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Archive for August, 2016

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

— John 15:12-13

Baton Rouge Advocate photo by Bill Feig

Baton Rouge Advocate photo by Bill Feig

Back when New York City was reeling from 9-11, a journalist asked that gentle Presbyterian preacher and children’s TV icon Fred Rogers what parents could say to their children about the disaster.

Mr. Rogers didn’t hesitate.

“Tell the children to keep their eyes on the helpers,” he advised.

May God be with the people suffering in Louisiana, and all those first responders and volunteers and neighbors and all who are risking and sacrificing and pitching in to help one another, loving their neighbors as themselves.

Baton Rouge Advocate photo by Patrick Dennis.

Baton Rouge Advocate photo by Patrick Dennis.

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Update on Hurricane Earl . . .

An aerial view of San Ignacio's landmark "low bridge,"  which has survived many floods and hurricanes but was no match for Earl. More than half of it washed ashore.

An aerial view of San Ignacio’s landmark “low bridge,” which survived countless floods and hurricanes but was no match for Hurricane Earl a week ago. More than half the bridge got blown and washed away.

Belize is recovering remarkably well considering the damage that Hurricane Earl did last week.

A ground view of what's left of the bridge. Bottom left shows what's left of the wooden walkway that scores of pedestrians and bike riders crossed every day between San Ignacio and neighboring Santa Elena.

A ground view of what’s left of the bridge. Bottom left shows what’s left of the wooden walkway that scores of pedestrians and bike riders crossed every day between San Ignacio and neighboring Santa Elena.

Here in San Ignacio and its twin city Santa Elena, in far-western mainland BZ, life is pretty much back to normal for most people and business owners. The best news is that the most of the market and street vendors are back in business, though many of the farmers who provide for them are hurting.

The worst thing here in the twin cities–divided by the usually calm and oh-so-scenic Macal River, is that the old wooden “low bridge” was pretty much destroyed–half of it literally washed and blew ashore.

The sturdy old bridge has been rendered impassable God knows how many times from hurricanes and frequent floods, but it always stayed in place. Earl managed to wipe it out, along with the bridge’s pedestrian walkway and railing. It’s going to require some serious rebuilding.

Being the old tree-hugger and river rat that I am, I’m genuinely saddened that Earl knocked down some stately old shade trees–dozens of them–that gave the low-bridge “dip” leading into town so much natural charm. Many days I used to throw down a beach towel on the banks of the river with a book under some great shade trees that are now being chopped into firewood.

I'm going to miss the shade trees that used to line the shore of the Macal River and made San Ignacio such a scenic little city.

I’m going to miss the shade trees that used to line the shore of the Macal River and made San Ignacio such a scenic little city.

Fortunately, the old iron “high bridge” a short way up the Macal River* is so sturdy as to be windproof and so high as to be flood-proof. If it weren’t, this town and the highway leading to so many western towns and villages and into Guatemala would be inaccessible.

Out on the country’s world-famous islands Ambergris Caye (San Pedro) and Caye Caulker, Earl did $10 million in damage. But the islanders are resilient: most of the resorts and tourist-related businesses are already back and starting to go strong!
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(*Tourists love the Macal for the great canoeing and tubing, and so do I, btw.)

* * *

Speaking of San Pedro . . .

File this under old news but now relevant news thanks to the Olympics.

Simone Biles–the perky young star of America’s all-star gymnastics team in the Olympics–has Belizean roots. She comes to Belize often and was last here last summer for her brother’s wedding at San Pedro.

More on that story at this link. . . .

Olympian star Simone Biles, who was adopted and raised by a family  in Spring, Texas , outside Houston, has Belizean roots. Shown here hamming it up with boys on Belize's famous San Pedro resort town.

Olympian star Simone Biles, who was adopted and raised by a family in Spring, Texas , outside Houston, has Belizean roots. Shown here hamming it up with servers at a popular, resort hotel and restaurant San Pedro, BZ’s most popular tourist town.

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Illustration by Karl-Raphael Blanchard for The Nation magazine.

This powerful illustration of the iconic figure of Jesus embracing Rio is by Karl-Raphael Blanchard for The Nation magazine.

I thoroughly and very thoroughly enjoy the Olympics and all its glorious, feel-good pageantry.

