Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All of the Above

President Obama saluting the Marine honor guard with coffee cup in hand, September 23, 2014.  Photo from the White House's Instagram's account, public domain/fair use claimed.
Greetings All:

I'm doing something different with this post.  Usually, I write about the stuff going on in my life or historical references.  (I like to think of myself as a hobby historian.)  However, for this one (my 151st published post) I am going to wade into a current story that has gotten a fair amount of news coverage and a WHOLE lot of attention on social media.

I'm talking about the President's salute from Tuesday, September 23rd.  Long story short:  President Obama walked off the helicopter with a cup of tea (I presume as I understand he does not drink coffee) and instead of switching the drink to his left hand, performed the awkward and I'll add incorrect salute with the drink still in his hand.  

Full disclosure- I voted for the guy, twice.  I also have a military connection.  I mention this as it gives the background of my thoughts on this issue.

First off, the President's salute was wrong.  Even the newest recruit in basic training knows you do not salute with anything in your hand.  It looked amateur and gave the President's critics (I hear there are a few out there) yet another reason to criticize him.

For folks who have not been in the military, this may be no big deal.  For those who are, were, or had/have family members serving, this is a truly big deal.    As The New York Times aptly put today, "For veterans of a military that prides itself on discipline and strict adherence to protocol, it (the salute) was careless at best and disrespectful at worst."

When I first heard this story, I thought the press pool picked it up and ran with it.  Nope.  The White House inexplicably released the video on their Instagram page.  Wow.  

Here's how the President's spokesman, Josh Earnest, dealt with the story today: (quoting from the same The New York Times article) "'The president has the highest amount of respect for men and women in uniform, and he has the highest amount of respect for the men and women who are responsible for operating the presidential helicopter,' Mr. Earnest said, noting that there were 'countless' images of the president saluting service members."

I agree.  I have seen him salute properly plenty of times.  I also believe that President Obama meant no intentional disrespect.  Some of you reading may feel otherwise.

And President Obama is not the first President to find himself in a salute-compromised moment.  Please see below:

President Bush saluting with his dog, Barney.  Photo P Photo/Susan Walsh, file, fair use claimed

I'm guessing that President Bush probably wishes he would have handed Barney off before coming off the plane, Air Force One.  Yet as I think about it, maybe not.  From what I've read about President Bush, he took a great deal of comfort from his dog.  If anyone deserved that comfort, it's the President.

If anyone is thinking that I am comparing Bush's dog to Obama's cup, I'm not.  It's like comparing apples to Volkswagens.  But here is the comparison:  Both these gentlemen had/have incredible responsibilities to address every day.  It's ironic that the office of the presidency comes with awesome powers and yet are often powerless to effect countless events around the world or around the block.  Sure, there are staff and experts and high tech stuff all around them.  Yet at the end of the day the burden is the President's alone to carry.  So when our President does something awkward or dumb, let's cut him (and maybe someday her) some slack.  

I also think this story is an opportunity for us to take a moment and look at the situation from another point of view.  So here's what I would ask:

If you're a conservative and are furious at the President's poor salute, please give him the benefit of the doubt.  He's got a lot going on, even if you don't approve of how he's doing it.

Now for my liberal friends who think the salute is no big deal, please note that for many people a salute is a big deal, a HUGE deal.  It's a sign of respect and tradition.  It matters.  True, the junior salutes the senior.  Yet the senior is to return the salute.  It's a way that military people connect.  

I know this post is getting a bit long in the tooth, but I'm going to share a quick story about why a returned salute means so damn much.  

It's August in Arizona, Phoenix to be precise.  I am on my way to court and despite leaving in ample time, I am running late.  It seems as if some big wig is in town and the roads are blocked.  Damn it.

So I park several blocks away from the courthouse and I'm jogging in a suit and man is it hot.  I'm sweating like a lady of the evening in a house of worship and cursing whomever is the cause of my misfortune.

I am passing the civic center when I see an older, more like elderly, man walking towards me.  I see something glimmering around his neck.  At first I thought it was a piece of Native American jewelry or perhaps a big bolo tie.  Nope.  As I get closer, I see what it is the man's wearing.

It's the Congressional Medal of Honor.  I am in the presence of a living American hero.  Although I was not in uniform, I stopped and saluted him.  It is in the regulations that any CoM recipient is to be saluted, regardless of rank.  So I did.  

For a moment, he stared at me.  I wasn't sure if he was going to return it.  Then I saw his right arm slowly rise and he returned it.  It meant the world to me.

