Posted by: philipfontana | March 19, 2015

Changing America

 “Bill Moyers & Company”


Bringing Responsible Change to What Ails America


–A Call for a New “Citizens’ Movement”—



     Excuse us for living, but some of us are old enough to remember Bill Moyers as more than just a distinguished talk show host on PBS TV. Bill Moyers first served in the Kennedy administration as Deputy Director of the Peace Corps, 1962-1963. He then moved on to be Special Assistant to President Johnson, 1963-1967, most notably organizing the Great Society legislation and the “War on Poverty,” plus serving as White House Press Secretary. There was even serious talk and consideration over the years that followed of a Bill Moyers for president campaign that never came to fruition.

Best Moyers & Co

         Bill Moyers distinguished himself as a commentator & interviewer on PBS TV stations over a span of almost 45 years. During those years, he also provided analysis & commentary at both CBS &, for a lesser period, NBC.

But it was Bill Moyers successful journalism career – – 30 some Emmy Awards and 9 Peabodys – – with a number of excellent news programs, documentaries, and interviews on PBS TV that was responsible for his notoriety and prominence. Most notable was “Bill Moyers Journal,” 1971-1981, that many people recall. Following that run came several documentaries in 1986 and 1987 and then an interview series in 1988. During this time, Bill Moyers was working at CBS News, first as editor and chief correspondent, 1976-1980, and then senior news analyst and commentator, 1981-1986. In that latter capacity, he also worked at NBC Nightly News in the mid-1990’s.

One of his most prominent resurrections was in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. His series of programs, “Now with Bill Moyers,” from January 2002 to 2014, gave his audience great comfort in trying to give those terrible weeks, months and years and all that followed, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some perspective, through commentary and analysis.

Other PBS Moyers programs followed, keeping the franchise going: “Wide Angle,” 2005, “Faith & Reason,” “Moyers on America,” both in 2006, even the return of the title, Bill Moyers Journal,” 2007-2010.

But it was in his most recent series dubbed, “Moyers & Company,” 2012 and ending just this past January 2015 (a sure bet to return under this or another name once more funding is secured), that Bill Moyers entertained a number of guests on the subject of what ails America with the multitude of problems we face. I found these programs exceptionally engaging on a subject dear to my heart and, I am sure, to many other people. There seemed to be a connecting line between the narratives of a number of these guests. They all were about bringing responsible change to an America that did not seem to be working anymore in these troubled times. And three of these guests, more than the others, were the most engaging.


         Professor Richard Wolff as he appeared on “Moyers & Company,” February 22, 2013, called, “Fighting for Economic Justice & Fair Wages.”

“Moyers & Company,” February 22, 2013: Richard Wolff, Professor of Economics for 35 years at the University of Massachusetts and now Visiting Professor at The New School University, New York City; he has written many books on the effects of rampant capitalism including Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, and Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown & What to Do About It. The thrust of Richard Wolff’s appearance on the program, called, “Fighting for Economic Justice & Fair Wages,” can best be summed up in his own words:

“We have this disparity getting wider and wider between those for whom capitalism continues to deliver the goods by all means, [and] a growing majority in this society facing harder and harder times. And that’s what provokes some of us to begin to say it’s a systemic problem.”

“Moyers & Company,” March 22, 2013: Richard Wolff was brought back to respond to viewers questions. In this segment, called, “Curing Capitalism,” he went deeper into economic inequality, inadequate regulation of industry, and “the widening gap between a booming stock market and a population that increasingly lives in poverty.”

Marty Kaplan

         Columnist Mart Kaplan on “Moyers & Company,” July 22, 2013. His message was called, “Weapons of Mass Distraction.”



“Moyers & Company,” July 22, 2013: Marty Kaplan, award-winning columnist and media scholar, head of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California. Kaplan’s segment was dubbed, “Weapons of Mass Distraction.” And by “distraction,” Marty Kaplan was referring to the lack of outcry in America about the increasing “divide between the very rich and everyone else.” Speaking in outrage was rare he said. He cited people across the globe in places like Greece, Spain, Brazil, and Egypt who angrily demanded from their governments “economic fair play and equality.” He said that here in the United States we have a dysfunctional system in that we do not take collective action against all we see in the news going on that is wrong. “The streets and airwaves remain relatively silent.” He elaborated:

“We have unemployment and hunger and crumbling infrastructure and a tax system out of whack and a corrupt political system – – why are we not taking to the streets? I suspect among your viewers, there are people who are outraged and want to be at the barricades. The problem is that we have been taught to be helpless and jaded rather than to feel that we are empowered to make a difference.”

Marty Kaplan concluded that a number of forces keep these issues and people in the dark, “especially our well-fed appetite for media distraction.”

And while these messages via “Moyers & Company” fueled my furor, kindled by the Occupy Movement, they did not “nail” the problems and provide a roadmap to change. But then came Bill Moyers’ third prominent guest on the subject, bringing responsible change to an ailing America. What he had to say was the most profound in defining the problems, anchored with grass-roots examples, and called for specific action to redress America’s ills.


         Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist for almost 2 decades, hit the road crossing America to diagnose America’s ills. The result was his new book, Losing Our Way. His appearance on “Moyers & Company,” October 9, 2014, was called, “Restoring an America That Has Lost Its Way.”


“Moyers & Company,” October 9, 2014: Bob Herbert, who grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, New York Times opinion columnist for eighteen years, 1993-2011, as champion of the working poor and middle class; a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, a public policy think tank in New York City. In 2011 Herbert hit the road crossing the country to report on Americans left behind by our economy after the Great Recession. The result was Herbert’s new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America, published October 7, 2014. His appearance on Bill Moyers’ program was called, “Restoring an America That Has Lost Its Way.”

Bob Herbert uses the stories of the people he met to tell America’s story of the economic downturn; a woman injured by a bridge collapse while driving home, a man losing his job with a wife with breast cancer, a U.S. Army lieutenant with massive injuries from his service in Afghanistan, and others across the country who “played by the rules only to find that the rules had been changed midstream.” The jobs have disappeared, our infrastructure is falling apart, the cycle is broken of workers spending wages to power the economy, greed prevails among CEOs, and the gap widens between “the very rich and everyone else.” And Bob Herbert cites the all too familiar data marking this divide; the 2013 statistics of the top 1% earning 25% of income and owning 40% of wealth, while the 80% (250 million people) holding just 7% of the wealth. And he blames the alliance of corporations and banks with the federal government to serve their interests and not that of the ordinary working people.

Copy OccupyMov't

     It began as “Occupy Wall Street” in New York City’s Zucotti Park, September 17, 2011. Quickly it spread by October 9 to Occupy protests in over 95 cities & 82 countries,

Bob Herbert calls for a new “Citizens’ Movement” that will fight for the interests of ordinary people to change America’s “cultural and economic landscape.” A Citizens’ Movement must be bigger and broader yet more focused than the Occupy Movement. He likens such a movement to movements in our nation’s past; Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Labor. Bob Herbert concludes in his book:

“If our nation is to be changed for the better, ordinary citizens will have to intervene aggressively in their own fate. The tremendous power in the hands of the moneyed interests will not be relinquished voluntarily.”

“Excuse Us For Living” I think just delivered its most important message in its three year existence. I could not myself put together the thoughts and words. Thank you, “Moyers & Company,” for doing it for me.

Comments: Are you “in”? Do we start a “Citizens’ Movement”?

Sources: – and – company

               Losing Our Way, Bob Herbert, October 7, 2014, Doubleday


Posted by: philipfontana | February 5, 2015

Churchill & “The Imitation Game”

The Book: Churchill’s War Lab

The Movie: “The Imitation Game”

The Anniversary: The Passing of Churchill Fifty Years Ago

      Dedicated to my friend & teacher, Graham Bowles, 1940-2014,

who lived through the Battle of Britain & served in the British Royal Navy

Arthur Graham Bowles

Arthur Graham Bowles, 1940-2014

     Excuse us for living, but sometimes in our experiences the stars align and the results can be quite rewarding. And so it was recently for me reading a book, seeing a movie, and discovering an anniversary.

The Book: Late fall 2014 I started reading a book I had picked up a while back in 2012. I found it in, of all places, a book shop on the campus of Cambridge University, England. To say I don’t go there very often would be an understatement of grand proportions! We were on a tour of the UK and Cambridge was on the itinerary one rainy day. The book, Churchill’s War Lab, 2010, by Taylor Downing, looked intriguing. The subtitle, Code-Breakers, Boffins and Innovators: The Mavericks Churchill Led to Victory, really peaked my curiosity.


         This is the book that started my little adventure. While it is not a definitive book on the life of Winston Churchill, it does make a contribution in explaining Churchill’s War Lab within the context of his life experiences. Churchill’s considerable military career had much to do with his thinking & motivations. And his keen interest in all things military & innovative were responsible for Churchill showing up on or near battle fields during World War II from Africa to France & even Germany. It took the King himself to stop Churchill from showing up on board HMS Belfast, the flagship of the British naval commander, on D-Day itself, June 6, 1944. On June 12 Churchill crossed the Channel in a destroyer to Normandy to witness two British ships’ bombardment of positions about twelve miles inland.

