The Challenges of Life and Palette Knife Oil Painting.

I always liked abstract and impresism art. I’m a big fan of the works of Rembrandt, Kincade, Monet, and van Gogh. I had the chance to go see one of my favorite works of art in Paris at the Musee d Orsay, “Starry night over the Rhone” it was the highlight of my visit to the city. I think it’s amazing how art can tell a story.

A few years ago. I tried my luck with palette knife painting. Results were ok. I did not understand the drying time for oil paintings or any of the techniques. Here I am someone who can barely draw a stick figure trying to paint with oils. I thought my first painting was a disaster. you can tell the mistakes in it. So the palette knives and tubes of oil paint sat in the garage for months.

A local studio posted an art class event dealing with knife oil painting. I decided to give it another try. This class was not like your regular wine and paint a picture of a flower class. The instructor went into great detail of the techniques used with this type of art.  Knife painting with oil mixed in with some brush work is very challenging, but I think it also broadens your mind. The importance of preparing your canvas, mixing your paint correctly, how to use turpentine, and how you apply the paint to the canvas was all taken into account. It’s almost like frosting a cake.

My second painting.

Sometimes you start painting and you decide to go another route with your idea. After looking at my 2nd painting with oils, I trying to capture reds and purples you would see at dusk or dawn over the water. I could not get it right. But as you can see if I would have left that portion alone, I think it would have been a better painting. I don’t think it’s the best but did learned from it. Sometimes it’s good to deviate from the plan and go with what is going on at the moment.

One of the other hardest thing to do is once you apply to paint on the canvas with a knife to give it some texture and leave it. It’s hard to leave it alone. You want to make it perfect so you keep smoothing it out, but you lose all the texture. That is the same with life. Sometimes it’s best to make your mark and then step back and let things happen. I think that’s the hardest thing to do.  When you go in and try to correct mistakes sometimes you make things worse.

I think this is something that can be done. Just like in life, every time I pick up a Palatte knife or a brush, I can learn from it.

Never Again. My thoughts on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi-run concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau where more than one million people died or were killed by the Nazis.  The United Nations designated this day International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Why would anyone study the Holocaust?  What makes the Holocaust stand out from other mass murders of the twentieth century is the sort of place that perpetrates it (an advanced country) and the cause that propelled it, race.  We must learn about it to act effectively to prevent a recurrence.  I believe that includes the includes the teaching about the wrong’s our government have committed against other ethnic groups and minorities such as slavery, the Jim Crow laws, the forced migration of native American Indians, and Japanese-American Internment camps.  You can not sugarcoat history.  It must be taught truthfully.  One might say, why look ourselves as a society?  We need to look at ourselves as a society to prevent making conditions possible for genocide to take place.

The book Why?:  Explaining the Holocaust by Peter Hayes approached the topic into four primary questions:  Why the Jews?, Why the Germans?  Why murder?, and Why the eradication of the Jews was so nearly successful, resulting in the deaths of two-thirds of those in Europe and at least three-quarters of those within reach of the Nazis?  What stood out to me in this book was Why the Germans?  The short answer is because a massive multidimensional national crisis and social upheavals, open the way for believers in this hatred to acquire power and to reinforce or indoctrinate others in their views.

The Nuremberg Laws enacted in 1935 removed Jews of their civil rights.  Hungary and Italy also passed similar laws restricting the rights of Jewish citizens.  As these laws went into effect, it became more and more dangerous for Jews to stay in Germany.  It was difficult to leave due to the law requiring them to give up 90% of their wealth as a tax, and this made it impossible for another country to take them.  When mass deportation schemes such as the Madagascar Plan failed, the Nazis started the mass extermination of the Jews in Europe.

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness”–Eli Wiesel.

I had the opportunity to hear a first-person account of a Holocaust survivor last November.  Manuela Bornstein was born in Paris, France, to a Dutch father and a German mother.  In July 1942, the French police concentrated 13,000 Jews in the Velodrome d’Hiver sports arena in Paris for days without food and water before deporting them to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.   Manuela, her parents, and sister narrowly escaped this major deportation through the help of some friends who were active members of the French resistance.  She lost about 200 members of her extended family during the 29 months she and her immediate family spent hiding in a house in the small village of Le Got in southern France.  Manuela was a strong woman to speak to us.   She would tear up even after 70 plus years, telling us her experiences.  I am very fortunate to have heard her and the opportunity for my younger daughter to hear her experiences as well.

“Whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness, and they can spread the word.”

