Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Something to think about in 2015

courtesy of
I've been congratulating myself this New Year's Eve for being on top of things: finances under control, household chores all caught up, preparation for my meditation group in place for this Saturday, etc. And now that the holiday season is coming to a close, I'm looking forward to turning my full attention to my work as a free lance writer. That includes maintaining Katalusis, which I've been neglecting lately.

As my own boss, I get to set my pace and granted, my severe arthritis slows me down quite a bit. But you'll seldom hear me complain about how busy I am. Most always, I can take time to pause and visit with a friend or neighbor when the occasion arises. And I'm known to hang out now and then at a favorite coffee shop where, as in the Cheers TV series, everyone knows my name. At least the staff there knows my name, and I know their names, too.

I'm in sync with the Rev. Beth Merrill Neel's post today titled Busy, or Full over at the Christian Science Monitor. It's definitely something to think about as we ring in 2015. Neel writes:

When someone inquires how I am, I often reply, “Good. Life is full.” I say that intentionally because I have grown weary of the excuse of being too busy. There’s an implication that in my busyness I have shut out people I love. My mom will call in the middle of the week and say, “Oh, honey, I just hate to bother you; I know how busy you are.” Even harder is when parishioners say, “Oh, I know you’re so busy, I didn’t want to add one more thing to your plate.”

So I’m working on the discipline of considering my life full rather than considering myself busy. To say that life is full is to acknowledge abundance—an abundance of opportunities to engage in work that I find meaningful and interesting; an abundance of ways for my child to discover the world with friends and to energize body, heart, and soul; an abundance of riches because we have a home and friends and family and neighbors and community.

To say that I am busy puts the focus on just me. I am busy with administrivia and details because no one else can pay attention to them quite the way I can (which is untrue). To say that I am busy makes me feel worthy, because busy people must be important people must be powerful people, right? To say that I am busy implies that every moment is crammed with doing things that must matter a great deal, because why would I cram one more thing into my life if it weren’t deeply important?

I am not busy; my life is full, and I carry with me that beautiful image in Psalm 23: “thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

Read more:

Beth Merrill Neel

Beth Merrill Neel is a Presbyterian pastor. She blogs at Hold Fast to What is Good, part of the CCblogs network.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"After the words, the music, and the gathering..."

Image courtesy of
Last Saturday’s meeting with my mindfulness meditation group was definitely a highlight of this holiday season for me, so I thought I’d share a little of our agenda with you today.

We began by reciting together our opening prayer:

Revised Loving Kindness Prayer (in unison)

May we release all burdens of guilt, shame, fear, and loss that no longer serve us and needless fear and anxiety about the future;
May we be free from suffering;
May we be filled with loving kindness;
May we forgive those who have trespassed against us; and may those we’ve trespassed against forgive us;
May we be protected from all internal and external harm;
May we be as healthy and whole as possible;
May we make the most of our talents and resources on behalf of ourselves and the common good;
May we enjoy both spiritual and material well-being.
May we be centered, peaceful, and at ease;
May we be happy.

We enjoyed a time of silent meditation before discussing our reading for this session: A Mindful Christmas, by James Sweetman. As usual, we enjoyed a time of openness and genuine sharing among participants. If you’ve noticed what a rarity good conversation has become these days, you should attend one of our upcoming sessions. For more information, contact me at

We closed by reciting together this quotation by Max Coots:

"After the words, a quiet; after the songs, a silence; after the crowd only the memory recalls the gathering. Peace and justice have need of you after the words, the music, and the gathering. God grant you the depth for dedication to justice. God grant you the will to be an apostle of peace."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Mrs. Claus: "Ho!Ho!Ho!...Shell has got to go!

Hi Katalusis and Facebook friends,

In case you didn't notice, the winter solstice 2014 began on Sunday, December 21 at 6:03 EST, marking the shortest day of the year. So one of our Christmas gifts on December 25 will be a few minutes more of daylight.  And I'll look forward to those gradually expanding hours of daylight until suddenly I'll get home before dark after dashing into town at 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. to pick up a few groceries.

