Freedom of Expression

After two Islamist terrorists attacked the offices of the French publication Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve and injuring eleven, many Americans and nearly all journalists spoke up in defense of free speech. Some people, and incredibly even a few in the media, moderated their support for this foundational value by suggesting that the satirical magazine may have gone “too far”— but those voices were rare. Mass rallies and marches followed the tragedy in a statement of solidarity. The message was clear: Freedom of speech and expression is so important to the concept of liberty, we will defend it—even if we don’t agree with the message expressed. To show images of the Prophet Mohammad as a depraved lunatic or Jesus Christ bathed in an artist’s urine, are all acceptable expressions of art or political commentary worthy of protection.

Just a few short months ago, it was the sentiment of Americans that: Freedom of expression is sacred, as they aligned with Evelyn Beatrice Hall in saying, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But, perhaps they meant to continue…”Just don’t dare display the Confederate Flag or print or utter the ‘N’” word” (unless you are, in some way, anointed royalty).

Vintage Confederate Flag Background XXXL“But the Confederate flag is symbol of racism. It is a painful reminder of slavery in America, and the oppression of African Americans,” say those insisting in this latest wave of politically correct “symbolic cleansing.”

I’m not easily influenced by impassioned or mob-driven movements. I loathe faddish thinking, particularly when it is based upon ideas disconnected from fact and truth. So, aside from the blatant hypocrisy here, let’s consider the question: Does the Confederate flag truly represent what the mob claims, or is their criticism based upon something else—like their own opinions, impressions, or ignorance?

First off, the flag usually being identified as “The Confederate Flag” is really only the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia. There were actually a series of different flags for the Confederacy, each one unique to a specific period.

Now, as for what the flags actually represented in terms of its history: They represented the Confederate States of America (CSA), a collection of eleven Southern states that included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi. These states seceded from the Union in 1860-1861.

The catalyst for secession was the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, who promised not to allow slavery to expand into new territories that had yet to become states.

While slavery was a pivotal issue in the secession and subsequent Civil War, the division was much more about economics than about morality at the time. And this is key point to remember when we start talking about removing symbols in some effort to re-write history. As late as 1850, slavery still existed to some degree in the North, although not anywhere near the levels that id did in the South. But this had much more to do with the climate and economy than morality. Cotton and tobacco didn’t grow well in the Northern States, so they failed to develop any large-scale agricultural industry that benefited from using slaves—so instead, they benefited from them indirectly.

Entrepreneurs, bankers and Northern slave traders were among the institution’s staunchest defenders prior to the war. In fact, between 1859 and 1860, two ships sailed to Africa every month from New York to purchase slaves. Northerners also profited greatly from slavery through the cotton trade. Entire cities in the North were created around textile mills that manufactured cloth made from cotton—cotton that had been picked by slaves in the South. In 1861, more than two billion pounds of cotton cloth was produced, much of it sold and shipped to Great Britain by New York merchants.

While slavery played a major role in the split between North and South, to a large degree, the secession of the South and the subsequent Civil War was also because of trade and tariff differences and a growing resentment felt by Southerners for what they perceived to be a largely hypocritical North—states that had been enriched by the slave industry to a large degree that now threatened to restrain future growth of the South’s industrial base.

Aside from the political and military history concerning the Civil War, it is important to realize that attitudes and standards of morality were different then. As difficult as it is for us today to accept, slavery has existed throughout history, often based upon racial differences. As distasteful as it sounds, many fellow human beings were then considered “creatures.” Both by law and cultural perspective, African slaves and likewise Native Americans, were then considered “inferior” beings.

What any rational person today would consider racism, was the prevalent attitude in both the South and North prior to the Civil War. In fact, Lincoln himself, in a Senate debate with Stephen Douglas in 1858 said, “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,” he went on to say that he opposed blacks having the right to vote, to hold office or serve on juries or inter-marry with whites.

Likewise, in an effort to prevent the Civil War, president-elect, Lincoln even supported a Constitutional Amendment (The Corwin Amendment) which would have permanently established slavery as a legal institution, if only the South agreed to remain in the Union. The amendment passed both houses of Congress and was signed by then lame duck President James Buchanan. Even so, the Southern States declined to rejoin the Union, citing other grievances with the federal government in Washington. (Technically, the amendment is still pending!)

Lincoln only became “The Great Emancipator” when it became militarily and political expedient—freedom for the slaves was merely a byproduct of emancipation, not the goal of it.

Furthermore, prior to the Civil War, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Dred Scott case that African Americans had no claim to freedom or citizenship and since slaves were private property, Congress did not have the power to regulate slavery in the territories and could not revoke a slave owner’s rights. This ruling served to bolster the South’s position and only helped to move the nation closer to division.

