Why I love National Geographic…

I have never yearned or had the compelling urge to visit third world countries, eat monkey brains, bat wings, snake innards, worm soup, or other bizarre shit of that ilk.  Any place that I would have to forage for unmentionables as a source of food was off my list.  My bucket list is obviously short.  Which brings me to China and the Corona Virus.  Has anyone noticed that these viruses and diseases always seem to take root in developing countries?  I have never heard of a virus from Finland, Sweden, Norway, or Iceland.  Their taste of exotic food stops at fermented fish; disgusting yes, but causing viruses no.

Fried Cockroaches

I am a closet Netflix watcher and an avid “cooking show” junkie.  Whatever they are cooking I watch.  I got hooked on a new series called Restaurants on the Edge.  Started watching it when the first episode featured a restaurant in Malta.  Much of the same reality premise just rehashed: three personalities from the US descend upon a restaurant that needs help.  An interior designer, a chef, and a social guru, visit the restaurant than decide on how to give it a facelift, new menu, and the push needed to stay in business.  On one of these episodes, they travelled to Hong Kong, China. 

The Chef whose mantra is local produce and local flavors, was taken to a street market which also doubled as “street” food.  He oohed and aahed as he watched little Chinese old ladies cook snakes, cow innards, and other unmentionables in spices and sauces.  He supped, licked, and drooled over flavors that tasted like “chicken”.  And we wonder how diseases get transferred from China to an apartment in NYC! A short note of interest: when the Chef returned to the restaurant to upgrade the menu, it was sans snakes, innards, or other creepy crawlies that tasted like “chicken” a few hours prior.  Go figure.

Wet Market in China

Eating street food in Calcutta or “nowhere” China is a far cry from selling and eating food in Los Angeles or New York.  What goes in those huge woks is as mysterious as what comes out of a bad magician’s hat. Africa is no better.  Aids and Ebola come to mind.  The Corona virus which is normally animal specific spread to humans through a “wet” market place in Wuhan, China. The market happened to be in close proximity to a research lab home to approximately 600 bats.  At least this is what the Chinese government allowed us to know.  But some Chinese scientists in Beijing are now suspecting that someone from the Wuhan science lab, inadvertently caught the virus through a bat encounter, and then spread it through the neighboring “wet” market. The virus is categorized as zoolonic , but when transferred to humans it changes composition and mutates attacking our respiratory system. Which is why it is more dangerous in older folk. By the way, for those of you who are not sure what “wet” markets are; live stock and other animals are slaughtered and sold at open air markets generally under very unsanitary conditions.

Swine Fever in China

In 2019, China lost over 100 million pigs to African Swine Fever.  Notice; it was not called German Swine Fever, or Swedish Swine Fever, or even California Swine Fever.  Diseases and epidemics continue to spread because developing countries remain unhygienic, with little or no government sanitary oversight, and traditional eating habits which include animal species carrying intrinsic viruses and often plagues.  Which brings me to the point of why I love National Geographic. 

National Geographic does the travelling, eating, and contaminating on my behalf without detriment to my well being.  I can sit comfortably in the comfort of my couch sipping a glass of wine while watching presumptuous yahoos eat monkey brains in the Congo.  At the same time I can wonder and marvel at how a seemingly intelligent individual can bring himself to eat snake tripe, scorpion soup, and beetle fricassee just because he can.  The National Geographic “journalist-explorer” will look at the camera while eagerly chewing on fried cockroaches.  I’m sure they too taste like chicken. Yes, spare me the pain but still give me the adventure.

Enters exotic world travel that sends morons to nether regions of the world to have an “awesome” experience. We then compound the situation by the sick crap they bring back. And as we relax with a Starbucks somewhere on Main Street USA, we are unaware of the garbage that will soon hit the proverbial health fan.  The double and triple digit tonnage of a floating Petri dish with 5,000 or more souls on board, eating food that has been exposed to the elements for days, and who disembark in ports that are less sanitary than a New York City public toilet; further adds to the incoming plethora of unknown viruses and diseases. 

The penchant to travel to countries not best known for hygiene has become an obsession among this generation.  In my youth, only medical doctors, nurses, archeologists, and missionaries ever ventured out into an “awesome” experience.  On their return they were immediately put in quarantine.   But I digress.  Some might call me a bigot but once again I must remind you that serious diseases have never originated in western countries.  Even the European plagues were brought to Europe by ships carrying vermin from “exotic” places.  Again I digress.

Cruise ships are not the only travelling Petri dishes.  Airlines are the ultimate toilets in the skies.  Crammed like sardines and breathing each other’s arm pits, the air that circulates comes from the breath of the 300 cramped transatlantic zombies strapped to their seats.  Add the fact that airline travelers  have morphed from the sophisticated 60’s Pan Am passenger to the unwashed masses that board a plane in their pajamas; they are the proverbial incubators for anything and everything they catch in some remote “must see” market in Timbuktu.

China, India, South America, and Africa create havoc in our world and we ignore it, because “racist” “bigot” and “insensitive” gets thrown in our faces like confetti on the 4th of July.  They are the worst polluters in the world, and they are the primary source of microbiological viruses and epidemics that spread like wildfire.  There was a short pleasant world reprieve; in the past few weeks NASA satellites noticed a sharp drop in pollutants over China.   The Coronavirus closed down lithium, coal, and other toxic factories for a few weeks.  I wonder if the 15-year old angry teenage twit in Sweden noticed.  Hey Greta, it’s not us who pollute!

The EU and US are at a crossroads on developing countries. They need to get a grip and start taking serious action against nations that take our money but refuse to clean up their acts.  I would not wish any economy to go South, but western governments throw money at these nations like a croupier in Vegas, yet they still spread AIDS, SARS, Swine flu, Ebola, and now Corona. Western religious organizations have spent billions on assistance, as have Doctors without Borders, UNESCO, and the WHO; to no avail. The global community must insist on a change in dangerous traditional eating habits, hygiene, and safety.  Stop the aid until they clean up their act. Stop the cruises, flights, and commerce until governments become serious enough to educate and change. If you want our hard earned dollars then make an effort to protect us when we visit you. Join the 21st century already.

In the meantime, I will wash my hands 20+ seconds, then position myself with a glass of wine as I turn on Netflix and National Geographic.  I heard that tonight the show features a special cooking show from the exotic jungles and rainforests of the Congo. Someone mentioned Gordon Ramsey’s famous Beef Wellington with a twist: African striped weasel en croute….YUM! I’m sure it will taste like chicken!

So much for gun control

We have been in Germany for 30+ years, and there isn’t a country in the western hemisphere with stricter gun control than here.  Regulations cover from how to store a gun to when to use it.  Licenses separate the hunter from the home owner.  Which brings us to yesterday’s shooting in Hanau, Germany. 

Courtesy BBC News

Hanau is situated approximately 45 kilometers from Frankfurt.  I am very familiar with Hanau because until 2008, it was home to one of the biggest US Army installations and depots in Europe.  It is also home to a few thousand Turks, Kurds, and immigrants from the Middle East.  Yesterday’s massacre was premeditated and calculated.  The perpetrator targeted two hookah lounges frequented mostly by Kurds.  The polizei  eventually caught up to the nutcase and they assumed he killed himself and two more people in his house.  He left a note.  He didn’t like immigrants.  No surprises there.

The polizei found a cache of arsenal in his vehicle and other weapons at home.  Which brings me to the opening of this rant: how could this guy buy weapons and openly transport them in the trunk of his car when Germany has the toughest gun control? This brings us to the conclusion that most anti gun activist seem to conveniently miss; if one wants to kill, one will find a way and means of doing it.  In recent years, the weapon of choice in London has been the knife, machete, or a vehicle.  So far no one has come out against any of these three weapons.  But the band goes on playing the gun control swan song.

Courtesy of The Guardian

Murderers do not normally pick protected targets.  Schools, churches, restaurants, and unprotected public places are fodder for these nut cases.  The constant harping on more regulation and gun control is no deterrent to one bent on killing someone.  There are over a 100 gun regulations in the US.  The majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens.  You would not know it if you listened to the shrills of some of the current candidates running for office. They want to be more like Europe, they claim.  How has that worked for Hanau?  Hanau is in the news because the number of victims is in double digits.  As of today, 10 have died.  But Germany has had its share of gun related violence which we also conveniently choose to forget. 

