Saturday, December 31, 2016

Our Finest

Tough year. 

This is the enduring image - a Dallas Police Officer shields a citizen during the shooting that left five other officers dead. Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it.

Stay safe, brothers and sisters. You did it right this year.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Editorial Page, or Funnies


My attention was directed today to a column on the editorial page of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Inasmuch as my late brother and I delivered said newspaper in the late 60s, I thought I might avail myself, for old time's sake. Oh boy.

The eye candy attraction was a snow plow, apparently going about it's grim, mundane but entirely necessary business of clearing a roadway. Upstate New York is fertile ground for such endeavors - in my first year of law school at Syracuse we received one hundred sixty eight inches of the white filth in one interminably long winter. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the evolving technology of winter snow removal, written during a visit to the National Snow Removal Convention (or some such) in...Syracuse, of course.

In any event, the editorial was a celebration, of sorts, of camaraderie and selflessness in the face of deep political divisions. Wait... Don't go, it gets better. One of the townships, ahead of a particularly nasty storm, had lost a significant number of plows in a fire. How, the writer did not share. But, fear not!

The victimized town, largely Democrat in voting patterns, was the recipient of succor at the hands of Republican enclaves in surrounding jurisdictions. No, really. The D's and R's set aside their differences, shunned the sort of Gallup poll algorithms that are the bread and butter of pundits and...lent the poor Dem souls some plows. We, as a society, are rising mightily from the ashes.

For the love of God. I have never read such utter nonsense.

Me, to the Denver officer I am assisting: "So, Denver almost always elects a democrat as mayor, huh?"

Her: "Pretty much."

Me: "That's okay. We can still work this call together."

It is the stock and trade of civil servants. It is called "Mutual Aid." Firefighters, cops, paramedics, snow plow operators, mechanics... Nobody cares what political party usually runs your town. Get the job done, be there for each other.

Who writes this shit?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A New Hope

[the Millennium Falcon, under siege, won't start]
Princess Leia: [sarcastic] Would it help if I got out and pushed?
Han Solo: [also sarcastic] It might...

Noting the passing of Carrie Fisher - actor, writer, advocate...icon.

The Boston Herald American newspaper (circa Spring 1977) had a small article about a new sci-fi flick coming out in May. Called Star Wars, it represented the next generation of the genre - good graphics, a decent script and something missing from most 50s and 60s space movies...charm.

Most of us who had entered our early twenties (barely) by then had grown up with the usual stuff. There was the cockpit of the rocket, long levers everywhere, lights blinking haphazardly, windows huge and flimsy. The outside shots of the rocket often revealed the wire upon which it slid, exhaust plume shooting out of the tail and then...raising up (!?) in the micro-gravity of space.  

Women crew members - they tended to be window dressing, there primarily to be a eye candy for the inevitable space monster, the distressed damsel dressed in tight-fitting "uniform" and often requiring multiple rescues per movie by the male lead, usually played humorously by an actor of modest talents. Star Wars, bring it on.

It was, of course, awesome. Epic. The spacecraft actually looked substantially like...well, spacecraft. The villain looked like a villain, talked like a villain and had the nasty habit of crushing things that displeased him - rebel troops, insurgent planets. His own commanders.

The good guys were good. Pure. Luke was a talented kid stuck on an isolated planet. The Empire killed his aunt and uncle, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Obi Wan, a sort of zen master put out to pasture, is there ("These are not the droid you are looking for"), or maybe not. Roguish Han Solo steals the show - he is handsome and dashing, with just the right bit of larceny in him. Even the robots are fun times, C3PO's dashing off some of the wittier lines.

There was, of course, Princess Leia. Fisher played her as brash, no nonsense, able to command the respect of rebel warriors while effortlessly parrying Solo's chauvinistic advances. Diminutive in stature, brassy in everything else, she could be hard...and then soft. She was beautifully, memorably, sensually played by a talented actor not yet twenty.

