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#1004 – Kathy McKay: Going to Selma, 2015; Remembering 1965

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

The Selma, Alabama, march was actually two marches. The first, March 7, 1965, was the confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma; the second began March 21, 1965, and ended four days later at the capitol in Montgomery.

My friend, Kathy McKay, decided to go to Selma March 6-7 to remember 50 years ago. Following are her notes as she experienced Selma, and Alabama, in 2015.

Kathy McKay

Why go to Selma?

When I read a short note in January that President Obama was scheduled to go to Selma for the fiftieth anniversary march I knew I wanted to go too.

I remember the first marches in Selma with the really frightening pictures. Selma has become an iconic event of many occurring during the intensity of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and 70’s. It seemed like a way to remember these efforts, to underline their importance, and to participate in a public display of democracy given the challenges to civil rights still so with us. As Obama said in his speech at the foot of the bridge the US is still a work in progress. Democracy is still perhaps more of an ideal than a reality.

Another reason I wanted to go is that Lee and I own property in Alabama. Though I wholeheartedly embrace the unspeakable beauty of the island coast with its birds and quiet beaches I had not yet found a way to feel as though I politically belonged. I winched at statistics of poverty rates, anti immigration sentiment, disproportionate rates of incarceration and a general suspicion of pick up trucks with gun racks.

Perhaps traveling to Selma would expand my orientation to Alabama…give me a better feel…help me see if there is a way I can “fit” better into an Alabaman identity.

Montgomery, March 6th, night before Selma

Here I am at a Waffle House in a town I have never been to before. Montgomery, the capital city of Alabama is about 50 miles east of Selma and the closest place that I could find a room three weeks ago when I started calling.

This week end Montgomery has the Patti LaBelle celebration concert and the Grammy nominated Imani Winds doing a world premiere of a piece memorializing both Langston Hughes and negro spirituals in a nod to the 50th anniversary.

Montgomery has the Southern Poverty Law Center which was started by Morris Dees during the 60’s and is premiering a film highlighting several of the original local marchers.

There is a lot going on in central Alabama celebrating this civil rights event.

*****
In March of 1965 I was living in a college dormitory of 600 women in Winona, Mn. Not only was there no internet but only one television in the whole building. We got our news and commentary from TIME and Newsweek sometime after the events happened.

I was stunned when I viewed the news reports and video on that TV of policeman attacking the citizens they were hired to protect, and the now infamous footage of rage and brutality against the non violent marchers. It is the deep disrespect and de-humanization this event represents that draws me Montgomery

*****

President Obama was scheduled to speak at 1:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, March 7. I was 48 miles away in Montgomery. The news was saying security checks for the up close area would begin at 8:30 in the morning. I made a decision that I did not want to wait in an enclosed area with no water or seats for 5 hours so didn’t try for that deadline.

Wonderfully the Museum of Alabama opened at 8:30 on Saturday morning and had an exhibit of some of the Spider Martin black and white photographs from the first March. I headed to downtown Montgomery and entered the atrium of the museum a few minutes after 8:30am. Walking past busts of Alabama heroes I saw a military general that fought against the Spanish and one from the revolutionary war. I saw a proud bust of Booker T. Washington and one of George Washington Carver There may have been the expected Confederate generals but I did not see them.

Photo: Kathy McKay, March 7, 2015

Photo: Kathy McKay, March 7, 2015

The Spider Martin exhibit was on the first floor. A friendly docent welcomed me and directed me to the Milo Howard room where the large copies of pictures were hung.
Following this visit I headed for the highway to Selma figuring I would get there early and look around. Spring begins in late February in Alabama. The rolling hills had some green and the four lane highway with a broad grassy median was a pleasant drive.

As I reached the peak of one of the many undulating hills I noticed in my rear view mirror flashing blue lights. “Oh oh someone is getting a ticket” I thought. The blue lights persisted and then I notice motorcycle police leading a trail of vehicles. “Oh, a funeral procession.”I slowed slightly. As there were two lanes going in my direction no need to pull over.

Pulling up beside me going, perhaps 55 mph or maybe 60 mph, were eight large motorcycles with leathered drivers and blue lights flashing. Immediately behind them a long black limousine, and then one after another of black SUV’s with license plates 001, 003, etc. As I was counting the SUV’s and got to about seven or eight i was stunned to realize this is the president and his entourage…family, secret service, etc. I was overwhelmed with the impact of driving along side of the president to get to the Edmund Pettus bridge and the city of Selma. The symbolism of a black president coming to the sacred ground of Selma to honor the marchers, the people of Selma and to proclaim to America and the world “what happened here was so important”. I was in tears.
Later came a train of seven tour buses, the congressional delegates, with staff, I believe. About 12 miles from Selma the traffic slowed and for the next three hours we crawled toward the truck route into Selma. The main highway goes across the bridge onto Broad street, the main street in Selma.

The president’s entourage went into town over the bridge, the rest of us through the back door truck route. Along the highway at the equivalent of about every three blocks were municipal police or sheriffs or state police guiding traffic and answering questions. We were all patient. Some stopped at empty lots a mile or so out and walked in to the town. South High school, about a mile and a half out of town was charging a modest fee to park in their lot, a fund raiser. I stayed on the road and went into the heart of Selma arriving about 12:30. Magically I found the last perking space on Clark street in the residential area. I hopped out and headed for the center of town. Needless to say I had missed the opportunity to get up close to the bridge in the secured area. The town was packed with people, tour buses from Atlanta, New Orleans, South Carolina and places unnamed and thousands of pedestrians.

Broad street was solid people so I made my way up the next street over. I could get within a block of the river and there met barriers and secret service. This would be my place for the next couple of hours. Although the sound system was loud enough to reach our area the “noise” was not decipherable. We didn’t care. The music still worked. The cadence of John Lewis was unmistakeable and the instructive and insistent President Obama spoke clearly without the specific words. (we all said we’d catch the actual speech later on tv).

At Edmund Pettus bridge at time President Obama spoke, March 7, 2015

At Edmund Pettus bridge at time President Obama spoke, March 7, 2015

The crowds included lots of children, young people and old people. People dressed up and those more casual. No one seemed in a hurry to get anyplace. Everyone seemed happy just to be there…that was the point, to be there. The weather was friendly, bright sun and about 70 degrees.

After the speeches music played over the several blocks of milling people. There were booths selling food, I bought a roasted corn and then barbecued ribs from these ladies who were running a busy booth but consented to have their picture taken.

Post event hospitality in Selma, Kathy McKay March 7, 2015

Post event hospitality in Selma, Kathy McKay March 7, 2015

Chicken, grits and desserts were available. I bought a memory water bottle with Selma-50 Years written on the side. No one wanted to leave. People sat on the steps of all the churches, in the yards of the schools…everywhere they stayed around.

