Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fighting over Prayer

Who can pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem?

At the moment, only Muslims.

In October for one day, no one could pray there.  Access was closed, a step that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called nearly a "declaration of war."

In the future, maybe both Muslims and Jews will pray there--at least that is the hope of some Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.  

But Muslims view Jewish prayer outside their mosque as an encroachment, a step toward total Jewish control of their holy site.  

Currently Jews can pray only at the Western Wall--and women are not welcome there, according to the Ultra-Orthodox.

Women rabbis are especially unwelcome.  They have to smuggle in a scroll of the Torah to pray.

For an explanation of this complicated struggle for power and prayer, see this article by Laura King, "An ominous Mideast shift":

Friday, November 21, 2014

Praying for those who kill you

It’s a little counter-intuitive, praying for those who murder you.

Two Palestinians entered a synagogue in a quiet West Jerusalem neighborhood early Tuesday morning, Nov. 18, armed with knives, meat cleavers, and a handgun.

When the “Shemah Israel” prayer began—“Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one.  You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might”—they began killing.  These words are the core of Judaism, recited in the morning and evening from Deuteronomy 6:4.

Within minutes four scholarly rabbis lay dead, leaving widows to raise 24 children. (On the tough lives of ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, see the memoir of Deborah Feldman.)

Dying nearby was a young Druze policeman whose wife is now alone to care for their four-month-old daughter. 

There were no calls for prayer for the attackers killed at the scene.

Animals,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called them.  He blamed the attack on Palestinian incitement, denying any reason behind the attack.  Last summer’s Israeli bombing of schools, hospitals, and UN civilian shelters in Gaza?  Unrelated.

Actually, his condemnation echoes the words of Hitler, who called Jews “rats” and “subhuman.”
“When people dehumanize others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures,” reports David Livingstone Smith in his 2011 book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others.  This view can then “liberate aggression and exclude the target of aggression from the moral community.”

Jesus warned against dehumanizing others.  Don’t say “You fool,” he exhorts in Matthew 5:22. 
When he quotes the Shemah, he adds “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18.  But Leviticus specifies only “your own people” as those to whom you owe love.  Those in another group are fair game, especially if they don’t worship your god. 

Jesus radically expands the group to whom we owe love.  When a lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus focuses on who behaved like a neighbor (Luke 10:29-37).

He throws out the elaborate “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” system of Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, and Deuteronomy 19 in his Sermon on the Mount.    

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he commands instead.

We conveniently ignore these words.  Revenge is our intuitive response: wipe out enemies and fight wars if there are good reasons.

How surprising then when someone like Daryl Davis comes along, who in 1983 formed a friendship with three KKK members.  As an African-American, he was risking his own life, but over time that friendship dissolved the KKK in Maryland.

How disquieting that Mennonites, Quakers, and a few others have actually taken Jesus at his word, even refusing to take part in World War II. 

Gandhi agreed with Jesus, saying “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

A partial timeline of the last six months in Israel and Palestine demonstrates the futility of revenge: the June murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, followed by the death of a Palestinian teenager, the Gaza massacre, attacks on Jews in Jerusalem, the hanging of a Palestinian bus driver, and this week’s slaughter of the rabbis.  Jerusalem is on edge waiting for the next killing.

To end this pattern, Palestinians must have their own nation next to Israel, neither nation vowing to wipe out the other.  Yet most Israelis—supported by an editorial in the Wall Street Journal—vow that Palestinians “will never have a homeland as long as they cultivate a society that celebrates murdering the innocent in the name of religion.”  All are blamed for the acts of a few.

Extremists on both sides celebrate murdering the innocent.  Leaders on both sides condone revenge killing.  Hamas lauded the synagogue murders, and last summer most Israelis supported the bombing of civilians in Gaza.

It takes quite a leap to give up the thinking of Us versus Them.  We are the good guys, and the other side is evil.  We can do anything to them because they are evil.

The flaw in otherness thinking is that I am not completely good; my side is not 100% pure.  The others are not subhuman and completely evil.  We all live on a continuum.

“I am human,” wrote Publius Terence in about 160 BCE.  “There is nothing human that I consider alien from me.”  Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

As Jesus put it, “None of you can throw the first stone” (John 8:7).  

We can’t sentence a murderer to judgment because we too have been angry and hurt others (Matthew 5:21-48).  We’re a few steps away from the killer on that same continuum.  We can’t stone an adulterer because we too have tasted lust.

Jesus takes it a step further than just calling for an end to the cycles of revenge.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he says.  When he himself was the target, he added, “Forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 34).

Who heard these radical words and copied them down?  Who later collected and preserved them?

