In honor of this year’s (2019) Independence Day festivities in the nation’s Capitol which, for the first time in our history, looks to be more like a campaign rally for Trump than a celebration of our Independence from a(nother) tyrant, I offer this wonderful cartoon.
Passover is a very meaningful holiday for Jews. During the seder, the ritual dinner that’s served that evening, the story of bondage by the Egyptians is recounted and thanks are given for their release after a series of plagues are visited upon the slaveholders, culminating in the slaughter of first-born Egyptians and the successful escape via Moses’s parting of the Red Sea.
Thanksgiving has been a meaningful holiday for we “Americans”, first celebrated in 1621 but not officially until 1863, when President Lincoln declared it a national holiday. It was meant to celebrate the good fortune of the original Pilgrims, as well as that of all of us who came to live in this land.
Much as we have learned Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America wasn’t exactly as benign and wonderful as we were led to believe (certainly when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s), we now know the generosity of those indigenous people who provided for that first Thanksgiving we now celebrate, was rewarded with hatred and genocide.
I can’t speak for everyone but, as far as I’m concerned, Thanksgiving is now a holiday in which we celebrate the love of family and friendship, as well as remember how deeply racism, nationalism, and white supremacy are rooted in our national identity. In this time of deep despair over the backward direction our nation is heading, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to a history that includes everyone, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or any other distinguishing characteristic, as well as seek what objective truth there is, absent favoritism, nationalism, and whataboutism.
I hope everyone has – or had – a wonderful holiday, filled with love and generosity of spirit. I also hope everyone remembered – and remembers – we are far from blameless and sometimes we have – and do – stumble on our journey toward a “more perfect union.”
During my activity against the War in Vietnam, as well as other Peace & Justice movement activities I was involved in, I really never thought I would see my thirties. I know now I was a dreamer and a bit too wrapped up in my view of what was happening in the country, but I thought we were ripe for a revolution and I thought I would be on the front lines. That was nearly fifty years ago and time has given me a new perspective on life, the universe, and everything (H/T to Douglas Adams R.I.P.).
Today, however, marks the mid-point in my seventieth journey around our home star, Sol. It’s my half-birthday! I know . . . aren’t I a little too old to be celebrating half birthdays? I suppose, but this day has some other significance for me. Today marks the thirty-seventh year since a man surprised me on my doorstep in Venice, California, where I was living with my soon-to-be wife. He held me at gunpoint*, threatening to blow my “fucking brains out.” I managed to escape when he went to get something with which to tie my hands behind my back, something I had no intention of allowing him to do. I was prepared to attempt attacking him as he tried, but I didn’t have to. I had been preparing by slowly getting my right foot behind the bedroom door. I was lying spread-eagled on the floor, and each time he looked away I inched my foot closer and closer to the position I wanted.
Fortunately, I was able to get away from him by slamming the bedroom door (well, almost. The landlord had installed new carpeting and neglected to plane the bottom of the door, so it was almost impossible to shut it without a lot of force) in his face, levitating myself from the floor (lots of adrenaline involved at this point), grabbing my Ithaca Riot Pump Shotgun from the closet where I had carefully hidden it and practiced this very thing, and suggested he leave before I killed him. The remainder of the story is a bit convoluted and involved numerous calls to three different police departments before the first one I called finally realized they were, indeed, the proper jurisdiction for where I lived; about 200 feet east of Carroll Canal, on Ocean Avenue. It was years before I was able to finally throw off the hyper-vigilance this episode generated in me.
Also, this coming April I will be ten years older than my father was when he shed his mortal coil. This past September marked thirty-two years since he died. If you’ve read some of my other posts, his death weighed on heavily on me for quite some time. I was always considered the spitting image of him and my mother used to say “You’re just like your father” so often I was convinced fifty-nine was the limit for me as well. I think it wasn’t until I passed the age where he had had his second heart attack, and I had nothing more than moderate hypertension to deal with, I finally convinced myself I would likely live longer than he had.
