December, 2011

...now browsing by month

 

#494 – Dick Bernard: On New Years Eve, A look back to 1960

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

“What are you doing New Years…New Years Eve?”

For us, our six year old grandson will be an overnight guest tonight. That makes for a reasonably predictable “New Years Eve”.

As for the year just finishing, and the year ahead: 2011 depends on the interpreter; 2012 is as yet unknown. They’re all important, these New Years. Collectively we’ll be fashioning that six year olds future in the days and years ahead. We’re all he and all of his cohort, everywhere, have to depend on.

My favorite blogger, Alan, writing from LA, summarizes the year now ending in today’s Just Above Sunset posting.

His columns are long, but always a worthwhile read.

Earlier this week I took a stab at what’s ahead by reflecting on a college newspaper column I came across from November 3, 1960.

What I wrote follows: (if you’re one of those who wants to ‘cut to the chase’ read the bold-faced sections.)

Watching the Election Returns, November, 1960, in the "Rec Room" at Valley City ND State Teachers College. (from the 1961 Viking Annual)

“A TIME TO THINK”

I’m old enough to live in the fog of the “old days”.

But there are lessons…and teachers…from that past – people who are most often ‘anonymous’ or ‘unknown’. Here’s one such lesson, from someone called “Mac”.

Over 50 years ago – it was September 23, 1960 – a headline of the Viking News at Valley City State Teachers College (STC) proclaimed “Bernard Chosen as Viking News Editor”.

That fellow, Bernard, was me. Somebody concluded that I’d do okay at the job. Newspaper adviser Mary Hagen Canine kept copies of the fourteen issues published ‘on my watch’, and somehow the issues and the memories they record have managed to survive until the present day.

When that first issue published in late September, 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were vying for President of the U.S.

NY Gov. Nelson Rockefeller had whistle-stopped Valley City in June. He was a possible Republican candidate. I went down to the City Park to hear him speak.

In that first Viking News, I wrote an editorial, part of which referred to a column on the same page called “Meditations” by “Mac”. Mac, I said, was “Charles Licha [who] attended STC several years ago”. He had returned “for his last quarter before graduation. He is married and is the father of five children, and presently holds the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army.”

November 3, 1960, right before the election, “Mac” wrote a long column including a section, “A Time to Think”, directed to we students, many of us not yet 21 and thus ineligible to vote.

The column would fit today as well as it did then:

In part: “Walking down the hall the other day, I was suddenly struck by the thought that here at STC, a wonderful thing is taking place. I’m speaking specifically about two tables that are placed in close proximity to the rec room door. As closely as I can determine, one of these tables is strictly Democrat while the other is strictly Republican…What party are you for? Which man do you think is the Best Man? What are your reasons for your choices? Even if all of you are not of voting age, every one of you should have an answer to these questions and others questions equally as important.

He continued, “just remember that a portion of this country is yours, just as surely as though you held title or deed to it! For that reason the selection of the Chief Executive and lesser dignitaries charged with the affairs of the nation and the individual states should be of immediate concern to you. An attitude that smacks of “My one vote makes no difference, “I won’t vote because I don’t like either man,” or “I just don’t have the time” is not only anti-patriotic and stupid, it’s anti-you, and a direct denial of your responsibilities.”

Capt. Licha died in 1975 at only 48. By 1965 he was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam (scroll down for photo). He had earlier served in WWII and Korea, and was career Army. Residual effects of Malaria contracted in WWII contributed to his death at a young age. The last few years of his career he taught ROTC at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Compared with the rest of we collegians, he was a ‘senior citizen’ of 33 when he wrote his column.

He spoke much wisdom 51 years ago.

We his modern day contemporaries might well listen, reflect on his final piece of advice: to “vote intelligently and wisely” in 2012.

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

#493 – Dick Bernard: A compliment for the Post Office as the year ends.

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

This afternoon I stopped at the Woodbury Post Office to mail several packets of material.

I’m a familiar face there, and I mentioned to the clerk that I was going to do a blog post about the post office this evening.

“Oh oh”, she said, expecting the worst. This time of year people in the delivery business don’t expect kudos. “Bad” sells better than “good” on the media and the internet….

She had no reason to worry.

I want relate a story about the cousin of the little guy pictured below (click to enlarge):

Gingerbread Man

I purchased some Gingerbread men at the November 27 Minnesota Orchestra performance of Hansel and Gretel. The program, of Engelbert Humperdincks classic, was superb. (Check YouTube for many samples of Hansel and Gretel.)

The evening was in celebration of the Centennial of the Orchestra’s Young People’s Concerts, as explained in the evenings program: MN Orchestra YPSCA001. The Gingerbread men (persons?) – the dessert for the evening – were a fund raiser of/for the Young People’s Symphony Concert Association (YPSCA).

Of course we sampled the men, but there were some left over. For sure, one was saved for our friend, Annelee, who grew up in Germany. We’d see her at Christmas time and hand deliver hers.

Another I decided to send to a friend in a distant state who I knew had, years ago, been a docent for the Orchestra.

The question was, how to get the little man to a home perhaps a thousand miles away….

I decided to try the U.S. mail.

My packaging was de minimis.

I had some empty photograph boxes from the local Proex, and put Gingerbread Man in one of them, and ‘cushioned’ it with similar boxes top and bottom. I wrapped the resulting ‘box’ with plain brown paper, addressed it, and took it to the local post office. Christmas mailing season was upon us, and I stood in line. When it was my turn, I gave the clerk the box, paid the postage and left. I simply sent it ‘priority mail’. No insurance, no special handling.

I was so sure it wouldn’t arrive ‘safely’ that I took the above photo and sent it to my friend, just in case it arrived in pieces. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

A couple of days ago came a note from far away: “The cookie was whole – no cracks or crumbles.”

Success. Thanks to the people of the United States Post Office.

Sure, in an enterprise as immense and as complicated as the Postal Service, or any other delivery service for that matter, there are occasional problems.

But as it has been for its entire history, our Post Office is one of the very best services we can hope to have.

