Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks Abounds

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, Art credit- Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899, Public Domain, internet site below

Greetings All:

Here's a poem for T-day.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  

"Thanks Abounds" by Jeno Berta

The trees are bare, yet our stomachs are full,
We keep the bitter cold at bay with fleece and wool.
The corn and soybeans are out of the fields,
Overall, pretty good yields.

High school football’s done for the year,
For our teams, we’ll always cheer.
The campaign commercials are no more,
Now that’s something to be thankful for!

This special day is side aside,
To gather with families after long car rides.
To share a meal served on special plates,
Don’t say, “I’m full,” for dessert awaits!

So bring forth the cookies and pumpkin pie!
I’ll have a second piece, I cannot lie.
In our house, “home made” pie means Hy-Vee,
And that’s just fine by me.

In the background, football is on,
A gridiron contest of speed, talent and brawn.
Turned up too loud, the TV blares,
Today even Packer fans cheer for the Bears.

Conversations will touch on the old and the new,
Relatives will marvel at how the kids have grew.
Someone will let slip what this Christmas will bring,
That (long-awaited) engagement ring.

Yes, my friends, today thanks abounds.
For many of us, love and friendship surrounds.
Could things be better?  Why yes, of course.
Yet on this day let it be gratitude we endorse.

And let us take a moment to give special thanks,
To our military on duty of all ranks.
They will eat their meals far away,
Turkey and stuffing on a cardboard tray.

Next year, may you be home.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Photo Source

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Septième étage, se il vous plaît, la première partie

2LT Eugene J. Bullard, as a Corporal in the French Army, WWI, photo credit Wikipedia, full source below, fair use claimed

Greetings All:

First off, an admission:  I'm a big fan of Facebook.  I enjoy reading what is going on with my friends, taking those gimmicky quizzes and adding my two-cents (more like a fistful of change) on various topics.  It was while I was engaged in this pursuit that I learned about Eugene Bullard from a friend of mine.

For someone who considers myself a "hobby historian" I am disappointed in myself that I did not know about this man.  He is a true hero.  He also sounds like the kind of guy I'd want to show me around Paris.  

I mention Paris because Monsieur Bullard is a national hero of France.  Born in America in the late 19th Century, guilty of no crime, save being African-American.  And in the deep south, well, depending on who was in charge, was a felony.  His Dad almost was lynched and after witnessing this crime, he'd had enough.  So he stowed away on a ship to Scotland and a few years later he was in Paris.  

Ah Paris, le ville des lumières,  Or those of you (like me) who have to look up French, the city of lights.  It must have been a glorious time to be in Paris, or France for that matter.  

Right up until the time the Arch Duke's shirt got his own blood...arranged by Princip's controlled trigger squeeze.

Then everything went to hell as the world plunged into war.  

Bullard joined up with the French forces, was severely wounded and eventually became a pilot a damn good one at that.  When America got into the war, all the American pilots were invited to join the newly-formed American Army Air Force.  All except one.  Any guesses who wasn't invited?

Yup, Bullard.  Now, the bonus question:  Why?

If you guessed because he was African-America, you'd be correct.  What a farce.  

After the war, he stuck around in Paris.  Who could blame him?  Go back to Jim Crow?  He ended up running a jazz bar.  While his marriage did not work out, he had two daughters.  He life was in many ways mirroring the Jimmy Buffett lyrics, "He Went To Paris."

Then that untalented artist and Austrian Corporal took over in Germany.  Again, France was at war.  Except this time, Paris fell.  Bullard, who spoke German, found his jazz club a popular place with the Nazis.  He used these facts to spy on behalf of the Free French.  However, he realized that for the sake of his kids, he should get out if he could.  

That opportunity came and he did, making his way to New York.

This man's story is amazing and I could write about it at length.  If your curious about him, I've got some links to his story in the sources.

Let me fast-forward to his life in America.  Here was this brave man, a hero.  You would think someone like him would be treated as such.  Nope. 

