Friday, November 28, 2014

I Would Agree

This came across NPR the other day:

Language Heard During Infancy, Then Lost, Leaves ‘Ghost’ Imprint on the Brain

MRI scans revealed that the adoptees showed the same brain activity as native speakers, despite no longer being able to understand and speak anything in the language.
Anecdotally I would agree in some minor way. I grew up in North Central Pennsylvania with a mother from Brooklyn who spoke Yiddish quite fluently, as did her family. I remember hearing a story that she didn't know English when she started school, although I am not sure that would be the case since she was the youngest of three children who, by the time she went to elementary school would have already been in 3rd and 4th grades.

In any case I know my mother and her family were fluent and, when we went to Brooklyn for visits, the language was freely used. I never was taught it or even given any hints about what any of the words meant. I have a hunch that this gave them the leg up on these two young kids with big ears. I do remember the phrasing and style of the words with that unique Brooklyn/Jewish lilt to it. I can still fall into that dialect quite easily. It is almost natural. That's the first bit of anecdotal evidence.

My mom died not long after I turned 13 and contact with the Brooklyn side of the family was lost. No more Yiddish.

When I was in high school I took German, which, as you may know is quite similar to Yiddish- Yiddish being a Germanic language of Eastern Europe that utilizes Hebrew letters. I did okay but never really studied like I should when I got to college. No anecdote here.

But somewhere around 10 years ago I was surfing around the Internet and came across a site that had some talks given by a Hasidic Rabbi in Yiddish. Just for the fun of it I clicked on it knowing I wouldn't know what he was saying, I just wondered. Hence, anecdote 2.

Well, it was clear it wasn't German, but I could have heard it anywhere and would have known it was Yiddish. No mistake. It had the accents and feel of the Yiddish that is buried somewhere in my most early memories. I have a hunch that my brain cells would have been lighting up like a Christmas tree (or Hanukkah candles, might be more appropriate!)

I know this doesn't prove anything. But it was such a deep moment transporting me back over five and a half decades to a time and place long gone.

The human brain is a truly remarkable organ. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Just Another Day....

 Yep, just one more of 365 in which to give thanks.

So, just do it, everyday.

Give thanks with a grateful heart.

No More and
No Less!

Happy Thanksgiving, 2014!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When TV was Black and White

Actually it's about the trumpets, not the color of the screen (or lack thereof.) Here is a look at a young Doc Severinsen along with three other pretty darn good trumpet players.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let's Bribe Good Old Santa

There is a commercial that has been playing recently. It shows a young man who wants a shiny new luxury car. So, with Christmas coming he naturally locates Santa and starts doing nice things for him. Then on Christmas morning there it is- the bright, shiny, new luxury car.

If only it were that easy.

Actually, maybe not. No, I'm not going to say the old cliche about it having more meaning when you work for it, etc. It's about the bribery side of it. Be nice to the old man in a red suit- bribe him with coffee and kindness and he will bring you what your heart desires. Somehow that isn't the lesson I think of when I ponder Christmas. I DO believe there is a war on Christmas- but it is NOT the one you hear about from the right-wingnuts. The real war on Christmas is the one embodied in this ad. It is the war of materialism and getting what we think we want and finally, bribing God. Ooops- I meant Santa.

If you want to make it a Merry Christmas you have exactly one month left. Therefore, from last Sunday's Gospel, ne more time....

.........Feed the hungry
.............Clothe the naked
.................Visit the lonely and prisoners
.............Uplift the least and the lost
.........Heal the sick
......and then
...Love your enemies!

When you do those, we will have a truly Merry Christmas.

Otherwise, have a happy holiday.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ever Wonder....

What makes a song interesting, so interesting that it becomes a classic? That thought came to mind the other evening when I was working and listening to my shuffle on iTunes. The Johnny Cash song, "Ring of Fire" popped up and I found my attention taken away from what I was doing listening to the song and humming quietly (I was at the local Caribou Coffee). As I tapped my toe and let the music do its thing on my brain chemicals I noticed something that I had heard before but never struck me as part of the song's power and endurance.

As the words go

  • "I fell into a burning ring of fire" the music line goes UP the scale, not down. 
  • "I went down, down, down" floats over the same RISING line. 
  • "And the flames went higher" then takes the music down the scale.
It is almost irresistible. Somewhere in the recesses of our brain where music is a primal occurrence, the dissonance between the words and music lines makes an impact. Even if we don't know why, we are caught by the music.

