Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just a year ago

Just a year ago, I came back from India to get ready for Christmas in Florida. I returned four days earlier than Roscoe, in order to do some last-minute shopping, get my hair colored after four weeks away, and generally rest up to be ready for a good time with my energetic family all coming to Del Ray.
India had been glorious, especially Dharmasala and all our Tibetan, Kashmiri and Indian friends.
On the flight back, many hours and several time zones later, I developed a small stomach ache.  'Delhi-belly,' I thought. Better to have it now than  in India. Got home and twenty four hours later, I still had that stomach ache - no relief, nothing - so I stayed with it. Had two neighbors for dinner, an arrangement made prior to the trip) and couldn't eat a thing, could barely look at the food. Food was from Whole Foods, something I had picked up on my way for that all-important hair color. The hair stylist and I had agreed that I was sick. But who has time to be sick the week before Christmas? I slept in my winter jacket that night, with blankets wrapped around me. Next morning, still no relief from the stomach ache. Oh, if I sat quietly or even crawled from one room to another, I felt fine. It was a tad odd to crawl from one room to another wrapping presents and putting them in suitcases, but I managed and thought I felt better. 'I'm beating this thing at last,' I thought. Roscoe returned from India, dropped off one suitcase and picked up his packed suitcase for FL. No down time. Turn around and go.
Flash to Florida. Fabulous rental house, fabulous food, fabulous family. Feast and frolic on Christmas Eve, and up early on Christmas morn to see if Santa Claus had found Emma and Colin in Florida. Wise man that he is, he had. More fun, more stories, a meal fit for kings and queens. I took a couple of naps on Christmas Day, complaining about that Delhi belly. Out of nowhere, at least to me, my family members came, one by one, into the bedroom giving reasons why I should go to the emergency room and see a doctor. Basically, to quiet the intense, persistent, indomitable members of my family I agreed.
Most of you know the story: No Delhi Belly at all. Stage IIIc Ovarian Cancer, collapsed colon and more. As good, no, miraculous, luck would have it, a well-known gynecological oncologist was there to do my surgery.
My family rarely left the hospital while they were there. Not until mid-late January was I to walk out the Del Ray Hospital door.  When I left Del Ray for good, it was back to CO for chemo and all the rest.
That's more than enough for details. But I'm here to say I'm feeling fabulous, no evidence of disease at the moment, my hair has grown in a funky white grey, pixie style. Friends and family have been rock solid the whole time. Feeling as good as I've ever felt.
So, on this anniversary of what I call my year-long journey, I'm taking a sabbatical until January 2012 from this blog. Going to Del Ray Florida once again with my family -- we're all going to try to do it better this time.
There's enough gratitude in my cells today to keep the world going for a while. Gratitude, Peace, Grace, Love.  I wish it all for you. See you in the new year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Intellect and Politics?

 Seriously. Been trying to think about how to focus the posting today. After all, Havel (one of my all time heroes) died yesterday. Today we read the Kim Jong Ili in North Korea has died and his son Kim Jung Eun will replace him. The Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq are mad-dancing around power, and the nephew of the King of Saudi Arabia just invested 3 million in Twitter (no problem with women tweeting as they drive, because they can't drive in S.A.), mad-dancing in Egypt. But the biggest mad-dance around power between seems to be between the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. of A.  An Intellectual in Politics? Only Vaclav Havel comes to my mind. To me, the article is brilliant. Havel understands the potential good and potential harm that can be done by an individual, especially in politics. If I didn't know he was dead, I would swear this article was written this morning instead of thirteen years ago. RIP Poet, Playwright, Politician.

The Intellectual and Politics

By Vaclav Havel
Václav Havel, who died on December 18, was that rare intellectual who, rather than forcing his way into politics, had politics forced upon him. In 1998, while serving as President of the Czech Republic, he offered the following reflection on the benefits and dangers of his career path.
Does an intellectual – by virtue of his efforts to get beneath the surface of things, to grasp relations, causes, and effects, to recognize individual items as part of larger entities, and thus to derive a deeper awareness of and responsibility for the world – belong in politics?
Put that way, an impression is created that I consider it every intellectual’s duty to engage in politics. But that is nonsense. Politics also involves a number of special requirements that are relevant only to it. Some people meet these requirements; others don’t, regardless of whether they are intellectuals.
It is my profound conviction that the world requires – today more than ever – enlightened, thoughtful politicians who are bold and broad-minded enough to consider things that lie beyond the scope of their immediate influence in both space and time. We need politicians willing and able to rise above their own power interests, or the particular interests of their parties or states, and act in accordance with the fundamental interests of humanity today – that is, to behave the way everyone should behave, even though most may fail to do so.
Never before has politics been so dependent on the moment, on the fleeting moods of the public or the media. Never before have politicians been so impelled to pursue the short-lived and short-sighted. It often seems to me that the life of many politicians proceeds from the evening news on television one night, to the public-opinion poll the next morning, to their image on television the following evening. I am not sure whether the current era of mass media encourages the emergence and growth of politicians of the stature of, say, a Winston Churchill; I rather doubt it, though there can always be exceptions.