What was his fate?  His reward?

He became an elevator operator.  Instead of being escorted to the top floor, he was subjected to the menial task of running others there.  Others whose accomplishments pale to his likely sneered at him.  

Ignorance's limits are only exceeded by arrogance.

There is more, much more I want to see about this man.  However, due to other obligations, I need to stop here.  A second part to this story will follow soon.  Please stand by, thanks.

Be well my friends,


Friday, November 21, 2014

Day is Done

The music to "Taps," from Wikipedia, fair use claimed, full cite below

Greetings All:

I'm aware that I owe you a post on the home improvement project (full of self-deprecating humor) and it's coming.  However, a couple of recent current events compel me to offer this post.

The first is the incredibly tragic tale of the murder of Peter Kassig.  Kassig, an American combat veteran was beheaded at the hands of the cowards that are ISIS.  Kassig, an Army Veteran and Ranger, was delivering medical supplies when he was kidnapped.  His murder was reported by ISIS.  Unlike other videos, Kassig is not shown prior to his death.  My guess is he fought back, and hard.  It was a final act of defiance.  If any soul suffered a more undeserving death, it was Peter Kassig.  As for those responsible, well, I firmly believe justice is this world or the next. 

Photo of Peter Kassig, in front of a vehicle loaded with medical supplies, photo credit to the Kassig family and AP, public domain/fair use claimed, full cite listed below.

How we honor those we've lost is something that matters to us.  One of the reasons I thought the Supreme Court decision in the Westboro Baptist Church (Synder v. Phelps) case was flat-out terrible wrong is that funerals should be a special place where the rights of the dead's family trump others. I have the link to the decision below and encourage you to read it.  Feel free to start with Justice Alito's dissent.  I did.

But enough about this, I do not want to tarnish the memory of such a fine man as Peter Kassig with my rants.  So let's move on.

Earlier this week,  I was driving  to meet a friend for coffee.  It was about 6:15 and the sun was flirting with rising.  It was the time of early day I'll call, "clouded light."  As I was heading up a side road, a deer darted across my car, like right in front of it.  It was a young buck, with horns not yet fully grown.  It scampered away and I counted my good fortune that I was not eating an air bag for breakfast.

This was the second time I've had a surprise encounter with a deer.  More on that in a moment. 

But first- I began this post with the sheet music to "Taps."  There is something wonderfully, uniquely and yes, hauntingly American about this song.  It is played by a solitary bugle.  I was surprised to learn a few years back that there even were lyrics to it.  Here they are:

"Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky All is well, safely rest God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright From afar, drawing near Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky As we go, this we know
God is nigh."

Taps is played at funerals and remembrance ceremonies.  I was at a Dining In (military dinner) a few years back and when "Taps" was played, a chill ran up my spine.  Taps also makes a daily appearance.  If you're ever been near a military base at 10:00 p.m. (or 2200 in military time) you've heard it.  Where I live there are times I can catch the faint sounds of the notes being played from across the way at the Rock Island Arsenal.  The fact you have to focus on the sound makes it that more meaningful, at least to me.

"Taps" acknowledges an ending.  It could be for a life lived or a day over.  It is up to us to do with what remains.  In the case of Peter Kassig, let us all endeavor to continue his work in our own way on our own terms.  By doing so, we not only honor the life of a courageous, gentle man but defy those who wronged him.  Peter's days are done but not ours.

As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I am a fan of Tim Ferriss.  He, in turn, is a fan of Lucius Annaeus Seneca.  Seneca, arguably the world's most famous stoic, lived thousands of years ago.  

"On The Shortness of Life,”  (or for you Latin purists out there, "De Brevitate Vitae." is one of Seneca's better known works.  Ferriss recently profiled it on his blog (the link is below) and here's one passage that stuck with me:

"They lose the day in expectation of the night and the night in the fear of the dawn." 

I'm no philosophy major, but I take from that the importance of neither squandering nor fearing the opportunities of the day.  After all, we've only got so many left.

