Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Question Answered

Marine Lance Corporal Kerr with his teammate, sharing authorized by Facebook, full cite below

Greetings All:

It's road race season.  OK, the purists out there will say, "Um, Jeno, we've been running ALL year.  Where have you been?"  To which I'll reply, "On the treadmill,...inside."  In any event, I believe you get my point-it's spring, so let's get out and run.

I dig local road races.  I participate in a few a year.  The photo above is of one of those countless local races occurring every weekend in communities across the nation.

Here's how Facebook reported this story (link below):

"Kerr finished dead last in his age group at a Michigan 5K, choosing to run alongside a 9-year-old boy who asked "Sir, will you please run with me?" after he'd been separated from the group he'd started the race with. Kerr came in 5 seconds after the young boy." 

I recalled the scene from a great movie, An Officer and a Gentlemen where Richard Gere's character, a hot-shot rebel named Zack Mayo (or "May-o-naze," as the Drill Instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Foley called him) is on the obstacle course.  He is on track to break the record.  This is a feat even the Drill Instructor will begrudging publicly acknowledge, albeit briefly, as worthy of praise.  However, Mayo does an amazing thing.  He ignores the record and instead goes back to his fellow candidate, a woman, who is in peril of not graduating due to her inability to climb the wall.  Mayo rejects personal fame and and coaches/motivates her to climb the wall.  She makes it.  The record remains. 

The above re-cap is leadership by Hollywood and I get that.  Still, there's a connection between Richard Gere's Mayo and Lance Corporal Kerr.  That connection is the age-old concept of leaving no one behind.  This is a most noble concept and as I type this, we are celebrating the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.  Our only POW is free and soon to be home.  Welcome home indeed SGT!

So back to the story and the photo, I want to conclude with a nod to the boy for having the courage to ask the Marine the question, "Sir, will you please run with me?"  Aside from the politeness shown (he is obviously being raised right) I so admire his courage.  He asks a stranger, military sure, but a stranger nonetheless, to run with him.  He risked rejection.  Yet he decided that it was worth the risk.  He was right.  

Sometimes, perhaps more often than we like, our questions are answered in the negative.  We don't get the prom date, or the starting position on the team, or into our "dream" college, or the internship, or the job, or the promotion, or win an election, or get a book published, or fill in the blank.  It takes courage to ask for what we want.  Disappointment is a fact of life.  The trick is to not be paralyzed by it.  It makes hearing "NO" easier.   

And it makes hearing "YES" all the sweeter.  Call me a sap, but I'm really glad this 9-year-old had his question answered yes.  On that road, on that day, a question asked became a question answered.  No man was left behind and there was nothing but winners at the finish line.

Be well my friends,


Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Artifact

An artifact (sort of) found in the excavation site of my garage.  And it still plays!  Photo by J Berta.

Greetings All:

Friday was a big day for me in that the Camaro returned home after it's winter of hibernation.  It needs a bath and probably an oil change but, oh may, it runs.  For my friends in the neighborhood, you'll see it driving around, including my daughter Cassie in the driver's seat.  Hey. if you need to learn to drive, why not the Camaro...under some (alleged) adult supervision, of course.

As I was waiting for my friend Greg to pick me up to get the car, I found this.  Well, "found" might be a bit much as it was not that far buried in the garage.  Still, I was not looking for it, so sure, let's call it a find.

When I got to the car, I was not sure if the tape would even play.  I think the last time I played a cassette in it Bush was our President...and it was his first term.  But as luck would have it, it played just fine.  This past weekend, I've enjoyed tooling around listening to some of my favorite Squeeze (Goodby Girl, Tempted, Up the Junction) and R.E.M. (Begin the Begin, Superman, and of course The Flowers of Guatemala) songs.  I forgot just how sweet the sound of the hiss as the tape rolls to the next song.  The is not an artifact, that is true.  However, it sure is from a different age.

If you came of age like me in the 80s, you almost certainly had cassettes.  Sure, there were the commercially purchased ones.  You likely also had a dubbed version that a friend gave you.  I will never forget in August 1986 when Mikel Derby slapped in my hand a copy of R.E.M's "Murmur" album and said, "J, you gotta listen to this- best band ever!"  (Or words to that effect.)  At time, and on the fifth floor of Burge Hall in Iowa City, he was absolutely right.

There were a variety of blank tapes back in the day.  There was TDK, Sony, Memorex and Maxell.  The poster below was a common sight in a lot of dorm and fraternity rooms back in the day.  Even when CDs became available commercially, the blank tape had its place for cars and Walkmans.
The iconic Maxwell poster from somewhere in the 80s.  Fair use claimed and come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I bought this poster at some point in college, so I'll also claim that as well. 
Then there was that most special form of cassette- the mix tape.  It was possible to hear The Police, The Cure, R.E.M., Dead or Alive, A Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, Oingo Boingo, U2 and you name it without having to change a tape, album or station.  It was great!  All courtesy of the blank cassette tape.  Thanks.

