Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Afghan War enters 10th Year

The U.S. took an elephant gun to shoot a flea ! ! !

Another look at the Afghanistan War

The New Year of 2011 has us entering the tenth year of the U.S. military blitzkrieg-like invasion of Afghanistan continues to be a curse with no light at the end of the tunnel. The high cost in lives and borrowed money is obscene. Enough is more than enough!

The on and off forays to free a village or a valley against the Pakistan and Afghanistan Talibans only make the locals more upset with our being there. The corruption on all sides is as normal as a walk in the park.

To make these far-away peoples and their trials more human to me I went through some dusty old books for a mental trek of Central Asia. By understanding a small portion of the past they become more real to me. This present conflagration must end long before President Obama’s summer of 2014. If not, the next president might extend it to 2024.

The Central Asian experience has not made its way into Western school studies. Little of its history and literature are known in American schools except for specialists, linguist and scholars. Only in the last few years have modern translations of ancient and modern “stans” poetry become available in English.

Present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan are the best known of the six “stans” in Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan (formerly Russian Turkistan). In the 1800s there was a Chinese Turkistan that is now the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of western China.

Afghanistan had been the center of great empires ruled by foreigners and numerous tribal monarchies. Such a history magnifies today’s difficulties of tribal differences, dialects and thought processes. Add into that mix foreign armies and total chaos results.

Afghans are Indo-Iranian, possibly originally Tajiks of the Persian race. The area only became a separate and independent state named in English by colonists as Afghanistan in 1747.

Less than three hundred years before Christ, Alexander the Great came on the scene and changed that world with his conquests. From Egypt to Persia and India he led in the eventual foundation of Greek dynasties. His Greek influence in Afghanistan waned and the Parthians arose to power and adopted the Buddhist religion.

During the 6th century the Moghul Empire out of India divided Afghanistan in two parts, India ruling Kabul and the Persians held the province of Heart.

The Arabs of the 7th century had their day in the spotlight before various Indian despots ruled much of the area. In between were the Turks and Persians who took several swings at being the potentiate. To use a poor analogy, no one got a home run.

In the 13th century the people probably thought the end of the world had arrived. The Mongols of Genghis Khan invaded most of Central Asia on their way to a bloody world conquest.

In the 19th century Great Britain was the world’s only super power. They lost to no one in their day. When it came to Afghanistan they had the ignoble honor of being massacred and driven from the country.

The last days of 1979 the Russian Soviets invaded Afghanistan attempting to make it another of their subservient satellites. Ten years could not control the Afghans and was a major reason the Soviet Union came to an end.

This is where the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” comes into the picture. Fiction, with a few facts, it reminded us of some of the background of how the United States got involved in Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union. The U.S. sent money and supplies to our present enemies, which helped throw out the Soviets.

When in early October, 2001, the U.S. military, to get revenge and justice for Osama bin Laden’s crimes against humanity, began bombing the caves and valleys of Afghanistan. We took an elephant gun to shoot a flea.

Our leaving the battlefield will definitely bring on a civil war that will kill hundreds of thousands. That will happen if we leave now or fifty years from now. My study tells me Enough is ENOUGH.


Saturday, December 11, 2010



Christmas is what we choose to make it

As you read this it is Christmas Eve. Some are glad the whole exciting season is almost over, when, in truth, it has actually just begun.

So many distractions come every Christmas season. Every Christmas we tell ourselves it will be different this year; we’ll even attend church. Enjoy the choirs and hymns and remember it is all about the coming to earth of the Prince of Peace.

Year to year, there are those without a Christmas tree, wreath or gifts for their children. Or as in this war, loved ones unable to be together for Christmas. When it is the first Christmas without a loved one for the first time, the time can easily becomes a painful experience.

For the many who are lonely and even unhappy this Christmas, for any number of reasons, pause --- pause and reflect. At home or church, hospital or retirement home, pause – reclaiming the “now” of life instead of repeating “what if---?”

The Advent, or coming of the Christ to earth, is an event in itself. The days of preparation (after Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday) have a special meaning and preparation for Christmas. Seldom considered is the fact that day Christmas Day is the beginning, not the end, of the celebration. As a boy my mother never took the tree down until mid-January. Keeping alive the spirit of the season.

In a perfect world, after the 25th of December has passed, the parties and good deeds begin. We celebrate after, not before, the traditional event of Christ’s birth. Just as Christ brought the promise of hope, the season should be the revival of more hope for the future.

A colleague from Denmark told of his family putting up a Christmas tree or wreaths late on Christmas Eve. I identify with that custom. It announces something big and important is about to take place. The family enters the next day, thankful for the suddenness of, as well as the glory of Emmanuel, “God is with us”.

Lest this is too “sermony,” keep in mind that materialism is not going away. Don’t let commercials interfere. Think of the joy a Santa Claus means to many children. The simple poem ‘Twas the night before Christmas, helped make Christmas a commercial success. But it is also one of the most moving ditties of the season.

The commercial aspect is a significant part of the traditions of the season. Some thoughtless individuals tell us there is a “war on Christmas.” Not so! Except for disbelievers and people of other faiths, Christ is never left out of Christmas or Xmas.

My Aunt Mae Johnson was generally upset at Christmastime by the use of “Xmas” for Christmas. The use of Xmas in English is not an attempt to secularize the holiday. It actually puts Christ at the very center of Christmas.

The “X” and “P” are the first two letter of “Christ” in the Greek language of Jesus’ day. Since X in English has a different meaning and use, English speakers have mistaken Xmas as leaving Christ out of Christmas. The abbreviation Xmas expresses ideally the heart of the celebration.

John Calvin, a great 16th century Protestant reformer, was opposed to the bad things that were associated with Christmas. And there were many appalling observances in many cultures and countries. But John Calvin kept the holiday as celebration of the birth of Christ and saw it as a matter of liberty for the churches and the individual.

It is well known that the Puritans, in England and later New England, opposed Christmas. Puritan pastor Cotton Mather felt there was no biblical or historical evidence for it representing the birth of the Christ. There is no evidence, biblical or historical for a Christmas holiday. Traditions, even if tainted with myths, are what we make of them..

Christmas is what we choose to make it. Make it such a good season of peace and love that it carries on into the New Year and all the remaining years we have. Choose well.

Towery Column for Christmas Eve, Friday, Dec. 24, 2010
(Brownwood Bulletin; San Angelo Standard-Times) (672 words)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Julian Assange Phenomenon

The WikiLeaks Phenomenon

Julian Assange, the creator of WikiLeaks, and the man most people in power hate, awaits in a London jail while the rest of us try to figure out what all the fuss is about.

Not in a long time has someone come along who believes in transparency and truth as much as this Swede and his associates. Julian Assange first released cables and notes, with some stuff blacked out, on Iraq last Spring. Pundits knew it would cause America’s work in the Middle East to crumble. Nothing happened. Just a little insight of how much our government lies and works in the dark.

The stuff Assange released on the world wide web this summer and fall really go under the skin of the Pentagon, embarrassed ambassadors, war hawks, friends and foes alike. Still the release did not set off World War III in Afghanistan. Our deadly drones, directed from Florida, keep flying raids over “neutral” Pakistan and our soldiers continue looking for the evil enemy. From sand dune to mud brick villages, rugged mountain and dangerous valleys, our volunteer military and mercenary soldiers the government calls “civilian contractors,” continue looking for Osama bin Laden---the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place.

The Pope employs hundreds of mercenary soldiers, but calls them Swiss Guards. The French and the British did the same in their colonies. Americans call them “contractors.” Through the ages, many mercenaries have been ex-soldiers.

And it is extremely difficult to tell who is who
. Like the old slur about another races: “they all look alike.” Who is the enemy? Maybe a body guard for President Hamid Karzai; a Pakistani soldier or peasant; a Taliban or just a simple goat herder; or an Afghan policeman or trainee? It is a scary place. It is a corrupt place that corrupts all involved.

Add to our soldiers dilemma, the vast majority of people in the Middle East loathe our military presence. The more devoted the war hawks are for what George W. Bush started, the more at odds they’ll be with any kind of democracy.

President Obama’s offensive of understanding each other instead of making them the enemy of the world has been successful. Before any right-wingers blow a gasket over that sentence. Read on. It was President Obama that convinced the Russians into the START treaty and for them to put more pressure on Iran. The proposed treaty is having a hard time in the Senate.

I am on record of not understanding several members of the GOP – the party of “NO”. Men in congress like Mitt Romney and Jon Kyl only enrage the Russians by doing their dead level best to sink the START treaty.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came out last week in favor of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia. She joined other Republican ex-Secretaries of State -- including Colin Powell, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger -- in endorsing the proposed treaty.
Getting back to the uproar of Wickileaks bringing some truth out of the closet it has only begun. Julian Assange is doing what the American press has quit doing: Investigating and keeping our leaders honest.

