Friday, September 19, 2014

Scots reject independence


I wasn't really following the run up in Scotland for yesterday's vote, but I leaned toward independence for the Scots - I could've been associating their situation with America's decision to cut loose from the English monarchy back in 1776. But Scotland's 307-year union with England was quite a different story and the pro-union supporters are celebrating - shall we say 'royally' - today.

Erlanger and Cowell at the NY Times headline Scotland's rejection of independence:

EDINBURGH — Voters in Scotland decisively rejected independence from the United Kingdom in a referendum that had threatened to break up the 307-year union, but also appeared to open the way for a looser, more federal Britain.

With results tallied by early Friday from all 32 voting districts, the “no” campaign won 55.3 percent of the vote while the pro-independence side won 44.7 percent. The margin was greater than forecast by virtually all pre-election polls.

 The outcome was a deep disappointment for the vocal, enthusiastic pro-independence movement led by the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, who had seen an opportunity to make a centuries-old nationalist dream a reality and had forced the three main British parties into panicked promises that they would grant substantial new power to the Scottish Parliament.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Celebrating strong female leadership in the Twin Cities

Harvard Business School Professor Bill George.

You may know of Bill George as a Harvard Business School professor and the former CEO of Medtronic in the Twin Cities. Although Bill and I have never met, I feel a personal connection with him and his wife Penny. Bill and Penny have generously supported my alma mater, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Bill shares my interest in mindfulness meditation - he's been a mindfulness practitioner for several decades. And today, I enjoy Bill’s presence among my Facebook friends.

I also have in common with Bill my support of equal opportunities for women, and I’m pleased this morning to link to his recent article: Strong Female Leadership Sets Twin Cities Apart:
 
What makes the Twin Cities so vibrant and progressive? First, great institutions in business, education, health care, government, the arts and social services. Second, extraordinary leaders who built these organizations.

While we have had exceptional male leaders, what makes the Twin Cities stand out are the many women who have built these organizations as CEOs, board chairs and presidents. In no other major city have women leaders had as great an impact.

Many books and articles assert that women don’t have opportunities to succeed in male-dominated organizations. Sadly, far too many cultures systematically deny women opportunities for advancement. Yet a 2012 Harvard Business Review research study found that in evaluations of 7,280 leaders, women were judged better than men in relationships, integrity, developing self and others, taking initiative and driving for results. That’s certainly true of female leaders I have studied.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Mayo Clinic addresses domestic violence

Janay Palmer and Ray Rice address the media (Credit AP)
The video of Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée Janay Palmer Rice has hopefully launched a nationwide conversation about domestic violence. The Mayo Clinic’s advice on this topic is a must-read for all those whose lives are touched by the nightmare of partner abuse and for the general public as well. We may not be in a domestic abuse situations ourselves, but we are responsible for pressuring the government, colleges and universities, and other organizations like the NFL to intervene on behalf of current victims.

From the Mayo Clinic Staff:

Domestic violence against women: Recognize patterns, seek help

Domestic violence is a serious threat for many women. Know the signs of an abusive relationship and how to leave a dangerous situation.
Your partner apologizes and says the hurtful behavior won't happen again — but you fear it will. At times you wonder whether you're imagining the abuse, yet the emotional or physical pain you feel is real. If this sounds familiar, you might be experiencing domestic violence.

Recognize domestic violence

Domestic violence — also called intimate partner violence — occurs between people in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. Men are sometimes abused by partners, but domestic violence is most often directed toward women. Domestic violence can happen in heterosexual or same-sex relationships.
  • Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
  • Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school
  • Prevents or discourages you from seeing family members or friends
  • Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
  • Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
  • Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Threatens you with violence or a weapon
  • Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
  • Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
  • Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where were you on 9/11/2001?


Hi Katalusis friends, I first published this piece in 2007. On today's anniversary of September 11, 2001, I’m sure many of us will once again be reminded of where we were when terrorists struck the Twin Towers in NYC. 

Two Men and a Truck, assisted by my son, helped me move into my new apartment that Labor Day weekend.

A few days later, rushing around to get ready for work, I paused at my second floor east window to watch the breaking of a bright new day in suburban St. Paul.

On the way to my car, I heard the ominous sound of propellers overhead and looked up to see helicopters circling the area. I pulled out of our parking lot and within minutes, I was stuck in a massive traffic jam ― a big tanker had overturned on the nearby interstate.
It took forever to get to work and by the time I parked and walked to my cube in the Communication team’s office, the place was eerily deserted. My co-workers were across the hall staring at a conference room TV. I caught up with them just in time to see the plane slam into the second tower on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. 