So, in the context of history, were those who considered African Americans “something less than human beings” evil, racists? The answer is yes… if they were aware and understood then what we accept today as the truth about human equality. But I don’t think that’s the case. Many then likely found reassurance in the Dred Scott decision of their belief that some people were of less value—less human—than others.

Indeed, could not the same argument be made today, for example, of those who deny the equal humanity of a fetus, knowing that it has unique DNA? Are today’s “pro-choice” advocates really modern day “Confederates” hiding behind yet another ugly decision of the Supreme Court?

The legacy of the Confederacy and Southern culture isn’t just about slavery any more than women and reproductive rights is just about abortion.

We live in a different time and have the benefit of progress. We should consider our history and learn from it, but none of us can reach back into time with a claim of full understanding to render judgment and now selectively punish those no longer here to explain their actions.

And in terms of our history and slavery, if a Confederate flag is regarded solely as a symbol of bigotry and hatred, how then shall we judge the American Flag?


Jurassic Franchise World

Once in a while, we all need to escape. Stepping inside the sanctuary of a movie theater is the ideal diversion—a way to forget about one’s troubles for a while. So let’s soak in the escape for a moment and talk about Michael Crichton.

For those of you who don’t know Michael Crichton, he is the man who wrote Jurassic Park.—the man largely responsible for bringing dinosaurs to the big screen, and thus the one who forged the long-awaited, multi-million dollar images for fossil-enthused boys and their fathers. Crichton’s gritty story telling coupled with the magical direction of Spielberg has produced a string of potent blockbusters. Such a duo hasn’t been seen since Marty Mcfly and Doc.K9xZZiw

The Jurassic Park novels are written as a warning to scientists using their new-found, god-like abilities in the laboratory to create or reanimate the dead or extinct. The theme of the entire series is, essentially, a retelling of the Mary Shelly classic, Frankenstein.

The point of every movie and novel is simple: If you think you have everything under control, think again. Some variable will destroy your preconceived notions in blood splatter; whether it’s the ferocity of a dinosaur or the greed of a human being, it all ends up in mass death. Don’t fiddle with extinct monsters. Just because they’re ancient doesn’t mean they’re docile. In other words: Don’t play god.

The first of the franchise, Jurassic Park (1993), grossed over a billion dollars. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), earned over 500 million, and Jurassic Park III (2001) brought in a respectable $350 million—all stellar hits from the box-office perspective. While the first film, Jurassic Park, is the 18th highest grossing film of all time and is the oldest of the top twenty money-makers in the history of Hollywood, incredibly, Jurassic World has already overtaken it at the box office. How’s that for a successful franchise!

Like the previous three films, Jurassic World follows the same Jurassic formula: Kids in peril; leading man; leading lady, with everybody eaten by dinosaurs. The leading man (Chris Pratt) is probably the biggest attraction other than the dinosaurs. Pratt plays a stern character that tries to imitate Clint Eastwood but always manages to break character in some quirky sort of “everyman” idiosyncrasy; whether by way of his countenance or voice, Pratt manages to artfully avoid the stiffness leading men often coddle in big box office films.

If you’re the polar opposite of an art-house goon then this movie is for you. A corny yet all American slice of catastrophe mixed in with some witty banter, growing pains, thoroughly drenched in a thick, delicious sauce of blood and guts served very rare. It’s a good film with good suspense and great leads; well worth seeing. (Good enough that I’ve seen the film twice!)

Jurassic World stands out from the rest of the franchise because it’s a compilation of the best cuts of the previous pictures into one delectable mash-up. Another of Jurassic World’s strengths is how it captures the wonder of seeing dinosaurs at a Disney-like theme park located just west of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean. Just try to imagine that—you can’t! So just go see the movie. Hollywood has a better imagination than you.

And do yourself a favor, see it in Imax 3D—it really brings out the beasts’ good side.

Author on a Mission

The courage and compassion to do the right thing – it’s the prevailing theme that resonates with audiences when they hear San Mateo, California author, Marty Brounstein, talk about his book, Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust.

Since 1991, Brounstein has led the consulting firm The Practical Solutions Group, serving a wide variety of clients on issues of leadership and organizational effectiveness. Through this work, he has written eight books related to business management, from contributing author to sole author, including Communicating Effectively For Dummies and Coaching and Mentoring For Dummies.

