Saturday, April 27, 2013

Annette Funicello (1942-2013)

I learned on Monday, April 8, that Annette Funicello and Margaret Thatcher passed away.   Thatcher was 87 years old when she passed and Funicello was 70.  Both were suffering with chronic illnesses.  Thatcher had dementia for many years which was a central theme of the movie Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as Thatcher.   Funicello was stricken with multiple sclerosis.  Margaret Thatcher is certainly a luminary worth writing about but this is about Annette Funicello who was born on October 22, 1942 in Utica, NY.  She died on April 8 in Los Angeles. 
Annette Funicello was eleven years older than me.  I was born in the 1950s.  We were, supposedly, the first TV generation.  The Mickey Mouse Club, which debuted on October 3, 1955 when I was just two and she was 13.  I am not sure we even had a TV at that time.  But, I do remember growing up watching the first manifestation of the Mickey Mouse Club which ran to 1959.  I remember, at the age of six, not understanding why they stopped the show.  I felt like I was a Mouseketeers and was devastated when the show stopped.  To show you the power of the show, I thought the Musketeers of Dumas, when I first learned of them, were ripping off the Mouseketeers!
I enjoyed the Mickey Mouse club.  My favorite was Jimmie Dodd (1910-1964).  At 42, he was the oldest Mouseketeer.  He was the emcee and ringleader of the show.  I thought he was the show and it revolved around him.  I came to understood, even at that young age, that Annette was the Disney darling of the show. 
In the April 9, 2013, LA Times:

If you were a girl in the 1950s, Annette Funicello was ideal of feminine goodness, your fantasy best friend forever.  If you were a boy, she was your dream date, demure, doe-eyed and just different enough to set hearts pounding.

The LA Times noted that she one of the original Mouseketeers and "most adored."  Unlike, what seemed like the rest of the country who were her devoted fans, I was rather ambivalent to the perky actress.  Why?  I have a few theories. 
First, I believe that Annette took away from the more fun stuff the Mouseketeers did.  Things slowed down when she was the center of attention.  I felt the same was about Darla of the Little Rascals.  It was like, "hey, we are having fun here.  why do you have to come along and ruin it.  Actually, both Darla and Annette had roundish faces and looking back, I was always drawn to ladies with more oval faces.  Really?  It sounds odd, but I think it is true.
Maybe, being a contrarian even then, I was not a big Annette fan because everybody else was.  The same applied to Elvis Presley and even The Beatles when they first hit the scene.  So, my Annette ambivalence continued through her teenage heartthrob singing and movie careers.  With the social unrest and change in the late sixties and seventies, Annette became even more of an afterthought for me.
Two things changed my view.
As an adult, I have become a quasi-movie buff, I came to enjoy the MGM surfer films she did with Frankie Avalon.  What was not to like?  They were fun, funny, and entertaining.  Frankie and Annette were predictable but always cute.  The most popular is, of course, Beach Blanket Bingo.  They also appeared in:

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini
Beach Party
Bikini Beach
Fireball 500
Thunder Alley
Muscle Beach Party
Ski Party

Secondly, in the late 1980s, we heard that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  That was sad news and it did not seem fair.  She was supposed to be forever young either as a Mouseketeer or as she appeared in the surfer movies.  Her affliction made me take her more seriously.  Obviously, her affliction was a mortality slap in the face for my entire generation.  I took her more seriously not in becoming a huge fan, but more so I would read the occasional article about her when I came across them to see how she was doing. 
I came to learn that she was pretty much what we saw.  She came from a family with principles and values which along with her immense talent appealed to Walt Disney.  Annette carried that through her life and it showed in everything she did.  She was married twice and is survived by three children.  With the MS, she had brain surgery in 1999 to stem the growth of the tumors.  She was wheelchair bound in her last years and actually bedridden her final year.  Despite this, she was still involved in her business interests, especially her Fund of Neurological Disorders. 
Upon her passing, Frankie Avalon said, "She had the heart and soul and a feeling about her that everybody just connected to - male or female - without being pretentious in any way.  She was just a nice, nice girl next door... America's sweetheart."
I might be late coming to the fan club, but I realize that we just lost an American Icon.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24th on Facebook