I love the inspiring stories about determined athletes from great nations and obscure corners of the world.

I take to the agony that moves me to feel someone’s pain and disappointment, and the ecstasy that makes me want to leap out of my chair with joy.

This year’s Olympics inspires us all, all the more, with the inclusion of The Refugee Team! (Link down below.)

It’s all a powerful and wonderful spectacle.

And yet . . . . .

I hate to be the spoil-sport by calling your attention to how the poor and powerless people in the Olympiad’s host cities get trampled on by the rich and powerful.

Dave Zirrin, a sports writer for The Nation magazine and author of Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, summed up the dark side of the Olympics when he wrote this recently:

    “It’s easy to rattle off bullet points about the problems besetting Rio: the 77,000 people displaced and counting; the 85,000 members of the security forces patrolling the streets (double the number for the 2012 London Olympics); the estimated $11.9 billion being spent while the Brazilian economy is in a state of violent contraction, which has led to crippling budget cuts in education, health care, and community services. . . .

    “We need to understand that Rio’s ‘state of public calamity’ is an extreme version of what happens when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) comes a-calling. We have seen this corruption in city after city that has hosted the games, particularly since 9/11, as spiraling security costs and out-of-control budgets have become central to the games themselves.

    “The names of recent Olympic host cities–Athens, Beijing, London, Sochi–are more likely to conjure images of heavily armed troops; abandoned, rotted-out Olympic stadiums; and multibillion-dollar price tags than anything that happened on the field of play.”


    (See links at bottom.)

Ouch. Reality bites.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., Christian leaders are straining at gnats trying to defend and justify political candidates and leaders who can’t be defended.

I wonder what a Christian response to greed, corruption and injustice would look like if Christians responded like Christians to greed, corruption and injustice in the world.

* * *

Imagine the sea change if the world’s massive Christian community came up with an Olympian plan for lifting up the poor and powerless rather than being complicit in running over them. (Complicit, that is, by so many Christians and their leaders and their churches being either too scared or too timid to speak up for social justice; or complicit by being stuck in theology that’s all about personal salvation that’s all about me rather than the both-and theology of personal and social salvation.)

Imagine if the powerless victims of crushing poverty and social injustice in places like Rio received a fraction of the news attention year-round that the Olympics in all its feel-good glory will get for a mere two weeks.

The Olympics will get enormous TV ratings and news coverage for two weeks before billion-dollar buildings that enriched the rich are abandoned and masses of poor people are left to struggle and pay the price for their protests after the cameras have moved back to America’s utterly corrupt political landscape.

* * *

If Christians in America alone were as vocal in being prophetic fighters for justice and fair play for the poor in America and God’s world as they are in squabbling over some nonexistent “war on Christianity” or “war on Christmas,” the kingdom of God would take a giant leap for the advancement of God and humankind.

The war waged against the poor and powerless in the world never ceases, and how much outrage do you hear about that war from TV pundits or, for that matter, from pulpits?

The poor, oppressed and powerless always and inevitably pay the price for corruption.

* * *

Mind you, I don’t say all this for the sake of laying a hard-biting guilt trip on anybody. Wallowing in guilt is not conducive to “the life more abundant” of which Jesus spoke.

By all means let’s enjoy the Olympics and Brazil’s Big Party and celebrate the hard work and spirit of athletes who wow us with their gifts and graces.

But by all means let’s not let grass and weeds grow on the Christlike path to justice. Let’s pray for the poor and oppressed and pray for courage to speak truth to power.

In working out our salvation “with fear and loathing” let’s remember “the the invisible people” who are always paying the price for greed and corruption in a broken world forever in need of the fulfillment of God’s will for mercy, justice and reconciliation.

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* Go here the full article by Dave Zirrin.

Here’s a link to his new book about Olympic corruption in Brazil and elsewhere.

And on a happier note . . . a link about The Refugee Team.

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You don't have to wait on the Second Coming to experience it--so says my wise friend the Rev. David B. Weber.

You don’t have to wait on the Second Coming to experience it–so says my wise friend the Rev. David B. Weber.

My friend the Rev. David B. Weber, senior pastor of First United Methodist in Mesquite, TX., shared an insight on his Facebook page that is too good not to share.

