Sunday, December 27, 2015

Public House

The doors to Public House, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

There is a new establishment in Davenport, Public House.  The proprietors are my friends, Johnna and Austin Chesney.  The bar is located right at the corner of 53rd Street and Northwest Blvd.  I thought I'd use my blog as a way to share the word about this place.

 Public House just opened in the past week.  I had the opportunity to pop in last Sunday for their "soft opening."  I was immediately impressed with the place.  I have a few photos of it in this post, however, you really need to see it for yourself.  It is a great bar.

Now at the risk of stating the obvious, we are talking about an establishment that serves adult beverages.  So, if due to moral and/or religious reasons you are opposed to alcohol consumption, then this may not be the place for you.  Also, if you find yourself in the early stages of a recovery program, then avoiding this place (and all other bars) is the right call.  (And if you are in recovery, you have my genuine respect!  I wish you well on getting better and getting well.)

For the rest of us, I think you will truly like this place.  My deep positive bias towards my friends (the owners) aside, I also consider myself a fairly hard critic of bars.  My Dad has owned one since 1989 and I have spent a...bit of time in them over the years.  

When I mean "hard critic" I do not mean in the sense of cloth napkins properly folded or the degree of starch in the waiter's shirts.  No, my friends, I judge a bar on one simple question:  Do the owners and staff take pride in their service to their customers?  If the answer is YES, then it is a good bar.  If not, I really do not care how many huge TVs are stuck to the wall or if there are 50 beers on tap.  A bar without pride is a bar headed to receivership and/or bankruptcy court.

Public House is a place where the answer to the above question is a yes.  One may (fairly) ask, "How can you be so sure after only one visit?"  Well, first, I've been there twice.  I stopped in Wednesday and "test drove" another bar stool.  Therefore, I am confident in making this endorsement of Public House.  (You don't think I'd risk the integrity and social standing of a blog read by...dozens of Facebook friends, a handful of Twitter followers and family, do you?)  

In all seriousness, I endeavor to make sure everything I write on this blog is cemented in both candor and truth.  That's important to me.  I would not be saying this if it was not true.  And for what it is worth, if this glowing endorsement was not, in fact, the truth, Johnna and Austin would call me out on it.  That's just the kind of people they are.

Of course, a bar is only as good as the people who work there.  A bartender is the equivalent the the Non-commissioned officer (NCO) of any bar.  They run it, the make it happen.  From what I have seen, they are highly proficient at their tasks.

More significantly, my initial impressions is that they are happy to be here.  As Emerson said, "Nothing great happens without enthusiasm."  These bartenders are enthusiastic.  There are plenty of bars in this area.  The fact they have elected to work at Public House says a ton about the reasons why.  Just my two cents, I think it has a whole lot to do with buying into the vision Johnna and Austin have set for Public House.  That vision being as a place where people can come and have fun, be themselves, not get hassled and take a break from the cares of the world.

So let's talk about the actual place.  I'm not sure how many square feet the place is, but it is a good sized bar.  It is neither a hole in the wall or some huge complex with a dance floor (and I'm not weeping for that exclusion from Public House) and a trendy dress code.  There is ample seating and the bar is set up where you can have enough room to turn to the person to your left and right.  I've been in some places where the bar is so tight you feel like you're flying coach to Cleveland.  That's not the case here.

The table are spaced out and meet the "Goldilocks" test- not too low, not too high, just rights.  I saw four well-dressed Green Bay Packers fans playing cards, euchre, I believe.  I noticed they had room to play and not have to worry about knocking their drinks off the table.  (We here in the Midwest take our trump card games seriously, so having room to play is a plus.)  

There is a jukebox and as I recall, the music is played at an appropriate level.  I disdain bars where the music is as loud as we blared it at our Theta Xi parties in college.  You should be able to hear yourself talk.  You can at Public House.  

There is one video game, the golf game, Golden Tee I think.  While I love old school video games (and I'm also a fan of Analog bar in downtown Davenport with its almost endless selection of late 20th Century arcade games) one does not go to Public House primarily to engage in a screen.  You go there to see friends, have a laugh and the beverage of your choice. 

Speaking of, Public House has a wide selection of spirits and from what I saw, a few choices of wine.  I would love for them to carry a couple a few Zins and Pinot Noirs for when Dawn and I stop over (hint, hint, she likes red wine) but if your a spirits fan, you will not be disappointed.  They have a wide and diverse choice of local, regional, and brand-name bottles.  As for beer, well friends, I offer Exhibit A below...

Some of the tap beer selection at Public House, photo by J. Berta

This is not even the full tap selection.  Your eyes do not deceive you, gentle readers, that is Grain Belt and SchlitzGrain Belt has a special place in my heart as it was a beer that I got introduced to in St. Paul when I went to law school.  I threw a link to the brewery in the sources for those of you eager to learn more about the fine (well, fine when not weighed against craft and micro beers) Midwest beer.

Sports fans, don't worry, you're able to catch your favorite games here.  Public House puts a priority on being able to have more than one game on at a time.  Something tells me that come 4:00 Friday, all TVs will be on the Rose Bowl well they should!  (GO HAWKS!) Here's a shot of some of the TVs at Public House.

A look at Public House's TVs and back bar.  Photo by J. Berta.

I wanted to do this post not just to plug my friends new endeavor but also as a nod to those who take on the challenge of opening up a new business.   We've heard the claims about the importance of small businesses to our economy.  I've got a link below to an article from by Jared Hecht on this subject.  One salient fact is worth sharing from Mr. Hecht's article:  "Although just 21.5 percent of all small businesses are employers, almost half of the nation's private sector workforce (49.2 percent) is employed by small business--that's 120 million people!" Johnna and Austin are part of that job creation, as is my Dad and every other small business owner who meets a payroll.

