The Peace at Omaha Beach

 

Last summer on a road trip through the west of France, I decided that as an American I needed to do the obligatory stop at Omaha Beach, the site of the infamous D-Day.

Not a huge World War II buff, I didn’t have many expectations. But, the moment I arrived, crossing the bluff just across the street from the La Sapienere Hotel (a must place to stay) – past the Charles Shay Indian Memorial with an American flag flapping in the wind – I was absolutely moved to behold the absolute peacefulness of the beach before me.

How could so many young people’s lives be shattered – many due to poor planning, poor strategy and poor logistics – on this very beach, one of the most peaceful and rustic beaches I have ever set foot on. In front of us was a local man, a father with his two small children pulling small octopuses and flounders from the surf with his little homemade net. Explain to me how this seemingly empty and pristine beach, full of tiny aquatic life,  was in reality the brutal resting place of +2000 young lives on a single morning 75 years ago. How could a place of such natural beauty, simplicity and calm once have been a theater of death, a turning point in history?

The next day when we walked by the various monuments and plaques commemorating the allied forces, I came across one that listed the National Guard units from my home state of Maryland, and I had to turn away so that my children wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes.

My grandmother’s two brothers – both the sons of immigrants – had been drafted and sent to fight in Europe (though not in Normandy). One was left for dead on a battle field near to where his parents had emigrated from. He eventually survived (never to discuss any of it). Most Americans today do not know that our involvement in the War was controversial. Many Americans, especially on the Right, were against U.S. intervention, and many claimed FDR was a communist for taking us to war and thus benefiting the Russians. I cannot imagine my great uncles or their cousins as having gone to war  enthusiastically to put their lives on the line. We forget that today.

We also forget, as the New York Times mentions, that our current president has been outspoken against those institutions – in particular NATO and the European Union – that have been absolutely fundamental in the unprecedented peace and stability that has been sustained in Europe since World War II and that so many of our young men fought for with their lives for 75 years ago today.

Any of you who know me, know that I am no fan of over-the-top worship of men in uniform or public displays of patriotism. But, please if you have the chance, travel to Normandy. Walk on that pristine beach at Omaha. There is nothing more moving than the peacefulness there today that was achieved by the sacrifices of so many young men 75 years ago. It is the most peaceful place that I have witnessed.

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Trump’s Immigrant Complex

UPDATE BELOW

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Let’s be fair to presidents and other politicians. When you have to speak a lot and for long periods of time in public, you will inevitably mangle words and they won’t always come out right. We laugh and criticize them for it, but we could cut them a break. It’s going to happen and is usually harmless.

That’s why we should give Trump a pass on saying that his father was born in Germany. We should assume that he meant his grandfather. I joked on twitter about the potential following headlines:

  • Trump claims he’s First Anchor Baby President
  • Trump requesting his own father’s birth certificate
  • The healthiest president ever
  • Trump Proves Immigrant Parents a National Security Threat

Joking aside, there is a serious question to be asked about Trump’s obsession with immigrants, including his pushing the conspiracy theory that Obama’s own authenticity as an American should be challenged due to the foreign birth and nationality of his father.

This is all very strange taking into account that Trump has closer ties to immigration than any other US president in memory. In fact, Trump’s family ties to the U.S. are newer than Obama’s (the first Trump arrived in the U.S. in 1885). Trump’s own mother was an immigrant. On his father’s side, both of his grandparents were immigrants. Two of his three wives are immigrants, and four of his five children have immigrant mothers and immigrant grandparents and have spoken a language other than English at home. Trump’s current in-laws emigrated to the U.S. and obtained U.S. citizenship as a result of their immigrant daughter’s marriage to Trump.

So it begs the question: does Trump have an immigrant complex? Maybe he’s just a self-hating child, husband and father of immigrants?

