Tuesday, June 30, 2009

U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Iraq - June 30, 2009


This sign has been displayed by pacifists around the world for the past six years. 
Today marks the official withdrawal  of U.S. combat troops from Iraq.

Unfortunately the following news was received:

BAGHDAD – Four U.S. soldiers were killed in combat shortly before the American military completed a withdrawal from Iraq's cities, and the prime minister assured Iraqis that government forces taking control of urban areas on Tuesday were more than capable of protecting the country.

*****
Today's tally - 4,323 U. S. troops have been killed in the Iraq War.
1,320,110 Iraqis have been killed.
318 Other Coalition Troops killed.
138 Journalists killed.
and 1,306 Civilian Contractors were killed. 



A resident walks past an Iraqi tank and soldiers in Baghdad's Bayaa district, June 30, 2009. U.S. combat troops left the last of Iraq's cities on Tuesday, restoring to the country a proud sense of sovereignty that many applauded even though some fear it may leave them more vulnerable to attacks. REUTERS/Stringer 



Fact file on security in Iraq. Iraqi forces prepared to take control of towns and cities nationwide as American troops finally withdrew in a milestone for the country's recovery six years after the US-led invasion. (AFP/null)



The top US general has declared Iraqi troops "ready" to take over as US combat troops pull out from Iraq's cities and main towns on Tuesday, marking what will be a major stepping stone for the war-torn country. 



US soldiers prepare to mount their Skyper armoured vehicles as they head out from the Warhorse base in the northeastern Iraqi town of Baquba. Iraqi forces prepared to take control of towns and cities nationwide as American troops finally withdrew in a milestone for the country's recovery six years after the US-led invasion.



Iraqi soldiers hold up their national flag as they parade in the ground of the old Iraqi Defence Ministry, the last of the 86 positions occupied by the US military in Baghdad, on June 29. Iraqi forces take control of towns and cities across the country to replace departing US forces. (AFP/Ali)



Iraqis celebrate in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 29, 2009. U.S. troops will be out of Iraqi cities by tomorrow Tuesday June 30 in the first step toward winding down the American war effort by the end of 2011   (al-Saadi)


*****

We pray that the Iraqi people will now be able to begin their healing process and also give thanks that the U.S. troops are, at last,  winding down  from the American war effort.
The final withdrawal, by the  end of 2011,  is still two and a half  years away - 
but 'just for today' I am glad.

Monday, June 29, 2009

To Michael Jackson - We Will Miss You!

Michael Jackson - August 29, 1958 - June 25, 2009







I just looked through of file of hundreds of photos of Michael posted online.
I was trying to find the image of him that is burned into my mind. The one where he is in his early teens and looked so happy when he was singing and dancing. 
The Michael that we all adored and loved. 

That was the interesting thing about him -  his music transcended all cultures and generations.
Parents and children all wanted to see him,  hear him and appreciated him.
He made our lives brighter, and when his name was mentioned we would smile.

As I tried to find the exact image of him that I was looking for I  noticed that as he got older the  photos started to  show the sadness in his eyes. Then, as he left his teens,  that sadness became more pronounced and  the images of him in recent adulthood  masked complete pain on his face. 

Why didn't we notice? Why didn't his public listen when he said he was so very shy and very lonely. Why did we marvel at Never Land while not really understanding that he was an idol worldwide who truly had no one in his age group that he could relate to.

I choose to continue to remember him when his eyes shone and his smile was infectious. That is who Michael truly was and somehow his spirit became dimmer  while trying to please his family, his producers and his fans.

As I have been driving in traffic the last few days so many people have Michael Jackson music blaring from their car radios, the local stores have sold out of his albums. It has been great reminiscing while listening to the 'oldies' that we loved so much and yes, they still bring a smile to my face. 

I heard someone in the music business say this week -

 "Turn down the chatter and turn up the music."


Thank you Michael for every time you made us smile -
 we will miss you!