Then there is the appreciation I have for those who do the bar business right.  I have a link below to an article from Bill Wundram, our local expert on all things Quad Cities about the "golden age" of taverns in town.  He writes, laments actually, for what-once-was in the bar business.  I would respectfully reply to Mr. Wundram (whose writing I love) that Public House captures the essence of what made bars like Fisher's on 120 West 3rd Street back in the day.

I also found a terrific article from The New York Times  on what makes a great bar.  This story is also in the credits.  The opening lines from the author, Ms. Rosie Schaap sums it up:

"If I’ve gleaned anything from a lifetime of drinking in bars about what makes the great ones great, it’s that every detail matters: the pictures on the walls, the range of spirits offered, how customers are greeted, the volume at which music is played. And then there’s that metaphysical quality that’s hardest to capture and impossible to fabricate: something like what Romans called genius loci, the spirit of the place. It doesn’t really matter what kind of bar we’re dealing with: It either has it or not."

I'd argue that Public House indeed has it.  By all means, please go judge for yourself.

Johnna and Austin know what they have gotten themselves into by opening up a bar.  As my Dad says, about the bar business, "It's not the work, it's the hours."  I have no doubt that they will experience the ups and downs all business owners go through and be better for it.  

And as for anyone who may be wondering why I'm praising a bar that could be viewed as "competition" to my Dad's place, Jeno's Little Hungary, about a five-minute drive away, that's an easy answer:  There is no competition.  No business of quality is ever threatened by a another business of quality.  If anything, new, quality establishments add to and positively contribute to the overall business community.  My Dad summed it up nicely when I told him about Public House by saying, "Let's go say hello." 

I'll wrap up this blog post with a photo of friends and I.  Needless to say, I'm quite proud of both of them.

Hanging out with my friends and owners of Public House,  Johnna and Austin Chesney, during their soft open.  I was glad to be a part of it!  Photo by J. Berta.

If you're out and about in the area, or are back in town for the holidays, please stop in and check out this wonderful new place.  Public House is a great addition to our community.  I have no doubt they will be stellar commercial citizens and excellent neighbors.  Here's to their success and who knows, perhaps there will be another Public House location opening down the road.  I would not be the least surprised if that comes to pass.  

Be well my friends,

p.s.  Please do me a favor and share this link on your page, Twitter feed, Instagram (whatever that is) or your social media of choice if you know Johnna and/or Austin or are fans of entrepreneurs who are doing it right.  Let's give this new business a bit of a plug, thanks! 



Friday, December 25, 2015

Ut Odore Illius Perfruatur Sicut Oves

My Nativity Scene.  Photo to by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

Christmas Day has given way to Christmas Night.  I hope everyone had as a good a day as we did.  From Mass with Dad at Our Lady of Victory to dinner with him, seeing Star Wars, The Force Awakens, and dinner at Red Lantern, (Chinese food, of course), it was about as good a day as I could have.  

Christmas has been criticized, and with some justification, for having become overly commercial.  It is easy to get carried away with the materialistic nature of the holiday.  I have a link below to a story about the early history of Christmas and how some believe Christ's birth date was conveniently determined to be right around the time of certain pagan observances.  I suppose we'll never know and the Gospels are not clear guides.

Often one hears the urge to, "Keep Christ in Christmas," and to remember, "He's (Christ) the reason for the season."  I have no quarrel with that.  I do endeavor to be particularly aware of whom I am talking to and not just assume that everyone is Christian or celebrate Christmas, even in Iowa.  Yet if I know someone celebrates Christmas, I will say enthusiastically, "Merry Christmas."  

I believe Christmas can bring out the best in people.  I have a link to the story of how NORAD began tracking Santa's flight itinerary on Christmas Eve.  It's a great read and it shows that even a tough as nails "Full Bird Colonel" can get into the spirit of the season.  

As Christmas comes to a close, I am thinking about what exactly is the meaning of the season?  

Charlie Brown asked that question in the iconic Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon special. We all watched it about a week ago and I still enjoy it.  I have a link in the credits to the YouTube re-broadast of it (I presume authorized sharing as it is on YouTube's page) and here's the script of Charlie Brown's question and Linus' answer (with a cite to this script):

"Charlie Brown: I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.
[shouting in desperation]
Charlie Brown: Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?
Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.
[moves toward the center of the stage]
Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please.
[a spotlight shines on Linus]
Linus Van Pelt: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not:"
[Linus drops his security blanket on purpose]
Linus Van Pelt: "for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
[Luke 2:8-14 KJV]
Linus Van Pelt: [Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown] That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

"...the babe wrapped in swaddling closes, lying in a manger."

Christmas is known for its many images.  Some are secular, Santa and the reindeer.  Others are religious.  One such image, perhaps the image is The Nativity Scene.  The opening photo of this blog post is of the scene that was given to me as a little boy by my neighbor on Taylor Street, Mrs. Van Severn.  I love it for its simplicity, just Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and one sheep.  

In the sources, I have some information from The Archdiocese of St. Louis about the history of The Nativity Scene.  St. Francis organized the first one in 1223.  His purpose was to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas.  I guess the commercialization of Christmas has been around longer than I thought.

The Nativity Scene is a great reminder, at least to me, of the humble nature of Christ.  Despite all the carol lyrics of him being a king and divine ruler, he was born into poverty, in a barn shared with animals.  As St. Francis wrote about Jesus' birth, “...who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.The photo below is from my church and I think it is a beautiful description of The Nativity Scene and where Christ spent his first moments of life.

The Nativity Scene at Our Lady Of Victory church.  Photo by J. Berta.

So when I think about Christmas and what its "true" meaning is, I wonder if, at is most authentic nature, is the place of Christ's birth- a manger, a barn.  The place is humble, devoid of comfort.  Yet there is something else, the smell.  

