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Archive for December, 2010

And you thought LeBron had game as a mere child . . .

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COUNTRY MUSIC POET & LEGEND MR. MERLE

And speaking of country music legends (see our tribute to King Bob Wills in our previous posting here at JFJ.com).

Here’s an interview in which His Greatness Merle Haggard speaks highly of President Obama (about time somebody did), speaks hosannas about Paul McCartney and shares his always plainspoken thoughts about a lot of stuff.

By Patrick Doyle
December 28, 2010
RollingStone.com

Merle Haggard is no stranger to the White House: He was a guest of both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who — when he was governor of California — had granted the singer a full pardon for the felonies and misdemeanors that led to three years at San Quentin Prison.

Earlier this month, the 73-year-old singer returned to Washington, this time alongside Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, composer Jerry Herman and dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jones to receive the Kennedy Center Honors, a lifetime achievement for the performing arts.

In this interview, Haggard reflects on the three-day whirlwind gala, his life after lung cancer, and future plans to record and tour in a new supergroup with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.

What was the highlight for the whole thing for you?
I probably enjoyed meeting the presidents, especially Bill [Clinton].

Is he a big fan of yours?
Well he said he was, and he never lied to me [laughs]. It was also nice to meet Obama and find him very different from the media makeout. It’s really almost criminal what they do with our President. There seems to be no shame or anything. They call him all kinds of names all day long, saying he’s doing certain things that he’s not. It’s just a big old political game that I don’t want to be part of. There are people spending their lives putting him down. I’m sure some of it’s true and some of it’s not. I was very surprised to find the man very humble and he had a nice handshake. His wife was very cordial to the guests and especially me. They made a special effort to make me feel welcome. It was not at all the way the media described him to be.

What’s the biggest lie out there about Obama?
He’s not conceited. He’s very humble about being the President of the United States, especially in comparison to some presidents we’ve had who come across like they don’t need anybody’s help. I think he knows he’s in over his head. Anybody with any sense who takes that job and thinks they can handle it must be an idiot.

Did you talk to the President much?
I told him, “You and I have something in common: our wives are both taller than we are.” And he said “No! She’s got on 3-inch heels! And she is not that tall!” He was like me. He grabbed that real quick.

Did you spend much time mingling with the other honorees?
We had quite a bit of time. There were three events that I attended. Paul was there the whole time. But “Ope” – we got to call Oprah “Ope” – was completely beside herself. I don’t think she’d ever been a recipient of much in her life. She reached over to me, leaned over and said, ‘You know, we’ve come the farthest.’

Some people wrote about how they didn’t think Oprah should be in there because she didn’t write music or isn’t an artist.
Some people I think are too critical and don’t have not enough intelligence to make that kind of a comment. Who is to say? There’s a hundred people, including all of the ex-presidents’ wives, that have a say on who is nominated. It’s not about who wrote the best song or who the best songwriter was, but who was the best in their field. And television is certainly a modern method of communication that you can’t overlook and she’s probably the mother figure of that right now. I don’t know how anybody can say she wasn’t deserving of it.

What was it like hanging out with Paul McCartney?
He’s Paul McCartney, man. You can’t forget that he wrote those songs. That kept going through my mind: I’m an aspiring songwriter and sat beside the guy that wrote “Yesterday.” I recorded that. Some guys are famous for some songs you don’t remember, but that’s not the case there. When they started “Hey Jude,” with this wonderful orchestra, the building came apart. Everybody in the audience was singing it. It was a chiller.

Quite a few people showed up to honor you. Kris Kristofferson sang “Silver Wings” Willie and Sheryl Crow sang “Today I Started Loving You Again,” Vince Gill and Brad Paisley sang “Workin’ Man’s Blues.” Jamey Johnson did “Ramblin’ Fever.” What was it like to sit there and just watch these people play your songs that you wrote over the years?
Well, it’s the ultimate. You’re hittin’ around the right spot, it’s great, and probably couldn’t be topped. And I enjoyed watching Vince Gill give Brad Paisley a lesson ­– he took a course on “Workin’ Man Blues.” But Brad is so hot and so good.

