Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Movie Review: The Good Dinosaur – What If The Lion King and Jurassic Park Had a Child?

First appeared on Blogcritics.

The latest manifestation of Disney/Pixar computer generated characters can be found in The Good Dinosaur. It is a lavish, beautiful, visually awesome film that captures a time and place that is sometimes volatile yet other times peaceful in truly stunning detail.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR (Pictured) The T-Rexes.  ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.The landscapes are so visually arresting, it seems as if you are watching one of those old westerns with the high blue skies and the aesthetically pleasing but unforgiving terrain. But instead of a cowboy riding through the valleys and across mountains on his horse, we have a dinosaur named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) being ridden by a scrappy human child (Jack Bright) whom Arlo decides to call Spot.

In an alternate reality, the exposition establishes the fact that 65 million years ago an asteroid just misses earth. We then flash forward millions of years to what can ostensibly be thought of as an undetermined time where dinosaurs still rule the earth. Arlo lives on a farm with his siblings and parents, and they are intelligent creatures that have evolved to speak, till the soil, and harvest crops. 

Director and writer Peter Sohn (who wrote the screenplay with 5 other writers) has obviously stayed close to the Disney formula that works, and I couldn’t help but to keep thinking of The Lion King as I watched the sweeping vistas and the wise, powerful father Apatosaurus Henry (Jeffrey Wright) teaching his son Arlo the ways of life.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR - Pictured: Spot. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.One day Spot – who looks like a little caveman – gets into a trap and Arlo’s hesitation allows the child to escape. Henry brings Arlo along to track the child – in this world a boy is considered a “critter” trying to steal crops and must be dealt with.

During one of those volatile days – the weather seems to change very rapidly in The Good Dinosaur world – Henry is forced to save his son from a disaster (reminiscent of how Mufasa must save Simba from the stampede) at the cost of his own life. Seeing Henry futilely trying to scramble up a mountainside, I thought the only thing missing was the nefarious Scar.

Henry dies and visions of Bambi dancing in my head notwithstanding, I checked in on my son who, along with many of the other kids in the theater, were upset by Henry’s death – Disney knows how to pull the little heartstrings.

Arlo valiantly goes back to working the farm to help get the harvest ready before the first snow, but when he sees Spot raiding the silo, he chases the boy and then they both fall into the river and are washed far away from the farm.

The rest of the story involves Arlo’s coming of age with Spot’s help – as Simba had a warthog and a meerkat as his guides. After at first blaming Spot for Henry’s death, Arlo comes to understand that it is not the boy’s fault and they slowly become friends.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR (L-R) Arlo and Spot. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.  Along the way home as the unlikely pair follow the river back to the farm, they encounter danger in the form of pterodactyls and velociraptors, who see Spot as nothing more than a tasty treat. Arlo and Spot fight back against these pernicious foes, and get some help from a Tyrannosaurus Rex family led by father Butch (Sam Elliot).

A TRIO OF T-REXES — An Apatosaurus named Arlo must face his fears—and three impressive T-Rexes—in Disney•Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.” Featuring the voices of AJ Buckley, Anna Paquin and Sam Elliott as the T-Rexes, “The Good Dinosaur” opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 25, 2015. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.Butch is actually keeping a herd of cattle that “the rustlers” – the velociraptors – tried to steal. Extending the western motif, Arlo and Spot assist Butch and company in riding the herd until they can find a way for Arlo to get home.

There are also subtle social implications here – in an almost Planet of the Apes way – with humans being seen as animals and inferior. While this is a children’s movie and the complexity of the implications are never deeply explored, there are those moments when Spot is howling at the moon that may get your kids asking a few questions as mine did on the way home, but I found a few quick answers helped my son understand what was going on.

While some adults may find the story more than a little familiar, it entertained my son and the other kids in attendance. This is not a film that reaches for the narrative heights of The Lion King, but it is charming enough to keep the target audience satisfied as it is dazzled by the array of visual delights and scary characters chasing after our rather dynamic duo.

