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Archive for July, 2010

HIM

Australian photographer Peter Lik’s work rises to the level of the finest of fine art.
Outsiders can see the beauty and wonders of a country with more clarity and appreciation that the insiders of a country, and Peter truly appreciates the beauty and wonders of America.
Check out his wonderful photographic tribute to America the beautiful via this four-minute video “100 Miles from Nowhere.”
He’s something of an extreme wonder himself, BTW. A real Aussie character.

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TOM ROBBINS: BEWARE THE 'KILLER B's'

From the certifiably crazy but incisive novelist Tom Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates:

“I’m on the run from the Killer B’s. B for belief. B for belonging. The B’s that lead to most of the killing in the world. If you don’t Belong among us, then you’re inferior, or our enemy, or both, and you can’t Belong with us unless you Believe what We Believe. Maybe not even then, but it certainly helps. Our religion, our party, our tribe, our town, our school, our race, our nation. Believe. Belong. Behave. Or be damned.”

U.S. REP JEANNETTE RANKIN

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.
—- Jeannette Rankin, a pacifist who was the first woman elected to U.S. Congress

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From Agnes Sanford’s The Healing Light:
“The body is not hard, solid matter, but is made up of specks of energy . . . the body is full of light that lives by the healing light of God. Healing is facilitated by our awareness and alignment with this ever-present healing light.

“In awakening to our deepest self, the divine within, we find the wholeness that brings spiritual healing even when a cure is not possible.”
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From Jim Wallis’s book Faith Works:
“He [David] doesn’t have it all figured out before he acts. It’s his commitment to act that puts him in a position where he really has to use his intelligence to figure out how to do it. He’s motivated. . . . He was faithful enough to trust his own spirit. (We’re always tempted to defer to other people’s experience and perspective.) He was a shepherd, not a warrior, an outsider to battle. As such he saw resources others did not see, and devised a strategy that others did not devise.”

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From poet Archibald MacLeish:
“It’s from the ash heap God is seen.”

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From North Carolina preacher Ken Sehested’s article “Travelers Together”, May-June 2004 edition of the now defunct “The Other Side”:
“Being present on the margins, where life is coming apart, provides a clarity about God’s purposes that is not available anywhere else. It teaches us about our own spiritual poverty; it directs us to an affirmation of hope strong enough to endure despair; it steels our weak knees and timid hearts in the midst of our adversity.”

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Hers is one of the faces and stories you’ll find at The Forgiveness Project.

(Photography by Dubi Roman)
Riham Musa is a law student living in Tulkarm in the West Bank. At the age of 15, she was shot in the stomach by an Israeli soldier as she approached a checkpoint armed with a kitchen knife.
One day, when I was 15, I started chatting to a group of friends about the occupation and about suicide bombings. We all agreed with suicide bombings as a means of resistance, but none of the others would ever have done it. However, I told my friends that I was thinking of becoming a suicide bomber. I was feeling desperate. The life we were living, the economic situation, our education – it was all terrible; we would often be prevented from getting to school for days at a time. All around me I saw young people getting killed. Our whole lives were ruled by the Intifada. It was a culture of violence and there was no escaping it. We tried to find something else to talk about, but there wasn’t anything. How can girls get together in Tulkarm and talk about make-up and fashion?
It was a Thursday, the day when we always visited the family graves, and so I went to visit my father’s grave for what I thought would be the last time. The discussion about suicide bombings had stayed in my mind all day, and when I got home I took the only weapon available to me –a kitchen knife – and went down to the checkpoint without telling anyone. I had a feeling that I was superwoman, that I could kill all the soldiers at the checkpoint without doing any harm to myself. Even though I was a little girl, I felt more powerful than the soldiers because I was the person with right on my side.
But when I actually got to the checkpoint, I was suddenly very afraid. I couldn’t go through with it and just stood there frozen to the spot. The soldiers saw me standing there, staring at them. They thought I was a suicide bomber and started screaming at me. Then they started shooting. One of the bullets hit me in the stomach and I collapsed. I lay on ground for four-and-a-half hours as they checked for bombs. Once they realised there were no bombs on or around me, I was taken to the nearest hospital before being sent to prison. After ten months I was released on health grounds, and because I was young and hadn’t actually threatened anyone with the knife.
I was worried about going back to school because it’s not acceptable for women to be involved in violent action. But in the end it wasn’t so bad, and in fact I started doing better in school than before. I felt as though studying was my way out of this misery, and I chose to study law as a more effective way of defending the Palestinian people.
I believe violence breeds violence and there’s no choice now for me other than to find another way. When I decided to use violence by taking the knife to the checkpoint, even though I didn’t use it, I brought violence upon myself. I now want to use the law and not weapons to fight the enemy. This feels like the right path.
I still hate the Israeli army but I don’t feel violent towards them anymore. I’m a forgiving person and it’s not in my nature to hate people; but because of the way we live in the West Bank, hatred has been forced upon me. There’s no point engaging with the military because for them non-violence can never work, but with ordinary Israeli citizens I’ll use non-violence as a way forward. The citizens of each country have gone through much suffering, and this suffering unites us.
It‘s not easy to talk of forgiveness in the midst of violent conflict, and forgiveness is not just mine to give. There are many repercussions, and it is not for me to forgive my mother’s tears.