But his ninth book is quite different, having thrust Brounstein into the interfaith business, as he tells the story of a Christian couple, Frans and Mien Wijnakker, who saved the lives of over two dozen Jews in the Netherlands during World War II and the Holocaust. This true story has all the elements of intrigue, complete with hiding rooms and Nazi soldiers showing up on doorsteps only to retreat when they find nothing of interest.Two Among the Righteous Few Marketing Deck Rev  11-2014.compress

Turns out, this remarkable story has a meaningful personal connection to Brounstein, one he’s been revealing to standing-room-only audiences since 2011. This unexpected journey has taken Brounstein to ten different cities across the country, where he’s completed nearly 400 speaking events in churches, synagogues, community centers, social service organizations, private homes, Rotary Clubs, bookstores, schools, universities, libraries, book clubs, a Holocaust museum, a history museum, professional conferences, and workplaces. Now his story has caught the attention of a Hollywood production company, where efforts are underway to turn it into a feature film.

ALIVE Magazine: What compelled you to write the story of Frans and Mien Wijnakker in Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust ?

Marty Brounstein: Much has been written about Holocaust survivors, but other than Oskar Schindler, we don’t hear as much about the rescuers. In Yad Vashem, the museum in Jerusalem that serves as a remembrance of the Holocaust, there is a special section called the Righteous Among the Nations. It is dedicated to those non-Jews who carried out acts of courage amidst great risk and danger to save the lives of Jews during this horrific period. Like Oskar Schindler, Frans and Mien have received this heroic recognition as Righteous Among the Nations. They were Catholics who led a simple life in a small town in the Netherlands, but they took risks and displayed bravery to help others in dire need.

AM: This is a personal story for you. Tell us about it.

MB: I learned about the beginnings of this story in May 2009. My wife and I were traveling in the Netherlands where she’s originally from. She moved to the U.S. in the 8th grade. It had been 25 years since she’d been back to her homeland, and she had a curiosity to find where her beginnings were. We were in this big small town area in southeastern Netherlands and a lot of serendipity happened…
In this tourist information center in the town of Ravenstein, I was just watching when my wife asked the staff members about the home that once belonged to a Frans Wijnakker. They perked up because he’s a local hero and then gave us directions to this house located in the nearby town of Dieden, telling us that one of the Wijnakker sons still lives in this particular house. Before we left, one of them wrote down an e-mail address on how to find out about a self-published Dutch book, dealing with Frans and his experiences of rescue during the war.

A ten-minute drive later and we found this house. One of the sons was there, Frans Wijnakker, Jr., who owns the house today. It was so easy; he was just sitting in the front yard. He and his four siblings know my wife Leah Baars by her Dutch nickname Ineke. They hadn’t seen her in 25 years, but he recognized her and was so excited to see her. A few minutes later as the wife of Frans, Jr. was calling around to see if any of the Wijnakker siblings were home, the youngest, Irene, came over. She is the keeper of the self-published Dutch book about their parents, and she gave it to us. That’s the beginning of what will lead to the story; a story to which I have a very meaningful personal connection.

AM: So what happened next?

MB: Prior to this initial visit, I didn’t fully understand the big deal about Frans and Mien Wijnakker. When Frans, Jr. showed us a blown-up picture of his parents plaque from Yad Vashem, showing his parents were Righteous Among the Nations, I was blown away. I knew what that meant. You don’t get that honor for just showing up; something heroic happened here. Plaque copy

As we left this accidental visit on a Monday afternoon with Frans. Jr., his wife, and his youngest sister, we were invited to return Wednesday evening. When we returned that Wednesday, all five Wijnakker siblings with spouses came for a happy reunion, excited to reconnect with my wife, Ineke Baars, as they best know her. Between the Monday and Wednesday visits, my wife read the Dutch book to me out loud. While it was like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, I got the gist of the story– something amazing had happened at this house in Dieden and elsewhere in the countryside area. Frans and Mien were saving people’s lives.

When we got home that summer, my wife wrote out the translation of the Dutch book into English for me and said, “See what you can do with this.” That was the beginning of a research project, which became quite an unexpected and fascinating journey. In early April 2010, in a follow-up interview with Nellie, the oldest of the Wijnakker children and the point person for us with the book, I asked if I could write the story about their parents and seek to get it published in the U.S. Her response, “I’d be honored.” Thus, I went forward to get a publisher and had the full support of the Wijnakker family.Frans and Mien

AM: I’ve seen you in action, and there are audible gasps from the audience as you tell your story. Apart from being a dynamic speaker with a compelling story, what is it that resonates with audiences today?

MB: I think it has to do with heroism and its true meaning. A hero is someone who is willing to take action to help others in need, often with much risk involved. This word “hero” is misused often in American society, commonly being attached to celebrities in the sports and entertainment world. Hitting a home run to win a championship baseball game or playing a movie role at an Academy Award winning level are examples of great performance, but there is nothing heroic about them.

True heroes, like Frans and Mien Wijnakker, seldom receive glory during their time and sometimes may even be scorned for taking action that goes against the status quo or conventional wisdom. In the case of the Wijnakkers, they saved peoples’ lives who were facing certain death — heroism at its highest level. Their story and others like them need not be glorified but should be studied for the wonderful lessons of humanity and sincerity they teach.Marty and Leah

AM: I think your audiences are inspired as well.