After the parade, the Thanksgiving turkey, and the football games are over, why not take the kids to see The Good Dinosaur? They will enjoy the film while you are blown away by the majestically conceived alternate reality that Sohn and company have created. It is a beautiful film that can be appreciated as a work of visual art that should not be missed.

  Photo credits: 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Day America Cried - A Short Story by Victor Lana

First appeared on Blogcritics.

I awoke from a dream about being a cowboy riding a horse. I looked around my room – my stuffed toy sentinels Bugs Bunny, Pinocchio, and Mickey Mouse stared down at me from the shelf next to the bed.

The smell of pancakes drifted up to my room from the kitchen. I got out of bed, grabbed Bugs, and went across the hall to piddle. When I was done, I didn’t flush the toilet because I could see my baby sister still sleeping in her room, and Mom always told me not to flush when Karen was sleeping unless I made poop.

When I went downstairs I saw Mom standing next to the stove in a halo of sunshine coming through the window looking like my own pancake angel.

“Are you hungry, Vinny?”

 Nana walked into the room carrying her teacup on a saucer. “When is a three-year old not hungry?” 

“Three and a half, Nana,” I said proudly.

She touched my cheek with her cold hand. “Yes, dear.” She looked up at Mom. “I’m going into the living room to watch the president.”

“Ok, Mom,” my mother said.

“The president?” I asked.

Mom put some pancakes on a plate, dropped a lump of butter on top, and placed them on the table. As she poured syrup over the stack she said, “Yes, he is in Texas and making a speech.” 

"Will John-John be there?” My only interest in the president was that his son was around my age. 

“Oh, I highly doubt it.”

“Shucks!” I said before devouring my pancakes.


Mom hummed “Blue Velvet” as she changed Karen’s diaper. I sat on the floor next to the crib playing with my Tonka trucks. Right after I arranged a pretty nifty crash, I heard Nana scream up the stairs, “They shot the president!”

Mom looked at me. “What did Nana say?”

“They shot the president,” I said.

“Oh my God!” She quickly fastened the pin on Karen’s diaper, lifted her into her arms, and started downstairs with me following.

Nana sat in front of the TV dabbing her eyes with the little flowery hanky she always kept in her pocket. The man on the TV looked really sad as he spoke about what had happened. Mom started crying, and I leaned against her and rubbed her arm like she did for me when I was crying.

22-3After a while I left the room and went up to my Dad’s office. I usually never went in there when he wasn’t home, but I crept in and walked behind the big wooden desk. I stared up at the picture of the president that my father had on the wall. I always noticed it there when I came in to talk to Dad when he was busy. I liked the president’s face. I couldn’t help but wonder about John-John. My Dad was a cop, and sometimes I worried about him getting shot too because I had heard Mom and Nana talking about it.

The phone rang and I ran back downstairs because sometimes when Dad called from work I could talk to him. “Yes, of course I understand, Vince. Be careful!” Mom said and then hung up the phone. She looked at me. “Daddy has to stay late at work today because of what is happening.”

I didn’t like when Dad was late, so I hung my head and walked into the hallway, grabbed Bugs Bunny from the table, and went upstairs.


A few days later as Dad was getting ready for work I asked, “Can we throw the football, Dad?”

He put on his jacket, stuck the snub-nosed revolver into the holster on his belt, and picked up his gold badge from the table. “I have to go to work today, Vinny.”

“Yeah, I know. You’ve been working a lot lately.”

Dad took my Jets cap off and kissed the top of my head. As he put the cap back on me he said, “Look, I’m on a big case right now. I promise we’ll throw the football around on Thanksgiving before dinner. Okay?”

“Okay, Dad.”

After Dad left I went to the window and watched him walking down the street. I knew he would take the subway into the city, and I wished I could go with him one day and see everything that he saw on the way. I kind of wanted to watch over him the way Bugs, Pinocchio, and Mickey watched over me. 

As I walked downstairs I heard Mom and Nana crying in the living room. They were watching TV, and I looked at the screen and saw John-John. He was standing there next to his mother and sister. His mommy was dressed all in black and it was scary.

