Saturday, May 31, 2008

Graduation and Beyond

I wasn’t there today, but I was there years ago to see the pomp and celebration of four years of accomplishment for the young men and women of West Point. I have also lectured at the Air Force Academy and was impressed with the collective as well as the individual dedication of the cadets and instructors.

All of the service academies graduations engender a spectacular ceremony that wells with emotion and precipitates deep patriotic pride and a foreboding bellicose prognostication.
Pride because these new spirits of the American dream have spent hard physical and mental hours over that last four years to honor their dream of an education and of service and commitment to the everlasting ideals of America. The bellicose possibilities exist because many of these 950 men and women West Point graduates will be heading to Iraq or Afghanistan as platoon leaders and officers in the field of war. It is their destiny determined by the times.

This will be a longer post because I have other observations to make about the way our Nation treats these young warriors. It has nothing to do with whether you think the war is just, or right, or wrong or should be ended. It has to do only with the warriors we, as a nation, send into harms way.

Many of the men and women we designate as warriors and send to battle have families and all the needs that go with that responsibility.

Too many of them cannot afford to care for their families on what pay they take home, even with allowances that vary depending on rank, duty, and dependents.

It is not uncommon for young military families, in all the services, to need food stamps to exist. We ask them for sacrifice, not only of their lives if need be, but the sacrifice of extended time away from family closeness at seasonal and personal celebrations, yet we seem to forget them at budget time.

The lower ranks, after taxes might have a spendable income of maybe 18-thousand dollars a year and it does not get proportionally greater for the upper ranks or years of service. If we are to continuously ask the peacekeepers to risk their lives, then we need to provide peace of mind at home.

It starts with public awareness and goes way beyond the meager pay raises that congress occasionally approves.

When we send our men and women into battle we think of them as warriors, as skilled fighters, as cohesive units trained to win. They are that and so much more for no matter where they are the dichotomy of trained soldier and the tenderness of human nature abounds.

I have seen pictures from the AP and from Reuters that shows American soldiers at their best. I’ve seen a soldier on patrol, weapon at the ready, kneeling for a moment to pet a kitten. I’ve seen a soldier teaching a little Arab boy to slap a five. A smile on all their faces is a lasting victory. I’ve seen a soldier, maybe a father himself, sitting on the ground cradling a wounded child in his arms.
You can have the best technology to fight a war, but you also must have the best of heart to win one.

Now to the hard part of war!

In Vietnam, I covered the war and the coffins coming home. I’ve seen the dead in Croatia and I’ve reported on the nightly news the mortality count in numerous wars and conflicts since the sixties.

What governments have always failed to acknowledge is that once a warrior is dead, politics end. The dignity of a name is important to the validity of service, not only to the family, but also to the social and patriotic permanence to our society. Heroes are honored, not hidden.

Hang the politics of hiding the death count. These are our dead. We directly and indirectly sent them where harm could happen. They serve and served by choice and honor. They die by circumstance and the hatred of another. Let us acknowledge their remains with honor and names and bugle calls in public. And let us congratulate the new warriiors who choose to serve and pray they are kept from harm.

More in a later post.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Violence Begets...

Some how, we adults, as teachers, parents, neighbors, and even strangers, need to increase our vigilance for the signs of juvenile aberrant behavior, and to speak up when we see it. More importantly, we need to be ever cognizant of the reality that we are the prime examples for our children. We set societies criteria through our acts of kindness and through our acts of violence.

We especially need to teach our young that violence, in all its forms: attack, anger, greed, or jealously, is not the adjudicator of conflict as the fantasy of cartoons and movie fiction suggest. It is the creator of conflict. It is we, as individuals, as families, as communities who must lay down the weapons of fear, that our children emulate, and take up the powerful effective swords of principle, truth, tolerance, and compassion.

The youth of today seek not only a personal and generational identity, as all young do, but deep within them, as in all, they quest for the elixir of transcendence, a feeling of creative grace that precipitates into the peace of accomplishment. The delusionary addictive adrenaline of violence can not give anyone peace, it can only give emptiness in the spirit of being.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

About Poetry...It's OK to read. It won't hurt!

Since today is President John F. Kennedy's birthday, I am reminded of what he said about poetry at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library.

“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitation. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

I would add to that…
Poetry precipitates emotion into words.

Poetry embraces the perceived pain of life and breaks it down into soft images of understanding and it takes the joy of life and transcends it into a sustaining ecstasy of imagination.