I am of Jewish descent.  It is hard to imagine that if I was born in Europe in the mid-twentieth century, the probability of me being killed just because of my heritage or ethnicity was very likely.  What is even scarier is the news that Canada’s national archive acquired a rare book it believes could have served as a blueprint for a Nazi purge of Jews in the United States and Canada.   The 137-page German-language book, Statistics, Media, and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada, was compiled by researcher Heinz Kloss, who did field work in the U.S. in the late 1930s.  This book was part of Adolf Hitler’s personal library.  This book hints at what might have happened if the allies lost the war.  Given the horrors that transpired in Europe, targets would also likely have included any racial minority, gays, and lesbians, Indigenous Peoples and others considered problematic in Nazi eyes.  It is a sobering thought that half my family could have been wiped out and I would not be here today writing this article.

If you think genocide will never happen again on the scale of what happened in Europe, you are sadly mistaken.  The book “A Problem from Hell” highlights the United State’s understanding of, response to, and inaction on genocides in the 20th century, from the Armenian genocide to the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo War and Rwanda.

It is hard to believe, even after the truth was known, prominent religious groups helped some Nazis involved in this horrendous crime escape to South America.  A recent poll in Britain found that one in 20 adults in Britain do not believe the Holocaust took place.  I also read an article that 62% of millennials did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.   Such widespread ignorance and even denial are shocking.  Hate is alive and well in the United States.  Just last May, Neo-Nazis held a swastika burning following a white supremacist rally only 18 miles from my house. The events in Charlottesville that left three dead highlights the problems that still exist in the United States.

“For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing”-Simon Wieser.

Democratic values are not automatically sustained but need to be appreciated, nurtured, and protected.  There are dangers of remaining silent, apathetic, and indifferent to the oppression of others.  That is why it is important to revisit this horrible part of history now and then.

I recommend the following books on this vital subject:  Why?  :  Explaining the Holocaust by Peter Hayes,  Sons and Soldiers:  The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler by Bruce Henderson,  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, From Day to Day:  One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps by Odd Nansen and Timothy J. Boyce, and A Problem from Hell by Samantha Powe

A Walk Through Belfast’s Troubled Past: The Peace Walls

While waiting on our cab driver on Chichester Street by the Belfast city hall to drive us to the peace walls, I was thinking back to how such a wonderful city dealt with years of terrorist bombings and shootings that became part of normal everyday life.  It was Sunday at 9:45 in the morning when we arrived at the gate.   We could not travel by car into this particular neighborhood because the gate did not open until ten.   I thought that was strange that people that live in these neighborhoods, voluntarily accept that they did not have full freedom of movement.  You can use the pedestrian gates at all hours, but you can only drive through the gates at certain hours.  Think of the gang violence in Los Angelas and if the fix was to build 25-foot high walls between the rival gang neighborhoods to keep law and order in Compton.  Along some of the walls, thorny bushes would be planted to deter factions from digging underneath.  That is pretty much what happened in the city of Belfast between the unionist and nationalist paramilitary neighborhoods.  There are more than 100 of these “peace walls” that separate the Catholic and Protestant Areas in Northern Ireland.


Our cab driver, Gerald (his name is changed to protect his identity) has lived in the city his whole life and participated in the some of the violence that occurred during the 30-year conflict known as the Troubles.   He was quick to point out that it was not the religious protestant vs. Catholic conflict that is portrayed in the news media.  He told us that this was a lie told by the British government.   It was a conflict centered around whether or not Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and join the Republic of Ireland.  There are paramilitary organizations on the other side that wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.  The conflict between these two factions spilled over into everyday civilian life.  Bombings were common.  Police and the British army troops were targets of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).  Civilians were sometimes collateral damage.  He served as a volunteer with the Irish Republican Army and did time in confinement in a British prison for a bombing of a government building.  Fortunately, no one was killed.   As he told us, everyone has a history.  He spoke about how he was held in confinement by the British and not formally charged with a crime.  A law in Northern Ireland allowed authorities to hold suspected wrongdoers for seven days without being charged before they had to release them if no charges were filed against them. He now drives a cab and earns extra money educating the tourists about the conflict in Northern Ireland.  Much of what he told us, I was skeptical of.   When I looked into what he told us, I was able to find some truth to what he was telling us.  However, I also keep in mind that each side has their own story.

