Memorial Day 2013 – Freedom Is Not Free

Freedom is not Free - Golden Gate National Cemetery - 2009

On this beautiful Memorial Day morning, I’ve been looking back at some of the earlier Memorial Days I’ve written about here.

Last year, I was reminded by the pastor at my Mom’s church that Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day – that it dates back to just after the Civil War and was a commemoration of the soldiers who died in that war.

Again today we remember both those who sacrificed their lives in service to our country as well as memories of those close to us.

According to Wikipedia, “Freedom Is Not Free” was first coined by retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Walter Hitchcock, of New Mexico Military Institute and “expresses gratitude for the service of members of the military, implicitly stating that the freedoms enjoyed by many citizens in many democracies are only possible through the voluntary risks taken and sacrifices made by those in military. The saying is often used to convey respect specifically to those who gave their lives in defense of freedom.”

Once again this year, we remember them. Never forget.

The image above is from Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California – taken on an early January morning in 2009. Had it been taken on Memorial Day, small American flags would have been placed in front of each of the headstones – we can see them in our mind’s eye.

Memorial Day 2012 – Freedom Is Not Free

In the Snow - Korean War Veterans Memorial - 2005

On this beautiful late May evening, I’ve been looking back at other Memorial Days I’ve written about. At church with my Mom yesterday, I was reminded by the pastor that Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day – it dates back to just after the Civil War and was a commemoration of the soldiers who died in that war.

Today, we remember both those who sacrificed their lives in service to our country as well as memories of those close to us.

The image above is of the Korean War Veterans Memorial on The Mall in Washington, DC. It was taken in the middle of a late February 2005 snowfall by our daughter on a school trip. American soldiers on patrol.

Engraved into a wall of the memorial are the words: “Freedom Is Not Free”.

Indeed. Never forget.

A Revolution in My Pocket!

Celebrating in Tahrir Square - by RamyRaoof

There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.

Wow, what a day for Egypt! Watching the events unfolding in Egypt over the last 18 days has been both compelling and seductive.

Thanks mostly to Aljazeera English, I had a seat on the edge of Tahrir Square in Cairo. AJE’s iPhone application brought me live video wherever I was – zooming me into the events in Egypt as they unfolded.

How amazing is all of this? First of all, the source – Aljazeera itself and its on-going presence in Cairo, in spite of the regime’s efforts to shut it down. This source was complemented by the incredible capability I hold in my hand with the iPhone that brings AJE’s video into my life wherever I am.

This feels like a really new world. Video from anywhere on the globe delivered into our hands in real-time. Amazing. Simply amazing.

I can’t imagine how this will influence world events in the years to come. The accelerating pace of change enabled by this technology is breathtaking, exciting and, I must admit, a bit scary. I’m reminded that “Freedom is not free” – but clearly the pace of its evolution is changing fast!

PS: Aljazeera has a campaign: “Demand Aljazeera in the USA” which they hope will result in the cable TV companies adding their content. Presumably they’d receive some sort of compensation from the cable companies? Frankly, I could care less about any of that. While it might be nice to watch AJE on my cable TV, where I really want to watch it is “in my hand”. And they’ve got that covered nicely with their iPhone app!

Photo of “Celebrating in Tahrir Square” by RamyRaoof.

A Passion for Nukes

For the last few weeks, I’ve been auditing a seminar titled “EE190: Nuclear Weapons, Risk and Hope” that Stanford Professor Emeritus Martin Hellman has been teaching this quarter.

This is a subject that Marty is most passionate about – see, among other references, his website on Defusing the Nuclear Threat. Coincidentally, Marty and I had lunch a couple of weeks ago on the day he was going to hold the first class in the seminar – so I tagged along. I had recently re-watched Thirteen Days – one of my all-time favorite movies – where the US and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. I’m glad I have attended these seminar sessions of Marty’s – in the process learning much more about both the history, the technology and the issues surrounding atomic weapons.

Earlier this month, an obituary in the New York Times caught my eye – Tsutomu Yamaguchi died on Monday, January 4, 2010, at age 93. According to the Times, Yamaguchi was “the only official survivor of both atomic blasts to hit Japan in World War II.” He was present both at Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atomic bombs went off. Can you imagine? I couldn’t.

On Monday afternoon, I attended the lecture “Working Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons: Sidney Drell and George Shultz in Conversation with Philip Taubman” held by CISAC at Stanford. It was especially interesting to me to hear George Shultz’s description of the meeting in Reykjavik between President Reagan and Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev in which they talked about eliminating nuclear weapons.

Yesterday, I happened across this NPR story about the book The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back by Charles Pellegrino. NPR included the first chapter from the book – which begins by describing in minute details what actually took place during the first few seconds following the Hiroshima detonation. It’s very powerful in its description of that day – but still is something very hard to imagine beyond the sheer devastation that resulted.

