Wednesday, July 17, 2019

On Being Un-American

John Garfield, my classic film heart-throb, was a hero of World War II. The only uniform he wore was on movie sets -- he couldn't serve in the military (though he very much wanted to) due to a heart condition. So he traveled with the USO entertaining troops overseas, he co-founded the Hollywood Canteen, a star-studded club that entertained the troops lucky enough to come through Southern California; he helped sell War Bonds, helped raise money for the Red Cross, and he played film roles that likely inspired thousands of men and women to enlist in the Armed Forces (Pride of the Marines, Destination Tokyo, and others). He was as patriotic as an American could possibly be while our country was at war. He was an absolute hero to those who served and to his country, and nothing less.

And what thanks did he get from the United States government after victory was declared? He was pretty much hounded to death at the age of 39 by the House Un-American Activities Committee (the HUAC), a disgraceful arm of the United States Congress that infamously try to root out Communism, especially in Hollywood. The HUAC and its witch-hunts are roundly remembered as being one of the most un-American chapters in U.S. history, and its victims were many. John Garfield  refused to "name names" of Hollywood folk accused of being members of the Communist Party (which was not an uncommon thing to be in early 20th century America, and not at all illegal), and although he escaped going to prison (unlike the Hollywood Ten and others) he was blacklisted from working in Hollywood the year before he died. This was from the testimony he gave the HUAC:
"I have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. My life is an open book. I am no Red. I am no 'pink.’ I am no fellow traveler. I am a Democrat by politics, a liberal by inclination, and a loyal citizen of this country by every act of my life."
That wasn't good enough for men like Congressman Richard Nixon and other mostly forgettable HUAC members (whose only legacy is being remembered for being on the wrong side of history). Garfield was constantly followed by the FBI while plans were being drawn up to charge him with lying to Congress. He died before they got that chance.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about John Garfield since yesterday, when I heard Donald Trump disparage the women of color that with blatant racism he Tweeted to go back to the countries they came from. He and his minions tried to justify those Tweets by saying that these women are Communists who hate America. He said they were un-American. Sadly, the vast majority of Trump's "base" are either too young or -- let's say, to put it kindly -- too uneducated to know about the HUAC and their anti-American way of destroying lives and careers of people who they felt threatened the rich, white mens' status quo.

And like every single day, I can't stop thinking about my dear friend David, whose family also got caught up in HUAC drama. David's uncle George Marshall was, like many of David's close relatives, a great Civil Rights champion. David's uncle George spent three months in a Kentucky prison for refusing to cooperate with the HUAC. "In his appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court, Marshall pleaded that Congress had acted unconstitutionally when it created HUAC, and argued that his conviction and sentence were motivated by his militant fight for civil rights, for prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan and for the abolition of HUAC."

I will never stop being proud of men like John Garfield, George Marshall, and every patriotic American who took a stand against the corrupt, un-Constitutional HUAC.  They were on the CORRECT side of history. If you support the words, actions, and cult of personality that is Donald J. Trump, you are NOT.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Something for Tony

I have many Kansas City heroes, past and present. Coming in First Place on that list is, of course, Jacob Billikopf (a "dear friend of mine" according to his son -- in spite of the fact that Jacob left this planet 17 years before I was born). I'll be singing Jacob Billikopf's praises in person, online, and in print in perpetuity.

In today's day and age, my admiration of Tony Botello is widely known. Were it not for Tony's Kansas City, most of us would have no idea what is really going on in our town. Tony is the 21st century embodiment of the Fourth Estate, and his tireless efforts to keep us aware either amuse or enrage local denizens seven days a week.

Another Kansas City son I deem to be heroic is Ed Asner. As a lifelong fan of his acting, I became aware of his activistic inclinations decades ago. When Professor Ulichne (another hero) and I heard that Mr. Asner was raising money for the Ed Asner Family Center, which helps people with special needs and their families, it took us less than a minute to decide what we had to do: We knew instinctively that we needed to order an Ed Asner Cameo Shout-Out to our favorite blogger in the world.

So Tony, this is for you, with gratitude to all heroes who make such things possible:

Friday, April 27, 2018

Obituary of David Marshall Billikopf (Annotated)

I knew from the very beginning that my friendship with David was once-in-a-lifetime extraordinary and I treasured every minute of it. I wanted it to last forever but that ended up not happening. In South America, or at least in Chile, obituaries are not biographical but merely funeral notices so I'm going to try and write for David a North American-style obituary, with my comments/anecdotes in the footnotes.