It is the evening of April 24th.  It was my first April 24th being on Facebook.  I was impressed at the outpouring of solemn sadness and emotion by Armenians from all over.   It was almost overwhelming.  The most touching postings were those that posted photos of their grandparents who were survivors and no are all gone.  Others that didn’t post a photo simply stating their name and that they were grandchildren of survivors and then they named their grandparents and where they were from. 

There were photos of protests, posters with every kind of somber or anti-Turkish message on them, and there were some pretty tough to look at photos of the dead and mutilated.  There were some photos I had never ever seen before.  It made me wonder if some these were not photo-shopped because they would have been in any number of the books I read and the presentations I have heard. 

My good Turkish friend messaged me on Facebook and said that he/she had to unfriend me because of the volume of anti-Turkish sentiment and accusations.  Being a friend of the Turkish diplomatic core in the US, my friend did not want the harshest comments, photos, and links ever being linked to him/her.

Here is my response:

I am sorry that you saw many ugly photos and comments from people linked to me. I posted no such things but I am actively in support of the challenging the Turkish government for their intransigence and perpetuation of a crime against the Armenian people almost 100 years.
I believe I can separate the politics from the people I know and like, like you and so many others.  We should have been living in the same country and citizens of a Turkish state that accepted and appreciated the Armenians.  Instead, the then government of Mehmet Talat Paşa, Cemal Paşa, and Enver Paşa killed 2 of every three Armenians living in the country and exiled the majority of the remainder.  That is not something that is easy to forget.  It is a wound that does not heal, which is gist behind my choosing the cut pomegranate with the same phrase in Turkish:  Bazi yaralar samanla iyileşmez.
It is a VERY sad time for Armenians. Most Turkish people do not understand or even care. This is the past for them. They had nothing to do with those events. It is like Americans and the American Indians. There are sad days for them because of certain massacres of people and their entire lifestyle that the United States inflicted on them, Wounded Knee and killing all the buffaloes, for one. The majority of the Americans including you and me pay zero attention to these. Why? Because it does not mean anything to our lives and because we had nothing to do with the horrible things the Americans of that time did to them. This is how most Turkish people view the Armenians. It is only natural.  The American Indians do not see it that way.  We Armenians do not see it that way.
If you are so inclined, I would suggest that you read a few books.  I would recommend A Shameful Act by Taner Akcam and 1915:  Armenian Genocide by Hasan Cemal, the grandson of Cemal Paşa.  Read the April 25, 2005 editorial by Ahmet Altan.  Altan asks a very simple question in the beginning of his piece “1915 yılında bir Ermeni olmak ister miydiniz?” (“Would you like to be an Armenian in 1915?” per google translate.)
If you have to drop me on Facebook, I will understand.  I would like to suggest just un-friending me from April 15 – 30 each year.  If you un-friending me in all aspects of life, then I am saddened and feel you do not really know me at all.  I can and have separated the political from personal friendships and will continue to do so.  We love the culture which is not just Turkish but in my view Turkish and Armenian in terms of music and food.  Certainly the languages are different.  I for one look forward to the day when there are harmonious relations between the Republics of Armenia and Turkey and the Armenian and Turkish peoples.  Do what you have to do in your heart.  I will not think any less of you… but I will miss you.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 2013: The 98th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