“History is written by the Victors”  Winston Churchill

What was strange was he did not want to drive down some of the heavy Protestant neighborhoods.  It was what the locals called Marching Season where factions loyal to the British celebrate the victory of the Battle of the Boyne.  There is a bank holiday on the Twelfth of July celebrating when William of Orange won a crushing victory, which secured the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland for generations.  Gerald and most other Irishmen that live in Northern Ireland do not take that day off.  It just does not mean anything to him.

mvimg_20180729_1017565366358370954088285.jpgThe Battle of the Boyne fought in 1690 remains a controversial topic today in Northern Ireland where some Protestants remember it as the great victory over Catholics that resulted in the sovereignty of Parlement and the Protestant monarchy.  In recent decades, “The Twelfth” has often been marked by confrontations, as members of the Orange Order attempt to celebrate the date by marching past or through what they see as their traditional route. Some of these areas, however, now have a nationalist majority who object to marches passing through what they see as their areas.  Each side thus dresses up the disputes in terms of the other’s alleged attempts to repress them; Nationalists still see Orange Order marches as provocative attempts to “show who is boss”, whilst Unionists insist that they have a right to “walk the Queen’s highway”. Since the start of The Troubles, the celebrations of the battle have been seen as playing a critical role in the awareness of those involved in the unionist/nationalist tensions in Northern Ireland.

Lenihan, Padraig (2003). 1690 Battle of the Boyne. Tempus.

Northumberland Street gate, while we were waiting for the gate to open up, Gerald would tell us how the riots started at the beginning of the conflict over a senior British official who was allegedly heard laughing at the poor conditions the nationalist were living in.  This was the spark that lighted the powder keg that was building for years. 



He would explain what the murals located at the gate meant.  It was interesting to hear how they sympathized with the Palestinian movement in Isreal and how an alliance could have spread to the outside of the island of Ireland and why there was a mural of Fidel Castro in Belfast.    It was no secret where the loyalties lay.  The Cuban leader, Fidel Castrol spoke in support of the Irish Republican Army movement and on the Irish hunger strikes that took the life of Bobby Sands, which was one of the most heroic chapters in history.   Those words were not lost on Gerald and people who aligned themselves with the IRA as he was one of the few world leaders that spoke in support of them.   It was strange to see the glorification of a man that was responsible for the ruthless oppression of his own people.



When we would look at one mural on the Protestant side of a wall the separated two neighborhoods, he would only talk about the mural when we were back in the cab.  The mural of Stephen McKeag located in the lower Shankill area is especially impressive. Anyone looking at this from the outside would think of this person as a hero.  However,  McKeag is linked to 14 murders including the murder of a hairdresser.   Some Loyalist thinks of him as a hero and a soldier fighting against Republicans in his community.  Republicans like Gerald think of him as a murderer, drug pusher, and drug dealer.   McKeag died of a drug overdose in 2000.   I can tell this mural hits a nerve with Gerald.  Gerald would go on and tell us that he is nothing more than a druggie and a killer.  McKeag is regarded as a sectarian killer to some and as a hero to others.  I think what bothered Gerald was how he is depicted on the mural as a great freedom fighter while his side is fighting for unification between the north and the south.

Gerald drove us to a section of the wall, where people would place messages on the wall.  Some of the messages were pointed at some of the situations happening in the United States with its immigration policy.  In my research, this wall was twice as high as the Berlin Wall.  It is a massive structure.

This is the area where it was too dangerous for public buses to operate so the Falls Road Taxi Service was formed to serve the Catholic areas of the city.  Officially, Belfast’s government does not license these taxi services but instead prefers to let them operate on defunct bus routes.  Protestant cab drivers did not operate in Catholic areas and catholic cab drives did not operate in Protestant areas.  To do so would place their lives in danger.

I do not know why, but I thought back to the Death Star analogy mentioned in the movie “Clerks” where contractors of the second Death Star in the Return of the Jedi movie were killed when the rebels destroyed the second Death Star.  While we drive to the other Catholic side, I asked him a question that was burning in my mind through the research and books I have read.  Were the construction workers called in to rebuild buildings damaged by the bombings and other civilian workers working for the government really targets of the IRA?  He responded that these people were collaborating with the enemy and they were targets just like the unionist paramilitary groups and the British Army were.   It was chilling to know, an electrician or a plumber trying to support their family could be shot and killed just because of who hired him or her.

Gerald considers himself Irish.  He says he now provides consolation to veterans of other conflicts.  He holds a Republic of Ireland passport thanks to the Good Friday Agreement that was signed in 1998 and went into effect on December 2nd, 1999.  One of the provisions was any resident living in Northern Ireland could choose if they were British or Irish and hold the passport either a British or Irish passport.  Although most of the violence has calmed down, there are news reports of different factions intimidating people thought to be on the other side.   This was explained to me at a pub in Belfast.   I met a man who recently moved to Northern Ireland from England.  He is protestant and his wife is Catholic.  It was never an issue in England but while living in Belfast, it is an issue, and people look down on their marriage.   It is still apparent more than twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, tensions are still present today although most of the fighting is in the political arena.   The solution to this problem is far from being solved and the European Union is forcing the United Kingdom to come up with a solution to keep the Good Friday Agreement in place as the deadline for Brexit approaches.


