Thursday, January 31, 2008

Midwest Eye Conference

I leave tomorrow for the weekend Midwest Eye Conference in Oklahoma City, where a group of veterinary ophthalmologists and some veterinary pathologists will gather to discuss cases, swap jokes and eat cowboy food. In fact, the entire theme of the conference is The Cowboy. Well, what else is there to do in Oklahoma City? Although I normally don't like it when people put clothes and such on their pets (sorry Mr Ether), the dog above was irresistable. I even put the photo in my talk, whic describes a rare, weird eye tumor of dogs. I mean, you can only look at tumors for so long, right?

The above photo shows a cross-section through an eyeball, which was mounted on a microscope slide and stained. This eye contains an example of the weird tumor but without those cool little arrows, I can't really point them out. But thought I'd show that I wasn't just going to enjoy the nightlife in Oklahoma City.

A big thrill for me, personally, will be a private and free tour of the Museum of the American Cowboy. I can hardly wait. I'll have to remember to bring my camera. I'm wondering if this is the museum where they have Roy Roger's horse, Trigger, stuffed and mounted. Or was it Roy himself? Guess I'll find out soon enough. And the possiblity for tacky postcards is almost too much to contemplate.

Kissing the President

Published on Wednesday, January 30, 2008 by

by David Cook

Thomas Graham is a soldier from north Georgia who went to Baghdad to fight Iraqis and terrorism. On a hot July day last summer, during his second tour of duty, a bomb exploded on the road he was traveling, killing two of his fellow soldiers immediately. Graham, back home in the States, is now no longer an able-bodied soldier fighting terrorism. He is missing part of his body. Disabled and currently unemployed, Graham wakes up every morning with prosthetic limbs where his feet and legs used to be.On his flight back to the US, before his mother gave up her job to spend months with him at Walter Reed Hospital, Graham and his fellow soldiers were greeted with a surprise guest waiting for them on the tarmac. It was their president, their commander-in-chief, their leader, and as the plane landed, President Bush greeted his soldiers, shaking hands and making small talk with his troops returning home.

At one point, he even leaned down and kissed the shaved head of Thomas Graham. Graham, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, got a laugh out of the kiss. “I thought that was pretty funny,” he said.

I believe this kiss is the kiss of Judas, a tragic betrayal and warped perversion that leads us to believe that it is this president who may bestow blessing and healing upon his soldiers. The day must come when the president and all the war-makers must stoop upon the ground, with the knees of their pin-striped suits dirty in the mud, and beg for forgiveness, blessing and healing, cursing themselves for ever thinking they had the authority to grant this upon others.

In other words, we need the soldiers to kiss us.

The kiss symbolizes a blessing of sorts, and in our patriarchal and hierarchical society, it is always those at the top of the ladder, living in the high-rises, working in white houses and pentagons, that do the kissing, that impart blessing. It is the same dynamic that creates and wages war, an anti-democratic system where the bugles are blown from Washington, yet the bodies are buried in poor country, USA.

Where are Thomas Graham’s feet and legs, after all? They are lost, somewhere, on the ground, in a ditch in the desert, a symbol for the millions of Americans who are disenfranchised, destitute and dehumanized.

Gay Americans, homeless Americans, minority Americans, these Hispanic-Americans we call ”illegal”, these are the people to whom we need to drop on bended knee, with head bowed, and ask for their kiss, ask for their blessing. The oppressed, not the oppressors, grant the blessing, and as the radical tomes of liberation theology proclaim, God’s favor rests on the downtrodden, not the mighty.

The presidents and war-makers will soon lose their legs and feet as well, their blood-stained house of cards bound to collapse. Yet in their place, we must nail down the foundations of true democracy, and cast away the damnable illusion that electing leaders and, as Thoreau said, resigning our conscience to those in Washington is proper civics. We must begin to look down, not up, to find our heroes, to find those worthy of bestowing a blessing upon the lot of us.

It is the height of folly and arrogance to bend low to kiss the disabled, injured, aching soldier.

We need them to bless and forgive those of us who take their legs from them.

David Cook is a teacher and journalist out of Chattanooga, TN, working through a master’s degree in Social Justice. He has written for the Times-Free Press for four years and currently writes for the

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dad Birthday

My dad would've been 82 today. Perhaps if he hadn't smoked at least a pack a day for 50+ years, he'd still be around. I wish he'd known my Poodledoc, Jr better. He would have liked my dog. But he died on my birthday in 2002.