Happy New Year! And thanks to all of you who serve the rest of us, when sometimes we aren’t at our best.

Related post, here.

UPDATE December 31, 2011: In the post office line about 12:30. There was quite a lot of business at the time (it ebbs and flows, not always predictably). One worker was on duty, two stations open, they were probably at lunch. A guy went up to the counter, saying he’d been in line “an hour”. I decided to check traffic flow, which seemed normal. At the time, I was 12th in line. A second worker appeared. Perhaps twice as many in line would fill the post office – the longest lines I normally see. It took 20 minutes for me to get to the counter for service – that was less than two minutes per customer ahead of me. Of course it seemed like longer, if that was one’s mindset. Most of the problems ahead of me were we customers, ill-prepared or whatever. I don’t see how the post office could make any modifications that would eliminate complaints, fair or otherwise. People do need to have lunch. Cutbacks are taking place, and more to come (someone behind me said “it’s going to get worse”). Interesting how our little ‘society’ in the line sees the postal world; and what we can learn about ourselves. I wonder how the postal workers see us….

UPDATE January 1, 2012: From Joyce, Dec. 31: The USPS has come in for a lot of criticism this year from the right wing – too many on the right are looking to privatize this vital national service. Considering the volume of mail the USPS has to process every day, the postal workers do a wonderful job!
Also from Joyce, Jan. 1: Your addendum reminds me of how subjective the passage of time can be, depending on the circumstances and one’s mood. Specifically, I had a new family practice resident at a delivery [of a baby] with me, and I had to resuscitate the baby with a bag and mask. Afterward, the resident and I debriefed together because he was obviously shaken; he marveled that I had been “bagging” the baby for at least 20 minutes, and I had to tell him that I was timing it, and the whole episode lasted no more than 20 seconds. He found that really hard to believe, but I had to point out that the second apgar score, which is done at 5 minutes, was 9 out of 10.

#492 – Dick Bernard: Christmas all year long….

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

I was at 7:30 a.m. Mass Christmas Day at Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis. Usually, I’m found at 9:30 a.m. They had a need for a few ushers, the time was open, so I volunteered.

Celebrant this day was Father Tim Backous. He is a regular visitor from St. John’s University in Collegeville MN, and always has a cogent and powerful message. Today was no different.

He opened his homily with reference to one of those inspirational “forwards” that tend to appear at this season of the year.

This one, as I recall it, was about a Colorado physician, enroute home for Christmas, who encountered car problems and limped into a service station for help. Inside the station was a woman, crying. The woman said she was enroute to California with her three kids to start a new life. The kids were in the car. She said she had run out of money. The physician, a woman, filled her gas tank, bought food such as it was available at the station, and gave her whatever extra money she had. And the woman was on her way.

The service people checked the physicians car to find out what was wrong, and they could find nothing amiss. She went on her way, and never again had any problems with the car.

A Christmas miracle.

Fr. Tim noted that this and similar stories are common this time of year, and indeed they are all wonderful.

“But at the risk of being labeled a Grinch”, I recall him saying, there is a larger message.

He continued, Christmas is only one day of the year, and it is useful to keep that in mind every day of every year.

It is one of those uncomfortable messages we need to hear.

Every day should be Christmas day…if not in scale, but Christmas spread out in bits and pieces through the entire year.

Merry Christmas, and 365 compassionate days in the coming year.

Manger Scene, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis December 25, 2011

Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis MN, December 25, 2011

#491 – Dick Bernard: Heritage. An Old House on the Winter Solstice

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

UPDATE: December 21, 2012: December 9 it was snowing on Heritage House, and it appeared unofficial winter had arrived. I include a photo December 9, and another taken today at noon at Heritage House as well. They are near the end of this post. The album which follows includes 48 photos. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

UPDATE: November 7, 2012: This date I went over to Heritage House to do my November photos. As the below shows, I’ve been doing these photos each month for over a year. Today was a fall day at Heritage House, overcast, cool but not cold. A feeling of coming winter, but only subtle hints of things to come. Todays trip I noticed some new information pieces about the history of the site and some explanation of its features. These are posted at the end of this page.

Here’s the original post from Dec. 22, 2011
click on all photos to enlarge them

Dec 21, 2011, 4:30 p.m.

Last August I looked for an outdoor place to do some reading.

There were a number of options in my town. Ultimately, Marsh Creek Park at the corner of Lake Avenue and Radio Drive in Woodbury spoke most convincingly. I drove near it most every day, and the little pioneer house that was its centerpiece always beckoned, but I had never actually been in there.

So, in mid-August I drove in the parking area, got out my folding chair, found a spot and started to read a book, an hour or so at a time.

Several books and two months later I packed up for the winter. But I’ll be back.

The first day I was there, I took several photos, one of which follows (click to enlarge):

1870 house at Marsh Creek Park, Woodubry MN August, 2011

The site is maintained by the Woodbury Heritage Society* and during my times there I watched people from the Society doing this and that, as well as touring (such as one can ‘tour’) the one room house (there is an upstairs, but that is closed to visitors).

The succinct history of the home, provided by the Heritage Society says that it “was built about 1870 as an attachment to the log cabin home of original property owner Frederick Raths. Raths emigrated from Germany in 1853 and purchased the Woodbury property in 1866. This addition was used by the Raths family as a kitchen and living quarters. Over the years, it has also been used as living quarters for farm hands, and as a washing room and utility room.” An earlier log structure had been attached to the house, but many years ago was removed.

As settlers to this area go, Raths was among the earlier arrivals. Minnesota became a state in 1858; the railroad didn’t even reach St. Paul until about 1867. In 1870, St. Paul’s populations was about 20,000, about a third of Woodbury’s current population. St. Paul was Minnesota’s largest city: Minneapolis/St. Anthony together did not equal the population of St. Paul in 1870.

Tours of the house are given in the summer months, but the Raths and other had to live in the dwellings of the time year round. I keep that in mind as I pass near the pioneer house every day. We romanticize what had to have been an extraordinarily difficult existence for those who came before.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

* – Woodbury (MN) Heritage Society, 8301 Valley Creek Rd, Woodbury MN 55125, 651-714-3564

The garden in the yard of the house Sep. 22, 2011.

