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My father, the veteran

This has been bouncing around my head for a while now, and I think it's time to write it down. It's Veteran's Day, and this year marked the 100th anniversary of my father's birth.

This is a story that takes place in wartime, and involves military service. But it might not be what you expect. Let's begin.

April of 1941 was a big month in the life of Allen Leonard Bernstein. He celebrated his 22nd birthday, received his Masters degree in education from Columbia University . . . and enlisted in the United States Army.

I never got around to asking him why he did that last one. (He died when I was 24, after years of illness.) It may have been, in part, because we were still in the Depression, and jobs were hard to find. It may have been, in part, because he wanted to get out of his parents' house. (I never met his parents, as they both died before I was born, but I'm told that my paternal grandmother could be "difficult".)

But I'd like to believe that he also did it, in part, because as a young, educated Jew, he had some understanding of what was going on in Europe, recognized that the U.S. was likely to get involved, and wanted to be part of the fight against the Nazis.

For most of 1941, he was stationed in the U.S., and was able to go home to New York City on leave. It was during one of those visits that he attended a dance sponsored by a local temple. At the dance, the rabbi of the temple introduced him to one of his congregants, an 18-year-old woman named Gladys Zwick. He walked her home, and they started corresponding. (My mother tells me that she knew, by the end of the evening, that he was "the one".)

By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, he was a Corporal. Shortly after that attack, he was transferred to Hawaii, as part of the Pacific war effort. He was there until 1943.

If you're familiar with WWII history, you may know that by 1943, the U.S. Army had grown so rapidly that there was a shortage of officers. To address this, the Army developed a more compressed version of Officer Candidate School, and started looking for bright young men to train. That's how Sergeant Bernstein, who had already been in the Army for two years, became a Ninety Day Wonder.

It was also in 1943 that he wrote to Gladys that he didn't want to wait until after the war, as they'd been planning, but wanted to get married right away. And so, the newly-minted Lieutenant went home in June of 1943, and he and Gladys were wed. My mother told me that their wedding day was only the tenth time they'd seen each other in person.

The young couple spent the next couple of months in married officers' housing at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Then Allen was sent to Europe, and Gladys moved back to her parents' apartment in New York for the duration.

He was in Europe for the rest of the war, and was at the Battle of the Bulge. In November of 1945, he was honorably discharged with the rank of Captain in the field artillery.

Now here's the most remarkable thing. What you've just read is pretty much everything I know about my father's time in the Army. He almost never talked about it. The closest thing to a war story I ever heard him tell was when he laughed about being given a Purple Heart for getting a charley horse in a jeep accident.

Understand that he wasn't traumatized, he didn't have PTSD, and he didn't bear any ill will towards the military. (I once found and read a carbon copy of a letter he wrote in 1960 to Senator and candidate John F. Kennedy. In it, he praised the idea of the Peace Corps, and suggested that, to make them instantly recognizable around the world, they should wear uniforms.) It's just that his war experiences didn't define him.

My parents moved to Detroit in 1946, and lived in Michigan for the rest of their lives. (He died in 1980, at 61. She passed earlier this year, at 96.) Here they raised three kids, and he became what he was meant to be - an educator. Over the course of his career, he was a counselor, teacher, curriculum developer, and textbook author, as well as the recipient of a Doctorate in Education. And now, there's a stone in the Beth El Memorial Park that bears his name, two dates, and the words chosen by his widow: "His life enriched others".

That's the man I remember. He chose to serve, and served honorably and well. And then he lived the rest of his life, serving the young, and did that honorably and well.

And so, on this Veteran's Day, in honor of *all* his service, I say, "Thank you, Dad."

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American politics - the Democrats, post-debates

I watched both debates, all the way through. I did think there were some standouts.

To set the baseline: Marianne Williamson is obviously not qualified to be President. But I would still vote for her, in the incredibly unlikely event that she becomes the Democratic candidate. That's how much I want Trump out of office.

My top five Democratic candidates are, in current order, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker. My opinions may change with time and exposure.

(Note: The most powerful moment of the Thursday debate was Harris' takedown of Biden. But the second most powerful belonged to Buttigieg, and consisted of five honest, humble words that you almost never hear a politician say: "I couldn't get it done.")

Your mileage may vary, and that's fine. It's a diverse field, and I don't just mean in terms of gender, race, etc. There's a range of philosophies and approaches here, with differing priorities. There are disagreements on how to deal with issues ranging from health care to immigration. My point being that you ought to be able to find someone you can vote *for*. And forget all the pundit-based noise about electability and likability. Vote, with a clear conscience, for the person you think would be a good President. Then turn out in November to vote for the Democrat, no matter who it is.