Pastor David said:

    This past month:

    I saw a Dallas city cop carrying a live copperhead to safety on a shovel, out of his yard and to a creek area.

    I saw two young brothers chase a mangy stray dog for an hour, so they could take it home to give it food and water. They got him, finally.

    I talked to an 11 y/o neighbor girl about her family’s recent visit to see Grandma in Mexico. “What did you like best?” I asked her.

    “The town she lives in was so . . . calm,” she answered. “People on one side of her town know the people on the other side of town! I want to live in a place like that!”

    I watched an old man (older than me!) give the checker at Kroger $5 to cover the candy bars not covered by the Lone Star (food stamp) card of the mom in front of him, who was working hard to manage the three little ones with her. “For when you get home,” he told them.”

    Four times I experienced the second coming of Christ.

    Nobody has to wait; you just have to see, and listen.

A “Big Amen of the Day to That!”

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Belize City as Earl threatened the city before pounding it.

Belize City as Earl threatened the city before pounding it.

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Downtown San Ignacio, less than a mile from my house in Belize, a few hours after the town's usually lazy and scenic Macal River spilled out of its banks far and wide. Belize City, which suffered enormous damaged from Hurricane Earl's landfall 70 miles downstream from us, will suffer enormous flooding for days as this water makes its way downstream to the Caribbean city.

Downtown San Ignacio, less than a mile from my house in Belize, a few hours after the town’s usually lazy and scenic Macal River spilled out of its banks far and wide. Belize City, which suffered enormous damaged from Hurricane Earl’s landfall 70 miles downstream from us, will suffer enormous flooding for days as this water makes its way downstream to the Caribbean city.

It’s a miraculous thing that, as of Saturday morning, no one in Belize was killed in the darkest night the country has seen in more than a half century. (See damage to the famous tourist attraction San Pedro on Ambergris Caye here.)

Oldtimers down in the port city of Belize City and the surrounding Belize District (districts in BZ are somewhat like American states) say that Earl was the worst hurricane they’ve experienced since Hattie more than a half-century ago.City-Damage0001-300x211

Hattie, of course, was a crushing Category 5 and killed 400 people. But Earl, being a low-grade Category 1, did damage beyond its grade because of its direct hit on Belize City and its march across so much of what is a small country.

As for me, I survived the night alone in my humble man cave 70-plus miles west of BZ City in my home city San Ignacio-Santa Elena.

The only damage to me was to my nerves in what was the most unnerving night of my life.

Here’s what Belizean leaders had to say about Hurricane Earl in the early aftermath Thursday at 1 p.m.

Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize

Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize

    “That storm was a monster. It certainly seemed that way to all of us.

    “There is some dispute as to whether the maximum sustained winds did not in fact significantly exceed the 75 miles per hour we had been told to expect and the Chief Met Officer is saying he’s yet to gather all the data.

    “But he has his own suspicion feeling that in fact it was closer to 90 plus miles per hour. (Minister) Godwin Hulse says no, he will insist that it was 100.

    “Whatever it was, we have survived, even if barely, and I would want to begin by saying that [we have and] no casualties, no loss of life reported.”

As of this writing Saturday morning, I know of no loss of life even still, which is a miracle.castro4.8.16

The massive destruction of homes, business and agriculture is another matter but I’ll get to that.

Here’s another quote that summed up the horror of the storm from Edwin Castro, Belize’s minister of NEMA, the National Emergency Management Association:

    “I have never experienced a hurricane that lasted so long, pounding and pounding for hours. Each time it tend to raise you roof, you say well maybe this is the last one now and it keep on going for about 3,4-5 hours. Man, it tired you out.”

And then came hour 6 . . . and 7 . . . and so on . . .

Town Center--the hub of vibrant activity in downtown San Ignacio--caught a lot of water (and mud and sludge) when the town's scenic and typically lazy river spilled far and wide. Unfortuntely, though these waters receded as fast as they rose so the town had two days to dry out, the town is suffering heavy rain from a thunderstorm Saturday afternoon as I write this.

Town Center–the hub of vibrant activity in downtown San Ignacio–caught a lot of water (and mud and sludge) when the town’s scenic and typically lazy river spilled far and wide. Unfortuntely, though these waters receded as fast as they rose so the town had two days to dry out, the town is suffering heavy rain from a thunderstorm Saturday afternoon as I write this.