A Walk Through Belfast’s Troubled Past: Irish border question

As the deadline inches closer for the United Kingdom to solve the border problem in Ireland in the wake of its removal from the European Union, there has been a lot of talk in the news. It is a bitter divorce where one side does not want to give an inch to the other side. One question remains is what to do with the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement the border has been essentially invisible. The Good Friday Agreement has the status of both an international treaty between the UK and Ireland as well as an agreement of the parties within Northern Ireland. George Mitchell, an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, has warned that creating a border control system between Ireland and Northern Ireland could jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement. The British government has said that Brexit will not mean a return of the hard border. According to statements by Theresa May, it is intended to maintain this arrangement after the United Kingdom leaves the EU. However, a joint plan to allow British immigration controls to be applied at Irish ports and airports was abandoned.

Right now you can take a train from Dublin to Belfast and do not have to see any immigration checkpoints or clear through customs. When you between London and Paris via the train you will clear through immigration. I wanted to know what the citizens feel about the border issue. I watched a show called Soft Border Patrol on the BBC. It was a reality comedy like Reno 911 in America. It portrays a fictional border patrol agency backed by governments in London, Dublin, and Belfast, and Brussels based around the subject of the Ireland-United Kingdom border in a post-Brexit world. It pokes fun at the issues at the border. One episode they detained a fish to see if it was an Irish fish or a British fish. The episode where a checkpoint was set up and they stopped a hen party (Bachelorette Party) was hilarious. Even they the are joking about the issue, it remains a serious concern for the residents on the issue.

The border towns do not want a return to the border checkpoints. The conflict in Northern Ireland is still too recent and could spark back up on the slightest misstep. As I traveled from Northern Ireland back into Ireland, you can see signs wanting to keep the status quo. Although most of the people in London, I talked to before the vote said they were going to vote to leave the EU.

I rode with a cab driver named Gerald in Belfast where he showed me around the city. I asked him questions about the Brexit and how it might affect him. He told me although he lives in Northern Ireland which is part of the UK, he considers himself Irish and since the Good Friday Agreement, the residents that live in Northern Ireland can choose if they want to be British or Irish. He holds an Irish passport and it thinks it is going to be silly once Brexit happens, that he could catch a plane in Belfast and land in Germany and he will not have to clear customs but the British passenger on the same plane will have to go through immigration controls.

I stopped in the town of Oughterard located in the beautiful Connemara region of western Ireland. While we were walking around the town I came across a barber shop. I needed a haircut, so I stopped in. As most people do when they get a haircut, they chat with the barber. Usually, the topic is about sports, but I really wanted his take on Brexit and how what his opinion was. It is his belief that the Prime Mister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May used up all her political capital in the negotiations and she will be ousted from power. He believes they will be a second referendum to pull out of Brexit. It is a mess.

The prime minister is in a tough spot. Theresa May took over after David Cameron resigned after the vote to guide the country through Brexit. She not only has to strike a deal with the European Union, but she also had to get the deal approved by parliament and ratified at the EU summit by a supermajority of leaders of member states. They have to hammer out new trade deals with trading partners that been dealing with the European Union as a whole.

This also affects the aviation industry. The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) currently works on behalf of European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) in regulating aviation safety and certification in the UK. The UK wishes to remain with EASA, however, if the EU does not allow that, the UK will no longer be included in EU-level Bilateral Aviation Safety and new agreements would have to work out between the countries that have agreements with the EU such as the United States. In July, Ireland’s prime mister Leo Varadkar told Theresa May in the event of a hard Brexit, that British Planes would not be able to land or fly over Ireland. Under the Chicago Convention, aircraft from signatory countries have right to overfly another signatory country’s airspace, and this will continue after a no-deal Brexit. However, flights between the UK and the remaining 27 EU member states will be grounded the event of a hard Brexit unless a side deal covering aviation is struck according to the Independent.

One of the stickiest topics in negotiations remains how to meet the UK and EU’s common aim of keeping an open border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Looks like progress

Time is ticking on a solution, Brexit happens on March 29, 2019, and the last European Council Summit of the year to vote on the deal takes place December 14. Buckle up because it is going to be an interesting six months.

