A 40th High School Reunion in Maryville, Tennessee

18 06 2010

There’s nothing like 40 years to give you some perspective. I attended the 40th high school reunion of  the Maryville High School class of 1970 on 6/11/10 in Maryville, Tennessee. Over a third of our class showed up along with some spouses and partners. About 8% of our class members are dead…something that seems inconceivable to me. What was their path…and that of their family and friends…that it included a life cut short? Death is an equalizer, showing no favor to the popular classmates who have passed on.

For those us still kicking it, for the most part, our personalities really haven’t changed all that much. The outgoing ones are still outgoing, the quiet ones are still quiet, and the nerdy ones are still nerdy. Not only is death an equalizer, so is aging. It’s fascinating to see how people age differently.

Overall, we look pretty good, but if you look closely, you see a few more wrinkles on some faces. You don’t have to look closely to see the extra pounds that many of us (myself included) now carry. One guy and one gal from the class who are on Facebook have…since the reunion…listed the “Hotties” and it feels like we’re in high school all over again.

There were a few surprises like how many people have never had children or have never been married. A few people are gay…something that wasn’t on my radar at all in high school. At least half of those in attendance still live in the area. Some lived other places, but came back. It is a charming town, so this is understandable.

People were upbeat and I didn’t really hear stories of tragedy and suffering and turmoil unless I knew about them and asked. At our age, I’m sure most people have experienced many ups and downs. One of our classmates dropped dead of a brain aneurysm 11 years ago and his wife…also one of our classmates…talked of the rough road she’d had in raising their children alone afterward.

I heard some talk of careers, but mostly there was talk of children and grandchildren and where you’ve lived and wow, it’s great to see you. After 40 years, the conversations distilled down to what is really important in our lives. We also reminisced about painting the bridge red and black before rival football games with Alcoa High and how tough our English teacher Ms. Miller (whose daughter was one of our classmates and was there) was…and how grateful we were when we went to college.

My Senior High School Photo

What’s really neat is that our spirits are ageless. We may be 57 or 58 years old, but we’re still giggly and fun-loving and witty and engaging and curious. If I closed my eyes…or simply looked past the extra pounds and wrinkles and hair dye…I saw those same classmates who I knew and loved in high school.

A 40th high school reunion is not only a reunion with classmates, but also with the self you were all those years ago. I could instantly erase 40 years of living and step back to being that girl who was living life to the fullest and had the whole world ahead of her. Maybe I’ll decide to stay 17 and continue to see a world of opportunity available to me. Maryville, Maryville High, my family, and those classmates instilled in me that sense of possibility…and I’ll forever be that girl.





International Women’s Day: Have Women Made Any Progress?

8 03 2010

Yesterday I heard the second president (in 1970) of the National Organization of Women (NOW) Aileen Hernandez speak on “Women’s Human Rights: Turning Principles into Practice: An International Women’s Day Event” at University of California at Berkeley. Aileen is currently the chair of the California Women’s Agenda, a state action alliance of over 600 organizations. Yesterday…as part of today’s International Women’s Day commemoration and sponsored by the UN Association-East Bay…she led a group of activists through a discussion of the advances that women have made over the last three or so decades. Those include:

  • More choices of types of work are available to women now. Previously women primarily were employed as sales clerks, teachers, nurses, secretaries, or domestic workers.
  • Women and girls are more involved in athletics and play in team sports now.
  • Women have more choices about working vs. staying at home with children. This creates more choices for men, too, and more men are stay-at-home fathers, for instance.
  • Women are seen more often in higher level positions within companies.
  • Women represent higher percentages of those seeking upper education degrees.
  • Women have more choices about whether to marry or not and whether to have children or not. Previously it was assumed they would marry and would have children.
  • There’s more recognition that educating a girl or woman means that a whole family and whole community benefits.
  • Women have assumed leadership roles in government and other positions of power to greater degrees.

