Archive for February, 2010

now about Mosab Hassan Yousef…

February 28, 2010

How often in history does it happen that one person can really make in difference? How often does an Oskar Schindler come along? or a Paul Revere? How often does it occur that one man caught in the middle between warring factions can find a way to save the precious lives of people on both sides?

Such shrewd bravery–the kind that works covertly so as to be unnoticed and optimally effective–probably happens more often than we realize, though it’s not very often that we find about it. But I did hear about one such person a few days ago on NPR.

Robert Siegel was reporting on the activities of a young man named Mosab Hassan Yousef, who adroitly used an intimate family connection to Hamas (his father was a founder)  to save people instead of blowing them up. And, as it turns out, young Mosab saved a lot of people…hundreds.

During the course of the radio spot on <i>All Things Considered</i>, Robert questioned Avi Isaacharof about Yousef’s mission of saving lives, and this is what the Ha’aretz reporter said:
“…because of his involvement he managed to prevent tens and tens and tens of suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.He managed to save the lives of hundreds of Israelis, Palestinians, and foreigners by giving the Shin Bet the right information concerning wanted terrorists, or concerning suicide attackers who were on their way…to commit their attack.”

As I heard this, I was wondering what would possess a person to do such a thing? Why would a person who has good family connections risk all that privilege and authority  to take on a dangerous role as covert peacemaker? He would have to have heard from God or something.
Well as it turns out, he did. Mosab gave his life to Jesus ten years ago. Then God told the young son of a Hamas terrorist to save lives instead of kill them. So that’s the mission he undertook. It was his destiny, and he has been fulfilling it ever since. Mosab has said publicly that what initially got his spiritual attention were the words of Jesus:
“Love your enemies.”
And that was news to the boy from Ramallah. He hadn’t heard it before. But when he did hear it, he realized, after much study, that the key to overcoming all this earth-prone violence would be contained in that simple principle spoken by the Jewish Messiah. Imagine that.

Just unroll the scroll.


February 27, 2010

From her writhing eyes
a tear of reigned-in, trained-in pain
now slides;
it glides
across her wintry cheek,
and slips unseen onto Olympic ice.
It crystallizes
the attention of a weary world
upon her skating, unabating
In bronzed resolve
her new-dead mother had ensured,
Joannie has endured!
She slides;
she glides;
her grief she hides.
She rides
above a rink of frozen pain,
and melts our hardened hearts with triumphant rain.
Thank you, Joannie dear.
Your tear dissolves our fear.

Deep in the annals of Semitic history is a lesson…

February 22, 2010

Effective leadership arises in a three-phase process that encompasses, though not in any particular order:
~willingness to take corrective action
Let’s take a look at an example from ancient history.
Abraham, the patriarch of Semitic cultures, had a nephew who had gotten himself  into a bad situation. There was a war going on between tribal kings in the valley of Siddim, an area in Israel that is now covered by the Dead Sea. A powerful warlord named Chedorlaome had gathered some lesser kings; together they went on a conquering spree. After mounting an assault on the town of Sodom, Chedorlaome’s forces pillaged their settlement and took some prisoners, one of whom was Lot, Abraham’s nephew.. A fugitive from Lot’s camp managed to escape, and reported to Abraham that his nephew had been taken away. The patriarch then assembled a band of his trained men, pursued the marauding armies, defeated them, and rescued Lot.

Thus did Abraham’s willingness to take corrective action fulfill the first condition of his subsequent role as patriarch of the Semitic peoples.
After this assertive mission of deliverance, Abraham found himself surrounded by a group of thankful people (including his nephew Lot) and a collection of recovered goods.
One beneficiary of Abraham’s military prowess, the king of Sodom, offered all the booty to Abe as a reward. But the benevolent leader was satisfied with the mere rescue of his nephew and, presumably, the restoration of peace and justice. So he declined the grateful king’s offer. Abraham’s selfless distributions of windfall resources that might have been used toward his own enrichment were instead given to the recovering refugees.

Among those gathered at the occasion of Abraham’s victorious return from battle was Melchizedek, the king of Salem (now called Jerusalem), who was also a priest, or person having spiritual enablement. Melchizedek pronounced a blessing on Abraham, and Abraham, discerning the spiritual authority imparted in that blessing, bequeathed a tenth of the captured goods to Melchizedek for his priestly use. Abraham  then went on to become, you know, a pretty important guy in the history of world events.