Taylor Downing, the author, is no academic scholar, though his other books focus on historical topics as well. – -No wonder, since he is a renowned British television producer and writer of more the 200 documentaries, including many award-winning historical programs. Therefore, while Churchill’s War Lab is not among the great offerings on the life of Winston Churchill, it is a delightful, straightforward book covering Sir Winston’s life with a dedication to documenting Churchill’s passion for innovation and the science of war. The book’s contribution is as an account of Prime Minister Churchill the war leader. His work and relationships with the military brass of World War II were intense. And it was in those dealings with the military that he promoted the use of maverick scientists and radical scientific ideas to advance the Allies chances for victory.

Churchill’s interest in innovation and warfare went back even prior to World War I when he served as First Lord of the Admiralty. He was a proponent way ahead of his time of naval aviation in addition to promoting a new class of battleships. During World War I he pioneered Naval Intelligence by breaking the German message codes. When the Army rejected the idea of armored vehicles, Churchill used naval funding to develop “land ships” which became better known as “tanks.” But as Prime Minister during World War II, Churchill exercised his greatest influence to bring about innovation: the development and advancement of radar; the development of specialty tanks; introducing bouncing bombs; the construction of two giant harbors, code-named “Mulberry,” thus “Mulberry harbors,” the equivalent of 10 miles of floating roadway built in Britain for D-Day, one for use off Omaha Beach for the Americans and the other off Gold Beach for the British; and the expansion of Bletchley Park, the country-house estate north of London, where the German Enigma codes and machines were broken.

The Movie: It was at the halfway point in the book, Churchill’s War Lab, that my interest peaked with mention of the name, Alan Turing, arriving at Bletchley Park. – -The same Alan Turing, the subject of the new movie, “The Imitation Game,” released in late November 2014. He was the “top-level mathematician and mechanical engineer, he was a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and had written a pioneering paper on computable numbers before the war.” The die was cast…I had to see this movie!!! And so I did late December 2014.


       Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in the movie, “The Imitation Game.” Here he is pictured with his machine nicknamed, “Christopher.”


“The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, code breaker-in-chief, and Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, fellow code breaker and Alan’s emotional partner as he lived a “closeted existence.” The movie is based on the biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma, 1983, by Andrew Hodges. It was Alan Turing who led the effort to crack Germany’s Enigma code and machine. Alan Turing was not only a mathematician and engineer, but a “logician, cryptanalyst, and pioneering computer scientist.”


         Here is the real Alan Turing, the subject of the film. He is considered the “Father of Theoretical Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence.”

It was there at Bletchley Park that Alan Turing was to develop the means to crack the Nazi Enigma code. At this important juncture both movie and the book I was reading complimented the story telling. Turing was hampered by being vastly understaffed and being dragged down by bureaucratic red tape. Taking advantage of a visit to Bletchley Park by the Prime Minister, Turing and three associates follow-up by writing to Churchill directly over the heads of their superiors appealing for more staff. They requested additional typists and clerks and the “removal of various bottlenecks.” The result, Churchill sent his military chief, General Ismay, the following memo or “minute,” as they were called; “Make sure they have everything they want as extreme priority and report to me that this has been done.” It was stamped with one of Churchill’s famous red “Action This Day” stickers! Within a month the expansion of Bletchley Park had begun, erecting new buildings and recruiting two thousand new staff.

And so Turing’s machine, nicknamed, “Christopher,” was built. The march to determine each day’s German Enigma setting had begun. – -But not without an intriguing difficulty to first overcome! (Spoiler!) Once up and running, Alan Turing realized that they could not report every decoded message, To do so would tip off the Germans that Enigma had been broken and the Germans would remodel it. Thus, Turing and his team were left to “play God” with people’s lives. Likewise, Churchill received the daily reports of these “Wizards” from “Ultra,” the secret headquarters, and determined who would and would not receive benefit of vital strategic information. – -Altogether, a story and a good bit of acting that are the stuff of Academy Awards!

The Anniversary: Some factual information would be nice and helpful at this point. Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister serving twice, from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955. He was born way back on November 30, 1874 and died January 24, 1965 at the age of 90.


Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, 1874-1965


I hadn’t reflected on this until a history professor friend of mine (the wife of Graham Bowles in the above dedication, Professor Suzanne Geissler Bowles and enthusiast of all things British and Royal!) posted on Facebook this past January 30, 2015, “The Order of Service for the Funeral of The Right Honourable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill…January 30, 1965.” Following that she added a link to the website of St. Paul’s Cathedral. There on the St. Paul’s website were the reflections of St. Paul’s Collections Manager, Simon Carter, of the funeral events of fifty years ago. Here is a small excerpt of his words: “The plans included provision for an extraordinary procession through London, a ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral, dispatch from the Tower of London by river launch, a military fly past, construction cranes lining the Thames [flying flags I presume!], and a train from Waterloo Station to Churchill’s burial place at Bladon in Oxfordshire; arrangements requiring the kind of military precision that would have pleased Churchill himself no-end.”

“Excuse us for living” must admit an enriching experience with book, movie, and ending with the 50th anniversary. –Now I can’t wait for the Academy Awards in a few weeks!

Comments: Please!

Sources: Churchill’s War Lab, 2010, by Taylor Downing

Wikipedia, Winston Churchill, “The Imitation Game”

Facebook, January 30, 2015


Posted by: philipfontana | December 2, 2014

More Vietnam, No. 2

  More Vietnam, No. 2:

“Turkey Reagan”



     Excuse us for living, but some stories, anecdotes, just have to be told! And my story of Turkey Reagan from my Vietnam service, 1970, is just one of many. But, if you ask me, the best one!

As background, I refer you to a previous post of mine, “My Vietnam, 1970.” You can find it in the right margin near the top or way down at the bottom, last one, by clicking on “Vietnam.” There, among other things, I give my apologies for relating humorous things that happened to me serving in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, when so many thousands of G.I.s gave their lives or were severely wounded. And there I describe the sandy Headquarters Company area of the 97th Military Police Battalion as if it were a M*A*S*H TV stage set for my Vietnam episodes.


           First, meet Doug Schulz, Specialist Fourth Class, our Mail Clerk, from Bismarck, North Dakota, where he lives to this very day! – -No doubt the most important person in the entire Headquarters Company, 97th MP Bn, our link to home! “Mail Call!”



     Over the last year 2014, our old Mail Clerk, Doug Schulz, tracked me down along with a number of other guys in our Headquarters unit. We are now in touch once again thanks to his considerable research skills as an attorney all these years since our Vietnam service. Thanks to Doug as Mail Clerk, among his other duties, my family received a letter a day that I wrote home from my January 24, 1970, arrival, to my December 11, 1970, departure. It was one of those letters, one around, Thanksgiving Day 1970, in which I told the story about Turkey Reagan.


           Pictured here is just a plain old wild “Tom Turkey” that flew in and hung out in the neighborhood along Route 202 where I presently live in Montville, New Jersey, last fall 2013. He was a big, old crazed turkey running on and off the roadway for two weeks! The authorities eventually took him away after a car clipped him in a wing. But this photo serves a symbolic purpose. For, I do not have an old army photo of the real “Turkey Reagan,” the absence of which has only added to the mystique of this tale!



Danny Reagan was his given name. He was from North Carolina and was assigned to the Communications Command of Headquarters Company, 97th MP Bn. His office was in a rear section of the same building my S-4 command supply office was located. So, on many an occasion I would cross paths with him, as he walked the wooden plank walkway on the sand connecting our offices, delivering confidential messages to the Headquarters Company Commanding Officer, a full-bird Colonel. It was during these exchanged salutations crossing paths that Danny Reagan established his reputation. “Call me Turkey,“ he would say as he broke into his well-practiced imitation of the sound of a turkey, “Ulla-ulla-ulla-ulla-ulla!”


             It was on this wooden walkway on the sand pictured here between offices and around the Headquarters Company area that Turkey Reagan established this nickname and that turkey imitation with dozens and dozens of guys. “Call me Turkey. Ulla-ulla-ulla-ulla-ulla!” That’s me standing outside the door to my S-4 Office after working hours in my “civies” on one of the wooden walkways.



The story is a simple one of facts speaking for themselves. Turkey Reagan had set the stage. It was the Eve of Thanksgiving. I had been waiting for this all year. Turkey was just asking for it. And he had the kind of easy-going disposition that told me he would be OK with our little caper.

Three other guys and I grabbed Turkey in our barracks on the second floor. He struggled, half laughing, as we made a straight “log” out of his body around which to wrap our arms and carry him down the steps. He kept wiggling/struggling, all of us laughing in jest, including Turkey, as we made our way across the Headquarters Company area from our barracks to the Mess Hall. It was early evening, still light outdoors, and the Mess Hall was long done for the day & unoccupied.