He grew up on a farm south of Omaha, NE, the youngest of 5 kids. He had a pony and several dogs that he cherished. In high school, he contracted polio and spent a number of months in an iron lung. He worked hard at his physical therapy and recovered. Then graduated from high school in 1944. The Navy drafted him immediately, even though he'd spent all that time with polio, and sent him off to the middle of Idaho to get trained. I guess there was a lake there, or something. Then they realized that he was still too weak from polio, and after three weeks of "doing nothing but card-playing", sent him back home to work on the farm. This left him as one of the few remaining young men on the "home front". Since there was such a farm labor crunch, they'd "obtain" German POW's to work the farm. Sit at the table and eat. Eat lots.

Anyway, I miss him. He tried to be the best dad he could be to me. He drove taxi cab and one of my fondest memories was as a boy, about 8 years old, riding along with him on Friday nights.

Kenya ethnic clashes intensify

Kenyan troops have moved into the town of Naivasha in the western Rift Valley province in an attempt to quell tribal fighting.
But hundreds of people from rival tribes, wielding machetes, clubs and rocks, confronted each other on Monday on a main Naivasha road.
Katee Mwanza, the district commissioner, said at least 22 people were killed in the Naivasha area in ethnic clashes over the past two days. Police said a least five of those were burned to death in their homes.
Naivasha, a major commercial centre, is known as Kenya's flower capital.

Kenya has been swept by ethnic violence triggered by a disputed presidential poll last month.

Escalating violence

The death toll from a month's violence now stands at nearly 800, while at least 260,000 have been displaced since December 27.

In the normally peaceful Rift Valley town of Nakuru, a mortuary worker said on Monday that 64 corpses were lying in the morgue, all victims of the past four days of ethnic fighting. (see my friend John's blog for more photographs and information)
Violence in the Rift Valley

The police also clashed with rioters in the western city of Kisumu.

A stronghold of Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, demonstrators set several shops on fire, barricaded roads and lit bonfires across the city, witnesses said.

Police responded by firing in the air. Hundreds of people, meanwhile, fled to the city's central police station to escape the riots.

"We are trying to restore law and order in the towns," a police commander told AFP news agency. "The situation is tense at the moment."

While ethnic clashes have accompanied past Kenyan elections, the scale of the violence this year has been far worse.

It has mainly pitted ethnic groups which support the opposition because they feel marginalised, against the Kikuyu tribe of Mwai Kibaki, Kenya's president.

New twist

But the violence has taken a new twist in recent days.
Mohammed Adow, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kenya, said: "Whereas, in the first place it was opposition supporters attacking those perceived as government supporters based on their ethnic identity, we are now seeing revenge attacks.

Human rights groups say that the latest fighting is premeditated, with those involved being trained and paid.

Muthoni Wanyeki, the executive director of the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission, told Al Jazeera: "What happened in the Rift really was organised militia activity.

"We have some of the names of training camps, we have some of the names of pay masters [but] we are still trying to trace the line of command."

She said several organisations had warned of an expected spike in violence, after militias began reorganising.
Wanyeki also called on the government to bring security to temporary camps set up for the thousands of people who fled their homes to escape the violence.

"They are still not secure," she said. "The state seems to have surplus of forces to stop people from holding rallies in Nairobi, but not have enough forces to protect the remaining camps in the Rift Valley, which is ridiculous."

Annan mediation

The ethnic dimension to the violence has further complicated the efforts of Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, who is trying to mediate and end the crisis.
Odinga, the leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), who ran against Kibaki in December's election, alleges that vote rigging robbed him of the presidency.
Kibaki has said he is open to direct talks with Odinga, but that his position as president is not negotiable. Odinga says Kibaki must step down and new elections are the only way forward.

Annan met Odinga on Sunday at a hotel in Nairiobi, on the sixth day of his tour of Kenya.
On Saturday, Annan said he saw "gross and systematic human rights abuses of fellow citizens", after visits to parts of the Rift Valley.
However, his effort to end the turmoil has been undermined by the continuing violence.

