Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fr. Jim Bacik: Opening the Catholic Church to the World

image by tsahaylu

I haven't been to a Fr. Jim Bacik lecture in a while, but I'm glad I went last week. I met friend Teddy and we planned to go to dinner afterwards. Fr. Bacik, ever the scholarly theologian,  talked about the "new tribalism," the tendency to gather with like-minded people, as a response to globalization. He emphasized the dangers of turning inward and ignoring or demonizing those who are different. He pointed to the growing number of hate crimes in the US, the renewed anti-semetism, angry racism, white nationalism, the prejudice against Muslims, and the rise of an extreme political partisanship pulling people apart and destabilizing the world.

Before talking about Vatican II (1962-1965) and Pope John XXIII, Fr. Bacik recalled the Council of Jerusalem in the year 62 AD, where debates between Paul and Peter and different factions led to more openness in the church, a kind of first step to a more tolerant mission.

Pope John XXIII. Pope Francis continues his
tradition of a church open to the world,
 and I think he looks like him too. 
Vatican II revived the spirit of the Council of Jerusalem to renew calls for a Church that was relevant to peoples around the world. It's the spirit that Pope Francis, coming as he did from serving in Argentina and among the poor, embodies and carries on today.

John XXIII wanted Aggioramento, a rural church, a humble and loving Church that welcomed all people everywhere. This is  how the Catholic church reached out to South America and Asia and Africa.  Of course there was the inevitable resistance to change. The Curia leaders and the Bishops rose up to defend tradition, like Cardinal Ottaviani, whose motto was Semper Idem (Always the same).  I like that Latin phrase, and often have need of it!

What were the key issues?
*The liturgy: use of the vernacular instead of Latin so that parishioners went from being passive spectators to active conscious participants in the service
*Spirituality: from holiness for priests and nuns to a universal call to holiness
*Religious liberty: from Catholic privilege to freedom for all
*From a ghetto mentality to ecumenical dialogue
*From opposition to other religions to interfaith dialogue and cooperation
*From withdrawal from the world to active engagement.

Lovely statue of John XXIII in front
of St. Anthony's Church in Istanbul,
 where he preached for 10 years
 before becoming Pope.
Pope John XXIII prevailed.  Vatican II marked a new era in which the Catholic church "would understand itself for the first time as a World Church." As Karl Rahner, Fr. Bacik's mentor and a brilliant theologian noted, Vatican II was the most important change in the church after the Council of Jerusalem. It offered salvation and freedom of conscience, and energized ecumenical dialogue. Fr. Bacik called Vatican II "a great salvation optimism" for the whole human family with all its joys and sorrows.

I am not Catholic, but my daughter Elissa is; she calls me a Pope Francis Catholic. She's right. I knew when the new Pope took the name Francis that he would be a wonderful Pope, that he would be another John XXIII."Who are we to judge?" Pope Francis reminds us, a phrase I use a lot.
St. Antoine of Padua Church, Istanbul. Photo taken at night
on Christmas eve 2009 in the heart of  the city.  We walked 
along bustling streets, shops and cafes crowded with revelers 
and decorated in blue lights with joy in our hearts..

Fr. Bacik's lecture took me back to a Christmas in Istanbul in 2009 with my Peace Corps friends Jud and Jason. We decided to attend St. Anthony (Antoine) of Padua church, where John XXIII preached for ten years before becoming Pope. It was the kind of incredible travel experience that moves you, transforms your view of the world.

St. Anthony's is an international congregation, befitting the memory of Pope John XXIII. The church overflowed with people from all over the world in a spirit of  inclusiveness and acceptance. The service was ecumenical, the priests, the choir, the music and traditions from around the world.

I sat next to a lovely young woman who said her name was Fatima, which I recalled as the name of the town in Portugal where three shepherd children claimed to have seen visions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I assumed Fatima was celebrating the Christian holiday.  We chatted as the choir practiced songs from South America, Africa, and around  the globe. I explained that we were Peace Corps Volunteers from America working in Ukraine. "I thought you were American!" she said with a big smile.

I asked about her. She was born in Turkey, and lived in Munich, Germany, with her family." She went on to talk about being a college student majoring in international organizational development. She spoke many languages and loved Munich.

"Why are you here tonight?" I asked.
"I'm visiting family. And Istanbul is my birthplace, Muslim is my religion, and the cultures of the world my greatest interest," she replied. "I like this church because it is diverse and tolerant. I remember it as a child, and I feel welcomed here."