In the early 70’s and way into the late 80’s, the Red Army Faction or Baader Meinhof Gang,  managed to kill several airmen on Rhein Main AFB, and several high ranking US officers in Berlin.  They targeted anyone they remotely suspected of being “capitalist”. They went after bankers, politicians, and the US Military.  For years, we never left our house and got into our vehicles without checking behind our tires and under the cars for anything suspicious. That was normal for the US military families living in Germany. But I digress. The Red Army Faction were a far-left terrorist group who went on a rampage for over three decades.  They carried bombs, guns, explosives, and any other weapon of choice that killed the most human life.  They mostly used Russian arsenal which some alleged that the KGB was providing through Eastern Europe. Although never proven, they were probably funded by most socialist regimes in the Eastern bloc. How they managed to run amok carrying enough ammunition to blow up buildings is beyond belief, especially since Germany enacted its strict laws soon after WWII. But carry they did.

https://www.thelocal.de/20190405/what-germanys-red-army-faction-can-tell-the-world-about-terror

All the regulations and political rhetoric in the world will not stop anyone’s intent to kill. After a major shooting we get the rest of the story.  The killer was generally never “normal”.  Often pissed off at the world, unaccomplished, and seemingly attracted to the bizarre. The weapon is not the issue.  The individual is.  In the US, it is difficult to get seemingly normal individuals to turn anyone in for fear of law suits or worse.  The 2009 Fort Hood shooting by an Islamic Major Nidal Hasan could have been prevented.  After the shooting, colleagues came forward to admit that he had become weird.  He started making anti-US remarks.  They were apprehensive in turning him in. Why? Because they would have been labeled racist Islam phobic.   That is the trend.  The bad guys get a pass and the good guys die.  But that’s a story for another day.

Whether people knew the Hanau murderer or not, I am certain that he did not become a far right wing bigot over night. It has also come to light that he imagined “voices”. Where have we heard that before? I am certain that if he had not used guns he would have found some other method to kill. He went out that night wanting to kill.  So what is the answer?  There is none. 

Which brings me to the pinhead politicians on both sides of the proverbial pond thumping the pulpit on gun control.  There aren’t enough back ground checks and bans to be had or made that would have prevented this or any other shooting.  The bad guys will find a way to get arsenal.  They will literally beg, borrow, steal, and kill to get it.  There aren’t enough laws in the western world that would have stopped Hanau or any other shooting. The hypocrisy of the anti-gun lobby stands alone.  Those on the campaign trail have armed guards.  Hollywood elite live behind thick high walls guarded by armed goons.  They have no problem with their protection, its yours they don’t want.  Typical socialist mantra; doing without is only for others not for us.

 All terrorist attacks carried in France, the UK, Germany, Netherlands, and the climate friendly Northern Scandinavian countries used guns. A lot of guns.  Those gunned down could not defend themselves or had anyone within a reasonable distance to defend them.  Everyone here in Germany is aghast and wondering how in a country where one needs a permit to take a leak, a crazy man could amass a car load full of armor and without anyone getting wind of it. My answer: because he could.  The old adage; where there is a will there is a way, is not just whimsical, it is true. 

Bavarians are the biggest gun owners in Germany because they hunt.  Hunting season is highly regulated in typical German beauracratic fashion.  Special gun locked cabinets must be purchased or insurers will not insure either the person or the house.  Licenses and permits are difficult to get and authorities can demand personally owned guns at any moment.  It is very difficult to bring a gun into Germany.  Foreigners who want to bring guns into Germany must first apply for a permit which takes months. If allowed, the gun has to be transported in an approved container.  The zoll polizei will meet the individual at the airport, and paperwork is drawn up on the spot. Accountability for the weapon lies strictly with the owner.  One would think that such an air tight system is impenetrable. Obviously not, and without hesitation, I would add that although in my opinion, Germany has the best gun control in the world, it still has gaps that can never be plugged.  In a country of approximately 82 million with open borders to several other countries, shit happens.  In recent years, shootings in Germany have increased albeit the fact that regulations remain the strictest. A testimony to the fact that if one wants to kill he or she will find a way.

The US population is approximately 334 million.  That is without counting the several million illegal immigrants.  Attempting to stop gun violence in the US is like chewing on water; equally senseless.  Even if the country bans every gun in the country, shootings will still occur. Bad guys don’t normally ask permission to carry.  Thinking that more regulation will deter drug dealers, nut cases, and other genre from shooting people up is not only naïve, it is downright stupid.  So what is the solution?  How can we stop the shootings? We can’t.

As long as movies and television shows remain open season to violence, and video game moguls keep on cashing in on violent games as amusement, and children are raised by technology instead of parents and God; we remain kicking dust like a horse in dry pasture.  Guns have always been part of life and in the US, our rights.  What changed is the world’s attitude toward parenting, personal responsibility, and beliefs.  Our parents and grandparents drew a line between good and evil and discipline built a sense of expectations in us.  Many children have been raised with guns.  But they were also raised with principals and respect.  Something this new world generation is sorely lacking.  

As I wind down my rant, I say a prayer for those who were victims of a horrific act of hatred in Hanau.  Will it happen again? Probably.  Can we prevent it? I doubt it.  If it isn’t a gun it will be something else.  Unfortunately it’s the world we live in.   

Why I love Netflix: two great relevant movies to watch

My New Year’s choice of movies is normally The Godfather trilogy.  It sets the mood.  “Leave the gun and take the cannoli”. “It’s not personal but business”. However, my recent ardent discovery of Netflix opened new doors to the world of movies. Not one to miss such an opportunity, I spent New Year’s week engrossed in two movies: On the Basis of Sex and The Green Book.  Two movies based on true stories and equally enthralling.  Both I would recommend to anyone interested in watching something substantial, relevant, and entertaining. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

On the Basis of Sex is a short biopic of Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG).  It focuses on her early years as a struggling law student in a man’s world.  The movie was written by her nephew Daniel Stiepleman and edited by RBG and her daughter Jane.  Although Ruth admitted that some imagination was given license, the “meat” of the story remains true to what she had gone through as a woman attending Harvard’s Law School in the early 50’s.  The early 50’s, when women were not encouraged to go beyond teaching or typing. 

When RBG entered Harvard, the university was in its sixth year of admitting women, mostly because the Dean’s wife urged her husband to do so.  In 1956 RBG was one of nine women admitted to Harvard that year. One year prior she had given birth to a baby girl; Jane.  That same year, her husband Marty developed cancer but she urged him to continue studying law.  So she attended his classes and typed his papers as he dictated his thoughts. She did this while also attending her own classes. Marty went into remission and overcame the disease.  Eventually, RBG transferred to Columbia and ended up as a Law Professor at Rutgers; she needed a job.  She was top of her class at both Harvard and Columbia.

The movie brings up the legal and social divide between genders.  Harvard Dean Griswold’s  welcome speech to the new law students dismissed the presence of the nine women present and smugly asked the class; “What does it mean to be a Harvard man?” The movie goes beyond the now too familiar gender inequality of the 50’s through the 70’s; the film hones on a particular case which changed the mindset that the law is allowed to follow preconceived  traditional gender roles.  The case was based on the premise that women should be the lawful caregivers and nurturers.

RBG and her husband fought this first major case on behalf of a single male (Charles Moritz) against the IRS. Charles was the sole caregiver of his ailing mother.  He was not married. He was not entitled to any tax breaks. Tax breaks were only given to women or divorced men but not single males.  Teaming up with the ACLU, Ruth and Marty Ginsberg  co-chaired their appeal to the US Court of Appeals in an attempt to change the caregiver laws that discriminate against men. A great line from RBG’s alleged address to the Court of Appeals was: “Why shouldn’t men be nurses?” Bringing home the stereotyping of gender bias.

I have always had an affinity with RBG.  I can recall the many times some yahoo walked into my bank and asked for the manager “where can I find him?”  My scathing reply was always; “I am the manager and you have found HER”. As women we have been referred to as “the little lady” and for a long time military wives were “dependents”.  The joke went something like this: if the military wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.

The social male umbilical cord  took a long time to break and not without pain. As the movie so eloquently brought up:  women could not apply for a credit card without the permission of their husbands, and when RBG was at Harvard there were no female latrines there either. At a dinner party for the female law students Dean Griswold asked each woman why she wanted to “take the place belonging to a man”. The US Court of Appeals judges tried to justify discrimination through tradition.  Dean Griswold who appeared for the defense (the IRS) blatantly declared; “let’s put gender equality to bed once and for all.” The Plaintiffs (Ruth & Marty) used the term “gender inequality” for the first time in their brief to the Court of Appeals.  The paralegal  typing up their brief thought it more appropriate than “sex discrimination”.   She felt that the word “sex” was too much “in your face”.

The movie made me like RBG even more than I had before.  I do not always espouse to her ideology but I sure admire this kick ass woman.  She interpreted equality within the spirit of the constitution.  In her tenure she has often brought out points of challenges and contention that few politicians or her colleagues want to address or comprehend.  She points out that nowhere in the constitution is “woman” ever mentioned.  How many of us have noticed that? “Freedom” appears in the 1st Amendment. 