Size HDCo Rt

                    The 97th MP Battalion Headquarters Company area. Read on to the next photo caption.

Size Hd Co Left

        If you can picture this second photo to the left of the first photo above, and excuse the overlap area pictured and marked as such, you can trace our steps from the barracks to the Mess Hall and back. The photos are marked HHD Barracks (2nd photo) and Mess Hall (1st photo). As you continue to read, you can picture the escapades as Turkey made his way going from building to building back from the mess hall to our barracks.


There, in the Mess Hall after hours, we corralled Turkey onto the very long wash table where we stripped off his khaki green army fatigues and underwear down to “buck naked.” He “didn’t go without a fight,” kicking and mildly screaming in yelps of, “No!” and, “Help me!” all in his southern North Carolina accent. – -Actually, going along with the joke, putting up a good-natured fight for the record.

But Turkey became more serious when we turned on the oven! – -Preheating always in order! If that wasn’t enough to upset him, we smeared Crisco all over him and put carrots, celery, and potatoes under his arm pits and between his legs. We then carried Turkey to the oven, now fighting and screaming for real, head first feeling the heat of the open oven door, at which point I uttered, “Gobble, gobble now, you son-of-a-bitch!”


        Our Headquarters Company Barracks located on the second floor. That’s me at the top of the stairway.



     We put him down, feet on the floor, turned off the oven, took his clothes and boots, and left Turkey there in the Mess Hall in the nude. What followed was the piece de résistance of the entire caper. We went back to the barracks and watched from the top landing of the stairway. Turkey made his way back to the barracks from the Mess Hall, going from building to building, stopping and hiding on the side of each building, covering his privates with his hands as a fig leaf!!! (See above 2 photos of the Headquarters area buildings!) All that was missing was some appropriate music like the “Pink Panther Theme.” The next day, Thanksgiving Day, Mess Sergeant Bernie Kopp, from New Jersey, treated us to a true noon meal Thanksgiving Feast. The U.S. Army really knows how to “do Thanksgiving” for the troops overseas and away from home!


       Staff Sergeant (SSG) Bernard Kopp, our Mess Sergeant, was from Cliffwood Beach, New Jersey, in the Perth Amboy area. He worked a toll booth on the Garden State Parkway near his hometown after his Vietnam War service.



     This story did not end in Vietnam in 1970. Fast forward to the fall of 1972. I was now just newly married, living in our apartment in Morristown, New Jersey. The telephone rang at 2:00 AM in the dark of night. “Pheel?” That’s “Phil” with a North Carolina accent! “It’s Turkey! Ulla-ulla-ulla-ulla-ulla!” Danny “Turkey” Reagan was drunk as a skunk and partying with friends! He got my telephone number from my parents at an earlier hour.

Fast forward again to this past August 21, 2014, a few months ago! That old Mail Clerk buddy of mine, Doug Schulz, responded to my plea for help searching for Danny “Turkey” Reagan. He came up with something on the internet posted by a Rich Jenkins, dated June 6, 2005, on “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Message Board”: “To all who served at HHD, 97th MP Bn, HQ in 1970 to 1971 and knew Danny Joe Reagan he (sic.) passed away from cancer on March 29, 2005 in North Carolina. He gave us all many happy memories while serving in Cam Ranh Bay and he will be sadly missed and I salute you Danny.”

Mail Clerk Doug Schulz also came up with a photo of a Danny Joe Reagan. He was a musician in a band. While we cannot be certain that it’s Turkey, this Danny Joe Reagan died on that very same day, March 29, 2005, as did our Turkey, in North Carolina too.


         This is the contemporary photo of a member of a band, photo center, with two fans, one on each side of him, in North Carolina, named Danny Joe Reagan who passed away on that same March 29, 2005. He was listed as “guitar and vocals.” I can still see a younger version of this same smiling face way back in 1970 Vietnam as if it were yesterday saying, “Call me Turkey!”



     Excuse us for living, come to think about it, Turkey DID play a guitar way back in Vietnam! Mail Clerk Doug Schulz, you found our Turkey! Rest in peace, Turkey! Ulla-ulla-ulla-ulla-ulla!

     Comments: Please!

Posted by: philipfontana | October 15, 2014

Italy 2014

Italy 2014:

Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan & More

September 25-October 5


            Dinner excursion first night in Florence to a fine Tuscan restaurant with some of the group on the Globus Tour.


     Excuse us, for we’ve been out doing a little living in Italy. “Wife Geri” and I are fulfilling 40 years of promises to show each other places we traveled to when we were young that the other had not seen. This year it was Geri’s turn to show me Italy. We had both been to Rome before we met. But Geri had toured Italy more extensively. – – So off we went to see Rome once again and onward by bus to Florence, Venice, and Milan, with stops in between!


Globus Tour, “Italian Highlights”


          Our signature photo of Rome was St. Peter’s Square with St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, in the background. Rome felt like a combination of New York City, Paris, and Amsterdam rolled into one. It was a vibrant street to street celebration of love, music, food, and rich history, art and architecture from Roman times up to the Renaissance and our modern era. It is always thrilling for us to be in the presence of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, and the Roman Forum once again.


           Siena is a charming medieval town with its impressive, sprawling Piazza del Campo, scene of Siena’s spectacular medieval-style horse race. The Piazza’s town hall adds a dominating presence as people huddle around the Piazza edges in the many sidewalk restaurant cafes.


          San Gimignano was the next stop. Again a medieval town, San Gimignano is considered by many to be the most picturesque of Italy’s perfectly preserved medieval towns. This is attributed to its hilltop location and the spectacular thirteen remaining hilltop towers (originally 60 some towers!!!). I mean TOWERS!!!


           Florence is worthy of a trip in itself as the cradle of the Renaissance! The historic presence of the Medici family can be felt with Machiavelli whispering in their ears. The history, the art, the architecture of the Renaissance are so great they live on and on to this very day! – – The great Duomo and Baptistery with Ghiberti’s famous Bronze Doors called “The Gates of Paradise,” Il Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria filled with sculpture. Here we are at the popular bridge, the Ponte Vecchio! The Uffizi Gallery is a magnificent museum to behold. But the high point for most everyone is the Galleria dell’Accademia with Michelangelo’s overpowering 17 foot-high marble statue of David.


          Pisa is an amazing little town outside Florence. The center of tourist activity is around the Duomo and Baptistry next to the most famous Bell Tower in the world, better known as the Leaning Tower from 1173 AD.


           Castello Verrazzano is a wonderful stop also outside Florence. It is the Chianti wine vineyard of Giovanni Verrazzano & his family. He was born right there in the castle in the late 15th century and went on to become the great explorer of “the New World,” besides being “that little old wine maker.” No ordinary wine tasting here with Mama & family in the kitchen doing the cooking for our luncheon & then the grand tour of the vineyard & castle.


          Venice is truly the city of romance and great history, art, and architecture. St. Mark’s Cathedral is being restored but just as magnificent. The Doges’ Palace and Prison next door connected by the Bridge of Sighs are all a wonder in themselves. Here we are pictured on the sprawling St. Mark’s Square. Laid out surrounding the Square is an enchanting array of shops and sidewalk café restaurants with small orchestras playing to the delight of all. – – All this, plus the canals and gondolas and la musica altogether make out of any person a visiting romantic!


           Burano island of Venice is a quaint fishing village better known these days for its production and sale of every type of lace product and garment conceivable. The colorful buildings and shops replete with Venetian masks for Carnivale are matched by the superb seafood! That’s Geri in the left foreground.


           Then there is the famous Murano island of Venice. For one-thousand years Murano has produced the finest glass blown products from vases to tea/coffee cup sets and wine glasses to decorative clowns, animals, etc., jewelry and even chandeliers. The factories are there in Murano and, naturally, the shops. Expensive!!!


         In fair Verona the streets are narrow and quaint, lined with shop after shop and throngs of admirers making their way to the main event. Verona even has its own ancient Colosseum. But it all leads to the epicenter, epitomized in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; Juliet’s balcony! Next to it for every Romeo, a bronze of Juliet to caress!!!


         Milan is northern Italy’s New York City of fashion and business with the hustle and bustle to match! The gothic Duomo di Milano is breathtaking. Wife Geri stands in the glass domed mall, the Galleria, fabulously opulent. These coupled with La Scala Opera House and its Museum make everyone feel like a king or a queen!


          Before taking a look at the Itinerary below, let’s go back to Venice for a moment. Photo logistics are tough if you don’t get a choice double seat. But here is the best we could do for our romantic ride in a gondola on the canals of Venice. The Gondoliers provided us with accordion playing & singing. It’s a less than ideal photo shot, to put it mildly. But to us it looks perfectly romantic!!!