December 21, 2011, 4:30 p.m.

NOTE: Earlier this fall I did a multi-part post on the general topic of ‘heritage’. It begins on October 5, here.

My two messages for Christmas 2011, here.

UPDATE January 7, 2012

above and below: Sunrise at Heritage House 7:50 a.m. January 7, 2012

UPDATE March 23, 2012: a single snowy day in February, and the day after “Spring has sprung”

Feb. 29, 2012: the only day with snow in February in Woodbury MN

Spring begins to spring at Heritage House,Woodbury MN, March 23, 2012

At the front entrance to the house, in memory of the pioneers.

Heritage House March 23, 2012

Spring Flower seen at Heritage House front yard March 24, 2012

April 2, 2012

Past and Present April 2, 2012

A tree at Heritage House April 10, 2012, “compares notes” with a tree in Albuquerque NM April 10, 2011: here.

Dick Bernard April 10, 2012

6:25 a.m. April 17, 2012

May 1, 2012: Robins and Dandelions, Spring in Minnesota

May 1, 2012 at Heritage House

May 1, 2012 at Heritage House

May 1, 2012

Time to replace 1870s siding...May 22, 2012

Father's Day June 17, 2012

The re-siding project continues, July 6, 2012

July 6, 2012

July 6, 2012, 95 degrees

A sunny July 6, and the sundial was absolutely precise!

From the tree in the yard of Heritage House August 4, 2012

At Heritage House August 4, 2012

Renovation on the House continues August 8, 2012

Look closely for the tiny flowers resting in the tree August 8, 2012

September 17, 2012, nearing Fall.

An old pump. September 17, 2012

Settling in for the coming first snowfall. October 10, 2012

October 10, 2012. Look carefully at the shovel, and the whimsy of some artistic type!

A year in photos at Heritage House completed. Sunrise, 7:07 a.m. on October 12, 2012, at the corner of Lake and Radio in Woodbury MN. Heritage House would be just to the right of the photo, just out of sight to the southeast. You can see the picket fence.

Letter to Editor of Woodbury Bulletin October 31, 2012: here

Nov. 7, 2012 - remnants of the summer garden

Nov. 12, 2012. A morning dusting of snow (which quite rapidly disappeared as the morning progressed.)

Dec. 3, 2012, damp and 55 degrees (average for Dec. 3 31 degrees; record temp 63)

Dec. 3, 2012

Fall falls as the first serious winter show arrives, December 9, 2012

Noon, December 21, 2012

POSTNOTE: Sometime between October 10 and November 7, 2012, the below signs were added at Heritage House, to give a visitor a better understanding of what he/she was seeing. Nice touch.

November 7, 2012

Nov. 7, 2012

Nov. 7, 2012

Nov. 7, 2012 (see next photo)

The Grove, Nov. 7, 2012

Nov. 7, 2012

Nov. 7, 2012

#490 – Dick Bernard: Drones, Chapter two.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

UPDATE: All comments, including to this post, are found here. #9 is first comment received after publishing of this post.

In “The Drones”, published a week ago today, was one crucial paragraph: “However limited, there is room for conversation among people willing to listen to each other, and considering other points of view. But one can’t have such a conversation in separate rooms.”

One of the recipients of the post (I would describe all of the initial recipients as people passionate about peace and justice, including me) asked a reasonable question: “do you believe what you wrote, or are you just trying to get a reaction”. I replied honestly: “both”.

I keep thinking of two novels I’ve read.

The first is “Peace Like a River”, a 2001 best seller by Leif Enger.

The book is set in early 1960s Minnesota and North Dakota and much of it involves a chase by an FBI agent attempting to apprehend a possibly innocent teenager accused of murder.

The takeaway from this book which applies to the drone conversation is the huge change in technology in the last 50 years. If you don’t believe this, simply pick the year when you began high school and compare the ways and means you had of communicating, then.

In Peace Like a River, the FBI agent works with what he has to work with, and it’s very primitive by today’s standards.

Then, think of the ways anyone can communicate today, literally anywhere in the world.

By today’s standard, drones are no Buck Rogers sci-fi device, even compared with our own means of keeping track/keeping touch. We can lament the loss of anonymity, but it’s long gone.

The other book which came to mind was the 1962 novel “Bones of Plenty”, by Lois Phillips Hudson, set in rural North Dakota in 1934 – the year described by my Uncle Vince, then 9 years old, as the worst year he could remember during the Great Depression.

The takeaway from Bones of Plenty was how people dealt with issues in small towns (and large) in older days when communication was far more limited than in the early 1960s.

Among a book full of vivid written images, Hudson describes meetings in the town hall in the tiny community west of Jamestown which is epicenter of her book.

As today, not everyone in the 1930s thought alike, but unlike today, in small towns or large, or in the country, people really had no reasonable option, short of completely isolating themselves, than engaging in conversation (sometimes called ‘fights’) with people whose views they might not like. This applied to everyone, including politicians. This was before there was an effective means to deliver political rhetoric in soundbites to people in the isolation of their own homes. Most often communication was pretty raw and pretty real.

I’m old enough to sometimes have nostalgia for the old days. But one doesn’t need to think very long about the many problems back then.

Similarly, it would be nice if there were no need for drones, but given the alternative, killing a la the World Wars, ever more focused on civilians, I will take the lesser of the two evils.

Of course, drones, like today’s Dick Tracy wrist-radios which everyone has, have their own serious limitations as will become obvious with time. In our massive world, we will never control outcomes with small airplanes. We depend on reasonable relationships with host countries to have these airplanes on their land. We could be told to leave.

We are an ever larger and broader community with different and legitimate points of view. We are a world with artificial but no longer real borders. We’re stuck with each other.

Let’s talk. But “let’s talk” doesn’t presume going into the conversation with a “you can go to hell” pre-determined outcome as what seems to be happening in Washington D.C. at this very moment.