Friday, June 26, 2009

St. Paul's Cathedral, The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben, London, England - 2009


Here are more thoughts on my recent visit to England. 
I was born in Lewisham Hospital, South East London, and like many people born in London I would pass many of the famous buildings and  locations on my way to work, whilst barely noticing them as we are caught up in the busy day to day living. When I go home now I become like a tourist and want to revisit as many of the sites as I can. 


St. Paul's Cathedral
This 'official' aerial photograph of St. Paul's Cathedral shows the scope of this magnificent building. When I was taking photos of the Cathedral I found that my camera could not fit the majesty of this building  onto the camera screen. 


St Paul's Cathedral is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. Work began in 1675 to a design by Sir Christopher Wren. It took 35 years to complete the building.  It was built to replace old St Paul’s that was destroyed 
by the Great Fire of London in 1666.



The present building survived the World War II bombings that flattened a great many of the surrounding buildings. This is the fourth Cathedral to stand on this site. The first, a Saxon building, was built in AD 604. 


 The 360ft high dome which dominates the city's skyline is the second largest in the world. 
The church itself is the largest Protestant church in England. 
When I was a child we often went there on a school trip and the most vivid memory I have is the 'whispering gallery’, which is so named because of the way a voice will echo there.
 If you speak into this one area, what you said is repeated and can be heard as a whisper all around the enormous circular dome and comes out on the other side.
 Very impressive!
The cathedral is still in use today. And you may remember that it was center stage worldwide, via television, in 1981 for the fairytale marriage of Prince Charles and 
Lady Diana Spencer.


Waldorf Astoria Hotel

In the heart of London's West End Theater district the Waldorf Hilton, is a five star hotel with 299 rooms.  The Waldorf Hilton has an illustrious history dating back over a century. Since its opening in 1908, the Waldorf has dominated the Aldwych skyline and is a living tribute to its Edwardian creators. The Waldorf Hilton celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2008.

No I didn't stay there - I was just walking by :-)



Palace of Westminster (official photo)
Now more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament

 The Palace started out, almost 1,000 years ago, as a royal residence in 1042 under Edward the Confessor. The major structure to survive various fires, Westminster Hall, was built between 1087-1100 and is one of the largest medieval halls in Europe with an unsupported hammer beam roof. Thomas More, Charles I and those accused of trying to blow up parliament (1605) were all tried in Westminster Hall.

Following a fire in 1512, Henry VIII decided to abandon the palace and from this moment onwards it became home to the two seats of parliament - the Commons and the Lords. However, it was to suffer from another disastrous fire in 1834 and everything was lost except Westminster Hall.

This site was strategically important during the  Middle Ages , as it was located  on the north bank of the River Thames in the  London Borough of the City of Westminster.   The palace has approximately  1,100 rooms, 100 staircases and 3 miles of corridors

During the Second World War, the Palace of Westminster was hit fourteen times by bombs. The worst of these was on 10 May 1941, when the Commons Chamber was destroyed and three people were killed.

 


Big Ben

Possibly the most famous clock face and chimes in the world, Big Ben is actually the name of the biggest bell (13.5 tons) inside The Clock Tower (320ft) which forms part of the Houses of Parliament. Built in 1858 the bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall and when it was cast it was Britain’s heaviest bell. The clock’s four dials each have a diameter of 23ft, the minute hands are 14ft long and the numerals on each face are nearly 2ft high. The placing of old pennies in the mechanism controls the accuracy of the clock movement, yet it is incredibly accurate.




Big Ben as seen through the London Eye

The Clock Tower houses a large, four-faced clock—the Great Clock of Westminster—also designed by Pugin. The tower also houses five bells, which strike the Westminster Chimes every quarter hour. The largest and most famous of the bells is Big Ben (officially The Great Bell of Westminster), which strikes on the hour.

*****
As I write this I find it really hard to condense more than one thousand years of history into a few short paragraphs. I believe that this is part of the charm that visitors to England feel, in that there are so many hundreds of years of documented history 
that one can view with one's own eyes. 

When I was living in Central America I had a short wave, battery operated, radio that I listened to late at night. I was able to get the BBC news every now and then and I always got comfort from listening to the bells from the Big Ben tower that would chime on the hour, every hour over the airwaves from that station. 