Apparently he is threatening to out an American mega bank. Today our branches of government are controlled by the mega Banks. (Called “bankesters” by some disenchanted citizens.)

As someone said Assange is a hero of the people and for that reason alone the powerful want him stopped. A blogger wrote, “I wish George Carlin and George Orwell were alive to see this!” It was Orwell who said: “In time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

The government of Sweden called for his arrest. Two women are claiming rape. One of the women is tied to the CIA. As of this writing he was safe in a British jail, from women, offended power-brokers and some hit men.

Government goes after the whistleblower rather than the crooks.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dubious Honor plus FreeSpeech TV

Free Speech Television is an eye-opening channel

During these three years of writing opinion pieces for the San Angelo Standard-Times, I have been amazed with the depth of insight and understanding of many of my readers.

Or in the words of one reader: “Britt, you have got to be the most intellectually dishonest contributor to these pages, hands down.” Or another who wondered why I evidently write with “half a brain.”

Having risen to become the most intellectually dishonest contributor to this newspaper, there is little for me to strive for in 2011 unless an extra column on Sundays is suggested. Once you are at the top of your profession, what’s left to do? Where are the challenges after having attained such a distinction?

Today I must not only note, but accept this excellence in “opinion” writing in the spirit in which it was given (whatever that was). I will wear this dubious honor proudly as I did when I once passed a third grade school arithmetic test at old Coggin Ward.

Breaking away from all these plaudits and praise, it is time to use the rest of this space for more worthy and new “opinions.”

One of Congress' most likable veterans, Rep. Charles Rangel Democrat of New York City became the 23rd House member in the nation's history to be censured. Why did it take so long? What about the rest of the “people’s servants” who find it difficult to walk the line? Most of them enter Congress as paupers and leave as rich as Croesus.

Since Bro. Rangel is not from our district, or our concern, I will write about satellite televison. Last year Jody and I subscribed to the satellite DISH Network. We did it primarily to obtain a couple of Chinese language stations. One turned out to be inlaid with Spanish but occasionally has Mandarin programming.

In the process we soon discovered a number of interesting stations not found on local cable outlets. (Full discloser: These satellite network promise 200 great channels. That is misleading advertizing --- half the channels only sell what you don’t need or want.)

But they relay news and opinion the corporate media (ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC for example) has difficulty finding or sharing with America’s viewers. One of these is FreeSpeech.org which is channel 9415 on the DISH Network and channel 348 on DIRECTV.

Cable affiliates that carries FreeSpeech.org programming are growing in number. Newscasts from German’s Deutsche Welle (www.dw-world.de) and South Asia, South America, Israel and the Middle East. Documentaries seldom seen in West Texas remind us how the rest of the world lives. Foreign and classic films that never get to our town are special entertainment.

They present a variety of programming for the mind and soul (even those with half a brain). Inspirational and eye-opening, informative, helpful talks, lectures and stimulating discussions, Add to that music of all kinds and great opera or symphony. They distribute their programming (Doctumentary.org, LinkTV.org, GRITtv.org), to over 35 million US homes. Over 100 US cable affiliates air these programs. Suddenlink could improve their product by adding this content.

Suddenlink cable has 12 HBOs but no not-for-profit FreeSpeech or LinkTV channels. Write them a note requesting FreeSpeech TV channel be added as most modern cities have done.

(One more word of full discloser: I was not requested nor paid to write these good words for DISH Network or DIRECT TV satellite companies.)

This sort of programming may not be your television cup-of-tea. It is non-profit and not dictated by or owned by one of the huge media corporations.

The viewing is so good it could be called “fair and balanced” (in their own way). Since one of the richest media corporations already claims the “fair and balanced” slogan, I’ll just call their programs “True and Honest.” The “fair and balanced” network has four staffers running for U.S. president and a self-made president of his own un-credited university.

(First published in West Texas dailies Brownwood Bulletin and San Angelo Standard-Times)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Peacemakers Are Special

There’s something special about peacemakers

In all the copies of my Bibles I find Jesus saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God." It has been my impression that this was not a sound bite. This was not just an off-the-cuff remark. Peace making was not just a passing fancy of his. It was not just a good quote his hearers to jotted down in their discipleship study books.

Jesus knew the subject of peace was not considered important to his hearers. Coming from Nazareth, how could he know the problems of Jerusalem, the great City of David. What made a carpenter’s son think he knew anything about the real world of dog eat dog. “Git ‘em, afore they git us” was not the national anthem of Israel, but of the whole universe.

Jesus did know his Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and knew the history of his people. He knew that for centuries king after king led them into bloody wars. He knew too of the society and laws never helped the poor or outcast among them.

Seldom on the table for discussion (then and now) were peaceful remedies to problems. The Roman Pax was anything but a peaceful solution for the empire. Jesus also knew that the different sects of Israel had little love for each other. Too many wanted to fight. Sling shot trigger-fingers were always cocked. A few knew there had to be a better way to work out their differences with their spouse, or town councils of the immigrants in their midst.

Jesus knew his audience just as he does today. His disciples were keen on fighting just as churches of all labels apparently do. Jesus’ disciples probably talked behind his back, such as:

“You suppose he is serious?” “Nobody talks of peace with those depraved half-breed Samaritans next door.” “How can he know God with such talk?” “Other countries have a God of War.” “You can tell he ain’t got a wife like mine…a mother-in-law like mine…problems like mine.”

The rabbis, with all their knowledge of ancient times, could quote without end of how God’s armies vanquished the enemy. How the God of their Bible sent Joshua out to destroy the original Canaanites. The Prophet Jonah had no sympathy for Nineveh even after he saved them. The Apostle Peter refused to eat with the hated Gentiles. He knew they were bad. He had heard nothing else from birth.

Social scientists tell us the first few years of an infant’s life are molding and nourishing the brain. If those precious (once in a lifetime) years are filled with goodness there is hope for that child. A pattern is laid that affects all the years of life. Any kind of trauma for that infant is present all their days.

When children are traumatized by war, they are more apt to become warriors and killers too. What will the next 80 years be like for the children of Iraq and Afghanistan?

Thanks to being unprovoked into two wars the last decade we should expect hatred and violence to come America’s way. Around the world people love America and hate our government. A vast majority of the world want love and peace. While most governments want conflict and the ability to cover it up.

It’s a mystery to me why some Christians make up excuses for violence and war. So few Christians go all out and “take him at his word…” as in the hymn:

'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus/

Just to rest upon His promise/
Just to know, Thus saith the Lord

We sing ‘em, but it’s more fun when we believe ‘em.

Working Poor Deserve Break


While eating out recently I ask our waitress if she worked two jobs. She said yes. She has another job, not because she wants to, but because she has to carry such a load. She and her husband have three children nearing the teen years.

Unlike many working wives, she has a working husband. The widows, the divorced or deserted wives are among the working poor in the gravest predicament. But it is a sad commentary that the richest country in the world has reached such a condition.

I grew up in a fairly sheltered world. There were jobs when I finished college. No lotteries. Casinos, we walked a lot around the neighborhoods. No Internet trivia to tempt our base moments. Downtowns, large and small, thrived with parking meters, mom and pop stores an

Not so long ago families were not as separated as they appear to be today. I grew up with uncles and aunts and seven funny cousins. Too many of today’s kids have never met their cousins; siblings grow up with one parent or the other through no fault of their own; children with little idea of their heritage or self-worth.

The fun of having a grandmother two blocks away was special. Mammy, as all the grandkids called her, came to Texas in her mother’s womb in a covered wagon in 1870. Her “learning” did not come from books, but she could spell any word ever invented. Her common sense came from dirt farm living, nourished by Garrett’s snuff, giving the extended family security and a sense of being.

Minimum wage was thirty-five cents an hour and up to age 12 a movie cost a dime. No malls, just bicycles and drug store milk shakes. But memory can be tinged with myth. “I remember when” is not always trustworthy.

Today my grandson is on his way toward graduation at Texas Tech. Happy? Yes and no. Glad, because he had the grit to work and give it his best. Sad, because he will have student loan debts over $30,000 with little chance of a good-paying job.

We forget that over half a million Americans have gone through bankruptcy court, primarily due to health care costs. The rest of the industrialized world gets along fine without FOR PROFIT health insurance companies. Education for profit as well as for profit health insurance is wrong. European countries may pay fifty-percent taxes but they get free health and college education, books and all (look at Denmark).

Our ultra-wealthy Americans are upset because there is a possibility of losing what President Bush did for them ten years ago. Thinking people see the wisdom of doing away with the Bush tax cuts by letting them expire. If congress can get a spine they might let them expire for the wealthy.