And speaking of Christmas, Mrs. Claus is getting into the act up there at the North Pole - hey, I just got an email from her:

Ho! Ho! Ho...Shell has got to go!
1 message

Mrs. Claus, Alaska Wilderness League Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 9:57 AM
To: Virginia Bergman

Dear Virginia,
Be a hero for polar bears, walrus, whales, caribou and other Arctic animals this holiday season. Donate to Alaska Wilderness League to help keep Shell out of the Arctic Ocean in 2015.  We’re halfway to our $20,000 goal – please give what you can to help us hit our target!!
*Your gift will be doubled!
Lots of people know that Santa keeps track of who’s naughty or nice. But did you know that as Santa and I sit up here in the North Pole watching our ice melt, he and I keep another list? It’s our list of heroes.
And you’re on it.
Why? Because we know that you’ve joined Alaska Wilderness League in standing up to Shell Oil and its Big Oil buddies. You’ve taken action to protect wild lands and waters essential to the Arctic creatures we love. Will you help again today?

You’ve spoken up for polar bears in America’s Arctic, and for the caribou of the Porcupine Caribou Herd who birth their calves every year on the Refuge’s Coastal Plain (and happen to be good buddies with my pal, Rudolph).

And for Arctic walrus, which have been fleeing to land further from their food sources because of sea ice melt. Trust me, you’ll never find these guys speaking up for themselves in Washington – they’re positively terrified of airplanes.

And yet the League needs your help again. Can you donate today to Alaska Wilderness League and help them continue the fight for Alaska’s wild public lands and waters? Thanks to a generous donor, your donation will be doubled!
Shell has submitted larger, noisier and dirtier drilling plans aimed at the very Arctic waters where polar bears, walrus and endangered bowhead whales are struggling to survive.
You’d think the company would have learned after all its crashing and burning in 2012, but instead of addressing its mistakes, Shell is claiming its disasters were actually part of a successful season!
Help stop Shell and protect polar bears, walrus, whales and our Arctic home.
Together, we can put a big lump of coal in Shell’s stocking this year.
Thank you!
- Mrs. Claus
P.S.  We’re halfway to our $20,000 goal – please give what you can to help us get there!
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Friday, December 19, 2014

Mexican wolves: you are their last chance!

You Are Their
Last Chance

I pause in my holiday preparations this morning to stand up for life in our ecosystem that has no voice in humankind's decisions regarding its welfare. Mexican wolves are among our fellow creatures in danger of extinction; they need your voice, too!

This just in from Defenders of Wildlife:

Dear Virginia,

Three Mexican gray alpha male wolves have been found dead – one a month since September.

At the last official count, there were only 83 wild Mexican gray wolves clinging to survival. Just 83.

Despite this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is still trying to move forward with a flawed management proposal they call a first step. We call it a slow walk to extinction.

FWS’ own recovery team scientists have told the agency that Mexican gray wolves will not be safe from extinction unless there are three separate populations that wolves can move between. There need to be at least 750 wolves total, and there must be fewer killings of these rare wolves.

While this proposal offers the remaining wolves a larger area to roam, FWS would make it legal to kill them for multiple reasons (including if officials think they eat too many elk). It would also put arbitrary limits on the population and keep these wolves out of the habitats they desperately need to survive.

FWS has even said they will consider killing wolves if they grow to be “too many” which they defined as being 300 to 325 wolves in the wild!

Time is running out for these wolves. Without the release of new wolves, especially breeding pairs, and the establishment of new populations, Mexican gray wolves will slowly go extinct in the wild.

With so few wild lobos left in the world, they deserve a real chance to recover – not flawed decisions that would amount to a slow and certain death sentence.

You are their last chance. It’s too late for the three dead alpha males, but there are still others we can save.

Thank you for everything you do.

Eva Sargent, Southwest Program Director  


Eva Sargent
Southwest Program Director
Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife leads the pack when it comes to protecting wild animals and plants in their natural communities »

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The United States of Depravity?

In this March 3, 2005, file photo, a workman slides a dustmop over the floor at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

There must be a sad dearth of compassion among many of our fellow citizens these days. In response to the CIA torture report describing the "enhanced interrogation techniques," a euphemism for the extremes of cruelty inflicted on detainees, polls show a majority of Americans "just shrugged." And as one commenter to the article cited below observed: "All this poll proves is 54% of America have decided to change the name of America to the United States of Depravity."