We can’t be a “you can go to hell” society and survive.

That’s why I continue to lobby for true dialogue – conversation without borders.

#489 – Dick Bernard: A memory from a Christmas Past….

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

A few days ago our towns police blotter reported that someone went into a back yard and cut down and stole a developing “Christmas tree”. It was a ‘bah humbug’ moment. How this will make for a Merry Christmas for the thief is beyond me, but, whatever….

It reminded me of my all-time favorite Christmas tree story, undated but circa 1940s, related by Bigfork MN high school teacher June Johnson in December, 1985. Here is her story, as it was originally printed in Top of the Range, the newsletter for public school teachers on Minnesota’s Mesabi and Vermillion Iron Range.

“From somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I have plucked a Christmas memory which will be forever important to me.

Christmas on the North Dakota prairie was a time of anticipation and joy, a welcome respite from the hard times and unrelenting toil of everyday existence. Families were extremely impoverished and no “store-bought” gifts were imminent for most of the children who attended Souris #1. Excitement filled the air as mothers baked once-a-year “goodies” and sewed and baked and built gifts to be opened on Christmas morning.

The Christmas program at school was a yearly social event for the entire community. No special lights or decorations were needed to enhance the appreciation of this day. The kids had planned, practiced and revised every noon hour for a month and were ready. A tree fashioned from prairie junipers decorated with strings of popcorn and thorn apples, and various homemade decorations was in place and a few small packages were already under it.

All year I had tried to get Frederic, a reticent second grader, to talk to me. An unusually polite youngster, he always had his work done but spoke to no one if it could be avoided. After the program was over, gifts were distributed and I was singularly impressed with the ingenuity displayed in the homemade gifts which were given to me. Coffee, hot cocoa and cookies were now being enjoyed by all. At this point, I felt a tug at my sleeve and found Frederic looking up at me. As I knelt down, he quickly placed a package in my hand. While he looked on, I opened it and found a sling shot and a bag of smooth stones. As I held out my arms, he hesitated only a moment before coming to me. Then he said, “I made it for you because I love you.”

In my cedar chest (which holds all my “treasures”), I have a box which holds a sling shot, a bag of stones, and the memory of a very special little boy.”

I have never been able to type this piece without tears.

Back then, I asked June if she knew what happened to Frederic. My memory is that he became a career public official in North Dakota state government.

Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year.

RELATED: My 2011 Christmas message, a reflection on “neighbor”, is here.

#488 – Dick Bernard: The Drones

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

POSTNOTE Mar. 21, 2016: see posts on same topic here (12/20/2011), here (5/12/09) , here (5/23/13) and here (3/20/16, especially #6).

Earlier today [Dec. 13, 2011] I was at the annual meeting of an organization I’ve long been part of called the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers. One of the group rose to ask the speaker a question about the new proposal relating to drones in Thief River Falls MN. More information is here.

Back home, on the evening news, was the continuing story of the drone that went down in Iran, and whose wreckage is now in Iran’s custody. Much ado is made of this event.

Google “drone” and there are over 9,000,000 results. No doubt, it is a new and permanent and controversial feature of warfare.

Given the far more deadly alternatives – nuclear, invasions with wholesale and wanton killing, and similar – I’m not inclined to get very upset about the role of drones in the modern world. Without any doubt, they, like any other device, are subject to abuse, but over all, they could reduce substantially the indiscriminate killing of innocents that has always been the standard of warfare up through the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, wars especially deadly to civilians. Here’s a conservative estimate of Iraqi deaths (not even factoring in all their other huge losses in that ugly war) which has been catastrophic to the U.S as well.

Given the choice between use of drones and precise targeting or nuclear, or other ‘scorched earth’ invasions, there’s no question in my mind: drones are preferable.

Given my personal druthers, there would be no war. Period. But given the nature and history of humans, particularly those humans who seem to rise to the top of power pyramids, it seems unlikely that we will ever reach the nirvana of real and lasting peace.

The best we can do – and it is the best – is to continue working towards a more peaceful world, through peaceful means.

I’m accustomed to saying that I’m a military veteran myself, from a family full of military veterans. As I pointed out to a relative, recently, I’m a member of both the American Legion and Veterans for Peace, and I don’t see any contradiction, though my cause is that of the Veterans for Peace.

However limited, there is room for conversation among people willing to listen to each other, and considering other points of view. But one can’t have such a conversation in separate rooms.

As I listened, today, my thoughts went back to a little article I’d seen before in the college newspaper I was privileged to edit. The article was one of those that could be used for filler, and appeared in the opinion page, May 24, 1961. This was four months after Dwight Eisenhower’s famous farewell address including his concerns about the Military-Industrial Complex, and John F. Kennedy took office as President of the United States.

Here’s the article in its entirety (click to enlarge it.) Fifty years later, it remains current.

Valley City (ND) State Teachers College "Viking News" May 24, 1961

Sitting at the same table with me today was John Noltner, whose new and excellent book “A peace of my mind: exploring the meaning of peace one story at a time” includes interviews and photos of 55 people.

I particularly noticed the pages (42-43) featuring former Minnesota Governor Al Quie (1979-83). Mr. Noltner added comments as follows: “Al doesn’t believe that we can ever achieve world peace because of our competing political, economic, and belief systems. He believes the broke human condition will prevent us from achieving total peace. But Al believes in working towards inner peace and peace within communities….”

We may never reach the destination of the ideal of peace, but one person at a time we can help the process along.

Directly related post here.

[Mar. 21, 2016: There was a followup blog post on this topic Dec. 20, 2011 [here. See postnote at beginning of this post for more related links.]

UPDATE December 14, 2011

1. Please note additional comments added on-line (see the end of this post for access to these comments). As of this Dec 20 there are two comments, both from Bruce in Twin Cities.

Additional Comments
2. From Jeff in Twin Cities: Voice of reason, not that it will gain you any friends amongst the hard core.