Let's face it, wherever one visits in the world, there is truly 'no place like home' in our hearts.

photos by peacesojourner (unless otherwise stated)

 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More than 5,000 U.S. Military killed in Iraq and Afghanistan Wars


Anti-war  groups have been pushing hard for weeks now -- first against the war-funding Supplemental bill and now in support of Rep. Jim McGovern's bill calling for an 'exit plan' from Afghanistan. 

Today I received this request from United For Peace and Justice:

Dear UFPJ Supporter,

In the next 24 hours, Congress is set to authorize $550 billion in FY 2010 defense spending -- and with it, an additional $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This, on top of the $75 billion Congress approved for continuing the wars and occupations last week. Not to mention the fact that 6 million jobs have been lost and our communities continue to face stiffening budget cuts. To put it plainly, our nation's priorities are out of whack.


The sole bright spot in this is the McGovern amendment. House Representatives Jim McGovern (MA), Walter Jones (NC), andChellie Pingree (ME) have introduced an amendment to the 2010 military authorization bill, requiring the Pentagon to provide an 'exit strategy' to Congress by the end of this year.


That's why we need you to call your Representatives TODAY and TOMORROW and urge them to vote for the McGovern amendment. 20


Supporting the McGovern amendment and forcing the Defense Secretary to submit an 'exit strategy' will allow us to insert our voices into the debate and push for a complete and immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Before we can do that with success, though, we need to ensure that the debate happens at all - and this amendment is a step towards doing that.


So make sure to call your Member of Congress and urge them to support the McGovern amendment. Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Tell them we need to end the wars and occupations and redirect spending to our urgent domestic needs!

Thanks,

United For Peace and Justice


*****

American Military Casualties in Iraq                 

Since war began (3/19/03):         4316         

Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03):         3856         

Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09):         88         

American Wounded         Official  count 31,354       

*****

U.S. Wounded - Daily DoD Casualty Release

320,000 Vets Have Brain Injuries

Other Coalition Troops - Iraq        318

US Military Deaths - Afghanistan    711     

Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan        482

Journalists - Iraq     138    

Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq   1,306

    More than one million Iraqi's have been killed in the Iraq War

Sources: DoD, MNF, and iCasualties.org

 *****


Support the troops serving in the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars

Lobby to bring them home!


Monday, June 22, 2009

King Arthur at Stonehenge, England - 2009


King Arthur refuses to leave Stonehenge



Let me introduce you to King Arthur Pendragon, a druid formerly known as John Rothwell, who set up camp on the edge of the site believing that people should be allowed to walk around and touch the stones, which have been roped off since 1977.

Pendragon, 57, who changed his name by deed poll in 1976, has been living in a small camper on the A344 road near Stonehenge since last June.


He says "Stonehenge was presented to the Nation after the Great War in 1918. Sixty years later in 1978 a fence was erected around it. I have spent the best part of twenty years in negotiations with said agencies.  It is now my intention to celebrate Solstices and Equinoxes in the environs of Stonehenge but I will not enter the Temple until their promise is realized and the fence removed."

King Arthur made a declaration notice ‘to quit’ which ended with the following words:
That they and other Government Departments, Eleven years & thirty seven million pounds later, have expressed a wish to squander yet more of our monies is a further demonstration of their Gross Incompetence

I therefore give "NOTICE TO QUIT" to English Heretics & H.M. Government
"Pick up thy fence & Walk"


King Arthur Pendragon, walks close to Stonehenge, after a judge tried to evict him from his live-in protest site there. Wiltshire County Council objected, on the grounds of trespassing, and launched legal proceedings. Now he has to remain behind this wire fencing since he has been banned from entering the site.


Stonehenge has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Modern day pagans and druids have been holding ceremonies there since at least 1905.

Thousands of people gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the Solstice and make worship in the manner of olden times. They argue, that’s why the sacred space is there and that is what it should be used for.



Mr. Pendragon wants visitors to be able to walk around and touch the stones, rather than remain in a visitor centre and stuck to marked-out trails.