It is a very simple song with just enough complexity and cognitive dissonance to make a difference. It isn't in the fine execution of the song or any profound sentiment. It is a raw song that nonetheless does more than just entertain us. It changes us in some inner way.

I don't, of course, sit and analyze all the music that comes through my headphones when I am working. Many times I am almost oblivious to what's happening there. But when something grabs my attention as quickly and powerfully as Ring of Fire I realize something is interesting about it.

Perhaps this is mindfulness at another level. When something grabs our attention away from something important, then something is working in the pre-conscious or unconscious levels of our brains.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The End of the Church Year: The Servant King

Today was the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year. Next week the cycle of the church year starts over with Advent. But first, on this last Sunday, our ceremonial "New Year's Eve", we remembered that Jesus is in charge. Period. End of discussion. Well, sort of. Especially on the years in the cycle when we read the assigned Matthew scripture:

Matthew 25:31 - 46 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This happens to be the Scripture passage that has been my watchword practically since I first heard it well over 50 years ago. I find it the perfect ending for the church year because it reminds me again of what it means to be a Christian. In this remarkable parable Jesus doesn't ask what you believe, whether you have been "born again" or have accepted him as your savior. Rather he simply tells them what he has seen. That's it. Forget the words. Forget the preaching.
Here, Jesus says, let me tell you when you served me.
And they were all surprised because they never noticed they were (or weren't) doing these things. They just went about their business each day doing what they felt was the next right thing. It turns out that in so doing some were actually serving Jesus- and some were outright ignoring him.

Jesus is rarely this clear in his proclamations. Most of them can be open for interpretation. This one leaves very little wiggle room. (I know there is some, but it is built on very shifty sand!) When I get this kind of message from God, I really do try to follow it, though very imperfectly, I must admit. I am sure I have passed Jesus by often this past week when I didn't stop for the homeless guy at the highway ramp. That's one I am still working on.

There I sat this morning feeling pretty damn good about what I was hearing. I started thinking about some of the stuff in the news over the past weeks- the guy arrested in Florida for violating the law that forbids feeding the homeless, for example. But the one that kept running through my mind was the big explosion over the immigration issues. I wanted to do something like the following:

When you don't take care of the least of these, you are not caring for me.

My mind then went to all those politicians who have been using this issue- and these children- as a political football. Many of these have professed to be real Christians (as opposed to us "liberal" Christians who really aren't.) They even found it disgusting that Obama would stoop so low as to quote the Bible about this issue. After all, doesn't the Bible only care about abortion and condemning gays?

In short I was feeling quite smug and secure. (Okay, self-righteous might apply.)

But one thing I do try to do is prepare myself when I go to church to be made uncomfortable. I really believe that "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable" is a basic standard of Jesus. Even so, I wasn't prepared for it when it happened. Why would I be? All I was doing was praying the liturgy. When along comes the Lord's prayer:
...forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Who me? You talking to me again?

Of course Jesus was. I suddenly realized I was treating those "other politicians" in a way that I wouldn't treat Jesus. What might Jesus say when he came upon this part of my story?

Ouch. That hurts!

But it is not in comfort that I learn how to be a better person. It's when the shoe pinches, the message gets too close to home and the metaphorical 2x4 connects with the metaphorical side of my head.

I need to do something differently. I need to stop doing what I am "accusing" those others of doing- judgement, self-righteousness, and treating others less than I would like to be treated. In that sense it doesn't matter what they are doing (or not doing). What matters is what I am doing since I am the only one who can change me.

Therefore I'm going to use an old recovery meme. I am going to take two weeks to pray for those I am judging as being on the "wrong side" of the issue. I am going to ask that they be blessed and supported. No, I will not pray that they change their mind or heart. That's not mine to decide. But I am going to spend the time simply asking that the grace and spirit of God bless them. Period. Nothing more and nothing less.

After all, when the King comes in all his glory I already know what he's going to say. He told me this morning.

As usual I was brought up short and reminded that humility is something I should think about practicing more often.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

For the Record This Weekend:

Go Lehigh   

On Wisconsin

Go, Pack, Go

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.