Friday, November 21, 2014

RIP: Jimmy Ruffin

One of the great (and iconic) songs of the mid-60s.
What a sound, even 48 years later!

It was released in June 1966. Later that year, my freshman year in college, I remember someone posting the following on the dorm bulletin board:
What becomes of the broken hearted?

They go home for houseparty weekend.

Speaking of College

This is a big weekend in New York City. Saturday, at Yankee Stadium, two college teams will meet in the most-played college football rivalry. This will be the 150th game between Lehigh and Lafayette.

The first game was played in 1884, and at times they have met twice/year.

Look at that outrageous price for tickets in 1884.

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway.

Go Lehigh!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

No One is Worth That

I am sure that sometime or another in the past 11+ years of these pilgrim wanderings I have said this before, but I don't feel like looking for it. So I have said it again in reaction to the Florida Marlins signing a contract with Giancarlo Stanton for 13 years and $325 million. That's a piddlin' $25 million per year.

I love baseball! I like a number of sports, but baseball is just below being a Packer fan (i.e.- not quite up to the status of a religion!) But no one, absolutely no one is worth $25 million per year to play any sport. Like with news, we have developed a 24/7/365 sports mindset. These baseball stars are the front men, the visible entities for an industry that is worth trillions of dollars. To the owner, a superstar is worth $25 million per year for the possibilities, the investment in fan loyalty, the possible return on investment.

What I find most intriguing about this story, though, is not the rant-worthiness of the salary, it's that this contract is from a team which had a complete team salary of only $46 million last year. This one salary jump is more than half of the total salary from this year. It makes me wonder what happened that the owner decided to open the checkbook and give away the farm. Somewhere there's a bottom line number that is way too enchanting too the owner.

I am not good at boycotting things I like, so I have not boycotted either baseball or football in their craziness over salaries. I go to the Twins games and was angry when they almost downsized the league by dropping them a number of years go. That makes me part of the problem, I know. If all of us who find the situation ludicrous did actually boycott, something might happen, though I am doubtful because we are the "masses" who are being entertained by these millionaires making billionaires out of the owners while we pay our shrinking dollars for over-priced hot dogs, beers, or sodas.

As long as we (me, too!) want to be entertained by sports, this won't change.But it is, perhaps, a sign of something less than healthy in our human psyche.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Following the 10th Armored (6): Into Germany

This is part of a series following my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. He was a medic with the 80th Medical Battalion assigned to the 10th Armored.

19 Nov 1944

The 10th Armored Division became the first division to cross into Germany

All maps: from Impact by Lester M. Nichols

A few days before the historic moment of the 19th, the 10th’s armor was well inside German positions. It had happened so swiftly and easily they had already taken 250 prisoners. The division was in two Combat Commands, A and B.

Above: General, wide-area map of 10th Armored's units
as part of encirclement of Metz. Crossing into Germany
is at the upper right of the map.

Below: Movement of Combat Command A (CC A)
on southern flank of movement

CC A started one flank of the attack southeast from Kerling to Laumesfeld. Their job was to be draw fire and find the positions of the German heavy guns. It worked. The positions were located and the Tigers started hitting back. The Germans fought hard and the Tigers lost three tanks and 12 men were wounded.

But the position of the German guns was clear and an infantry attack could be launched. Along with the support of P-47s with napalm bombs the German positions were wiped out.

On the 17th and 18th, CC A continued its drive toward Bouzonville. The Germans had lost a great deal of organization and had little success in stopping CC A and its Task Forces. The weather was often more of a factor. It finally cleared on the 18th allowing P-47 support to push at the retreating enemy troops. They reached the Nied River at Bouzonville where the bridges had been destroyed. They found one near Filstroff that was usable and crossed.

Below: Movement of Combat Command B (CC B)
on northern flank of movement

Meanwhile CC B was to head on a direct 11-mile line to seize a bridge over the Saar at Merzig. Smaller bridges along the way had been destroyed. CC B was slowed down waiting for the rebuilding of those bridges by the engineers. By November 17 the rebuilding was accomplished and they were ready to move. One task force entered Launstroff; another, against heavy pressure, reached Schwerdorf.

Then, at 1032 on 19 November, TF Cherry of CC B was near Eft. Lieutenant William Brown checked his maps. He dismounted from his Sherman and walked across the German border. He was the first man of Patton’s army to step onto German soil.


Following my Dad’s 10th Armored Division in the last year of World War II has given me a new perspective on the planning and execution of war. I have never been in the military; I have read many books (novels as well as non-fiction); I have watched many movies; I have never studied the tactics of warfare. It is intriguing and educational to look at war from a tactical perspective, even if it is with the 20/20 vision of looking back.