It was the best Christmas message we could have gotten from any church in the world, and here we were in Istanbul, three Amerikankas celebrating with Fatima, the devout Muslim. What a conjunction of the human spirit.   The "Open Arms Tribalism" Fr. Bacik champions.  It enveloped each of us in gratitude.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Philip and Chase at the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival

I try to introduce my grandchildren to the wider world whenever I have a chance. I give them maps, photos, talk about my travels, take them to meet people from somewhere else. They met my conversation partner Fenghua. They have met friends from Europe, Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa, and they have classmates from other countries in school. So today, my daughter Elissa and I took our grandboys, Chase and Philip, to the Toledo Sister Cities International Festival at the Seagate Convention Center in downtown Toledo.

We roamed around looking at displays, talked about different countries, listened to music and performances by various ethnic groups. Chase and Philip enjoyed getting their names signed in Chinese, at the Chinese display table, and in Arabic, at a lovely exhibit of Lebanese art and  cultural  items.   I showed them the countries on the map.

"You guys already know about these two countries," I told them.
"No, we don't, Nana," Philip chimed in.
"Well, have you ever been to a Chinese restaurant or eaten Chinese food? And how about the Lebanese food at the Beirut and the Grape Leaf?"
"Oh right," Philip smiled. "Good food."
 We agreed food was a good way to get to know another country!

Dr. Elizabeth Balint, director of the Great Lakes Consortium. We worked
together on the Open World Project that brought people from Ukraine to Toledo.  

Toledo is a "Welcoming City," home to immigrants from many countries.  They have helped make our neighborhoods strong for generations. Some are newer, including refugees from war-torn Syria. Toledo has sister cities in Spain, China, Hungary, Poland, Japan, Tanzania, Germany, Lebanon, Pakistan and India.  It makes sense that the world's two Toledos, Toledo, Ohio and Toledo, Spain have been sister Cities since 1931, one of the oldest formally recognized sister-city relationships in the world (see www.association of two toledos.com).

I've been talking about maybe getting a sister city in Ukraine. Our US Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur is interested. She is always a strong supporter of the International Festival and international exchange programs. She is knowledgeable about and honors America's history of immigration, including her own Polish and Ukrainian heritage.  "We are all immigrants," she says, and "through food, music, art and fun we build bridges toward a stronger future together."

We had to sample some food, of course, so Philip and I got Asian food and Bubble Tea, and Chase got tacos, and we sat down to eat and watch a Karate performance. Chase is a yellow belt! We introduced ourselves to an elderly man sitting alone at the table. Turns out he was a retired Professor of German Language and Culture at the University of Toledo, where he had taught for many years.  It was nice to strike up a conversation. A few minutes later a  mother and her son, who was dressed in lederhousen, asked to sit at the table. I asked if he was from Germany. No, he was just dressed like a German, in Bavarian lederhousen actually. He was a Senior in high school who loved the German language and wanted to go to college in Germany. His mom was encouraging him.  "You're at the right table," I said, as I introduced them to the German professor, which delighted all of us.  They spoke a little in German, and we had a lovely chat about Germany and travel.

Serendipity! The same  kind of serendipity we encounter wherever we travel, and always to our delight, and it happened right here in Toledo, Ohio, at a table at the International Festival! 

The world is open to us. All we have to do is embrace it. I hope Philip and Chase, and all my grandchildren, will give it a try one day!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

What is "Hybrid Warfare"? Foreign interference in an American election.

Image, blazingcatfur

What is "hybrid warfare?" It's what Vladimyr Putin has been practicing without restraint or serious resistance since his interference in the 2010 Ukrainian presidential campaign, designed and implemented with help from Paul Manafort, followed by Putin's invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine in 2014.

That's the truth in a nutshell. The implications are enormous. And, astonishingly, they are interconnected with our 2016 presidential election.

On his way out the door, fired by Trump because they disagreed, Gen. H.R. McMaster, a PhD historian, brilliant, forceful, gave a good definition:
"Hybrid warfare is a pernicious form of aggression that combines political, economic, informational, and cyber assaults against sovereign nations. It employs sophisticated strategies deliberately designed to achieve objectives while falling below the target state’s threshold for a military response. These tactics include infiltrating social media, spreading propaganda, weaponizing information, and using other forms of subversion and espionage.”
McMaster acknowledged that the West had "failed to impose sufficient costs" on Moscow for its aggressive behavior.  He was thinking Ukraine and Syria, maybe even our election.  He contended that we are engaged in a “fundamental contest between our free and open societies and closed and repressive systems.”  He called the nerve poisoning of the Skrypals in London  “an assault on the United Kingdom’s sovereignty, a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the first offensive use of nerve agent in Europe since World War II."  This last part was news to me, about the chemical weapons agreement and the contemporary use of a nerve agent.

I'm glad I learned this, because true to form, Russia has since mounted a new information cyber war, a disinformation campaign, to create confusion and cover up the truth.