Annan arranged a symbolic first meeting between Kibaki and Odinga on Thursday, but an initial signal that the opposing leaders were willing to talk was later undermined when they returned to their hardline positions.
Many Kenyans are doubtful that mediation will help.
A poll by Nation Media, the country's largest newspaper group, had only 51.6 per cent of 2,000 respondents believing Annan can resolve the crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Brief Thoughts on Being a Leader

I've been known to ask the question: "Where are the leaders of today?" My thinking is, where are the Martin Luther King's, the Gandhi's, etc Sometimes I truly feel lost. I need guidance. I understand the question. I was prompted by a friend's excellent post this morning to verbalize a new answer to the question posed above. The answer is that if just ONE person is inspired or changed for the better by your example, YOU are a leader. When I consider all my friends and acquaintances, for example, and just make a list of the things they do and say, I am awed. I feel hopeful They lead. No, I don't worry that they don't win primaries in South Carolina, speak to huge crowds, give millions to the poor, etc. I mean, that might be nice, but it comes down to the individual. When I wait for someone to come along and lead me, I feel stagnant, cynical and sometimes angry.

So I look around. There are abundant examples of people leading. Teaching passionately in the classroom. Working at a soup kitchen. Fighting for housing. Giving someone on the street $10. Meditating or praying to make a positive change in one's inner self. That peace that comes from within radiates out. Others see it. Others feel it. Other people are moved to act. Not out of a guilt of "not doing enough", a feeling I know well, but out of a feeling that they can make a difference. They probably won't make the front page or be on TV, but I need to remember these people and what they do. It brings me strength as I watch them bring their gifts into the world. I know these are not exactly new ideas, but it helps me to write them down. Thank you friends!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Poodledoc, Jr Meets Jethro Tull

One of the delights of having a child, other than doing math homework together, is sharing music. Now I know the time is fast approaching when basically any music I like Jr will think just plain sucks. So.............I'm doing my best to educate him to old time rock and roll. Now, for me, "old time" means the late 60's and early 70's. I've gotten him to enjoy groups like Yes, King Crimson, and now..........Jethro Tull. Perhaps I find joy in the irony that these guys (well, actually just Ian Anderson, lead singer and flute player) are still around, playing music, at MY age! Imagine that!

One thing I like about Jethro Tull was their ability to mingle the sinister, the darkness with the light. They are often able to "play" with that tension. Like the cover of Aqualung, which always held a grim fascination with me.....

I'll close with the lyrics to Poodledoc, Jr's current favorite Tull song, Locomotive Breath. You can draw your own conclusions as to what it's about.

In the shuffling madness
of the locomotive breath,
runs the all-time loser,
headlong to his death.
He feels the piston scraping
steam breaking on his brow
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won't stop going
no way to slow down.
He sees his children jumping off
at the stations - one by one.
His woman and his best friend
in bed and having fun.
He's crawling down the corridor
on his hands and knees
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won't stop going
no way to slow down.
He hears the silence howling
catches angels as they fall.
And the all-time winner
has got him by the balls.
He picks up Gideons Bible
open at page one
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won't stop going
no way to slow down.

Quaker Middle School Social: January '08

Another fun Quaker Middle School Social was held tonight at the home of Sonja, Rick, and Lianne Burnson. Much pizza was made and consumed by the youth (and by us grown-ups as well). Thanks to Rick for the excellent crusts and to the Burnson's for their wonderful house and kitchen. After pizza, games were planned. I liked all the laughter and how the group seemed to stick together, seemingly very cohesive whle they were laughing. When I left, it looked like this would be another night to remember among the Madison Monthly Meeting Middle Schoolers.......

Thursday, January 24, 2008

More on Dr King: A less common quote (at least to me)

[A]s I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart ... many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." (Source: American Rhetoric)

A Visit to Washington, DC Friends Meeting, a Death and Martin Luther King

Meetinghouse main entrance (above)

Last weekend, I had the joy of attending the Washington, DC Friends Meeting (Quakers). This was my second visit and I enjoyed meeting the variety of folks that make up a typical Quaker Meeting.

During Meeting, it was announced that a much loved and integral member of the Meeting had just died an untimely, sudden death from a heart attack. Much sadness. I found it powerful to watch this spiritual community deal with this in a supportive, loving manner.

After Meeting, there was an event in the Meeting House celebrating Martin Luther King. We sang many songs of liberation, love and protest. I don't consider myself much of a singer, but I really got into this and belted out some of the songs. No windows broke. I had goose bumps during some of the songs. They were very empowering. We also listened to some of Dr King's words and had a time of silence, as is the Quaker way. I have been to past MLK celebrations and found them to often be, at least for me, the creation of an icon with little power to inspire, or perhaps more importantly, empower people to make change. These other gatherings often look at him like one looks at a photo or a statue. Like a moment in time. When his words and actions were directed at the present and ALSO the future, after he was gone. The combinaton of songs, his words and the silence while within my spiritual community felt different. Much more energizing. Now...........I want to be clear that Quakers aren't partiularly "better" at this than other groups nor do I want to in any way diminish other King celebrations. But for me, at that time, it felt different and I noticed that difference.