3. From friend in England: Dear Mr Bernard,
50 years ago!? You are absolutely right, absolutely still relevant.

In that article as well as in the blog are the questions that exert minds and consciences for whom these capacities are still sufficiently active.

We obviously do not live in a perfect world, perhaps not even the best possible the way things are going! Does that mean compromise? Maybe not but it does mean answers must be nuanced & moderated. The need to prevent (inhuman) utopias! I increasingly believe that Camus got two important things right – and you allude to them in the blog.

The first is that Sisyphus will have to keep rolling that rock uphill as it slides down; but, he added, one has to imagine Sisyphus happy! Indeed all we can do is push for reasonableness & peace but without despair although as early as 2500 years ago, Heraclitus was dejected at the foolishness of men and urged them to think differently (laterally?): “donkeys prefer garbage to gold!”.

The other point Camus wrote about was that we should neither be executioners nor victims. I assume then a peaceful fight for peace & justice is the only alternative left. One thing that bothered you 50 years ago & still troubles you today is hypocrisy. Unfortunately in so many spheres of life it seems to be on the increase.

Kierkegaard titled one of his shorter works: “Purity of Heart is to Will one Thing” referring to James 1:8 “A double minded man [is] unstable in all his ways”. At times the instability that the double minded have inflicted upon the world becomes clear. May God grant us if not many pure of heart then at least many who are trying to be just that – and may he place them in positions of power: political, financial, & even military -till that last becomes irrelevant …

4. From John N. in suburban Twin Cities:
I enjoyed your post and I agree with the notion that we are getting better at limiting our civilian casualties in war, when compared to decades and generations gone by. But I guess what concerns me most about the use of drones and remote warfare in general is how sanitized it can become.

I recognize the desire to preserve the lives of our soldiers. I remember though, even as a youth, when some others around me were fascinated with the technology of fighter jets and guided missiles…how I had trouble
embracing their enthusiasm, knowing what that technology was used for.

When we get so enamored with the technology of warfare, and when that warfare can be conducted from the safe and comfortable surroundings of a base, far removed from the battlefield, I believe there is the potential to lose touch with the actual damage that is being done. I worry that it becomes too easy to use those remote weapons when our own exposure is so limited in the process.

That being said, I do believe there are good uses for this technology, and used well, it can actually serve to make violent conflict less costly to civilians…but we must always remain aware of the power we are unleashing
and make certain that we understand fully the human cost of the technology we employ.

5. From John B. in Twin Cities:
A Story: There was a farmer who had rat in his barn who alluded his capture. Finally, after days of trying, he lured the rodent into live trap. He removed the rat, dipped him in a can of gasoline and just before he threw the animal as far as he could, he set lighted match to the rodent. Seconds later the burning rat ran back into the barn causing the barn to go up in flames. (Moral of the story: The burning rat used the farmer’s anger against the farmer. Some clever folks will figure out a way to reprogram our drones, turn them against us.)

6. From Bob H:
December 15, 2011

Dear Dick, Frankly I was stunned and saddened to read your Blog #488 article defending the current U.S. use of drones on al Qaeda. But I appreciate your inviting a reaction.

Because you proudly proclaim association with the Catholic/Christian faith, I just have to ask, hellooo, what part of “Thou shalt not kill” do you not understand? While I do NOT proclaim any special theological claim in spite of my graduating with a minor in philosophy from a Catholic college, it would be hard to believe that Jesus would not support that commandment. One has to ask, “Whom would Jesus bomb?”

Drones indiscriminately kill civilians. They do not have eyes that see around corners or into buildings. The “Just war theory” has been dismissed by reputable theologians since we went from lances, maces, hot oil and saber killings! Even Pope John Paul II condemned George W.’s attack on Iraq and said, “this war would be a defeat for humanity could not be morally or legally justified” because of the indiscriminate and disproportionate inevitable killing of civilians by modern day weapons!

You state, “”drones are preferable.” When did you slip to the “Dark Side” in your take on killing? What is a “preferable” way to kill or assassinate?

And your referencing yourself as being a member of Veterans For Peace stuns me too, when you say, “though my cause is that of the Veterans for Peace.” Our “Statement of Purpose” states that we will work to “increase awareness of the costs of war, restrain government from intervening in the internal affairs of other nations,…” What part of the world and “other nations” do you see us using drones on?

I see no excuse for legitimizing drone use on sovereign nations where I assume you accepted our VFP “Statement of Purpose” for membership. And suggesting that it is OK to murder in certain circumstances seems to be a bit like saying it is OK to just kill a little.

You probably do not remember or did not read my article that appeared in our Veterans For Peace newsletter several years ago excoriating our country’s use of drones in far-flung sovereign nations. I wrote how the flip side of that, like foreign nations doing similar attacks on us on our country, would help us recognize the inevitable tragedy in their deployment.

The article below which is included in this quarter’s VFP newsletter also states my feelings about drone use, particularly in a country we are not at war with, Pakistan. I am sorry to see you have apparently been weaned from a conscience of “Thou shalt not kill’” into one that would give your stamp of approval of their “preferable” use to obliterate innocent children even though they man kill fewer people!

Your rationale sadly seems strikingly similar to the Germans in their rush to support Hitler in the 30’s. It is, as I have explained to you a long while ago, the shame of my German ancestral link which has for over 40 years prompted and sustained my work for true peace. I regularly remind myself of Edmund Burke’s “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to remain silent.”

You are a good man. I just pray that you will join with MLK and those other non-violent supporters we admire in truly accepting the criminality of drone use and reconsider your position. They clearly do NOT, as you so properly write, promote your pledge “ to continue working towards a more peaceful world, through peaceful means.”

Peace, brother.

Here’s the article referred to earlier in Bob’s post: Heberle VFP Drones001

7. Grace, in St. Paul, on Dec. 18:
I so agree with “We desperately need to sit in other circles than just our own and truly engage with people of other points of view*.” Social science agrees with you too. Conformity is 32% even when the answer is obviously wrong, given that everyone else agrees on the wrong answer. However add just ONE courageous voice to that group and dynamics change drastically. Interestingly my experience is that one simple voice may even be more persuasive than a large minority if the person speaks well and shows respect. People who are not afraid are more open to listen.

