Monday, May 30, 2011

True Son

Harold Becker [bottom] holds the rifle that belonged to his father, Charles Conrad Becker [top], who fought in the Civil War.

I remember in high school I had a teacher with whom I became friendly. In conversation one day, she mentioned that her father had been born in 1870. "1870!?!?" I said, with my sledgehammer tact. Indeed, 1870. It turned out that her father - a German immigrant - fathered her when he was 70 years old, dying shortly thereafter. Later, I'd learn about the founding of the German federation out of a series of city-states - Prussia being the largest - in 1871 and realize that my teacher's father had been older than the nation of Germany itself.

Today, there are a few examples of such primogeniture that even outstrip that of my teacher. One such case is that of 93-year old Harold Becker, a retired chemist from Western Michigan. Becker is a rarity, what is called a "true son": a man whose father fought in the Civil War in the Union Army.

The story is pretty amazing. Becker's father, Charles Conrad Becker, lied about his age in 1864 to enlist at 17. Like in the case of my teacher, Charles Becker was 70 when Harold, his youngest child, was born. Charles lived to be 87, thus leaving his son with plenty of stories and memories about the war.

"I think my dad was always interested in keeping the country together," Becker told the Detroit Free-Press, explaining what motivated his father to fight for the Union. "He'd go to the porch overlooking White Lake and tell me stories about the Civil War."

Today, of course, is Memorial Day. While there is much confusion in popular culture as to the origin of the day - it was a holiday created in 1868 to honor the Civil War dead - we all know it is a day to honor those who have died in our wars over the last 235 years.

Today, Harold Becker remembers seeing his father's blue Union Army uniform hanging in an upstairs closet, the pockets always filled with chocolate for a curious little boy. He remembers the Civil War veterans pension checks -- about $100 a month -- that were used to pay bills. He remembers the short, mustachioed figure, dashing in Grand Army of the Republic regalia, heading off to a meeting at the G.A.R. post.

Becker is among fewer than 50 men nationwide who can say their fathers fought in the Civil War, which began 150 years ago last month. His father died of a heart attack when Harold Becker was in his late teens. This left time for Charles to pass along to Harold numerous stories of the conflict that divided the nation.

Charles Becker was just 17 in 1864, but claimed he was two years older to join Co. H, 128th Indiana Infantry. He saw action at the Battle of Franklin [Tennessee], telling his son of a supply line that stretched for a mile. After the war's end in April 1865, Charles was one of many given the morbid and solemn assignment to disinter the dead from mass graves and bury them individually.

Harold Becker recently visited the historic Tennessee battle site. "The [guide] showed me where my father actually fought," Becker told the Free-Press. Becker also traveled to the storied Gettysburg battlefield, where he even met the son of a Confederate soldier.

Becker said his father had four or five children - he was never clear on the exact number - with his first wife and then married Elizabeth Ofenloch, a woman 30 years his junior, with whom he had four more children. Harold was the youngest of all Becker's children. When he was still a boy, his father, who had owned a grocery store in Chicago, relocated the family to Montague, Michigan. There Charles Becker, who died in 1934, is buried.

Occasionally, Harold Becker said, his father would regale him with stories of Civil War experiences he shared with other grizzled soldiers from the Grand Army of the Republic Lyon Post No. 9 in Chicago, where he was a member and former commander. "I don't think he enjoyed the fighting. I think it went against him," Becker said of his father. "I'm guessing on this. From all the things he told me, he wasn't proud of the fact he could kill someone. He ended up feeling that way. I know he didn't dislike the South or the people, necessarily."

Today, 19 true sons and 21 true daughters of Union soldiers are still alive, according to Bruce Butgereit, a Grand Rapids-based Civil War historian, who has done extensive research on Harold Becker's father [although the Michigan Historical Center counts 16 sons and 23 daughters] . According to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, about 30 men known as 'real sons' are still living.

"One thing Mr. Becker loves to do is meet and greet the children, and he loves to be able to tell when they shake hands that you just shook the hand of a man who held the hand of a Civil War soldier," said Butgereit, the historian. He has created a card featuring photos and biographies of father and son that Becker autographs.