And yet, despite the advances for women, many things have not changed…or have not changed enough. Some examples:

  • The International Trade Union (ITUC)…which represents 176 million workers from 155 countries…reported on 3/8/10 that women with children still only earn 68% of what their male counterparts earn for the same job. Women overall earn 74% of what men earn for the same position. This study included information from over 40 countries across the world.
  • According to Causecast, which has been dubbed a “one stop philanthropy shop, “One in three women die or are seriously injured as a result of gender-based violence. Violence against women results in more deaths among women ages 15 to 44 than the total number of women who die because of war, malaria and cancer.” One woman in the talk yesterday said she felt that the attention to violence against women has been a plus, but in reality, all that attention has not lowered the prevalence of the violence. Causecast also reports that “One out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. An estimated 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police.”
  • Also per Causecast, an “estimated four million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide each year, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery.”
  • Another disturbing statistic from Causecast: “Approximately 96 million young women in developing countries still cannot read or write. Globally, girls account for 55 percent of children not in school.
  • And also from Causecast, “nearly 75% of those displaced by violent conflict are women. Displacement leaves women without access to health care, proper nutrition or education. Displaced women face a higher threat of gender-based terrorism and violence.”

You can read a lot more statistics about the state of women internationally today in my 2009 International Women’s Day post.

So have we achieved equal rights for women? No…far from it. Women and girls still bear the brunt of violence, lack of education, and lack the same privileges and pay as men…even in the United States. When will we…as human beings and the men throughout the world…the fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, grandfathers…begin to cherish and value women and girls and create opportunities, laws, and places in family and society that guarantee their safety and worth?






Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators

19 10 2009

What was rolling farm land in east Tennessee, the city now known as Oak Ridge was quickly transformed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 to become one of the four places that worked on the Manhattan Project and birthed the atomic bomb. Because of the plentiful and cheap hydroelectric power provided through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Oak Ridge was the place where uranium was enriched. At one point, the Oak Ridge plants consumed one-sixth of the electricity in the entire United States…more than New York City.

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility, part of the Manhattan Project. (Photo: Life)

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility (Photo: Life)

What workers were doing in Oak Ridge was so secretive that not even the governor of the state knew it. The city was not on a map and was referred to as the Clinton Engineering Works.

Today three of the four major facilities used for wartime bomb production are still in use and owned by the Department of Energy. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is the DOE’s largest science and energy lab in the country. It is home to over 4,300 scientists and staff, 3,000 guest researchers annually, a $1.4 billion budget, two of the most advanced neutron scattering research facilities in the world, and the most powerful scientific supercomputer in the world.

They do research there in the fields of nanosciences, biological systems, energy, advanced materials, national security, chemical sciences, electron microscopy, nuclear medicine, and physics.

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

According to the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), “the Oak Ridge research community may be taking on its grandest, and most important, challenge since the legendary World War II Manhattan Project.” Oak Ridge scientists, led by ORNL Applied Software Engineering Group Leader Dr. Tom Potok, and Y-12 (one of the remaining Oak Ridge facilities) National Security Complex’s Steve Payne, are partnering with the Knoxville Police Department, PROTECT, and PROTECT development director and actor David Keith to develop software to help track and prosecute child molesters and pedophiles who traffic in child pornography.

An example of how efficient and effective this software is? An estimated 10,000 Tennesseans traffic in child pornography. Manually sifting through just one of those 10,000 computers takes 40 hours of work. The software developed by Dr. Potok’s team does it in just one hour. Knoxville Police Department is in a pilot program with this software now; if the program is successful, it could become a national law enforcement standard per WBIR.com, a Knoxville news station site.

PROTECT Executive Director Grier Weeks says that the Protect Our Children Act of 2008 was a major step forward that the federal government made, but technology has not been forthcoming. He said:

There’s been a government-wide disconnect, where it is understood that cyber-security and economic crimes require serious resources, but it’s somehow assumed that volunteers and micro grants are enough to drive child rescue technology. Our hope is that when Washington sees the inspiration and passion for rescuing children coming out of one of America’s finest scientific research centers, a light will go on for many people. We can really do this, and this is the way.

I wrote a blog post about the need for technology to stop human trafficking on 6/5/09 entitled Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking? As a member of PROTECT, I received an email on 8/14/09 about what is now being done with technology to stop predators and that’s how I heard about the ORNL project.

I am so impressed with the work that David Keith is doing. He is using his celebrity as an actor…in An Officer and a Gentleman, The Rose, The Great Santini, Firestarter, and many more movies…to bring awareness to sexual abuse and the trafficking of children, and to rescue children from the hands of sexual predators.