RBG’s legal and social commitment has always been “equality”.  Possibly because of personal experience but probably because she was raised Jewish and by a strong mother. For example, her stand on abortion has always been justified by an “equality side” of the issue.  A woman should be equal to a man in decision making.  Nowhere is it more apparent then when she went to bat for Charles Moritz against the IRS. She was looking at the fundamental right of an individual to have the same rights as another individual who the law had given a preference to because of gender.  In this case it discriminated against men. The law was based on a predetermined traditional role of one gender against another. Her fight for equality was and has never been conveniently feminist, but always relied on undisputed individual rights for equal benefits. 

Viggo Mortensen & Mahershala Ali as Tony Lip and Dr Don Shirley

The Green Book is Driving Miss Daisy backwards.  The story about Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a prolific piano player who in 1962, hit the US concert road in the company of the most unlikely driver; Tony Lip aka Frank Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen).  The movie was co-written by Nick Vallelonga from conversations and years of reminiscing with his father Frank.  The story takes flamboyant Don Shirley, who lives on the top floor of Carnegie Hall with a butler, across the mid-west to the deep South.  The 1962 Jim Crow south.  Dr. Don Shirley needed a chauffeur to drive him to the various concert halls, private clubs, and venues where he  performed with two cello musicians from Leningrad.  The chauffer’s job was given to Tony Lip; a Godfather-like character with limited vocabulary lost in vulgarity, and whose job experience included being a waiter/maitre d’/bouncer at the famous Copacabana in NYC.

In those Jim Crow days, black families took to the road using a guide book called The Green Book.  A book that listed “safe” places to stay and travel through with hopefully minimal harassment and danger.  The odds of being stopped by law enforcement and harassed were very high and often hazardous to your health if you were black. The movie has several scenes where Dr. Shirley was invited to play in high end venues only to be forced to find accommodations in sub standard “Colored Only” establishments.  The friendship between the two men developed on various levels of often comic relief between the articulate and well educated Don Shirley, and the Joe Pesce-like Tony Lip, who managed to sock a few Southern hicks in the mouth while protecting his boss.

The movie is a good example of racism that tears people apart but also brings unlikely people together.  NYC in the 60’s was not exactly haven to minorities either.  Bigotry and bias was based mostly on territorial dominance of the fittest.  The changing demographics brought problems which we discover in the first few minutes of the movie. Tony’s wife Delores gives a glass of water to two black men workmen at her house.  Tony  proceeds to slowly pick the glasses from the sink and throw them unceremoniously in the garbage.  There was no love lost between  Italians, Hispanic, or blacks in NYC.  The movie manages to expose the best and the worst of both men and their individual response to the environment and upbringing. 

In real life both men became and remained the best of friends until they both died in 2013.  Some critics pan the movie as nothing more than a soft story of a musician who was neither great nor significant.  However, they miss the point.  The movie is about the resiliency of the human spirit.  Both men had weaknesses; Don Shirley liked to drink and if so believed was also a closet homosexual.  Tony was ignorant with barely enough education to write a decent letter to his wife.  He could be described as the stereotypical street smart Italian American; carried a gun and got into fights.  But together they discovered a balance between their two lives and existences that brought them closer than any friendships they ever had.  They fought their stereotypical lives in their own way.

I am not a movie critic by any means; but these two flicks are worth the time, glass of wine, and cigar.  Both movies peel the nuances of an era when inequality was normal.  Both brought into the open the immoral and unethical justification of race and gender inequality as a convenience of the time.  Both got me thinking that the “good ol’ days” were not really that good or great after all.  Written in tongue-in-cheek cynic quotes, the writers were relatives of the protagonists and knew their subjects well.  Taking creative and entertainment liberties into consideration; both movies hit me with a sense of awakening.  Thank you Daniel Stiepleman for writing about your aunt who in true RBG character was pragmatic and told you that “if you must” to just go ahead and write about her.   Thank you Nick Vallelonga for sharing a story that would have otherwise not been told.  Thank you Netflix for being in my life!

The Berlin Wall – 30 years ago and yes I remember it well

30 years ago – The Berlin Wall
US tanks facing off Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie – 1961

Nothing in the world signified the evil of Communism and Socialism more than the Berlin Wall. Those of us who still remember the black and white images of American tanks facing off Soviet tanks across Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, also remember our angst that WW III might have also been just around the corner. That was 1961. A few months later without much fanfare, barbed wire was quickly unraveled dividing a city, a country, and eventually a continent.  Germany, and Berlin in particular was hastily divided into prosperity and misery depending where you stood on that morning in 1961.  Streets, buildings, and families were caught on either side of a wall that epitomized the Cold War and Soviet aggression toward the West.

West Berlin post 1989

Berlin became the proverbial thorn in the side for every Soviet leader in the good ole’ USSR.  It was the epicenter of contrasts. However, it was the East German puppet government that fared the worst.  Not recognized as legitimate by the rest of Western Europe or the free world; the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) became Russia’s bitch. Berlin was a city stuck between cosmopolitan capitalism and stagnant communism.  It must have irked the shit out of Moscow having to endure western culture literally on their doorstep. 

Duty Train orders

The difference between East and West Berlin was best seen at night.  Lights and life on one side, darkness and silence on the other. Divided into allied sectors, West “Berliners” were the isolated privileged stuck in a city that constantly reminded them that their war was far from over.  It was also a lesson in “allies” incongruity. The US, France, and Russia were the three allied countries controlling the city.  Russia of course controlled East Berlin, and for all purposes they were still our allies. Members of the US Armed Forces were authorized to drive through East Germany carrying travel orders. They also carried signs printed in Russian in case they were stopped by East German authorities.  Because East Germany was never recognized as a legitimate government, being stopped by East German authorities was considered illegal by the allies. Americans were instructed to demand to speak with a Russian official. 

The convoluted Allied agreement allowed US service members in uniform unhindered passage through Checkpoint Charlie into the East.  This also meant that Russian counterparts had the same privilege. A situation that Hollywood has attempted to capture on film many times but always missed the mark.  Reality was more dangerous.  It was easy for one of us to lose track of our surroundings and inadvertently find ourselves in East Berlin without authorization. Happened a few times when riding a U-Bahn (subway) and missing the last stop in the West a few yards from Checkpoint Charlie. Although spouses and dependents of US Service members were authorized unhindered passage into the East through Checkpoint Charlie, they still required US authorization.  Being captured as a spy was truism not a Hollywood script.

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, US military presence in Germany numbered to approximately 500,000.  Combined NATO exercises like REFORGER (Return Forces Europe) visibly and intentionally demonstrated allied might that would intimidate any Soviet watching across the East/West German border.  Our family became part of the 500,000 when in 1985 we were sent to our next military station in Bremerhaven, North Germany. In the following four years we took advantage of the US Military Duty Train from Bremerhaven to Berlin, and visited the city often. Duty trains transported personnel and supplies to the US Sector in West Berlin and vice-versa.

US Sector and train station in Berlin

 Duty Trains traveled all across Germany between garrisons and occupied allied sectors and locations.  The Duty Train to Berlin was more interesting than most because it crossed from West Germany through East Germany to its final destination in West Berlin.  With limited space and capacity, those of us eager to travel to Berlin signed up days in advance.  We were issued travel orders written in English, French, and Russian.  We were briefed in detail on security and safety protocols that would eliminate any possibility of a Cold War “incident”.  As the train approached the East German border, it stopped at the last station in the West (Helmsted) long enough to swap the engine for an East German one (diesel), and for a Russian interpreter to come aboard.  With window shades down, and strict security protocols in place, we were on our way to Berlin. On arrival to Berlin, we still had to stop at the first East Berlin control point where East German & Russian guards scanned the undercarriage with mirrors and led K9’s around the train for possible stowaways. 

Security protocols

I have walked through the Checkpoint Charlie border many times in those four years.  Carrying 15 West German marks, I remember ringing a bell to enter a very small border control room. Stuck between two worlds.  Always unnerving. I handed my passport to an expressionless East German official who stamped it, took my West German marks and gave me the equivalent in East German marks (NOTE: in 1989, a US dollar was worth 4 West German marks and 23 East German marks). In that instance one realizes the hypocrisy of socialism as the Deutsche Demokratic Republik  (DDR) made profit off outrageous mark conversions; one for one.  But I digress.

My status was precarious because at that time I was still a non-US citizen but a US Military dependent. It was not a good idea to carry my US Military ID Card or SOFA stamp (Status of Forces Agreement) that identified me with the US Military for fear of being accused of espionage.  Meanwhile, my husband in USAF uniform walked through and carried my documentations.  Because everybody watched everybody else, we did not link up for several blocks.  We had to repeat the process coming back into West Berlin; going through the East German control room again and show what I had bought for 15 East German marks.  The short walk from that room to Checkpoint Charlie always seemed to take forever.  Always aware that I might be stopped for one reason or other. 