The mix tape also could serve another purpose.  People could communicate through music.  You could share music with others.  I had a roommate from Chicago that was into jazz.  He made me a thoughtful mix tape of his favorite jazz and I truly appreciated the gesture.  Mix tapes also could have a deeper purpose-courtship.  If someone said, "I made this (mix tape) for you," it was a lock they liked you.

I recall spending damn near an entire Saturday afternoon my first year in law school making a mix tape for a young lady I liked.  (This was obviously before I met my lovey and wonderful wife four years later.)  Instead of spending the time studying Con Law as I needed to, that case book's binding remained un-cracked.  Instead, I pressed buttons, recorded music and hoped that the pauses were not too off between songs. 

And selection was important.  I had to causally communicate the message, "You're cool/I like you."  There was a delicate balance to strike.  At one point, I recorded over one song after telling myself, "no, No, NO!  That song says way too much."  What a dork.

The tape got finished and mailed off.  Nothing came of that effort and it's just as well.  Oh well, I'll always have the music.

As I'm writing this, I'm sitting outside with Dawn and the Pandora radio app is playing thru my iPhone on my portable speaker.  It's exactly what I need and I cannot beat the convenience.  

The musical legacy of the cassette, the iPhone and portable/Bluetooth speaker.  Photo by Jeno Berta
In the time it would take me to record two songs back in the 80s, I can create an hour plus of music as a playlist.  It can go to my iPhone or iPod and I can play it instantly.  Oh, and there is no hiss, just perfectly timed silence.  If I want to change music, there is no need to press fast-forward or hit eject. Nope, just a swipe of a finger.  Yah, that is pretty cool.  Even so, it's been cool to spend the last few days listening to music from my past the way we listened to it back then.  An artifact? Nah.  But good enough for me this weekend.  

Be well my friends,


A note on the sources.  There are some links below to the history of cassettes and some thoughts on the role of mix tapes in our recent pop culture's history.  Please check them out if you'd like, thanks.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The VA

From the website, a quote often seen on VA buildings.  Fair use claimed.
Greetings All:
This post has been percolating in my head for a while.   Although I elect not to weigh in much on overtly political matters, I’m making an exception with this post.  Before I go any further, I should state these are my comments and I do not claim to speak on behalf of any organization, entity, or governmental agency.  Not with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, I’ll offer my two cents on the VA scandal.  I’ll do my best to keep this brief.  Then again, considering both the depth and gravity of this matter, I’ll likely fail miserably.  

Unless you’ve been paddling the Amazon for the past month, you’ve likely heard about the growing scandal with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA).   Some might say “scandal” is too harsh a word.  OK, fair enough, let’s look to the definition of scandal from our friends at


1.  a disgraceful or discreditable action, circumstance, etc.  
So let's take a look at the facts, shall we?  In a nutshell, there have been multiple accounts of VA hospitals keeping "secret lists" of the true number of patients (another word for these people is veterans) waiting for care.  The story blew wide open a few weeks back when it was reported that up to 40 veterans died while waiting for care.  Since then, the number of cities with similar allegations has multiplied like dandelions in a vacant lot.

I think it's not an abuse of the vernacular to call this a scandal.  In the 1976 movie, Network, the famous line is uttered, "I'm mad as hell and am not going to this this anymore!"   

Lots of people are expressing outrage about this matter.  Even the President (as quoted in The Washington Post, full cite below) weighed in on this scandal:

"So if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period,...”  “Once we know the facts, I assure you if there is misconduct it will be punished.”

I cannot fault the President for these words.  What I do fault is that they are having to be said in the first place.  I fault that our veterans are having to wait for care.  I am not, say again not, saying there is conclusive proof that this delay in care is a proximate cause of any veteran's death.  

However, the fact there appears to have been "secret lists" is outrageous.  If it comes out that these secret lists were ordered or even passively tolerated by persons in authority, there need to be firings.  I would also expect the Department of Justice to look into the propriety of convening grand juries in the appropriate jurisdiction to see if Federal charges need to be brought.

I think we've got a scandal here folks. 

There are a number of organizations out there that are offering both criticism and solutions.  One group in particular that I am proud of is IAVA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  A bit of "truth in lending," I'm a member of this group and I am honored to count their founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff as a friend.  In 2007 or 2008, I called him out of the blue looking for a pro bono witness for PTSD.  He came through and I've been proud to see how he and his team (he'll be the first to share credit) have built IAVA into an advocacy organization for this generation of veterans and their families.

Paul has been on the talk show circuit lately and in my opinion, doing a great job of offering a harsh, yet fair critique of this situation.  I have a link below to his interview with Chuck Todd on The Daily Rundown.  I highly encourage you to watch this as it helps both explain the problem and offer a way ahead.  Solutions are what we need to all that ails the VA.

