Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Of Bread Bags and Piles of Shoes

Some of the (many) shoes in our house.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Last week, I wrote about that uniquely American tradition known as "The State of the Union Address."  I thought President Obama gave a solid speech.  I also thought he won the "zinger" award of the night when he quipped, "I know, I won both of them." This was to the some grumbling by "The loyal opposition" regarding his comment about being done with elections.

We then moved onto the Republican response.  There were a number of them given.  The official one came from Iowa's own, Senator Joni Ernst.  There is almost a "Hunger Games" quality to the response to the SOTU address.  It's way shorter, given to an empty room sans staff and teleprompter and its watched only by the media, the other party's fans and political junkies (like me). 

Senator Ernst gave, in my opinion, a very good and sincere response.  One part of her speech stuck with me.  Here it is:

"You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry.  But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet."

My opinion was not universally shared.  Peggy Noonan has a cleaver blog post calling out the "eye-rollers" who took issue with Ernst's tales of her youth.  I've got the link to her blog post in the credits below, it's worth a read.

As someone who worked in New York City slinging permanent life insurance (er, I mean, being a "financial consultant") and hailing from "flyover country," I can understand their point of reference.  After all, who'd do that?  Wear bread bags on their feet?

People in Iowa, that's who.

I think I might have even done that as a kid myself.  However, I cannot recall.  Truth be told, I had plenty of shoes growing up.  Now, even more so.

I remember as I watched Senator Ernst give say the line about her " good pair of shoes," I looked over at the assortment of shoes gathered in our living room.  For our family of four, we're all good, really good with shoes.

We are truly fortunate.

I don't know why, but for some reason as she told her story of the bread bags keeping her one pair of shoes dry, I thought of a pile of shoes.  Not the small collection in my house, but the mountains of shoes many miles away in D.C. and in Europe.

Those piles reside at the National Holocaust Museum in our nation's capital and throughout Europe in the museums that were once killing factories.  

Those piles are shoes, countless shoes!  When I see photos of the piles of shoes, I cannot help but think that the last living person to wear them had but minutes of life left before the steel door slammed shut to the gas chamber.

My God, the horrors man can do.

A pile of victims' shoes, fair use claimed,

Now, lest anyone think I'm now on the Joni Ernst bandwagon from a policy standpoint, I am not.  In her speech, she touched on a number of issues, many I clearly disagree with her on, with a bunch of separation.   Come to think of it, with the exception of her pledge to support Veterans, I probably am on the other side of just about everything else she said last week.  Yet on her story of the bread bags, I believe her, I take her at her word.  

And to those who would mock that story, think about this:  Are you mocking her because you think she's a hick or you just don't like her politics?  Either way, you're befalling a stereotype.  

Stop it.  Please, I'm asking nice.

By all means, challenge her on policy issues.  Get informed, get active, vote, volunteer, read, write a blog (it's easy, even I can do it) and advance your agenda.  Register folks to vote and help them get whatever ID they need to vote (interesting the Constitution says nothing about state-issued proof of ID to vote, yet I digress) and whatever else you can think of.  But please, do not succumb to cheep shot attacks against someone you don't even know.

Here's why:  When people make generalizations, come to assumptions without the facts, or just engage in snarky comments, it does not help our society move forward.  

And we need to move forward, like now!

A few days' ago (January 27th) marked the liberation of evil personified, Auschwitz.  Although this was sadly not the only crime scene of the Third Reich, it is the best, most chilling, ugly image of the Holocaust.  When I hear, "Never again," I shake my head.  Since 1945 there have been plenty of atrocities across the globe.  The grandmother of the last perpetrator of "Walmart-scale" evil has not yet been born.

So if I might suggest, let us all endeavor to look for the sincerity in what others say, offer them the benefit of the doubt.  Let us focus on all we have.  Let us shamelessly and joyfully practice audacious acts of gratitude for that plenty.  Let of never forget that the stiff arm salute became the ashes of Auschwitz.  It didn't happen overnight but happen it did.  

When people ask me, "Could something like that (the Holocaust) happen here, in America?"  I answer, "No."  I say, "no," not just because I'm a perpetual optimist, but because we have systems in place strong as a Spartan shield wall to protect others.  Specifically,  the minority, from the whims of the majority.   I also answer, "No," because unlike the bully regimes that infected the decades of the 20th Century, we respect the rule of law and right to hold both beliefs and memories...including rides on school buses with bread bags strapped to one's legs.  

Be well my friends,



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The State of the Union, Our Union

President Obama beginning the 2015 SOTU Address, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Tonight, a political ritual is unfolding in our nation's capital.  As I type this, The President (our President, for those of you who are Americans) is performing one of his many Constitutional responsibilities to report to the Congress.  Article II, Section 3 is where it is found.  I have a link to The Heritage Foundation with the specifics. 

I also have a link to the whole speech below for those want to check it out.  And, of course, there is a full buffet line of cable news networks to chose from for whatever your take is on the current state of the American body politic for commentary.

I would be horribly remiss not to mention that the official Republican response is being given by a fellow Iowan, Senator Joni Ernst.  If you have read my blog during the election, you might recall I spoke of my support for then Congressman Bruce Braley.  Still, I am proud that a freshman Senator from my state and an OIF Veteran added her voice to the discourse of democracy.  My only critique of her speech would be the following:  Senator, there are no "ordinary" Iowans...or Americans for that matter.

Back to POTUS' speech, I thought it was great.  Biased?  Sure.  After all, I voted for the guy twice.  Still, I did think it was the type of speech a leader gives.  I also thought he went out of his way to reach across the aisle to the other side.  And that is good, considering that the folks on the "other side" are in charge.

