Sunday, September 29, 2013


Excerpts from three articles, all of which appeared in The New York Times, September 26, 2013

--From "If a Picasso Had Buttons," by Stephen Heyman
"Secreted away in a nondescript warehouse in Long Island city, Queens, may be one of the most valuable collections of contemporary fashion in the world. Few know of its existence. There are no signs on the building. To get there, you take an elevator to the second floor and enter an unmarked door.

Inside is 15,000 square feet of air-purified, temperature-controlled closet space filled floor to ceiling with identical polypropylene garment bags...

These are the headquarters of Garde Robe, a wardrobe storage service for the rich, the famous, and the fashion-obsessed. Security is tight...

Garde Robe has about 300 members, including a billionaire real estate magnate and his wife, who stroe 3,000 pieces at a cost of more than $150,000 a year."


--From "Roll Over? Fat Chance," by Stacey Stowe:
"She has been in at least three fitness programs. She runs on the treadmill. She swims in a lap pool. Her trainers shout encouragement. And although her target weight still eludes her, Lolita remains optimistic, smiling gamely during her workout and snacking on carrots.

If only her legs weren't so short."

Lolita is a 4-year-old dachshund"...


--From "New Beauty Goal: Plumper Cheeks," by Sally Wadyka:
"Like many people, Christina Conti, 44, a personal assistant from Wantagh, N.Y., was seeking a more youthful appearance. "I have a very thin face, and with that signs of aging come faster and faster," she said. "I lost volume in my face over the years."

Ms. Conti tried fillers in her nasolabial folds, the so-called marionette lines that run from the nose to the corners of the mouth.

"I helped with those wrinkles but didn't give me back volume," she said. "Doing the folds wasn't enough."

Then her dermatologist at Spatique Medical Spa in Smithtown, N.Y., Dr. Marina I. Paredo, suggested injecting filler not into Ms. Conti's wrinkles but into the flesh of her cheeks...

Round, plump cheeks look young. Saggy, sunken ones look old...

In the United States, the tool of choice for recreating natural looking cheeks is a hyaluronic acid filler like Restyalane or Perlane. Radiesse, which is made from calcium hydroxide (a synthetic substance similar to that found naturally in bones) is another option."


--From Put Down Your Sword; Answering the Gospel Call to Creative Nonviolence, by John Dear, SJ

"'The land is sacred,' one of the leaders said. 'It makes us human, so we have decided not to leave the land. We will live in permanent assemblies in permanent nonviolent resistance to the war. We try to promote life, accompaniment, sharing with one another, and solidarity with other communities. Our projects help us to live. We seek self-determination. Neither the extreme right--the government and its militaries--nor the extreme left--the guerillas--accept us. We are an obstacle to their plans. So our people are threatened and killed by both sides. We need the international community to witness and tell the world what the Colombian government is doing to its own people. In effect, the U.S. government as well has declared that indigenous people ar a threat to their power.'

'Daily life for the struggling people means being harassed, questioned, and perhaps kidnapped or killed by the army, the paramilitaries, or the guerillas,' he continued. 'Our people try to grow crops, but thy can't transport them down the mountain, so they have to use mules, which takes days and costs a fortune. We can't organize big protests because we are working full-time just to survive--to get water, food, and medicine. Meanwhile, the multinationals are moving in and taking our land.' "

Friday, September 27, 2013


i want to call this stuff bear grass but i see from the pictures that's wrong...
what is it anyway?....
whup, mystery solved. according to resident botanist michael demers--pampas grass!
A month or so ago I got on a leprosy kick and read up a bit on the colony in Carville, Louisiana, part of which has now been, or for a time was, turned into a federal prison.

From the amazon page for:
In The Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir, by Neil White

"'Daddy is going to camp.' That's what I told my children. But it wasn't camp". . . .

