Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Letter From New York 12 03 15 Avoiding past mistakes….

December 3, 2015

Claverack Cottage.  San Bernardino shootings. Domestic terrorism. Nick Stuart.  Newtown. Milwaukee.  Milwaukee 53208. Stephen Ambrose. IS. Radical Islam. World War II.

It is six o’clock.  The world beyond the cottage is dark after a day of grey and drizzle.  I went out only to do a few errands and spent most of the day at home, working on paperwork, prepping some things for my class in January, following up on some things.  It felt positive, moving through the endless amount of “paperwork” a life in the 21st century demands, even when most of it is digital.

The world has ticked on since I last wrote two days ago.  There was another shooting, in San Bernardino.  I thought about writing something on the train coming up from the city but I felt a bit punched in the gut by it all.

They are now working to determine if this was an act of domestic terrorism.  It might well have been.

My friend, Nick Stuart, and I met for a martini last night before my train.  He arrived ebullient. Just before he came to meet me, it was announced “Newtown,” a film he is Executive Producer of ,was accepted into Sundance.   Today he found out he is about to be a grandfather; his oldest daughter Rihannon is going to be having a baby in June.  We’ll celebrate more on Tuesday and Wednesday, both days I will be seeing him.

Some had told him that “Newtown” was an old subject and its time had past but given what has been happening it is more relevant than ever.  Today I read that there is a mass shooting of some kind on an average of once a day.

So “good on you” Nick, as my Aussie friends would say for having preserved with this project. 

Another one, on mass incarceration, which is nearing completion has been requested by the White House for a screening.  Who knew that Milwaukee had the highest number of prisoners per capita than any other city in America?  It is titled “Milwaukee 53208.”

The room is filled with the sounds of the ticking of a small grandfather’s clock.  It has been part of the background sound of my life since I was born.  It was on a shelf in the hall just beneath the stairs that went up to my bedroom.  Lately, I have been calling it the “heart of the house.”

It makes me feel like I am living in a soft womb of a house, comforted by the sound of a heartbeat.  It is part of what makes the cottage special.

I’m also doing laundry, a grounding task if ever there was one. 

I’m reading Stephen Ambrose’s history of World War II.  It’s a bit drier than I expected but gives a look into the horrors of that war.  As awful as it was, it reminded me that America and Canada were probably the only combatant countries that were not ravaged on the home front by the war.

It also has taught me how much the world and our country were changed by that conflict.

I am wondering how our world will be changed by the current conflict in which we find ourselves? 

Perhaps I am being a historical romantic but it feels as if we are living through another tipping point in history as we struggle with IS and radical Islam.

If the couple in San Bernardino were, indeed, domestic terrorists we face ongoing “Paris style” attacks and it will be a struggle to avoid mistakes of the past such as the encampment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Letter From New York 06 24 15 But it looked good in the movies…

June 24, 2015

It is a sunny day in New York City, the temperature is in the 80’s but the air is not sodden with humidity, as it was yesterday. Pleasant enough, with breezes, that I walked a mile to the restaurant where I met a friend, Guy McCarter, that I hadn’t seen in some years. It was nice, in that we picked up again as if no time had passed at all. We visited and then he headed to a meeting and I sauntered back to Todd’s office.

Tonight I am meeting a friend at 5:30 at the Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, home of the “Round Table” back in the 30’s, and then to dinner with another friend at Nirvana, then home to read I suspect.

Last night, I stayed up too late finishing Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop,” a funny book about the newspaper business pre World War II.

Joseph J. O’Donahue IV, who I had the great pleasure of knowing, was born in 1912 and passed away 88 years later. He was a great bon vivant, considered one of the best looking men of his generation, and sailed, mostly, through life with grace and elegance.

Mismanaged trust funds left him hard up at the end of his life but he carried on with huge style and was a fixture on the San Francisco social circuit.

He declared that civilization had ended with World War II.

I don’t know that is true but certainly sometimes it seems that on some levels the world was more civil then.

Treatment of blacks was worse in this country. Joe once brought Josephine Baker, the African American dancer who had wowed France, to El Morocco in New York and was turned away. He never returned to the Club. If Josephine wasn’t good enough, he wasn’t either.

Now that I think about it, it wasn’t so terribly civilized then but it sure looked good in the movies.

There were the Nazis. And there had been the “War to End All Wars,” which was merely a prelude to the big show, World War II. Joe was asked to leave Germany by Adolf Hitler after protesting the arrests of Jewish friends.

And there had been the Great Depression, not a good time for anyone.

No, civilization didn’t end with World War II, a new age opened up.

And that new age, in which we live, isn’t particularly pretty either. IS militants blew up a couple of tombs in Palmyra yesterday. They were about 500 years old and held the remains of important Shia. IS is, you see, Sunni. They have also mined the classical ruins to discourage any efforts to take them back.

Palmyra was a place that was on my bucket list. It will probably have to stay in the bucket. In interesting news, if not a media stunt, is that Lexus is developing a hoverboard like the one used by Marty McFly in “Back to the Future.” They plan to test it out in Barcelona in the next few weeks. I’ll be following.

