Saturday, December 31, 2016

"...And What Have You Done?"

Our kitchen calendar, photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

"So this is Christmas and what have you done
Another year over, a new one just begun..."

You may recognize these lyrics from John Lennon and his song "Happy Xmas (War Is Over.)"  Although I normally shut off Christmas music in my car and in my head, I like this song because it has a sense of both reflection and hope.  Reflection for the year gone past and hope for the new year.  

I know for many people 2016 was not a banner year.  There were disappointments, some profound.  Recently, Facebook has become the online funeral home where we have been paying our respects to the celebrities who have left us in the past year.  Of note was the immediate passing of Carrie Fisher and her Mom, Debbie Reynolds.  My friend Alex posted this to Facebook and it is worth posting here:  

Carrie Fisher watching her Mom, Debbie Reynolds, perform on stage, circa early 1960s?  Photo credit is unknown.  Fair use/public domain claimed is respectfully claimed, no commercial use.

And yet, there were moments of joy this year.  For my Chicago Fan friends, over a century of heartbreak ended with an epic victory against an equally-determined Cleveland Indians team.  For many, this the below image will not soon be forgotten.

The image on my T.V. screen after the Cubs won the World Series.  Photo by J. Berta.

For me, this year's highs and lows came within a week of each other.  My Dad was diagnosed with blood in his brain and required emergency surgery.  Fast-forward two weeks later and he's back up and moving around, with the staples removed (from his skull) and no worse for wear.  At the hospital, shortly after the doctors explained his condition, they marveled at how high functioning he was with that much internal bleeding.  I commented:  "Gentlemen, this man survived Hitler and Stalin.  Do you think some internal bleeding is going to slow him down?"

Of course, I was making light of an incredibly serious, potentially fatal situation.  I am beyond grateful for both the health-care professionals AND his friends and patrons who mentioned to me that Dad was, "...just not himself."  

So as this year comes to an end, it is appropriate to reflect upon it.  It is also fine, normal actually, to look to the year ahead.  It will be interesting, that is a certainty.

As for ourselves, we may be tempted to pursue resolutions.  I am not against them in the least.  I just happen to believe that they are folly and a fool's errand for they never last.  Unless you are willing to change habits, then all the good intentions are meaningless.  Case in point:  Go to any gym the first few weeks of January and good luck finding a machine.  Show up in early February and you'll have your pick of the place.  It's just human nature.

If one is interested in some degree of self-improvement this coming year (and I include myself with that ambition) then I'd suggest looking at goal-setting.  The difference, in my opinion, between resolutions and goal setting is that while a resolution is an aspiration ("I'm going to lose weight this year!") goal-setting involves a plan to accomplish the goal of "I am going to lose five pounds by St. Patrick's Day."  

I highly recommend Vic Johnson's book,  The Thirteen Secrets of World Class Achievers.  I first listened to the audio book and liked it so much, I got it in book form.  You can order it here from Amazon.

Whatever 2017 holds for you, I hope it is full of joy and satisfaction.  I am certain it will have its challenges.  That is OK.  Without challenges, life would be dull, painfully so.  I'll leave you with another set of Mr. Lennon's lyrics.  Its the best final holiday season wish I can think of:

"A very merry Christmas and a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear."

Be well my friends...and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Be of Good Cheer

Two faiths, one family, my house, Hanukkah/Christmas 2016.  Photo by J. Berta  

Greetings All:

Today is Christmas.  Last night was the first night of Hanukkah.  We had friends over and a great meal and great company.  The dreidel spun and gelt was won and lost.  Then, as we were asleep Santa came, bringing gifts and joy...and Cassie a most unique and appropriate mug.

This is going to be a shorter blog post.  I just want to say to everyone, enjoy the day, the season.  You have the right to "be of good cheer."  

For some, that may be a challenge.  If you are suffering from illness or illness in your family, I can appreciate your a point.  My Dad had brain surgery last week to deal with some (a lot) of internal bleeding.  He's doing just fine now, all things considered.   I'm in debt to the health care providers who took care of him and his friends who noticed something was not quite right with him.  

So I suppose my suggestion to "be of good cheer" is easy for me to say since I have much to be cheerful about and for.  I am aware of how fortunate I am for my particular set of circumstances and others may say, "Thanks for the suggestion, but you don't know me or my world."

Fair enough.  And I do not mean to push the issue but I will say this:  For those who are still reeling from the election results, you absolutely have the right to NOT care about it, at least for today.  What is done is done and you should focus on fun and joyful things.

To you I say, I offer the sincere suggestion:  "Be of good cheer." 

"The Carol of The Bells" is one of my favorite carols.  The opening lyrics are:

"Hark how the bells,
Sweet silver bells,
All seem to say,
Throw cares away
Christmas is here,
Bringing good cheer,
To young and old,
Meek and the bold."

Here's a link to version with the lyrics being sung.George Winston is without question my favorite pianist (I know, I know, some of you will say:  "Come on, Jeno, how many pianist do you even know?  Cut me some slack, please, it's Christmas.)  Here's his version.

In about an hour, I will join my Dad for Mass.  I'm not likely to win any awards for Mass attendance but for today, I will be an active participant.  I'll even sing (off-key) and take in the season.  I'll do my best not to think about how Christmas coincides close to the Winter Solstice and might have been a recruitment tool.  Nope, today I accept and believe the central truth of Christmas:  God loved us and sent his son.  Mary was his mother and Joseph was a father in a most real sense.  It is a time to be thankful, of being joyful.

Today, maybe we can't throw our cares away.  But let's at least put them in a box and throw it in the garage.  It will be there tomorrow.