The star of these appearances enjoys doing them.

"It makes me think about my dad," Becker said. "It just amazes me. We go to Pontiac, and there's thousands of people there and hundreds of people who are redoing some of the work the Army did."

Ironically, Becker the son never served in the U.S. military. A bad left eye kept him out of World War II, which angers him to this day -- after being taught to shoot by a man who learned as a soldier eight decades before.

Instead, Becker studied chemistry in college and went on to work as a chemist and an engineer for a variety of companies throughout the Midwest. He and his wife of 69 years, the former Dorothy Reynolds (a distant relative of Benjamin Franklin), moved to Rockford, Michigan in 1963 and had five children. They now have seven grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

He's a member of the Grand Rapids-based John A. Logan Camp No. 1, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Unfortunately, a fire years ago robbed Becker of almost all of the mementos of his father's Civil War service. Only a picture of the elder Becker -- a compact, clean-shaven 5-foot-6 man -- and his heavy, military-issue rifle survive.

On this Memorial Day, as he has on so many other special days, Becker will hang out the American flag that his father adored, although with 16 more stars than the banner under which his father served.

"I've always flown it at the right times," Becker said.

Today is the right time.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Billboards like this one [above] ended up predicting the truth, as the world ended on Saturday.

In a bit of a shock, the world ended Saturday, fulfilling the prophecy - but "shocking the shit" out - of 89-year old Harold Camping, the former civil-engineer-turned-multi-million-dollar-doomsdayer. "Frankly, I thought it was horseshit," admitted Camping. "You didn't really think I believed any of this?!"

Alas, Camping's prophecy was true after all. The first clue was the sudden death of former wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage on Friday. This was foretold in the Bible, when - in the Gospel According to John - the Bible predicted, "And in the day before the coming of the great Apocalypse, a large, macho man with hair plugs will up and dyeth on the floor of his gym."

That news was soon overshadowed by [and, in hindsight, was further confirmation of the end] the Middle East peace between Israel and, "every country that hates her", announced by visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Of course, soon an even bigger story took over the news cycle. "Well, tickle my ass with a feather!" said an irritated Netanyahu when he was informed that the world had ended. "I didn't even get laid [on this trip to Washington]," he said dejectedly.

But Bibi was not the only political figure angered by the end of days. An irritated President Obama said disgustedly, "Naturally! First black man in office and the world ends mid-way through my first term. Typical."

The end of the world also means a number of mysteries will be left unknown - at least unless the Lord comes to His senses and recreates the world. For one, the winner of American Idol will remain a mystery for the remainder of days. The NBA champion, Stanley Cup champion, winner of the Preakness, and the experiment of Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men will all remain unknown. Indeed, even the actual date on which Sheen fatally overdoses will forever remain a mystery.

One person thrilled with the news was former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Thank you, Jesus!" said the smiling former body-builder. Smoking one of his trademark cigars, and with a co-ed on each knee, Arnold smiled as he said, "At least this knocks me off the front page of the paper."

On the positive side, terrorism, pollution, nuclear holocaust and Oprah's new show on her stupid OWN network also got wiped out with the end of the world. Indeed, some theorized that God chose May 21, 2011 to end the world specifically to prevent Oprah from airing her last show. "The first clue to the end of the world, in fact, was the rise of Oprah Winfrey's career," theorized Professor Smedley Lump, who was the chair of the Religious Studies department at Harvard University before the end of the world. "That a large, hideous, ostentatious, self-centered, prima donna could become America's sweetheart should have been our first warning."

While most of us - including the guy who promoted the idea - were shocked that the world really did end, some lunatics were prepared. Some shut themselves inside to pray for mercy. Others met for tearful last lunches with their children, and prepared to leave behind homes and pets as they were swept up to heaven. Naturally, it was heaven. None of these morons contemplated that they might be sent to hell.