Don't give in to broad-brush cynicism. "None of them are worth a damn" is a trap, false and dangerous.

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Back from vacation

Ever have a week where just about everything went right? We just did.

Friday - on our wayCollapse )
Saturday - glass and lambCollapse )
Sunday - rainy views and skeletonsCollapse )
Monday - a garden walk and an OMG dinnerCollapse )
Tuesday - dolphins and orcas and heat, oh myCollapse )
Wednesday - rain and KesselCollapse )
Thursday - banshees and a musicalCollapse )
no hurry, no worryCollapse )
And now we're home. Sharon spent yesterday working in the yard. I've been catching up on stuff online, and went grocery shopping. It's all good. :)

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The Mark Bernstein Filk Archive

Announcing . . . well, you can read the title above. I've put all the song lyrics, poems, comedy bits, stories, and essays I've written in one place, to be viewed and shared. I hope/plan to add the music for my original songs, in the form of both vocal tracks and sheet music, in the reasonably near future.

Click here to go to the site.

Please pass this around. Thanks!

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Monsters of Charlottesville

I wrote this on Facebook a few days ago. It's received a fair amount of positive feedback, so I decided to share it here.

Monsters of Charlottesville, you have renounced any moral claim you might have ever had to the rights and privileges of American citizenship. The First Amendment protects your right to spew your hate. It also protects my right to say that you are vile, and have no place in a civilized society. The First Amendment also protects the right of citizens to *peaceably* assemble, but clearly you have no interest whatsoever in that.

You have no support from decent people, from good people, from moral people. If you bring your hate to my state, I will be there to tell you that you are not welcome. You disgust me, but you do not frighten me, and you do not intimidate me. The American Spirit is stronger than you. The Constitution is stronger than you.

You have allied yourselves with the most repulsive and murderous regime in human history. In the name of the six million, I shun you.

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The Stone Saga

So I've been kind of quiet lately. (Granted, I haven't been posting much here, but I'll also be linking this to Facebook, and I've been quieter than usual there.) The TL;DR is that I had a kidney stone removed last week, and I'm slowly recovering. I hope to be back to normal soonish.

The longer story. Warning, gross and uncomfortableCollapse )

My original hope was to only take Monday and Tuesday off. I ended up working half days the rest of the week, as that was all I could manage. The best thing is that I've had a lot of time to read, so I've now finished all the Hugo nominees in short story and novelette (they're all available online), and all but one of the novella nominees. (The China Mieville story is expensive, and I'm not a huge fan of his work, so I'll wait to see if it's in the electronic packet from the convention.) Now it's on to the four novels I haven't read yet. I've also started watching "Stranger Things".

It gets a little better each day. I have my membership and room for FilKONtario, but won't decide until Thursday or Friday whether or not I'm going.

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Mark's top Hugo-eligible movies of 2016

As I've done in past years, here's my cinematic top ten (well, OK, eleven), Hugo edition. It was an amazing year for animation, but much weaker than 2015 for literary-related works. The top five of this list will be on my Hugo nominating ballot.

Honorable Mention: The Little Prince. A lyrical, charming adaptation-with-framing-device of Saint-Exupéry's classic.

10. Alice and the Extraordinary World. A marvelous bit of animated steampunk, complete with amazing inventions, wild escapes, and engaging characters. Obscure, but recommended.

9. Captain America: Civil War. Its biggest drawback is the downbeat ending, which is, I admit, an unfair criterion, but it's my list and I can be unfair if I want to. Otherwise, big-studio filmmaking at its most skilled. Great cast, and the fight between the two teams was the best action sequence of the year.

8. Moana. Yes, it's a Disney Princess movie, but it's one without even the hint of a love interest, which breaks a major component of the formula. The chemistry between the two leads adds energy to an already-solid script, gorgeous visuals, and ear-catching songs.

7. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Proving that Rowling can write scripts as well as books. I liked the people, loved the creatures, and admired the misdirection involving the villain.

6. Ghostbusters. Comedy is subjective, and this one cracked me up several times. Holtzmann is my favorite character of the year.

5. Doctor Strange. This is the one that deserves the Special Effects Oscar. A top-notch cast, and visually beautiful, obviously done by someone who knows and loves Steve Ditko's artistic contribution to the original comics. The script's pretty good, too.