Most Republicans say letting Bush's tax cuts expire at the end of the year would increase the tax burden for the rich. Actually it would only be returning to a more reasonable fair tax situation. Remember, the wealthy once paid ninety percent. All other thriving democratic governments pay more taxes than the U.S.

Paul Krugman, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University, writes: “Temporary tax breaks for the rich are stunningly bad economic policy. . . Basic economic theory tells us that affluent taxpayers are likely to save rather than spend the great bulk of any funds they receive via a transitory tax break.” The middle class and working poor would not squirrel away a tax break, but spend down their debts and buy more goods. This, we are told, helps families and the economy.
Getting back to our waitress friend’s situation, realize how difficult it is for them in this economic downturn. Don’t forget to tip. Be generous and give a gratuity of more than twenty percent. Twenty-five percent would really help. It is a golden opportunity to do something for those who work so hard and have so little. You will enjoy your celebration of Thanksgiving Day a lot more.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

USA loves Immigrants. REALLY?


It is a well established fact that The United States is a country of immigrants. No debate on that historical fact. Americans have shown true affection for some immigrants: those who have been here for awhile –- a long while.

As the Irish Catholics began coming in large waves in the early 19th century, Protestants feared being taken over by the “bloody hand of the Pope.” There were even riots in Philadelphia, setting fire to the Irish part of town.

Richard Shenkman’s book “Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History,” relates after the Irish immigrants, the Southern and Eastern Europeans began arriving. Many old-line Americans reacted as if the country was being invaded by a horde of criminals. One old New Englander, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, lamented: “O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well to leave the gates unguarded?”

Shenkman’s book calls attention to excesses of our countrymen. Bernard Weisberger, “American Heritage” editor, writes “Richard Shenkman briskly applies the varnish remover to American history.”

Even into the 20th century, our “more civilized” century, immigrants were not treated much better. In a popular book endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt, the racist Madison Grant suggested the state had a moral obligation to put certain immigrant types to death.

In the 1920s the federal government decided to limit those coming into the country. Russia was allowed two thousand, China and Palestine, a thousand. It was not so many years ago that Vietnamese fishermen on our Texas Gulf Coast were threatened with their fishing rights and livelihoods.

It is often overlooked that historians estimate that of the twenty million immigrants who came to America between 1820 and 1900, about five million returned to their homeland. Immigrants have always returned home in great numbers. (“A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn)

Early on John Jay wrote in “The Federalist Papers,” America was “one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, …sharing the same language, professing the same religion, … very similar in their manners and customs.”

Not everyone agreed with Brother Jay. A French immigrant farmer, whose wife was Dutch, had four sons. Each married wives from four different nations.

In 1790 three out of five Americans were not of English origin; two out of five didn’t even come from English-speaking backgrounds (“The Melting Pot” by Arthur Mann).

The term “melting pot” came into circulation much later, about 1908. Webster’s dictionary included it in 1934. Then sometime later it was suggested America was not a “melting pot” but a “salad bowl.”

Tennessee State Rep. Curry Todd takes issue with America as either a “pot” or a “salad.” His idea is more like “spoilt curry.” Curry Todd has trouble with the birthright citizenship clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Rep. Curry Todd was quoted in USA TODAY (Nov. 11) volunteering that pregnant immigrants will "multiply" like "rats …" Sounds more like an Oklahoma senator than a gentleman from the Volunteer State.

The beat goes on. As the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud said: the cerebral challenged will be with us always. (I have no written proof Brother Freud actually said that – it might have been old fogey Thomas Bailey Aldrich.) Adiós.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Keith Olbermann, voice of truth

Olbermann and Maddow two of the few lights revealing the real world.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is one of the few senators who is not afraid of the truth and facts. I admire the fact he spoke out on Keith Olbermann's suspension from MSNBC. Sander's called it: MSNBC's Disgrace. Here's is quote:

"It is outrageous that General Electric/MSNBC would suspend Keith Olbermann for exercising his constitutional rights to contribute to a candidate of his choice. This is a real threat to political discourse in America."

I have little respect for network nightly news casts. No substance, no news, just something "funny" or weird, but never what is actually going on in this country and the world.

Network and cable wheel-horses like to remind us "the airwaves are ours." What a joke. They are controlled by major corporations who are about as interested in America and the future of this land as a wombat in heat. Just make money and be sure the world knows what Spears and Hilton are showing off.

I am thankful for the BBC and the BBC-America newscasts. You can get them on both DishNetwork and DirectTV satellite providers. People like Amy Goodwin"s Democracy Now! and Thom Hartmann's show are useful with telling us what the networks and cable never dare speak. See them on FreeSpeech and LinkTV.

San Angelo, Texas, radio has only right-wing wackos day and night. NPR comes via Texas Tech University for which we are grateful. FM 90.1 locally.

There are three Christian radio outlets, but two of these spend all their time fussing and complaining about having a black man in the White House. They give Hannity, Beck and Limberger a run for the money when it comes to "give us back our country" Well, just watch and see what Republicans can do in going back to the future and making an even bigger mess than the Democrats.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

With Mother Teresa, 1977

Mother Teresa and new believer in her doorway, Calcutta, India. I took this photo the one time I was in India, November 1977. That was two years before she was recognized world-wide receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

The death a few years ago of Mother Teresa brought back the personal memory of my one occasion of meeting this one who was called of God to work among "the poorest of the poor."

I was there to visit this diminutive woman of such personal devotion and see for myself what God could do with a dedicated soul. I was allowed the privilege of joining in an afternoon prayer session with a dozen or so of her assistants. My visit in her sitting room was one remember. Simple wicker chairs, a small table. That was it. Simple, but powerful just as the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. She gave of time as if I was the most important person in the world. This one who cared for the dying and gave her every day to others could not have been more patient and kind to me, an associate pastor from Texas.

After a walk through the grounds and buildings with the ill and dying "no bodies" I left at a side entrance of her Home for Dying Destitute. The sign was also written in several Indian languages. No door, you just step out into the small but crowded backwater lane. But not leaving in spirit. Her spirit of loving our Lord and the outcasts has stayed with me. The little Albanian nun who first taught the well-to-do when she got to India but soon was granted her request to be with what the world calls dregs of humanity.

British author Malcolm Muggeridge brought Mother Teresa to the attention of the world several years before the 1970s. A woman who demonstrated the value and importance of the spirit of discipline in prayer.

She answered my question that so many have ask her: "With all the poverty and suffering so staggering here, where does one begin to make a difference?" She said, You start with what crosses your path, what is right before you ... give dignity to the first dying person you meet ... take in your arms the first abandoned baby you see ...you just do what comes naturally.

FROM MY BOOK, "Saints Alive, saints are sinners who keep on trying" 2006.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Political campaigns ignore our wars

Leaving the war on the back burner

The “war on terror” is seldom mentioned these days; like “war on drugs,” a complete misnomer. How can you have war on fear, horror, fright, dread or shock? We have swallowed that phrase without thinking what it means.

Call it what we will, it is a tragic time of despair and grief to millions of military and civilians of Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S.A. Doves are more my kind than hawks.

Never have our troops, with such minimal backing and even fewer resources, faced such an overwhelming mission. A mission that appears to slow down but with no solution in sight. The purpose of the war has changed throughout this decade. Invasion and war was not the answer to the crime of 19 Saudi Arabians who hijacked planes and killed thousands. Wasted money and lives.

Our military men, women and their families are the only ones making sacrifices. Over 2 million American military have served as best they could for almost ten years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. To do that takes a lot of sacrifice and money. According to Paul Rieckhoff, only 3 percent of our citizens “have war on their radar.”

Rieckhoff is a veteran of these wars and is the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. With the ridiculous expanded TV cable and network coverage of the just ended election season, the war disappeared from public view.

But the killed are still being buried. The injured are still being brought back for treatment. The involved families are still experiencing pain. Over 20,000 have been injured and more than 500 have lost a limb. The post-traumatic wounds grow by the day. Hundreds of these are homeless.

A footnote in this war is the large number of combat wounded women. This is a war with no front lines. It is similar to our 17th century fight with the American Indians, hidden snipers in the forests. The front lines are around any sand dune, corner teahouse, or potholed road.

As good as the rehabilitation efforts have been, Congress has shown little commitment to these wounded men and women. With very few exceptions, the government has shown even less interest in ending the war. Leaving the troops to linger any longer does not solve anything. Now is the best time to stop the war. The war has raged for the entire lifetime of American youths 15 years or younger.

This has been an election year and Congress has ignored the wars. Not a single politician, of any party, spoke of the war’s horrors. It is anti-American to ignore a war during a election season. Political rallies completely avoided the war. It was the overlooked elephant at the rallies.

If the war continues to be out of sight and out of mind, what can we civilians do? I am sure some entrepreneur will suggest printing more bumper stickers to show how “supportive” we are. We can buy more flags and wave them with more patriotic passion. Our government can borrow more money. The pastors might give the challenge of being peace-makers a greater priority. Those of us in the pews have a short memory when it comes to sermons.