     From the onset of this e-letter project, I have dedicated the April letter to the events of 1915: The Genocide of the Armenians by the Turks. This year is no different. As this year marks the 98th anniversary of our national tragedy, you can be assured I will write about this for at least the next two years as 2015 will mark the 100th anniversary.
     We Armenians are obsessed by this. There is no other way to say it. I bristled when a friend said I was obsessed and wrote about it in April 2005. I have to admit that I am and we are. As obsessed as we are by this, the Turks, and I especially mean their government, is as obsessed with adamantly denying it ever happened and suggest that Armenians actually massacred Turks. 
     Here is a hard fact for many Armenians. Let’s face it. They won. They eradicated their country of the vast majority of us. They did whatever they wanted. They did whatever they wanted despite the protests of other countries. After their crushing win over us, they did what winners did... they have continued to do what they want. And what is it they have wanted? Simple stated, they want nothing to do with the Armenians. They wish we would just go away and never be heard from ever again.
     This is a blunt black and white truth. They won.
     We struck back as best we could. In 1918, we fought off the Turks at Sardarabad, Karakeliseh, and Bash Abaran to protect our last presence in the region: the Republic of Armenia. If we had failed then, we would have truly had no presence where we had lived for centuries.
     At the same time, a small group dedicated themselves to assassinating the architects and perpetrators of the genocide. The ARF authorized Operation Nemesis which was a group of dedicated soldiers tasked with executing the perpetrators and architects of the genocide. From June 1920 to July 1922, they killed seven of the guilty that included two of the Young Turk ruling triumvirate: Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha.
     With the fall of the 1918 Republic of Armenia to the Soviets, we Armenians went into a deep sleep. We spent that time healing the best we could, building new families, building new churches and community centers in whatever communities we ended up around the world. My Grandparents escaped many in their families did not. My maternal Grandfather was the only in his family to survive. My Mother never knew her Grandparents. My Father only knew his maternal Grandparents and that was because they had the foresight to immigrate to the US after the 1890 and 1905 massacres that were preludes to the 1915 Genocide.

     There are many stories of that generation of survivors not talking about what happened. They were ripped from their 19th century lives and lifestyles and thrust shocked and awed into a gritty and industrial 20th century different in every way from the mostly agrarian they had lived. It was dark times for the Armenian People, but as Armenians have always done, they built new lives, new families, and new communities.
     We did not wake up and collectively confront the Genocide until 1965, the 50th anniversary of our national tragedy.
     We suffered, immeasurably, when it happened. We suffer still in a measured way. If we compare what we may have been if the Young Turks had let us be equal citizens, we would have had much greater numbers today in the Republic of Turkey. Our Western Armenian Culture would have grown and thrived into something that is very different from what we have today. There could be 5 to 10 million Armenians, maybe more, living in what today is Turkey.

     I have often compared the Armenian - Turkish issues with the American - American Indian situation. Allow me to do so again. What would the US look like today, if we had allowed the Indian Culture to survive in autonomous regions rather than imprison them on reservations and try to force fit our culture and values on them. How many Indians would there be in this country today? What would their culture and contribution be? We can barely speculate on the impact that would have on these United States.
     On Facebook, the commemorative posts are in full swing. There are photos of places, people, and lit candles. There are all kinds of messages accompanying the photos. Four of these messages stand out in my mind.
  • We will never forget
  • We will never forgive
  • We will always remember
  • Never again
We should never ever forget. We may, hopefully, become less obsessive about it but we should never forget. As a nation, we still remember Vartan Mamigonian and what he and his followers died for in 451 (click here to read about it). What happened in 1915 is minimally at that level as events go in Armenian history.
     Definitely, as Armenians who experienced the cold calculated plan for our extermination and the barbaric and horrific execution of that plan, we should be the vanguard of Never Again. We should be protesting and screaming whenever Genocide is being attempted. We should be hand in hand with the Jews doing this. We should. They should. We aren't. We aren't for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, is that obsession with what happened to us.
     Secondly, Armenians have never been a people who speak out very loudly for others. We might feel, individually, for others but we never collectively advocate for others. Having had the occasion to visit a Catholic Church a few times this year, they almost always have a second passing of the plate to support a special cause be it a food kitchen here or a medical clinic there or earthquake victims somewhere. I have only seen that in an Armenian church once. We are simply too inwardly focused. We give to our own. The economics of our communities are tenuous and every dollar counts. Armenian organizations locally, nationally, and internationally compete for those dollars. But, simply and truly, we are too inwardly focused. 
     I am not sure I like the Never Forgive part of these messages. Never Forgive is a shackle that will weigh us down and limit our growth and progression as a people. We are the first Christian nation. Our neighbors have for some reason taken great offense at that for centuries. We have been attacked and martyred for it. Our greatest victory Vartanandz was in fact a devastating and crushing military defeat by the Persians. But, they were impressed with how fiercely we fought for our religion that they allowed us to worship freely. 1915, in the simplest and most naive sense, was done for the same reason. We were different, proud, and did not want to assimilate... hence lose our identity.
     Never forgiving is not part of that identity. If we are the first Christian nation, we probably should accept the teachings of the fellow who died to forgive all of us for our sins. It is hard to forgive, however, when officially there has been no contrition.
     The Turkish government is nowhere near contrition. Their simple retort was that it did not happen as the Armenians portray events. They deny any premeditated genocidal intent. They claim it was war time and there were many casualties on both sides. Furthermore, it was, in fact, Armenian brigands and revolutionaries that massacred Turks and not the other way around. Seeds of doubt are cast and nurtured expertly. They fund academics to counteract the Armenian, Turkish, and other scholars that spread the "Armenian version" of the truth. Their intransigence and denial is impressive, infuriating, baffling, and any other a number of adjectives and expletives.