Thus was leadership legitimatized in an ancient civilization in a two-pole balance of power between  the king and the priest.

Parallel to this in secularized 21st-century democracy is the sharing of governance that is initiated when our Chief Justice administers the oath of office to the President, whose agenda is determined by a third authoritative source, the people’s Congress.

Legitimacy requires, then: willingness to take corrective action, benevolence, and anointing. In our modern scheme of bestowing authority, the anointing ( legitimacy to govern), is now understood to originate among the people collectively, instead of some priest or pope. In the American manifestation of that principle, the President’s anointing to lead is derived, according to the Constitution, from the consent of the governed instead of, say, coronation by a religious leader.

In the confusion of  18-century emerging democratique republicanism , it’s a lesson not fully comprehended by Napolean, who impulsively grabbed the crown of French emperorship from pope Pius VII. Bonaparte’s eagerness to embody the new zeitgeist propelled him into a presumptuous grabbing of power that ultimately led to his demise and the decline of French hegemony.
120 years later, Hitler made a similarly disastrous presumption, although his delusion about the source of legitimacy went much deeper than Napolean’s. But that’s a different historical lesson.

Mr. America, tear down this wall.

February 20, 2010

If the exuberance of this great nation is ever to win the rest of the world over to our ways of liberty, then let us live largely and not be paranoid about letting people come and go. Send us the huddled masses yearning to be free, and they will rejuvenate our culture of freedom in unanticipated ways that enrich and extend our cultural heritage. As oppressed people of the world gather to us, they stir up fresh winds of innovation; some of them will return to their countries of origin as ambassadors of our good will.
Thus is our open American portal more persuasive than any other in the world.
For a hundred years, the western nations were knocking on China’s door, trying to persuade them to have an open door policy. Now it’s time for us to reinforce the idea by keeping an open door of our own–an unhindered exchange of people and ideas, open source. Like Google.

I got a little mad this morning when I opened some email from Pat Buchanan’s crowd and started reading about the conservative agenda. I’m a conservative myself, but when he starts harping on illegal immigration, I had to write down a few rants of my own,  ’cause that’s the least of our worries. That  labor dem crowd is right in there with him in the same paranaoid protectionist stripe. Americans just need to get off our asses and get back to work and quit complaining about all the other people in the world who want to be a part of our great experiment.

My progenitors were largely Scot-Irish immigrants who arrived on these verdant shores in some past century seeking opportunities to start anew. I’m thankful they were not turned back at the harbor.

Is our nation too crowded today to tolerate the open immigration of opportunity-seekers like those of  ages past who propelled our industries  to unprecedented levels of productivity? No. You want to know what crowded is? Look at Asia. Look at Mexico City and Johannesburg. Those places are bustin’ at the seams. If we are going to coexist with the developing nations in the 21st-century, we need to share some of our frontier heritage so some of them can get a breath of fresh air and learn what freedom is all about.  We are not crowded here in America. Yeah, sure we have problems. Doesn’t everybody?

Although our enlightened constitutional matrix constructed by ole white guys 250 years ago has served as an excellent framework for cultural freedoms to emerge, it is by no means the whole story. Our founding documents provided a superb beginning, but then we had to fight a bloody civil war 75 years later just to reconcile some of the structural deficiencies that the founders didn’t have the time  to properly resolve.  Such is the history of human progress, especially in a democracy. We don’t have time for perfection. You want perfection? You want something finely-tuned? Start a cottage industry and make watches or better mousetraps of widgets or software that surpasses anybody else’s product.

But in the public square, it’s always been about what works for society as a whole. Make a deal and move on. Unfinished business will be forever with us, like the poor. Jesus pointed out that they would always be among us. He and his predecessor Moses spoke principles for taking care of them, and we need to employ some of those strategies, along with the prosperity-generating stewardship principles about which they also preached.