We have a ton of problems to deal with in our current nation and world.  There is no getting around that.  However, we've been here before, and we've bounced back.  I do have to wonder if one of the reasons we've been (how should I put this...) adrift in our nation is that perhaps we don't have a common cause to rally behind.  Oh sure, there is ISIS.  But as vicious and evil as they are, they are not Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan or the Soviet Union.  Perhaps we haven't gotten along as well as we are capable of because,...well, we have not had to.

I'll submit the following:  We now need to.  We have to find common ground.  We have to view compromise not as an affront to our principles but an example of our principles.  We have to recognize that the state of the Union is based on how we all interact with each other.  It is, in short, our union.  

I believe this union, our union, is strong.

Now, let's make it stronger...together.

Be well my friends,


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tragédie à Paris

One of the better political cartoons I have seen, fair use claimed, full cite below. 

 Greetings All:

We've all been reeling from the shock, then anger at the events in Paris of the past week.  Over a dozen souls were lost in murder due to the demented logic of a few demented men.  

I have been gently accused of writing blog posts that are w-a-y too long.  To that charge, I plead guilty.  After all, I am an attorney and an only child.  It's a challenge not to go on (and on and on) about subjects that matter to me.

And trust me, this one does.

First off, I'm angry.  I am angry at the cowardly act that occurred in Paris.  There is neither courage nor honor (any effort, for that matter) of walking into a building of unsuspecting, unarmed civilians and emptying the clip of an AK-47.  That's not courage, just a muscle movement.

Second, I'm frustrated.  I am frustrated that we live in a world where such horrors can occur.  I'm frustrated that while the whole world was slugging down the "Big Gulp" of constant cable news of the Tragédie à Paris, there were but a precious few drops of news about the hundreds, if not thousands murdered in Nigeria at the hands of the cowardly thugs known as Buko Horan.  (Not sure if it's spelled right and don't care, they don't deserve spell-check.)

So here we are, about a week removed from the carnage in the "City of Lights."  What have we learned?  That's a question I'll kick back to those with higher GPAs than me to answer.

Here is what I will say:  We're not going to let these bastards win.  We're not going to cower, to give up, to stop living our lives.  I (expletive-deleted) love it that over 3 MILLION people showed up in Paris in peaceful, powerful protest to the bully jihadists and said, "Here we are, do what you will."  

A photo from Paris after that massacre, New York Post, fair use claimed, full cite below.
It is a tragedy that which befell Paris last week.  It is easy to be both angry and frustrated, as I've admitted to.  And yet, let us not play into the terrorists (lower case on purpose) plans and over-react.  Let us not let our anger and rage and grief cause us to lash out against those whom have harmed us not.  Let us not punish those whose only crime is to be Muslim.  And that, my friends, is exactly what the cowards want.  

So yes, let us grieve.  Let us recall this tragedy.  Let us be angry but move forward.  We simply do not have the luxury of seething rage.  Instead, let us fight back with honor and in the spirit of our principles.  We can win and in doing so honor those who fell in Paris...and in the distant jungles of Nigeria.
être bien mes amis,


Opening cartoon, after-Charlie-Hebdo-attack.html 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Melancholy Task

The "wrap up" (that was bad, sorry) of our holiday decorations.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

"All is quiet on New Year's Day."   

U2 from their song, "New Year's Day," from their 1983 (My God, has it been that long?!?) album, War.

New Year's Day, 2015.  Welcome to the new year and farewell to the holiday season, at least in our house.  It's kind of an unwritten rule that come January 1st, the decorations come down, get packed up and returned to the basement.  This was something my Mom did and we've continued the practice in our place.

There's something a bit sad, melancholy actually, about the end of the holidays.  Gone is the season of food, fun, the same songs sung by artists across the generations, and of course, the decorations.

I am a sucker for outdoor lights.  I love looking at them and having them up at our house.  I think I did a not-too-terrible job.  I never figured out how to set the timer on the power strip thing, so every evening and every night I would venture outside to plug and unplug it.  When I turned it off there was something kinda neat about being outside in the cold.  That quickly passed and I scooted back inside to the warmth of the house.  Still, experiencing the cold was worth it to catch a glimpse of the neighbors' lights still on.  (I told you I was a sucker for lights.)

When the holidays end, there is a degree of sadness.  Here's a link to an article that sheds some light on this subject:

For me, part of the sadness of the holiday season being over is that things need to go back to the way they were prior to Turkey Day.  There is the issue of packing up the stuff and carefully, I might add.  We have a number of things that need extra care.  The one that comes immediately to mind is the nativity scene given to me by my neighbor, Mrs. Van Severn, when I was a little boy.  It's a minor miracle its survived this long.  I'm determined to keep it that way.

It is sad to say goodbye to the holidays.  That is why I am convinced that the best way to deal with the end of the holidays is to pack up stuff ASAP.  Now, full disclosure, it is the evening of th 4th and the decorations have not yet been moved downstairs.  They are packed, however, and that is the important part.  It's important because for me, it's too tempting to leave them up.  I simply love the holidays.

Twenty years ago, Martin Zellar released Born Under, still one of my most favorite albums.  One of the songs is "East Side Boys."  The opening verse contains the following lyrics:

"Well they grew up on the side of town where the Christmas lights hung up all year round, and the sidewalks went un-shoveled, and the dogs barked all night long."

True, you should let your dog in and deal with your snow.  Yet, would it be such a crime to let Christmas stay with us all year long?  No.  Then again, we would not have the joy of the season, the surprise of seeing the lights again if they were up all year long.  They'd just be like the streetlights.  Comforting, of course, yet not unique.

I suppose we have to experience the melancholy task to taking down the decorations to experience the joy the following year.  Perhaps this is "paying it forward" at its finest. 

Be well my friends,