Afghanistan

The United States has more than 500 military bases in more than 50 countries around the world. These bases are intended for logistical purpose, communications, intelligence gathering and as staging areas for actions in defense of allies or America. Lest you think America is alone in this regard, Canada, France, the UK, Australia, India and other allies have numerous bases on foreign soil. And of course Russia and China have many.

I am saddened by America’s catastrophic departure from Afghanistan. I’m not sure I would have called our presence a “war” per se. It was a strategic hub intended to maintain the dignity of the Afghan people. And to destroy the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorist groups whose evil and savage butchery have victimized the people of many nations – including America. In 20 years of presence, 2,430 American military personnel have been killed. None had been killed (until two weeks ago) in the last year and a half. While each life is sacred, the number of American military personnel killed in 20 years is just a whisper higher than the 2,000 American servicemen killed every single week during the nearly four years of World War II. Those men and women died to protect America and the world from the same kind of tyranny.

The sudden and precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan has unlatched the door to a darkness and cruelty that is quickly descending on Afghanistan. We have callously ignored the lives and dignity of the Afghan people and unlatched the door to a future investment of human capital around the world that could massively eclipse the investment to date.

The end is still not in sight. 

Henry Nouwen

(A summer repeat from July 12, 2012)
One of the great inspirational/spiritual writers of all time was Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). Henri Nouwen was born in Holland. At an early age, he felt a call to the priesthood. He was ordained as a diocesan priest in 1957 and studied at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, KS. Henri went on to teach at Notre Dame, the Divinity School at Yale University and Harvard University. He died suddenly — and all too early — in 1996.

For several months in the 1970’s, Henri lived in a Trappist community at the Genesee Abbey in New York. In the early ’80’s, he lived in Peru among the desperately poor. After a time of contemplation, he left the seemingly bright world of academia — to go and work with mentally handicapped adults at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto. It was at L’Arche that Henri felt his greatest fulfillment. He was a prolific writer and in 2003, a Christian Century survey rated his works number one among Catholic and mainline Christian clergy.

I was referred to Henri some years ago by my dear friend David. On his recommendation, I have read most of Henri’s works. Wow! Spiritual. Inspirational. Moving. And somewhat melancholy – knowing that Henri died at such a young age. Return of the Prodigal Son is one of his most famous – and probably my favorite. I was given a copy by my friend and priest – Fr. Bob. Return is worth a second read. . . . which I’m planning. . . . . If you have to pick one of Henri’s books to read — this is the one.

[Afterword – I read it a second time.  It is now on the shelf for a third]

The Decline and Fall. . . .

[A repeat from March 29, 2018] Between 1776 and 1788, English historian (and Member of Parliament) Edward Gibbon published his classic 6 volume work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.   It is interesting to examine the causes of the decline – and fall – of the grand Roman Empire which expired in about 476 A.D. — not with a bang but a whimper.  Reasons for decline?  

Ongoing wars and heavy military spending

Failing economy and high inflation — and high unemployment among the working classes

Declining morals, ethics and values

Demand for blood and violence in entertainment (Gladitorial “games”)

Antagonism between the Emperor and the Senate

Political corruption

Hero worship of athletes and actors

Dilution of the Roman language

Look at America.   Frankly, look at the world.  The qualities listed above are present.  In abundance.  George Santayana in The Life of Reason commented “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”  Is anyone surprised?  Is it too late?      

Lawrence of Arabia

[A hot weather repeat – from July 2, 2015] Having visited Wadi Rum in Jordan (enduring a sandstorm), Donna and I put Lawrence of Arabia at the top of our Netflix list.  And we watched.  All 3 hours and 36 minutes.  Wow!  Hard to believe the movie was filmed in 1962.   The cast was a “who’s who” of Hollywood:  Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness, Claude Rains, Jose Ferrer, Jack Hawkins — and introducing Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole.  The story is historically accurate though it doesn’t tell all of it.

Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935) was a British archeologist, army officer and diplomat.  He is best known for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in World War I and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks (1916-18).  He was born out of wedlock to Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner – a governess.  Chapman left his first wife and family to live with Sarah under the name “Mr. & Mrs. Lawrence.”  And had 5 sons.     