When we look at images of The Nativity Scene, it is easy to become taken in with the wonder, beauty even, of it.  After all, this is the celebration of the birth of Christ, the Messiah, if you so believe.  Even if one is not a believer, it is still a moving tribute to a young family.  However, even the most accurate Nativity Scene cannot capture what that manger must have smelled like.  

 Think about it, we're talking about a barn in the desert in ancient times.  Even if it was regularly cleaned (and I doubt "regularly"would meet our 21st Century, First World standards) it would certainly still had to have particular odor to it.   

And it was into this place, with this smell, God decreed his only son would be born.  This is about as far from materialism as one can get.

Now please do not think I am calling for a rejection of our contemporary Christmas celebrations, I am not.  I love parties, sharing laughs with friends, tasty meals with dessert, giving and receiving presents.  I put up Christmas lights and enjoy seeing others' lights displays.  I'll wear a Santa hat and my Charlie Brown Christmas tie.  I love the season and with it all the fun and comforts that go with it.  I am simply saying that for me, The Nativity Scene caused me to think about what it must have been like for Jesus and Mary and Joseph to be living in a manger, a barn, with the animals and with the smell.  

And although I will not apologize for my appreciation of the comforts of the season, I hope not to be a (total) hypocrite and realize just how much distance exists between me and those who do endure hardships, inconveniences, in pursuit of their calling, their faith, their mission. 

I'll wrap up this post with a quote from Pope Francis from Holy Thursday (March 28) 2013:  “The priest who seldom goes out of himself … misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. … This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’ This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”

The smell of sheep, that is the title of this blog post in Latin.  I don't know if it makes it sound any better and I presume the actual smell is the same.  I say presume because I cannot say.  I am not a Shepard, just a very lucky guy this Christmas day...and every day.

Be well my friends,


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Some Thoughts On Christmas Eve

The calendar at my Dad's bar.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

It's Christmas Eve.  We're listing to classical Christmas music.  It is about 9:30 p.m. and the girls are getting ready for Santa's arrival.  Milk and cookies have been placed by the stockings, along with carrots for Santa to take back up to his reindeer.  A certain 9-year-old is being prodded to go to bed.  After all, one cannot be awake when Santa comes.  

Meanwhile, those of us who have been "delegated" Santa duties are awaiting the child getting in bed so we can set the stockings and get to bed ourselves.  Oh, and there is the last minute wrapping to do.  There will be plenty of creatures stirring in this house for quite some time.

Treats for Santa and his reindeer.  Photo by J. Berta.

 Christmas Eve has been different experiences throughout my life.  I was fortunate in that I got to open my presents on Christmas Eve.  My parents let me do this so I could play with them.  Growing up, we'd drive down to Ottumwa, Iowa on Christmas Day to celebrate with my Grandparents.  That ceased in 1983 when they both passed away.  

We would go to Mass on Christmas Eve.  I served Mass for a couple of them.  I remember how pretty and peaceful the Church, Our Lady of Victory looked at night, lit up, with the stain glass windows almost glowing.

Another Christmas Eve tradition was to go to my friend, Chris' house.  I saw him today at my Dad's bar and we fondly recalled about how much fun we had.  Time marched on and that tradition faded away.

In 1989, my Dad opened the bar.  He had a rule that he'd close by 5:00 on Christmas Eve.  This way, he could get out of there and actually have dinner at home one night a year.  I would go in and help him clean up, have a drink with some of the regulars, and lock the doors.  Last year (I think) I shared my poem, "Bar's Closed on Christmas."  That was the inspiration for it.

That tradition ended five years ago.  My Mom passed away in 2010 after her most valiant battle with cancer.  It was that year my Dad opened the bar on Christmas.  He and I would go to church in the morning and he would come over and eat with us.  Then, he'd open the bar.  I'll suspect he'll have a good crowd tomorrow.  The regulars will be glad to see him...and vice versa.

My Dad, getting into the spirit at his bar.  Photo by J. Berta

For some, Christmas Eve is a bigger deal than Christmas Day.  That could be in part due to custody agreements and visitation schedules.  For others, there is the juggling of "who-goes-where" for holidays.  For others, especially those in retail, they come home exhausted with hours of tasks to accomplish before they get to go to sleep.

Then there are those who wear our nation's uniform.  I saw on Facebook a post from a friend of mine who is spending his fifth Christmas away from home due to his military service.  The lyrics of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" are running thru my head, especially the line, "...if only in my dreams."  

Whatever your Christmas Eve plans are/were, I hope they were fun.  I hope you got done what you needed to and realized that it is just fine if things aren't perfect.  If you've got the people you love in your life near you, then that's all the perfection you need.

As I mentioned, I was out at my Dad's place today for a bit.  My youngest, Carly, and I stopped by and the grin that spread across his face when "Grandpa Jeno" saw her made me smile as well.

Without a doubt, the best gift is family.  And it is a gift we should gratefully experience whenever we have the chance.

Be well my friends and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Luminaria et sonum

The Christmas tree at First Baptist Church in Bettendorf, Iowa.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Yesterday afternoon, a group of us gathered at The First Baptist Church in Bettendorf, Iowa for a recital.  My daughter, Cassie, and her friends, sang a number of seasonal and traditional songs.  It was held at 4:00 p.m., well after the sun was in full retreat against the western horizon.

I had been working all day for one of my part-time endeavors and was still in "work mode," sending final texts before it started.  Before the recital started, I snapped the picture of one of the church's Christmas trees.  The lights in the church were down and I thought it was a wonderful and fitting backdrop for this event.

Speaking of, it was a wonderful recital.  The performers sang without a microphone and the only accompanying instrument was a piano.  I remember sitting there and being so in awe of the amazing talent of these young people.  At one point in the recital, the accompanist played the last note of the song after the performer had finished singing and I was caught up in the moment of that final note.  The note lingered, but for a moment, as if it was the only thing of consequence in the room, in the world.  It reminded me of a snowflake falling, an individual and beautiful thing, then vanished against the backdrop of millions of other snowflakes gone before it.