To sum up: the less our time favors politicians who engage in long-term thinking, the more such politicians are needed, and thus the more intellectuals – at least those meeting my definition – should be welcomed in politics. Such support could come from, among others, those who – for whatever reason – never enter politics themselves, but who agree with such politicians, or at least share the ethos underlying their actions.
I hear objections: politicians must be elected; people vote for those who think the way they do. If someone wants to make progress in politics, he must pay attention to the general condition of the human mind; he must respect the so-called “ordinary” voter’s point of view. A politician must, like it or not, be a mirror. He dare not be a herald of unpopular truths, acknowledgement of which, though perhaps in humanity’s interest, is not regarded by most of the electorate as being in its immediate interest, or may even be regarded as antagonistic to those interests.
I am convinced that the purpose of politics does not consist in fulfilling short-term wishes. A politician should also seek to win people over to his own ideas, even when unpopular. Politics must entail convincing voters that the politician recognizes or comprehends some things better than they do, and that it is for this reason that they should vote for him. People can thus delegate to a politician certain issues that – for a variety of reasons – they do not sense themselves, or do not want to worry about, but which someone has to address on their behalf.
Of course, all seducers of the masses, potential tyrants, or fanatics, have used this argument to make their case; the communists did the same when they declared themselves the most enlightened segment of the population, and, by virtue of this alleged enlightenment, arrogated to themselves the right to rule arbitrarily.
The true art of politics is the art of winning people’s support for a good cause, even when the pursuit of that cause may interfere with their particular momentary interests. This should happen without impeding any of the many ways in which we can check that the objective is a good cause, thereby ensuring that trusting citizens are not led to serve a lie and suffer disaster as a consequence, in an illusory search for future prosperity.
It must be said that there are intellectuals who possess a very special ability for committing this evil. They elevate their intellect above everyone else’s, and themselves above all human beings. They tell their fellow citizens that if they do not understand the brilliance of the intellectual project offered to them, it is because they are of dull mind, and have not yet risen to the heights inhabited by the project’s proponents. After all that we have gone through in the twentieth century, it is not very difficult to recognize how dangerous this intellectual – or, rather, quasi-intellectual – attitude can be. Let us remember how many intellectuals helped to create the various modern dictatorships!
A good politician should be able to explain without seeking to seduce; he should humbly look for the truth of this world without claiming to be its professional owner; and he should alert people to the good qualities in themselves, including a sense of the values and interests that transcend the personal, without taking on an air of superiority and imposing anything on his fellow humans. He should not yield to the dictate of public moods or of the mass media, while never hindering constant scrutiny of his actions.
In the realm of such politics, intellectuals should make their presence felt in one of two possible ways. They could – without finding it shameful or demeaning – accept a political office and use that position to do what they deem right, not just to hold on to power. Or they could be the ones who hold up a mirror to those in authority, making sure that the latter serve a good cause, and that they do not begin to use fine words as a cloak for evil deeds, as happened to so many intellectuals in politics in past centuries.
This article was published at NationofChange at: http://www.nationofchange.org/intellectual-and-politics-1324306991. All rights are reserved.
Václav Havel, who died on December 18, was that rare intellectual who, rather than forcing his way into politics, had politics forced upon him. In 1998, while serving as President of the Czech Republic, he offered the following reflection on the benefits and dangers of his career path.
Does an intellectual – by virtue of his efforts to get beneath the surface of things, to grasp relations, causes, and effects, to recognize individual items as part of larger entities, and thus to derive a deeper awareness of and responsibility for the world – belong in politics?
Put that way, an impression is created that I consider it every intellectual’s duty to engage in politics. But that is nonsense. Politics also involves a number of special requirements that are relevant only to it. Some people meet these requirements; others don’t, regardless of whether they are intellectuals.
It is my profound conviction that the world requires – today more than ever – enlightened, thoughtful politicians who are bold and broad-minded enough to consider things that lie beyond the scope of their immediate influence in both space and time. We need politicians willing and able to rise above their own power interests, or the particular interests of their parties or states, and act in accordance with the fundamental interests of humanity today – that is, to behave the way everyone should behave, even though most may fail to do so.
Never before has politics been so dependent on the moment, on the fleeting moods of the public or the media. Never before have politicians been so impelled to pursue the short-lived and short-sighted. It often seems to me that the life of many politicians proceeds from the evening news on television one night, to the public-opinion poll the next morning, to their image on television the following evening. I am not sure whether the current era of mass media encourages the emergence and growth of politicians of the stature of, say, a Winston Churchill; I rather doubt it, though there can always be exceptions.

"Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Vaclav Havel, click here."
Article image
To sum up: the less our time favors politicians who engage in long-term thinking, the more such politicians are needed, and thus the more intellectuals – at least those meeting my definition – should be welcomed in politics. Such support could come from, among others, those who – for whatever reason – never enter politics themselves, but who agree with such politicians, or at least share the ethos underlying their actions. I hear objections: politicians must be elected; people vote for those who think the way they do. If someone wants to make progress in politics, he must pay attention to the general condition of the human mind; he must respect the so-called “ordinary” voter’s point of view. A politician must, like it or not, be a mirror. He dare not be a herald of unpopular truths, acknowledgement of which, though perhaps in humanity’s interest, is not regarded by most of the electorate as being in its immediate interest, or may even be regarded as antagonistic to those interests.
I am convinced that the purpose of politics does not consist in fulfilling short-term wishes. A politician should also seek to win people over to his own ideas, even when unpopular. Politics must entail convincing voters that the politician recognizes or comprehends some things better than they do, and that it is for this reason that they should vote for him. People can thus delegate to a politician certain issues that – for a variety of reasons – they do not sense themselves, or do not want to worry about, but which someone has to address on their behalf.
Of course, all seducers of the masses, potential tyrants, or fanatics, have used this argument to make their case; the communists did the same when they declared themselves the most enlightened segment of the population, and, by virtue of this alleged enlightenment, arrogated to themselves the right to rule arbitrarily.
The true art of politics is the art of winning people’s support for a good cause, even when the pursuit of that cause may interfere with their particular momentary interests. This should happen without impeding any of the many ways in which we can check that the objective is a good cause, thereby ensuring that trusting citizens are not led to serve a lie and suffer disaster as a consequence, in an illusory search for future prosperity.
It must be said that there are intellectuals who possess a very special ability for committing this evil. They elevate their intellect above everyone else’s, and themselves above all human beings. They tell their fellow citizens that if they do not understand the brilliance of the intellectual project offered to them, it is because they are of dull mind, and have not yet risen to the heights inhabited by the project’s proponents. After all that we have gone through in the twentieth century, it is not very difficult to recognize how dangerous this intellectual – or, rather, quasi-intellectual – attitude can be. Let us remember how many intellectuals helped to create the various modern dictatorships!
A good politician should be able to explain without seeking to seduce; he should humbly look for the truth of this world without claiming to be its professional owner; and he should alert people to the good qualities in themselves, including a sense of the values and interests that transcend the personal, without taking on an air of superiority and imposing anything on his fellow humans. He should not yield to the dictate of public moods or of the mass media, while never hindering constant scrutiny of his actions.
In the realm of such politics, intellectuals should make their presence felt in one of two possible ways. They could – without finding it shameful or demeaning – accept a political office and use that position to do what they deem right, not just to hold on to power. Or they could be the ones who hold up a mirror to those in authority, making sure that the latter serve a good cause, and that they do not begin to use fine words as a cloak for evil deeds, as happened to so many intellectuals in politics in past centuries.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Real Meaning of these Holidays?

Without the Bill of Rights we probably wouldn't have this ability to blast our opinions around the world - or even to post someone else's opinions around the heavy globe. So, once again, I am grateful.
I've just started to do some serious wrapping of serious and not-so-serious presents so they can make their ways to various destinations before Christmas Day,  December 25th. And there's a Chanukkah draydel to send , gifts for my favorite day, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day...and that's all after Bodhi Day and Diwali. In the rush of it all, keeping track, trying to get it just right, the meanings get so lost. I'm out of scotch tape, can't tie bows to save my soul, and hope my brothers really meant it when we agreed to exchange used books only this year. So feeling overwhelmed I took a time out for my e-mail and to post on this blog. Checked the e-mail first, and found myself the recipient of the perfect article about Christmas and the Holiday Wars. With the Iraq War wound down, I guess Fox has been pounding the news about the war on Christmas. Haven't kept properly apprised of this annual war, but got the drift from the following article. Glad I don't listen to Fox News - I'm against war and pretty sick of hearing about it. I don't care what images are in front, side, or back of a building, just getting weary of seeing those gigantic, blow-up decorations that look ready for Macy's Parade sitting next to McMansions. That's my gripe. But here's the article sent to me today.
Let's put it all aside, and celebrate the light that is shining down on us, from wherever it comes.