Although I am not a big cliche guy, I do believe a picture is worth (adjusted for inflation) more than a thousand words.  Take a look at the photo below and it captures clearly how huge this problem has become:

IAVA's count of U.S. cities with VA allegations of misconduct, courtesy of Paul Reickhoff.

If things were not bad enough, there is the separate issue of disability claims.  After a dozen years of war, we've got a LOT of folks who are hurt.  The Washington Post offers this sobering assessment:

"A tide of disability claims from soldiers who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan has inundated the VA. The VA also recently made veterans suffering from additional ailments tied to exposure from Agent Orange during the Vietnam War eligible for disability claims, increasing the number of people filing claims. The claims seek financial compensation for injuries suffered during military service. About 300,000 cases were stuck in processing for more than 125 days, our colleague Greg Jaffe reported Wednesday. The backlog peaked last year at 611,000 claims. Obama and Shinseki made it a point to reduce the glut."

The following are the official casualty figures from the Department of Defense as published by IAVA:


OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) Casualties: 4,423
OND (Operation New Dawn, the conclusion of the Iraq war)Casualties: 66
OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom, including Afghanistan) Casualties: 2,320
Wounded in Action: 52,003

While these numbers are sobering, it does not tell the whole story.  When one factors in all the other combat and combat-related injuries, the number of casualties sky-rockets.  I have a cite below to an article claiming the number of veterans with injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) pushes the number north of a million.  At first, I thought this number was high.  Then I found a RAND corporation study that stated one in five returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan reported symptoms for PTSD.  What's one in five?  300,000.  Oh, and this report was from 2008.  I've got the link to the story posted below.

What's the takeaway from all this?  I'd offer the following:  the VA better get this fixed because there are likely to be many more veterans seeking care.   

I recognize this blog post has growth to War and Peace length, but I feel in all fairness I need to offer the VA the opportunity to speak on their own behalf.  To that end, please see a press release from Secretary Shinseki from May 1st: 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                    
May 1, 2014                                      

Statement by VA Secretary Shinseki on Allegations Regarding the Phoenix VA Health Care System

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki made the following statement on the allegations regarding the Phoenix VA Health Care System:

“We take these allegations very seriously. Based on the request of the independent VA Office of Inspector General, in view of the gravity of the allegations and in the interest of the Inspector General’s ability to conduct a thorough and timely review of the Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS), I have directed that PVAHCS Director Sharon Helman, PVAHCS Associate Director Lance Robinson, and a third PVAHCS employee be placed on administrative leave until further notice. 

“Providing Veterans the quality care and benefits they have earned through their service is our only mission at the Department of Veterans Affairs. We care deeply for every Veteran we are privileged to serve.

“We believe it is important to allow an independent, objective review to proceed. These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and if the Inspector General’s investigation substantiates these claims, swift and appropriate action will be taken. 

“Veterans deserve to have full faith in their VA health care. I appreciate the continued hard work and dedication of our employees and of the community stakeholders we work with every day in our service to Veterans.”

 I attempt to practice optimism, so let me conclude this by saying I do think this will get better.  It will get better because we as Americans are more than just, "made as Hell."  We're also really good at fixing things when we want to, anger just happens to be a catalyst.  I also think this will get fixed because there are many, I am sure, dedicated VA employees who are ashamed beyond words at this scandal.  These are the doctors and care givers who work in hospitals and clinics.  They are also the folks who are laboring in the late May sun and heat to see our cemeteries are in tip top shape for the observances this weekend.  I saw first-hand their labors at the Rock Island Cemetery today.

The Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery, photo by Jeno Berta

As this is Memorial Day, it is proper to pause to recall the fallen.  However, there are countless others who served who while not gone, are in pain, are suffering.  They did their duty and now it is time for America to honor it's end of the bargain, to care for them.  To care for them with dignity and gratitude.  If it means more buildings, more doctors, more staff, more whatever, make it so.  If it means gas goes up to $5.00 a gallon tomorrow to pay for it, make it so.  We owe this to our veterans, those who as Lincoln said, "...have borne the burden." 

With that, I'll step off the soapbox.  Thanks for reading and thanks for doing whatever you chose to get involved.  I've got links below to IAVA and the Wounded Warrior Project.  Both organizations offer ways to contribute both financially and volunteer.  If you are close to a VA hospital, I bet there are opportunities to help out in some meaningful way.  Please, please know that there is no gesture too small.  The only thing worth measuring is the sincerity of the effort.  

Be well my friends,


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Act Well Your Part

My daughter's International Thespian Society patch, photo by Jeno Berta

 Greetings All:

This week, I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to attend an International Thespian Society induction ceremony for Troupe 856, Pleasant Valley High School.  My daughter, Cassie was inducted and won a couple of awards.  I am incredibly proud of her for both her accomplishments and how she has sincerely embraced the ideas of theater:  perform with passion, give the audience your absolute best and most of all, respect your fellow artists.