Happy Hanukkah & Merry Christmas to all. of good cheer my friends. :)



Sunday, December 18, 2016

Crime Never Pays (enough)

My 22 year old briefcase.  Photo by J. Berta

“A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns.”

Greetings All:

If you've seen the movie, The Godfather, Mario Puzo's epic (and ultimately tragic) story, you may recall this opening line.  Don Vito Corleone says it not with anger but with a shrug, as if acknowledging rain is wet.  As a practicing attorney for two plus decades, I've always stood at the intersection of amusement and regret for the actions of some of my "colleagues" in the legal profession.  While most of us work hard and are honorable, there are those who view bar membership as a license to steal.

I'm a fan of the news service Flipboard.  It's a way to get customized news and read it on your phone by "flipping" thru stories.  I think it is pretty cool and they cover a wide range of topics.  This morning, I read, "The Psychology of White-Collar Criminals."  It was re-published (I presume with permission) from The Atlantic.  Eugene Soltes writes a terrific story about how those who, on the surface, were the epitome of success and respectability, were simply criminals.  I particularly like this line from Soltes story:

"At first, I was struck by their lack of remorse regarding either their actions or the harm those actions had caused. One executive even joked with me about how he’d been practicing with his $1,000-an-hour lawyer to convincingly, albeit falsely, express regret during his upcoming parole hearing. Troublingly, those who received lenient sentences for testifying against others often told me stories that differed from their sworn testimony."

I encourage you to read this story.  Here's the link. 

From Enron to WorldCom to Tyco to "fill in the blank" there have been epic examples of business tycoons who simply decided to break the law in order to achieve (or attempt to) achieve their goals.  One of the more more brazen that comes to mind is John DeLorean.  He was a car executive whose car was featured in the "Back to the Future" movie.  He also was arrested in 1982 of attempting to distribute 55 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $24 million dollars.  Here's a story on him from The History Channel. 

The Delorean DMC-12, from Wikipedia, Fair Use Claimed, link to photo here.

DeLorean's story reads like a crime novel.   Maverick car exec runs into obstacle after obstacle and turns to crime to keep his company afloat.  Although he was acquitted on the cocaine charges, he could not escape the civil consequences of his actions.  

How's the story ends?  Epic failure.  Ryan Holiday discusses DeLorean's crash into the guardrail of life vividly in his book, Ego is the Enemy."  Here's a super snippet of his take on this sad tale from Nir Eyal's blog, Nir and Far.

So why do people do such stupid things?  Why do people who have so much engage in crime to get more?  I suppose it is ego.  I also think there is a heaping side order scoop of justification.  The dreaded "ends justify the means."  

Yeah, tell it to the judge.

And it is tragic.  Because in the end, it will never, ever be enough.  The fame, the wealth, the covers of Forbes or the 20 minute prime time interviews.  It all dissolves, like ice in March, first a slow drip, then a puddle, then nothing but cold cement.

But there is some good news.  There are those out there who are hitting the cover off the ball in business and are doing it right.  From Tim Ferriss to Elon Musk, there are plenty of wildly successful (in the purest capitalistic sense) and still not wrapped up in the trapping of wealth and status.

Then there is perhaps the best example for the post:  Gary Vaynerchuk.  Here is a link to his website.  Here is a guy who rarely wears a suit yet is all about hustle.  I so admire him for not only what he has done but the way he has gone about it.  He is profane and direct in a way that could easily put off those of us in (frozen) flyover country.  I gently advise:  Get over it and listen to him IF you're looking for more out of your commercial endeavors.  He has a YouTube show, DailyVee.  If you watch just one of his videos, check out episode 101 here.

This is a guy who made it truly on his own...and his own terms.  He offers the way, the path.  He just won't walk it for you.  Sounds like a fair deal to me.

And I suppose my point is that when you look at a guy like Vaynerchuk you see someone who profanely renounces those things that ultimately trapped and snared the "subjects" in Soltes' article.  The cynics might say it's part of his act, his shtick.  I'd argue it's his suit of the form of a t-shirt.

The briefcase I featured in the opening photo is one dear friends gave me when I graduated law school.  Although it's not my primary "go to" court bag, I'm glad to still have it around.  And I'm also glad I can say it has never been involved in anything remotely related to the type of crimes The Don was referencing.  

When thinking back on the article that inspired this blog post, I think that the greatest "crime" perpetrated by those "white collar" criminals was not what sent them to prison and banished them from their current gilded age.  No, it was something else.

They all had talent, and drive, and hustle, and vision and work ethic and all the things we want, we demand in successful people.  Yet they did not have (or perhaps lost is a more accurate description) their own internal compass of right and wrong.  And that is a crime for which they will all serve a life sentence.

The Stoic and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said it best:  (And thanks to Nir Eyal quoting it in his above-mentioned blog post:)

"It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character."

Be well my friends,

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

On Heroes...and Their Perils

John Glenn in his Mercury Rocket spacesuit, public domain from Wilipedia.

Greetings All:

A few days ago, Senator John Glenn passed away.  He was 95 and to put it mildly, had lived an amazing life.  This son of Ohio became a true son of America.  Raised in a small town, steeled in adversary through The Great Depression, he went on to fly combat missions in both WWII and Korea.  A test pilot, he grabbed the brass ring of the early astronaut program.  Yet it was there where he had his most bitter disappointment.  He wanted to be the first man in space (well, for the good guys at least.  I think the Soviets beat us to that punch).  It didn't happen.  However, he did get a nice parting gift:  Being able to orbit the Earth three times in 1962.

There have been chorus of obituaries sung to his life, his accomplishments, and rightfully so.  Here is a link to my favorite one from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, "Godspeed John Glenn."  I will not hesitate to call him a hero, especially in the American sense of the word. 