Peter Fechter

Walking along side “the wall” at the Brandenburg Gate was both exhilarating and chilling. Graffiti, some political, some obscene, but always defiant, adorned an otherwise grey cement wall that separated a city and a people.  High viewing platforms were placed at intervals on the West side of the wall where we could observe “the other side”, and often taunt the East German guards watching through their binoculars. But the Berlin Wall was not just a symbol of division it was also a place where heroes gave their all.  140 individuals were murdered in cold blood attempting freedom.  One of them shot in the back and left to bleed to death.  His name was Peter Fechter. 

East Germany

The 30th anniversary of the fall of communism and socialism in Europe brings back memories that confound me in today’s euphoric socialist rhetoric.  It is not only regretful, but incredulous that 70-year old pseudo socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others of their ilk embrace their misguided socialist mantra.  They more than anyone else should remember the pain socialism caused in Europe, Cuba, and South America.  Maybe we should add dementia to stupid. Unfortunately, mainstream media which in the past few years has morphed into a Castro-like bullhorn for socialist agenda also seemed to have conveniently forgotten history.  Socialism born out of disingenuous narrative of equality divided a country and a continent into “haves” and “have not”.  Romanticizing socialism is an affront to those who gave their lives running from it.  People like Peter Fechter.  I would love to remind Messer’s Sanders and Warren that the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in not out.

Early 1989, standing in line at the only department store in Alexanderplatz in East Berlin, I foolishly asked the grumpy socialist comrade cashier if a child’s item came in any other color or size.  I could only find one size and one color.  In a dismissive chilling voice that would crack a pretzel, I was waved aside with a curt “nein”. I attempted to break the ice between comrade and capitalist by asking when she expects other sizes or colors to arrive.  One would have thought that I asked if she would be growing a third eye because between the unsympathetic grunt and the cold stare I was informed that availability was already on the shelves.  The socialist chill was temporarily warmed up by an elderly lady who sympathetically explained that availability is by chance.  Get whatever while it’s on the shelf.  In true capitalist fashion I foolishly asked; “Suppose they don’t fit?” A shrug of the shoulder in defeat told me all I needed to know.  Isn’t Socialism just precious?

Our Garrison Chaplain was born in Communist Poland and his sense of humor was equally born out of the absurdity he had to endure as a child in a communist country.  He recalls walking down the street and watching people standing in line.  When asked what they were standing in line for, most of them were clueless, but resigned to the fact that it was obviously something they did not have the day before,  is available now, so worth standing in line for today. He also recalls his mother sending him to the baker who only sold one kind of bread.  “Is this today’s fresh bread?” “No, this is yesterday’s, today’s fresh bread will be here tomorrow!” Comical as it may sound, socialism is humor wrapped in false good intentions propagated by politicians who would never have to stand in line or want for anything in their lives.  They only want equality and distribution for me and you and not them.   

The current millennial misguided love affair and romance with socialism is not only disturbing it is frightening.  Communism and socialism promises equality but takes away freedom.  Those who boast of idyllic distribution of wealth for everyone will eventually get tired of mundane and want more.  There was zero unemployment in the Soviet Union.  But there was also zero incentive to produce any significant work either.  When a doctor earned the same as a street sweeper why bother?

Trabi

To own a private vehicle in East Germany, one had to place an order in often 15 years in advance and delivery depended on proximity to Berlin or how loyal a party member you were. An East German Trabi cost approximately 8,000 marks, often a year’s salary. Poorly made from recycled materials they rotted within a few years.  A Trabi’s 23 HP two-stroke engine spewed black smoke and became the brunt of most jokes in both the east and the west.  But socialist mayhem did not stop at substandard cars, it crossed lateral lines into daily living we take for granted.  The joke goes: a comrade goes to order a Trabi.  He is told that it would take 13 years, and was given a delivery date.  Comrade asks if it would be delivered in the morning or the afternoon.  He was asked why that was important.  Comrade answers: “I have an appointment with the plumber in the afternoon.”

After the wall came down, the first thing that was thrown in the trash was the Trabi.  East German guards took off and sold uniforms on the spot to tourists eager to buy a piece of history.  We still own plenty of “Wall” remnants we chiseled with the rest of the thousands that flocked in the hope of taking home a fragment of an “era”. We also managed to acquire several Soviet and East German “medals” that DDR soldiers were eager to part with for a few precious West German marks and a taste of freedom.  I have since visited Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate in the past few years.  The first time I took the trip to Berlin since 1989 was in 2015.  I was totally disoriented because the silent and deserted streets I had walked on so many years prior were now bustling with people and brand names like Gucci, Armani, and others of their ilk.  But I was also disappointed that many young people I spoke with were clueless of their surroundings. 

We have been in Germany for 34+ years.  But the one singular event that shaped us and Germany was the end of Communism and Unification.  Unfortunately, Unification did not bring the two Germanys together as it was supposed to. The former East German states are still lagging behind in employment and economic growth. With the influx of over a million immigrants in the past few years, resentment toward the Berlin government has risen.  The far right AfD (Alternativ fur Deutschland) has rapidly risen in power in the former East German states, giving the party seats in the Bundestag and a voice that smacks of Fuhrer like racism and anti-Semitism. Germany has experienced a large rise in anti-Semitism, with most incidents reported in Berlin. 

The euphoria of a united Germany died many years ago.  An initial 3% Unification tax was implemented to allegedly augment the reconstruction of depilated East German infrastructure and economy.  The plan was big on aspirations and good intentions but short on reality.   The Unification tax has since morphed into a 7% social tax which to most Germans it has become meaningless.  In the meantime, former East German states still lag in employment, infrastructure, and contentment.  Watching Merkel’s government giving away free handouts to over a million immigrants gave rise to entities like the AfD who claim that Merkel cares more about foreign immigrants than Germans. 

30 years ago, in our military housing living room in Bremerhaven, we stood in awe and excitement as we watched the wall slowly crumble and thousands of Germans ripping it apart from opposite sides.  We smiled, we cried, and we had hope.  We realized that we were watching history unfold before our very eyes.  We feel privileged to have been part of the force that protected Germany and stood by it throughout the Cold War. That realization is no truer than now, as we live 30 kilometers from the Czech border where Russian tanks would have come through to the West. We are also glad that our presence lends some reality and historic significance to this anniversary.  We thank Germany and our wonderful German friends and neighbors who have become our home and our family respectively.  Wir wunchen Deutschland in den nachsten 30 jahren alles gute.

Abandoning the Kurds is a blemish on America

Kurds fleeing attacks in Syria.

I am having difficulty deciphering between campaign promises and stupid.  President Trump crossed that fine line last week when in a sudden turn of action decided to withdraw our troops from Syria.  This decision is beyond stupid, it is arrogantly criminal.  The Kurds who we were supporting, supported us, the United States, willingly.  From the early days of the War on Terror the Kurds stood side by side our soldiers fighting our enemies.  They quietly helped in Iraq against the Taliban and pro-Hussein factions, and later died to rid the region of ISIS.  Our soldiers were not only willing to fight with these warriors, but happy to have them on our side.  That has all changed.

President Trump addressing the media

In a fit of something, President Trump in his too familiar unapologetic decision-making announced that he would order our troops to withdraw immediately from Syria, leaving the Kurds hanging out to dry.  But the “stupid” does not end there.  Knowing full well Turkey’s intentions to obliterate the Kurds, our President on behalf of us, betrayed those who fought and died for our cause.  Premeditated disloyalty and integrity.  If this does not bring bile to our throats, then our country and our integrity as a people is doomed.  The great negotiator blew this one right out of his ass.  Against all advice from respectable military strategists and minds like former General Mattis, our President decided that he knew better and did it anyway.  Allegedly, the decision was made after one phone call with the other sweetheart, Turkish President, Erdogan.  Where is a whistleblower when you need one? 

Akin to the same mistake that former President Obama did when he withdrew American troops from Iraq, President Trump left a vacuum that will eventually be filled by similar, if not the same ISIS killers.  Conservatives and Republicans eviscerated President Obama  as incompetent, reckless, and inexperienced.  I agreed on all terms.  Well, we have come a full circle because moving our troops out (who by the way were not engaged in direct combat but on peace keeping and joint patrol missions),  will achieve the same result with similar dire consequences in deaths, refugees, and destruction.

Col. Peter Mansoor (Ret)

On Fox Business with Neil Cavuto, my good friend Col. Peter Mansoor (Ret), former executive officer to General Petraeus, and former Brigade Commander of the Ready First Combat Team, 1st Brigade, 1st Armor Division; was asked his opinion on the sudden withdrawal of American troops and its impact in the region.  Col. Mansoor has firsthand experience in the region having led the Brigade to Iraq in 2003, and later assisted in the successful “surge” with General Petraeus. Author of several books on military campaigns in Iraq, Colonel Mansoor listed a number of concerns and probabilities that seem obvious to an intelligent military strategist and veteran commander, but oblivious to our president.

