For Lisa: Gone Too Soon

My sister Lisa Berger Kitchen

Today, my sister would have turned 52 years old. She passed away from cancer in 2003 at the age of 40. Even after all these years she’s been gone, she is not far away in my memories. Countless times I’ve remembered funny things she did and I also remember the challenging times due to her being mentally challenged. I wanted to honor her on her birthday and to share the eulogy I wrote and gave at her funeral.

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Violence Brought On By ‘Innocence Of Muslims’ Film Brings Out Problematic Reactions

cartoon of a dead terrorist
Silence! I KILL YOU!

An amateur anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube triggered a riot in Egypt and Libya and gave cover to a militant Islamic militia in Libya to murder the US Ambassador to Libya and three other foreign service workers at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th. There have been problems with reactions both politically and in general to the violence. The last thing we need to do is to censor the Internet or “turn the other cheek”.

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Should I feel good that Bin Laden is dead?

I am strongly opposed to the death penalty. It is a waste of time and money and isn’t justice. I strongly support the rule of law, due process, and the criminal court system. I seemed to throw all that out late Sunday evening when I learned that US Special Forces killed terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

I was concerned when the media started to ramp up coverage late Sunday evening for an unusal statement from President Obama about a publicly unknown topic. Such sudden statements either mean a military operation has occurred, there was a death of a significant figure, or a killer asteroid was about to snuff out civilization. None of those are really good news but the President surprised me. He announced that the terrorist Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a raid on a house in Pakistan by US Special Forces (reports say it was a Navy Seal team).

I fully support due process and the legal system but Bin Laden wouldn’t give up so his death is not a problem for me. He was either going to be dead in a shoot out or dead from old age in a dank dark prison and I am slightly happy about it. The man helped plan, fund, and execute terrorist activities including 9/11 that killed THOUSANDS.

But let me be clear I do NOT support an eye for an eye. I would have been just as happy if he was alive and in custody and on his way to Gitmo or wherever the government would put him.

I have never believed that the death of a criminal in response to the deaths of their victims is appropriate. I also disagree with any policy that would call for targeted killing of “bad guys”. I would like to think, short of evidence to the contrary, that President Obama authorized the capture of Bin Laden and that he forced the fire fight that in the end led to his death.

Sunday night, after the statement, the news channels showed crowds in DC and New York celebrating like their favorite team had won the World Cup. I understand the emotion but it was no better than the scenes on 9/11 of Palestinians dancing in their streets.

The death of Bin Laden wasn’t a victory or justice. It was an end to a chapter of our history. It was 10 years in the making.

I also have some friends who are a bit upset at the use of the military and the killing.

I have always been of the mind that sometimes use of the military is necessary. Using the legal system and police work should be the default but sometimes we have to deal with irrational assholes who don’t subscribe to law and order.

I thought the invasion of Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden was the right thing to do and the use of Special Forces to raid Bin Laden’s compound on Sunday without telling Pakistan was also correct. There have been a lot of questions about the Pakistani response to Bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. For years it supported Bin Laden and the Taliban as a policy to keep India, their on again off again enemy, off balance.

I also think the burial of Bin Laden within 24 hours of his death as prescribed by Islamic law was much more than he really deserved seeing how his buddies in Iraq and Somalia abused and mutilated dead Americans over the years.

With the final objective of the war in Afghanistan completed with Bin Laden’s death, I would hope we can bring our soldiers home sooner rather than later.

Death, Narcissism, and Celebrity

This past week three famous people died. Two were film actors and the third was a person who was only famous because they had been on a reality TV show. I have never understood the general obsession people have with celebrities, especially the celebrities who are famous for nothing more than being one. I have known people and seen people who are so into themselves that they want to be famous but I have never understood why. What I do know is the obsession with celebrity is not healthy and not discriminating in this obsession is even worse. It can get plain silly at times.

I remember when I was kid delivering newspapers. On my route was this one house where they worshiped Elvis. There was every kind of Elvis item in the known universe both inside and outside the house. They also had a mini-alter in their car. I thought that was overdoing it.

This past week showed what happens when that house with the Elvis shrine gets blown up in the media.

Ron Silver and Natasha Richardson passed away. Silver was a good character actor who could move effortlessly between drama and comedy. Richardson came from a family of great actors in the UK and she carried on the family ability. Her passing was due to a tragic accident and I did feel bad for her family just as I did for Silver’s friends and family.

The third celebrity to pass away was well known in the UK for appearing on a reality TV show. She died from cancer which is never a good way to die since it is causes such pain and suffering. The reaction to her death, however was on par to the one when Silver and Richardson passed, which just didn’t seem right to me.

The prime minister said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.

“The whole country has admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children.