There was a surprise part of the program where previously induced Thespians were invited to recite the oath.  As I am one, it was nice to be included.  I think the last time I recited it Ronald Reagan was POTUS.

I love theater.  I love that my kids are discovering it.  I consider myself wildly fortunate that I get to sit back and watch this amazing ensemble of young actors get on stage and entertain us.  More than once, we parents bemoan the late drive out to someone's house to pick up kids from a cast party.  Yet truth be told we're glad to do it.  The kids earned this party.  

Another very cool thing happened at the ceremony.  Bill Myatt, the drama director, presented the final awards of the evening, "Thespians of the Year." These awards went to a couple of profoundly talented young people.  However, they were often far from the heat of the spotlight and the warmth of the crowd.  They spent the bulk of their time on stage well behind the curtain.  They did the sets, the tech stuff, costumes, props, all the things that never get the same credit (not even close) as do the actors.  And yet without these professionals, no show would get to opening night.  As I watched the awards being presented and heard the roar of approval from the crowd I thought this was such a class act.

The auditorium at North High School in Davenport named for a great friend and mentor, Paul Holzworth.  Photo by J. Berta

For me, it's impossible to sit in a high school auditorium and not think back to how much fun I had in theater.  I could not sing a note, so there's no musical lead I can brag of.  But I did get to play a couple of great roles, including Candy from Of Mice and Men.  Paul Holzworth directed that show.  It was his last year at West High School in Davenport and then he went on to carve out a future for theater at North High School.  It was w-a-y too long after North opened that they finally got a performing arts center.  When they did, they named it after Paul.  Well done Wildcats, well done.

Theater also teaches a painful yet important lesson-how to accept disappointment with lesser roles.  It is completely understandable to want a role and be crushed when it does not come to pass.  I remember being furious at not getting a bigger role in my high school play my senior year.  I got over it,...eventually.  Yet in retrospect, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me.  It gave me the chance to recall the part of my Thespian pledge to, "Act well your part, there all the honor lies."  

Everyone has faced such situations.  The trick is to make the best of your situation and give your best to whatever is your endeavor.  Sure, this applies to acting.  It also applies to mundane things as well.  When you give your all to an effort, especially a collective effort like a play or a musical, you can be proud that your part mattered.  Not only is that something to be proud of, it also makes the experience a whole lot more fun.

So here's to all the Thespians of Troupe 856 and all the actors in the world.  Thank you for entertaining us.  Thank you for having the courage to get on stage and share your hopes and fears with us.  Thanks to the educators like Paul Holtzworth and Bill Myatt who take the Stewardship of young actors as a sacred trust. 

Finally, here's to the person somewhere who will fight through the terror of walking onto a stage to audition for a show.  They may be a natural.  If so, great!  More likely, they are someone who's talent is limited and raw.  They will end up in a chorus or crowd scene.  No matter.  That show will be immensely better for that person having the guts to perform.  That is an honorable actor.  we'd all be fortunate indeed to have a seat in that theater when the curtain goes up on opening night.

Be well my friends,

Sunday, May 18, 2014

From Parts Unknown

The Masked Superstar about to slam the head of The Spoiler (sort of) into the head of Brad Armstrong, from the Facebook page of "Nwa Georgia Championship Wrestling Tribute Page," Sharing authorized, full site credit below.

Greetings All:

When I was a kid, a staple of Saturday mornings was Georgia Championship Wrestling.  It was on Ted Turner's network and it was wonderful.  This has often been referred to as the "Golden Age" of regional pro wrestling, before Vince McMahon took over the business with first WWF then the WWE.  

Prior to this, there was the "All Star Wrestling" world.  Where you had the masked villains who would be introduced as hailing, "...from parts unknown," while the crowd booed their displeasure while secretly pulling for them.  I never saw The Masked Superstar" (in the photo above) but I recall seeing guys like him when I was very young.  By the time I was in junior high and had graduated from Bugs Bunny to pro wrestling, it was a new age.

This new age, the golden age, was the time when "The Four Horseman" rode, when Dusty Rhodes was "The American Dream," when Ole and Arn Anderson were "The Minnesota Wrecking Crew," when Roddy Piper was the baddest man in a kilt since William Wallace.  There was Micheal P.S. Hayes and his tag team, "The Fabulous Freebirds."  (For those of you who actually check the credits, there's a special treat for you below.)  There was the hated Ivan Koloff and later Nikita.  You had Ronny Garvin with the "Hands of Stone," and many, many others.

And then, there was my personal favorite.  He still is to this day.  Can you guess who?  I'll give you a hint, his signature move was the figure-four leg lock.  He was "...custom made from head to toe."  He had the best robes, the blondest hair and early on went by "The Nature Boy."  