By the grace of God, we can find testimony today for this minority position against revenge in the words and acts of Jesus, Terence, Gandhi, Daryl Davis, and others.

By binding our hearts to Jesus and his words, we can counter our intuitive responses and lift up even our enemies to the Creator’s loving care. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Retirement--still possible?

Retirement-- a scary time in this economy.

Michael Hiltzik leads his column today with a sobering quote from Alicia H. Munnell's new book, Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What To Do about It.

"There are only three options," she writes in her new book, "Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It." "The first is to simply accept that we are going to be poor in retirement. The second is to save more while working, which means spending less today. The third is to work longer, which means fewer years in retirement. Those are our only options."

She is director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Well, we blew item #2.  

We're working on #1, and my spouse and I both are hitting retirement at the faily early ages of 66 and 67, only partly by our own choice.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Duggar Escapee

Bill Cosby & Woody Allen

How many male celebrities does it take to turn on a light bulb in public consciousness?

One?  Such as Wood Allen?

Two?  Him and Bill Cosby?

Three?  JFK, FDR, Martin Luther King Jr.?

More than that, I guess.

Kings have had access to women's bodies for centuries, and patriarchs have owned the bodies of all women working for them.

The good news is that women are bringing the truth to light.

Powerful men can continue to exploit and rape women around them, but now they are having to own that behavior in public.  

No more secrets.

Blase Bonpane

I admire the work of Blase Bonpane in opposing US military intervention in Central America.

His weekly program Uprising on KPFK is always enlightening.

I just learned that he taught sociology at CSU Northridge, where I currently teach.

Yet another reason why I am proud to have been part of CSUN since 2007.

Mormon Messes

Mormon feminists are dealing with revelations about Joseph Smith:

Thank God there are Mormon feminists.

Thank God I don't have to deal with the rampant sexism and sexual abuse historically in the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

I'm steering clear of all comment on this one.  The whole thing is too big a mess--not wasting my time.

Women at the Wall

Women in Jerusalem are still fighting for equal access to the Western Wall:

  • for prayers
  • for bat mitzvahs
  • for women rabbis

Go to the website for Women of the Wall:

Let's pray with and for them.

Friday, November 14, 2014

International Court: A Victory

In May 2012 Charles Taylor, warlord in Sierra Leone, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for atrocities committed by his Revolutionary United Front.

He was the first former head of state convicted in an international court since Nuremberg.

This "sends a strong signal that no one is above the law," reports Human Rights Watch.  "It puts all leaders on notice that the world is increasingly intolerant of those who exploit their positions of power to commit serious crimes."

May the leaders of the Islamic State in northern Syria and Iraq soon be arrested and prosecuted for their beheadings of journalists.  

May the US have the courage to cease military intervention against ISIL and instead support efforts to gather evidence and capture the leaders in order to bring them before the International Court.

When did our intervention in the Middle East ever prove helpful?  


US bombing and invasion there only facilitate the recruitment of more extremists.

Let's get serious about the International Court in The Hague.

For an analysis of US unhelpful intervention--even terrorist intervention--in other countries, listen to World Focus by Blase Bonpane on KPFK on November 9, 2014:
  • South Africa
  • Cuba
  • Chile
  • Iraq
  • and other countries
He draws on the work of 
  • Medea Benjamin, winner of the 2014 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award from the International Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and co-founder of Code Pink, 
  • Noam Chomsky, 
  • Ramzy Baroud "Another failed war to rearrange the Middle East" in Counterpunch
  • and others.

Lion Set Free

President Obama "feels liberated" after the midterm elections, according to sources in an article in today's New York Times by Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

The President is a lion set free.  Far from cowed by Democratic losses in the Senate, he "seems energized by the postelection actions" that he is now freed to take.

After two years of politely waiting for Republicans in the House to pass any kind of immigration reform at all, the President can now abandon efforts to make nice and instead issue carefully planned executive orders based on the executive branch's "right to 'prosecutorial discretion' in how it enforces the laws," according to another article in today's NYT by Michael D. Shear, Ashley Parker, and Julia Preston.  

Titled "Millions may stay and work in U.S. in Obama's plan," the report is based on a detailed briefing (aka leak) from "administration officials who have direct knowledge of the plan."

His action "will remove the threat of deportation for millions of people in Latino and other immigrant communities" until January 2017, report Shear, Preston, and Parker. 

If the elections of fall 2016 go well, that threat will be removed forever.  