4. Zootopia. There are tons of animated movies where animals are given the intelligence and personalities of humans, and I wouldn't for a moment consider them Hugo-worthy. So why Zootopia? In one sfnal word, worldbuilding. The writers gave careful thought to how a city shared by myriad species, large, small, herbivore, and carnovire, would operate - the neighborhoods, the politics, law enforcement, and more. That elevates a very good movie to an outstanding one.

3. Kubo and the Two Strings. The most original fantasy of the year. Lots of stuff I'd never seen before, which scores major points with me.

2. Arrival. The one major 2016 SF movie based on written SF, and it's quality all the way.

Before finishing, I feel obliged to remind everyone that the rules for the Dramatic Presentation: Long Form Hugo state that it's for a work of "dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects". In the past, this has led to nominations for both Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff. Which is why I'm perfectly comfortable with my top nomination.

1. Hidden Figures. Fascinating, heroic, heartbreaking, and triumphant, this is the only movie on this list that moved me to tears. Do Not Miss This One.

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Gifts From Filk

Two days ago I had the great honor of being inducted into the Filk Hall of Fame. This is the speech I gave.

Thank you to the Hall of Fame jury for choosing me for induction, and for all the hard work they do every year. Thank you, many times over, to anyone who thought I was worth the time, thought, and effort required to write a nomination. A belated thank you to the people who made me feel welcome and accepted when I was new to filk, especially the always-gracious Gordy Dickson, and my friend and mentor, the always-challenging Bob Asprin. As for the rest of you, well, that gets to the heart of what I want to say.

You've just heard a recitation of things I have supposedly given, or tried to give, to filk – both the music and the community. In return, I'd like to take a few moments to talk about some of the wonderful and awesome gifts – for they bring me both wonder and awe - that filk has given to me.

Filk has given me an education in both writing and performing

It's done this in three ways. First, by surrounding me with brilliant, creative, inspiring, generous people who give of their music and themselves, who are happy to share their techniques and views, and who are constantly showing me new and different ways of thinking and working.

Second, by giving me and endless and ongoing string of opportunities to place my craft in front of an audience and learn from them. Each performance is a lesson in what works and what doesn't, when to push and when to pull back, how to find the truth of a song, a poem, a character, a feeling. I've been given the means and the motivation to practice, practice, practice. And forty years later, here I am at Carnegie Hall.

Third, and perhaps most important, filk has taught me a better definition of success. If the whole room is laughing or applauding, that's great. I'll take that. But if a song has meaning for one listener, that's a success, too.

Filk has given me a home

When I arrive at a filk con, I'm surrounded by people who speak with the same vocabulary, who share the values of the community, who are there for many of the same reasons. Like, I suspect, just about everyone here, I've had my days, even whole weekends, of feeling excluded, of thinking of myself as an outsider looking in. It can be hard to get past that. But I've come to know, on a deep level, that this is a place I belong. It's a place where I might end up missing that concert I wanted to hear because I fell into a fascinating conversation with people I may have known for decades, or may have only spoken to a few times. It's a place where I know I can get up and dance when the music moves me, and not be judged on the quality of my movement. It's a place where I can be certain that at some point during the weekend, my voice will become one piece of a much greater whole, as harmonies and instrumentals ring through the circle. Whether I'm in Mississauga, or Columbus, or Atlanta, or Seattle, or Jersey City, or Basingstoke, I know I'm home. Which brings me to . . .

Filk has given me joy

Joy, and the ways in which it differs from simple happiness, is a personal thing. I can't define it. But I know it comes in different flavors. When that greater whole I just referred to coalesces, and fills my awareness, that's a joyful moment. When someone who's been working up their nerve, sometimes for months or years, sings in front of other people for the first time since childhood, that's a joyful moment. When someone who's found their voice here keeps going, keeps on singing or playing or reciting, and manages, whether through applied hard work or simple repetition, to get better and build confidence, that's a whole series of joyful moments. Those moments accumulate, and build, and keep me connected to this community in a way that will never be broken.

Filk has kept me young

There are people I count as friends here who range from a decade or more older than me to three decades or more younger. That's a source of both satisfaction and occasional astonishment. I love and value my long time friends. I also love and value the way the filk community gives me regular chances to make new friends, to hear new voices, to be exposed to new styles of music. That's important to who I am, or at least try to be. While I treasure and respect the historians among us, my own inclination is to focus on looking forward more than back. I hope it will remain central to our beliefs and practices to work on making newcomers of all musical genres and experience levels feel accepted and appreciated.