Ric Flair uttering his famous, "Woooo!" photo credit to Wikipedia, sharing authorized, cite below

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the twenty-six time world champion, Ric Flair!!

Flair was and still is one of a kind.  He's wrestled since the 70s and even to this day, as he's pushing 60, he'll drop that elaborate robe and get in the ring.  I remember in 1983 where he'd get on the mike with Gordon Solie and tell EVERYONE, "“I'm a limousine ridin', jet flyin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin' son of a gun. WOOOO!!”

This was all theater of course.  Then again, as a kid, I thought it was real, or put more precisely, I wanted to believe it was true.  And as much as I wanted to hate Flair, despite him and all his cockiness, I admired his,...well, flair.  

Flair, like all wrestlers made up a story.  He was not so much from parts unknown but from a popular place in pop culture.  He was the guy we loved to hate.  He was the leading player a story we knew by heart but watched to the end.  Perhaps I'm being just a tinge dramatic, but I think you get my point.

Flair also had another phase that was more serious, something that applies beyond the ring: 

“To be the man, you've gotta beat the man."

Sure, this can mean in wrestling to pin the other guy's shoulders to the mat.  In sports, it means taking over the starting spot from the quarterback and handing him the clipboard.  In business, if you want your district to be #1 in sales, then you've got to overcome Mary's team.  In life, there are winners and losers.  It's both important and admirable to play hard and celebrate moral victories.  However, in places like Afghanistan and Nigeria, there are people who play for keeps.  It's not pretty, but is it life.  I mention this to say that even in the circus of pro wrestling, where championships are decided by the scriptwriters and promoters, there's truth in Flair's comment.  

Perhaps the "man" you have to beat is yourself, the part of you that's not all you want to be.  Perhaps.

For those of you who have not followed Ric Flair's career, I'd love to tell you it's a storybook ending.  I'd love to say The Nature Boy retired after wrestling in six decades to  abundance of family, friends and funds.  Sadly, that is not true.  Flair has suffered setbacks in all areas.  He has alimony payments that would draw a sympathetic nod from Hugh Hefner.  He has had business endeavors crash like Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka off the top turnbuckle.  Most tragic, Flair had to bury his twenty-five-year-old son, Reid.  I recall Flair broke his back in a plane crash a few decades ago.  I have no doubt that was agony.  I am also quite sure that the death of his son had to hurt a million times more.

Something tells me that we've not heard the last of Ric Flair.  I hope he comes out on top and can claim one more championship belt, that of personal serenity.  Maybe The Nature Boy can retire and Ric Flair can just be Ric Flair.  

I think we're all on a journey.  Most of us know where we're from.  There might be parts of that past journey we'd just soon forget or at least not remember often.  That's fine.  What's most important is where we're going.  Sometimes it may be best to be, "from parts unknown," so long as in doing so one does not welch on previously obligations.  

I don't watch wrestling anymore.  It is fun, though, to remember watching it on a TV that took up several feet in the living room.  Now that's all in the past.  Ric Flair is someone who I've never met but I'd like to, and if I do, you can bet your wrestling tights I'll post in on Facebook.  I hope that when I do, things are better for The Nature Boy.  Come to think of it, I hope they are better for all of us. 

Be well my friends, 


Opening Photo- Nwa Georgia Championship Wresting Tribute Page, Timeline Photo 15-22

Thursday, May 15, 2014

End of the Line

Two Boston Bruins hockey player, from the Facebook fan page, sharing authorized/fair use claimed, full link below

Greetings All:

Last night, was the end of the line for one team.   The season ended for the Boston Bruins.  I am not a hockey fan.  However, I have a lot of friends who follow the sport.  In my neighborhood and town, many people are cheering that the Chicago Blackhawks won their series and are going onto the next round of the playoffs.  To be honest, it's hard for me to keep track of the playoff schedule as the only thing that is longer in the presidential election cycle.  But I did see that the Bruins were defeated in their best of seven game series with the Montreal Canadians.  Shortly after the game ended, a good friend of mine commented on his disappointment.  He's already looking ahead to next year.

I also see, thanks to our friends at ESPN, that the Indiana Pacers defeated the Washington Wizards, setting up (yet another) showdown with the Miami Heat.  I don't know any Wizards fans, but for those of you lamenting your end of the line, regrets.  Again, there is always next year.

Although I am not a fan of pro hockey or basketball, I do consider myself a fan of other sports, namely baseball, football and especially college football.  I've been known to get a bit...agitated, even loud when my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes are playing.  So while I have no emotional skin in the game regarding Boston's fall, I can understand and relate to the feeling of disappointment. 