And so it was across the globe, as followers of the California preacher's long-publicized message that Judgment Day would arrive Saturday turned to the Bible, the book they believed - accurately, it turns out - predicted Earth's destruction on May 21, 2011. Camping had been promoting his doomsday message far and wide via broadcasts and web sites through his multi-million-dollar 'nonprofit ministry', which was based on his apocalyptic prediction.

And Camping was successful in scaring the shit out of millions, albeit - it turns out - for good reason. After spending months traveling the country to put up Judgment Day billboards and hand out Bible tracts, Camping follower Michael Garcia spent Friday evening with his family at home in Alameda, California, near the Christian media empire's Oakland headquarters.

Prior to the world ending, Garcia hit the nail on the head, saying he believed Camping's prediction that the end would start as it became 6 p.m. in the world's various time zones. "We know the end will begin in New Zealand and will follow the sun and roll on from there," said Garcia, a 39-year-old father of six before the end of days. "That's why God raised up all the technology and the satellites so everyone can see it happen at the same time." As for why it would begin in New Zealand, Garcia echoed Camping's frequent response to the same question, "God hates New Zealand."

Of course, now that the world is over, Camping's radio stations, TV channels, satellite broadcasts and website are irrelevant. Many thought the same thing about Camping himself when, in 1994, his prediction of the world ending did not occur. At the time, he told Larry King that he blamed it on a 'mathematical error,'. "I'm fucking horrible at math," said the then-72-year old lunatic. As for that episode, Camping last month dismissed the possibility of a repeat in 2011. Speaking of the 1994 misfire, Camping said, "I'm not embarrassed about it. It was just the fact that it was premature - like my ejaculations," he told the Associated Press last month. "But, when you're 89-years old, you take [ejaculations] anyway you can get them. Even if you're just sitting in a diner eating soup."

Perhaps the most upset about the end of the world really happening were those who thought it was a joke and guaranteed themselves a one-way ticket to the fiery pits of Hell by mocking the event. They attended 'Rapture'-themed parties to celebrate what they mistakenly expected would be the failure of the world to come to an end. Bars and restaurants from Melbourne, Australia to the Florida Keys advertised bashes. While in Oakland, atheists gathering at a local Masonic temple dealt with the end even-handedly, saying "How much different can Hell be from Oakland, anyway?".


Camping was not entirely right, however, because Camping and his followers believed that 200 million people would survive. There were no survivors left on Earth, however, by the end of the day on May 21st. Still, since Camping preached that those left behind would end up dying in earthquakes, plagues, and other calamities until Earth was consumed by a fireball on October 21, 2011, anyway, the point is kind of moot.

So, as we say goodbye, I'm reminded of that great episode of All in the Family, when Archie is locked in the basement, drunk off a bottle of Polish vodka he's downed. He talks to God and calls out asking Him to save him. Just then, a furnace repairman coming to the house to fix the furnace hears Archie's cries and tells him he's coming. Expecting that he is about to meet the Lord, Archie gets down on his knees and says, "Well, this is it Lord!" He looks up to see a six-foot-five tall black man in overalls. To which Archie - after recovering from the shock - says, "Forgive me Lord!" He then says, "Jeez. The Jeffersons was right."

In this case, the ranting octogenarian was right. Forgive me Lord.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cut It Off

John Ensign in June 2009 [above]. The Senate ethics committee said Thursday it found evidence that he had broken the law.

I'm sorry, but I just can't get off John Ensign's case. Yes, I know he resigned from the Senate and it's hardly as much fun to kick a former senator as it is a current senator. Nonetheless, the word that the Senate Ethics Committee ignored Ensign's resignation and completed their investigation - releasing a public report on May 12th - makes it worth revisiting this seedy bastard.

That's because the same bundle of information that led the Ethics Committee to condemn Ensign led the Justice Department to do absolutely nothing. Like the Ethics Committee, Justice Department officials investigating Ensign spent many hours last year in a Las Vegas office interviewing Ensign's ex-aide, Douglas Hampton, as they scrutinized e-mails, handwritten notes and the aide’s detailed recollections about payoffs, secret lobbying and hush money over a disastrous affair.

