Happy Birthday, Aunt Susi

Your aunt was a friend of mine.

History & Wine

Today, January 22nd, would have been my Aunt Susi’s 66th birthday. I remember her being very excited about turning 65 last year, as she was finally eligible for Medicare. She had struggled without health insurance for some time, and finally, she had the security of knowing that she could not be denied health coverage.

Unfortunately, her illness had progressed too far by the time that she was able to seek treatment. She passed away last October from complications related to bone, brain, and breast cancer.

In honor of her birthday today, I’m going to share another email from her that she sent me two years ago on her birthday. She decided to tell me about one of her more adventurous birthdays in NYC. This particular birthday of hers was spent with some of her favorite people from the folk band, Schooner Fare.

As it’s my birthday, I’m also thinking…

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Eric Braeden’s Autobiography I’ll Be Damned. Brief Review and Personal Thoughts.

For those who don’t know who Eric Braeden is, he’s an actor, whose longest and best known role is as the long time repellent character Victor Newman in The Young and the Restless.  I like characters who are villains.  I remember his role in the Rat Patrol.    

    I picked the book up on the new bookshelf at my local library; the Murphy-Wilmot Branch of the Pima County Library, Tucson, Arizona.  It’s one of my Saturday routines.  

      The book is easy reading, but that doesn’t make it simple.  In it’s short page length, it covers more than just being about an acting career and celebrities.  

Mr. Braeden also pays attention to history and the world in general.  He was born in Northern Germany, in 1941. Even though, I’m a history buff, you don’t need me to tell you what was going on.  His father was mayor of their town, but that in some ways made life difficult.

After the war, his father had to spend a year in a reeducation camp, and not long after he died.  It certainly made Mr. Braeden resilient, as he tells the story of traveling to school, going through his school day, then getting home, and maybe…or maybe not eating.

With money saved, he was able to save money, get to this country, and to use the old phrase, the rest is history.

I wanted to write something personal, from my humble point of view.  Did I mention history? I thought so.

Mr. Braeden talked about asking his mother about what went on during World War II.  How the actor, Curt Jurgens suggested he return to Germany, so he wouldn’t have to play Nazis all the time.  I won’t give the rest of the book away, but here is my personal take.

I’m an American with 95% Ashkenazic Jewish ancestry.  My ancestors were from what’s now Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine.  You may understand why most Jews in the United States aren’t fond of Germany and or Eastern Europe.  Reminds of an apocryphal story. Jewish man buys a Mercedes. (I own a beat up 15 yr. Old vehicle, I bought at an auction.  I am not rich, but it has enough dents to scare those with new vehicles). His relatives are horrified. You would buy a car from Nazis?  His response? If those Nazis knew how happy their car made this Jew, they would die.

Where am I going with this?  I didn’t have a typical Jewish upbringing in the United States.  My father, Marvin Charton, was a Chemistry professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.  His research gained him colleagues and friends worldwide, including Germany and Poland among others.  Places you’d think I was supposed to be repelled by.  Two of his Polish friends saw me as a surrogate nephew.  I’ve visited them in Poland. There’s a moral to this story and I bring it up here, because Mr. Braeden had to put up with it.  Being born during the Nazi Era does not, in itself make one an enemy. I shouldn’t have to say this, but people are people, and he talks about those issues in the book.

OK, there is my personal input.  Purchase, or go to your library new book shelf and read the book.  Nuff said.

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A Warped Look at Russian History, Debate Beginnings.

Chapter Seven:  Debate Preparation:

Mrs. Ivanova planned the debate with the help of her Principal and the coordinator at the Veterans Club.   She could’ve done without some of the help, but there was not much choice. Local politicians were informed and wanted in on the act.  

People  all over the area had opinions.  Mostly older people of a more nationalist bend wanted the nine year olds put in place by the veterans.  Others thought it was wrong, that the veterans would bully the youngsters and it would be fixed in favor of the veterans anyway.    Natasha, Galina, and Anton were rooting for the kids. The debate was planned for a month later, on a Friday night.

Grandpa was excited and bragging.  Ivan, listened carefully to Grandpa.  He might give something away for the debate.  

The debate coincided with President Putin’s inauguration.  Russian nationalists were feeling high from President Putin’s victory.  

      The veterans club was happier than usual, with thicker cigarette smoke and more food and vodka circulating through the building.  Mr. Kirilenko was selected to present the nationalist side, Ivan’s friend Sergei, was selected by the class to present the student side.

Nine year olds vs. nationalist combat veterans, may seem like David vs. Goliath.

This, however, is the see saw that is modern, post Soviet, post Yeltsin Russia.