Glenn's parade after his 1962 orbit, public domain, from Wikipedia.

Yet even John Glenn's life did not have that storybook ending.  His bid for President in 1984 (an election I am proud to say I volunteered for in 1983 as a kid) ended early.  Then there was the Charles Keating scandal where Senator Glenn, along with four (I believe) other Senators met with a savings and loan executive whose intentions were far from pure.  As an aside, this would be such a small and laughable scandal by (ahem) today's standards, but it devastated him.  

As I was working on this post, I thought about the hauntingly accurate quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald:  "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."  Sadly, there's a bunch of truth to those lines he scribbled in his notebook.  (For those of you who want to jump in the deep end of the pool, here's a link to a short, yet thought-provoking article on Aristotle's definition of a hero.)  

My point is this:  Often times those we elevate to hero status either:  

A., Did not want it in the first place; 
B. Realized after they had achieved such a status it caused more grief than joy; 
C.  That heroism, like most bright and shiny objects, fade over time, leaving the owner feeling sad and unappreciated; and
D.  All of the above.

If you picked D., DING-DING-DING-DING!!!  You're correct.

One of my personal heroes is Raoul Wallenberg.  I've written and spoken about him in the past.  In summary, he was a Swedish diplomat who in Hungary in 1994 and early 1945 saved thousands of Jews from almost certain death.

His reward?  He died in Soviet captivity.  The Soviets did not buy his "mercy mission" story.  They thought he was an American spy and were NOT going to allow him to be available to impede their grand plans for post-war Eastern Europe.  

Photo of Raoul Wallenberg, public domain, Wikipedia.

I encourage everyone to learn more about his story.  Here are a couple of links to his life story at Wikipedia ( please don't judge, it's accurate, IMHO) and The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sometimes heroes suffer a fate not even fitting for a villain. 
Here is another example, more recent and far less tragic.  Last week, euphoria broke out across wide spaces of social media with the announcement that President-elect Trump had selected Retired General James "Mad Dog" Mattis for his Secretary of Defense.  GEN Mattis is beloved by Marines for his four-plus decades of service to the nation and The Corps.  Others, myself included, deeply admire both his warrior skills and his deep intellect.  As Ryan Holiday wrote in his book, The Daily Stoic, Mattis carried a copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations with him on his many combat deployments.

He's known for his salty language, such gems as:  

"Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

And my personal favorite:  "I come in peace.  I didn't bring artillery.  But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes:  If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all."  (Source, Politico)

Yes, The General has a way with words.  And it is easy to see why he is beloved by his Marines and many others.  Yet he has his critics.  Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Jason Amerine has leveled a most damning charge against General Mattis:  That he failed to send assistance to his men while in need.  In short:  Mad Dog left men to die in the field.  You can read the story here.  

There was an investigation and no wrongdoing was found.  Mattis was subsequently promoted three more times and selected for Central Command/CENTCOM.  If there had been any grave errors on his behalf, it would have certainly come out along the way.

Not that it does not weigh on him, I suppose.  I did not know that after retiring Mattis visited graves and the families of the fallen.  This was done out of the glare of the media and on his own dime.   Here's a link to a story ABC News did on this trip.

I suspect that GEN Mattis does not consider himself a hero.  He's a Marine, a leader, a scholar and the Secretary of Defense Nominee.  His record of service is extraordinary and worthy of high praise.   Yet I would caution anyone who would place him upon the mantle or pedestal for his exploits.  

And I level this admonition particularly at any of those "Call of Duty" game console warriors out there.  The saber rattlers who have never spent a day in uniform are also included.  There's an old Texas saying I recently learned:  "The littlest dog barks the loudest."  It is particularly applicable at those who are so giddy to go off to war yet have no clue as to the true and brutally high costs of it.  

Yes, Mattis' exploits have heroic tendencies.   However, these tendencies, however nobly undertaken and free of any culpability for fatalities under command still have death attached to them.  Death of our enemies and death of our fellow countrymen.  

Mattis understands this better than almost anyone.  He also knows that while it is a heart-breakingly high price to pay, it is better than the alternative, as eluded to in the below photo.

A quote and photo of GEN Mattis, from Facebook, public domain/fair use claimed.

My point with this post is this:  Yes, let us celebrate those among us who have done things, brave and noble, worthy of acclaim.  Yet let us also be wary of elevating any person especially while possessed of life and power to "hero" status.  When we do, we're allowing someone else to solve our problems or be so much bigger and better than us that we're off the hook.  "I'm not as _____ as _____, the hero, so why even try?"  The answer is we should try because within all of us is the potential to act heroic.  

And there is no peril is aspiring to that goal.

R.I.P. Senator Glenn.  As I mentioned on Facebook Friday night, while the view you had in 1962 was terrific, something tells me the view you're currently enjoying is simply spectacular.  

Be well my friends,

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fight For Your Right (& Righting The Fight)

The cover from the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill album.  From Wikipedia, fair use claimed.

Greetings All:

"Be-CAUSE mutiny on the Bounty's what we're all about..."

With those opening lyrics to "Rhymin' and Stealin,'" the world (outside of the rap scene of New York City) was introduced to the sound that was the Beastie Boys.  This is the first song off of their insanely successful album, Licensed to Ill

It was 30 years ago this month (November 15, 1986 to be precise) that their album dropped.  To the music world, it was a the equivalent of a mega-ton bomb detonating.  It brought hip-hop into the mainstream and the single "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)," became a mainstay video on MTV for months.  Sirius XM offered these comments on this anniversary.

