Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: In Memoriams

A look back at some of the impactful people who reached eternity this year:

Shirley Temple
The girl with the unmistakable curls and endearing smile -- who charmed the silver screen as a child in the 1930's, and whose name and face remain known even to people today who have never watched her movies -- departed this world four days before Valentine's Day.

As an adult Temple had a long and effective career in many high level posts. A lifelong Republican, she served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana from 1974-76, U.S. Chief of Protocol from 1976-77, and U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989-92. She was heavily involved with the Commonwealth Club of California, a prestigious think tank, and served as its president in 1984. Earlier, acting as a representative for the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, she happened to be in Prague when the Soviet Union invaded in 1968; she took refuge on her hotel's roof as tanks rolled through the city, and it was from there that she witnessed Soviet troops murder an unarmed woman on the street below.

And all of that represents just a portion of her overall accomplishments, for she also was on the boards of directors for Walt Disney, Del Monte Foods, Bank of America, Fireman's Fund Insurance, and the National Wildlife Federation -- among others. What a life!

Mickey Rooney
Two months after Shirley Temple moved up to the stars she was joined by Mickey Rooney, who also rose to fame as a child star in the 1930's. Unlike her, he remained in the acting business all the way to the end, and in fact he appears in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which is in theaters at this very moment. Here's hoping those two are currently yukking it up on the Good Ship Lollipop, and that Rooney has finally been able to put a smile on the tortured soul of his old pal Judy Garland.

Joe Cocker
If I could, I'd sing the word "farewell" in a growl so throaty it would make other people reach for cough drops, and I'd do it while moving in an awkward, herky jerky manner. But I can't. Only Joe Cocker could get away with that, and nine days ago cancer took him away from us. Let the record show that despite his high profile as an international music star from working class England, he remained married to one woman and they spent their last two decades living on a ranch in the Colorado Rockies that is not -- repeat, not -- near Vail or Aspen.

Joan Rivers
Go here for the thoughts I spilled at the time.

Robin Williams
When he hanged himself in August it seemed like everyone on Earth was stunned -- except for those who were closest to him, as evidenced by comments saying he had recently been "struggling with depression." Though I don't recall the exact source of those comments, I do remember them percolating from relatives or publicists or spokespeople, or some combination of the three.

But perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised. Like his earlier battles with alcohol and cocaine, Williams's battles with clinical depression were not a secret. Within minutes of hearing that his death was suspected to be suicide, my first thought was this: When you look at his based-on-his-own-life stage jokes  ("I had to stop drinking because I kept waking up on the lawn with the keys up my ass") against the backdrop of his serious acting roles (the English teacher in Dead Poets Society, psychology professor in Good Will Hunting, the dead man in What Dreams May Come) I can easily see him being one of those people who harbors a genuine love and concern for his fellow humans but a genuine dislike of himself.

In the end, he was able to beat the external demons of booze and drugs but not the internal demons of misfiring brain chemicals. So sad. So very, very sad.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Only four years older than me, with an acting career that was marked by virtuosity and did not include a single ho-hum performance, Hoffman perished in a dirty apartment with a heroin needle protruding from his vein. Just like that, three children were suddenly made fatherless. Like Neil Young once sang: "I've seen the needle and the damage done...every junkie's like a setting sun." Whose death is sadder, Williams's or Hoffman's? Pick your poison because there ain't a speck of beauty in either.

Geoffrey Holder
When you consider how each man met his end, Geoffrey Holder's life stands out as a kind of counter-balance to the lives of Williams and Hoffman. People of my generation may not know Holder's name, but we know him from those 7Up commercials in which he beckoned us to drink "the un-cola" and described it as "crisp and clean, and no caffeine." His imposing size, baritone-ish voice, and Caribbean accent left an impression that served him well in an acting career that included key roles as Punjab in 1982's Annie and Baron Samedi in the Bond film Live and Let Die

On Broadway, Holder starred in an all-black production of Waiting for Godot way back in 1957. Later, in 1975, he directed The Wiz and won Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Costume Design.

