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Archive for the ‘Americana’ Category


military cemetaryStories of familial ties to the invasion of Normandy rarely brushed by our ears, but the couple times they did an indelible impression was left.

My grandfathers served, and participated, in the invasion; my father served in the Army and spent time in Europe. 

None of these men spent time holding us in their laps, spinning yarns about their contributions during the war. They didn’t make grand overtures about being American, rather they did what men and fathers do—focused on raising their families, taking care of life as it happened, not living in the past.

My ardor and love of country wasn’t something drummed into me as a child. We were taught respect for the flag, and for our country. We were taught that God belongs in the Pledge of Allegiance. Patriotism came practically through osmosis instead of indoctrination. 

Years of study and reading, in pursuit of quenching a thirst for knowledge, helped solidify my understanding of how and 

 we became Americans, of what it meant and what it still means. I didn’t learn my lessons on a battle field on in a foreign country while wearing my country’s uniform; books and lectures are dismally poor substitutes for flesh and blood.

But when my son enlisted in the Navy, and both times he swore his oath, he did so cloaked in a most dignified, heartfelt pride; Dad and I were present for both events, and though our perspectives on service are borne of two different spirits their collective sentiment gives breath to the same loyal affection, that of flesh and blood.

As I sat and watched, again, footage of the landings at Normandy on D-Day in June of 1944, and of new sailors on ships heading out into the Pacific toward Saipan, i am instantly confronted with a weighty question:

If my son were in a similar situation, knowing what I know of history, what would I say to him? 

What could I say to him?

Perhaps the best approach would be to reiterate our pride and support, and carry on as Americans invariably do . . . to do what’s right.

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The following text is from the body of a letter I sent to my son while in basic training for the Navy. I had been listening to my iPod and an old song titled American Heartbeat played. Something told me to sit down and write about what that meant to me, and it seemed relevant to what he is working for in his naval training. 

transparent div line 

We are not ancient Persia, nor Greece, nor Rome. We are many things: strong and weak, hustling and slack, demonstrative and passive. We are the siphon of human history. 

We have an empire, of sorts, but are not imperialistic. We are decidedly imperfect yet most often choose to pursue what is right rather than not. Say what you will about our character but our collective loyalty is ardent, durable and mighty.

Every civilization in recorded history has struggled with profound scars, has deliberated how best to cope with their weeping wounds in the context of their own times—Madame Blue, she is no exception. Grievous are her transgressions, yet she prefers not to turn her back on them. Her exertions are toward nobility, toward the minimizing of ignobility. 

When we call for help we answer it ourselves. We prefer action over whimpering. Earth rests beneath our feet yet we don’t just think about going to the stars . . .we innovate and then go there. We also sleep beneath the sparkle of heaven making it the province of our dreams.

We are fasces—as many individual reeds we are vulnerable, feeble, hesitant; bound together we are robust, tenacious, enduring.

Our pulse is fast and loud but if we are still for a moment, and truly listen across the chasms and erosion of volubility, we would find one voice, one nation, one majestic heartbeat.

 

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I would be willing to bet that most people who may read this post will remember using a typewriter, and if they haven’t actually used one will have seen (or at least touched) one. For those who think typewriters are a piece of our nostalgic past, like the Edsel or pet rock, have a look at the clip below. That clickety-clack gave rise to carbon copy paper (what did you think “CC:” meant?) and tiny bottles of white liquid called Liquid Paper.

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Trading Manny book coverJoe Gullo was just seven years old when he unwittingly set himself and his father upon a two-year journey—an adventure not so much of thrills and close calls but of learning—to get a solid answer to a straightforward question: If major leaguers took steroids then isn’t that cheating? And shouldn’t they be punished?

Author (and Joe’s father) Jim Gullo had his work cut out for him. As a dyed-in-the-wool fan of baseball he sorely wanted to wish the question away, but because his son was developing his own passion for the game he sought answers . . . and they wouldn’t come easily.

Trading Manny: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again is the story about that long trek that began with the withering truth of a child’s observation.

Jim Gullo doesn’t set us up for another book-length rant about the travesties of drugs in America’s pastime. The road he takes unavoidably leads him to deeply consider his own perspective on the game and the issue, but the torch he bears the entire way is for his son, and ultimately, an almost desperate effort to soothe the betrayal that baseball committed against all its fans, young and old.