The movie begins with Lawrence’s motorcycle accident – trying to avoid two bicyclists (which is what happened).  And then forwards to Lawrence as a soldier working in the Army’s Cairo office during the First World War.  What you don’t learn is that Lawrence was an archeologist who in 1909 spent 3 months in Syria mapping Crusader castles.  From 1910 to 1914, he spent a great deal of time in the Middle East — on digs and learning Arabic.  His language skills made him a natural to send to Cairo (in the Intelligence Unit) when the War began.  Because of his fluency and keen knowledge of the area, he was tasked to liase with the Arabs.   And he did — in the manner that legends – and movies – are made. 

After the War, he returned to London.  He basked in but then shunned the publicity.  In 1922, he tried to enlist in the Royal Air Force under the name John Hume Ross.  But his true identity was discovered.  He then changed his name to T.E. Shaw.  He ended his formal military career in 1928 after a 3 year posting at a remote base in India.  He did, however, continue an enlistment with the RAF until 1935. 

Lawrence authored two books on his experiences:  Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) and Revolt in the Desert (1927).  Both are on my “to read” list.  If you want some armchair adventure, get the movie.  It’s fascinating.  And the music is stirring.  Director David Lean blacks out the screen for the beginning, middle and end while the music plays.  There’s nothing wrong with your television. . . .           

The Turtle in the Tire Track

(A summer repeat from 2/13/2012; published in the Quay County Sun – August 3, 2016)   In 1969 I was in Tucumcari, NM. I’ve always been interested in Indian artifacts so I took a drive to “look around.” Outside of town, I took the long road of the Chappell Spade Ranch along the Canadian River. I pulled up to the ranch house where a man was standing. I asked if there was a place one might find Indian artifacts and was told “Mr. Griggs” might help but he was out walking. “Out there” the man pointed. I was driving my 1964 Ford Falcon Sprint – ragtop. Top down. So I headed off into the desert — driving on a two tire track “road.”

I bounced along and found Mr. Griggs about 2 miles out walking with a young girl who was on horseback.   I asked about artifacts and he shrugged. “You just have to look.” Big help he was. He asked if I’d drive him back to the ranch – so I said “sure” and he hopped in.

We came to the top of a rise. Below, the two tire track ruts were full of water from rain the night before. He said “you better gun it or we’ll get stuck.” So I did. Whoosh! Down the hill. And then I suddenly jammed on the brakes – skidding and splashing to a stop with water up to my hubcaps. He said “what the. . .” I got out of the car and about 20 feet in front of us a big turtle was cooling himself. In the water. In the tire track. If I’d continued, I would have crushed him. I held up the turtle to show Mr. Griggs. I set the turtle on the side and got back in the car. He stared at me. I looked at him somewhat defensively and said “I didn’t want to kill the turtle.” He nodded and thought a moment “You did the right thing. You want Indian artifacts? Go that way” – he pointed.  

I slushed out of the water and we lurched across the desert in another 2 tire track “road.” And we stopped, climbed to the top of a butte and he showed me an Indian burial ground. He told me the story of the Anasazis who had lived there. I found some neat things – some of which I took. Today, I have in my office a well-used mano (corn grinding stone) – one of three I found that day along with a metate (the stone on which corn was ground). Every time I walk in my office – and glance at the mano – I think of the turtle in the tire track . . . . and that very special day.

Character

[A summer repeat from January 26, 2012]

Each day when I tutor for the Chicago Lights Tutoring Program http://www.chicagolights.org  (see posts of August 8 and 9, 2011), I try to give my student a 3″ x 5″ card with a quotation on it. Usually the quote relates to character, integrity, hard work and achievement. I’m partial to the wisdom of John Wooden (winningest coach in NCAA basketball) but I offer the words of others as well.

Character is doing what’s right – when no one is looking.” J.C. Watts

Character is higher than intellect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” James D. Miles

Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Character is much easier kept than recovered.” Thomas Paine

The measure of true character is what a man would do if he knew he would never be found out.” Thomas Babington Macaulay

Ability may get you to the top but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

In each human heart are a tiger, a pig, an ass and a nightengale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity.” Ambrose Bierce

Education” is not just reading and math. It’s learning about tenacity, grit, hard work, civility and character.

IPCC

On August 9th, The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest findings. The report remains serious though it downgrades several points (there is “low confidence” that the Antarctic sea ice will melt; “low confidence” in all-category tropical cyclones; there remain questions on direct linkage of warming to catastrophic weather events; etc.).

Notwithstanding, it is imperative that we address water shortages, rising temperatures, wildfires, suffocating pollution, greenhouse gasses, deforestation, habitat destruction and storms that breach the barriers or break the power grid.  