“God bless America,” a nice anthem, but what does it have to do with baseball’s seventh-inning stretch? To ease our conscious? To show we support the troops? Why should Go bless our land? Fortunately, I have run out of space. I must take up that question at another time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Curiosity Leads to Success

Curiosity was Benjamin Franklin’s secret to success.

So far, the month of October has been one of the most pleasant in years. For many, jobs are scarce, food is higher, and the country is in hock to the People’s Republic of China.

Aside from this, we can be sure of one thing: almost three of the weeks of October will be wonderful. This is according to Benjamin Franklin's “Poor Richard's Almanac.” The month of October always has exactly 19 fine days (Today is the 29th, have we used up all the good ones yet?). Old Ben went out of his way to help folks and make a shilling as well.

Ben was a believer in seizing every opportunity to learn more about the world and improve it as much as possible. He was one of the first to write self-improvement books. He felt everyone could use some moral enhancement.

As the United States first Postmaster, he spent his life finding ways to unravel mysteries of science. As a printer, diplomat, inventor, philosopher, civic leader and a part-time founder of the United States. He was anything but lazy.

In his day most of the world was an agrarian society. An almanac was read more than the Bible. Farmers needed to know stuff: “When badgers are fat, expect a cold, hard winter.” “Store a bumper crop pumpkins and winter squash under the bed in an unheated guest room.”

Ben warned farmers “Tight cornhusks mean a cold winter.” Another way to know the coming winter will be cold is “when the onion skins are thick and tough.”

Ben Franklin grew up poor and had very little formal schooling. Yet he became a diplomat (the French loved him, so said some ladies), a very successful businessman, civic leader and revolutionary. He was filled with curiosity.

The colonial governments, before the American Revolution, used money printed by Ben Franklin. To protect from counterfeiting, one side of the bills had images of real leaves, carefully printed one at a time. His lifetime stretched most of the eighteenth century, from 1706 to 1790. He would have been named the man of the century but Time Magazine had not been invented.

Franklin might be amazed that today's $100 bill features him and special designs to foil bogus bill makers. (Actually, Franklin would not be amazed his likeness is on our money, he did believe in his own greatness.) Today the $100 bill, has several safeguards against counterfeiting:

Among other things, “The United States of America” is micro-printed on the lapel of Ben's coat. A second portrait of Ben in the form of a faint watermark is embedded in the paper. Ink in the lower right-hand corner numeral changes from green to black when viewed from different angles.

I did not get this information from an original source as I have not seen a hundred dollar bill lately. I confess I got this information from a book, not the Internet. The Web did tell me a Mars Rover was named “Curiosity.” It's strange that people aren't more curious about curiosity. It's a powerful thing. Benjamin Franklin would never say “curiosity killed the cat.” Curiosity solves problems.

(First published 10-29-10 Brownwood Bulletin and San Angelo Standard-Times)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Religious Extremes Dangerous

In the late 1970s a group of radical Fundamentalists began their take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention. I paid little attention as I knew Southern Baptists were far more conservative than liberal or even moderate in theology and practice.

It took the Fundys nearly two decades to prevail. Mostly by setting up a bunch of “rock-hard beliefs” and condemning any Baptist individual, church or school that did not conform to them. That is, claiming the Bible is without error; that women are not up to the calling of God to preach and pastor; that the Convention leaders decide if a church is worthy and if not to withdraw fellowship. No where in the Bible is there such a “hierarchy,” “denomination,” “church” “church polity” or any group to choose whose church is fit or unfit and exterminate them. These are power grabs and self-promoting stunts that have evolved throughout the history of Christianity.

Baptist heritage has never rested on one creed or hierarchy. Each church decides worship procedure, urges stewardship; seeks to make their community better (and Baptist of course). They do not answer to bishop or superintendents. This system, like American democracy, is a tenuous thing. It is fragile, very easily broken, misled, misunderstood or abused.

Baptists can be compared to the spirit of Forrest Gump’s famous phrase: … Baptist churches are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might find inside.

Extreme fundamentalists thinking is as close as you can get to the opposite of what religions are all about. They are dangerous in Islam, Hindu, Buddha, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons, New Age stuff, fill in the blank and especially Christianity.

Working Poor Deserve Break

While eating out recently I ask our waitress if she worked two jobs. She said yes. She has another job, not because she wants to, but because she has to carry such a load. She and her husband have three children nearing the teen years.

Unlike many working wives, she has a working husband. The widows, the divorced or deserted wives are among the working poor in the gravest predicament. But it is a sad commentary that the richest country in the world is in such a state.

I grew up in a fairly sheltered world. There were jobs when I finished college. No lotteries and downtowns, large and small, thrived. Families were not threatened as they are today. I grew up with uncles and aunts and seven funny cousins in our town. The ability to have a grandmother just two blocks away. She came to Texas in a covered wagon in 1870. Her old-time common sense and wisdom gained from dirt farm living, nourished by Garrett’s snuff, gave us cousins security and sense of being.

Minimum wage is good for teenagers in the summer but is not a living wage a family needs. Today college graduates find it difficult to get a job in their field. These days, there are terrible stories everywhere you look.

For those of us with good jobs or reasonably fair retirement find it difficult to realize how many families are barely scraping by. Families are hoping they don’t get sick or lose their job.

We forget that over half a million Americans have faced bankruptcy court, primarily due to health care costs. The rest of the industrialized world gets along fine without FOR PROFIT health insurance companies.

While other Americans with secure jobs and rather high incomes and bonuses live in another world. They are not aware of how the rest of the world lives (this includes those members of the millionaire club we call the Senate). These ultra-wealthy (top 2 percent of our population) are moping around feeling sorry for themselves.

They are upset because there is a possibility of losing what President Bush did for them ten years ago. Thinking people see the wisdom of doing away with the Bush tax cuts by letting them expire. If congress can get a spine they might let them expire for the wealthy.

Most Republicans say letting Bush's tax cuts expire at the end of the year would increase the tax burden for the rich. Actually it would only be returning to a more reasonable fair tax situation. Remember, the wealthy once paid ninety percent. All other thriving democratic governments pay more taxes than the U.S.

Paul Krugman, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University, writes: “Temporary tax breaks for the rich are stunningly bad economic policy. . . Basic economic theory tells us that affluent taxpayers are likely to save rather than spend the great bulk of any funds they receive via a transitory tax break.” The middle class and working poor would not squirrel away a tax break, but spend down their debts and buy more goods. This, we are told, helps families and the economy.

Remember those who have it worse than your family. Giving a gratuity of at least twenty percent for waiters and waitress is the very least we can do. It is fine to pray for them but they deserve more green stuff for their family. It is a golden opportunity to do something for those who work so hard.

Friday, October 8, 2010

China Rejects Nobel Peace Prize Choice


Very few people inside China have heard the name Liu Xiaobo, but last week he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (He is far more deserving for this honor than the one chosen last year.) The choice of Liu is this year’s foremost symbol of the struggle for human rights in China.

Liu Xiaobo is presently serving an eleven year sentence for urging the “Charter 08,” a human rights manifesto, be accepted for discussion among the people and the government of the People’s Republic of China. (Ever notice how all “People’s Republics” or “people’s movements” have little concern for the people.)

“Charter 08,” that he supported two years ago, called for a new constitution in China, an independent judiciary and the simple freedom of expression. It was backed by 300 China academics, artists, lawyers and activists, who want a fuller debate about China's future political development.

The Beijing government never liked even the thought of “Charter 08” and now the choice of Liu receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace sticks in their craw. The free world leaders praised the choice. Does the Communist Party of China give it consideration? Yes, they took about two seconds and immediately called the Norwegian ambassador to come to Party headquarters to protest Norway’s bad choice. They called Liu a “criminal,” and such an award could damage relations with Norway. A typical response by paranoid government officials.

Liu (one syllable pronounced lee-oh) has been a political activitist even before the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre of students seeking more democracy. I was in Beijing for a week before the martial law was enforced. The protests were peaceful and did not want to overthrow the government. The Premier, Zhao Ziyang, begged the students to leave the square, knowing what would happen if they stayed. (Zhao was later fired and kept under house arrest until his death. Typical of how China treats its more thoughtful and patriotic people – those who love China.)

Liu Xiaobo, 54, author, university professor and a constant annoyance for the Chinese Communist Party was not informed of the Peace Prize. Since last December he has been in a prison in Liaoning province for “subverting state power.”

The 1989 massacre made a deep impression on him and was one of the reasons the Beijing Normal University banned him from teaching. For the last dozen years he has not let up criticizing China’s treatment of Tibetans. In 1996 Liu was arrested for speaking out about China’s one-party political system. Instead of prison he was sent for re-education at a labor camp for three years.

