On Linus van Pelt and Apollo 8 at Christmastime: Radio Essay for December 24, 2013

It is a well worn axiom that the more things change the more they stay the same. At 50 plus years, the decade of the 1960’s seems so long ago. Not surprisingly, life seemed very different then. But was it really? Let’s look at life in 1965. The war in Vietnam was ramping up to 190,000 fighting troops; the Watts section of Los Angeles was in flames; a first class stamp cost five cents. And “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted. It has run faithfully every year since then.

It turns out that Charlie Brown was unhappy about all of the commercialization that was overtaking Christmas and distracting from the true meaning of the holiday. That was almost 50 years ago. You couldn’t shop on Sundays in those days, the internet was decades away, and Black Friday had more significance in religious terms than in retail. Even Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s must trusted companion, got into the act, decorating his doghouse with colorful lights. Charlie Brown’s younger sister, Sally, had an exhaustive list for Santa that she feared might be too complicated. She suggested that Santa just send money, preferably in 10’s and 20’s. Did I mention that Lucy wanted real estate for Christmas?

It’s no wonder that Charlie Brown was dismayed. Leave it to Lucy’s younger brother Linus to tell us what Christmas was all about.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them. And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Linus quoted scripture. On TV. He was right, that is what Christmas is all about. And to think that it took an animated cartoon character to bring it all together for us as a nation, reminding us of a message that has stood for more than two thousand years. They don’t make much television like that anymore. There is more of a loss than the frenzy of shopping madness that has enveloped the holiday and the political correctness that makes us feel more than a little out of order when we wish each other a Merry Christmas.

It has been forty five years since man first orbited the moon on Apollo 8. The astronauts that evening recited from the Book of Genesis. First, William Anders spoke. He addressed his comments “for all the people of the earth” as he began with, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Jim Lovell, who later commanded the ill-fated Apollo 13, described the second day when God separated the night from the day. Finally, Frank Borman described the creation of the dry land and the seas.

These were men of faith who were not afraid to share that faith with literally billions of people on the fragile planet that they, for the first time with human eyes, would watch rise above the lunar horizon. There is that iconic photo that revealed to us just how much we are dependent upon one another on this earth for its continued survival. Their very orbit around the moon convinced us that we had no other place in which to seek refuge and that we had better find a way to get along.

At a winter concert this year at a public school on Long Island, the Christmas carol “Silent Night” was edited to omit any reference to the Holy Infant or Christ the Savior. So far we have come from the the decade where Linus and Apollo 8 could reach out to us in scripture. In retrospect and with today’s emphasis of political correctness and the sense of absolute separation of all things spiritual from anything governmental, reading from the Christian bible from space seems quite a risky proposition. And so does Linus reading from the Book of Luke about the birth of the Savior.

Personally, I believe that a God, my God, created the heavens and the earth. It is not my desire to pressure anyone else into thinking likewise. I simply profess what I believe with respect for the beliefs of others. I am happy that Linus van Pelt reached out across our nation with a story of the meaning of Christmas without offending the nation much in the same way that the astronauts of Apollo 8 chose to reach out across the planet in describing the wonder creation to an expectant world.

So, on this Christmas Eve, I will close with the heartfelt and poignant words of Frank Borman emerging from the shadow of the moon in 1968: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God Bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”

Press on.

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On a Future State: Video Essay for June 29, 2013

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On a Future State:Radio Essay for June 29, 2013

When it comes to Republican politics, it is generally acknowledged that Massachusetts is a little lopsided. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a factor of 3:1. Historically speaking, Republicans have not fared well in elections held in Massachusetts. According to recent analysis, the Republicans sport a worse win-lose record over the last decade than the ‘62 Mets.

True conservatives within the Republican Party fare even worse. There is the occasional Governor, to be sure, but none in recent years have been beacons of conservative thought. The Constitutional Offices of Secretary of State, Auditor and Treasurer have long been in the hands of the Democrats. And, really, there is no such thing as a “conservative Democrat” in Massachusetts. By any national standard, most of our “conservative Republicans” could qualify as card carrying members of the other side in States such as Texas.

Still, whenever a solid Republican candidate is fielded they seem to capture about 43% of the vote. In the recent special election for US Senate, Gabriel Gomez actually received 45%. Was that because of a poor turnout or did the campaign actually reach a few more voters.
Gomez did better in some cities than did Scott Brown last time out. Brown got smoked almost 3:1 in Springfield, for instance; Gomez lost by a factor of 2:1. Progress?

For all of the hype about “The New Republican” Gomez claimed to be; the fact that he beseeched Governor Duval Patrick to be the choice for interim Senator; the fact that he repudiated Republican positions on Gun Control, immigration reform and abortion; and, the fact that Gomez was a first generation American of Columbian parents who did not speak English until 5 years old. The numbers tell us that it may have shaken loose only 2% more votes. Did I mention that he was a Navy SEAL?