I think sports is great.  It's a way to put aside the obligations of work and enjoy some entertainment.  It's also a chance to get together with friends, some you may see only a few times a year.  Although I do not have Iowa season football tickets, I still make it up to a few games a year.  When I do, I almost always end up tailgating with friends I've known from college, now pushing (gulp) 30 years.  My wife and daughters are not sports fans, so family sports outings are not a regular occurrence.  And yet, just tonight, we talked about going to a River Bandits (our local minor league team) game  We've got no "emotional" investment in the team but it's fun to go out to the ballgame and spend way more than you should for a hotdog or ice cream and have fun.

I also think it takes courage to be a sports fan.  Not in the sense of standing with the Spartans at the Hot Gates staring down the Persian Army, but in putting your heart into an endeavor, a cause.  Ask any Cubs fan what it takes to be a fan for that team?  The answer- a lot.  And yet, they still come.  About five years ago I was in Chicago to watch an Iowa game and we went to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game.  It was wonderful!  I even had an Old Style beer, just to remember that I really, really don't like it.  Ah well, when in Rome...

Heartbreak is a certainty if you're a sports fan.  How many (millions?) of Boston Red Sox fans were absolutely euphoric when their team finally won a World Series in 2004.   That was the year when my team, The New York Yankees imploded after being up 3-0 in the best of seven series.  I suppose for some Red Sox fans, winning the actual series was just icing on the cake after disposing of their arch-rivals.  I recall a Red Sox friend of mine saying to me when the Yankees were up 2-0, "It's easy to be a Yankees fan."  He had a point.  Jumping on the bandwagon is always a short leap when the team is winning.

It's great when your team wins.  I recall in the 2005 Capital One Bowl Game when on the final play Iowa defeated LSU.  (I did a blog post on this a few month's back, see "The Catch").  That was a great day.  However, there have been plenty of times my Hawkeyes have come up short.  It's not fun when your team loses.  However, that is life.

I cannot wrap up this post without commenting on the idiots out there who cannot appreciate that this is, after all, a GAME!  It's neither an election or a war.  For some, however, it is the end of the world, or at least close enough to justify property destruction and other acts of mayhem.  Morons, please, go back home, sleep off your bender and wait until next year.  

From the Vancouver Riots after their team lost to Boston ,, sharing authorized via Wikipedia

So here's to all the fans out there who cheer with passion for their team, who accept the pain of a loss AND keep it in perspective.  Here's to those fans who are good sports and respect the fans from the other teams.  (I have a link below about how the Philly Police went undercover in the rival team's colors to deal with any abusive Eagles fans.)  I remember being in college and seeing an Iowa fan say to a visiting fan, "Welcome to Kinnick."  Kinnick being the name of our Stadium, named after our Heisman winner, Nile Kinnick.  I thought that was such a class act.  If more fans were like this, it would be a much better world.  Fans, all fans, could recognize that the end of the line is for this seaon only.  As Colin Powell mused, "It will look better in the morning."  And, I suspect, less cars would end up turned over.

Be well my friends,


Monday, May 12, 2014


This year's Leadercast Quad Cities t-shirt, photo by Jeno Berta

Greetings All:

On Friday (May 9th), I had the good fortune to attend the 2014 Leadercast.  This year's theme is "Beyond You." Leadercast brings together like-minded persons who are interested in learning more about leadership.  I learned about this event last year when I was at my favorite hardware store, K & K, and saw a flier.  I've always considered leadership an aggressive hobby of mine and this event sparked my interest.  So, I paid the admission fee and showed up.

I was very glad I did.  It exceeded my expectations.  Broadcast live from Atlanta, it featured a number of leaders from business, communications, faith, ect.  I was particularly impressed that one speaker, Andy Stanley, who is, by both profession and choice, a Christian leader.  However, his talk was not an exercise in proselytizing.  It was about how he views leadership.  Although I am not an evangelical Christian, I still took away a ton from his presentation.  That, in my opinion, is the sign of a good leader.  

As you're reading this post (and thanks for doing so) you might be saying to yourself, "OK, I get it, you dig Leadercast.  That's super.  But, um, I'm still not clear on what it is."  Fair enough.  Let's go to the source:  Here's a blurb from the Leadercast website, the link is below:

"Leadercast is focused on building Leaders Worth Following. Leadership is not reserved for those with a 'C' in their title. We need better leaders in our communities, businesses, organizations, and in homes across the world. Leadercast exists to serve individuals and organizations across all sectors who want to become intentional about raising their standard of leadership."

If this seems like a daunting task, fret not.  It does not have to be.  That is one of the many cool things about Leadercast.  It is not some mantra of rules that must be followed, or else...It is, instead, a challenge, a call to action.  For those who wish to become better leaders, here is a road map.  You have to drive (and check the oil) but this will help you get to where you are going.