Finally . . .

Filk has given me the impetus to try to be a better person, and lessons on how to accomplish that

Being part of the filk community means being surrounded by valuable lessons.

Some of those lessons reinforce things we learned as small children. Share. Take turns. Look out for each other. Don't be mean.

Some of the lessons are a little more sophisticated. Be generous with praise, and stingy with criticism. It's not a competition, so try not to compare yourself to other people. Recognize and appreciate the work of people who aren't in the spotlight. Remember that most of the time, it's not about you.

Some are lessons of affirmation and inspiration that we can all sing together, ranging from “Time won't drive us down to dust again” to “We're all mad here, and it's OK”.

But the most fundamental lesson, and here I will steal shamelessly from an essay I wrote several years ago, is the power inherent in a single word: listen.

Filk's greatest strength lies in the deeply ingrained philosophy that everyone has the right to express themselves creatively, to, as Sally Childs-Helton and Kathleen Sloan put it, "take back the right to sing and play."

But, all unknowing, we've done something even greater than that. We don't just say, "Express yourself." We say, "If you choose to express yourself, we will listen to you."

For listening, as distinct from merely hearing, is not passive. Listening says things. It says, "We acknowledge you." It says, "You have value." It says, "We may or may not agree with you, but we will not just dismiss you." And when we in filk listen, it also says, "The act of expressing yourself will not bring you harm." (That last has a power almost beyond comprehension, as there can be so much fear, so much past repression, so many old scars, that must be overcome.)

These are, to be sure, ideals, and as humans we don't always live up to them. I know I fail on a regular basis. But it's important that we keep trying.

For in saying these things, we change lives. We reach out to the hesitant, the shy, the frightened. We tell them that, with hands and voices joined, we can make a better life in a better world. We imbue them with the sure and certain knowledge that their words, their music, the children of their souls, will not just echo in the void.

That, more than anything else, is why you are and will remain my people, my tribe, my world-wide small town.

And so, on this ninth day of April, two thousand sixteen, it is with love, and joy, and gratitude, with considerable pride and a perhaps-unaccustomed measure of humility, with an open heart and always, always with open ears, that I accept this honor. Thank you.

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Dramatic Presentation: Long Form - Mark's Top Ten

Time for my apparently-becoming-annual roundup of the genre movies and miniseries I watched in 2015. The top five are the ones that will appear on my Hugo ballot. That does, admittedly, influence the order, as I tend to favor more literary and intellectual works when nominating.

10. Cinderella. It's a live-action riff on the Disney Animated version, and so doesn't offer much that's new. In a stronger year, it wouldn't make the top 10. That said, the cast is engaging, Kenneth Branagh's direction is impeccable, and the production design is gorgeous. The sequence of the coachman, footmen, horses and carriage changing back to goose, lizards, mice, and pumpkin as they careen down the road is a high point.

9. Ant-Man. easily my favorite comic book movie of the year. Fun, fun, fun.

8. Tomorrowland. The one that divided critics and viewers. I fall on the "loved it" side. Which is predictable, as I'm a big fan of director Brad Bird, and a sucker for positive, hopeful messages.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road. No question, it's wonderfully made in every aspect, and I'm glad I saw it in the theater. It's just not the kind of thing that appeals to me on an emotional level.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had a fantastic time seeing it with friends, loved Rey in particular, and look forward to seeing the next chapter. It drops this far because of there just isn't anything particularly new here, and I favor originality.

5. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Of the three major TV mini-series drawn from genre literature, this was, to me, the best. It was mostly faithful to the book, including reproducing the overall tone of the original, and had a great cast.

4. Inside Out. One of Pixar's all-time best, which is saying one hell of a lot. Touching, hilarious, massively imaginative, and full of things I've never seen before, including the core message.

3. Ex Machina. The most intelligent original SF script of the year, brought to life by a great cast and good direction. The shots of naked women did seem a bit gratuitous at times, but not enough to throw me out of the story.

2. Predestination. The Spierig brothers have pulled off the all-too-rare trick of taking a classic SF story (Heinlein's "All You Zombies", in case you didn't know), adapting it faithfully, extending it in ways that logically follow from the text of the story, and making a compelling, suspenseful film out of it. I was a co-sponsor of the motion at the 2015 Worldcon Business Meeting to extend its eligibility to this year.

1. The Martian. What can I say? Everything worked.

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