I, too, milled around feeling totally comfortable, not wanting to leave. I listened to an older gentleman singing tunes he was making up with recorded music background. I wandered back and forth down various streets, had a sweet tea and noticed the overflowing trash bins from all of the food that was being consumed.

As the sun’s light began to change I went looking for my car. Luckily I had written down the intersection and had my GPS with me. I walked by dozens of tour buses waiting for their travelers and got in line again to retrace my route out of town. The line was not as long leaving as it had been coming into Selma.

I left feeling proud, fulfilled, very American…we do create change, we have more to do, there are people willing to put their lives on the line to move the needle in the direction of justice, of fairness.

Alabama is different for me now. The people gathered at Selma both local and visitors enveloped me with assurance that there is room for me in Alabama…maybe, even, with my resist-the-status quo bent, a particular place for my perspective and my voice.

#1003 – Dick Bernard: A Remarkable Evening Remembering the Vietnam War

Friday, March 20th, 2015

UPDATE Mar 27, 2014: Bill Sorem filmed the entire event which is available on his vimeo site here. The entire program is about 90 minutes, featuring solely the seven speakers.
*
Tonight I was at a remarkable story-telling session in St. Paul. More later on that. There will be a continuation of the conversation on Thursday, April 9, at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Several pages of handouts from tonight, including the the agenda for tonight, and for April 9, can be read here: Vietnam War Recalled001

(click on drawing to enlarge it)

photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist.  See Postnote 4.

photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist. See Postnote 4.


Personal background:

In mid-November, 1982, I was in Washington D.C. for a meeting of a volunteer board of which I was a member.

On Saturday, Nov 13, a member reported to us that she’d seen many veterans of the Vietnam War the previous evening, and they were in town for the dedication of the just completed Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall. Emotions were intense, she reported.

Sunday, Nov 14, 1982, I had several hours between the end of our meeting, and my flight back to Minneapolis from D.C.’s National Airport, and I decided to stop by this new monument. The visit to the wall was an intense one for me as well. I described my experience a couple of weeks later: Vietnam Mem DC 1982001 (See Postnote 1)

I’m a Vietnam era Army Infantry veteran, 1962-63. None of us in Basic Training at Ft. Carson CO ever left stateside; we were simply folded into a newly reactivated Infantry Division which, it turned out, was being prepared for later deployment to Vietnam. At that time, I recall my platoon sergeant wanted an assignment to Saigon. It was considered “good duty”. Later my two younger brothers were Air Force officers who both served in Vietnam, circa 1968 and 1971, one as an F-105 pilot; the other, navigator on military transport planes, some in and out of Vietnam airstrips.

It occurred to me that day at the Memorial that I had never welcomed my brothers home after their tours ended, so I wrote both of them letters in the plane enroute home. Ten or so years earlier they just came back, that’s all.

In more recent years I learned my former Army Company had been decimated in a 1968 ambush in Vietnam. My source was a colleague from the same company, from Sauk Rapids MN, who’d learned this from another veteran who’d later been in the same Company. As I recall, the vet said to my Army friend: “I’ll tell you this story once; never ask me about it again”. (See Postnotes 2 and 3)

Tonights gathering (see page two here, and photo below: Vietnam War Recalled001)

My words are superfluous to the intensity of the messages conveyed by seven speakers in 90 minutes tonight. Below is a picture of the printed agenda. Click to enlarge. I noted someone filming the talks. Hopefully the evening will be translated into an on-line presentation for others to see. Every presentation was powerful.

(click to enlarge)

Agenda, March 20, 2015

Agenda, March 20, 2015

Postnote 1: As I was preparing this post, I thought it would be simple to find a link that described the history of the Memorial. In the end, I had to use this Wikipedia entry as a source. Scroll down to find the early history of the Memorial and the controversy surrounding it. At this 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War (April 30, 1975), active attempts are being made to re-invent the Vietnam War as being something other than the disaster that it was. History is never safe, which is why the stories told tonight are so important.

Postnote 2: Some years ago I learned that someone had placed online a website remembering the history of the Infantry Battalion of which my Infantry Company was part. You can access it here, including some photographs I took as a young GI at Ft. Carson CO.

Postnote 3: On Monday evening, March 16, 2015, I was checking into the motel in LaMoure ND. The clerk at the desk, a Mom who I’ve gotten to know in the course of many visits to the town, felt a need to talk this particular evening. Just a short while earlier her Dad had died, at 65. He’d had a very rough life, spending most of his recent years on 120% disability from the Veterans Administration for severe exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. It was falling to her to clean up final affairs for her Dad, and it was not easy.

When I got home I wrote a note of support and condolence to her.

It only occurred to me tonight, writing this piece, that she, and my friend from Army days, were from the same town, Sauk Rapids MN.

Postnote 4: Artist Ray (Padre) Johnson is a great friend, and was a medic in Vietnam during some of the deadliest combat in 1967-68. You can read more about the drawing he did here. The section about the drawing is below the photo of the hearse….

COMMENT Mar 27 from Dick Bernard to Chante Wolf’s presentation: I’ve known and respected Chante for years; heard her speak in person on March 20, and just watched her and the others just now.

I can only speak to my own experience in an Army Infantry Company 1962-63.

In those days, our units were 100% male. I really don’t recall even seeing women. I was engaged at the time, and never “went to town” (Colorado Springs) so never experienced the more raw side of life there.

We were young men, then, and doubtless thought the same as young men of any generation. In my particular units, anyway, I don’t recall the raw sexual commentary even in the drill cadences. We lived in barracks, perhaps 20 to a floor, with zero privacy, one bed next to the other with a bathroom down the hall.

Had there been females in the unit, I have no doubt that the behavior we would have witnessed would have been the same as Chante experienced. But I can speak only from my own personal experience.

I did a quick google search to see if there was more information on the topic. All I can do is add the page of links, fyi.

#1000 – Dick Bernard: Some Empty Chairs. Thoughts at 1000

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Related posts: March 6, 7, 8 and 9 .

(click to enlarge photos)

Was this an empty room about to become full; or a full room which had just become empty?  Answer at the end of this post.

Was this an empty room about to become full; or a full room which had just become empty? Answer at the end of this post.

This blog began March 25, 2009. You can read it here.

Expressing an opinion on-line wasn’t new to me: that went back to the time immediately after Sep 11, 2001. Perhaps the first was two letters to family and friends in September, 2001: Post 9-11-01001

A few friends now and again suggested that I blog, and here I am, 6 years and 1000 posts later.

Does this every other day exercise matter? (There have been about 2175 days between posts #1 and #1000.)

I can only speak for myself.

Doing this near-daily exercise causes me to think about why I’m saying what I’m saying on any particular topic to a largely unknown audience, talking to more than just myself.

Even the simple act of finding a link to something describing the country of Central African Republic (as I did, yesterday) helps me to broaden my own knowledge.

I feel a bit more alive than I felt 15 years ago.