The problem was less that Gomez was running on a resume that did not include political experience; many people pine for that. The problem was that he was running without political positions that would distinguish him from the opponent. This was an issueless campaign so why not vote for the guy who you count upon to be a hard core liberal who will deliver on every vote rather than a soft core liberal who might surprise you when predictability counts?

We are in the fifth year of the Great Recession. We have not even recovered the lost jobs from 2008-2009 no less created opportunity at the rate of 125,000 jobs per month necessary to sustain our economy. Our foreign policy is in shambles. The Middle East is on fire and the administration, with the complicity of some Republican Senators, pours fire on the situation by arming rebels who have no love of the United States. Vladimir Putin lectures us on world affairs and outmaneuvers us in the United Nations.

So what do we talk about in The Great Senate Special Election? Toilet bowls, absentee representation, reaching across the aisle to be more catholic than the Pope and arithmetic rather than math. We deserved a better campaign.

The problems with the Gomez campaign belie the fact that the major political parties are in cahoots. They exist to preserve the status quo. Discussing the size of government is like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. When the music stops, all that matters is that there is a narrative that the players can manipulate to their advantage so as to maintain their seat.

Is being a Member of Congress so satisfying that a person wishes to do it for 30 or 40 years? Or even more? I think that the satisfaction of the role ultimately becomes secondary to the power that it brings, to the egotistical nature of the incumbency. Humans have a preservation instinct and politicians have a highly refined sense of self preservation.

So where does that leave us poor constituents? What are we to do in a world where left and right collude to find a good ‘ol boy (and girl) network of back slapping colleagues who pontificate and bellow but who really don’t stand for anything? Anything except reelection, that is.
We know what the answer is. We have seen this coming for a long time. We have seen it at least since the advent of the Tea Party. Since the beginning of a group of people whose only ambition was to ask the one simple question, “Why?” And one more follow on, “Please explain this to me.” And what we have gotten from our efforts is to be vilified and investigated and instigated and infiltrated and demeaned and demonized.

The Democrats cannot have us and the Republicans will not have us. The time for a third party is upon us now. I fear it may well be too late.

Press on.

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On Memorial Day 2013

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On Memorial Day 2013

July 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that marked the cease-fire in Korea. It is often referred to as America’s “Forgotten War.” Indeed it was a conflict that marked a turning point in modern warfare. It was a war sanctioned by the United Nations and resulted in an outcome of something less than unconditional surrender of the enemy. Korea marked the first stalemate of the Cold War and it was not to be the last. Difficult to comprehend; it was a war of geopolitics and hegemony played out under the pall of an unthinkable third world war. Indeed, the threat of additional conflict in Korea conflict lingers to this very day.

How could Korea become The Forgotten War? How could America forget the 2 million casualties of that intensely brutal war that lasted a mere 37 months? How could America forget its 34,000 sons who died at the rate of nearly 1000 per week?

I am here to tell you the story one man from a small town in Massachusetts who went to Korea as a mere mortal and returned with a touch of immortality, never to be forgotten. He was an extremely bright and charming young man who left college early to enlist in the Marines in September 1950. He returned to Hopedale briefly that Christmas after completing basic training at Parris Island and deployed with the 1st Marine Division in Korea on January 28, 1951.

By now, the Communist Chinese Army, the Red Army, was fully engaged in the conflict and had been since their unexpected entry during the previous winter at Chosin Reservoir that nearly drove the Marines Corps into the sea. Now the 1st Marine Division were up against them in an area known as the Punchbowl, a dormant volcano lying in treacherous mountain terrain. The fighting was as fierce as it was at Chosin. Many new replacements were now engaged in seemingly constant battle against the enemy. The Marine Corps Gazette reported it this way:

Mountains were no novelty to Marines with Korean experience but they had seldom seen as chaotic a landscape as the one stretching ahead. Peaks of 3000 feet brooded over a wilderness of seemingly vertical ridges rising from dark and narrow valleys. Few roads were available and the frequent spring rains turned these native trails into bogs.

Battles took place daily against a fierce and entrenched foe. Day long battles were fought for territory gains of only several thousand yards. During the first 10 days of June 1951, the 1st Marine Division lost 67 men killed in action. Those loses were higher than any other month in the war; higher than during the famous Chosin Reservoir operation.

Among those dead was Corporal Richard J. Griffin. He received shrapnel wounds in battle on June 9, was evacuated and died aboard the hospital ship USS Haven on June 16, 1951. He had been a Marine for less than one year, in Korea for less than 5 months, and now he was coming home to be laid to his final rest.

Dick Griffin lived on Cemetery Street, just a few hundred yards from where we stand and his grave is in this cemetery where we honor him today along with so many others who fought and died in defense of our country. We in Hopedale have not forgotten our son from The Forgotten War.

