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Archive for August, 2012

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“The Christians have always been there serving.” — David Tracy

In doing some research I came across a quote that jumped out at me the other day from David Tracy, an influential theologian at the University of Chicago School of Divinity.

In an interview with that enduring and wonderful magazine Christian Century, Tracy said:

“In terms of the work of the Spirit among genuine Christian groups, I would point to the fact that when you go into the really terrible neighborhoods, you’ll find Christians serving there. And they’ve always been there. The hope for our culture as a whole—and not only the Christian church—is a recovery of that kind of spirituality.”

Indeed, our ultimate hope doesn’t really lie in the leaders and wannabe leaders in Washington D.C. or our statehouses. They’re mostly egomaniacs who deal in lies, distortions, misrepresentations and character assassination anyway.

Our real hope lies in the “genuine Christian groups” that quietly act as the hands and feet of Christ in, for lack of a better word, the “terrible” neighborhoods that most people avoid like the plague.*

These genuine Christian groups get precious little media coverage or glory for the Christian love they put into action and practice, but being the genuine (i.e., humble) Christians that they are, they aren’t in it for reasons of the ego anyway. They go in, for lack of a better word, to “terrible” neighborhoods and connect with people outside of their own comfortable homes because they genuinely love God and love others.

These are Christians who know that God doesn’t inflict pain and suffering on the very people that God loves unconditionally. Anyone who believes that God inflicts pain and suffering on anybody, anywhere, has God confused with some monster. These are Christians who know that God calls Christians to do God’s work in those very neighborhoods, or any place where despair is breeding.

You can bet that a lot of genuine Christians are already working alongside the poorest of the poor in Haiti to pick up and recover from the latest disaster to strike that country.

You can bet that multitudes of teams of mission-minded, loving Christians are already in areas ravaged by the same hurricane on the Gulf Coast and beyond in our own country.

You know the people I’m talking about, I’m sure–the compassionate Christian people that the militant atheist Bill Maher dismisses as “mentally ill.”**

And it’s not just “genuine” Christians, but people of other faith traditions, or morally high-minded humanitarians, whose faiths or value systems have the Golden Rule and serious peace and compassion at the cores of their theologies and world views.

God is blessing them as much as the people on the receiving end of their compassion.
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*That said, I always give President Obama the credit due him for getting his hands dirty in working with the poor in the Chicago streets as a community organizer. I see that life experience of his as a big plus, not the negative that the Sean Hannitys and ultra-conservative politicians have seized upon with their typical distortions and misrepresentations. I’ve known and worked with community organizers and never met one that I didn’t admire for their integrity and their unselfish and unheralded work in “terrible” neighborhoods–and their Christian faith.

**Why so many Christians, and even clergy, are fans of Bill Maher, to the point of posting his quips on Facebook, is a mystery to me. His whole mission in life, like that of Paul Ryan’s hero Ayn Rand, is to destroy and eliminate Christianity and every other faith tradition.

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The fine and mighty fine biographer and reporter Judith Thurman has a fascinating story in the ever-fine and great New Yorker magazine about the friendship and ultimate fallout between two famously strong-willed Libertarian women: Ayn Rand and the writer-daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder of “Little House on the Prairie” fame.

Rand’s awful, heinous, propagandist fiction, her militant atheism and her pill-fueled, anything-goes lifestyle is well known, and better known now that Vice President nominee and Big-Time Flip-Flopper Paul Ryan (a perfect match he and the other Flip Flopper)is backing off his heavily documented love and admiration of Rand.

Rand, who was totally pro-abortion, is not the sort of writer that a wholesome family-values Republican candidate who wears his Catholicism on his sleeve wants to be associated with in any form, fashion or manner. Thurman cleverly and somewhat incisively refers to Ayn Rand in the New Yorker piece as Paul Ryan’s “Jeremiah Wright.”

Since coming under heavy attack from his own Catholic U.S. Bishops and all varieties of Catholic leaders for his not-so-compassionate-Catholic budget proposals, Ryan now claims his favorite author is the great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas.

