Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Pen Against the Sword

The Korean Patriot poet Sang haw Lee's desk in his home in Daegu, photo by J. Berta
Greetings All:

On August 15th, South Korea celebrated its independence day.  At first, I thought this was related to the end of the Korean War, er, I mean "police action."  However, instead, it represents Korean independence from Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.

Korea suffered under Japanese rule as is the fate of an occupied nation.  Japan was a mighty military power and it would have been folly to oppose them directly.  Still, resistance comes in many forms.  One such form was in the poetry of the Korean nationalist poet Sang-hwa Lee.  

Lee was a school teacher and studied French literature.  Ironically, he spent time in Japan studying his chosen profession.  He had plans to head to France.  Instead, he returned home.  He could not ignore the events unfolding in his homeland.  There, he chose to apply his talents to oppose the oppression of Japanese rule.  He did so with his words.

One of his famous early poems, written in 1926, is "Does Spring Come to a Deprived Land."  It is here that he takes the fight to his enemy.  Some of the more poignant lines are the following:

"Does spring come to this land no more our own, to these stripped fields?

Bathed in the sun I walk as if in a dream along a lane that cuts across paddy fields like parted hair to where the blue sky and the green field meet.

Mute heaven and silent fields, I do not feel I have come here alone; tell me if I am driven by you or by some hidden force… '' 

Japan took notice of him and not in a good way.  He was jailed.  Almost certainly more painful for a writer was the confiscation of his manuscripts.  He died in 1943, not living to see his home free.  Still, through his poems he did not lose his resolve to fight back.  From his words, others took strength.  

The man could write, without question.  I suspect he likely could have escaped his country's suffering, his talent his passport to a more comfortable and possibly celebratory existence.  He might have even lived past his 43 years.  But he chose a different path.  He went home and fought back in the only way he could.  

So here's to the memory of Sang-hwa Lee and his poems.  He was the pen against the sword.

Be well my friends,

Sources:  (site is in Korean, several references for this post from a brochure obtained at Mr. Lee's home/historic site in Daegu.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Too Cool to be Real

James Bond, likely from Dr. No, public domain, full cite below
Greetings All:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of the British spy novelist Ian Fleming.  I read the story in The New York Times  and (you guessed it) this blog post was born.

Fleming was a former British naval intelligence officer who created James Bond.  Fleming only wrote a few stories but through some forward thinking of his estate, 007 lived on through other writings.

Ian Fleming, photo from Wikipedia, fair use claimed, full cite below.

Then came the movies.  Although I have not seen a Bond movie in a theater since I was in college, I will stop channel surfing if just about any Bond movie is being shown.  

As an aside, I came of age in the Roger Moore era.  Now Moore is a find Bond.  However, with those accolades paid to him (and the other Bonds out there) the king of Bonds is Sean Connery.  

Well, just watch for yourself at the 1:08 mark, courtesy of YouTube and the copyright holder who allows sharing of this clip:

Yup, "Bond, James Bond," are probably the most famous three words in movie history.  We know it's coming, but it never gets old.

The same goes for the movie formula.  Take an opening scene with great effects and Bond barely escaping with his life, add a villain or two, the obligatory "Bond girl," Q's gadgets, Bond saving the world, getting the girl and of course, a martini...shaken, not stirred.  There you go, the James Bond formula.  Since the 60s, the franchise is going strong.  It is the Rolling Stones of spy movies.

Yet here's the thing about Bond.  He's cool, no doubt, but he's not real.  He is a creation of fiction.  He's so cool that he cannot be real.

When I was looking for a public domain photo of Bond in Dr. No I came up with the photo that opens up this post.  At first, I was disappointed with it.  Yet the more I think about it, I think it is exactly the photo that should depict Bond.  Oh sure, he looks great in his tux.  Yet the photo is not terribly clear, a bit grainy even.    

It's as if the glitz of Hollywood and the magnificent story-telling of Fleming is held up for what it is, a work of fiction.

And as the NYT pointed out, Bond would be 93 now, if (as they correctly surmise) "...he had managed to survive the cigarettes, alcohol and evildoers of Spectre."  Would we really want an old James Bond?  Of course not.

We can't be James Bond and that's fine.  After all, saying, "Bond" twice doesn't make him real.  But we are and we can write our own adventures.  You do not have to be a secret agent to have a fantastic life.  As Tony Robbins said years ago, "You can find adventure in a smile."  That adventure is yours.  Now that is cool...and the photo of it in your mind and memory is a whole lot clearer than the photo of James Bond.