In addition, as I have said a number of times already, the staggering number of troops involved is far more than my mind can handle. As I look through the books I have been using for research I stare at the maps and realize that each map is but a small slice of a huge story, even within the area covered by the maps. I remember that the whole 10th Armored Division would have been between 10 and 15,000 troops.

A total of 16 armored divisions were eventually organized (1st-14th, 16th, and 20th). Of these, only two, the 2nd and the 3rd retained the "heavy" organization throughout the war. All of the other divisions were reorganized as light divisions prior to leaving the. All of the armored divisions served in the ETO or in Italy.

The light armor division organization included
  • a Division Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 
  • two Combat Command Headquarters (CC A and CC B), 
  • a Reserve Combat Command Headquarters (CC R), 
  • three tank battalions (of three medium and one light tank companies), 
  • three armored infantry battalions, 
  • three eighteen-gun artillery battalions, 
  • a cavalry reconnaissance squadron (battalion), 
  • an engineer battalion, and 
  • division services. 

The division was commanded by a major general, the combat commands by a brigadier general (who was also assistant division commander) and two colonels. The division included
  • 77 light tanks,
  • 168 medium tanks,
  • 18 M4 105mm assault guns,
  • 54 M7 105mm SP artillery pieces,
  • 54 M8 armored cars,
  • 450 halftracks,
  • 1,031 motor vehicles, and
  • 8 light observation aircraft.
(Military History Online)

All of these were in a section of eastern France along with several other divisions, armored and infantry. It was a city in the mud and rain that November seventy years ago. The exact numbers are irrelevant. It was a lot of people and material. To organize, direct and carry out the maneuvers to win must have been incredibly complex and, of course, based on the fact that the German troops weren’t just going to fall over and quit.

So I look at the maps and read the descriptions and find that it is not easy to put together a chronology that I can make sense of.

First there’s the work of Combat Command A or B (CC A, CC B). CC A went one way with one job, CC B went another.

Then there are the different Task Forces sent out from the Combat Commands. One might come in from the rear and another from a flanking maneuver.

On top of all that this had to be coordinated with other divisions, Combat Commands, Task Forces, air support, medical support.

The movies make it look like all the tanks did was just barrel on forward crushing everything in their path. That is obviously not what happened. There were the days or weeks when a particular group might be less involved than at other times. There were the times after a battle when they could (sort of) relax.

How much could the medics relax? What could the soldiers do in the “down time?” It must have been nothing short of maddening on some level of awareness that they must have had to sublimate, push away, forget.

19 Nov 1944

It was also my Dad's 39th birthday.

 It was one of only a handful of times in his life that he hadn't been home for his birthday.

Instead he may very well have been around the area of CC B as they made a first symbolic step onto German soil.

Meanwhile, his wife of only six months was spending the time with her new in-laws, both trying to get to know and understand each other who had come from such different worlds.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fearing What We Don't Know

One of the stories on NPR's All Things Considered today had this headline:

A new poll shows Ebola is the one of the top health concerns of Americans, below access to health care and affordable health care.
It ranks third, to be exact, according to the story, behind access to health care and the cost of health care. Then, dropping down behind Ebola as a top health concern- cancer and obesity. My first reaction was one of utter amazement. A disease that has infected exactly two people in the United States is a top health concern. Two people, both of whom are now healthy.

My second reaction was the title of this post. Ebola is scary because it is new and quite unknown. We have learned to live in denial about the major health concerns in the country- cancer, heart disease, obesity. We have learned to completely ignore alcoholism and addiction as health crises and place them as legal issues.

Anything to keep from having to deal with the health implications. Denial is a fine thing.

Well, the story went on to posit one other thought that didn't come immediately to mind, namely what happens when people are given open-ended questions like this one. What is the biggest health concern facing the US today? No choices to make,  just think about it and what comes to mind?

As the researcher said, when we are given that question, we are more affected by what is making the news today than what might be the real and most significant health concern. Guess what? Name the big health care stories of the past few weeks.
  •  The Affordable Care Act (access to and cost of health care) and
  • the Ebola concerns.
So people bring to mind what is most recent in their awareness. If they had been given a list to choose from, the answers might have been different; people might have been prompted to think about the overall impact of cancer, obesity and heart disease. But I have a hunch that Ebola would have still been up there. It is part of our human nature to most fear what we don't understand or what is new and/or strange to us.

A helluva way to run public policy, though. But it is where we are today.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Trying to Exorcise Old Ghosts

When it comes to playing solos with a band, I have had an amazing stretch of performance anxiety since, well... probably since high school. I have played in quintets, a Tijuana Brass-style group, church groups, brass choirs, and Big Bands. In the quintets, church groups, brass choirs and Alpert-style group I have no problems. I can play as the only person on the part. But put me into that trumpet solo in the band and my mouth dries up, I obsess and then make it less than good.