And if you believe Paul Ryan has slugged through the theological thought of Aquinas, you probably believe Ryan when he tells you he’s not out to destroy Medicare with his now famous and heavily scrutinized Medicare proposal.

Anyway, Thurman’s story on the unlikely relationship between the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Ayn Rand is quite a well-done and a fascinating read.

And Thurman, btw, is probably best known for her fine biography of “Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller,” which won a National Book Award in 1983and ended up as that enduringly good movie “Out of Africa’ with Meryl Streep and Redford.

And furthermore, btw, you can click here for a take on Ayn Rand that yours truly posted more than a year ago here at the blog that is saving the world.

Yes, your favorite and always cutting-edge blogger was bashing Ayn Rand before it was fashionable to bash Ayn Rand!

And with no further of that old ado . . . . here’s Thurman’s New Yorker piece:

Shortly after John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, four years ago, a journalist asked her sister Heather Bruce what books Sarah had read as a child. Only one came to mind: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie,” the third in a cycle of eight novels on pioneer life, which have sold some sixty million copies. (In 1974, when Palin was ten, the “Little House” saga was adapted as a television series that ran for nine seasons. It was Ronald Reagan’s favorite program.) In September, the Library of America will publish Wilder’s collected fiction in a two-volume boxed set, edited and annotated by Caroline Fraser, with a glossy picture of amber fields of grain on the cover. It’s a great gift for values voters—Paul Ryan should take note.
The youthful reading habits of our new Republican Vice-Presidential candidate have also been fodder for the news cycle. Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” was so influential to Ryan’s career, and to his view of ethics and society, he said some years ago, that he gave it to his staffers as a Christmas present. In the last few days, however, Ryan has had to shrug Rand off—she’s his Jeremiah Wright. A Soviet-born Jewish intellectual (née Rosenbaum), who emigrated to America in the nineteen-twenties and worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter before turning to fiction, Rand was a pro-choice, antiwar atheist and Benzedrine user with a scandalous domestic life, vehemently opposed to drug laws, sodomy laws, and any other state interference in the lifestyle choices of citizens. (Ryan now says that his favorite writer is Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century Catholic saint.)
At first glance, Laura Ingalls Wilder, the daughter of pioneers whose hardscrabble life as a farmer redefines frugality, and Ayn Rand, the flamboyant cosmopolite and champion of privilege who lived in a ménage à quatre in New York City, hobnobbing with the élite, do not have much in common beyond, perhaps, the fervor that their work inspires. There is a connection, however.
Wilder’s books were written in collaboration with her only child, Rose Wilder Lane, a best-selling author in her own right. The extent of that collaboration is disputed—some critics have called Rose Laura’s “ghostwriter.” The evidence suggests that, at the least, Lane edited and shaped the manuscripts considerably, and thought of her mother as an amateur. (I wrote about Laura, Rose, and the Little House books for the magazine in 2009.)
Lane was a compelling, and in many senses, a tragic figure. She was a woman of tremendous enterprise and passion who suffered from suicidal depressions that she diagnosed as a “mental illness.” Born on the frontier, in 1886, and raised in dire poverty, she rode a mule to the village school, where she was mocked for her rags. After high school, she became a telegraph operator, and eventually moved to San Francisco, where she married a feckless adventurer who fathered her only child. The baby died in infancy; Lane’s thwarted maternal instincts would thereafter be channelled into intense relationships with a string of protégés.
After her divorce, Lane made a career in journalism and as a popular biographer—of Henry Ford, Herbert Hoover, and Charlie Chaplin, among others. But Chaplin was so appalled by the inaccuracies of his portrait that he sued her. Factuality was never Lane’s forte. She preferred a “corking” story.
Lane also wrote novels, and enjoyed some commercial success, though not the kind of literary acclaim that she yearned for. Her prose was purple and simplistic, if not trashy. But an eclectic and discriminating circle of friends (Dorothy Thompson, Floyd Dell, who was the co-editor of The Masses, and Hoover) prized her for the wit of her letters and conversation. She transformed herself from a barefoot farm girl into a woman of the world who lived the life of a bohemian in Greenwich Village, and of an expatriate in Weimar Berlin and Jazz Age Paris, and filed dispatches from exotic places like Albania, where she befriended the leader of its ephemeral revolution, the future King Zog.