In 2007, the government scrapped the plans to remove fences around Stonehenge, and build an underpass and grass over the A344 roadway.
He is hoping his protests will encourage the Government to resume those plans of removing the fences around the monument, and building  a tunnel over the A303 and grass over the A344. He said: “That’s what they promised to do but the Government said they
 couldn't afford the tunnel."



Mr. Pendragon has vowed to maintain his vigil, with the full support of the Council of British Druid Orders. 
He continues to picket the staff and tourists daily. He said he had no intention to leave. "We opened a bottle of mead and drank to Stonehenge. I have done a short ritual and spell of protection, calling on the kings of old. I am not going to go, I am continuing my lawful right to protest and my equal right to religious practice."


He asks visitors to sign a petition to encourage English Heritage and National Trust to return the temple/monument to the sacred landscape and environs allowing Free and Open Access to Stonehenge.

Some people stop and read his signs and others just walk by. I chatted with him for quite a while as he explained his situation and what he was trying to do. He sleeps outside in his small camper during all weather conditions and he is certainly dedicated to his cause. I have always admired people who are able to go above and beyond in order to stand up for something that they strongly believe in and he does have a point, don't you think?

Before we left he gave me a copy of a book that he has written "The Trials of Arthur - the Life and times of a Modern-Day King" by Arthur Pendragon and Christopher James Stone. 

He hopes to run as an independent parliamentary candidate. Why not?  He is no more colorful than some other  Members of Parliament  that I can think of  :-)

It was a pleasure meeting King Arthur and reading his petition gave me plenty to think about.
All in all, a wonderful day with my cousins at a place that we love so much.
I do hope that there will come a time when children can, once again, have memories of climbing on the stones placed there by our ancestors.

*****

A final thought on Stonehenge: 

“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery 
than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.” 
Sage words by Harry Emerson.




Friday, June 19, 2009

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England


When I recently returned to  England one of the first places that I wanted  to visit was Stonehenge. My cousins live about 30 miles from the area and we usually make the sojourn together. I am always filled with wonder at the mystery of this place.


STONEHENGE

The image above depicts the archaeological version of what Stonehenge 
looked like two thousand years ago.

Stonehenge is a powerful reminder of the once-great peoples of the late Stone and Bronze Ages. Erected between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC, a number of the stones were carried hundreds of miles over land and sea, while antlers and bones were used to dig the pits that hold the stones their ultimate purpose remains a fascinating and enduring mystery.



 Here we have an ariel view, by National Geographic,
 of  Stonehenge today.

Mystery surrounds this 5,000 year old monument in the centre of the World Heritage Site. When you visit this prehistoric  site it is hard to decide whether Stonehenge was a place of sun worship, a healing sanctuary, a sacred burial site, or something different altogether! 



Stonehenge stands as an enduring testimony to the people who built it, in several phases between 3,000 and 1,600 BC. An amazing feat of engineering and arguably the most sophisticated stone circle in the world.
They provide a complimentary audio tour which tells you all about the history of the site.
Every time I visit I learn a little more than the time before. This is one of the most intriguing sites in the British Isles.



The surrounding landscape is also fascinating. It contains huge prehistoric monuments, stretching over several miles. Many of the earthen monuments have been eroded away and often, only traces remain above ground. 



The stones were built by three different cultures, Windmill, First Wessex and the Beakers - so named because when they buried their dead they had their pots interred with them.
The Bluestones are the smaller inner stones, which originate from Preselli mountains in Wales, and when they become wet they turn blue.



Stonehenge is not the largest stone circle in the world but it is the only one that has lintels around the top, making this unique. 
There is no explanation as to why this site was chosen. Various theories have been put forward but no conclusive evidence has been found to support them.



A common complaint is that there are now ropes erected around the stones to prevent people climbing on them. They were put in place in 1978 to help protect the stones from further damage.

 A lot of the original stones have been taken by our ancestors to build their houses and roads. Also, a lot of stones have been chipped away by visitors and taken away as souvenirs over the past couple of hundred years, therefor there has to be some protection in place to preserve the site. 