The Real War on Christmas...By Fox News

By Jim Wallis, Reader Supported News
15 December 11

ach Advent in recent years, around the time when those prefab, do-it-yourself gingerbread house kits appear on supermarket shelves, Fox News launches its (allegedly) defensive campaign commonly known as the "War on Christmas."
Fox News' "war" is designed to criticize the "secularization" of our culture wrought by atheists, agnostics, liberals, leftists, progressives, and separation of church and state zealots- i.e. Democrats. This irreligious coalition force is allegedly waging a strategic offensive on Christmas, trying to banish the sacred symbols of the season, denying our religious heritage, and even undermining the spiritual rubrics upon which our great nation is built.
Fox News positions itself as the defender of the faith and all things sacred. And Bill O'Reilly fancies himself the "watchdog" of Christmas.
Fox News' usual targets include shopping malls and stores that replace their "Merry Christmas" greetings with "Happy Holidays," and state governments that no longer call their official "Christmas" trees by their rightful name, or municipalities that ban any depictions of, or references to, the Christmas season in public places. Those who are attacked defend themselves, often claim that they are really religious too, and the perennial war is on.
But what we actually have here is a theological problem, where cultural and commercial symbols are confused with truly Christian ones, and the meaning of the holy season is missed all together.
The war on Christmas is really about what brand of "civil religion" America should have. The particular (read: biblical) meaning of Christmas, for Christians, has almost nothing to do with the media war.
What a surprise.
What is Christmas? It is the celebration of the Incarnation, God's becoming flesh - human - and entering into history in the form of a vulnerable baby born to a poor, teenage mother in a dirty animal stall. Simply amazing. That Mary was homeless at the time,a member of a people oppressed by the imperial power of an occupied country whose local political leader, Herod, was so threatened by the baby's birth that he killed countless children in a vain attempt to destroy the Christ child, all adds compelling historical and political context to the Advent season.
The theological claim that sets Christianity apart from any other faith tradition is the Incarnation. God has come into the world to save us. God became like us to bring us back to God and show us what it means to be truly human.
That is the meaning of the Incarnation. That is the reason for the season.
In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets.
It is theologically and spiritually significant that the Incarnation came to our poorest streets. That Jesus was born poor, later announces his mission at Nazareth as "bringing good news to the poor," and finally tells us that how we treat "the least of these" is his measure of how we treat him and how he will judge us as the Son of God, radically defines the social context and meaning of the Incarnation of God in Christ. And it clearly reveals the real meaning of Christmas.
The other explicit message of the Incarnation is that Jesus the Christ's arrival will mean "peace on earth, good will toward men." He is "the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace." Jesus later calls on his disciples to turn the other cheek, practice humility, walk the extra mile, put away their swords, love their neighbors - and even their enemies - and says that in his kingdom, it is the peacemakers who will be called the children of God. Christ will end our warring ways, bringing reconciliation to God and to one another.
None of that has anything to do with the Fox News Christmas. In fact, quite the opposite.
Making sure that shopping malls and stores greet their customers with "Merry Christmas" is entirely irrelevant to the meaning of the Incarnation. In reality it is the consumer frenzy of Christmas shopping that is the real affront and threat to the season.
Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let's just call that what it is: A material blasphemy of the Christmas season.
Imagine Jesus walking into the mall, seeing the Merry Christmas signs, and expressing his humble thanks for how the pre- and post-Christmas sales are honoring to him. How about credit cards for Christ?
While we're at it, here's another point of clarification: The arrival of the Christ child has nothing to do with trees or what we call them.
Evergreens and wreaths, holly and ivy, and even mistletoe turn out to be customs borrowed from ancient Roman and Germanic winter solstice celebrations, assimilated and co-opted by the church after Constantine made peace between his empire and the Christians.
Now, my family loves our Christmas tree, but its bright lights and wonderful ornaments don't teach my children much about why Jesus came into the world. We do that in other ways, such as giving needed gifts - goats, sheep, and chickens and the like - to the poorest children and families of the world though the World Vision web site on Christmas Day. The goal is to make our sons more excited about the gifts they give than the ones they get, and it usually works. Last year, my boys sponsored a child in Ghana.
I have no problem with the public viewing of symbols from all of the world's religions at appropriate times in their religious calendars (which can actually be educational for all of our children) and believe that doing so is consistent with our democratic and cultural pluralism.
But I don't believe that respectfuly and publicly honoring those many religious symbols has changed many lives, for better or for worse. Much more important than symbols and symbolism is how we live the faith that we espouse. And here is where Fox News's war on Christmas is most patently unjust.
The real Christmas announces the birth of Jesus to a world of poverty, pain, and sin, and offers the hope of salvation and justice.
The Fox News Christmas heralds the steady promotion of consumerism, the defense of wealth and power, the adulation of money and markets, and the regular belittling or attacking of efforts to overcome poverty.
The real Christmas offers the joyful promise of peace and the hope of reconciliation with God and between humankind.
The Fox News Christmas proffers the constant drumbeat of war, the reliance on military solutions to every conflict, the demonizing of our enemies, and the gospel of American dominance.
The real Christmas lifts up the Virgin Mary's song of praise for her baby boy: "He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and lifted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away."
The Fox News Christmas would label Mary's Magnificat as "class warfare."
So if there is a war on Christmas it's the one being waged by Fox News.
 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Celebrate Bill of Rights

In my rush to celebrate The Protestor as Person of the Year, I forgot to celebrate the end of the war in Iraq.It's just a tad difficult to celebrate the end of something so disastrous, so misguided, so so... and to know that it's not over for those living with PTSD or those who are no longer living.  Don't know much about the Korean War,  but do know the two wars of my years, Vietnam and Iraq, weren't wars that ended in victory. Ended, as Eliot would say, not with a bang, but a whimper.
BUT...today is a day for outright, vigorous celebration and gratitude. It's the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. 1791. Those folks (I know, those men) who came from England knew their history and knew what worked and didn't work in England, and from that knowledge and understanding labored over the Bill and created a document of beauty and brilliance. As Ken Paulson of the McClatchy-Tribune said in yesterday's Denver Post, "What does it say about American that we zealously celebrate our government's Declaration of Independence from another government and totally overlook the American people's Declaration of Independence from its government?"
It's a long story why we don't have a Bill of Rights National Holiday, but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate it. Short and sweet it was, ten amendments only. Oh, Almost tweetable (maybe an amendment at a time). Surely, in these times, we continue to test those amendments and come up safe and secure that we have those rights. Thanks to Occupy Wall Street and each and every person who honors the Bill of Rights daily. There are 27 amendments today, but those first ten are the finest, in my humble opinion.

Celebrate and celebrate often,  Freedom of speech, press, religion, petition and assembly - and that's only the First Amendment.  Here the ten are, just in case you forgot. Short and Sweet.

Original Ten Amendments: The Bill of Rights

Passed by Congress September 25, 1789.
Ratified December 15, 1791.

Amendment I

Freedoms, Petitions, Assembly
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

Right to bear arms
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

Quartering of soldiers
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

Search and arrest
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

Rights in criminal cases
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

Right to a fair trial
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.

