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D Day Plus 76 Years

| June 6, 2020 | 0 Comments

Seventy-six years ago today, my father was in England, getting ready to drive a truck onto a barge that would take him to Normandy, France the next day, D Day plus one.

He was 25 years old. In a letter he wrote to his sister on July 22nd, 1944, he said, “They have eased up on the censoring enough to so that I can say that we came to France the hard way – landed on the beach. There was no interference. It was quite a thrill tho as we approached the beachhead, to think that we were landing in another foreign country.”

The guilelessness of that description is so very poignant. Here he was, participating in one of the most significant events of the 20th century, and he was excited about entering a foreign country. That’s what stuck with him a month and a half later. I didn’t see that letter until decades after he died and it is one of the regrets of my life that I never really talked to him about his experiences in WW II. He died when I was 17 and I was too absorbed with myself to care.

To honor his memory, I visited the World War II Memorial at sunrise today. It was a remarkable and somewhat melancholy experience. I arrived near the memorial at about 5:15 am and had trouble finding parking, due to various traffic restrictions in response to the major demonstration planned for today. Streets were being blocked and police and military personnel were all over the place.

At the memorial, there was a small group of young soldiers milling around, some strolling through the memorial. They were probably about the same age as my father when he was preparing to cross the English Channel. I have to admit feeling a bit torn about their presence. On the one hand, they are worthy descendants of the men and women memorialized on that site for saving democracy from one of its greatest threats in WW II. On the other hand, they are here in DC at the behest of a man who I believe represents the greatest threat to our democracy since those terrible days. I hope I come to the view in the months and years ahead that my fears were exaggerated. But we shall see. Frankly, it is the demonstration that brought those soldiers here that gives me hope.

As I watched the soldiers walking around the memorial, I desperately wanted to tell them that my father landed at Normandy, but couldn’t find a way to open a conversation.

As I was leaving, one of the soldiers said to me, “Have a good day, sir.”

There was my opening. I turned and walked toward the group and said, “Do you mind if I brag a bit?”

The soldier said, “Sure.”

I said, “My father landed at Normandy, so this is a very special day for me.”

Looking surprised, he said, “Your father?! Why, you don’t look a day over 20!”

I laughed and said, “Thank you.” And thought, “Maybe we’ll be OK.”

Milan Stevanovich

| May 3, 2020 | 0 Comments
A Photo I took of Milan with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao

At the beginning of April I got a video by text message of a group of mostly young Chinese people offering well wishes to Milan Stevanovich. They were all expressing support and the hope that he would get well soon. The video came from Milan and I’m assuming he sent it to his entire list of people with whom he had ever texted.

I quickly responded to him. Here’s the text exchange:

Oh Milan! Sorry to hear but what a beautiful video. Must have given you a lift. Take care of yourself and get well soon. Bill Black

Yes it did Thx

You ok? ….considering….

Time will tell : Two weeks in the hospital the virus is all over my lungs

I need to be on the highest oxygen levels

If no improvement 3-4 days : I’m going to be asked to check into another hospital another protocol

I’m praying for you. Let me know when you’ve recovered.

In reality, I didn’t pray for him. And, while I was shocked that he had the disease. I didn’t give it too much though as the days and weeks passed.

I met Milan years ago while I was still at the PR firm trying to build a practice that supported Chinese companies seeking investment opportunities in the U.S. There was a New York Times story about Chinese companies coming to Detroit to support the automotive industry. The story depicted Detroit as a Chinese inbound investment hot spot. So, after consulting with my boss, I cold-called the Detroit China Business Association that we mentioned in the article. I spoke to Milan and we decided to meet in Detroit.

A short time later, I went to Detroit, hooked up with a colleague from the local office there and set out to meet with Milan. His office was on the second floor of nondescript office building in the suburbs. I don’t remember much about the meeting, but I do remember that Milan was a very gregarious guy with a big personality. I learned later that the members of the DCBA were mostly real estate types trying to sell business and residential real estate to Chinese businesspeople. Milan fit that mold. He was always selling,

Typically, for just about all my China adventures, no money changed hands. But I stayed in touch with Milan. He invited me to his annual golf tournament. I never got back to Detroit, but he came to DC a few times and we got together. I believe his last scheme had something to do with electric buses. He got me into a Chinese New Year reception at the Department of Transportation.

