Demand A Plan

As President Obama puts it, we cannot stop all violence in this country. But Connecticut, the children, have pushed us to a tipping point.


We the public must stand up. We must make our millions of voices heard, A hunter may make a valid argument for his gun. A home owner may convince us he needs to protect his family. A gun enthusiast may have the right to collect and enjoy his hobby.

But have you ever, ever heard anyone defend the right of non-military, non-law enforcement individuals, to use rapid-fire semiautomatic assault weapons?

I urge you to watch this video by demandaplan.org.

Watch it. Join their efforts. Let’s speak up. Let’s speak loudly. Together.


After Sandy Hook School Shooting, Answers Escape Us


We are a country once again immersed in collective grief. The questions abound. The answers escape us.

I heard Piers Morgan of CNN say, after the Newton, Connecticut, unspeakable tragedy, that these types of “American” gunning down of innocents simply do not happen in his homeland, England.

We certainly observe the horrors of street violence and killings in all the corners of the world. And we know of the incidence of individual domestic murders and one-on-one “rage justice” murders worldwide.

But do other countries suffer these mass killings at random shopping malls and schools by the mentally disturbed?

With so many cases in recent years, it is glaring that gun control was not on the radar screen during this year’s election. Fair enough, we fight to defend our freedoms, including the 2nd Amendment, the right to bear arms. We debate our right to hunt food, to defend our property and loved ones. We institute tougher screening processes in purchasing weapons. Yet the increase in background checks, from 8.5 million in 2002 to 16.8 million in 2012, has not slowed the popularity of gun ownership.

Spending on hunting weapons has grown 30% in just the past five years. 49 states have legalized the right to carry concealed weapons.

What is the answer? Should a 20-year-old have the right to own an assault weapon? How can we monitor literally millions of people, their motives, their mental stability, in terms of gun ownership?

I remember chatting with a NY taxi driver many years ago, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He said he left Russia because there was no freedom. No freedom to make life choices, to even control one’s individual career and finances. When I asked him what his assessment of our country was, after living here for some ten years at that point, he said we have too much freedom.

The top political, sociological minds of our time cannot find the answer. We go from Columbine to Newton with no change.

We are all mourning the devastating loss of so many good souls in Connecticut. The children. The killer’s own mother. Our hearts are with all those families. As well as the survivors. And we are feeling utterly helpless.

To watch President Obama cry was to witness a man at a loss. What is the solution?

TEDxBerlin 2012 “Crossing Borders”

“DARE TO DREAM”

I was privileged to speak at TEDx Berlin over the Thanksgiving holiday. The theme of this particular conference was Crossing Borders, from the young Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster who has founded the Walkabout Foundation whereby she delivers state-of-the-art wheel chairs in developing countries, all on the heels of her brother becoming paralyzed after a devastating car accident…..to the elderly and mesmerizing neurologiist/psychiatrist Peter Fenwick who speaks to the final cross-over from this life to what may lie beyond.

For my part, being invited into the TED family has opened my eyes to a vast array of individuals dedicated to unique and life-changing works in today’s world.

 

 

Euthanasia: A Moment of Grace and Heartache

I’ve been here before. I bet you have, too.

My dog Scout, only just 7, has entered into end stage renal failure. It won’t be long now. No matter the daily chores, I find myself in that otherworldly, preoccupied state of heartache. My vet told me yesterday that I need to prepare to say good-bye.

Scout and her brother Teddy were born on the streets of the island of Turks and Caikos in the Caribbean. Their mother died the night they were born. Three siblings didn’t make it to sunrise. These two lived, starving, for a week on the streets. I found them shortly thereafter and brought them home to Los Angeles. I remember holding Scout in my arms those early days. She was always the vulnerable, sensitive one. Teddy the naughty daredevil.

At only three months, she was diagnosed by my vet as having severe congenital kidney disease. He showed me the ultrasound. Her kidneys were extremely small and had swiss-cheese-like holes throughout. He said she wasn’t going to make it.

We started her on special kidney food and a series of meds. Those first few months, it was if I was on egg shells, waiting for signs of failure. Yet the months flitted by. She romped on the beach, agile and fleet of foot as she soared off the sand bluffs and darted along the water’s edge. Yes, she was always too thin. Always finicky about that awful-tasting kidney diet. But, knowing what a strain any other food is to her kidneys, I was fastidiously faithful in giving her nothing but the kidney food.