Update 9/22/2018- EU ‘to control British aviation AFTER Brexit’ as May steps over red line. BRITAIN will seek to remain in an aviation safety body under the indirect jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice after Brexit, crossing another one of Theresa May’s “red lines”. By ZOIE O’BRIEN . In order to prevent disruption to planes after Brexit the UK is expected to ask to be part of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

A Walk Through Belfast’s Troubled Past: The Dublin Connection

In order to understand the sectarian violence that plagued Belfast and Northern Ireland for many years, you have to start one hundred and three miles to the South in the city of Dublin.   The conflict known as the troubles, involved mostly Protestant loyalists, who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, against mostly Catholic republicans, who wished to unite with the Republic of Ireland.  

In 1916, on Easter Monday in Dublin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret organization of Irish nationalists led by Patrick Pearse, launches the Easter Rebellion, an armed uprising against British rule. Assisted by militant Irish socialists under James Connolly, Pearse and his fellow Republicans rioted and attacked British provincial government headquarters across Dublin and seized the Irish capital’s, General Post Office.  Following these successes, the Irish nationalists proclaimed the independence of Ireland, which had been under the British rule for centuries, and by the next morning were in control of much of the city.   

Later that day, however, British authorities launched a counteroffensive, and by April 29 the uprising had been crushed.  Nevertheless, the Easter Rebellion is considered a significant marker on the road to establishing an independent Irish republic.  Following the uprising, Pearse and 14 other nationalist leaders were executed for their participation and held up as martyrs by many in Ireland.

img_20180801_210010While walking on O’Connell Street in the Irish Capital of Dublin, one summer evening, I asked a local resident for directions to a ATM.  He gave me directions which to my surprise was on the same block.  While waiting on a cab, strangely he approached me and started to tell me about the Easter Rising and explained that evidence of the uprising was still on this street.  He explained that the bullet holes on the angles on the O’Connell Monument were from the 1916 uprising.  He informed us of the bullet holes in the are still in the side of the building of the General Post Office and told us the story of the Irish Mythological Hero of  Cu Chulainn.  It was amazing, I was getting a short Irish history lesson from an Irishman on the street who was very proud of his heritage and the hard-fought independence from the British.  We walked over to the O’Connell monument to see what he was talking about.  There were two teenagers sitting on the monument.  They preceded to show us where the bullet holes were and explained to us about the uprising.


We walked over to the General Post Office building where it was the headquarters of the men and women who took part in the Easter Rising.  Sure enough, there were bullet holes in the side of the building.  It is hard to believe such a lively street filled with shops and restaurants was a war zone a little over hundred years ago with evidence still around.




The Irish Nationalist chose the General Post Office (GPO), the communications heart of the country and the centre of Dublin city, as the building on which to hoist the flag of an Irish republic.  For nearly a week, the rebels held the GPO. Fighting here and in other parts of the city was intense with civilians bearing the greatest hardship. With the building on fire and crumbling, they tried to break through the surrounding army cordon but failed. Patrick Pearse, realizing the futility of further fighting, took the decision to surrender. 

img_20180801_210924If you take the time to walk around Dublin you will see evidence of the hardship and sacrifice the Irish have endured achieving their independence.  The Easter Rising was notable for its sniper duels.  It was a way of picking off combatants who strayed into sight, although sometimes targets were picked indiscriminately.  For the rebels, it was essential to their survival that enemy snipers and machine gun nests were disrupted and forced to move position.

The picture below was taken from inside of the Dublinia Museum that highlighted the Viking and Midevive history of Dublin.  In 1916, Dublinia (then the Synod Hall) was one of the outposts used in the Rising. Three armed rebels from the socialist Irish Citizens Army (ICA) were stationed here. Their task was to delay expected British troops heading to Dublin Castle where they had planned a take-over.


The Anglo-Irish treaty was signed in 1921 ending hostilities between the IRA and the British.  The Treaty gave the 26 southern counties of Ireland now the Irish Free State a considerable degree of independence, however, Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom.  Some were not happy with the arrangement.  A civil war broke out between pro-treaty forces and anti-Treatyites, or republicans.  T  The war ended in 1924, but tensions would still carry on over the years.  As you look toward the North,  it is apparent even today there is still desire for a united Ireland.



Republic of Texas Embassy in London

While I was exploring the streets of London, I noticed something interesting on the side of a building. It was a plaque indicating that the building used to be a consulate for the Republic of Texas.

The Texas authorities convinced that they might have to carry on as an independent nation, decided to establish commercial relations with European powers and so strengthen their position. Accordingly, James Pinckney Henderson, secretary of state, was sent to London early in October 1837 to open negotiations with Lord Palmerston.

The British were fearful that recognition would jeopardize their friendly standing with Mexico and declined to enter into formal relations; they did consent, however, to admit Texas commerce to British ports on their own terms.  France was the first country to recognize Texas as a country.