It was a wonderful day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Weirdest Dog Park Ever

On my visit to DC this past weekend, my friend Julia and I joined her friend Neil and his Standard Poodle, Mert for a romp through the Congressional Cemetery. Now, I know my loyal readers, all 6 of them, will be thinking, perhaps, that I will say something clever like: “This is where the current Congress spent it’s most recent term!” Actually I’ve decided to tell the truth.

Neil told us that the Congressional Cemetery was established in the early 1800’s to “accommodate” Congressmen who died during their terms and lived in far away states. Refrigeration and embalming techniques were primitive or non-existent in those days, to the guys ended up buried there, for uh……..safekeeping. There are also a large number of Native Americans buried there. They would come to DC to lobby Congress and seeing as Congress didn’t listen very fast, they were there a long time and a lot of them died.

Now, things have changed. The aforementioned Congress men have mostly been re-located to their home states, no doubt to join Chuck Norris in his campaign for Mike Huckabee. And the Native Americans have been honored with a beautiful wooden arch, carved and painted by Northwest tribes. As an added attraction, J. Edgar Hoover is buried there. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps because the cemetery is in the shadow of the monstrous DC jail?

After some time, the place was in disrepair but I guess it was made a Historic Place and at about the same time, it was turned into a dog park. So, for a contribution, dog owners obtain a tag/permit to let their canines off leash among the tombstones. Mert, being a poodle and super smart, was able to lead us to J Edgar Hoover’s grave. I wish I could say that he piddled on J Edgar’s headstone, but I don’t think that happened. The place was crowded with canines, crypts and tombstones of all shapes and sizes.

Close to J Edgar’s grave, Neil showed us a fairly recent grave of a gay soldier. The epitaph said something like: “when I killed men, you gave me a medal. When I loved a man, you took them away”. Just around the corner form Hoover’s grave. Hoover, a man who targeted homosexuals such as Bayard Rustin and many others. Hoover, a man who was gay himself. The irony was not lost on this tourist.

Mert didn’t seem to care much about irony. He was in the weirdest dog park in the world, he had a big stick, and I would not be getting it back unless he allowed it. As the sun was setting on this coldest of all DC days, Mert ran off between the gravestones, laughing, as poodles are known to laugh.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dr Poodledoc Goes to Washington

I'm flying off today to visit my friend Julia in Wahington, DC. I'm looking forward to it. Flying is not my favorite thing. I'm hoping they give me in-flight peanuts, at least. But if they don't, that's ok. Looking forward to seeing my friend!

Oh, and I did turn down an invitation from Dick Cheney to go hunting. I know that flying is much, much safer than spending time with the Vice "President".

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Death and Regrets

My uncle died yesterday. Leukemia ultimately leading to organ failure and death. My Mom's younger brother who I was named after. I find myself with mixed feelings today. Sad, yes. Regrets, too.

When I was in third grade, he came to live with us for a time. We had so much fun. He had a wild sense of humor. We spent time making model rockets and shooting them off into blue skies over a big field near my house. We drove around and talked. Went swimming and generally had a good time. when I was eight years old, he "found Jesus". I recall the day he cornered me in his car and told me that I "had to ask Jesus into my heart or I would go to Hell". He told my mom she'd go to Hell if she didn't go to his church, instead of hers. He seemed very angry and urgent. He scared me. He lost his ability to laugh and have fun for a long time.

As I got older, we still spent time together. He married, began to raise two sons. When I was with them, I saw how they tied their version of Christianity in with hatred of "fags, spics, and niggers". I felt like Christianity was false. I based it on this, to a large degree and also my own experience at my church, where the minister was very friendly to the rich people in the church, but couldn't manage to even say hello to my mom in the grocery store. So it's not fair to blame my uncle for my rejection, at the time, of organized religion of all types, especially Christianity.