UPDATE April 9, 2019

Trump has just said that the “Country is FULL“. That’s ironic coming from a man whose entire household – with one exception I will get to in a moment – are all either foreign born or the children of someone foreign born. In other words, they are all either immigrants or first generation Americans. The one exception? Tiffany, the least favored and least featured Trump child, is the only immediate member of his family with two non-immigrant parents. Don Jr.? Mom’s an immigrant. Eric? Mom’s an immigrant. Ivanka? Mom’s an immigrant? Barron? Mom’s an immigrant. Melania? Immigrant. Trump? Mom’s an immigrant. You almost think that Trump shuns the only real American in the family.

If Trump thinks the country is so full, why no start with his own household?

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What I read in 2018

This year I surprised myself by reading 29 books. As I started the year off with the VERY LONG biography of Grant, taking over one month to finish, I was sure I wouldn’t break the 20 book mark for the year. Nevertheless, I rallied. Few books were out of this world, but plenty were very good reads.

Here is my list:

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • Ham on Rye by Charlos Bukowski
  • Godsend by John Wray
  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  • The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
  • Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
  • Trash by Andy Mulligan
  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • What It Was by George Pelecanos
  • Down These Mean Streets by Thomas Piri
  • The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes
  • The Leavers by Kisa Ko
  • Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh
  • Calypso by David Sedaris
  • Packinko by Min Jin Lee
  • Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos
  • The Double by George Pelecanos
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
  • The Cut by George Pelecanos
  • To the End of the Land by David Grossman
  • Daddy Was a Numbers Runner
  • MacGregor Tells the World by Elizabeth Mckenzie
  • Chanson Douce by Leila Slimani
  • Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
  • Grant by Ron Chernow

Looking at the list, you’d think I was obsessed with George Pelecanos. He’s from DC like me, and his writing is real smooth and easy sailing. He may not be my favorite writer, but I love to use him between books to help clean my mind.

Overall, I would say that Tayari Jone’s An American Family was my favorite read of the year, with Pachinko, The World As It Is and Kindred as runners up. Evelyn Hugo and Sing, Unburied, Sing are also highly recommended.

 

 

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Eid Mubarak

Eid Mubarak everyone! I cannot believe that Ramadan is over. This is the first time I ever fasted for the entire 30 days, and it was an incredibly cool and rewarding experience. Believe it or not, I am sad to see it come to an end.

Let me explain. “Ramadan” is literally the ninth month in the Muslim calendar. In Islam, healthy adult Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down for the entire month. Unlike in some other religions where fasting is a form of penitence, in Islam fasting is essentially about community, walking in the shoes of the less fortunate, and recognizing the blessing that is the privilege to have food on your plate. And of course, there is the element of obedience. You do it because it is what God wants.

I am absolutely not a religious person. In fact, for me God existing is at most a “good to have”, but with the sole and selfish objective that the spirits of my deceased loved ones are preserved after death. So let’s get this straight, I did not fast for religious reasons or for obedience to God.

So why Ramadan? I am married to a Moroccan. In the past, if I were in Morocco during Ramadan, I’d do as the Moroccans do, but I had never fasted for more than four days. So why fast this year? First, even though I am not religious, I have a huge respect for religion and believers, at least as long as they are respectful of others. I grew up in a mixed household (a Catholic father, Protestant mother) and spent more time in synagogues (for Bar Mitzvahs) than I did in a church. I also love tradition and want my children to celebrate our family’s diverse cultures. So we do Christmas and Thanksgiving. We eat loads of pasta (more than my wife can often bear), and we eat our share of tagine and couscous.

Now that my kids are getting bigger, I want to make sure that Ramadan becomes part of the family culture and that it is not seen as something that only mommy does. Furthermore, you shouldn’t think about Ramadan as a time of extreme sacrifice. It is actually a celebration, and I wanted that in my home.

Next, I wanted to make it easier for my wife because it is really hard to fast and enjoy Ramadan if you are doing it all alone. I also did it out of pride and self-defense. Pride in the sense that if one billion Muslims in the world can fast for one month, then I can too. If my wife can do it, then why can’t I? And by self-defense, I mean to defend myself against my wife when she says, “I am too exhausted from fasting to put the kids to bed,” I can say, ” well, I have been fasting too. You’re not that only one who is exhausted!” Unfortunately, I never got to play that card because my wife — believe it or not — in the 12 years I have known her has never once complained about fasting.