David Keith

David Keith

He speaks to groups to enlist help in his quest and tells them how there are 750,000 traffickers of child pornography in the U.S., child pornography is a multi-billion dollar global industry, 50% of the worldwide market for child porn comes from the U.S., 96% of cases of child sex abuse are committed by a member of the child’s family or a trusted acquaintance, and how child molesters assault 27 children on average.

PROTECT operates on only a $400,000 annual budget. So much more is needed. Consider joining PROTECT at http://www.protect.org and donating to help them do this very important work. Here is PROTECT’s mission from their website:

PROTECT is a national pro-child, anti-crime membership association. We are founded on the belief that our first and most sacred obligation as parents, citizens, and members of the human species is the protection of children from harm. We are committed to building a powerful, nonpartisan force for the protection of children from abuse, exploitation and neglect. We believe that this must be done through a determined single-issue focus, a meaningful mainstream agenda and the use of proven modern political strategies.

I have a personal connection with this story. David’s father is a neighbor of my mother and sings in the men’s chorus she accompanies and leads. I met David’s father at one of their chorus performances recently and he told me that he’s most proud of his son (even more than his acting) David for his work to stop child predators and rescue children in their throes. I am from east Tennessee and lived in Oak Ridge for five years and even wrote a weekly business column for a year for the local Oak Ridger newspaper.

To commemorate the 50th birthday of the city of Oak Ridge…the city that was created to develop the atomic bomb…dedicated on May 3, 1996 a Japanese bell (also called the International Friendship Bell) to exemplify theOak Ridge Peace Bell theme of the celebration of Oak Ridge’s birth: “born of war, living for peace, growing through science.” I was privileged to play piano for the chorus that sang at this prestigious dedication, which was attended by many dignitaries and also by representatives from Oak Ridge’s sister city Naka, Ibaraki, Japan. It was a moving experience.

Oak Ridge is a town that was quickly and secretly assembled to build the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 6, 1945 and on Hiroshima, Japan on August 9, 1945, facilitating the end of World War II. The very labs where such destructive power was created is now creating the means to rescue children from the destructive power of child predators and to stop them from ruining any more children’s lives. The peace bell is a fitting symbol…a place, people, facilities, technology, and tremendous brain power are now being used to create peace in the world and stop those who would use their own horrendous power against innocent children and devastate their lives and the lives of people who love them.





Congratulations to the New Graduates…in Prison

28 09 2009

A letter to the women in the Lockhart, Texas prison who just graduated from the Truth be Told program

You had no choice but to wear matching dull blue v-neck formless pullover tops and pants, white t-shirts, and tennis shoes. I had the freedom to choose to wear a peridot-green peasant blouse, black capri pants, and close-toed (a requirement) black heels. I wore jewelry. You did not. I freely came in from the outside, handed over my driver’s license, and was escorted into the gymnasium with 17 other women and 2 men who chose (and were pre-screened) to attend your graduation. You, too, were escorted there, but after graduation, you stayed in the prison. I went home.

Despite our marked differences in freedom, we came together to celebrate your graduation from the Truth Be Told program. I recognized the 10 of you in the Talk to Me Speaking Class from when I had the privilege of evaluating five of your this-is-my-life speeches. Many of you ran to me, hugged me, and said how happy you were that I was there. I felt real joy in seeing you and delight in sitting between two of you. Three of you spoke and my heart filled with pride that you so openly and skillfully shared the story of what came before that led to you being in prison.

Three of the nine women from the Talk to Me Circle Class also spoke and shared your stories and three women from the Talk to Me Movement Class delighted us with your expressiveness and impressive moves in the Michael Jackson “Beat It” number. Charlotte leaned over and told me it was the first time she’d heard music (from a loud speaker) in three years.

Walking through History - Purchased from iStockPhotoYou told us stories of being sexually abused as a child, a mother who allowed such abuse toward you and even toward your children, a father who beat your mother, using drugs to dim emotional pain, being forced to sell drugs or to prostitute yourself to support your children, being beaten by men who you thought loved you, never feeling loved, joining a gang to find a sense of belonging, having to give up children, being in and out of prison, and more.

Your stories touched everyone who attended. We gathered afterward to name our feelings: grateful, joyful, amazed at your courage and honesty, a sense of sisterhood with you, pride, recognition and acknowledgment of your pain and what you’ve been through, and honored to have had the opportunity to bear witness to your stories.