It amplifies the tiny specks of grace from the minutia of things beautiful and allows us to be it, if only for the moment of appreciation.

Poetry clarifies and sometimes condemns. It magnifies the inner magic of feelings and encourages the soul to rejoice in the shared awareness of another’s insight and makes it our own.

Poetry laughs and cries and brings the sensual into an undulating body of words and it holds sometimes forever, an emotion long past, a desire forgotten, a wish remembered or a splendor that’s vanished in the illusion of time.

Poetry is a link to the Divine within each of us and to the demons of our imagination. It allows introspection without pity and effacement without fear of obscurity.

It is intellect and spirit wedded in the sacredness of creation. I believe it is agape love at the purest verbal level.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Look at the reality television shows today masquerading as redeeming entertainment. Watch the violent talk shows, listen to the argumentative broadcast pundits. Read the headlines, look at the covers of the national news magazines. Most of what we see and read is based on contention, conflict, and conquest.

Perhaps we have become a society of contentious citizens, of non-compromising ideologues; a land of absolutists. If so, we might want to rethink our stand, for cemented thought always hardens into a shape that may not fit the future.

Our founding fathers demonstrated that noble ideals and practical principles are to be incorporated into the rule of law with compromise and even compassion and valued for their contribution to the whole even though their singular intrinsic value may be less than desired.

Shared ideals are the essence of collective growth, for they are not only the building blocks of freedom, they nurture hopes and wishes and encourage individuals to let go of demeaning selfish evaluations and dangerously passionate certainties. When that is done the two things left are reason and common sense and with them comes the understanding that grace and elegance are the only ingredients that can raise us individually and collectively to the realm of greatness. I suspect the choice is easier that we think, we just have to remember that it is.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


The tributes will probably be few on Thursday. It is John F. Kennedy's birthday. It is the day that the Kennedy family would prefer people remember the slain president, but most remember November 22nd, the day he was assassinated in Dallas. The family understands the need and desire of many to honor the fallen president, but they prefer the memory of JFK be focused on the day of his birth, May 29th.

That may take a long time, for there are so many of us alive today who remember that November day nearly 45 years ago. Only when the generation is gone to whom the torch was passed, might the the memory move from his death to his birth.

We honor Lincoln on his birthday and not the day he died.

Very few remember that assassinated President James Garfield died on September 19th.

William McKinley's assassination date is now generally forgotten. He died on a September 14th.

It takes time to bury pain and change an ache to honor. It takes time to have tragic memory stand without sorrow. The Kennedy family has learned, through many tears, that once you acknowledge the death, you must let it go and remember the life.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day

We used to call it decoration day, for it was a time of placing flowers and flags on the graves of America's war dead. Later it became know as Memorial day to honor all those who have died in the service of their country.

The idea for a day of honor began with James Redpath, superintendent of Schools in Charleston, South Carolina. In the spring of 1865 he became very upset after a viewing a field of only partially buried union soldiers in nameless graves. He organized a memorial day that took place on May 2, 1865. Some ten thousand people participated honoring the dead from both the North and the South.

Three year later, in 1868, the man who most historians credit with starting memorial day, General John Alexander Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared May 30 as "Decoration Day".

As it must, even the memory of Memorial day celebrations change with each generation. A few, but not many, can remember years ago when the bent and grizzled veterans of the Civil war were treated to places of honor at the head of every small town parade.

Then came the Spanish American War Veterans, then World War One and World War Two. Today Korean and Vietnam War Veterans are the new senior citizens of Memorial Day Parades. It time it will be the Gulf wars one and two and Afghanistan, to say nothing of the many clandestine operations of honor that took American lives, but left no legacy or information. If no American dies in war from this time on, then the number of those we honor this Memorial Day Weekend for having died in America's wars, starting with the revolutionary war, will stop around 2-million, 768-thousand 103.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Storm Across The Valley

What a glorious time for me. I was outdoors most of the day and saw playful storm clouds tease the mountains with dancing light and shadows as on and off passing showers spread a few sprinklings to the valley where I stood in awe.

The distance, as a singular and sentient entity, used the Sun as a Hollywood director would and lit the far off mountains with a colorful purple brilliance that few see in a lifetime, let along in a single day. The light was a prayer with no words. It was a personal caressing with no touch. It was a symphony with a score of shadows and crescendos’ brilliance.