Mom touched my arm. “This is the president’s funeral.”

“Oh, you mean like grandpa’s?”

Nana nodded. “Yes, like grandpa’s, except today the whole country is crying.”

kennedyI watched as John-John’s mommy leaned down and said something to him. Suddenly he was saluting like a soldier, and so I went up to the TV and saluted as well.

“Oh, Vinny, get out of the way,” Mom said.

Nana sniffled. “Leave him alone, dear.”

I sat on the floor and felt really sad for John-John. He lost his daddy and I know I was always scared about that too. I watched the rest of the funeral quietly, and then I saw the horse pulling the coffin with a flag draped over it. “Why isn't someone on that horse?”

“It’s a tradition,” Nana said.

Later in the kitchen as Mom made lunch I sat at the table drawing a picture. “What’re you doing, Honey?”

“Making a picture for Daddy.”

“Oh, how nice.”

“He can keep it in his wallet to keep him safe.” Mom put my peanut butter and jelly sandwich down in front of me. “I wish John-John had done that for his daddy.”

Mom sniffled as she turned to the sink and said, “Don’t we all.”

  Photo credits:, NY Daily News

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Reaction to Terrorist Attacks – Are We Giving Them Exactly What They Want?

First appeared on Blogcritics.

ter2 Now we have a terrorist attack in Mali – 27 dead including one American. That African nation has a connection to the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015. As a former French colony, French troops have been there helping that government in the fight against Islamic rebels. As they say, here is where the plot thickens.

Or perhaps, we should say, this is where the characters start showing their true colors. First we have the antagonists. Make no mistake – ISIS and other terrorist groups are the worst bullies imaginable. Bullies work to foment fear and to provoke knee-jerk reactions, and they are doing their job and then some right now. Chalk one up for ISIS.

The Mali attack – attributed to Al Qaeda and not ISIS – proves that terrorism can rear its ugly head anywhere in the world. This attack in Mali in a fancy hotel guaranteed headlines – something the ISIS attack in Beirut initially failed to do (at least here in the U.S.). Each attack is gauged to hurt as many innocents as possible in places they normally would be able to go and enjoy themselves. That is what terrorism is all about. The fear part is another aspect of the terrorism playbook. They hope that people will be so afraid that they will not go about business as usual – that includes air travel, tourism, theatre, dining, and shopping. This is good for terrorists and bad for everyone else.

ter3Here in New York City and other major cities such as Paris, Brussels, Washington D.C., and London, the sight of heavily armed police and soldiers is becoming the new normal. While Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton say everything is under control and tourists and New Yorkers seem to be going about business as usual, there is an undercurrent of fear everywhere you go. No matter what the official line seems to be or what people are telling interviewers, there is a palpable sense of something coming – or more precisely impending doom.

People worldwide are on notice that terrorism can strike anywhere, and the United Nations Security Council did nothing but send that message home by unanimously voting for member states to take “all necessary measures” to defeat ISIS. While this is alarming in and of itself, one look at recent terrorist attacks – Tunisia, Turkey, Beirut, Paris, and now Mali – and the bombing of a Russian airplane over Egypt – and we know that this is a worldwide matter that concerns every nation.

Then we have the presumptive protagonists – U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, and the rest of the leaders of the world who are combating this ever-growing threat. These people are faced with an enormous challenge in dealing with a foe that has no regard for human lives, including their own. As they try to come up with a game plan to defeat a monster, the fear is that they will become as bad as the opponents. If that happens, chalk another one up for ISIS.

On the fringe are the other players like the Syrian refugees and the U.S. presidential candidates. With the refugees we have desperate people who are fleeing an unimaginable horror; with the presidential candidates we have people sometimes reacting horribly. It is a combustible mix that must be delighting the ISIS leadership every time someone like Ben Carson or Donald Trump speaks.

The problem here is that not only are terrorists causing fear and reactions of world leaders, but they are making regular citizens forget their better selves and inspiring the presidential candidates to respond in sometimes absurd ways. The bottom line for Americans is that we need to look in the mirror – do we see the Statue of Liberty staring back at us or jack-booted monster?

