A Crime On the Streets of Dallas

21 11 2013

Dealey-Plaza-CarolFifty years ago tomorrow, I was in an Omaha hospital, fighting for my life.  I was born with a gastro-intestinal defect—pyloric stenosis.  My family thought I would die.  I was baptized in the hospital and given extreme unction.

Tomorrow, we remember the murder of the 35th President of these United States.

I was born one month before President John F. Kennedy was murdered.  On the street in this photograph.  Elm Street.  Dealey Plaza.  Dallas.  Most Americans, even if they’ve never been to Texas, have been to Dealey Plaza many times over courtesy of the Zapruder film.

A few years back, my work took me in early June to downtown Dallas.  I stayed in the famous Magnolia Hotel.  It was unseasonably hot, even for Texas.  When I arrived in the afternoon, I determined that I would walk the eight blocks or so to this busy and strangely macabre site where our country was altered forever.

Dealey Plaza is virtually unchanged since that awful November morning 50 years ago.  Perhaps this is by design of Dallas city government and zoning officers.  I felt quiet and a tad eerie as I sat on a bench on the grassy knoll, within the shadow of the old Texas Book Depository building, now housing the Sixth Floor Museum.

It is a small area, this plaza.  On the pavement of Elm Street, there are “X’s” painted in the center of the road.  Two of them.  One for the shot that wounded both the President and Governor John Connelly.  And one for the shot that took from America her Commander-in-Chief.  And her innocence.

The day after my visit to the Plaza, I joined some colleagues for dinner.  We drove through Dealey Plaza, right on Elm Street.

Right over the spot where the 35th President of the United States was assassinated.

It was entirely pragmatic.  We were not tourists.  Elm was the shortest route to get to our restaurant. But it felt wrong.  Like playing soccer in St. Peter’s Basilica.  The area is not sectioned off, bollards guarding the motorcade route against profanation by cars, trucks and buses.  It’s a regular thoroughfare, used every day.  And yet it is sacred.

Life and death take place in the ordinary and the mundane.  This is the rule.  What kinds of normal places have you been to that have been made special by either tragic or heroic events?

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Band of Brothers and Why Vets Deserve More Than A Day

11 11 2013

Band of BrothersThere it sat, under the table beside my reading chair, for about eight months.  Encased in tin, the kind that made up the lunch boxes I carried to school every day when I was a boy.

“You’ve gotta watch this.  It’s fantastic,” my best buddy said as he handed the embossed aluminum case to me, a treasure of his now in my care.  Another good friend raved over it.

For some reason, the impetus to pop one of the DVD’s into my laptop escaped me throughout the Summer.  I wasn’t really interested.  I suppose there is a time and season for all things, including books and video.

Nine days ago, I popped the first of six DVD’s into my laptop.  It was a cool, lazy Saturday.  Why not give these a try?

In ten minutes, I was in.  Hooked.  I had to watch this set.  I told my wife about them and we settled in for a two-day marathon remembering World War II in film.

Band of Brothers is an HBO mini-series, first broadcast in 2001, chronicling the training and combat experience of Easy Company (part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) from their training in early 1944 at Camp Toccoa, GA, through the Allied Invasion of France to the end of the War in Europe, 1945.  It is based on the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose.

It was made under the executive direction of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.  With Spielberg at the helm, I knew it would be good.  I was not disappointed.

Early in the first segment, one of the original members of Easy Company recounts how a handful of guys from his hometown committed suicide because, for different reasons, they were barred from enlisting and couldn’t fight for their country.

It was a different time altogether.

Today is Veteran’s Day.  We honor those who fought for freedom; fought against toxic and enslaving ideologies; fought for something greater than themselves.  All sacrificed.  Many paid with their lives.

There are simply not enough days in the year to honor our soldiers.  Do yourself a favor.  No, do yourself two.  Watch Band of Brothers.  Better yet, thank a vet who fought to help you and I enjoy the freedoms we take for granted.

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Educate Yourself On Money

17 10 2013

Know Your Money

“You must walk to the beat of a different drummer. The same beat that the wealthy hear. If the beat sounds normal, evacuate the dance floor immediately! The goal is to not be normal, because as my radio listeners know, normal is broke.” (Dave Ramsey)

Now, more than ever, you owe it to yourself and those you love to do your financial homework.  There are lots of audio and video resources to help you get a handle on your money.  Among them, Dave Ramsey (quoted above).  Scores of people have liquidated their debt and got on their feet by taking his Financial Peace University class. Many others have been helped by the direct and passionate style of Suze Orman.  Here are some things I am reading and learning:

The current debt-ceiling crisis in Washington D. C. highlights the need to be aware of our money—what we have, what we owe, where to get more, etc.

Do yourself a favor and get yourself an education—if you haven’t already done so—on the way money, debt, deficits, markets, lending, borrowing and the like functions.  In this time, more than ever, ignorance is not bliss—it is dangerous.  Be awake.

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Remember….

11 09 2013

Twin Towers“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

In memory of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.  And for those who gave their lives trying to save them and fight terrorism around the world.

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Never Forget

28 07 2013

Never ForgetI lived in Southern Lower Michigan until the summer of 1987.  During the 1980’s, I developed an interest in–nay, a love for–all things Jewish.  A portion of this curiosity emerged as I learned Hebrew and studied the Hebrew Bible as a young Christian man.  Part of this affection for Judaica was no doubt because my late stepfather, of blessed memory, was Jewish.  And some of this came organically, as I learned the history of the Second World War and was introduced to people like Elie Wiesel.

I was fascinated and moved.  We lived not far from a very large Jewish community, centered in Southfield, MI, a suburb of Detroit.