The Beastie Boys were outrageous.  Three white, Jewish guys from (more or less) privileged backgrounds made their own path in the world of hip hop.  They had a bit of exposure in the movie Krush Groove.  However, I doubted anyone could have expected how this album would absolutely dominate both the hip hop and pop charts as it did.

Oh, and they were sexist assholes.  They were misogynist, unapologetic boozing frat boys without a pledge pin.

Speaking of fraternities, Back in 1987, Steve "Junior" Anderson, Dave Bettis and I admirably performed "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)" this song during the Kappa Kappa Gamma's lip sync charity event at The Field House bar in Iowa City.  Ah college. 

I suppose it is only appropriate a magazine like Maxim did a compilation of their three decades of work.  Here's the link featuring some of their videos.

Then, like most people, they grew up, both musically and emotionally.  Eight years after Licensed To Ill, they released "Sure Shot," off of the Ill Communication CD.  Adam Yauch, a/k/a "MCA" rapped the following lines:

"I want to say a little something that's long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through/ To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end."

He, more than the other two members, Mike Diamond, a/k/a Mike D and Adam Horowitz, a/k/a King Ad Rock, went thru the most significant transition, embracing Buddhism.  Here's a link to a Rolling Stone article on his thoughts on his spiritual journey.

However, he was not the only Beastie to reject their (dare I say it) "ill-spent" youth.  Horowitz is married to Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of a number of feminist punk bands, including Bikini Kill and a feminist activist.  She's an interesting artist in her own right. (As I type this, my oldest daughter is checking out Bikini Kill's song, "Rebel Grrrl.")  Mike D has been married to Tamra Davis since 1993, a video producer and a vegetarian cooking show host.

I'd submit the following:  The boys made the transaction to men quite nicely.

Yet that did not cause their music creativity to suffer.  I'd argue it made them more creative and more effective musicians.  As Exhibit A to my argument, I'll admit into evidence "Sabotage."  At the Iowa game on Friday (a glorious victory, BTW) I was thrilled to hear this song blast out of the sound system every time Nebraska faced third down.  I suppose one could view this as a sign of "selling out" to the man.  I will yell from the top of the Old Capital building that the song stands on its own and can be appropriately applied in any number of settings.

This was the flagship song off of Ill Communication.  Directed by the legendary director, Spike Jonze, it's a video that plays homage to a motif of 1970's cop shows.  It earned heavy rotation on MTV. (Yes, dear readers, there was a time in the dark, pre-internet age when as Bowling For Soup sang, "...there was music still on MTV...)

The single release for "Sabotage," from Wikipedia, fair use claimed, full link here.

In fact, let's watch it again, shall we?  The song gained a bunch of traction and also showed the true musical chops of the guys.  Case in point, there's this little gem from Saturday Night Live of Elvis Costello with the Beastie Boys.  You may recall that Costello was told not to play a certain song a few years back.  Those of you who are music and pop culture fans will recall the story.  I don't want to give away the video, so please check it out if you would like.  I'll simply say this:  Sometimes history repeats itself in quite a cool way.

It is pretty amazing, at least to me, that a group who had "one hit wonder" written all over them developed this longevity.  Rolling Stone provided some perspective on the Beastie Boys' generational significance with this article.  

Thirty years is a long time and none of us are immortal.  Sadly, this fact was reinforced with the 2012 death of Yauch.  He passed on after a valiant battle with cancer.  Here's a story about his final years.  Years ago, I used to read Rolling Stone religiously.  Aside from reading a military-related themed article, I had not paid much attention to it in years.  Then, in the spring of 2012, I happened to be in a checkout line when I saw MCA on the cover.  This was shortly after his passing and bought it on instinct.  I was glad I did.

About a year later, The City of New York did a wonderful thing.  They named a park after him.  Here's a photo of the dedication with Yauch's family, Horowitz and I presume Hanna.  It's a moving photo.

The dedication of "Adam Yauch Park," Brooklyn,  May 3, 2013, fair use claimed, photo credit Daniel Zuchnik/Getty/via JTA

So it was upsetting to learn that a few weeks' back, this park was vandalized by Nazi symbols and a "Go Trump" message.  Here is the link to the story with a picture of the vandalism.

I should point out that it's more, much more, likely than not that the perpetrators of this hate crime were not true Trump supporters.  I have been heartened to have heard Bryan Lanza, Mr. Trump's spokesman issue the following statement:  "President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American." 

Still, the damage was done.  It prompted understandably outrage from many and a rally was held shortly after the incident.  One of the speakers was Horowitz.  You can hear his comments here.

I cannot help but see some sad irony in the vandalism at the park named for Yauch.  He began his career as a hell-raiser and then evolved into a student of Buddhism, of peace and non-violence.  I have no doubt his spirit has forgiven those who did this act.  He'd likely say to the perpetrators, "Put down the spray paint can friend, there's another path."

As I watched the video of Horowitz, his gray hair blowing in the wind, speaking at the anti-hate rally, he sounded like a thoughtful person.  The fact he was reading from prepared remarks stood in stark contrast to the kid on the mic, full of bravado.  It did not diminish from his message.  If anything, it enhanced it.  It was as if he wanted to get the message across correctly, to get it right.  As far as I am concerned, he did.

Thirty years ago, the Beastie Boys were about fighting for the right to get drunk and chase women.  Now, their message is one of tolerance and respect.  They have "righted" their fight.

And that's something we can all "rap" along to.


Be well my friends,

A note on the stories hyperlinked in this blog post.  It is presumed that as these stories were available on the web, sharing is authorized for the purpose of this blog.  I respectfully claim fair use for this limited purpose.  Thank you.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Miles Standish Proud

Portrait of Myles Standish, circa 1625, public domain, link to source here.