Idealistic systems for engineering a classless society are pipe dreams. Get real. Marx and Mao, though they had a few accurate analyses, have been disproven as a source for societal construction.  Find something good to do and get to work so you can contribute to the commonwealth instead of sponging from it. If you can’t find it in yourself to do that, then get in line and we’ll see what we can do for you. You lawmakers need to cut your losses and move on.  Pass the dam health care bill and let’s get everybody some access. It’s time to move on. There’s no such as thing as perfect legislation.  The founding documents of our republic prove that.

Give everybody a chance–that’s what the “unalienable rights” from our Creator are all about. Multiculturalism is what made the USA the great nation that we are today. The vibrant diversity that propelled us into world leadership during the last century was not born of WASPish founding fathers spouting ideas of 18th-century enlightenment. Our greatest strength is, and has always been, our unique place in world history of hosting the genius of other cultures, and allowing them to bloom and bear seeds of innovation that are subsequently cast upon the jetstreams of  the world. Give me the melting pot or give me death.

The hardest-working people in the USA have always been the newest immigrants. This is as true today as it ever was; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. How many good ole boys in construction trades have been outdone in recent years by a crew of Mexicans?  This is not a trend to be despised; this is the way it has always been. Maybe it is time for the good ole boys, having English proficiency, to get back in school and  go on to greater horizons such as electrical work or HVAC.

Read up on solar collectors, Marvin, and tinker with them a bit. You may be the one to make the breakthrough in efficiency that our post-industrial, post-commuter infrastructure is looking for. You might be the one to make that Edison or Bell or Ford leap forward into technospace while Juan and Edwardo are building the walls of the house where your new, improved designs will find their actualization.

This essay is all over the map, I know, but then so are the peoples of the world, and we’ve all got something to offer. Thanks for tunin’ in for a bit.

Find something to do anyway.

February 19, 2010

I was assisting a couple of HVAC professionals yesterday while they installed a new heat pump for an apartment where I do maintenance work. They were doing the important work, like using oxygen/acetylene gas to join copper tubes with silver solder so that refrigerant lines would be airtight and efficient. I had shoveled snow so that they could maneuver, with a little hand truck through a  crusty foot of the white stuff,  the compressor/condenser/coil exterior unit into its place behind the building. I was also taking care of minor chores like dropping an electrical cord out the second-floor window so they’d have 110 volts to power the vacuum pump that would remove all the air from their freon lines.
Mostly though, I was asking a lot of questions. Roger explained to me very cogently how the old R-22 refrigerant, known generally as “freon,” is being phased out, to be replaced eventually with a new gas, R410-A. This is because the new gas does not have chlorine. The old gas refrigerant, the R-22, released chlorine atoms into the atmosphere whenever it happened to escape a “closed” heating/air conditioning system. The chlorine ions would rise into the atmosphere and eventually bond with ozone, converting them into oxygen and depleting the protective ozone layer that once kept us from getting  so sunburned.
When I was a kid in the 50’s, we had never even heard of sunscreen, much less used any of it, and we had a little sunburn now and then, but nothing like the sunburns you get today when you fail to slather the stuff on at the beach.
But anyway, Roger also explained to me that in a residential heating/cooling system, the expansion and contraction of the “freon” (a registered trademark that can include many refrigerant gases, whether they’re being phased out or phased in) is what makes the heat move from one place to another. In the winter, the system is designed to use the gases to transfer heat into the house. (There is some heat, believe it or not, somewhere in all that frigid air outside.)
In the summer, the heating/cooling system reverses itself to carry heat out of the house. This reversal is what I was thinking of this morning as I began writing this, because it seems that our warming globe has done a sort of heating/cooling reverse this winter, dumping us in the eastern US with record snows and cold spells just when we’re all talking about global climate change, while the snow level in Vancouver was questionable for hosting Olympic events, up until the last minute (or so I heard.)
So nature has played a little trick us this year. Is it a meteorological trend? Or an aberration? Only time, future winters and summers, and the statistics will tell us. what is happening. Perhaps nature or Nature’s God (as Thomas Jefferson called him) is trying to tell us something: Just when you’ think youve got it all figured out, expect the unexpected anyway. That way, you can prepare for any eventuality. We don’t really know what the future holds.
But I do know this. Sunburn is a lot more rampant in my children’s generation than it was in the days of my childhood.  So something is going on with that ozone layer. I’m glad we’ve figured out enough about the effects of chlorine gas in the atmosphere to make some changes. Aren’t you?
Another thing I’ve noticed recently is, (not to change the subject or anything): times are harder now than they were a few years ago. Who knows what will happen with the money situation?  Not me. But consider this: if you haven’t yet figured out what to do with your life, you should take a look around and find out what needs to be done to keep this old planet and all its people and machines and ecosystems humming. And if you see something that needs to be done, do it. And if you don’t know how to do it, it’s time you learned. Either way, get busy. Don’t be waitin’ for no bailout.