Amendment VII

Rights in civil cases
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Bail, fines, punishment
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

Rights retained by the People
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

States' rights
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is Time on our side?


Yea for us, for the world, for everyone who felt 'Enough is Enough' this year. While my state of being hardly depends on Time Magazine's Person of the Year, this year's choice, The Protester, warms my heart.
It warms my heart that the desperate Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire in the city square (alas) began the protest heard around the world. Such a stark, painful end to a life; such a call to action. Call it timing, context, the butterfly effect, a ripple - call it whatever you wish - but so it began. Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire (alas) over the past years to protest
China's treatment/occupation of Tibet, but the effect remained, for the most part, within the Tibetan and Free Tibet community.
From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street and Russian rebellion, protesters have been saying "Sorry: This doesn't work for us."  For those of us who have protested in the past, this is such a welcome moment in history, a moment yearned for as the great divide between the 'have' and 'havenots' has grown wider, deeper, more apocalyptic by the nano-second.
This Year of the Protester decision doesn't mitigate Time's decision for its December 5th issue: the decision that the US get a cover page proclaiming the benefits of anxiety while the rest of the world has Revolution Redux on its Time cover.  Did someone think a revolution wasn't going on in the U.S.? Or maybe someone thought we needed a shot of vintage Woody Allen angst for the holiday season. Or maybe the thought was that most Americans wouldn't know the meaning of Redux. Just saying it was a strange choice.
But from redux to redemption with The Protester as collective person of the year.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Witchcraft and Sorcery

A Saudi-Arabian woman was beheaded just the other day for practicing witchcraft and sorcery. 'Twas the 79th execution in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.   The details in the reports are skimpy, so I don't know what this woman did to get her head lobbed off.  And I never understand why the U.S. is so reluctant to call out the Saudi leaders for their violations of human rights? Is it the belief in a death penalty that binds the U.S. and S.A.? Probably not...probably has to do with oil. Oil makes strange bedfellows, doesn't it?
Over the years, I've tried to understand the Saudi attitude towards women and Saudi women's attitudes towards human - or women's - rights.  They say that it's Saudi culture, not Islam, that has created a world in which women don't vote and women don't drive.
True, there's lots of excitement about the fact that Saudi women will be able to vote in 2015. Not sure why it will take four years to get the process in place, but it's a step forward.
As for driving, here's what the BBC reported on Dec. 2nd:
'A report in Saudi Arabia has warned that if Saudi women were given the right to drive, it would spell the end of virginity in the country.
The report was prepared for Saudi Arabia's legislative assembly, the Shura Council, by a well-known conservative academic.
Though there is no formal ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, if they get behind the wheel, they can be arrested.' 
Saudi women get in the back seat of a car Saudi Arabia remains one of the few countries in the world to prevent women from driving. But the fact that women have to be accompanied by a male when they go out, makes it easy - families just hire male drivers for the women in the family. But driving and the loss of virginity? Who knew there was such a slippery slope?  Before 1979, women were allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. I wonder if there are records or documents from prior to '79 that indicate driving led directly to sex, lots of sex.  I also wonder what it was like to be 30 years old, driving around cities and towns for a couple of decades, and then, suddenly, having to give up that right. Having never been in the situation of having rights taken away, I can't imagine such a life. And probably just when it's time that the Saudi women can drive themselves to the voting booth, voting will occur on line. Such a life.
Watch out for all that sorcery and witchcraft being practiced out there. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

REALITY?


Did you ever wonder if imagination has anything to do with reality and if reality has anything to do with reality shows? I wonder more than I should.
Just read, from two different sources, that several big organizations have pulled their ads from a reality show called All-American Muslims.  Some evangelical Christian group in FL started the protest, calling Americans not to be 'tricked' by the show that reveals Muslims to be just people - people like us. Oh no, it's a trick. They are all really Jihadists, planning to tear America down and rip away all our good American values. Well,  Bank of America pulled its ads (upstanding, honest, moral and ethical institution that it is).  So did Lowe's, the big get everything you need to build or fix store.  Dell and Estee Lauder, along with McDonald's and WalMart are allegedly part of the 'pull our ads' now campaign, but haven't been able to verify those.
What do Bank of American and Lowe's think will happen to them if they place ads during a show about American-Muslims?  Given Bank of America's values, bank fraud, and gross mortgage mishandling, I think The American Muslim is well rid of them. Between this bit of news and the fact that I live in a city that believes God and its quarterback are working hand in hand, I have no idea what reality is here in the USA.
BUT, I did take a post from Ann's (our Winter Pilgrim) blog from two days ago. Can't remember if I've updated you, but feel free to go to winterpilgrim.blogspot.com and read about her attempts to get into Algeria.
Ended up taking a ship back to Italy and then on to Tunisia. Don't know what will happen in Libya, but here's her description of being a solo pilgrim in Tunisia. I'll take my sense of reality of how people live and act from her. Beautiful.