So, here I am on the downside of my seventieth year on the planet. I actually used Microsoft Project to determine exactly when I would begin the second half of the year, and it was midnight today. Now, in celebration of having made it this far, and because it’s “the season,” I’m sharing two pictures I just found of a couple of my earliest Christmases. Next year is going to be interesting, no doubt. Perhaps it’s been long enough, and I can fully retell the story of this episode some time soon. This was a start.
Not So Happy. Perhaps Wondering Why I’m Sitting on Santa’s Lap When I’m Jewish!
Much Happier. I Must Have Decided I Was An Atheist By Now & It Didn’t Matter.
* The link “He held me at gunpoint,” above, is to the decision in a re-trial the defendant won on one count of murder he was found guilty of. I was required to appear as a witness and, since he had become a jailhouse lawyer in the interim, he represented himself, meaning he was the one who questioned me when I gave my testimony. Two things – He was partially victorious on several other charges and the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. As far as I know, he’s still in prison. Second, although the appellate court states he took three guns from me, he only took one; a Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum, with which he shot and killed two people. I carried a fair amount of guilt around for quite some time before I could finally convince myself those deaths were not at least partially on me.
What is time? Here we have a question that has baffled philosophers and scientists since, well . . . since time immemorial. We measure it in numerous ways and, frankly, we’re not terribly interested in any of them other than the calendar at this point. For our intents and purposes, then, time is measured in days; by the rotation of the Earth 360° on its axis and by years; the compilation of 365.25 days as the Earth completes one orbit around our home star, Sol.
To be even less precise, we’re actually only interested in a simple calendar, whether it’s an application running on a computer or a slick-paper collection of rare and beautiful pictures of well-tended gardens and ornate architecture situated in the world’s most exotic locations. The Gregorian calendar, actually, will suit us.
Furthermore, let’s confine our study of time to – essentially – one day; New Year’s day. The first of January, regardless of the year. This is, perhaps, the only day we celebrate that is entirely arbitrary; marking a line in the continuum we call time that isn’t tied to any particular event we’ve experienced or chosen to memorialize for the purpose of not working and having a bar-b-que, stuffing our faces with rich, fattening food, or conducting a car, bed, or linen sale.
Take for instance President’s Day. On second thought, and upon a little research, let’s not take President’s Day as it is a convoluted mess made somewhat abstruse by it’s being a combination of Federal and State observances of the birthdays of George Washington and, sometimes, Abraham Lincoln, and the occasional desire to commemorate the existence of all Presidents (past, present and, presumably, future) of the United States of America.
How about a holiday that marks a specific date on the calendar and hasn’t been moved around yet for the purposes of creating a three-day weekend and making working stiffs and the travel industry happy? How about the most venerable of them all, the Fourth of July – Independence Day? We celebrate this holiday on the same date of the year, regardless of the day on which it falls. Something happened on that day and, each year – relative to the rest of the days on our calendar – we celebrate that thing; that one thing common to us all.
The new year, however, is merely the day on which we’ve – somewhat arbitrarily – determined everything rewinds and starts over. Never mind that every four years we need to tack another day onto it, which we’ve chosen to do in February, the only month short enough to make room for another day without making the other months jealous. It is, for many, the beginning of a new life; a chance to start over and jettison old habits like a layer of useless, molted skin.
There is one thing – one time independent thing – the new year and its joyously celebrated recurrence is inextricably associated with; the New Year’s resolution. That “time-honored” tradition indulged in by an incredibly large portion of the world’s population. The moment when old habits die with a glass of champagne, the singing of Auld Lang Syne, raucous noisemaking, and the occasional over amorous kiss.