Before 9-11-01 the world I inhabited seemed more simple than it was the day after. Fear and hatred have overtaken too many of us, with predictable consequences. But many more of us are pushing back, worldwide, albeit too quietly, to change the conversation to one of peace and hope. We may not notice this: the media on which we rely makes its money on bad news; good news is boring….

Shortly before I wrote my first blog 3-25-09 our nation’s first non-white President had been inaugurated. That singular election has changed the complexion of our country forever, and is perhaps the reason for the sometimes bizarre pushback that we are experiencing, including today: the pendulum has moved. Equilibrium will take time. The past some long for is, indeed, past. Thankfully.

All in all, I feel a bit more hopeful than I did after we as a nation freely chose war over reconciliation in the fall of 2001.

Since 2001 the mood of the body politic world-wide has changed in many ways, and our individual capability to make waves – positive waves for positive change – has increased in ways we couldn’t imagine even 14 years ago.

On Woman’s Day, Sunday, I think it was Samran Anderlini, Iranian, peacemaker, who said that for 2500 years the global conversation was dominated by the few who dominated political and military leadership. The conversation, always, was power through dominance in war.

It might well be said that the war “side” still dominates, but they’re running scared.

And people like ourselves, once we get over our timidity and stand for a better peaceful world, will make the difference.

In the caption at the beginning I ask was the room waiting to be filled, or had it just emptied?

It doesn’t make any difference, really.

What makes the difference is that the room, about the time I took the photo, contained one speaker and 75 listeners. The speaker reflected on her life; it was then up to the listeners to define her reflections in a way they could use to impact our world going forward.

A useful speech is always much more than just a speech.

It is we who fill those empty chairs, the listeners, who must make the difference when we leave the room.

During this years Peace Prize Forum the background for every single session was photographs like the one below, of men and women about the task of clearing away deadly weapons of war somewhere, sometime, in our world.

Their task is, we were told, both dangerous, and more and more successful. There is an opportunity to rid the world of chemical weapons.

Now to deal with the nuclear and other insane weapons of destruction.

Clearing chemical weapons from a battlefield.

Clearing chemical weapons from a battlefield.

Positive change is happening. Let’s be part of making it.

A Suggestion: Those who glance regularly at my meanderings on this page know that I frequently link to an Los Angeles blogger, a retired guy like myself, who publishes Just Above Sunset six days a week. Just Above Sunset works at distilling national and international politics through the thoughts of assorted writers. I always find it a useful, albeit lengthy, collection of opinions. Here and here are the offerings from the last two days. Subscribing is free, and the post comes into my inbox about 2 a.m. each day. Consider joining.

Comment:
from Peter in New Hampshire:
Funny thing: when you started to blog, the Obama election, was when I stopped. Personally, I could not see myself making a difference that way, just being one of millions of bloggers in a blogosphere. That’s not to say blogging is the problem… But I applaud your insights about what the writing process is. It’s the same for me; I want another venue, though. I think it’s books, but books are different now, so “timely” with a colon and a subtitle, out of date in a week or so. Maybe books are becoming blogs. I know a lot of blogs become books. Anyway I hadn’t written you in a long time, and wanted to respond, stand in awe, be proud to know you.

from Norm in Boston: My sentiments also, what Peter said, “…and wanted to respond, stand in awe, be proud to know you.”

I attend a poetry workshop where everything I write has to be in rhyme and humorous.

eg: Obama advocates breathing,
Dems behind him ally,
Republicans, silently seething,
Each of asphyxia die.

Most everything read at the workshop seems to have abandoned rhyme. Your blog, today, sounded like wonderful free verse.

Thanks for encouraging subscription to Just Above Sunset. Something Alan said awhile back was the idea for the rhyme above.

#997 – Dick Bernard: Day Two at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, Minneapolis

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Videos of many of the speakers for Mar 6, 7, 8 can be accessed here. Day One, here. See also, Day Three, and March 9 and 10.

Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of not being concerned about the specific speaker(s) or program when I choose to attend an event. I just show up, and what happens, happens. I guess I like mysteries.

Very rarely am I disappointed. Mystery means, usually, opportunity, not risk.

Today, at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in downtown Minneapolis, the program was a uniformly a great day.

All but one of the program speakers today were unfamiliar to me: I’d never heard of them, actually. Ahmet Ozumcu*, Courtney Rasch*, Muhammad Ashafa, James Wuye, Steve Pinker*. Last year I’d happened to attend a session at which Adama Dieng was speaker, otherwise I would not have heard of him either. (The presentations of those marked with * can be seen in their entirety here. The schedule includes some of Sundays programs, for your reference.)

The organisation of which Mr. Ozumcu is Director-General, the “Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons“, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

Courtney Rasch witnessed and led us in a moment of silence for the large number of journalists who have been imprisoned and/or killed reporting from dangerous areas on dangerous topics.

As was true yesterday, the presenters – all of them, with their diversities – were phenomenal.

It was a phenomenal day. I left a little early, basically exhausted, but with a great sense of hope.

As I take time to learn, it is amazing to note the existing and high-quality and active infrastructure for peace and justice that exists everywhere in our imperfect world.

Those presenters on video (see link above) can speak for themselves. A few snapshots of the presenters are below.

A couple of notes on the programs not on video:

Adama Dieng, an immensely impressive gentleman, is Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Prevention of Genocide. When last I heard Mr. Dieng, a year ago, he talked about the legal aftermath of the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Today he mentioned he had left Rwanda just days before the 1994 Genocide began. At today’s presentation, he discussed the background of the tragic situation in the Central African Republic, which he described as basically religious-justified animosities (Christian v. Muslim). Mr. Dieng called special attention to a 43 page booklet published by his office, Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, which is publicly accessible at the link for his UN office (click on his name at the beginning of this paragraph).

I wish that the conversation involving Muhammad Ashafa and James Wuye, moderated by retired ELCA Lutheran Bishop Mark Hanson, was on-line, but it was apparently not scheduled for on-line presentation. The conversation was powerful, and light-hearted, and was interrupted by applause often by a most appreciative audience.

Immam Ashafa and Rev. Wuye are Nigerians from Kaduna, Nigeria. At an earlier time, in the early 90s, they were bitter, probably deadly, enemies. The Immam had lost a teacher and two relatives to Christians; The Reverend had lost much of his right arm to Moslems in one of those mini-religious based wars. The two were on opposite sides. Eventually, almost by accident, they met each other at a gathering, and in a few years time became close friends and now travel the world spreading a message of peacemaking.

It was obvious from how they were with each other that they are fast friends. Indeed, quite by accident, I observed them in the lobby before I knew who they were, and, there, they were very much at ease with each other.

In a way, both men reminded me a bit of South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu: light-heartedly and effectively dealing with deadly serious problems.

But the most surprising and hope-filled presentation for me was that of Prof. Steven Pinker, author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature“. He gave an information packed powerpoint (watch the video) that demonstrated convincingly that, with all our problems, violence in global society is decreasing, and decreasing very markedly.