Russian troops in Manbij Syria with Syrian

Kurds held ISIS detention facilities which they now obviously cannot maintain. The release of ISIS fighters is imminent.  The void left by the US compelled the Kurds to find another ally or protector.   Putin and Assad, the Laurel and Hardy of the region willingly obliged, giving Russia more control of the region. That leaves Turkey to deal with.

Erdogan of Turkey

Turkey’s membership in NATO is imperative to the stabilization of the region.  With the US pull out, Turkey’s attack on the Kurds, and the Kurds’ relationship with Russia and Syria complicates a NATO/Russian/European relationship.  In fighting the Kurds, Turkey would inadvertently be fighting Russian and Syrian troops; embroiling NATO in a conflict it is not equipped to handle and most certainly unwilling to participate in.  As thousands of refugees are already seeking shelter, their numbers are apt to increase as the fighting continues, complicating the current dire immigration situation in the EU, the destination of choice. No comfort to Europe which in the past ten years has absorbed its share of refugees and asylum seekers.  As Col. Mansoor succinctly pointed out to Neil Cavuto; this was a move by an impulsive President who is known to “shoot from the hip”.  He ignores the advice of those who know better and stands by his own self-declared conviction of a great alternative.

US troops in Syria

In the meantime, his “smart” move has taken our own troops by surprise.  In the wake of an order that scrambled them on short notice, they have silently questioned the wisdom of the move and their president’s motives. Those recently interviewed anonymously said that the decision by their Commander in Chief has left them feeling disloyal to Kurdish comrades they had grown to like and respect.  David Ignatius of the Washington Post Writers Group (Stars and Stripes, October 16, 2019) opined on the unsettling sentiment running high within the military and intelligence community that had supported the Kurds in Syria. One CIA operative described the sudden withdrawal as walking away from “people who shed blood for us”. Other soldiers feel anguish and shame in abandoning our only ally who stood fast and firm against ISIS.  Throughout all this, the Kurds held their head up high and remained respectful and loyal to America. 

The message that this sudden withdrawal gives to current and future “allies” is that it is foolish to put your trust in America.  A painful distrust that will set us back years in building relationships we so sorely need in the Middle East.  Even Israel’s Netanyahu raised an eyebrow or two keeping his dismay and disappointment low key.  Israel already has a problem with Iran backed Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.  It does not need Assad troops and Russian fighters on its doorstep.

Many Americans fail to understand that the US Military depends on local assistance when fighting campaigns. For the past 18 years, many Iraqis and Afghans have paid heavily for assisting America in the War on Terror .  I personally heard stories from soldiers returning from Iraqi deployments about local “interpreters” who did more than just translate.  They risked their lives and their families’ lives to help flush out insurgents, and inform on enemy activity that kept American soldiers safe.  In return, many asked for asylum as protection for themselves and their families.  A few managed to relocate to the US, but many were left behind at the mercy of those they had informed on.  A few soldiers I knew paid large sums of money to get these Iraqis and Afghans out of their countries; mostly out of gratitude for saving their lives and because our government was dragging its feet in keeping its promises.  Like the Kurds, they were willing to risk their lives for our cause but became dispensable when we moved out.  This is not my America and it should not be yours either.

To add insult to injury, and to justify his move, President Trump disparaged the Kurds as “no angels”.  A childish retort. He also threatened Turkey with sanctions.  A feeble attempt at pretending to stand up to Turkey. It takes years for sanctions to impact an economy and even then all we can do is freeze bank assets. Turkey is not really an economic partner with the US.  What is more serious is the presence of US military assets in Turkey; primarily Incirlik AFB, home to tactical nuclear weapons.  The military is already thinking of moving the weapons out.  According to the Stars and Stripes (October 16, 2019), Defense Secretary Esper warned that Turkey was “spinning out of the Western orbit”.  Meaning, leaving nukes vulnerable to a crazy government is not such a good idea.

Our president needs a crash course in Middle East history.  It was our withdrawal from Iraq and other regions that created the perfect breeding ground for ISIS, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaida factions respectively. Throughout the early and mid-2,000’s the Kurds helped our troops in North Iraq against the Taliban and their friends. Then as our troops left Iraq, they remained to fight ISIS.  Now our government under the torrid political misconception of safety to American soldiers and US interests,  reciprocated by abandoning them.  The American soldiers pulling out of Syria are sickened by the blatant betrayal of the Kurds by our government.  According to David Ignatius, 11,000 Kurds have died helping the US defeat ISIS.  24,000 others were wounded.  To set them aside like yesterday’s lunch is below appalling, it is immoral. There is only one way to say this: Mr. President you did not only lose my respect, you lost my vote.

Conflict in Syria Escalates. Neil Cavuto. FoxBusiness.com https://www.msn.com/en-ca/money/news/were-going-to-see-a-regeneration-of-isis-former-executive-officer-to-general-petraeus/vi-AAILxgE

Ignatius. D. October 16, 2019. For GIs, betraying the Kurds is sickening. Stars and Stripes.

Vandiver, J. October 16, 2019. Report: US mulls removing nuclear weapons from Incirlik. Stars and Stripes.

The Vaping argument is going up in smoke

The government is up in arms about the “rise” in vaping associated deaths.  According to Michael Siegel of the Los Angeles Time, there have been  530 cases of “vaping-associated” respiratory illnesses, 11 of which are fatalities.  Must add that Michael Siegel is a physician and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health.   Dr. Siegel is also a tobacco researcher and long time anti-tobacco advocate.  His column in the Los Angeles Times reveals the propagated ignorance of the US government by jumping on the panic band wagon without giving due process to reality.

The cry for a ban against flavored vaping e-cigarettes has reached banshee pitch without giving much thought to common sense. E-flavored cigarettes allegedly contain THC, a psychoactive compound that is found in marijuana.  Yet, states are legalizing marijuana and not the opposite.  The government and advocates against e-cigarettes do not seem  compelled to stop the legalization of marijuana, as more states vote to legalize “dope”, the hypocrisy does not accept me and should not escape you either.  Only a few years ago marijuana was public enemy number one.   My take on this argument is that we seem to pick and choose what we need to save our youth from.  They spend hours in a zombie-like state playing violent video games and the outcry is very limited.  The market economy takes care of that. Nobody seems to be getting any soul searching diaherria when kids drink flavored booze or smoke menthol cigarettes. 

There are deadlier health issues than e-cigarettes. According to the CDC, approximately 480,000 Americans die of cigarette related illnesses, and 50,000 die of alcohol poisoning every year.  Those turning to e-cigarettes, including my son, do it to quit cigarette smoking and tobacco use in general.  11 fatalities in a population of 326 million is a non-mention. More people die of obesity than vaping.  But the angst continues.

Like anything else, vaping among the youth is a fad that will probably run its course until the next best thing enters their lives. The government’s uber response to vaping is ridiculous seeing that kids always seem to find creative ways to get high or get sick. Point in fact; a few years ago some  kids overdosed on cough syrup.  Others inhaled cleaning products, while others discovered cough drops as the drug of choice.  Rubattsin, Raid aerosol, or Listerine Cough Drops have not been banned. But our local commissaries put them behind locked glass shelving.  Public health problems persist because we live in a free society where we have the unmitigated freedom to act dumb and often die from it.  But, we seem to pick and choose what we consider dangerous and to whom.

The anti-tobacco activists who become instant Stasi agents as soon as one lights up in public, seem to ignore other substance users. They don’t mind alcoholics throwing up outside bars and pubs on a Saturday night.  They don’t mind “dope” users either. All substances happen to be the poison of choice for our youth.  So what’s with the e-cigarette protection?  More kids are sent to hospital on Spring Break from alcohol poisoning than from any other substance to include cigarettes. The disproportionate response to e-cigarettes in comparison to other substances falls short of making any sense.   