What, we may ask, is a New Year’s resolution and why is it so bound up in this arbitrary date that marks the completion of a year’s journey around the Sun? Why do people not make these changes and affirmations when the need for them becomes apparent? Why wait for one, somewhat otherwise inauspicious date to sever ties to the past and, Phoenix-like, rise to embrace a bright, new future? Especially when, usually no later than mid-February, the Phoenix perversely transforms into Icarus and plummets to the Earth, there to lie – seemingly lifeless – until another December 31st rolls around.
Perhaps most people find it necessary to draw a figurative line in the sand of their personal hourglass at the moment we mark the numerical change from one year to the next. Perhaps it eases our ability to put bad habits and worthless pursuits behind us; to bury them in the mists of time and move toward a brighter, more promising future. Perhaps we just like to kid ourselves – like setting our alarm clocks to read 10 minutes fast in order to ensure we arise in time to begin a new day. Who knows?
So here’s my resolution, but it isn’t a New Year’s resolution as I reaffirm it many times a year. When it becomes obvious something I’m doing isn’t working all that well, I’m going to endeavor to change direction as quickly as possible. I’m going to allow my creativity the freedom to find better ways to proceed and I’m going to look for innovative paths to make those better ways pay off in a richer, fuller life for me and my family.
How about you? Do you wait until the new year to change your evil ways, 🙂 or do you move on down the road as soon as practicable once you realize a change is in order? Either way, I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013 et seq., ad infinitum.
My friend Steve Ostroff (on the left) just before his untimely death
“Life doesn’t cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” — G.B. Shaw
I have written previously that I am not a journalist and this post is clear evidence of that. My original intent was to publish this on either the Sunday before, or on the Monday of, Memorial Day. However, the subject was a bit emotional for me and I found it difficult to finish until now. I, therefore, offer it as a remembrance. It need not be tied to any particular holiday.
Memorial Day – much like Veteran’s Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and many other holidays or special days that commemorate the military or significant days in our nation’s history – almost invariably brings me a storm of mixed emotions. I have enormous respect for those who serve our nation. At the same time, I believe they are most often sacrificed not in defense of our freedom, but in the defense of others – who never serve – and in defense of their fortunes and their “right” to make money incessantly.
This Autumn it will have been 45 years since I had the dubious distinction of being a pallbearer at the funeral of one of my best friends, Steven Larry Ostroff, who was killed in the battle of Ong Thanh on October 17, 1967. He was the first of five classmates of mine who would perish in that unjust, stupid conflict and I was highly conflicted about it.
“I want to be an Airborne Ranger. I want to go to Vietnam. I want to live a life of danger. I want to kill the Viet Cong.”
Steve was by no means an innocent, angelic hero. I remember my brother recounting running into him shortly after he finished either Boot Camp or Advanced Infantry Training. What stuck out for him was Steve’s enthusiasm for battle and his desire to kill. I was a bit put off by hearing that at the time, but not entirely surprised. It was, after all, the mindset the Army wanted in their Infantrymen. It was what they trained them for.
I was just beginning to understand what the war in Vietnam was all about; an understanding that would soon blossom into full-blown resistance and activism in an effort to bring it to a halt. Steve, born 15 days before me, was barely twenty years old when he was killed. During the funeral his casket remained closed. As I remember it, we were under the impression his body was not recovered for a couple of days and his family did not want anyone viewing his remains.
I’m not sure at this point that was the reason, though. Based on the accounts of his death I’ve read recently, it seems more likely to me there wasn’t a whole lot of him left to identify and having what was left on display in an open casket would have been too horrific for his family and friends. The web sites I have found with his information state he was killed by “Multiple fragmentation wounds“.
I clearly remember the grief on his parents’ faces as we went through the acts of remembrance, consecration, and burial. I have always been moved most by the loss experienced by those who have been left behind and it’s especially painful to see parents having to endure the loss of a child. In this case, it was made even more difficult because – if memory serves – Steve was an only child.
Twice-Baked Rye Bread
He and his family lived right across the street from John H. Francis Polytechnic High School, where we both attended, and he and I used to hop the fence to eat lunch at his home. His mother, I believe her name was Sarah, always had hard salami in the house and, if I played my cards right, I could count on enjoying one of my favorite sandwiches, served on Jewish Rye . . . with real garlicky kosher pickles on the side.