Well, Saturday night I had another opportunity to exorcise this old demon. I had the opening trumpet solo in one of the pieces in our community band concert. I never (repeat- NEVER) played it correctly in any rehearsal. I would flub something. I have been practicing it ad infinitum and working with my trumpet teacher on it. There was no doubt that I could play it. Except when the band was there. It is a huge mental block. My colleagues in the trumpet row were rooting for me. The director never made me feel small or incompetent. I was doing a good enough job on that myself.

I have been working on my own cognitive reframing of the situation including that information of 50 years of playing in all kinds of settings.I was the lead trumpet in that Tijuana Brass group in high school and the lead in our brass choir that played in churches around my home town. One week I realized that as the band was rehearsing and I was flubbing the piece- again- that I was feeling like a little kid- pulling into myself, mentally sucking my thumb. That got my attention. I don't feel like that often- I don't remember the last time I felt like that. So I started talking to myself about being an adult and working on my self-awareness. "Just play it," one of the other trumpet players said to me. "You know it cold!"

I work with people to do this all the time. When you find yourself having some emotional reaction that doesn't make sense, that means it is time for some cognitive reframing. Put simply, it is utilizing the human, rational part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, for what it is designed to do- deal with emotions to see if they are realistic or not. If not, then do some work on the underlying beliefs that are at work to undermine you. Dispute the thinking process and rewire the brain so it helps instead of getting in the way.

So, as the concert started I started the final work on those mid-brain, pre-conscious thoughts. I got into the third number and I realized that I was enjoying myself. The number we had just played was fun, challenging and exciting. I had enjoyed it. I was having fun. That is what playing in a community band is all about. We aren't here to put on a professionally perfect performance. We are here to share our joy of music with the audience. We were doing that. As we started the third number I remembered something an acquaintance said about his playing music: "It's a spiritual experience, man!"

I happen to think that third piece is a deeply spiritual composition. It touches some deep and profound emotions through the weaving of themes and instruments. So I decided to let the music unfold from my horn and allow the music from the band to move me as we worked together to move the audience. I allowed myself to play without thinking about it; to move with the music; to allow the soul to be touched. It worked- as it often does. I was no longer working at playing music- I was living with the music, spiritually.

You can also call this mindfulness. I was playing mindfully, in the moment, just being there and not analyzing or thinking. What a joy. It wasn't the first time that's happened for me when playing. But it was at an important moment for me.

Two more quick and fun numbers and we took a short intermission. We came back with the first piece of half two and then my solo that starts the second piece. That was the problem, hitting it cold, all by myself. I looked up at the director and he gave me a knowing nod. I was weak and tentative on the opening note and continued with an acceptable performance. I got a couple nods and subtle thumbs-up. But I wasn't done. At the end of the second page the song does a "DC," it goes back to the beginning. I had one more shot at the solo- one more chance to exorcise that old demon.

I did a quick millisecond talk to myself. I let my pre-frontal cortex have its logical say to the mid-brain.

"The hell with it. I'm going to step up, hit it, and give it all I've got. F-it." (Sometimes I think the mid-brain only understands profanity which is, I believe, part of its own emotional language.)

I sat up, leaned into it and let 'er rip.

I nailed it.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but I flipped off my amygdala- and it got the message.

That is not a technical neuro-scientific statement- it is an emotional one. It is an emotionally winning one.

I know the importance of the mid-brain and it's anxiety producing, emotional responses. It keeps all of us alive on a daily basis. But it is primitive and gets involved in all kinds of things. It is part of the flight, fight or freeze response. But it can learn to flow as well. It is teachable- re-wireable. It learned to be afraid of trumpet solos in a band setting somewhere in the mists of my time. Now it can learn to accept them as okay and probably no different from when I play in many other settings.

But no matter how you frame it, it worked.

And it feels damn good!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Just Because

It snowed twice this week.

So this song, written in the heat of mid-summer is not a Christmas song. It is a snow song. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All Kinds of Things Can Happen on This Day

1859 – The first modern revival of the Olympic Games takes place in Athens, Greece.

1864 – American Civil War: Union General William Tecumseh Sherman burns Atlanta, Georgia and starts Sherman's March to the Sea.

1939 – In Washington, D.C., US President Franklin D. Roosevelt lays the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial.

1969 – Vietnam War: In Washington, D.C., 250,000-500,000 protesters staged a peaceful demonstration against the war, including a symbolic "March Against Death".

1969 - Wendy's Hamburgers opens

1969 - Janis Joplin, accused of vulgar & indecent language in Tampa, Fla

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Couple Heart-Stopping Days

The younger members of my family have given me a hard time. It seems I have done something many people didn't think was possible. I made a MacBook Pro slow down. That, and this week I crashed iPhoto. I went to open iPhoto on Tuesday to do some updating and posting- and it crashed. It "unexpectedly closed." I tried everything normal (and abnormal) to get it running again. I even did the insanity thing- you know, doing the same thing over and over (trying to start the program) hoping for different results.

