Tuesday, December 30, 2014

“In The Same Light of Day”

http://gadaikansaja.com/winter-sunrise-free-desktop-natural-wallpaper-hd-1920x1080/, public domain

Greetings All:

This is likely my last blog post for the year.  There were many stories that dominated the news.  Perhaps the most troubling is the matter of Ferguson/NYC deaths.  There are no easy answers.  Hell, I don't pretend to even know how to properly frame the question.  Instead, I offer this poem.  It's my way of trying to begin to figure out where we are as a society and where we need to go.

As the year closes, I do deeply appreciate everyone who has read my blog, commented on it, shared it or liked it on Facebook.  I encourage you to share your thoughts.  Blogging has brought a "democratization" of opinion writing to the world.  If you've got a blog, please let me know about it.  If you've ever thought about writing, then, to echo Nike, "just do it."  If you're wondering what to write about, recall the wisdom of Mark Twain:  "Write what you know."  Or how about this:  write what you are feeling.  It's what I have attempted with this poem.

"In The Same Light of Day" by Jeno Berta

A winter morning, wrapped in cold.
Through the murky sky, pale light strains to be seen.
Black gives way to gray.  Gray yields to a feeble beige.
Trees, mere shadows moments ago, stand stout in the birthing light of day.
Stoic in the absence of leaves, they are regal nonetheless.

From my window I see the day arrive, announced by the rising sun.
Feeble beige no more, it is a mighty gold!
Behold the day, our day.

To the south, the same day dawns,
In the city of Ferguson.

And in the East, the same day greets another city.
I wonder if my friend Henry is shining shoes on 8th Avenue?

If we are a trot, that city is a sprint. 
What city, you ask?
Why New York, of course.

Three places- Ferguson, New York and us, living here.
Our homes, hugging both banks of our river.
Different?  Sure, in some ways.
In many ways, I suppose.

And yet, we have much in common.
We have hopes and fears, dreams and goals.
We work and strive, laugh and cry.

Our hearts break for grieving loved’ ones.
We boil in rage at the senselessness of it all.

We want answers, demand them really.
Why, WHY are things so out of control!
We want justice, we want peace.

But that, like the summer warmth, seems so far away.

Yet perhaps having the sun, the same sun, is enough.
Enough for us to find some common ground,
In the same light of day.

Be well my friends (& Happy New Year!)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Keeping The (Most Important) Illustion Alive

The stockings at our house, Christmas 2014.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Back in high school, I did a fair amount of drama.  My favorite role was Candy in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  We performed this show in the round, so the audience was sitting up close and personal.  My friend Reid saw me before the play in costume.  I recall that there was something amiss with my costume and he kindly took a moment to fix it for me.  As he was doing so, he gave me some great advice for an actor:  "Keep the illusion alive."

Fast-forward three decades and I found myself engaged in another form of acting on Christmas morning, that of the fictional arrival of Santa Claus.

Carly, my youngest daughter, is eight.  She still believes in Santa Claus, so that means every Christmas Eve we begin the staging for the most important illusion of the year.  This is no easy feat as our daughter is not one to go to sleep easily.  She even had her flashlight, ready to stalk down the stairs to spy on Santa.  

This caused a delay in the stuffing of the stockings.  I was mildly proud of myself that I remembered to write the thank you note from Santa.  All seemed well, the illusion was in place.

The next morning I woke up before everyone as I had church with my Dad so we had a short window to do the presents, and, of course, see what Santa brought us.

Carly came down stairs and went straight to the stockings.  All started off well.  Then the plans started to unravel.  As she opened her stocking, she found a box of tea packets.  That was meant for her older sister.  

Drat, strike one.

Dawn covered that one well, saying Santa must have gotten the stockings wrong.  Something about him, "...getting into the egg nog."  

In our defense, both Carly and her sister's stockings were almost identical.  Of course, if you're an 8-year-old, you know you're stocking the way a micro-biologist knows all their slides. 

Then there was the smatter of forgetting to dispose of the evidence of the cookies we left out for Santa.    Drat.  I should have done a better job of sweeping the area for incriminating evidence.  After all, I've been a lawyer for two decades... (That's a joke.)  Carly picked up on that too.

Strike two.

I was thinking we'd get out of this, be able to open presents and I would get to my twice-yearly attendance at Our Lady of Victory church with my Dad unscathed.  Then we got to my stocking.

