Monthly Archives: November 2019

A Chilly Debate Quickly Heats Up

British Channel 4 hosted an election debate on climate change last Thursday. Prime Minster Boris Johnson and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farange declined to attend. The channel chose to represent them at their empty podiums with ice sculptures.

The Prime Minister and the Conservative Party are now threatening to review Channel 4’s broadcasting license if they win the upcoming election.

My first reaction was to laugh out loud at the absurdity of this outrage. But given the direct attacks on journalism launched by politicians here and abroad and actual cases where journalists have been imprisoned, deported, or physically attacked, my laughter is quickly silenced.

Japanese American Incarceration History Talk

Over 70 years ago, over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were forced from their homes and into makeshift barracks behind barbed wire fences and armed guards. They were incarcerated without charge or due process, and most lost everything. My mother was one of those people.

She was a 4th to 6th grade girl at the time, and is now 87. She will be giving two free talks on her family’s experience, one at the end of January, and one at the end of February, as part of the McMenamins History Pub series.

These talks are a rare opportunity to hear the story first-hand from a survivor, and previous talks have been standing room only. Mark your calendars and attend if you can. And be sure to come up and introduce yourself to her and me!

Mom has two talks:
Tuesday, January 28, 6:30pm, Edgefield, Blackberry Hall, Doors open at 5pm

Monday, February 24, 7pm, Kennedy School Theater, Doors open at 6pm

If you are interested in learning more about this history, including seeing pictures and videos from other talks my mother has given, I have compiled an extensive list of resources here.

Healthcare and Bankruptcy in the U.S.

The U.S. is the only first world country in which you can go bankrupt for having the audacity to get sick and/or to grow old.

Medical dept has been a leading cause for bankruptcies in the U.S. for years. One Harvard study found that 62% of personal bankruptcies were due to medical expenses.

Even those with health insurance in the U.S. can face tremendous costs and medical debt; 78% of the bankruptcy filers in the study above had some form of health insurance.

It is only in the U.S. that one is deemed worthy of health insurance only if they are employed – and only in certain professions. The exceptions are those who have served and are eligible for VA benefits, and seniors eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. The ACA has also greatly expanded the number of people who can get insurance, too.

I have just received word that my job is being eliminated. Like millions going through job transition, I will be facing the prospect of a gap in medical coverage for myself and my family depending on how long it takes me to find another job. If I purchase health insurance through COBRA, my costs for premiums alone will triple. Any costs for deductibles, etc. would be above and beyond that. My dental coverage premium under COBRA will more than quadruple.

Everyone knows someone who is working simply because they need health insurance – even bad insurance. Certainly the U.S. can do better. We pay more, cover less, and have worse health outcomes than most of the 1st world.

“Buck,” practicing compassion while starting horses

Just watched “Buck,” a 2011 documentary about Buck Brannaman, a leading horse trainer and practitioner of gentle methods of “starting” a horse – the complete antithesis of the violent and cruel traditions of “breaking” a horse.

His practice evolved out of the vaquero tradition and natural horsemanship. The practice came to more widespread awareness through the book and 1998 movie, “The Horse Whisperer.”

Brannaman was brought on as a consultant to the set of “The Horse Whisperer,” but ended up playing a much more pivotal role in the making of the Robert Redford film. He played Redford’s double, and Brannaman’s own horse was able to complete a scene in about 20 minutes after trained movie “trick horses” failed to do in hours of shooting.

Brannaman and Redford on the set of “The Horse Whisperer”

“Buck” is a gentle and very moving film filled with simple and powerful lessons. Brannaman has become a leading teacher of this method of starting horses based on compassion, trust, and safety. It is beautiful to see the dance between rider and horse, and the graceful precision possible – all without harsh words, treatment, or employing fear.

Brannaman’s gentle and respectful manner with horse and human alike is all the more impressive and moving after one learns of the horrific abuse he and his brother suffered as children. He overcame this and his extreme shyness (he was unable to even look people in the eye). He now spends 9 months out of the year giving clinics teaching the practice and spreading the word of kindness and respect.

Brannaman at one of his clinics featured in “Buck”

It would never occur to me to have contempt for this animal

Buck Brannaman talking about a horse so brain-damaged, violent, and extremely dangerous that it must be put down

It may sound like hyperbole, and I’m sure he’d immediately reject this assessment, but Brannaman’s message is as gentle yet potentially powerful and life-altering as a talk given by the Dalai Lama.

It should come as no surprise that I love the documentary, “Buck.” I watch it at least once every few years. It is no longer available on Netflix, but at this moment is available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Sen. Kennedy Compares Impeachment Inquiry to Japanese American Incarceration

Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

A U.S. Senator has compared the impeachment inquiry into the president with the lack of due process which lead to the incarceration of over 100,000 Japanese Americans during WWII.