In October of 1964, the Town of Hopedale dedicated a new 40 unit apartment complex for the elderly in his honor. Richard Griffin had been remembered once again for the lives that he had touched. A young attorney who knew Dick Griffin presided over the dedication. Perhaps these words capture the soul of the young man who died too young. He said:

Whoever coined the ancient proverb that ‘the good die young’ had such as Dick Griffin in mind. Dick had all the gentler qualities- loyalty, modesty, courtesy and a sense of the appropriate- to a degree unusual in a person so young and an unselfishness unique in a person of any age…He was truly one of those whom William James call ‘the once born.’

That young attorney was our own Judge Francis J. Larkin. Colonel Francis J. Larkin. We thank him for keeping alive the memory of his dear friend Dick Griffin and for keeping him closer to our own hearts. And we thank him for keeping alive this fine tradition of commemoration with our Memorial Day parade. He has shouldered this great burden for many years and is now ready to pass the torch to another generation of thankful Americans.

Finally, in November 1994, this monument was dedicated to all of the veterans of Hopedale, some 159 of whom served during the Korean War era. This stone behind me commemorates the memory of Richard J. Griffin, forever etched in granite, as the single Hopedale resident killed in action in Korea.

This member of “The Silent Generation” who fought in “The Forgotten War” shall never be forgotten in Hopedale. Corporal Richard J. Griffin, may you rest in eternal peace alongside and with your fellow comrades-in-arms. So long as this granite stone bears your name and Americans remain grateful of their heritage the memory of your life and service shall never fade.

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On the Loss of Innocence Again: Radio Essay for April 20, 2013

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On Loss of Innocence Again: Essay for April 20, 2013

The news came across my car radio while listening to a sports talk show in New York City. Something awful had happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was the first blast, then another. The unnerving pattern of twin explosions, eerily reminiscent of the aircraft that struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, left little to the imagination. The chances of this being a random event seemed immediately implausible. America had been terrorized once again in the most public of ways on a stage as big as the world itself.

Immediately you do the accounting. Is my family safe? Did anyone have reason to be in Boston this afternoon? It was impossible to know how many people I may have known who were involved in running or support of the marathon. Where I live it is simply too big an event to ignore. When out-of-towners ask me where I live in relation to Boston, I tell them that I live to the West about 26 miles, 385 yards. People immediately make the connection.

I vividly recall assembling my children on September 11, 2001, and describing for them how their lives were going to change. Life in America was to be forever altered. They were barely adolescents then. What could my statement have meant to them having not yet known the personal pain of such loss? Or the implications to our security and liberty that were sure to follow. It was my duty to ease into that explanation and prepare them for an adulthood that would all too often ooze tragedy.

Terrorism is personal to me, especially 9/11. I used to work in the E-Ring of the Pentagon; I entertained in the Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center. Several of my classmates were New York denizens. Four of them worked in the impact zone. Two of them were away from the city as their buildings were hit; and two never made it out. These were the stories I would pass along my children and their children. This was now part of my life narrative.

The Boston Marathon bombing was immediately different. Nearly 12 years after 911, it was my children who first contacted me to see if I was accounted for rather than the other way around. And when quizzed, it turned out that they had fewer degrees of separation with their friends and colleagues than did I. Their friends were all around that scene of carnage. It became immediately personal to them. And urgent.

That’s when it hit me. No longer could I shelter my children from the cold reality of life. No longer could I gently explain what was happening around them in a world that all too frequently gets turned upside down. No longer could I protect their innocence. It had been snatched from them. And they turned their protection towards me to provide shelter from the shock of the horrific situation.

So now, in this new social reality in a post-911 context, my children are now citizens of the World of Terror. They have their own recollections of simpler, less violent times. They have their own images of once sacred spaces forever marred by the incomprehensible reality of a world at war with itself.

It is an unfortunate rite of passage in this new world. Sadder still is the thought that my kids will shelter the next generation of Americans who will inevitably need sheltering when the next act of terror touches their lives. If the Boston Marathon bombing settles one thing it is this: however quiescent current events might become, there will be another act of terror that will require explanation and tenderness.

So, for me, the baton has been passed to my children. Now having borne witness to their own incomprehensible nightmare, having made the numerous connections to people within their ever expanding number of acquaintances, they are fully adult. Perhaps it is their rightful turn to begin to bear the burden of the weight that life presses down upon our shoulders. I wish I could shelter them from that awful burden but I fear they will need to develop that strength sooner rather than later. This problem will likely be with us long after I leave this earth.

Over time, we will prevail. We will rise again. Life will regain a sense of normalcy. But the bar of normalcy has been raised. Like a balloon that has been stretched, it never regains its original shape. It is forever deformed.

We ARE Boston Strong.

Press on.

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