The Queen [Elizabeth II of Great Britain] is visiting Germany. While there, a small robot performed for her and charmed her.

She may not be charmed by the fact she may have to move out of Buckingham Palace for an extended period of time, as there is so much updating to be done. Wiring, plumbing and decorating all need to be brought into the modern age as, for the most part, nothing has been done for at least sixty years.

In September the Queen will become the longest reigning British monarch. She will overtake Queen Victoria that month. Given that her mother lived to be something 103 or 104, I am guessing we may have the Queen around for a while.

One of the things which has been around for awhile is the Greek Debt Crisis, described by one as the slowest moving financial train wreck in history, which could be a good thing. Had a collapse happened three years ago it would have been much worse.

Monday’s optimism that a deal could be done has faded and a meeting broke up early because of “major policy differences.” There are only six days left to the month. At the end of June, Greece needs to make a payment and it doesn’t have the money. The European Central Bank is propping up Greek banks as depositors remove a billion Euros a day.

I feel a little like I need propping up after having stayed up too late reading. I’m off soon to drinks and dinner and hopefully a pleasant night in New York.

You have one, too, wherever you are!

Letter From New York 05 09 15 A day after the anniversary of the end of WWII

May 9, 2015

It is Saturday morning and I am preparing to drive from Baltimore with Lionel and Pierre to Frenchtown, New Jersey, where James Green, our mutual friend, is having his annual Cinco de Mayo party, which happens to be his birthday. Then we are going to drive to Claverack where L&P will spend the night before returning to Baltimore.

Yesterday was many things. It was a slightly off day for me. I slammed my finger in a door, which didn’t feel so good. And, in a combination of a bit of bad luck and a bit of bad planning, I missed my train from Baltimore to DC by three minutes.

I determined that I could either beat myself up or I could go with the flow as much as possible and I chose the later after a long conversation on Thursday evening with Lance McPherson, a friend, about the value of not beating oneself up.

I had good meetings in DC and found my way back to Baltimore and then on to a lovely dinner at Ouzo Bay, a restaurant in Harbor East.

Yesterday, if you missed it, was the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Seventy years ago the Germans surrendered and the fighting ceased.

Russia did it up big, having the largest end of war anniversary celebration in history. Thousands of troops marched. Planes screamed through the skies overhead and new armor was displayed, demonstrating how much the Russians have built up their arsenal in the last few years.

Most European leaders attended festivities in their own countries and so avoided having to attend to Moscow’s celebration. There is that pesky matter of Ukraine. The biggest guest in Moscow was the Premier of China.

There were events at Gdansk, formerly Danzig, which is war the war actually started.

Yesterday, too, it became absolutely clear that David Cameron had won an unexpected win and a big win at that to return as Prime Minister of the UK with a majority in Parliament. He will not have to look to the Liberal Democrats for help, not that they could be much help as they were trounced and lost most of their seats, resulting in Nick Clegg, their leader, stepping down. Ed Miliband, who was leading the Labour Party, also resigned because of their defeat.

Pollsters had predicted a breathtakingly close race and it wasn’t. Their reputation is tarnished right now.

Not stepping down is Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the Scottish National Party, which won almost all the Scottish seats in Parliament.

UKIP, the far right British party, did not do very well either.

However, all of this leads Cameron into very stormy political weather. He has promised a referendum on Britain’s place in the European Union and Nicola Sturgeon is agitating for another vote on Scottish independence. It will be an interesting tightrope for Mr. Cameron.

Nepal is still shattered but foreign journalists and helpers are leaving. The death toll has climbed above 7,000. The UN called for $435 million dollars in aid for the country but so far only about $23 million has been forthcoming. Hundreds of bodies still lie beneath the ruins and aid is still slow in reaching the remotest parts of the country. In a few weeks the Monsoon season will arrive.

In discomforting news, North Korea claims it has successfully test fired a ballistic missile from a submarine thus increasing the range of their nuclear weapons. Another worry for the world.

Liberia, once one of the centers of the Ebola outbreak, has been declared Ebola free now that no new cases have been discovered for six weeks.

In poor Yemen, the Houthis are claiming that Saudis have launched over a hundred raids on the country in the last day. Supplies still float at sea and people are beginning to starve. There is some talk of a truce but no real movement.

At home in America, tornadoes have ravaged Oklahoma with more storms predicted. Golf ball sized hail fell in Norman, OK.

Republican Presidential hopefuls are gathering in South Carolina to line up support at a gathering there. But apparently Jeb Bush won’t be there nor will Chris Christie or Rand Paul.

I will not be in South Carolina. I am leaving now for Frenchtown and then home.

Letter From New York 12/13/14 Not for another 89 years…

December 13, 2014

It is 12/13/14 if you do dates the American way. That won’t happen again until 01/02/03 in the next century, 89 years from now. I can’t even imagine what the world will be like 89 years from now. Certainly I won’t be here to see it but children born today will probably be around. Life expectancy is on the rise in most countries and in the 22nd Century, 90 may be the new sixty. Who knows?

