ask you this question:  What is your "why" for 2017?  I think if you answer that question, you'll be on your way to some serious goal-setting.

And by the way, I'm asking myself that same question.

Be well my friends and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

"...And What Have You Done?"

Our kitchen calendar, photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

"So this is Christmas and what have you done
Another year over, a new one just begun..."

You may recognize these lyrics from John Lennon and his song "Happy Xmas (War Is Over.)"  Although I normally shut off Christmas music in my car and in my head, I like this song because it has a sense of both reflection and hope.  Reflection for the year gone past and hope for the new year.  

I know for many people 2016 was not a banner year.  There were disappointments, some profound.  Recently, Facebook has become the online funeral home where we have been paying our respects to the celebrities who have left us in the past year.  Of note was the immediate passing of Carrie Fisher and her Mom, Debbie Reynolds.  My friend Alex posted this to Facebook and it is worth posting here:  

Carrie Fisher watching her Mom, Debbie Reynolds, perform on stage, circa early 1960s?  Photo credit is unknown.  Fair use/public domain claimed is respectfully claimed, no commercial use.

And yet, there were moments of joy this year.  For my Chicago Fan friends, over a century of heartbreak ended with an epic victory against an equally-determined Cleveland Indians team.  For many, this the below image will not soon be forgotten.

The image on my T.V. screen after the Cubs won the World Series.  Photo by J. Berta.

For me, this year's highs and lows came within a week of each other.  My Dad was diagnosed with blood in his brain and required emergency surgery.  Fast-forward two weeks later and he's back up and moving around, with the staples removed (from his skull) and no worse for wear.  At the hospital, shortly after the doctors explained his condition, they marveled at how high functioning he was with that much internal bleeding.  I commented:  "Gentlemen, this man survived Hitler and Stalin.  Do you think some internal bleeding is going to slow him down?"

Of course, I was making light of an incredibly serious, potentially fatal situation.  I am beyond grateful for both the health-care professionals AND his friends and patrons who mentioned to me that Dad was, "...just not himself."  

So as this year comes to an end, it is appropriate to reflect upon it.  It is also fine, normal actually, to look to the year ahead.  It will be interesting, that is a certainty.

As for ourselves, we may be tempted to pursue resolutions.  I am not against them in the least.  I just happen to believe that they are folly and a fool's errand for they never last.  Unless you are willing to change habits, then all the good intentions are meaningless.  Case in point:  Go to any gym the first few weeks of January and good luck finding a machine.  Show up in early February and you'll have your pick of the place.  It's just human nature.

If one is interested in some degree of self-improvement this coming year (and I include myself with that ambition) then I'd suggest looking at goal-setting.  The difference, in my opinion, between resolutions and goal setting is that while a resolution is an aspiration ("I'm going to lose weight this year!") goal-setting involves a plan to accomplish the goal of "I am going to lose five pounds by St. Patrick's Day."  

I highly recommend Vic Johnson's book,  The Thirteen Secrets of World Class Achievers.  I first listened to the audio book and liked it so much, I got it in book form.  You can order it here from Amazon.

Whatever 2017 holds for you, I hope it is full of joy and satisfaction.  I am certain it will have its challenges.  That is OK.  Without challenges, life would be dull, painfully so.  I'll leave you with another set of Mr. Lennon's lyrics.  Its the best final holiday season wish I can think of:

"A very merry Christmas and a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear."

Be well my friends...and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Be of Good Cheer

Two faiths, one family, my house, Hanukkah/Christmas 2016.  Photo by J. Berta  

Greetings All:

Today is Christmas.  Last night was the first night of Hanukkah.  We had friends over and a great meal and great company.  The dreidel spun and gelt was won and lost.  Then, as we were asleep Santa came, bringing gifts and joy...and Cassie a most unique and appropriate mug.

This is going to be a shorter blog post.  I just want to say to everyone, enjoy the day, the season.  You have the right to "be of good cheer."  

For some, that may be a challenge.  If you are suffering from illness or illness in your family, I can appreciate your a point.  My Dad had brain surgery last week to deal with some (a lot) of internal bleeding.  He's doing just fine now, all things considered.   I'm in debt to the health care providers who took care of him and his friends who noticed something was not quite right with him.  