Here's the rest of that story.  The reason the roads were blocked off was due to Vice President Cheney's appearance at the national American Legion convention in Phoenix.  As I was walking by the Civic Center, this gentlemen was heading that way.

Here's a quiz to close out this blog post:

Barack H. Obama is:

A.  The President and Commander in Chief; 

B.  Someone who should conduct himself with proper protocol at all times;

C.  A fellow human being with the weight of the world on his shoulders; and

D.  All of the above.

I think you can guess my choice and my answer would be the same for President Bush when he was in office.  I hope this is your answer as well.

Be well my friends,


Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Magnanimity of Summer's End

The sunset on the last day of summer, 2014.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Summer has passed and now, it's fall.  For some, summer's end is a time to lightly grieve.  No more beach and much less sun.  For others, it is a time to celebrate.  Gone is the repressive heat and replaced with crisp mornings and shining days.  Unless you're living in Arizona.  If so, then you've got a few weeks left of summer.  (Enjoy!)

The photo I took is of one of the last of the summer sunsets.  I debated whether to post this photo as how more cliche could I get when discussing the end of summer than a photo of a sunset?  Then again, it is my photo.

Summer has to end, it is a fact of life.  At some point, the breeze will shift to a bitter wind.  But not yet.  That is days to come.  In the meantime, there is fall.

I view fall as a transition between summer and winter.  You have to run your car's heater in the morning and the A/C in the afternoon.  The sun rises later yet it still shines brightly.  I think that may be where the magnanimity of summer's end shines through.  Yes, it is  an end, but it's not a quick one.  The good times can linger.  True, the sun goes down sooner but it's still pretty to see.  Oh, and you do not need to be wearing gloves and a stocking hat to observe it.  Not a bad deal if you ask me.

Be well my friends,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Terrible Flights

Photo: AP Wide World Photos/William Kratzke, Sharing Authorized/Fair Use Claimed

Greetings All:

Thirteen years ago today was the last "normal" morning in America.  On a day that began sunny and bright and with a few folks tired (and likely hung over) from watching the Monday Night Football game soon switched to one of disbelief...then horror.

9/11 as this day is known is the day of the terrible flights.  Four jets were hijacked by a handful of miserable cowards who murdered thousands of innocent people.  The day became our generation's JFK assassination and Pearl Harbor.  

The following is a poem I put together that are my thoughts on today's anniversary.  It's my way of remembering the events and legacy of the day of the terrible flights.

The Terrible Flights

It was a Tuesday morning, sunny and bright,

The day of those terrible flights.

Two in New York, one in DC,

And for a moment it knocked us to our knees.

Yet from a fourth flight passengers fought back,

Victims no more, they began a counter-attack.

Storming the cockpit, fighting for control,

Their call of action, “Let’s roll!”

From ruined buildings smoke did rise,

A burning cloud choked the skies.

Stunned and speechless we watched TV,

Struggling to understand how this could be?

Now thirteen years later we ponder this day,

Of souls perished, and “normal” stripped away.

Far from home our troops were sent,

Where talent, blood and treasure was spent.

Thirteen years later, children have grown,

With parental memories distant or unknown.

Never again will they see that smile.

And there will be no walk down the aisle.

Soul mates perished on this day,

The surviving spouse nobly keeping grief at bay.

Some found happiness again,

For others, from love they shall always abstain.

As we honor those who fell,

We ask ourselves, of this day, what should we tell.

Tell our children, tell ourselves,

Do we go to the history books on the shelves?

Or is today best observed,

By recalling how we have preserved,

Preserved the memory of those lost,

Preserved the true accounting of this cost.

If so, then we’ve met our task,

No more of us should history ask.

We’ve paid honor, we’ve done right,

To those lost the day of those terrible flights.

Be well my friends,

Full photo source: 
(This website offered the option to share this story and the accompanying for sharing.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Joanna of Arc

The Mac that started the revolution.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

I just read this story about Joanna Hoffman.  I had never heard of her.  She was the fifth person hired at Apple and earned the rare reputation of being someone who could (and did) stand up to Steve Jobs.  She even won an award by her peers for two years running for doing so.  In the sources below, I have a link to her story.  It's a good read.

There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was a visionary.  Some call him a genius and...yeah, I'll concur.  Thanks to him, I have the MacBook Air to type this blog post on and an iPhone to do dozens of things that were impossible on a phone five years ago.  However, Steve Jobs was also known for reprehensible social behavior.  Business Insider documented 16 examples of Steve Jobs being "a jerk."  The link is below if you'd like to read them.  I'm not going to repeat them here because this post is about Joanna, not Steve.