Life as we knew it, both locally and globally, changed instantly. Formerly reasonable and presumably peace-loving acquaintances became angry and defiant. Still numb with shock, I stood in the corridor as a regional vice-president strode toward me and said, “We’ve got to hunt these people down and kill them.” 

Hunt them down and kill them. 

I heard that phrase often in the days that followed. The media echoed the refrain and soon the drumbeat began for an all out war on terror that called first for bombing to smithereens already shell-shocked Afghanistan, still struggling to recover from a previous war.

Barely pausing for breath and with unlimited hubris, the Administration geared up to send the people of Iraq into “shock and awe” with a targeted, high tech, pre-emptive strike against their country.
It’s rumored that he who appeared in a video recently with beard trimmed and dyed black is still hanging out somewhere along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the meantime, the insurgency, once referred to by Donald Rumsfeld as a few dead-enders, demonstrated decisively that an I.E.D. concealed in a strategically placed goat cart on a back street in Baghdad, could effectively checkmate the world’s greatest superpower with all of its technological superiority.

Six years later, it bears repeating until we’re blue in the face: Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

There were in the beginning occasional voices of dissent. The late Susan Sontag published an essay in the New Yorker shortly after 9/11 guaranteed to provoke the wrath of a good number of liberals, conservatives, and those in between. Six years later, her remarks would seem prophetic to any semi-conscious American. Here are a few excerpts:

“The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing…

“A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration, apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush…

“A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere – about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense…

‘"Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be.”

Those days I found refuge and sanity at my church where we gathered, not so much to rail at our “enemies,” but to get centered again in the midst of a national mood combining a volatile mix of nationalism, hyped up patriotism, and evangelical fervor rapidly approaching hysteria.

Ignoring the hype, members of our congregation stood fast and for whatever it was worth, a majority of us signed a resolution opposing the invasion of Iraq.

When it was too late to matter, the NY Times, the daily paper that sets the news agenda in the United States, published a front-page apology for its inadequate investigative reporting in the run-up to that ill-fated invasion, including the farce about weapons of mass destruction.

Let it be noted here that from day one, my son insisted: “The war with Iraq is about oil, Mom.”
But even at our most cynical, small incidents occur that nurture our spirituality and keep us going. I was browsing in the local Barnes and Noble one evening, when another customer hesitantly asked my help. Identifying himself as Muslim, he said he was looking for a book on comparative religion; he wanted to learn more about other faith traditions.

As we scanned the shelves in B & N’s skimpy section on religion, another gentleman joined us. Turned out he graduated from a Catholic seminary in my home state of Ohio. He referred our Muslim seeker to a nearby used bookstore that he often frequented.

It occurred to me later that our theologically diverse threesome, representing Unitarian-Universalism, Roman Catholicism, and Islam, had bonded immediately in a common quest. And I found myself wondering just how a Muslim in search of greater religious understanding happened to run into not one, but two seminary graduates at a neighborhood bookstore.

In the spirit of process theology that advocates bridges instead of barriers, religious leaders as disparate as Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh and evangelical Christian Jim Wallis, editor of “Sojourners Magazine,” began pleading for sanity and calling for peace.

In his book, Calming the Fearful Mind: a Zen Response to Terrorism, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “Many of us claim to be disciples of the Buddha, of Jesus Christ, of Mohammed, but we don’t listen to their teachings. Hatred cannot overcome hatred. Violence cannot overcome violence. The bible, the Koran, the Torah, and the Sutras teach us that. But we don’t always believe in our spiritual path. We must think that our spiritual teachings are not realistic, because we have put so much faith in military and financial power. We think that money and weapons can make us strong. But our country has a lot of weapons and a lot of money and we are still very afraid and insecure.” 

The next time I spoke to my son about the prospects for peace, he looked me steadily in the eye and said: “It’s about oil, Mom.”
 
Jim Wallis reports in "God's Politics," which offers a challenge to both the Left and the Right, that President Bush, who once publicly named Jesus his favorite philosopher, refused to meet with a delegation of U.S. church leaders before leading the nation to war. However, on Feb. 18, 2003, the U.S group was joined by international church leaders in a fifty-minute meeting with Tony Blair. Wallis said they testified in moving personal statements to their conviction that war was not the answer to the real threats posed by Saddam Hussein.

Wallis adds, “We told the prime minister that the answer to a brutal, threatening dictator must not be the bombing of Baghdad’s children.”

Today, the nearly 3,800 American troops who have died in Iraq since the invasion exceeds the number of Americans who died in the attacks on the Twin Towers.

And a recent poll in the Los Angeles Times estimates the death toll of Iraqi civilians at 1.2 million.
As for the children, large numbers of those who have survived the war so far are orphaned, homeless, and malnourished. 

