I just got back from one of those melancholy/happy times with Mom and my brother Ken. When Mom and Dad had their 50th anniversary party in 2010 instead of gifts they asked for donations to go to Heifer International and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Dad had made it known that when he did pass away he did not want people to send flowers but to instead donate some money to the VYCC. We put that in the obituary and several people (including the lovely Vicki Tucker) donated some money. A while ago my mom got a call from them asking where all these donations were coming from. Mom talked with them for a bit and they invited the three of us to stop in at their facility in Richmond for a tour. Today was the day we went to do that.
We arrived and were greeted by a lovely woman named Naomi. As she walked from her desk to greet us, I saw something unusual and specific behind her work space and had to ask. “Is that a Phil Yates & The Affiliates LP?” She said yes and said she sings in a band with their drummer Jacob Blodgett. I let her know I loved the band and do a local music radio show on WBKM.org. I think she is going to send me an album. Yea, more local music to play.
We toured the barn and she told us about the program which is for kids in their late teens to early 20’s and they get sent out all over the state to work on projects and learn about sustainable living off the land, learning to work with groups of people, learning leadership skills and things like that. It really sounds like they are doing some great work. If you know a kid in that age range who needs some direction, check out the organization.
At the end of the tour I mentioned that I work at Gardener’s Supply Company and she said Jim Feinson (GSC’s CEO) is a member of their board. It’s such a small, and wonderful, world sometimes.
So, I’m thinking about Dad today. I’m feeling a little sad, but happy to know that something that meant a lot to him, kids getting a chance to learn and better themselves, is thriving and available. I know he would be pleased.
On the way out, Mom mentioned that we were going to stop and get something to eat. Naomi recommended the Parkside Kitchen. We took her up on that, and the food was just great. Great call!!
That’s my day so far.
I’m not there yet, but I’m thinking. I think it was the clerk who would not issue any marriage licenses that made me want to ask if she was a Christian. Jesus never said anything about gay people so how do you know it’s right to take a stand against them? Didn’t Jesus say love everyone?
I was thinking about the end of the world. What did Jesus say about how the world would end? Revelation has some terrifying stories, but weren’t they some of the stories that were used to scare people back in the day? What did Jesus say about the end times? Maybe he didn’t say anything because he knew our temporary home would go on and on, and he knew the best way for it to go on and on would be if we all loved each other. That’s always the message I’ve gotten from Jesus, and why I believe more in the fish than in the cross.
Just some thoughts.
John Fugelsang “In Matthew 25 Jesus commands his followers – both individuals and nations – to care for the sick. Sigh.”
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But first here’s my take. Can Arab countries be real democracies? Well, one of them, Tunisia, just did well on a big test. More than 20 years ago the scholar Samuel Huntington established his famous two- turnover test for fledgling democracies. He argued that a country can only be said to be a consolidated democracy when there have been two peaceful transitions of power.
Tunisia passed Huntington’s test after last weekend’s election when for the second time a ruling establishment agreed to hand over power. Tunisia’s relative success is in marked contrast to the abysmal failure of Egypt. The Arab world’s largest and once most influential country.
As in Tunisia Egyptians also overthrew a dictator three years ago, but after Egypt’s brief experiment with democracy in which the Muslim Brotherhood was elected and then abused its authority, today the country is ruled by a repressive dictatorship. I recently asked a secular liberal Egyptian from Cairo who was involved in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak whether the current regime feels like a return of the old order. Oh, no, he said. This one is far more brutal, repressive, and cynical than Mubarak’s.
Why did Tunisia succeed where Egypt failed? Analysts of the two countries have offered lots of answers, but the most common one is that Tunisia’s Islamists were just better than Egypt’s. In both countries Islamist parties won the first election, but as many have pointed out, Tunisia’s Ennahda Party, which is a rough equivalent of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, sought to share power while their Egyptian brethren did not.
Now Tarek Masoud, the author of a fascinating new book on Islamists and elections entitled “Counting Islam,” suggests that Tunisia’s success and Egypt’s failure had less to do with the quality of its Islamists than with deep differences in those countries’ political environments. Tunisia is more developed, more urban, more literate, and more globalized than Egypt.