Day 72: Pilgrim Wonderland

Just a quickie again (and on a French keyboard)

Back on the trail and loving it. It didn't take too long to exit the city noise and confusion for the farm fields and country lanes. As the sun was beginning to sink, I entered a village, sat down for a rest on a molded plastic chair in front of a small shop to give some thought to how to best find a place to sleep for the night. The solution presented itself. Stress-free. The small crowd that gathered in amazement took care of my needs. Nasrine, a very elegant and mature 11-year-old served as translator and hostess. It seems that outside the city, the generation people my age who grew up just after their independence, don't speak French. The current youth of Tunisia learn Arabic and French equally in school and English as the third language, and by the time they graduate high school at 18 learn Spanish and Italian additionally. Remarkable. I think Nasrine is at the head of her class.

Welcomed into the family home, in a short while a trip was made to the local police station to register the foreigner staying under their roof. Quite proud was the family to state and record their hospitality. Nice. They all took good care of me, sharing the family meal of macaroni and spicy tomato-chili sauce, olive oil, and bread, and pulling out another mattrass. Simplicity.

In the morning, side pockets full of snacks for the day, I came to Ouhdna, an archeological site of an evidently grand ville of Roman antiquity. I saw the columns on a hill in the distance and hiked across a fallow field to get there. An arena, work shops, apartments full of mosaics, a temple... tons of history at my feet. Workers chiseling away at their restoration projects shared their tea and bread with me during the short morning break. I left as a busload of Japanese tourists arrived.

The peacefulness of the quiet country lanes reintroduced me to pilgrim life. Village people call me to sit in the shade and have cold water or hot coffee... idyllic now as in the Roman times. Ah.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Eighth Grade Memories

As life would have it, just as I was reading and reflecting on the decision regarding the morning-after pill for girls/women, I received an e-mail from one of my best friends in the eighth grade and high school. Judy Haran from Rosedale Road. We had kept in touch during college and for a few years after and then  drifted apart. I think we both might have attended two high school reunions - the early ones where one is focused on impressing everyone with heady accomplishments and perfect lives. Never did make it to the later reunions when people are honest to the bones, hoping for good health, and wishing the best for others.
I knew Judy had had some tragedy in her life, gone through some hards times, but moved on. That's all.
Anyway, the timing of her e-mail was exquisite. I remember walking up the hill from John Smith Drive, on to Ridgewood Road where Mary was waiting at the end of her driveway, strolling on down to Mimi's house and on to Rosedale Road to meet Judy. We might walk to the Center back to my house or on to Elizabeth Park in the summer.  We did a lot of walking in the eighth  grade, a lot of yakking about the future, potential boyfriends and our families. And what families we all had.
We'd walk, push our shoulders out, hoping some form of breasts would show themselves, and chant "We must, we must, we must develop our busts." So many weekends of exertion... then the occasional events in someone's bedroom where we'd measure our breasts with measuring tapes, hoping for growth. None of us wanted really huge breasts as we had already heard that Angela with the big breasts had gotten felt up at a Buena Vista skating party and Sandy of the even larger breasts wore huge thick sweaters to cover hers up. No, we just wanted 'B' size. And we wanted the bras that pushed those suckers up and out.
We went to a few make-out parties, but that was just about close-dancing to the jazz records one friend's very cool  father had.  We talked about the bases endlessly, and when or whether and with whom we'd go to first base, but we were just on the precipice then - hadn't quite fallen into or succumbed to surging hormones. We cared more about our circle pins and shetland sweaters than we did about sex.
I try to imagine us sitting in Judy's basement on Friday nights, eating popcorn, listening to her crazy dog bark, and us talking about birth control pills, the morning-after pill,  or abortion. We were so not prime time.
High school changed all that, but most of us were far from the pill. That changed too, of course. Hard to imagine any of us, in our little group, facing our mostly Catholic mothers, asking to get a morning-after pill.
We would have had to get some surrogate mothers for that event. . . somebody's innocent aunt or not-so-innocent older sister. Glad to have missed that.
But that was half a century ago. Imagine that.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No Easy Answers

Been reflecting on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' decision to not make the
morning-after pill available to girls/women under the age of 17. She overruled the FDA, which said the contraceptive should be available to people of all ages, without a prescription. Obama has backed her decision.
So the 16 and under crowd has to have a doctor's prescription before getting the morning-after pill.
I also read a blog post from 2009 about a mother bringing her daughter in for birth control pills at the age of 12, as the girl was sexually active. (I'll add that dialogue/post to the end of this).
I don't know what I think is right. Obviously, as girls mature (i.e. menstruate) earlier in this country than in the past, the potential for sexual activity and pregnancy at a younger age has increased.
What's a girls to do? What's the role of a caretaker, an aunt, a teacher, any family member or friend? Is one pill after intercourse safer, over time, than added years of taking the birth control pill daily? I don't know.
Apparently, about 50% of girls/women between the ages of 12 and 19 have had sexual intercourse. It's a puzzling statistic. And it seems to me that the difference between 12 and 19 is far more than sever years - it's seven years of explosive hormonal, physical and cognitive growth. How does all this play out? I know, there is the A word...teach Abstinence. Great ideal, but really?  Nope.