The debate was set for a Friday night a month after the Presidential Inauguration.  A local Duma member provided food, which included salads, smoked fish and bread. It was decided, a Mr. Rybkov, who also fought in Afghanistan, and was an advisor, during the Soviet Era in Angola would be the leadoff speaker for the veterans, with Mr. Kirilenko as the second team member.  The veterans figured the youngsters would be awed by a veteran of the Great Patriotic War. Ivan’s half Uzbek, friend Sergei would be leadoff speaker for the class, with a girl with blonde curls named Lara, named after the character in Dr. Zhivago. Mrs. Ivanov, would be the debate coach for the kids, the veterans felt they knew their case cold.

Mrs. Ivanova told the kids how proud of them she was.  She coached them on how to be polite with the answers and not allow the veterans to pick on them.  

The judges would be, two local politicians, on different sides, a police official,  the school principal, and a Russian History professor at Moscow State University. The moderator was to be a Moscow State librarian, Dr. Elena Svaboda who kept track of sources used, and could take points away, like a soccer referee, for inappropriate contact.  Normally, Dr. Svaboda would have been judge as well, but for political reasons, the five judges were chosen. Not that the veterans thought they needed to do any research for the debate: They felt their lives spoke for the life and soul of Russia. Mrs. Ivanova on the other hand, made sure there were sources used.  She had them working on the level of high school students. This was important, as the youngsters were David to the veterans Goliath, right down to physical size. The class would need all the help they could get.

All of Mrs. Ivanova’s class practised for the debate, in case replacements were needed.  The veterans’ “practices,” consisted of eating, laughing, and a lot of vodka. They were very confident, well a little liquor, goes a long way in the confidence department, as Grandpa Zhenya proves quite frequently.  

Mrs. Ivanova, on the other hand, has made learning fun, while keeping her young charges disciplined.  Even when they did well, she pushed them hard.

A Nationalist politician in the Duma, finally felt he needed to take the veterans in hand.  As a former general in Afghanistan, they felt that had to pay attention to him. Every day, at the veterans club, he kept them off the vodka and made sure they followed the rules of the debate.  The general was less concerned with them being articulate, more concerned with their dress and discipline.

Home life was interesting.  Grandpa couldn’t drink at the Veterans Club, and Natasha controlled the bottle at home.  Grandpa would needle Ivan about debating his betters, but angry looks from the women of the house, and Galina’s husband Anton, kept Grandpa in check.  Grandpa muttered about being back in Afghanistan. Ivan practiced, and read, with the approval of the rest of the family.


Chapter Eight:  The Debate.

By Debate Night, as the media now knew it, oligarchs and celebrities were showing up as well.  The debate had to be moved to an auditorium at Moscow State. Those favoring the veterans hoped the large venue, would intimidate the kids.  If that was the intent, the kids seemed to be enjoying their jockeying.

You’d think the Russian leadership, with all Russia’s problems wouldn’t have the time to worry about a local debate between veterans and nine year old schoolchildren.  You’d be wrong. One nationalist politician in an interview told the television interviewer this was a debate for the soul of Russia. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

When seated, the proceedings were introduced by a local reporter.  The kids were allowed to go first. Lara started to present their case.    She spoke in a soft kind voice, respectful of all.

“ Distinguished guests, moderators, our teacher, Mrs. Ivanova We are honored to be debating with the veterans.  We respect their seniority, wisdom and service. We understand why they think and feel the way they do. We understand Russian history and culture and why Russia is the way it is.

We can’t completely shut the outside world out.  We enjoy being on Facebook and Instagram and speaking with people all over the world.  I have many friends all over the world now. We don’t need to fear Germany or the United States.  All of us have made friends in these places. We are not rejecting what happened. We’re saying don’t let the Russian past hold us back.  Thank you.”

Then Mr. Rybkov rose.  He’s a tall, barrel chested man, who could fill even an auditorium.  His voice, grave and gravelly, he began:

“Distinguished dignitaries and guests.  The youngsters are being misled, by their traitor teacher.  We are not here to debate, but to educate. Their views are treachery.  These online outlets lead Russian young people astray, and give comfort to our enemies, especially the Germans and Poles.  The evil ones, want our children weak, and not ready to face the threat. This is the story of Russia. This debate should not be happening.  It all spiraled out of control, because of the traitorous teacher, Mrs. Ivanova, nee Goldstein!” At the end of the sentence, his voice rose to a crescendo, and he pointed an angry finger at her, as though she was a scorned woman in Puritan New England.  Mr. Rybkov continued. “I demand the police arrest the traitor and end the debate now!”

The moderator, Dr. Svaboda had enough.  “Mr. Rybkov, the veterans, lose three points.  One for your comments against the children, and the other two against their teacher.  You are also removed from the debate. I will not tolerate such behavior.” She held up a red card, as though, he’d been expelled from a soccer match.  

Many in the audience mumbled about Dr. Svaboda being the insolent one.  Natasha and Galina squeezed each others hands, Ivan, and Anton sat stone faced until…

The General whispered, “Zhenya, you replace him.”  