*****

I never fail to enjoy this visit.  I have written about the  history here, but there is another aspect of  this place that is easier to experience than to accurately write about. I am referring to the feeling that comes over myself and most visitors as we are standing looking at the sacred circle. 

It is hard to imagine the ancient  people who mapped the course of the sun and moon to build this monument. To view the burial mounds where they buried their leaders. This place is the center of one of the world's earliest cultures. They actually continued to build this for over two thousand years. They didn't give up until it was finished. 

They dragged the larger stones, 30 Sarsens (sandstone uprights), from the Marlborough Downs , 19 miles away. Each one weighing over 25 tons. The smaller stones, known as the Bluestones, are from the mystical Preseli Mountains in Wales, 240 miles away. 

What was their technology? How did they do that? What was their motivation to keep at it for so many years? As the tour guides say "It still remains a mystery today."

While we were there we met some colorful people. 
 More about this site soon..................

*****
photos (unless indicated) by peacesojourner




Thursday, June 18, 2009

Breaking news: Obama kills fly


President Obama killed a fly! 

 AP: "Barack Obama: The human flyswatter." 

Canadian Press: "Obama kills annoying fly, then keeps going on in TV interview." NY Daily News: "No presidential pardon for this pest."



This image made from video released by CNBC, shows President Barack Obama smacking a fly dead during an interview with CNBC correspondent John Harwood in the White House on Tuesday June 16, 2009 in Washington.


As I was typing I was thinking that I needed to post something a little lighter today because the past few days have had such serious content. I've been writing about hate crimes and suggesting that we all try to treat others kindly.  As the thought was going through my mind this popped up on my screen. Now why did the Pres have  to go and kill something  during my 'Why can't we all get along" week?

Yes, PETA  has already issued a complaint!      

 You can't make this stuff up can you?

:-)  :-)  :-)


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hate Rears It's Ugly Head



The Native American grandfather tells his grandson that there are two wolves inside of him, fighting for control. One wolf is the wolf of love, peace, and kindness. The other wolf is a wolf of greed, hatred, and corruption. The grandson asks, "Which wolf will win?" The grandfather replies "Whichever wolf I feed."
Native American proverb

On occasion, I have been witness to the aftermath of a hate crime. One incident remains indelible in my mind when, some years ago, I worked and lived in the International Student’s House in London, England. A young man named Sean, a caring, thoughtful and generous person, lived in the apartment next door to me. One night, at around 2 a.m., there was a knock at my door. I was startled to hear Sean's voice. I opened the door and there he stood with blood all over his face and clothing. When he came into my living room he burst into tears and started telling me what had happened. Sean had just left the London Underground train station and was walking home when 6 Skinheads who beat him up attacked him. His face and body were bruised and bloody. He said that during the beating they called him derogatory names. It seems that they did it because he is gay. I held him as he wept and we tried to get some understanding of the motive of the bullies. We concluded that it just boiled down to ‘hate.’

In his book 'The Psychology of Hate’ Robert J Sternberg (American Psychological Association, APA) states, "After the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis in World War II, the expression "never again" became a familiar refrain. Yet, during the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the current decade, society has witnessed staggering numbers of brutal and hateful acts. Our news sources are filled with reports of White supremacist groups murdering members of minority groups, religious zealots killing doctors who perform abortions, teenagers violently clashing with their classmates, the genocides in Rwanda and Sudan, the mass killing in Bosnia, and the 9/11 attacks on the United States. These are not random or sudden bursts of irrationality but, rather, orchestrated acts of violence and killing. Underlying these events is a widespread and haz­ardous human emotion: hate. Hate is among the most powerful of human emotions—it has caused great sorrow and suffering—and yet it has been understudied by psychologists".

" Once one begins to see hate in terms of its functions, one can see hate everywhere. That is not always a comfort. Consider the myriad functions of hate:

• Hate is a reliable source of attachment - a substitute for love.
• Hate gives meaning to life.
• Nursing one's hatred provides comfort and satisfaction.
• Acting out one's hate is a source of pleasure, that of domination and control.
• Sadism is the pleasure of hatred. Hatred is a mode of being in the world.

