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Jul. 19 2010 — 12:02 pm | 49 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Afghanistan suggestion: Make tea, not war

Greg Mortenson in Afghanistan 3500ppx

Image via Wikipedia

A glimmer of good news from the endless bad-news war in Afghanistan: the people doing the fighting are in touch with someone who was winning, a long time before they started fighting.

In the frantic last hours of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s command in Afghanistan, when the world wondered what was racing through the general’s mind, he reached out to an unlikely corner of his life: the author of the book “Three Cups of Tea,” Greg Mortenson.

“Will move through this and if I’m not involved in the years ahead, will take tremendous comfort in knowing people like you are helping Afghans build a future,” General McChrystal wrote to Mr. Mortenson in an e-mail message, as he traveled from Kabul to Washington. The note landed in Mr. Mortenson’s inbox shortly after 1 a.m. Eastern time on June 23. Nine hours later, the general walked into the Oval Office to be fired by President Obama.

Mortenson, of course, hasn’t been winning any battles. What he has been winning are the trust, and occasionally the hearts, of Pakistani tribal leaders in a long-running effort to educate their daughters.

The story of this school-building crusade, which came about as a thank-you gesture after Mortenson received help during a mountaineering mishap, is told in Three Cups of Tea. The story of the book — it went nowhere when published with a warrior subtitle, then caught on like wildfire when Mortenson won a mini-battle to bring it out as his originally intended plea for peace — is told in the talks he has been making around the country for several years.

To hear Mortenson talk, as this writer has happily done several times, is to become a believer in hope. Most of us have been coming home saying, “Gee, could we spend a few billions less on platoons and give a few billions to Greg Mortenson’s schools instead?” Mortenson, a giant of a man who clearly has no personal agenda, is not a motivational speaker. But his tale is compelling.

The title of that first book comes from his discovery, early on, that the first step in building anything — school, relationship, whatever — is to sit down over three cups of tea. Hundreds of cups of tea and a few near-death episodes later, he has quietly managed to forge relationships with isolated tribes and build schools for girls who will grow up — perhaps — to think there’s something good about America. Some schools have been destroyed (and occasionally rebuilt), some relationships have gone sour, but the idea that something good can be developed between the U.S. and that wild land without bombs and guns — or despite guns and bombs — is heart-warming. And more than a little surprising.

Mr. Mortenson, 52, thinks there is no military solution in Afghanistan — he says the education of girls is the real long-term fix — so he has been startled by the Defense Department’s embrace.

“I never, ever expected it,” Mr. Mortenson, a former Army medic, said in a telephone interview last week from Florida, where he had paused between military briefings, book talks for a sequel, “Stones into Schools,” and fund-raising appearances for his institute. (The Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to community-based education, primarily for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan.)

But thanks to a few military wives, who read Three Cups of Tea and then insisted their husbands read it too, a connection was made between the warriors and the peacemaker. It is an unlikely, and in many ways perilous, partnership, but if you’ve read the book or heard the talk you probably feel a glimmer of optimism.

The military’s Mortenson-method efforts  in Afghanistan thus far are outlined in Elisabeth Bumiller’s July 18 New York Times report. His own job will now involve convincing the elders that he hasn’t become a tool of the military. It’s a strange world out there. But it seems somehow more hopeful.

Unlikely Tutor Giving Military Afghan Advice – NYTimes.com.



Jul. 15 2010 — 3:23 pm | 75 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Death wish for boomers & elders?

Reaching for the hemlock in order not to be a burden…. this seems a little farther than most of us want to go. But the idea is crossing more than a few aging minds, reports CNN intern Sachin Seth on a recent blog.

Rather than burden their children with the daunting task of caring for them as they age, some baby boomers may be considering an extreme form of “relief.” Suicide.

Psychiatrist Mark Goulston says he’s been approached by some middle-aged patients who say they’d rather “take a bottle of pills” than inconvenience their children.

Dr. Goulston blames the problem on the impatient nature of “millennials” – the offspring of baby boomers – a trait he says was passed down from the boomers themselves.

Adding to their angst is their own experience of taking care of elderly parents, which sometimes leads to feelings of resentment. Baby boomers don’t want their own children to grow to resent and begrudge them when they get old and feeble.

There’s a video exchange between Goulston and CNN’s Don Lemon that’s worth watching, but won’t lift your spirits much.

Add to this don’t-be-a-burden dilemma — and it IS a dilemma that crosses the mind of everyone over 60 and most folks who have a parent over 60 — the bizarre situation of estate taxes right now and the whole business of dying gets seriously complicated. It was okay last year, when you knew estate taxes were magically going to disappear on January 1, 2010, so the focus was on staying alive until then.