Day 1: Arrive in Rome, Italy.
Welcome to Rome! At 5 pm, meet your Tour Director and traveling companions, and enjoy [LF] a special welcome dinner with wine at the rooftop restaurant of your hotel overlooking Rome. (D)

Day 2: Rome
. Your guided tour focuses on religious Rome: visit the fascinating VATICAN MUSEUMS and SISTINE CHAPEL, world famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings and The Last Judgment. Continue to monumental ST. PETER’S SQUARE and BASILICA and admire Michelangelo’s Pietà. To make the most of your stay, join our optional Roman Highlights excursion, and see the sites and squares of medieval Rome made famous in the movie Angels & Demons. (B)

Day 3: Rome
. This morning, your Local Guide will take you first to ST. PETER IN CHAINS to see [LF] Michelangelo’s famous Moses, followed by visits to the magnificent COLOSSEUM and the ROMAN FORUM, where Roman legions marched in triumph. Then, time to savor la dolce vita and enjoy independent activities. (B)

Day 4: Rome–Siena–San Gimignano–Florence
. In Siena, enter the impressive medieval walls and walk through ancient, narrow lanes to PIAZZA DEL CAMPO, site of the biannual Palio, Siena’s spectacular medieval-style horse race. Then, continue through unforgettable landscapes of gently rolling, vine-clad hills to hilltop San Gimignano, and walk through the most picturesque of Italy’s perfectly preserved medieval towns. Next is Florence, the splendid capital of Tuscany and birthplace of the Renaissance. (B)

Day 5: Florence
. During your walking tour with a Local Guide, visit the ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS to see Michelangelo’s celebrated David. Admire the magnificent cathedral, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry’s heavy bronze “Gate of Paradise,” sculpture-studded SIGNORIA SQUARE, and visit SANTA CROCE BASILICA with the tomb of Michelangelo. The afternoon is free to shop for Florentine leather goods and gold jewelry sold by the ounce, which are attractive buys, or to join an optional excursion to the magnificent Uffizi Gallery. And tonight is your chance to try out the culinary delights of a fine Tuscan restaurant. (B)

Day 6: Florence. Excursion to Pisa & Verrazzano Castle.
A fast journey will bring you to Pisa. Here, take the traditional picture pushing back the amazing Leaning Tower, 180 feet high and no less than 12 feet out of the perpendicular. Then, the highlight of today: [LF] hear about the fine art of blending four types of grapes to obtain the famous Chianti at VERRAZZANO CASTLE; enjoy a WINE TASTING and lunch before returning to Florence. (B,L)

Day 7: Florence–Venice Island.
A spectacular drive through the wooded Apennine Mountains brings you to Venice, a powerful magnet for romantics and art lovers from around the globe. Enter its glittering maze of islands, canals, and bridges in style by PRIVATE BOAT to meet your Local Guide. Highlights of your walking tour are ST. MARK’S SQUARE and the byzantine BASILICA, lavish DOGES’ PALACE and the BRIDGE OF SIGHS. Then, enjoy Venice at your own pace or join an optional gondola ride. (B,D)

Day 8: Venice Island. Murano & Burano Islands Excursion.
Join an unforgettable [LF] Venetian LAGOON CRUISE to the islands of Murano and Burano. Glide past the islands of San Giorgio and Sant’Elena, and along the banks of the famous Lido. In Murano, watch a skilled GLASSBLOWER fashion delicate objects in an age-old traditional manner. Then, continue on to the picturesque fishing village of Burano, renowned for its bright pastel-colored houses and for its lace making. Take pictures of traditional fishing boats, still used by the island inhabitants, and enjoy an included lunch with wine at Osteria ai Pescatori. Return to Venice in the early afternoon. (B,L)

Day 9: Venice Island–Verona–Milan
. In Verona, the medieval setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, take pictures of Juliet’s balcony and rub the shining breast on her statue for good luck. Next, admire the Arena, an incredibly well-preserved pink marble Roman amphitheater, where gladiators used to fight. Built in the 1st century AD, it is now the magical venue for world-famous opera performances. Then, on to the dynamic city of Milan, hub of Italy’s economic miracle. Visit the MUSEUM of the famous La Scala Opera House, the glass-domed GALLERIA, and admire the magnificent gothic Duomo. A special farewell dinner with wine at a local restaurant has been prepared as a proper way to say, “Arrivederci, Italia!” (B,D)

Day 10: Milan
. Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (B)



       Excuse us for living, but another grand trip for us!

       Comments: Please!





Posted by: philipfontana | August 21, 2014

Garlic Bread & Caesar Salad



Phil & Geri


     Our July 2014 traditional “Zuppa di Clams Night” at the Dewey Beach, Delaware, condo. But the “Zuppa Night” is not the only Dewey recipe tradition! And my obnoxious shirt, preserved only for Dewey Beach, is clocking some 25+ years (& looks it)!


     Excuse us for living, but most of you by now must have your own great recipe for garlic bread and maybe even Caesar salad. Our recipes for these gems were honed at home over the years. But these two recipes fell into our condo beach stay at Dewey Beach, Delaware, retinue of menus over the past seventeen summers there.

     Oh, we enjoy going to four favorite restaurants down there for our two weeks and trying a new one now and then. But most of all, we look forward to the three nights we have Happy Hour and cook together the Zuppa di Clams, Garlic Bread, and Caesar Salad.

     For Zuppa di Clams Night, I refer you to a previous post or article here. Just go to the right margin and click on Friday Night/Recipe Posts, click 4thPastaPost, and up will pop “Spaghetti & Red Clam Sauce & Zuppa di Clams!”



        Pictured is one half loaf cut in half. Not for the faint of heart on the “garlic score,” but you can cut that back to taste. Usually we prefer an Italian bread or French bread somewhere between the large size/width pictured here & a Baggett.


     The Menu: Large steaks of your choice, preferably grilled, a generous bowl of salad of your choice to toss with a light dressing like a vinaigrette so you can have “seconds,” & all the garlic bread your heart desires! – -And plenty of dry red wine!!!!!!!! Cabernet Sauvignon? A Merlot? Pinot Noir?

   The Recipe: Use Italian or French bread of your choice that has a hardness to the crust. We like a width somewhere between a Baggett and a wide Italian bread, usually called French bread. Make 1 large loaf so you have leftovers. Slice the loaf first into two halves. Then slice the half loaf length-wise (as pictured above).

     Take a 2 cup measuring cup. Fill it with 1 3/4 cups of your favorite oil. We use Canola oil. You may like olive oil or any favorite oil will do.

     Using a garlic crusher (labor intensive now), crush 12 medium to large cloves of garlic. Cowards may cut back on the number of cloves. WARNING: DO NOT plan on socializing with other people for 2 days! Add the garlic to the oil and mix/stir.

     Add 4 teaspoons of oregano to the oil and mix/stir.

     Add 4 teaspoons of your favorite Italian grated cheese to the oil and mix/stir. We use Pecorino-Romano.

     Using a teaspoon, spread the mixture from the measuring cup over the open cut bread on both halves. Proceed cautiously as to have enough, pouring a teaspoon on the bread and then spreading it over the bread with the spoon. (Monitor your mixture and add oil, oregano, cheese, and even garlic if necessary.) Repeat this procedure for the other half loaf.

     Now put both halves of the bread together. Sprinkle the top of the bread with a little oil and cheese. Cut the loaf into one inch or so slices. Slide the half loaf onto 2 pieces of tinfoil large enough to wrap the half loaf.

    Repeat the above procedure for the other half loaf!!!

     Heat each half loaf in the oven to serve hot in the tinfoil at the table placed in a basket.

     Need that second half loaf? Or save for a future meal!

Caesar Salad Night!


         Perhaps our piece de résistance, this is our version of Caesar Salad. We realize there are many versions & ours differs from the traditional recipe, especially leaving out raw egg.


     The Menu: Large steaks of your choice, preferably grilled, generous loaves of Italian or French bread warmed, plenty of your favorite butter, & helping yourself to Caesar salad with abandon. (That means eat all you want and more!) – -And plenty of that dry red wine you like or try another!!!!!!!!


     The Recipe: Start with two very large heads of Romaine lettuce, using most of it, even the harder part of the leaf. Wash each leaf at the sink as you break it off the head and tear each leaf into large bite size pieces. Unless you have a huge bowl, throw the leaves into a large pot.

     Using that garlic crusher again (from the garlic bread!), crush 8 medium to large cloves of garlic. You can cut back on the number of cloves here too (as with the garlic bread), but give this a try! – -So good! Again, DO NOT plan on speaking to people for 2 days! Add the garlic around the bowl/pot of Romaine as you crush it.

     Slice 15 large or 24 small green olives stuffed with red pimentos. Sprinkle them over the bowl/pot of Romaine.

     Optional: Dice into 1/4 inch pieces an entire can of anchovies. Picking up the pieces of anchovy, spread them over the Romaine. Pour the oil from the can over the Romaine. Throw the empty can into the bowl/pot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   – – Just wanted to see if you were still awake!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Disregard that last one!

     Top off the bowl/pot of Romaine: first, with 6 teaspoons of your favorite grated Italian cheese, spreading it all over the top of the Romaine (We use Pecorino-Romano cheese); and second, with 6 teaspoons of plain bread crumbs, again spreading it over the Romaine.