Then I went to the Internet for ideas. Did a couple of those- nada! I tried rebuilding through Mac programs. Mas nada! I set up a new library (option-start) and that go things working, but not with my library. That meant it wasn't the program which I already figured out, it was the iPhoto library and database.

In case you're wondering, it has been my pictures that have slowed down the MacBook. I have over 38,000 pictures- about 163 gig of data. Hence the heart-stopping- 38,000 pictures! Lost? Gone forever?

I am not one who has ever done a great deal of back-up with my computers. I have been working with personal computers for 26 years and back-ups have been, at best sporadic. Recently I have been using Dropbox for some of my important backups that I can use between computers, but 163 Gig of data is far too much for Dropbox use.

In these 26 years I have had two death-inducing crashes. One was the disk I had copied all the pictures from our trip to Spain. I went to load it and it wouldn't. I paid some good money to an IT company in the Twin Cities to get those for me. The other was when my desktop died. In that case, I had been doing most of my work on the laptop so the important stuff was saved.

Well, I must live right- either that or grace is looking out for me. A year ago I had bought a 1TB external drive. It sat around for a year, still in all its original packaging. Two weeks ago I decided it was time to do some housecleaning and make sure I had a backup. I made a complete backup through Time Machine. (Words of thanksgiving and gratitude added here!!)

So, I made a copy of the current, corrupted library then deleted it. With the space left I could restore the backup from two weeks earlier.

Voila, hallelujah, and pass the gigabytes! Currently, as I write this, iPhoto is rebuilding its library and thumbnails.

And I am breathing again.

Next step? Become more efficient about backups and see what I can do about the overwhelming size of my photo library.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Scary Book

Just finished reading A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel. It is the story of the dangers of texting, cell phone use, and driving. It is told around the death of two rocket scientists in Utah as another driver was texting and forced their car into the fatal accident.

Back when I first got my driver's license in the mid to late 60s, my aunt was adamant about not having a radio in the car. She felt that having a radio in the car was inviting disaster. This was in the days before FM radio was popular so the radio she was talking about was the old AM type. I prevailed. Now, 50 years later, to have a only a radio in the car would be silly- and maybe not even possible.

But I am afraid my aunt was on the right track. Matt Richtel's well-researched and -written book presents the incredible dangers our modern technology has added to what, in reality has always been a very dangerous activity- driving a car. In separate sets of chapters Richtel tells the story of Reggie Shaw, the driver whose inattention caused the action; the neuroscientists who are studying the ways the brain has been overwhelmed by the increasing information flood; the prosecutors search for justice; Terryl, a victim's advocate who takes hold of the case and won't let go; and families and lawmakers.

Reggie, an everyday kind of kid is 19 when the accident happens, becomes an "everyman" for all of us. His story could at any moment become our story as we wrestle with the distraction of cell phones and texting. The scientists and their families could also become any one of us, victims of someone else's distraction. It is not as far-fetched as many of us might think. One statistic that sent shivers up my spine was that just talking on a cell-phone while driving makes us 4 times as likely to be in an accident and texting makes us 6 times as likely. That is equal to- and worse than- drunk driving, the ultimate no-no. These are not numbers pulled out of a hat. These come from years of research on the brain's ability to think when distracted.

In spite what many of us think we cannot multi-task! We just cannot! What we call multi-tasking is just the brain switching between one activity or another. We cannot pay attention to two things at the same time. One will suffer. In that inability is the great danger of texting and driving. The research is very clear. It is amazingly dangerous. And people do a variation on it all the time. Sometimes it is just changing the dial on the radio. I had a friend who lost his wife and daughter in that kind of distracted accident. Sometimes it is looking at the GPS or trying to program the GPS while driving. It might be wondering what the weather is up ahead there where the darker clouds are so the availability of the local radar on the smartphone comes into play.

The problem lies in the fact that we have a brain that evolved for a different type of lifestyle.We also have a brain that wants to respond to certain stimuli- such as the vibration or beep of a text arriving on our phone. We have to answer it; we have to always on the ready for the important information. It actually sets our dopamine system into action- which only reinforces the need to answer the text the next time.

These are oversimplifications of the science, but it is good science. Our ability to evolve into a way of better handling this flood of information is much too slow. Just because we are more comfortable with it does not mean that our brains have changed enough in just a very, very few years to cope.

Reggie spent a couple years after the accident not believing he was texting at the time or that he was even being inattentive. It was only when he heard the science that his several years of worry, wondering, fear and guilt came crashing in. Richtel does what any good Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist would do- he builds the story so we can feel what is happening. He demonizes no one. He gives the hint in the book's sub-title and Prologue that this is going to turn  out in a hopeful way. Redemption is at the heart of the story.