The beauty of the recital was clearly in the music.  However, in looking back on it, there was another aspect to it that added to its meaning, at least for me.  It was simple. Not flashy, not loud, not commercial, simple.  It was simple in that it had only what it needed:  Talented performers, caring instructors (and thanks again, Mrs. Lyons and the accompanist, forgive me, your name escapes me) an appreciative audience and a forum that was perfect for this event held at the ideal time of the day.  By the second song, I had put work out of my mind.  (Now that's a gift!)

I love holiday music.  My favorite collection is of George Winston's piano solos, captured on the December CD.  It's over 30 years old and I look forward to hearing it every year.  The music is at times comforting and also at times mildly melancholy.  It is consistently beautiful.

I have it in my iTunes collection, yet there is something additionally special about holding the CD, looking at the artwork on it, and playing it thru my computer speakers.  I wonder if it is the nostalgia of the experience that makes it more meaningful than scrolling thru just another playlist.  Whatever the reason, it resonates with me.

My copy of George Winston's December CD, photo by J. Berta.

For me, this time of year is a LOT of fun.  Yet it can also be stressful.  From deciding what presents to purchase for others, to whether have a party (and when and what to serve and all that goes with it) and what pictures will make the cut for the gift calendars, it can be overwhelming.  Then, there is all the other "stuff" in the world.  ISIS is still with us, plying their trade of barbaric mayhem and death.  The presidential primary season is shifting into high gear and with it comes the bright lights and blaring (and sometimes ugly rhetoric) sounds.  There will be 40 (I believe) bowl games and they already have begun.  Lots of things to grab and hold our attention, at times by the throat.

As one who is particularly susceptible to "bright shiny objects," this can be a trying time of year.  So when I have moments of less noise, less glare, I try to appreciate them.  Maybe this is a by-product of more grey hair, but as I get older, I do appreciate, cherish even, such moments.  For example, last week, I was the last one up and I snapped a picture of our lit Christmas Tree and electric Menorah.  It was, for me, a perfect way to recall the unique holiday experience in our home and the gift of its simplistic beauty.

Our home, on the last night of Hanukkah.  Photo by J. Berta.

David Brooks wrote in his recent book, The Road To Character, about St. Augustine and mused on the subject of grace.  I am going to paraphrase here of what I recall Brooks discussed about this man and this subject.  It goes something like this:  Grace is not something you can earn.  It is not like winning an election or a sports championship or some other award.  Grace cannot be achieved.  Yet grace is also something that has to be accepted, willingly, consciously.  In about an hour, I'll go to sleep.  I'll take in a bunch of oxygen without thought or submission.  It will simply happen.  Not so with grace.  You have to accept it.

As I think back on yesterday's recital, of sitting in the church, of hearing young people of different backgrounds, cultures, religions and experiences sing against a backdrop of a softly lit church, I believe I experienced a most sincere form of grace.  As much as I like the December CD, it is something altogether more meaningful to hear music performed by others live, especially your own daughter and her friends.

It was a moment where light and song, luminaria et sonum as they say in Latin, united in perfect amount and gave the holiday season, at least for me, a perfect meaning.  True, it was only an hour, yet that hour was enough.  I did nothing to earn this experience and was grateful to have it presented to me.  

It was truly a moment of grace for me and I'm glad I got to experience it.  I hope you all can have similar experiences this holiday season.  You might not know when they will happen but you're surely know when they are upon you.  Accept them, for they are truly precious gifts.

Be well my friends,

Saturday, December 12, 2015

C-Note For The Chairman

Frank Sinatra, Public Domain/Fair Use Claimed, full citation listed below in the sources.

Greetings All:

Today is the 100th birthday of Francis Albert Sinatra.  He was better known to the world as Frank Sinatra.  Another name (and my personal favorite) is as "The Chairman" (as chairman of the board of his "Rat Pack" group of performers).  Although he has been gone for the better part of two decades (May 14, 1998) his music still resonates, still matters.  I'll listen to his Christmas carols thru the 25th and will blast his other hits on New Year's.

I've got a link to a story from The New York Times on his music.  True, towards the end of his life, he was not the same.  Then again, could he ever be?  With his advanced age, aggravated by logging hundreds of hours as a "test pilot" for Jack Daniels, any voice, even his, would have to bend, if not crack, to time.  Yet thanks to technology, we can enjoy him in his prime.  The man was mortal, his music, not.  I think it will be with our society for decades, if not centuries to come.

I consider myself fortunate to have seen him perform in the early 90s.  I was in law school and came home for spring break to learn he was in town.  I had to go see him and ended up getting a free ticket.  True, it was in the upper deck section but I could have cared less.  It was Sinatra.  

I ended up sitting next to three sisters who had gone to the show because their mom had loved Frank.  She had passed on and one of them told me how they went to her grave, played her favorite Sinatra song and had a drink before the show.  I got the feeling she had recently passed and this was a way for the three of them to work thru the grieving process and have a great evening out, hearing a true legend.  

The other Sinatra story I will share is the day he died.  He passed away in the early hours of May 14th, a Friday.  Back then, I shared office space with a fellow lawyer.  Gary was a huge Sinatra fan like me.  We decided that morning to close the office early and put on the recorder something to the effect of, "In honor of the passing of Dr. Francis Albert Sinatra, the office is CLOSED.  Calls will NOT be returned."  We headed down to "Mac's Tavern," and drank martinis.  The staff played nothing but Sinatra and we all ended up singing along.  

Frank Sinatra was a flawed man.  Most human beings are.  He did great things, like championing civil rights.  (I have a link below to one story.)  Then, there were the other aspects of his character, the choices he made.  I'm not going to go into that here.  I'll simply say if you want a perfect hero, pick up a comic book.  