President Obama will have a legacy in several areas:
  • first African-American president
  • health care for many through the Affordable Care Act
  • recovery from the Great Recession he inherited
  • immigration reform 
  • efforts toward ending the US war of aggression in Iraq--fumbling efforts, now hampered by bombing ISIL.
Republicans threaten non-cooperation and even shutting down the federal government by refusing to pass a budget in December.

Non-cooperation?  What an empty threat.  They've been holding up all legislation for most of Obama's presidency.

Shutting down the government?  Only if they want to guarantee their defeat in 2016.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hope and the Pope

Another bit of evidence that Pope Francis is changing this for the better in some ways... though not yet for women.

Thanks to John Arthur for forwarding this link to the Washington Post article.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Danger: Sadness Ahead

Absolutely devastating.  

That's all I can say about The Theory of  Everything, based on the memoir by Jane Hawking, his wife.

Go see it if you have the stamina.

My friend Rhoda died of ALS when she had two little boys and when my kids were young.  That made watching this film even more difficult.

My question was: why did she only live about five years after her diagnosis, while Stephen Hawking has lived fifty years and more?

Apparently the answer lies in the particular variety of genes and other factors causing the abnormal protein deposits in the brain.  Rhoda's illness was actually very different from Stephen's, though they both fall under the umbrella of motor-neuron disease.

No doubt Stephen has read all about the varieties of ALS and understands them about as well as he understands black holes and quantum gravity.

How unpleasant to set out to tackle the mystery of the origin of the universe and run head-on into a completely different mystery.

The film does an excellent job of making the relationship between Stephen and his wife believable.

I so much did not want her to have another love interest... but that gift clearly outside her control is the heart of why the film is uplifting.    

Actually, this is a film to make you believe in a Creator of the universe who takes an interest in each of us little earthlings.

It certainly does seem like a miracle that Stephen was given another fifty years of life after his diagnosis.

An equal miracle is that Jane, in the one hour a week not devoted to care of her husband and three children, met a man who had lost his wife to leukemia and whom she eventually married.

How the hell could that have happened?  Unless maybe there is a loving Creator after all.

As Stephen would have said, what is the probability?


Revealing interview with Jane:

Comparison of the film with the various memoirs:

More on ALS:

Biographer Kitty Ferguson notes in her 2012 book, Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind: "There has been recent evidence that [Lou] Gehrig may not have had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but another disease similar to it" (p. 3). 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

To my granddaughters to be

Why blog?  

I've written 585 posts since I started this blog six years ago on July 24, 2008, but most of the posts have been looked at by only a handful of people.  

Why do I continue to write and post?

There are two answers.

One was voiced by E. B. White over fifty years ago:

Thank you to Shaun Usher for posting this letter from E.B. White on his Twitter feed and for including it in his book, Letters of Note.

Thank you also to John Arthur for reporting this great tweet to me.  As a retired editor and newsman, he reports the news to me orally from his armchair 24/7.    

Like White, I can't stop writing.  My nature is to think and feel and then write, hoping to find an audience for some of the things I have written.

The other answer just came to me today: I can write for my future grandchildren.  

Never mind that my daughters, nieces, and nephews today could care less about anything I post on this blog.

There's a chance that after I am gone, some granddaughter some day will want to know what her grandmother was like as a person.  

These posts will tell her what I loved and hated and thought.

To you, my dear, I give my love and my reflections as a woman raised in the 20th century and growing old in the 21st century.  

I also give this blessing: may you live and love and reflect on the world around you.

May the humans and animals and trees continue to find ways to live together on this fragile planet.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Progress for women?

GOP Sen.-elect Joni Ernst addresses supporters on Nov.
Joni Ernst, new senator from Iowa

Next year when the 114th Congress begins, there will be 81 women in the House and 20 or 21 in the Senate. 

Are we supposed to cheer?

The Washington Post notes that the rate of increase is "a trickle."  Which is to say, it's dismally slow.

Slate takes statistics from Rutgers' Center for American Women and Politics and produces a stunning graphic.

In 1917, one woman in Congress.  My mother will be born in 1919.  The 19th Amendment will be passed in 1919 and ratified in 1920.

In 1927, five women.  My mother is eight years old.  My grandmother is 32 years old.  Did she vote for or against Warren Harding in 1920?  Did she vote for Calvin Coolidge in 1924?  Did she care that women had the right to vote?  It was still a very male-dominated world.

In 1937, eight women in Congress including two US senators.  My mother turns 18.  She's in training to become a nurse, and she will join the Navy Nurse Corps in 1943.

In 1947, still eight women.  Not including Rosie the Riveter.  Only one US senator.  I will be born in 1948.

In 1957, 16 women now in Congress, but still only one woman in the US Senate.  I am 9 years old.