Neil White wanted only the best for those he loved and was willing to go to any lengths to provide it—which is how he ended up in a federal prison in rural Louisiana, serving eighteen months for bank fraud. But it was no ordinary prison. The beautiful, isolated colony in Carville, Louisiana, was also home to the last people in the continental United States disfigured by leprosy—a small circle of outcasts who had forged a tenacious, clandestine community, a fortress to repel the cruelty of the outside world. In this place rich with history, amid an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, White's strange and compelling new life journey began."

Here's a film about that "beautiful, isolated colony" which was technically a Marine hospital and at which an order of Catholic nuns, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, faithfully treated the patients for decades:
Triumph at Carville: A Tale of Leprosy in America

i have been so overwhelmed by the suffering of the world lately i have broken out in
a patchy skin rash myself

Thursday, September 26, 2013


© elissa bogos
"The photo of the woman with the white scarf is a special one to me. She worked in a small bakery in a remote part of Afghanistan, making cookies. The bakery was supported by an NGO, who I was on assignment with, and I took this photo of her inside. I'm not sure what has happened to the bakery, and I wish I knew her name. I didn't quite realize how beautiful she was until I saw the photo." 

Elissa Bogos is an American who has been living in Kabul for the last six years and, along with Gulistan Mirzaei, a native of Afghanistan, taking photographs and making documentaries.

From their website:

"Elissa Bogos and Gulistan Mirzaei are documentary filmmakers based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Their documentary, Stranded in Kabul, premiered on Al Jazeera in July, 2013.

Gulistan was born in Afghanistan and worked for 10 years at the country's only independent newspaper, Kabul Weekly. Elissa has been living in Kabul since 2007, and was previously a stringer for Agence France-Presse (AFP) television in Kabul, where she shot, edited and narrated news reports. She is also a photographer, and her images have been published internationally."

Don't miss the short "The Last Jew."

Interview with Elissa Burgos and pix of Afghanistan.

VJ Movement (for objective, behind-the-scenes journalism).

Click here for the trailer for "Stranded in Kabul"

"Promo for our film, Stranded in Kabul, which aired on Al Jazeera in July 2013.

Despite the billions of dollars being poured into Afghanistan to rebuild the country and boost its economy, more than 30,000 Afghans applied for political asylum worldwide last year.

Zekria is willing to pay $25,000 to an agent to make a visa application to a European country on his behalf.

If this visa is not granted, he will be stranded in Kabul facing the likely option to escape through people smuggling networks. At only 27 years of age he works for an international agency and is the sole supporter of his family of 16.

Fearing what will happen when the foreign forces withdraw, he secretly plans his own escape from Afghanistan."


I asked Elissa for reading/film suggestions to broaden my knowledge of Afghantistan. She responded:

'I'd recommend Rory Stewart's "The Places in Between" about his travels walking across the country after the fall of the Taliban; "The Sewing Circles of Herat" by Christina Lamb, about her time as a young journalist during the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan; "An Unexpected Light" by Jason Eliot. Have you read "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini or seen the film? I thought the film was really well done, and for being filmed in China (I think?) it looked a lot like Kabul! Also, "The Boy Mir" by Phil Grabsky is a documentary following a young Afghan boy and his family over 10 years; "Hell and Back Again" by Danfung Dennis about a US marine sergeant who returns from Afghanistan with PTSD, to name a few. [Both documentaries are available on netflix]."

Monday, September 23, 2013


not great pix but the best i could get of the hummingbirds who frolic
in the backyard fountain every morning around 8
rufous and ruby-throated, i believe...

Holy God in heaven above. I am back from speaking at the Catholic Women's Conference in San Antonio. 1800 gals in air-conditioned Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center, from 4 p.m. on Friday to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Vendors, music, hoo-ha galore. Rosaries, chaplets, Reconciation, Adoration, bathroom lines...

Everyone from the organizers, to the attendees, to my fellow speakers, Dawn Eden and Pat Gohn, were unbelievably welcoming, accommodating, kind, and responsive.

And introvert that I am, the minute I got back to my hotel Saturday afternoon, I changed into normal clothes and set off, alone, on foot for the River Walk. If I had my way, of course, the whole thing would have been outside. We would have taken long quiet walks every couple of hours, communing with the flowers, birds, and sky. We would have foraged for edible roots. We would have quietly, thoughtfully, read....