Finally, I wanted to know what it would be like to fast for 30 days. I wanted to know if I could do it, whether it would change the way I thought, and how my body would react. And guess what? It was really special. Here’s what I learned:

I lost 5 kilos (11 pounds), which I will surely gain back by Monday. I learned that your body adjusts to change over time, but that food and nourishment rule your life, from how you use your time, to your ability to think and work. How when you’re hungry you fantasize about food, and your fantasies are almost always of comfort food. It is primordial. While my wife dreamed of tagine, I dreamed of my grandmother’s meatballs. Not hot off the stove, by cold the next morning.

I learned how being able to feed yourself and your family is a privilege, and how not having food makes simple things impossible. How without food, my brain stopped functioning.  I learned that when you challenge yourself with someone else (in my case with my wife, but also with others within a community), you form a special bond.

Because I am not a religious person, I didn’t partake in the spirituality of fasting, but I can imagine that it is very powerful. Overall, Ramadan reminded me of Christmas where I basically celebrate for an entire month, but by Christmas day I am so burnt out that I need it to be over. Then I take down the Christmas tree, and am sad to see it end.

Now I am left with a wonderful sense of accomplishment and an increased feeling of complicity with my wife for having spent this time together.

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RIP Scooter Scaggs: There are 5 Fingers Pointing at You!

On Thursday, the incredibly loved and influential David Marshall “Scooter” Scaggs passed away after having suffered a rare form of early onset dementia that he had been diagnosed with in 2008. I don’t even know how to begin describing Scooter. He was a force of life. A husband, father, teacher, coach and mentor to so many of us young boys trying to become men.

He was never my coach per se, but was my first boss and champion. Scooter had been the coach of the very celebrated Woodward High School soccer team during the 80s. But more importantly for me, he developed and ran the Maryland Soccer School which was held for five weeks each summer at Bullis High School, just a short walk from my house.

How and exactly why Scooter hired me, I don’t remember. Most of the guys he picked were his Woodward players, went to Walter Johnson after Woodward closed, or were considered the county’s soccer All Stars. I was none of these. When my teammates Jim Geopfert (whose brother Rick was a counselor) and David Schwab were fourteen, Scooter tapped us to be gophers. Basically that meant we set up the fields for the day’s training sessions and games, but it also entitled us to hang with the older camp coaches and counselors.  These were people like Friedy, Devin, goalkeeper Tim, Steve K, Irv the Swerve and his brother Mike. For guys like Jim, David and I, they were our heroes and role models. We got to eat with them in the coaches’ room (basically the locker room), and play pick-up games during the lunch break with all of the kids cheering us on.

I was a very shy kid who always flew under the radar, so the fact that Scooter had somehow selected me to form part of his elite gang of youth soccer stars was an inexplicable honor. As mentioned, the vast majority of the coaches and counselors were not from my high school. That Jim, David and I were the only ones selected from our year was also very special, and we felt it. Furthermore, Scooter demanded a level of responsibility, enthusiasm and kindness from his counselors that was required to manage and motivate his campers. In other words, it wasn’t enough to be a great player, you needed to be someone who could handle kids from the ages of 6-14.

After two years as gophers, we finally graduated to full camp counselors, and I remained at the Maryland Soccer School every summer until my freshman year in college. When I look back at my formative high school years, those were the most memorable. It made my summers. I spent from 8:00am to 4:00pm with a soccer ball at my feet, and I started developing those first skills that have later defined me as a professional. I learned to be empathetic and use empathy as a key asset, to be part of team, to manage and motivate. And I learned that when you are the coach and you’ve been handed a team that you cannot fire or change, you need to find the best role for each member to make that team successful.