So I suppose my suggestion to "be of good cheer" is easy for me to say since I have much to be cheerful about and for.  I am aware of how fortunate I am for my particular set of circumstances and others may say, "Thanks for the suggestion, but you don't know me or my world."

Fair enough.  And I do not mean to push the issue but I will say this:  For those who are still reeling from the election results, you absolutely have the right to NOT care about it, at least for today.  What is done is done and you should focus on fun and joyful things.

To you I say, I offer the sincere suggestion:  "Be of good cheer." 

"The Carol of The Bells" is one of my favorite carols.  The opening lyrics are:

"Hark how the bells,
Sweet silver bells,
All seem to say,
Throw cares away
Christmas is here,
Bringing good cheer,
To young and old,
Meek and the bold."

Here's a link to version with the lyrics being sung.George Winston is without question my favorite pianist (I know, I know, some of you will say:  "Come on, Jeno, how many pianist do you even know?  Cut me some slack, please, it's Christmas.)  Here's his version.

In about an hour, I will join my Dad for Mass.  I'm not likely to win any awards for Mass attendance but for today, I will be an active participant.  I'll even sing (off-key) and take in the season.  I'll do my best not to think about how Christmas coincides close to the Winter Solstice and might have been a recruitment tool.  Nope, today I accept and believe the central truth of Christmas:  God loved us and sent his son.  Mary was his mother and Joseph was a father in a most real sense.  It is a time to be thankful, of being joyful.

Today, maybe we can't throw our cares away.  But let's at least put them in a box and throw it in the garage.  It will be there tomorrow.

Happy Hanukkah & Merry Christmas to all. of good cheer my friends. :)



Sunday, December 18, 2016

Crime Never Pays (enough)

My 22 year old briefcase.  Photo by J. Berta

“A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns.”

Greetings All:

If you've seen the movie, The Godfather, Mario Puzo's epic (and ultimately tragic) story, you may recall this opening line.  Don Vito Corleone says it not with anger but with a shrug, as if acknowledging rain is wet.  As a practicing attorney for two plus decades, I've always stood at the intersection of amusement and regret for the actions of some of my "colleagues" in the legal profession.  While most of us work hard and are honorable, there are those who view bar membership as a license to steal.

I'm a fan of the news service Flipboard.  It's a way to get customized news and read it on your phone by "flipping" thru stories.  I think it is pretty cool and they cover a wide range of topics.  This morning, I read, "The Psychology of White-Collar Criminals."  It was re-published (I presume with permission) from The Atlantic.  Eugene Soltes writes a terrific story about how those who, on the surface, were the epitome of success and respectability, were simply criminals.  I particularly like this line from Soltes story:

"At first, I was struck by their lack of remorse regarding either their actions or the harm those actions had caused. One executive even joked with me about how he’d been practicing with his $1,000-an-hour lawyer to convincingly, albeit falsely, express regret during his upcoming parole hearing. Troublingly, those who received lenient sentences for testifying against others often told me stories that differed from their sworn testimony."

I encourage you to read this story.  Here's the link. 

From Enron to WorldCom to Tyco to "fill in the blank" there have been epic examples of business tycoons who simply decided to break the law in order to achieve (or attempt to) achieve their goals.  One of the more more brazen that comes to mind is John DeLorean.  He was a car executive whose car was featured in the "Back to the Future" movie.  He also was arrested in 1982 of attempting to distribute 55 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $24 million dollars.  Here's a story on him from The History Channel. 

The Delorean DMC-12, from Wikipedia, Fair Use Claimed, link to photo here.

DeLorean's story reads like a crime novel.   Maverick car exec runs into obstacle after obstacle and turns to crime to keep his company afloat.  Although he was acquitted on the cocaine charges, he could not escape the civil consequences of his actions.  

How's the story ends?  Epic failure.  Ryan Holiday discusses DeLorean's crash into the guardrail of life vividly in his book, Ego is the Enemy."  Here's a super snippet of his take on this sad tale from Nir Eyal's blog, Nir and Far.