     Minimally, the Turkish strategy is delay until it goes away. In the worst case, the Turks still have some vision of Pan-Turanism and the struggling Republics of Armenia and Artsakh are the first stepping stone of that plan. In either extreme, the Turkish Government never ever wants to and probably never ever will entertain any kinds of restitution. They for sure do not want to give up a pebble of occupied Western Armenia.
     A Wilde Idea: As is often the case in the preparation of these letters, the perfect quote often appears out of the ether of the internet at just the right time. Witness this gem of an example:

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much
                                                                          ~ Oscar Wilde
      After reading this wonderful quote, I firmly believe we should drop the Never part of Never Forgive. We should actually forgive the Turks and we should do it on the grandest scale possible. We should do it on April 24, 2015, the 100th Anniversary of the day we mark as the start of the Genocide. We should do it at Dzidzernapert or Etchmiadzian in the Republic of Armenia. The two Catholicoses should lead and the two Patriarchs should have a role. There should be a requiem service for all that died in the Genocide and all the survivors who have hence passed on. Then, we should have a special service of forgiveness. The leadership of the government of Armenia and all major Diaspora leaders should be present. We should invite major leaders of the world including Obama. All of the church, government, and civic leaders should sign a very formal invitation to the President and Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey to officially attend the service and then partake of Madagh afterwards. Wouldn't that be incredibly powerful? Wouldn't that make us a nation among nations?
     The Turkish leaders would be in a tough position if they agreed to attend. They would be in a tough position if they chose not to attend. Even if they choose not to participate, we should do it anyway. It is the right thing to do according to our professed faith.
     It would be huge. It would be magnanimous. It would be unprecedented in the history of mankind (or what little I know about the history of mankind). It would be headline news like we have never experienced in any Genocide commemoration before or after.
     We are obsessed simply because there has been no closure. Many of us believe we should "Never Forgive" and therefore seal ourselves, as a people, from that closure. If we are not going to get it through contrition and restitution from the Turkish Government any time soon, let’s simply bestow a little closure for both peoples ourselves.
     OK. Let's be honest. The probability of the cockamamie Wilde plan actually happening is pretty close to zero. Clearly, I am motivated by contrarian appeal of Oscar Wilde’s quote.
     The "Never Forgive" crowd will probably never, ever, no way Jose, go for it. They will begin to hate me and I will be thrown under the proverbial "Never Forgive" bus. The academics will consider this as more evidence that I am a dilettante, logically unsound, and naive. I cannot even imagine how the politicians would react.
     One would think that because forgiveness is so fundamental to Christianity, that the church would have a hard time not doing this. I am certain they would find a way. They might simply state that we utter forgiveness ever time we say or sing the Lord's Prayer. We say and sing the Lord's Prayer (as we forgive those who trespass against us) at every Genocide requiem, so therefore, ipso facto, presto chango, we forgive the Turks every year. While this might be technically true, that is not the impression that any Armenians or Turks that I know have.
     This Wilde idea is at least worth discussing and considering. Nothing we have done for 48 years since 1965 has really gotten us anywhere in terms of closure, contrition, and certainly nothing we have done has resulted in any restitution. Maybe this forgiveness idea will but we have to be pure of heart and go into it with no expectations. Minimally, it would, as Wilde noted, annoy the Turks… while we continue to press for recognition, contrition, and restitution from the Republic of Turkey. 