It was useful to see evidence that all is not going to hell…often in our world where negative publicity is about all that is press worthy, it is easy to believe the worst.

By no means does Pinker suggest that the world is a perfect place.

By no means, though, are things as bad as the “news” likes to portray, and we sometimes like to think, and we can have hope.

I leave this day more hopeful for the future.

POSTNOTE: I elected to attend the breakout session on Minnesota 2015: Global Summit on Democracy for Sustainable Future: Tools, Solutions and Best Practices, October 25-28. From all appearances, this will be a significant and positive event, and I’d urge individuals and organizations to follow, cooperate and indeed participate in developments.

Here is the schedule for March 7 (Saturday) and March 8 (Sunday): Peace Prize Forum Mar 7001. Sundays agenda seems focused on women and peace.

(click to enlarge)

Ahmet Ozumcu, Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Ahmet Ozumcu, Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Adama Dieng, Under-Secretary-General and special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.

Adama Dieng, Under-Secretary-General and special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.

Bishop Mark Hanson, Imman Muhammad Ashafa, Pastor James Wuye, March 7, 2015

Bishop Mark Hanson, Imman Muhammad Ashafa, Pastor James Wuye, March 7, 2015

at right, Prof. Steven Pinker, author of "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined"

at right, Prof. Steven Pinker, author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”

#995 – Dick Bernard: Netanyahu at the U.S. Congress, March 3, 2015

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Back in January I wrote my two Senators and Congresswoman, urging them to not attend the Netanyahu event today – to make a quiet statement (see here: Netanyahu in Paris001.) Two of the three absented themselves (not that I had any influence in their decisions). In my opinion, they chose to not reward Netanyahu and Boehner’s disrespect, by giving undue respect to Netanyahu.

Of course, these lawmakers didn’t miss anything, since everybody had an opportunity to watch the event on television, and they also have staffs. Every word, gesture etc. has doubtless been analyzed. They just weren’t in the room, just as none of us were there.

Netanyahu is an excellent speaker, of course. Excellent speech-making does not necessarily mean that the ideas expressed are the last, or only, word on any topic. No end of tyrants have been charismatic, as we all know. They know how to put words and phrases together.

There are eloquent opposition voices, within the Jewish community, in Israel and the U.S. but they are less likely to be seen.

If you wish, here are the opinions of two:

1. Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, wrote on Netanyahu and the speech today. Here is his column.

2. Also, today, Alan Eisner of J-Street, commented on Netanyahu and the speech. You can read it here.

I have noted a persistent narrative particularly from the political right that conflict – war or threat of war – is always the answer. “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” was John McCain’s ditty some years ago, humorous but intended.

An enemy seems necessary, somebody to fight against, to force into submission.

Lerner and Eisner talk about another way of doing business which is embraced by many of us.

War never solves anything. Win today, lose tomorrow…it happens all the time, in all arenas.

Any move towards a negotiated peace is desirable to bombing (or threatening to bomb) the hell out of somebody else, who will always remember, and ultimately get even.

What must not be lost is that Israel is a major nuclear power; Iran has never been and likely will never be. The United States is the only country to have ever used a nuclear weapon against another (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1945) and is at the top of the heap when it comes to deadly nations.

In the middle east, I fear the possibility of Israeli aggression more than Iranian, even with the current Iranian leadership.

But, that’s just my opinion.

Related opinion here.

An excellent summary of some other opinions nationally here.

Brief PS: My personal world remains focused on my Uncle’s death, now on the residual matters that need to be taken care of. It has been a big change. I’ll go to his town tomorrow, and, of course, he will be gone.

So goes life. We’re here for awhile, and then we’re not.

Do what you can to make a better world while you have the opportunity.

#983 – Dick Bernard: Martin Luther King Day 2015: See “Selma”, and Read “Why We Can’t Wait”….

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States. The Day was first implemented in 1986; first recognized by all States in 2000. This years MLK Day is one of the most significant in the days history, in my opinion.

Yesterday I went to the film “Selma” about the events surrounding March 25, 1965, and the ultimate passing of the Voting Rights Act later that same summer*.

The film is powerful and moving. I would urge attendance.

Today the very Right to Vote is under serious attack in many places in our country.

I’m an old geography major, so I always seek some geographic context. Here is a map of Alabama from my 1960 Life World Atlas: Alabama as of 1960001. Here’s the more specific location:

(click to enlarge)

Selma Alabama is about 60 miles west of Montgomery, the capital of Alabama

Selma Alabama is about 30 miles west of Montgomery, the capital of Alabama

At the time of the 1965 march, Selma was on the very bottom of my list of priorities. My wife, 22 years old, was desperately ill, and two months after March 25, she and I were making the long trip from Elgin ND to Minneapolis where she was admitted to the University of Minnesota Hospital for a needed kidney transplant.

She died two months later.

The film, which opens with King receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, has been roundly criticized about its interpretation of then-President Lyndon Johnsons actions at the time of the voting rights act. At the same time, it has been suggested that the criticism has been motivated more by things like jockeying for position for Oscar nominations, than actual criticism of historical facts.

Actually watching the film, I think the general picture of that period in history is quite accurately portrayed, including its portrayal of Lyndon Johnson.

About a year before the events of Selma, and right after the assassination of President Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963), Martin Luther King Jr., then 34 years old, published a fascinating book, still available, called Why We Can’t Wait, recounting the incredible year of 1963. In this book, which includes the famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, the final chapter assesses in brief but fascinating fashion Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower and Johnson.

I consider the book a must read for anyone hoping to understand the times of MLK. It is written in King’s own words, about the who’s and the what’s, just after the actions of 1963 had taken place.

There is one comment by Johnson in the film which wraps it up for me:

MLK is making his demand for Voting Rights for Negroes, and Johnson angrily asks King to understand the difference between advocating for a single issue, in this case, voting rights, versus the problem any President has, in juggling multiple issues, dealing with endless enemies and friends with differing and often conflicting priorities.

Of course, King also had enemies in high places: As most know, one of King’s major arch-enemies back in the day was J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful head of the FBI. The film uses, powerfully, entries from FBI logs about wiretapping King, then using these in efforts to destroy him.

It has long been clear to me that Johnson supported Kings ultimate goal of voting rights for all citizens, but, as Kennedy had before him, Johnson counseled King that a President, any President, cannot simply wave a magic wand and get his way with the often rebellious rabble called the Congress, and Governors, and all sorts of officials and individual citizens everywhere.

Direct, organized, cooperative citizen action is essential to success in any initiative.

That word “cooperative” is a tough one. King experienced those tensions too.

King, at least in my reading, got it, about how to succeed. The movement was not about him. He was an idealist, with a very practical sense about him. He knew his key ally, President Johnson, couldn’t do things exactly as demanded, on a set schedule, and that he had to mold the people into some kind of a working coalition needed to do the critical work, like enduring the danger of walking across the Edmund Pettus bridge in March, 1965.