     Finally, as you are ready to sit down and eat, pour your favorite oil over the Romaine to taste. Do not overdo it, but pour enough oil so that the Romaine will be moistened with oil throughout. Again, we use Canola oil. You may prefer olive oil or some other. Now generously toss your Caesar salad with two large utensils; mixing in the oil, the bread crumb and cheese toppings, and all the ingredients! – -See if you can stop taking helping after helping of that Caesar Salad! – -Ambrosia!

     Excuse us for living, but there is no turning back after these recipes! Once we’re down in Dewey Beach, Delaware, the Zuppa, Garlic Bread, and Caesar Salad take over! And the beach is wide to the ocean and uncrowded so we can keep a safe distance from other people and still breathe!

     Comments: Please!

     Sources: Absolutely none!







Posted by: philipfontana | July 31, 2014




A Crisis for the Rich as well as the Middle Class & the Poor!


Small Ben Franklin

         Benjamin Franklin, January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790, one of our Founding Fathers; printer, author, inventor, scientist, politician & theorist, postmaster, statesman, & diplomat.


     Excuse us for living, but many of us recall our history lesson about Ben Franklin’s warning. You probably know Franklin’s famous quote. The Constitutional Convention had just concluded its work at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, September 18, 1787. A Mrs. Powell asked Ben Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin wisely responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” And so, once again in our nation’s history, it is time to make some adjustments to live up to Ben Franklin’s admonition.


     It began as “Occupy Wall Street” in New York City’s Zucotti Park, September 17, 2011. Quickly it spread by October 9 to Occupy protests in over 95 cities & 82 countries.



     You can “pick your own poison,” as they say, regarding statistics that document the present gloomy state of economic inequality that threatens the existence of “rich” as well as “poor” & everyone in between. And it is not just an American phenomenon but a problem faced the world over. Here are some of the biggest eye catchers for me:

The United States:

       From 1979 to 2007, the top 1 % increased their income 275%, while 60% of middle class income gained just short of 40%.

     By 2007, the top 1 % accounted for 24% of all income.

     As of 2011, in terms of overall wealth, as opposed to income, the top 1% controlled 40% of all wealth.

     In 2012, the income gap between the richest 1% & the remaining 99% was the widest since the 1920’s, with the 1% gaining 20% & the 99% gaining 1%.


The World:

     The richest 1% of adults owned 40% of global assets in 2000.

     The three richest people in the world possess more financial assets than the lowest 48 nations combined.

     The combined wealth of the “10 million dollar millionaires” grew to nearly $41 trillion in 2008.

     In 2014, the 85 wealthiest individuals in the world have a combined wealth equal to the wealth of the bottom 50% of the world’s population or about 3.5 billion people.

     The wealthiest 1% owns 46% of the world’s wealth.


–You get the picture, I am sure.


     In terms of American history, the first recorded era of inequality came after the Civil War in 1865 with industrialization, dubbed both “the Industrial Revolution” and “the Gilded Age.” This continued gain by the wealthy in income lasted until 1937, despite Teddy Roosevelt’s “trust busting,” Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 income tax, and the infamous Stock Market Crash of 1929.

     Between 1937 and 1947 income inequality in America fell dramatically in favor of the middle class. New Deal programs, unions, and World War II legislation like the GI Bill raised the income of the poor & working class and lowered the incomes at the top. This low level inequality of the broad middle class remained steady for three decades due to high wages and government policies that had a leveling effect on incomes such as the progressive income tax.

     But we now know that the early 1970’s began the march back to higher inequality between the rich and the masses. Some of you may recall the Reagan tax cut of 1981, famously cutting the top rate from 70% to 50% over three years. Income grew unequally almost continuously during this period until our present 2014 (with the exceptions of the recessions of 1990, 2001, and 2007).

     With that inadequate history lesson (there being so much more to our story than the above overview), maybe we can make good on Ben Franklin’s challenge to keep our republic. Here is what prominent sources are saying.

Small Guillotine

     The execution of Robespierre, leader of the French Revolution, by guillotine, July 28, 1794, ending the Reign of Terror during which the wealthy nobility were similarly executed. The author’s not so subtle point, Catherine Rampbell in the following article, is that it is better for the rich to participate in the formation of policies geared to lift up the lower classes.


“Suddenly, Income Inequality Matters Again,” by Catherine Rampbell, The Washington Post, May 2014

     Catherine Rampbell’s article documents how Americans’ tolerance for income inequality depends on their own household opportunity to earn more. As proof, she cites the growth of inequality by the year 2000 and, yet, objections to inequality were shrinking. As long as people felt they had a good chance of improving their standard of living, they could tolerate “the rich getting richer,” so the data confirmed.

     Rampbell then goes on to say that by the Great Recession of 2008 hostility over inequality rebounded. The perception was that the rich were getting richer and that everyone else was being left behind. Her most poignant comment reflecting on her data was that “if the 0.1 percent want to be left alone – or at least not be pursued by pitchforks and guillotines – they should probably support policies that promote the upward mobility of other Americans.” Here she gives examples of such programs from early childhood education to raising the minimum wage. And, she reassures that while these policies would raise taxes, improving mobility and raising living standards of average Americans would not hinder the rich from getting richer!


     Thomas Piketty’s new book, published originally in 2013, focuses on wealth & income inequality in Europe & the U.S. since the 18th century.

Small Thomas Piketty

     Thomas Piketty, age 43, French economist, Paris School of Economics, & author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 2013.


“History’s Recurring Tale of Plutocracy,” by Harold Meyerson, The Washington Post, April 2014

     Harold Meyerson’s article is all about the latest sensation in economic and political circles. It is Thomas Piketty’s book, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty, a French economist at the Paris School of Economics, wrote the book assisted by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkley. The book was published in French in August 2013 and in English in April 2014. It reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list by May and is already being acclaimed as “the most important work in economics since John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory.” Piketty has already met this year with President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

     Piketty, with Saez’s assistance, looked at tax records in Britain and France over the past 250 years. They also researched income distribution for the last hundred years in every major capitalist nation. Central to the book’s conclusion is the author’s theory that in most times the interest on capital (r) (i.e., investments and ownership) accumulates at a higher rate than the overall economy (g) is growing. (Read that again! It’s really very simple! r > g … meaning profits, dividends, interest, rents, and other income from the capital of the wealthy are greater than growth from people’s income/labor/output. ) This leads Piketty to the central thesis of his book; inequality of wealth is not an accident, but rather a feature of capitalism, and can only be reversed through government intervention/policies/legislation.

     The book acknowledges that the accumulation of wealth took a setback between 1930 and 1975 due to the affect of two World Wars and the Great Depression. New Deal reforms in the U.S. and social democratic programs in Europe boosted workers incomes and the rise of the middle class. But since 1980, fortunes flourished at everyone else’s expense. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher cut taxes on the wealthy. Workers lost ground negotiating at the bargaining table for wages. And population growth has slowed to nearly half. With this wealth, Piketty adds, comes political power — plutocracy — heightened by the 2014 Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon vs. Federal Elections Commission, permitting the wealthy to contribute to as many campaigns as they wish, removing the overall cap on individual contributions.

     Two startling statements that come from Piketty’s book as stated in this article by Harold Meyerson:

  1. “The share of Americans’ income going to the wealthiest 1 percent has risen to the level last seen just before the 1929 crash.”
  2. “In the United States the incomes of the top 1 percent have grown so high that they will soon create the greatest level of income inequality in the recorded history of any nation.”

     Piketty argues that if capitalism is not reformed, our “democratic order will be threatened.” – – Now that’s an eye-opener! So, what does Piketty propose? Harold Meyerson’s article summarizes: Piketty suggests that an annual global wealth tax of up to 2 %, utopian Piketty admits, combined with a progressive income tax reaching as high as 80%, would reduce inequality. And, more easily achievable, workers must be empowered again at the bargaining table and goods and services increased. – – All-together quite a tall order and radical to say the least. But I’m sure the Democrats and Republicans in the Congress could work something out! And the Republicans’ Tea Party will just love this! – – Don’t hold your breath!

     Excuse us for living, but old Ben Franklin never said this would be easy!

   Comments: Please!


The First American: The Life & Times of Benjamin Franklin, by H.W. Brands, 2000


The Washington Post

McCutcheon vs. FEC, 572 US____ (2014)






Posted by: philipfontana | June 19, 2014

My Vietnam, 1970

My Vietnam

January 24-December 11, 1970




                                            Note the location of Cam Ranh Bay peninsula where I was stationed.



            A typical late 1960’s scene (1967)of US Army barracks on Cam Ranh Bay just before I arrived in early 1970.



     Excuse us for living, but not all of us who were drafted and sent to the Vietnam War were in the “boonies,” the jungle, fighting as combat soldiers. – -“South Vietnam” and the “Vietnam Conflict,” to be precise. For every combat soldier, there were 11 of us serving as support troops. At the height of our troop strength, there were 550,000 of us. You can do the math as to the numbers involved in actual combat. “Occupying” territory turned out to be our main mission and biggest contribution. To make the point, upon our exit in 1973, the government and country of South Vietnam fell to Communist North Vietnam by 1975 with the fall of Saigon.