Fyi, the River Walk, as soon as you get out of the downtown tourist dreck, which doesn't take long, is about the greatest urban thing going and if you ever get to San Antonio you must avail yourself of it at once, and constantly. I only got to see a very short portion, from downtown to the King William area I guess it's called but it is just lovely. Boy if we could do that with the L.A. River, we would really be in business. Old stone walls, flowering bushes, ducks, overhanging trees, green water to gaze into and dream...

Anyway, back to the conference: I never truly know what I'm going to say until I get behind the mike. For at least 24 hours before, I'm seized by an uncomfortable mixture of excitement and dread. Not dread of public speaking, but dread that I will speak from anywhere else than my deepest heart. Dread that I will speak from a place of anger or judgment or complaint or victimhood. Excitement and a kind of pre-sorrow, knowing that I won't get to say EVERYTHING that's flowing out of my overheated mind and soul.

Twenty-six years of telling my story to my fellow drunks and addicts has prepared me perfectly to tell my story to anyone. Drunks can tell a phony from a hundred miles away. Drunks know better than anyone that you can't transmit something you haven't got. Drunks grasped a long time ago that a decent story is the story of someone who has suffered and is trying to help other people who are suffering (as opposed to being full of humorless self-pity, self-righteousness and/or moral outrage) and having a good laugh in the process. I have never given one second's thought before a talk of any kind as to whether I'm going to be "catechetically correct." My allegiance is to being fully human, awake, and alive. My allegiance is to Christ. And so I asked for a little room just before my talk where I could go over what had become ten or twelve pages of notes, enough for about five talks, and get with my heart, and say Jesus, help me to come from gratitude. Help me to come from love. Help me to be me, which is you...

Signing books, I talked to women whose husbands, sons, daughters and friends were alcoholics (like me), who were alcoholics themselves (like me), who wanted to quit their job and write (like me), who had had abortions (like me), who had felt lost and abandoned (like me), who wanted to take responsibility for their lives (like me). I met women who asked me to pray for them, women who said they had been praying for me, women who gave me CDs of their own work, women who wanted their books signed to their mothers, their daughters, their nephews and nieces, their sons, their daughter-in-laws, the Lopez sisters, the women they minister to in jail.

Sunday morning I attended the Spanish Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary, next to the Holiday Inn on West Cesar Chavez. I looked up at the beautiful wooden carving of Christ on the Cross above the altar, and I just thought, "What, Christ? What would you have me do? What would you have me be?"

Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs. Feed my sheep....

Greg Camacho, a young Tom Waits fan who works for the Pilgrim Center of Hope (the folks who sponsored the conference), ferried me to and from the airport. When he dropped me off, he had the United skycap take a picture of us. And then we looked at each other and I told him, "This is the thing. You're always in exile. To be with Christ is to be in a place of precariousness. We don't get to have it our way. We don't get to be secure. We're always in exile."

Twenty-four years old and he gets it. 

So thank you to Mary Jane Fox, Nan Balfour, and all the good women of San Antonio and beyond for having me.

Believe me, you gave me way, WAY more than I gave you.

okay you ornithologists. rosy finch?....

Saturday, September 21, 2013


"Salvation does not destroy creation; but it transforms the old creation into a new one. Therefore we can speak of the new in terms of renewal: the threefold 're,' namely, re-conciliation, re-union, and re-surrection."
From Chapter 2 of The New Being, by Paul Tillich.