Activism in America

February 16, 2010

The first boiling point in American activism was reached in 1776 when we rebelled against the Brits. Now they are our allies; thank God for that.
But I’d like to skip a couple hundred years, and focus for a few minutes on activism in America as I first discovered it in the summer of 1970. I was a Catholic kid who had, as a freshman at LSU, served as a dorm rep in the SGA. When the school year ended, I took a job with a Nashville publisher selling dictionaries door-to-door.  So I headed for my assigned territory in southern Ohio, far from the genteel south where I’d been born and raised. I knew I could make a few bucks for next year’s school expenses, and learn something about selling while contributing to the cause of literacy.
The Vietnam war was heating up, and we’d seen a few rumblings around the ole state U campus about resisting the war, and I think that maybe by this time I had marched in a demonstration or two, but that might have been sophomore year. I can’t remember. But this goyish southern boy headed for the great yankee state of Ohio to sell some dictionaries and broaden the horizons of myself and the school kids of the families that might spring for the dictionaries. The Kent State incident had just happened in May of that year, so I was wondering whatsupwithat and had had some intense curiosity about the buckeye state, although the area on the Ohio River where I was headed was a far cry from Cleveland and Dayton and all that postmodern northern productivity way up in the industrial corridor by Lake Erie.
My sales manager took us crew of young buck whippersnappin’ salesamen to see the movie Patton at a theatre in Athens, where the U of Ohio is.  All I remember about the flick was the first scene, in which Gen. George Patton was standing in a salute posture with a large American flag in the background. Looking back on it, I do appreciate his military genius that contributed to us Americans and the Brits and Russians along with a few French, Canadians and other allies driving the fucking Nazis back in the ground where they belong.
Now that was a great war, but I was clueless at the time about such matters, even though I had been selected by my graduating class as most likely to succeed, and so therefore considered myself somewhat smart.
But the movie that I remember from that summer of 1970 is The Strawberry Statement. It’s about the student occupation of an administration building at Columbia University. Student activists were protesting, as I remember it, a university takeover of a local NYC playground by the university.
I didn’t make a whole lot of money selling dictionaries that summer, but I do remember the strawberry statement. Another vestige of memory from summer of ’70 that rings around in my head is  Graham Nash’s voice on the CSNY album which I bought somewhere up there in Athens or maybe in Cincinnati. He was singing, “…four dead in Ohio, gotta get down to it–soldiers are cutting us down; should’ve been gone long ago…”

I reflected on this whole set of memories a day or two ago. I was reading Mondoweiss,  which linked me to an article by Mark Rudd, in which he talks about those events back at Columbia;  Mark had written in his blog:”This particular (American) empire is neither the first nor the last to attempt to seduce us to join up. But we’d better not: it’s our job to be critical outsiders, both for our own survival and for that of the planet.” It made a lot of sense to me.
And so Mark’s recollections had set this good ole goy to thinking about activism in America, and I do tend to think a lot, for what it’s worth. So I thought I’d share this with you.
That’s all I have for now.  More later. Let’s hope we can find a way to keep everybody in America healthy and fed during the perilous times ahead. Shalom.

Let me tell you about my valentine.