I found more details about hybrid warfare in an article in Air Force Magazine (cited below), a fascinating source. This article caught my attention because it uses Russia's aggression against Ukraine as an example. Here's how the article describes it: 
"The “little green men” were one of the first signs of Russia’s strategy. Commandos wearing green uniforms stripped of insignia occupied key government institutions in Crimea during the early months of the Ukrainian crisis of 2014.
    For a time, their ambiguous identity allowed Russian leaders to deny that Moscow had launched a military offensive to seize the Crimean Peninsula and its Black Sea ports.
    But these Russian Special Forces were not the only indication Moscow had launched a complex, multifaceted operation in the region. That October, as Ukraine neared a crucial snap parliamentary election, electronic advertising billboards in the capital of Kiev suddenly began showing a video accusing Ukrainian politicians of war crimes. Then they displayed graphic images of civilians killed in the eastern part of the country.  The electronic network had been compromised by a shadowy, pro-Russian group of hackers. 
     Russia also relied on conventional forces to push for its objectives. Regular infantry units eventually took the place of the little green men in Crimea. Russian artillery and military personnel crossed into Ukraine proper to help pro-Russian insurgents seize and hold strips of territory in the Donbas region in the country’s east."
It's a concise description of a complex strategy, and its conclusions are clear: "Russia’s intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine is a textbook example of hybrid warfare, the combination of unconventional means (subversion, cyber attack) with conventional might to reach a geostrategic objective."

That Paul Manafort and his cronies had a hand in Putin's mission is indisputable. And it's becoming clear as more evidence and new connections emerge--as the dots are connected--that Manafort used the same kind of hybrid war games--social media, propaganda,"fake news"--in America's 2016 election that he had used in Ukraine to demonize Yulia Tymoshenko and elect pro-Russian billionaire Viktor Yanukovich.  

The folks at Cambridge Analytica, Robert and Rebekah Mercer, Steve Bannon of Breitbart, Republican Party operatives, alt-right fanatics who saw in a Trump presidency the chance to "deconstruct" our democracy, were impressed.  Manafort knew how to swing elections. The "Corrupt Yulia" disinformation propaganda campaign morphed into the "Corrupt Hillary"campaign.

But that Cambridge Analytica circle of propagandists are not the only ones who are experts at "weaponizing information."  The Air Force Magazine article reveals another interesting fact: Gen. James Mattis, Trump's Secretary of Defense and a marine to the core, is also an expert on hybrid warfare.  Who knew that? He has thought about it for over a decade and has written about it.  In a 2005 article he co-wrote with Lt. Col. Frank G. Hoffman, who was one of the first to use the term, he called it "an unprecedented synthesis."
“We may face remnants of the fielded army of a rogue state in future wars, and they may employ conventional weapons in very novel or nontraditional ways.”/ Hybrid war might feature attacks against US critical infrastructure or transportation networks. It could involve an electronic take down of military or financial computer networks," Hoffman and Mattis wrote.
"Hybrid war in Poland, blazingcatfur 
It was a prediction, and it came true.  Mattis must  see the connections to the 2016 election. He understands more than we know. Like his friend Gen. McMaster.  They must see the whole picture that Mueller is now putting together, like the pieces of a puzzle.

It makes me wonder how people who know so much more than Trump can hang in there. It makes me wonder how Mattis will work with the warmonger John Bolton, friend of Russia, ethically challenged, part of the Cambridge Analytica story, involved in Russian oligarchs' links to the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Whoever thought that Putin's brand of warfare would become part of an American presidential campaign between an unfit Trump and a super-qualified but cyber-targeted Hillary Clinton? In fact, in my view, the intrusion in our election had its genesis in Putin's hatred of Clinton and his fear she would be hard on Russia if elected. The hybrid-disinformation campaign against her started when she was Secretary of State. Putin believed Trump could be persuaded to end the sanctions imposed for his invasion and occupation of Ukraine. And Paul Manafort, still in touch with pro-Putin Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, thought so too.

We are facing a political firestorm unprecedented in American History. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has his plate full. A political tsunami is rumbling onto shore, slowly but surely. It will take down the Trump regime and all who enabled it, obstructed justice, or colluded with a foreign power using a hybrid war to disrupt an American election. 

Some sources:
"Retired Marine Reservist Lt. Col. Frank G. Hoffman was among the first theorists to begin using the term “hybrid war” to refer to this hydra-headed concept. He referred to it as a “blurring of modes of war, the blurring of who fights, and what technologies are brought to bear.” In this definition, hybrid war involves both nations and nonstate forces. Its violence can span the spectrum from intense regular unit combat to guerrilla warfare and terrorist acts. It can slot in criminal kidnapping and theft and, increasingly, cyber warfare. It can employ state sponsorship of existing local unrest and the manipulation of currencies and other means of economic aggression. Diplomacy and propaganda play a part. /Hoffman began talking about this concept as early as 2005. He called it “unprecedented synthesis” in an article in Proceedings cowritten with Marine Corps then-Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, now the new Secretary of Defense."