So back to the deer.  (I almost forgot :))  When it ran in front of my car (and after uttering a few choice words) I recalled another encounter with a deer.  It was about a decade ago.

I spent some time at Ft. Dix and during the week, lived on post.  One evening, I had some work to do back at the office and for some inexplicable reason, I thought it would be a good idea to walk to the office.  It was winter and it was cold.  Dumb, dumb move, or so I thought at the time on the way back.

So I'm walking back, tromping through the snow, cursing the pathetically bad decision to "enjoy" a solitary walk in the cold and really, really wanting to get back inside.  Still, there was a unique beauty to the night.  Because I had putzed around at the office on other stuff, I left later than planned.  So I was surprised when I heard "Taps" played.  Keep in mind, I was cold and I don't like cold (or most discomforts, for that matter.)  Yet, I stopped.  I stopped and stood there, listening to it.  It was played over the PA system and it was clear, yet not overly loud.  The notes hung in the air, like my breath.  I didn't remember being cold anymore.

Then I looked up.

Not more than fifteen feet from me was a deer.  She must have wandered out from the nearby woods.  We looked at each other, equally surprised at what we saw.  Under other circumstances, the deer might have shortly been dead and dinner.  But not this night.  We were simply two creatures contemplating seeing each other on that cold winter night.  

And yes, the contemplation of yet another day being done.

R.I.P. Peter, thanks for your service.  All of it.
Be well my friends,


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Welcome Home"

Our flag in front of our house on Veterans' Day, 2014.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Today is Veterans' Day.  Here's a poem I put together.  I'd like to dedicate this to all the Veterans out there who came home and still coming to grips with their service and especially our Veterans of the Vietnam War.  You did what was asked of you and a whole lot more.  The poor treatment you received was wrong, plain and simple.  If your one of these Veterans, please accept this small, yet sincere gesture of gratitude for your service.   

Very respectfully,
Jeno Berta

Welcome Home

It might have been a few years back,
Or perhaps a lifetime ago.
You found yourself under attack,
From bullets above or IED blasts below.

You made a pledge, raised your hand,
To selflessly serve the homeland. 
You kept word, did your part.
Returning home for a new start.

But for some there was no joyful return.
The flag you wore, others did burn.
Screams from those of your own age,
Were in your face, this misplaced rage.

You took no vote in a great hall,
To start a war (and they are never small).
You did not profit or achieve fame,
From serving in places few can name.

For others you fired no rounds,
Yet you were on duty, securing the grounds.
You did your duty all that was asked and more,
Maintaining the oath to defend you freely swore.

Today is called Veterans’ Day.
A time to honor those who kept tyranny at bay.
If we seek to honor, and I know we do,
Then let us clearly measure the price paid by some hitherto.

An unending war in their heads,
No rest or peace comes in their beds.
From crowds and fireworks they stay away,
And make frequent trips to the VA.

For those who fought,
For those who served,
For those who bled,
Today is yours, well deserved.

Forgetting not those who fought in Vietnam,
Who endured the filth, leaches, mines and bombs.
Your names are written in valor’s tome.
It’s long overdue,“ Welcome home.

Monday, November 10, 2014

We're All Alright

The Cheep Trick album for the single, "Surrender," Wikipedia, fair use claimed, full cite below.

Greetings All:

Sunday night, November 9th (Edited for publication November 10th)

This has been a week of highs and lows.  The obvious lows for me were the election and the Iowa shellacking yesterday at the hands of Minnesota.  Both were brutal for me to watch.  

One might think that comparing a college football game to the midterm elections as woefully inappropriate.  I have friends who would agree, with the significance of the football game clearly outweighing the elections.  While I an a die-hard Iowa fan, the elections will have more long-term consequences.  As I've written before, I had a dog in this fight and was profoundly disappointed with the outcome.