And before any of that he was recognized as a superb dancer. Holder began dancing professionally in his native Trinidad in 1937, when he was just seven years old. In 1955 he became a principal dancer for New York's Metropolitan Opera Ballet.

Plus, he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for his painting.

When asked why a man of so many talents filmed TV commercials, Holder told People magazine: "I'm no snob. The commercial is an art form unto itself."

He died of pneumonia on October 5th, survived by his wife of 59 years, Carmen, and their son Leo. Looking back on his life, we realize that Sidney Poitier was not the only black islander who came to our shores and helped push down racial barriers in mid-century America.

Alois Brunner
Everyone else on this list is a person who contributed to the world, who you are sad to see go, and each of them is known to have died during this year -- but such is not the case with Alois Brunner, who was born in 1912 and joined Germany's Nazi Party in 1931. One year later he joined the Sturmabteilung, which predated the Nazi Party but was then acting as its paramilitary wing. Brunner eventually became the director of Hitler's SS and worked closely with Adolf Eichmann, who referred to him as his "best man."

During World War II Brunner deported Jews to concentration camps from Austria, Slovakia, and Greece. He is held responsible for sending at least 140,000 people to gas chambers; i.e., for having murdered the equivalent of the entire population of Savannah, Georgia. He escaped capture after the war and found sanctuary in Syria, where his brand of genocidal anti-Semitism was (and still is) celebrated rather than deplored.

While in Syria he lived with an openness and shamelessness that should anger every decent person on Earth. In 1985 he granted a remote interview to a German news magazine, telling it "my only regret is that I didn't murder more Jews." He eluded attempts by Simon Wiesenthal to capture him and by Mossad to kill him with letter bombs (though the latter efforts did result in him losing an eye and fingers in 1980).

On November 30th of this year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center reported that it had received credible information indicating Brunner died in 2010. If true, the only downside to him dying is that he did not first experience retribution at the hands of humans.

Johnny Winter
As an accomplished white blues musician, Winter would have been an unusual sight in any event, but as an albino his appearance on a blues stage was unique in the literal sense. With his height, long white hair, pale eyes and extra pale skin, he looked almost like a vampire in plain clothes -- and it speaks well of his musicianship that his appearance never overshadowed his talent.

Winter was born in Texas in 1944 and began recording at the age of 15. The $600,000 he received for signing with Columbia Records in December 1968 is believed to have been the largest advance in recording history up to that point.

He did not fail to live up to expectations, as the near-concurrent release of his eponymous Columbia debut and extended distribution of his previous album The Progressive Blues Experiment propelled him to stardom. Winter released a series of albums, some of which were traditional blues and some of which were blues-rock, and in the late 1970's he fulfilled a childhood dream by playing with Muddy Waters in a trio of recording sessions. As the years went on he headlined the Chicago Blues Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and Sweden Rock Festival.

On July 16th, two days after performing at a blues festival in France, Winter was found dead in a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, and no cause of death has been determined. In September his final album was released, featuring appearances by Eric Clapton, Brian Setzer, Ben Harper and Joe Perry, to name just a few.

Harold Ramis
Just glance at a partial list of the movies Ramis created: Animal HouseCaddyshackStripesNational Lampoon's VacationGhostbustersAs Good As It GetsAnalyze ThisKnocked Up. Ponder that list. The comedies are comedy for its own sake, not dragged down by personal bitterness or political bias. And the lone drama is a purely human one, for as it embraces the idea that our shortcomings exist alongside our yearning for goodness, As Good As It Gets does not get dragged down by personal bitterness or political bias. Need I say more?

James Garner
Garner passed away on July 19th at the age of 86. American television would not be American television without this Oklahoman who starred in Maverick in the 1950's and The Rockford Files in the 1970's.

Ralph Waite
Nor would American television be American television without Ralph Waite, the New Yorker who portrayed the family patriarch in The Waltons in the 1970's. He passed away in February at the age of 85.

Jean Beliveau
Beliveau was born 83 years ago in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, and died 29 days ago in Longueuil, Quebec. From 1950 to 1971 he established himself as one of the greatest hockey players ever to lace up a pair of skates, spending the majority of those years playing for the Montreal Canadiens and helping make them the game's most storied franchise.

