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The 50th anniversary celebration of the James Bond movie legacy was an Oscar’s highlight to me, personified by Shirley Bassey, still sultry in her 70s, and her powerful rendition of Goldfinger, emblematic of the Bond series and of an era when the power of gold still shone.

I wrote an essay rooted in those times, “All that Glitters,” which captures my own rendezvous with the gold vault at Fort Knox and the empty promises its symbolism held for me. You can find my essay by searching at for the title. Below is an excerpt:

“It was a cold late October night, four years later, as I hopped off the back of a military truck, my M14 rifle was handed down, and I reported for guard duty, marching the muddy perimeter fence at a mysterious place, the fabled United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.

“A few months before, I’d completed my degree in journalism, at Bradley University. As I trudged shivering along the barbed wire-topped fence surrounding the dimly lit vault building, 50 yards over my shoulder, I could barely imagine how my own path had brought me to this odd place.

“Absentmindedly, I wondered if the inside of the nearby vault looked anything like it had been portrayed in the newest James Bond film, Goldfinger, filmed right here at Fort Knox just the year before? And, were there still mountains of 27-pound solid gold bars, some 4,600 tons worth, stacked only yards from my humble guard path, or had those billions long since been trucked away and dissipated into the world’s coffers, as had been rumored? I wondered what was true, and what was just illusion. I was so far from any answers.

“In another seven months, I’d leave Fort Knox, bringing along two very small gold bars of my own — worn on my shoulders. My little war story had begun.”

In 1993, the innovative former Chicago theatre executive credited with being the first to put butter on movie popcorn, passed away. David Wallerstein, who by then was the longest-serving board member at McDonald’s, had become a good friend. It was his idea to offer large fries at McDonald’s — I remember buying bag after tiny bag of 15-cent fries at McDonald’s as a kid. Dave never missed a McDonald’s marketing or communications meeting, and was always sharing his wise perspective and counsel on what might click with customers.  The insights he brought to enliven the movie theatre business carried forward to enhance the world’s largest restaurant company. Here’s his obit from The New York

David Wallerstein; Theater Innovator In Midwest Was 87

By LEE A. DANIELS Published: January 06, 1993

David B. Wallerstein, an innovator in the movie theater business, died Monday at his home in Chicago. He was 87.

Mr. Wallerstein died of cancer, said Chuck Ebeling, a spokesman for the McDonald’s Corporation, which Mr. Wallerstein had served as a board member since 1968.

Mr. Wallerstein retired in 1965 from the presidency of the Balaban & Katz Corporation, a Chicago-based entertainment company that during his tenure was the largest movie theater chain in the Midwest. He joined the company in 1926 when he was 21, after graduating from the Harvard Business School, and quickly became one of the leading showmen in the country.

His innovations included adding live shows to the movie screenings. Such stars as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Mary Martin and Judy Garland sang before audiences in the company’s showpiece, the Chicago Theater, from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

Other innovations were putting butter on popcorn, ice in drinks and caramel on apples at theater concession stands.

In 1946, he was involved in the purchase of Chicago’s first television station, WBKB, whose successor station is WBBM, the CBS-owned affiliate. He was also one of those responsible for putting the “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” children’s show on television in the 1950’s. A native of Richmond, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1924. In his 80’s, he was still an active hiker, downhill skier and traveler. Last year he journeyed to the Antarctic and had planned to travel to the North Pole until health problems interfered.

Mr. Wallerstein’s wife, Caroline, died in 1982. A son, Michael R. Wallerstein, died in 1974.

He is survived by two sons, David L. Wallerstein of Washington and John M. Rau of Orange County, Calif., and one grandson.

In the New Yorker magazine. founded today in 1925, an article on French (or Belgium or Russian?) actor Gerard Depardieu, cites: “Politicians in France speak to “citizens,” not to “taxpayers.” It is a country where the politics of income inequality has run wild. There is a new, and perhaps illegal, 75% supertax on those who earn more than one million euros per year. Depardieu was described as “pathetic” by their Prime Minister for being one of thousands who have fled the country to avoid such confiscatory taxes. New York City was attacked on 9/11 by those who thought the American way of life is soft, corrupt and indulgent. There is only so much a democratic government can do to even out the social tensions brought about by ever-increasing income inequality. There must be a leavening between the rights of citizens and that of taxpayers. Economic change must accompany political action. But the France of the onetime French Revolution is an ever-looming warning over the consequences of excessive income inequality, in those times, and in these. And not just in France.


In my previous observations on the drone mess, I briefly passed over the Reagan-era Star Wars bundle of laser technology that wound up at nearby Yerkes Observatory, here at Geneva Lake, Wisconsin. Yerkes is the founding home of astrophysics in America, and still houses the world’s largest refracting telescope. Jim Gee, who runns Yerkes for the University of Chicago, is a friend and saw my “Droning” blog. He added some valuable detail on what lies beneath those giant telescopes at Yerkes, as a portion of what taxpayers spent a billion or so on in hopes of being able to “kill” Russian missles with a space-based laser system. Yerkes has put that tech equipment to some good peaceful use, thank the heavens! I suppose we may hear some more about drones in the State of the Union address tonight. Here’s Jim’s comments:

The equipment at Yerkes is the Star Wars declassified Wave-front Correction System (referred to as the WCE). It was awarded to the University of Chicago in 1994, it is the “adaptive optics” instrument from Star Wars, which I would describe as the “eyes” of the system. It was designed to spot incoming missile plumes and accurately direct the laser to zap the bad guys before the missile could hit the U.S. The WCE now lives ground level in the South Tower and was used through the 90’s to clarify CCD images taken with the 41” reflecting telescope. It takes the “twinkling” out of star images.

The WCE rests atop a very heavy and solid optical bench; no card tables are used.