Last week, while search for a particular text on my phone, I came across our text exchange and wondered how he was doing. Here’s how that went:

How are you doing?

Hi Bill, this is Chanel Stevanovich, Milan’s daughter. Unfortunately, Milan passed away on the 17th from Covid

Oh no. I am so so sorry. He was such a vivacious person. So, full of life and optimism. I’m crushed. I worked with him on some China projects. Loved being with him. He’s the only person I know who died due to the disease. You must be devastated. You have my deepest, deepest condolences.

Thank you

He’s the only person I know who has died from COVID. I don’t know what his overall health situation was, but he was certainly not old. Only 56 years old. And I can’t get it out of my mind. It drives home for me the fragility of life and how each day is precious.

Rest In Peace, Friend.

February 2020

| April 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

Bill Kristol has a good piece today in The Bulwark, a website for Never Trump conservatives. I agree with it in many ways, but I think it frames a very cosmic issue in ways that are, frankly, self protective of Kristol himself.

He identifies February 2020 as one of those epochal moments in world history that changes everything. He describes it as the end of an era of peace and prosperity that began with the fall of the Soviet Union.

The era that ended in February 2020 marked a 30-year stretch of mostly peace and prosperity, not just for the United States, but for the world. Even if one is now struck, looking back, by this period’s markers of decadence and decline, three decades of peace and prosperity shouldn’t be underrated.

I agree with him that February was a turning point, but I see it as 40 years in the making, not 30. And I see those 40 years as a long detour or decline that Kristol had a role in creating.

I would start the clock in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, someone I suspect Kristol continues to hold in very high regard. That was the start of the trend that led to Donald Trump. It launched a 40 year project dedicated to undermining respect for government. While Democrats had a majority in the country, Republicans won enough to maintain veto power over almost every Democratic initiative to leverage public policy to improve the lives of average people. Sadly, many of those average people were racists and Republicans used that racism to keep enough power to prevent any action,

The exceptions, of course, were the first two years of the Obama Administration. We passed the ACA, the stimulus bill and financial service reform. But by ginning up the racists, the Republicans reclaimed power and set about to undermine everything Obama had done or would do.

Then came Trump. The reducio ad absurdum of the Republican project. And here we are. Because many voters didn’t think it mattered who was president, they elected a corrupt, ignorant, racist fool. We surged three years without and external crisis, but our luck has run out. We’re faced with the worst possible crisis with the worst possible president.

So, thank you, Bill Kristol for recognizing what you and your ideological soulmates have given us.

Discovering Rock Creek Park

| April 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

One of the things I’ve discovered during our sheltering in place, is Rock Creek Park. It’s kind of sad that I’ve lived in this neighborhood for more that 20 years and didn’t realize what a treasure the park is. I’ve probably walked in the part more in the last month than the five years previous. And Rita expressed regret that we didn’t bring the kids into the park for walks more often. Oh well. Past is past. For right now, I fell very fortunate to have the park so near.

Key to my enjoyment is Rozzie. Watching her running up the hills, through the trees and along the creek is a joy to behold. When I first started walking during the pandemic, I considered a two mile walk, door to door, a long walk. Forty-five minutes and I felt like I’d done something useful. I’ve been gradually extending the walks. First, there was the three mile walk to the “ruins,” the stones leftover from the renovation of the U.S. Capitol near the public horse stables. Now, that’s the short walk as I peel around the stables and go back down to the creek for a four miler.

My new thing is birds. I started taking pictures of birds in anticipation of my safari to Kenya. That’s been cancelled, but I’m still trying to photograph birds with varying degrees of success. Gotten a couple of good ones. Unfortunately, my spill in the stream wrecked my good camera and I’m now doing what I can with a Canon Powershot. Once I’ve convinced myself that this photography thing will endure, I will upgrade, with Rita’s permission, of course.

Coronavirus Journal

| April 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

We are well into the pandemic and I’ve been keeping a journal. I find that one of the activities that makes me feel like I’ve done something useful while sheltering in place is writing. And it doesn’t matter if anyone reads my writing. Just the act of writing seems to lift my mood. Oh, let me correct that to paraphrase the famous line about writing. The act of HAVING written lifts the mood more than the writing itself.