The Truth be Told volunteers who facilitate the classes are amazing: Peggy Lamb, Julie Wylie, Natalie Weinstein, Katie Ford, Mary Gifford, and co-founders Carol Waid and Nathalie Sorrell. You are fortunate to have women who are so passionate, so talented, so intelligent, so giving, and so caring guide you in walking your life toward making healthy choices and feeling hopeful for a better tomorrow.

As amazing as your facilitators are, I wonder if you ladies in the Truth be Told program realize how much you give to those who work with you. We feel your humanness, that you are our sisters, and that but for different life choices and circumstances, the roles could be reversed…we could be in prison and you could be on the outside. We see your courage, your vulnerability, your willingness to be open and honest, your admission of bad choices, and your desire to turn your lives around. We admire you, we are Truth Be Told Logoin awe of you, we are touched by you, and we take you with us as we leave.

The experience of being in prison with you and hearing your stories lasts long after we leave the facility.  We share our experience with those we care about and they share it with still others. Something changes in us. We develop an even deeper understanding that we are all one and must do what we can to lift each other up.

Thank you, dear Truth be Told graduates. Take in all the applause we gave you at the graduation and continue to give you every time we think of you. You are changing your lives…and ours…for the better. And that’s the truth.

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Truth Be Told by Women in a Texas Prison

5 09 2009

I went to prison on Thursday. Through a friendship with co-founder Nathalie Sorrell, I  had the opportunity to participate in the non-profit Truth Be Told program at the Lockhart, Texas prison. The mission of Truth Be Told is to provide:

…transformational tools for women behind and beyond bars. [Their] programs provide respectful listening and creative tools for personal and spiritual growth for incarcerated women. [They] encourage in them a deeper sense of personal responsibility and help them face the truth of their pasts and embrace the hope of their futures.

The program I attended is modeled on Toastmasters, which I attended for 13 years. In this group were ten women, whose ages ranged from around 22 to 59 and whose crimes ranged from drug dealing to violent crimes. I served as the evaluator for the speeches of five women, who told the stories of their lives and what led them to prison.

PrisonAs I listened, I was struck by how these women could have been any of us…and how any of them could have been living lives of freedom if they had been blessed with emotionally healthier parents, gotten a good education, had not been so desperate for love from the wrong men, and had made better choices. Each woman gave me permission to tell her story…they want others to understand the consequences of bad choices. I promised to change their names. Here goes.

DulcineaHispanic, 35 years old, a beautiful, easy smile, corn rows on top of her head and remaining hair upswept in a bun – Dulcinea’s father beat her mother. Dulcinea had an abortion at age 18, gave birth to two children by age 28, and her father was killed by a drunk driver when she was 28. That crushed her and she began doing cocaine. From ages 29 to 35 she did prostitution and was in and out of prison. She has now discovered that God is the real “man” she needed and that he has rescued her.

CarolBlack, daughter of a Marine father and Filipino mother, 35 years old, trim, shoulder-length straight hair, serene countenance – Carol’s parents divorced when she was five years old. From ages 7 – 13 she was sexually abused by her stepfather and felt hatred toward him, her mother, and herself. Her mother, who was on drugs, blamed her and left her to take care of herself and her little sisters. At age 14, she met an older man, believed she loved him, and sold drugs for him. She was put in prison for the first time at age 17, which led to two “good things”…getting her GED (Graduate Equivalency Degree) and “giving [her] life to the Lord.” After getting out, she became pregnant by a new man, he left her, and she sold drugs again to support herself and her child. She had two daughters by a third man who sold drugs and went to prison. She took her children to her mom’s, lived on the streets, sold drugs, and met another man who she hated. She had multiple suicide attempts, he kidnapped her and raped her repeatedly, she became pregnant with her fourth child, and was sent to prison again…this time for eight years. She was released from prison in 2007, tried dating women, and was still hurt. She had her fifth child by yet another man. She wrote a bad check and wound up back in prison.

CarlottaBlack, 33 years old, curly hair, full-figured, friendly face – When she was seven years old, Carlotta’s mother ran away, her father was incarcerated, and Carlotta was sent to live with her grandmother, who was very religious and strict. Carlotta felt bitter. Looking for love, she became pregnant by a 14-year-old and went to a special school for teen mothers. Despite the separation, when her mother died when she was just 17 and her father when she was 20, she wanted to die too. She lived a life then of sexing, stealing, and clubbing. At age 23, a high-speed chase led to her arrest for shoplifting; she went to prison for a few months and received 10 years probation. She reconnected with a childhood friend, became pregnant, and suffered postpartum depression. While still on probation, she went on the run for 15 months, was caught, and was put back in prison in 2005. Now she is taking back her life.