https://www.csspmspk.com/hybrid-war-and-economy/by Adeela Naureen, origininally published in The Nation and used in online courses.   An interesting world-wide view of what it means.





https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/31/world/europe/balkans-russia-night-wolves-republika-srpska-bosnia.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share  About the Night Wolves, Putin's feared biker gang.


http://www.newsweek.com/poland-prepares-hybrid-war-amidst-russian-threat-316469 Interesting article on Russia's hyrid war in Poland, showing the extent of Putin's efforts in the East and the West.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Traveling with Mark

My photo of Monte Carlo, Monaco, Cote D'Azur.
I couldn't resist. What a grand tour that was.
In the US Navy, serving his country.
Mark's photo of Monaco. Stunning!
Spent a nice Sunday morning with daughter Elissa and her partner Mark. Granddaughter Julia and great-grandson Philip were there too.  And the dogs, Fluff and Kiera.  Mark and I hadn't talked all that much so it was nice to learn about his time in the Navy, the places it took him and the things he saw. "Four years, 5 months, and 23 days," or something close to that, is how he put his time in the Navy!  "Some great times, some dark times, so many days out at sea," he mused.  "But got to see lots of places."

So we took off from there, traveled to Turkey and Istanbul, the Italian and French Rivieras to the beautiful kingdom of Monaco, down that winding, curving road along the Mediterranean coast from which you can see the whole kingdom spread out in its glory before you. Mark vividly remembered that drive. So nice to go down that road again. He remembered how expensive it was to find a place to stay then, in the '80s. It's impossible now.

We came down to earth after that, went over to Spain and up to Paris, Amsterdam and Holland,  Rome and Italy down to Naples and Sicily.  He loved Rome.  "Went there whenever I could get off the ship." Such great memories for both of us. Julia and I remembered our time in London, too, and Elissa our time in Ireland.

A happy young Mark with that
 22-pound snook! (He found the photo.)
We also went to Florida, where I lived for some ten years, along the Gulf coast. It's Mark's favorite part of Florida. His father lived in Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island before it exploded with urban development.  It still has some of that old Florida charm and the annual Shrimp Festival. And Mark loved to fish. Lived to fish! He must have been the best fisherman around.

"Caught some big ones down there," he said. "One time it was a snook, 22 pounds!"
"Right! I've heard those fishermen's tales before, Mark!"
"Really did. Have a photo somewhere. Did lots of great fishing. "I followed the tides. Knew when they were coming in and going out. Went fishing with the tides at all times of the day and night." 

He can't fish now.  It's not been easy, since the disastrous industrial accident that crushed his body and changed his life.  "Can't move the way I did.  Can't remember what I did a minute ago but remember things I did long ago...."

I was holding my old Bob Dylan and Joan Baez songbooks, the originals, which I treasure. Mark noticed them.  Down memory lane again. Elissa had them in the old family Japanese teak cabinet in their living room.

"Mom, you didn't treasure them enough to leave them out of the bag of things you gave me to sell at my garage sale with Julia. I rescued them!"

I tried to interest great-grandson Philip in the Songbooks, but I got Mark's interest instead. He agreed they might be worth a lot of money. The originals.  Like those original Beatles albums with those great album covers.

As I was leaving the house, Mark asked me to wait. "I have something for you, to borrow." He got himself up, God love him, went to his room, and came back with....Ta Da! The Doors: The Illustrated History, by Danny Sugerman,  published in 1983 I was thrilled. I recalled going to Jim Morrison's grave site in Paris, up high at Sacre Couer in Montemartre, gleaming white, heavenly, a beautiful part of Paris.  "Me too," Mark said. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Students in the Tradition of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas

Thousands of students sit in silence in DC and across the country
in memory of the students killed at Parkland, Florida's
 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998), the journalist, writer, women's suffragist, fighter for civil rights, and savior of the Florida Everglades, would be weeping for the tragedy that took place at the school named after her in Parkland, Florida.  She would also rejoice that the student survivors of the tragedy, brave and articulate, have found their voice and are using it.  They are speaking out forcefully and directly about an urgent social problem, as Douglas did in her time. They are motivating a new generation.

dogo image
I went to google to remind myself of Douglas' legacy. I first learned about her when I moved from DC to Florida and worked for the NEH Florida Humanities Council. I read everything I could about Florida. I read Douglas, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling), Zora Neale Hurston (My Eyes were Watching God), mystery writers and nature writers. I traveled the state from Pensacola and the Panhandle to Jacksonville and Orlando, along the Gulf coast from Tampa, across the Tamiami Trail over the Everglades from Naples to Miami, all to absorb Florida's geography, history, folklore, and culture.

yahoo image
My thoughts returned to Florida when the gruesome story of another mass murder filled the media. Images of Sandy Hook and other shootings with military weapons rose up, along with rage. How long will we tolerate these senseless, unspeakable tragedies?  
The student survivors at Douglas School have some answers. They are arising out of the ashes of this tragedy like a bright Phoenix.  They are revitalizing the gun control movement. They are already making a difference, and giving us hope.