Frank Sinatra left us an amazing legacy of music and performance.  In his songs, one can find sadness, hope, regret and redemption.  In his life, we can find plenty of lessons of how to life and what mistakes to avoid.  It's up to us to decide how we'll apply then.

But for tonight, it is enough to say thanks to the man and his music.  Happy birthday, Francis, 100's a big number.  Well, for "The Chairman," let's call it a C-Note, seems more fitting, at least to me.

"The Chairman," public domain

Be well my friends,


Opening post photo, 

Second photo,

Friday, December 11, 2015

How We Fight Back

U2 and Eagles of Death Metal, Paris, December 7, 2015.  Photo from the Facebook page of Eagles of Death Metal, sharing presumed authorized and/or fair use claimed, full citation in sources.

Greetings All:

"These are our brothers, our fellow troubadours," he said. "They were robbed of their stage three weeks ago, and we would like to offer them ours tonight."

Bono, Paris, December 7, 2015

It has been less than a month since the cowardly and horrific terrorist attacks in Paris.  As the BBC reports (full cite below), on November 13, 2015, 130 innocent people lost their lives and another 100 were injured.  It was carnage carried out by those who chose victims who could not fight back.

The world gasped at the horror.  

One place of particular atrocity was the Bataclan Concert Hall.  Here, a group of California musicians, The Eagles of Death Metal, were playing a concert when the killing began.  In what should have been a evening of revelry degenerated into a night of horror, at the hands of cowards who had no chance to fight back.  

Fast-forward to this week.  At another concert hall, again in "The City of Lights," musicians gathered.  Except this time it was arguable the greatest rock band of our time, U2.  Here, on this stage, these literal "rock stars" shared their stage with the musicians who had suffered, as Bono so eloquently stated, a robbery of their stage.  

This was, without question, a class act.  I have links below to the show and if you want to feel yourself smile, watch some of the video clips.  

We live in challenging, complex, heart-breaking and yes, fearful times.  In the middle of a primary election, there are those who gleefully stoke the fires of fear and rage and bigotry while others howl their approval.  It is as if the black and white news reels of 80 years ago have been replaced with YouTube clips of campaign rallies today.

Meanwhile, around the world and frighteningly, here at home, young, angry people hear the siren song of the call to jihad.  I am reading the book, Objective Troy by Scott Shane.  This book discusses the facts surrounding the drone strike against the American terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki and the complexities of this chapter on the "War On Terror," or "The Long War."  al-Awlaki went from being the face of moderate Islam after 9/11 to a vocal and persuasive presence for terrorism.  Along the way, he became one of the few American citizens to be killed without due process.  (For the record, I have no issues with his death via drone and sans due process.  He was a terrorist and his actions justified eliminating him.  Please see pp. 230-231 of the book for more detailed analysis.)

By the way, if you're curious, al-Awlaki was killed in September 2011, over four years ago.  As we have all become painfully aware, those answering the call of jihad has not diminished.  If anything, it is worse today.

I can understand the fear, the anger about the terrorist attacks that have occurred around the globe and here at home.  One of the more particularly concerning aspects of this new chapter in the terror fight is the number of young Muslims willing to join ISIS and other groups.  The Guardian had a great story from this past June entitled, "Want to understand the appeal of Isis?  Think like a young Muslim outsider."  I've got a link to the story below and it gives a new insight on a familiar story:  Young, disaffected people find a cause to believe in and a place to belong.  It is almost as if ISIS is a first cousin to American street gangs in their basis for recruitment.

Academic arguments and historical references aside, there is still the matter at hand of combating and defeating this latest strain of the virus of Islamic Terrorism.  So how do we do it?

When I say, "we," I am not referring to the governmental or military level.  That is, of course, THE larger, marco solution.  However, what I am referring to is what we can do at the individual level.  Part of that is dialogue.  David Swan wrote an amazing piece entitled, "Dear Muslims" that I strongly encourage everyone to read.  I have a link to it below in the sources.  I do want to share this one passage from his work:

"We share a common enemy in the radical Islamist. They want to drive us apart and to fear each other. They want your children to grow up hating my children. They want you to believe our way of life is evil and that we must be punished for it. They produce a barrage of internet propaganda aimed at isolating your children from those not like them in an attempt to recruit them to do evil on their behalf. Every terrorist attack against innocent people in this world is an attack against peace and normalcy. It’s designed to stir a violent response from those attacked and create more hatred between 'us and them.'"

His call for the need recognize not only a common enemy but our common cause.  This goes beyond the (I believe) Arabic/Islamic saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."  It states that those who wish to do us harm for their own twisted version of reality want us, need us actually to find enemies where they do not exist.

Does this mean excusing acts of violence?  Not in my book.  Does it mean we not strike back?  No.  If anything we strike back with unyielding force until we've carried the day.  If we're playing basketball, your team and mine should have the same number of players.  If it is a "kinetic" (that's military-talk for killing people and blowing stuff up) contest, then I want every possible advantage.  I want to win. 

But moving away from the battlefield and back to our regular lives, I'd suggest we read and carefully ponder David Swan's words of seeking understanding while reserving the unqualified right of self-defense.  I also think the act of U2 is a way of resisting terror.  When Bono referred to a band I'd never heard of until November 13th as, "...our brothers, our fellow troubadours,..." he did more than share a stage with fellow musicians.  He, and the rest of U2 showed the world that we're all in this together and we are not afraid.  When they all played together, their music drowned out, if only for a few moments, the shrill screams of hate.  

When we see something like this and applaud it, "Like" it, feel the smile forming on our face from it, then we, too, are fighting back.  Terrorism cannot exist when we refuse to succumb to the fear.  

And the best part is- we don't have to be rock stars to make this happen.  
Be well my friends,


Opening photo:


Monday, December 7, 2015

A Most Surprising Consolation Prize

My Iowa flag being folded, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

December 5, 2015,
Bettendorf, Iowa, the basement of good friends,
About 10:00 p.m.