Rosemaria Hispanic, around 23 years old, innocent looking, smiling – Rosemaria’s mother left her and her siblings in an orphanage when she was just seven years old, which led her to feel rage and hatred. At age 13 she became part of a gang. At age 15 she became pregnant, had three children by age 18, and four by age 21. She said that while in the gang, she didn’t “…feel bad about fighting. We didn’t hurt children or anyone who was innocent.  But now I see that we were hurting innocent children when we hurt their mothers, fathers, uncles….” She said that being in prison is the “biggest test of [her] life” and she now understands that what she did was wrong. She says she is still a “G“…this time God’s child.

NancyWhite, 59 years old, graying hair messily swept back in a bun, peering over granny glasses, thin – Nancy stated out right that she was not like the others. She said that both of her parents were lawyers and Ph.D.s and her mother told her over and over that she was a “loved baby.” She said that she led a charmed life until she came to prison, but didn’t know it. Her parents were in Europe, but her mother “waited to have her” until they came back to the U.S. so that Nancy could possibly be president one day. She watched prison movies and read a lot from the Bible and was determined she would never go to prison and would be the best Christian she could be. Although she says she took extraordinary measures to insure that she was indeed the owner of a house that was deeded to her, she says that her lawyer was crooked and she wound up in prison. Nancy was apparently imprisoned for real estate fraud, but even when challenged about the veracity of her story and what her part was that led to her being imprisoned, still said she is innocent and will one day see her story made into a Lifetime network movie.

Each woman in the group gave me hugs and thanked me for coming. I felt a Truth Be Told Logoreal sense of joy of being with these women who…though they have made real mistakes …are now trying to better their lives. Truth Be Told has several programs that help women build a sense of community, come to grips with the decisions they made that led them to prison, and learn to better communicate with each other respectfully and caringly.

I felt joyful from start to finish the day I went to prison. Through the efforts of volunteers like Nathalie Sorrell (co-founder), Carol Waid (co-founder), Katie, Peggy, Natalie, Suzanne, Julie, Mary, and executive director Shannon Holtzendorf, programs like Truth Be Told begin to bring some joy into the lives of women who have led hard lives and experienced little joy before coming to prison.

I’m going back to prison for their graduation in three weeks. Truth be told? I can’t wait.

Read my blog post about going to the Truth be Told graduation in the Lockhart prison

Become a fan of Truth be Told on Facebook.





Chris Gardner and The Pursuit of Happyness

14 06 2009
Chris Gardner, Jaden, and Will Smith

Chris Gardner, Jaden, and Will Smith

I heard the powerful, and formerly homeless, Chris Gardner speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in Austin on January 20, 2007. His booming voice and charismatic personality filled the large hall during his talk and enthralled me when I shook his hand afterward.

Chris is best known as the subject of the 2006 $300 million+ grossing movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The movie, for which Will Smith won an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe award, is based on Chris’ New York Times #1 best selling book The Pursuit of Happyness. Jaden Smith, Will’s Son, plays Chris’ son in the movie.

The book details Gardner’s remarkable life journey. In his early years, he had to deal with poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and family illiteracy. He had a violent, physically abusive step-father who beat him and his mother frequently and nearly killed her. His mother was imprisoned twice…once for trying to burn down their house with his step-father in it. He was put in foster care twice and was eventually adopted by relatives.

He became a hospital corpsman in the Navy and afterward, went on to become a research lab assistant in San Francisco and a medical equipment salesman. He left his wife to live with dental student Jackie Medina, with whom he had his first child Christopher Jr. in January 1981.

One day he encounted a well-dressed man (Bob Bridges) with a red Ferrari and asked him what he did. Bob told Chris that he was a stock broker and at that moment, Chris decided that’s what he wanted to do. On the very day that he had an interview (which Bob arranged), he had just gotten out of a 10-day stay in prison due to $1,200 in parking tickets he could not pay. Jackie had accused him of beating her (which he still denies) and disappeared along with all of his possessions and their child. He showed up at his interview wearing the casual clothes on his back and with no formal education or experience, got into the training program at Dean Witter Reynolds.