February 14, 2010

I found my Valentine thirty years ago. I’d just seen a face; I can’t forget the time or place .
There she was at the Asheville Junction, coffee house.  Norman and Nancy Blake were playing that night.
She married me shortly thereafter, and has taken good care of me ever since.  I thank God every day for Pat. She has a smile that will light up a room. She has given birth to our three children, and helped me raise them to adulthood.  She loves to care for people, including me, and shower them  with love. She’s at the top of proficiency in her chosen profession of nursing. She loves to take me away to faraway places. She loves for me to rub her back. She loves to talk, and I love the sound of her little New Jersey voice. Her faith in God and her faithfulness to me is an inspiration to everyone we know. She supports me in all that I do. She manages the money so I don’t have to. She decorates our home and my life. She puts up with me, even my nose hairs. She saves people’s lives in ICU, and she prays with their families and offers them continuous hope along with her professional excellence. She loves her eight siblings and their respective families.  She loves to bring people together for festive occasions. She loves sleeping with me every night. We’ve made love in seven countries. She is feisty, but kind.  I love her face. My greatest joy is seeing her happy. She’s my God-ordained, special delivery valentine, and I love her.
I understand this isn’t on topic for blogging, but it’s too late now ’cause you’ve already read it and I want all the world to know she’s mine and I’m hers. Thank you.

My friend Frank’s quest for Medicare

February 13, 2010

I was sitting on Frank’s couch while he shuffled around his apartment looking for his Medicare card.  Why was he looking for it?  I’ll get to that.
In the midst of a very busy day and several  inches of new snow atop a foot or so of old snow, I locked myself out of my maintenance office in a moment of confusion at the apartment complex where I try to keep everybody’s stuff from breaking down and their feet from slipping on frozen white stuff, and so there I was suddenly unable to do much of anything productive, tools locked inside the shop with the keys, among other complications.  So I decided to visit my friend Frank, the 94-year-old engineer, while I waited for my manager’s return.
You’ve never met anyone like Frank, and I hadn’t either until a few months ago. His long life has been filled with a multitude of experiences and accomplishments, such as sailing a yacht around the Bahamas for twenty years or so, singing with a quartet in New York City back before the Great War, working as an electrical engineer for a long time with a manufacturing company or two in New Jersey, having a couple kids along the way with a wife whom I don’t know much about except I know their union didn’t work out so well.
Being an engineer, Frank is a veritable fountain of knowledge and common sense for a fledgling maintenance man like myself. During this particular week (that just ended,) he had been consulting with me about the mechanics of salt-spreading, because I had been struggling to distribute various snow-melt substances on the sidewalks that adjoin the 94 apartments that I maintain. The cheapo plastic spreader that I had been using wasn’t working out so well because the salt grains get stuck in the little door inside the machine that’s designed (poorly designed) to let them tumble out so they can melt on the ground where they’re supposed to prevent Frank and me and anybody else from slipping on the snow and ice. We had been having an ongoing discussion for several days about the mechanics of this task. Yesterday the dam thing had finally ceased working altogether when a plastic shaft broke in the middle. I had explained to Frank earlier that I had chosen the plastic salt-spreader thinking that it would not corrode and break down like the cheap metal one that I had used before purchasing the plastic one a few months ago.
So there I was locked out in the middle of the day in a moment of exhaustion and exasperation and therefore decided to visit Frank; his place is next door to the office/shop. I walked in; he was cooking onions to go with something in his lunch and boy did it smell good, although I wasn’t hungry because I had just grabbed a hamburger on the fly some thirty minutes before.
I sat on the couch and had a few chocolates that he keeps in a jar on the end table. Old folks like to keep little sweet treats like that around, you know.
He was looking for his Medicare card and I asked why.  He explained to me, after inserting his hearing aid (which he had earlier removed because it doesn’t work well for phone conversations such as the one he had had just a few minutes before,) that a woman at a medical office had requested, during that phone conversation, some bit of information that would be printed on his Medicare card.
“It’s not in here,” said Frank, in his stunted 94-year-old voice, while flipping through the cards and plastics in his wallet. “I think I know where it is.” He slowly righted himself from the easy chair with a maneuver that took some ten or fifteen seconds, then grabbed his cane. “…best thing an old guy like can do–use a cane. Dexter across the way won’t use one, but it makes more sense to have three legs than two, I’ve found.”
“What information from the card are they requesting?” I asked.
“The name of my doctor,” said he.
“Well, you can tell them that, can’t you?”
“Yeah, but she wants to verify that Dr. Birney’s name is printed on my card. He’s my primary care doctor, but I’m switching to another one, and we need to get all the paperwork straightened out.”  It took a long time, from my 58-year-old perspective, for Frank to vocalize all this. Meanwhile, at the nearby closet door, he’s opening it and pulling documents from a stationery box with one hand while leaning on his cane with the other. “Dr. Birney’s phasing out all his Medicare patients, or that’s my understanding of it.”
“Really, and why is he doing that?”
“I don’t know.” Frank turned his head slowly and peered at me through the bifocals with a goofy smile. “I guess he’s had it with puttin’ up with old guys like me.”
Frank is lol, and I was amused as well, at his cheerfulness in the middle of a locked-out, snowed-in day.
94 years and still laughing; it doesn’t get much better than that.