Then in 2008 he was arrested again, just two days before the “Charter 08” was to be published. It was typical of the late night arrests one-party countries do to perfection. When his wife, Liu Xia, asked the authorities about his where-abouts, they ignored her. The authorities would not admit to taking him. It was weeks before news of his arrest was made public.

At his trial in December last year the United States government felt compelled to speak out: "We call on the Government of China to release [Liu Xiaobo] immediately and to respect the rights of all Chinese citizens to peacefully express their political views.”

Announcing its 2010 peace prize in Oslo, the Nobel Foundation said: "Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China's own constitution and fundamental human rights."

The police said if his wife wants to go to his prison and tell of the prize, they will allow that. How nice of them!


Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Red Headed Blanche Skinner

Brownwood, Texas has a lot to be proud besides friendly people.

Brownwood’s own Blanche Westerman Springer’s paintings have been exhibited in many states and are represented in private collections in Minnesota, Florida, California, Kansas, Arizona, Virginia and Texas. We were classmates as we grew up in Brownwood.

Just as Charlie Brown’s “little red-headed girl,” Blanche was my red-headed love. And just as Charlie Brown’s experience, nothing ever came of it. Years later at a reunion we told each other of the long-ago grade school fantasies.

Not counting me, painting has always been her first love as far back as when she and Tom Springer were married in Brownwood’s First Methodist Church in 1947.

Blanche paints character studies, landscapes and still life in oil, pastel, charcoal and watercolor. Working in pastels she does very detailed and realistic presentations of Indian heads, some with colorful headdress. She has won awards in numerous shows and was selected to show work in the 19th National Sun Carnival Art Exhibition at the El Paso Museum of Art.

She has displayed several of her paintings in Marble Falls, Brownwood and Central Texas. She was one of 11 artists chosen to show at the Second International Conference of the United State-Mexico Board of Governors in 1981. She has twice been named Artist of the Month by the El Paso, Texas, Chamber of Commerce.

It was during this time she became close friends with another Brownwood High classmate: Jacquelyn Rice Powell (BHS Most Popular Girl 1944 and FFA Sweetheart 1946). Jacquelyn was tall and stately and one of BHS’s finest graduates.

The BHS Class of ‘47 Newsletter’s of Dec. 1997, carried Blanche Westerman Springer’s portrait of fellow classmate, the late Fern Wooldridge Butler (BHS cheerleader; 4 years with the band) on the front page. As far as I know the original hangs in the Butler Brownwood home.

In one of Blanche’s letters she told me: “Fern and I became best friends our senior year in BHS. She stayed with me the first night I was home alone with our first baby girl. Whenever I was in Brownwood I always saw Fern.”

Blanch studied with Manuel Acosta, Lewis Krupp, Ben Konis, Carlos Pineda and Ray Lopez-Aleman. She is a member of El Paso and Lower Valley Art Association and has served as president.

Her paintings have been exhibited in many states and are represented in private collections in Minnesota, Florida, California, Kansas, Arizona, Virginia and Texas. She paints character studies, landscapes and still life in oil, pastel, charcoal and watercolor. Working in pastels she does very detailed and realistic presentations of Indian heads, some with colorful headdress. She has won awards in numerous shows and was selected to show work in the 19th National Sun Carnival Art Exhibition at the El Paso Museum of Art.

Could anything in life be more wonderful than doing the thing you love all the time, even into a mature age. She finds that painting and art became her love when she discovered pastels and the joy of becoming acquainted with individual faces as she painted portraits.

There is another BHS beauty who became a very well-known artist. She was Nelda Grace Phillips when we graduated from BHS. For many years she has lived in Dubai and held exhibitions all over.

Brownwood, Texas has a lot to be proud of of its artists and art. There is more to this central Texas town than just friendly people and 2010 Division 3-A best football team.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Think Therefor I Am

Spend more time thinking and less talking

Have you ever had someone come up to you about something or other with the question: “What’d you think about this?” Be careful.

Such a question has you facing a sticky situation and being put to the test --- the quandary of thinking as in the old admonition to “stop and think.”

“Some people get lost in thought because it's such unfamiliar territory” (G. Behn). Or as Winnie the Pooh said: “Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”

The famous Dane (not Victor Borge), Soren Kierkegaaard said: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

A huge amount of Kierkegaard’s ideas go way over my head and make little sense to me. But I understand him here. He is right when he complains that the art of thought is seldom used.

Take a look at our supreme leaders (Washington politicians impersonating statesmen), who were duly elected to see that government business runs like clockwork. Not a cuckoo clock as it often appears. If any of our Washington warriors ever gave much thought to the people and country, it would be like a miracle from heaven.

Someone should compile and publish what our elected “servants” thoughtless say. The antics on the floor of the House and Senate reveals how little they think before they speak. (See C-Span, which shows everything but the empty seats. You can always catch some of the more outlandish, irritatingly silly and bizarre blurbs on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.)

Rex Stout (author of Nero Wolfe mysteries) edited just that kind of book in the 1930s. He recorded the actual stupid remarks made on the floor of the House and Senate. Stout’s book is “The Illustrious Dunderheads.” (Some library may have a copy. This classic’s prices begin at $70.)

American poet Archibald Macleish urged us to think for ourselves: “The dissenter is every human being at those moments of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself.”

The actual act of thinking has meant trouble for many who broke from the herd to think for themselves. Real thinking can turn into a dangerous sport, but it is needful if anything is to be accomplished in our lives or in the nation’s capital. Example: Think more before voting. Think about oversight.

Thinking is what got men like Robert Kennedy and his brother John killed. Thinking was the culprit for most of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s troubles.

Voltaire (pen name of Francois Marie Arouet), a seventeenth century French satirist author, put a lot of stock in the act of thinking. He once said: “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”

To think, to actually think, is not as easy as you might think. Yet thinking remains as rare as purple hen’s teeth. A local philosopher parsed Rene Descartes’ dictum “I Think Therefore I Am” to simply mean our real selves come out when we think more and talk less.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Are We Really That Ignorant ???


The polling business expands almost weekly. You can find a poll that one in four Americans believe in just about anything. A Pew poll found that 26 percent of adults believe spiritual energy indwells trees, stones, and inanimate objects. And 25 percent put stock in astrology.

The business of estimating what Americans believe, or think about something, is a huge industry. A new poll comes out every week on politics or sex. Polls help fill newspaper space when Brittany Spears or the millionaire Hilton girl fails another sobriety test.

If you read the polls and it agrees with our views, you think it is another sign of how smart people are. But if the polls results go against the grain, you ask yourself, “are we really that ignorant?”

I’ve written about the Baylor University senior who was going to work in Japan and could not find it on a huge wall map. According to Time Magazine and Newsweek, and other pollsters, the poor fellow is not alone.

With a map before them, young Americans were ask to find Iraq. After seven years with hundreds of thousands of Americans being based in Iraq, only 63 percent could find the country. Only a third of Americans of all ages could find the continent where the world’s largest river runs. (It’s the Amazon River is in South America.)

Barely half of Americans were correctly able to state that Judaism was older than both Christianity and Islam. Another 41 percent were not sure. For those in doubt, the three strains of Father Abraham were founded in this order: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

A Zogby Poll ask readers to name at least two of the seven dwarfs. Not quite three-quarters could name two of the Snow White dwarfs. Then they were ask to name at least two members of the Supreme Court. Not quite a quarter could do that. Disney reigns.

The majority of Americans – three in four – correctly identified Larry, Curley and Moe as the Three Stooges. To put that in context, only two out of five could correctly identify the executive, legislative and judicial branches as the three wings of government.

Local and national polls are all over the charts when it comes to the freedom of smoking, where they please and when they please.

Opinion polls on when and where an adult may smoke has touched a tender spot with many a smoker and non-smoker. It is almost as hot an issue as religion and politics. In the old days, the time between Sunday school and morning worship was for the men, led by the deacons, to step outside for a quick smoke. This I witnessed as a boy at the town church (First Baptist, Brownwood) and the country church (Stag Creek Church, Comanche County). New Orleans pastor J.D. Gray enjoyed a big cigar as did England’s greatest pulpiteer, Charles H. Spurgeon. Back then medical doctors not only smoked but were the heart of tobacco industry’s poster boys.

Smoking rates by state vary widely, with smoking twice as prevalent in some states as in others. States with the most highly educated residents tend to have the lowest smoking rates and vice versa. Smoking is also lower in states with higher cigarette taxes and broader smoking bans. Now mayors and city councils are faced with the big problem of where to allow smoking in public places. It is easily solved by taking the side of health over commerce.

Some unknown polling source, with unusual courage, announced blonds were smarter than brunettes? It must have been some estúpido brunettes thinking blond hair would make them smarter. (Learned the Spanish word for “stupid” last week when I did something estúpido.)