In 1967, now only 12 women in Congress.  The total of 20 women in 1961 has shrunk.  Time for a revolution, but only a few women know that.  I'm in my first year of college.  

In 1977, 20 women in Congress.  We're back to the level of 1961, and this is considered progress.  I am 29 years old and working for the ERA while in grad school.  

In 1987, 25 women in Congress but the off-and-on maximum of two women US senators has been the limit since 1935.  The ERA went down in flames in 1982, and I am now the mother of three daughters.  Geraldine Ferraro has run on the Democratic ticket for Vice President of the US.  

In 1997, 65 women in Congress including 9 senators.  A significant gain--more than doubling the number in ten years.  My oldest daughter is 15 years old.  

In 2007, 88 women in Congress.  Growth has slowed.  I am now 59 years old.  My mother, now 88, will die in 2008.  She knows that Hillary Clinton is running for president, but she has Altzheimer's and sometimes thinks I'm running.

In 2017...   ?

Will I live to see a woman president of the US?

Will my daughters see a Senate and House of Representatives that are 50% women?

For more reflection, consider the timeline of women's suffrage, starting in 1840.  Where will we be by 2040?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Disappeared of Colombia

What do you do when you are given a great gift?
MaryBeth Goring with sister-in-law Eugenia Munoz and Javier Barrera Santa

Perhaps you hold it, savor it, talk with others about it, share it.

Today at my church a human rights defender from Colombia, Javier Barrera Santa, spoke about disappearances, who does them, and who is working to solve them and to bring the perpetrators to justice.  I have been completely ignorant on this subject, so his words were a great gift to me.

He began this work when his brother Oscar, aged 19, was disappeared on May 16, 1998, one of 35 young men who were rounded up on the streets of a city in the state of Antioquia, Colombia.  Seven of these young men were assassinated and 28 have never been found.

MaryBeth Goring, a member of Brentwood Presbyterian Church and Amnesty International, translated for this event and has also been traveling with Javier for two weeks of speaking.

General Mauricio Santoyo, now in prison in the US for drug trafficking, admitted to being involved in the massacre as Chief of Security under President Alvaro Uribe.  The round-up of random young men was intended to terrorize the city in which it occurred and to prevent citizens from being involved with FARC, a left-wing organization fighting the government of Colombia.  

"The operations of the FARC-EP are funded by kidnap to ransom, illegal mining, extortion, and the production and distribution of illegal drugs," says Wikipedia regarding FARC.

There are 14,162 registered disappearances in the state of Antioquia, according to the Centro de Memoria Historica de Colombia, and 122,155 in Colombia as of October 5, 2014.  Javier said the real total is much higher because many families are afraid to report a disappearance.

"Against Impunity and Oblivion: Enforced Disappearance through the Eyes of a Colombian Human Rights Defender under Threat" was the title of Javier's PowerPoint presentation.

Javier outlined three main perpetrators of the disappearances:

1) Armed actors of the Colombian State:
  • military forces, 
  • national police, and 
  • the DAS (kind of like the FBI).
2) Primary extra-judicial (illegal) armed actors:
  • the FARC
  • paramilitary groups founded to fight guerrilla leftists, created and financed by big business
3) Drug traffickers.
MaryBeth Goring translating for Javier Barrera Santa

Sadly, the Colombian government is the main perpetrator behind the disappearances, according to Javier.  But at least in 2000 "enforced disappearance" became classified as a crime.  A commission was established to enforced this law, including an "urgent search" rather than the usual waiting 72 hours after a disappearance before searching.

Unfortunately, the law against disappearance is not enforced and no urgent searches are done.  Instead, the perpetrators have impunity.

"Colombia passes lots of laws that it doesn't enforce," Javier said, "because it looks good to other nations to have these laws on the books."

Javier said, "Colombia is the strongest ally of the US in Latin America."  

(My question: Why are we so closely allied with a government that is killing its people?)

He said that the Plan Colombia set up during the Clinton administration has two goals:
  • Prevent the collapse of the government.
  • Diminish drug trafficking.
Javier said the main way of carrying out this plan is the following:
  • Kill a man.
  • Dress him in a leftist uniform.
  • Give bonuses and vacations to those who killed the man.

Cocaine consumed in the US is the basis of the drug trafficking.  (See the political cartoon above.)

The Colombian government points to demobilizing the paramilitary groups as an accomplishment.  However, out of 300,000 demobilized, only 3,000 were ever held to account for their murders.  Of those 3,000, only 50 got jail sentences; only 18 actually went to jail.  Most got out of jail without ever telling the truth about what they had done.