Did you have a good chance to catch up with old friends Willie and Kris?
We got to eat a little something together. We didn’t know what the hell this food was, but we thought it was funny.

Last summer you told us you and Willie are planning to record an album of new material together.

I’m glad you brought that up. We talked about doing that together, but with the presence of Kris, we talked about the three of us doing it. I’m sure if we’re healthy and live to do it, we’ll do it. We thought about the title: the Musketeers. You know, because there’s the three of us. We’ll come up with some little way of describing ourselves I guess and put it together into a show.

You had part of your lung removed in 2008 due to cancer and had to cancel a few shows back in September for health reasons. How are you feeling now?
Well, it took a long time to get over that surgery. It took the best part of two years and I’m just now feeling like I might be able to reach over and pick up a garbage can with the right arm. They removed an upper lobe of my right lung, and they had to go in underneath my arm. It’s quite painful and irritating to have that. You know how tender that is underneath your arm. To have that heal up, it takes a couple of good years. I think I’m all right now. I went down and had a checkup just prior to going back for this little gig and I was clear. I didn’t have anything, and that’s an awful good sign.

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Here’s a little Bob Wills tribute for you, simply because he’ll always be the King of Western Swing, not to mention the King of the Great Nation of Texas.

Because deep within my heart lies a melody, a song, a song of San Antone . . .

Mick and the boys should have stuck to rock . . .

Here’s what Waylon tried to teach the Stones:

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In which an Airzona High School student practices actual journalism by uncovering actual facts and using them quite effectively to get at some actual truth.

That’s what journalism is supposed to be about–uncovering truth and shining a bright light on public figures who speak out of both sides of their mouths–and that can be done without all the shrill shouting and screaming that comes with so much, maybe even most, of today’s TV journalism.

This kid may have a future with “60 Minutes”-that great American institution that still practices solid, old-fashioned journalism.

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The calming influence of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), in timelapse motion.

Your eyes are getting heavy . . . .

http://player.vimeo.com/video/16917950

Aurora Borealis timelapse HD – Tromsø 2010 from Tor Even Mathisen on Vimeo.

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My soul is in anguish.
How long, O Lord, how long?”

— Psalm 6: 3

Pfc. Starr of the 101rst


IN THE PHOTO: This picture of San Antonio soldier Nikolai Starr of the famous 101rst Airborne Div. looking through his vehicle’s window with a bullet hole in Chowkay district near the Pakistani border in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan. The 101st Airborne Division, a force in America’s major conflicts since World War II, is seeing its worst casualties in a decade as the U.S. surge in Afghanistan turns into the deadliest year in that war for the NATO coalition.
(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

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When I was a kid, when someone would leave the door to a house open and allow a cold blast of wintry weather into the house, someone would typically say:

“Shut the door! Were you born in a barn?”

Not many people were born in a barn, excepting you-know-who, he who came to save humankind with healing love and grace. As my cyber-friend Emily Gibson put it in her “Barnstorming” blog:

Barns reek of manure and urine. They are dusty, have cobwebs, and are inhabited with unwelcome critters along with the ones that are meant to be housed there. People who have been traveling by foot or on a donkey for several days are not going to be wearing beautiful robes, their hair beautifully brushed and skin pure and white. Shepherds who spend weeks tending flocks of sheep in the hills don’t bathe regularly, nor get their clothes mended or cleaned. They would have walked in smelling like the animals they cared for.

What a setting to have a baby.

What a place for God to take His first human breath.

So Jesus was born in the midst of a very earthly mess. Yet, in the stable, they found safety, they found shelter, they found privacy, and there was warmth from the bodies of the animals. It became sanctuary for two people who had nowhere else to go and were grateful for even the most primitive accomodations.

For sure, we can know and feel the presence of God in a house of worship with beautiful stained-glass windows and near-perfect choirs singing hosannas, but God is just as fully present and available to us in the messy places of the world: in emergency rooms and war zones, in slums and in the aftermaths of natural disasters.

The incarnate one, who was born in the most unlikely of settings, abides eternally in the most unlikely places, blowing like the wind where it will, across all borders and boundaries.

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To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.