I also think that writing in a public forum as opposed to a private journal, enhances the experience since it forces a bit of discipline into the process. So, yesterday, I spent a few hours reviving this blog. It turns out a year of total neglect opened it to a massive amount of malware making it non-functional. It took a lot of tech support and a little money to get it back up and running. And here it is. Now, it will serve to haunt me into posting in hopes that I eventually write something worthy of a public blog.

I must say that reading posts from the beginning of this blog shows I had a bit of a knack. Interesting stuff. I wonder if I still have it. Also, a blog is kind of a gadget freak’s dream. Lots to learn about the back end technology. That might be fun. Although, I fear that fiddling with the technology might give me another excuse to avoid actually creating content for the blog. Whatever. It’s something do do in quarantine. And since I’m pretty sure that nobody will ever read this stuff, I am free to do whatever the hell I want. So, there’s that.

Mass in Beijing

| April 12, 2020 | 0 Comments
This post was in my drafts section and was written years ago. I posted it thinking that WordPress would preserve the original date. It did not. So, it is posted out of sequence.
I attended an English Mass in Beijing today. It was the 4 pm service at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in east Beijing.

For the most part, it was identical to Mass at home. The church is very historic, dating from the 1600’s. But it had modern touches, like the flat screen TVs hung on the columns showing the words of prayers and music.

A big difference was the “enforcer,” a young man who stood next to the priest and question certain congregants as they received Communion. They priest occasionally participated in the questioning. Some were denied Communion and one woman had her Communion taken away.

Hope for the Church

| April 12, 2020 | 0 Comments
This post was in my drafts section and was written years ago. I posted it thinking that WordPress would preserve the original date. It did not. So, it is posted out of sequence.

 America is at a tipping point where the traditional commitment of our government to protecting and advancing the common good is in very real danger of being dismantled for generations.  Members of the “Tea Party,” libertarians, Ayn Rand followers and other proponents of small government have brought libertarian views of government into the mainstream; legitimating forms of social indifference.  After decades of anti-government rhetoric and “starve the beast” tax cuts, some even appear to exploit predictable fiscal problems to establish a privatized, libertarian order that reduces society to a collection of individuals and shrinks the common good to fit the outcomes achievable by private, for profit firms.


Crate & Barrel Sucks

| April 12, 2020 | 0 Comments

This post was in my drafts section and was written years ago. I posted it thinking that WordPress would preserve the original date. It did not. So, it is posted out of sequence.

I used to be a fan of Crate and Barrel.  I have spent many thousands of dollars at the Spring Valley store in Washington, DC.  I find the products of high quality and tasteful design.  And their salespeople are unfailingly polite and solicitous.  It’s like they are good a both ends, but suck in the middle.

About a year ago, I bought some patio furniture for more than $3,000.  It was probably two months before I was able to actually sit on the furniture on my back deck, all because they couldn’t produce the cushions that went on the furniture.  But the worst part of the experience is that I was guaranteed on multiple occasions by their very solicitous salespeople that the cushions would arrive at my house on a date certain…..and nothing would come.  It would happen again and again and again, with various explanations for the breakdown in each individual instance.  In the end, the store grudgingly gave me a $150 gift card as compensation for the enormous hassle that this nightmare caused.

I was so frustrated, I boycotted the company for a year.  But I had this gift card, so I finally decided to weigh in again and buy a barbecue grill.

Big mistake.  Another nightmare.

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Rita’s Relations

| April 12, 2020 | 0 Comments

This post was in my drafts section and was written years ago. I posted it thinking that WordPress would preserve the original date. It did not. So, it is posted out of sequence.

Rita’s father’s people are from County Kerry. We were told that she had relatives in a place called Kilgobnet. No one we spoke to had ever heard of the place. Fortunately, Google had, so we were able to place it generally, near Kilorglan, the place where Puck Fair takes place. Rita’s father’s boat was named Puck Fair in honor of his ancestors.

Unfortunately, most of the people in Kilorglan had never heard of Kilgobnet either. We ended up stopping at a private home and got directions that brought us close. We ended up asking about three more people before we found the Kilgobnet Post Office. Here’s Rita there.

Willie and John

| April 12, 2020 | 0 Comments
This post was in my drafts section and was written years ago. I posted it thinking that WordPress would preserve the original date. It did not. So, it is posted out of sequence. Here are Willie Corrigan and John Cod, who came from central casting. They are a couple of laddies from County Whitlow and were visiting Kinsale on holiday.