Hate binds people in a community with others who hate, a community whose intimacy is intensified by the guilty se­cret that all those who hate share: that there is pleasure in destruction.
If one can bear to know all this, then one shall have learned not only some terrible truths about the world but also something about hate that may from time to time allow one to mitigate its effects. Likely this knowledge will not lessen the sheer amount of hate in the world. Nevertheless, knowing of the secret fraternity of those who hate may allow one to intervene in their guilty pleasures and so short-circuit their satisfaction. The price of this inter­vention, which will only infrequently be effective, if history is any guide, is that of a terrible knowledge, one that connects the terrible things nations do with the terrible things that each person has at some point done to another person. That connection is hatred, which like Thanatos, to which it is so closely allied, is a principle that connects individual with world history. It is not a connection of which to be proud".

I first posted this blog in January after the many incidents of hate crimes related to the installation of President Obama. I thought I would print it again because there are still so many hate crimes being acted out around the country and the world. We have to remain vigilant and keep aware of these actions. 

Tomorrow: What can we do to makes some changes in the world?




Monday, June 15, 2009

Can We Talk? - re: Hate Crimes



This is Keith Luke, a swastika etched on his forehead, as he is arraigned in Brockton Superior Court on multiple charges of rape and murder stemming from a January shooting spree that authorities say was motivated by racial hatred.





This is his first murder victim: Selma Goncalves, 20,who  worked at a local dry cleaning store. She was described by friends as full of energy and brought happiness to others.





 


His second murder victim was Arlindo Goncalves, 72, father of eight adult children. Retired bricklayer. Had fallen on hard times but remained fiercely independent in taking care of himself. His family said "He never harmed a person in his life."

                                                                                                                                                                   
*****

Keith Luke, 22, was known as a loner in his neighborhood of Brockton Massachusetts. On January 22nd, 2009, Luke knocked on the door of 20-year-old immigrant, Selma Goncalves, his former neighbor. He had with him a backpack containing a hammer, two pairs of handcuffs, a mouth gag and blindfold. He also had an illegally purchased and unlicensed 9MM Hi Point semiautomatic handgun. Selma wasn’t home, but her older sister was.
Luke is accused of forcing his way into the apartment, sodomizing and shooting the 22-year-old woman, then fatally shooting her sister, Selma,when she came home. 
 He is also accused of opening fire on people who tried to provide aid to the women and of gunning down an elderly man pushing a cart filled with bottles and cans down the street. All of the victims are of Cape Verdean descent.


Authorities said that Luke later told police he had planned to end the rampage at a bingo game at a local synagogue where he wanted to shoot and kill as many Jews as he could.
Wearing a swastika on the face sends a powerful message, it is the ultimate defiance saying, ‘I don’t stand with you.’

Many neo-Nazis and “skinheads” are heavily tattooed, often with anti-Semitic or pro-Hitler phrases. It was determined that Luke was a frequent visitor to the Neo-Nazi sites on his computer.

*****
Can we talk? -

Just as in the animal kingdom some creatures, such as alligators, lurk in the muck and mire of murky waters, waiting for their next victim; there are humans who are also predators. They may sit in their homes in front of their computers visiting sites that encourage hatred and the  killing of people who  have a different culture, color, sexual orientation, or faith tradition than the viewer. Then, every now and then, they rise to the surface and perform an act of violence before retreating like the cowards that they are, into their own world of spiritless darkness.

This week, as I was writing this article, yet another act of hatred occurred at the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C.

People, we cannot be lulled into thinking that things have changed. We have to remain vigilant.

The dictionary definition of hate is: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury, extreme dislike or antipathy

Hate Crime: any of various crimes (as assault or defacement of property) when motivated by hostility to the victim as a member of a group (as one based on color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation)

I have written about this on this blog before but I think it bears repeating .

The Hatewatch logo above is from the Southern Poverty Law Center. This group keeps their eyes on the current hate crimes – I invite you to check them out.


http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=1062

*****

Hate is like acid. It can damage the vessel in which it is stored as 
well as destroy the object on which it is poured. 
- Ann Landers


 -more on this topic tomorrow.