MB: My goal with the book and the presentations is to leave the reader or audience with important messages that they can apply in their lives today and in the future. For example, demonstrating ethics and doing the right thing; treating others with respect as consistent practice in your job as well as your personal life; and recognizing that care and empathy are qualities to nurture and develop.

AM: What’s this about your book being made into a feature film?

MB: I’ve been approached by Hollywood producer Christopher Broughton, CEO of Moxie Motion Pictures, who believes Two Among the Righteous Few has all the elements of a successful feature film. Our model is the Academy Award Winning picture 12 Years a Slave: a true story about a tough subject and not widely known. Like that story, mine represents a true and poignant part of history, one with lessons of the human spirit amidst evil and tragedy. We’ve got our Hollywood wish list of lead actors, and Christopher is working hard to build the financing for the movie.

AM: Please tell us your meaningful personal connection to the story.

MB: This is something I reveal at the end of my storytelling presentation, and you find out pretty quickly in the book, especially in Chapter 9, but I will give you a little insight about this. Among the over two dozen Jews the Wijnakkers saved was a young married couple similar in age to them. When the couple came to the Wijnakker home in the fall of 1943, the wife had a secret she could no longer keep. She was already pregnant, a near impossible situation to deal with under the brutal occupation of Nazi Germany. In brief, the Wijnakkers performed a miracle and got this baby born and kept her safe until liberation finally came. Now, as of eight years ago, I get to call that baby my wife, Leah “Ineke” Baars. She’s been my number one supporter for this four-year journey with this special story. For their selfless acts, I thank God for the courage and compassion of Frans and Mien Wijnakker. I am eternally grateful.

For more information or to schedule Marty Brounstein as a speaker, visit Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust is also available at

I’m a Yankee Doodle

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni’.
Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

What’s a Yankee Doodle you ask? If you have to ask you’re not one! If you have to ask, you might be a communist (pre-Isis/Jihad American hate group). I’ll tell you what a Yankee Doodle is, not because I should have to, but because I have 1,200 words to fill.

A Yankee Doodle is a patriot; someone proud to be an American. A Yankee Doodle can be any race, religion or ethnicity, but they must bleed red, white and blue, and damn it—that’s me! When you drop a Yankee Doodle on someone they instinctively think of the song. The earliest known version of the Yankee Doodle song lyrics dates back to somewhere between 1755 and1758. It was a big hit on i-Tunes—the pre-Revolutionary War playlist.

Patriot's Day Parade

The song, Yankee Doodle Dandy, gained popularity when the Union soldiers sang it while marching during the Civil War. The confederate soldiers were probably belting out Sweet Home Alabama. Post war, it became a unifying tune throughout the country. Although the term became a call for national unity, today’s “Y Doodles” are equally proud to be from a state as great as California.

Taking it one step further, we now have more regional Dandies inherently proud to be a Danvillian or an Alamoian, a San Ramonian or a Walnut Creekian. Are you picking up what I’m laying down? 2015 Yankee Doodles rocks their allegiance to country, state, city and community. They raise their flag for the good old USA, the Golden State and home region such as The Tri Valley, Blackhawk, Diablo, Rossmoor, Lamorinda, etc.

If you’re ever read one of my articles in this magazine, and I’m confident at least six people have, you know I don’t share my views on politics, religion, other species or extraterrestrials. Just for the record, they exist. I’ve seen them. Being a Yankee Doodle is more of a patriotic life choice than a club affiliation. It’s a swagger we embrace because we know, for all our nation/state or town’s flaws, compared to the rest of the world, there’ no better place to live on planet earth than where we are today!

The list of Yankee Doodles is long and esteemed. John Wayne was a Yankee Doodle. Ronald Reagan, Amelia Earhart and Dick Clark…all Yankee Doodles. I know Walt Disney was a Yankee Doodle because I once saw Jiminy Cricket dressed up for Forth of July in Uncle Sam attire. That little bug sure could sing and dance. Bruce Springsteen is a Doodle along with Joe Montana, Harrison Ford and… I could name hundreds, maybe thousands of men and women who doodle themselves. Wait, that came out wrong.

The following is a sampling of just a few whom I considered to be Yankee Doodlers. In addition to me and my cousin Ben, the list includes Neil Armstrong, Chris Kyle, Jimmy Fallon, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, Clint Eastwood, Sandra Bullock, Hulk Hogan, Toby Keith, Jon Stewart, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, the entire Curry family (Steph, Ayesha, Del, hot Sonya and adorable little Riley), Bob Costas, John Grisham, Chris Rock, Kid Rock, Duane “The Rock” Johnson, Danica Patrick, Rudolf Giuliani, Captain America, Captain Crunch, Howard Stern, Eric Johnson and Beyonce.