So I was hoping yesterday for a bit of entertainment when Iowa kicked off against Minnesota.  I went to law school in St. Paul and have fond memories of the Twin Cities.  However, when it comes to Iowa football, I don't care who they are playing, I just want them to win.

Also, this game had some significance as the traveling trophy, "Floyd of Rosedale" was at stake.  It is a bronze (I think, definitely metal of some sort) pig that is (IMHO) the best rivalry trophy in sports.  When we got beat (severely) yesterday, Floyd went back to the Gophers of Minnesota.  It will be a long year and hopefully we can bring him home next year.  The words of former Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry echo in my mind:  "Poor Floyd is cold and hungry up there."

I have friends I have not heard from in a while (including a former employer) who made sure I was aware of the outcome.  It was so nice of them to check in with me.  
"Floyd of Rosedale" the rivalry trophy between my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes and the University of Minnesota football teams, now (sadly) residing in Minnesota for the next year.  (Sigh.) Wikipedia, fair use, full cite below.

Yet the week had some great things happen.  Without question, seeing Cassie, my daughter and her friends bring the unfinished work of Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood to life was the highlight.  This show is based on Dickens' unfinished work and the audience gets to pick the killer and the love interests.  We were thrilled that Cassie's character, Princess Puffer, was picked as the murderer the last night as we got to hear her sing one final time.  

The Program from Pleasant Valley High School's production this past week of The Mystery of Edwin Drood based on the works of Charles Dickens.  Photo by J. Berta.
 After the show, we stuck around to see if our bids held up at the silent auction.  The time-honored tradition of striking the set took place and music was playing over the sound system.  I was amused at the music being played, 70s and 80s stuff, recorded long before these kids were born.  

Then my favorite Cheep Trick song came over the speakers, "Surrender."  This is a goofy song that does not make a whole lot of sense but is fun to listen to.  It's been covered by a number of artists and I found on YouTube a great version by Bob Mould with Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame backing him up.  I've got a link to it in the sources.

Here's a quote from Ric Nielsen, lead guitarist of Cheep Trick:

"When I wrote the song, the 'we're all alright' was originally only intended to refer to the four of us; that's why it comes right after the 'Bun-E/Tom/Robin/Rick's alright' section. After we started playing it live however, I came to realize that, to our audience, it was inclusive of all of us - our generation; that we're ALL alright, we survived the 60s & Vietnam & Nixon & everything, and we're all still here, playing music and having fun. That's when we started playing with it a little in concert; I'll tell ya, you get 50 - 60 thousand people screaming 'WE'RE ALL ALRIGHT!' in unison, that's a pretty positive affirmation!" 

That it is Rick, that it is.

As I'm writing this, it is the anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, Dylan Thomas.  He died November 9, 1953 and I'll add, w-a-y too young.

Dylan Thomas, 1952, Wikipedia, fair use claimed, full cite below.

Dylan Thomas wrote some amazing stuff.  He also battled various health issues, aggravated by excessive alcohol consumption.  One wonders what other great works would have sprung from his pen had he been able to stick around.  

Thomas' best known work is "Do Not Go Gently Into That Goodnight."  The last two lines of this poem sum up the essence of the poem:

"Do not go gentle into the goodnight.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

In other words, fight back.   This poem was featured in the 1986 movie, Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield.  This movie, not unlike the song, is silly, fun, yet also with a bit of truth in it.  I recall that at one point in the movie, Dangerfield's character recites this poem and adds his own (ahem) editorial meaning to it. 

So how does this all tie together?  I'd suggest the following:  Life is  full of both disappointments and accomplishments.  There will be times when things will go well and then, not so much.  As Thomas advocates, there are times to fight back, to fight until the last cartridge.  Then there are times to accept the facts for what they are and move forward with your life.  Accept the losses, acknowledge the hurt and them let it go.  Dare I say it, surrender.
 Just remember, the end of the day, we're all alright.  And that's enough.