In it, aside from some moleskin notebooks from Target I bought myself a few weeks' back, were some socks that Dawn had gotten me.  She even wrapped them for me, complete with the "To Jeno From Santa" tag.  Nice touch.

Yet there was only one tiny little problem.   Carly pointed this out when she said:  "Hey Dad, you're present from Santa is wrapped in the same paper as those presents under the tree."

Shit.  Strike three.

Carly might have just discovered a brutal truth.  Santa is not real.  I base this on her following comment:  "I still believe Santa is real."

It was obviously not what she said, but her tone, it was soft.  It was as if her heart and her mind were locked in a struggle.  Dawn and I both heartily concurred with her statement.  We then proceeded to unwrap other presents and I slugged down another cup of coffee before heading to church.  

On the way there, Carly's words echoed in my head:  "I still believe Santa is real."  

This raises an interesting question:  Just what makes something "real?"  Is it a medically obese man who magically enters millions of homes one night a year?  Is it a spirit of giving?  Is is an illusion that parents do their best to hold onto until like all good tricks, its secret is learned?

Or is it something more?  Does the illusion of Santa Claus give way to the reality of a season of joy, of sharing, of love?  I believe it does.  

If so, then this most important of all illusions is alive and well.

I hope you do for the rest of your days.

Be well my friends,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Royal Commission Denied, a Republic Earned

Painting by John Trumbull of George Washington resigning his commission (on display in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol)
Image courtesy of Architect of the Capitol, originally posted on the U.S. Army's Facebook page.  Fair use claimed.

Greetings All:

On this day in 1783, George Washington resigned his commission as Commander of the Continental Army.  Although he had cemented victory over two years' earlier at Yorktown, it took that long to finally secure the terms of America's victory.  Not quite a #16 seed in the "March Madness" of history, but nonetheless, an huge upset.

Washington's story is well-known to most of us.  The first president, the hero of the Revolution, the "Father of his Country," the boy who cut down the cherry tree, and yes, slave owner.

There are a few lesser-known facts about this man.  One being that he was denied a royal commission in the British Army during the French and Indian War.  As the link below puts it, he "chafed" at this slight.  He had proven himself a superb soldier and stellar leader.  I suppose that was not enough to overcome his less that noble background.  

Another is the death of his son, (technically his step-son) a casualty of the war from "camp fever."  Ironic that he held a supposedly "safe" position as an aide-de-camp to Washington, yet disease knows no front lines.  As was the case in most wars until the last century, disease killed more, many more, than bullets or bombs.

The iconic painting of Washington crossing the Delaware by E. Luetze, (Metropolitan Museum of Art) fair use claimed

By 1783, Washington was almost universally beloved.  He had taken a rag-tag group of farmers and merchants and molded them into a capable fighting force.  However, it did not start out that way.  Washington suffered defeat after defeat.  If he would have been a football coach, he'd likely have been fired after the '76 season, even with the win in the "Trenton Bowl," as pictured above.

Yet what he did do was keep the army in the field.  By being able to maintain a legitimate fighting force, the British could not claim victory.  Eventually, the British people grew weary of war far away from home.  (We experienced a similar war about two centuries later.)  

Foreign Policy did an interesting piece entitled, "Founding Insurgents" (link below) Dr. John Arquilla writes:

"In the main, what took shape was an insurgent approach to the war based on "winning by not losing," and it was nowhere better employed than in the South. It was there that the Revolution was won — not so much by the main force as by the inspired blending of conventional infantry and irregular raiders."

Washington was able to secure victory.  His resignation of his command in 1783 might have been surprising to some.  After all, why not hang out for a while?  Keep the gig, the uniform, the sword.  Why give up something that you worked so hard for and was unfairly denied to you all those years ago?

Because Washington realized that resigning his commission was the only thing to do.  Aside from the practical reasons for resigning (no need for a big standing army) he understood the critical importance of the citizen-soldier.  

A "royal" commission might be forever.  He no longer sought such a thing.  He had traded it for something far better, a new country, a new republic. 

And the only way to keep that was to give up his command.   

Washington saw just how good a trade that was and took it.

I'm glad he did.