A centreman blessed with a deadly left-handed shot and uncanny view of the ice, Beliveau led the Canadiens to 10 Stanley Cups and served as their captain for 10 of his 18 full seasons with the team. He played in 13 All-Star Games and was the first hockey player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In 1965 he became the only team captain in NHL history to score the Cup-winning goal and win the Conn Smythe Trophy (for playoff MVP) on the same night.

Beliveau's statistics were so strong that although he retired 43 years ago, even today he ranks as Montreal's second all-time leading scorer. In addition to his athletic tenacity, he was so admired for his intelligence and character that in the 1990's he was twice offered a Senate seat by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and once recommended as a candidate for Governor General of Canada by the subsequent prime minister, Jean Chretien. In all three instances, Beliveau declined.

At his funeral, his casket was draped in a Candiens team flag and four of his old teammates were among his pallbearers. In one of the eulogies given that day, Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden said of Beliveau that "no place was was too small or remote, because no fan or person was unimportant...He treated everyone with such respect. He said the right thing, in the right way -- in French and in English -- because that's what he believed and that's what he was."

Of course, there were many other people deserving of notice who passed away in 2014, but time is limited and I have already been long-winded. So be safe tonight, have a Happy New Year, and may 2015 bring peace and prosperity to your life.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Essence of the Season

It happened -- actually, the beginning of it happened -- one hundred years ago tonight.

When Christmas Eve came round in 1914, Europe was in the throes of trench warfare that walked the line between brutality and barbarism. The weaponry of the age was advanced but the medical care was not, and therefore the percentage of battlefield wounds that resulted in death was much higher than it is today.

The war that was raging in 1914 seems incomprehensible to most of us living in 2014. It is difficult to understand how the assassination of an Austro-Hungarian archduke while he was visiting Bosnia could plunge all of Europe, and eventually the United States, into a war in which the main foes were Britain and Germany. While it was happening and for some time afterward, it was referred to simply as The Great War. Nobody could have thought to call it World War I -- not, that is, until World War II erupted a mere two decades after The Great War ended.

As you would expect in the northerly latitudes where the war was unfolding, its western front was cold on December 24th of that year. After dark enveloped the countryside near Ypres, Belgium, soldiers from Britain's 18th Infantry Brigade heard their German counterparts singing "Silent Night," though of course the Germans were singing it in their own tongue as "Stille Nacht."

Some accounts say the British responded by singing "Silent Night" back to the Germans, while others say they responded by belting out "O Come All Ye Faithful." Though the exact exchange is now lost in the fog of time, there is no doubt that enemy soldiers reached out in peace by singing Christmas carols to each other across the no man's land which separated their foxholes.

After dawn broke the following morn, the soldiers emerged anxiously and met in no man's land, opting on Christmas Day to lay down their arms and mingle as human beings. They chose, if only for a day, to embrace their commonality and ignore the deadly designs drawn up for them by politicians in distant capitals. They talked -- haltingly given their different languages, but effectively nonetheless -- and they exchanged trinkets as gifts. They even played soccer, using actual soccer balls in some games and empty corned beef cans in others.

And those references to "some" games and "other" games reflect the most remarkable thing about the impromptu civility shown by enemy troops: It occurred not only near Ypres but at multiple spots along the western front. 

Friendly Limey-vs.-Kraut soccer matches popped up in several places. The most famous involved Germany's 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment facing a UK brigade comprised mostly of Scotsmen. The Germans won that one by a score of 3-2 and one of their lieutenants, Johannes Niemann, wrote that "us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts."

Some military leaders were appalled that their charges were fraternizing with the enemy, and some lower-ranking personnel were also appalled. According to a German soldier in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment, one of the regiment's corporals said with disgust that "such things should not happen" and went on to ask if the Germans participating in the friendliness had "no sense of honor left at all." The corporal was 25 years old and his name was Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the resistance of leaders and of people like the young Hitler serves only to strengthen the significance of what happened when those unofficial truces took place on December 24th and 25th, 1914. They are known collectively as the Christmas Truce and have, to a certain degree, become mythologized as the intervening century has passed. But the Christmas Truce did happen and continues to serve as a testament to the inner goodness that dwells in humanity -- the inner goodness that can come to the fore and propel us upward in the darkest of times.