In the late nineteen-twenties, however, crippled by depression, Lane returned to her parents’ farm in Missouri. She was tortured by bad teeth—the product of childhood malnutrition; she lost her savings in the Depression; the state of the world increasingly embittered her. And the left-wing idealism of her youth took a hard turn to the right. When Roosevelt was elected, she noted in her diary, “America has a dictator.” She prayed for his assassination, and considered doing the job herself.
In 1936, the Saturday Evening Post published an essay that Lane called her “Credo,” and which announced a new phase of her career: as a right-wing polemicist. “I am now a fundamentalist American,” she declared. Her vision was of a frontier democracy—a Republic of the Fittest—with no handouts or entitlements, and minimal taxation. She may have been the first writer to use the term “libertarian” as the label for a nascent revolt against state authority. (Lane’s heir and adopted son, Roger MacBride, was the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President in 1976.)
Lane, who died in 1968 (the Wilders were a long-lived family) spent her later years in a Connecticut farmhouse on several acres, protesting Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” (the F.B.I. took note) and raising her own food. A determined individualist, in her view, should be resourceful enough to live off the grid. Her goal was to reduce her income to the point at which she wouldn’t have to file federal taxes. Old friends were dismayed by her increasingly erratic militance. One of them described her as “floating between sanity and a bedlam of hates.”
Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand, and Isabel Paterson, a journalist, critic, and novelist who wrote the political treatise “The God of the Machine,” have been called “the founding mothers” of Libertarianism. (In a liberal chat room, a wag redubbed them “The Three Witches.” Paterson, like Lane, it’s worth mentioning, came from an impoverished farming background; Rand’s family lost all they had in the Russian Revolution of 1917.) Theirs, however, was a triumvirate of rivals (they would quarrel—about Rand’s atheism, among other things—and part ways), and compared to her co-parents of the movement that Paul Ryan now leads, Lane was the softie. As Rand’s biographer Jennifer Burns recounts, Paterson was infuriated by Lane’s emotionality. Their cause could only be served by cold reason, she believed; anything less surgical was treasonous. Rand, like all propagandists, was adept at manipulation, which is to say, mythification, but she found Lane’s politics too “holistic.”
Lane and Rand exchanged collegial letters for a while in the late nineteen-forties and early nineteen-fifties. But when Lane invoked the Biblical imperative to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and protested that “without some form of mutual coöperation, it is literally impossible for one person on this planet to survive,” Rand “tore apart [her] logic” and denounced it as collectivist heresy. That sort of impulse, she concluded (to help your neighbor save his burning house, for example) led inexorably “to the New Deal.”
Rand’s ruthless supremacism, however—her stark division of humankind into “makers and takers”—leads inexorably to a society like the one that staged “The Hunger Games.” And it’s to Lane’s credit that, for all her zealotry, she couldn’t quite transcend the instinct to give succor. Should Paul Ryan decide to revisit the “Little House” books, he will certainly hear the congenial echo of Lane’s polemics in them, though tempered by something more humane. They exalt rugged self-reliance, but as Lane suggested rather plaintively in her argument with Rand, the pioneers would have perished (in greater numbers than they did) had they embraced the philosophy of every man for himself.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/08/rose-wilder-lane-ayn-rand-and-americas-libertarian-literature.html#ixzz24g6FiHfL

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That Frenchie philosopher of that old existential dread Jean-Paul Sartre said:

“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.”

And it occurs to me that when rich and powerful men wage “cultural wars,” it’s mostly women and children who suffer and, in some cases, actually die.

More happy random thoughts, opinions and summa this and summa that below.

Read on if you dare here at the world’s most dangerous blog . . . .

“FORGIVE THEM, LORD, FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.”