Making change is very difficult. King, even with his allies sometimes in conflict with him, and with each other; and Lyndon Johnson, with an even more enormous quandary with everyone he had to deal with, accomplished something miraculous in 1965. About the time LBJ signed the bill, he was reported to have said that he knew this singular action would lose the south for the Democrats for a very long period of time, and he was right.

In my opinion, the Old South will not rise again, 50 years of some freedom and some justice have made a huge difference, though much work and diligence is required.

Some years ago I almost literally stumbled across another writing about the difficulty of political decision making, as recounted by two Peace and Justice leaders. They had met with former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s Vice-President, and here is how they recounted Humphrey talking about practical politics.

Do watch the film, and read the book.

But most importantly, not only increase your own actions, but be more aware of the need to compromise and to be satisfied with incremental change rather than a too common “all or nothing” approach to negotiations.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act is in peril; the difference between now and 50 years ago is that the people who can solve the problem are no longer disenfranchised, and simply need to be certain to register and to vote.

* – An outstanding photo chronicle of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement is the 1995 book He Had a Dream, by Minnesotan Flip Schulke. Copies of the book remain available. I have the autographed book, from the 1998 Martin Luther King Day Breakfast in Minneapolis where Mr. Schulke spoke. Pages 90-115 photo document the Selma action in 1965. Mr. Schulke was a graduate of Macalester College, met and first photographed Dr. King in 1958, and worked with him until Dr. King was murdered in Memphis April 4, 1968.

POSTCRIPT: I wrote previously about Why We Can’t Wait on Martin Luther King Day in 2013.

At the beginning of the 2013 post, ironically, I quote Fr. Pat Griffin, a retired Priest of the Diocese, who often says one or more Masses on Sunday at Basilica of St. Mary. Yesterday Fr. Griffin was again celebrant at Basilica, and this day quoted MLK as follows: “if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” This quote, from the end of a long sermon of King’s called the “Drum Major Instinct” given Feb. 4, 1968, not long before his death, became controversial because it was misquoted on the new monument to his work on the National Mall in Washington DC.

The key words left out: “If you want to say”….

Read the entirety of the sermon….

COMMENTS:
from Judy, Jan 19:
Read Bill Moyer’s comments about “Selma” He says the movie “sadly” inaccurately portrays Johnson’s role in steering the bill to passage. Johnson was extremely active behind the scenes in getting the bill passed. Though he was friends with some of those old racists from the south, he knew that the bill was politically and morally the right thing to do. Also, read Robert Caro’s book on Johnson and a book I’m reading now, “An idea whose time has come,” by Todd Purdum.

As you know, Moyers is a wonderful liberal who worked for LBJ. He recommends the film even with its flaws because it is a powerful reminder of what we have accomplished and what we still have to accomplish.

from Jermitt: Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts on MLK. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Dr. King during a Luther League Convention in Miami in 1960. His presence in the room along was overpowering. When he spoke, He had everyone’s attention. it really made the room totally silent with respect for what he was saying. The children I chaperoned at that conventions and I still talk about it when I see them.

from Jeff: My argument with the director, who I found a very creative intelligent person… she brought up the issue that many people had no correct historical understanding of the Civil Rights movement, many had misinformed ideas on several things.

Then when asked about artistic license in regard to the issue of deliberate factual errors in her own movie she completely pushed it aside.

This person sees a glaring inconsistency.

from Andrena: I also saw ‘Selma’ over the weekend. It was a powerful movie and I was disappointed the actor who portrayed Dr. King wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

from Lydia:Perfect for this day. Re-read your previous MLK essay sourced back in this one—thank you for the shout out :-)

We had a small but enthusiastic group for the screening of KING: MAN OF PEACE IN A TIME OF WAR yesterday. Mae Had a rousing discussion (which was recorded by a fellow KFAIer who I hope to work with further) that will be put on the air in near future. Sister Brigit MacDonald was there and of course was a welcome addition as well as Vets for Peace prez Dave Logsden (& out of town VFP member visiting Dave). Plus some new people I didn’t know! (Catalyst listeners).

I’ll certainly share your MLK pieces today.

#981 – Dick Bernard: “Third Thursday”

Friday, January 16th, 2015

The first “Third Thursday” of what is now known as Citizens for Global Solutions, Minnesota(CGSMn), was March 23, 2000. (For purists, yes, the first Third Thursday was on the fourth Thursday, but they had a good excuse…!) Since that first program there have been well over 100 topics explored by over 100 always well qualified speakers*, and last nights presentation by Dr. Christy Hanson (by my count, speaker #106 at Third Thursday) was no exception.

I have written frequently about one or other programs at Third Thursday and a consistent lament is how impossible it is to distill an experts presentation, punctuated by questions from an always alert audience, into a cogent summary. You have to be at these free programs to truly experience the learning available for the investment of two hours of your time.

Dr. Hanson’s topic title was intriguing. Here’s the title slide on her powerpoint (click to enlarge, look in lower right corner). The original work of art was by students at Macalester College in St. Paul, and according to Dr. Hanson, is still found on a wall somewhere on campus at all times. It is a beautiful piece of work. Dr. Hanson’s bio is here.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Dr. Christy Hanson Jan 15, 2015

Dr. Christy Hanson Jan 15, 2015

Dr. Hanson’s talk on “Global Health: the Greatest Story Rarely Told”, highlighted not what hasn’t been accomplished to make the world better for, particularly, women and children; but rather the miracles which have been worked around the world by cooperative efforts by experts like Dr. Hanson, assorted countries, United Nations and allied agencies like World Health Organization, companies, and individuals like Jimmy Carters, Bill and Melinda Gates, Clinton Foundation, etc. quietly join hands, tackling immense tasks world-wide. Too seldom do these efforts get the attention they deserve.

The real heroes (and sheroes): ordinary people in villages, neighborhoods and local offices world wide. All they need is a little help from a lot of friends who care.

By no means did she sidestep the fact that on this globe of over 7 billion human beings there are immense problems and inequities. One of her first slides showed the stark reality of deaths of mothers dying as a result of pregnancy. In the U.S. that would be 1 in 4300; in southern Africa, 1 in 31. That is a huge gap, so huge that for those of us in the U.S. it is scarcely comprehensible. We have no way to truly understand such a disparity.

She continued to tell her story, basically focusing on themes like infant death, malaria, TB, HIV and horrible tropical maladies, like Guinea Worm and the like.

She could have ended with an “ain’t it awful” scenario, causing a listener to give up hope. But there was a clue when she accepted the offer to speak by changing the title of her talk from what had been suggested, “the Ebola Crisis”, to “The Greatest Story Rarely Told” about the immense accomplishments in Global Health in recent years.

She ended her talk with a simple quote from Helen Keller, herself an heroic figure who encountered her disabilities, making them into abilities. “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

So very true.