European powers were not inclined to enter into any formal agreements since the continued existence of Texas was doubtful in the face of renewed conversations on annexation to the United States.  In 1844, Congress agreed to annex Texas and in 1845, Texas entered the United States thus setting off the Mexican-American War.

It was very interesting to explore historical areas when you travel.  Having lived in Texas for a short while, I thought this was very interesting.

You do not need a license to become a father (or a mother), but maybe there should be.

Parenting is complex in this country. It should not be that compilated, unless you are raising teenagers. When kids reach that age, it takes special communication skills and coaching.

I think the best movie about the issues parents face is the 1989 movie “Parenthood” staring Steve Martin. It covered everything from a divorcee ( Dianne Wiest) trying to raise two teenagers, to a father (Steve Martin) who wants to have everything to be perfect, to a elderly father (Jason Robards) trying to get his adult son (Tom Holce) on the right path.

The movie touched on one issue of a single mother trying to raise a young teenager and is not connecting. When Tod (Keanu Reeves character) comes into talk with his girlfriend’s mother after having a man-to-man talk with her son. Helen, the mother and him have a conversation.

Helen: It sounds like a boy Garry’s age needs a man around the house.

Tod: Well, it depends on the man. I had a man around. He used to wake me up every morning by flicking lit cigarettes at my head. He’d say, “Hey, asshole, get up and make me breakfast.” You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish! But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.

Tod came from a abusive home life and ended up living with his 16 year old girlfriend and her mother and brother. While it is not the idea situation, Tod is there. How many children are abused or neglected to the point where removal from the parent is necessary? On any given day, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2016, over 687,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care. On average, children remain in state care for nearly two years and six percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.

According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) FY 2016 data from the Administration for children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services. Drug Abuse of the Parent and Neglect are the two major circumstances that require a child to be removed from the house. 61% of children are removed from neglect and 34% are removed because of the drug abuse of the parent. Only 1% is due to the death of a parent which is a circumstance out of anyone’s control. 45% of removed children are in a Non-Relative Foster Family Home placement setting. The staggering statistic is that only 51% of children are reunify with their parents or principal caregivers. Only 23% are adopted and 7% are living with other relatives. The statistics may be higher due to family members taken care of children without the knowledge of the state child welfare agencies.

I read an article in by Shawne K. Wickham of the New Hampshire Sunday News titled “Beyond the Stigma: Opioid epidemic separating more children from their parents.” he stated that from 2013 to 2016, there was a 21 percent increase — from 9,248 to 11,197 — in the number of child abuse and neglect reports accepted for assessment by the state Division of Children, Youth and Families, the report found. And the percentage of assessments in which substance abuse was a risk factor rose from 41 to 51 percent. The opioid crisis has stretched the limits of available resources.

I hear many stories where a law enforcement officer responds to a drug overdose to find the house in filthy conditions and the children in the house are dirty and suffering from malnutrition. In some cases around the country officers are finding bodies of children due to abuse or neglect when they respond to a call of an overdose or domestic.

A growing number of grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and other extended family members and friends are “stepping forward to care for children when their parents cannot”. Toward the end of the movie Parenthood, the elderly father (Jason Robards) having to make a decision to put off retirement to pay off his son’s debts and care for his grandson. It seems like the fantasy of being empty-nesters and growing old together has gone out the window. A growing number of Generation Xers (whose birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s) are now raising their grandchildren.

In the recent article ” The Age of Grandparents is made of many Tragedies” in the Atlantic by Robin Henig states that The proportion of children living in grand families has doubled in the U.S. since 1970 and has gone up 7 percent in the past five years alone–an increase many attribute to the opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control some 2.6 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren, either because of a temporary change in circumstance for the parents, such as military deployment of joblessness, or something more terrible: mental illness, divorce, incarceration, death, or substance abuse. The grandparents struggle with their own child’s failures parent. which stirs up an unsettling mixture of disappointment, embarrassment, anger, and resentment.

I will be interested to know how other countries in Europe and Asia deal with this issue. Is there something that we can learn from them and implement it here to improve our system that is at the breaking point. How bad is the problem overseas? Is it as bad as it is in the United States? I read about the United Kingdom having the same issues. But how bad is it.

The movie Parenthood that touched on some of these issues came out 29 years ago. They were dealing with the same problems back then that we are facing now. It frustrates me to no end why us as a nation can not get our stuff together. While it is not the government’s responsibility to raise out children, our current approach to protecting children is not enough. State child protective services resources are stretched to the limit.