What follows are just some rambling thoughts and music and stuff for what I hope will be your Happy Friday, dear reader.

I’ve always said I could never be a Buddhist, but an enormous amount of Buddhist teaching and tradition certainly parallels with the teachings of Christ. A lot of Buddhist teachers and leaders, such as Her Greatness Pema Chödrön, help me to keep my Christian theology and thinking as sharp as a lot of Christian teachers and leaders do.

I subscribe to the great and always well-written online edition of the Buddhist magazine “Tricycle,” and receive daily email reflections from it. Here’s part of a reflection that came today from Pema:

“To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior. We catch ourselves one zillion times as once again, whether we like it or not, we harden into resentment, bitterness, righteous indignation— harden in any way, even into a sense of relief, a sense of inspiration.

Every day we could think about the aggression in the world, in New York, Los Angeles, Halifax, Taiwan, Beirut, Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq, everywhere. All over the world, everybody always strikes out at the enemy, and the pain escalates forever. Every day we could reflect on this and ask ourselves, “Am I going to add to the aggression in the world?” Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves, “Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?

From The Buddha Is Still Teaching,
selected and edited by Jack Kornfield, © 2010
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In doing research for a book of essays and reflections that I’m writing on certain scripture readings and theological themes, I come across a lot of great stuff in going back to writers, theologians and preachers that I like.

In one of the reflections I’m writing about the importance of being genuine and authentic–in being our truest and most honest-to-God selves– I went to a sermon preached by the Canadian Methodist preacher Victor Shepherd. I’ve quoted Rev. Shepherd here at the blog before because I think he’s a really terrific, traditional Methodist/Wesleyan preacher.

Click here for his web page.

Here’s the excerpt from his sermon on our Lord’s encounter with crazy Legion (see Mark 5 in your Holy Bible):

“Think of the daily pressure to be something to one person and something else to another person and something else again to a third person.  Think of how it seems we have to ease our way through tight spots in life by bending the truth here and telling just a little lie there and misrepresenting ourselves somewhere else, all in the interests of getting us or those dear to us past the landmines and quicksands that will otherwise take us down.  The truth is, of course, we are daily putting on one false face after another, always telling ourselves that underneath our exchangeable false faces there does remain our real face, our true face, our genuine identity.  If no one else is aware of who we are at this point, at least we know who we are.

  ” But it’s never this simple.  As we shuffle the false faces, falsity overtakes us little by little.  We tell ourselves we haven’t reduced ourselves to phoniness; we tell ourselves that when this sticky situation is past we can revert to our real face, our true self, our proper identity.  But of course life is so very fraught with sticky situations — every day brings a host of them, doesn’t it? — that we simply become more and more adept at interchanging false faces until we no longer are aware that any one of them is false; no longer aware that we have become false; no longer aware that we are phoniness incarnate.”

We are “phoniness incarnate.” Wow. That’s strong stuff.
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And then there’s all our American politicians, who deal in the hackneyed art of nothing but phoniness now.

And especially all the crazy Legion-like white men who can’t stand to have to relinquish the power and control they’ve had over women and children since the days of Moses.

There was a time–in my own lifetime–when aging white men could be admired and respected for their class, their dignity, their selfless public services in politics, religion and all kinds of fields.

Men like Eisenhower, Albert Schweitzer, who always showed class and dignity and could articulate their wisdom and truth in ways we could admire.

I grew up admiring men like Gen. George Marshall, a fierce American warrior who was just as fierce in his passion for finding a way once and for all to world peace, which he believed was largely attainable this side of heaven.

He also was the only military leader ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, by the way.

Where are these wise men now when we need them more than ever?

How did we get here, where people like Mr. Akin, the biggest embarrassment to come out of the great state of Missouri since Rush Limbaugh (Mark Twain must be rolling in his grave), are not even wolves in sheep’s clothing but simply wolves who can’t even see the harm they do to women with their reckless beliefs and words? (And I know that even Rush has denounced Akin, but that’s classic pot calling the kettle black.)