This year's theme was "Beyond You."  The idea, as I understood it, was to look beyond yourself to make a difference.  Leadercast offers this explanation of what they mean by "Beyond You" in this year's Leadercast notebook: 

"Beyond You is what we believe leadership should be about.  Beyond You is central to why the Leadercast brand exists, and is the essence of why today exists.  More, Beyond You is why you exist as a leader."

From this year's Leadercast notebook, the major themes of this year's event.  Fair use claimed/notebook included with Jeno Berta's admission fee, photo by Jeno Berta

What makes Leadercast such an amazing event is that it empowers thousands and I suppose millions by authorized re-views, tweets, and so on to come together to share a common purpose: Endeavoring to be better leaders.

A quote from this year's Leadercast notebook that captures what this gathering is all about.  Fair use claimed/notebook included with Jeno Berta's admission fee, photo by Jeno Berta

When I think of leaders and leadership, certain people, or more precisely, images of people come to mind.  The general on horseback, the captain of industry at the head of a mahogany boardroom table, the president of other elected executive.  Oh, and one more- the coach.  Popular culture has always had a thirst for the coach with the requisite "pep talk," and Hollywood has been happy to play bartender.  Think of Hoosiers or Ronald Reagan's famous, "Win one for the Gipper," speech.  All good stuff.  However, for me, the coach speech that sums up inspiration is from We Are Marshall.  The movie tells the tale of a smaller college whose team is killed in a plane crash in 1970.  A new coach comes in and against improbable odds, gets the school behind the team and the team on the field.  Prior to the biggest game of the new team's life, the coach gives an amazing speech.  

Would you care to hear it?  Well, thanks to our friends at YouTube and their generous sharing policy, here you go:

It is hard, if not impossible to be inspired by this speech.  It's amazing.  It made me cry.  Well, OK, maybe not cry but certainly tear up.  It's just awesome stuff.  But here's the thing, we can all find our own moments to inspire, the reach those we lead, be it our family, our co-workers, our clients, or even ourselves.

So back to Leadercast, the true "A List" of speakers from Bishop Desmond Tutu to Laura Bush to Bill McDermott (CEO of SAP AG) all gave their own impressions and thoughts on leadership.  I enjoyed all of them.  However, there was one speaker who stood out to me- Laura Schroff.  Laura's story is both simple and awe-inspiring.  One day in New York City a panhandler asks her for money, saying, "I'm hungry."  At first, she walks away.  Then, in the middle of the street, she stops (not a healthy thing in NYC traffic) and turns around.  She goes back to the panhandler, an eleven-year-old boy.  What begins with a simple meal at McDonald's turned into a lifelong friendship.  I was truly inspired by her story that I bought her book.  

Laura is not a billionaire, nor a member of Congress.  She's successful in her own right, without question.  However, what so impresses me about her story is that she made the decision to help one person, just one.  But in that decision, of going beyond herself, she helped saved a young man.  He now has a wife and seven wonderful kids.  It reminds me of the Talmud writing:  "...whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."

The cover to Laura Schroff's book an Invisible Thread

If you're interested in being a better leader, then Leadercast is for you.  If you have a business, then think about bringing your team to a Leadercast.  You'll be glad you did.  As Charlie "Tremendous" Jones said, “You're the same today as you'll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  Leadercast is a chance to meet some great people, hear from others and get introduced to some great book, such as Laura's.  If you'd like to learn more about this event, then check out the website or message me and I'll be happy to answer your questions.  I am planning on being at my local broadcast next year.  If you're in the Quad Cities, I hope to see you there. 

Be well my friends, 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

My Mom, Cathy Berta

Greetings All:

“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” —Abraham Lincoln

Today is Mother's Day.  Happy, happy mother's day to all the moms out there.  The photo above is of my mom, Catherine O'Neill Berta.  Although she has passed on, her presence is, I am sure, still with me.  And not just me, but the legacy that is her grandkids.

I also want to send a special greetings to my wife, Dawn.  She is both a fantastic mom but a working mom who is building a business helping people get well.  I love her and am proud of her.

Today, across America, moms will be treated to meals, gifts, cards, (I hear the homemade ones with misspelled words in crayon are still in style :)) and even for one lucky chiropractor, a super-clean car, inside and out, thank you very much.  All of these are well-deserved.  To all the moms out there, thanks and enjoy your day.

I case you're wondering about the history of Mother's Day, let's check in with our good friends a Wikipedia:

"The modern American holiday of Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. Her campaign to make "Mother's Day" a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her beloved mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Anna’s mission was to honor her own mother by continuing work she had started and to set aside a day to honor mothers, "the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world." Anna's mother, Ann Jarvis, was a peace activist who had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues.
Due to the campaign efforts of Anna Jarvis, several states officially recognized Mother's Day, the first in 1910 being West Virginia, Jarvis’ home state. In 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers. In a thank-you note to Wilson, Jarvis wrote of a “great Home Day of our country for sons and daughters to honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life.” [6]"

Now for some moms, today will be less than festive day.  Some moms are away from home serving our nation in harms' way.  I strongly suspect that there is a mom who is in basic training and will not see her kid(s) today.  It breaks her heart that she cannot be with her kids.  However, she made a choice- a bargain.  I'll go serve my country and be away from my kids.  In return, I will earn those tangible things (salary, housing health-care) that will give my kids a better life.  I will also be able to give my kids something intangible yet just as valuable:  pride and accomplishment.  To those moms, I salute you.  