Chris Gardner and Son 1984

Chris Gardner and Son 1984

Through hard work, he was the top trainee and got his license and a job at Bear Stearns. After four months, Jackie returned with his son and Chris gained custody of him. Still not making much money and without the knowledge of his co-workers, Chris and his son were homeless for a year. They spent nights in a bathroom at the transit station, his office, at flophouses, and at parks. Eventually they were allowed to stay at the Glide shelter for homeless women while he saved money for a place for them to live.

In 1987, after just five years and with just $10,000, Chris started his own brokerage firm called Gardner Rich in Chicago. He sold part of his stake in the firm for several million dollars in 2006 and became founder and CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings.

Chris Gardner and Nelson Mandela

Chris Gardner and Nelson Mandela

Chris is a remarkable man who is making many positive things happen in the world. He met with Nelson Mandela and is working on a venture in South Africa that will bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars into the country.

Chris has helped out Glide, which gave him and his son shelter, and helped fund $50 million to build homeless low-income housing and provide emnployment to homeless people in San Francisco, where he was once homeless. He is involved in other philanthropic ventures, serves on several non-profit boards, and has received many awards, including the National Fatherhood Initiative’s Father of the Year honor.

Gardner’s second book, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, was published on May 12, 2009. Today the 55-year-old Chris Gardner, who also has a daughter Jacintha who was born in 1985, is worth an estimated $165 million.

 Thomas Jefferson penned these words in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Despite unbelievable odds, Chris Gardner has worked hard and lived his life by these words. You can find out more about Chris on his website at www.ChrisGardnerMedia.com.

See this bigger-than-life, charismatic man in action in this video of Chris giving the commencement speech about a new vision of the American Dream at UC Berkeley on 5/22/09.

I’m so glad I met him. He gives me hope for our country and inspires me.

 





U.S. Torture: Voices from the Black Sites

15 03 2009

Chilling. In the tortureds’ own words. US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites is the name of the cover article in the April 9 issue of the New York Review of Books. This is a must-read article by Mark Danner, a long-time contributor to the Review and the author of the book Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror.

Mark Danner - Source: NYBooks.com

Mark Danner - Source: NYBooks.com

Mark Danner contributed an OpEd to the 3/14/09 New York Times about the article. He talks of how on September 6, 2006 President Bush first “…informed the world that the United States had created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists. He says that President Bush’s remarks included the following:

“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. At these places, the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful.”

In that speech, Bush also said that 14 “high-value detainees” would be transferred from overseas Black Sites to Guantanamo and that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would have the opportunity to meet with them.

In the Review article are excerpts from a secret ICRC report that details how the U.S. tortured prisoners at the Black Sites. The press release for this article includes this description of the kind of torture that was authorized by President Bush:

This “alternative set of procedures,” as President Bush characterized them in a White House speech, including extended “sleep deprivation,” prolonged forced nudity, bombarding detainees with noise and light, repeated immersion in cold water, prolonged standing, sometimes for many days, beatings of various kinds, and “waterboarding” – or as the report’s authors phrase it, “suffocation by water.” These interrogations are described in chilling first-person accounts gathered confidentially by ICRC investigators and made public here for the first time.

You can hear a podcast of Mark Danner speaking on this at the New York Review of Books website.

Danner’s article backs up what Jane Mayer of the New Yorker has also written about in her excellent book “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.”  I heard Jane speak about this book at the Texas Book Festival on 11/2/08 and read her excellent book. It is eye-opening.

I believe that every American should educate themselves on the crimes that Bush, Cheney, Addington, Woo, Rumsfeld, and others committed during the Bush Administration. These people were authorizing and justifying (with bogus legal documents) torture in secret while denying it in public. Senator Patrick Leahy is urging Americans to join him in calling for a commission to investigate abuses during the Bush/Cheney admninistration. Please visit the website at http://www.bushtruthcommission.com and sign the petition. No one should be allowed to so denigrate the office of the Presidency and Vice-Presidency, the United States, the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and the honor of the American people and totally walk away without any consequences. No one.