Be well my friends,

Sources:${CAMPAIGN_ID}&_r=0&abt=0002&abg=1,_headshot.jpg (Fair use explanation explained at this site. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sew Much More Than A Dress

Ms. Weber hard at work, photo credit WQAD, full cite below, fair use/public domain claimed

Greetings All:

There is a LOT of negative news out there.  In fact, it's more than negative, it's b-a-d news.  From the savagery of ISIS to the Ukraine, to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri to Ebola, there is plenty of things to get us down.  Although I try to keep my Facebook feed non-political and upbeat, I just posted something about an American Marine being shoved in front of the White House during a protest.  Needless to say, that angered me.

Anger.  It's an emotion that is powerful and negative.  Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich listed anger as one of the seven emotions to be avoided, and with good reason.  However, avoiding anger is easier said than done, especially when it comes to the news.  

So what's the solution?  Are we doomed to be confronted by bad news and be angry?  Mark Twain famously quipped that, "Everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it."  So taking some inspiration from Mr. Twain, I will offer this modest proposal to address the issue of bad news and its accompanying anger:  Replace bad news with good news.

I think I've found some.

Ms. Lillian Weber of none other than Bettendorf, Iowa is 99 years old.  Ms. Weber is also a seamstress.  She makes dresses for girls in Africa.  She's made 840 to date and is on track to hit 1000 by the time she turns 100.  As for retirement, forget about it, she told WQAD-TV that if she's able, "...I’ll go at it again.”

Ms. Weber's dresses are distributed by Little Dresses for Africa.  According to the organization it has passed out 2.5 such dresses since 2008.

How wonderful.  This truly is a good news story.  

If you would like to learn more about Ms. Weber, please check out the link below to the story at  While you're there, you might want to check out some of the other stories.  I bet you'll feel better after reading them.

I know we need to be aware of our world and its events.  I also believe than anger is unavoidable and certain situations warrant a strong response.  I've got a blog post in the works about someone who did respond in his own way to oppression.  Yet it is a fool's errand to think that there is not a cost to our well being in dealing with anger.  It depletes us, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.  Conversely, good news stories like this can replenish our well being.  Simply put, it helps us feel better.  In that context, this story is about "sew" much more than a dress.

Be well my friends,


The photo of Ms. Weber is from the website above, again, fair use/public domain claimed.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back to School, public domain

Greetings All:

It's that time of year, back to school.  It seems, at least to me, that it is starting earlier and earlier.  I suppose that is not such a bad thing.  If you're house is anything like mine, summer was starting to wane and the kids had made peace with the fact that summer had to end.

I'd be remiss not to mention the famous Staples commercial with its version of the "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."  In fact, thanks to YouTube, here's the link (sharing authorized):

New school years are an opportunity to start anew.  The locker is clean, the notebooks blank, the pens and pencils still in the packages and new shoes still gleaming.  There are old friends to see, new friends to make, and a whole new world of classes to explore.  Then, there are the extra-curricular events.  From sports to musicals, to band to everything in between, there's plenty to do.

Many parents who silently (or not so silently) grumble about hauling kids around do it because they know it's a part of their kids' education and development.  We value learning and that is not limited to the classroom.

So what about the rest of us?  We all can and should take advantage of the opportunities around us to learn.  I did a Google search on the best free online college courses and I got this link:

There are a ton of courses out there!  Being a history guy, I have been listening to Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" podcasts.  It is free through iTunes and is interesting stuff.  I never knew the history of the Germanic tribes that drove the Roman Empire to its knees.  There is a lot to learn.

Charlie "Tremendous" Jones line, "You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  I think Charlie would be OK with listening to books, or podcasts.  The point is, don't stop learning.

Then again, you can become so engrossed in learning, in growing, that you stop taking time to appreciate life in the moment.  It's great to study the classics but it's also OK (and healthy) to take a moment and just relax.  Life's too short not to do so. 

The key, at least for me, is to balance out a quest for knowledge and the ability to not know everything.  In our search engine driven world, you can go nuts trying to keep up with everything.

Paul Westerberg of The Replacements fame put out a solo album about twenty years ago.  The lead off song, "Knockin' on Mine," has some lyrics that tie in nicely with this post.  Here's one:

"Knowledge is power, got your books go read 'em"

Then he offers this one:

 "Wisdom is ignorance, stupidity, I call freedom"

I suppose the idea is to figure out what knowledge you want, what wisdom you need and what ignorance is not only OK, but in your best interests.  That is a tall order.  I'll try to figure it out this semester.  I just hope the test is essay and not multiple choice.