There is a Justice and Peace Law in Colombia, but Javier cited an article in El Tiempo of Bogota, August 3, 2014, that stated that only 10% of the truth has been brought to light as a result of this law.

See also this analysis of justice efforts in Colombia and Argentina:

Groups working for justice in Colombia:
  • ASFADDES -- Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared (for which Javier works)
  • FEDEFAM -- Latin American Federation of Associations of Families of the Detained and Disappeared, which has its headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela
  • NGOs (non-governmental organizations), including:

  1. SWEFOR--a Swedish group
  2. Amnesty International
  3. International Court of Justice
  4. Peace Brigades International
  5. UN High Commission on Refugees
Javier has recently received official state recognition that he is under threat for legitimate human rights work.  He and others with this recognition are less likely to be killed by military forces and by the national police. 

"Colombia knows the world is watching me, and the government will not issue a killing order for me," he said.

However, he could still be killed by paramilitary groups, of which there are many, and by drug traffickers. 

"After Syria, Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced persons of any country in the world," he noted, explaining this his own family has moved within Colombia several times and twice within the same city in the last few years.  

After his brother was killed in 1998, his family distributed the remaining children to various relatives in different cities; he was sent to an aunt in Venezuela.  Only six years ago was the family finally reunited. 
Dr. Eugenia Munoz with Javier Barrera Santa

During the question and answer period following his talk, Javier made the following charge: 

"The Colombia government is training other countries in how to use paramilitaries working together with members of the police force to control their populations."

For example, Mexico is receiving this kind of training.  Enforced disappearances are increasing there.

When I expressed surprise and dismay, a Colombian-American who was present at the event quoted Winston Churchill:

“If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”  -- Winston Churchill

Saturday, November 1, 2014

El Dia de los Muertos

El Dia de los Muertos, November 2, is different this year in Mexico.

Most Christians are familiar with All Saints Day, November 1, because of All Hallows Eve the night before, commercialized as Halloween.  In some churches we sing “For all the saints, who from their labors rest….”

Not all of us realize that Catholics, Episcopalians, and others also observe All Souls Day, November 2, to commemorate the departed faithful.

In Mexico the Day of the Dead is widely celebrated, but this year it is overshadowed by the disappearance on Sept. 26 of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, 120 miles south of Mexico City, and by the deaths of many others who have been bystanders in Mexico’s war on drugs.

“An estimated 26,000 people have been reported missing since 2006, when the Mexican government launched its frontal assault against drug cartels and their cohorts,” reports Tracy Wilkinson in the Los Angeles Times.

With fresh wounds, Mexicans are finding that the traditionally light-hearted approach toward this holiday has become impossible.

Instead, crosses with the words “43 faltan” (43 missing) have been set up in Iguala, where the college students were rounded up by police, allegedly on order of the mayor and his wife, who are said to be part of a drug trafficking group known as Guerreros Unidos.  So far 38 bodies have been found near Iguala but have not been conclusively tied to the missing students.

To make things worse, four bodies from a family of Americans visiting their father in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, were found on October 31.  Erica Alvarado Rivera, 26 years old, her two brothers, and her boyfriend lived near Brownsville, Texas, in a small town called Progreso, just 37 miles from their father’s home in Matamoros. 

They too were taken away by an ad hoc police force, this one governed by the mayor of Matamoros.

Erica was the mother of four young children.  She lived with her mother in Progreso and was just traveling a few miles across the border to visit her father.

This is the third major case in 2014 of killing by corrupt police involved with drug cartels in Mexico, according to Tracy Wilkinson, who is reporting from Mexico City for the LA Times.

The problems in Mexico may seem remote from our lives, but in fact the United States is the other big player in the Mexican drug war. 

The market for these drugs is right here in your city and mine.  Buyers here are the reason that drug cartels are terrorizing Mexico.

What can we do?

1)  Not use illegal drugs.

2)  Find these four cities on a map: Brownsville and Progreso, Texas; Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.

3)  Recognize that jail time doesn’t stop addiction or trafficking.  Drugs are available in jail, and cartel leaders continue to manage their troops from prison.  Work for laws that require rehab for drug possession and dealing. 

4)  Ask your legislators to look into making more drugs legal.  If the sale of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin were under US government control, that would take the profit away from drug cartels.

5)   Ask your senators, congressional representative, and president to work closely with Mexico to end this disastrous war on drugs that is killing people on both sides of the border.

As I walked out in the streets of Matamoros,
A stone’s throw from Brownville in Texas one day,
I spied three young siblings laid out in cold linen,
Two brothers and a sister as cold as the clay.