In the 2016 report from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities: Mike Carroll, Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families, in testimony to the Commission stated

Our work environment … was characterized by a high level of turnover, both on the protective services side and on the case management side. So we had lots of staff that were coming and going.… you had vacancies, you had higher caseloads, and you had a differential in experience … we had some very inexperienced, fresh out-of-training folks working with some very high-risk cases …”

It is a hard thankless job where some of the cases come from divorcing parents trying to report each other on false claims to get a leg up during the custody battle. It makes me angry that a child is being abused and neglected. I think it is wrong that older Americans that raised their kids and done their jobs are being forced to step up and raise their grand-kids too. There is a part of me that is thankful that some of these children can be placed with loving families that will care and raise the child as their own and give these children a fighting chance at life. You have to always make decisions in the best interest of the child. Most of all kids need a stable home life where they can learn and grow in a positive environment.

Come on America–we can do better. Get off the drugs and stop thinking of ourselves and take care of your responsibilities.

Book Review: “A Force Like No Other”—Colin Breen

In less than a month, I will be on a flight to Dublin and Belfast where I hope to learn more about the 30 year conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles” where the IRA and other Catholic paramilitary groups used bombings, kidnappings and murder. They wanted to end British rule of Northern Ireland and join the Republic of Ireland to the south. Violent Protestant paramilitary groups fought back. While I was in college, I had to do a report on Michael Collins. He was an Irish revolutionary, soldier and politician who was a leading figure in the early-20th-century Irish struggle for independence. He was also the director of intelligence for the Irish Republican Army. Collins is also known in some counter-terrorism fields as the father of modern terrorism tactics that you see today from Islamic terrorism. He used hit-and-run guerrilla tactics against the British. So is he a terrorist or a freedom fighter? It depends on what side you are on. This sparked my interests on the subject and I began to read some books on the IRA. Ireland has a violent history especially the last one hundred years with the conflict between the British, their own civil war after a peace treaty was signed and the 30 year period of Sectarian violence in Northern Ireland from 1968 to 1998. This conflict was captured in the music of many artists such as U2 and the Cranberries.

Being a police officer anywhere is a dangerous job. In Northern Ireland during the Troubles, it was the most dangerous place to be a police officer anywhere in the world.


During the height of the Troubles, there were more British troops deployed in Northern Ireland than there was in Iraq. There was bombings, shootings, assassinations, even rocket and mortar attacks. Civilians causalities were mounting. Construction workers were targeted by the IRA because they were rebuilding government buildings for the British. Postal workers were targeted as well. No one was safe. What was it like for the police officer on the ground trying to keep the peace between these factions and try and maintain a normal life in Northern Ireland and the city of Belfast. One book peeked my interest to try and answer what is was like to patrol the dangerous streets of Belfast. A Force Like No Other. The real stories of the RUC men and women who policed the Troubles by Colin Breen gave the reader a glimpse into this world.

Between 1969 and 2001, 319 RUC officers were murdered, and over 10,000 were injured, 300 of them left disabled or seriously injured. Almost 70 officers committed suicide. A police force that had 8500 personnel at its peak had an average of 30 officers and over 300 injured every year. Staggering statistics.

The author who was a 14 year veteran of the RUC himself, interviewed Royal Ulster Constable Service Officers to get more of insight and stories for this book. The situations and stories ranged from basic crime that any police department would face such as theft and drug dealing to terrorist bombings and assassinations.

There are three sections of the book to reflect the RUC’s basic eight-hour shift pattern: Earlies, Lates and Nights. The author hoped that using the RUC shift pattern to shape the book would give the reader a sense of the unpredictability of a typical day for an officer on duty. You literally did not know what you would be facing when the the call came in.

What was very captivating about about this book is some of the stories of the first day these officers were on the job and what they experience. Imagine graduating from the academy and going out on your first patrol. Its too dangerous to drive to your post from the station because of snipers and bombings along the route. So the army puts you and a helicopter because it is safer to take you to your Patrol site as you land you hear a big boom from a mortar that explodes near the tail rotor and a helicopter starts to crash. The place where the mortar was fired was booby trapped to kill or maime any officers arriving to investigate.

This is a excellent book to read for anyone in law enforcement or anyone who wants an insight into the profession and how officers survived during one of the most turbulent times in history. It also contains humorous stories and how the men and women of this police force cope with the horrible sights they see. It also details the emotional toll that these officers face and how some turn to self medication of alcohol to cope.

Is the VFW relevant today?

I have seen the benefits of sitting down at my local Chief’s Club while I was on active duty and having a drink (does not have to be alcoholic) and conversation with one of my brothers and sisters in arms. We discuss not just work related issues but sometimes personnel issues. The Chief’s Clubs I have been to are very clean and welcoming.  It was a place I would go to for personal and professional growth.  You would not believe, how many problems were solved behind those doors. Having a place for senior enlisted leadership to go and discuss solutions to pressing problems at the deckplates and on shore stations was very important and remains important in today’s Navy.