So here's the excerpt from the doc's blog (Skeptical OB)
“We’re here for the Pill,” she  (the mother) announced cheerfully.
“The Pill,” I (the doc)was shocked and it must have showed. “Who’s here for the Pill?”
The mother plowed ahead. “I brought my daughter to get the Pill. She’s sexually active.”
I turned to the daughter. She nodded her head slightly in affirmation.
“I’ve explained,” the mother continued, “that when you are sexually active, you always have to use protection, and the Pill is the best protection there is. That’s why I brought her myself.”
“Well,” I started tentatively, “the Pill is the best protection against pregnancy, but it doesn’t offer any protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Before we get to that, though, I’d like to talk a little more about sexual activity. I turned to the daughter again. “What grade are you in?”
“Seventh.”
“How old is your boyfriend and what grade is he in?”
“He’s 17 and he’s a senior in high school.”
“Yes,” the mother confirmed proudly, “she’s dating a senior.”
“Have you considered,” I ventured, “that might not be such a good thing?”
“What do you mean?” The mother was clearly annoyed.
“I mean,” I said, “that 5 years is a big age gap. There’s a big difference between a seventh grader and a high school senior.”
“So?”
“So, the needs and desires of a 17 year old boy are very different from the needs and desires of a seventh grader. A sexual relationship might seem like a good idea for a 17 year old, but it’s inevitably a bad idea for a 12 year old.”
“But she wants to date him,” the mother responded.
“Yes, she may want to date him, but that doesn’t mean that there might not be an element of coercion involved. Let’s think about this for a minute; what kind of 17 year old boy dates a 12 year old? It’s usually someone who has no success with girls his own age, and has to reach down to much younger children to have a sexual relationship.”
The mother was clearly growing angry. “But I thought you’d be impressed that I brought my daughter in for birth control,” she said, “My mother wouldn’t have done anything like this. She didn’t even tell me the facts about sex.”
“Sorry, I’m not impressed that you brought your sexually active 12 year old in for the Pill. I’m worried that someone is taking advantage of her.”
I kept looking in the direction of the daughter, but she made no response.
“We didn’t come here for your dating advice,” the mother replied heatedly. “Are you telling me that you won’t give her a prescription for the Pill?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. If her exam is normal, and she has no risk factors, I’m certainly going to give her a prescription. She’s sexually active and she needs to be protected from pregnancy. And I’m going to talk about condoms, too, since the Pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.”
The mother was not mollified. She sat stonily through the rest of the interview and exam. When I finally wrote the prescription for birth control pills, she snatched it from my hand.
“Thank you,” she said coldly. “That’s what we came for. And by the way, the next time we want your opinion, we’ll ask for it.”

What's a generation to do?
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Day

December 7, 1985
"Well, this is my Pearl Harbor Day" my mother wrote in her first entry of a new journal.  Turned out she had been to the doctor's office, referred immediately to a specialist, and was diagnosed with metastasized cancer. She was given four months, maximum, to live. Caught unaware, surprised, bombed out. Day of infamy.
According to her journal, she declared war on her enemy , all those bad cells in her system, but didn't have the strength to wage a winning war.
I didn't see her short journal until after she died, March 29, 1986. Those docs were right on target -four months maximum and the war was over.
My brothers and I didn't learn of her prognosis until Christmas night, after the holiday festivities were over.
Every Pearl Harbor Day I wonder what she was doing on THE Pearl Harbor Day. I try to imagine her, with me at seven-months old, perched on her lap, waiting for my father to come home from work. How did people respond to hearing the news on the radio, but having no visuals? I never asked.
Metaphors and images have such power over our lives (at least mine). Now, when I see the images from Pearl Harbor Day I don't think of the war first, but think of my mother. Then, I think of the war. Such a stark, yet profound use of language to confront reality: This is my Pearl Harbor Day.
In some way that I don't understand, the metaphor comforts me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Timing is Everything

Tired but true cliche. . . timing does matter, and matters profoundly. It's a rare thing to get outside our own cultural context, to see what others around us can't or won't see.
For example, in 1952, homosexuality was classified as a form of insanity. The American Psychiatric Association declared it so. In 1953, President Eisenhower issued an executive order mandating the firing of anyone engaged in sexual perversion. Twenty years later, 1973, the American Psychiatric Association momentarily bowed its collective head and said, 'oh so sorry, we were wrong.'  Just when things were looking up, along came HIV/AIDS and its association with homosexual behavior. Turned out that it wasn't a homosexual disease after all, not a blight sent by God to punish gays. What a half-century of wisdom was compiled.
Same gang of authorities declared alcoholism as a moral weakness in the '50's. Later declared it as a sociopathic personality disturbance. Even later, somewhere in the '80's, the collective wisdom declared 'alcoholism' out and declared there were two forms of alcohol-related diagnoses:  alcohol dependence and alcohol disorder. Oh, one can image the committees set up to compare and contrast dependence and disorder.
Imagine being a twenty-year gay (whoops, homosexual) alcoholic in the mid-fifties. By all the authority vested in the approved and distinguished medical, political, religious and social organizations, you are declared insane, with deep moral weakness attached.  How's that for timing?  Your family is intelligent, well-read, and trying to help you. But they, too, believe you are insane (but can be fixed) and morally weak. Who are they to buck authority, to go against what is known to be true?
Oh, and for good measure, maybe you are 'Negro', as they said.  For openers, you can't eat, sleep or urinate near anyone 'white.' And you sure are dumb.
Add that to your descriptors.
In the late fifties, my now deceased, but then troubled, brother was finally and officially declared a sociopath. Oh, and an alcoholic. Mid teens. For years, I scoured every sociology and psychology book I could find in the library to understand what that meant.'Charming,' yes. 'Egocentric,' yes (I had just become acquainted with Freud). But the concepts 'no conscience' and 'no sense of guilt' didn't work for me. Having been brought up Catholic and learning the difference between conscience (the science/reasoning thing) and conscious, I didn't get it. Did that mean he was born without a soul? How could someone not feel guilt? I couldn't believe that was true. I only got as far as believing that someone could not show guilt, but still feel it.
At any rate, that definition of sociopath has morphed into the anti-social behavioral disorder category. The past ten or so years have given us man, many disorders. Go forth and multiply, you Disorders.
With all that ticking in my head, I try to imagine what the unenlightened aspects of our cultural contexts are today. What do we NOT get, not understand, but believe we absolutely understand? What alleged disorders are not dis-ordered? How to get out of this timing, this cultural context and see the light?
That could lead us to Plato's Allegory of the Cave, but here's some good news. It doesn't - at least for today. Timing is Everything.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Giving Up or Letting Go?