Father and son are the poignant thread that so compellingly pulls this story together. Any dad who’s a fan of baseball can’t help, as an adult, to at least give serious thought to the steroid issue; but how does a father answer such a question when he knows the answer is more complex in the grown-up world of professional sports—especially when you know the child is fundamentally right?

It’s not as easy as saying they did something stupid; Jim Gullo knew that, and so did his son. But he wanted to be able to get behind the reasons why these otherwise gifted athletes did something so obviously unfair.

But again, how to do it without crushing a boy’s admiration for the players he pins to his wall?

Most of us grew up in environments that allowed us a measure of comfort or inspiration from those we admired. It’s a pretty good bet we had posters and pictures of favorite bands, movie stars, or athletes (remember the Farrah Fawcett poster?) hanging upon our walls or pinned to the ceiling.

That connection, especially at a young age, is powerful. As we mature we accept the toppling of our idols, even expect it. But when we’re kids it stings because we can’t get our heads around the big “Why?”

This very moment is epitomized in Trading Manny in a poignant sentence evoking the sum total of our feelings when disappointed by those we once looked up to: “the Manny poster, once removed from Joe’s bedroom wall, wasn’t packed and didn’t make the move with us.”

These “heroes” lied, and for most of us when we got busted lying retribution was swift—but not so with Major League Baseball. Jim Gullo wasn’t satisfied to try and make his son understand the concepts of lip service and scales of economy, and his dogged pursuit for answers—for both he and his son—is what really makes the humanity of this story pulse with life.

The author makes no secret of his feelings regarding the use of PED’s at any level of athletic play—no eggshells survived this walk. He is only too happy to point out those named as violators, but is equally careful to toe the line and satisfy the legal eagles by pointing out “alleged abuses” when appropriate.

A fan can read numerous articles in sports and online magazines and blogs concerning the whole PED circus as it played out. But Mr. Gullo, despite his own growing misgivings about the game and its tainted nature, takes the higher road and uses his journalistic background to begin teasing out answers where he can instead of raging against the establishment.

He deftly accomplishes this task by attacking through the back door; baseball doesn’t expect (or perhaps even care) that its fans will give much passing thought to the scandal, but the author makes certain that Trading Manny asserts itself and makes major league baseball accountable to its entire fan base, to the extent it can be held so.

Entrenched fans of the game looking for telltale stats to bolster arguments will be dismayed by the overt circumvention of sabermetrics. The seven-year-old Joe is fond of tracking players via his baseball card collection, but the stats are largely ignored in favor of the infamous results.

Was an opportunity squandered to make examples of questionable players? Not at all. We Americans love the quick fix, we thrive on immediacy and convenience, but issues like those in Trading Manny don’t lend themselves to our more consumerist natures.

The more important life lessons, those which profoundly matter, take far more time than our gnat-like attention spans desire them to—and yet if we make allowances for these spans of time, as father and son did here, the results are well beyond what we could have possibly foreseen when we first stood at home plate.

On the upper deck concourse of Chase Field once hung a large picture, captured in the lower half of which were the silhouettes of a father and son standing and cheering, with the wide, awe-inducing expanse of the ball field before them. In the lower right corner were short lines of text:

Dad: 1
Video Game: 0

Trading Manny is, of course, about the heartbreak two fans feel when their love for baseball is betrayed. But its more fiercely compelling story is about young Joe whose nascent ideas about heroes gets a distinct refining—and about his father who learns more from his son than he thought possible.

Dad: 1 . . . and the bases are loaded, nobody out. The fans are on their feet!


Know someone who’s a baseball fan? Perhaps you’re one? Have a ball player in the household? Get a copy of Trading Manny — I assure you, you’ll be glad you did. You can find it at the following online retailers:
Get a signed copy from the author!
Amazon.com (Kindle and soft cover)
Barnes & Noble.com (Nook and soft cover)


Another hearty thank you to Rhonda Sturtz of the New York Journal of Books, and to DaCapo Press for their efforts in acquiring the review copy for this review.

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backstabbing If I may pull Shakespeare’s Henry V slightly out of context: “Once more into the breach, good friends, once more . . .”

As much as I love my country, certainly as much as I consider it a genuine blessing to be an American citizen, I am not alone in my utter repudiation of the election season. I will grant that it does have a certain element of entertainment to it—we Americans take measured delight in watching the mighty fall, or at least stumble.