So why do people do such stupid things?  Why do people who have so much engage in crime to get more?  I suppose it is ego.  I also think there is a heaping side order scoop of justification.  The dreaded "ends justify the means."  

Yeah, tell it to the judge.

And it is tragic.  Because in the end, it will never, ever be enough.  The fame, the wealth, the covers of Forbes or the 20 minute prime time interviews.  It all dissolves, like ice in March, first a slow drip, then a puddle, then nothing but cold cement.

But there is some good news.  There are those out there who are hitting the cover off the ball in business and are doing it right.  From Tim Ferriss to Elon Musk, there are plenty of wildly successful (in the purest capitalistic sense) and still not wrapped up in the trapping of wealth and status.

Then there is perhaps the best example for the post:  Gary Vaynerchuk.  Here is a link to his website.  Here is a guy who rarely wears a suit yet is all about hustle.  I so admire him for not only what he has done but the way he has gone about it.  He is profane and direct in a way that could easily put off those of us in (frozen) flyover country.  I gently advise:  Get over it and listen to him IF you're looking for more out of your commercial endeavors.  He has a YouTube show, DailyVee.  If you watch just one of his videos, check out episode 101 here.

This is a guy who made it truly on his own...and his own terms.  He offers the way, the path.  He just won't walk it for you.  Sounds like a fair deal to me.

And I suppose my point is that when you look at a guy like Vaynerchuk you see someone who profanely renounces those things that ultimately trapped and snared the "subjects" in Soltes' article.  The cynics might say it's part of his act, his shtick.  I'd argue it's his suit of the form of a t-shirt.

The briefcase I featured in the opening photo is one dear friends gave me when I graduated law school.  Although it's not my primary "go to" court bag, I'm glad to still have it around.  And I'm also glad I can say it has never been involved in anything remotely related to the type of crimes The Don was referencing.  

When thinking back on the article that inspired this blog post, I think that the greatest "crime" perpetrated by those "white collar" criminals was not what sent them to prison and banished them from their current gilded age.  No, it was something else.

They all had talent, and drive, and hustle, and vision and work ethic and all the things we want, we demand in successful people.  Yet they did not have (or perhaps lost is a more accurate description) their own internal compass of right and wrong.  And that is a crime for which they will all serve a life sentence.

The Stoic and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said it best:  (And thanks to Nir Eyal quoting it in his above-mentioned blog post:)

"It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character."

Be well my friends,

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

On Heroes...and Their Perils

John Glenn in his Mercury Rocket spacesuit, public domain from Wilipedia.

Greetings All:

A few days ago, Senator John Glenn passed away.  He was 95 and to put it mildly, had lived an amazing life.  This son of Ohio became a true son of America.  Raised in a small town, steeled in adversary through The Great Depression, he went on to fly combat missions in both WWII and Korea.  A test pilot, he grabbed the brass ring of the early astronaut program.  Yet it was there where he had his most bitter disappointment.  He wanted to be the first man in space (well, for the good guys at least.  I think the Soviets beat us to that punch).  It didn't happen.  However, he did get a nice parting gift:  Being able to orbit the Earth three times in 1962.

There have been chorus of obituaries sung to his life, his accomplishments, and rightfully so.  Here is a link to my favorite one from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, "Godspeed John Glenn."  I will not hesitate to call him a hero, especially in the American sense of the word. 

Glenn's parade after his 1962 orbit, public domain, from Wikipedia.

Yet even John Glenn's life did not have that storybook ending.  His bid for President in 1984 (an election I am proud to say I volunteered for in 1983 as a kid) ended early.  Then there was the Charles Keating scandal where Senator Glenn, along with four (I believe) other Senators met with a savings and loan executive whose intentions were far from pure.  As an aside, this would be such a small and laughable scandal by (ahem) today's standards, but it devastated him.  

As I was working on this post, I thought about the hauntingly accurate quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald:  "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."  Sadly, there's a bunch of truth to those lines he scribbled in his notebook.  (For those of you who want to jump in the deep end of the pool, here's a link to a short, yet thought-provoking article on Aristotle's definition of a hero.)  