In these days of endless crisis, blown up by finely tuned words and images, it is easy for even an old optimist like myself to lose hope. But people like Dr. Hanson, and an earlier Third Thursday speaker on Rwanda, Dr. Holly Nyseth-Brehm, and many others, help turn the dismal on its head. By their very presence on the world stage there is hope! There is real hope.

(I was unable to write about Dr. Nyseth-Brehms excellent presentation when it was given back in May. At least, here is a photo of this fine new professor at Ohio State University. And she’s writing a book about Criminal Justice related to Rwanda in the wake of the genocide of 1994. Watch for it!)

Hollie Nyseth-Brehm, Third Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hollie Nyseth-Brehm, Third Thursday, May 15, 2014

* Here is the complete list of Third Thursdays, as published in CGSMn’s newsletter Third Thursday 2000-2014. The upcoming events are always published by CGSMn’s website. Check them out; plan to attend. Next one is Thursday, February 19.

COMMENTS
From Jim N, who was at the talk:
As a Christian I love the thought of relieving human pain and suffering. The people we are talking about are truly my brothers and sisters. I raised the issue is this sustainable? ie outside people landing in an impoverished, yet sovereign land. The solution is interesting: $15 million from US taxpayers, totally free drugs from 5 drug companies, charity from other Americans philanthropists. Is that sustainable?

Could you imagine a meeting in my homeland Norway. They would talk about the huge inequity of the American Indians near Bemidji MN who are not getting the proper medical care and are very prone to illness and suicide or the veterans like Jim Nelson’s Vietnam vet brother ( a hero who saved many innocent civilians) but couldn’t get the medication he needed from the VA to treat the affliction from Agent Orange. He suffered for 30 years and died in 2014. The solution would be simple: the taxpayers in Norway would take a little of their wealth, the drug companies would provide free medications and the philanthropists in Norway with pitch in and then we could take care of our MN native Americans or sick veterans who die waiting for help.

#977 – Dick Bernard: 2015: A Good Year To Remind Ourselves That We Are Part Of A Community of Nations.

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Continuing calendar/timeline for 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II: Community of Nations 2015 calendar April edition. This calendar will be updated on or about the first of every month in 2015. Your additions are solicited.

NOTE: Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg has separately written his own opinion about the history of the United Nations System and ideas for reform. His remarks are included, with his permission, at the end of this post.

Most Recent Related Posts, since January 1, 2015: (earlier posts are found at the end of this page, following Joe Schwartzbergs commentary.)
18. Apr. 28, 2015. An Hour With The Governeur-General of Canada
19. May 1, 2015. Memorial Day 1946, and the Residue of WWII
20. May 12, 2015 The Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba, and Some Thoughts of the Early 1960s
21. May 23, 2015 Thoughts About the War About War
22. May 27, 2015 A Memorial Day to Remember in LaMoure
23. May 29, 2015 Catching a Moment in Time Saturday, March 18, 1905
24. Jul. 4, 2015 “God Bless America”
25. Jul. 7, 2015 Two Flags, Two National Anthems: Cuba at Minnesota Orchestra Hall

(click to enlarge)

UN vehicle in Hinche (Ench) Haiti, March 2006

UN vehicle in Hinche (Ench) Haiti, March 2006

The United Nations turns 70 this year, less than two months after the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.

WWII followed WWI by about 20 years.

The dreaded WWIII, which could easily destroy us, has not happened and I have to believe the very existence of the United Nations is a large part of the reason our human species has survived in spite of dire threats, and in fact will continue to survive as we cobble together ways to get along.

Most of us know little about the United Nations (UN), which is a shame. My personal learning curve has been recent. There is a great deal to learn.

To some, the UN is an enemy entity, even though it is not a country, and its structure mitigates against making imperialistic moves, if indeed its actors would even have an interest in such.

Perhaps it is because the UN was a coalition of partners which had a logical structure at the time of its formation: five powers have always dominated it, each possessing veto power. They are the countries which won WWII: United States, England, France, Soviet Union and China. There were 46 other founding nations in 1945; now there are 193. (Japan was admitted in 1956; Germany in 1973.)

I have noted that change happens within the UN system, though at a glacial pace. This is to be expected. Some observers wish the UN system would cease to exist; others expect miracles from it, including instant change. Given the enormity of its mission, it is a marvel it exists at all!

But the UN and its numerous associated agencies, like World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, UNICEF, and on and on, contribute markedly and quietly to helping our diverse world not only survive, but thrive.

A key question, for me, is “where would the world be in 2015 without a United Nations?” I think we would rue the day the UN disappeared.

A new resource I highly recommend to those wishing to learn about the UN: Dr. Joseph Schwartzbergs 2013 book “Transforming the United Nations System, Designs for a Workable World”: Schwartzberg 2013001 (cover illustrations below). This 364 page academic work is full of data, history, and ideas for “transforming” the UN and it is a book that is getting broad attention within the UN community of interest. Book is available on-ine from Amazon,Barnes and Noble, or the Brookings Institution. Inquiries and comment about the book to Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg at his University of Minnesota office schwa004ATtcDOTumnDOTedu.

Schwartzberg book001

Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, December 4, 2014

Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, December 4, 2014

POST NOTE #1: Some personal thoughts about the UN (yours are solicited as well).

My direct contact with the United Nations is very limited. Until 2006, the only direct exposure to the UN was a visit to New York City in 1972, part of which included a stop, as a tourist, at UN headquarters.

In March, 2006, we visited the interior of Haiti. It was my second visit, and a time of political uncertainty in the country. In the interior city of Hinche (Ench), we met and visited with a retired police officer from Quebec who was on assignment with the UN to help build a more effective local police force there. He saw his duty as a needed service.

Later we saw a UN vehicle on a Hinche street (a photo leads this post). The photo speaks for itself. I don’t know who was with the vehicle; at any rate, it was calm in the streets surrounding.

A few days later, enroute back to Port-au-Prince and in the town of Mirabelaise, one of our vehicles stopped to repair a flat tire. We took a break, and we met by coincidence a squad of UN Peacekeepers from Nepal. We had a very brief chance to visit with some of them, and I took this two minute piece of video of our interaction. There was nothing intimidating in our interaction or what we saw in the park. The voice-over you hear is mine. It was simply a spontaneous piece of history that I filmed – a different look at the stereotype of UN Peacekeeper. (Here is the same video, without crawl script.)

In this amateur video, you can get a sense of the humanity of the “peacekeepers”; young soldiers as you’d find anywhere in the world. That they are Nepalese came to be notorious a few years later when their encampment just east of the town, was identified as the probable source of the cholera epidemic that devastated Haiti in 2010. Instantly, that incident became another piece of evidence, to some, that the United Nations was no good.

But that chance encounter with those few young Nepalese has had a durable and positive impact on me.

POST NOTE #2: At the end December, 2012, I stumbled across a local incident which attracted my interest. The Commissioners of Hennepin County (Minneapolis and area) had taken down a United Nations flag which had flown on the plaza for 44 years. This story continues – you can read it here – and is fascinating mostly in the active interest in keeping secret who it was who pushed the Commissioners to take their unanimous action in March of 2012.