That all started to change for me when I traveled to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace in 1987 and saw liberation theology. Christianity combined with active social change in the present. Not some heavenly reward after you were dead. But I stopped talking with my uncle and his family. As I re-examined my spiritual self on my personal journey, I came to understand things differently. Among other things, I learned that there were many Christians who did try to live in a Christian manner. But I stil didn't talk with my uncle. I began attending Quaker Meeting 15 years ago and my relationship with God evolved into a challenging but comfortable relationship. I had a clearer understanding of God. I became better able to look at other religions with out such judgement. I stil fear the combination of religion with hatred. But I know in my heart that those folks are humans, too. Perhaps they are scared, seeking refuge in religion against the world. I don't know for sure. It's surely much more complex than that.

But, when I heard my uncle had been diagnosed with leukemia 5 years ago, I STILL did not contact him. Oh, I had my reasons. My personal life was in a mess, but I stayed away. Maybe I was scared. Maybe that 8 year old boy was still scared and angry.

Today I feel sad that I didn't contact him to at least say good bye. This is my regret. It could have been very different. There could have been healing for both of us. What was I afraid of? Was I hiding behind some false pride? I don't know but will reflect on this.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Feeling this truth as I'm waking up..............

"Dig deep.....carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock, sure foundation, and there hearken to the Divine Voice which gives a clear and certain sound"

John Woolman, c. 1770

Evolutionists At War Over Altruism’s Origins

Published on Thursday, January 10, 2008 by The Independent/UK

by Steve Connor

An intellectual war of words has broken out between two of the world’s leading evolutionists. Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins and Harvard’s Edward Wilson have gone head to head over the evolution of altruism in the animal kingdom, and whether it can have come about as a result of something called group selection.The subject matter of their dispute is social insects, particularly ants, which display a supreme form of altruism in that sterile workers lay down their lives for the benefit of their fertile colleagues in the colony.

Conventional Darwinian theory could not really explain why one individual should sacrifice its own life, and its precious genes, for the benefit of another individual, unless it could be viewed in terms of group selection, when individuals do it for the benefit of the colony or the species.

But nearly half a century ago, scientists punched intellectual holes in the theory of group selection and pointed instead to something called kin selection, when altruism in social communities evolves as a result of one individual being closely related to a member of the same colony.

Social insects such as ants display unusual degrees of relatedness within the colony, with sister workers being more closely related to one another than to the offspring they may have. It was therefore seen as beneficial for individual sisters to sacrifice their fertility for their sister queen because of the genes they had in common.

Mathematical models supported kin selection which rose to prominence because it appeared to explain the evolution of altruism in ants and many other species. Group selection was dead in the water. But now Professor Wilson has brought it back to life in a book on ants to be published this year, and in an interview this week with New Scientist magazine.

“If you look at the literature of the theory, there are a lot of impressive-looking mathematical models but they scarcely ever come up with a real measure of anything that can be applied to nature,” he says.

This has not pleased Professor Dawkins who, while he has respect for Wilson, spent much of his early career exploding the myth of group selection, which is anathema to the “selfish gene” theory behind kin selection.

In a separate article in New Scientist, Dawkins acknowledges Wilson’s “characteristically fascinating account” of the evolution of social insects, but says: “His ‘group selection’ terminology is misleading, and his distinction between ‘kin selection’ and ‘individual direct selection’ is empty.”

What matters is natural selection at the level of the gene, not the group, he insists. “All we need ask of a purportedly adaptive trait is, ‘what makes a gene for that trait increase in frequency?’ Wilson wrongly implies that explanations should resort to kin selection only when ‘direct’ selection fails,” says Dawkins.

“Here he falls for the first of my ‘12 misunderstandings of kin selection’; that is, he thinks it is a special, complex kind of natural selection, which it is not.”

Dawkins points out that Wilson relegates kin selection to a chapter on group selection in his book Sociobiology, published in the mid-Seventies. “Evidently Wilson’s weird infatuation with ‘group selection’ goes way back; unfortunate in a biologist who is so justly influential,” he says.

Professor Wilson remains convinced that he will be proved right, and his critics wrong.

“I am used to taking the heat, and in the past I turned out to be right,” he said.

Sacrifice in the natural world

* Mothers in many animal species will risk injury and even death to protect their young. This is seen as a prime example of kin selection and can explain why people will tolerate their own children’s behaviour but not that of others.

* Many social animals demonstrate acts of altruism based on close kinship within the colony. The supreme form of altruism is seen in social insects, when individuals sacrifice their fertility and lay down their lives for the benefit of their fertile queen.