A Yankee Doodle is a Patriotic person. Fiona D., age 11

A Yankee Doodle is a rag in the shape of a swirl hat. Brandon C., age 6 ½

A Yankee Doodle is some kind of noodle food. Jessica C., age 8

A Yankee Doodle is a cartoon character macaroni guy. Hannah O., age 10

A Yankee Doodle is a lady wearing a hat with feathers riding a horse down a dirt road. Taylor O. age 8

A Yankee Doodle is a person who traded stuff with other people and became rich. Jake A., age 10

A Yankee Doodle is a cowboy who invents stuff. Trevor R., age 9

A Yankee Doodle is someone who can’t do what they’re trying to do. Harper C., age almost 5.

A Yankee Doodle is a yellow pony who eats macaroni. Megan L., age 4 1/2

A Yankee Doodle is an old time baseball player with the New York Yankees. Brady L., age 7 ½.

A Yankee Doodle is a noodle dinner with sauce that kids like to eat. Reese M., age 6

A Yankee Doodle is a song you sing on the Fourth of July. Regan D., age 7

Some politicians are Doodles, but not all of them. Some politicians are just plain tools. I think it’s safe to say that Olympic athletes are Yankee Doodles along with anyone in the military. Just for the record, we owe anyone in the military and our military veterans (along with their families) our full YD respect and admiration. OOH-RA!

Back in the 1940s, or was it the 1840s?…doesn’t matter, James “Jimmy” Cagney stared in an American biographical musical movie about the life of George M. Cohen called Yankee Doodle Dandy. I don’t know if Cagney was a Yankee Doodle in real life, because he’s dead, but my wife’s aunt Peggy says Cagney was “The cat’s pajamas.” That could be old people speak for Yankee Doodle? I don’t really speak old people. I speak mid-life crisis. Unless I’m mistaken, it was Cagney who had the famous line, “You dirty rat!” That’s kind of Doodle and gangster.

Lately, I’ve been binge-watching House of Cards and The West Wing on Netflix to amp up my Yankee Doodle political knowledge. I also recently caught a Netflix showing of the movie Independence Day.That’s a fun way tototally geek-out your Americana patriotism. My Yankee Doodle pride will be on full display this Fourth of July and every day after that from here to eternity, because that’s how I roll. Doodle on my brothers and sisters. Doodle on!

“Kids” of the Serengeti Plain

Near the center of the African continent sits a vast grassy plain – stretching miles in all directions. The southern part of this plain is situated in Tanzania and is known as the Serengeti Plain. The northern portion is in Kenya and is known as the Masai Mara. This huge area is home to an incredibly proud native population called the Masai. The area derives its name from the Masai language and is called the Masai Mara.

This plain abounds in native African wildlife. Animals seen only in zoos in other parts of the world abound here in their natural habitat. Lions, elephants, zebras, wildebeest – and the list go on and on. Here they roam free, unfettered by wire fences and glass cages. Here the roles – which in other places we consider the norm – are reversed. Here the human observers are housed in a cage – mostly called a truck – and the animals are free to roam, to watch the observers, to wander free and come and go as they please.
We drove in our open-bed truck, watching and logging each sighting. Our driver, in constant contact with other drivers, showed a grin. He turned and told us he had a treat for us. A special event – another driver had radioed in, and we were on our way.

The drive was a short twenty minutes away, about ten to fifteen kilometers I would judge, over grassy plains, away from any form of road. Another similar truck awaited us, and we soon learned why the excitement.

There, lying in the shade of a single acacia tree was a new cheetah family. Mother lay stretched out on

Cheetah mother with four cubs (Acinonyx jubatus) sitting on savannah, Kenya

the grassy knoll and gathered about her were four recently-born cheetah cubs. Mom watched us arrive but didn’t seem overly concerned as we did stay a bit away – perhaps fifteen to twenty meters. The four little cubs rolling on the grass resembled baby house kittens. They clawed and pawed one another, played some new game of “bash your brothers and sisters,” stopping occasionally for refreshments furnished by a proud mommy. She watched them play, and I swear she looked as if she had a gratified look on her face.

We stayed on for a half-hour, caught up in the magic of nature. All the truck passengers had huge smiles on their faces. I couldn’t help but appreciating this rare opportunity afforded us. As we smiled and watched, we became aware of a light humming in the background. Yes – we could actually hear this little melee purr as they moved forward into life’s cycle.

I would have loved to get out and hold one of these little guys, but believe me that would have been suicide. We were all proud parents watching our children grow and play. We were all protective of them up to a point. I felt a strong kinship to this handsome beast and her offspring. We both loved our children very much and wanted only the best for them. After all, “kids is kids.”