So I walked into a local VFW one hot afternoon in Texas to try and find the same camaraderie and conversation I felt at the Chief’s Club. It looked like a smoke filled, dirty dive bar. I never been a fan of dive bars. I can’t find myself to sit and drink in a dark bar and risk throwing away everything I worked so hard to achieve in my life. I just believe it was not healthy place for me to be and the second hand smoke is definitely not going to be good for my asthma. One Saturday morning I decided to go to a VFW auction at the same place. I thought oh I’ll be okay I’ll be in the back room have breakfast and support the local VFW. The place was made up of mostly Vietnam and Korean War veterans.  I did not see any Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. I was only in the place 30 minutes and I decided to leave with my wife. We had to go home, change, and shower because we smelled like cigarette smoke. I remember complaining to my wife how the VFW needs to change in order to appeal to younger veterans.  The bond that existed during my time in the service did not exist anymore.

A few months went by and I decide to give the VFW a try.  I have just moved back east. I went to a meeting and joined for one year. I was not ready to become a life time member. They checked my DD-214 to verify I was a veteran and the meeting started. I was one of the youngest veterans in the place. Well this post does its best to stay very active. They still do good things for the community but I still feel out of place. It is still an older crowd and do not get me wrong you can learn a lot from older veterans. Between the 50/50 raffles, bingo, the bar, and the golf tournament, it takes a lot of work to keep the lights on. It does seems to have that old way of thinking. When I discuss a issue concerning state taxation of military retirement pay for working age veterans, I felt like it fell on deaf ears. It did not affect them, so they did not care.  They do reach out to do motorcycle rides and they do get together to send care packages and Christmas cards to servicemen and women deployed overseas.  Leadership is important at these organizations.  Even with this one post being active, I do not believe the message is getting through.  Just Google the VFW and the American Legion and you will find news story after news story on how these two veteran’s organizations is struggling to maintain membership.   

“With membership at 1.3 million — down from its 1992 peak of 2.1 million–the average age of  a VFW member today is over 70″

I watched a news piece on CBS during Memorial Day and a VFW member pretty much summed it up and said “In 20 years, we’ll be a dead organization unless we get the younger veterans involved.  Courting those younger veterans is their greatest challenge.  “The younger generation is not necessarily looking for a bingo night or a karaoke night or a smoky pool hall as I experienced in Texas.

I am also part of an another veterans organization that I think is doing a good job appealing more to younger veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) started in 2004 by an Army Veteran named Paul Rieckhoff.  Most of their work is in Washington D.C. making their presence known to our elected leadership.   They use social media to get their message across and they operate entirely on donations.  To be a member, you do not have to pay dues, its free.  They have instituted many programs, such as one-on-one support for transition, career programs, and storm the hill.

On their website:  IAVA explains that Storm the Hill is IAVA’s signature leadership development program. Over the years, it has grown from a handful of veterans walking the hall’s of Congress into an annual event placing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in more than 100 meetings with our nation’s leaders.  They have successfully fought for better body armor, secured advanced funding for VA health care, and continuously strengthened the New GI Bill.

The Big 6 Advocacy Priorities are :

  1. Combating suicide,
  2. recognizing and supporting women vets,
  3. defending the GI Bill,
  4. reforming VA,
  5. driving support and recognition of burn pit exposure
  6. empowering wounded veterans to utilize medical cannabis.

While I personally do not agree with the use of medical cannabis without more federal research to the benefits and pitfalls of medical cannabis.  I still believe they are doing a good job getting their message out. What I am most proud of is the She Who Borne The Battle campaign that IAVA instituted to recognize the service of women veterans, while improving access to care and benefits.  If my daughters decide to join the military, I want them to be treated with the same respect and have the same opportunities I have had.

The only negative is most of their outreach is online and their face to face meetings are only in 8 locations with the majority of the events in the Northeast.  I believe it is only in a matter of time they will grow and there is a big push for IAVA members to hold events in their local communities.

Veteran’s organizations are important.  The VA estimates that 7.3 percent of all living Americans have served in the military at some point in their lives.  Lets take that into prospective.  That only 7.3 percent of the population has a political voice in convincing our elected leaders to really address the issues that affect veterans today.  We have such a small voice.   Without these veteran organizations, we lose that strong voice on the hill and those hard earned benefits will slow get chipped away election cycle after election cycle.

In order to grow and stay strong–an organization has to evolve.  Without leading change, an organization will suffer a slow death of being irrelevant.