"In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul says Be reconciled to God. Cease to be hostile to Him, for He is never hostile to you. The message of reconciliation is not that God needs to be reconciled. How could He be? Since He is the source and power of reconciliation, who could reconcile Him? Pagans and Jews and Christians—all of us have tried and are trying to reconcile Him by rites and sacraments, by prayers and services, by moral behavior and works of charity. But if we try this, if we try to give something to Him, to show good deeds which may appease Him, we fail. It is never enough; we never can satisfy Him because there is an infinite demand upon us. And since we cannot appease Him, we grow hostile toward Him. Have you ever noticed how much hostility against God dwells in the depths of the good and honest people, in those who excel in works of charity, in piety and religious zeal? This cannot be otherwise; for one is hostile, consciously or unconsciously, toward those by whom one feels rejected. Everybody is in this predicament, whether he calls that which rejects him "God," or "nature," or "destiny," or "social conditions." Everybody carries a hostility toward the existence into which he has been thrown, toward the hidden powers which determine his life and that of the universe, toward that which makes him guilty and that threatens him with destruction because he has become guilty.
, Paul combines New Creation with reconciliation. The message of reconciliation is:

We all feel rejected and hostile toward what has rejected us. We all try to appease it and in failing, we become more hostile. This happens often unnoticed by ourselves. But there are two symptoms which we hardly can avoid noticing: The hostility against ourselves and the hostility against others. One speaks so often of pride and arrogance and self-certainty and complacency in people. But this is, in most cases, the superficial level of their being. Below this, in a deeper level, there is self-rejection, disgust, and even hatred of one’s self. Be reconciled to God; that means at the same time, be reconciled to ourselves. But we are not; we try to appease ourselves. We try to make ourselves more acceptable to our own judgment and, when we fail, we grow more hostile toward ourselves. And he who feels rejected by God and who rejects himself feels also rejected by the others. As he grows hostile toward destiny and hostile toward himself, he also grows hostile toward other men. If we are often horrified by the unconscious or conscious hostility people betray toward us or about our own hostility toward people whom we believe we love, let us not forget: They feel rejected by us; we feel rejected by them. They tried hard to make themselves acceptable to us, and they failed. We tried hard to make ourselves acceptable to them, and we failed. And their and our hostility grew. Be reconciled with God—that means, at the same time, be reconciled with the others! But it does not mean try to reconcile the others, as it does not mean try to reconcile yourselves. Try to reconcile God. You will fail. This is the message: A new reality has appeared in which you are reconciled. To enter the New Being we do not need to show anything. We must only be open to be grasped by it, although we have nothing to show."


Tuesday, September 17, 2013




“If metal is immortal, then somewhere
there lies the burnished button I lost
upon my seventh birthday in a garden.
Find me that button and my soul will know
that very soul is saved and stored and treasured.”


Sunday, September 15, 2013



From "The End of American Protestantism" by Stanley Hauerwas in the Religion and Ethics section of

Stanley Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University. His most recent books are War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity and Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir.


"America is the first great experiment in Protestant social formation. Protestantism in Europe always assumed and depended on the cultural habits that had been created by Catholic Christianity. America is the first place Protestantism did not have to define itself over against a previous Catholic culture. So America is the exemplification of a constructive Protestant social imagination.

I believe - as Mark Noll rightly suggests in his book, America's God - America is a synthesis of evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. Americans were able to synthesize these antithetical traditions by making their faith in God indistinguishable from their loyalty to a country that insured them that they had the right to choose which god they would or would not believe in. That is why Bonhoeffer accurately characterized America Protestantism as "Protestantism without Reformation."

American Protestants do not have to believe in God because they believe in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in America. The god most Americans say they believe in just is not interesting enough to deny. The only kind of atheism that counts in America is to call into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty and happiness"...

"As a result Americans continue to maintain a stubborn belief in a god, but the god they believe in turns out to be the American god. To know or worship that god does not require that a church exist because that god is known through the providential establishment of a free people. This is a presumption shared by the religious right as well as the religious left in America. Both assume that America is the church."

Read the full piece HERE.


Saturday, September 14, 2013


My father would have been 92 this week. Here's one of the poems he used to recite as he went about the house he built for us, doing chores, baking bread, and cracking dark jokes:


There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat
Nor hurl the cynic's ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

--Sam Walter Foss

Thursday, September 12, 2013



A sacrament is that which brings into being what it signifies. A handshake signifies friendship and it brings into being more friendship. An embrace signifies warmth, and it brings into being more warmth. The Sacrament of Reconciliation signifies forgiveness and it brings into being more forgiveness. The Eucharist signifies sacrificial love and it brings into being more sacrifice, more love.