Where are our peacemakers who know the horrors and horrible ripple effects of all kinds of wars–military and “culture” wars alike?

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

― Military General & U.S. PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower

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We who trust and believe in God and the Lord Jesus Christ keep the faith, and pray.

And speaking of old black me we love . . .

It’s still a wonderful world after all these years:

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THE CORPORATIONS AND CEO’s AND THEIR LOBBYISTS NOT ONLY WRITE OUR AMERICAN LAWS NOW, THEY TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES, IN EXCESS, WHILE SHIPPING JOBS OVERSEAS (AND SETTNG UP HEADQUARTERS OVERSEAS TO AVOID TAXES IN EVER GROWING CASES), AND HAVE THE NERVE TO TELL US THEY STIMULATE THE ECONOMY?

IN THIS FILE PHOTO FROM AP: Boeing Company Chairman, President, and CEO W. James McNerney, Jr. attends the first-ever State Department Global Business Conference, at the State Department in Washington last February. Twenty-six big U.S. companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid the federal government in tax, according to a study released Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 by the Institute for Policy Studies. The study said the companies, including AT&T, Boeing and Citigroup, paid their CEOs an average of $20.4 million last year while paying little or no federal tax on ample profits, according to regulatory filings. The study said McNerney Jr. of Boeing got $18.4 million in pay last year while his company received a tax refund of $605 million. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

AP reported last week on a study showing the still head-spinning amounts of money that huge corporations pay their CEOs and others at the top of their corporate heaps while they still find unique ways not to pay taxes.

(And then there’s the Big Banks, never content to do what banks used to do and were meant to do–to make personal and commercial loans rather than losing kazillions and hurting scores of people with their “creative” money-making schemes.)

Twenty-six big U.S. companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid the federal government in tax, according to the study released Thursday by a liberal-leaning think tank. The study, by the Institute for Policy Studies, said the companies, including AT&T, Boeing and Citigroup, paid their CEOs an average of $20.4 million last year while paying little or no federal tax on ample profits, according to regulatory filings.”

(Click here for details on the study in which the corporate vultures claim they are “stimulating the economy” with their excessive salaries, immoral and unethical business practices and avoiding taxes at every turn while taking government money or what has been rightfully called “Corporate Welfare.” Their claim of “stimulating the economy” would be funny if it weren’t such a sick joke considering the state of the economy and their own complicity in wrecking it for those of us who don’t have their power to enrich ourselves.)

We’re all at the mercy of these masters of the universe who rake in ungodly amounts of money–more than the average American can conceive of–while shipping jobs overseas, setting up headquarters or businesses or setting up other tax loopholes overseas, feeding at the federal trough with government contracts–with which they inevitably get paid for their “cost overruns” with few questions asked by the Congressmen and Senators they own and whose power they have supplanted with their armies of lobbyists. And then there’s the federal grants and subsidies they take out the wazoo–paid out of our tax dollars.

And Fox News and the Romneys and Ryans of the world (Ryan–he who like so many conservatives attacks Obama’s big spending while quietly and secretly taking Obama’s stimulus money to feather his political nest, and THEN having the audacity to deny it until he can’t deny it anymore) continue to paint our President as a Socialist or even Marxist dictator.

Really?

But then, in the interest of the fair and balanced reporting that Fox News proclaims every five minutes–as if it’s their place to grade themselves with the A pluses they given themselves on their fairness and balance– I have to say that the Obamas and Pelosis (she who is clearly guilty of insider trading as much as she vehemently still wants to rap 60 Minutes for exposing her corruption) and everybody else in D.C. or connected to D.C. in any governing or electioneering capacity, Democrat or Republican, is just as morally corrupted, if not legally corrupted, by corporations and their lobby armies whose only interest is their self-interest, starting with their arrogant and coddled CEOs.

And then there’s all the other corruptive forces at work in government and politics–a number of the unions and so many other special interest groups, that I have to wonder . . . .

Why vote?

Or as one of my faith heroes Dorothy Day used to say–she whose only politics was advancing the Kingdom of God with her deep and extremely deep discipleship– “I don’t vote. . . .