— War hawk Winston Churchill

(IN THE DEBORAH AMOS PHOTO: Retired Army Sgt. Alexander Reyes (right), from Miami, responds to applause at Camp Liberty in Baghdad after sharing the story of how he was wounded by an IED in 2007. He is one of seven wounded veterans who recently returned to Iraq as part of Operation Proper Exit, a program aimed at helping soldiers heal from traumatic injuries.)

Below is a transcript of a report from Iraq by National Public Radio reporter Deborah Amos.

Whether you were for or against the invasion of Iraq, please just remember the next time someone starts pounding the drums for another war that scores of young men and women and their families will be living with it for the rest of their lives. Not to mention the scores of innocent men, women and children who get killed, maimed or displaced wherever bombs are dropped.

Merry Christmas to all, and a big Merry Christmas and blessing to the military families with empty seats at home this year.

Retired Marine Cpl. Michael Campbell’s voice wavers, each word is stuttered out with difficulty, but his intentions are clear.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat, if I could,” he tells soldiers at Camp Liberty, the massive U.S. military base south of Baghdad.

It is the first time the 28-year-old from Pineville, La., has been back to Iraq since he sustained traumatic injuries that left him mute for two years. He and six other wounded vets are revisiting the battlefield in an unprecedented experimental program called Operation Proper Exit.

When soldiers sustain traumatic injuries, the psychological damage may be the hardest to repair. This program is designed to heal the deepest wounds by providing veterans with a week in Iraq, which includes a visit to the place where they sustained the injuries that dramatically changed their lives

Soldiers Sharing Their Stories
The welcome begins in the halls of an Iraqi palace — one of Saddam’s headquarters, now Camp Liberty. The guests arrive in VIP style, business class for the long flight over, then black SUVs deliver them to the palace curbside. It is a short walk to the thundering applause of hundreds of men and women in uniform who have come to honor them.

“It’s weird,” says Campbell, as he forces the words out one by one. “No gun with me. I kind of feel naked without a rifle.”

The wounded vets walk on stage under their own power, the prosthetic limbs unseen under baggy uniforms and desert boots. Even in their short time together, these men help to steady those who are still learning to walk again.

Retired Marine Cpl. Michael Campbell’s voice wavers, each word is stuttered out with difficulty, but his intentions are clear.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat, if I could,” he tells soldiers at Camp Liberty, the massive U.S. military base south of Baghdad.

It is the first time the 28-year-old from Pineville, La., has been back to Iraq since he sustained traumatic injuries that left him mute for two years. He and six other wounded vets are revisiting the battlefield in an unprecedented experimental program called Operation Proper Exit.

When soldiers sustain traumatic injuries, the psychological damage may be the hardest to repair. This program is designed to heal the deepest wounds by providing veterans with a week in Iraq, which includes a visit to the place where they sustained the injuries that dramatically changed their lives

Retired Army Spc. Derek Bradshaw has a deep scar across his skull from ear to ear. He explains that the scar comes from operations after his injuries in Iraq, when doctors fitted plates to hold his face together.

“It was a vehicle accident,” he explains, a military vehicle that overturned after an attack. “Traumatic brain injury, broke my left arm pretty bad, a few facial fractures, unconscious,” says Bradshaw, describing his condition in 2004 when he left Iraq. He is in the process of trying to re-enlist.

“The acceptance has been phenomenal,” he says of wounded vets who still want to serve.

Joseph James, a 28-year-old retired Army sergeant first class, was anxious at first to be in a place he left in agony after he was injured by an IED on April 8, 2008. This week, he will return to the place where he was hit — the hardest duty, but the one that could bring the most relief.

“I can go to the site where I almost died, and I can say, you know what, this is the start of a new life,” says Joseph. “I can close that old chapter out and not hold the baggage of the past. I can take my retirement with a lighter heart.”

They tell their stories, one by one, to a crowded room of active duty soldiers. Afterward, the troops line up for handshakes and emotional backslaps.

Helping The Healing

The idea for the program came from wounded veterans themselves. Rick Kell, who volunteers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and runs a foundation called Troops First, helped make it happen. He won approval from the military command and the Army’s surgeon general.