And then I moved to another place of peace and there, as if it were a package tied, decorated and ready to be unwrapped by all who saw it was a high definition opening in a canopy of green to the heightened May blue of sky.

High, very high, and circling was a Golden Eagle. I do not know whether it was male or female. It did not matter for the Sun’s reflection on its under-wings made it a precious idol, an auric icon of the Great Spirit’s manifestation on the earth and that was enough for me.

I have seen and felt the same God-presence in the beauty of a Rose. I have seen and felt the same spiritual connection in the fragrance of a pine forest after a summer rain and in the drifts of sparkling snow as they pillow white softness upon the earth. I have seen and felt the same oneness in the tunes of little birds when they sing their songs.

The eagle is now gone and so is the light on the mountains, but not the beauty, not the fragrance, not the aroma, not the sparkle, nor the songs, for they are forever, not only within my heart, but within my words.

I wish you could have been there!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brain Cancer

The announcement that Senator Edward Kennedy has a form of brain cancer brings to mind these thoughts.

Most of us know someone who has had cancer, or has cancer or who has died of cancer. It is an insidious disease. It is indiscriminate and it is a life altering challenge, not only for those diagnosed with its various forms, but also for the family and friends of the afflicted.

Whenever these kinds of announcements come fourth that a celebrity is stricken, it reminds all of us of our vulnerability. Somehow we think the famous or the wealthy are immune to disease because they appear to have everything. The truth is that illness is the common denominator of all humans for we are finite beings.

What every cancer, every disease says to everyone of us, is that life is precious and fragile and fleeting and that all of us are vulnerable and maybe some of the things we call important aren’t really.

My son Lee died of brain cancer nine years ago. He was 31. I talk about this, not because I choose to share a personal grief, but because he was a great teacher and some of the things he taught by being the evidence of them, may be of value to you as it is to me.

Lee knew he was on a short life line. Cancer tends to focus one's thinking on the finiteness of life, yet he never complained, despite three brain operations, chemotherapy and radiation and the debilitation that goes with those encounters.

Lee lived for the moment. To complain, he felt, wasted precious time and energy that he could use for healing. He chose to enjoy and embrace every minute of life and to gracefully enthuse everyone with whom he came in contact. His humor was infectious and he always chose to be positive even when another choice would be easier.

Lee also taught me that parents must love their children for themselves, not love ourselves, through our children. What a great lesson. And by example he taught that there is dignity in dying and that the spirit always dances.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Judge Frank (Francis) Vogt

Frank Vogt died the other day. He was 85. Most of you won’t know him. That’s the way it is in life. You know some, you meet some, you stay in touch and you get to hang out together for a moment or two. We each have the opportunities in our lives to touch a little piece of another’s life and if we’re lucky it resonates with our own and something called friendship results.

We come into the glorious existence called life to live a little, cry a little, laugh a little, love a little and then we pass, leaving a shadow of memory for family and a few friends and acquaintances who linger in this density for only a little while longer till we too move into the beyond of corporal understanding.

I knew Frank Vogt in a very small way, but it was a big knowing for his credentials in life’s work amplified the personal persona that he shared with friends and colleagues. I knew of him as a former FBI agent, I knew he was a District Attorney, a judge, and those accomplishments were part of his professional life. I knew he was a father and a husband and a friend to many. I knew that he laughed easily and could turn a phrase with wit. What I really knew of Frank Vogt was that he was an intelligent conversationalist, a fun partner in golf, an elegant competitor and a man who always remembered the little things that mattered to me and I suspect in private personal conversations also to others.

When a body dies, when a soul passes to other realms, it is truly a time to rejoice for the soul has finished what it came here to do. All endings should have a celebration. Our earthly farewell to Frank should be as glorious as his welcome home in that other place we all deeply know exists, but are too often hesitant, and too timid to acknowledge as the truth of being.

Goodbye Frank, we’ll all see you soon and thanks for all your courtesies. The eternal light is now brighter.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Check The Facts!

When I started writing this Blog and in fact when I started writing commentaries a number of years ago, I decided that I would not critique, but I would offer an alternative view of looking at a situation, an issue, an action, or a belief.