Greetings All:  

Probably my favorite R.E.M. song is "Begin The Begin."  The lyrics are almost non-nonsensical but it's got a good beat and is a trip down memory land, or in my case, lands me at the corner of Summit and College Avenue in Iowa City.

As it is Thanksgiving, I was thinking about the opening lines of this song:

"Birdie in the hand for life's rich demand
The insurgency began and you missed it
I looked for it and I found it
Miles Standish proud congratulate me"

Myles Standish is synonymous with the Thanksgiving story.  He's an interesting guy.  Here is the Wikipedia link to his story.  I know, I know, I'm linking to Wikipedia, but the parade is starting soon and I want to get this blog post done, so please don't judge...:)) 

He was the military adviser who helped the Pilgrims get settled and survive their first few years in "The New World."  It's likely that his involvement with the Pilgrims was critical, if not indispensable to the colony's survival.  Here's a bit more information about him.

As I think about him, I come back to this thought:  He's America's first Soldier.  I also think that there are plenty of Native Americans who were none too fond of him and the fire sticks (muskets) he deployed against him.  He began about a 250 year tradition of European advancement across the continent at the expense of the original residents.  (And I'm a "remote descendant" beneficiary of these circumstances.)

However, at the time Standish was around, he was not thinking about "Manifest Destiny," he was thinking about survival.  His mission was to keep the colony going and he accomplished that mission.  (Again, I'm a "remote descendant" beneficiary of this colony's survival.)

That's the thing about history, or at least how I look at it:  People did things in the past that for good or ill benefit us today.  We don't have to feel "guilty" about what happened centuries ago.  However, I do feel it is appropriate to recall history as it truly happened.

Speaking of recalling history, it is worth recalling that the Pilgrims had the good sense to put down on paper some governing principles in "The Mayflower Compact."  

Here's an excerpt from The History Channel that discusses the Compact.

"William Bradford, the Pilgrim leader, was alarmed to learn that some of the others felt no obligation to respect the rules of the Pilgrims. In his words, they wanted towanted to 'use their owne libertie.' The male heads of Pilgrim and non-Pilgrim families therefore drew up a compact that bound all signers to accept whatever form of government was established after landing. The compact created a 'Civil Body Politic' to enact 'just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices.' Every adult male had to sign the agreement before going ashore. The compact remained in effect until Plymouth was incorporated into the short-lived Dominion of New England in 1686 and subsequently absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691."

Standish was one of the signors.  I wonder if that is him in the helmet in the below painting?

Painting of the signing of "The Mayflower Compact," Fair use/public domain claimed,
He also had his "15 minutes" of pop culture fame when he was celebrated in verse by Longfellow in his famous poem,  "The Courtship of Myles Standish."

 Standish is an important historic figure.  He was a Soldier who did his duty as he saw it.  I have no doubt he died with a clear conscious, with the certainty he had contributed to the establishment of a noble cause. 

Perhaps the best way to honor him and the other Pilgrims is to both celebrate their good deeds and recall their not-so-great ones.  We can endeavor to pursue a more inclusive and effective "civil body politic."

That would be be something that would warrant "Miles Standish Proud" indeed.

Be well my friends & Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 14, 2016

(No Longer) The Smartest Kid In Class

The Trump sign that someone placed in my yard in April.

Greetings All:

I woke up early the day after the election. I had not slept well that night and suspect many of you did not either. I checked my phone to confirm what I already knew in my heart: Donald J. Trump had won the presidential election.

Wow. My next Commander-in-Chief is this guy. “WTF, over?”

I did not support Mr. Trump in either the primary process or the general election. My main gripes with him was my belief of his simple unfitness to serve as Commander-in-Chief. However, I had plenty of criticism for him on other issues. As for his moral bearing to be President, I had written that off a long time ago. I viewed him as a distraction and quite frankly the death of the Republican Party in its current form. It is why I laughed when I saw someone had put a Trump sign in my yard this spring. I posted a picture on Facebook and immediately secured it safely in my garage. This was an artifact that needed to be saved. After all, “Trump’s flaming out,” or so I thought.

My fellow citizens disagreed.

I won’t bore you with a bunch of citations to facts, figures, charts, as I suspect you’ve seen plenty of hand-wringing analysis as to why Trump won. I do want to share with you Dr. Kathy Cramer’s interview with Jeff Guo of The Washington Post. Dr. Cramer’s book, “The Politics of Resentment” is her work on helping to explain why there is so much anger by working-class people in rural Wisconsin. Here’s a link to Mr. Guo’s story:

Here’s a quote from the article from Dr. Cramer that sums up, at least for me, one of main reasons Trump won:

“Part of where that comes from is just the overarching story that we tell ourselves in the U.S. One of the key stories in our political culture has been the American Dream — the sense that if you work hard, you will get ahead.

Well, holy cow, the people I encountered seem to me to be working extremely hard. I’m with them when they’re getting their coffee before they start their workday at 5:30 a.m. I can see the fatigue in their eyes. And I think the notion that they are not getting what they deserve, it comes from them feeling like they’re struggling. They feel like they’re doing what they were told they needed to do to get ahead. And somehow it’s not enough.”

Oh, and by the way, this story was published on Election Day. If that’s not a procrastinator of things to come…

I live in Iowa, yet no where near a farm. If you were to drive around my area, you would think you were in any other suburb of America. I am doing just fine economically and the things that I fret about are clearly “First World” problems. True, I like to think my wife and I work hard, contribute and are good citizens. Yet for me to claim I have some “economic kinship” with the people Dr. Cramer has profiled would be laughable. And I will be the first to tell you my standing in my community and in this country, economic and otherwise, is attributable to many, many people who helped me along the way.