Douglas would be proud of them. She, too, was a fierce and outspoken defender of the causes she believed in. She is best known for the book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), which redefined the popular conception of the Everglades as a "treasured river instead of a worthless swamp."  It's impact has been compared to that of Rachel Carsen's Silent Spring. From the age of 79 until her death at the grand old age of 108, Douglas was a relentless and fearless crusader for the preservation and restoration of the Everglades. (Wikipedia)

The students at Douglas school are carrying on her tradition of speaking out and standing firm in their beliefs.  A new generation is out to change America for the better. It's our hope for the 21st century and beyond.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hubris is taking down the Trump Family

This photo is of Trump trying to cover up his bald spot, but it looks more
like the image of a man under siege, saying "I can't take it anymore,"
 and shutting himself off from reality (if he was ever there). Yahoo image. 
Hubris--false pride, unmitigated arrogance, "challenging the gods," as the ancient Greeks would put it--is bringing Trump and his crime family down. The USA will recover in time, but the Trump family, the business, the brand, NEVER.  The Trump name, in whatever guise it appears, is going down in infamy, forever.  

What a bizarre twist of fate.  Is it a Shakespearean tragedy? No. That requires a noble character with a tragic flaw that is his or her undoing.  

This story is more like a Greek tragedy about a flawed character without virtue, whose hubris is his nemesis. 

This story is about an impulsive, ignorant and emotionally unevolved man who decides to run for President of the United States even though he has not one iota of experience or knowledge, let alone a strong moral purpose, to fulfill the Constitutional duties of its highest office.  

It's a story about a man who doesn't know the U.S. Constitution, hasn't read the documents of the Founding Fathers, in fact doesn't read at all, and does not know the history of his own country.  He is a man who does not understand what it means to live under the Rule of Law and serve as it's strongest public advocate. 

Moreover, this character, put in office by a corrupt Electoral College not the majority of Americans, is not interested in learning or taking advise from experts or professional civil servants who know more than he does. His billionaire cabinet, confirmed by Senate Republicans also lacking in ethical purpose, is dismantling our agencies piece by piece. He doesn't care and is facilitating the damage.  He is a pathological liar with the attention span and mindset of a four-year-old, totally lacking in leadership ability and unable to manage a team. Never have so many resignations and lies emanated from the White House.

This character trying to act as a president is also alarmingly ignorant of public policy. He struts on the stage unable to defend or coherently make a case for any public policy position.  He has no substance. He thinks public policy has to do with signing Executive Orders and photo ops. He makes impulsive decisions without knowing the facts or considering the consequences. His rants on health care, immigration, tax cuts for the super rich, and tariffs on steel and aluminum are examples. He hopes America will one day have "A President for Life."

Hillary Clinton, who was supremely qualified to serve and won the election by over 3 million votes, said it best: "Trump's ideas are not just different, they are dangerously incoherent. They're not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.  He is not just unprepared, he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility." 

His impulsive, uninformed decision to run for president, made for all the wrong reasons, lies at the heart of the tRump crime family's demise. Public exposure has shed a glaring light on their inadequacies and deficiencies, not to say their perverted values and rank corruption. A simmering underlying racism and misogyny combined with Russian interference may have helped get him elected, but the quid pro quos are criminal and impeachable.

The election of this Pretender merely set the stage for a full-blown Constitutional crisis.

As the White House unravels and the duplicity and complicity of a self-serving cabinet and Congressional Republicans continue, this theater of the absurd has a new hero.  He is the Special Prosecutor with an expert team of lawyers who is examining the flawed character's actions in every detail.  Robert Mueller's work is headed for the climax of the story and its denouement will result in one of the ugliest chapters in American history.

Trump and the House of Trump--a house of cards--will never recover from the wrong decision of a flawed man to run for an office he is unable to fulfill and an Oath of Office he is unable to uphold. The family will never recover from his narcissism, ignorance, and hubris. Trump and his family and his brand are going down in infamy.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Mummies take Center Stage at the Toledo Museum of Art

The Mummies exhibit at TMA. Teddy admires the 1906 guide to the fledgling collection. The colorful
 background of  this collage is an abstract art work on sale at the Museum Shop, along with the beautiful glass bowls.  
As someone who loves Egypt I was happy to join my friend Teddy to see the new Mummies exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art.