“Why encourage them.”

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NOTE TO SUBSCRIBERS: Sorry for that first “draft” edition of this I accidentally posted that was automatically emailed to you while I was trying to watch the Houston Texans game and blog at the same time. And thanks, BTW, for subscribing to the blog that is saving the world.

SO SOMETIMES ON SUNDAY AFTERNOONS AROUND 3 I TAKE THE FERRY OVER TO THE ONE-MILE (STRAIGHT UP!) ROAD TO THE XUNANTUNICH MAYAN RUINS, THE POPULAR TOURIST ATTRACTION HERE IN FAR WESTERN BELIZE WHERE I’VE TAKEN UP RESIDENCE–ACROSS THE HIGHWAY FROM THE FERRY.

I go up mid afternoon because the ferry stops crossing at 4:30 and the tourists are starting to go down when I go up. The park rangers are my neighbors and the last to leave and they don’t leave without me. Being a Belizean resident has its privileges.

It’s a little creepy, but very cool nonetheless, strolling around such sacred old haunted grounds with nobody around.

The white trees are called “All Spice Trees” because their leaves and seeds make for some good cooking material. Also, if you heat up the snapped leaves in very hot water and gargle with it when the water is warm enough you have a sure-enough cure for a sore throat–this according to my village neighbor the park ranger Mike. “You don’t want to gargle if the water isn’t very warm or hot,” though he says, grabbing his throat and feigning near death. (Note to myself: Remember, do not gargle for a sore throat with All Spice remedies in cold water.)

These western Belize mountains and forests have scores of these old Mayan trails. This one leads all the way down to the Caribbean Sea at Belize City, although you can’t go far down it before you come across the private property that is a huge cattle ranch. Speaking of which–the beef steaks in Belize are incredibly tasty and tender. Hate to say it, but I’ll take them over a Texas steak from home any day. I’d pretty much stopped eating red meat several years ago but a Belizean steak now and again is a temptation to which I happily give in.

Another view of Xunantunich, the Stone Lady–she who haunts these hills and thickets way up here where the panoramic views are spectacular. Too bad my point and shoot camera can’t do those justice. BTW, Xunantunich is a mouthful but the locals tell the tourists, “Just call it The Tuna Sandwich–good enough.”

See you down the next Central American road.

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She’s not really my musical cup of tea, even though her voice has some power and passion in it, but Belizean homegirl Melonie Gillett is gaining the international star status that makes the proud people of Belize proud of her.

SMALL TOWN BELIZEAN GIRL MAKES BIG–AND BELIZEANS LOVE HER–AND THE FEELING IS MUTUAL

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And this small town girl–she’s from Burrell Boom Village–is certainly one of this beautiful country’s biggest boosters. This video is like a Belizean postcard put to film.

Click here for more on her story.

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WESTERN BELIZE HAS MANY FINE ATTRACTIONS, INCLUDING THE PEOPLE YOU SEE ON THE SIDEWALKS OF THE TWIN TOWNS OF SAN IGNACIO/SANTA ELENA. THIS IS MY DOCTOR. WHO IS SORT OF A SIDEWALK ATTRACTION HIS OWN SELF.

YES, the Bush Doctor of Bullet Tree Village just outside San Ignacio, Belize, sometimes works the sidewalks selling his CD of plenty good Jamaican music, mon. He claims he once played with Bob Marley and the boys, but every dred-lock Jamaican I’ve met in San Ignacio claims to have made music with Bob Marley.

And for all I know the Bush Doctor really did. He’s actually a pretty fine musician, but nowadays he grows herbs over in Bullet Tree. The other day he handed me this little leaf he folded over and told me to rub it and — lo! — it’s the stuff of some fine and mighty fine skin moisturizer.

Of course, I had a belly ache and asked de Bush Doctor, “Ain’t der nuttin’ I can take?”

And he say to me:

Which is perfect since I have a lime tree in the front yard and there’s coconut trees a hundred yards from mi casa.

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