I am not sure Reggie is just an everyday guy. I hope he is representative of more of us than not. I hope I could have the courage in the end to do the right thing. His open and fearless testimony led the Utah legislature to pass an anti-texting law just when it was about to die in committee.

The book has scared me- about my own behavior in the car. I do not text, but the phone can have me tied to its buzz or beep. Even with a Bluetooth connection for phone calls, I am not sure I should be doing much of that. The ease at which something happens, the speed- in brain-time as well as clock-time- at which accidents can happen is chilling.

May we all pay attention!


At first the phone companies were fighting the changes in the law that make  texting and driving illegal. They got on board knowing that it was good business not to have your customers dying or being killed. But they also were willing to put their money behind it. AT&T had it's "It Can Wait" campaign. Reggie has been an important part of that.

Here, as part of AT&T's campaign, is Reggie telling his story.

Werner Herzog produced documentary on texting and driving. Reggie's story is the final part of the movie.

Reggie Shaw's Web page

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Following the 10th Armored (5): Circling Metz

This is part of a series that, over the next year, will follow my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago.

9 November 1944 - 15 November 1944
The Encirclement of Metz

Route of 10th Armored in Encirclement of Metz
A) Mars-la-tour
B and C) Molvange and Rumelange
D) Thionville
E) Bouzonville

On 9 November the 10th Armored Division assembled around Molvange and Rumelange (B and C), which were far enough west of the Moselle to be safe from enemy observation. There it waited for General Walker to give the order committing the division east of the river. On receipt of the order from the corps it was supposed to cross the Moselle in two columns, pass through the 90th Division bridgehead wrested from the Germans north of Thionville (D), and strike quickly to effect a deep penetration. Once the division sliced through the enemy crust the 10th Armored plan of maneuver called for the left column to advance to the east and win a bridgehead over the Saar River, somewhere near Merzig.(Upper right corner) …

The second column, advancing on the right of the first column and at the same time protecting the left flank of the 90th Infantry Division, was given the task of taking the division objective. This objective included Bouzonville (E)--the center of arterial highway and railroad traffic running northeast out of Metz (arrow)--and a stretch of high ground extending for about six miles north of Bouzonville on both sides of the Nied River valley. Capture of the sector would give the Americans command over one of the main corridors through which German reinforcements might be sent to Metz, or through which a retreat from that city might be made.

The terrain in the zone assigned for the 10th Armored Division drive had little to recommend it to an armored force. The road net was limited. … Any cross-country movement would be most difficult, particularly after the autumn rains had beaten into the clay soil characteristic of this country.

For five days … the 10th Armored, waited for the word to cross the Moselle. The five days were marked by orders and counter-orders, new plans and estimates--all contingent on the caprices of the flooded river and the degree of success achieved by the enemy gunners shelling the American bridge sites. At this point the flood waters of the Moselle were constricted by two relatively high retaining walls, and the stone piers of an earlier bridge still stood.

The 1306th Engineer General Service Regiment set to the task of building a Bailey bridge (at D) on 12 November, under orders to continue on the job regardless of enemy fire. German mortars and field guns threw in one concentration after another. Once, during the late afternoon of the 12th, work had to be suspended for a couple of hours.

On the morning of the 13th the wind shifted, blowing away the covering smoke. German gunners laid their shells within a hundred yards of the bridge but could not get a direct hit. This time work on the Bailey continued, the engineers climbing into the superstructure clad in flak suits.

Finally, at 0930 on 14 November, the Thionville (D) bridge was ready--the largest Bailey bridge in the European Theater of Operations. On the afternoon of that day CCB (Combat Command B) began the move across the Moselle, the head of the column winding along the east bank northward to the 90th Division sector. Before daylight on 15 November, the whole combat command had assembled near Kerling (about 10miles NE of Thionville) behind the screen formed by the 359th Infantry.

From US Army in World War II, The Lorraine Campaign by Hugh Cole

So what's a Bailey Bridge? According to Wikipedia:
The Bailey bridge is a type of portable, pre-fabricated, truss bridge. It was developed by the British during World War II for military use and saw extensive use by both British and the American military engineering units.

A Bailey bridge had the advantages of requiring no special tools or heavy equipment to construct. The wood and steel bridge elements were small and light enough to be carried in trucks and lifted into place by hand, without requiring the use of a crane. The bridges were strong enough to carry tanks.

What's a Combat Command? Again, according to Wikipedia:
A Combat Command was a combined-arms military organization of comparable size to a brigade or regiment employed by armored forces of the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1963. The structure of combat commands was task-organized and so the forces assigned to a combat command often varied from mission to mission.