Pure Joy – African Children’s Choir

30 01 2009

Huge smiles on beautiful brown faces. Bright tangerine and purple outfits. Energy for days. Dancing with sheer abandon. Twenty-two children ages 7 to 11 moving in sync and singing with big hearts. A packed crowd, many with small children who were mesmerized to see children their ages performing so beautifully. Sheer glee. An enthusiastic crowd. Wild applause. A non-stop smile so big on my face that it almost hurt.

african-childrens-choir

The African Children’s Choir came to Austin tonight and I was privileged to witness their incredible performance. Formed in 1984 by Ray Barnett, an Irish-born minister who travelled to Uganda during the reign of terror of Idi Amin. He came back afterward and saw homeless children and was so moved, he knew he had to do something. He gave a ride to a small boy who sang during the entire two-hour trip. This was what Ray could do…form a singing group and take them to the U.S. and other countries to raise awareness and funds for the children. Thus the first African Children’s Choir was born.

The choir I heard tonight is the 35th choir. The children are picked from all over Uganda and go to a training center for five months. Following their tour, they are enrolled at the Music for Life Primary School. The school can accommodate 120 students. Currently there are plans to build a new facility that can take 400 children. There is a drive to raise the 1.1 million dollars needed to make this dream a reality. There was no charge to hear them sing, but donations were accepted and people gave freely. How could they (I) not when these precious and talented children so delighted them (me)?

Similar programs are also in place in Sudan, South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria. This program is changing lives and helping children break the cycle of poverty. Without this opportunity, many of these children would live on the streets with no parents to care for them and no way to care for themselves.

Many students who have participated in the African Children’s Choir and education have gone on to earn degrees and even advanced degrees. It was touching as each student introduced themselves with “Hallo. My name is _________ and I want to be _________ when I grow up.” Their responses varied: teacher, nurse, bus driver, doctor, lawyer, builder…. The light in these childrens’ eyes signified to me that they will realize their dreams.

If you want to know more about this wonderful organization, check them out at http://www.africanchildrenschoir.com. Watch for yourself and I just bet you will start smiling!





Obama Will End the Bush Administration’s Sanction of Torture

16 11 2008

We’ve had 7 long and shameful years of torture instituted and sanctioned by George Bush and Dick Cheney. Obama said on 60 Minutes tonight that he will close Guantanamo Bay and ban torture in order to “regain America’s moral stature in the world.” Most people have heard about Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and know that we have held terrorist suspects there, but most – myself included – haven’t known the extent to which Bush and Cheney have gone to take away human rights in the name of keeping our country safe.
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Mike Farrell: From B.J. on M*A*S*H to Caring Activist

10 11 2008

Mike Farrell was B.J. Hunnicutt on M*A*S*H from 1975 to 1983. The series, which gave us insight into the difficulties of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War and how the surgeons and nurses used humor to deal with the grim realities, premiered on 9/17/72 and ended 2/28/83.

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Craig Newmark of Craigslist is an Awesome Nerd!

8 10 2008

Today I heard Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder, speak in Austin. He blew me away. He has a calm manner, is soft spoken, has a wonderfully dry sense of humor, seems like a regular guy, and is a self-professed nerd. He is the founder of one of the most visited and impactful websites in the world and yet there is a humility about the guy.

I’m a huge fan of Craigslist. I have bought and sold cars, furniture, and household goods, given stuff away, gotten work, found a place to live, and joined groups and activities all through Craigslist. Craig said he is all about building communities and as I think about all I’ve been able to do through Craigslist, I’d say he’s succeeding.

One of the things that impresses me most is that Craig doesn’t do this to get rich or to build an empire. He started Craigslist because he wanted to give back to his community. He believes in the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and helping others out. He says that we are all pretty much the same and we experience more of a sense of community by remembering this rather than pointing to our differences.

Craig said that Craigslist has 12 billion page views per month and they have 567 cities throughout the world set up as communities on Craigslist. As a software programmer, he started Craigslist back around 1995 and did all the work on it himself for a few years. Now he sees himself as Customer Service and a lean crew of 25 people make up the whole company. Talk about efficient! Not only are Craig and Craigslist impressive, but Craig is also involved in many causes for good. I don’t know how the man has time to breathe.

After his talk and many questions from the audience, Craig was kind enough to greet people individually as they formed a long line. I shook his hand and mumbled a few words. He may be a nerd, but he impressed me and the crowd and I felt honored to meet him.