And so the years stretched out. Four, five, six. This August, Scout turned seven. By then, I guess I had figured we had beaten all the odds and the kidneys aging prematurely was just not going to happen.

Three weeks before Thanksgiving, she just wouldn’t eat. Days would go by and I couldn’t coax her to take down even a morsel. Her weight plummeted drastically. This week she started vomiting, even though the water she’s drinking is the only thing in her system. She’s been at the vet on a continuous IV for four days now. I visit her twice a day. The IV fluids have helped get her appetite going again, to a degree. When I bring her home today, we’ll start injecting her subcutaneously with fluids. And now we’ll feed her anything she wants.

I’ve been told this is the end. There are no kidney transplants for dogs yet. I won’t put her through painful dialysis, to unrewarding ends.

The tears have wracked my body this week. As my vet puts it, we are blessed to have the option of euthanasia for our pets. When no quality of life remains, it is cruelty to extend suffering. One day we will reach the wisdom to have similar choices for our own species. Yet the impending decision grips me with fear and disbelief.

I’ve been through the euthanasia moment before. I sometimes thought I’d never recover from the agony of my chocolate lab Badger’s last breath, Bonnie and I holding him tenderly in our arms. But our animals teach us. We love again.

The difference here is that Scout is only half way through her life. Her eyes are not going to lose their brightness. Her paws are not going to stop dancing. She is not going to stop wagging her tail when I cuddle her. She’s young. It’s just her kidneys that betray her.

It is clear that, come the time, I will do the right thing by my Scout. My baby. I will not let her suffer. We are told that we love our animals so much, we know when that moment is upon us. And we do the right thing. But how? How will I summon the courage, when she is still vibrant in all other ways? Tell me how.

My 11-year-old friend Oliver Opie handed me a small swatch of paper yesterday. I unfolded it to read a quote by Dr. Seuss:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

When Scout comes home today, I’m going to try my damndest to heed Dr. Seuss’s words. Teddy and I are going to revel in her sweet company…..no matter how few days may remain.

Berlin: Fascinating Epicenter of European History


Berlin presents a breathtaking sweep of historical moments.

At the base of the Brandenburg Gate, the plaza has hosted many of the city’s crucial gatherings (from Napoleon’s time to WWII).

To stand in the 1936 Olympic Stadium, stirs memories of Hitler and Goring sitting in the prime center seats as jesse Owens streaked down the straightaway to gold and “Hitler’s Olympics” in ten seconds became “Jesse Owens’ Olympics”. These two huge athlete statues were commissioned by Hitler. They’re almost android figures. Military more than sport. No emotion whatsoever.

You will find a bratwurst on virtually corner of the city. Tender, fresh….trust me, you will never approach a DodgerDog again.

Only a fragment of the Cold War’s Berlin Wall remains. The Holocaust Museum is just behind this stretch. It is easy to visualize how the city was starkly divided, the stories dramatic and poignant of those trying, with risk of life, to escape austere, controlled East Berlin to the warmth and freedom of the West.

Berlin is sheer eye candy for architecture buffs, from the ultra-modern to the centuries-old churches.

Candace and I walked the city streets for nine hours one day, biked for seven hours another. As well-traveled as I like to think I am, I had never had the chance to visit this fascinating epicenter of European history. For our short Thanksgiving week’s time, Candace and I immersed ourselves days and nights. One of the great urban discovery trips of my life.

As they say in German: “Shone Tag”….have a beautiful day.

Visit to Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial and Roma Holocaust Memorial

Visited Berlin for the first time over Thanksgiving week.

The history runs deep in this city, starting of course with memories of the Holocaust.

The memorial to the six million Jews who perished is an expanse of some 3,000 stone blocks, each one a different size, respectfully reflecting the unique individuals, each one, who lost their lives to Hitler’s unconscionable perversions.

To walk deep into the maze, the stark, cold, tomblike walls closing you in, is to spend some quiet moments in memory of these six million dear souls.

Just across the road from the memorial to the Jews, in the magnificent center-city park, the TierGarten, is the newly opened memorial to the 500,000 gypsies who were also persecuted and killed for their non-Aryan roots. We pensively stood at the reflection pool, trying yet failing to imagine what fears, what confusions, what tragedies these good people suffered.