UNICEF reports: “Many children are separated from their families or on the streets, where they are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Most children have experienced trauma but few receive the care and support they need to help them cope with so much chaos, anxiety and loss.”
9/11, we remember, dawned golden bright. Six years later, the skies over Ground Zero were gray, as raindrops mingled with the tears of survivors gathered nearby.

I wasn’t the only one reminded of where I was and what I was doing on 9/11: Roger Cohen wrote in the NY Times:

“My daughter’s fourth birthday was that morning, and we looked at the billowing smoke from the water’s edge in Brooklyn Heights and she cried. I took the subway to work, one of the last to run, and a woman beside me was sobbing. When, that night, I emerged into Times Square, nobody. I walked for miles through a ghost city.” 

Cohen recalls:

“The United States was not previously a homeland, it was just our land, and that unhappy neologism with its Orwellian echoes, its sense of exclusion rather than inclusion, its faint fatherland-like echoes, seems to capture the closing and the menace and the terror-terror refrain with which we have all learned to live.”

Prompted by that refrain, we continue to ask the question that Sen. John Warner asked Gen. David Petraeus in last week’s hearings on Capitol Hill: “Are we safer now?”

And if you were watching, you saw the general, with his chest full of medals, struggle mightily before finally acknowledging, “I actually don’t know.”

Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker offered only a glimmer of optimism in their recommendations for further military engagement in war-torn Iraq based on small signs of success, overshadowed lately by several credible reports of numerous failed benchmarks.

Instead of listening to our president’s speech this Thursday night, I went out to dinner at Culver’s with my son, who had also been following the week’s developments. Pausing between bites of his butter burger, he said, “Mom, it’s about oil.”
The Petraeus report, appended by Bush’s speech, was best described by one commentator as a calculated attempt to kick the can down the road another six months.

According to the transcripts, Bush boasted, “Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Along with Iraqi forces, they have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January.”
And so we continue as we began, determined to hunt down and kill every last one of those whom we fear and label as our enemies.

A brief digression here: In his just released 531-page memoir, Alan Greenspan, a widely respected conservative Republican and former chairman of the Federal Reserve, writes without elaboration:

"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

I knew that.

In words compatible with process theology, Thich Nhat Hanh says:

“We have looked for strength and security in military might. “We have attempted to defend ourselves with weapons of war. We have brought great suffering and destruction upon ourselves and others. Our way of dealing with terrorism is taking us down a dangerous path of distrust and fear. It is time to stop. Let us pause. It is time to seek true strength and true security. We cannot escape our interdependence with other people, with other nations of the world. Let us take this moment to look deeply and find a path of liberation. It is possible to look at each other again with the eyes of trust, camaraderie, and love.” 

May it be so.

Note to readers: Today's post is an edited, condensed version of the presentation I gave yesterday at my church fellowship. As always, your comments are welcome.

Virginia

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Janay Rice's chilling Instagram message

I could not have said it better than Taylor Marsh regarding Janay Palmer Rice's Instagram defending her husband Ray Rice who knocked her out and dragged her from an elevator. Initially, the NFL gave this domestic abuser a two-game suspension for his horrific treatment of Janay. As Marsh points out, it was only after a video of the knockout blow was made public that Rice was kicked out of the NFL.

Marsh begins her coverage with a screen shot of Janay's Instagram and continues from there:

 Janay Palmer, Ray Rice’s wife, writes chilling Instagram message that sends horrific signals to abused women, while revealing why Ben Carson’s apologist statement on behalf of her husband is representative of the NFL culture that let the football “hero” off the hook in the first place.

IT’S IMPORTANT to remember that the NFL‘s initial reaction to Ray Rice coldcocking Janay Palmer, now Janay Rice, was a mild two-game suspension. The Ravens even sent out a tweet where Palmer took part of the blame for her own unconsciousness! If you want to know why this was allowed to stand for so long see Republican Ben Carson‘s apologist statement for Ray Rice, which perfectly represents the NFL’s dereliction in this tale of domestic violence.

It wasn’t until the public saw the raw video footage that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the Ravens acted.

The reaction of Janay Palmer (Rice) the day after sends a chilling signal to women who make excuses for their abusers instead of fleeing the scene, walking away from the relationship that’s built on extremes of emotion that has no relationship to love she is claiming exists.

The outcome leaves Janay Palmer (Rice) in an even worse situation, because now her husband has lost his livelihood in the NFL and at some point the furor will die down leaving her vulnerable again.
The sports writer for the New York Times, Juliet Macur, wrote a terrific piece emphasizing that it took a video to make the public react, because the facts of the case, known long ago, weren’t enough.