Last night gave us the starting gun for the rush of the 2012 elections. Now we spend the next 11 months awash in political rancor and candidate sniping. Sadly, rather than seek a way to bring more respect to the process we seem to embrace it.

There was a time, some 250 years ago (roughly) when the ideal for selecting men for roles in the new federal government was to entreat the public to choose men of great public or community respect and admiration; men did not campaign for these positions, they were chosen by the constituents . . . by we the people.

These words of John Adams are perhaps far more relevant today than in his own time:

What is to become of an independant statesman, one who will bow the knee to no idol, who will worship nothing as a divinity but Truth, Virtue, and his country? I will tell you, he will be regarded more by posterity than those who worship hounds and horses; and although he will not make his own fortune, he will make the fortune of his country.

Does that really need any embellishment?

My underlying thought here was the ramping up of all the negative campaigning we’re about to be inundated with. So I thought I would break out a couple examples from our early history to illustrate that our modern mudslingers are in no way innovative in their sniping.

Thomas Jefferson on Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry was know as quite an orator. It was through one of his passionate speeches that he pursuaded the House of Burgesses to arm a militia in preparation for what was sure to become war with Britain. Before that time, however, Henry had married a wealthy woman and through a dowry acquired 300 acres and six slaves to run a small plantation. To remain solvent enough to run the place he took a few weeks to study law books then applied for a license to practice law.

Thomas Jefferson, genuinely admiring of Henry’s gift for oratorical persuasion, was less than enthused with the man’s legal acumen. “His judgement in other matters,” Jefferson wrote in a letter to fellow Virginian, James Madison, “was inaccurate; in matters of law it was not worth a copper: he was avaricious and rotten hearted. His two greatest passions were the love of money and of fame: but when these came into competition the former predominated. What we have to do is devoutly pray for his death.”

Zing! That’s pretty harsh, even by today’s standards. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard it the first time.

John Adams and Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine did much, with his first pamphlet alone —Common Sense— but some of the ideals espoused didn’t sit well with John Adams, John Jay, and other influential founders. Adams, not one to let his pen lay idle, let flow his ink to express his lack of Paine-fandom: “What a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass.”

“Crapulous” Man, what a great word!

Paine, having thoroughly lit into the British monarchy in his pamphlet, was certainly unafraid of Adams: “John was not born for immortality,” he wrote in response.

“The spissitude of the black liquor which is spread in such quantities by this writer,” Adams wrote of Paine, “prevents its daubing.” [in it’s closest contextual definition here, ‘daubing’ would likely mean “to paint unskillfully”]

Paine acerbicly retorted, “Some people talk of impeaching John Adams, but I am for softer measures. I would keep him to make fun of.”

That’s political bitch slapping, 18th century style. Paine would later be proven something of an early American political prophet. After George Washington’s election as our first formal President of the United States, Adams led the Senate in a lengthy debate over how to properly refer to the man who held the office of president. Washington himself, somewhat exasperated by the lengthy titles suggested by Adams, wisely suggested “Mister President,” thus avoiding any hint of monarchy in the brand new government. Adams wouldn’t fare well despite his truly well-intentioned efforts. The senators thus began referring to him as “His Rotundity.”

Almost makes current mudslinging seem tame by comparison.

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Civil War era slavesI just finished reading James L. Swanson’s Bloody Crimes: The funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the chase for Jefferson Davis. If you like American history, it is well worth your time to read; if you are fascinated by Civil War history then this book can only serve to enhance your knowledge of these two men.

But this isn’t a book review. No, I read this for pleasure. And I found myself intrigued, unsettled, and fascinated by all I did not know.

I won’t devle into specifics, but one thing I have always found of interest is the perspective many people have about the cause of the Civil War. I recall my education as being a construct of:

• A) The South (13 states in all, I think) seceded from the Union
• B) The reason for 4 years of bloodshed: Northerners didn’t like slavery, Southerners did

That is the gist of what I recall, and it is tragically myopic. To be sure, as I have aged I have learned more, but only because I sought the information out.

The institution of slavery was, indeed, at the core of the matter. More ideologically, the issue of state’s rights held the political underpinnings.