To a maddening degree, that goodness is locked in a struggle with the badness that also dwells within us all. Man's divided heart is a paradox that vexes anyone who dares think about it. It drove Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to agonize that "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

The beauty of Christmas is that it spotlights the good and gives rise to the good without denying the existence of the bad. In his old age, Ebeneezer Scrooge was visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and compelled to make a choice -- to choose between continuing on a road to perdition or switching to a road to salvation. There is no sugar-coating in the telling of Dickens's tale, and we remember the glory of Scrooge's salvation precisely because of how close he came to experiencing the horror of the alternative.

But back to the Christmas Truce: A full century later it stands out as a shining example of how the power of good, genuinely felt and properly perceived by individual human beings, can overcome the power of bad.

In the most tangible sense, the triumph of that 24-hour period was brief because it was not repeated in the subsequent Decembers of World War I. As the war unfolded, commanding officers tightened the clamps to prevent a recurrence of the truce. Plus, a rapid increase in the use of chemical weapons made people less inclined to take the risk of being the first to step into no man's land in plain view of enemy forces.

However, intangibles are just as real as tangibles; and they often turn into tangibles; and they often bear fruit much later in the growing season of Time, long after early-season tangibles have withered and died.

One hundred years later, after the subsequent invention of nuclear weapons and subsequent proliferation of mass-scale terrorism, a strong case can be made that old-timey World War I remains the cruelest and bloodiest war the world has ever seen. And yet, the Christmas Truce is its most remembered and talked-about event -- more so than the battles of Scimitar Hill, Verdun, and the Argonne; more so that the sinking of the Lusitania; more so than the downing of the Red Baron; more so that the arrival of American doughboys; more so than the Armistice.

Corporal Hitler despised the Christmas Truce, and today he is remembered as such a vile character that everyone but the lowest reprobates recognizes him as the personification of evil. Conservative and Liberal, Jew and Gentile, Religious and Atheist, Germanic and non-Germanic, European and non-European -- virtually all of humanity is in agreement that Hitler's name should be infamous forever. Looking back with the fullness of time we see that the commoners who enacted the Christmas Truce, by singing at night and shaking hands by day, did more to stir man's heart than the corporal who would go on to mesmerize millions and rule a nation.

Every Christmas we should recall the unofficial truce of 1914, but this Christmas is its centennial and it deserves to be loudly celebrated. We should make a point of telling our kids about it and holding it in the front of our thoughts, for it might be the greatest true example of what the Christmas season is all about.

Note: To commemorate the centennial, the British grocery chain Sainsbury's produced a three-minute, forty-second ad portraying the Christmas Truce. Yes, it does show a Sainsbury's chocolate bar that a British soldier gives to a German soldier, but it is the shortest and most unobtrusive product placement I have ever seen. The commercial is superbly filmed, superbly acted, and arguably the best I've ever watched. You can view it by going here. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice

Here are some thoughts about the year’s coldest season on this, its first day:

I love how it begins with evergreen boughs on mantles, lighted trees in village squares, carols on the radio, and people knowing that life’s greatest joys come from giving rather than receiving.

I love its chilly mornings when fog clings to the surfaces of ponds.

I love sitting outside on those mornings drinking hot black coffee.

I love watching Sarah try to catch snowflakes on her tongue during our winter vacation.

I love driving across California’s High Sierra between snow drifts so deep they soar above cars and turn roadways into tunnels of white.

I love walking through Appalachian forests that are barren of leaves but laden with snow, and therefore have the appearance of black-and-white photos come to life.

And finally, I love that I can spend a whole day outside in Florida without feeling the need to shower every hour.

So for those who curse the cold: Remember that every season brings beauty, so long as we stop to notice it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Carol Born

When it comes to carols, I have always found “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” to be especially poignant (if you're not familiar with it, you can listen to it here.)