Dr Siegel adds another dimension to the e-cigarette panic.  There is still no evidence that the 530 illnesses were directly related to e-cigarettes.  The smokers could have had other issues which vaporing  might have exasperated. But he threw in the social political element that always prompts a government panic. When the problem becomes a “white” issue than politicians pop their heads up in dismay. It is not an outrageous opinion or observation. Minorities, especially those of color living in poor urban areas are overwhelmingly prone to poor health and substance abuse issues, so we seem to take it fore granted and almost insidiously expect it. We do not send government agents into these areas and ban both substances.  Hell, in an act of pseudo kindness, we provide free needles to drug addicts.  The racial and economic disparity between users seems to be an important factor in raising public alarms.  When crack eventually appeared  in affluent white neighborhoods in the 1980’s, the federal government passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

Similarly, we are currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic.  The problem is not new.  Opioid has been around since the 1970’s but we only heard the Trump administration declare it a crisis in 2017.  In the 70’s opioid addiction was mostly in poor black neighborhoods.  Now it is prevalent among whites which elevated it to a “problem”.   I do not see any heart wrenching appeal from either the far left tolerant “racist” name calling happy Democrats, or the upstanding moral majority Republicans.  Where is the cry of “racism”? Where are the righteous bible thumping evangelists?  It seems that a health issue is recognized as an epidemic only if it creeps into affluent neighborhoods.  Then we recognize it as a national problem.  We must do something.  Good families are being torn apart. What we are saying is that we accept drug and alcohol addiction and death in poor urban neighborhoods, so why bother?  We do not seem to care about the 100 gun-related deaths a day either.  We are immune to the heartache and misery in poor urban neighborhoods.  I only hear silence in the liberal “racial disparity” social justice police department. 

E-cigarettes are a reasonable and good alternative to cigarette smokers serious in quitting nicotine addiction.  The 530 cases of vaping-associated respiratory problems are minimal compared to the approximate half million people who actually die of cigarette smoking related illnesses.  I am not minimizing the plight of the 530 (.0000017% of our population) who came down with vaping lung illnesses, but perspective must be maintained.   When compared to the three quarters of a million cigarette and alcohol related deaths a year, 11 vaping fatalities is a good thing. 

Prohibition is never wise.  The US should have learned that lesson a long time ago.  Prohibiting substances raises to the surface the criminal element that preys and extorts addicts and the vulnerable. The very people we are trying to protect like our youth.  The government should use its treasure and resources wisely. The FDA should look beyond the  implications of flavored e-cigarettes.  If they are serious about substance abuse among the youth, they need to go after other substances equally if not more  dangerous like flavored alcoholic drinks and menthol cigarettes.  Banning e-cigarettes will remove a relatively safe viable transitional product for those serious about quitting smoking.  One does not need to be a genius to compare 11 deaths to half a million. As Dr. Siegel so aptly put it; “…government…ought to consider how their efforts to protect one group may come at the expense of others.” Any other flavored vices the government would like to go after? Chewing gum comes to mind.

Siegel, M. September 30, 2019.  Vaping is not the only youth problem. Los Angeles Times. Stars & Stripes.

Climate Change and the wisdom of Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer

Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Krauthammer never beat around the bush on any issue whether political or personal.  This was a man who in his early twenties had a crippling accident, and while on his back in his hospital bed, managed not only to finish his medical degree, but graduate from Harvard Cum Laude.  A combination of scientist, political analyst, author, and philanthropist; I valued and still value his opinion.  In the latest combination of Charles’ columns for The Washington Post, (The Point of it All), one column in particular caught my eye.  Written in November of 2014, he unabashedly called it The Climate Pact Swindle.  I thought it appropriate as we face a global climate change mass hysteria.

As Charles unceremoniously declared, we do not know enough about our homeostatic mechanisms to make any definite generalization about the climate, however, pumping crap into the air is never good.  This sentiment did not give a pass to the “scientists” that in his own words are “arrogant” and “ignorant” in their claim that climate science has forever been “settled”. His skepticism comes from his own scientific background as a doctor in psychiatry and based on the fact that science is neither stationary nor absolute.  We only need to remember past claims of scientific absolutes that banished eggs, red meat, and butter to the back burner of the “food pyramid”.  Can anyone say KETO diet? Like any flavor of the month and our obsession with scientific “truth”, every  generation goes overboard with pessimistic fear of Armageddon.  Climate change has risen to the ranks of apoplectic disasters. 

In 2014, Charles succinctly pointed out that the Obama-Xi climate agreement was not only limpid in substance but a fraud at the expense of the US and other western nations.  China and India are the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions on the entire planet.  Both pollute without mercy. While the US and Europe have decreased CO2 emissions considerably, China continues to mine coal and other pollutants that include lithium; a toxic mineral used in batteries.  Even if every coal mine in the US would close down, global CO2 emissions would not be reduced significantly as long as China and India are allowed to continue on their present environmental course. 

Chinese in pollution

Chinese cities live in haze of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury compounds, and other deadly pollutants.  The O-X agreement gave China a pass until 2030.  That is when China is expected to meet its promised goal of producing 20% of its energy from alternative energy. How generous.  In the meantime, liberal pinheads in Congress pound the gavel against the US and propose “a green deal”.  CO2 has atmospheric effects but does not poison the air; while China’s pollutants are toxic poisons that kill.  But that conveniently escapes the congressional pinheads.

Greta Thunberg

The climate change movement continues with a vengeance.  The current caped crusader is a 15-year old kid from Sweden, Greta Thunberg.  She is out to save the world.  Well, good for her.  Better saving the planet than sniffing glue, but her teenage bopping movement is rather disconcerting.  Greta Thunberg has not lived long enough to either be pessimistic or outraged at the rest of us.  Leave that to the idiot politicians.  It is admirable that the youth are taking interest, it is not admirable that they skip school, especially in the US where kids lag 46th behind other nations.  Maybe if they channeled their energy to real science they might learn first hand about our planet and what makes it “tick”. They would not need to follow the doomsday masses into truancy. They need to take to the books before they take to the streets.  I wonder how many of them have studied atmospheric homeostatic planetary mechanisms and the many variables of CO2’s effect on planetary life.

Coal Mining in China
Lithium mines in China

Are we responsible for the well being of our planet? We sure are.  Did we fuck it up?  Yes we did.  There are some waterways in the world which have been thrashed beyond repair.  Third world countries have polluted their natural resources so badly that drinking water has become a commodity. The current over development of the Amazon forests is criminal.  Which brings me back to Greta and her ardent young followers? An oxy moron because intermittent with their zealous climate activism is their addiction to technology. Probably unawares to them that technology is partially responsible for mining major toxic particulates like lithium found in most cell phone, computer, and android batteries.  Such mining often done through cheap almost slave labor and exploitation of the poorest.  Not an integral part of the green deal now is it?

Germany is now seriously thinking of raising fuel prices and taxes again.  The natives are not amused.  The idea is to discourage driving.  Really? As one impatient and angry German asked; is Merkel going to be taking him to work? Some cities and counties have already prohibited diesel vehicles from entering their domain.  Farmers and trucking drivers are up in arms.  Diesel is cheaper than gasoline and if they have to revert to gasoline then they are economically crippled.  They would have to raise prices and be driven out of business in favor of cheaper produce from overseas.  The distribution chain relying mostly on trucks, would also impact the consumer market and eventually the economy.

The climate enthusiasts in Germany  don’t seem to mind other countries having high CO2 emissions in lieu of cheaper imports.  Hypocrisy at its best.  As far as diesel being given a bad rap; new diesel engines are equipped with particle filters and catalytic converters. They are reasonably on par with gasoline engines in CO2 emissions. Research and tests have shown that in the cold (and Germany is cold),  gasoline cars can actually emit more CO2 crap then their diesel counterparts.  Also, in recent studies, measuring emissions from air born particulate solids and carbonaceous particulate matter, diesel did not fare better or worse than petroleum.  So why the angst? Merkel bending down to the environmentalists to preserve an already shaky coalition. Little to do with the well being of the planet and a lot to do with politics.

In 1993, Charles Krauthammer gave an address to the McGill Class of 1993 in Montreal, Canada.  His speech was entitled Three Pieces of Sage Advice.  The first piece is relevant to the current climate change breast beating anguish.  He reminded the students of past national hysteria that often gripped nations with little cause for a “bull horn” alarm.  We went from Cold War apocalyptic Nuclear freeze movements  to environmental movements  without giving much thought to the fact that nuclear weapons are not only still prolific but still dangerous.  Iran comes to mind.  Nobody is running through the streets asking Iran to disarm.  Hell, the European Union can’t go back to Iran fast enough and do business as usual.  When activism finds itself in a vacuum something else must fill the dooming void.  An addiction to global fear.

In his speech, Charles told Class of ’93 that there still exist nuclear and environmental concerns; but there is a difference between a problem and manic panic.  Charles was trying to instill in his audience a sense of balance and intellectual non-conformity to mass hysteria.  No one can predict the future based on human articulation and understanding of the science du jour. To even submit that we have solved the science of climate is beyond arrogant. Charles, like many of us question the sincerity of the climate apocalypticists who think that unless we quit eating beef, go back to riding horses (unless they also belch and fart and produce CO2), and get rid of all modern amenities, we are doomed.  But they only pass sentence on us. China on the other hand gets a 16-year reprieve and a hallway pass. Charles’ final thoughts: When confronted with a movement of dread and amplified doom: keep your heads.   