More recently, I noted that a flag I thought had been a UN Flag had been taken down at a major Edina Hospital. I inquired about it, and was informed that it wasn’t a UN flag, but rather the flag of the World Health Organization (WHO) (which is one of those UN agencies, now independent, whose flag essentially mirrors that of the United Nations flag on which it is based.

Again, someone wanted that flag down, someone probably threatened by its very existence there, but it is near impossible to find out the truth….

(click to enlarge, once enlarged you can further enlarge the flag and see that it is indeed the WHO flag).

Fairview Southdale Hospital Edina MN April 1, 2013

Fairview Southdale Hospital Edina MN April 1, 2013

DR. JOSEPH SCHWARTZBERG COMMENTS January 5, 2015

THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM: TIME FOR “ PLAN C”

In any given period, the international system is characterized by some minimally acceptable rules of order. These rules may be partially codified; but, to a large extent, they are tacitly understood, generally reflecting the balance of power perspectives of a small number of influential states. This essay considers systems in the period since World War II.

Plan A: Traditional Power Politics Plus a Weak United Nations System

The United Nations Charter, adopted in 1945, was not a democratic document. In the Security Council, the sole UN agency to enjoy binding powers, the so-called P5, the principal victors in World War II, were not only given permanent seats, but also the right to veto any resolution of which they disapproved. All other members reluctantly accepted this dispensation, relying for protection on their sovereign immunity from outside intervention. In theory, all states were sovereign equals. Each could do whatever it wished, no matter how immoral, within its own borders. Nor did it matter whether its actions were for the good of the planet. Nevertheless, most states behaved reasonably and the system worked well enough to help avert World War III and to provide modest benefits to needy nations.

In its early days, the UN was looked upon favorably by the United States, which, together with its allied and client states, mainly in Latin America and Western Europe, could win just about any vote in the UN General Assembly. The Soviet Union, naturally, frequently used its veto to block Western initiatives. But, as the UN expanded, mainly because of decolonization in Africa and most of Asia, the balance of power shifted. What had been a primarily East-West contest morphed into opposition between the global North and South. In the new power configuration the South won many victories, but they proved to be pyrrhic in that decisions were non-binding, unenforceable and largely ignored by powerful states. New agencies continued to be created to deal with issues of global importance, but they were typically under-funded and inadequately staffed. The United States continued to pay lip service to the importance of the UN, but we also made sure that it did not become a serious contender for global political power.

Overall, the planet continued to be wracked by political, economic and social injustice. Looming environmental dangers were ignored. Leaders and diplomats were largely oblivious to many mounting dangers and failed to recognize the sowing of the seeds of terrorism.

Plan B: An Abortive Pax Americana

With the unanticipated implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989, a seemingly promising new era dawned in world affairs. The United States emerged as the sole hegemon in a politically uni-polar world. Its capacity to lead was unprecedented. Many of our leaders, however, especially on the political right, perceived the global situation as enabling the establishment of a “New American Century,” a Pax Americana backed by worldwide acceptance of free-market capitalism and guaranteed militarily by “full spectrum dominance” (on land, sea, air, and outer space) and marked by pro-American, nominally democratic regimes on all continents. Remaining adversaries were to be hemmed in by a global network of hundreds of military bases. To be sure, it would be expensive; but it was a scenario we believed we could afford.

But there were problems. Nobody ever asked us to be the world’s policeman and political arbiter. We lacked the skill to export democracy to other lands. Most of the world did not buy into the neo-con myth that we were the “shining city on the hill” And then came 9/11! Our response was the unwinnable global War on Terrorism that has obsessed our political thinking ever since. Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations have wreaked incalculable death and devastation and drained our economy of trillions of dollars and precluded meaningful reforms in our own country and abroad. For all practical purposes, the UN was relegated to a bit and subservient part. And most of our political establishment still doesn’t get it.

Plan C: A Transformed United Nations System

All of the problems confronting our planet before 9/11 are still with us. Some, especially climate change, have become appreciably worse. Plan B isn’t working and needs to be replaced. We need truly global, not essentially unilateral decision-making. The United Nations must be transformed and strengthened. Decisions must be binding, democratically reached, accepted as legitimate, and enforceable. The global South deserves to have an appropriate voice in world affairs. Terrorism must be addressed, not by killing ever-greater numbers of presumed potential perpetrators, but by eliminating its root causes in global and local injustice. Ordinary citizens deserve to be represented in a World Parliamentary Assembly. Better ways must be found to tap the wisdom of civil society. Unilateral military adventurism must yield to duly authorized missions carried out by a competent standing peace force. The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court must be made universal. The list goes on.

Happily, solutions are in sight. Suggesting how best to address these issues is the purpose of my most recent book, Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World. The book, published by the United Nations University Press in 2013 has been enthusiastically endorsed by numerous prominent world thinkers. You may easily order a copy on-line from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the Brookings Institution Press.

(Continuation of Related Posts)
1. Jan. 16, 2015: Global Health: The Greatest Story Rarely Told
2. Jan. 15, 2015: The Paris Attacks.
3. Jan. 27, 2015: The 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
4. Jan. 28, 2015:: Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Day After Yesterday.
5. Mar. 3, 2015: Netanyahu at Congress, March 3
6. 6. Mar. 6, 7, 8, 9, 2015: Series of posts about the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, Minneapolis MN.
Ten Videos featuring major speakers at the 2015 Forum can be accessed here. In particular, I recommend President Jimmy Carter’s Mar. 6, 2015 address, found at this link.
7. Mar. 10, 2015 Thoughts at 1000
8. Mar. 13, 2015 When Stupidity Triumphs
9. Mar. 18, 2015 Netanyahu’s “Victory”
10. Mar. 20, 2015 A Remarkable Evening remembering Vietnam War
11. Mar. 21, 2015 Visiting Selma AL Mar 7, 2015
12. Mar. 29, 2015 Esperanto
13. Mar. 31, 2015 Negotiations with Iran
14. Apr. 4, 2015. Death and Resurrection: Cuba and the Minnesota Orchestra.
15. Apr. 9, 2015. Flossenburg
16. Apr. 22, 2015. Earth Day 2015
17. Apr. 23, 2015. War is Hell. How About Waging Peace?

#972 – Dick Bernard: The Dinner Party

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

There are several comments to the Cuba post, including a photo montage I’ve linked at the beginning of the Cuba section. See the additions here.

(click to enlarge)

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Thursday evening we were invited to a small dinner party at the home of our neighbor, Don. He lives across the street so the commute was short. He had invited two other friends, Arthur and Rose, who we had not met before. Of the five, we were the junior members. The oldest was 84; the youngest 70.