I like hearing about people who stand up to people who think they are entitled to be jerks.  If you're a hobby historian like me, you read about how kings and despots used fear to keep others in line, others weaker than themselves.  There are those rare individuals who come along and stand up to the oppressors, the bullies.  Sometimes, they live happily ever after.  Other times, not so much.

One such case was Joan of Arc.  For her troubles she was burned at the stake.  Not exactly material for Disney's next animated film.  Still, we remember her and admire her for what she did...and the price she paid.

Rosseti's painting of Joan of Arc, public domain, full link below

Now from the title of this blog, you might be thinking that it's a stretch to compare Joanna Hoffman to Joan of Arc and you'd be right.  Joan of Arc took up the sword (an amazing feat in and of itself for a teen-age girl in the Fifteenth century) and died for her cause.  Joanna simply told Steve Jobs when he was wrong. 

By point is in today's world we should admire those who stand up and talk truth to power.  Although it is sad that Steve Jobs died it doesn't change the fact he had profound character flaws.  And if you worked for Jobs, you saw those on display a bunch of times.
As for the rest of us, we wait for the new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch.

Speaking of the iPhone, one could argue that technology has become the new sword.  That men like Steve Jobs was a king, ruling over a kingdom not a nation, yet quite real.  

When looking at it from this standpoint, then perhaps Joanna Hoffman has more in common with Joan of Arc than first believed.   
Be well my friends,


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Banned From The League

Vince Lombardi's office at Lambeau Stadium, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

As I mentioned in a previous post, it is football season.  College football is in its second week and pro football began Thursday night.  The pro season will begin in earnest today.

Along with pro football comes fantasy football.  For those of you who are not familiar with this concept, here's a definition:

fan·ta·sy foot·ball
  1. a competition in which participants select imaginary teams from among the players in a league and score points according to the actual performance of their players.
Here's a bit more about fantasy football from the NFL:

"Do you have what it takes to put together a winning football franchise? Fantasy Football gives you the perfect chance to find out. Fantasy football, like other fantasy games, puts you in the front office and on the sidelines as General Manager and Coach of your team. You select from a list of the best players in the NFL and they compete on a weekly basis for your team. Their on-field performance drives your fantasy point total and overall success.

Specifically, fantasy football works like this: You decide what type of league you want to participate in, acquire a roster of players (either through a draft or through autopick assignment), then set your lineup each week during the season and watch as touchdowns, field goals, yards gained, sacks, interceptions and much, much more generate fantasy points for or against your team. Whether you win or lose and climb or fall on the leaderboard all depends on how well you maximize the talent on your roster each week. Will you make a risky move to start that backup running back or will you play it safe and keep your starting lineup consistent?"

Fantasy football gives average fans the chance to engage in competition with others.  There is also the ego rub of envisioning yourself as an owner and coach of a team.  I do not know of any football fan who hasn't had the passing thought of sitting in the chair like the one pictured in the above photo.

I played fantasy football for the first time in (I think) 1991.  Back in the "Dark Ages" before the internet, it was all magazines and clipboards.  I came up with the name, "The Hail Mary Heros" for my team and yes, that was a misspelling.  (Spelling, as well as grammar has never been a strong suit of mine and if you're a regular reader of this blog, you know the tradition continues.)  Back then, it was a hobby of a few football fans.  That is no longer the case today.

Fantasy football is, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (as reported by the Huffington Post) a billion dollar business with approximately 24.3 million players.  The days of having to run leagues by paper are as passe as Betamax.  It's now all online and to paraphrase the legendary Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, "Just login baby."  

Although there are A LOT of folks playing fantasy football this year, I am not one of them.  You see, I was banned from my league.  Well, to be precise, I was not invited back to play with my league.

It seems that when I played last year, I was not great at keeping my team's roster updated.  I did try to use the mobile app on my iPhone and for whatever reason, it did not always work.  As a result, I did not field a complete roster.  The net result was that I left points on the board and lost contests with opposing players I might have otherwise won.

That's what got me booted.  It seems as if some of the members of my league were frustrated at my lack of fidelity in maintaining a a full roster regularly.  When I first heard about this, I was both amused, and yes, I bit annoyed.  I mean come on guys, this is a game, a diversion.   I get it, some of you take this stuff seriously.  Here's a quote from the Huffington Post about fantasy football, "Sort of a Dungeons & Dragons for jocks,..."  I think there's some truth to that.  And to be fair, I played a bunch of  "D & D" back in the day.

But were my fellow league owners out of line to kick me out?  Upon reflection, not at all.  I blew it off and why have me around if I'm not even going to do the base level of participation?  Dr. Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," (Habit 5) comes to mind, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  If I look at this situation from the guys who banned me point of view, they had every right to do so.  Just because fantasy football is not a big deal to me doesn't mean it's not to others.  