Be well my friends,

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tears of a Clown

Robin Williams performing for the crew of USS Enterprise (CVN 65)December 19, 2003.  Photo credit to Photographer's Mate Airman Milosz Reterski, Public Domain, full link below

Greetings All:

Sad news befell us this week with the passing of the comic icon Robin Williams.  I will not focus this post in great detail on the circumstances of his passing or the various health challenges he had.  I do have a link the The New York Times below and you can read it if you like.  I will share this quote from his wife, Susan Schneider:

“This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings.” She added: “As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

There have been numerous tributes to him and deservedly so.  I have no doubt he will be eulogized by a list of Hollywood's finest.  The President has already weighed in, offering his condolences and echoing Ms. Schneider's comments about how he entertained those who were so appreciative of his comic genius.

The best tribute I read was from a friend of mine who met him in Afghanistan and said how Mr. Williams spent the time to meet every Soldier, even the lawyers.  A selfless gesture by a man who by all accounts was genuinely connected to his fans.

I also placed a link to a story about how Mr. Williams flew (in secret) to meet with a dying girl as part of the "Make A Wish" Foundation.  It's a touching and not isolated story about what a caring, loving, decent human that was Robin Williams.

As I have been thinking about this so sad news, the song, "Tears of a Clown," has been running through my head.  Here are the lyrics in their entirety:

"Now if there's a smile on my face
It's only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that's quite a different subject
But don't let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I'm sad, oh sadder than sad
You're gone and I'm hurting so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad
Now there's some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
the tears of a clown
When there's no one around
Oh yeah baby, now if I appear to be carefree
It's only to camouflage my sadness
In order to shield my pride I try
To cover this hurt with a show of gladness
But don't let my show convince you
That I've been happy since you decided to go
Oh, I need you so, I'm hurt and I want you to know
But for others I put on a show
Now there's some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
the tears of a clown
When there's no one around, oh yeah
Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my sadness hid
Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room cry
the tears of a clown
When there's no one around
Oh, yeah baby
Now if there's a smile upon my face
Don't let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Don't let the smile I wear
Make you think that I don't care
Really I'm sad I'm hurting so bad"

The last three lines are so damn haunting, about a smile masking pain.  As I write this I think of watching this man perform, of laughing so hard that it hurt to breathe!  How could possibly someone so giving of his talent, so easily sharing of laughter and joy have such emptiness inside?  

The ugly truth is we will never know.

I do not know what issues Mr. Williams faced and I feel terrible for his family.  I wrote above that I did not want to focus a great deal on the circumstances of his death but as I thought about this post, I found that it was not possible to write this without at least acknowledging that he had something driving him to take this most drastic and tragic action.

Depression is something that is wickedly hard to understand.  We can understand how a heart attack or cancer can kill, but depression?  It causes us to shake our heads, to seek sense from the incomprehensible.  I think Scientific American provides some insights with this statement (link to story below):

"But the tragedy of Williams’s death should remind us that the most debilitating and life-threatening mood disorders can strike anyone, and once they do, it can be awfully hard to find release." 

Robin Williams was the crown prince of comedy for a generation.  And yet, there were the tears.  Tears camouflaged by the bright light of fame and the make-up of adoration.  Yet, there they were.

Many of us feel terrible about his passing yet it is a stretch to call it grief.  After all, grief is ultimately reserved for family and close friends.  So perhaps the most sincere tribute we can leave for Robin Williams is to reach out to those who are our family and friends.  To simply say, "I love you" or "I'm glad you're in my life."  If we think something is not quite right, then take the time to visit and truly listen.  By doing so we can honor the memory of someone we all enjoyed listening to, even if we could not see the tears in his eyes.

RIP Robin.   

Be well my friends,


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Welcome Back

The Palmer College of Chiropractic, from Wikipedia, fair use claimed, full cite below.

Greetings All:

Today is the Palmer College of Chiropractic homecoming.  Doctors of Chiropractic, or "DCs" will descend on the Davenport, Iowa location of school where chiropractic began in 1895.  As a local and the proud husband of a Palmer alum, Dr. Dawn Strauss-Berta, I say welcome back. 

Homecomings are ripe with nostalgia.  It is a time to see old friends and recall the ones who are not here.  One can wander the campus where a few (or maybe more than a few) years ago the center of one's universe consisted of a few square blocks of buildings.  I know I have quite precise feelings when I walk around the University of Iowa and I've not been a student there since Bush was President...the first one.

I'd be remiss not to give a nod to the Palmer school and family.  From the days of D.D. Palmer being a magnetic healer and restoring the hearing of a janitor, chiropractic has grown to have a global presence in the health care field.  Full disclosure- I am a big fan of chiropractic and have been even before I met my wife.  I think it is a great way to be healthy and without drugs or invasive procedures.  But this post is more about what this weekend means for Dawn, her friends and colleagues, and in a way, for all of us.