Jul. 13 2010 — 9:04 pm | 162 views | 1 recommendations | 0 comments

The Oakland you didn’t see on TV

You may have read the reports of how few of the vandals in Oakland CA last week came from Oakland. But what you may not have read about (or seen) were the peaceful folks who also gathered to encourage both protest and peace.

There was after-dark violence in Oakland, contained within a fairly small area, following the involuntary manslaughter verdict of transit officer Johannes Mehserle in the death of Oscar Grant, reported on TV news across the country. Oakland takes a lot of guff. There were rallies in support of Mehserle, and gatherings in remembrance of Grant, and worries because many wanted a murder conviction. Following the verdict, a crowd estimated at fewer than 1,000 gathered downtown for a peaceful demonstration of their dissatisfaction with the verdict. A small group of about 100, after the sun went down, turned to vandalism and looting. There were 78 arrests; three-quarters of those arrested were not from Oakland. It’s a sadly familiar story, especially in the way it was reported; what was reported was far from the whole story.

Interestingly, right in the middle of the troubled block is the headquarters of an organization called Not In Our Town (NIOT). “We thought it was important to set the record straight,” the NIOT folks said in an e-mail today, “by filming the encouraging community response taking place right outside our door. Here are the young people of Oakland expressing their love of this city, and their commitment to keeping the peace, no matter their reaction to the verdict.”

NIOT is a national movement that “encourages and connects people who are responding to hate and building more inclusive communities.” On their home page is a U.S. map featuring recent hate incidents (red dots) and recent anti-hate action (green dots.) The green dots outnumber the red dots, which is a heartening development to recognize, although the red dots tend to get better press.

This space is a certified member of NIOT. This space is regularly fingered as a Pollyanna. But the active (as opposed to the certified, who are often wimps) NIOT people are not Pollyannas, but courageous and simultaneously gentle souls. Check them out. You may want a NIOT in your town.



Jul. 11 2010 — 8:12 pm | 324 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

Spain wins World Cup, but not TV; Soccer from a soccer mom view

pivot soccer

Image via Wikipedia

Would soccer catch on in the U.S if our TV screens were bigger? Maybe so, but I still doubt it. Twenty-two — until you start tossing them out for misbehavior  — guys kicking a tiny ball up and down a field at warp speed without even the excitement of racking up a goal in regulation so you can stop and catch your breath, or a commercial break so you can go to the bathroom, I’m just not sure soccer will ever make it in America. Of course, your TV screen is probably bigger than ours, which is OK. On the giant screens at bars and coffee shops all along San Francisco’s Fillmore Street Sunday there was an awful lot of hoopla. There may have been some business for the restaurant owners, but it looked like a great deal more hooping and hollering than drinking.

It is safe to say that this space has been into soccer longer than any other T/S space. Dating, actually, from the day that #1 son came home from hanging out at some local playground circa 1968, and we said, “You’ve been doing what? A round, black-&-white ball you just kick? Soccer moms had not yet been invented, but this one was, at that moment. Three kids, a combined total of about 36 years at a minimum of 2 or 3 games per week; you do the math. The in-house soccer dad coached so many of them that he and his co-coach had to coach the local high school coach, who had never heard of soccer until then either. But our scruffy, inner city team beat the hoity-toity suburban high school for the state title in 1970-something (it’s all a blur) so it was certainly worth it.

Pro soccer, though, that’s another whole deal. By now every kid in the U.S. has kicked around a soccer ball, half of them are addicts, and still they grow up to be non-fans. Go figure. I think it boils down to the screen size, the warp speed and the lack of bathroom commercial time.

And it’s too bad. The primary emotion I recall from about a century-worth of soccer-game watching was empathy: everybody felt sorry for the goalie’s mom. Didn’t matter if your team scored the goal, you still felt sorry for the goalie’s mom.

The world needs a little more empathy. Meanwhile this space has to quit typing and send condolences to our good friends in Amsterdam.



Jul. 10 2010 — 11:48 pm | 299 views | 0 recommendations | 14 comments

Gay rights backers get some good news

Court actions over the past week have given gay rights advocates a few glimmers of hope, though no one is staging victory rallies yet. The long slog toward full rights for gays and lesbians in the military, at the altar and in the pulpit each saw small steps taken. But President Obama, who vowed to promote equality for all, remains caught in such Through the Looking Glass dilemmas as the Justice Department’s mandate to defend the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama would like to see repealed. Same thing with “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Alice would certainly find a trapdoor for falling down the rabbit hole on almost any stage where gay rights battles are being fought today.