Aaron Blake reports at the Washington Post:

A new poll from the Pew Research Center is the first to gauge reactions to last week's big CIA report on "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- what agency critics call torture.

And the reaction is pretty muted.

The poll shows people says 51-29 percent than the CIA's methods were justified and 56-28 percent that the information gleaned helped prevent terror attacks.
The word "torture," it should be noted, isn't mentioned in the poll, but it has been associated with much of the coverage of the issue. And the numbers align nicely with polls on the use of torture, which shows that relatively few Americans are concerned about it -- especially when you bring the prospect of combating terrorism into the mix.

Read more:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What the CIA has in common with ISIS

Is it a coincidence that on Human Rights Day 2014, Joshua Holland at published The Torture Report: What You Need to Know?

Ironically, my previous post today is titled Celebrating Human Rights Day.

We need to pause in celebrating Human Rights Day and take a break from our preparations for Christmas this year as well. Let us grieve for the sorry state of our nation that allows people, who have obviously lost touch with their humanity, to brutalize detainees while claiming superiority to the likes of ISIS terrorists. We're talking about members of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America.

Take a look Holland's piece:

On Tuesday, amid much controversy and after a year of political combat between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA, a long-anticipated summary of the committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program was released.

Here’s what you need to know…

Read more:

Celebrating Human Rights Day!

This just in from Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch:

Dear Virginia,

Today, on Human Rights Day, we want to recognize all that you have helped us to achieve. As the Empire State Building glows blue this evening to honor the global human rights movement, we would like to share with you just a few examples of the incredible impact you helped our researchers to achieve in 2014:
Sochi Ring After seven years of documentation and targeted advocacy on rights abuses around the 2008 Beijing and 2014 Sochi Olympics, the International Olympic Committee
has agreed to include rights protections in host city contracts. It has begun by adopting a non-discrimination clause that will require host countries to respect equality—furthering the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and supporting the rights of women to participate in sports worldwide.
Tobacco Ring Our work exposing dangerous conditions for child workers on tobacco farms in the United States helped lead two of the country’s largest tobacco growers associations to adopt new policies prohibiting
children under 16 from working on tobacco farms. By implementing these policies, tobacco growers will no longer employ young children in this dangerous work.
Syria Ring Following the horrific chemical weapons attack on the civilians of Ghouta, Syria last August, our researchers’ quick response and meticulous documentation—using video forensics, GPS data, and
remote eyewitness interviews—confirmed the likelihood that Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible. Our work helped to galvanize international support for a United Nations resolution to rid Syria of chemical weapons, and global arms experts have now supervised the destruction of Syria’s stockpile.
This Human Rights Day we recognize the extraordinary efforts of Human Rights Watch researchers and celebrate all of their remarkable impact.

But we also want to pause to recognize you, our supporters. It is because of your commitment that we are able to continue to protect victims and defend the human rights of countless people across the globe.

From everyone at Human Rights Watch, we wish you a happy Human Rights Day. Thank you for standing with us.

The Empire State Building
turns blue to celebrate
Human Rights Day
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Compassion and empathy

I feel fortunate in these dark days of Advent to have a nice warm home brightened by Christmas lights, plenty of food in my fridge, and a supply of good books on hand to enjoy after dinner. And in this holiday season, I'm blessed by the warmth and support of friends and family.

Easy for me to feel compassion and empathy for others, you say? Let it be known that others abound much more well off financially than I who turn their backs on those in need. That's why Dr. Karen Armstrong set out to change the world a while back with her Charter for Compassion. I subscribe to the Charter for Compassion's newsletter. Here's the Nov. 12, 2014 edition:

It's Time to Confront Our Compassion Phobia


When I was first invited to take part in Compassion Week, I had a bit of a reaction. It's not that I didn't want to get involved in next week's events in San Francisco - it's just that I have a problem with the word compassion. Maybe it's a guy thing, but compassion has always sounded a little too soft and fluffy for my liking, and I wondered whether some might just dismiss the idea of Compassion Week without stopping to find out what it was all about.

The people behind Compassion Week want to give the c-word a bit of a makeover. They have called on the City of San Francisco and the State of California "to make compassion a guiding principle for their businesses and public services", and are staging a series of gatherings and discussions from Monday to Sunday to explain what this means - and how it can be achieved.  Read more and join us at Compassion Week.