The combat command was a flexible organization that did not have dedicated battalions. Instead, tank, armored infantry, and armored field artillery battalions, as well as smaller units of tank destroyers, engineers, and mechanized cavalry were assigned as needed in order to accomplish any given mission.
This Combat Command organization would become very helpful to all concerned within the next six weeks when the Germans made their last push in what is known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014

It began as a way of remembering the end of World War I. That was supposed to be the "war to end all wars." I remember my aunt saying every year about the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was still Armistice Day in her mind. 

As bad as WW I was, it did not end all wars. The politics and reactions to the Germans and the war only set up the conditions for the next, and far worse, one. World War II was the epitome of total war across 90% of the world's population- and many of us as we became the children of that war's veterans.

If you have been following along with my posts on my Dad and the 10th Armored Division in 1944 you know I have been digging around in the war that was raging unmercifully 70 years ago. I realized I knew very little about many things connected to the war. For most of my generation World War II was both reality and fantasy. The reality was seen in the people we loved, even if we couldn't name it.

The fantasy was in some of the war movies that made it look "easy" in a difficult way. John Wayne was the quintessential war hero. Then there was The Guns of Navarone that pictured the ingenuity of Americans or Bridge on the River Kwai that began to show the awful ambiguities of  that war and any war. Two World War II heroes were elected president in a row- Eisenhower who led the troops and John F. Kennedy who was nearly lost in it.

The Longest Day, still with the somewhat easier picture of the war, did come along and change that view as we saw the re-enactment of D-Day. Saving Private Ryan turned our minds to the trauma our soldiers experienced in that invasion.

The current movie, Fury, is an extraordinary film that does not in any way, shape, or form sugar coat the experience of the armored divisions in WW II. It is intense, bloody, and frightening- as I am sure war is. It is also poignant. I am sure the movie is not anywhere near as intense, frightening and moving as the real experience was.

But reading about and following along with the 10th Armored and Tec 5 (Corporal) Harold Lehman, has given it more depth, more horror, more truth. Especially the truth of the need to be a "band of brothers" and the incredible fortitude that last year of the war must have needed. I am not  yet to the winter of 1944-45 when things got worse, very much worse for awhile.

So this year, even more than usual, I remember my Dad and his band of brothers, especially the medics like him who were "non-combatants" but were just as heavily involved in the horror as anyone else. I will never know my Dad's specific stories, the things he saw that kept him awake at night and perhaps ate away at him in ways that I can't imagine.

I remember him as well as the veterans of the wars since from Korea through Vietnam and the Gulf Wars into Afghanistan. I pray for their comfort, relief if needed from the traumas they faced, and a sense of having done what they were called to do.

And above all else, I pray that we can stop learning war and learn ways of peace as a world-wide experience.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Week Late- But Never Out of Season

I know that last Sunday was All Saints Sunday. But it is always appropriate to remember the saints, known and unknown. Our handbells at church last week led off the All Saints celebration. Here is the video. Enjoy.

1. For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

11. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

A 25-year Memory: The (Former) Berlin Wall

Hard to believe, but it's been 25 years since the people of Berlin tore down The Wall. It was so much of an iconic symbol of the Cold War that it is even more surprising when you realize that it was only there for 28 years! I was there in 1970 when it was nine years old.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

It's That Time - Again

Great River Bluffs State Park, MN, 10/16/14
The National Weather Service has a Winter Storm Watch posted for us from Monday to Tuesday morning. Maybe 4 - 7 inches. It isn't even the Ides of November yet.

Therefore it is time for my mostly annual posting of a wooly bear caterpillar from this year. Those old farmer's predictions from wooly bears would say that this means the beginning and end of winter will be harsh and the middle not as bad. Well, at least the first part is about to maybe look bad.

But then again,
  • one of my  general weather memes is that when they predict the big ones- they often don't happen and
  • I seem to remember that almost every year the wooly bear caterpillars look like this one and
  • we can't do much about it anyway.

Endnote: For no particular reason of note, this is post # 5,600.
Aren't you impressed?

Friday, November 07, 2014

My Reading List

Just kind of sitting around looking at nothing in particular as I was updating the old blog here. I looked over at the book list through this week. So far this year I am at 56 books, a little more than in the past, perhaps even in record territory. I am sure that part of that is because of my semi-retirement, a full month away in Alabama, and just generally working on the books. It is amazing how many excellent books are published each year.

One thing that struck me, though, was the split in the year between fiction and non-fiction. I have generally read more non-fiction than fiction over the years. There is so much of so great an interest in the world that I can hardly keep up. (Understatement!) But I also love fiction, the top-notch books that expand one's world through the imagination and writing of excellent writers. I also enjoy a good mystery, crime procedural and science fiction. If they are just plain entertainment- that's okay, although there is often a great deal of insight into the human condition in any good novel.

In any case I noticed that this year has an overwhelming difference between the two halves of the year so far. From January through June I read 12 novels of the 33 books read.