I went to a screening of the first episode of Downton Abbey last week in New York. It was set in 1924. The Earl and Countess of Grantham are celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary. One of the characters remarked that if she got married right then, she would be celebrating her 34th wedding anniversary in 1958.

It was a jarring thought because the world of 1958 was radically different from the world of 1924. In between there had been the Great Depression and World War II, forever changing the world. The atom bomb had been dropped; half of Europe was shut up behind the Iron Curtain. Germany had been pared down and cut apart into East and West. The Soviets had pierced space with Sputnik. We were off on the race to the moon.

What a difference a few decades can make.

Lunching today at the Red Dot in Hudson, I was asked by someone if I knew where the Mimosa had come from? So I did what we all do today when faced with a question for which we don’t have an immediate answer – I googled it. The Mimosa apparently was the invention of the bartender Frank Meier at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1925. Thank you, Google. Thank you, Wikipedia.

As I was finishing my omelet, I decided that I would serve asparagus soup tomorrow for dinner. Not knowing what was needed, I googled asparagus soup, found a recipe that I liked and then made a list of ingredients on the notes section of my iPhone and went off to the Price Chopper for the ingredients.

Amazing. Having been the first boy on my block to have a car phone and one of the first to have a cell phone and one of the first to upgrade to a smart phone, I am dazzled by how far we have come since that big black box was installed in the trunk of my car.

I don’t take it completely for granted but I am sure anyone under twenty can’t imagine a world before these devices. If they really thought about it, I am sure I would seem quaint, an antique from another world. Could someone actually have lived at a time when you couldn’t put the world in your pocket?

There’s far more computing power in my little iPhone than there was on the first space shuttle. It’s boggling for me to think about.

And that’s only in thirty years, it having been early 1984 when I got both my first Mac and my car phone. It’ll be interesting to see what the next thirty years will bring, not to mention the next 89 when, if we’re still using the American style of dating, it will be 01/02/03.

Letter From New York

July 2, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

Another day; another airport. Feels like the old days – I’ve been up at oh dark hundred several days now, catching planes to a variety of cities for a variety of reasons. I was having an email exchange with my friend Robert Murray who, as I recounted my schedule, gave me advice: meet interesting people. And I have.

First interesting person along the way was Sis Wenger, President and CEO of NACOA, the National Association of Children of Alcoholics. She is a powerhouse, a seventy something gray haired lady who has been an almost unstoppable force in the recovery community for a long, long, long time. Her work is amazing. And necessary.

When I was in college, there was a play that some friends did a scene from: “And Mrs. Riordan Drinks A Little.” Sometimes, when I was being a wag, I would say to my friends “And Mrs. Tombers Drinks A Little.” My mother had some issues – which is not to say that she couldn’t be the most charming individual on the planet. She could. And she did her best. And…

So I was confronted with some memories that I hadn’t expected when I was getting ready for my meeting with the indefagtible Sis Wenger. Studying her website opened some places in my heart I have not gone for a long time. But good that I did. I could be sad for young Mat and glad for old Mat and appreciative of the goodness that was in my mother and grateful for the fact we had resolution with each other before she died.

Sis Wenger is one of the most amazing individuals I’ve encountered for a long time. Sincere, interesting, dedicated, inspiring and very real. I am privileged to have met her.

So, moving on, to an afternoon in Philadelphia to meet another very interesting man: Michael Shevek, a Rabbi. I have a friend, David Arcara, and we get together once a quarter or so for a lunch to discuss global realities. He is, without a doubt, one of the smartest people I know. At our last lunch he mentioned Michael and suggested we get to know each other. He made a connection. Michael and I had a Skype conversation when he was in Paris and then met last weekend.

A man with an extraordinary history: Creative Director of a major ad agency and when he got let go from his position [an inevitability when in that position], went through a life crisis which ended with him as a Rabbi [I simplify a very complicated story]. He is now working with the Patton Foundation, founded by Helen Patton, who is the granddaughter of George S. Patton, the General who tore through Europe, defeating the Nazis.

Michael was in Europe around the time of D-Day and ended up, by circumstance, at a German Memorial Service for soldiers who died during D-Day. His presence resulted in the German organizer bursting into tears, as he had always wanted a Rabbi to be there, to bring some kind of closure. He begged Michael to be part of the memorial service for the Germans and he agreed. Even after Michael had been told that there were SS buried in the cemetery. When told that Michael’s response was: before they were SS, they were children.

And that is true. Before there is corruption, there is childhood and we are innocent. And at some point, the men who became SS were children, were innocent and uncorrupted. And how sad that someone offered them the apple from which they ate and which led them out of the garden of good into the garden of good and evil.

All of us are offered the apple; one of the great choices we make in life is how deeply we bite into the apple, how much we surrender the innocence of our childhood on our path through life. Because we all surrender some of our innocence.