I believe that some of us should not like what we see. If you are an American citizen and not a Native American, chances are your ancestors were refugees of some kind escaping something, fleeing oppression, or wanting to live life freely. The whole notion of placing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor to greet foreigners from all over the world coming into Ellis Island was to welcome them.

ter1There are truly absurd things happening here – with Ben Carson calling for “a database on everybody” and Donald Trump saying American Muslims should be forced to get I.D. cards and that some mosques should be closed. This only encourages anti-Muslim elements in the U.S. and justifiable concern about an ugly backlash against law-abiding Muslims in this country reaching a height unknown since 9/11. Chalk another one up for ISIS.

If our main problem with terrorists is that they threaten our way of life, how can we fray the fabric of that existence in an effort to combat them? If we no longer uphold the values and the freedoms we are fighting for, then are we as bad – or in some cases even worse – than the pernicious foe we are fighting?

newyork_county_heroIf we are honest with ourselves, the answers are going to be upsetting. If we keep lying to ourselves, then we are headed in the direction that ISIS and other terrorist groups hope we take – a downward spiral that will destroy us much more thoroughly than any attack they can spring on us – in essence taking away the way of life we are now trying to defend. In the end for the terrorists that will be the greatest victory of all.

  Photo credits: ABC News, NY Daily News, CNN

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Charlie Sheen Reveals He Has HIV With Grace Under Pressure

First appeared on Blogcritics. There will be the cruel ones – those who will joke about Charlie Sheen now. Of course, Charlie made it all easy for them over the years with his antics, the tiger blood, and the “winning” mystique of the wild bad boy. They can have at him because the Charlie Sheen we saw on Today talking with Matt Lauer has the strength to take it and then some.

I must confess that I have never liked Charlie Sheen because he seemed so cavalier about the good fortune that he had and invested so much energy into his wild ways that were detrimental to himself, those who loved him, and his career. He went through women faster than the L train going through the tunnel under the East River, and yet there were flashes of sheer brilliance in films, especially Platoon and Major League.

I never watched Two and a Half Men or the series Anger Management, but that was not because of not liking Charlie but more that I am not too fond of TV sitcoms. The last one I watched regularly was Seinfeld and, since that went off the air in 1998, you can understand that I have been out of the loop for some time.

Still Charlie made his presence known in the tabloids and online. When he had the falling out with the producers of Two and a Half Men, I must admit that I enjoyed watching him run amok in interviews. He could be hilarious as Donald Trump is right now – always keeping you watching to see the next crazy thing that he would say.

Looking back on the possibilities for Charlie, they seemed limitless at the start of his career. The son of gifted actor Martin Sheen and brother of actor Emilio Estevez, Charlie came from Hollywood nobility but acted something like Prince Hal in Henry IV, with any willing accomplice becoming his Falstaff.

But Charlie was much less than that character, who would eventually fulfill his potential as Henry V; no, in the end Charlie was much less than Hal and more like Hamlet or Achilles. Charlie was the tragic hero in many ways, with his multiple tragic flaws more debilitating than Hamlet’s procrastination or Achilles’s famous heel.

The problem with tragic heroes is that despite their prowess and nobility and inner goodness, they are unaware of the flaw that will be their undoing. Sadly, Charlie always seemed aware that his behavior was destructive – ruining marriages, relationships with his family, and his career; however, none of that was enough as he kept on going with the candle burning at both ends – a veritable moth attracted to countless flames.

But all this changes now – the Charlie I saw on Today has become a matured, self-aware, and humble man. The arrogance once visible in Hot Shots! or when playing himself everywhere else is gone now. He seems so calm now, almost at peace – with both his diagnosis and his coming to terms with the life he has to lead now.

Lauer asked tough questions and pulled no punches, but Charlie countered relentlessly and honestly. There were no body blows, and Charlie held his head high despite having to admit to doing some despicable things with less than reputable associates. Spending millions of dollars on prostitutes and then even more money on having them and others keep quiet about his HIV seems heartbreakingly more like depriving his children of a brighter future than anything criminal – but perhaps that is the greater offense for which he now must make amends.