It ended with less than 30 seconds left in the game.  Michigan State, with a stellar effort, punched in a touchdown.   Iowa was out of timeouts and out of time.  After having seen one "Hail Mary" pass earlier in the week, I knew in my heart it was over.  

And it was.  

My beloved Iowa Hawkeye football team's magic carpet ride of a season ended.  No longer were they undefeated.  No longer were they, "in the conversation" for the national championship.  The raucous cheering of a few moments ago was replaced with quiet and a few mutterings.  It was as if the air had been let out of a balloon.

Drat.  I was hoping, so hoping Iowa would pull it off and get to keep it going.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

So what is Iowa's consolation prize?  It's this:

From, posted to their Facebook page, fair use claimed, full citation in sources.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, THE Rose Bowl.  Putting it into perspective, this is a simply amazing result to a season that clearly exceeded expectations.  I recall back in July walking back from lunch with a fellow Hawk fan (and an absolute expert on Iowa Football) and we both thought Iowa could be 1-4 heading into the start of the Big Ten season.  As I mentioned, expectations were exceeded.

For those of you who know me, it is an accurate statement that I am a...passionate Iowa football fan.  I've been known to get a bit...engaged in watching games.  I have joked with friends about being "back on probation" for watching Iowa games in my house.  Something about a few "editorial comments" offered by me with some admittedly "colorful" language.  My wife was not amused and I cannot blame her for ire.  Then again, we did drill at 57-yard field goal as time expired.  If not a defense, certainly a mitigating factor.

Yet there is something to be said to being too much into sports.  At the extreme is the soccer hooligans of Europe.  We've had our own ugly examples of that here in the U.S. where fans of opposing teams have been assaulted, sometimes seriously, and suffered permanent injuries.  There is absolutely no place for that in sports.

I have a link below to an article about "social identity theory" and its role with sports.  The New York Times ran a story from 2000 that I think has relevance today.  I also have a link to it in the sources.  This one quote caught my attention:

"One theory traces the roots of fan psychology to a primitive time when human beings lived in small tribes, and warriors fighting to protect tribes were true genetic representatives of their people, psychologists say."

If I want to be honest with myself, I should acknowledge that there is a a sense of pride I feel when Iowa wins that is one I cannot truly claim as something I achieved, simply get to bask in the glow of the event.  I have never played a down of organized football in my life.  I am simply a fan.

And I think that is OK.  It is good to have some distractions in one's life.  It is fine to have diversions, things that are separate from work and the other meaningful pursuits of our life.  My livelihood and that of my family's has zero connection to if Iowa ever wins another game again.  After all, that's why they call it a game.

Still, there is something special about Iowa.  It's a place where the elite of high school athletes do not attend.  As the talking heads have told us (again and again), Iowa does not get the four and five-star athletes.  We're the place where people get the chance to play...if they earn it.  

For me, there is something extra special about Iowa.  It is about the namesake of our stadium, Nile Kinnick.  Kinnick was Iowa's only Heisman Trophy winner.  He claimed the hardware in 1939 and gave a speech that stunned those in attendance with its authenticity and poignant message.  I have an audio link to his speech in the sources.  Here are the concluding lines:

“...if you will permit me, I’d like to make a comment which in my mind, is indicative, perhaps, of the greater significance of football and sports emphasis in general in this country, and that is, I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe.”

Kinnick would answer the call to duty and he perished in the Pacific as a Naval aviator in 1943.  There were those, many actually, who thought had he lived, he would have been a leader in post-war America, President even.  I cannot wonder and think of what a better world it would have been had he returned home from the war.  

The photo below is the statute of him outside the stadium that bears his name.  At his feet is a helmet that the coaches and players touch for good luck as they enter the stadium.  It was not an oversight in design that he is clasping books in his arm.  For Kinnick, scholarship and athletics could not exist without each other.

The statute of Nile Kinnick at Kinnick Stadium.  Photo by J. Berta

Nile Kinnick was an American Hero.  Fitzgerald was so terribly right when he wrote, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."  His death, so young, with so much life in front of him, is the real tragedy for Iowa, not a last-minute loss.  I will try to remember that.

I will also focus on all the good things that there are about my school, my Alma mater.  It is a place where people come from across the state and around the globe to study, to learn, to teach, to share, and yes, compete.  It is a place where both alums and others who could not go to college make incredibly generous donations to the school.  I am proud of the hospitals of my school, especially the children's hospital.  I am proud of the fact that as I write this, some college kid is working ferociously for a presidential candidate, convinced this candidate must be elected.  I am proud of a school where just about any Iowan, with the drive and discipline can graduate and contribute to our state and our society.

It is for that reason I am concluding this blog post with the photo of the Iowa flag, the "Tiger Hawk," not being folded up as in surrender, (as opened this post), yet instead proudly flying in front of my house, as it has on almost every game day this year.  While I am disappointed Iowa will not be playing for the national championship, I am proud they will be in the Rose Bowl.  It is a most surprising consolation prize.

Of course, long after this football season is but a memory, the work of the University, my University, shall go on, in the classroom, in the lab, in the auditorium, on the practice field and come next fall, on the field.

And there watching over it all, with an approving gaze, will be both the statute and spirit of Nile Kinnick.  He is a champion eternal.  We, too can be champions, if only we commit to living our lives with the same sincere focus on our work as Kinnick did.

And for that, there is no fear of a consolation prize.  We are all winners.
On Iowa, Go Hawks.

Be well my friends,

Sources:; and


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Missing Sock (& Other First World Problems)

One of my socks, the other one is missing.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Thanksgiving night I ended up doing folding a bunch of laundry as I watched Green Bay lose a game to Chicago that they should have won.  In the process of watching my favorite pro team go down to defeat, I experienced another disappointment:  A missing sock.