Be well my friends,








Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dr. No's Last Rounds

A Political Cartoon, author's information included, on Tumblr, fair use claimed

Greetings All:

Author's note:  This is a particularly long and decidedly political post.  It also touches on suicide.  Not exactly a "be of good cheer" post.  I understand if you might want to skip reading it, especially at this time of year.  I have been working on it for the past week and am posting this in large part to selfishly satisfy my need to vent on a subject that matters to me.  You may not agree with me in part or think I'm dead wrong.  If so, please leave a comment.  Now that you've been "warned" about this post, :) please read on if you like, thanks.

Friends, I'm angry.  I am angry that one Senator, out of a legislative body of 535, decided that he would block a bill.  This bill would have provided much-needed mental health care for Veterans.  I have been working on this post for a while and if you've stopped by my Facebook wall, you'll notice that I've weighed in on this issue.  

The issue in question is The Clay Hunt Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans (SAV) Act.  It is named for a Marine.  Clay Hunt served our nation with honor and earned the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat in Iraq.  When he had recovered, he trained as a sniper.  Once again, headed off to war.  This time, Afghanistan.  

After he concluded his military service, he returned home.  Clay was a thoughtful, passionate advocate for veterans, especially of America's most recent wars.  

Clay Hunt, photo credit- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), fair use claimed.

Then the darkness came.  Ravaged by PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) Clay found himself in a very bad place.  His marriage ended.  He lost his job.  He took his own life.

Here's what Clay's Mom said:

"Susan Selke, Hunt’s mother testified before a Senate hearing this month (December, 2014) saying, 'Despite his proactive and open approach to seeking care to address his injuries, the VA system did not adequately address his needs. Even today, we continue to hear about both individual and systemic failures by the VA to provide adequate care and address the needs of veterans.'” 

(Citing to both The Fayetteville Observer and The Washington Post, full cites in sources.)

Out of this tragic loss, friends of Clay, the Veterans' Community, and elected leaders came together to sponsor the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act or the "Clay Hunt SAV Act."  I have provided a link to the bill in its entirety in the sources.  The highlights of the bill are, according to Congressman Tim Walz, Democrat, Minnesota, 1st Congressional District's webite & press release:

"The Clay Hunt SAV Act will help address the veteran suicide epidemic in our nation by:
Increasing Access to Mental Health Care:
  • Amends the requirements for reviewing potentially improper discharge characterizations of individuals diagnosed with PTSD or TBI so that vets can get full access to the care they have earned—this language is similar to a Walz bill, HR 975, the Servicemembers Mental Health Review Act.
  • Requires the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all mental health services for veterans.
Increasing Capacity to Meet the Demand for Mental Health Care:
  • Addresses the shortage of mental health care professionals by authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists.
  • Requires the DoD and National Guard to review the staffing requirements for Directors of Psychological Health in each state. 
Improving the Quality of Care for Troops and Veterans:
  • Requires a yearly evaluation, conducted by a third party, of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the DoD and VA to find out what’s working and what’s not working and make recommendations to improve care.
Providing Continuous, Seamless Care to Troops and Veterans: 
  • Establishes a strategic relationship between the VA and the National Guard to facilitate a greater continuity of care between the National Guard and the VA. 
  • Authorizes a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the transition of care for PTSD and TBI between the DoD and the VA.  
Developing Community Support for Veterans: 
  • Establishes a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services.

This legislation had overwhelming support.  It passed the House unanimously.  When's the last time that happened?  Can't remember?  Me neither.  It also had broad, bipartisan support in the Senate.  

According to Bryant Jordan, reporting for military.com, (full cite below) here's a "who's who" of supporting organizations and elected leaders supporting the Clay Hunt SAV Act:

"The House passed the bill with bipartisan support. The bill picked up 21 co-sponsors -- 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats -- including GOP lawmakers Richard Burr of North Carolina, ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee; Roy Blunt of Missouri; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; Dean Heller of Nevada; Jerry Moran of Kansas; Mike Johanns of Nebraska; Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire; Mark Kirk of Illinois; John Cornyn of Texas; Jeff Flake of Arizona; and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Democrat senators backing the legislation included Blumenthal; Joe Manchin of West Virginia; Mark Begich of Alaska; Richard Durbin of Illinois; Joe Donnelly of Indiana; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Robert Menendez of New Jersey; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; John Reed of Rhode Island and Chuck Schumer of New York."