Remembering Cokie Roberts: the unassuming role model

This week the journalistic world, the real one, lost a great journalist, reporter, analyst, and woman; Cokie Roberts.  She finally succumbed to complications from breast cancer which she had been diagnosed with in 2002.  Born Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, Cokie was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in December 1943.  Her nickname was a derivative of Corinne which her kid brother could not pronounce.  She remained known as Cokie. Her parents, Lindy and Hale Boggs were Democratic members of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, in 1972, Hale Boggs’ plane disappeared over Alaska and was never found.  Lindy took over her husband’s seat.  One can deduce that politics ran in the family and obviously in Cokie’s  blood.

Cokie was best known for her positions at NPR and ABC, but her portfolio runs deeper than that.  Her first job was with WRC-TV in Washington DC.  She had a weekly public affairs program called Meeting of the Minds.  Having married another journalist, Steven Roberts, in 1964 she moved to New York City with him and for a short time worked as a reporter for Cowles Communication.  She was also a producer at WNEW-TV, until she moved again with her husband to Los Angeles and started working for Altman Productions.  Later she joined KNBC-TV as a producer to the Emmy winning children’s program Serendipity.  Following her husband again, she did a short stint in Greece as a CBS News part time correspondent in Athens.

Cokie is best known for her ten years as congressional correspondent on NPR, but her journalism, analysis, and congressional prowess was in demand and she became a “regular” on Morning Edition, The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and a co-host to This Week with Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts.  But through it all, Cokie remained a professional journalist without an agenda.  She was raised in a political family when politics were civilized and friendships were made across the aisle.  That demeanor remained with Cokie Roberts throughout her career.  She also served on the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization, and appointed on the Council on Service and Civic Participation by President George W. Bush. 

Behind the TV anchor and journalist was also an author.  In 2004, Cokie was interviewed by CNN’s Larry King on her book new book Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. This book was written and published two years after Cokie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In the interview, Cokie told Larry that she her profession helped write the book. As a congressional reporter, she witnessed debates on freedom of speech, religion, and bearing arms, bringing her “…closer  to the  founding fathers”.It was time she took a look at the women behind the men.  She brought to light the influence that wives like Martha Washington, and Mrs. Adams (Louisa Catherine) had on their husbands.  Through letters and notes, she put together the lives of these women at a time when men led and women followed.  Cokie discovered the resiliency of Martha Washington at Valley Forge, and Mrs. Jefferson who single handedly took over her husband’s position as Post Master General, and often protected her home with a shot gun.  Through historical letters and notes, Cokie managed to give us a glimpse at the founding mothers.  In a tribute to Cokie, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi described Cokie as a “trailblazer” who gave us stories on the “unsung women who built our nation”.

In 2018, a few days after the death of President George H.W. Bush, Cookie gave a short interview to David Greene host of Morning Edition. David asked her about her friendship with the former president, and the president’s  almost surreal friendship with Bill Clinton.  Cokie described her friendship with the Bush family as developing through Barbara Bush’s Family Literacy Foundation which Cokie supported.  According to her, the former president “exemplified decency”.  His relationship with Bill Clinton developed because of the former president’s “incredible decency”.  Cokie was close enough to the Bush family that one time she sent the former president a pair of Uncle Same Wants You socks from the National Archives. In true George H. W. Bush form she received a “thank you” note from him.  According to Cokie, the former president was big on sending “thank you” notes.

Cokie Roberts personified journalism as it was but unfortunately has not remained.  She was never crass, biased, rude, over bearing, or partisan flag waving.  Whether she discussed, interviewed, analyzed, or reported; Cokie remained true to her upbringing and her professionalism.  She might have had different political ideology but she never wore it on her sleeve.  Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura described her as talented, tough, fair, and a great “friend of the family”. Former President Obama said that she was a role model to women when journalism was dominated by men.  The latter is very true.  Her ten-year tenure on NPR gave her the fond title of “founding mother of NPR”.   

What made Cokie Roberts admired and liked, was her ability to agree or disagree politely and graciously.  She was in the same league as Barbara Walters, who also had to struggle and punch through the male dominated profession of journalism.  Barbara once told a story how on a set everyone man had a chair with their name on it, but hers said “woman”.  These women were special because they worked hard and did not demand or expect entitlements.  They forged through the chauvinistic world of their profession by using their brains not a bull horn.  They were the silent activists that conquered through intelligence, diligence, and professionalism that could not be ignored. 

Cokie Roberts represented decency and ethics in journalism, two qualities dangerously absent today.  The New York Times comes to mind. It’s unethical journalism once again showed its ugly head with an unsubstantiated almost made-up story against a Supreme Court Justice just for politics’ sake.  It does not get lower than that.  As Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post called it: “impeachable journalism”. Cokie Roberts was the opposite. Cokie Roberts “…disagreed agreeably…listened, offered advice, showed patience and poise…” (Kellyanne Conway). Thank you Cokie Roberts for representing the best in us on and off the screen.  Rest in peace, your story is yet to be told.

What a difference 18 years make: 9/11- 18 years later

New York City 9/11 Memorial Park and Museum

18 years ago our nation stood together in pain and resolve against the forces of evil that managed to kill almost 3,000 of our citizens in premeditated attacks in three locations.  We wept, we prayed, and we stood as a nation without partisanship and hate.  We were united not only in grief but also in patriotism and resolve.  There were no Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or Socialists.  There were only Americans.  That was that, and this is now.

There are American kids who 18 years ago were not born yet.  What have they learned? What story have they been told? Who is teaching them about a moment in time when our country stood still in horror? How many of us thought it was a movie as we watched planes determinately fly into the Twin Towers? How many of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the attacks changed the New York Skyline forever?  Does anyone care anymore?  How many will actually remember?  How many will continue to remember? On this 9/11, we might tune in to watch the annual remembrance ceremony in New York City, and we may even remain tuned in to listen to the slow and somber reading of the victims’ names.  Then we will continue with our day. 

010917-N-7479T-509 Ground Zero, New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 17, 2001) — An aerial view shows only a small portion of the crime scene where the World Trade Center collapsed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Surrounding buildings were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers. Clean-up efforts are expected to continue for months. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Eric J. Tilford. (RELEASED)

Lower side Manhattan has been rebuilt and a new tower looms above the 9/11 Memorial Glade fountains and 9/11 Memorial Museum that keeps the memory viable and also brings in much needed visitor dollars.  The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is partly funded by private donations and memberships.  The first time I visited “Ground Zero” it was still in rubble and the scars and pain were still fresh.  Pictures of those missing hung adjacent to placards of united support on a make shift wire fencing that surrounded the debris and the hot steel.  A cloud of dust and smoke still hung in the air. People moved about slowly and in relative silence; some wiping tears that were unintentional but honest.  I was one of those people.  It was difficult standing there and looking down at a crater filled with smoldering twisted steel. It was easier watching it on television from the comfort of a couch.  Surrounding buildings were covered in steel netting and American flags flew from their bare walls paying tribute to the lives that had been lost a few months prior.  On 9/11 all lives mattered.

Through my consecutive visits I watched as tragedy morphed into remembrance, memorials, museums, and eventually a quasi tourist attraction and park.  The wire fences are long gone, trees have been replanted, and One World Trade Center rises above the skyline as if in defiance.  But in my opinion, something has been lost in an attempt to keep the memory alive.  The two large deep fountains are etched with names of those lost in the three attacks.  Included are also names of those who had perished in the 1993 Twin Towers attack.  The memorial to the latter was lost on 9/11. Among the 9/11 names etched on the dark granite walls surrounding the fountains, are eleven with the significant byline: “and child”. Eleven mothers died with their unborn child. This did not escape me, but I am sure it escapes the many who pose to take selfies or who lean across the walls and etched names to take pictures, smile, and even imbibe in a Starbucks or two while “remembering”.  A jovial outing atmosphere in an otherwise morbid graveyard. 

I refuse to pose and take pictures leaning against victims’ names.  I refuse to forget the pain that we felt 18 years ago.  I refuse to be a tourist where 3,000 ordinary folk went to work on a beautiful New York City fall day and never returned home to their loved ones.  I refuse to give a pass to idiots who blame America for the attacks.  I refuse to forgive the terrorists who planned and carried out the heinous crime.  I refuse to  turn 9/11 into just another day.  I refuse to forget.