This is not just any sock, but one of my better dress socks.  The kind that go above the calf and don't collapse after having to walk quickly someplace.


My friends, I give you a first-world problem.  

Some of us (me, on occasion) bemoan the need for socks outside of athletic pursuits this time of year.  We're talking about December in Iowa folks.  Gone are, except for the most hearty among us, the days of sandals with no socks.  It's cold and it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Yet I cannot help but be pulled back to this issue of a "first world problem."  Sure, it will be cold, bitter even.  However, I have a warm house, a warm car, I work inside and have ample clothes to wear.  Just because I am missing one sock, I think I'll be OK.  

I offer as Exhibit A a photo of my sock drawer...

My sock drawer, photo by J. Berta

Laura Vanderkam is a writer whom I have featured before on this blog.  Her monthly email is something I look forward to reading.  If you'd like to follow her, I have a link to her latest email.  I highly encourage you to check it out as it articulates much clearer what I am trying to say here.  She writes about winter and cold and how a few Norwegians give us an example of how to not just "put up" with winter, but embrace it.  There is one passage that she has that I find particularly insightful:

"But when possible, flipping that mindset switch from enduring to enjoying is both simple and profound. The Norwegian saying that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” can be understood on many levels."

That is great advice.  It also reinforces my belief that in almost every aspect of my life, I am truly blessed with abundance.  I lack for nothing.  Even in this, the dying days of fall, I have heat, warmth.  Here's a photo of our fireplace, pushing out clean warmth with a backdrop of pretty flames.  


So regardless of if I lose a sock, I have plenty more.  Regardless of the cold of winter, I have a home with warmth.  Regardless of a favorite team losing, I have the luxury of being able to exert attention on such a diversion (as opposed to scrounging for food).  I do not have a care in the world.


I found the sock.  It was stuck inside a pair of jeans.  All's well that ends well.  Actually, in my life, all is well regardless of missing socks or other first-world problems.

Be well my friends,


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Extreme Ownership (A Book Review)

The book cover for Extreme Ownership, fair use claimed, full citation below in the sources.

Greetings All:

It has been a while since I featured a book in my blog.  I have listened to a couple of books recently that were truly thought-provoking for me.  

The first was Dr. Brene Brown's Rising Strong.  Dr. Brown has performed ground-breaking work on the relationship between embracing (an appropriate level of) vulnerability and becoming a stronger, more effective person.  Dr. Brown has a TED Talk that is great.  The link is in the sources below and I invite you to check it out, you'll dig it.

As to your featured book, it is Extreme Ownership.  The authors are John "Jocko" Willink and Leif Babin.  They are the two primary directors/leaders/visionaries of the leadership consulting firm Echelon Front.  Prior to this endeavor, these gentlemen were Navy SEAL officers.  The Navy SEALS are the gleaming tip of American's military spear.  It is only the most dedicated and both mentally and physically tough who earn the right to wear the Trident, signifying admission into this most elite unit.  I highly doubt I would make it thru two days of this training.  

The authors were assigned to "Task Unit Bruiser" during the Battle of Ramadi.  This was a period of sustained (that's code for bloody) urban combat during Operation Iraq Freedom.  If you've read and/or seen American Sniper by Chris Kyle, much of his story occurred in this hellhole.

If you're looking for a book with tales of combat, this book fits the bill.  However, I would suggest the real value of this book lies in the lessons learned in combat and the application thereof to contemporary business endeavors.  

I loved this book.  I loved it for its raw honesty.  I loved it for his simple message:  You are responsible for everything if you are a leader.  The core message of Extreme Ownership is that if you are in charge, "The Boss" if you will, then you are the one for whom all accountability rests.  Don't blame your staff, your assistant, the Wi-Fi going down, the Fed Ex truck that derailed on I-80 west of Iowa City for the package not getting someplace on time.  Nope.  You, you as the leader, are in charge.  And with that authority comes the responsibility for taking the hit when things go south.

I first learned of this book when I listened to Tim Ferriss' podcast.  It was also, not by coincidence, I would argue, that I also learned of Dr. Brown's book.  I have a link to the poscast with Commander Willink that podcast and it is an amazing listen.

If I had to pick one thing about this book I love (and there are many) is the way these two warriors, leaders, patriots, share credit with their fellow service members.  The "Special Operations" community, fair or otherwise, has been painted as being elite, being better than the rest of the military.  Just my two cents, yet I have yet to meet one such military member who acted even slightly like that.  If anything, they are confident, humble, engaging, curious, respectful and someone whose company I'd love to share.  Oh, and if you're ISIS, these guys would put a bullet in your skull.   

Willink and Babin go out of their way to praise their fellow warriors when discussing their service in the hell that was Ramadi.   This praise in neither faint nor artificial.  There is nothing about these authors that is either.  Instead, they are two of the most authentic, genuine individuals whose story I have had the good fortune to learn.  It is due to their sincerity that makes me appreciate their willingness to share praise and credit.

This is a central tenant of this book:  Leaders must build up the team, protect the team and never forget that they are both a part of, as well as, the leader of the team.  No one, especially the leader, is as important as the sum of the parts.

If you listen to this book or read it (or both) I believe you will come away with a few central points.  The first is that as a leader you, and only you, are responsible for what occurs in your endeavors.  You must own your decisions-good, bad, or otherwise.  If a subordinate and/or direct report commits and error, ultimately, it is on you, not him.  You failed in some capacity as a leader to properly train/coach/mentor/direct/encourage.  Then there is the incredibly hard part of leadership- letting someone go who is not contributing to and/or detracting from the mission.  At the end the the day, it is the mission that must be accomplished.