Bryant went on to write about organizations supporting this Act:

"Organizations including The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, as well as professional military groups such as the Military Officers Association of America, Association of the United States Navy and Air Force Sergeants Association have all endorsed the bill."

Amazing this did not pass.  Yet it did not.  Why, you might ask?  Well, as mentioned above, one Senator blocked it.
Enter Senator and Dr. Coburn.  

The Senator opposed the bill.  He claimed the bill was duplicative and would not achieve its aims.  Here's a news report (again, see Bryan from military.com, full cite below) the with quotes from the Senator:

"Coburn argued before the Senate late Monday that 'almost everything that's in this bill has already been authorized and approved with the $10 billion [Veterans Choice Act] that we sent to the VA.  'I object to this bill not because I don't want to help save [veterans], because I don't think this bill's going to do that,' he said.
Coburn also criticized Congress, including himself, for failing to better oversee the VA."

Senator Coburn has prided himself on being a fiscal watchdog, earning the informal title, "Dr. No."  I have no issue with that as a priority.  However, another important priority is taking care of our Veterans.  I respectfully disagree with both the reasoning and actions of Senator Coburn.  As to his claim this bill duplicates current VA efforts, the VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, endorsed it, saying it would compliment current efforts. (Please see the military.com source for the full comments.)

There has been, not surprisingly, a firestorm of anger at Senator Coburn's actions/antics.  I posted something on his Facebook wall and did my best to be respectful, perhaps overly so.

Not everyone has been so charitable.  Montel Williams, a former Marine had these comments:

"Let’s remember that Coburn voted to send young people, like Clay Hunt, to fight two wars that weren’t remotely paid for and exploded the debt he professes to be so concerned about. In my view, it’s the height of hypocrisy, having so thrown fiscal discipline to the wind to fight two wars, to suddenly invoke it in preventing passage of legislation aimed at keeping those who fought those two wars from committing suicide." (Please see cite below in sources for additional comments from Mr. Williams.)

IAVA, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an organization advocating for Veterans of America's longest wars, had this to say:

“'This is why people hate Washington. Senator Coburn is the only person stopping this bill from becoming law,' said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. 'If Senator Coburn blocks the Clay Hunt SAV Act, an enduring part of his legacy will be killing an overwhelmingly supported bipartisan suicide prevention bill for our veterans. That has real implications. If it takes 90 days to revisit this issue in the next Congress, the statistics tell us that 1,980 additional veterans will die by suicide. Senator Coburn needs to think carefully about that number in addition to his concerns about the minimal financial costs of this bill.'”

Full disclosure:  I am a member of IAVA and consider Paul Rieckhoff a friend.  Paul helped me years ago obtain a pro bono expert witness for an Army Reserve Soldier I was representing.  We've stayed in touch over the years and I could not be more proud of him for what he's done leading IAVA.

Here's what Clay's Mom and Step-Dad said in a personal appeal to the Senator:

“I understand you are a man of principles, and that you very vehemently and painstakingly watch over our national budget,” said Selke. “Susan and I are conservative Republicans from the state of Texas. I appreciate your vigilance over our budget. The bill we are talking about is projected to cost about $22 million dollars. That’s a lot of money to me. It’s a lot of money to you. But in the context of the value of a human life, it is insignificant.”

So what's the impact of this bill not becoming law?  Another 22 veterans (times 90 days) will kill themselves.  Would this bill save all of them?  I highly doubt it.  It might only save a few.  Yet it is the right thing to do.

While on the subject of the number of suicides of Veterans, consider this:  The number of 22 Veteran suicides a day might be low.  From CNN:

"Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That's a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as the number is, it may actually be higher.

The figure, released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February, is based on the agency's own data and numbers reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. Those states represent about 40% of the U.S. population. The other states, including the two largest (California and Texas) and the fifth-largest (Illinois), did not make data available."

There is a ton of data out there about why this number is low.  I'd suggest that as our Vietnam and Vietnam-era Veterans age, suicide for their age group will grow.  It may be tempting to lump it into substance abuse or chronic health issues.  However, if we're a nation that honors our Veterans, then we'll look at all the causes of why our heroes choose to stop living, either all at once or bit by bit.  I do have a few additional cites below on this issue and some other information on Senator Coburn's actions.  Out of fairness, I have included the C-SPAN link to his farewell speech in its entirety in the sources.