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Good, old-fashioned American ingenuity still thrives.
What a great country!

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A really cool video, and the icing on the cake is Alexandra Burke singing Leonard Cohen’s fabulous “Hallelujah.”
Video lifted from the Facebook of my friend and sister in ordained ministry, former chaplain, Unitarian Church pastoral caregiver, artist, photographer, all-around creative mind, Atlanta Dixie Chick, transplanted Texan and Dallasite, cool chick Charlise Hill Larson.
Yes, you’re life will never been the same, Charlise.
You been jitterbugged.

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I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
— Jesus Christ, Jn. 10: 10
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“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
— Saint Paul, Phil. 4: 11-13

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Quotes culled from the book Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective

“Here [in the West] you have a different kind of poverty—a poverty of the spirit, of loneliness, of being unwanted, and that is the worst disease in the world today, not tuberculosis or leprosy.”

— Mother Theresa
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“A man is rich according to the things he can afford to let alone.”
— Thoreau

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“We are people called to live toward God’s vision of reconciliation through Christ Jesus. This reconciled world, or ‘new heaven and earth,’ includes . . . a creation where diversity is celebrated as a gift, rather than resisted and destroyed; where loving relationships are supremely valued and the resources of the world are shared equitably and justly; where all persons know their worth and value as children of God and who seek the well-being of God’s creation above their own greed.

“It is a world where we live out of a theology of ‘enough’ . . . a theology that allows us to move away from the gods of consumption and material need. In living out a theology of enough we will no longer expend our physical resources in consumption and our emotional resources in worrying over status. Our security and sense of well-being will be defined in relationship to God, not by our possession.

“While Christ does not seek for any of us to be without basic necessities, a simplified life will move us away from the expectations and injustices of affluent living. Abudant living is a life of greater simplicity, of more responsible use of resources and of a deeper faith.”

— From the United Methodist Church’s 1996 statement “God’s Vision of Abundant Living”

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“Perhaps for affluent Christians the deepest level of response to the awareness of limits is the recognition that we cannot free ourselves of guilt. We are caught in a destructive system, and we find that even our will to refuse to identify with that system is mixed with the desire to enjoy its fruits. None of us is innocent, either in intention or behavior. At most we ask that we may be helped to open ourselves to re-creation by God, but we also depend on grace in another sense. It is only because we know ourselves accepted in our sinfulness that we can laugh at our own pretenses, live with a measure of joy in the midst of our halfheartedness, and risk transformation into a new creation.”
— United Methodist theologian John B. Cobb Jr.

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Being the hopeless news junkie that I am I’ve always read papers from other countries for their perspectives. Papers like the very good China Daily–which I used to read occasionally before I ever thought about making the trek I’m making across China in September.

China Daily has good columnists like the one who wrote the following about American military exercises and American military might.