It did not begin as a song, but as a poem written on Christmas morning by America’s greatest poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, more than 150 Christmases ago. At that moment in time America was torn apart and battling itself in the Civil War – a war that still stands as the one in which more Americans died than in any other.

When dawn broke that morning, Longfellow was despondent. During the war his son Charles had been horrifically wounded when a bullet passed through part of his spine, leading to a long and excruciating recovery. And as if that wasn’t dark enough, his wife Frances had died as a result of burns sustained when her clothes were set on fire by dripping sealing wax, which she was melting with the intention of using it to preserve some of their daughter’s trimmed curls.

But despite that sorrowful backdrop, as Longfellow sat in his Massachusetts home on Christmas and heard the ringing of local church bells, his faith in divine promise started to stir and he was moved to put pen to paper. The resulting poem was transformed into a hymn nine years later, when John Baptiste Calkin composed the music to which it was set.

The poem’s words absolutely speak for themselves. Since some of them are excluded from the carol we normally hear this time of year, here they are in their entirety:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Christmas Miracle

I published this post six years ago, and it just feels right to "reprint" it today:

My grandfather passed away two months ago.  

I have wanted to write a post about him ever since, and there are a thousand things I want to say in that post, yet it remains unwritten for one very unmovable reason:  I have no idea where or how to start saying those thousand things.  When a man lives 81 years, has 39 direct descendants, and impacts not only his family but countless other people as well, how can you sum up his life in a handful of paragraphs?  You can’t. 

But I do not have that problem when it comes to writing about Granddaddy and Christmas, after the way they converged three years ago. 

Granddaddy’s love of God, family, and country; his zeal when talking about those things to anybody with whom he came into contact; his faith in the perfectibility of man; his irrepressible Scotch-Irish mischief; his unsurpassed diligence in everything to which he set his mind or his hands – those qualities will all be written about in time, but for the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that in the last few years of his life they were cruelly stolen by Alzheimer’s disease. 

His mental sharpness started to dull about five years ago.  In 2005 his memory faded as well, and the fading was fast.  He carried on conversations with Nana without realizing it was her.  Remembering how she looked in their youth but not in the here and now, he said things like “I wonder when Peggy’s going to come home” while looking into her very eyes. 

When he and Nana arrived at our family’s 2005 Christmas Eve party, nobody expected to be recognized by him.  Because I did not want to confuse him by addressing him in a way that would suggest he was speaking to his grandson, and because I knew his recollections of battling the Nazis remained vivid, that night I simply called him “Corporal.” 

He asked if I was in the Army like he had been, and I told him I was not because of my diabetes. I told him that we nonetheless had some similarities, because just like him, my last name was Stanton and my blood carried Scotch-Irish genes.  He nodded and said it was good to meet me.  He said I should come around again sometime. 

Everyone at the party walked a tightrope, balancing holiday cheer on one hand with the sadness of loss on the other.  The man we loved, who had known each of us by name just a year earlier, had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist. 

But as the night started to grow long, something sparked inside Granddaddy’s mind.  When most of us were assembled in and around the kitchen, he “addressed the room” and said it was great that we were there.  He did not specifically acknowledge that we were all family; however, when he looked at my Aunt Sharon, the third of his five children, a glint appeared in his eyes and he spoke the word “daughter.” 

He and Nana stood on the driveway as the party wound down.  I stood there too, as did several others, hoping to give Nana some sense of normalcy.  But it turned out that our presence was not needed, for while Venus shone brightly like the Star of Bethlehem, Granddaddy came back as if by magic.  Looking up at the Milky Way, he spoke to Nana by name and said:  “Peggy, I’m trying to remember the night we got married.”  Some minutes later, when he said goodbye to each of us, his face bore a look of recognition and for that moment it no longer seemed that there was a stranger trapped in his body. 

As his wife of 59 years drove him back to the house they had called home for 53 years, they talked about their life and their family and it was as if the dementia had never been.  After finishing that 45-mile excursion from rural Hernando County to urban Tampa, they sat up late into the night conversing and reminiscing and sharing life’s small but inimitable joys.  They lay down in bed like they had done so many times through the years, and for that one holy night Granddaddy was Granddaddy again:  John Stanton, Jr., child of the Great Depression, survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, pastor, proud but humble, flawed but good.