We belonged to the same temple, Valley Beth Israel, and became Bar Mitzvah at around the same time. We went to the same Jr. High as well and, as crazy kids and adolescents, we had some good times together, the memories of which have receded well into the background after all these years. This is especially so because we never had the opportunity to reinforce our memories by reliving them and, probably, embellishing them.
When I was in Washington, D.C. years ago, I made a trip to the Wall to see Steve’s name and to reflect on his life and death. I did the same in Sacramento, where there is a memorial to the Californians who perished in Vietnam. Both of these trips were some time ago and both were quite emotional.
What Is Really Going On
I have remained dead-set against every engagement we have indulged in since, but I am hardly anti-military – and here is where the conflict, the cognitive dissonance, comes alive and dances crazily in my head. Steve was a friend of mine and the men and women who continue to serve include friends and family. I know and love many of them, yet I don’t believe they are keeping our country safe; at least not for the most part.
For the most part, I believe they are being used as pawns – as “cannon fodder” – in our ongoing efforts to make the world safe for lucrative investments in natural resources and trading opportunities including, and maybe especially including, the sale of arms and ammunition to just about anyone who has the money to pay for it.
I will continue to honor Steve’s memory, despite his apparent thirst for killing and despite my belief he was not fighting for our way of life or to keep us safe, just as I will continue to honor the men and women who serve today. However, I do so only because I also believe most of those who serve honestly believe they are fighting to defend their country. They believe this because they’ve been told it’s true and I’m not going to hold their naivete and ignorance against them.
Some would argue I should condemn them, based on the principles that ignorance is no excuse and the existence of the duty to refuse to obey unlawful commands. However, I think the situation is far more complex than that and I cannot turn my back on people who have been taken advantage of for so long they have no way of knowing how terribly they’ve been duped.
I feel for them – especially for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice – and I feel for their families. So much of the suffering that takes place due to war and conflict is completely unnecessary and truly counter-productive for all but a very few . . . and those are the ones who also profit the most handsomely from war. They’re the ones who should be shot.
24 August 2015
In preparation for my High School class’s 50th reunion in about six weeks, a classmate was putting together a Vietnam veteran’s collage. As part of the effort he is also creating a memorial to our fallen classmates. In doing research for this tribute, he came across this post and asked me, since I mentioned we had lost six classmates, who the sixth was. He was familiar with only five. I had long thought there were six members of our class who perished in that conflict, but I believe I was wrong. I have made the correction, above.
I suppose I should have written this prior to the holiday, but it really is a retrospective and, frankly, I hadn’t thought about it much before yesterday’s celebration. Please forgive me. I’m working on developing an editorial calendar. It’s on my to-do list. Maybe next year I’ll be more sophisticated, but this year I’m just me.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday and now another in a long line of them is in the books. It has always been a time of family, but in my case (and surely for many others) the nature of family has changed many times over the years. I’ve now experienced 65 Thanksgiving dinners. Actually, when I was younger we used to eat around 3:00 and by 6:00, when hunger returned to my growing body, I would frequently return to the table for a large second helping, but I’m not including those in the meal count; just the years.
Remaining, Yet Partial Memories
Of course, I don’t remember most of these dinners, though small portions (unlike my plate) do remain, considerably diffused by time and intervening circumstance. When I was a young boy there were dinners that included cousins, friends, and sometimes distant family, many of whom were my age and with whom I would play catch or, later on, watch football. As a young man, I recall several years when the meal was dominated by highly contentious political arguments over Vietnam, Israel/Palestine, and general economic theory. My father and I did not see eye-to-eye on many of the prevailing issues of the day and the dinner table was frequently where these differences came to a head, sometimes resulting in someone leaving the room . . . usually the old man.