Appearing during the interview with Sheen, Dr. Robert Huizenga, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (UCLA) and Charlie’s physician made it clear – “Charlie has contracted HIV; he does not have AIDS.” Dr. Huizenga is treating Charlie successfully but spoke of the millions out there who have HIV and are not treated. “I anticipate Charlie can save many more lives coming forward with his revelation than I could ever have aspired to as a doctor.”

This is the new Charlie Sheen – one who expects to make a difference instead of causing havoc. He says, “I accept this condition not as a curse or scourge, but rather as an opportunity and a challenge. An opportunity to help others. A challenge to better myself.”

So is Charlie Sheen now a tragic hero? No, his life used to be tragic – the drugs, the people who wished to harm him, his own self-destruction almost bringing him to the point of annihilation – now Charlie has taken a different path and seems a changed man.

In a rather eloquent “open letter” about his HIV diagnosis, Charlie reveals his plans for the road ahead. He says, “My partying days are behind me. My philanthropic days are ahead of me.” It is nice to see that Charlie is handling this like a real man – no excuses and no blaming others. If he can indeed help others – even save other lives – Charlie’s story has a much happier ending than anyone could have imagined for him a few days ago.

In his letter Charlie also quoted Ernest Hemingway’s “Grace under pressure.” It seemed very apropos that he chose Hemingway, a great talent that became destroyed and ultimately vanquished by his own hand. Charlie seems to have learned from that and says he is moving forward “with courage and grace.”

For the first time I can say “I like Charlie Sheen” – the new Charlie Sheen to be specific. May he find peace and happiness on the journey that lies ahead of him.

  Photo credit: Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bombings in Beirut A Day Before Paris Attacks Get Minimal Coverage

First appeared on Blogcritics.

b1 I ask the people of Lebanon and Beirut to forgive us – all of us in America, Europe, and around the world. A day before the attacks in Paris, bombs went off in a busy shopping district killing 43 and wounding hundreds more. I would have been outraged upon hearing this story – but it was kept on the back burner or maybe completely off the grid.

I only learned about the Beirut story by default – I saw it on Facebook. I cringed at my lack of knowledge regarding the subject, but noted to myself that I hadn’t heard about it on the radio or during my cruising of the evening news channels. The very fact that I can no longer watch one channel for news perhaps says something about me and, indirectly, about the channels presenting the news. There is so much filler, so much banter (I know, this is meant to have us believe these talking heads like each other), and the stories presented themselves are at times very slow moving, inspiring me to hit the remote and try to find something better.

Even though I do not watch the news properly, I should have been able to run across a story about the Beirut bombings, but I did not. The lack of coverage is appalling, and in article in The New York Times we understand how the world's reaction to the Paris attacks only enhances the pain in Lebanon, where no explanation for such a disparity in coverage can ease the pain.
"When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in THOSE parts of the world."
One can completely understand Dr. Fares’s reaction, and the curious thing is that no one went with this story. Since ISIS claimed responsibility for the Beirut attack, it would seem that would be a leading news story; instead, I didn’t hear about it until today. There is definitely something wrong with this picture.

It isn’t acceptable to ignore a story because of where it happens. Did U.S. news outlets figure this bombing in Beirut was just more of the same in the Middle East? Perhaps it was a case of something more pernicious – the story about ISIS killing other Muslims didn’t seem as important as when ISIS killed white Christians in a European tourist mecca.

b2Have we become so inured to violence in that part of the world? It does matter that this story received minimal if any coverage, and the truth is that the problem with ISIS is not a French problem, not a Syrian problem, or a Lebanese one – it is the world’s problem.

President Obama, reacting to the Paris attacks, rightly said, “This is an attack on all humanity and the universal values we share.” This should be then something that refers to all nations – people of all colors, all religions, and all nationalities. This kind of outrage must resonate across the planet and affect change on every continent, in every country, and for all people.