As mentioned, one of the biggest highlights of the day were the exhibition games played amongst the counselors. Another were the indoor sessions the kids would have twice a day to get out of the summer heat. In these, we watched films about Pele or the World Cup. Friedy would announce with great fanfare the first, second and third “stars” for each game, with the first stars winning the highly coveted blow-pops. This was usually followed by the entire camp chanting “Friedy eats quiche” (whatever that meant). Then Scooter would give us motivational talks, usually about the importance of team work. Here are some of his classic lines:

  • There is no “i” in team
  • When you point your finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you
  • Inch by inch, life’s a cinch, yard by yard it’s very hard
  • If you hoot with the owls at night you can’t soar with the eagles in the morning!

And then the silly ones like:

  • If the rain keeps up, it won’t come down
  • A buck two eighty

With Sam Debone at the Dr. Peppers Cup in Dallas

But Scooter didn’t do it all on his own. His family was always there, and he had Sam Debone. Back then Debone was the soccer coach of Whitman High School and the Wheaton Kickers club team, both of which were my high school and club team’s biggest rivals. Debone was another mentor. Knowing that I was loyal to my club team and couldn’t be poached, Debone nevertheless invited me to play for his team in tournaments where mine was not competing, including traveling with the Kickers.

In 1988, Scooter and Debone took a select team of Montgomery County soccer players to play exhibition games in London. I was asked to join them. It was my first ever trip to Europe. The following year I was again invited when they took a team to Nice and Cannes where I am pretty sure we played against Zinedine Zidane. You could say that those first trips to Europe had an incredible influence on my life. I ultimately moved to Europe where I have been living now for almost two decades.

Sadly some time in the early 90s, I lost contact with Scooter, his family and coach Debone. Nevertheless, I often thought about them. For example, I would go to a Real Madrid match in Madrid and think about the first professional match I went to with them in London (Chelsea vs. Arsenal). Or it would rain, and I would think, “if the rain keeps up …”, or I would see the word “team” written somewhere and immediately notice there was no “i”.

This past summer, I spent a few weeks at my parent’s house in Maryland with my wife and kids. I put my eldest son (then 6) in the Bullis Soccer Camp which is now run by Coach Andrés and the Bullis School. Coach Andrés does a fine job and my son loved it. But I couldn’t help to look around with a heavy heart full of nostalgia, searching for Scooter with his Soccer-topper hat, Coach Debone with his whistle, Anna and the kids, and all of us coaches wearing our yellow camp counselor jerseys. The camp no longer uses the old locker room where we’d negotiate which kids got which stars, play practical jokes on Scooter and Debone, or where those who played for Scooter would share their war stories. When I got home, I searched and searched for one of those old Maryland Soccer School jerseys. I used to have dozens and wore them all summer long. But there were none to be found. I also couldn’t find any decent photos of our trips to London or France.

But even without any good physical remnant of that time, on those rare occasions when I meet up with Jim, Rick or David, we almost always immediately go into rambling off our favorite Scooter Scaggs catch phrases.

So Scooter, if you can see me now, I am pointing at you with all five of my fingers. Thanks for believing in me.

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Filed under Football/Soccer, Friends / Family, Parenthood

My New “Entrepre-Laywer” Blog

I have created a new blog, the Entrepre-Lawyer, which will be exclusively focused on my curent areas of professional interest (new technologies from the lawyer’s perspective). Here’s what I was thinking.

For both of you who have followed Grave Error for now over a decade, don’t worry, we’re still here!

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My 2017 Book List

With a really rough schedule this year, three kids, plus interruptions in reading due to other distractions such as the Serial and Undisclosed podcasts, I had a very fruitful year, finishing 24 books. Here’s what I read:

If I had to say there were two that I absolutely loved above the rest were The Sellout and Exit West. But  Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Thunder in the MountainsMen Without Women, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, Mrs. Fletcher and Behold the Dreamers were all excellent, as was the short story “Five-Carat Soul” in the collection of the same name.

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