So as I have been thinking about this election, I think it is only fair I acknowledge one simple fact: I was wrong, flat-out wrong.
I was certain Clinton was going to win. I had already worked out some of the things I would say to my Republican/conservative friends (and I consider myself fortunate to have) about the election. I’d listen patiently and with sincerity to their lamentations of how terrible a Clinton Administration would be, that America would be forever scarred by her. And, of course, at some point, I’d say, 

“Well, I told you so.” 

I would be the smartest kid in class.

I don’t feel that way today. And I suppose if I want to be really honest with myself, that might be one of the biggest reasons I am upset about the election.

And if any of you reading this feel the same way, that is OK. I think people can do things for many different reasons. I do so everyday. What is not OK is to claim some moral high ground without at least giving nod to ego and the internal need to be right, to be the smartest kid in class. After all, isn’t acknowledging you’ve got an issue/problem the first step to a cure?

So I’m not the smartest kid in class. I got this one way wrong. I got too comfortable with The New York Times’ election predictions. I was so sure enough people would see the election the way I saw it that there was NO WAY Trump could win. Then the rest of America weighed in….

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time reading up on Stoic philosophy. Ryan Holiday has done some terrific work in this area. His book, The Daily Stoic was what I listened to during my walk Wednesday morning. The great thing for me about Stoicism is the road map it provides for living life in the world as it is. For me, it boils down to this: Don’t worry about the stuff you cannot control. Focus on what you can control, your thoughts and actions. I’d encourage you to visit Ryan’s site at The Daily Stoic here and check it out for yourself.

Rosie and I walking on the Wednesday after Election Day. She could have cared less who won.

As I walked with my dog Rosie last Wednesday morning and listened to Ryan’s book, recalling the wisdom of the great Stoic thinkers I realized that I had no control over the election results. I did my part and voted. I expressed my opinions and contributed as I thought best. Could I have done more? Sure. Would it have mattered? Nope. As we came back home, I saw the sunlight stream out from behind the trees. It was pretty. Everything was going to be just fine.

So for those of you still reeling from last week’s loss, I invite you to let it go. Go volunteer for a charity, go read some Stoic works, watch the winning field goal in Iowa’s epic triumph over Michigan from Saturday night, or whatever you feel will make you feel better.

And speaking of feeling better, maybe it is because I am half-Irish, but I endeavor to be an optimist. I do see something positive from this election, here it is:

All the experts and self-proclaimed smart guys like me did not count on folks voting who did. These people participated in the process, they had their voice heard. I can question their judgment and still celebrate their involvement. That is the beauty of our system.

There is much to learn from this election. Once the dust settles, I intend to review what happened and figure out why so many people voted for President-Elect Trump. 

It is clear I still have a LOT to learn. So much for me being the smartest kid in class.

I congratulate President-Elect Donald J. Trump.

Be well my friends,

Monday, November 7, 2016

Looking Over The Abyss

Apollyon (top) battling Christian in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, from Wikipedia, Public Domain, full link here.

Greetings All:

The election is tomorrow.  I am writing this Monday evening.  I am guessimating that in about 24 to 27 hours, we will know who the next POTUS will be.  For some, that will be euphoria.  For others, rage.  If the current Nate Silver/New York Times polling/prediction holds up, then a majority of folks, however slim, will feel relief.

I feel confident in saying that we will all be glad when this election is over.  This year makes me long for the "good ole days"of hanging chads and Supreme Court intervention.  Yup, this one has been brutal.

Some have viewed this election in apocalyptic terms, end of the world and so on.  I was putzing around the internet and found the above image and information on Apollyon.  He's a featured character in the Book of Revelations in the Bible, 9:11 to be precise.  Here's what is written:

"They had a king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer)."

Pretty heavy stuff, "Destroyer" and all.  Oh, and in this ugly election year where polls are the car wreck we curse and still stare it, just remember, you can't spell Apollyon without "poll."

There's been a lot of talk and musing and speculation and blah, blah, blah about the dire consequences if he or she wins.  Here's my two-cents:  

We'll be fine either way.  For all of Trump's grand boasting and Clinton's four-inch thick briefing books, it's doubtful much will truly change.  And for all our cursing and hand-wringing about government, the Framers wanted it that way.  It is as if they recognized that if the public really, really wanted change, they would need more than one election to do so.

So be of good cheer.  While it may seem like we're looking over the abyss with this election, we're really just looking out the window of our body politic that is in need of a roll of paper towels and some Windex.

And maybe when we get done cleaning, we might just find we're not staring into through a window, but instead a mirror.

Now that could be frightening indeed.

Be well my friends,

Post script.  This is the 250th blog post I have published.  I appreciate everyone who has read my blog over these past several years, thank you.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

No Control

A couple of trees near my local bike path.  Photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

Today is October 30, 2016.  For many, the world is less than perfect.  We, in America, find ourselves in the middle of a miserable general election.  Unless you are the most partisan-political animal, you have to be worn down by this campaign, at least a little.  I know I am.

If you're a Clinton supporter, you cannot be happy with the news that came out Friday that the ghost of emails past is again rattling its chains.  If you're a Trump supporter, you have to still be frustrated that your candidate is under attack by the perceived establishment.  

Then, there is baseball.  As I write this, the Chicago Cubs have their backs against the Ivy-covered wall, down three games.  Math is not my strong suit, yet even I can do this simple equation:  The Cubs gotta win all three remaining games.  

I suppose the one bit of comfort Cubs fans can take from this situation is this: The same city where the Indians call home is shared with the Cleveland Cavilers.  That team earlier this year rallied from the same 3-1 deficit against the vaunted Golden State Warriors.