     A much less Wilde idea: I must emphasize that I am in no way advocating that we stop our efforts for restitution and compensation for what was done. Even if we forgive them, we have to work the political side of the issue and drive for closure in that regard. There is an outstanding debt. The Republic of Turkey simply owes the Armenians for the lands, properties, and wealth they stole from us.
     If this resonates with the Armenians reading this letter, than I urge one and all to read Michael Bobelian’s book, Children of Armenia. It is well researched and crafted. It is also, as most books on the subject of the Genocide, disturbing at times to read. He does provide an excellent history of the Genocide and the changing politics surrounding it since.
     If you are an American Armenian it is almost mandatory that you read this excellent book. He covers the political awakening of the Armenians in US beginning with the 50th anniversary of the Genocide. Bobelian reminds us of the bold act of Gourgen Yanikian in 1973 as well as the rise of the Armenian lobbying organizations.
     Bobelian also gives a clear history how the US went from being pro-Armenian to pro-Turkey. He covers the tireless efforts of Vahan Cardashian in the 1920s and 30s. I personally never knew about the role of Admiral Mark L. Bristol, Allen W. Dulles, and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes in turning the US policy from pro-Armenian to pro-Turkish. They followed the lead of Admiral Bristol’s who was the US high commissioner in the Ottoman Empire post WWI. Admiral Bristol was no friend to the Armenians.
     No matter how Armenians might denigrate the Turks and the Turkish government, we all have to agree on the skills of their leaders and diplomats in influencing and blackmailing the United States. Any progress our lobbying organizations, led by the Armenian National Committee, are making are slow and hard fought.
     We often focus on the numbers of people who were killed in the Genocide. We talk about a lost culture and lifestyle. Michael Bobelian provides a most interesting passage regarding the magnitude of what the Armenians lost economically:
The Ottomans seized bank accounts, assumed businesses, and ransacked communal properties, including 2,043 churches. One contemporaneous estimate of the looted assets totaled $3.7 billion (about $44 billion in today’s dollars). The American consul in Syria described the process as “a gigantic plundering scheme.” No stone was left unturned, not even the riches that could be extracted from the deaths themselves. At one point, Talaat asked the American ambassador Henry Morgenthau to hand over lists of Armenians insured by American companies so that the empire could inherit the proceeds of the dead.
     Where did that money go? It was taken at the end of the Ottoman Empire. It is easily argued that the Republic of Turkey is founded on this plunder. We need more work in this area to see how and where our money was used. Then we need to go after it.
     $44 Billion is a lot of money. We should outline exactly what we want in terms of restitution and reparation. The Turkish Government needs to come clean, do the right thing, and pay us what they stole in today’s dollars. Perhaps if we forgave them, their consciences would weigh so heavy, there would be no choice to offer compensation. I am not counting on this.
     Politically we should never cease our efforts until both sides get closure: recognition, contrition, and restitution.
     It should be an interesting few years leading to the 100th Anniversary of the horrible event in our history.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lady Huskies