A gun is an anti-sacrament. It signifies hatred and fear and shooting one, or practicing shooting one, brings into being more hatred, more fear, and always, always, more guns.
Clearly, the time has long since passed, if it ever existed, when private citizens could amass enough weapons to rise up against the tyranny of the government. Clearly, gun ownership simply allows us to arm ourselves against each other.

To own a gun is to live your whole life on high alert for a moment that, unless you’re a gang member, run a meth lab, work in organized crime, or have enlisted in the military, the overwhelming odds are will never come. It’s to stand eternally in front of the mirror like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and sneer at an imaginary foe, “Are you talking to me?”

To walk through the world quietly, peacefully, unarmed, is to live your whole life in freedom. Sure, someone may come along and randomly shoot you but a building might fall on you, a drunk driver might plow into your car, or you might be struck by lightning, too.

Sure, the violence our culture worships will continue to erupt in ever more berserk violence, most of it committed with guns. Meanwhile, though, you get to enjoy each moment to its fullest, secure in the knowledge that you will never, ever, either randomly or intentionally, shoot someone else.

If we want to live in a world where guns are not needed, we get to act as if we live in that world already.

That's how we bring into being the Kingdom of God.

That's how we begin to answer the call of Pope Francis: "No more war. War no more."


Sunday, September 8, 2013


This is the testimony of Claire Ly, Journalist and Writer, Professor at the Institute of Science and Theology of Religions (ISTR) in Marseille.

Ly, a Buddhist, was a victim of the Khmer Rouge, who murdered most of her family. In this moving talk, she tells of raging at "the Western God" for the better part of two years. Then she had an encounter with Christ: like her, a refugee, in exile, the suffering servant. She was "seduced by his humanity"...

Saturday, September 7, 2013


"There are few sanctuaries in war. But one is provided by couples in love. They are not able to staunch the slaughter. They are often powerless and can themselves become victims. But it was with them, seated around a wooden stove, usually over a simple meal, that I found sanity and was reminded of what it means to be human. Love kept them grounded. It was to such couples that I retreated during the wars in Central America, the Middle East, and the Balkans. Love when it is deep and sustained by two individuals, includes self-giving--often self-sacrifice--as well as desire. For the covenant of love is such that it recognizes both the fragility and the sanctity of the individual. It recognize itself in the other. It alone can save us."

--Chris Hedges, War Is A Force that Gives Us Meaning

Wednesday, September 4, 2013



A perhaps little known fact: in the olden days of war, people were way more reluctant to actually shoot at each other. In fact, only 15 to 20% of soldiers from the Civil War through WWII could bring themselves to raise a gun and actually point it at a fellow human being.

Then the military strategists got on board.

Here are a couple of articles on the sophisticated psychological training developed by the U.S. military to break soldiers down and enable them to go against the natural human instinct NOT to kill.

The first is entitled "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society."
The second is called "Hope on the Battlefield."

An excerpt from ""Hope on the Battlefield," by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman:

"Indeed, the study of killing by military scientists, historians, and psychologists gives us good reason to feel optimistic about human nature, for it reveals that almost all of us are overwhelmingly reluctant to kill a member of our own species, under just about any circumstance.

Yet this understanding has also propelled armies to develop sophisticated methods for overcoming our innate aversion to killing, and, as a result, we have seen a sharp increase in the magnitude and frequency of post-traumatic response among combat veterans. Because human beings are astonishingly resilient, most soldiers who return from war will be fine. But some will need help coping with memories of violence. When those soldiers return from war—especially an unpopular one like Iraq—society faces formidable moral and mental health challenges in caring for and re-integrating its veterans....

Manufactured contempt

Since World War II, a new era has quietly dawned in modern warfare: an era of psychological warfare, conducted not upon the enemy, but upon one’s own troops. The triad of methods used to enable men to overcome their innate resistance to killing includes desensitization, classical and operant conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms.