* – Dick Bernard: I had made a followup invitation for comments from my own list, and in part had said as follows:
The peace and justice movement is at a critical fork in the road today; indeed seems to have taken one fork to the exclusion of the other. My belief is that continuing the old ways is in the long run an unproductive and indeed damaging strategy.

My campaign is for engagement with those of differing opinions, and openness to perhaps even modify or change opinions based on those conversations.

There is a place for idealism; but we live in a real world that isn’t going to go away. We need to truly engage with the entire community.

That is not a new campaign for me. 29 times in the first nearing three years of this [Outside the Walls] blog I have mentioned in one way or another the importance of “dialogue”, including in the very first blog post in March, 2009.

We desperately need to sit in other circles than just our own and truly engage with people of other points of view.

It is, it seems to me, the only possible viable choice to continuing to achieve incremental change – and we have achieved a great deal of positive change. There doesn’t seem to be much acceptance of that fact.

8. from a friend who’s a Historian, Dec 17, responding to a note from me on this topic:
Your last lines [in my note to him] reflect my opinions completely.
What I said to the friend: Long and short, in my opinion, the peace and justice community could accomplish a great deal by engaging with the community around it, rather than simply protesting against, constantly, the assorted injustices it correctly identifies.
But it won’t….

9. from Joe S, good friend and professor emeritus:
I was, quite frankly, shocked by your essay on drones, but have not had a chance before now to respond. Happily Bob H. did a better job than I would have in his communication of December 15. I agree with him completely as far as he went; but I would go a step further and state, with conviction, that our use of drone bombing is not only immoral, but also politically stupid. It will surely prove immensely counterproductive and is already doing so in Pakistan and elsewhere. Given the number of innocent people we annihilate — “collateral damage” to use the current euphemism — we are creating new terrorists (including many terrorists in waiting) faster than we can dispatch the old ones. And, short of creating committed terrorists, we are creating enemies (many of whom will willingly support terrorists) at an even faster rate. Sooner or later we will surely pay dearly for doing so. Put yourself in the position of a parent, who has just lost an innocent child to a drone attack and imagine your own response. What makes you think that to save American lives it is okay to snuff out the lives of others?

The biggest logical flaw in your whole argument is revealed in the following sentence: “Similarly, it would be nice if there were no need for drones, but given the alternative, killing a la the World Wars, ever more focused on civilians, I will take the lesser of the two evils.” By what reasoning do you believe that there were only two alternatives? Is not pursuing the path of peace also an alternative? Had even a small fraction of the 1.2 trillion dollars we’ve spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq been allocated to building schools, clinics, and other productive facilities in developing countries, we’d now be way ahead of where we presently are in the eyes of the world. Similarly, if we devoted comparable sums to upgrading the quality of life in our own country, we would have become the model for the rest of the world that we (falsely) proclaim to be. And even isolationism, which I personally eschew, would, in my view, be a preferable alternative to the one you espouse.

Finally, your approach undermines the rule of law. It supports the doctrine that “might makes right.” Flawed though it is, the UN, not the US, should be assume the role of the global cop (and should be strengthened accordingly) and the International Criminal Court, aided by regional courts should become the chief dispensers of justice.

#487 – Dick Bernard: Going to Hell

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Saturday while engaged in domestic chores, I turned on the History Channel. The just-beginning program was more-or-less the history of Hell.

Hell, of course, has a very long history, predating Christianity and since, like God and Heaven, Hell is presumably not open to visit until after you’re dead and go there, it is susceptible to human interpretation, misuse and abuse. Hell has lots of authoritative interpreters…and they disagree.

I’m Catholic – in fact, just returned from Sunday Mass. The history of Hell is a long one with me, including intermediate places like Purgatory and Limbo, and procedural things like Mortal and Venial sins and Confession). I don’t believe or disbelieve hell. Through an older adults view, I take the claims with a grain of salt, especially when some other human is expressing to me, with certainty, something that is not at all certain.

Nonetheless, the History Channel program was interesting, appearing to emphasize various images of Hell, including the most dramatic: that of Dante Alighieri’s Hades.

One thing is sure: if you believe in Hell, you don’t want to go there!

But fear of the hereafter is and has always been an exploitable fear: a way to keep people in line. We surely learned it when we were growing up in small town Catholic America.

On the TV program, quite considerable time was spent with a young Baptist preacher with a small congregation somewhere. There was no uncertainty in this preachers mind: he could cite chapter and verse. Being Baptist, there is a certain way out of the pit, regardless of your misdeeds.

I’m not here to argue theology.

As I watched I began to think back to a very powerful radio program I had chanced upon on National Public Radio a few years ago. I was somewhere between here and there in my car, and the radio happened to be on when I heard the program. I’d cite ‘chapter and verse’ but I can’t remember the program or the person interviewed, except that it was on a Saturday afternoon.

The person being interviewed that day was a former very high profile evangelical with a mega church in Oklahoma or Texas. He was a powerful orator, and he had built a very large congregation based on his own particular personality and “hellfire and damnation” message. He could paint a vivid picture of the pit of Hell. He was a Bishop in his denomination. As I recall, he was African-American, and his flock was basically but not entirely white.

They were “saved”, and thus immune from the bad place.

The ministers downfall began one day when he was at home watching television, and the image was of the evacuation of refugees from Rwanda after the genocide in 1994.

The image was apparently pretty vivid, of starving people, particularly young children.

As he watched, he was transformed: rather than Hell being someplace down there it was, he came to feel, a condition here on earth – “hell on earth” comes to mind. Not only that, it was a condition which we humans had considerable control over.

The next Sunday, he preached as usual, with power, good humor and all the rest. But he revised his hellfire and damnation story, making all of his flock cause in the matter of heaven and hell.

It stunned the flock in the pews.

The impact was immediate. Attendance fell off, and fell off some more.

His was not the message they had come to hear, and financially support.

He left his church, and his reputation was ruined in his entire circle.