But it never should have taken this long. Not long after the assault, the police investigated and determined that Rice had knocked out Palmer. An earlier video showed Rice dragging Palmer out of the elevator as if he were hauling a trash bag to the curb.

That alone should have been enough for the N.F.L. to suspend Rice for a good, long time, or for the Ravens to get rid of him. It should have prompted the league to send a message to other players — as well as to its fans — that domestic violence will not be tolerated. But Rice was a star, and excuses are made for stars.
If you don’t understand how Ray Rice was allowed to initially escape prosecution, accepting a much lesser punishment of therapy from the court, nothing illustrates the culture of protecting the abusers of women better than Republican Ben Carson’s statement on behalf of Ray Rice.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How should America react to the ISIS-produced video beheadings of journalists?


Photo credits: public domain.
In a recent email conversation, a friend and I exchanged concerns about the flare-up of violence throughout the Middle East and where it might lead. My friend despaired of ever understanding the roots of war in that area. In reply, I noted the readiness to kill one another off for religious differences among various sectarian factions in the area.

All too often leaders of the opposition party in the U.S., media reps, and ranting Facebook or other social media participants plunge in to take sides in one conflict or another, frequently offering unqualified recommendations for intervention by the United States. That’s why it’s always such a relief to read NY Times op-ed columnist Tom Friedman’s analysis of foreign affairs. Friedman has the intellect and knowledge to grasp the complexity of Middle East conflicts and offer a few wise insights, even in response to the evil forces motivating the ISIS beheadings of journalists.

Friedman writes:

President Obama has been excoriated for declaring that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for effectively confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. In criticizing Obama for taking too much time, Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that “this ‘don’t-do-stupid-stuff’ policy isn’t working.” That sounded odd to my ear — like we should just bomb somebody, even if it is stupid. If Obama did that, what would he be ignoring?

First, experience. After 9/11 that sort of “fire, ready, aim” approach led George W. Bush to order a ground war in Iraq without sufficient troops to control the country, without a true grasp of Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni sectarian dynamics, and without any realization that, in destroying the Sunni Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Sunni Baathist regime in Iraq, we were destroying both of Iran’s mortal enemies and thereby opening the way for a vast expansion of Iran’s regional influence. We were in a hurry, myself included, to change things after 9/11, and when you’re in a hurry you ignore complexities that come back to haunt you later.

There are no words to describe the vileness of the video beheadings of two American journalists by ISIS, but I have no doubt that they’re meant to get us to overreact, à la 9/11, and rush off again without a strategy. ISIS is awful, but it is not a threat to America’s homeland.







Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Required reading for all women: "Eleanor Roosevelt – feminist icon"


Eleanor Roosevelt, an early role model.
In my early 20s, married and a stay at home mom with two young children, I used to eagerly read Eleanor Roosevelt’s monthly column in Redbook Magazine. She became a major role model for me in the days before women were welcomed on either the national or the world stage. Heck, we weren’t even welcomed in the ranks of professionals in whatever field.

Over the ensuing years, though, I somehow never got around to reading Eleanor’s biography and although I heard that FDR betrayed her, I wasn't sure whether it was rumor or fact.  Reading Eleanor Clift’s piece at the Daily Beast this morning brought tears to my eyes, and I marveled at the enduring heroism of my early role model.

Clift’s piece, titled Eleanor Roosevelt – feminist icon - should be required reading for all women, feminist or not:

Eleanor Roosevelt’s challenges began at a very young age with a mother who belittled her and a drug-addicted, alcoholic father who worshipped her. Orphaned by the age of ten and taken in by a well-meaning but dour grandmother, she found her footing at Allenswood, a girls’ boarding school just outside of London. The French headmistress, Marie Souvestre, took 15-year-old Eleanor under her wing and gave her a glimpse of what an independent woman’s life could be.

It was at Allenswood that Eleanor learned she had a brain, that she could be popular, and even became captain of the field hockey team. Under Souvestre’s tutelage, Eleanor began to discover the woman she would become and the social causes she would embrace, adopting Souvestre’s commitment to social justice and an affinity for the underdog. “I became more of a feminist than I ever thought possible,” Eleanor later wrote. She wanted to stay on after graduating and teach alongside her mentor but bowed to convention and returned home to make her societal debut.

Nearly six feet tall, slender and with piercing blue eyes, the young Eleanor was not the aged woman that we have come to associate with her. Her teeth were not the best--there was no orthodontic work available then--but when 22-year-old Franklin Roosevelt proposed to a then 19-year-old Eleanor, he was as smitten with her as she was with the dashing young man. A man who also happened to be her fifth cousin once removed.

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