Celebrate Our Nation with Music

Every July 4th our great nation celebrates the founding of our country. These celebrations would not be complete without playing and singing patriotic songs. The month of July, 239 years ago, was a landmark time in our nation’s history. Our founding fathers had the foresight to establish the colonies into a central republic called the United States of America. Music played an important part in the beginning of this great nation.

Many patriotic songs owe their existence to national or international conflicts. If one examines the words of these songs they illustrate, in music and words, a history of the Republic. Patriotic music first appeared during the Revolutionary War. Then the War of 1812, American Civil War, Spanish American War and the two World Wars. All of these wars contributed to a musical history of the American Republic. Some patriotic music was semi-religious in character due to the Puritan ethic of the early settlers. This form of music flourished in the 19th Century during and after the Civil War. After this war, music focused on rebuilding America to produce a unified front.

The Music
The Star Spangled Banner, our National Anthem, is the most famous patriotic song in America. Most people think of Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) as the writer of the anthem. Key only wrote the poem – not the music. The tune was an old English song written by John Stafford Smith (1750-1836) an English organist and composer. It was officially adopted as our National Anthem in 1931.

This is a Postage Stamp GeorgeCohan Yankee Doodle DandyStars and Stripes Forever, America’s National March, is also one of the most famous patriotic pieces ever written. The revered American composer – the incomparable John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), known as the “March King,” composed Stars and Stripes Forever in 1896. The melody came to him on a sea voyage returning from Europe. “When we reached the shore, I set down the measures that my ‘brain-band’ had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed,” Sousa wrote.

“Even more nationalistic are the marches of Sousa known the world over; nothing better characterizes the youthful spirit, optimism and patriotic fervor of the United States of the day,” wrote McKinney and Anderson in their book Discovering Music.

Sousa also composed: Washington Post, El Captain, Semper Fidelis, The Thunderer, Hands Across the Sea and The Liberty Bell, among many other great songs and marches.

America the Beautiful, with music by Samuel Augustus Ward (1848-1903) and the poem by Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) is one of our country’s favorite songs. The words for America or My Country Tis of Thee were written by Samuel F. Smith and added to an old German tune. This music was adopted by the English for their anthem God Save the Queen.

The great song, God Bless America, America’s unofficial national anthem, was written by Irving Berlin (1888-1989) and popularized by songstress, Kate Smith in the late 1930s. This song has become a traditional favorite played and sung at the seventh-inning-stretch in major league baseball games throughout America.

George M. Cohan (1878-1942) popularized patriotic songs with You’re a Grand Old Flag, Yankee Doddle Dandy and the famous World War I song, Over There.

Other memorable patriotic songs include: When Johnny Comes Marching Home, This is My Country and God Bless the USA.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic was the rallying anthem of Union soldiers. The source of the title, for John Steinbeck’s book, Grapes of Wrath was found in the first verse of the poem Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe in 1862.

Throughout our country’s existence change has been a hallmark of our culture but the sentiments, pride and hope found in this genre of music remain a steady constant through the ages.

The power of this great music in our country’s heritage is alive and well and will live forever in the hearts and minds of America’s citizens past, present and future. What better way to celebrate our nation’s birth than to sing and play our great national songs.

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Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

Residential Solar

If the sun is beating down on your roof every day and you haven’t gone solar, now is the time to do so. Deployment of solar energy systems in the East Bay exploded over the past decade. We pay some of the highest rates in the country for electricity; we get a lot of sunshine; costs have dropped; and new ownership and financing models allow more people to choose solar. Going solar is a significant decision, similar in scope to buying a car. You should understand the basics of solar energy, your options to go solar, and what questions to ask solar professionals. You are more likely to be satisfied if you are an informed consumer.

Solar panel installation

Solar panel installation

How Solar Works:Photovoltaic (“PV”) systems do their thing through two main components: Panels (or modules) convert sunlight to electricity; and Inverter(s) that convert direct current (DC) from the solar panels to alternating current (AC) for use in your home (and to the PG&E grid).

Generating Electricity: The amount of electricity (measured in kilowatt-hours, or kWh) produced by any solar system depends on two factors: The power rating of the system (measured in kilowatts, or kW); and the amount of sunlight that the system receives. Calculating the amount of sunlight a solar system receives depends on several factors: The orientation of the planned system (the roof angle/pitch, and compass direction impact how much sunlight hits the panels over the course of a year) and shading from nearby objects (such as chimneys, and trees). In the Bay Area, a South facing roof with no shade is ideal as the sun is generally south of us for the entire year and high-noon is south, so such a roof will get sun all day, all year.