David Marshall Billikopf, 91, passed away peacefully on March 25, 2018 at his home in Santiago, Chile, surrounded by family and others who cared about him. He was the son of the late Jacob and Ruth (Marshall) Billikopf [1], grandson of Louis Marshall, and nephew of wilderness activist Bob Marshall.

David was born on June 9, 1926, in Philadelphia, PA. He grew up in Philadelphia, spending summers in the Marshall family cottage at the Knollwood Club in the Upper Adirondacks of New York. He attended the Oak Lane Country Day School [2] and the Germantown Friends School [3] in Philadelphia before graduating with honors from Harvard University in 1947. He served in the United States Army from 1945 to 1946.

After college David hitchhiked across the United States and then sailed to Europe, spending a year traveling through France and Italy. [4]

In 1952 David married María Encina of San Javier, Chile. [5] During the 1950s and 1960s David played an integral role in managing the Encina family's vineyard. In 1955 David built a home for his family in the Las Condes section of Santiago, Chile. This home, where he passed away, is designated as a National Monument by the Chilean government.

In 1970, during a time of political turmoil in Chile, David brought his wife and five children to New Canaan, Connecticut, where they lived until returning to South America in 1975. [6] It was during this time that David wrote the book, "The Exercise of Judicial Power, 1789-1864," an extensive study of the beginnings of the U.S. Federal Court system and Supreme Court decisions during that period.

After returning to Chile David spent his years writing and traveling. He wrote several novels, novellas, short stories, and poems in both English and Spanish.

Besides his parents, David was preceded in death by his sister, Mrs. Florence Schweitzer, and a grandson, David Marsing Billikopf.

David is survived by three sons, Gregorio, Nicolás, and Yahia Billikopf; two daughters, Philippa Anderson and Stephanie Billikopf; 25 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchidren (with two more on the way). He is also survived by his Godson, Monsignor Carlos Encina of the Vatican, as well as a host of family, friends, and caretakers.



[1]  When David was ten  years old his mother, Ruth Marshall Billikopf, died from breast cancer at the family's Knollwood cottage in the Adirondacks. Though it may have seemed to outsiders that David had everything a kid could want except for his mother, he never considered this to be the case. He said she was always  with him, until the end of his life.

[2]  The Oak Lane Country Day School was an experimental "Deweyite" educational preschool/elementary school where students were encouraged to follow their own instincts and learn at their own pace. Political philosopher Noam Chomsky also attended this school, a year behind David. In David's Second Grade progress reports (I read all of his progress reports from that school -- he called them his "Laundry Sheets") it was mentioned that although David was a brilliant student, he was "inclined to boss first graders," one of whom would have been Chomsky. I offered the theory that perhaps Noam Chomsky's strong anti-authoritarian leanings may have had their roots in being bossed around in the First Grade by young David B.  Mr. Billikopf insisted that despite what it said in his "Laundry Sheets" he never bossed around any First Graders, so I let it go. I still think it's an amusing and very remotely plausible theory.

[3]  Germantown Friends was a Quaker School and David was one of four Jewish students in a class of fifty. It was here that David was introduced to the New Testament of the Bible. At the end of his Tenth Grade year a term paper contest was held. David wrote about the history of the Catholic Church and his paper and the term paper of another Jewish student were chosen as the winners of the contest. David's prize was a copy of Bullfinch's Mythology. He never ceased to be amused that a Jewish kid at a Quaker school won a book about mythology for writing about the Catholic Church :)

[4] On September 20, 1949 David sailed to Europe on the SS Excalibur.
November 14, 1949 was a rainy night in the southern Italian region of Apulia and it was here on this night in the province of Foggia that David first experienced the Spirit of God, which was never to leave him. Though David descended from a thousand years of Rabbis he generally considered his form of Judaism as an ethnic identity more than a religion until the time of this experience in Italy.  David and María Billikopf's children were raised in the Roman Catholic religion, and David himself embraced Catholicism though he considered himself a Theological Jew.  Among his descendants today are Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, and other Christians. To my knowledge not a single descendant of David identifies theologically as Jewish.