Since July 1, though, there are only 4 of the 23 that are novels- and I read those in the past month or six weeks. One thing I did notice overall is that I have been trying to pick up on some older and even classic novels like the Sound and the Fury, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hitchhiker's Guide, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I had promised myself that I would try to get to read some of these that I never read before. I have found that an excellent idea.

The list does not include any of the books I have been mining for the series on my Dad's time in World War II. I am not reading those cover-to-cover, but as I said, mining them for information. Some of them are truly deep mines!

I guess, then, that at least one of my goals for my move into retirement is working- I am reading more than ever. And there are so many more out there to go. It is a wondrous, never-ending stream of excitement, insight, life, and challenge!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Facebook and the Elections

Some insights occurred to me during the evening and day after the election. I realized that one of the big problems with putting issues out on the Facebook page is that it doesn't invite dialogue, at least not in the ways we usually think of that word. When someone publishes some meme or picture that has a particular political position behind it, it usually does not include any background information, supporting evidence or even any nuance of meaning. It becomes an "In-Your-Face" statement. It is presented as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Even if we believe this is so, it sure shuts down the hope of dialogue- or raises the hackles and defenses on the other side.

Here's an example of a meme that was on Facebook (and which I personally DID share on my page):

The statements on this meme are from a standpoint of a liberal Democrat, which I am. I read this and think, "Right on! That's saying it!" At the same time I make all kinds of distinctions in my own mind such as:
  • Of course not all Republican voters believe these the way they are stated.
  • Of course some of these are over-simplified in order to make the point
  • Of course the GOP leadership may not believe all these, but have to agree for party unity
I am making a lot of individual distinctions, even with what I accept in the meme. I "know" that all the statements in this meme are "true" because there are enough instances in different places across the country where these stances HAVE been taken by Republican legislators, congressmen, governors, and candidates.

But all I or any of us do in a FB post is put the picture out there. Period. No discussion, no explanation, none of the nuances I myself think about when I read it. What choice do I have, other than to NOT post it?

Looking at the original site of the post, one person made the comment that the meme was "taking a faction and applying it's idiosyncrasies to the whole." Which is a statement I wholeheartedly agree with.

A quick look at any of our FB news feeds will see many of these memes out there. Do I want to limit my - or your - posts to the innocuous and inane, of which FB has more than enough of? No! So why post them? How do we use these to enhance dialogue rather than shut it down?

I tried to dialogue when one of my friends challenged the meme and what it said. That person rightly pointed out from their own beliefs that the over-generalization of the statements and/or the extreme nature of their approach didn't make sense.

I react the same way when I see a GOP or Tea Party-type post I disagree with. What I have done at times with those is make a comment to the effect that dialogue might give a broader understanding. Most of the rest of the time I ignore them because I don't want to get into the politics.

I am grateful, though, that my friends felt able to challenge what was posted and ask what I really meant by that. I don't think I answered that question too well, which is why, in the end I am posting this here (with a link on my FB page.)

So why would I post such a meme knowing the nuances I have already described?

First, because the stands taken by a significant number of GOP leaders in different parts of the country HAVE taken these stands and I am convinced personally that they need to be challenged. (Yes, Democratic leaders have the same inconsistencies and lack of logic that Republican leaders have. Politics is an equal-opportunity insanity!)

Second, I post these because I am inviting others to think about what they say. As a result, then, you and I have to take a look at our own beliefs and what is the truth or truths I hold dear? I know of no candidate that has ever been in 100% alignment with my views. If the disconnect is too great I won't vote for that candidate. This also helps me and others to define what is important and even why.

Third, I post these because I hope that those who read it and disagree with it will also understand that people of good faith and understanding can have polar opposite views without being "ignorant" or "unpatriotic" or "anti-American." Again those are the words the extremists use and not those that friends have used on my pages. I am grateful that my friends who disagree with me have been willing to dialogue with me in the admittedly poor medium of FB posts.

Facebook is not a particularly great way to do that. (Twitter with its character count is even worse!) But if we can learn to listen to each other, challenge each other with care, and be willing to listen to each other, maybe we can at least keep the dialogue going in our country.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Some Personal Reflections on the Election

From an old political science major:

Finally! It's over. Time for some personal reflections on the just (sort of) completed elections.

Please note, I am talking, in general, about politicians on both sides. It depends sometimes on the particular politician, of course. Some are generally quality individuals with integrity and empathy. But most fail from time to time and the whole election process just plain sucks! So here are some of my thoughts.

1) It is hard to remain civil about the incivility of the election process, ads, smears, slams, etc. But I am trying. By turning off the political ads.

2) Why, oh why do we have to portray the opposition candidates as "un-American" or worse? What about democracy don't we understand? It is a national dialogue on priorities, ideas, directions. It is the opportunity to state our opinions and work toward healthy compromise and movement. Instead we attack individuals and personalities. Not something new in this election cycle- it's been around since Adams vs. Jefferson- but it can be very disturbing.