The whole system connects to the 41” telescope (4 floors above) through an evacuated stainless steel tube which provides a stable light path. The top of the tube connects to the coude focus of the telescope, the ground level (bottom of the tube) focuses the telescope images back to the WCE via a series of strategically placed mirrors….. but I drone on………

We hear more about drones as technology and less about their strategic purpose as remote killing machines, and the implications of that rapidly increasing capability.

Rocks and sticks and other sharp objects were the first drones — killing devices controlled by humans at some distance, however modest, from their target. Chinese firesticks, rifles, pistols, cannon then came along, followed by flying manned bombers and missiles.

Reagan tinkered with space-based lasers, but that costly technology wound up on two card tables in the basement of Yerkes Observatory at Geneva Lake, Wisconsin.

Then, to further help avert the need for sending in troops or blowing up large chunks of geography, and to save a few gazillion bucks too, we come to the era of drones, which cannot only kill more precisely, but invade the privacy of anything that can be scanned from the air.

We’re upset about collateral damage — those innocents near a target who get killed, and whose families will forever hate and seek revenge on the monsters responsible. We’re concerned that anyone, including U.S. citizens, can be targeted by drones, with an apparent paucity of checks and balances to be sure they deserve a death sentence from the sky.

What’s next, perhaps lasers carried aloft by drones, which can pin-point a target more closely, and explode the brain of a single person? And what happens when rogues of all kinds — terrorists, nations or even individuals — can target people anywhere with drones? Yes, that’s around the corner, too. Have we unleashed the terror of the end times? 

Well, that’s what peoples have thought each step along the way of remote killing. But Instead of gun powder and vast armies moving across the terrain, we have pin pricks of death popping off human targets anywhere at will. At the end of the day, the only saving grace for individuals will be the overwhelming use of power — new powers — by protecting entities. 

Like a country, like the U.S., approaching a time with a gun in nearly every home and pocket book, the day of the ubiquitous killing drone is just around the corner. Interesting that our far-seeing government has canned NASA’s human space program. Now, we can just send out our drones to conquer the universe. And so it goes. Sorry for “droning” on.

After your additional comments and analysis, I’m even more concerned that the “Oath Department” at the Pentagon is asleep at the switch. If innocents like my old high school friend, you and I can detect these obvious incongruities, one wonders how we can trust the military to know whether the next drone target to kill is going to be a terrorist militant or a school marm. Obviously, we can’t! Our technological capabilities seem to be over-reaching our human ethics and intelligence capacity, and we are breeding the next generation of America-haters among the collateral damage.


From a friend: I’ve been doing too much proof-reading lately.

Actually, the two oaths are completely different. Officers indicate their rank in the first line, enlisted only their name. Then they are different again after the phrase “true faith and allegiance to the same”, with even more implications than you imputed, although I agree with your thoughts. Both swear to support and defend, but officers take the oath without reservation and will “well and faithfully discharge” their duties. Enlisted personnel have no such obligation. They only agree to obey orders. They can be shirkers, evaders, draftees, in short: cannon fodder. At least they both agree to do it with God’s help at the end.

The variance seems to me to imply a completely different world-view. The officer’s oath is about mind-set and belief and ability; there is no mention of following orders or even agreeing with them. The enlisted is about following orders, no thought desired. We could both go on at length about the implications of that.

I checked the military oaths for enlisted and commissioned members of the military (Google them), and found that they  have an important difference. I took both of these in the Army, as an enlisted Private and then as a commissioned officer, Second Lieutenant. I don’t see anywhere that one oath supersedes the other, nor are they additive, and in fact some people enter service as an officer, and therefore might not take the enlisted oath.
It is very interesting that the enlisted oath requires them to “obey the orders of the President of the United States and the officer’s appointed over me,” as well as follow the Constitution, while the officer’s oath has no mention of following the orders of the President of the United States or the officers appointed over them. This strikes me as a very odd and disturbing inconsistency. It can only be interpreted as meaning officers only have an obligation to “support and defend the Constitution,” and the interpretation of how to do so is left up to them individually.

I also note that each oath stipulates the obligation to protect “against all enemies, foreign or DOMESTIC.” In light of the current furor over new documents regulating decisions to make drone strikes that indicate the U.S. can kill suspected enemies, including U.S. citizens, without any legal evidence, but just the suspicion they are dangerous to the U.S. The presence of “domestic enemies” in the military oaths that have been around so long is interesting in light of these new documents, just revealed in the news media today.

These newly revealed documents only add to my increasing concern about the apparent vagueness and  weakening of judiciary standards and checks and balances in the decision-making and relationships between our elected civilian government, the intelligence community, the military and the judiciary. The greatest victim in all this may be the degree of public transparency necessary to the survival of this or any constitutional democracy.

As I entered the 9/11 Memorial for the first time last Thursday morning, my first impression was of all the hard-hat re-construction activity still surrounding the site, all these years later. Within the memorial, security is everywhere. Then, as I approached the falls outlining where one of the buildings stood, two strikingly different impressions arose amidst the quiet and the rush of water. First, a volunteer led a group of four to a name on the rail, and he wiped away the mist covering the sought after name. The lady burst into tears, leaning over the stainless steel rail, as a young boy threw his arms around her in comfort. They had made a connection with their past. Around the corner of the pool, I then spied a couple planning to take a picture over the pool: the young women stepped back with the camera, and the man happily smiled toward her in posing, as if he were at the edge of the Grand Canyon. To these likely tourists, I imagined this was another fun and interesting outing in a lively visit to the Big Apple.  Just 12 years on, I think I witnessed the slow transition of the 9/11 site from a somber memorial to death and destruction, into a touristic park-like place. How time changes perspective.



February 2013

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