     This photo captures the core of my daily existence in Vietnam, an air conditioned desk job as a Military Policeman, US Army. That’s me on the left at my desk. Don’t recall the name of that familiar faced visitor sitting desk right. Tebout! That’s it! You can almost read his name on his right pocket! Can’t make out his rank in the photo.



     I was part of those support troops assigned to Battalion Headquarters Company of the 97th MP Battalion, Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam. We were under the command of the 18th Military Police Brigade. I was head clerk in the S-4 Section. We were in charge of &/or accountable for equipment for the supply rooms, motor pools, arms rooms, communications shacks, and the mess halls for our Headquarters Company and the four MP companies under our charge. I arrived at a rank of PFC and left a Specialist Fourth Class. (I passed up the chance to be promoted to Sergeant but that’s a story in itself.) In between I became a “one man show” compiling reports on the number and status of all Battalion radios, vehicles, weapons, and ammunition, among other responsibilities. In the S-4 Office there was a Captain in charge, a Staff Sergeant, a typist clerk, and “Fontana.” The typist clerk saved me, for I had lied my way into the job saying, “Yes, I DID type my college term papers.” No one asked how proficient nor tested my skills! But the best way to convey my status around the S-4 Office would be to quote the Group command office, between our office & Brigade Headquarters, when they called to ask a question. It was one of those rare occasions when I was off duty. The Officer shouted over the telephone, “Doesn’t anyone there know anything except Fontana?” I did OK, I guess, receiving a Bronze Star for “meritorious service.”



     Cam Ranh is a peninsula across the Bay from the mainland, characterized by low lying sand hills & sand galore as far as the eye can see, with sparse vegetation/plant life and trees. This is THE MAIN INTERSECTION of all Cam Ranh, aptly named “Times Square” with street sign to prove it & two traffic signals! One quarter mile up the hill to the right was the 97th MP Battalion.



     Cam Ranh Bay was our duty station, a supply depot for the most part. I called it America’s “Fifty-First State”! The US Army occupied most of Cam Ranh Bay. Both the US Navy and the US Air Force had their respective isolated installations on opposite ends of the peninsula. Cam Ranh is 17 miles long and 2 miles wide, connected to the mainland by a bridge. It had the feel of an island. I never did find that land bridge making it a peninsula!


         This was our Battalion Headquarters. I marked the photo with the designated names of buildings. Thus, with this photo in their hands, I could refer to places in letters to the folks back home. (In one letter I included a small handful of sand for authenticity!….not appreciated I suspected!)


             Place this photo to the left of the photo above & it completes the picture. You can see the “repeated buildings” photo center right. This was the “studio lot” for my Vietnam escapades & anecdotes that were more like a “M*A*S*H TV series experience for me!



      When I arrived in late January 1970, we worked 7 days a week at our office jobs, 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. After 6 months, we were given 1 day off every 2 weeks! The one exception was time off to attend religious services on weekends! This gave new meaning to the phrase, “He got religion!” But the idea was that if you were working, there was less time to get in trouble. We cannot compare our modest contributions to those of the 58,300 troops who gave their lives and the 153,303 maimed and injured fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. We had it relatively good and we knew it! – -Set office hours, evenings off, a different outdoor movie every night, a TV and reading room, and an “Enlisted Men’s Club” or bar with live bands in the Headquarters area.


         There was the occasional BBQ with steaks & beer in the Headquarters area or on the beach at the South China Sea. Pictured here with raised beer in hand is the always warm & friendly Staff Sergeant Harrison West of Indiana & to his left, back the equally congenial Specialist Fourth Class Edward Parlier of California. They were assigned to get the steaks going on the grills at a celebration at the South China Sea. We had just passed with commendations a big “Inspection” of the entire Battalion operation by a real General & his staff.


       There was even a freshwater lake for time-off with sailboats, catamarans, canoes, rowboats, & even a motor boat for water skiing! Yep, that’s me at “Tiger Lake,” where I learned to sail! (We were always leery that a Viet Cong sniper might be lurking in the treed hillside & take a pot-shot at us. It never happened.)


        That’s me, second from the left. – -Can’t recall the others by name. On at least 5 or 6 missions, we were called upon to pull regular MP duty away from our Battalion Headquarters desks. Packing .45 calibre pistols, we pulled duty in Cam Ranh, on the mainland, & helicoptered to remote MP Company locations.




     To get a more balanced picture of my Vietnam service, it wasn’t all peaches and cream. We had Viet Cong “sappers” or guerrilla fighters or snipers who, in dark of night, swam or crawled across the waters from the mainland to Cam Ranh and blew up a docked ammo ship and a giant oil tank and the ammo depot. And then there were the occasional rocket attacks. You would hear a blast, near or far, and off went the sirens. – -Maybe 6 or 7 rocket attacks over my 12 months there.

     Be it guerrilla attacks or rocket attacks, we followed the usual SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, putting on steel helmet, flak jacket (bullet proof vest), reporting to the arms room to be issued an M-16 rifle and ammo. You then either reported to your duty station or to a bunker according to your preordained orders. This was considered a “Red Alert” and would last for a few hours to as long as through the night toward dawn until the “all clear” siren. Surprisingly, we felt relatively safe from day to day around these attacks which usually occurred in the evening. In fact, we Enlisted Men saw great humor in our Officers’ barracks being hit by a rocket one night, since no one was in the building at the time. The worst thought, probably unjustified, was lying on your bunk at night imagining a Viet Cong guerrilla fighter crawling on the floor into our barracks. – “Never happen!” We were on the second floor of the barracks! Ha!

     And so, this sets the scene for my Vietnam experience which more closely resembled an episode from “M*A*S*H” and the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the 1970 movie & the TV series from 1972 to 1983! Take another look above at the two accompanying photos of the 97th MP Battalion Headquarters area. That’s where many a laugh and high jinx took place. It is not the popular thing to admit with the great loss of life there, but this too was a part of the Vietnam story in Cam Ranh and, I am certain, elsewhere. This was my Vietnam, 1970.

     “Excuse Us For Living” will from time to time tell you about “More Vietnam” and just maybe you will laugh along with me.

      Comments: Please!







Posted by: philipfontana | April 23, 2014


Disaster Relief:

Take a Lesson from History

     Excuse us for living, but it’s a safe conclusion to say that we are experiencing more natural disasters. No matter whether you call these weather related events “climate change,” “global warming,” or “extreme weather.” Call them by their real names; like tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, and Moore, Oklahoma, hurricanes “Katrina” and “Sandy,” western wild fires from California to Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and on and one, most recently the Oso, Washington, mudslide.


         This is an aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the powerful tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, Tuesday, May 24, 2011.

      That conclusion would be correct. Since 1980 the U.S. has sustained 151 weather/climate disasters each at or above $1 billion in 2013 dollars. That total cost comes to…hold on to your bloomers…in excess of $1 trillion!

Granted, there is a difference between the greater, overall costs of severe disasters and that which is assistance and expense paid out by the federal government. But if you go back over the past 50 years, the number of U.S. presidential disaster declarations has multiplied four fold and the cost to the federal government has tripled. Just in 2013 alone, there were 7 weather/climate disasters – -severe weather and tornadoes, floods, droughts, fires – -with losses over $1 billion each event! Overall, 109 people died. So to wrap our heads around this problem, federal responsibility for the fiscal years FY 2011-2013, had Congress appropriating at least $136 billion for disaster relief. – -Nineteen departments and agencies in all from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Let’s stop right there for a moment, put aside dollars spent, and acknowledge the human tragedy of lives lost, injuries, homes and communities damaged and destroyed. Our minds go immediately to our fire department and police department as the first responders on September 11, 2001. Even though acts of terrorism are not natural disasters, the results and needs are basically the same. And then we think of hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the efforts of FEMA falling far short. How vivid are those mental pictures of U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore` commanding Joint Task Force Katrina going into New Orleans to coordinate military relief efforts and maintain order.


     A U.S. Navy MH-605 Sea Hawk helicopter approaches the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington with relief supplies for Typhoon Haiyan victims, the Philippines, November 17, 2013.

     Juxtaposed to these images are those of help and assistance offered by the U.S. military throughout our nation’s history to those around the world in need in times of natural disasters or otherwise. It was just last November 2013 that the U.S. Navy conducted “Operation Damayan” as part of a relief effort in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. As recently as this March and April 2014, U.S. military assistance has had a $4 million presence so far in the search efforts for Malaysia flight 370. And the U.S. military makes no secret that such efforts project a positive image of the U.S. armed forces and their capability around the world.


        Devastation of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. For those familiar with San Francisco, pictured is Market Street and its environs.