It looks to me like, so far, [House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff] and the speaker are going to give about as much due process [to the president] as the federal government gave our Japanese American friends during World War II

Sen. John Kennedy

There are several reasons why this comparison is deeply flawed. Here are just a few:

  1. The president is getting hearings where witnesses are questioned and cross-examined. Over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans received no hearing, no trial, no charges, yet were incarcerated for over 3 years.
  2. The hearings are being televised so the public can see and draw their own conclusions. The more than 100,000 incarcerated Japanese Americans received no hearing, and the discussions about the decision to force them from their homes and into incarceration were not broadcast to the nation, nor was the public included in the decision.
  3. If there is a vote to impeach the president, it could pass the House, and fail in the Senate. In that case, the president will continue to serve out his term (just as former President Clinton did). If he is impeached by both the chambers of Congress, he will simply be removed from the Presidency. Unless civil or criminal charges are filed, the president faces zero risk of losing his homes or businesses, nor will he face time in prison.

    About 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes. They could keep only what they could carry, and had to sell off their possessions, homes, and businesses, often at fire-sale prices. Many, if not most, lost their businesses and homes as they could not pay their mortgages and taxes during their incarceration.

    After 3-4 years of incarceration, many had only the clothes on their backs, a train ticket home, and $25. The president will lose none of his possessions or investments even in the worst-case scenario.
A 1983 press conference with Fred Korematsu, (left), Minoru Yasui, center,  and Gordon Hirabayashi, right. The three men were petitioning to re-open their cases against the U.S. government for the evacuation of 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
  1. Although Supreme Court cases (most notably Korematsu v. US) ruled the incarceration of Japanese Americans constitutional, it was arguably ruled unconstitutional by Chief Justice Roberts in Trump v. Hawaii. He wrote:

Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—’has no place in law under the Constitution.’

Chief Justice Roberts in Trump v. Hawaii

Korematsu Ruling on Japanese Internment: Condemned But Not Overruled – From

There are those that argue Korematsu still stands, but that is up for debate.

In contrast, the impeachment of a U.S. president is defined in the Constitution.

Article I, Section 2, Clause 5:
“The House of Representatives … shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

Article I, Section 3, Clause 6-7:
“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

Article II, Section 4:
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

I invite the senator from Louisiana and any who agree with his assessment to:

After they do, I think they will agree that there is no comparison between the current impeachment inquiry and the decision to deprive 120,000 people of home, property, and liberty.

Sharing the Story of Japanese-American Incarceration…in Japan

Three years ago today I was traveling in Japan with my mother.

Far away from the noise, rancor, and 24-hour news cycle providing non-stop pre- and post-US-presidential election news and prognostication, I was grateful to be in a country where respect, politeness, and generosity are paramount.

Mom was invited to give a talk about Japanese-American incarceration during WWII. Although she has given this talk countless times (many recently with which I have assisted), this would be her first talk completely in Japanese and to an all-Japanese audience.

What a fascinating opportunity it was, and we enthusiastically accepted the invitation.

I wrote about the experience on my other blog. You can read the account here.

Given three years’ hindsight, some of my closing comments sound naive and ring hollow. Regardless, this is one of the most memorable experiences of my trips to Japan, and one for which I am deeply grateful.

Favorite Moth Stories

I am a voracious podcast listener. When friends or acquaintences ask me for podcast recommendations, I have a ready list of over two dozen ranging on topics from history, crime, storytelling, advice, music, science, and drama. They range from G-rated to adult topics.

One podcast I knew and loved long before I ever heard of a podcast is The Moth. The Moth features live storytelling, where amateurs and professionals get up on stage and tell a story with no notes or props. They range from light-hearted and funny, to emotionally wrenching, inspiring, and moving.

Live Moth storytelling events are hosted regularly in cities all over the country and abroad.

Years ago I would catch Moth storytelling bits broadcast on Public Radio. I later learned about podcasts which meant I wouldn’t miss any broadcasts and could listen whenever and as often as I wanted. You can subscribe on your mobile device app, or just link to the Moth website.

There are so many Moth stories I love, and here are some favorites I revisit from time to time:

Man and Beast – Alan Rabinowitz
Deeply moving story about a severely stuttering child who grows up to speak and advocate for animals.

Elevator ER – Jon Levin
Slacker hospital orderly gets a nerve-wracking and hilarious wake-up call.

Beneath the Sheets: Klansmen I’ve Covered – Jerry Mitchell
Gripping story from an investigative reporter who, at great risk to himself, locates and pursues suspects from decades’ old Civil Rights Movement era crimes.