Yesterday was the first time in a few years both my brother and sister were out of town and, coupled with the absence of my parents (both of whom are amolderin’ in the grave), I had no immediate family with which to spend the holiday. This also had a salutary effect, as it allowed my wife, children, and me to spend the day with her family with a total absence of guilt or argument over which location would be best. In the past, we have spent the day with one side and the evening with another. I like staying in one place best.
Holiday Exceptionalism Lost
The biggest thing that’s changed for me is the really special feeling of the day is no longer there. Don’t get me wrong. I still love the holiday and always enjoy being with family. Nevertheless, after all these years the excitement has worn off and, even worse, the food (which once was so special) has succumbed to a level of scrutiny I never brought to the table before. I’m wondering if this isn’t related to my being an older father of two young children, both of whom require lots of attention and neither of whom yet appreciate the wonders of a full Thanksgiving meal. Maybe I’m just jaded. By the way, my love of Pumpkin Pie does not seem to have diminished, so there’s something to be thankful for!
What It’s Really About
I’m reasonably certain what has happened is I now try to think of each and every day as one for which to give thanks. Since I am no longer religious, and have neither that type of community nor prayer to remind me of the blessings I receive, I make a conscious effort to do it in other ways. One of those is when I stare out at the night sky, which I do frequently, and contemplate how lucky I am to be here and, even better, to be conscious of being here. Thinking about the virtual infinity of the universe, it’s vast emptiness and tremendous violence, its humbling grandeur and beauty, I am always appreciative of the planet I live on and the amazing luck of the draw that I’m here and know it.
I’m also thankful I was born into a reasonably intact family, in a country as developed as the United States (regardless of the problems we have been, and are now, experiencing) and that I have lived a very interesting, exciting, and full life filled with challenges, setbacks, and triumphs. Thanksgiving tends to pale in comparison and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. How was your Thanksgiving?
One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed about Facebook, not including the brouhaha over privacy we’re all acutely aware of – at least most of us are – is how it’s slowly changing my relationship to things I didn’t really used to have a relationship with. I am talking about the manly art of remembering birthdays.
Yesterday, I found myself on Facebook and noticed it was a friend’s birthday. Normally, I don’t pay a great deal of attention to birthdays. Like most men (I think) they come and go and we don’t spend a great deal of time at a Hallmark store poring over dozens of cards, looking for the perfect one to give our friends, etc. As far as I can tell, based on the yearly stories surrounding no less a card-remembering day than Valentines, men are notorious for waiting until the last minute to get something for their girlfriend, wife, etc. – if they get anything at all.
I’m not here to argue whether or not this is a good thing. I suspect my wife will be happier if I remember special occasions each year, though this year we both spaced our anniversary : ). I question whether or not it means anything to my male friends, though I suspect it does to some extent. I think everyone likes to be remembered or to know they’ve been thought of by loved ones and even acquaintances.
So, social media continues to fascinate me. Today I’m off to Boston to attend my first ever Enterprise 2.0 Conference. My goal is to learn what I can but, more importantly, it’s to cement some relationships I’ve been conducting virtually for – in some cases – several years. This is also the first conference I will ever have attended that wasn’t under the auspices of the company I worked for during the last two decades. It’s kind of nice to be doing it on my own dime. Somehow, it seems even more valuable.
Two posts got me thinking today. I’m not usually one to see the year as abruptly changing when December rolls over into January; I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions and stuff like that and I am more prone to celebrate the Winter Solstice than to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. Yet, it is the end of a calendar year, and there is some sort of change that always seems to take place when the year rolls, so I thought I’d take a crack at looking back just a bit at the previous 12 months. Having said that, I’d also like to look a little forward as well, but that will come just a bit later.