As I wrap up this "Heaven's Gate" length blog post, I want to comment on precisely what the good Senator from Oklahoma did.  Lest anyone think he just voted no, let the record reflect he did not.  

Nope, he instead utilized an arcane Senate rule to invoke his prerogative to not let the bill have a vote.  This is possible due to the rules of the Senate.  I have the link to the rules below if you're truly suffering from insomnia.  

These rules are not in the Constitution.  It is true that it is from the Constitution that the Senate derives its authority to make its rules.  But please, do not tell me it was the Founders' intent that one person could block the will of the many.  If I recall, the whole reason we shot back at Lexington and Concord was because of one man named George III who was blocking the will of the many.  

Senator, I do not view your actions as being principled.  I view them as being arrogant.  I believe your thinking "I'm doing what I want," is not how a legislator and a leader acts.

I have a link below to Rachel Maddow about some of your previous comments and I have elected not to post it here.  Part of the reason is the length of this post.  The other reason is that I want to end this post by focusing on what I see as the profound problem with the thinking of Senator Coburn.  He does not just vote "no" but he kills the legislation because he thinks he knows best.  He is putting his individualism and self above the group, above the process.

Ayn Rand would be so proud.

Well, in any event, it is too late for this session.  The Clay Hunt Act will have to wait until next session.  I just hope the delay does not cause us to lose other Veterans to suicide.  I'd like to believe that could happen.  Sadly, the data says otherwise.

I understand one of the reasons Senator Coburn is retiring is because his cancer has returned.  If you believe nothing I have written in this post, believe this:  I wish him a full and speedy recovery.  Cancer claimed my Mom's life.  No one, no one's family, should be a victim of this horrid medical condition.  

I hope Senator Coburn gets the best medical care possible and gets it as soon as he needs it.  True, he's got great health insurance.  He's earned it.  He's a U.S. Senator, after all.

Yet what a shame that Clay Hunt, someone who was also suffering from a horrid medical condition, could not get the care he needed.  Clay had certainly earned his care as well.

That, for me, is the best reason why this bill needs to become law.  Notwithstanding that there will be some duplication and yes, even waste (we're talking about the Government after all), it will get care to more Veterans sooner than the status quo.  It will continue to address the wickedly baffling and far too-often lethal nature of PTSD.  It will, I am certain, help stem the tide of the (at least) 22 Veteran suicides everyday.  

For these reasons, it needs to pass.  For these reasons, it deserved a vote.

Regrettably, "Dr. No." in his "last rounds," did not see it that way.  That is a shame.  It's a shame for the reasons mentioned in this post.  And it is a shame because the two-decade career of a good man, doctor, citizen and Senator has been forever tarnished.  History's judgment will be that he failed that most basic test of medicine and government:  "First, do no harm."

Physician, heal thyself.

Be well my friends,

Post-script:  The comments in this blog post are those of Jeno M. Berta alone.  They do not represent the official position of any governmental agency, organization, political body, sub-division, any other person or group's (official or voluntary) opinion.  In other words, this post, as with all my posts, are my opinion alone.  Thanks.



















Friday, December 19, 2014

The Festival of Lights

Our Menorah on the first night of Hanukkah.  Photo by J. Berta.

Shalom All!

It is that time of year, Chanukah is here.  It is called, "The Festival of Lights" as it celebrates a Jewish victory over a Syrian tyrant king.  Here's some additional information from the website ReformJudism.org:

"Although historians debate the causes and outcomes of the war in which Judah Maccabee and his followers defeated the Syrian armies of Antiochus, there is no doubt that Hanukkah evokes stirring images of Jewish valor against overwhelming odds. Other themes rooted in the observance of the holiday include the refusal to submit to the religious demands of an empire practicing idolatry, the struggle against total assimilation into Hellenistic culture and loss of Jewish identity, and the fight for Jewish political autonomy and self-determination."

Growing up in Iowa, I did not know much about this holiday.  I had one Jewish friend.  I made a few more in college.  However, it was not until Dawn and I got together that I began to celebrate the holiday.  It is a lot of fun.  There is the dreidel spinning for chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper (Kosher gambling as my Rabbi friend calls it), the candles and the food.  