I wonder, today, not about Hell as described in that program on the History Channel, but about this Minister: where he is, what he’s doing. Whether he repented from his revisionist view of hell, or stuck with it.

He was talented, and I’m sure he survived and probably thrived. But I don’t know that.

Merry Christmas to all.

#486 -Dick Bernard: The 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

It is not hard for me to remember Pearl Harbor Day. Seventy years ago my Dad’s brother, my Uncle Frank, near the end of his 6th year on the USS Arizona, lost his life aboard the ship. I’m old enough to have “met” him, in Long Beach CA, five months before he died. The caption on the photo, written by his mother, my grandmother Josephine, is succinct: “the first time we had our family together for seven years and also the last.” December 7, 1941 and the days following were chaotic. My Dad’s memories, as recorded years later, are in this single page: Bernard Frank Pearl Har001

Immediately came WWII for the U.S. Many kinfolk, including seven of his cousins from a single family in Winnipeg (one killed in action, some in U.S., others in Canadian forces), went off to war Collette boys Winnipeg001.

Last year I sent the Pearl Harbor museum all of the photos and records I have of Uncle Frank, and the photos have been posted ever since on Facebook. (The family photo referred to above is near the end of the album.)

WWII was very short for Uncle Frank. Then came the rest of it.

NOTE: I have written several posts about Uncle Frank. Here are links to the others: Dec. 7, 2009, Dec. 7, 2010, Dec. 9, 2010, Jan. 2,2011, Dec. 7, 2011, May 28, 2012.

Ah, “War”. A good friend and I recently engaged in a conversation about the complicated business called “War” and he asked this question: “What do you think are the rational lessons learned from WWII?”

It’s a fair question, and below are some thoughts on the topic from someone (myself), born on the edge of WW II (1940) who’s a military veteran from a family full of military veterans dating from at least the MN-ND Indian War of 1862-63 through, very recently, Afghanistan.

click on photo to enlarge

New Draftees into WWII, August, 1942, North Dakota

Here’s my informal list.

1. War begets more and ever worse future War. For example, the defeat, impoverishment and humiliation of the Germans at the end of WWI gave Hitler his base for seeking revenge.

2. The American isolationist attitude during Hitler’s rise was not helpful to containing the evil objectives of the Third Reich. This was both pacifist and (primarily) “me first” attitude in an unholy alliance: what was going on in Europe and the Far East during the 1930s was, supposedly, not our problem. By the time the U.S. engaged after December 7, 1941, the die was cast for a horrible, long war. Corollary: politically, spotlighting an ‘enemy’ is far better – and more deadly – than nurturing true ‘friends’.

3. War is much less about heroism than it is about fear and and the reality of death. There is a tendency to feel invincible when you’re young, but that disappears when your buddy beside you ends up dead and you’re at the mercy of the next projectile with your name on it. A very young cousin of mine, American citizen perhaps three years old, was killed in the liberation of Manila, in the supposed sanctuary of a church yard in early 1945. It will never be known whose shrapnel it was that hit her, in her mothers arms, that day. It matters not….

4. War casualties are far more than simply being killed or physically injured. PTSD and other kinds of mental illness is now a known outcome; displacement of non-combatants; homelessness, suicide, property loss and the like are also major (and largely uncounted) casualties from war.

5. Winning a war is illusory and short-term at best. Those who think they’ve won better begin preparing for the next war, which they may lose.

6. The Marshall Plan, following World War II, was a good outcome of War. But it would have been an infinitely better outcome of Peace not preceded by war.

7. War is great for business (but Peace would be even better). “Swords beaten into ploughshares” to tackle future threatening things like resource scarcity, climate change etc., would be great for business, and great for us all, but require changes that business is not inclined to make. The business rule of thumb which I believe prevails: we don’t want it until we can control it and make money off of it.

8. War enables new tyrants, each of whom thinks they’ve figured out how to avoid the mistakes of the previous vanquished victors of earlier wars.

9. The only really new developments of War post WWII are a) horrors of nuclear annihilation (the U.S. has a huge arsenal which is worthless unless we wish to annihilate ourselves); b) terrorism is a new tool, and we have far more home-grown domestic anti-government terrorists than evil others.

10. “They who live by the sword will die by the sword” is ever truer and deadlier. Mass annihilation is ever more possible. In the recent wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. human casualty count was relatively low. This was overshadowed by huge Iraqi casualties, and population destabilization and displacement, and massive debts incurred by the U.S. to wage war. We bred resentment, not friendship. While we were not brought to our knees physically, this time, we were nearly destroyed economically. Here is the U.S. physical casualty count from past wars, from The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2007. War Casualties U.S.001

Reasonable estimates of deaths from war in all countries in the the previous century approach 100,000,000. War is usually,in the end, a creature of convenience than of necessity – an easy but deadly way to attempt to solve problems. That is another rational learning, in my opinion….

With the greatest respect for all victims of war, I urge Peace.

#485 – Dick Bernard: Christmas 2011 “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” Matthew 22:39; “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

UPDATE Related December 2011 posts can be seen here, here and here.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Back yard at home in Woodbury MN December 4, 2011

The first Christmas letter for 2011 arrived shortly after November 1 from Fargo ND. I don’t keep track of such things, but this one had to be the earliest I’ve ever received.

The correspondents were long, long-time Christmas card regulars. They were both college classmates. (Today is 50 years since the last lecture of my final college class at Valley City (ND) State Teacher’s College. It was a Monday, and I wrote it down on a slip of paper I kept for years. Out of the chains of classes and tests!!!) Oh, what I didn’t know, then….

Fifty years, of course, have brought ruts in the road of life; wrong turns, good and not-so-good luck, and lots of “good neighbors” (most not of the ‘next door’ variety, or even individuals) to ease the bumps in the road.

We aren’t individuals on our own islands. Nor are we autonomous towns, states, even nations. We’re stuck together on this sphere called earth.