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong: Review

Dr. Karen Armstrong.
How have we ended up with the idea that religious doctrine above all is to blame for human conflict?

Islamic State is like a bad dream. Its horror flashes up on our screens, so out of place in the waking world of cities and shopping and work. Its adherents wave what looks like a pirate flag. They are crazy, incomprehensible, intoxicated.

Some kind of spell must have been cast over them to rob them of reason and compassion. But what exactly? There are those who feel confident of the answer. "A hatred of infidels is arguably the central message of the Qur'an," writes Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith. "The reality of martyrdom and the sanctity of armed jihad are about as controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under Christianity." He goes on: "horrific footage of infidels and apostates being decapitated has become a popular form of pornography throughout the Muslim world. But there is now a large industry of obfuscation designed to protect Muslims from having to grapple with these truths."  Read more.

Alice Walker highlights empathy and compassion in historic lecture

Alice Walker.
“Friendship is really important, and not just between men and women and women and women and people you know; it’s important between countries,” Walker said.

She is a vocal social justice advocate and explained the critical potential she believes global diplomacy can have in preventing war and other atrocities.

“We in this country are in the habit of dropping bombs on people, dropping napalm on people, dropping drones on people,” Walker said. “The only way we will save ourselves, the water, the mountains that haven’t been decapitated … is if we do it as friends, on a global scale.”   Read more.

YO-MAD – Young, Ordinary and Making a Difference! 

(You don't have to be extra-ordinary to change the world!)
Fenna Martin and Sophie Coxon are two ordinary young people who feel driven to make a positive difference in the world, and to show other young people how living adventurously, in the spirit of Compassionate Action, can transform their own lives and the wider world.

The Compassionate Cornwall Initiative is part of an international movement to change the culture of communities through compassionate action and is about to put Cornwall on the map as the first county in the UK to sign the international Charter for Compassion. (Belfast is the only other UK initiative to have signed, as a Compassionate City.) Learn more about the Cornwall Initiative and the special Crowdfunding project it is sponsoring.


We invite you to help us in promoting the work of the Charter by becoming a Member. Karen Armstrong, asked in April of 2013 for her definition of a compassionate city, replied, “A compassionate city is an uncomfortable city! A city that is uncomfortable when anyone is homeless or hungry. Uncomfortable if every child isn't loved and given rich opportunities to grow and thrive. Uncomfortable when any group anywhere in the world is marginalized or oppressed. Uncomfortable when as a community we don't treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated.”

Please become a Member of the Charter for Compassion. Step forward to support the compassion movement materially -- with your money, your time, your connections, your special areas of expertise, and your high expectations.

Become a Member of the Charter for Compassion
This newsletter is archived at for you to send to friends and coworkers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The post-Thanksgiving adventure of making turkey soup

See all those carrots? (
In the midst of moving forward with my writing projects and attending to several must-do tasks the other day, I decided to make turkey soup from the carcass left over from Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t cook a lot at this stage of my life, and it should come as no surprise that I began the soup before checking out the recipe. So I forgot to add the seasonings to the brew when I put the carcass in a pot of water and let it simmer until the meat fell off the bones. The good news is that I saved the unseasoned broth, and I’ve got lots of turkey meat for the soup. I’m planning to backtrack some with the seasonings – heck, it’ll all work out.

Darn! I still have to chop the onions, carrots, and celery.

Discovered I had no carrots yesterday, and I stopped in at Target to get a few, plus a couple of household products; I was running out of paper towels - tragedy, yes? In the produce department, I asked a fellow in a red T-shirt and khakis where the carrots were. A loyal, well-trained employee, he showed me several options and then the pièce de résistance: a container of nicely chopped vegetables, including carrots, just right for turkey soup. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and grabbed a package of those so-called baby carrots. After paying for my stuff, I got a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies and sat down in the Target Café to rest my arthritic knees before heading home.

So here I am today stuck with chopping my own vegetables. That’s okay, though. I’ll feel pleasantly virtuous later on this afternoon as I dice those onions, carrots, and a few stalks of celery.