San Francisco Chronicle writer Bob Egelko summed up the latest on one stage:

The federal judge overseeing a challenge to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, scheduled for trial in Southern California next week, has ruled in favor of a gay rights group on a crucial issue – how much evidence the government needs to justify the ban on openly homosexual members of the armed forces.

Obama administration lawyers have argued that courts must let “don’t ask, don’t tell” stand if they find that Congress could have reasonably concluded that excluding gays and lesbians would make the military more effective – the standard most favorable to supporters of the 1993 law.

But U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips of Riverside, in her final pretrial ruling, said Wednesday that higher court rulings in recent years have raised the bar for the government to justify laws that single out gays and lesbians for harsher treatment. Because “don’t ask, don’t tell” intrudes on “personal and private lives” and “implicates fundamental rights,” Phillips wrote, the Justice Department must show that the ban serves an important public purpose that the military could not achieve some other way.

That principle comes from the 2003 Supreme Court ruling overturning state laws against private homosexual conduct, and from a 2008 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco allowing a lesbian officer to challenge her discharge from the Air Force, Phillips said.

Her ruling opens the door for plaintiffs in the case to put gay and lesbian former service members on the witness stand to testify about how being thrown out of the military because of “don’t ask, don’t tell” damaged them. The federal law requires that gays and lesbians who acknowledge their sexual orientation be discharged from the military. Superior officers are barred from asking service members about their orientation.

The plaintiffs, the Log Cabin Republicans gay organization, plan to present researchers who contend the policy harms the military by promoting concealment and divisiveness while excluding qualified personnel. (It is, of course, the Republicans who are threatening a Senate filibuster of a military appropriations bill that includes a repeal measure…)

The Obama administration tried to bar the testimony, arguing that it was irrelevant, and urged Phillips to postpone the trial while Congress considers the president’s proposal to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” President Obama has called the law discriminatory but says he must defend it as long as it is on the books.

On the marriage front, which currently has seen some states legalizing same-sex unions, some banning them and in California a suit to overturn the voter-approved ban, more state/federal convolutions are underway. Associated Press legal affairs writer Denise Lavoie Friday summarized what’s been going on in Massachusetts:

A key part of a law denying married gay couples federal benefits has been thrown out the window in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage. The ball now lies in the White House’s court, which must carefully calculate the next move by an administration that has faced accusations it has not vigorously defended the law of the land.

President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that he would like to see the federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, repealed. But the Justice Department has defended the constitutionality of the law, which it is required to do.

The administration was silent Friday on whether it would appeal rulings by U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro. Spokespeople for the White House and the Justice Department said officials are still reviewing the rulings.

DOMA defines marriage as between a man and a woman, prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages and allows states to deny recognition of same-sex unions performed elsewhere. Since the law passed in 1996, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, and a handful have allowed the practice.

And over at the annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, meeting in Minneapolis

…delegates again approved ordaining openly gay or lesbian clergy. The measure now goes to the presbyteries, or local jurisdictions, where previous General Assembly resolutions to ordain gays and lesbians have been rejected. The General Assembly also debated but did not pass a resolution that would have changed the definition of marriage from a union between a man and a woman to a union of two people.

This Presbyterian writer can tell you that getting individual presbyteries — that’s the regional groups — to approve what the General Assembly delegates just approved is no simple matter. There are plenty of Christians, not to mention less than tolerant folks of every creed and color, down the rabbit hole.

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ foes win legal victory.


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    About Me

    I’ve been a writer since probably before you were born: newspapers, magazines, trade publications and websites beginning with Beliefnet.com’s start-up issue. Working as a hospice volunteer and with AIDS groups led to a 1999 book Dying Unafraid (still in print and apropos) and more involvement with end-of-life causes. This is how to end any cocktail party conversation: “I write a lot about end-of-life issues.” So with Boomers and Beyond I’m working backwards and sideways and wherever concerns of these generations lead. I grew up in beautiful downtown Ashland, VA) and migrated through Atlanta eventually to San Francisco where I live with my final husband, Bud (my college Senior Dinner Dance date before we lost track of each other for 37 years.) Manhattan/Asheville/Atlanta kids, parents of my five flawless grandchildren, keep me attuned to Boomerhood. Full rather braggadocio disclosure: the Manhattan daughter Sandy is married to T/S super-contributor Miles O’Brien.

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