It has a more diverse civil society than Egypt, stronger labor unions, civic associations, professional groups, and so there was relative parity between Islamists and their opponents. Tunisia’s Islamic party shared power, in other words, not because it was nicer than the Muslim Brotherhood, but because it had to. Tunisia had more of the preconditions that have historically helped strengthen democracy than did Egypt.
Of course, Tunisia faces many economic challenges. Its youth unemployment rate is around 30 percent. The government is battling Islamist militants at home and recent reports have suggested that the Arab world’s only democracy is also its biggest exporter of fighters to join ISIS. Though this may be because Tunisia is relatively open and not a closed police state like Egypt.
But Tunisia’s relative success does suggest there is nothing inherent in Islam or Arab society that makes it impossible for democracy to take root there. You need favorable economic and political conditions for sure in the Arab world as elsewhere. You need good leadership, and you probably need some luck.
John Fugelsang “Some US Christians make me wonder if their Bible is just Revelation, Golden Calf & 2 lines of Leviticus duct-taped to a Left Behind book.”
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: What are the strengths of the Islamic State? I posed this question to two deeply knowledgeable observers, a European diplomat and a foreign official, and the picture they painted is worrying, although not hopeless. Defeating the group would require a large and sustained strategic effort from the Obama administration but it could be done without significant numbers of U.S. ground troops.
The European diplomats stationed in the Middle East travels in and out of Syria and has access to regime and opposition sources. Both sources agreed to speak only if their identities were not revealed. This European official agrees with the consensus that the Islamic State has gained considerable economic and military strength in recent months. He estimates that it is making $1 million a day in Syria and Iraq each by selling oil and gas, although U.S. experts believe the number is too high in Iraq.
The Islamic State’s military strategy is brutal but also smart. The group’s annual reports — yes, it has issued annual reports since 2012 — detail its military methods and successes to try to impress its backers and funders. The videos posted online of executions are barbaric but strategic. They are designed to sow terror in the minds of opponents who when facing Islamic State fighters on the battlefield now reportedly flee rather than fight.
But the most dangerous aspect of the Islamic State this diplomat believes is its ideological appeal. It has recruited marginalized disaffected Sunni youth in Syria and Iraq who believe that they have been ruled by apostate regimes.
How to handle this challenge? The American, a former senior administration figure, counsels against pessimism. The Islamic State could be defeated, he says, but it would take a comprehensive and sustained strategy much like the one that under girded the surge in Iraq. The first task is political, he said. Supporting the Obama administration’s efforts to press the Iraqi government to become more inclusive.
“We have more leverage now than at any time in recent years and the administration is using it,” he said.
If this continues, the next step would be to create the most powerful and effective ground force that could take on the Islamic State, which would not be American troops, would not be the Free Syrian Army, but, rather, a reconstituted Iraqi army. Remember, that force was built, trained, and equipped by the United States.
The former American official says it’s actually got some very effective units. The Iraqi special forces were trained in Jordan and are extremely impressive,” unquote. Pointing out that it was those forces that recaptured the Mosul dam recently. It’s underperformed recently because then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had transformed it over the past two years into a sectarian and loyalist force.
The two observers agreed on one central danger, the temptation to gain immediate military victories over the Islamic State could mean that the United States would end up tacitly partnering with Bashar al- Assad’s regime in Syria. This would produce a short-term military gain against the Islamic State but it would be a long-term political disaster. It would feed the idea that the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are embattled, that a crusader Christian Shiite alliance is persecuting them and that all Sunnis must resist this alien invasion the European diplomat said.
The key is that Sunnis must be in the lead against IS. They must be in front of the battlefield, he said.
So the strategy that could work against the Islamic State is nothing less than a second Sunni awakening like the one during the Iraqi surge. It’s a huge challenge but it appears to be the only option with a plausible chance of success.
An interview with Frank Sinatra from 1963
Playboy: Are you a religious man? Do you believe in God?
Sinatra: Well, that’ll do for openers. I think I can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. First: I believe in you and me. I’m like Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in that I have a respect for life — in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I’m not unmindful of man’s seeming need for faith; I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. The witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask God for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It’s not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven, The Sermon on the Mount.