* Some species engage in what is known as reciprocal altruism, when an altruistic act is carried out in the expectation that it may be returned later on. Warning calls of birds in response to potential danger are thought to be an example of reciprocal atruism. The call puts the bird at higher risk, but it will benefit it in the long run if others reciprocate

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Favorite Photograph

This has always been one of my favorite photos of Georgia O'Keefe. I have always wanted to know what she just said to the cowboy. I apologize for the image quality. If anyone knows what she said, I'd love to know. Otherwise, please make something up, if you are so moved.

Lame Duck Still Wants to Bomb Iran

So Bush is in the Middle East. Finally "visiting" the scene of his many crimes. Not that he'll see any of the evidence. So he's back to beating the war drums to bomb Iran. I am so sick of this stuff. I read a very excellent post with a very moving slide show over at the site of my friend, Enriched Geranium. It's worth a look and has given me some strenth in the face of this war-mongering. It's about 4 minutes long. Too long for CNN, I suppose, but I wish the people of America could see it. Maybe it would make a difference........

Watching the Packers with Enriched Geranium

So I watched the Green Bay Packers whoop the Seattle Seahawks yesterday with Enriched Geranium (aka Mr Ether) and Poodledoc, Jr. It was fun watching them play in Green Bay's Lambeau Field, in a blizzard. The game had to slow down somewhat because it was so slippery. The Packer players looked as though they were having a good time. Throwing snowballs, etc. Of course, they were winning and had rallied from a disastrous start, but still, they looked like they were having fun. Too often, in the wide world of professional sports, it looks so damn serious all the time. But it's just a game! And this brought back memories of playing touch football in the snow when I was in middle school, sometime around the turn of the century. It was fun! So I liked that.

It was fun hanging out with Mr Ether, too. We have both watched enough sports like football in our lives to have heard all the cliches (yawn) that sportscasters use with horrifying regularity: "Bob, the Seahawks need to get the ball in the end zone to score", or "It looks like the momentum has shifted here", or "It (the snow) is really coming down", or "Will Brett (Favre) retire after this year?", or "the running game will open up passing opportunities for the Seahawks if they can get it going". Mr Ether and I could often predict, with frightening regularity, what these guys would say. Scintillating conversation. Anyway, it was fun and in the end, isn't that the point of these games?

Important disclaimer: Yes, I am a Chicago Bears fan. For any Bear fans who are reading this do NOT be alarmed or send me nasty comments. I have not gone over to the dark side. I, like all Bear fans, can smugly remnd Packer fans that even though the Bears sucked this year, they beat the Packers twice. But for now, I'll pull for the Packers

Feeling this truth as I'm waking up..............

"Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself"

--Thomas R. Kelly, 1941

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Things I've Learned from My Dog

My dog Duke, a black Standard Poodle, came to me through the Minneapolis Humane Society in the fall of 2000. Someone dropped him off in the middle of the night. He was a year old. I canceled all my vet appointments to drive up there from Madison. I called him Duke Ellington.

At the time, my marriage had just ended and I was living in another house in Madison. It was a difficult time. So into my life he came. At first, we didn’t connect. That took some time. After a few months, I guess he realized he was stuck with me, so we bonded pretty well. He learned my habits. I learned his.

The next several years were fraught with a lot of pain. There is something so wonderful about coming home to a happy, furry dog who gives unconditional love. It heals a lot of hurts. There was a time during those years when I sunk so low, I felt like it was time to end my life. I was sitting on the couch crying. I felt lost and alone. I had lost touch with God. Adrift. I had Poodledoc, Jr, a wonderful son, but I felt I wasn’t going to be a good father to him. Duke got up from his bed, came over to me and rested his head on my thigh. His brown eyes looked right into mine. I knew then I could not kill myself. It shook me out of my downward spiral.

As I mentioned, it felt like God was gone from my life. I felt all alone in the universe. But then this………, reached out to me at a critical time. As I reflect on this, I believe he was a “nudge” from God. I’ve wondered if he was an angel, which my sound bizarre. I’m not quite sure I believe in angels, at least not the ones with wings and halos. But maybe that’s what angels are, nudges from God. Messages that alter our lives. Sometimes we don’t see it at the time. But it happens.

Life is much happier now. I feel very connected with God and the Universe. Duke is 8 years old. Sometimes when I watch him running at the dog park, I feel sad about the fact that he won’t live forever. Well, none of us will. Then I watch him running through the grass or the snow, spinning and dancing. Chasing other dogs. Ecstatic. Living life as full as he can. I don’t think he has any concept of his own mortality. Or maybe he does. Anyway, he continues to show me that while life is in me, I need to live it as fully as I can. Sometimes I think I hear him say “I saved you back then……… you could live this happiness now”.