My friend Candace (white hair near the reflection pool) and I vowed not to forget. Never to forget.

Are you hooked into TED Talks yet?


TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) are a series of global conferences whereby a wide variety of interesting people doing maverick things convene and each speaks for a precise 15 minutes.

TED has now expanded even wider to a series of satellite conferences referred to as TEDx.

Was privileged to speak at TEDx Berlin over the Thanksgiving holiday. The theme of this particular conference was Crossing Borders, from the young Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster who has founded the Walkabout Foundation whereby she delivers state-of-the-art wheel chairs in developing countries, all on the heels of her brother becoming paralyzed after a devastating car accident…..to the elderly and mesmerizing neurologiist/psychiatrist Peter Fenwick who speaks to the final cross-over from this life to what may lie beyond.

TEDx events have now expanded to Khartoum and Baghdad and just about every corner of the globe.

The TED experience online is a brilliant opportunity for all of us to tune into the prestigious TED speakers throughout the conference history, back to 1990. You can literally spend 15 quality minutes at a time and hear every speaker who has ever presented from the TED stages.

For my part, being invited into the TED family has opened my eyes to a vast array of individuals dedicated to unique and life-changing works in today’s world.

Giving Thanks


There are currently some 7 billion people on this planet of ours. About half live in sheer survival mode. Water, mere drops of clean water, are hard to come by. For the rest of us, we suffer varying degrees of hardships but we are largely fortunate enough to have choices. We are the lucky ones.

Personally, I find that as I get older, my state of awe and appreciation at this treasured life we live is heightened more and more with each passing year.

I’m going to be out of country (Berlin) this Thanksgiving. But I will surely take some time on Thursday and over the holiday week-end to recognize the stellar, creative, compassionate people I have had the hugely good fortune to know over the years.

We are wont to say that it’s “our time” when a special moment presents itself. But the truth is our life span is “our time”. From birth to death, we are in rapture. We learn and discover. We laugh and love. We embrace Mother Earth. How profoundly thankful I am to be living this precious life.

A bounteous and humble Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.

Vietnam Remembrance

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We are living the year of the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War.
And this week, we find ourselves at the 30th Anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

58,282 names engraved in dark granite. 58,282 individuals who engaged in a war largely maligned and unsupported by their own citizens back home…and yet these individuals lost their precious lives, many of them at heartbreakingly young ages.

For only the 5th time in these three decades, this year 2,000 volunteers read each of the names aloud. The reading took 65 hours. It was a poignant time for those whose memories linger strongest.

We could say that all wars are senseless. From the beginning of mankind’s time on this Earth, all conquer wars based on religious and land and political differences have surely been insane, in terms of loss of lives and human suffering. Yet we have honored many of our war heroes because in many cases history has deemed those particular battles noble and for just causes. With Hitler as the grim enemy, our World War II vets will always be applauded. But the soldiers of the Vietnam War? They came home to people spitting on them in our airports. 58,282 people who served, but who were for the most part disparaged, rather than honored.

I will never pretend to understand what war is like. I am careful in sports commentary not to refer to football players as soldiers taking the field of battle. Understatement to say a ball game is not life and death.

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But I did get to spend three eye-opening weeks in Vietnam in January, 1998. The occasion was a documentary film called “Vietnam: Long Time Coming”. The concept of the film was to invite 50 American vets and 50 Vietcong vets to ride bicycles the length of the country, from Hanoi to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Somehow, individual reconciliations were the hope.

The idol of cycling, Greg Lemond, and I were invited to ride as ambassadors of sport. Several famous vets, such as John Kerry, joined us for a few days at a time.

The vets ranged widely from proud Marines who stood tall for having served their country to antiestablishment infantrymen who were ashamed and even bewildered by their actions some thirty years before. Two of the American team were women. One was Diane Carlson Evans, a nurse in the war, the force behind the Vietnam Women’s Memorial which now graces National Mall, just south of The Wall.

None of the Americans had been back to Vietnam since their war days there.

Again, I won’t pretend to understand any moment of the experience of war. But being with these 100 vets as they jumped with shell fire reactions whenever a bicycle tire would blow, as they wept through the Northern rice fields, as they stood frozen above the vista of the horseshoe South China Sea, I observed their fears. I listened to their horrific memories. I empathized with their lifelong inner pain.