The pieces in this exhibit were collected by the founders of the Museum, Edward Drummond Libbey and Florence Scott Libbey, on a trip they made to Egypt in 1906.  They bought 239 ancient Egyptian artifacts and art works, including Mummy of an Old Man and Mummy of a Young Priest, for the new museum they had founded five years earlier.  The exhibit guide notes that the Libbey's added two rooms to the original museum on Madison and 13th Street to show their collection, which proved very popular.  It's a piece of Toledo history, among many, that I never knew and am happily just learning.
An excellent guide to the exhibit, with
thoughtful & studied commentary on
the meaning of "cultural appropriation"
and "the ethics of exhibiting mummies."
The exhibit focuses on the popularization of everything Egyptian at the turn of the century and again with the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922. Egyptomania!

From the 19th century to the present day, imagery from ancient Egypt has been appropriated for architecture and design, advertisement, cosmetics, plays and novels and popular culture.  As the guide thoughtfully notes "Appropriation, or the borrowing and alteration of images and cultural heritage, changes the context of what you see and what it means.  It can cause us to lose sight of the real people and rich history of a culture/civilization in favor of stereotypes and misunderstandings."  This is a caution well worth considering. I greatly appreciate its inclusion in the guide.

The two mummies the Libbey's purchased from Egypt are on display. They are the focus of the exhibition, which considers mummies in the context of Egyptomania, while also examining their original role within ancient Egyptian religious beliefs. (All information about the exhibit from the Museum guide or panel notes and descriptions accompanying the art.)

It is fascinating to read about the modern techniques used to study and identify mummies. For instance the mummy of the young priest was first thought to be a woman until Xrays and genetic testing confirmed otherwise.  Radiocarbon dating determined that the mummy was a young man, about 20 years old when he died in about 800 BCE.  He was almost certainly a priest because his head and body were completely shaved for ritual purification. Art scholars also learned that the pose of the mummy--hands crossed across the chest--is a position known only for men.

The other mummy, the old man, dated to 50-150 CE when Egypt was part of the Roman Empire.  Xrays and other studies determined he was about 45-55 years old when he died, about the average life expectancy for his time. The details of his entombment revealed a life of heavy labor and signs of bone problems and arthritis.  Imagine being able to uncover such details.

I pondered the art of the dead and the science of life.  The ancient Egyptians believed that death began a journey to the afterlife, where all the necessities of their former lives, including their bodies, would be essential to eternal survival.  The grand story of the god Osiris and his resurrection, a belief common across religions as Joseph Campbell reminded us, was the source of the ancients belief that life continued in another sphere after death. My brother Loren believed this, and since his sudden death from a  heart attack in May 2010 I want to believe it too.

These beliefs of course are sacred. They need to be taken seriously, respected. Fittingly, the Museum, on the cutting edge of museum practice, addressed the issue head on in a large interpretive panel titled "The Ethics of Exhibiting Mummies."  The panel notes that when the Libbeys purchased the items for their Egyptian collection it was common to exhibit mummies as scientific and cultural curiosities. In recent decades, however, "there has been a world-wide dialogue about respect for national cultural patrimonies and reverent treatment of the remains of the dead, whether ancient mummies or more recent burials of indigenous peoples. In addition, the display of human remains in an art museum prompts its own questions of appropriateness."

Kudos to TMA for giving viewers a context for understanding this exhibit and enriching our museum experience.

I couldn't believe I was at the Great Pyramids of Egypt,
and that I saw the moon rise and the sun set on 2011
in the Valley of the Kings and Queens
in the desert outside the amazing city of Luxor on the Nile.
The exhibit took me back to my fabulous trip to Egypt at the close of 2010 with Peace Corps friend Jud. I didn't know it then, but we were following in the adventurous footsteps of the Libbeys! Not that we could purchase any art! But like the Libbey's we were engulfed in antiquity, immersed in the art, artifacts, beautifully designed and painted "cartonnage" (linen, glue and plaster with paint) in the Egyptian Museum of Art in Cairo and wherever we went along the Nile. The colors were still brilliant, as if they had been painted yesterday and not thousands of years ago. Egypt's culture and history filled me with awe. Perhaps it was seeing the art in its own cultural context, unfiltered through the interpretation of others, up close, in person. The Pyramids! I stood at the bottom of the stairway to these enormous tombs, and stopped, transfixed. I honestly couldn't believe I was in Egypt, actually seeing them first hand. The train trip from Cairo to Luxor also filled our senses; the landscape and views along the historic Nile River were riveting, the scenes of daily life fascinating, and the archeological splendor of Luxor beyond imagination.

Ah Egypt, we wish you the glories and beauty of your antiquity as you move into an uncertain future. Thanks to TMA for its sensitive portrayal of the Mummies and for keeping the stories and the memories alive. 
In Cairo, at the Egyptian Museum of Art, at the pyramids, at the Valley of the Queens and Kings, in exquisite beautiful Luxor. The trip of a lifetime in an ancient land going back some 5000 years.  How lucky to celebrate New Years Day 2011 in the Luxor desert, upper right.