Ivan, went wide eyed, Anton saw red, Galina and Natasha gasped.

“Oh my God,” Galina cried.  “You old fool, try not to be too much of an idiot,” Natasha muttered.  Galina was on her phone, giving a blow by blow account of the debate on Twitter.  

Zhenya stumbled to the table to join Mr. Kirilenko.  He was already clumsy on this evening, he didn’t need help.  

Young Sergei was up for the rebuttal.  “I’m half Uzbek, not Afghan you aren’t planning to strip search me, are you?  Don’t worry, I left the bombs at home.”

Most in the crowd didn’t know the reference.  Some burst out laughing, others were horrified at the disrespect.  Mrs. Svaboda weighed in. “That’s a one point loss for the students for the inappropriate comment.  

Mr. Kirilenko narrowed his eyes, so they looked a little like Sergei’s and glared.  Zhenya also glared. “ Young man, you may continue,” Dr. Svaboda droned.


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Harry and Meghan

I can be a grouch, but even I was impressed by the Royal Wedding.  The British really know how to do splendor. OK, why do Americans love the Royal Family so much?   The link from HuffPost will help with that.

Harry and Meghan seem to be nice people in love.   I’m an Anglophile and have British friends, so I pay attention to this sort of thing.  

I could not be a member of the Royal Family.  Not just am I not connected, by blood, I couldn’t even play a royal on television.  I can be sloppy, if not careful, use the wrong fork, etc. In Downton Abbey, Mr. Carson was my favorite character, but there’s no way I could live up to his exacting standards.  For me, white shirts, were one of the most dangerous things ever invented. If forced, to wear a white shirt, I panic about the menu.  There are rich sauces on the food? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Look at Harry in his uniform, how he carries it off.  I remember my rumpled Boy Scout uniform. I’m more like Onslow in the Britcom, Keeping Up Appearances.  

Meghan Markle is stunning.  People speak about the “biracial,” part of her.  I guess I can see for “Women of color,” in the UK.  It’s important. I just see two nice people in love, and maybe one day, (Probably not in my lifetime), we will get past caring about skin color, except to see beauty in it.  I try to be hopeful about that.

I watched a lot of the pre wedding coverage.  Some of it talked about Republicanism in the UK.  The cynic and dot connector in me kicked in. I’ve read the Queen likes Meghan.  There was also a scathing article in New York Magazine about the Royal Wedding. The author doesn’t like Royals  to begin with, but seemed to imply, that Meghan is a social climber and taking Harry for a ride. The fact that she’s an actress, makes it easier for her.  

Is that true?  Maybe. Who knows what’s completely in her heart.  My instinct says no, but I’ve been wrong before.

Staying on the subject of Meghan being an actress; did that help the Queen like her?  Think of this. Between Republicanism, and Meghan being biracial, was the Queen thinking for the long term, accepting Meghan as a way to keep the Royal Family relevant.  

Hopefully, my cynicism is completely misplaced, and this is just a happy couple.  

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Charlie Daniels

Some of this is more than a book review.  It’s a personal take on some of the historical and current events Charlie Daniels talks about in his book.  I may disagree with some, the reader may disagree, but he has opinions, and is intelligent.


I’ve always enjoyed Charlie Daniels music.    I just finished reading his autobiography, Never look at the Empty Seats.   It’s a well written book, by someone who is more than a musician.  He’s a bit of a renaissance man. Obviously, he describes his North Carolina upbringing, how his musical career began and thrived.  It wasn’t all milk and honey, there were some tragedies along the way.

    He also weighs in on racism, global warming, Judaism and Israel.    North Korea Greenland, Russia, and China get honorable mentions.

     He spoke about a man, who should’ve been his supervisor in a job he had as a young man, but the man was African-American, so in the Jim Crow American South, this man could not supervise white people.  Mr. Daniels explained how he grew up in that environment.  

He speaks about his religion.  He grew up attending church, but explains how much he learned about Christianity as an adult.  I can’t say much about Christianity, as I am not one.

I can say things about being Jewish, though.  I’m 95% Ashkenazic Jewish (at least according to 23andme).  I’m not religious, but fascinated by the history and culture.

Anyway, back to Mr. Daniels.  During the era of Jesus, he describes the Pharisees as self righteous and pompous.  I think back to the Mark Burnett, Roma Downey series The Bible, and Boris Johnson’s Dream of Rome.   The Pharisees, through the Sanhedrin, were really running Jewish affairs, with the approval of the Roman Empire.  Messiahs had been talked about in Jewish tradition before.  What scared the Sanhedrin about Jesus was he would threaten their position with the Romans.  That’s why they wanted him done away with.

Being Jewish is tough.  Why I’ve paraphrased Malcolm X.  We didn’t land in Rome, Rome landed on us!  