We’re all well into the age when reminiscing is a common thread. Don, retired from a long career from a railroad office job with the then-Great Northern, had once, in his younger years, been a guest at a dinner party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor at her home in Hollywood. He was native of what has long been called the “frogtown” neighborhood of St. Paul.

Arthur came from a farm family of five in central Minnesota. He grew up in a log cabin, literally, he said. He named a tiny town I’ve been through, and said their farm was 12 miles east. I thought – I may have said – that is really in the boonies!.

His German immigrant grandfather was a carpenter and would load his horse drawn wagon with tools, and leave for sometimes as much as two and a half months, working on building this or that somewhere in the general area. “Commuting” with horses is not easy!

All the home windows, he said, were truly home-made, none of the fancy stuff we now demand.

Rose, also from a farm family, grew up near a little town that is now a Minneapolis suburb, and worked in a factory there.

As for us, I’m a tiny town ND kid, child of school teachers; Cathy is a St. Paul east-sider whose family basically could be called a “3M family”, from the days when that corporation often became a persons career.

As one might expect, our conversation was interesting and animated and covered lots of ground. Arthur became a meatpacker across the river in South St. Paul, and when the plant closed in the late 1970s, had a fairly long career driving a Metro Transit bus, often in neighborhoods that he deemed not safe.

Our social get-together ended, and we all went home. “Merry Christmas” to all.

I checked e-mails and there were three of special note:

Good friends Ehtasham and Suhail, both writing from Pakistan, wrote about the tragic bombing that killed over 100 school children in Peshawar this week. “Killing school children for political agendas has no parallel in history. The whole nation is mourning”, one said. The other: “Though I am safe along with my family, yet the kids who have lost their lives are all mine; they are my family as well. The level of frustration is so high that the things are looking gloomy and rays of hope are looking faint. I am currently working with Plan International, which focuses on child rights and child protection, and we have initiated an internal debate on how can we ensure protection to the lives of kids in Pakistan.”

Another e-mail came from a great friend, Said, a Syrian PhD in England, fluent in French, who I’ve been fortunate to know for years. “It is much better to make friends than enemies & especially in this world of ours with vulnerable internet/communications & weapons that are readily available and devastating! I have been investigating WWI a lot since it is a sad anniversary of sorts – except for the Christmas truce [of 1914] which moves me every time I read about it – I also watched a very good French film about it. I suppose instead of the war to end all wars that was the peace to end all peace (1918-19). Well I wish you & yours a Merry Christmas & a peaceful 2015.”

Eight different people, eight different life scripts, stories, differing cultures, backgrounds, religions…but with so many common threads to share. We are one human family; the overwhelming vast majority of us good people*, each who can make a positive difference each and every day.

A hymn I like so profoundly says: “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

All Blessings at Christmas and 2015.

POSTNOTE
*
– In mid-November, I attended a workshop by Paul K. Chappell, in which he cited research that found 98% of soldiers were averse to killing other people, even in battle. This left, of course, 2% who had no such scruples, called psychopaths. The research expanded to include civilians – our own U.S. population. The same results: 98% and 2%.

In other words, anywhere there are humans, of whatever race, or creed, or nationality, or country, 98% comprise the prevailing side of humanity.

There are a lot of people in the 2% of course, and they are everywhere, but the 98% overwhelmingly have it in their power to minimize the influence of the 2%.

I asked Mr. Chappell for a citation on the source of his data: “Roy L. Swank and Walter E. Marchand, “Combat Neuroses: Development of Combat Exhaustion,.” American Medical Association: Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 1946, 244″.

#963 – Dick Bernard: The First Sunday of Advent, 2014

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Today, at least for Roman Catholics, is the First Sunday of Advent. It will be noticed today at my Church, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis.

As with most everything in our diverse society, there are many definitions of the meaning of this liturgical season, the four Sundays between now and Christmas Day, December 25. Here’s “Advent” as found in google entries.

I happen to be Catholic, actually quite active, I’d say. This would make me a subset of a subset of the American population.

In all ways, the U.S. is a diverse country. The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published by the Census Bureau, says about 80% of adult Americans describe themselves as “Christian”; 25% of this same population says they’re “Catholic”. (The data is here.)

Of course, if you’re a “boots on the ground” person, as I am, raw data like the above pretty quickly devolves. As the most appropriate mantra at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis (my church) is stated every Sunday: “welcome, wherever you are on your faith journey….” The people in the pews know the truth of this phrase, and know that on every given Sunday, two-thirds of them are not even in the pews.

Regardless of specific belief, the vast majority of us, everywhere, are good people*.

I’m drawn to this topic a bit more than usual this weekend since I just returned from a visit to my last surviving Uncle, Vince, winding down his long life in a wonderful nursing home in a small North Dakota town.

Thanksgiving Day I decided to bring to him, for hanging in his room, the below holy family** (which had not yet been hung, and appears sideways, as it appeared in his room, prior to hanging.)

(click to enlarge)

Nov. 27, 2014

Nov. 27, 2014

For many years this image hung in the family farm home, and Vince seemed glad to see it come to visit. I asked him how old it was, and he said it was his mothers (my grandmothers) favorite, and it was probably older than he, in other words pre-dating 1925.

When next I visit, I hope to see it hanging on the wall he faces each day, and as such things go, it will likely bring back memories, and perhaps other emotions as well. Images tend to do this.

Of course, even in the religious milieu, an event like Advent is complicated. It is observed (including not being observed at all) in various ways even by people within the Catholic Church. A constructive observance, in my opinion, is to attempt to use the next 25 days to daily reflect on something or other in my own life. A nominally Catholic but mostly inspirational book of Daily Reflections given to me years ago by my friend Les Corey comes immediately to mind**; and very likely I can “tie in” Uncle Vince through letters this month. (It helps me to make a public declaration of intention on these things – a little more likely that I’ll follow through!)

Of course, there is, always, lots of side-chatter in this country at this season: “Black Friday” rolled out two days ago. We are a financial “bottom line” nation, I guess. Profits trump most anything else.

But, be that as it may, perhaps my essential message is that the next few weeks can be helpful simply for quieting ones-self and reflecting on a more simple way of being, such as greeted that icon when it was first hung in that simple North Dakota farm home perhaps even more than 100 years ago.

Have a good Advent.

* – A few hours ago, we experienced a good positive start to Advent. After a party for three of our grandkids who have November birthdays, we all went to a Minnesota based project called Feed My Starving Children where, along with 115 others adults and children, we filled food packets whose ultimate destination is Liberia. It was our first time participating with this activity, and it was a very positive activity. Hard work, but a great family activity. Check it, or something similar, out. Special thanks to one of the birthday kids, 8-year old Lucy, who apparently suggested the activity.

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

** – Of course, I don’t know the exact origin of the print which so captured Grandma. Almost certainly the real holy family of Bible days was not European white, as I am, and she was; rather, most likely, middle eastern in ethnicity and appearance.

*** – The book I’ve dusted off for the next weeks: All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time by Robert Ellsberg.