      It doesn’t take much to make the leap from overseas to our very own “homeland” and ask, “Why not use our U.S. military with its commanding presence and effective capability for disaster relied at home?” The usual legal restraints will be wrestled with in a moment. But all one needs to do is to look back in our nation’s history for answers to this problem of our times. Here is an apt example especially with what we have been experiencing lately on the west coast! – -The place, San Francisco. – -The year, 1906. – -Yes, the San Francisco earthquake and fire! It was April 18th. San Francisco was destroyed in just over two and a half minutes! With gas mains snapped, the city went up in flames! In all, more than 3,400 people perished, 300,000 people left homeless, three-quarters of the city destroyed, with people moving into tent cities on the outskirts of the city. Read the account of the relief efforts led by President Theodore Roosevelt in Douglas Brinkley’s book from 2009, Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, page 638:


   “Following Roosevelt’s direct order, the army and navy quelled public unrest and effectively evacuated residents to safety. The armed forces also provided food and shelter for the homeless. The USS Preble was anchored offshore from San Francisco to provide humanitarian relief. At the request of Mayor Eugene Schmitz, martial law was imposed, with orders to shoot looters. The USS Chicago evacuated 20,000 people by sea (numerically a world record until Dunkirk during World War II).

On April 22, Roosevelt announced that relief efforts were to be over-seen by the Red Cross. Congress had appropriated $2.5 million in aid. Determined to show the world that the United States could handle its own problems, Roosevelt declined foreign aid of any kind (relief money nevertheless trickled in from abroad). When the San Francisco mint was raided by looters, federal troops unloaded their guns, killing more than thirty people. But mostly recovery efforts went well. More than 1,500 tons of provisions were expertly delivered daily to fifty-two food distribution centers. Exuding optimism, Roosevelt claimed that within the decade San Francisco would be rebuilt. And so it was.”


Naturally, such a sea change in disaster relief with greater federal military participation today in 2014 should be under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security along with FEMA and all the other various departments and agencies. The considerable legal implications of using the U.S. military in such a capacity is not to be taken lightly. Sensitivity to guarding American liberties dictates addressing the constraints of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibits active-duty forces from conducting law enforcement missions on American soil. A full discussion of the security vs. liberty concerns and the use of the federal military would take an article in itself. Here is what I did discover put in as “short” form as possible:


1. Posse Comitatus can be avoided by federal troops conducting logistical and relief operations, leaving law-enforcement to the National Guard units reporting to the respective state governors. – -Curious that this did not stop Teddy Roosevelt from moving swiftly into action in 1906 San Francisco. – -Nor did it stop Presidents from using federal troops in the civil rights movement: Eisenhower at Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957; and Kennedy at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, 1962.


2. The Stafford Act of 1988 authorizes the use of the federal military for disaster relief at the request of a state governor, but not in the performance of law enforcement.


3. However, the President may invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to use federal troops to restore order. And so in 2005, President George W. Bush called active-duty federal troops into New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina invoking the Insurrection Act as well as other authorities.


         Admiral Timothy J. Keating commanded the U.S. Northern Command (US NORTHCOM) from 2004 to 2007. In 2005, after Katrina, Admiral Keating proposed using active-duty forces to combat disasters.

4. In the wake of Katrina in 2005, that very same year, the U.S. military’s Northern Command, under Admiral Timothy J. Keating, developed a proposal to organize a special active-duty force to respond quickly to assist relief efforts in natural disasters and terrorist attacks. While Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the sweeping array of capabilities of the active-duty military, he took no action on the proposal.


5. In 2007 the Department of Defense concluded that the Department of Homeland Security needed authority during domestic emergencies to use all available resources including the National Guard, the Reserves, and the regular federal armed forces. Following that recommendation, as part of the 2007 National Defense Authority Act (heretofore referred to as NDAA), Congress amended the Insurrection Act of 1807 to give the President the power to federalize the National Guard and mobilize all other federal military components in response to “any serious emergency.” This major change was passed into law despite fifty-one governors objecting to the amendment in writing prior to its passage.


6. And so in the 2008 NDAA the Congress repealed this change to the Insurrection Act. The power of the state governors to once again direct the federal military responding to natural disaster emergencies was restored. And yet in actuality, the President as Commander-in-Chief could assign federal active duty forces to a joint task force with a state National Guard and still retain ultimate command authority over the federal forces. – – Clearly, further clarifying direction was needed if we were to have smooth sailing in an emergency situation.


        The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, is located across the Potomac River in Arlington County, Virginia. Ground breaking was September 11, 1941, just prior to World War II. The building was dedicated January 15, 1943.

7. Finally, to address the matter and its urgency, on January 11, 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing the Council of Governors. A long process of deliberations followed between the Governors and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his staff from the Defense Department. They settled on a concept provided for way back in a 2004 NDAA provision. It calls for a Dual Status Commander (DSC) to be selected and trained from National Guard officers. DSC appointments would be made by the consent of the Governor(s) affected and the authorization of the President. In like fashion, a Deputy Commander would be selected from the federal armed forces involved. The DSC would command and integrate state and federal forces during domestic disasters. In this way military assets could move swiftly to focus operations on “saving lives, preventing human suffering, and mitigate great property damage” instead of wasting valuable time deciding who was in charge! – -Chain-of-command? I won’t even try to explain how that works! NOTE: While the Dual Status Command was used successfully in Superstorm Sandy by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the DSC has not, to the best of my knowledge, been codified into law. Also, as hopeful an operational improvement is the DSC, the Governors would not accept one multi-state Commander for large disasters nor a Commander for each of the 15 regions in which FEMA divides the USA. (For all of #7 here, see “Homeland Security Affairs,” )


Excuse us for living, but this ain’t your great grandfather’s and Teddy Roosevelt’s U.S. military force and federal government of a century ago. The military progressed while the government went bureaucratic! Natural disasters are reaching proportions that threaten our economic security which have national security implications. And while we have the greatest respect and gratitude for the efforts and contributions of our fire and police departments as our first responders, active-duty forces could fill the gap in communities that are overwhelmed by disasters. Our history tells us that for disaster relief, caused by nature, or terrorism for that matter, we need a major military piece in place with legalities worked out in advance and logistics and operations on the ready. It sounds like the Dual Status Command with military assets in place at all levels, state and federal, might stand up to the challenge. And it would put Posse Comitatus concerns going back to that 1878 Act behind us once and for all. Maybe Teddy Roosevelt knew what he was doing in 1906 San Francisco!


Comments: “Hit me!” I’m ready! Present military cut backs of money and troops? We can handle that. This is doable. – – The alternative, “Disaster”!


Sources: (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration National Climatic Data Center)

The Star-Ledger, November 18, 2013

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt & the Crusade for America. 2009, by D. Brinkley



Posted by: philipfontana | March 19, 2014

7th PastaPost

Seventh PastaPost

Pasta Portuguese


Phil & Geri



     Excuse us for living, but we have to stop eating like this. No, never! Pasta! And we save these recipes for our famous “Friday Nights.” (See the archives in the right margin, “Friday Night/Recipe Posts.”) Only when we are truly excited about a recipe do we share it with the world!


           Lagos, like many towns along the coast of Portugal, is historically linked to the sea. Fishing in Lagos goes back to ancient times as an important economic activity. More recently, tourism has surpassed the fishing industry. Lagos became most famous by the 15th century as the center of maritime exploration. Lagos was the home port of the famous Prince Henry the Navigator. If you remember your middle school social studies lessons, Prince Henry was most famous for being responsible for the sea explorations around the coast of Africa.

     For this one, the divine inspiration was two dear friends of ours. I worked with the husband of this couple, my teacher friend nicknamed, “Pacheeck.” He is of Portuguese-American extraction. And so through his influence I learned of the wonderful seafood tradition as a staple of Portuguese cooking and culture. We never got around to fishing together, but we did some ocean-going boating from his dockside home on several of his boats over the years.

And so, one Friday Night, almost a year ago, I thought I might come up with a pasta dish with a Portuguese flair. That had to start with fish. I wanted it to have a tangy, fish taste, not too fishy, and be enticing, colorful. Do you remember Sea Legs? Well, don’t fault me, but that’s what I chose! Sea Legs are an imitation crabmeat, or lobster, shrimp, or even scallops, depending on the flavoring added to taste like the desired shellfish. They are made most commonly from Alaskan Pollock. And again, depending on the desired shellfish, red coloring is added which is safe and healthy and gives the Sea Legs quite an appealing look. – – You can substitute Pollock itself for the Sea Legs, if you like, or any firm fish such as Tilapia, Sea Bass, or whatever you prefer. Top of the line would be to shell large crab claws.

The brainstorming continued. Another teacher friend of mine, Al, a wonderful sage of a man who is no longer with us, loved arugula. No, he didn’t love arugula. He worshipped arugula! Why? I have no idea! I’ve had arugula in salad, naturally, or as an entire arugula salad. – – Nice, but nothing to write home about. But Al swore by arugula and pasta as his favorite dish! So why not? If it was good enough for Al to get excited about, why not give it a try? – – Arugula added to the recipe!