Monday, September 13, 2010

Lao She, China's Master Storyteller


Few writers have had the influence of China's Lao She (1899-1966). He is required reading in China schools and was voted by the Chinese of the world their favorite writer. His works appear in over seven languages. He was a Manchu and knew what it was like to be a minority.

His son, Shu Yi, writes in a Hong Kong 2009 Festival Magazine about the need for more of his short stories to be made into films.

Shu Yi and his sister Shu Ji, both writers of renown in China, wrote glowing forwards for my book on the life of their father: Lao She, China's Master Storyteller, published in 1999 in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth. It is also the year the Towery-Lao She Collection was dedicated at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It houses Towery's vast collection of and by Lao She, outside of China, is the largest to collections in Japan.

His many short pieces, first printed in newspapers during the 1930-1940 era are not as well known as his Rickshaw Boy (Camel Xiangzi), Yellow Storm (Four Generations) and Tea House, but they are filled with his insight and humor for the human spirit.

His work along with Lu Xun's writings helped in plane easy to read language their readers to the plight of the underdogs and led to what is now Modern Chinese Literature.

My book has filled a gap in the study of world literature. It is the only book in English of his life and introductions to his work. University studies in world literature can receive as many as five copies for only the postage. ORDER BY E-MAIL: bet@suddenlink.net



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Steve Biko, South Africa Martyr

Steve Biko was 30 when he died in South Africa detention, Sept. 12, 1977

I remember seeing the permanent wooden sign across the highway going into Greenville, Texas that boasted in huge letters to have the blackest land and whitest people in Texas. In Brownwood’s Coggin Ward School I learned that neighboring Comanche County had no blacks. Going through town on a train was dangerous for “darkies” as white bigots called them.

That brought me to thinking about a black hero who gave his life that his people could be considered human beings. Sunday, Sept 12, is the 33rd anniversary of the murder of South Africa’s Steve Biko.

South Africa’s Apartheid government was dismantled in 1990. World opinion was slow to close in. The change began with the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990. For the first time people of all races were allowed to vote. In 1994 Nelson Mandela, over 25 years a prisoner of the system, was elected president.

Apartheid (an Afrikaan word meaning ‘apartness’) control evolved as a force after World War II. The system was based on the complete segregation of the races. Townships and villages dismantled, blacks moved out to slums. They could work for the whites but had to be out of town before dark. There was no justice for indigenous peoples.

The white man knew, based on their view the Holy Scriptures, that he was superior to all other races and set about keeping them ignorant and apart.

First, a little background on the southern tip of Africa. In the late 16th century the English and the Dutch trading companies challenged each other for a stopover on the continent’s southern tip. They went the sea route because the Arabs controlled the land routes to the spices of India and the East Indies. English and Dutch stayed apart but never liked each other.
The Boer Wars of 1880-1 and 1899-1902, were fought between the British and the descendants of the Boers (Dutch settlers in South Africa) decided who would “own” the black man’s land. It took two wars to decide which white overlord would head a government. The Second Boer War ended with promised eventual self-government for the Boers (which never came). The blacks, Zulus and others were in for a century of hell in their own homeland.
This Sunday, September 12, is the anniversary of the murder of Steve Biko in a South Africa prison. He was one of South Africa's most significant political activists and a leading founder of South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement. The uprisings of 1976 brought about his arrest along with thousands of others. His death in police detention in 1977 led to his being hailed as a martyr of the anti-Apartheid struggle. He was but 30 years old.

His struggle gave hope to the masses who were not just segregated but harassed, beaten and killed at the whim of the white superiors.

In a speech in Cape Town in 1971, Biko said: "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."

Since the evil of one race over another seems to be having a revival here and around the world, I thought it time to remind us of a man who rose above the others and proclaimed all men equal.

“Cry Freedom” by South African journalist Donald Woods tells how he is forced to flee the country after attempting to investigate the death in custody of his friend the black activist Steve Biko. Denzel Washington plays Biko and Kevin Kline is Donald Woods. Worth reading and is a well-made film.

Another South African journalist, Alan Paton, wrote “Cry, The Beloved Country” with insight into how difficult life is in Apartheid South Africa. He tells of a South African preacher’s search for his wayward son. The book was made into a move by the same name, starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris. A moving story.

For inspiration and information, Nelson Mandela’s book “A Long Walk to Freedom” is at the top of the list of books on South Africans.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Before the Ottoman Empire

Looking back on a era all but forgotten . . . . . .

In Julian Barnes book, “A History of the World in 10½ Chapters,” he wrote: “Does history repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? No, that’s too grand. History just burps, and we taste again that raw onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago.”

Ambrose Bierce wrote “history is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.”

These sneering cynics may or may not be serious, but their mocking take on history is too sarcastic and disparaging for me. I have been a lover of history from the grade school text that started with: “In fourteen hundred ninety-two/ Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Columbus’ tale has been told by hundreds of historians in many languages from all points of view. Some have seen him as a saint and God’s apostle. While others see him as a savage adventurer-explorer. When you round out the edges, he was definitely both of these and more. He was a man who became a legend. Most of history is a record of facts that evolved from myths and legend, or the village storytellers. After forms of writing developed, someone said: let’s write this down.

Back a few years (when the Byzantines were in charge of most of the “known” world), illiteracy among their middle and upper classes was all but unknown. Citizens of Constantinople could read and usually more than one language. The Byzantium Empire, through its kings and queens, saved a great deal of the ancient (mostly Greek and Persian) literature, mathematics and the sciences from the Iberian Peninsula to the shores of India.

Here is where we have a problem with history. Writers of history are nearly always the winners of wars, we seldom get the losers story. Add to that short-coming is that men did most or all of the recording of history. Finding a woman’s view of anything is of rather recent invention.

The Roman Empire of the East was founded by Constantine the Great on the eleventh of May in the year 330. The Christian faith was made a legal and honored religion. Viewed as a good thing in those days, history has shown worldly, material power has a weakening effect on the faith. The Christian faith may have spread faster with deeper spiritual roots had they not become dominate in politics. In those days a nation or village had to have a god, goddess or some version of religion. Even the pagans seemed to have a union or distinct denominations.

Empires do not last forever. This is evident following Columbus’ “discovery” as all the New World empires slowly disappeared. The Byzantium Empire came to an end on Tuesday, May 29, 1453. During those 1,123 years, the kingdom was led by some great, courageous men and women, who spread the Christian faith as far as Vienna and Moscow (Russ), and eastward to Baghdad and south to Egypt. But mixed with politics lost much of its spirit and true meaning.

Sidelights and footnotes of history are sometimes the most interesting reading. To the Greek world ‘Tuesday’ (the day of the week on which the Turks defeated Constanople) is still believed to be the unluckiest day of the week. That is why the Turkish flag “still depicts not a crescent but a waning moon, reminding us that the moon was in the last quarter when Constantinople finally fell, … [and] stands as the city’s grandest and most tragic monument” (Norwich).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Patriotism Is Not Enough

Peter J. Gomes, American Baptist minister, writes in his book “Strength for the Journey,” that immediately after the events of September 11, 2001, Anthony Lewis, formerly of The New York Times, spoke in morning prayers at Harvard University’s Memorial Church, words that caught the attention of the congregation.

Anthony Lewis said that if the purpose of the terrorists of 9/11 was to destroy our confidence in our own American values, then he feared, they had succeeded. That through a culture of intimidation, our government suspended our constitutional liberties, stifled dissent, and defined a good American as one who goes along with the powers that be; a “My way or the highway” mentality.

If that is the case, reducing patriotism to narrow jingoistic sound bites, it is possible that the ancient cynic, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s definition of patriotism as “last refuge of a scoundrel,” is right.

There is a white marble statue of a British nurse near the National Gallery near Trafalgar Square in London. My wife and I noted it on a brief visit to England. It is the statue of Edith Cavell, a nurse in German-occupied Belgium during the early years of World War I. She cared for wounded soldiers of the war, anyone, German, French or English. Thus she was a traitor, arrested and shot by the Germans.

Her final words, as described by an eyewitness she said: “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.”

At the base of her statue are the words: “PATRIOTISM IS NOT ENOUGH.”

An Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, is recorded as saying: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:22-23, New American Standard Bible)

The prophet says that wisdom, strength and riches are total opposites of love, justice, and righteousness. How we do like to boast of our achievements, our wealth and mighty power. This is but human nature. We all do it. The “no holds barred” wealthy; the pastor of the largest church; the win at all costs politicians. Being the number one football team in the nation. No longer just win your conference, but lead the nation. This attitude is easily one of the Christian’s greatest failings. It can be observed on a national scale as well (The World’s Only Superpower).