Indian blogger Karuna Ezara Parikh responded to the disparity in coverage of the Beirut and Paris attacks quite eloquently:
It’s not Paris we should pray for, it is the world. It is a world in which Beirut, reeling from bombings … is not covered in the press. A world in which a bomb goes off at a funeral in Baghdad, and not one person’s status update says “Baghdad” because not one white person died in that fire…
This lack of coverage about this terrible incident in Beirut is an injustice to the Lebanese people. There can be no explanation that makes sense or soothes the pain for the inequity is glaring. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his letter from the Birmingham jail, succinctly described the situation then that applies now to the world’s predicament with ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
So we are all in this together. That includes Syria, Iraq, Iran, India, China, Russia, France, the U.S., and every nation on earth. It is up to us – all of us – to proceed in a way that says every life matters. That is the only way we can defeat a group like ISIS that has a philosophy that no lives matter – not even those of its own members. We all must believe that peace is attainable in this world. John Lennon once wrote, “War is over if you want it.” Now it is up to us – all of us – to be serious about wanting it.

b3The media owes an apology to the people of Beirut and of Lebanon. That will not bring back those lost in the carnage in its streets, but it will help assuage the pain that the lack of coverage of their story caused. All lives matter – ALL lives – and it’s about time the media embraces that fact and proves it by the stories that are covered.  

  Photo credits: AP, NY Times, EPA

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Terrorists Attack Paris – New Yorkers and All Americans Should Show Support

First appeared on Blogcritics.

paris2 Each morning I wake up to a changed city and a different country. No matter how beautiful the Freedom Tower and other new buildings are at the World Trade Center site in Manhattan, they are part of the new New York, not the one I grew up in and loved. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love NYC, but it will never be the same for me – ever.

 The people of France – especially those living in Paris – wake up to a different city and country today. No, their skyline is not irrevocably changed, but the detritus of the wave of terrorist attacks across the city that killed 127 people and wounded hundreds more has pierced them to their souls just as 9/11 severely wounded my city and country. There is no turning back for them, no eradicating the blood and loss and destruction and fear. Those things are forever now.

I have a great love for Paris and France having been there many times. My connection goes back to my father who, after serving in the Army in World War II, stayed on after the war and helped with the rebuilding efforts. He spoke fluent French and made friendships that lasted a lifetime. When I first went to school in Paris, I got to meet his French friends who greeted me as if I were next of kin.

I will never forget the love I felt there, and the feeling that it was not just our families that were inextricably linked but our nations. The people I visited had little American flags all over their house right next to French flags – the symbolism reminding me of relationship going back to Generals Lafayette and Washington.

paris1Now many years after my time there I fear for all the French people because I know that this kind of thing will lead to more carnage. While I understand why French President Francois Hollande has reacted the way he has – declaring a national state of emergency, closing the country’s borders, and promising a “merciless fight” against the terrorists – there is always the thought of the never ending war (think Afghanistan for the U.S.) that follows. 

Confucius wrote that when embarking on a journey of revenge that you should first dig two graves. Throughout history there has been so much carnage, so much unnecessary violence, all in the name of tit for tat. What often happens is this cycle of retaliation and retribution goes on so long, the participants sometimes end up forgetting why they are fighting – they are just programmed to keep doing what they have always done.

The terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks and apparently tweeted the message “The State of the caliphate hit the house of the cross.” This kind of incendiary language only fuels the religious insanity on both sides of the fence – murder and destruction in the name of one’s god is perhaps the most insidious violence of all.

paris3At this time saber rattling is usually what leaders do, but then we can only expect more of the same results. If France attacks ISIS in Syria, there will inevitably be more attacks on that country. After two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans learned hard learned lessons – we lost so much, got very little in return, and the terrorists are still causing mayhem. This vicious cycle of tit for tat will be forever ongoing unless someone makes an effort to get it to stop.

While we ordinary Americans may feel helpless in regard to stopping these kinds of attacks from happening again, we still can offer support to the people of France. There are many ways to show your support financially, but we must also support the people of France with our actions and words (which includes praying if you are so inclined).