But first I have to post this at Katalusis and get my laundry started.

Here's the recipe that I forgot to read before starting my soup, and you'd better believe I'll not be adding any barley to my turkey soup.

Betty Crocker’s recipe for homemade turkey soup


Carcass from cooked 10- to 12-lb turkey

3 quarts (12 cups) water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning or dried sage leaves
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 cup uncooked pearl barley
3 medium carrots, sliced (1 1/2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
2 medium stalks celery, sliced (1 cup)
3 cups cut-up cooked turkey
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, if desired
  • 1 Break up turkey carcass to fit 6-quart Dutch oven. Add water, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and bay leaf. Heat to boiling over high heat; reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer 1 hour 30 minutes.
  • 2 Skim off any residue that rises to the surface. Remove bones, meat and bay leaf from broth; cool. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and cut into bite-size pieces; set aside. Discard bones and bay leaf.
  • 3 Skim fat from broth; discard. Add turkey meat cut from bones to broth; stir in barley. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • 4 Stir in carrots, onion, celery and 3 cups cooked turkey. Simmer uncovered 20 to 25 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables and barley are tender. Stir in parsley.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Predator killfest on Burea of Land Management lands called off

Okay, Katalusis readers, I've been annoyed once again in the run up to Thanksgiving by the custom of US presidents pardoning a turkey obviously innocent of any crime; a Facebook friend reminded me that I'm not alone. It's a custom that speaks to the arrogance of humanity thinking itself above all other forms of life. We get to pardon a bird for existing? So it's refreshing on this day before our national holiday dedicated to giving thanks to hear from Defenders of Wildlife and this time with some good news!

Dear Virginia,
Finally some good news from Idaho!

We just received word that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has withdrawn its permit allowing a “Predator Derby” to take place on BLM lands in Idaho. This was the appalling commercial derby that Defenders of Wildlife went to Federal court last week to block.

This is an important victory for wolves and other predators – and it’s one you helped achieve. The reversal came after Defenders went to court and tens of thousands of you expressed outrage over the decision to let the predator killfest go forward on BLM lands. Fortunately, senior officials at the Department of the Interior heard your voice and directed that the commercial derby permit be withdrawn.

Introduced by a “hunters’ rights organization,” the derby’s goal was to make a competitive, commercialized sport of killing wolves and other predators. This was a throwback to 19th century thinking when wolves were seen as vermin worthy only of extermination.

The BLM’s reversal is an important victory as we work around the clock to end the slaughter in Idaho. Sadly, it’s still possible that the derby could take place on federal lands elsewhere in Idaho. But we can take heart in the fact that, at least on BLM lands, wolves and other predators can breathe easier today. And we can remind ourselves that larger victories are not only possible, but inevitable, when wildlife defenders like you make your voices heard.

Thank you again. You’re making a difference, and we are so grateful!


Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Red flags on extending presidential power!

The US desperately needs immigration reform for humanitarian reasons.
In her discussion of Obama's unilateral plan for immigration reform, Ruth Marcus seems most concerned about payback from future Republican presidents. And although we desperately need immigration reform for humanitarian reasons, Marcus is justified in raising a red flag or two. In sum, she offers a thoughtful take on the potential for expanding presidential authority in future administrations:

WASHINGTON -- Every Democrat should be nervous about President Obama's plan for unilateral action on immigration reform.

Not because of the impact on an already gridlocked Congress, or because it risks inflaming an increasingly hostile public. Democrats should be nervous about the implications for presidential power, and the ability of a future Republican president to act on his or her own.

Note that I said nervous, not opposed. In this situation, the executive power devil is in the details of what the executive actually does, both the scope of his actions and the legal justifications for them.
For me, the question is one of double containment: First, is there a limiting principle that would constrain the president's authority to effectively legalize everyone in the country? Second, is there a limiting principle that would constrain future presidents inclined against enforcing other laws with which they don't agree -- and on which they've been unable to convince Congress to act accordingly?
The general White House argument in defense of unilateral action, spelled out for me by a senior administration official versed in the legal details, boils down to the general power of prosecutorial discretion, combined with particular provisions and practices embedded in immigration law.