When the sun rose, the dementia was back and my grandmother's husband, as she knew him, never returned.  But they had gotten that one last night together on Christmas Eve, and had gotten it after everyone assumed it was not possible.  As Nana said:  “That was my Christmas miracle.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Real Saint Nick

History provides many examples of actual people who have, over time, become so melded into the popular imagination that we tend to forget they were real. Saint Nicholas is one of them.

Born sometime around 280 A.D. in the town of Patara, in what was then part of Greece but is now part of Turkey, Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents who died when he was young. Having been raised as a devoted Christian, he spent his life using his inheritance to help those in need, and in addition to his charity he became known for harboring great concern for children and sailors.

Down through history, one particular story about his generosity has persisted. In those days, women whose families could not pay a dowry were more likely to die as spinsters than to get married. It is said that when Nicholas learned of a poor man who was worried about his daughters’ fate because he lacked money for their dowries, Nicholas surreptitiously tossed gold into the man’s home through an open window, and the gold landed in stockings that were drying by the fire. Much later, this 1,700-year-old story inspired the modern tradition of hanging stockings by the chimney to receive gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve.

Nicholas became Bishop of Myra and was imprisoned during the anti-Christian persecutions carried out by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Based on the stories of his life, Catholic tradition considers him a patron saint of children, orphans, sailors, travelers, the wrongly imprisoned, and many other categories of people. Churches were constructed in his honor as early as the sixth century A.D. Today, his remains are buried in BariItaly.

For generations now, kids and adults alike have used the names Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, and Saint Nick interchangeably, without giving it a second thought. But there was an actual Saint Nicholas, a decent man who is obscured by commercial renderings of Christmas. We should not allow that fact to be forgotten, regardless of whether or not we are Catholic (and for the record, I am not).

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Never Forget

Pearl Harbor Day is upon us, so let us recall what happened 73 years ago today. The day after the bombing, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress on December 8, 1941, to request a formal declaration of war. His speech was simulcast to the country at large via the radio. In it, he said:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack…

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island…

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves…

Always will be remembered the character of this onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory…

With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.

Pearl Harbor was attacked because it was where the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet was headquartered. The bombing, which killed more than 2,400 people, began shortly before 8:00 on a Sunday morning.

Five of our eight battleships were sunk, the other three were badly damaged, and multiple other naval vessels were destroyed.

The majority of the American war planes based in Hawaii were destroyed as they sat on the ground.

In addition, most of the American air forces based in the Philippines were destroyed during the nighttime attack on that nation, which FDR also mentioned in his speech.

By crippling our Pacific defenses, the December 7th attack left us extremely vulnerable in the face of an aggressive enemy to our West – an enemy that had signaled its intent to rule the entire Pacific basin by subjugating other nations to its will.

This came at a time when we had not responded to the fact that Nazi Germany to our East had already declared war against us, had already brought most of Europe under its thumb, and had signaled its own intention to rule the world by way of an Aryan resurrection of the old Roman Empire.

Such circumstances would have spelled doom for the vast majority of countries throughout the course of history. With their foundations based on the accidents of ethnicity and geography, most countries would have simply surrendered; or, in a distinction without a difference, entered into “peace” negotiations under which they would have to accept the aggressor’s terms and after which the lives of their citizens would most certainly change for the worst.

But the United States is a nation based on ideals. Our foundation springs from the knowledge that there are things greater than us, things which are greater than the transient circumstances which exist on any given day. We have always found strength in the conviction that our nation exists to support and advance those greater things, to the benefit of people all over the world, and this sets the United States apart from all other nations in all other times.

Taking heed from FDR’s appeal to “righteous might,” reflecting what Abraham Lincoln earlier referred to as the “faith that right makes might,” the American people of 1941 summoned the invincible courage to rebuild and fight at the same time they were under fearsome siege. They did this despite the fact they were still suffering through an unprecedented economic depression that had started more than a decade before.