Some Egypt Blogs at www.fran-ukrainian-adventure

Friday, February 23, 2018

Poems for Resisters: Wendell Berry takes us to Safe Places

An Indivisible Toledo friend, Cherie Spino, a dedicated and indefatiguable resister, posted a poem by Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things, on facebook. She needed a break, she said. There's so much sad news out there, so much to do to bring change and to save a democracy under siege.  "Take a deep breath, and read."

"When despair for the world grows in me...I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water...I come into the peace of wild things..." Oh, how that resonates! It's a place where my favorite contemporary poet Mary Oliver takes us, too. Yes, we do need to come into that place from time to time. We do need breaks from the politics of the day. It becomes unbearable to see how our democracy is being undermined, how kids are being killed with AR-15s and weapons of war, how our social safety nets are under attack, how oligarchy and tyranny, from the White House and Congress on down, have taken over our lives.   

I had not thought about Wendell Berry, the award-winning poet from Kentucky, in a long time. The last I recalled, with Cherie's prompting, is that he won a National Humanities Medal and gave the annual Jefferson Lecture a few years ago, both august public humanities events I have followed since I worked for the DC and Florida state programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The poem Cherie posted refreshed my memory and took me online to do a little research.  Wendell Berry was born in 1934 and lives on the farm in Henry County, Kentucky, that has been in his family for five generations. His writings evoke a strong sense of place, full of images of the Kentucky River and the hill farms of central Kentucky. He is an advocate for sustainable agriculture and small farming, locality and agrarian values, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau.

I took myself away from the news du jour, away from writing, and spent an afternoon reading Berry's poetry.  I ordered a few books. Berry's poems will be there when I need a break from resisting, marching, making phone calls, protesting. Not that what I do compares to Cherie, who is on the front lines with Indivisible and other resisters, like Molly Reed, 24/7.  I swear, these two women keep me going.

I met Cherie at a workshop she was conducting to get signatures on a petition to put an anti-gerrymandering issue on the Ohio ballot in November.  She said we were just starting and needed 300,000 signatures. That was daunting! Her optimism moved me. I did what I could, which wasn't much, but Cherie has been at it for months and months. These devoted activists have almost reached their goal. Imagine the work. And it's only one of the many political action strategies that resisters like Cherie and Molly are involved in every single day.

Whatever helps these resisters carry on is a good thing.  If it's a poetry break, even better! "Take a breath, and read," Cherie says. It is wonderful advice. "Though I am dark, there is vision around me./Though I am heavy there is flight around me."

Two more poems by Wendell Berry
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it...
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides...
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it...
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields...
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.

Do Not be Ashamed 
You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

This poem took me to Mary Oliver's Wild Geese, and in a poetry frame of mind, I can't resist putting it here. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The book Philip gave me: "Making Bombs for Hitler"

My 10-year-old great-grandson Philip, son of my first-born grandchild Julia and grandson of my daughter Elissa, handed me a book he had just read. "I think you'll like this, Nana," he said.

The book is Making Bombs for Hitler (Scholastic Inc., 2017), by popular Ukrainian-Canadian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (pronounced Skrip-ich). The title captured me right away.

"You read this book about such a serious subject?" I ask. He nods, smiles. I give him a hug. He is so proud of himself, and I of him!

Philip is right. I liked this book. I'm a historian. I taught American history to students at various colleges over the years. I directed NEH state programs in DC and Florida to bring history to the public. I lived in the town of Starobelsk in eastern Ukraine for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. While living there (2009-11) I picked up bits and pieces of a World War II history that I never knew before, a shocking history uncovered only since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The badge worn by child slaves
 in German labor camps.
Making Bombs for Hitler encompasses this history.  The novel, written for kids Philip's age, but really for people of all ages, tells the sad and little-known story of the Ostarbeiters (literally "eastern workers").  The Ostarbeiters were mostly Ukrainian children, ages 7-14 on average, whom the Nazis kidnapped and forced into slavery in German labor camps to keep the Nazi war machine going.  It's estimated that more than 2.5 million children were sent to these camps. Many thousands died from starvation and overwork.

Skrypuch draws on real-life stories of survivors to tell the harrowing tale of Lida and her sister Larissa. She dedicates the book "to Anelia V, whose detailed recall of day-to-day life as a Nazi slave helped me create an accurate world for Lida."

The accuracy of Lida's world horrifies.

The story begins in the brutal reality that Yale historian Timothy Snyder documents in his best-selling book The Bloodlands: Eastern Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2012). The sisters' father is killed by the Russians and their mother is shot by the Nazis for harboring Jewish neighbors.  Lida, Larissa and her family, archetypal of their time and place, are literally viciously trapped between Hitler and Stalin.