The first time I visited the new 9/11 Memorial Glade fountains, things were different.  The museum had not yet opened and the area was still relatively closed to the public.  Visitors had to go through TSA-like security, and One World Trade Center had not yet risen into the New York City skyline.  The park was still relatively quiet and those who had stood hours waiting to get in still maintained a semblance of respect and grief.  I remember looking down at all the names and feeling a knot in my stomach.  I suddenly realized that I was in the presence of a loss on a grand scale.  As I slowly walked the parameter of each fountain I instinctively ran my hands across each name.  Three rows of names etched on each of the eight fountain walls. Glancing down rapidly and stopping only at short intervals; it took me close to an hour to complete the eight walls. In the space of a lunch break, I managed to give each and every name relevancy and significance in my life. For a fleeting moment I made my acquaintance with each victim.  I do not remember any of the names, but I do remember every touch.

We fail to understand that the 3,000 murdered came from all over the world.  The Twin Towers were home to international investment companies and global corporations.  The victims had diverse religions, ethnic backgrounds, languages, and partisanship.  But terrorists don’t care about diversity, tolerance, or political correctness.  I doubt that they did roll call of who worked in the Twin Towers.  Their sole objective was to kill.  Those who now diminish the War on Terror need to take a short trip to the fountains and run their hands over all the names as I did.  They should visit the museum next door and see the quasi melted frame of a fire truck; it had gotten too close to the burning steel in an attempt to save lives and put out flames. They should walk around Lower Manhattan and visit a few fire departments where names of fire fighters are displayed on plaques. Over 300 of them gave their lives trying to save those trapped in the Towers soon after the attacks.  There should be nothing dismissive about 9/11.

Yes, 18 years have gone by but the deaths continue.  Recently, New York City has unveiled a new memorial  at the National September 11 Memorial.  Large boulders have been dedicated to the first responders, recovery workers, and survivors that assisted at the aftermath of the attacks.  Months of exposure to debris, dust, and smoke has caused cancer and other related diseases at an alarming rate to many 9/11 first responders and recovery workers.  These silent heroes are finally being recognized as relevant victims of the attacks.  Some have already died from the rapid onset of illnesses.  Another poignant reason why the story must continue to be told.

At approximately 1430 on September 11, 2001, I had just arrived at one of our bank’s customers to drop off documents.  I noticed the receptionist, a young man, staring at the silent television set in the lobby.  As I followed his eyes, I realized that he was looking at one of the Twin Towers with a large gaping smoking  hole in its side. I thought it was a cheap afternoon flick.  I joked with him about watching movies in the afternoon.  He did not smile. He just kept on staring at the silent television set.   I turned my head to the screen in time to see a plane hit the South Tower. In an ashen face, the young man uttered: “I don’t think it’s a movie Mrs. Brown.” “Neither do I”, said I. And all our lives changed forever.

Amash, diversity, education, and Liberal logic; oh my!

Amash in Grand Rapids

The arrogance of some liberal Americans knows no bounds.  What do they say?  Always read the fine print.  This morning while sitting idly reading the Stars and Stripes and sipping on a hot “cup’o’Joe”, I had to learn from Sara Burnett of the Associated Press/National Newswatch that unless we are diverse we are probably not educated.  Well not in those very words but you get the gist.  In my opinion, an unrelated story Ms. Burnett managed to insert her own far left spin on why Kent County, once a strong Republican stronghold might turn Democrat.  Her conclusion: Grand Rapids and its suburbs have new universities and a medical sector, which makes them more diverse, and obviously more educated than the rest of hick America.  Which would explain why they would turn Democrat. What a load of crock!

Ode to diversity and intellectualism.  How we love to weave in and out of diverse racial harmony to arrive at the equitable conclusion of intellectual bliss. Ah yes, the liberal elitist self proclaimed educated and diverse intellectuals wearing colorful varsity sweaters while bussing tables at Starbucks. The ones demanding I pay their university fees.  If education and diversity is the key to intelligence and education, what happened to that idiot from Queens New York? You know, the one who chased Amazon from her district and 25,000 diverse jobs with it?  Most six figure jobs would have gone to African Americans and Hispanics. 

Since Ms. Burnett decided to open that dubious link between diversity and education; I wonder how she would explain the increase in homelessness and disarray in cities like Los Angeles, Baltimore, Detroit, and Chicago? Chicago is a war zone every weekend.  Aren’t these cities diverse or educated enough?  They are all Democrat after all.

This repulsive bigotry against blue collar America started in earnest during the 2016 election by no other than Ms. Hillary Clinton. Remember “deplorable”? The bleeding liberal heart seems to stop beating when it comes to traditional Americans who work and asking for no handouts.  I hate to break the bad news to the diverse educated pinheads, but we need more plumbers, mechanics, house builders, roofers, farmers, and manual laborers to get this country back on its feet.  What we do not need more of is 30 something “educated” unproductive entitled adults living in their parents’ basements.  Maybe, just maybe, if we encouraged more youth to go into good paying profitable trades,  we would have more employed diverse educated individuals than diverse educated graduates looking for work.

I am infuriated at the condescending of traditional Americans by those who profess to love America but obviously hate most Americans.  The intellectuals who spout out crap and live in a dazed world of their own.  They think they have a monopoly on “diversity” and wear that mantra like a badge of honor; a comforting assurance toward political sainthood, while passing bigoted judgment on the rest of us.  They are the champions of righteousness by virtue of partisanship. 

The correlation between diversity and education has never really been explained to me.  By virtue of that logic,  if one happens to live in a one specific ethnic neighborhood regardless of race, Ms. Burnett would take issue and she would conclude that the neighborhood was not diverse or educated.  But that logic is often dismissed because it does not play well in the world of the loony left; and we have become too lazy a society to even challenge it.  We allow CNN, MSNBC, NBC, and even FOX news to tell us the “truth”. And we all know how that works out, don’t we?

I get pissed with disingenuous reporting.  Ms. Burnett’s article should have concentrated on Rep. Justin Amash who left the Republican party and has not made up his mind who he will align with.  He does not like President Trump and wants to impeach him.  The story was reasonably on point until she threw in her spin on Kent County and Grand Rapids.  She had to insert bias bloviating before continuing with the report.  It is true that the district might turn Democrat but not because it is more educated or diverse, it is because Amash has still not made up his mind where he would like to drop his hat; which leaves the door wide open to the Democrats who are running in that district. It also depends on fund raising. Even Brian Stryker, Democratic pollster admitted that the area is up for grabs. But the Sara Burnetts of the mainstream media had to make it racial and personal. And mainstream media wonders why the majority of Americans think they are disingenuous twits.

The continual ignorant and arrogant perception that colleges and universities turn a high school kid into an overnight success has been debunked a long time ago. Mostly because the past ten years saw more unemployed “educated” geniuses moving back in ma and pa’s basements and attics than employed graduates. Elitist idiots still ignore the fact that the most lucrative and successful debt free individuals in the country are currently the manual laborers.  The kids who are going back to trade schools and “making something” of themselves.  Who are getting jobs that pay good money, pay bills, and buy their own property. Plumbers are a commodity and are laughing all the way to the bank.  Have you taken your car to a mechanic lately? Every oil stain and spark plug is a dollar in his account.  Chink chink. Try and get a roofer to do your roof, you might as well sell your first born.  Get the gist.  Getting certification from a vocation school to do hair and nails makes more financial sense than a PHD in Russian mythology.  Can’t make this up.  Been across the desk from these prodigies. Seen useless”degrees” on resumes and applicants attempting to get a job as a bank teller.  Most could not count a strap of twenties, but hey they could have bought a house with the money they owe on a useless degree hanging on their intellectual shingle. A new generation of educated morons.

Why did a small paragraph in a two bit Associate Press article by a “reporter” I had not heard of until this morning, piss me off so much? Because I so genuinely sick and tired of political innuendo and intolerance of traditional Americans.  America is about the dream that can happen.  It is not about money or intellect, but about the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is the ability to support your family without a handout from the government.

Success has never been measured by an overpriced “education” but by creativity, ingenuity, and the strength to work hard and “make it happen”.  Bill Gates never went to college. Success is measured by personal satisfaction and responsibility to self, family, and country.  Young adults should be taught how to be self sufficient and grateful for their opportunities and not strangle them by false hopes that put them on the unemployment line.  There is a difference between education, common sense, and intelligence. One can be lucky to have all three.  But we are currently raising a generation of indebted “educated” young adults sans common sense and questionable intelligence.

This is America.  It was born out of diversity.  Diversity has no boundaries, colors, accents, or races.  Diversity is all of us.  Be diverse, be educated, but most of all be proud to be an American regardless of whether you are an investment banker, roofer, Democrat, or Republican.  If they can take care of themselves, their families, and their communities, then they are past being “educated” because they are intelligent.  So, Ms. Burnett: being a Democrat and diverse does not qualify you as “educated”.  I suggest you take time to better “educate” yourself in diversity before inserting inane opinions in your article.  And by the way: Amash is also thinking of running as a Libertarian.  By the time he makes his mind up the election will be over and at the rate he is going, he might announce that he is Amish.