Authors such as Gwynne Dyer and Richard Holmes have traced the development of bootcamp glorification of killing. They’ve found it was almost unheard of in World War I, rare in World War II, increasingly present in Korea, and thoroughly institutionalized in Vietnam. “The language used in [marine training camp] Parris Island to describe the joys of killing people,” writes Dyer, helps “desensitize [marines] to the suffering of an ‘enemy,’ and at the same time they are being indoctrinated in the most explicit fashion (as previous generations were not) with the notion that their purpose is not just to be brave or to fight well; it is to kill people.”

But desensitization by itself is probably not sufficient to overcome the average individual’s deep-seated resistance to killing. Indeed, this desensitization process is almost a smoke screen for conditioning, which is the most important aspect of modern training. Instead of lying prone on a grassy field calmly shooting at a bull’s-eye target, for example, the modern soldier spends many hours standing in a foxhole, with full combat equipment draped about his body. At periodic intervals one or two man-shaped targets will pop up in front of him, and the soldier must shoot the target.

In addition to traditional marksmanship, soldiers are learning to shoot reflexively and instantly, while mimicking the act of killing. In behavioral terms, the man shape popping up in the soldier’s field of fire is the “conditioned stimulus.” On special occasions, even more realistic and complex targets are used, many of them filled with red paint or catsup, which provide instant and positive reinforcement when the target is hit. In this and other training exercises, every aspect of killing on the battlefield is rehearsed, visualized, and conditioned.

By the time a soldier does kill in combat, he has rehearsed the process so many times that he is able to, at one level, deny to himself that he is actually killing another human being" [italics mine].

More returning soldiers now die from suicide than they do in active combat.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


A couple of books I've read recently:

1. Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía: An Iraq War Memoir 

Mejía was the first U.S. soldier to go AWOL from Iraq (while on a two-week leave to the U.S., he never returned, was convicted by a military tribunal of desertion, and served nine months in prison) and to publicly speak out against the war. 

Born in Nicaragua (1975), Mejía was living in Florida when, at the age of nineteen, he joined the Army for what he thought was a period of three years. He served three and a half, most of it in Fort Hood, Texas. But when he went to leave, in order to pursue his goal of getting a higher education, he got a rude awakening.

It was then that a recruiting agent "explained that anyone entering the service makes a commitment to the military for a minimum of eight years. Even someone who, like me, signs up for just three years has another five years of service to fulfill at the end of his contract, time that can be served either by extending one's stay in the regular army or by joining the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) or the National Guard, which requires training one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer. Whatever the case, though, soldiers are always subject to being called back to active duty until the eight-year commitment is fulfilled. Recruiters skate over this unpleasant fact, suggesting to those who notice it that it is a minor detail and insisting that it would take a devastating attack on the United States for non-active-duty soldiers to be called back into service from their civilian lives...Her assessment of the likelihood of going to war with a guard unit was that it was almost impossible."

Mejía fulfilled his weekend and summer training commitment, enrolled in community college, fathered a daughter. His feelings toward the military began to change, especially with respect to the Iraq war. His eight-year commitment was due to end in May, 2003. But on January 14, 2003, his company commander informed the whole National Guard unit that they were to be activated in support of "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

"Those of us who were due to get out of the military soon had just been extended until 2031 as a result of Congress passing a "stop-loss order."

He describes the treatment of POWs in his platoon (sleep deprivation, hooding, emotional and physical terror) and insists that the conditions in Abu Ghraib, far from being aberrant, were standard operating procedure. He describes the killing of civilians which, given the conditions and circumstances of this was in particular, was almost inevitable.

One of the more pleasant details was guarding the local propane station, where the Iraqis regularly came to get fuel for their cooking stoves. One day, when Mejía was on detail there, an elderly Shiite Muslim and his son showed up to buy gas. Mejía could see that the elderly man is well-educated and well-respected. Mejía's friend Mohammed translated for the old man. 

"He wants to know why Americans treat Iraqis like dogs," asked Mohammed...