On this cold fall day in New York my heart is in Paris. As I look out the window I think of that other city I love being irrevocably changed, and it saddens me and worries me. There has to be a time when all people wake up and think, “We can’t do this anymore.” War only begets more war; we have to find a way to lasting peace and saber rattling is never going to get us there.

paris4When will all involved drop their swords and say, “Enough is enough”? When will all involved say, “No more dead children, no more dead innocent people”? This better be soon because, while each side claims to win these individual battles, ultimately the human race is losing the war and in essence its humanity.

The Paris attacks should remind us that if it can happen there then it can happen here again or anywhere in the world for that matter. If no place is safe, then every human being on the planet has a vested interest in making it that way by finding answers to get the job done – not next year, not next month or week, but right now! For the sake of our children and their children, nothing less is acceptable.

  Photo credits:,,,    

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran’s Day Honors Those Who Served – Brings Back Memories of Those Passed On

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Veterans_FB_Post_3How long has it been since I last saw my father march on Veteran’s Day? I asked myself this question and figured almost 30 years – when he last served as commander of his Veterans of Foreign War Post.

I recall standing there watching him march by proudly, along with many of his friends who had also served in World War II. They were younger then, but much older than when they first marched off to war. The ferocity of pride in their expressions as well as an enduring sense of accomplishment was notable, and I always thought that we owed them all so much – more than America could ever possibly pay back.

Now all these years later Dad is gone and so are so many of his friends who served in that conflict. As a boy I had marched a number of times with the VFW contingent, and I had met many veterans, and there were those who had to ride in cars because they were too old to walk the route anymore. 

Besides a majority of World War II vets, some of them had served in World War I (including my grandfather), and others had been in the Spanish-American War. I even met one ancient fellow who had been in the Civil War. He was 112 at the time and recalled meeting General U.S. Grant on the battlefield.

This day marks a rich history of tradition commemorating the Allied nations and Germany signing of the armistice to cease hostilities at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The following year it was celebrated as Armistice Day, became a federal holiday in 1938, and became known as Veteran’s Day after World War II.

dad2Now with Dad gone the day always brings a tear to my eye, reminding me of those Veterans Days spent with him, my uncle, and grandfather as they marched in the parade and spoke of their experiences.

As I look at today’s veterans, many of the old guard has served in Korea and Vietnam (those were the guys whom Dad called the “young bucks” 30 years ago).

The young bucks now are from Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the parades kick off here in New York City and all around the country today, the best message we can send is by showing our support and turning out to honor their service as they march on by.

No matter how you may feel about war and the sordid politics sometimes connected to it – and I never met one vet who liked it – there is a necessary and compelling need to recognize these men and women who served. Just as we appreciate the firefighter who will run into a burning building while everyone else is running out, we must salute these people for doing what most of the rest of us would not be able to do.

vetOn this day too I recall one old grizzled vet who gave me a present – the gift of bullet wrapped in a Buddy Poppy. The Buddy Poppy is made by people staying in VA hospitals and homes and represents the blood shed by those Americans who served.

The inspiration for the iconic poppies comes from the famous poem “In Flanders Field” by Canadian Army Colonel John McCrae. The beautiful and memorable poem notes the cruel dichotomy of booming of war guns while peaceful flowers grow around the graves of soldiers who already made the ultimate sacrifice.

The bullet-poppy combination extends the metaphor of the poem – the inevitability of wars notwithstanding, peace is always the ultimate goal. I keep this on a shelf in my office and look at it every day, thinking of my Dad and all the other men and women who served in time of conflict in order that we could live in peace and safety back home.

veterans-day-at-arlington-national-cemetary-ABIf possible try to get to a parade today. While it’s good to show your support of our service men and women, it will also benefit you if you get to meet one or more of these people, listen to their stories, and appreciate their efforts on behalf of all Americans.

If you do have this opportunity, don’t forget to extend your hand and say, “Thank you.” It’s the least any of us can do.

Photo credits: VFW,