I think it is time well spent to connect with one's past, especially those formative events.  I also think in our text-centric/status-update world, personal contact is even more important than ever.  It is, in my opinion, invaluable to spend time in person with friends and colleagues.  Then there is the business side of such events.  Chiropractors, like attorneys, educators and other professionals, have to complete so many hours of continuing education.  This event offers the opportunity to do so in one setting.  Although I am not the one planted in a seat for hours on end at Palmer, I've done plenty of these classes in my day.  To quote William J, "I feel your pain."

Hopefully, the speakers will be at least somewhat engaging and something tells me, they will.  Palmer is known for putting on class act events and Homecoming is the biggest one of the year.  As Tony Robbins says (or words to this effect), "If you take away one good idea, then it's time well spent."  I trust that everyone attending will come away with information that they can apply in treating their patients.  After all, compared to "traditional" medicine, chiropractic is in its infancy and I suspect there is still much to discover about it.

It is this sharing of and passing of knowledge that makes this homecoming event unique.  Unlike going back to your college for a tailgate and football game, this gathering is more than social.  It's empowering both in knowledge and spirit.  Then there are the current students.  I've been to a number of the social events at Palmer and I always enjoy seeing the students who are full of enthusiasm for their chosen career.  That's good.  After all, let's recall the words of one R.W. Emerson, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."  I suspect and hope that there will be a re-charging of the "enthusiasm batteries" of the Doctors of Chiropractic attending this homecoming.  If so, then that is truly time well-spent.

For those of you old enough to remember the TV series, Welcome Back Kotter, you'll likely recall the catchy theme song by John Sebastian by the same name.  Here are the lyrics:

"Welcome back,
Your dreams were your ticket out.

Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about.

Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they're turned around.

Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya)
Back here where we need ya (Back here where we need ya)

Yeah we tease him a lot cause we've got him on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back."


I particularly like the line, "...back here where we need ya."  In the song, it signifies that the main character, Gabe Kotter, has returned to his old high school to teach.  For me, this line can apply to anyone who has a gift and/or a skill, simply drop the word "back" and it's applicable to wherever one is.  Of course, one can go home and take their knowledge and passion to to help their communities get better.  Then again, one can go to a new place and provide the same benefit.  I think people know where they're needed.
In the meantime, to Dawn, her friend Heather, and all the Palmer alums, enjoy your time back on campus.  Welcome back indeed.
Be well my friends,


Monday, August 4, 2014

Of Lawnmowers and Parachutes

My lawnmower, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

I heard about a tragic event that occurred last fall.  A decorated combat leader of our armed forces died during an airborne training mission at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  When I reference "airborne," I mean he and a number of Soldiers performed a parachute jump as part of a regular training exercise. 

The deceased, Colonel Darron Wright, was without question a warrior.  He had served three tours in Iraq and was on the verge of a tour in Afghanistan before his death.  The day after his untimely death, Colonel Wright's commanding officer, Lieutenant General Joe Anderson, offered these words:

"We are deeply saddened by yesterday's events and our thoughts and prayers are with his family...The XVIII Airborne Corps has sustained the loss of a superb paratrooper and a magnificent officer who served with marked distinction and honor throughout his career." (Cite to The Army Times, link to the article below in sources.)
 Yet he was also a thinker.  He penned a memoir, Iraq Full Circle, of how he saw it in Iraq and holds folks accountable and senior ones at that.  He also tells it like it is to be in combat.  I have a link to Amazon below that has comments about the book.  They are all laudatory (not surprising).  I find it more telling the comments about the author being a leader and a deeply respected one at that.

It is a damn shame this great American and leader died in what appears to have been a preventable accident.  I am not going to go into great detail about the report following this fatal accident.  I have the link below and I do invite you to read it.  I will say it is a cautionary tale about the importance of safety and following procedures.

Many of us will never jump out of a plane or experience anything close to what Colonel Wright and his troops did in combat.  It may be tempting (if not comforting) to say, "Well, that is a shame, but there's no real application to me."

I was thinking the same thing.  Then last night, as we were watching "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," I went out to the garage for a seltzer.  It was there I saw my lawnmower and this blog post was born.

We do not have a big lawn and I can cut it in about an hour.  It's not a self-propelled model and that is fine with me, as I get some (much-needed) additional exercise.  I try to remember to wear earplugs and safety glasses or at least sun glasses.  But not always.

But not always.

See, sometimes, I'm in rush.  I got distracted or delayed (maybe doing a blog post) and rain is threatening.  So I'll charge out into the yard.  And I'll forget either the earplugs or the glasses.