A segment of my weekly routine was this: I drove twenty-four miles to the Borders bookstore in Beverly Hills MI every Friday and bought a copy of The Jewish News, a weekly publication highlighting the events and concerns of the Greater Detroit Jewish community, at that time about 80,000 strong.

As my love for all things Jewish grew, I attended Jewish events in the Southfield area.  I well remember a gathering at a local high school with Congressman Sander Levin highlighting the plight of then-Soviet Jewry and their hopes for making aliyah to Israel.  It was Congressman Levin who urged us to read The Abandonment of the Jews by David S. Wyman, detailing our country’s callous refusal to give safe harbor to European Jews during the War.

It was only a matter of time until I made my way to the Jewish Community Center on Maple Road.  The place enthralled me.  As a Christian man, I felt I was connecting with something much larger than I when visiting the campus.  I attended a play there, The Diary of Anne Frank.  I perused the bookstore.  I loved it.

One of the prime features of the JCC at that time was the Holocaust Memorial Center, an adjunct to the larger community building itself. Admission was free and the architecture of the building sloped downward.  It was a fitting metaphor in architecture.  As one descended the darkened walkway of the Memorial, filled with re-creations and actual relics from the Shoah, one descended, as it were, into some history of the horror of the Third Reich and its leader, Adolph Hitler.

It was a numbing experience, to say the least.  I visited there three or four times before it moved to its new and expanded location in nearby Farmington Hills.  I’ve visited the new Memorial twice.  It is much larger than the original HMC and beautiful in a dark sort of way.

What one comes away with after such visits, among other things, is this:  Never underestimate the power of hatred couched in shrewd rhetoric.  Six million Jews perished in World War II because one man was able to convince Europe that the Jewish race was a contagion.

We must never, ever forget.

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The Crash of ’29: One Effect

30 08 2012

Wall Street, October 1929

“In many ways the effect of the crash on embezzlement was more significant than on suicide. To the economist embezzlement is the most interesting of crimes. Alone among the various forms of larceny it has a time parameter. Weeks, months, or years may elapse between the commission of the crime and its discovery. (This is a period, incidentally, when the embezzler has his gain and the man who has been embezzled, oddly enough, feels no loss. There is a net increase in psychic wealth.) At any given time there exists an inventory of undiscovered embezzlement in — or more precisely not in — the country’s businesses and banks. This inventory — it should perhaps be called the bezzle — amounts at any moment to many millions of dollars. It also varies in size with the business cycle. In good times people are relaxed, trusting, and money is plentiful. But even though money is plentiful, there are always many people who need more. Under these circumstances the rate of embezzlement grows, the rate of discovery falls off, and the bezzle increases rapidly. In depression all this is reversed. Money is watched with a narrow, suspicious eye. The man who handles it is assumed to be dishonest until he proves himself otherwise. Audits are penetrating and meticulous. Commercial morality is enormously improved. The bezzle shrinks.”

–John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash of 1929

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Duty: The Badge of Honor

8 08 2012

I remember the day President Ronald Reagan was shot.  I was an 11th grader, just home from school and watched the now-famous footage of the assassination attempt.  Thankfully, no one died though Press Secretary James Brady was left debilitated by the shot he took to his forehead.

I remember seeing a photo montage of the shooting in Newsweek some years later.  In one of the photos, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy (shown in the above photo) was shown jumping in the air, spread-eagle, making as big a target as he could to protect the president.  He too took a bullet.  Why? Because his duty was to lay his life down for the President of the United States.  And he was a man of honor.

Some time ago my wife and I were discussing relationships and interactions.  We hit upon a characteristic of this generation, something to which we—though older—are not immune.  It is the unrealistic drive to have everything now.

Quantum leaps in technological innovation have taken place over the past thirty years or so, especially with the advent of in-home personal computing.  The upside of these advancements has been the ability to do in moments what used to take days, even years.

But there is a downside.

When you live in an instant, microwave, “I-need-this-yesterday” culture, you become habituated internally to getting whatever you want whenever you want it.  Unfortunately life does not work that way.  The best things still take time.

Here are a few sober earmarks of the “microwave” society:

  • Debt.  Easy credit has made it possible for people in their teens and twenties to rapidly accumulate lots of stuff that took their grandparents a lifetime of thrift and prudence to purchase.  And with such rapid acquisition comes a mountain of debt, including compounded interest.
  • A monstrous sense of entitlement.  An increasingly litigious society with plenty of social programs as fallbacks has helped to produce a generation of employees who often feel like they are unfairly burdened by the demand to work while on the clock.  The result: Personal service is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  This is a trend.  Thankfully, there are exceptions.
  • A disturbing lack of self-control.  We hear often of things being “an emergency” or “urgent.”  But one needs to define the terms carefully.  A cardiac arrest needs to be fixed now.  A plane falling out of the sky needs to be fixed now.  But a teen upset at a parent who says “no” to them does not constitute an emergency.  Nor a thousand other similar “stresses.”

What is the key then to reversing this unhealth?

Duty.

Duty is that sense of personal and corporate responsibility that takes the interest of others and the interest of the group before personal considerations.  It’s not about me.  Or you.

Duty is what has made societies great.  Its abandonment in favor of personal fulfillment—others rights and concerns be damned—is what has eroded the same great societies.  We don’t have to let that happen here.

Duty means that a man who has a wife or children has a sacred obligation to provide for their needs.  And believe me, there is a world of difference between what one needs versus what one wants.

Duty means that an employee gives eight hours work for eight hours pay.  Without an attitude.

Do your duty today.  It is not glamorous but it is a mark of true greatness.

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