And what would Hannukkah be without Adam Sandler's song?  I have the link below to the first time he performed it on "Saturday Night Live" way back in the Second Bronze Age (the 90s, before the internet.)  It's super.  I also have the lyrics below:


"Put on your yarmulke
Here comes Chanukah
So much funukah
To celebrate Chanukah
Chanukah is the festival of lights
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights

When you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree
Here's a list of people who are Jewish just like you and me
David Lee Roth lights the menorah
So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah

Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli
Bowser from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzerelli
Paul Newman's half Jewish, Goldie Hawn's half too
Put them together, what a fine lookin' Jew

You don't need "Deck The Halls" or "Jingle Bell Rock"
'Cause you can spin a dreidel with Captain Kirk and Mr.Spock- both

Put on your yarmulke
It's time for Chanukah
The owner of the Seattle Supersonicahs
Celebrates Chanukah

O.J. Simpson, not a Jew
But guess who is? Hall of famer Rod Carew- he converted
We got Ann Landers and her sister Dear Abby
Harrison Ford's a quarter Jewish- not too shabby

Some people think that Ebenezer
Scrooge is
Well he's not, but guess who is
All three Stooges
So many Jews are in showbiz
Tom Cruise isn't, but I heard his agent is

Tell your friend Veronica
It's time to celebrate Chanukah
I hope I get a harmonicah
Oh this lovely, lovely Chanukah
So drink your gin and tonicah

But don't smoke your marijuanikah
If you really, really wannakah
Have a happy, happy, happy,
Happy Chanukah

Happy Chanukah"

It is a fun tune.  I made a holiday song CD and its cut #3.  It's probably in my top five of holiday songs.  (Sorry Adam, but Lou Rawls, "Chirstmas Is" will hold onto the top spot the way the East Germans held onto power lifting in the 70s.  But still, it is a great tune.)

There is a larger point.  For some Jewish kids, there can be a bit (or perhaps more) of a letdown that Hanukkah is not a bigger deal.  For those well-meaning (albeit ill-informed Christians, as I was for years) who view it as the "Jewish Christmas" are simply wrong.  It's not.  In fact, that's where the irony comes into play.  The whole reason Hanukkah is celebrated is because a group of very brave, very tough (see author Rich Cohen) Jews told a bully king.  "(Expletive-deleted) you, we're not going to bow to your idols.  We're not going to shelve our faith.  If you want to stop us from worshiping God as we see him, then you'll just have to kill us...unless we take you out first."  

Or words to that effect.  :)

So Hanukkah should not be confused with Christmas.  Nor should it be regulated to an "also-ran" position in the winter holiday standings.  It is to itself.  It is the festival of lights.

Now does that mean I am calling for some segregation of Hanukkah from the holiday season?  Absolutely not.  What I am saying is that Hanukkah has its own place in the season of holiday celebration.  It stands on its own two feet.  It should be celebrated and if you're not Jewish (like me) then by all means, join in!  

My point is that this time of year should be a time to embrace the general (and wonderful) concept of celebration.  Within this concept, there are unique traditions that should not be confused.  

The New York Times has a good story about how Jewish parents will go into schools and tell the story of Hanukkah.  I've got the link to it in the credits if you'd like to read it.  Here's a part of the story that warrants repeating:

"When we spoke last week, Keith Weber, who lives in Morgantown, W.Va., had just visited his sons’ elementary school. The teachers had invited him or his wife to come to the regular read-aloud period, when parents visit to read to the children.  'They had asked us to do a Hanukkah-themed book, because we are Jewish,” Mr. Weber said. “So I went in today and read a book illustrated by Syd Hoff, ‘A Chanukah Fable for Christmas,’ and it’s all about a kid who grows up in the Bronx, but all his friends celebrate Christmas, so he’s sad. And so he learns how everyone has holidays around this time.'

Mr. Weber used the visit as a chance to share stories of being a Jewish child among Gentiles.

'I started by saying that when I was a kid, growing up in Brooklyn, most of my friends were Catholic,' Mr. Weber recalled. 'I was sad because I didn’t get to celebrate Christmas.' But as he got older, he told the children, he realized that Hanukkah was a special time, too. 'The conversation I started with kids was it’s a holiday time of year, whatever holiday we are celebrating, and the importance is to spend time with family and friends.'"

"...whatever holiday we are celebrating..."  I like that.