My point is this:  Often times those we elevate to hero status either:  

A., Did not want it in the first place; 
B. Realized after they had achieved such a status it caused more grief than joy; 
C.  That heroism, like most bright and shiny objects, fade over time, leaving the owner feeling sad and unappreciated; and
D.  All of the above.

If you picked D., DING-DING-DING-DING!!!  You're correct.

One of my personal heroes is Raoul Wallenberg.  I've written and spoken about him in the past.  In summary, he was a Swedish diplomat who in Hungary in 1994 and early 1945 saved thousands of Jews from almost certain death.

His reward?  He died in Soviet captivity.  The Soviets did not buy his "mercy mission" story.  They thought he was an American spy and were NOT going to allow him to be available to impede their grand plans for post-war Eastern Europe.  

Photo of Raoul Wallenberg, public domain, Wikipedia.

I encourage everyone to learn more about his story.  Here are a couple of links to his life story at Wikipedia ( please don't judge, it's accurate, IMHO) and The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sometimes heroes suffer a fate not even fitting for a villain. 
Here is another example, more recent and far less tragic.  Last week, euphoria broke out across wide spaces of social media with the announcement that President-elect Trump had selected Retired General James "Mad Dog" Mattis for his Secretary of Defense.  GEN Mattis is beloved by Marines for his four-plus decades of service to the nation and The Corps.  Others, myself included, deeply admire both his warrior skills and his deep intellect.  As Ryan Holiday wrote in his book, The Daily Stoic, Mattis carried a copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations with him on his many combat deployments.

He's known for his salty language, such gems as:  

"Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

And my personal favorite:  "I come in peace.  I didn't bring artillery.  But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes:  If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all."  (Source, Politico)

Yes, The General has a way with words.  And it is easy to see why he is beloved by his Marines and many others.  Yet he has his critics.  Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Jason Amerine has leveled a most damning charge against General Mattis:  That he failed to send assistance to his men while in need.  In short:  Mad Dog left men to die in the field.  You can read the story here.  

There was an investigation and no wrongdoing was found.  Mattis was subsequently promoted three more times and selected for Central Command/CENTCOM.  If there had been any grave errors on his behalf, it would have certainly come out along the way.

Not that it does not weigh on him, I suppose.  I did not know that after retiring Mattis visited graves and the families of the fallen.  This was done out of the glare of the media and on his own dime.   Here's a link to a story ABC News did on this trip.

I suspect that GEN Mattis does not consider himself a hero.  He's a Marine, a leader, a scholar and the Secretary of Defense Nominee.  His record of service is extraordinary and worthy of high praise.   Yet I would caution anyone who would place him upon the mantle or pedestal for his exploits.  

And I level this admonition particularly at any of those "Call of Duty" game console warriors out there.  The saber rattlers who have never spent a day in uniform are also included.  There's an old Texas saying I recently learned:  "The littlest dog barks the loudest."  It is particularly applicable at those who are so giddy to go off to war yet have no clue as to the true and brutally high costs of it.  

Yes, Mattis' exploits have heroic tendencies.   However, these tendencies, however nobly undertaken and free of any culpability for fatalities under command still have death attached to them.  Death of our enemies and death of our fellow countrymen.  

Mattis understands this better than almost anyone.  He also knows that while it is a heart-breakingly high price to pay, it is better than the alternative, as eluded to in the below photo.

A quote and photo of GEN Mattis, from Facebook, public domain/fair use claimed.

My point with this post is this:  Yes, let us celebrate those among us who have done things, brave and noble, worthy of acclaim.  Yet let us also be wary of elevating any person especially while possessed of life and power to "hero" status.  When we do, we're allowing someone else to solve our problems or be so much bigger and better than us that we're off the hook.  "I'm not as _____ as _____, the hero, so why even try?"  The answer is we should try because within all of us is the potential to act heroic.  

And there is no peril is aspiring to that goal.

R.I.P. Senator Glenn.  As I mentioned on Facebook Friday night, while the view you had in 1962 was terrific, something tells me the view you're currently enjoying is simply spectacular.  

Be well my friends,