While I still try and sometimes fail to hold to that personal and specific ethic, it is often difficult to do so when those in authority, when those in leadership positions, when those who are acknowledged partisans, and especially when those who are ordinary, everyday, common citizens choose ignorance over intelligence. Unfortunately it happens everyday and everywhere because opinionated righteousness demands, not only a personal validation, but a vindication from suspicion of being wrong. To me facts demand validation and so few today, who are immersed in their political or spiritual beliefs, seek the confirmation attainable in common sense or astute research. Too many prefer the invalid verification of blind faith or blind allegiance by the acclamation of cheers and applause from others who are just as uninformed for it gives momentary strength to an empty belief.

A colleague recently sent me an email saying if I buy a six volt battery and pry off the top I’d have umpteen double A batteries for a lot less money. Then he sent me an email saying, “Whoops” it wasn’t true. He doesn’t do this in his political emails attacking his opponents with the untruths he believes to be true. Untruths never matter when the result brings about what you politically desire. To me a logical and even fair motto for all of us, is don’t send junk out until you personally check it. Too many people today are willing to stand for what they think is true, not for what is true, and they are lazy for checking facts and conclusions requires some effort and then maybe even a change of mind.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Where is "Away"?

I’ve wondered now for quite awhile
Where is this place we call “away”?
It must be big and vastly vile,
Perhaps the hell from old Dante.

Each day we throw away our trash
That no one wants. We let it go.
There’s paper, cans and blackened ash
Just junk and trash that’s tossed heave-ho.

Immense the piles of useless stuff
In bins and carts and plastic bags.
We hold and store more than enough,
And oft' we toss good clothes as rags.

Someday there may be no more space
To put the stuff we throw away.
What then of us, the Human Race,
Do we get tossed as our doomsday?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Global Pain and Tragedy

Here it is Monday night in the Western Hemisphere. In the last 24 hours people have died from the tornadoes ravaging the Southeastern United States. It is a sad and tragic time for the American's whose loved one's have died and we should do everything we can to comfort them, because they are our national family. Now take that awareness and comfort to China and to the reports that so far, at least 10-thousand have died in the latest quake to strike China.

As I sit here in my comfortable home in the USA, I try to fathom what ten-thousand deaths mean to China, what it means to the world and even what it means to me for all of us are spiritually interconnected. How many Beethoven's, Edison's, Einstein's and Gandhi's have passed without the manifestation of their talents being amplified in reality for the collective good of human kind.

I keep trying to understand what one death means, not only to the world, but to the individual families who cope with the singular grief that no one can share. Only they know the potential lost.

Like most of you, I have had death invade the family codex and it is a lasting sadness. When massive death from nature's earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards invade the earth's regional civilizations and death results, individual sadness remains, but a collective shock enters as a pall.

Shock is always the surprise of massive tragedy. How did it happen! Why did it happen. Can we blame something or someone? We ask the questions, but we know there are no answers. Surprisingly shock passes more quickly than sadness. I don't know why, accept perhaps the mind cannot embrace such loss without feeling a subtle responsibility for not unconditionally acknowledging the interconnection between all living beings and even things.

There is an arcane suggestion that says we create our own environment by our thoughts and subsequently our actions. If that is true, we as a human race need to "think" differently, not only to end the ethnic hatreds that have lasted for centuries, but to end the current wars that exist in actuality and the ones that are being formed in the minds of global prejudice. Perhaps then "Nature" will emulate the peace we are.

The only answer I can come up with, and it's an old worn out one, that seems passe, too passive, and impossible. "Love one another"! I wonder, have we, as a human race, truly ever tried it on a global scale?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

May 10th 1869

It was on this date in 1869 that the two coasts of the United States became connected by rail.

At that time, the state of Utah was still a territory and a spot called "Promontory" was about to received the attention of the world and mark its place in American history. It was there where the final rail was to be laid, linking the Union Pacific tracks out of Omaha, with the Central Pacific tracks out of San Francisco.

Five years of labor had gone before to bring the two to Promontory, Utah. The year was 1869, Leland Stanford, President of the Central Pacific, took a silver plated sledge hammer in his burly hands and took aim at the gold spike in the final rail. America was listening for that clank. The Railroad's future was bright. Two engines were puffing in anticipation. The Union pacifics number 199 and the Central's Jupiter waited to touch iron noses. All was set Sanford swung the silver hammer at the bright golden spike.....and he missed.

Somehow, now that seems appropriate. The railroads future was never perfect. Progress took a different route and a new track eventually bypassed Promontory. Then as irony would have it, the old rails were needed for steel during the 2nd world war and they were removed. Promontory today has no tracks, only a memory in May.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mother's Day

Some thoughts today on Mother’s Day

We know them and call them by different names, Mother, Mom, Mum and Mommy, but they all means the same thing. Love!