Ms. Fisher had a busy life. She wrote books, did voices for animations. She worked a lot in movies. Her relationships seemed not to last very long, complications always tugging at her sleeve. She battled illnesses, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her forthright public statements, her advocacy for better treatment of mental health concerns and addictions, lent hope to others suffering in anonymity. When she revisited Leia in 2015, hers was a face, a voice, a heart, who had seen a lot and overcome it all.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ode to Freedom

On December 25, 1989, Bernstein conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in East Berlin's Schauspielhaus as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He had conducted the same work in West Berlin the previous day. The concert was broadcast live in more than twenty countries to an estimated audience of 100 million people. For the occasion, Bernstein reworded Friedrich Schiller's text of the Ode to Joy, substituting the word Freiheit (freedom) for Freude (joy). Wiki

Remembering the Berlin attack victims, their families and Germany this Christmas. Be safe and thanks to law enforcement and military all over the world this Christmas, who will be away from home so that we may be free to celebrate our faith.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Hand Me Down Love

"There's always something special when the service academies play each other that's not in any other game. This is not a regular game and everyone involves knows it."
-- Roger Staubach, former Navy quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner

I got the text last night - "Are we gonna bet on the Army-Navy game?"

My father was as proud a veteran as one could find. He'd enlisted in the Marine Corps before he graduated high school, fought in some of the bloodiest campaigns in the Pacific and came home to marry and have children. He rooted for Navy.

My Uncle - I am his namesake - was an especially gifted man. He played violin so well that he was featured on a Philadelphia radio station (in the '30s that was a major accomplishment). He was bright, so much so that when war broke out and he enlisted in the Army the powers that were kept him home, working to improve tank designs. He talked his way oversees, helping retake the Philippines. He rooted for Army.

They made a bet every year, my dad watching from the living room of a small house in the Philadelphia suburb of Southampton and then Pittsford, NY; my uncle in Michigan, Germany and Colorado. It was a friendly rivalry, the two veterans launching friendly digs as the game progressed. When Uncle Jim passed, a little piece of my dad's joy for life went with him.

I served as an officer in the US Naval Reserve, getting my commission in the late 80s. Daughter Beth enlisted in the Army, and was injured in boot camp. We are veterans, on opposite sides of the coin toss today.

Go Navy! Beat Army!

Her grandpa would be proud. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Godspeed, John Glenn

They were caught up in the living moment, exactly as we are, and with no more certainty of how things would turn out than we have. David McCullough, The Course of Human Events (2003).

 Noting the passing of John Glenn - Marine pilot, astronaut, Senator...American.

One need only stand in the "Rocket Garden" at Kennedy Space Center to understand the enormity of the undertaking. A Mercury "spacecraft" is perched on an Atlas rocket, its grandiosity underscoring how small and intimate it really was. The cockpit, no bigger than the tumbler of a clothes dryer, sat atop a booster that weighted a quarter million pounds - most of the weight being spectacularly explosive fuel. It stood less than one hundred feet tall.

Being next to it lends an almost surreal sensation of extreme danger, that the occupant of the tiny pod was strapped to a giant bomb that, even when properly controlled, still wielded enormous power. Enough to reduce the astronaut to atoms, in the event of a disaster. It was into such a contraption that John Herschel Glenn climbed in February, 1962.

The Audio/Visual aid had wheeled a "portable TV" into our third grade classroom, and plugged it in. The thing tipped the scales at approximately a ton, had a rabbit ear antenna and was, of course, a black and white set. Our teacher turned it on, tuned to NBC, and we sat back to take in history. An American was about to be launched into Earth orbit.

Everything stopped. We all held our breath. Three orbits. Just before the launch a voice is heard - "The good Lord ride all the way," followed by another. "Godspeed, John Glenn." It was that dangerous.

It wasn't flawless. At some point, mission control received an indication that the heat shield - a part that would ablate...flake off...under the intense heat of reentry, had come loose.

John Glenn got through it, received a medal from President John Kennedy (with whom he became friends) and took his rightful place among America's greatest heroes.

Colonel Glenn's is a story of aeronautical spirit, steely-eyed courage and grace under fire. It is also a love story. He was a square peg in a class of gifted pilots, but privately flawed men. He did not own a sports car and, when called upon by his fellows to loosen up and pour on the juice (insert double entendres here) he went home to beloved Annie.

He'd married Anna Margaret Castor in 1943. She had a hitch in her speech - what author Tom Wolfe described as a "hammering stutter," the kind that exhausts both speaker and listener. Wolfe wrote that she and her husband were a team, that when public speaking became necessary they engaged in a sort of duet. Later in life she mastered her challenge, in the process becoming an adjunct professor in Ohio State's speech pathology department.

This remarkable couple had passed their seventieth wedding anniversary at the time of John's passing yesterday. Godspeed, sir.