It soon became obvious why Bob and Deanne’s Christmas letter came early:This early report from Fargo is to alert all that we moved from Minot [ND] in mid-August after being driven from our home of 27 years by the raging Mouse [“Souris” in the original French] River.” There followed “good news, bad news”: they had been planning to move to Fargo anyway, and their house had been under construction since March; they had many family and friends to assist during the disaster and with the move. “We enjoyed a wonderful year until the end of May when we evacuated the first time. The dikes were raised and held, so we were allowed back by mid-June, only to be forced out later that month… [O]ur house suffered five feet of water on the main floor. We hired a firm to gut and sanitize (de-mold) the house which now is for sale as a “fixer-upper”. We hope to get at least 25 per cent of the pre-flood value.”

But, “[m]any of the 12,000 who evacuated from over 4,000 Minot homes still do not know where they will live this winter or if they will rebuild in the Souris [Mouse] River Valley. Officials may require about 1,000 homes be torn down…[under other circumstances] we now would be living in a FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] trailer while re-building our home…We take less for granted than before the flood.

The Christmas letter brought startling news, to say the least. It was easy to decide that this would be this years card (my 35th annual), with a “who is my neighbor?” theme. Personally, I was aware of the Minot flood, but that was all. For me, for most, being a ‘neighbor’ to Minot meant FEMA (Government) assistance paid through our taxes. This was a catastrophe much, much bigger than the neighborhood of Minot, or other smaller communities in the Souris River Valley, could handle by themselves.

The government (and its taxes) we’re being taught to despise is our base, our national infrastructure. We rely on good local, state, national government a great deal.

There are endless examples in all of our lives.

November 21 came a Thanksgiving card from Erlys, in a ND Nursing Home. She has been bed-ridden in a nursing home all the years I’ve known her. Only very rarely have I actually stopped in to visit – she was a nursing home friend of my deceased brother-in-law. Hers was just a brief note “neighbor to neighbor”. Am I her neighbor? Sure. Society is her “neighbor”. “Have a good holiday…and please return [the stamp] to me” (she apparently keeps them for some reason).

The “neighbor” text?*
For anyone Christian, this is the parable of the Good Samaritan – an outcast – who attended to a wounded and robbed traveler, while two righteous religious men passed him by along the dangerous Jericho road.

I’ve been on that actual road.

As in this example the Christian scriptures don’t give one slack when it comes to treatment of one’s “neighbors”, who are every one of us…. And the boundaries don’t stop at just “Christian”. (At the link, scroll down to Section II).
*
This message would have begun to end here, had it not been for another piece of totally unexpected news received Friday in the form of an e-mail from Fran Travisano of Glen Ridge NJ. Fran was instructor at a Retreat I attended in October, 2002, and she and her colleagues did an outstanding job. It was the only time she and I ever met in person, but we didn’t completely disappear from each others lives. We rarely kept in touch so this e-mail was a surprise.

Here is the e-mail:

[I] am writing this to you on [Fran’s] email under heartbreaking circumstances…

“My precious, Fran (Francesca) suffered a massive stroke Tuesday night and quickly fell into a coma. Her body was not able to repair the damage and she went home to be with the Lord Thursday night with her family by her side.

I’ve sent this email to everyone in her address book.

As you can imagine, our family is devastated by this unexpected loss. Moment after moment, we are reminded of exactly how many lives she touched with her deep love for everyone. Her charity work and involvement in so many organizations is testament to the incredible spirit within her.

I’d like people to remember her as “Francesca (Bongiovanni) Travisano” as she loved the identity her childhood name gave her.

There will be a wake this Saturday and Sunday with a funeral on Monday [in Kearny NJ].

In lieu of flowers, you can send a donation to one of her charities, “Good Grief.”

I passed the word along to a few I know who knew Fran, and even out here in the Midwest the affirmations came in.

And who is my neighbor?

Was Fran a “neighbor” of mine; and now, her family? Absolutely.

Everybody. Everywhere. All the time. We’re all neighbors, often invisible to the other; sometimes to be depended on; other times to depend on others.

Have a wonderful Holiday and Christmas

October 23, 2002, Fran Travisano is in 2nd row 4th from right.

SUGGESTED VIEWING: Now available on-demand, I Am, the Documentary. We saw it last spring. It is very positive, thought provoking, and related to this topic.

All best wishes this holiday season

* – Personal Opinion and Context for the “neighbors” text: At the time of Jesus, it is likely that entire area had a population of less than 100,000, perhaps half of that in Jerusalem; a population much smaller than today’s Fargo-Moorhead. The social safety net was people like the Samaritan. In our day, indeed for my entire life, the social safety net in our very complex and dispersed society has been “government”. We take the good of government for granted. Today “government” (excepting ‘war’ and ‘defense’) is being relegated to a status no better than the Samaritan. Watch the debates and read the news: “government” is now to be derided and ridiculed. Those looking forward to the continued strangulation and demonization of government best be careful lest they get what they wish for.

UPDATE Dec. 5 p.m.:
From a great friend in London who’s a lifelong Christian of Middle Eastern ancestry:
Loved it, & I have to admit I am envious of the view: trees in snow.

You are right the world is a very different place: 100,000 lived in that area then. 30,000,000 million live in the Tokyo area now & yet it is the safest metropolis where citizens are polite & helpful partly because of “do
unto others …”.

You are also absolutely right everyone is our neighbour. As a Protestant theologian friend in the (eternally!?) troubled Middle East wrote recently: “Christianity is not a political party that ultimately seeks its own
interests and considers survival to be the highest virtue. There is something very un-Christian, inhuman, and immoral about closing our ears and eyes to the brutal killing of even our enemies simply because they might do us harm in the future.”

Both of you are quite demanding. It’s really Christ who is that demanding & that’s what makes His message so compelling, for imagine what the world would be like! Could be like!?

From Flo in Park Rapids MN:
Yes, “Christ”mas. The focus seems to have eroded completely to the likes of Black Friday and everything that drives us toward consumerism and away from being good neighbors, first and foremost.

The very best of the holiday season to you and yours – throughout the new year! May neighbors far and near know peace with justice because of you!