God is not interested in all our wisdom, strength and riches. Re-read Jeremiah’s words carefully. God delights in what? What are the things God delights in? Preacher Gomes asks, “If we do not delight in the things that the Lord delights in, why should the Lord delight in us?”

God bless the U.S.A., closes talks by our presidents of late. A good thing. But why should God bless America? Are we doing those things that are pleasing to Him? Would not God bless the world (with all it’s sin, selfishness and waywardness) be closer to what pleases God?

Patriotism is not enough.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Monday, August 16, 2010

Religious Freedom for all??

"Religious freedom" being put to the test

My July 30, 2010, newspaper column regarding the insecurity of many Christians opposing the proposed Muslim Center and Mosque, two blocks from New York City's "Ground Zero," raised the hackles of many West Texans.

Of the more than thirty who took the time to write, none even mentioned the thrust of the article: the First Amendment of the American Constitution. There it is written that this country will not be like others, but allow real religious freedom. One of the great "firsts" of history. My critics only expressed their hatred for Muslims.

Now the renowned educator, Glenn Beck, has falsely claimed the mosque would be dedicated next year on Sept. 11. Adding to the mix of confusion, as usual was Sarah Palin's tweet: "Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation, it stabs hearts."

Robert Parham, editor of Ethics Daily, contributed a piece in the Washington Post in which he wrote: "If religious liberty is an American hallmark, then the mosque near Ground Zero would be an American landmark to our nation's commitment to religious freedom for all. What better cultural signpost could we offer than one that says America is guided by its better angels, not its dark demons of fear and politicians of demagoguery."

Parham went on to remind us that the Baptist Thomas Helwys wrote to King James I advocating religious freedom for "Turks" in England. And Virginia Baptist minister John Leland, upon the adoption of the Constitution, "rejoiced that it would be possible for a pagan, Turk, Jew or Christian to be elected to political office."

A former U.S. congressman, thrice-married Newt "Do what I say and not what I do" Gingrich (he said to a former wife), wants to be president. He proclaimed that there were no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. That country is hardly a high-water mark when it comes to religious liberty.

I like (in spite of his vulgar vocabulary) Comedian Jon Stewart on television's Daily Show. I watched the other night as he sarcastically replied to Gingrich: "Why should we as Americans have higher standards of religious liberty than Saudi Arabia?"

And on Monday, Aug. 16, the highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate officially came out against construction of the mosque in its current location
"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," reads a statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office (D-Nev.). "Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."

Reid, like many, "respects" the Constitution, but not enough to enforce it.

I mentioned last month that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said if it were Methodists or Presbyterians planning a church two blocks from Ground Zero, there would be no such reaction from both left and right. Last Tuesday (Aug 3) he again made a strong speech for religious liberty.

The Atlantic's James Fallows said about that speech, "I have to say that all Americans are New Yorkers today, in the wake of Mayor Bloomberg's brave and eloquent defense of American tolerance, and the resilient strength of America's diverse society, in welcoming the vote that cleared the way for construction of a mosque near the site of Ground Zero. ... Nothing is more admirable about this country in the rest of the world's eyes than the big-shouldered unflappable confidence demonstrated in that speech."

Protestant churches have both bad and good members. Some (i.e., televangelists) pervert the Christian faith with their promising miracles while bilking their followers for their money. Some even preach violence and pray for death of the those they do not like. Where is the protest against these Protestant expressions of "religious freedom"?


Britt Towery, Free-lance writer. San Angelo resident, contact: bet@suddenlink.net

U.S. Constitution no longer valid?

American presidents swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution. President Obama has done that and the right wing and some others (who should know better) don't like the Constitution now. They want limits on religious freedom in the "Land of the Free."

How can these hypocrites sing any song of "this land is my land" and "American the Beautiful" while leaving out a segment of our citizens? America is unique as far as religious freedoms go. No other land has ever walked such a path. Now, the TeaBaggers and lot of Republicans and even Democrats and Independents and "I don't know who-all" want to kick the Muslims out. That is easier for them than obeying the law of the land -- or believing the Greatest Commandment IS NOT AN OPTION: to love others as ourselves -- including folks we don't particularly like or trust.

Here is an example of a far-out, weird bit of Christian group-think:

"Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero. This is for one simple reason: each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government."

That is by the opponent to RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, THE AMERICAN WAY, and BASIC CHRISTIAN FAITH AND BELIEF. That quote is from the fear-monger and "more right wing" than Christian: Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association.

In most of Texas, especially West Texas, the radio airwaves have only right-wing hate Obama programs. I mean, morning to night and even re-runs of Russ Limbaugh after midnight!! And repeats of the "great American" Shawn Hannity, as he constantly refers to himself.

With a chance to heal some wounds with Islam, these guys only want to fight and prove to the world that this is NOT the land of the religious free!!!

What a lost opportunity. Former President George W. Bush had a chance after 9/11. He flubbed the whole thing: going to war when there was no war. A police action would have cleaned out the terrorists without war. But, now firebomb Afghan towns and mountains while the enemy fades from view only to continue after nine years a war that should never have been.

Guess all this hot air does little good. I know better, but find it so impossible that history challenged Americans can act and think this way. I wrote in 2001 that an invasion of the Middle East would begin a century of war. It has so far, and if we listen to the opponents of peace, it will go beyond the 21st century. Happy thought!

May the God of peace have mercy on us all. "We have met the enemy," Pogo said so long ago, and "he is us!"


Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Milestone of an Anniversary

•••••••••••• A milestone in anniversaries •••••••••••••

Anniversaries come and go, life goes on from year to year, month to month, day to day, but when you get as old as we are, you note every moment as a special gift from God.

Such was the date last week, July 28 to be exact, when at six in the evening Dr. Joseph McClain, Bible professor at Howard Payne University, said all the right words that united Jody and I as one. It was under the steps of the First Methodist Church, Fisk at Austin, Brownwood, Texas. Under the steps because the church had a tiny chapel hidden away there.

I have no idea how long ago the church moved from that wonderful spot to the suburbs, Nor who razed the building (my guess it was probably Herman Bennett’s company).

The wedding went fast. Mother and dad and sister were there as well as Jody’s mother and sister. Ann Self (a year later to become Mrs. Richard D. Baker) and life-long friend John Robnett (still an active dentist in Dallas and a son and family and grandson still in Brownwood. --- I don’t hear from John but once a decade, so may or may not have facts straight regarding his offspring.)

These 60 years have found us celebrating the event many places. We celebrated in the usual Texas places, like Rio Frio and Pecan Bayou as well as some larger streams: Brazos, Trinity, and the Concho. Add to that the dried-up San Pedro River in Arizona.

The tenth anniversary was in central Taiwan at Sun Moon Lake, where the missionaries held a conference of all Protestant groups. That was the real beginning of appreciating the faith and practices of people from England, Denmark, Finland, Canada, India and even Minnesota.

Sun Moon Lake, a beautiful merging of two lakes, one like a full moon and one a half moon, was the place we met many interesting people: Former U.S. military chaplain, Oz Quick, who hit the beaches of Iwo Jima during WWII, also imprisoned by the Japanese in Hong Kong; Josephine Ward and Ola Lea spent time under house arrest in Japan’s invasion of China. Pearl Johnson interrogated by PLA in Qingdao, China; Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision; Major Ian Thomas, outstanding Bible teacher; Dr. Berg, whose husband was killed by the Chinese communists, just for being different.

In Hong Kong we had tea on the roof of the YMCA when it was the tallest building around, overlooking the Kowloon Railway Station, the harbor and a seven-minute Star Ferry ride away, the island of Hong Kong.

Hearing the teen-age son of George and Beth Wilson playing the piano in the historic Peninsula Hotel lobby at teatime will always be special for us. That young kid, Dale Wilson, is now Dr. Dale Wilson (Yale and Columbia) music professor and composer at Connecticut College.

(It was not our anniversary, but at the Peninsula we visited with Steve McQueen. He was in Hong Kong making the film “Sand Pebbles.”)

But the most memorable of all the places where we observed July 28, was in 1985, worshipping with the people of the newly-re-opened St. Paul’s Church in Nanjing, China. It had been an Anglican church before the Cultural Revolution. A part of the post-denominational era; churches sprouting up all over the land. (Post denominational means they no longer carry foreign names like Baptist, Anglican, Methodist or Presbyterian. They are only Christian churches retaining the best of each former missionary founded churches. A good example for the rest of the world.)

Anniversary number 60 was a simple Mexican lunch, just the two of us and our memories of so many friends, places and good times. Jody is a SAINT, to put up with me this long. Don't send gifts, just an e-mail will be find.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mountains Hold Dreams

The Challenge of Mountains exceeds our dreams

Mountains are there to be climbed. Beyond the amazing scenery, there are cross cultural experiences and challenges awaiting the daring among us.