Let us pray that those qualities – that will to power and that unwavering belief in the sanctity of human freedom – have not been lost as new generations of Americans take the baton from the great ones which came before. For as has been said, those who forget the past will be forced to repeat it.

It would be shameful if history were to record that we squandered what was handed down to us by people like Larry Perry, and as a result we failed to transfer freedom’s blessings to our descendants... And since you probably don't know who Larry Perry is, I recommend you look here and find out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

et ceteras

Just like newfallen snow makes landscape scars vanish beneath a blanket of white, the Christmas season always lifts my spirits and helps me overcome life's irritations. For that reason, I usually spend the month of December publishing more posts about Christmas and fewer posts about politics and social issues.

This year will be no different, but before I start smiling wide and serving figurative online eggnog, I do have a few things to get off of my chest. So here goes.

"Black-on-black crime"
I would just as soon never hear that phrase again. Although it has gotten lots of mileage since the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, it's been around for ages -- sometimes used by black activists (mostly liberals) to scold their melanin-endowed brethren for behaving in ways that damage racial solidarity, and sometimes used by white commentators (mostly conservatives) as a way to change the subject rather than debate something about which they're unsure of the facts.

The problem I have is this: The whole notion of "black-on-black" crime being different than any other crime is bogus.

Most criminals target victims in their own neighborhoods, and almost all murder victims on Earth are killed by someone they know, often by someone they know intimately. Combine those truths with the fact that most Americans continue to live in racially distinct neighborhoods (and with the fact that most black Americans who "leave the hood" relocate to areas with particularly low crime rates) and you see it's inevitable that 93 percent of black crime victims are victimized by black perpetrators... For the exact same reasons, it is unremarkable that 84 percent of white crime victims are victimized by white perps... And since a large percentage of American Indians Native Americans reside on reservations where only their fellow tribesmen are allowed to live, just imagine what the rate of American Indians Native Americans burglarized by other American Indians Native Americans must be!

Nonetheless, people often talk about "black-on-black" crime and never about "white-on-white" or any other "_____-on-_____" crime, thus creating the false impression that the former is some kind of anomaly in the world of statistics. To my ears, no one comes off good when dealing in such terms because: 1) When a black person talks about "black-on-black" crime, it sounds like he's implying he would not be bothered by black criminality if only its victims were white -- even though that's not what he means; and 2) When a white person talks of "black-on-black" crime, it sounds condescending at best and bigoted at worst, like he's implying "damned if we should care about 'you people' when you don't even care about yourselves" -- even though that's not what he means.

The phrase is deceiving even if the speaker doesn't mean for it to be. Plus, it's almost never relevant to whatever topic is at hand. And to top things off, it's unproductive. Our nation would be better off if it disappeared from our discourse.

"Sexual assault"
Since I'm on the topic of phrases I would rather not hear again, can we please do away with "sexual assault" and go back to "rape"?

I remember a George Carlin skit in which he talked about society changing the words it uses to describe something, and thereby causing the meaning of that thing to get lost in translation. To illustrate what he was talking about, he pointed out that during World War I, when a soldier experienced mental trauma after witnessing and being forced to participate in the barbarism of war, the phenomenon was called "shell shock" -- but come World War II, it was downplayed by referring to it as "battle fatigue," and come Korea it was made unclear by calling it "operational dysfunction," and come Vietnam it was made even more flavorless by calling it "post-traumatic stress disorder."

In my opinion, something similar is occurring with our elevation of the term "sexual assault," which is happening in concert with an obvious (though unacknowledged) phasing out of the word "rape."

To be fair, "sexual assault" does not sound benign by any sense of the imagination. But it's not "rape" either. When you hear that a woman was raped, your eyes widen and you know she experienced terror, violence, and forced submission, and you know she was branded with emotional wounds that might never heal. But when you hear there was a "sexual assault," you tend to wonder "so, what exactly was it that happened?"

Somehow, the term "sexual assault" sounds more legalistic than humanistic, and at the end of the day that is a disservice.