The two posts I’m referring to are by Andy McAfee and Susan Scrupski, two people I have come to know better this year due to my work as an internal evangelist on Enterprise 2.0. Andy’s writings on E2.0 and Susan’s tireless work on establishing and greasing the skids of the 2.0 Adoption Council have made my job much easier. I have learned a great deal from them and expect next year to bring even more knowledge, enthusiasm, and innovative ideas and practices I will no doubt benefit from. The post I refer to by Andy is very upbeat and strikes an optimistic note. The one by Susan is more hopeful than optimistic, but is definitely upbeat. Nevertheless, they’re both wonderful posts that look forward to bigger and better things. You can read them here (Andy’s) and here (Susan’s).
This last year has been a year of transition for me. Our fairly new President (I’m talking about where I work, not the country) recognized the value of E2.0, as well as numerous other efforts I was engaged in, and began leading the company in a new direction at the beginning of the year. He even christened our direction PoWeR 2.0 (PWR is an acronym for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Since our main business is Rocket Engines and Energy Systems, PoWeR is a decent way to characterize who we are internally). In addition to E2.0, PoWeR 2.0 includes the continuing integration of Program Management, Knowledge Management, and Enterprise Thinking, the latter of which is our approach to the Systems Thinking propounded by people like W. Edwards Deming, Russell L. Ackoff, Peter Senge, and Edward de Bono, to name a few. To my way of thinking it will ultimately (I can dream) result in a relatively holistic, portfolio approach to the management of the entire enterprise, ridding us of silos of knowledge and performance in order to more efficiently and effectively meet the challenges of a fast-moving and demanding economy.
This very positive direction came at a time when our parent company announced our merit increases would be postponed by six months and that we would be given five days of unpaid “furlough” during the year. To their credit, when the six months expired we were given increases and the furlough days were designed mostly to intersect with holidays so we would get four day weekends. The financial hit was also spread through the remainder of the year once the decision had been made. This made it a bit more palatable and easier to assimilate financially. For that I am grateful. I’m not blind to the difficulties of the economy and we’re in a sector that can be hit pretty hard. Frankly, I’m pretty happy to still be employed and have a challenging and exciting job to do.
This year I also managed to complete my Masters Degree in Knowledge Management at CSUN. For me this was a major accomplishment. Not only was I working 46 – 50 hours most weeks, but I also have two young children and I’m no spring chicken, having arrived in this world back in 1947. It was sometimes grueling work, especially the last trimester when all I wanted was to get on with my life and put more attention into what I was doing at work. Nevertheless, I now have another degree to add to my accomplishments. Maybe some day I’ll get a Baccalaureate as well.
I’m almost embarrassed to say I became a Cancer patient and survivor all within the space of less than a month. I say embarrassed because I didn’t suffer at all. I must admit to being a bit concerned when I discovered I had a malignant melanoma on my back, especially after doing a little research and coming across descriptions that referred to it as the deadliest form of Cancer. Nevertheless, it was caught early, surgery was successful (and proved it hadn’t metastasized), and the Doctor’s say the chance of recurrence is around 3% – less than the chance I’ll have a heart attack or stroke in the next decade or so.
So, for me this has been a pretty upbeat year – all things considered. My kids are healthy; my wife, though still unemployed, is doing a great job of organizing the children’s education and extra-curricular activities, and (for the most part) I’ve been pretty healthy. Now for next year.
I’m really looking forward to next year. I believe I will be involved in some very exciting and innovative activities at work and, through the 2.0 Adoption Council, will be learning more and more about how to help my company reap the benefits I believe the development of what Andy calls emergent social software platforms (here for more info) will provide for any company willing to work at their adoption and profitable use. I have made plans to attend the next Enterprise 2.0 Conference, though I have already been working on methods of using social software (like Twitter) to allow others to virtually attend many conferences and possibly provide for far greater participation while saving money on travel expenses.
If I don’t post before the New Year I wish everyone a wonderful, joyous holiday season shared with friends and family in relative peace and comfort, as well as a happy and healthy new year. BTW – Susan, 2010 is the end of the decade. It won’t be over until 2011, but who’s counting?
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.