[5] On December 31, 1950, David was sailing back to the United States on the SS Liberté when he received a cable informing him that his father had died that day in Philadelphia. It was at dinner on this same night that David met his future wife, María. He arrived in New York and made it to Philadelphia in time for his father's funeral on January 2, 1951. The next month he flew to Chile to see María and the courtship was on.

[6]  The years David spent with his family in Connecticut were the only time he watched television. Living in Chile without a TV in the 1950s and '60s meant that he was completely unaware of  the classic television shows that people my age and older either grew up watching or learned to love in syndication. That changed when he moved back to the States. His favorite TV shows were All in the Family, Sanford & Son, Hogan's Heroes, Get Smart, Monday Night Football, and Masterpiece Theater. Upon returning to Chile the television served only one purpose in his life until the end -- World Cup Soccer.


And there ends my footnoted obituary of the life of David Billikopf, a very brief summary with hundreds of interesting and amusing facts missing, along with one fact that is very much inconsequential -- that he was my friend, my sounding board, my trusted confidante.  It mattered not to me how old or far away he was or how completely different our lives and families were. The fantastic stories and histories were simply footnotes of his personality and not the basis of my admiration for this person that I'll spend the rest of my life missing. Being able to drop French, Spanish, and Latin phrases in the same email, sometimes the same paragraph -- having someone who lived next door to Albert Einstein telling me that I'm intelligent -- calling me from 6000 miles away because he hadn't heard from me and was worried -- chauffeuring me around New York City to all the best spots in Manhattan via Wi-Fi -- putting EVERYTHING into a perspective steeped in wisdom like no other person I've ever known -- no, I'll never have a friend like that again. And I'll never stop missing David.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

On Being a Snowflake

In the Age of Trump, people on the "right" have taken to calling people with liberal and progressive ideas "Snowflakes." Their reasoning is that snowflakes are fragile and sensitive. Every day on Facebook I see people being described as being Snowflakes if they complain about racism and xenophobia, rollbacks of environmental protections, or just disagree with anything Trump says in general.

If somebody calls you a Snowflake, just look at the source and then take it as a compliment. Not only are snowflakes infinitely unique, but we  human snowflakes can take pride in the fact that we are on the correct side of history and remind ourselves that there is strength in numbers:

Yes, take pride in being compared with the powerful force of one of nature's true miracles. Snowflakes are amazingly beautiful in and of themselves.

Who on earth would ever make that claim about their opposite?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Dakota Pipeline: What Could Go Wrong?

Corporate Mercenary Ashley Nicole Welch
Sets an Attack Dog on Protesters
As the mainstream media ignores Native Americans and environmental activists braving attack dogs, mace, and mercenaries to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline from being dug under the Missouri River and then run underground from North Dakota to Illinois, I ask myself, "What could go wrong?" After all, the company's website makes the claim that up to 575,000 barrels of "light sweet crude oil" can be transported every day in a safe and environmentally friendly fashion. So what could go wrong? Living close to the Missouri River, I think it's an important question to ask.

Let's look at some recent news headlines about oil pipelines:

September 5, 2016 - 5,000 Gallons of Crude Oil Spilled from Pipeline in Louisiana

August 20, 2016 - Pipeline Explosion Kills 10 Campers in New Mexico

July 21, 2016 - Water Poisoned After 1570 Barrels of Oil Spill into North Saskatchewan River

June 23, 2016 - 30,000+ Gallons of Crude Oil Spilled from Pipeline in Ventura County, California

April 2, 2016 - 16,800 Gallons Spilled from Pipeline in South Dakota

Those are just a few recent stories. Here are a dozen or so more pipeline accidents that have occurred in 2016 in the United States.

Also in pipeline news today Exxon Mobil is appealing a ruling that would force them to take new safety measures, along with a $2.6 million fine, resulting from the pipeline disaster in 2013 that spilled 134,000 gallons of heavy crude into the Little Rock suburb or Mayflower, Arkansas.

Since the year 2000 there have been hundreds of pipeline accidents in the United States alone, spilling millions of barrels of oil and gas, contaminating land and water all over the country, explosions killing many and lingering health effects killing and ruining countless more lives.

Yes, there's much that can go wrong so I'm glad that there are brave people willing to stand up and fight against Donald Trump's Energy Aide in his quest to frack North Dakota to bits and pump a half-million gallons of crude oil every day under our Missouri River and through farms, towns, streams, and lands that are sacred to Native Americans.