The twin cities of Santa Elena and the commercial center San Ignacio where I reside are divided by the usually lazy Macal River, which spilled out of its banks so far Thursday that the open-air walls of always vibrant market disappeared under water most of the day.

Amazing, considering how far removed the market is on high ground above the banks.

Mercifully, the river waters that raged through downtown streets began receding as fast as they rose by late afternoon Thursday.

For two days people have been dealing with the removal of mud and sludge and the stench that inevitably arises from the sun-baking that follows a severe storm and flood.

People in so many river villages in BZ have been dealing with much worse: the loss or massive destruction of their homes being the worst.

Thousands in this country are currently homeless. Farmers in BZ–especially the thousands of small, hard-scrabble family farms so vital to keeping us fed–will suffer massive losses.

The ripple effects of Earl will be felt for days to come with more flash flooding downstream in the Belize District and the landslides that have people in the mountains stuck.

The people on the country’s two famously beautiful islands and biggest tourist attractions–Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye–suffered massive destruction on the beach fronts and have an enormous amount of reconstruction work to do on piers, about 90 percent of which are damaged.

[UPDATE: Meanwhile here in San Ignacio–where we’ve had a couple of days of blessed sunshine for drying out–a fierce thunderstorm just dumped on us for about 90 minutes (1 p.m.).

Lord in your mercy, have mercy on Belize.

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If you watch the news and certainly if you follow The Weather Channel, you know that we here in Belize are in the direct path of what is now a low-category hurricane that could make for an interesting night.

Hurricane Earl is bearing down right on Belize, expected to make landfall tonight in Belize City–the port city whose unfortunate sea level has always made it extremely vulnerable even to tropical storms, much less hurricanes.

Earl making a beeline for BZ.

Earl making a beeline for BZ.

In 1964, the deadly, Category 5 Hurricane Hattie killed 400 people and injured thousands. (More at this link.)

Hattie destroyed 75% of the houses and businesses in Belize City, which was then the capital of what was then British Honduras.

The government at the time proposed to encourage and promote the building of a new capital city and set up a secure emergency and communications system there. In 1962, a committee chose the site now known as Belmopan, 81 kilometres (51 miles) west of BZ City and the coast.

In 1970 the planned community of Belmopan became the new capital–sufficiently inland from the vulnerable former capital.

Belize City is always especially vulnerable to damage and loss of life in hurricane season.

Belize City is always especially vulnerable to damage and loss of life in hurricane season.

Hurricane Earl is no Hattie. It’s expected to be a Category 1 or 2 when it hits BZ City tonight, but its path is worrisome for the damage with winds, flooding and landslides it could potentially do through the entirety of this small country.

Islands were evacuated last night and this morning and the international airport shut down early today.

The visitors here in the mountainous, rainforest tourist town where I live, San Ignacio/Santa Elena, are looking a little dazed and confused (and wet as they are cramming into one of the few restaurants still open at this hour, 4:30 BZ time 5:30 Texas time).

Belizeans live with huge storms every year and know how to prepare and hunker down. The country, and I, are hunkered down, and I’ve ridden out some pretty mean storms and flooding before.

But this feels eerily different. Everybody’s been prepping for days for the worst and we might a good thing we did anticipate the worst.

I got my flashlight and candles, and my trees are trimmed and all potential flying debris and objects removed and my ditches and drainage tunnel cleared out.

I got peanut butter, crackers, cans of Vienna Sausage, beans on the oven (which is butane as most BZ ovens are, fortunately), and Rum (for medicinal purposes).

And my Book of Common Prayer.

Prepared for the worst.

Hoping for the best.

Pray for Belize and Guatemala and Mexico’s Yucatan.

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(NOTE: Due to a technical glitch some of you readers may not have received this post yesterday so I am re-posting for those who didn’t get it.) — Paul

————

I have no concern about being fired by this mayor at this time.”

— Retiring New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, shortly before he was fired by his mayor because of pressure from extremists

A small group of protesters, some afflicted with Black Lives Matter, managed to oust a frustrated police commissioner in short order.

A small group of protesters, some affiliated with Black Lives Matter, managed to oust a frustrated police commissioner in short order.

Meanwhile . . . in other news outside of Planet Trump….