The official acknowledged that there are clear limits to presidential power -- he can't hand out green cards or create a pathway to citizenship. But the official also noted that presidents have broad authority to set enforcement priorities in immigration; after all, there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants and budgetary capacity to deport perhaps 400,000 annually.

Monday, November 17, 2014

"A commercial wolf and predator-killing derby in Idaho"

My friend Mary Lundeberg's wildlife photography has sensitized me to the beauty and dignity of our fellow creatures on the planet. Due in part to Mary's influence, I take seriously regular emails from Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, and I'm happy to post them here at Katalusis. This morning Jamie is once again going all out to protect the wolf population. But before you read Jamie's message, take a look at Mary's wolf photos

Here's Jamie:

Dear Virginia,
Shocking news.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has just approved a commercial wolf and predator-killing derby in Idaho. What’s worse, the agency has authorized the event to take place once every year for the next five years!

Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, has the power to reverse this decision. She needs to use it.

Tell Secretary Jewell that killing wolves and other predators for commercial gain on publicly owned land is just plain wrong.
Introduced by a “hunters’ rights organization,” this kill-fest will make a competitive, commercialized sport of killing wolves and other predators. And, it will take place on federal public land – that’s land that belongs to you and me!
Contests like these have no place in the 21st Century. They are a throwback to times past, when wolves and other predators were seen as vermin. The federal government shouldn’t be encouraging and endorsing this outdated thinking, and it certainly shouldn’t be hosting thrill kill competitions.

Please take action TODAY, and help us stop this atrocious event!
Thank you for all you do. 
Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An old-fashioned Thanksgiving celebration!

I'm coming across more comments, discussions, news coverage, etc. about the pros and cons of shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday than any mention of the significance of this historical holiday.  In the meantime, I'm looking forward to once again preparing a turkey dinner for my son and daughter-in-law - they provide the pumpkin pies. And instead of going shopping later on, we'll kick back, enjoy visiting with one another, and we'll likely play a game of Scrabble...
My son Steve after a previous Thanksgiving dinner.
Hi Katalusis friends, I copied this post from my FB status update this morning - I decided to share it with you folks, too!

I'm coming across more comments, discussions, news coverage, etc. about the pros and cons of shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday than any mention of the significance of this historical holiday. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to once again preparing a turkey dinner for my son and daughter-in-law - they provide the pumpkin pies. And instead of going shopping later on, we'll kick back, enjoy visiting with one another, and we'll likely play a game of Scrabble... I recommend our celebration of Thanksgiving - giving thanks for what we have instead of chasing around town to acquire more.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A great role for Elizabeth Warren

As a US Senator, Elizabeth Warren is acquiring the legislative and leadership experience Barack Obama needed before he stepped behind that desk in the Oval Office and wound up being disavowed by Democratic candidates in the 2014 midterms. And as we all know, shunning the president did Democrats no good;  to use my favorite Bush-ism, they got "thumped," regardless.

 In the meantime, Warren just gained a great role well suited for her talents and interests. Here's the scoop:

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gained a leadership position in the Senate Democratic caucus Thursday, giving the prominent progressive senator a key role in shaping the party's policy priorities. 

Warren's new role, which was created specifically for her, will be strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, helping to craft the party's policy positions and priorities. She will also serve as a liaison to progressive groups to ensure they have a voice in leadership meetings and discussions, according to a source familiar with the role.

Read more:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What do you know about panthers?

Florida panther (Wikipedia).

Until my frequent correspondent, Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, emailed me today regarding the deaths of a couple of Florida panther kittens, I’d not given much thought to that species of wildlife.

I hastily turned to Wikipedia for help and discovered that panthers are a subspecies of cougar, also known as mountain lions, pumas, and catamounts. Wiki adds: “but in the southeastern United States and particularly in Florida, it is exclusively known as the panther.

With that bit of background on this particular species, let’s return to Jamie’s message that warns of panthers in peril:

Dear Virginia,
It’s a sight that would break your heart.

Two panther kittens, each only four months old, lying dead by the side of a Florida highway - the victims of an August hit and run.

Discovery of the kittens’ broken bodies put the 2014 death toll on track to set a new and heartbreaking record.

Your urgent support to Defenders will help us save panthers, as well as other vulnerable wildlife like wolves and manatees.