“I’ve seen 49 men change in front of my eyes, the week that they were here,” says Kell. “I’ve received letters from wives thanking me for bringing their husbands back from Iraq after they had already been home for two years.”

Kell takes part in every trip and helps pick the participants. He chooses those who have already made progress in coming to terms with the change in their lives, both physical and psychological.

“A warrior who is thriving, who can move past their injury with school, family, career — that is primary,” he says.

There are no medical studies on the healing properties of revisiting battlegrounds, but veterans have been organizing trips for generations, from World War I to Vietnam. Iraq is different because it is still a conflict zone, and Kell can’t say for certain if the program can continue after U.S. troops withdraw next year.

Getting A Second Chance
Alexander Reyes, 25, a retired Army sergeant from Miami, recalls his war story.

“The IED was buried right underneath my feet where I was walking. When they detonated, I thought I was dead. But thank God, I survived, and I have a second chance in life,” Reyes says.

His “second chance” is underlined by a reunion with his younger brother, now stationed in Iraq.

“I can finally move on,” Reyes says. “The first step is to accept your new way of life.”

For him, the bigger surprise is the dramatic changes in a country at war when he left.

“We could see that it’s not in vain, because back in 2006 and 2007, you have to live with the high security level, the uneasiness. Now, I could finally relax,” Reyes says.

On their first day back in the country, they are beginning to relax. After the fanfare in the palace hall, these seven men sit down with Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general for U.S. operations in Iraq, III Corps commander. He has seen his share of veterans who will need care for the rest of their lives.

“A warrior who is thriving, who can move past their injury with school, family, career — that is primary,” he says.

There are no medical studies on the healing properties of revisiting battlegrounds, but veterans have been organizing trips for generations, from World War I to Vietnam. Iraq is different because it is still a conflict zone, and Kell can’t say for certain if the program can continue after U.S. troops withdraw next year.

“It is a lifetime responsibility that we have taken on,” Cone says. “They trust us, and we don’t want to let them down.”

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(ART: El Greco’s “The Holy Family,” c.1590. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC)

A character in a short story by Bobbie Ann Mason says to another character, “You got so many wants, you don’t know what you want.”

That’s a rather profound commentary on the way we live, wanting ever more of things we may or may not really want, much less need, at all. We’re all just quieter versions of the restless kid who sits in front of the TV during Christmas. Every time a toy comes on in another seductive commercial, the kid shouts out, “I want that for Christmas, mom!”

In this culture, where we’re bombarded with what-we-wants in commercials and billboards all day long, our hearts are as restless as those of our children before Christmas, even though we don’t scream out what we want when a commercial comes on.

Then again, I’m sure some people probably do, come to think of it.

At the proverbial end of the day, though, all that anybody wants is to be loved. To be understood. To be listened to. I find that people are exactly alike anywhere I travel to. People just want to be loved, cared for and cared about.

The less love and acceptance and understanding we feel coming our way–the less we feel listened to and deeply and genuinely cared about, the more stuff we want. The more we try to fill all those empty pockets within us with food or alcohol or anything and everything money can buy, and then some.

Small wonder that Christmas is a time of such over-consumption. It’s supposed to be all about love, and yet it brings out conflict, especially in families whose members love each other, or are supposed to love each other. In compensating for the insufficient love we feel we have at Christmas, we over-consume. We want so much, but really just want to feel loved, and unconditionally so.

People will disappoint us–even, and maybe especially, those closest to us. It’s only in surrendering ourselves and all our wants and needs to God that we find the peace within us to love ourselves, in a healthy self-love, of course, so that we can love others.

Jesus was, and remains, loved and adored because he was Love in the fullest measure. He was Love in the flesh, God incarnate. He showed us what being made in the image of God means because he was the image of God personified.

Imagine what being born in the image of God means for you and for me.

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all you need will be added to you. (Matt. 6)

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Never mind that we don’t really know what time of year Jesus was born. Christmas is a December event–when snow falls on snow–and that’s that.

“A Christmas Carol”
by Christina Rossetti
In The bleak mid-winter
Frosty winds made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

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