Obviously I am not against justice. I am, however, against any corruption misuse of the word "justice," which is another not-new phenomenon that has been on heightened display since the Ferguson grand jury made its decision.

Unsatisfied with Darren Wilson losing only his job, Al Sharpton intoned: "We weren't after Darren Wilson's job. We were after Michael Brown's justice."

The student newspaper of Santa Monica College reported: "A group of Santa Monica College students lead (sic) a protest on campus yesterday afternoon demanding justice for Michael Brown."

Jared Keller of News.Mic remarked that Brown's parents "aren't through seeking justice."

NAACP President Cornell William Barnes spoke of "bringing about justice."

Writing in USA Today, Tavis Smiley opined that "this case reeks of social injustice." He also referred to the grand jury's "failure to indict" and remarked that the U.S. Justice Department "appear(s) to have failed to find a civil rights violation," clearly implying that Wilson should face legal punishment -- even though Smiley concedes, in the very same article, that where this case is concerned "the facts were always a bit more stubborn, and to some degree, in doubt."

Facebook pages called "Justice for Michael Brown" and "Justice for Mike Brown" (as well as a page on the NAACP's web site titled "Justice for Michael Brown") have drawn flurries of updates and comments.

The problem I have is that justice is what happened when the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, yet none of the above parties are willing to entertain the idea that such might be the case.

If Michael Brown had been surrendering, if his hands had been in the air, the people seeking "justice for Michael Brown" would be in the right. However, the combination of forensic evidence (especially the blood spatters) and eyewitness testimony shows he was charging at Wilson when he was shot, his hands were not raised, and that he confronted Wilson inside the squad car.

Every principle of justice dictates that when a person is being attacked he has a right to defend himself; and that when he believes the attacker might kill him, he has a right to defend himself with deadly force. There is more than ample reason to believe that Wilson thought his life was in danger, not only given the evidence and testimony but also given Brown's violent theft of Swisher Sweets earlier that night. The surveillance video from the convenience store showed that Brown was willing and able to practice brutality, and that he in fact did practice it in the hours leading up to his demise.

To shackle Darren Wilson and put him through a trial, when it is abundantly clear that his actions were justified, would be the opposite of justice. Had the grand jury done that, it would have been not because of evidence and logic but because the jurors feared the mob beyond the gates... And if they had been swayed by their fear, who's to say that the people on the subsequent trial jury would not also have been swayed by fear and opted to convict in order to avoid the backlash? That would result in a man who was not proven guilty being sent to prison without regard to facts and evidence.

If that had occurred, it would have been one of the most grotesque injustices in the recent decades of American history, yet it is precisely what is desired by people claiming they want justice. Like someone once said, it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

Eric Garner
Different story. He was wronged and now he is dead, and his death is an example of the police state gone awry. And the protesters are right.

I know of one hard-assed prosecutor (is there any other kind?) who has written that he "cannot in good conscience say there was insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Pantaleo for involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide."

Yes, Garner resisted arrest. But he did not resist violently, and nobody -- not even the officers involved in taking him down -- has claimed he was a threat to anyone's safety. He was bigger than any of the cops in the video, but seriously, since when do we as Americans think it is okay to dispatch four officers of the law to take someone down for selling individual cigarettes on the sidewalk? That is dictatorship-type stuff, and in this instance, a man died because of it.

I know a number of police officers, and I know that police officers know of something called positional asphyxiation, which in plain English means you can die of suffocation if left cuffed in a prone position for a period of time. In order to prevent positional asphyxiation from happening to people who are under arrest, cops are supposed to put them in a sitting position after handcuffing them. This is not secret voodoo type stuff, it is basic common knowledge in law enforcement -- and if you watch the Garner video, you will see that instead of putting him in a sitting position, the arresting officers left him prone even after he told them he couldn't breathe. Right there is your "negligent homicide" charge.

I do not know if Pantaleo would have been found guilty at trial. Nor do I know if he should have been found guilty, since I have not seen all of the information the grand jury reviewed. But I am certain that Daniel Pantaleo (and not only him) should have stood trial for Eric Garner's death.

Until next time:  au revoir!