"We don't mean to treat Iraqis like gods," I responded. "But sometimes, when we're attacked, we have to respond, and that's when things happen"...

The conversation continued. "In spite of his anger about the occupation, the old Shiite did no descent to personal attacks on me, engaging instead in a dignified and elegant dialogue about Iraq's right to self-determination. Though he still seemed upset, he was very cordial to me as he left. Mohammed and I continued talking about Iraq and the U.S. occupation. At on point, pressed by Mohammed's searching questions and having run out of other answers, I suggested to Mohammed that we were in Iraq to bring freedom to the country and its people.

"Freedom?" Mohammed looked at me, incredulous.

"Yes," I insisted with a straight face, not even believing my own words.

"But you said you didn't want to be here," pressed Mohammed, also with a straight face.

"I don't," I continued. 

"And you said that your contract with the army was over," continued my friend, reminding me of something I had told him in the past. 

"Yes, I said that," I admitted.

"Then why are you here?"

"Because the army can keep you in after the end of your contract," I explained, sensing where he was going with his questions. "At least if there's a war they can."

"Against your will?" he asked with his eyebrows raised.

"Yes," I said quietly.

"So how can you bring freedom to us, when you don't have freedom for yourselves?"


Mejía is now an activist, speaking nationwide and beyond about his war experiences, and calling for peace. 

"I say without any pride that I did my job as a soldier. I commanded an infantry squad in combat and we never failed to accomplish our mission. But those who called me a coward, without knowing it, are also right. I was a coward not for leaving the war, but for having been a part of it in the first place. Refusing and resisting this war was my moral duty, a moral duty that called me to take a principled action. I failed to fulfill my moral duty as a human being and instead I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier. All because I was afraid. I was terrified, I did not want to stand up to the government and the army, I was afraid of punishment and humiliation. I went to war because at the moment I was a coward, and for that I apologize to my soldiers for not being the type of leader I should have been."

From Publishers Weekly:

"[Author Cilla] McCain, a writer who grew up on army bases, takes aim at the military and the ways soldiers bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq home with them. In recounting the murder of 25-year-old Army Specialist Richard T. Davis by four fellow members of the army's Third Infantry (a case that inspired the movie In the Valley of Elah), McCain examines the tragic results of the increasing number of street gang members recruited into the army, post-traumatic stress, and noncombat deaths of soldiers resulting from accidents, illness, suicide, and murder. When Davis returned home to Fort Benning, Ga., in July 2003 after serving in Iraq, he was driven by four other soldiers to a wooded area, murdered, and his body set on fire. When Lanny Davis, a Vietnam veteran, attempted to find out what happened to his son, he confronted coverups, military red tape, and, finally, an incompetent investigation. McCain sifted through government paperwork, police statements, court transcripts, and firsthand interviews. The result is a raw and compelling overview of a shocking killing, its aftermath, and a military ignoring its soldiers' needs."

"It is a painful story, one that I am not sure we are willing to face. To me, the most difficult question was not who killed Richard Davis, but who was truly responsible. And the more I leaned, the clearer the answer became….We are."

--Paul Haggis, In the Valleyof Elah

Monday, September 2, 2013


 Before we add more fuel to the fire, and to “the endless and horrifying sequence of wars, conflicts, genocides and ‘ethic cleansings’ which have caused unspeakable suffering; millions and millions of victims, families and countries destroyed, an ocean of refugees, misery, hunger, disease, underdevelopment and the loss of immense resources,” – words of John Paul II – we ought to question the wisdom of a military strike in Syria and heed John Paul’s warning:

“The twentieth century bequeaths to us above all else a warning: wars are often the cause of further wars because they fuel deep hatreds, create situations of injustice and trample upon people’s dignity and rights… War is a defeat for humanity. Only in peace and through peace can respect for human dignity and its inalienable rights be guaranteed.”

--From a post by Scott Wright entitled "Syria: War is Still a Defeat for Humanity,"
on the website of Pax Christi USA

"Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence"..."War never again! Never again war!"
--Pope Francis