There are other moms out there who are working today.  They are the ones that are pushing a cart down a hotel hallway loaded with towels and sheets.  They are taking orders at the restaurants I mentioned above instead of being served.  They are leaning over some other dying mom, giving both care and dignity.  The mom who is a nurse will get home long after "Mother's Day" is over.

As I think of these moms, the Donna Summer song, She works hard for the money, comes to mind.  In fact, let's swing by YouTube (sharing is authorized, so says the page): 

I hate to pull you away from this catchy tune in your head, but this blog would not be complete with a nod to the straight-up courage of moms.  A few years back there was a horrific attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.  Here's a description of the photo below:

"In 2014, photographer Tyler Hicks won a Pulitzer Prize for taking this photograph of a woman protecting her kids during the 2013 terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya. More than 65 people were killed, but the mother and her two children stayed alive, laying still for five hours. Music was playing in the mall's speakers, so the mom kept her kids calm by singing to them throughout the attack.", public domain/fair use claimed

In case you're wondering, I'm pretty sure the little objects on the left of the photo...are shell casings. 

Here's a link to this story and other moms of acclaim.  Of course, I'd argue that this list is but a tiny fraction of moms who should be honored.  

So Happy Mother's Day again.  Ladies, enjoy your day, you've earned it.  And guys, if you're grilling out, let's also remember to do the dishes as well.  

Be well my friends,

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hero Street

The logo for "Hero Street" in Silvis, IL.  Photo credit to Hero Street Home Page, Fair Use Claimed
Greetings All:

Today is "Cinco de Mayo."  It's the day the Mexican armed forces defeated the French on May 5, 1962.  Our friends at Wikipedia explain it this way:

"It originated with Mexican-American communities in the American West as a way to commemorate the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War,[8][9] and today the date is observed in the United States as a celebration of Thanks to Mexico in fending off the would be French invasion of the U.S..[10] In the state of Puebla, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.[3][11] In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is generally mistaken to be Mexico's Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—which is celebrated on September 16."

Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla, from Wikipedia, author, Mike Manning, Public Domain
Not unlike other cultural holidays in America, it's celebration has become theme-based and a chance for the hospitality industry to replace your Guinness from St. Patty's Day with a Corona for today.

This is not to say that for many proud, loyal Americans of Mexican and Hispanic heritage that today does not hold a special place in their heart.  They do not need to pop open a beer or down a shot of Jose Cuervo to enjoy the day.  If anything, they are repulsed with the excessive carousing that takes place.  I suppose it is no different from the Irish-Americans who shake their heads in dismay at those who drink too much on March 17th.

So on this Cinco de Mayo, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight a group of Mexican Americans from a small town close to me in Silvis, Illinois.  Here's a excerpt from a most special street in this town:

"It has been documented that as of the present day there have been over 100 young men and women from Second Street who have given service to the Untied States Military Forces. It had been researched and documented by The Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. that (there is no other street of comparable size) that has had as many men and women render service to the Armed Forces of the United States of America then the 11/2 block long street in Silvis, Illinois. Of these 100 or more Military men and women, six of them were killed in action during WWII and two during the Korean War."

This street in Silvis has been appropriately named "Hero Street."  There is not a more fitting title for a place that sent its sons, Mexican by heritage and American by choice and service, to war.  It was to the war that some of these patriots did not return.

The display for "Hero Street" hero-street-park-plaque.jpg, fair use claimed
 So as Cinco de Mayo wraps up, (at least for this very tired and very middle-aged guy), I will send you off with these thoughts:

Once upon a time a group of people came to an ordinary town in the Midwest.  They took their circumstances not as a curse but a starting point.  From this group of eternal optimists sprung children who raised their hand to serve.  This group, this tight group, went to war for their country, our country.  It is good to honor them.  I am going to guess that May 5th was acknowledged by them as a day to remember, if not celebrate.  I also am convinced that a holiday just shy of two months later mattered more, much more.  That was a holiday they celebrated with passion and joy.  

I suppose there were those who doubted this new Americans commitment.  The same people who wondered if these new arrivals, with a different culture and skin color were worthy of being an American.    Those who hailed from that poor stretch of homes in Silvis proved and shamed these bigots wrong.  They proved it by their service and their sacrifice.  

And where they called home was, and forever more will be, Hero Street.  I cannot think of a better name, in English, or in Spanish.

Be well my friends,