Maybe some day I'll give fantasy football another try.  In the meantime, I'm happy just being a fan.  Good luck to everyone playing fantasy football this year and remember, update your rosters to avoid my fate with your league. 

Be well my friends,



Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Simple Task, public domain

Greetings All:

You might have heard about the simple task that was recently proposed in a commencement speech a few months back.  It is so simple that it could border on being ridiculous.  It's this:  Make your bed.

Yup, that's it, make your bed.  Not very "Carpe diem" is it?  You might be inclined to dismiss this advice as being nothing more than a vengeful nagging from our moms back in our teenage days.  I had the similar inclination when I first heard about this "advice."

Then I learned of the source, United States Navy Admiral William H. McRaven.  Now being an Admiral is a huge deal.  However, there is something even more unique about this man.  He's a Navy Seal.  So when someone of his accomplishments gives advice (absent on a penny stock to buy), I am going to listen.  Here's what Admiral McRaven had to say:

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another,..."

The Admiral does not praise the glory of making one's bed.  In fact he calls it, "...a simple task, mundane at best..."  Yet it is the simple tasks that matter.  In a vacuum?  Well, true, in a vacuum little things do not matter.  But here's the deal:  We do not live our lives in a vacuum, we live it in context to and with everything else.  In that light, everything does matter and it adds up.

Admiral McRaven goes on to offer some great (and brutally harsh) advice:  "If you can't do the little things right, you'll never be able to do the big things right."

After having hung out on this planet for more than a couple of years, I think the man's onto something.  Little things do matter.  One of Colin Powell's 13 Rules for Leaders is (8) "Check small things."  By the way, he's got the same number of stars as the Admiral (and is a former Secretary of State).  Coincidence he thinks the same way?  Nah.

In the news link below is Admiral McRaven's speech in its entirety.  It's worth checking out and I promise, it is not that long.  Watch it while your coffee is brewing or whatever you're doing, it's worth it.   

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

I did a bit of digging to see if anyone else had the same opinion about the virtues of making one's bed.  Dr. Christine Carter offers these thoughts:

Read more here: 

Dr. Christine Carter offers these thoughts
"Making the bed contributes to happiness because it is a “small win” in the willpower department. Loads of research shows that when we focus on one small area of improvement–standing up straighter, or watching a bit less TV, or meditating a few minutes a day–the improvement spills over. We then find ourselves exercising a bit more, too, or procrastinating a bit less.  Our good habits, large and small, can make life easier, happier, and more meaningful."

I have no idea what percentage of you reading this blog already make your bed.  It may be all of you.  If so, then congratulations, you're in great company.  If not, then perhaps it is worth giving it a shot.  I've read that it takes about 21 days to form a new habit so if you start today, then sometime next month you'll see if this is a habit or not.  And by the way, "yours truly" is someone who is (ahem) in need of making this a regular habit.
And that leads me into a final thought about parenting.  It is one thing to tell your kids to do something.  It is another thing entirely to both tell them to do something and also practice what you preach.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., famously said, "The best sermon is a good example."  If we want to teach this habit to our kids, we should do it ourselves.   That advice transpires beyond making our beds of course.  However, it's a good place to start, especially first thing in the morning.

Be well my friends,


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

And it Begins

Kinnick Stadium, home of my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

It is that time of year, college football is back.  For some, college football is simply a way to pass the time until Sundays when there is pro football.  For others, college football is unknown or ignored.  

Then there are the rest of us.  For those of us, this is a special time of year.  After either celebrating or lamenting the last game of the season, of being teased with the "Spring Game," reading and watching all the gridiron sages procrastinate on the fates of the teams, finally the wait is over.  The season is here.  And it begins.

Saturday kicked off (pun intended) the 2014 college football season for most of the nation, included my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes.  Despite a spirited effort by a solid University of Northern Iowa Panthers 31-23.  I missed the game due to travel but have caught up on it thanks to our friends at ESPN and the local press.

There is much optimism amongst the Hawkeye faithful that this will be a good year, a very good year, for the team.  Comments like that always give me pause.  Call me less than an unbridled optimist, but things never work out the way we usually want.  Even though we do not play some of the traditional powerhouses in the conference, everyone can be beaten and I am sure we will have our hands full more often that we'd like to admit.  Win or lose, I'll be cheering for my team.  For those of you who are fans of other teams, I'd expect nothing less on your end.  