The stories about visiting American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are touching.  Never forget, freedom isn’t free.

Thank you, Mr. Daniels.  

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Lexington and Concord by George Daughan

If you’re an American, you learn about the first shots fired in the American Revolution.  This book concentrated on Massachusetts and what led up to those first shots.  It was more than guys dressed as Native Americans throwing tea in Boston Harbor.  (Who, in his right mind dips his tea bag in salt water?  Just asking).  Then Paul Revere’s ride.  (He said “The Regulars are coming.  The locals still considered themselves British, and there were Redcoat patrols in the area.  At best, if Revere cried “The British are coming!, someone would’ve thrown open a window, and yelled:  “We are the British, ye drunken fool!  Ride on, go home and go to bed)!  At worst?  I leave that to the imagination.

The problems really began with the French and Indian War, (Called the Seven Years War everywhere else).  It was really a world war, and North America, was just one theater.

The aristocratic British officers held the colonial militias in contempt.  Never mind, a poor Massachusetts farmer was literate, and lived better than a poor, illiterate Englishman.  The poor, illiterate Englishman joined the ranks of the regular British Army, which was not that large.  The Royal Navy was the pride of Great Britain.

The author talks about Ben Franklin going to London, for one last attempt to negotiate for the colonies.  Franklin saw the poor in Britain and feared the government wanted to reduce North Americans to that level.

King George III had the same contempt for the Americans.  I learned from the book a lot I didn’t know.  Some examples:

The government feared the colonies uniting  and forming one nation, so they tried to keep the colonies isolated.  Massachusetts was the most ornery of the colonies.  (This was before the Irish showed up and painted Boston, Celtics green).

Ironically, the British Regulars were green troops, well drilled, but never in combat.  Massachusetts men had been fighting since first settlement.  The first Thanksgiving, with the Native Americans didn’t last long.  It was one thing, when the Native Americans had exotic visitors.  Then all the relatives showed up, and outnumbered the original people.  Almost every Massachusetts man served in the French and Indian War.

General Thomas Gage commanded the Redcoats.  He was a prudent man, who realized, with the squeeze the Crown was placing on colonists, militias were gathering from Massachusetts and other New England colonies as well.  The contempt of King George blinded him to the fact that Gage was being prudent, and saw him as weak instead.  Of course we know the rest.  Lexington and Concord.

A fun book, where I had a chance to learn more about what led up to the first shots.

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The Line Becomes a River, Francisco Cantu, Border Patrol, and the United States Mexico Border

I first saw the book reviewed in one of my favorite magazines, the Economist.  Living in Tucson, Arizona, the border is a part of life.

I was on a long list at the library for the book, and didn’t see hear Francisco Cantu speak at the Tucson Festival of Books, two months earlier, because I hadn’t read the book yet.

I can see why Mr. Cantu took the job for four years.  It was an extension of his higher education in International Studies.

Sometimes, I watch the Justice Channel show, Border Wars.  If you just watch Border Wars, and don’t check other sources, you would have an attitude of “These people are coming here to make trouble and overwhelm the United States.

Someone recommended a French book called The Camp of the Saints.  It’s fiction and predicts Europe being overwhelmed by migrants.  I think it’s out of print now.  I read it twenty-five years ago.

Back to Mr. Cantu’s book.  For those, who know Southern Arizona, there are isolated canyons, dangerous and rugged terrain.  Perfect for illegal migrants and smugglers.

If you drive toward Tucson, from Bisbee or Sierra Vista, you will stop at a Border Patrol checkpoint.  The ports of entry are crowded, and the customs agents can’t stop everyone, who’s a problem.  That’s where checkpoints come in.  Everyone in the car needs to speak to the agent, so they can hear your accent.

Of course, the serious purveyors of illegal activity use the tracks in the desert.  This is where the Border Patrol earns its keep.

Your first act in the United States shouldn’t be illegal.  For four years, Mr. Cantu chased these people in the deserts and canyons, intense summer heat, cold in the winter.  (It does get cold in Southern Arizona.  Much of the land is six thousand feet above sea level.  The human smugglers only care about getting paid.  If someone can’t keep up, they’re left behind.  Sometimes, they are forced to act as drug mules.

I felt for Mr. Cantu.  He seems to be a sensitive soul, maybe too sensitive, in such a harsh atmosphere.

Immigration will follow the money.  If you have no hope of a job in Honduras, you may risk the trip.   Otherwise, why pay a smuggler all that money and risk your life?  The value of the market.

The debates about the border have been held many other places.  You can see the one hundred and fifty Central American migrants camped out at the San Ysidro, Tijuana crossing, a place where I have crossed.  I recognized it.  That would be a story for another time.  A professional conference and a journey across the border.  Is this the last group like that we’ll see coming up from Central America?  Will the groups be larger down the road?

All quiet on the United States border with Canada?


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