Next, my last contribution to this concoction, before I handed it over to the Chef, wife Geri, came from a little Portuguese restaurant in central New Jersey we ate at last year. We had shrimp scampi tasting like it never tasted before. The chef and kitchen there minced the garlic finely but not too fine. Then they braised the garlic in oil, as usual, to a golden brown, not light and not dark. – – just right! And then (I think this is their secret to it all!) they highly salted the garlic like I would never have the nerve to do. But wow, was it good! So I suggested highly salted, minced brown garlic to complete the recipe.

Then, as always, wife Geri worked her magic to turn one of my crazy ideas into a delectable pasta dish. She knows just what to do with my above suggestions. And then she knows just what to add. – – Some ground black pepper, braise some scallions along with the garlic. – – And measurements! How much Sea Legs? How much arugula? I don’t know! I cause all the fuss and Geri turns it into a recipe, a new creation! And so we have “Pasta Portuguese.” And I know I have said this before with other pasta recipes, but not only is this really good, it’s quickly become one of our favorites!



                                                                … Pasta Portuguese


1 cup oil (canola) divided (see below)

1 bunch of scallions (sliced 1/4” thick)

8 cloves garlic (chopped fine but not too fine…see photo!)

1 1/2  tsp. salt

1 1/2  tsp. coarse ground black pepper

3 cups loose packed Baby Arugula

12-16 oz. Sea Legs or preferred fish (see above suggested alternative fish)

1/2  lb. Spaghetti (Vermicelli or your favorite)

1 tbs. salt

3-4 quarts boiling water

Sauté scallions & black pepper in 1/2 cup oil until soft, 4-5 min. Put cooked scallions in a small bowl. Cook spaghetti in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain in colander. Cook garlic in remaining 1/2 cup oil with 1 1/2  tsp. salt until a medium brown color; DO NOT OVER COOK! (see photo!) Add scallions, black pepper oil mixture to pasta, add browned garlic with salt & oil, add Arugula & Sea Legs & toss. (No need to pre-cook Sea Legs. Other types of fish should be pre-cooked.)

Makes 2 generous servings!

 Excuse us for living, but the living goes on with simple pleasures such as this!


     Comments: Please, before or after you try it!


     Sources: Travel Pictures Ltd, Wikipedia

Posted by: philipfontana | February 20, 2014

Christie: The End

The End


Chris Christie

55th Governor of New Jersey


Governor Chris Christie at the 2011 Time 100 Gala held annually by Time Magazine

     Excuse us for living, but it is time for New Jersey to move on, post-Christie. Those who have objectively watched Chris Christie in action as our Governor for the past four years saw this scandalous fiasco dubbed “Bridgegate” coming. It was only a matter of time.


     Governor Chris Christie appearing at one of his many Town Hall Meetings. He is known for his combative style at such events which has added to his fame. This one was in Union City, NJ.

     It is not my intention here to review and analyze the facts as they have unfolded about Bridgegate and other on-going inquiries. I’ve expended about as much time and energy and space here (six Christie posts) on Christie’s shenanigans over these years as I can stand. At this point, the local and national news media have well versed the citizens of New Jersey and the nation about this ever growing political debacle. – – So no one needs a rehashing of this news story here…However….


      In an August 13, 2013 e-mail ( two weeks prior to the September 9 lane closures & traffic pictured above), “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly to David Wildstein, Christie’s Director of Interstate Capital Projects at the Port Authority.


                       Governor Christie on his way in to Fort Lee’s Municipal Building to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich.

     I do owe a brief explanation to the global audience of this website that stretches from Canada to Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Americans, feel free to skip this paragraph! A simplified overview is that Republican Governor Chris Christie of the State of New Jersey &/or his staff members for four days closed two of the three auto lanes exiting the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey, immediately going onto the George Washington Bridge to New York City. This was done September 9-12, 2013, causing an immense traffic jam in Fort Lee and hardship to children on the opening days of school as well as people commuting to work and emergency vehicles. The act was seen as one of retribution because the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, did not endorse Governor Christie running for re-election in the upcoming November 2013 election. The scandal has grown, suspecting political blackmail in other towns for similar political endorsements, in addition to political pressure on at least one town to approve a multi-million dollar building project and possibly withholding federal superstorm Sandy money for political reasons. At this point the New Jersey Legislature and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are trying to get at the truth of these matters;  i.e., Did Governor Christie order the lane closings or did his staff act unbeknownst to Christie? – -And so on with other scandals related to Christie as they unfold.


                                               A photo capturing Governor Christie’s belligerent, bullying Christie style.

     So what need be said about the Governor on his downward slide? Chris Christie has put his own inimitable mark, his own spin, on everything he has touched since becoming Governor in January 2010. I started calling it the “Christie Twistie.” He has left no stone unturned and no feet untrammeled since taking office. (***See the footnote below from my June 20, 2013 post. It details the travails of the Governor’s first term, a partial listing, including his accomplishments.)

Then last June 2013, I observed that Christie was getting carried away with himself, out of control. The first incident was the first week of June. Christie orchestrated a special, separate election in October to replace our deceased U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg. He did so to avoid having the popular Democrat Corey Booker running for the open seat on the same ballot in November when he was scheduled to run for re-election as Governor. Christie’s egotistical strategy was to run his winning number of votes up as a Republican without a popular Democrat on the ballot with eyes toward a presidential run in 2016.

The second red flag incident occurred in the last week of that same month of June 2013. Governor Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (Democrat, Gloucester County) conspired to propose legislation to dissolve the Rutgers University Board of Trustees & empower the Governor to appoint all 15 members of the remaining Rutgers Board of Governors. Fortunately, the legislation was stopped by cooler heads prevailing in the State Senate. It was an obvious act of revenge against the Trustees who in June 2012 had put a halt on the Governor’s reorganization plan to give the Rutgers-Camden campus over to Rowan University, both located in proximity in southern New Jersey. It was clear to me that Governor Christie was totally out of control with this attempt at revenge. This time Chris Christie had gone too far, taking “one step over the cliff,” as they say.


     And so, in my opinion, the famous Watergate questions, “What did Christie know and when did he know it?” while legally warranted, are not necessary to establish culpability in Bridgegate. Governor Chris Christie is guilty of malfeasance (official misconduct, violation of the public trust) in the conduct of official business in the Governor’s Office. One staff member can be a scoundrel. But two and three and four or more? I smell a skunk. He physically enters his Office every day with, “How’s my New Jersey?” as the premise for himself and his staff. That includes superstorms like Sandy and it includes a four day traffic jam in Fort Lee at the George Washington Bridge as well.


The State flag of New Jersey

     Chris Christie has violated his oath of office as Governor to uphold the Constitution of the State of New Jersey. There are only two choices; resign or impeachment. “Plausible deniability,” that Watergate strategy that the President did not know what his staff knew, will no longer work. This is not Watergate of 1972. Bridgegate of 2013 cannot wait the drip, drip, drip of facts to come out now that we have the fast paced news cycle of cable TV and on-line websites. It is already time to go, Governor Christie.

Excuse us for living, Governor, but as far as that Presidency thing is concerned, as we in “New Joisey” say, “Fagetaboutit!”

     Comments: Please!

***footnote: As Governor, Chris Christie assumes powers and takes action on things nobody knew a New Jersey governor was empowered to do constitutionally. Putting that question aside, here is a partial list of Governor Christie’s record thus far: giving away the $11 million State owned NJN TV to WNET in New York City, not fully funding New Jersey’s education budget, incorrectly filing Race to the Top federal education grant losing $400 million, halting the construction of the new Hudson River railway tunnel, creating turmoil with the appointment of State Supreme Court Justices and lower court appointments as well as Commissioners & Prosecutors, replacing members of the Highlands Commission halting preservation of this sensitive environmental area, adopting into law a quick fix to State pensions and benefits (creating collective bargaining difficulties over benefits), halting progress on the NJ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, including student test scores in teacher evaluations, cutting salaries of school superintendents, a clumsy political restructuring of Rutgers and UMDNJ. Yes, he has been a determined and effective leader in the aftermath of storm Sandy. Yes, he successfully capped New Jersey’s property taxes at 2.0%. (with ramifications for municipal, county, and school budgets and teacher salary negotiations). And yes, he expanded Medicaid opting to participate in this part of the Obamacare program (but opted not to create a State Health Insurance Exchange under Obamacare). But his efforts to put our fiscal house in order in terms of a balanced budget are more a temporary fix and overall impression than a responsible program to manage NJ’s debt on the road to future stability and genuine fiscal health. While Christie boasts a balanced budget, now required by law, in truth the State of New Jersey’s debt totals almost defy calculation and comprehension. There is a quote of a $71 billion debt for 2012, counting outstanding bonds & State pension & benefits shortfall. However, there is a whopping NJ debt figure of $281 billion for FY 2012 which accounts for everything from the $54 billion the State owes to the pension fund, post-employment benefits, Unemployment Trust Fund loans & the FY 2013 State budget gap. You can “choose your own poison” as they say!

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