“She will be remembered fondly by all who knew her and her family can be extremely proud of the work she has done to raise awareness of cervical cancer, which will benefit thousands of women across the UK.” 

PM leads tributes to Jade Goody

This was the same woman who caused a fire storm when she was on the reality show that made her famous by making nasty racist comments about another “player”. Yes, the woman’s death was tragic but the Prime Minister gave a statement? That’s like if President Obama gave a statement of condolences if the Naked Cowboy had passed away.

But Doug, what about the media frenzy when that guy landed the plane in the Hudson River.

You see, I think there is at least 3 levels of celebrity.

Level 1 are those people who pay their dues through some skill or job that is mainly for public consumption. For them fame comes to them for doing a good job. These people are actors, writers, sports figures etc…..

Level 2 are those people where they happen to be in the right time and right place and fame happens. They aren’t seeking it and after a period of time it fades. The pilot who landed in the Hudson is one of these people. The soldiers who raised the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II are others of this level.

Level 3 are people who have really nothing to offer in defense of their fame other than the media focusing on them for whatever reason. They haven’t worked and paid dues to earn it. They seek it out or play along with it or think they deserve it. Paris Hilton comes to mind as does the woman who died in the UK I mentioned earlier. Some other recent ones are a majority of the people who tried out for American Idol and won’t accept they have no real talent. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (aka Joe The Plumber) is another of this level.

There is nothing wrong with being famous per se. If you want it and work for it and it comes to you – great. If you take short cuts or think you deserve it then there is a problem. I think we have way too much of this media created celebrity.

I was one of four or five people who spoke at my high school graduation and in my speech I remember having a bit where I said you might see my picture on the back of a bestseller I write. At the time I did think I would write a bestseller and be famous. I have never thought that I deserved it and have not really worked hard enough to do it, so that idea is less likely to happen than it was twenty years ago when I made the statement.

Do we really need to spend time wondering if some level 3 celebrity is or is not on drugs or might be married or whatever happens to normal non-famous people.

If you think it is important then you may need to reconsider your priorities because as Bill Murray said in the film “Meatballs” – It just doesn’t matter. 

It really doesn’t.

As I said I admired the work of Ron Silver and Natasha Richardson, but never once did I think their passing was on the same level as if one of my family had passed away.

That wouldn’t be healthy.

Reflections on President Ford

Former President Gerald Ford died on Tuesday. He was 93 years old.

I was but a wee lad in 1974 when I watched President Nixon announced he was resigning his office and that then VP Ford would be taking over. After the corruption of Nixon on the news every night, Ford was boring. Until he pardoned Nixon.

Even as a kid of 6, I knew it was a bone head move on his part to do it. Now many years later you have to wonder that if Ford wanted to “put Watergate and the Nixon presidency in the past”, then why did he not pardon everyone involved in the Watergate mess?

In an article in the Washington Post, by Bob Woodward, it was noted that on August 1, 1974, before Nixon resigned:

[Nixon’s chief of staff, Alexander M.] Haig presented Ford with six scenarios: Nixon could step aside temporarily under the 25th Amendment, he could just wait and delay the ongoing impeachment process, or he could try to settle for a formal censure. In addition, there were three pardon options. Nixon could pardon himself and resign. Or he could pardon the aides involved and then resign. Or Nixon could agree to leave in return for an agreement that the new President Ford would pardon him.

Closing the Chapter on Watergate Wasn’t Done Lightly

Ford claimed thereafter there was never a deal but one has to wonder if he would have signed a pardon if Haig hadn’t suggested it. It reminds me of those scenes in detective shows when they ask to see some file and the person tells them no but then leaves the file out while saying they need to go to the bathroom and they will be back in 5 minutes. The file clerk didn’t give the file to the detective but he knew what he was doing in leaving it out for the detective to look at.

I remember Ford’s time in office for the bad recession, unemployment, the gas crises, and the evacuation of Saigon. He also told New York city no when it asked for a bail out when it declared bankruptcy. And he had an obsession with the Swine Flu and making sure everyone was vaccinated against it – similar to the hype about the current Bird Flu.

In June of 1976, Ford stopped in Findlay to give a stump speech in front of the Elks club downtown (on the corner of Main Street and Lincoln St). A few thousand people showed up to his rally including me and my family. He was the President, so even if my Mom wasn’t going to vote for him, we still came out to see him.

Across the street from the Elks was the headquarters of Marathon Oil and I remember workers there were looking out and opening windows to hear the speech. Several police officers used a bullhorn and ordered the windows closed for security reasons.

The other interesting note about that rally was a few years later a picture from the event was used in the civics book I had in school. That was cool.

I will agree that President Ford was a nice guy but the pardon of Nixon will taint his short time in office in my book.