Last month, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton made the unforgivable mistake of exercising his constitutional right to express an honest opinion when he said this in a radio interview:

    “Unlike the civil rights movement, which focused on the broad needs of desegregation and a segregated country, the needs of jobs, the needs of voting rights, the needs of education, the Black Lives Matter movement has focused entirely on police, and is not engaging in dialogue, instead engaging in protests where there’s a lot of yelling and screaming.

    “Yelling and screaming doesn’t resolve anything, doesn’t solve anything. And getting into the face of police officers manning those lines, trying to protect those demonstrators, trying to protect the lives of people, trying to protect their rights to demonstrate, and standing there yelling and screaming at them, that accomplishes nothing. Nothing.”

Commissioner Bratton also had the audacity to describe the BLM movement as “leaderless,” oblivious to the natural fact that BLM and other black and Latino protesters are above criticism, no matter how outrageously ludicrous they get. (They’re sort of like Trump that way–above criticism, or so many of them seem to think.)

Because of that (outrageous???) opinion expressed by the Police Commish–who may be a trifle frustrated by his cops being pelted with shouts of “F— the Police” every day from protesters incapable of dealing with their often justifiable anger in anything like a thoughtful way–his boss the Mayor caved in to a small mob, pronto.

This is the sort of mob mentality that undermines whatever credibility the Black Lives Matter and affiliated protest groups so much need–and that BLM leaders seem reluctant to denounce with full-throated condemnations.

I urge you to read these excerpts from a Guardian newspaper article about the fallout from the Commissioner’s words and actions that led to his firing:

    Protesters in New York City began occupying the park next to city hall in Manhattan on Monday, declaring they would not leave until police commissioner Bill Bratton was fired.

    Organized by Millions March NYC, a group affiliated with Black Lives Matter movement, the #ShutDownCityHallNYC protest has been inspired by protesters setting up encampments in public spaces in Chicago and Los Angeles to fight for the abolition of the police.

    “We are planning an encampment,” said Nabil Hassein, a 27-year-old Millions March NYC organizer from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “I’m going to stay as long as I can.”

    “We’re here to decolonialize and to liberate our territory and our land from these racist occupiers,” said Vienna Rye, another organizer from Millions March NYC.

Say what??????

Here’s more:

    There are three specific immediate demands the protesters are calling for:

    — The termination of Bratton as police chief and the end to broken windows policing.

    — The NYPD getting defunded and that money being put into black, brown and working class communities.

    — Reparations paid to the victims and the families of police violence.

    Josmar Trujillo, 34, an activist from New Yorkers Against Bratton, says mayor Bill de Blasio is a “crooked ass fake liberal” in his support of Bratton. Trujillo carried a sign with a photo of the commissioner, with the words “wanted … for crimes against humanity” typed across the top.

    Trujullo spoke of how Bratton was “the supercop of America” but that the movement wasn’t just about him, it was about the wider NYPD and all police.

    “’Cause blue lives have always fucking mattered in this city,” said Trujillo, to cheers from the audience.”

Not exactly the way you win friends and influence people, although you obviously can influence a weak New York mayor with idiotic demands for abolishing your police department.

Good going, Mayor. I’m sure morale in the NYPD–the best P.D. in the world–must be at rock bottom.

Another protester said they didn’t negotiate their camp-in protests with police or city officials because “we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

However good, bad or awful the Commissioner’s crackdown on vandalism may have been–however checkered his career may have been–the spineless New York Mayor’s prompt acquiescence to a mob makes him the mayor the poster boy for Political Correctness.

Mind you, I detest the way that people (mobsters?) like Trump and his most extreme Trump cultists constantly use “Political Correctness” as a shield they wield with the sword they use in cutting down anyone who dares to criticize them for their total lack of common decency.

But there is such a thing as “political correctness.” And it’s now reached the bizarre point.

I’m not a big fan of “Politically Incorrect” comic and big-time liberal Bill Maher, but I do applaud his courage in pushing back at every turn on leftists who chill free speech and expression at every with what is authentic P.C. thought.

Good luck to the next NY PD Commissioner who will have to lead the Blue from an even hotter p.c. pressure cooker.

See this story for more.

And another here.

Also check out this for more details …

and then draw your own opinion.

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