Joint naval drill only benefits militaries
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
The massive joint military drill by the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK), which began Sunday in the Sea of Japan, is intended to show off its mighty power.
But that is simply to state the obvious. No one today doubts that the US, whose defense spending accounts for half of the world’s total, is superior militarily than any other country on earth.
The US and the ROK have sent about 20 ships, 200 aircraft and 8,000 sailors and airmen to the Sea of Japan. These drills plan to display a fleet of F-22 fighters and the USS George Washington, a 97,000-tonnage nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that is one of the largest in the US navy.
The US, by time and again reminding other countries of how inferior their militaries are and how afraid they must feel, has only encouraged them to increase, not decrease, their military build-up.
The US always says it feels uneasy about China’s growing military spending, but it does not seem to realize that such a large and prolonged drill, which US officials say might move to the Yellow Sea in the coming months, could be one of the main reasons why China makes a strong argument for the modernization of its military.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the primary target of the ongoing military exercise, is also unlikely to back down in the face of the American power display, as anyone who understands its rationale can tell.
That will make it far more difficult to find a solution to the DPRK’s worrisome nuclear program. The Six-Party Talks, which involve the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia, is also less likely to resume under such escalated tension.
For anyone who finds it hard to understand why the Chinese should be uneasy, angry or even threatened by the drill, think of this: What will Americans feel if the Chinese or Russian military travel across the ocean to hold their exercises in the high seas not far from the coast of Florida, New York or California?
While some claim that the ongoing war game, with the codename “Invincible Spirit”, is intended to preserve peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, it is exactly the opposite. Military drill as a show of hostility instead of hospitality destroys the basis for trust, dialogue and cooperation. It will only make the issues in the Korean Peninsula even more complicated.
Such a drill is bad news for the peoples in every country involved because it wastes money at a time of great financial difficulty. However, it is great news for the military.
Facing huge budget cuts in the coming years due to a federal deficit reduction plan, the US military leaders would still hope to find an excuse to justify its colossal spending. Military expenditure even now makes up about 5 percent of the US gross domestic product (GDP).
To justify its monstrous budget plan, the US military needs to convince the Congress that there are still threats to American interests everywhere in the world. Otherwise, the Congress is unlikely to approve the appropriation of the colossal amount, especially when the US federal deficit exceeds $1.4 trillion.
I have heard the same kind of military rhetoric, of “threat everywhere”, during my visit to Camp Smith, the US Pacific Command based in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the 1990s. A top military officer who described the Chinese military threat in the South China Sea was arguing even then for a stepped-up US naval presence.
It is no wonder that the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to play up China’s threat in the South China Sea last week. She just proved herself to be yet another lobbyist for the US military by employing the same old trick.
Sino-US relations have become stronger in the last decades. Please do not let the militaries hijack those ties.

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Yes, for your regular Tuesday afternoon music therapy we bring you the rock-solid Johnny Rivers. He never was quite a super rock star, but just one of those talented, working-slug singers who shaped American pop music in the early sixties with the “go go” sound. He was good enough that Bob Dylan gave him props in his mighy fine autobiography Chronicles.

I much prefer Johnny’s later hippie-period stuff like “Summer Rain,” probably because I remember so vividly and sentimentally that summer when everybody kept on playing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.” But my fave of Mr. Johnny will always be “Poor Side of Town.” Great song and great lyrics that still speak to the small town in me.

(For Jack Lockhart, a mighty fine and pure guitarist and absent friend, R.I.P.)

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Hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who in his July letter to investors, noted: “Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for … what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible ‘conspiracy theory’: the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their P.R. skills, while wondering, as always: “Have they no grandchildren?”

(Quote taken from NY Times columnist Tom Friedman)

(In the Getty News photo: As sea levels rise, coastal erosion will become an increasingly important problem. Islands, such as Sarichef Island in Alaska, are already experiencing the effects. The rising temperatures have caused a reduction in sea ice and thawing of permafrost, the thick sheet of ice below the surface, along the coast, leaving shorelines more vulnerable. This home on Sarichef island was destroyed by beach erosion in 2006. Sarichef residents face eventual evacuation. )

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ARNOLD FISHER

Philanthropist Arnold Fisher has been the best friend that vets of Iraq and Afghanistan ever had. “Fisher Houses” near military hospitals provide very nice and convenient places for families whose wounded warriors are hospitalized or in rehab.
Fisher, as noted in this article, is also so low-key that for him to lash out this forcefully about all the absentees at this event speaks volumes.
The neglect of wounded veterans over the years has been a far cry from the heady, patriotic days before and for a long time after the invasion of Iraq.
Remember all those “Support Our Troops” stickers you saw on virtually ever passing vehicle?
Where’d they go?
Dare I ask where yours is now?
A donation to the Fisher House is a far better show of support than a feel-good car sticker anyway.

by Leslie H. Gelb
(From the Daily Beast blog)
It was inauguration day for the nation’s most modern facility for the treatment of active-duty soldiers and veterans suffering from brain injuries and psychological disorders—5,000 of them with families on hand. At the podium in Bethesda, Maryland, stood Arnold Fisher, the chief fundraiser for this precious center that may need to care for hundreds of thousands of victims, searching in vain for one White House official, one Cabinet officer, one member of the Joint Chiefs, one senator. He found none. And he asked again and again, “Where are they?”

“You are injured,” Fisher said. “We are all here. Where are they?”

Where were they? President Obama was in meetings and having a hamburger lunch with Russian President Medvedev. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also at these meetings, though not at the hamburger shop in Virginia. Michelle Obama, who has made caring for military families one of her top priorities, couldn’t make it; she was said to have given her final “no” at the last minute. She was accompanying Mrs. Medvedev on a visit to the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in D.C., where they watched a dance performance. Vice President Joe Biden also met with Russians and with Israelis. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent his deputy William Lynn III. All four Joint Chiefs sent their deputies. General Eric Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs, couldn’t make it. Not one among the legions of pro- and antiwar hooting senators could find the time. Only two members of the House of Representatives found their way to the ceremony.