So, to my Cubs fan friends, keep the faith.  Perhaps this photo below might help sooth your troubled self.  I know the walk a recently took with my dog where I snapped these pictures did wonders for me.

A photo of Duck Creek by my local bike path.  Photo by J. Berta

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, despondent, fill-in-the-blank over things beyond our control.  Add into the mix the sheer injustice of certain (any) situations and we can feel our blood pressure rise.  We curse to ourselves, or perhaps outloud, "Dammit, it's not FAIR!"

So it is.  Such is life.

So how to combat such a situation?  I assure you, I have not the answer.  What I do have is a small suggestion.  Here goes:

I have been spending a bit of time in an informal and highly un-organized study of Stoicism.  Stoicism, as defined by our friends at Google, is this:

noun: stoicism; noun: Stoicism
  1. 1.
    the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.
      synonyms:patience, forbearance, resignation, fortitude, endurance, acceptance, tolerance, phlegm
    "she accepted her sufferings with remarkable stoicism"
  2. 2.
    an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Ryan Holiday is an author I have followed and read for some time.  He is someone whose lived an interesting life and on his own terms.  I admire him for his willingness to lay bare his life and experiences for all of us to learn from.  I have just read (listened to, actually) two of his recent books:  Ego is The Enemy and The Obstacle is The Way.  I recommend both of these books and you can find the Amazon links to purchase them here and here.  (If you would like a recommendation for which one to start with first, it's a close call.  For recovering narcissists like myself, go with
Ego is The Enemy.)

In his writings and talks with Tim Ferriss, he has mused on the virtue of Stoicism.  He's also taken this to another level with his site, The Daily Stoic.  Here's the site:

He has also released a book by the same title.  I will not recommend it as I have not read it yet.  However, as soon as I finish the "Booker Award" winning novel, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, I plan on listening to it as well.  I suspect it will be as terrific as the other works Holiday has published.  In the meantime, I unconditionally endorse Mr. Holiday's work and encourage you to check out his site here.

My wife, Dawn mused yesterday at lunch that to her, Stoicism seems like a form of anger management.  I think she's onto something.  

One of the things Holiday talks about with Stoicism is both understanding and accepting just how little in life we have control over.  He also offers cautionary tales from history (General and President U.S. Grant) who let their ego get the better of them in vain attempts to impress others.  Again, trying to control things simply out of our grasp.

What's my take on Stoicism?  Well, I think it is great, it is beautiful.  And not unlike many other things great and beautiful, it is extremely difficult to understand, let alone master.  

So where to start?  Here's a suggestion.  It comes from the quote my friend, the Rev. Jay Wolin, shared this on Facebook this morning by John O'Donohue:

"May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder."

I like this quote.  I think it ties in nicely with, for me, what is the root of Stoicism- control what you can and appreciate whatever beauty may come your way in a day.  

Take this photo below, for example.  On the day I snapped it, water was barely flowing, a trickle.  Did it diminish its beauty?  Not for me.  True, in the winter, it is far more striking to see it frozen solid.  Or in the spring, when the rains have come and made its trickle a robust flood it is more "impressive."  Yet those days are far removed.  I can no more make that a reality than I can cause time to rewind and help the Cubs have a better second or seventh inning of last night's game.

But what I can do is appreciate what I see and feel around me.  And I think it is OK to only experience the "in the moment" feeling for a short while before being pulled back into the other external stuff.  
What mattered is you had that experience, however brief.

A tiny waterfall off my bike path.  Photo by J. Berta.

Oh, and lest anyone think I am some proficient practitioner of Stoicism, I'm not.  Truth be told I acted pretty damn un-Stoic this weekend on several occasions.  I even had a couple mirco-bouts of mini-depression/anger.  I'd like to tell you I re-read Meditations and all was well.  Nope.  I just went to bed, counting on the next day being better.

And it was.

I'll close with a reference back to the opening photo.  Here are two trees.  One stands majestic, wrapped in a royal red robe of crimson leaves.  The other, standing subordinate and behind it is bare.  But for the image saved on my iPhone, I would never be able to see these trees this way again.  Should I mourn for having missed seeing the second tree's fall folage?  Of course not.  That would be both stupid and silly.  It's a damn tree after all.  

Yet I can look at this image and recall seeing it in person and know that was able to see it, experience it, enjoy it.  I had no control over the leaves changing, or falling, or the wind blowing or any of that stuff.  I had no control over the sun shining or the temperature being a glorious 70+ degrees.  No control, no control at all.

Except over my appreciation of the experience.  

I'll take it.

Be well my friends,

p.s., here's a link to order Meditations via Amazon.


Monday, October 24, 2016

It's Almost Over

My absentee ballot for this year's general election.

Greetings All:

I just noticed it has been about six weeks since I last posted.  I'll spare you all the litany of excuses why I haven't written for a while and instead, simply say:  It wasn't enough of a priority.  

Yah, and um, what is going on in the world...let's see?

Well, first the good news:  The Cubs won the pennant.  Yes, that's right, for the first time in seven decades, The Chicago Cubs are playing in the World Series.  Although I am clearly a bandwagon fan, I am happy for all my fellow Cubs fan friends.  Last night, we were in our friends' backyard and they had the game on the big screen, projected onto a screen.  It was fun to watch.  And far more fun to watch my friends revel in the joy of the moment.  If Iowa ever goes undefeated and wins the National Championship, I know I'll feel the same way.

There is the little matter of winning the next few games.  And Cleveland is no slouch as a team this year.  Still, here's where I stand on who I think is gonna win...

My $10.00 wager on the Cubs winning it all from the sports book at my favorite Vegas hotel.