Let’s hope, for all of our sakes, that – through the work of Hellman, Pellegrino and so many more who are trying to get us back to a nuclear zero world – that this is not something we ever have to experience ever again.

Duck and Cover

Last night and tonight I’ve been watching one of my favorite movies – Thirteen Days. While there’s a lot of fiction in this story of the Cuban missile crisis, there’s also a lot of history.

A few years back – after seeing the movie the first time – I read Robert Kennedy’s book about the crisis. It brought more of the facts into focus – but much of the impact was the same. We – this country and the world – edged right up to the brink of nuclear war on those fateful days in 1962. Had anyone pulled the trigger, I wouldn’t be writing these words today.

Watching the movie again tonight, one appreciates the value of restraint. Of playing chess – and playing several steps ahead. Sometimes ignoring the “best advice” of others as they push their agendas.

It’s a crazy world out there. Discerning the right path in the face of evil is an almost impossible task. But, let’s hope that it’s still possible, that we still have the discrimination to understand and apply force when it’s appropriate – and when it’s not.

At a dinner earlier this week with a very good friend, we talked about Obama and his administration. We talked about the stresses and strains – but we agreed that we can’t possibly understand the full burdens he bears – the daily intelligence briefings, the face of evil. His Nobel speech this week was remarkable. What’s appropriate use of power? Not just from America – but from the world.

The responsibility is so enormous that we can’t fully comprehend it. We struggle to even understand it.

Sobering Words

The two concluding paragraphs from President Obama’s speech tonight on Afghanistan:

It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united – bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we – as Americans – can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment – they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.

America – we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes. Thank you, God Bless you, God Bless our troops, and may God Bless the United States of America.

The Kennedys

Bob Herbert had a great observation in his column in this morning’s New York Times:

The most significant aspect of the Kennedys, more important than their reliably liberal politics or Ted’s long list of legislative accomplishments, was their ability to inspire. They offered the blessed gift of hope to millions, year after year and decade after decade.

Indeed. The dream endures. (1980 Convention Speech, 2008 Convention Speech)

Credit Cards

What a week for credit card issuers! The word “retribution” comes to mind.

Today’s meeting with Obama at the White House, Dodd and Schumer today asking Bernanke et all to use the Fed’s powers to block issuer interest rate increases, yesterday’s passage of the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights out of the House Financial Services Committee, etc. Just a few of this week’s highlights…

Way back in early February, I wrote a blog post about “The Pressures on US Consumers from their Credit Card Debt” – primarily noting how the credit card issuers were actually digging their own grave with their upward interest rate adjustments. A natural (if silo’ed) response by issuers to the need to protect/improve the P&L of the credit card businesses inside major financial institutions.

In spite of this week’s angst, we’re still a ways away from any legislative response actually passing (in the Senate, in particular). The financial services lobby is certainly fully engaged on the issues. It will be fascinating to see who prevails.

What’s the lesson the credit card industry should learn from all this? Anything?

The Hard Part

So, now the hard part comes re: AIG.

Not the bonuses to the AIG FP folks – but, rather, AIG’s passthrough of billions of dollars of emergency federal funding to “the coffers of several dozen big banks, shielding them from losses.”

And AIG didn’t just pass the billions through to American banks – but “Société Générale of France and Deutsche Bank of Germany, each of which received nearly $12 billion, Barclays of Britain, which received $8.5 billion, and UBS of Switzerland, which received $5 billion.”

The magic phrase: 100 percent on the dollar. Why? Who’s in charge of this debacle, anyway?

Steinbeck and Things

Perhaps my favorite fiction author has been the late John Steinbeck. I best remember reading his Travels with Charley in Search of America back in high school – describing his road trip with his poodle driving a camper around America.

180px-Travels-with-charley-cover.jpg

Unlike some of his other books, Travels with Charley wasn’t required high school reading – it was my choice to read it and that made it even better. According to the Wikipedia article on the book, “the real reason for the trip was that Steinbeck knew he was dying and wanted to see his country one last time.”

Part of my love of Steinbeck’s work is the place he often writes about in many of his books – Monterey and Pacific Grove. His writing about those locales just brings them back to life. You can smell the salt water and, perhaps, even the sardines!

In an op-ed piece titled “A Recession Only Steinbeck Could Love” in today’s Washington Post, Rachel Dry writes about how there’s been an upsurge in interest of late in re-reading Steinbeck’s most read novel “The Grapes of Wrath”. She says “there’s nothing like a Great Recession to make people want to read about the Great Depression.”

Dry goes on to note Steinbeck’s views late in his life about American materialism – “the domino effect of materialism”. She concludes that “even if his rage makes him seem too curmudgeonly to take advice from, Steinbeck’s observations are worth listening to at this moment. Untangle yourself from things.”

It may be springtime in America – but it still feels pretty dark and cold. Feels like it’s time again to re-read Travels with Charley. Maybe follow that with Stegner’s Crossing to Safety.