Perhaps this sounds like one of those sappy dog stories. In a cynical world, what’s wrong with being sappy and noticing the love of people and animals around us and how they all challenge us to live full lives? What’s wrong about noticing God or the Divine or the Light or the Universe or whatever you want to call it in the world?

As Duke Ellington himself once said, “If it feels good, it is good”. My dog always reminds me of this.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Barack Obama on the Middle East

Published on Friday, January 11, 2008 by Foreign Policy in Focus

by Stephen Zunes

The strong showings by Senator Barack Obama of Illinois in the early contests for the Democratic presidential nomination don’t just mark a repudiation of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and “war on terrorism.” They also indicate a rejection of the Democratic Party establishment, much of which supported the invasion of Iraq and other tragic elements of the administration’s foreign policy.

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that voters found Senator Obama’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in contrast to the strong support for the invasion by his principal rivals for the Democratic Party nomination, a major factor contributing to his surprisingly strong challenge to Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the race for the White House. Indeed, while his current position on Iraq is not significantly different than that of Clinton or the other major challenger, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Obama’s good judgment not to support the war five years ago has led millions of Democratic and independent voters to find him more trustworthy as a potential commander-in-chief.

At the same time, while he certainly takes more progressive positions on Middle East issues than Senator Clinton or the serious Republican presidential contenders, he backs other aspects of U.S. policies toward Iraq, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have raised some troubling questions. This is one factor that has tempered support for the trailblazing African-American candidate among liberal and progressive voters.

Iraq in the Illinois State Senate

In October 2002, while Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were in Washington leading Congressional efforts to authorize President George W. Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his choosing, Obama–then an Illinois state senator who had no obligation to take a stand either way–took the initiative to speak at a major anti-war rally in Chicago. While Clinton and Edwards were making false and alarmist statements that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was still a danger to the Middle East and U.S. national security, Obama had a far more realistic understanding of the situation, stating: “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.”

Recognizing that there were alternatives to using military force, Obama called on the United States to “allow UN inspectors to do their work.” He noted “that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”

Furthermore, unlike the the Iraq War’s initial supporters, Obama recognized that “even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Understanding the dangerous consequences to regional stability resulting from war, Obama accurately warned that “an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.”

Iraq in the U.S. Senate

Once elected to the U.S. Senate, however, his anti-war voice became muted. Obama supported unconditional funding for the Iraq War in both 2005 and 2006. And–despite her false testimonies before Congress and her mismanagement of Iraq policy before, during, and after the U.S. invasion in her role as National Security Advisor–Obama broke with most of his liberal colleagues in the Senate by voting to confirm Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state during his first weeks in office.

Obama didn’t even make a floor speech on the war until a full year after his election. In it, he called for a reduction in the number of U.S. troops but no timetable for their withdrawal. In June 2006, he voted against an amendment by Senators Russ Feingold and John Kerry for such a timetable.

In addition, during the 2006 Democratic congressional primaries, he campaigned for pro-war incumbents–including Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman against his eventually victorious primary challenger Ned Lamont–and other conservative Democrats fighting back more progressive anti-war challengers.

Iraq as a Presidential Candidate

It was only after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton, called for setting a date to withdraw U.S. combat troops, and only after Obama formed his presidential exploratory committee, that he introduced legislation setting a date for troop withdrawal More details on Obama's Middle East positions...

The Matrix Spoof

Monday, January 7, 2008

Obama and the Ghosts of Racism

by James Carroll

“They said this day would never come,” Barack Obama declared in Iowa last week, and the ghosts of this nation nodded. With an African-American competing seriously for the presidency of the United States, the last act of a centuries-old drama begins. Obama’s blood tie to the story of American slavery, ironically, comes through his white mother’s ancestry, which apparently includes both slave owners and those who fought for the Union to end slavery. That Obama’s father was a Kenyan links him more directly than anyone could have imagined both to Africa’s past as an exploited continent, and to its present, where the bloody legacy of colonialism plays itself out. (Obama’s father was a member of the Luo tribe, like Raila Odinga, the leader of the Kenyan opposition, whose people are protesting the recent election.)