While we're on this subject, I'd be remiss not to weigh-in on the subject of "Putting Christ" back in Christmas.  I see the posts on Facebook about keeping "Christ" in Christmas.   I could not agree more.  Christmas has become a commercialized mess.  Black Friday has turned into Black November.  It's a shame.  I'm not against presents, I'm just saying the season should not be about how much one can save off a TV or iPad or computer that will be even cheeper come the 26th.  Instead, it should be about spending time with the people that matter most to you.  

Of course, there are those who do not have that choice.  Be they on a ship deep in the darkness of the ocean, in a remote base in Afghanistan or on lonely duty in Alaska, our military will be celebrating with their fellow service members.  A band of brothers (and sisters) I have no doubt.  But it is not family.

Now onto a lighter note:  I would also encourage you to use this time of celebration to start a family tradition.  Something simple and unique to your situation.  We get Chinese food on Christmas Eve.  In the link below, we do it a day before a certain Supeme Court Justice.

Our Christmas Eve "tradition" of Chinese food on Christmas Eve.  We have something in common with Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, please see the link below.  Photo by J. Berta.

We celebrate it all in our place.  Photo by J. Berta

 As I am typing this, I have Diana Krall's Christmas album/CD/download playing.  How wonderful to celebrate it, all of it.  If you're not Jewish and know someone who is, ask them about Hanukkah.  Odds are, you'll get invited over.  You'll eat well and might even win some chocolate gelt.  If you are Jewish, extend an invite to your non-Jewish friends or bring in something keeping with the holiday to share at work or even your bowling night.  The way I see it, sharing is celebration at its best.

The world has some ugliness in it.  From the soul-bruising child killing in Pakistan to Dr. Coburn blocking The Clay Hunt SAV bill (and that bill will pass, no thanks to you, "Dr. No."), there is plenty to be frustrated with, angry even.  Yet let us not let the imperfections of this world ruin the holiday and the collective season of celebration.  Let us find a way to stand up to the evil, the darkness.  Let us all, Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Hindu, athiest, agnostic and all others, stand together to oppose (and fight back) against that evil.  If we do, then the festival of lights will go on for the other 357 days of the year.

Be well my friends,






Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Low Dull Roar

The U.S.S. Arizona sinking, 7 Dec 1941, public domain photo, full cite below in sources

Greetings All:

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  This was for our grandparents what 9/11 was for us.  America was no longer on the sidelines of World War II.  I heard somewhere that Churchill 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered one of the more famous, some say iconic, speeches of American history.  Here is some of it:

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941- a date that will live in infamy- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan...No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people will through their righteous might win through absolute victory...with confidence in our armed forces with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God. I therefore ask that congress declare war that since that dastardly and unprovoked attack by Japan on Sunday...a state of war has existed between the United States and Japanese Empire."

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reported said the following after learning of the attack and that the United States would soon be in the war:  "….I slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”

At the time of the attack, Japan was an imperial power, ruling the Pacific, committing horrific crimes of occupation in Asia.  Less than four years later, Japan would surrender unconditionally.  An event that to historians was inevitable was not at all visible that Sunday morning.  Here are some thoughts I put together about this day.  It is a poem I have entitled, "The Low Dull Roar."

Sunday, it’s morning.
Most of America is shivering.
But not here.

Here, it’s paradise.
The young man breathes in the tropical air.
He can’t fight the smile forming on his face.

“Best gig in the Navy,” he tells himself.
“Best gig anywhere in the…”

His thoughts are shaken, like being waken from a pleasant dream,
Shaken by a low, dull roar.
Then the roar gives birth to an angry, metal scream.

From the sky,
From the East,
They have come.

He sees the planes, bringing death, killing peace.
Sunday morning will never be again, at least for him,
At least as he knew it to be.

Like a clap of thunder in his face, an explosion knocks him back,
Off his feet, off the world he knows.
He’s pitched into the burning water a boy.

When he punches his head against the water stained by war,
He is burned.
He is now a man, his boyhood forever gone.

He struggles to kick, to swim, then just to float.
His left arm a mess of blood.
The sting of the salt water,
The most precise pain he’s ever known.

A strong arm pulls him up to a boat.
An unknown sailor with an accent thick as Boston says,
“Don’t yuu worry, paal, we’ve got ya.”

Now seven decades and change later, another Sunday comes.
He’ll go to Mass, praying for those friends lost.
He’ll see the scar that meets his watch,
And he’ll hear in his mind that low, dull roar.

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Fair Use Claimed, photo credit in the citation below.