But there was Fisher at the podium. A corporal in the Korean War, Fisher is now a successful real-estate developer, builder, and philanthropist. He avoids confrontation and the limelight, but he could not suppress his dismay about the absences that inaugural day. “Here we are in the nation’s capital, the seat of our government, the very people who decide your fate, the people who send you out to protect our freedoms. And yet, where are they?” he asked the attendees. “And while we appreciate that much of our military leadership is present, our government should be behind this effort,” he continued. “I know these are difficult times. I read newspapers. I see the news. And still, where are they? They call you out. You are injured. We are all here. Where are they?” According to a Rand study in 2008, approximately 300,000 soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, and 360,000 soldiers report having sustained a traumatic brain injury. The same study found that of the soldiers who seek treatment, only slightly more than half receive minimally adequate care. Rand is not Chicken Little and does not cry “the sky is falling,” unless it is. It has been over two years since that study was released, and the Army has just recorded its highest suicide rate on record, 32 during the month of June.

According to a front-page story in The Washington Post on Sunday, senior military officers are finally coming around to the seriousness and pervasiveness of these psychological disorders. “Senior commanders have reached a turning point. After nine years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the Post story says, “they are beginning to recognize age-old legacies of the battlefield—once known as shellshock or battle fatigue—as combat wounds, not signs of weakness.” Tellingly, the Post story never mentions the new facility built to treat these problems. Is it possible the generals did not even know about it? Equally tellingly, the Post story relates that the generals who have seen the light about battlefield shock have not convinced their military’s medical brethren.

The victims of battle shock and their families in attendance that day, June 24, needed no convincing. And without doubt, they were surprised—no, stunned—by the truancies. The absences certainly stunned members of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, the group that raised the $65 million for the facility. This group also funded and built another notable and unique facility, the Center for the Intrepid, in San Antonio, Texas. It was dedicated in 2007 to amputees and burn victims. A related group, the Fisher House Foundation, has funded and constructed some 45 houses around the United States and abroad that enable families of military personnel receiving treatment to stay by the sides of their loved ones. (Last year, Obama donated $250,000 of his Nobel Prize money to the Fisher House Foundation. It was his largest donation from his Nobel largesse.) Top officials from the George W. Bush administration had attended that 2007 opening. So did Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton, who each donated to the center and were there to bless its opening.

There was also little media attention to the opening, and only Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, it seems, noted the event and Fisher’s plaintive “Where are they?” question. Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told me this story, and I sought an appointment with Fisher. He relented and saw me last week in his office, which was festooned with patriotic memorabilia, including the framed honorary sergeant-major stripes he had been given for his work on behalf of veterans. “This is duty, not charity,” said Fisher. I got him to talk about the “Where are they?” speech, but he really wanted to talk about “Where are they now?”

The center is now entirely the responsibility of both the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration, the former for the active-duty personnel and the latter for the vets. Fisher and the Intrepid group raised all the money privately from thousands of Americans and got the center constructed privately as well. Every dollar went to the facility; nothing for the group. The Intrepid people brooked no government interference in procurement or construction. They just got the job done. And then… they turned over the keys to the government.

The center is ready for operations. It lacks an opening date. The Pentagon has appointed a director who is slated to serve less than a year before retirement—and is therefore an odd choice to establish such a complicated operation. There has been minimal communication between Fisher’s organization and the Defense Department and Veterans Administration. And so throughout our conversation, Fisher asked aloud, once again, “Where are they now?”

If I were back at The New York Times, I would call the top officials of these government agencies and put this very question to them. Their answer would likely be—“Everything is on track.” Maybe it is even true, though their absence on June 24 does not augur well. At any rate, rather than conclude this story with official assurances to me over the telephone, I prefer to give those responsible—the Pentagon, the Veterans Administration, and indeed the White House itself—the opportunity they deserve to explain in public why they could not find a half hour on that June 24 day to attend the inaugural, and to answer Fisher’s more pressing question—“Where are they now?” in readying the trauma center to render our duty to those who rendered more than theirs.

P.S. Perhaps even the media might tear itself away from endless stories about oily pelicans in the Gulf and contestants in the November elections—and spare some time and space for the brain and trauma center in Bethesda.

Correction: There was one omission on Leslie Gelb’s piece on the opening of the new brain trauma facility for soldiers and vets he is most eager to fix. Arnold Fisher, the chief fundraiser for the facility, told Gelb about the “incredibly helpful” role talk show host Don Imus played in raising millions for the new facility. And before the opening ceremonies began on June 24, Imus did his show and related interviews from the facility. The piece was about what happened at the event and after; nonetheless, Gelb would like to acknowledge Mr. Imus’s critical contributions.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009), a book that shows how to think about and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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