The kittens were the 15th and 16th of these majestic cats killed by motorists this year. And since then, reports have come in of two more highway panther deaths, making the grisly total one fatality short of tying the record. This is not a record any of us want to see beaten.

Once roaming throughout the southeastern United States, today the Florida panther population is restricted to less than five percent of its historic range in south Florida. Persecution, hunting, land clearing and other activities drove panthers to near extinction. By the 1950s, fewer than 20 animals remained.

Thanks to your support, we’ve helped rebuild panther numbers, but they are far from safe. Today, fewer than 200 of these beautiful animals survive in the wild.
But with your help, Defenders is leading efforts on the ground to save panthers by:
  • Working to restore funding to Florida’s land acquisition program, Florida Forever, through the recent passage of the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment to the State Constitution, a measure that designates billions of dollars over the next 20 years for natural resources, wildlife and habitat conservation;
  • Advocating for expanding national wildlife refuges and other protected habitat in Florida;
  • Educating motorists to “give panthers a brake” by driving more slowly in panther territory;
  • Pressing for installation of wildlife crossings along dangerous road segments;
  • Improving landowner incentive programs to conserve and restore important panther habitat and travel corridors; and
  • Stopping development projects that would severely fragment and threaten panther habitat.
These heartbreaking deaths are a stern reminder that our work is far from done. We can have a world in which people and panthers thrive but only if you and I act now.
Thank you for all you do.

Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On a cold wintry day, thinking of those without permanent homes

Unknown homeless person. Public domain photo.

On this cold wintry day, I'm reminded of those in our midst who have no permanent homes. The challenges are difficult enough in the heat of summer; what must it be like in 20-degree weather?

On August 13, 2010, my friend Julie Costa and I volunteered for a couple of hours at an emergency shelter. First published at the, I offer a glimpse of that experience in the article reprinted below.
by Virginia Bergman

The pre-adolescent girl twirled the two hula hoops around her slender hips a hundred times – she counted – while younger children raced back and forth on three wheelers at the emergency shelter provided at St. Mark’s Catholic Church on Dayton Avenue in St. Paul Friday evening, August 13, 2010.

A five-month-old baby girl with strong legs propelled her walker for a few minutes before a volunteer paused to scoop up the irresistible infant.

At the center of the large room, cooled by a couple of well-placed fans, several guests, including a 12- or 13-year-old boy, sat around a table playing cards – no one mentioned that it was Friday, the 13th. When the hula hoop star stopped by to kibitz, one of the women told her she was cute. With a shake of her ponytail, the young girl replied, “No, I’m not; my hair isn’t styled!”

“She hates wearing her hair in a ponytail,” her mother explained.

At a nearby table, a Somali woman, covered from head to toe in traditional Islamic dress, tended a fussy toddler who appeared not to feel well. The woman offered a snapshot of her personal history. She explained that she left the failed state of Somalia to come to America in the 90s. She shuddered as she spoke of the violence and killing still rampant in her homeland. Now in the seventh month of pregnancy, she and her husband have separated and since she is no longer able to work, she has lost her apartment.

Another woman summarized one painful experience after another that ultimately brought her and her three children to St. Mark’s that evening. Smiling through tears, she expressed a strong faith that God would lead her and her children through their present difficulties. She later found a table off in a corner where she could sit quietly and read for a time.

The volunteers were glad to watch over the younger children and give their mothers a brief respite from their care. Ours was an easy assignment. The kids helped themselves to snacks laid out for them and occupied themselves with the variety of toys on hand.

St. Mark’s emergency shelter also offered its clients a selection of used clothing and assorted toiletries, a shower for their use, and curtained cubicles in a separate area for sleeping.

All told, the shelter served six women and 12 children that evening brought there from the Family Place, a day center for those without permanent homes.

St. Mark’s is one of many area churches, synagogues, and schools that participate in Project Home, a program sponsored by the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches. Project Home provides 40-60 beds of emergency shelter for families in Ramsey County each night.

As the evening shift for volunteers came to an end, a husband and wife team arrived to spend the night at the shelter where they would be available to respond to the needs of those they came to serve.

When I arrived home, I saw my apartment and its furnishings in a new light; volunteering for a few hours at an emergency shelter will do that for you.