When is it time to let go?  Is letting go or surrendering the same as giving up?
I was at a meeting this morning that included three women who had just made significant decisions about their lives. One had just decided to end her medical treatments and all drugs associated with the treatments and to go forward with naturopathy and prayers only. She was in survival mode, just choosing a new form of survival, a form that will allow her to follow her intuition and instincts, no longer having to adhere to what the 'professionals' declared or prescribed.  Taking charger of her life.
The other two women had, independently, decided they were at peace with themselves and their worlds and were ready to go gently into that good night.
One woman commented that she had decided to go with quality rather than quantity.  "Living in pain, propped up by cancer meds and pain patches is not a life of quality," said this one-time practicing physician. "I think I have been a good person and lived a good life. My eighteen year-old son has psychiatric problems and still needs a mom around, but I can't be of much help anymore."
"I am not giving up, but am letting go. There's a big difference." And I am going to Cabo San Lucas with my whole family for Christmas!" Taking Charge of her Life.
From another woman:  "I find it so difficult to talk to people who keep telling me not to give up. I haven't given up. It's not a battle I am fighting, it's not a matter of trying harder. It's about coming to peace with the way things are. I am at peace." Taking Charge of Her Life.
Each woman in the group has her own story, stories filled with joy, rage, sadness, isolation, grace, and gratitude. Lots of frustration and fear, mingled with fear and hope. The women in Nicki's Circle, all having had ovarian cancer once or twice or more, or who are in treatment for the cancer right now understand deeply the difference between giving up and letting go.  All taking charge of their lives. It's an honor to be in such a space.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

Occupied Relaxation with skill and ease last night. With that new found state of consciousness I made my way to a meeting this morning to discuss possible speakers for a Leadership Conference this coming fall.
My noon-time suggestion is this: find some way, some body, any body, real or virtual, even your alter-ego, and have a discussion of leadership, leaders, leadership practice or leadership theory.  For a focused period of time, all energy is on going through one's memory bank thinking of positive people, people who have made differences (big and small), people who care. Stimulating and revealing. Oh, it might take a little digging, but you'll find a list that goes from the personal to the professional, from the unknown or quiet leaders to the most rambunctious.
My head is filled with names of people, some of whom I don't know, who have shown leadership in the world.

How perfectly timed, I thought, as this is World AIDS Day. Lots of Leadership has gone into promoting awareness, finding cures and finding acceptance and passion for people living with or affected by AIDS. You can go to 2015quilt.com and ad a piece to the AIDS quilt...or read Obama's speech this morning.Here's Obama's speech on World AIDS Day, as reported by ABC News.
Marking the 23rd anniversary of World AIDS Day, President Obama today announced a deepened U.S. commitment to fighting the pandemic, declaring “make no mistake, we are going to win this fight.”
“Today is a remarkable day. Today, we come together, as a global community, across continents, faiths and cultures, to renew our commitment to ending the AIDS pandemic – once and for all,” Obama said at a World AIDS Day event at George Washington University.
The president announced a realignment of existing funds to provide an additional $50 million to combat HIV and AIDS and set a new goal to help six million people get on treatment by the end of 2013, two million more than the original target.
Obama also urged countries that have committed to give money to the Global Fund to live up to their promises. “That includes China and other major economies that are now able to step up as major donors,” he said.
Over the last three decades, the global pandemic has claimed 30 million lives. While the rate of new infections is going down elsewhere, the president noted it’s not declining in America.
“The infection rate here has been holding steady for over a decade. There are communities in this country being devastated still by this disease. When new infections among young, black, gay men increase by nearly fifty percent in three years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter. When Latinos are dying sooner than other groups; when black women feel forgotten even though they account for most of the new cases among women, we need to do more,” he said.
“This fight isn’t over. Not for the 1.2 million Americans who are living with HIV right now. Not for the Americans who are infected every day. This fight isn’t over for them. It isn’t over for their families. It isn’t over for anyone in this room. And it certainly isn’t over for your President,” Obama declared.
Today’s event, entitled “The Beginning of the End of AIDS,” was sponsored by the ONE and (Red) campaigns and featured remarks from Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, via satellite, and was attended by well-known activists, including U2 lead singer Bono and singer Alicia Keys.