Franny’s Last Ride – Mike DeStefano
Heart-breaking story of a former junkie trying to support his wife who is dying in hospice.

Backseat Cop – Paul Bacon
Rookie cop accidentally locks himself in the back of his car. Hilarity ensues.

Walk Like a Cop, Talk Like a Cop – Steve Osborne
Longtime NYC cop bumps into a former perp while out for a walk in the park.

Oliver’s Pink Bicycle – James Braly
Dad wanting to be a good father challenged by his 3-year old’s desire for a pink bike.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water – Sam Shepard
Actor Sam Shepard brings his own horse to the set of the movie, “The Right Stuff.” Things don’t go well.

Healing Winds

I know a lot of people who don’t like the wind, especially fierce winds – the kind that howl and cause trees to groan and loose windows to rattle.

My grandmother was told as a little girl, when the wind howls, the wind is saying, “yooooou’ve been baaaaad!” I don’t understand why anyone would tell children such appalling stories.

I’ve always enjoyed the wind. Growing up on the Pacific coast, winter storms would rage, and the wind would down tree branches and drive rain in horizontal sheets. Ocean waves would crash sending a salty spray aloft to mix with the rain.

I love to stand in the tempest and let the wind and spray dash my face. It feel cleansing and I can feel my nose open and my chest expand inhaling this primeval breath.

Turns out the Dutch have a word for this. It is known as “uitwaaien,” which literally means “outblowing.” It means to spend time outside in the wind, typically walking or riding a bike. Caitlin Meyer, a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Dutch Linguistics, has lived over 20 years in the Netherlands, and says it is a popular Dutch activity.

Uitwaaien is something you do to clear your mind and feel refreshed—out with the bad air, in with the good…It’s seen as a pleasant, easy, and relaxing experience—a way to destress or escape from daily life.

Caitlin Meyer, University of Amsterdam

Read more about it here:
The Simple Dutch Cure for Stress – from

Ben Kuroki

Ben Kuroki was a Technical Sergeant in the Air Force and is the only Japanese American known to have flown air combat missions in the Pacific Theater during WWII.

He completed 58 combat missions over Japan, Europe, and North Africa. He was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and an Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters. In 2005, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

In 1991, the New York Times recalled how “Gen. George Marshall asked to meet [Kuroki]; so did Generals Bradley, Spaatz, Wainwright and Jimmy Doolittle.”

Kuroki’s exploits were highly publicized, and he was even sent to Japanese American concentration camps to encourage people to enlist. My mom remembers seeing him when he came to Heart Mountain.

Kuroki speaking to people incarcerated in Heart Mountain. Mom remembers his visit.

Here is video excerpt from a 1998 interview of Kuroki describing that controversial visit and how he felt about it.

I was really quite shocked when I approached Heart Mountain and came up to the, to the gate and saw these armed guards and they were all wearing the same uniform I was wearing. And inside, behind the barbed wire, were all these, my own people, so to speak. Most of them, as you know, they were American citizens. It was really quite a shock. I never did get over that.

Ben Kuroki, 1998

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall in 1989, just months before its sudden and unexpected fall

30 years ago, yesterday, the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin fell.

I had the extraordinary experience studying in the former East Germany (German Democratic Republic, or GDR). My junior year of college I spent studying one semester in Tübingen, West Germany (south of Stuttgart), followed by one semester in Rostock, in the GDR.

Standing on the beach at Warnemünde

Although the Iron Curtain had cracked open that year between Hungary and Austria, I don’t think anyone in Rostock, locals or foreign exchange students like me, would have predicted the Berlin Wall falling within even a decade. That event occurred just a few months after I completed my studies and returned home to the U.S. I was shocked at the time. I have reconnected with my fellow exchange student classmates from that year – they confirm they all shared my surprise.

East German Trabant (“Trabi”) crossing the open border Austria back to Hungary with a western appliance on its roof

During the summer and fall of 1989 there had been months of protests and demonstrations, and the hard-line leader of the GDR government of 18 years, Erich Honecker, was forced to step down. Mikhail Gorbachev had overseen significant changes (glastnost and perestroika) in the USSR for 4 years by this time. Despite some reforms starting to take place in the GDR, it seems they were too little, too late to mollify the demonstrators.

It is fascinating to see how the momentous events of November 9, 1989 were sparked by a relatively mundane press conference held by a GDR central committee spokesman. You can read the story here:
November 9, 1989 – the day that changed European history – from Deutsche Welle

Memories of my time in the GDR have been coming back to me. I have written several articles in a separate blog, Remembering Rostock, 1989. I invite you to take a look.