Be well my friends,




Monday, November 3, 2014

My Walk-On Role With The Ground Game

The list that was my part of "the ground game" yesterday.  Photo by J. Berta

 Greetings All:

Tomorrow is election day.  If you're a Republican, likely you're feeling pretty good.  (Me, well, not so much.)  I haven't gotten into politics a whole lot in this blog for several reasons.  However, I'll make an exception here as tomorrow is simply too big a day to ignore.  

Before I get into the main topic, I want to say one thing about politics.  It's broken.  The amount of money in it is obscene and both sides are equally to blame.  If I ever run myself, one issue that will be a priority for me will be to amend the U.S. Constitution to empower our legislative and executive branches to limit campaign contributions.  Perhaps I'll elaborate on this point more down the road.  For now, let me say this:  There's way too much anger out there and the "open tap of cash" is NOT helping.  

One of the reasons I feel strongly about this is the fact I consider myself fortunate to have many friends and colleagues who are more conservative that I am.  I value their friendship.  From sharing a meal in a less than hospitable place to tailgating before an Iowa game, I've gotten to know them as people.  Not as a Republican/Conservative/Libertarian but as a person.  They love this country as much as I do and many have done a ton more to defend it than I ever will.  With all the money in politics and the toxic ads poured into the ground water of our political system, no wonder we're all getting sick.  The practical danger is we stop connecting as people and simply reduce the debate to sound bites.  Not good folks, not good.

I'm a fan of Mark Twain and particularly certain quotes.  One of my favorites is:  "Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."  That's another way of saying:  "If you don't like something, either figure out a solution or (in the gentle words of a certain East coast governor) 'sit down and shut up.'"

So I decided last week I would do something I have not done in a l-o-n-g time.  I knocked on doors for the Iowa Democratic Party.

The sign on the door to the Steelworkers' Hall where I picked up my packet.  Photo by J. Berta.

Door knocking or "canvassing" is a traditional political activity.  At this point in the campaign, the focus is getting "the base" out to vote.  Thanks to the ability to data-mine information, it's pretty easy to figure out who is most likely to back your candidate and vote this election.  I like to think the race for the U.S. Senate in Iowa is closer than The Des Moines Register's poll released Saturday night.  (Oh, please, please let all those calls to have been only to landlines.)  Therefore, turnout could decide the election.

In politics, "the ground game" is often a reference to getting voters out to the polls.  This is one aspect of politics that cannot be done from a lobbying/consulting firm in DC.  You have to do in face-to-face.  There is no app to download, no "page" to "like."  You have to literally put people on the pavement.  It reminds me of the line from Full Metal Jacket when Animal Mother says to Joker:  "You talk the talk.  Do you walk the walk?"

At this point in the campaign, you gotta walk the walk if you want to win.  Here's a Fox News story that tells what was going on in Iowa a couple of weeks' ago:

On Saturday and Sunday afternoon, I walked around neighborhoods in my town, knocking on various doors.  Most people were not home.  In a few cases, I suspected they were and "declined" to answer the door.  Perhaps door-knocking during the undisputed best half of Iowa football this season was not the best course of action.  

In a few cases, I got the, "...if this is political, I'm not interested."  Fair enough, election fatigue is as apparent as bags of raked leaves by the curb.  No one was rude to me and a couple even seemed appreciate to see someone engaging in politics without a TV ad.

My "boots on the ground" this weekend.  Photo by J. Berta
I don't know how this election will turn out.  Regardless of the outcome, I am glad to got out and added my "boots on the ground" for a few hours.  I know across this city, state and nation others are doing the same thing.  I want to give a shout out to those who are supporting their cause knowing in their heart they ain't gonna win.  To the Republican knocking doors in New York to the Democrat in Alabama, here's to you.  Your commitment to your cause is admirable and if you get one, just one person to vote who otherwise would have stayed home, you're a winner.  Here's to your role in the ground game this year.  You're truly the All-Americans.  I was just a walk-on.

Be well my friends (and PLEASE VOTE TOMORROW!),