Unlike the Justice Department, a unanimous Ethics Committee — in a rare public report that corroborated virtually all of Douglas Hampton’s central assertions — said it found compelling evidence that Ensign had not only broken the law, but that he could have been expelled from the Senate had he not made the decision last month to quit first.

Yet the Justice Department has yet to take any action against Ensign nearly two years after allegations of impropriety first surfaced. In fact, they told Ensign's lawyers last December that they were not pursuing criminal charges against him at the time.

In the meantime, Douglas Hampton - the main witness - is now awaiting trial. Not surprisingly, he has filed for bankruptcy, lost his Las Vegas home to foreclosure and is going through a divorce from the woman into whom Senator Ensign fell - Hampton's wife, Cynthia.

The Senate’s harsh report — contrasted with the Justice Department doing absofuckinglutely nothing — provided further evidence for those who complain that the agency has lost its balls when it comes to taking on public officials, a result of the fiasco that resulted from the 2008 corruption case against the late Sen. Ted Stevens [R, Alaska], which was ultimately dropped amid charges of prosecutorial misconduct.

The Senate also took a far tougher stance than the Federal Election Commission [FEC]. Against the recommendation of its lawyer, the FEC also declined to take action against Ensign after it said it could not disprove sworn statements from Ensign and his parents about a $96,000 payment to the Hamptons that they said was a gift. In contrast, the Ethics Committee said the money in fact appeared to be an “unlawful” severance payment and that Ensign made “false and misleading” statements about it to investigators. It also said Ensign appeared to have destroyed e-mails relevant to the investigation.

An FEC official acknowledged to the New York Times that the commission took Ensign at his word, whereas the Senate dug deeper. This official - a complete moron - expressed anger to the Times after learning the true circumstances behind the $96,000 payment. “I hate it when people lie to us,” the official said, adding: “If somebody submits a sworn affidavit, we usually do not go back and question it, unless we have something else to go on. Maybe we should not be so trusting.”

Gee, ya think?

After being totally embarrassed Thursday, the Justice Department scrambled Friday and said it would look at the new allegations. “We take all referrals of potential crimes seriously,” said Laura Sweeney, a department spokeswoman. “We intend to examine thoroughly the information provided, and take any necessary and appropriate steps based on our review.”

Better late than never, I guess.

For our developmentally challenged Justice Department, the Senate Ethics Committee’s 68-page report should provide them with a road map. And who the hell ever thought the Senate Ethics Committee would be the benchmark for the truth?

Their report offers a blistering day-by-day account of the lies and deception, and provides a wonderfully lurid description of the affair and its consequences. It describes efforts by Ensign to keep the affair going even after Cynthia Hampton pleaded to cut it off [presumably, she meant the affair and not the Senator's penis]. Ensign used multiple cellphone accounts and fired Douglas Hampton in part so that he could no longer track Ensign's schedule.

The report also catalogs hysterical efforts by Ensign's friends to keep him away from Cynthia Hampton - much in the same way friends often stage an intervention to keep a friend from way from alcohol. When Ensign was caught in a Nevada hotel room with Cynthia Hampton after he had vowed multiple times to end the affair, he received an angry phone call there from Timothy Coe, a prominent 'Christian fundamentalist' and 'adviser' to Ensign. “I know exactly where you are,” Coe screamed at Ensign. “I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home.”

The Ethics Committee report includes repeated references to an investigation in the New York Times in October 2009 about the secret lobbying work that Ensign had obtained for Douglas Hampton — in violation of Senate restrictions — as a way to earn his silence.

The ethics investigation did give us something new: efforts that Ensign made to find income for Douglas Hampton, and it said that the ex-senator on occasion threatened to “cut off” political supporters who refused him. As you can see, there was a fascination with 'cutting off' things.

The Ethics Committee’s findings make it clear what we suspected all along: Ensign destroyed evidence, obstructed justice and misled investigators.

Particularly stupid ones.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.