Your Ownership Options: Today, ownership options for solar are similar to those for cars. It’s important to understand the differences and choose the one that’s right for you. Purchase a system with cash or a loan and own both the system and all the power it produces for its lifetime (30 yrs or more). You also are the beneficiary the 30% Federal Tax Credit (which expires at the end of 2016). Lease a system and own the power it produces over a set period (typically 20 years) in exchange for monthly payments. The tax credit goes to the leasing company. A “power purchase agreement” (PPA) is very similar to a lease in that you buy the power from a system owned by a solar company at an agreed-upon rate over a set period.

Moving Forward: When evaluating your options to go solar, you should always do your homework. Talk to friends and neighbors who have chosen solar, use common sense, and be active and engaged in dealing with solar companies. Below are some suggestions on how to become an informed consumer.

KNOW YOUR SITUATION: Know your electricity usage. You should understand how much electricity your home uses. Your PG&E bill will show your electricity usage in kilowatt-hours (kWh) and the amount you pay for that electricity. Are you planning any changes that will affect your electricity use (such as buying an electric vehicle, planning an addition to your home, improving your home’s energy efficiency, or kids leaving the nest)? Discuss your usage with the solar companies you interview to get a system sized for your anticipated needs. Know your roof. Is your roof appropriate for solar? Look at its physical features and discuss with a solar professional. A solar professional can calculate the amount of sunlight expected to reach a planned system over the course of a year. Does it receive a good amount of sunlight or is it mostly shaded? What about the age of the roof? If you plan on replacing it soon, you may want to replace it prior to a rooftop solar installation. Know your finances. Like any major decision for your home, it’s wise to understand your finances when shopping for solar systems. Although sunlight is free, buying or leasing solar systems, or paying for electricity under a PPA, are not.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Get the best deal (which may not be the lowest price). As with any major purchase, make sure to get multiple bids for your solar system. You will find the market quite competitive, with multiple solar companies competing for your business. Research your solar company. Before entering an agreement with a solar company, find out how long they have been installing solar (as long as their warranty?); ask for references of solar installations in your area and call them; ask for proof of licensure, and check with the CSLB to ensure the firm is in good standing; ask if they are a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade association for solar that requires all its members to abide by a Code of Ethics. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau, Yelp!, Diamond Certified, and other consumer guides.

KNOW WHAT YOU ARE BUYING: You would never purchase or lease a car without knowing what type of car it is and maybe how it performs, the manufacturer, the warranty, etc. Same with solar—some leases and PPAs do not even specify a type/brand of panel. What good is a guarantee if the company is not around in 20 years to honor their warranty? Twenty five years is a long time! Choose modules from name brands that you recognize, not a start-up, solar-only company that is here today and gone tomorrow. Remember the Delorean? It came with a 100 year warranty. You don’t want to be left with a problem on your roof down the road. Questions to ask before entering an agreement: How many and what brand of solar panels? What is the system size? How much electricity will the system generate each year? How much money can I expect to save with this system? Based on what assumptions? How much do I pay up front, and how much over time, for how long? What will the system look like once installed? Will I receive a system design for my review and approval before installation? Will I be required to make any changes to my home (e.g., roofing upgrades)? What do the warranties cover and what are their durations? For leases and PPAs: What is the length of the lease or PPA? Will my payments increase over time? By how much? What happens if I wish to end the lease or PPA early? Can I purchase the system, either during the agreement or once it ends? What are my options when I sell my home? Who is responsible for repairs and maintenance on the system?

Bottom line: Solar is a great investment—it is very reliable, predictable and is much more affordable than power from the utility, but make sure you know what you are buying, from whom, and how you are going to finance it. Good luck—enjoy the free sunshine!

Bob Winn
Sky Power Solar – San Ramon
(925) 202-2783

Better Than a Movie

They’re here, and they’re fabulous. I’m referring to vine-ripened tomatoes, of course. No tough skin. No mealy interior. And a flavor that compares to nothing else on earth.

Tomato On White Background

Depending upon which tomato variety you select, they can be as sugary-sweet or as pleasantly acidic as you prefer. Even the brilliant green stems smell as though they were just plucked from the garden…which isn’t far from fact, when you shop at the farmers’ market.

It’s difficult for me to imagine anything more brilliant than a huge platter of sliced vine-ripened tomatoes of varying shapes, sizes, and colors. This salad/side dish is pretty much perfect as is, though a drizzle of California olive oil and a few scattered basil leaves only make a good thing better. Consider it research: You’ll never know your favorite kind of tomato until you try them all.

Though the process is a bit like picking your favorite child, I am firmly ensconced in the Early Girl camp. Every Saturday I still greedily lug home bags filled with all types of tomatoes, but Early Girls remain my private passion.

In honor of their pitifully short season, I will now share my tried-and-true summertime recipe that is equally good at any time of the day or night:

1. Slather good-quality mayo liberally over a crusty slice of artisan bread.
2. Cover with thick slices of Early Girl tomatoes.
3. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4. Eat.
5. Repeat as necessary.