I could write at length about the founding fathers and their approach to slavery. Most people know that almost all of them owned slaves, but Thomas Jefferson especially detested the trade.

But what I want to convey with this post is a single sentence that reached out and grabbed me by the throat.

Of all the postulation, all the debate, all the scholarship and decades of genuine study Americans have pursued regarding this war, many drawn out and convoluted conclusions have been presented, perhaps the weakest of which appear in the textbooks our children read in school.

How many people know that Jefferson Davis was appointed president of the Confederate States? How many people even knew they had a president?

In a nutshell, Davis, at what was essentially the war’s end, was captured and incacerated by the federal government for two years. He was freed on bail of $100,000. This staggering amount (for 1867) was posted by a group of six men, dubbed the “Secret Six,” in May of 1867.

One of these men, Garrit Smith, was a famed abolitionist and had backed John Brown. He laid the blame for the Civil War on both the North and South:

“The North did quite as much as the South to uphold slavery . . . Slavery was an evil inheritance of the South, but the wicked choice, the adopted policy, of the North.”

Anyone cognizant of the founding fathers’ moral vs. economic struggle with the institution of slavery can appreciate the stunning conciseness and irrefutable truth of that sentence.

Just under a century after we proclaimed ourselves a sovereign nation, with all its political, religious, and nation-building complexity so tightly woven into the fabric of our infancy, this one statement, all but shrouded by the ghostly mists of time, stands to properly point out the origin of a nation’s cancer as if viewed during an autopsy.

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War of the WorldsOne of the ladies in my blog group wrote what thought was an intriguing post. Kate Dolan is an author and history buff, so I always enjoy visiting her blog. She’s wonderfully intelligent and often her posts are thought provoking. Her post “War of the Worlds it Was Not” is a prime example.

Her premise was based upon a national emergency alert test I had not heard about. “This was the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System involving about twelve different federal agencies” she wrote—that sounds about right, doesn’t it? A pristine example of bloated government. Twelve agencies. Twelve! It drips with stunning inefficiency.

This isn’t a lead in to a rant. As my fingers dance upon the keyboard I can sense the bile rising; I have digressed . . .

Ms. Dolan continues:

Instead I considered starting online rumors of an impending major disaster so that when the emergency alert kicked on, we’d have a full scale mass panic on our hands like that caused by the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast.

She then takes a moment to explain the War of the Worlds broadcast, for those too young to comprehend the enormity of that historic evening in radio history.

Then she goes on to ask for suggestions. What do her readers think might arouse sufficient panic as to equal—or surpass—WOTW?

American society and culture, not to speak of global culture, is dramatically different since that radio show. That premise in itself might make for an interesting blog post, but for now let’s stick to Ms. Dolan’s fun (yet still very intirguing) posit.

Among the comments were suggestions of a depletion of gasoline stores, a viscious virus (ala Contagion or Outbreak), even the woeful deprivation of meat or doughnuts; my mind reels, my body fights to curl into a fetal ball at the thought of no doughnuts.

She wants to consider events which would strike true fear into a nation, not just a fragmented demographic . . . something to make everyone s*** their collective pants.

I, too, would be interested in what others think. And do, please, take a few moments to read Kate’s post!

Here is my reply:

Two things send chills down my spine, events which I believe will happen someday:
• Lack of access to water, or a crippling amount of contamination to it
• Global energy outage

The latter is frighteningly easy to come by—a solar storm of sufficient size, releasing massive amounts of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, would (and has in the past) cause a total blackout. Think of everything in your life that is dependent upon electricity in some form and you can see how quickly humanity will devolve.

The hitch here is people would need to pay heed to such warnings of a storm before it hit. We would have only a matter of hours to ‘prepare’. Anyone not paying attention gets to immerse themselves in additional panic from sheer lack of knowledge. Once the storm hits there will be no way to communicate short of riders on horseback and low tech pen and paper.

The former, while perhaps not quite as likely as a global blackout, is entirely feasible. Look at how common droughts are this decade alone. Part of some larger meteorological cycle? In some small way, maybe. But carry the scenario to its absurd extreme . . . get the picture?

Oxygen is fairly plentiful, so we should all be able to breathe; water, however, can be in short supply. Mankind has fought bloody wars over ideas, over metals, over religion — wouldn’t take long for large scale killing over access to water.

Sleep well ;^)

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