Oh sure, I know I should wear them.  But really, what's the chance anything's going to happen?  After all, I've cut my grass hundreds of times.  Only a few times have things flown up in my face.  And after growing up on a steady diet of Judas Priest and Van Halen, my hearing's already shot, so what real harm can one grass cutting do?

I think we all, at times, convince ourselves it is OK to cut corners.  Whether its not putting on our seat belt when we run to the store (just down the street, after all) to the dozens of daily tasks we do where we just "forget" not to adhere to some aspect of safety.  We certainly do not want to have an accident.  I certainly do not want to suffer an injury cutting my grass.

You might be thinking, "How can you compare cutting your grass to a parachute jump?!?"  I am not, at least in the sense of saying that the degree of danger is anywhere close.  What I am offering is a point of reference regarding safety.  From the report I read, it appears the Colonel Wright's death was due to a series of deviations from protocol.  These deviations had tragic results.

I would argue that if you play the averages, you likely will be just fine driving to the store without wearing your seat belt.  Yet it only takes one collision to ruin your whole day.  As for my lawnmower, one small rock, one bit of a broken branch to the face and I've got a permanent Halloween costume as a pirate, complete with the eye patch.  

And I would offer this connection between parachutes and lawnmowers.  I never met Colonel Wright.  I only know of what I have read of him.  It appears he was someone who stood ready to shoulder any burden for our nation.  I am certain he would not have gotten on that plane that fateful September morning if he did not think all was well.  Yet unexpected events occurred.  

It's the same thing with any of the dozens of things we do everyday that have a chance of causing us harm.  The chance is low but the consequences can be catastrophic.

I also have been attempting to take more responsibility for my actions, large and small.  To recognize that I have more control over my life than I might realize.  However, if I want to truly leverage this realization, I have to own my actions.  I expect to never jump out of a C-130 yet I will be cutting the grass again.  

And when I do, I better have on both my glasses and earplugs.

R.I.P. Colonel Wright, thank you for your service and God bless your family.

Be well my friends...and safe.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guiding One's Energy

Above image from, public domain
Greetings All:

I am a big Gary Vaynerchuk (pronounced Vay-ner-chuk) fan.  I've read his books, "The Thank You Economy," "Crush It!" and am working on "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook."  For those of you who are not familiar with him, he's a guy who took his family's liquor store and morphed it into "Wine Library."  Then, on 2006, when most of us were just mastering the Internet, he blazed a trail with the "Wine Library" video blog.  He's a one of a kind and with a nod to my Dad, an immigrant.

I admire his smarts (the guy is wicked smart on the whole social marketing thing, a Jedi Knight is more like it.)  But more than that, I respect his passion.  Here is a guy who had achieved the "American Dream" and decided, "I want my own American dream."  He's done it.  Gary cites as a future goal the purchase of the New York Jets.  I would not put it past him.  I've got a couple of links to him below and I invite you to check him out, if only for the value of seeing him talk.  I bet his energy will rub off.  I know it has on me.

This week, he put out a post about the value of the time he spent with his Dad on the ride between their liquor store and home everyday.  He speaks to many of the benefits he received from those trips.  However, there was one that caught my attention in particular.  He discusses how those rides and talks allowed his Dad to provide mentorship to him in a most fundamental way.  Gary writes about his Dad:

"...having someone to guide my energy during the early years of my entrepreneurship was very special to me."

This quote to me sums up to me perhaps the essence of coaching & mentoring, the directing of energy.

Earl Woods took his son's amazing golf talents and guided them to the pinnacle of golf. Yet Earl Woods didn't even carry Tiger's bag. It was Tiger's work.  Tiger hit the drive, made the putt, read the green, and mastered his emotions on the big stage of golf.  And yet, behind the scenes, who was directing his energy?  In the early days and well into his career, it was his Dad.

I think we all are mentors and protégées.  We can all direct the energy of people we love and care about.  My wife mused last night that some of the best bonding she has done with our kids is when she drove them around.  I see a lot of merit in that comment.

What I like about Gary's post and comment is that almost by accident, certainly not by design, his father's mentorship gave him that most critical yet oh-so-hard to define definition of mentoring, the guiding of energy.  We should all look for opportunities to guide others and be willing to receiving guidance from those mentors we are lucky to have in our lives.  The mentor is the compass, that shows us where we are on the map.  It's up to us to decide if we're off course or not.  We have to walk the path.  That takes energy.  Mentors can help us make the most of our energy, even if we do not realize it at the time.  Perhaps the true value in mentorship.  It's a compass that is unseen yet always points to "true north."

Be well my friends,