And whatever your position on climate change, it is incumbent for each one of us to be diligent about recycling, conserving water and energy (“Just Turn it Off”®), limiting carbon emissions, being frugal about using and scrapping disposable products (like plastic water bottles), conscientious use of food products and being attentive to the fact that voices yet unheard will soon inherit our precious planet.  I’ve addressed environmental issues in the past (e.g. 11/29/18 – water; and 12/16/18 – energy; and the very first post- 7/23/11).

Each one of us has the capability to make a difference on protecting our planet.  Just think if everyone felt this way. 

The Chocolate Brain

[A repeat from September 14, 2017]

(AP Wilmette IL) Chicago lawyer Scott Petersen has a problem. His brain is slowly turning into chocolate.

After years of overindulging in Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, Hershey’s kisses, Hershey bars, Easter eggs, chocolate rabbits, frogs and sweets, Petersen’s brain is slowly but surely becoming a chocolate mass.  A routine physical exam turned up this unique phenomenon last Tuesday. His doctor said “Mister Petersen’s cerebral cortex has already developed a 1/4″ layer of chocolate. I believe that his cerebellum and occipital area are now crusted with a 60% cocoa.”

In a few years, Petersen’s head will be filled with a commercial grade of bittersweet chocolate.

Petersen was interviewed in a local restaurant where he was dining with his wife Donna. “I think it’s silly. I eat pizza too and you don’t hear that my brain is turning into Mozzarella cheese” he said testily. Petersen then ordered a double “Chocolate Decadence” – the menu’s signature dessert.  For his main course . . . . . 

Once Petersen’s brain has become solid chocolate, his wife is expected to put him on display at a local museum on weekends. “Hey – I might as well get something out of this too” she said.

Petersen is, however, expected to continue practicing law. A solid chocolate brain is not expected to interfere with his duties or knowledge as an attorney . . . . .

Courage

[A timely repeat from February 7, 2013] In Michener’s classic Iberia, he facetiously observes of Spaniards “Anyone who eats chocolate and churros for breakfast need not prove their courage in any other way.”  I love Michener’s writing, but courage is not a joke.  To me, courage is shown by many special people.  These days, it is defined in one word — Malala. 

Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 in the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan.  She is 16 years old.  Malala and her family have lived under the Taliban boot for much of her short life.  As a girl, she was forbidden to attend school.  The Taliban is known for crushing any attempt for girls to learn.  They burn schools and kill teachers suspected of teaching girls.  In 2009, Malala – at the tender age of 11 or 12 began speaking out about the need for girls to learn.  And to attend school.  She published a blog under a pseudonym through the BBC detailing life under the Taliban. And she spoke out against them.  She then began writing under her own name — and giving interviews on television.  All directed toward the need for girls to go to school.  

On October 9, 2012, the school bus in which she was riding was stopped and boarded by Taliban assassins.  They approached Malala and shot her in the head and neck.  Malala clung to life and was sent to the UK for surgeries.  On October 12th, 50 Pakistani clerics – to their credit – issued a fatwa (religious ruling) condemning the attack.  Malala is now up and around.  And she is speaking out.  Against the cowards who are the Taliban.  She is now under consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize [awarded 2014].   She deserves it.  And the Taliban?  They deserve what they gave Malala.  Let’s deputize Mitch Rapp and Jack Reacher. . . . .  

Time Out

[A summer repeat from March 12, 2016] Every year or so I’ve been taking a “time out” from my blog.  A few weeks of “duhhhhh.”    The last four weeks I have been silent.  Donna and I were in Florida (North Palm Beach) for a week and then to the west coast — Santa Monica — for a wedding. Then a drive to Palm Springs for some R&R.

Neither of us had been to Palm Springs so this was a new experience.  We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage (3 nights for the price of 2).   While we thought about golf, hitting local restaurants and sightseeing,  — we didn’t do much.  We stayed cocooned in our hotel.  Dining.  Pools.  Spa.  Fitness Center.  Sleep.  Reading.  Relaxing.  It was verrry nice.  

Our only real excursion consisted of two visits to “Sunnylands” — the 200 acre estate of the late Walter and Leonore Annenberg.  The property is considered the “Western White House” which has served Presidents and dignitaries since 1966.   Tours of the Annenberg home are limited to 7 guests at a time.  We arrived – ticketless – only to learn that tickets are sold out weeks in advance.  As we stood there, mildly forlorn, a woman stepped up to the counter with two tickets to return (she couldn’t use them).  Guess who bought them?  Just call me “Mister Lucky” (though it’s not quite like 8/2/13).