I've been known to get a bit "passionate" about college football.  As I've aged, I realize that it is a game.  It's not the crisis in Syria.  Call it maturity, but I've been able to put it into (I hope) proper perspective.  It's a game and it's entertainment.  I don't pay my mortgage by cheering on my team.  Still, it also provides an opportunity to do something I enjoy and spend time with people I went to college with.  I get a kick out of the fact that damn near thirty years ago I was the college kid.  Now, it's my friends who have kids going to Iowa.  

Sure, it's fun to play bags, have the beverage of your choice and eat a brat.  Yet it's the personal connection that matters.  The friends I see at an Iowa game are the people I used to see everyday back when Bush 41 was President.  Now, I see them a few times a year.  This is not something to lament.  It's called life.  We grow up (or at least older, with a nod to Jimmy Buffett's aptly written song), have families of our own, move away on on with our lives.  Your family is your ultimate priority.  Yet it's wonderful to see friends again, albeit for a few days out of the year as we experience, and yes, celebrate Iowa football.  I am certain millions of people have the same experiences across our nation.  I think that's cool.

College football is a game and I'll renew my call to keep it in perspective.  However, there are aspects of it that transcend the hash marks on the field.  There are virtues about it that endure after the clock has run out, the national champion crowned.  It is the players.  Please let me share the story of one.

The photo that opens this blog is of Kinnick Stadium, where Iowa plays its home games.  Nile Kinnick won the Heisman Trophy for Iowa in 1939 and is its most famous player.  He also was killed in action during World War II.  Kinnick had turned down pro football to go to law school.  He then, in turn, bailed on law school to join the Navy.  He was not just an athlete, he was a scholar, Phi Beta Kappa to be precise.  In an era when there is a healthy amount of "eye-rolling" at the phrase, "student-athlete," Kinnick was the real deal.

Nile Kinnick, public domain, full cite below

He also was an example of what we all can aspire to both on and off the field.  Here is an excerpt of a letter Kinnick wrote his father shortly after reporting for naval flight training:

"There is no reason in the world why we shouldn't fight for the preservation of a chance to live freely, no reason why we shouldn't suffer to uphold that which we want to endure. May God give me the courage to do my duty and not falter."

What a great letter.  Here's someone who personified success yet confessed that most human of emotions, fear.  We all cannot win the Heisman or even make the team.  Yet we all can confront our fears.  Kinnick did, and so can we.

And it begins, the 2014 college football season.  I hope Iowa has a stellar year and I am looking forward to seeing good friends at a few games.  Yet even if Iowa comes up a bit short on the field, we can all celebrate all the good things that are college football...and those that continue on long after the season ends.

Be well my friends (& Go Hawks!)


Monday, September 1, 2014

The Comforts of Home

U.S. Soldiers on a transit ship during World War II, full citation below.

Greetings All:

I spent three weeks away from home in August.  It was an interesting training exercise and I learned a great deal from it.  I also made some new friends.  All in all, it was time well spent.  However, I'd be a liar to say I enjoyed either the accommodations or the travel.  This was simply how things were and I knew the score going into the endeavor.  

Still, I was surprised at how long it took me to bounce back and return to a normal sleep schedule.  There was a 14 hour difference and I knew there would be some jet lag but I did not think it would be a week and change of it.  I found myself sleeping on the couch in the early evening only to be up at 3:00 a.m. for the rest of the morning.  Now I understand why some people take Ambiem and I have a new-found sympathy for people who suffer from insomnia.  

As I mentioned, this was not a pleasure trip and certainly not a vacation.  I won't bore you with the details of my living accommodations in great detail except to say I certainly did not have my own suite.  This trip also reminded me why I no longer camp.

In the time I've been home, I've been reflecting on the comforts of home.  As the photo posted above shows, there are those who have endured profoundly more discomfort than I ever have.  I'm guessing most of you would agree.  We have it pretty good, very good actually.

I live in the Midwest, Iowa to be precise.  When I worked in New York City, my colleagues would reference this area as "flyover country."  It used to bother me.  Now, not so much.  If anything, I'm fine with it.  I like where I live.  I like the life I have and the comforts that go with it.  

The greatest comfort is being back with my family and friends.  When you are away from home it gives you the chance to appreciate what you missed.

I wonder how many of the guys in the photo had that opportunity.  

Be well my friends,


File:Soldiers in bunks on Army transport, S.S. Pennant, Port of Embarkation, San Francisco, California, November 1, 1942. - NARA - 531157.tif, public domain,,_S.S._Pennant,_Port_of_Embarkation,_San_Francisco,_California,_November_1,_1942._-_NARA_-_531157.tif