In the American memory, slavery and then the war to abolish it are taken to be the two poles of the story, but it isn’t that simple. If racial injustice continued to be a hallmark of life in the United States, it was thought to be an inevitable, but essentially unchosen consequence of the “250 years of unrequited toil,” in Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, that were imposed on kidnapped Africans and their descendants. Nearly a million Americans died in the war to end slavery, and - still in the American memory - the nation has felt badly ever since that slavery’s hangover includes discrimination against black people to this day.The conventional wisdom, given powerful articulation a generation ago by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is that the plight of African-Americans - from broad family dysfunction, to almost unshakeable poverty, to disproportionate incarceration rates of black males - is a tragic consequence of the social evil that America nobly renounced in the mid-19th century. Black people are socially disadvantaged, according to this narrative, because of the unhealed wound that was inflicted on them across the early centuries. Innately equal, yes, but they have been made a crippled people, which accounts for their still inferior position.

But, as historians like Yale’s Harry S. Stout point out, there is a third pole to the story, and it destroys the moral symmetry of the conventional wisdom. First, Africans were enslaved. Next, a savage war was justified by the “freeing” of slaves. Then, in a distinct but insufficiently acknowledged act of the drama, black people were actively resubjugated in the decades after the Civil War. That resubjugation, embodied in a “reconstruction” bargain between North and South, according to which the other purpose of the Civil War, “union,” was given priority over “freedom,” led to the culture of Jim Crow, radical segregation, and the use of law to keep African-Americans in an assigned place. That actively nurtured system - not the crippling effects of a long-abolished injustice - defines the ongoing American crime.

African-Americans have not been passive victims of this heinous tradition. Blacks led the resistance to it, culminating in the triumphs of the civil rights movement, preparing the way for leaders like Obama. But his arrival, at a level below the surface of whatever policies he advances, calls into question the dominant way in which this nation thinks of itself - not only in terms of race, but in terms of war. After all, the American belief in the righteousness of mass killing for the sake of abstract values like “freedom” springs not from the Revolution, where the killing was relatively slight and the freedom limited to a merchant class, but from the Civil War, where a spirit of total killing was justified by a professed commitment to racial equality that simply did not exist.

In his heart-breaking second inaugural address, Lincoln argued that the “unrequited toil” and “every drop of blood drawn with the lash” would be redeemed by the war, but a month later he was murdered. The quite deliberately constructed aftermath of the war destroyed Lincoln’s promise, although Americans told themselves otherwise. They glorified war, while preserving an injustice that war supposedly overcame. That was only yesterday.

Obama embodies more than he can know. “Change” is his mantra, but the potential for transformation goes far beyond the kinds of policies pursued in Washington. Those policies are rooted in assumptions sunk deep into the national psyche, and into the structure of memory that gives it shape. War is not necessarily redemptive. Africans are not necessarily disadvantaged. African-Americans are not mere victims. Race, for that matter, need not be definitive. An old story is offered a new ending - which is the beginning America has been awaiting. The day has come.

James Carroll’s column appears regularly in the Boston Globe.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Quaker Debate?

Well, I watched bits and pieces of the Republican and Democratic debate last night. The parts I saw looked more like shouting matches with candidates interrupting each other, insulting each other, etc. I came away discouraged and not really too excited, to say the least, about any candidate. Not surprisingly, I didn't hear a lot of facts. Lots of noise. Then the pundits "interpreting" for us, the people of America, with no memory or sense of history.

This morning, I woke up wondering what the debate would have been like had they been conducted in the manner of Friends (Quakers).

I imagined the candidates, in a circle, in worshipful silence to start. Then, out of the silence, when the Spirit moved them, they would speak. They would share the truth about what is really in their hearts. They would not try to attack or one up each other. If things got heated, the moderator would do what a good clerk would do, and call for a period of silence and prayer in an effort to get to clarity on, say, a viable energy policy, or withdrawal from Iraq, or the environment, or the economy. The candidates would be mindful of their words, and not repeat what someone else said, only louder. The debate would close with a period of silence. Not even the pundits could talk. Or the audience applaud. Then the people who vote would hear something other than yelling and insults and lies. The presidential vote would be done more carefully.

I know it's just a fantasy. But if one imagines something, that's the first step towards actualization. And, I hasten to add, the Quaker way is not the only way to a mindful, compassionate, hopeful discussion. Just a few thoughts on a Sunday afternoon.......

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Quote of the Week

"It is not enough to kneel and pray. We tell parishioners that whatever they do, they must do something that will affect peace somehow."

- Father Francis, a Kenyan priest near Uhuru (Freedom) Park where an opposition rally was dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannons following disputed elections and the deaths of some 300 people in related violence. (Source: The Christian Science Monitor)