The second thing that stuck with me was the critical importance of communication.  Whether one is directing troops on the battlefield or overseeing salespeople in a territory, it is incumbent on the leader to explain not only the "how" but also the "why" of a mission.  In this book, Willink explains in vivid detail how he got his subordinates to embrace working with Iraqi troops, even though the initial response was severe in the negative.  Good leaders explain the mission.  Great leaders explain the reasons behind the mission.  It is only by taking this extra step that a leader can arouse the passion in his or her subordinates to not only follow but become leaders in their own right in accomplishing the mission.

I could go on and on about this book, the stories, the applications to real life.  Yet to do so would only drag out this post and would rob you of the experience of hearing or reading the stories for yourself.  I will touch on a third point of the book that riveted me.  It is this:  

Discipline equals freedom.

"Huh?"  You might say.  I thought the whole idea of freedom was to be able to be yourself, to make your own way, to sleep in late, not make your bed, let the dishes pile up in the sink and, well, you get the point.  

Yet in Willink and Babin's mind, it is only through discipline that you have the freedom to become what you truly wish to be.  If you want more time in the day, for example, then get up earlier.  If you want to be able to move faster in your body armor and helmet, then wear the (expletive-deleted) things all the time, not just when you have to.  Then, it becomes almost like a second skin.  Want to be more effective in some area of your life?  Great.  All you have to do is commit to owning your conduct and disciplining yourself to do the little things everyday that set you up for success.  

It reminds me of the line from legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi's What It Takes To Be Number 1,  "Winning is a habit.  Unfortunately, so is losing."  Willink discusses how you need to set three alarms so there is NO EXCUSE for not getting up on time.  Then he takes it a step further by saying you need, no, strike that, MUST get up immediately when the FIRST alarm goes off.  If you do, you win.  If you go back to sleep, then you lost that day's first battle.  As Coach Lombardi warns, this is the beginning o the day's habits,...for good or for ill.

I enjoyed this book completely and I believe you will as well.  The standards Willink and Babin set are high, incredibly so.  Yet not impossible.  While they had the awesome responsibility for leading fellow SEALS into battle, we, too, have our own responsibility.  That is to be the best leaders we can be, at work, at home, in the classroom, in the gym, wherever we find ourselves.  Few people are willing to accept this level of responsibility.  Then again, there are equally few who ascend to a level of effective leadership that empower them to achieve  their goals.  

Extreme Ownership is a collection of lessons learned literally under fire.  The applications to civilian life and business are clearly explained.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who desires to be a better leader and inspire leadership in others.  I have links in the sources to the book and other information.  If you do read or listen to this book, please let me know your thoughts on it, thanks.

Be well my friends,


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Terminal Flowers

The "terminal" wild flowers on my hill from late yesterday afternoon.  Photo by J. Berta. 

Greetings All:

"Everything has its season
Everything has its time
Show me a reason and I'll soon show you a rhyme
Cats fit on the windowsill
Children fit in the snow..."

The above lyrics are from the song, "Corner of the Sky" from the musical, Pippin.  As I write this, snow is still falling, albeit gently.  While the calendar reports there is a month left of fall, "Iowa winter" has arrived.  (It's my unofficial way of tracking the start of winter, even though we'll likely still have some nice days before the winter solstice.)

We got the news earlier this week that the snow was coming.  I performed the annual obligatory ritual of preparing the snowblower, or "snow thrower" as it is now called, for the expected onslaught of overnight snow.  To-wit, please see Exhibit A:

My snowblower, ready for the winter "fun."  Photo by J. Berta

As of this...typing, I doubt there is enough snow to justify even firing this thing up today.  I probably will, just the same.  After all, how can you turn down the opportunity to fire up something with a motor.

One bit of fall is still with us and that is football, college football to be precise.  My beloved Iowa Hawkeyes are facing off against the Boilermakers of Purdue.  It's going to be a game played in the snow.  Something tells me there it will be a LOT of fun for those on the field...and those in the stands.  Every game day my neighbors and I put out our Iowa flag.  I've never seen it against this weather background:

Add caption

 Regardless of the amount of snow, it's clearly snow and it means that what is left of the wild flowers are gone.  The opening photo was taken last evening as the sun was setting.  I was furiously finishing the lawn, the last of the leaves, if you will.  I snapped this photo knowing that these flowers would likely not see another sunrise.

Sad?  I suppose.  Yet such is life, the passing of the seasons.  Flowers die, as do all living things.  Their death does not diminish their beauty.  Perhaps it is their terminal nature that makes their beauty all that more special.

We here in the Midwest face winter every year with a resigned determination.  It is a period of inconvenience, of getting up earlier to clean off cars, to search for that (expletive-deleted) missing glove, to clinch our teeth and squint our gaze in the face of frozen gusts.  Yet we know this will pass.

Then there are those among us for whom winter is a time of joy.  Kids, particularly.  I first heard the song I quoted over thirty years ago.  I think it says with me because of this line:  

 "...children fit in the snow..." 

My daughter in the snow.  Photo by J. Berta

That is a completely accurate statement!

So mourn not the terminal flowers.  They had their time, their moment (literally) in the sun.  They shall return, with the spring sun and soft rain.  We will greet them like the old, dear friends they are.

In the meantime, let's embrace winter however we choose, with whatever level of stoic reflection available to us.  So long as we're sincere, it's OK to not be grinning from ear to ear under our scarfs.

I found this quote from Henry Rollins that I think is just super.  Here it is:

"I have come to regard November as the older, harder man's October. I appreciate the early darkness and cooler temperatures. It puts my mind in a different place than October. It is a month for a quieter, slightly more subdued celebration of summer's death as winter tightens its grip."

Yes, Henry, summer has passed on.  Yet it shall return.  In the meantime, I'll go fill the bird feeders, maybe even sled down the hill.  Oh, and yes, there is the snow on sidewalk to be dealt with.  

Everything does have its season, and its time.

The time for wild flowers is past. 
The time for snow is here.
So long as I am near those I love,
Let the season be whatever it needs to be.

Be well my friends,