The other big thing we're all dealing with is the election.  This has been a particularly brutal election.  I read something today about how nasty the 1828 election was.  I was going to link to it but cannot find it.  And then again, that was then, this is now.

We've got our own problems.

Here's my two-cents on this election:  

1.  It will be over soon (thank God); and
2.  We will be OK, whoever wins.

I get it that people are upset about the choices, the issues, the circumstances...the bullshit.  (I do not think I have ever used profanity in my blog before, yet I cannot think of a more appropriate or accurate word to describe what is going on with our body politic.  Sigh.

I have not gotten too deep in the weeds about politics on this blog.  Maybe that is one of the reasons I have not written much on my blog.  I suppose it is one way I have avoided the elephant defecating in the room.  But here it is.

And since it is with us, I should make it clear that I do have a horse in this race and it is not the gentlemen from New York.  Based on the latest polling, it is pretty damn clear that Trump, like the Dodgers last night, is down to a handful of outs.  According to The New York Times, Clinton has a 93% chance of winning.  Here's the link.

As I commented on a friend's Facebook wall, this is NOT the time for those on side of HRC to take a victory lap/spike the ball/fill in the blank about talking shit about this win.  

Although I am glad it appears one Donald J. Trump will not be President, this is not without the clear recognition that many, many (that's code for tens of millions) of my fellow citizens are voting for him.

And before anyone jumps down my throat and calls them all members of the alt-right or "deplorables," they are far from it.  They are tax-payers, active/reserve duty members of our Armed Forces, Veterans, civil servants and first-responders.  They are people for whom certain matters, social issues if you will, are critically important.  They do not place Mr. Trump on the pedestal of hero worship.  Instead, they simply view him as the vessel from which their beliefs would be best served.

Then there are those for whom this election is a higher elevation of torture.  They are certainly no fans of Clinton.  Many are lifelong, committed Republicans.  The thought of not voting for their party's nominee is repugnant.  And yet, and yet...

And yet they cannot do so.  They are locked onto the true north of their own moral compass.  For them, the needle consistently points away from casting a ballot for Mr. Trump.

One of my friends on Facebook is such a person.  He is one of the finest people I know.  He has not only fought for this nation, he has led others in battle.  He is a thoughtful, gracious, intelligent, and compassionate person.  He is unapologetic in his faith, yet I never feel he is forcing it down my throat.  If anything, he slides out a chair and invites you to sit down with him.

And he's taken some HEAT rounds for this position.  For some, the "either your with us or against us" stance is non-negotiable.  That's sad.  

It is fine to be passionate about causes that matter to you.  It is not fine (uncool, actually, if you ask me) to get upset at someone else, especially a friend who does not agree with you.  I know I've been guilty of this myself in the past and I'm working on it.  What's the old saying, "Knowing you've got a problem is the first step in a cure..."

This morning (October 24, 2016), it was announced that former California State Senator and former student radical Tom Hayden had passed away.  You can read his obituary here.  He was someone who spent over half a century fighting for what he believed.  Some of those fights were ones I could not support, such as traveling to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  (Interestingly, The State Department looked the over way during the first trip, utilizing it as a way to initiate formal peace negotiations.  I still think it was an anti-American thing to do and Hayden said as much in his book, Reunion.)

Like him or hate him, one cannot deny the impact of Tom Hayden.  He was involved in the process.  Like him or hate him, Donald J. Trump has gotten millions of people involved in the process.  Like her or hate her, Hillary Rodham Clinton has gotten millions involved (or perhaps kept them involved, but participating none the less).  Let's not forget Senator Sanders from Vermont.  I did not support him this year, yet am impressed, and yes...grateful for his contribution to the process.  Millions of new voters, mostly young, came out to the polls and crowded into caucus locations to "Fell the Bern."  That heat was felt in the Clinton campaign all primary season.
It's almost over, that's the good news.  Here's the bad news:  the problems and challenges we face will still be there...

I've heard several well-known political observers quote and paraphrase the famous response that Benjamin Franklin gave to the woman on the streets of Philadelphia who inquired as to what type of Government this new "Constitution" had given the people?  Franklin replied, "A republic....if you can keep it."

With all the negativity and anger surrounding this campaign, it is easy to feel down.  The yard sign below is a sentiment I suspect more than a few folks feel this year.

From my cousin Ivan's Facebook page, kinda sums up the way a LOT of folks feel this year.

Whether we like it or not, it's our job, all of ours, to keep our republic.  So how do we reconcile our (collective) feelings of dismay with our civic obligation to engage in the process?  
That is admittedly not an easy answer.  Yet I do offer a few suggestions:  

1.  Vote.  Go to the polls, do early voting, get an absentee ballot, but vote.  If you cannot bring yourself to vote for the top of the ticket, fine.  But please do not ignore the many down ballot races.  Oh, and educate yourself on the candidates;

2.  Stay Informed.  After the elections are over, it will be natural for many, many people to say, "Thank God this is over!" and do the mental equivalent of balling up the Christmas lights, shoving them in boxes and hiding them in the garage.  We cannot do that.  Stay informed, at least on a few issues that matter to you.  With the internet, the information is easy to obtain but PLEASE, vet the source;

3.  If you have a friend who you had a following out with, who posted something on social media that just, well, pissed you off, let it go.  Reach out to that person.  Have a conversation, listening for the lion's share of it.  Trust me, you'll feel better; and

4.  Recognize that no matter what happens, we'll be fine.  I hope the Cubs win, but if they do not, we'll be fine.  If ______ wins, we'll be fine.  Deep breath, big smile, it's all good.

Yes, the election will be over soon.  Then the hard work begins.  Lets all get to work.

Be well my friends, 

And p.s., GO VOTE!  Thank you.