Be well my friends,


Opening photo:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor#mediaviewer/File:The_USS_Arizona_%28BB-39%29_burning_after_the_Japanese_attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_-_NARA_195617_-_Edit.jpg



Closing photo- http://www.pearl-harbor.com/arizona/arizona.html

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Septième étage, se il vous plaît, la deuxième partie

2LT Bullard's awards, National Museum of the United States Air Force.  Public domainfair use claimed, full citation below.

Greetings All:

Quick author's note:  I have not done a "two-part" blog post.  One of the reasons I did it with this one is there is A LOT to talk about with this subject, 2LT Bullard.  I thought that breaking it up would work out better to stress certain aspects of the story.  

So, without further adieu, let's get to part two, or "la deuxième partie," of this post.

When we last left off, Bullard had escaped to America with his children and had found himself being an elevator operator.  I highly doubt that more than a handful of the elevator riders could have said "fifth floor, please" in French.  Of course, Bullard would understand.  He spoke both French and German.  He was educated and not just in languages.

He held a PhD in racism and his dissertation was his life story.  

One such chapter involved the Peekskill Riot of 1949.  After a concert and rally organized by leftist, a group of thugs backed up by the cops threw rocks and attacked the concert goers.  It's likely that this concert had liberals, socialists, and probably communists.  My Dad lost part of his left hand fighting the Soviets in Budapest in '56, so I have no love lost for Communists or any of their political "first cousins."  Still, no one deserves to be beaten just for his or her political beliefs.

Here is an excerpt from an article on the concert and the aftermath.

"One concert goer, Eugene Bullard, is spat upon by a veteran and spits back; he is thrown to the ground and badly beaten by a group of police officers." 

Bullard beaten by thugs and police, photo credit, Howard Fast, fair use claimed, full cite below.
I suppose spitting back was not the best course of action.  Then again, who could blame Bullard.  He had had enough.  

Oh, and to my above comments about no one being beaten for their political beliefs, that especially covers peace officers.

Bullard was an incredibly brave man.  He had his plane shot out around him compliments of 78 machine gun bullets and still lived to not only tell the tale, but fight some more.  For most folks, one war is more than enough.

Not for Bullard.

When France fell to the Nazis, his jazz club became a real popular place with "der master race."  He spied and I am guessing was quite effective at it.
I like to think but for his daughters, he would have stuck around Paris, continued his work for the French Underground, knowing it was likely a matter of time before he was caught.  He would have gladly taken a bullet to the skull.  Right after he knocked out cold some prick SS officer.  Eugene was a boxer in a previous life, after all.

I am speculating of course.  I did not know the man and am basing this on his pattern of behavior.  And from this pattern of behavior, here was a man who had values.  He valued those he loved.  He valued fighting back against tyrants.  

I cannot help but imagine that day after the concert he had reached a point where he said no more.

And he likely knew what was coming.  The crowd and the police did not know who he was and even if he did, it wouldn't have mattered.  They were drunk on the toxic liquor of hate and fear. 
I'm surprised he was not beaten worse. 

Fast-forward eleven years.  The French leader, Charles De Gaulle, visits America.  Although the Americans rolled out "le tapis rouge" for him with all the dignitaries.  However, De Gaulle wanted to meet Bullard.

De Gaulle had led France's government-in-exile during the war and later became its elected leader.  De Gaulle was not...a modest man.  Churchill referred to him as, ''vain and even malignant.''  Now granted, Churchill was no wallflower himself but I think you get the point. 

So I find it interesting that De Gaulle sought out Bullard.  He viewed him for what he was, a hero, one worthy of recognition. 

de Gaulle meeting Vice-President Nixon and other dignitaries during his 1960 trip to America.  It was de Gualle who insisted on meeting Bullard.  Photo credit to Wikipedia, public domain/fair use claimed, full cite below in sources.

R.W. Emerson has a quote:  "Every hero becomes a bore at last."  Eugene Bullard is the exception and sadly so.  I say "sadly" for he never had the chance to be a "hero" in the traditional sense.  Then again, that might make him even more of one. 

There was a bit of atonement by the U.S. Government.  Bullard became Second Lieutenant (2LT) Bullard in the United States Air Force on August 23, 1994.  This was 77 years to the day of his rejection from the American Air Corps.

Better late than never.

Be well my friends,