Philip and Chase reading books at Costco while
GranElissa  shops. Love to see my grands reading.
Lida and Larissa, living with their grandmother after their parents' murders, scared, hoping they might be safe because they aren't Jewish, are kidnapped by the Nazis. Clinging to each other for dear life, a Nazi nurse separates them despite, or because of, their protests. Lida's pain and confusion are heart-wrenching. What's happening? Where are we going? What will happen to my sister? What will happen to me?

Lida, just ten years old but advised to pretend to be older, is herded onto an overcrowded cattle car and left floundering in shock with hundreds of other children, without food, air or water, a hole in the corner for a toilet, like the death trains that took Jewish prisoners to concentration camps and other Eastern European victims to Russian gulags. Fear and "the smell of misery" envelops her.

It never goes away. The labor camps are vicious. Underfed, hardly clothed, indiscriminately "disciplined" by sadistic guards, exposed to the arbitrary outbursts of the Gestapo or industrial plant guards, witnesses to and victims of inhuman brutality, many of the Ostarbeiters did not live to tell their story.

Can one's sense of humanity and decency survive under such conditions?  Lida's struggle to survive and find her sister Larissa brings more horror than hope. But somehow, Lida never gives up. She draws strength from deep within that she didn't know she had. She remembers her mother telling her "you can find beauty anywhere." She tries.  At a low point in the camp, she pleads with a despairing friend, both worked beyond endurance, to fight to stay alive. "If you don't live, who will tell your story after the war ends?"  

The rest of the story highlights how these brave young workers sabotage the bombs they are forced to make under the hateful eyes and constant death threats of their supervisors. They are also victims of increased Allied bombings that targeted Nazi munition factories near war's end. 

As the Nazis began fleeing the camps and destroying evidence of their existence, Lida learns from her friend Juli, who worked in the camp's hospital, a gruesome assignment, that Officer Schmidt, the sadistic head of the labor camp, had ordered the cook to poison the workers' soup. "All the Eastern workers who were in camp today died."

Lida's fury rises up. "The Nazis will pay for these murders," she whispers to her horrified friend, as they continue sabotaging bombs one after another. "They should think twice before asking slaves to make bombs."  Who knows how many bombs failed to explode because of the efforts of these children, but their courage is breathtaking.

Making Bombs for Hitler ends in the same Bloodlands reality as it began.  After the Nazi labor camps came the Russian Gulags. The Red Army, every bit as cruel as the Nazis, hunted and captured the terrorized survivors and sent them to their death in Siberia. "They called us traitors," the young boy Luka, who barely survives this fate, tells Lida.  "But you were a prisoner of the Nazis," she says. "It doesn't matter," he replies, clearly traumatized beyond measure by his near-death experiences. "We can never go home again."  A lucky few found new homes in western Europe or were adopted in Canada and other countries. Skrypuch suggests this ending for Lida and Larissa. 

I asked Philip what he thought of the book. "I think Lida was a very brave girl."  How would you have survived?  "I would do what Lida did, and for sure sabotage those bombs like she did." He did wonder if he could survive on the camp diet of  watery turnip soup. "Maybe I would have gotten very weak," he admitted, "too weak to work, maybe too weak to live."  He pondered that. So did I.
* * *
On the complicated history of Chernivtsi oblast in western Ukraine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernivtsi_Oblast

On the Ostarbeiters. Ukrainian references from my friend Natalia Dohadailo in Starobelsk. They can be translated.  Thanks also to Olga Koulich-mirochnychenko for sharing information.
*  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostarbeiter

About the author: http://www.scholastic.ca/books/authors&illustrators/marsha-forchuk-skrypuch

For World War II historical context: Timothy Snyder, BLOODLANDS: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010).   The "Bloodlands" is the region that includes modern-day Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and the Baltic states.  Snyder's thesis is that this is where "the totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Hitler interacted to increase suffering and bloodshed many times worse than any seen in western history." Snyder painstakingly documents how Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany committed mass killings of more than 14 million unarmed non-combatants and civilians outside the death camps of the Holocaust during World War II and afterwards. These were Intentional policies of mass murder, including Stalin's Katyn Forest Massacre of Polish army officers and POWs, the Nazi's deliberate starvation of 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, and outright executions and death camps on both sides of the Nazi/Soviet line.
      The citizens of these countries were literally caught between two bloody regimes, with no exit.   I've been learning more about eastern Europe ever since I lived in Ukraine, a traumatized society to this day. After the Nazi atrocities came the Stalin atrocities, when Red Army soldiers hunted the scarred and scared survivors and treated them like traitors. They captured thousands upon thousands of Ostarbeiters as they wandered the countryside or ended up in Displaced Persons Camps and sent them to Russian gulags. From Nazi labor camps to Soviet Gulags. Imagine it.

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