The first time I took an interest in mountain climbing was after reading the 1953 book, “Seven Years in Tibet,” the experiences of noted Austrian mountain climber and skier, Heinrich Harrer.

Heinrich Harrer could have titled his book “From Hitler to the Dalai Lama.” In 1933, he enlisted with Hitler’s storm troopers, and ended up in Tibet tutoring the Dalai Lama. In his memoir he made no mention of his Nazi ties. When the movie version, starring Brad Pitt, came out in 1997, he admitted his Nazi membership was “an ideological error.”

Before Hitler began World War II, Harrer was on a German expedition to climb Nanga Parbat, 26,000 foot peak in what is now Pakistan. The area was under British military control. The British colonial forces immediately arrested the Germans. They were detained in a prison camp.

It was five years before he and companion escaped. The war was all but over and they slipped away from the camp, deciding to make their way to Tibet. The next months were the most grueling of all Harrer’s climbing experiences. In Richard Graves English translation of Harrer’s book, the two men posed as Indians, dyed their beards black and stained their skin to look more the part. Without papers or money, and only sporadic help from villagers, they staggered into the forbidden city of Lhasa, ragged, starved and blistered. Their “hike” took 21 months.

Gradually the two vagabonds are accepted. They begin an irrigation canal, build a fountain and introduce ice-skating. In time, Harrer became a tutor to the young Dala Lama, teaching him about Western customs and science. Tibet knew nothing of World War II, but were soon to be invaded by the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) of the Communist Chinese.

There is a much more recent mountain climber whose story has been widely shared. Greg Mortenson has a mission to promote peace, one school at a time. He made a wrong turn coming down the K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, in 1993. He was in the Karakoram mountains in an impoverished Pakistan village. A “wrong” turn that changed his life.

Son of missionaries to Africa, Mortenson was at home in the wild. The secluded village he stumbled upon was weeks away from civilization of any kind. His heart was moved upon learning there was no school for the children. He promised to return and build them a school.

With no money for such an undertaking, but knowing the importance of an education, he set out on his personal mission and found people world-wide saw the wisdom of his actions. He not only built a school there but over the next decade, built fifty-five schools, primarily for girls. More are now “a-building” all along the Pakistan-Afghanistan northeast border regions.

His story is well-known since he wrote about his challenge in “Three Cups of Tea.” He writes that in Pakistan and Afghanistan, “we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything – even die.”

It is a way to peace in the dangerous Taliban homeland. Mortenson has proved that making friends and increasing learning is a much better way to peace than military expeditions.

There is more than beautiful scenery high up in the mountains of the world. There are challenges for a better world -- sharing the world with the Dala Lama or building one school at a time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Regarding the NYC proposed mosque

All religions subject to U.S. Constitution

Up north in New York City a Muslim Center has been approved for construction by local boards in lower Manhattan. They propose a 15-story community center which includes a prayer room, offices, meeting rooms, gym, swimming pool and a performing arts center.

The center is not at Ground Zero but two blocks away. It is not designed as a local mosque but to serve the wider community. It also is meant to improve interfaith relationships among people of every faith. In a nutshell it is promoting tolerance.

A hallmark of American culture is being a multicultural nation, welcoming people from everywhere (legally, of course). Another hallmark is even more amazing: America is a multi-religious society (but a few folks are not sure).

The last couple of years many have rallied their support for the U.S. Constitution. In their rallies they use bright, though weird signs, and declare they “want the Constitution back,” whatever that means.

Just to refresh our memories, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution still reads the same as in 1791: “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.”

Regarding the religion clause, where are these protesters who love the Constitution and believe it should be observed so faithfully? Why are they now opposing the free exercise of religion? What is it in the single sentence of the First Amendment they do not understand? Why such hate for certain people simply because some of them are bad? Have they voided the Greatest Commandment: love thy neighbor?

Apparently those who oppose another’s faith, are insecure in their own faith. When brought to the test, can our faith really give us inner peace and victory in the trials of life?

Are these insecure believers picking and choosing from the U.S. Constitution just as is often done with the Bible?

The American Muslim leaders have denounced their radical fundamentalist majority and the slaughter of the innocents on 9/11. They are on record as welcoming anyone who loves peace to give toward the project.

To lump all Muslims in one sack is as foolish as putting all Catholics or Baptists in one pile. To say no to Islam because it is foreign-based is not consistent; so is the Roman Catholic Church, demonized here at first, but now it is a thriving church (like all others, not perfect).

I remember the hullabaloo when a Hindu Temple was built near Austin. It scared many a Christian at the time. If a Christian’s faith is so shaky to fear other religions, he or she best sign up for kindergarten-level Sunday school.

I have heard numbers of Baptists tell other parents, “Don’t send your kids to Baylor, they will lose their faith.” If a person’s faith is that weak, they best review their own spiritual walk. Before the Apostle Peter denied his Lord, he continued following Jesus, as the historian Luke wrote “But Peter was following at a distance” (Luke 22:54). Stay close, we are “No longer babes in Christ…” the Apostle Paul advised his followers.

New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn't be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can't. I think it's fair to say if somebody was going, on that piece of property, build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too."

John L. Esposito, professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University (DC) sums up what I am trying to say: “Opposition to the Muslim Center goes against democratic principles, is Islamophobic.”


Jody Towery Watercolor

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Re-discovering Jody's Watercolors

Jody Towery, missionary to Taiwan, seated on the front row of this 1960 charter members of the Pingtung Baptist Church, later lived in Hong Kong and was a colleague on the China mainland (1956-1990) learned from masters of watercolor in all three places. Now that she can no longer paint it is time to show her early works. She did book covers of bamboo as well as scrolls and framed pieces of birds, mountains in the old Chinese style, and even some sketches of the Hong Kong harbor, when it was not as crowded as it is in the 21st century.

Her painting of this "bird in a quandary" has a question about something, like saying, "You talkin' to me?" or "Who said that?"

More to come as time allows the scanning of her work.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

China Update: churches & government


One of the most vivid pictures to come out of the China earthquake of 2008, was the wreckage of the ancient Mianzhu Christian Church’s worship center.

The Mianzhu Church, originally built by missionaries in the 19th century, has now been rebuilt and instead of the 100-150 worshipers before the earthquake, they now welcome 1,000 in worship on a regular basis.

My wife was in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in 1984 and visited numbers of churches. She found them to be among the friendliest anywhere. Those same caring Christians and inquirers of the faith came to the aid of the Christians in Mianzhu.

The congregation put up a huge temporary worship center and the government granted them land on which to build a church. After the earthquake, the Chinese assigned each province a part of Sichuan to rebuild.

According to Kathy Call, founder of China Connection, “within the next year, in place of the old demolished church, there will be two churches and two congregations – one in the temporary church building and one being constructed on Gospel Road.” Last Easter 49 new members were baptized to add to the 158 baptized in Mianzhu last Christmas.

Back in the mid-1980s, as congregations were beginning to re-open and build new churches, Nanjing (where we spent most of our time in China) had two huge churches left over from missionary days (pre-1950). The two, St. Paul’s and Mochou Road, and a few house groups were all the former capital of China had. Nanjing now numbers 30 Protestant Christian churches. The largest seats 5,000 worshipers. Same story unrolls in many major cities, including the ancient capital city of Hangzhou and commercial Shanghai.

The road to regroup for Roman Catholics has not been easy, primarily because of their allegiance to a foreign Pope. It took five years for Beijing and Rome to agree on a new Catholic bishop’s ordination (Paul Meng Qinglu of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia).

The members of the Diocese of Hohhot is over 65,000. At Meng’s ordination were 21 priests, with three priest officially recognized by Rome. Such progress may seem slow to us, but it is of the kind that lasts. Slowly the bai-xing (Chinese people) are seeing that Christianity is not a “foreign power” to fear or ignore. They are putting down Chinese roots in Chinese soil, a rarity in the past 150 years of missionary toil (1800-1950).

Just as our churches are American, China wants Chinese churches, as do people of every country.

When my wife and returned to the States after 31 years, there was a very observable phenomenon that has grown into fact in recent years. China is rising from the ashes (since 1980) and our beloved country titters on a steep incline the opposite direction.

For example: The July 8th Viewpoints section of the San Angelo Standard-Times, by Bruce McLaren, writes of a dream that our railway system reclaim their former usefulness and days of glory.

America once had a great railway system. But we torn up the tracks or left them to rust while the new China was blanketing their land with fast trains. The Beijing Review reported last spring that China has three railways of approximately 200 miles an hour and seven that run 125 miles an hour. Eight more rail lines are in the process to be finished by 2015. The train from Beijing to Lhasa is a marvel of engineering.

Both church and state are doing well in spite of a dictatorship and limited freedoms. It is time the USA quit chanting “We’re number One” and reclaim what once was. Bring back the jobs, factories and overseas military bases and stop trying to police the world.