In a sense, it was as if I entered the time machine and turned the clock back to 1968. That’s how we road down the Ho Chi Minh Highway, hooked back to the past, almost oblivious to the present.

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There were many disabled among the 100 soldiers. Double amputees. Hand-cyclists paralyzed by grenades. Part of the mission was to stop at the end of each day and make school and hospital outreach visits so that the people of today’s Vietnam could hear our apologies….as well as see how modern technology can bring a full life to someone who has been gravely injured.

On one such visit to a school of 12-year-old girls after the day’s ride, I heard a speech I will never forget.

One of our blind vets, Jerry Stadtmiller, was now a psychotherapist in San Diego. He was a good-natured, smart fellow and the kids loved Jerry at every school we visited. He had been to hell and back since the war. More than 50 major operations after a grenade to the face had taken out his eyes, much of his esophagus, etc, etc, etc. Jerry wore around his neck a picture of his 19-year-old self in his dress blues, his war entry photo. Handsome as heck.

So this girl in her elegant traditional Ao Dai asks of Jerry:
“What was your worst moment in the war, Jerry?”

But she quickly rushes to him, holds his hands, and retracts her question: “Jerry, I’m sorry. Your worst moment is obvious. When you were hit with that grenade.”

Jerry stood tall, leaning on his white cane. And he talked one-on-one to this girl.

“No. It wasn’t the moment I was hit. That wasn’t the worst.”

And as he told the story, his crying grew from slight sniffles to grown man sobs.

“I was 19. We were sneaking into a village. I was sent in first, the point man, to see if there were locals or if the village was abandoned and we could take it over for a few days. My adrenaline took my pulse to 220. Crapping in my pants. Just as I started to calm down, nobody in sight, empty winds blowing between the huts, a little boy…not as old as you, smaller, younger…jumped from behind a hut and pointed a bigger weapon than mine at my face. His eyes were dead. I didn’t think. There was no rational decision.

I blew him apart. I can’t tell you what I saw in that moment. I’ve lived with the regrets, the vision of that innocent boy, every day of my life, all these years. I can’t forgive myself. I’ll never forgive myself.”

And Jerry sobbed inconsolable tears.

This 12-year-old girl held Jerry close. She took a friendship bracelet she had made and circled it around his wrist. Then she delivered this speech, directly to Jerry.

“We will never forgive President Kennedy, nor LBJ, nor Henry Kissinger for toying with our lives under the thin and false veil of fighting communism. We have lost our parents, our grandparents. Our people are maimed. Our birds have been debilitated by your Agent Orange and left our land. We may never recover from the devastation your armies inflicted upon us. But you, Jerry, I forgive you. You were 19. You were doing what you were commanded to do, in the name of duty to your country. Forgive yourself at long last, Jerry, because I forgive you.”

I assure you there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Day by day, during that sojourn on bicycles through the beautiful Vietnam countryside, into the bustling chaos of Saigon, there were daily moments of anger and conflict…and forgiveness.

Soldiers throughout history rarely again find a way back to normal life. My dear friend Bonnie’s father Herbert would never talk about his grim times at Normandy. He would silently watch war movies, tears streaming down his tender face. My soul mate Candace’s father Floyd was sent to WW II at the moment he received his greatest career opportunity, a chance that never came his way again.

Despite the atrocities witnessed to the emotional tolls endured to the bonds forged to the never-to-recapture events missed at home, soldiers of war often say there is nothing that could ever again match the intensity they experienced in uniform.

And for the U.S. Vietnam vets, perhaps the added layers of fighting a war their own people didn’t respect has brought complications for these good soldiers that vets of other wars have not suffered.

I am thinking of what a naïve, leftist, loud-mouth war protester I was back in 1968. The Vietnam war itself may have been all wrong, but I for one need to follow the lead of that 12-year old girl.

No, I need to go further. I need to bestow more than forgiveness on those who served there. For the 58,282 named on The Wall, for the thousands more who made it back, I need in my mind to imbue each and every one with honor.

Xtreme Dream Supporters


How proud it makes me to show up at an event to give a speech and find
good people wearing the Xtreme Dream shirt….

ONWARD!!!!