The word, the name, the affection we feel, just in the saying of it, never changes throughout our adult life. Our mother’s are our first nurturer, our first care giver, our first friend.

I honor all Mother’s this Sunday by remembering some of the wonderful gifts my mother gave to me and even though she long ago passed away, she lives in vibrant memory in my heart.

I remember.....

A kiss hello and a kiss good-bye.
A hug when I was hurting, even when I was an adult.
Understanding, when she didn’t.
Worry when she needn’t.
Bragging when she shouldn’t
Giving when she couldn’t.
And I will always remember her smile.

I remember too, her happy tears and laughter and her unconditional love for me that came with every hope, every success and every failure. And in the positive memory and love for my own mother, comes an acknowledgment and an appreciation for all Mom’s this Sunday.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Thursday, May 8, 2008


The few images of need coming out of Myanmar are powerful. We are all affected by them.

Along with the cyclonic destruction of homes, crumbled buildings, and bodies, come the tears of the living. Sometimes they come in sobs, sometimes in wails of disbelief. The old cry for the loss of memories, hoping for the strength to start again. The very young cry not fully understanding the new memory of loss.

There is worry from all, especially for and from the children for their security of a familiar bed or toy vanished with an ill wind that may have claimed 100-thousand lives. Parents do what they can to comfort the little ones, to reassure, but the eyes always mirror the fearful heart.

The stolen authority of dictatorship did little to warn its people that the cyclone was coming and it has done little to help the thousands in need. The world heaps shame upon the alleged authority as the world community tries to figure out way to help the innocent.

Right now, Myanmar or Burma as it used to be called is a country that screams, you can feel it, as victims search for their lives in the puzzle of rubble and find yesterday's peace is tomorrow's uncertainty.

As we hear the stories of those in need, as we become numbed by the statistics of loss, we cannot feel secure because we have normalcy, because we have shelter or we have food, or because it didn't happen here.

Instantaneous response to need defines true service. Despite the difficulties the victims of both political and nature's wrath must know they have not been forgotten by the collective healing spirit of what we call community...of what we call the humanity of humankind.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Executions Begin Again

William Earl Lynd is dead!

He murdered and because of that heinous choice, he has forfeited his life.

The families and friends of his girl friend must once again face their sorrow and see if Lynd's execution in Georgia and the witness of it, will ease their pain. I suspect there will always be an emptiness, a piece of their hearts they cannot mend and we should do what we can to comfort them.

It’s unlikely there will ever be a consensus on the efficacy of the death penalty. There is no way to satisfactorily compile statistics as to whether or not death is a deterrent to murder. The destiny of agreement in this case may be a perennial debate.

Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves, after every execution, is not whether the person deserved to die, the law decides that, but how do we individually react to it. In the vastness of attempted understanding there are many valid emotions; tears, anger, fear, and even relief. Vengeance, however, is one active emotion to which we must give prayerful thought before we choose to embrace it, for it is consuming and eternally unsatisfying. It is said that a higher authority claimed it a long time ago.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The reality of the common man is lost on the super rich and the pampered powerful of the world.

The small picture at the top of this post is allegedly a custom diamond studded Mercedes made for Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia. It cost 4.8 million dollars. If it’s true, shame on Saudi Arabia! If not, why even spend that kind of money to build such foolishness when human needs are so much more pressing.

Not one of us will begrudge the right of anyone, including princes, to spend their money anyway they choose, but sometimes common sense suggests that flaunting one’s opulence where the oppressed and poor of your nation or even the world can see it, is not only over the top, it’s arrogant, conceited and out of touch with real life.

This old world has a lot of prejudice, pain and hatred harboring in the minds and hearts of so many everywhere. Disproportional wealth has something to do with it.

This old world needs fixing for the future to be sustained in a balance of honor, dignity, culture and beliefs.

This old world has children who bellies are distended in the body’s ache and search for nourishment. It has millions dying daily from hunger and hunger related diseases because some believe security is having more. It has millions uprooted in regional diasporas as the ignorant and dispassionate with arms take by force and kill with pleasure for they know not their interconnection with the dying.

Can you imagine what could happen in the world if governments spent the billions they do on arms and wasteful projects on making a cripple child walk, the blind to see, the hungry to be nourish, and the chronically ill cured.

I can!
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