Got priorities?

February 11, 2010

During extremely difficult circumstances such as these blizzards that now immobilize us, we should take a close look at our priorities. Determine what is truly important in this life, and act accordingly.
I’ve decided that what really matters is more clearly seen if I ask myself this question:  What can I do to help?
What can I do? today, to help: ~those people whom I encounter today, ~those whom I love and who are dear to me, ~myself.
Here are the answers I proposed to myself, and now offer them to you:
1.) I need to have a good attitude, one that will inspire others rather than discourage them. Only one person in the world can control my attitude, and I am he.
2.) Take my responsibilities seriously. There are millions of people out there who have made mistakes; I am one of them; these shortfalls collectively make the mess in which we now find ourselves. Furthermore, the immensity of this winter weather tribulation is evidence enough to convince me that now is not the time for assigning blame (we cannot blame anyone for a blizzard) ; rather, now is the time for assigning tasks, accepting them gratefully, and faithfully performing them. I am fortunate to have a job, and a few other familial/community responsibilities. What’s important is that I do my job, and do it with a good attitude.
What about you?  Do you have a job? No?
If not, ask yourself this question anyway: What can I do to help?  When you hear an answer, then do it, whether or not it involves getting paid for it. Because we’ve got a lot of work to do digging out of this mess.
And remember these ancient words of wisdom:  “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you: but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Don’t believe in God? Even if you eliminate the God words, it’s still good advice:
1.) Do justice.
2.) Love mercy.
3.) Walk humbly.

Leaving Hanalei is so sad; green scales fell like rain…

February 9, 2010

Someone at Hawaiian Airlines painted a woman’s face on the tail of each aircraft. Whoever designed that  logo had put some serious thought into the artwork, because it is a very evocative visual for an otherwise nondescript jetplane tail. As you view the lovely lady’s profile between concourses while, say, sitting on another plane, her hint of a smile draws your imagination into a  fascinating tale that she seems ready to tell.
Maybe it’s the story of Hawaii, a most amazing place.
There’s a flower in her hair. I think it’s the hibiscus blossom you find everywhere in these islands, the large one that so many women love to tuck above one ear.
But I’m wondering, as I consider this simple, almost cartoonish Polynesian silhouette, if the lovely lady may be on the verge of offering to us flown-in visitors some lilting island lullaby. Yes, I think she would sing for us if she could open that iconic mouth. It would be a soulful song, a wistful crooning, accompanied in the slack key, about a land called Hanalei. I was just there this morning, on Kauai; I woke up there, and I did not want to leave.
She seems to be looking slightly upward. The artist has managed to depict in her expression, despite his art’s sparse simplicity, a suggestion that the virtuous Mona Le’i is anticipating some gift from above. She’s raising her eyes toward Mount Waia’le’a’le, I do believe.
She’s singing a melody that has been passed down from the Hawaiians of long ago; its a song, like the lei that accompanies it, of welcome.
Though Jackie Paper has come and complicated her ancient ohana simplicity with  highfalutin’ Americanization, she nevertheless welcomes us fretful haolies in selfless innocence.
Endowed by her creator with a perpetual halau smile, she greets the aging flower children as they make pilgrimage to the mystical north shore of Kauai; there they seek Paradise, like Ponce de Leon sought the fountain of youth; they come to frolic with their children in the mists of a land called Hanalei.
And I think maybe they’ve found it–Paradise, that is.
It’s too bad that house prices are so high here–the price of living in Paradise. My friend Sunny and his wife and kid live here, though. He’s writing software.
But I can dream, can’t I?. . . might have to settle for Honolulu, or even Florida.
Oh, but it’s time to buckle the seat belt and get back to the mainland.
Aloha to the gracious wahine of the islands.