If I’m feeling fancy I may add a few arugula leaves to the mix. But that’s it. No other improvisation is tolerable.

But some occasions call for a little more effort. Like when I’m having company. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but it seems some of my guests expect a little more out of a dinner invitation than an open-face Early Girl sandwich eaten over my kitchen sink, with the tomato juice dripping down their arms. Go figure.

When pressed to perform, I remember that summer means more than tomatoes. A lot more. The farmers’ market is now laden with plump, shiny eggplant; tender young zucchini; crisp sweet bell peppers; and this year’s new crop of garlic. When it’s summer, it’s time to make ratatouille. A refreshing change from the crisp, barely-cooked veggies Californians enjoy most of the year.

Classic French ratatouille is not something most of us are willing to tackle on a busy weeknight. Although this version requires some chopping, keep in mind that it’s a stew–so those dozens of vegetable cubes need not be perfect. (Just aim for similar size so they will cook evenly.) The vegetables are first sautéed, then bubble away together until soft and their natural juices blend with a prodigious amount of full-flavored olive oil. What’s not to like?

Ratatouille can be served warm or cold—making it a host-friendly choice for entertaining. (I nearly always serve it at cool room temperature.) The flavor improves over time, so it’s actually beneficial to get make it a day or two in advance.

If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, try serving ratatouille with eggs in the morning.Or topped with crumbled fresh California goat cheese at lunchtime.Maybe over pasta for dinner.Or alongside an Early Girl sandwich.

California Ratatouille
1 medium eggplant (about 1 1/4 pounds), peel left on, cut into 3/4-inch dice
Coarse (kosher) salt
California olive oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed through a press
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes, to taste
2 sweet bell peppers, preferably 1 red and 1 yellow, cut into 3/4-inch squares
3 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch dice
About 1 1/4 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (any variety), cut into 3/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons thinly sliced or chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar, or more to taste

1. Place the eggplant cubes in a large colander. Sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of salt and toss to coat. Place the colander in the sink and let stand for at least 20 minutes to drain. Use your hands to squeeze the eggplant dry. (It’s okay if some salt still clings to the eggplant.)

2. In an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot, warm 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat until hot. Working in batches if needed, add the eggplant and cook, stirring often to prevent sticking, until nicely browned all over. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large plate and set aside.

3. Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot over medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the garlic, and hot pepper flakes and cook just until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the peppers and cook until just softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes; then stir in the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add the reserved eggplant along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes longer.

4. Turn off the heat and stir in the basil and the 1 teaspoon vinegar. Taste, adding more salt or vinegar if needed. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Just before serving, drizzle another 1 or 2 teaspoons of oil over the top. Serves 6 to 8.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at s1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

You Can Do So Much!

What if you knew that you couldn’t fail? What if, no matter what you tried, you would eventually succeed? And, what if you also knew that, with enough practice, you could master just about anything—any skill, sport or ability —that you desired to master? Now, think back for a moment; if you had lived your entire life up until today with this sort of attitude, in what ways do you think your life might be different?

-I think a lot about human potential. I believe it is the greatest natural resource in the known universe; the great bastion of hope for the future of mankind… that sadly, lies largely undiscovered, suppressed or denied in most of us. Unfortunately, much of our culture today, including most of formal education, teach and reinforce negative or incorrect principles about success and failure.

Life is to be lived and you have so much to give the world if you will only allow yourself to believe it. Stop holding yourself back and forget about the well intended (or otherwise) opinions of others!

The two quotes below are two of my favorites. Feel free to post them anywhere to remind you that you can if you think you can!

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
― Calvin Coolidge

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
― Theodore Roosevelt

Trivial Matters

Well, they did it! The Oakland Warriors won the NBA title after 40 mostly desolate seasons. I know! I know! They are called Golden State, but they have played in my hometown for 40 plus sons without the city being named. I am grateful that the parade is being set in Oakland. They will be in SF soon enough so let’s enjoy it while we can. With the championship, it is likely they will receive great support when they move, but the support they got from the sunny side of the bay was phenomenal, good times or bad.

1. Who was the coach of the Warriors when they won the title in 1975?

2. The Oakland A’s won World Series titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974. Who was their manager for the first two?

3. Who was their manager in 1974?

4. To prove that Oakland was a city of champions, the Raiders won the Super Bowl in the 1976 season. Who was their coach?

5. Because of an ice show (remember them?),the Warriors played a playoff game in 1975 in San Francisco. What was the arena they used?

6. The 1975 Warriors featured a rookie forward, who later changed his first name to Jamal and starred for the (gasp!) Lakers. By what name did we know him?

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