3) The press- on both sides. Actually, the broadcast media on both sides has taken the process and often placed it in jeopardy or even a parody of itself. Like attack ads, partisan media is not new- it has been a staple of American politics since the beginning. But now, in our age of 24/7 news cycles, it just keeps piling higher and deeper. I have stopped watching any of the news outlets for the elections. Maybe I won't go back.

4) Spin, spin, spin- until you fall down dizzy from all the spin. It's almost like those playground "carousels" we had when I was a kid. I was on one time and got so dizzy and nauseous that I never got on one again. Almost like the elections. Three weeks ago I also stopped listening to public radio's endless replaying of the state candidate debates, interviews, etc. Not because I didn't want to hear, but often the spin and rancor and name calling and on and on was just too much.

5) Do these politicians REALLY believe the crap they spew forth? Really? The incredible inconsistencies, faux pas, inane, hateful and just plain stupid remarks that are made seems to indicate a disconnect in many brains- a broken connection between logic and compassion and understanding and intelligence and the mouth.

6) Voter fraud and voter ID issues were sad to watch and were actually scary. For something that has been, for all practical purposes a non-issue for the past 50 years, it sure became an issue. Set up a basic system for FREE voter ID cards and it will make more sense. The right to vote has been a hard-fought battle for our entire history. In colonial America I would not have been allowed to vote- I don't own any land- and live in a rental town house. LESS THAN 100 years ago, women could not vote in the United States. A government "of the people, by the people and for the people" needs to have voting by as many people as possible. This has been a dangerous movement!!

7) The other really big issue is that of all the corporate-type money flowing so freely into both parties. It is almost obscene! If our national political health depends so fully on money with strings attached, maybe we aren't all that healthy. No, I don't have a good and affordable answer, but it is dangerous. It is called a plutocracy, a government controlled by the wealthy and they spend a lot of money buying our politicians and our votes.

8) What about the results? Well, all spin aside, it probably only matters in the short-term as this is often what happens in the mid-term elections. In spite of the hype by the press, this was no more or no less important than most other mid-term elections. It is how our democracy works- for better and worse. Shifts in power, movements across the middle-of-the-road point are common. While there seems to be a greater polarity and anger in this mid-term, maybe we can still hope that a certain amount of deal making is possible. We will see.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A (Very) Brief Respite Ahead

November 4 is the 308th day of the year (309th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar.
There are 57 days remaining until the end of the year.

This year here in the good old US of A it is the mid-term Election Day.


By tomorrow at this time, the ads will be gone, we will have an idea of what the arguments will now be in Congress, on the 24/7 news channels, and all over the place on Facebook.

Ah, but today is also 735 days until the 2016 presidential election.

Therefore, by tomorrow we will begin to hear all the reasons we should vote one way or another for whatever candidate is currently the font runner for either party.

No rest for the weary.

But that is not an excuse for today.

Monday, November 03, 2014

One of the Ones that Caught My Attention

I love Prairie Home Companion's Joke Show. Last Saturday was no exception. Thanks GK for this one:

Did you hear about the research scientist who had twins? He had one baptized and kept the other as a control.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Following the 10th Armored (4): Ready to Go

This is part of a series that, over the next year, will follow my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago.
02 Nov 1944

The 10th Armored entered their first combat at Mars-la-Tour.

In the previous week the Division had arrived at Mars-la-Tour having traveled across France from its start at Cherbourg. They had spent some time near Cherbourg at Theurteville getting acclimated to the war zone, putting things together and, I would guess, wondering what the future looked like.

They bivouacked near Mars la Tour that was unfortunately an area too small for movement. Then it rained and rained providing a very muddy, but relatively quiet few days. Nichols in Impact says that it was perhaps the worst bivouac area of war for them. Their purpose was to assist XX Corps in the containment of enemy troops in preparation for the attack on Metz.They were to move around behind the forts and cut off the retreating enemy.

Metz was an ancient 1500 year fortress town on Moselle River. It had been virtually indestructible over the previous millennium. The 10th was to fall into line, one-by-one behind the 90th Infantry then move through providing support and cover. From all that was reported it was not a particularly good geography (or weather) for the tanks, but the 10th managed and found its place.

When November and time for the battle around Metz came, the XX Corps under General Walton H. Walker had a total of 30 infantry battalions, 500 tanks and more than 700 guns. Their plan had two phases. One was to destroy all German forces around Metz and then to switch the advance to the northeast to catch the enemy as they pulled out of Metz.

On November 2, 1944, they were pulled into place and had their first combat. It was a generally quiet area and not much else was to happen for the next two weeks, but the enemy had been engaged for the first time. War was now a reality.