April 8:  I am watching the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship pitting my Michigan Wolverines against the Louisville Cardinals.  It is a great game and if Michigan wins, perhaps even if they lose, I will probably write about it.  Tonight, I am commenting on the other Final Four, the NCAA Women's Tournament. 
I lived in the great state of Connecticut for seventeen years.  During that time, I got into Women's College basketball simply because of the University of Connecticut Huskies.  There were exciting and talented players like Diana Taurasi, Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, and so many others.  The Lady Huskies have won seven national championships.  They have been in the Final Four fourteen times and have more than 30 Big East Championships. 
They had some amazing, crazy long, win streaks.  In the early 2000s, they tied a record with sixty-nine consecutive home wins.  They started another such streak in the later part of the decade and broke the record with 70 consecutive home wins.  They had an unbelievable rivalry with the Lady Volunteers of the University of Tennessee. 
Living in the state, I was aware of their record and slowly became interested.  There were certainly on TV often enough.  The first game I watched was against Tennessee.  There was so much hype, I had to check it out.  Once I did, I was hooked.  I was a Huskie fan forever.  I got to like the UConn Men's team too, but the women were very good and something very special.
The center of their success is their brilliant coach, Geno Auriemma.  He was hired in 1985 which was his only losing season at Connecticut.  Coach Auriemma, always looking dapper, recruited some of the best players in the country and coached them superbly.  In a world that was increasingly all women coaching staffs, Auriemma was something else.  It is, however, impossible to mention Auriemma without mentioning the brilliant Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.  They were like women's basketball equivalent of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.  When Tennessee and UConn played it was always epic.  
I have not paid as much to women's hoops since moving to Chicago.  There just is not the same hype about women's college basketball here; the Big Ten is not a strong women's basketball conference.  I did note that Notre Dame and Connecticut were playing in the women's semi-final, I knew I had to watch.  Recently, ND has owned UConn winning eight out of the last nine meetings.  Notre Dame was led by Skylar Diggins who is an all-everything star with every accolade except a national .  She is already a photogenic celebrity who grew up in South Bend, was a MacDonalds All-American coming out of high school, and in storybook fashion chose the University of Notre Dame.  Everyone assumed it was Notre Dame's and her year. 
Notre Dame had already beaten UConn three times this year.  On Saturday, January 5th, they won 73-72.  The second ND win came on Monday March 4th with a score of 96-87.  They met a third time in the Big East Tournament on Tuesday March 12th and, again, Notre Dame prevailed winning 61-59.  Without much argument, Skylar Diggins was probably the difference in these games.  Notre Dame was favored to beat UConn for a fourth time in the NCAA Semi-Finals on Sunday April 7th.
It was not to be.  Connecticut took it to Notre Dame led by freshman Breanna Stewart who was simply everywhere.  She played great defense, drained threes, and drove to the basket.  She emerged, big time, to national prominence and overshadowed Diggins with her numbers:  29 points and 4 blocks.  UConn finally beat ND 83-65.  As the players liked to say, Breanna took her game to a new level and she dragged the entire UConn team with her. 
April 9:  Fast forward one day and I am watching the women's championship against Louisville.   The Louisville Men beat Michigan last night for the Men's Championship.  If the Louisville Women were to win tonight, it would only be the second dual basketball championship in NCAA history.  The only other team to do that is the University of Connecticut back in 2004. 
No way.  Louisville took an early lead 14-10 and then UConn shifted gears and blew Louisville out of the water.  They went into half-time with a 20 point lead and ended up winning the game by a record margin 93-60.  This was UConn's and Geno's eighth title. 
With this win Geno Auriemma tied Pat Summitt for the most number of National Championships at 8.  Only John Wooden, with 10, is the absolute master... er... wizard at UCLA.  Pat Summitt retired in 2012 suffering from Alzheimer's disease.  So, there is a chance that Geno, with another National Championship, would be by himself. 
I am a Michigan Wolverine.  I support them in all college sports.  But, I am also a University of Connecticut Women's basketball fan.  Congratulations Huskies!