Rage Against the Machine: Protests in Iran

21 06 2009

This is a POWERFUL video of Iranian protests. It is posted on Huffington Post with the accompanying description:

Rage against the machine. An Iranian-American writes: “In my spare time, I make short documentaries and music videos, and my 22 year old cousin in Iran asked that I make a video for him with his favorite song. I just spoke with him and he told me that his friends and him are watching it before they go out to protest. He was stepping out the door to protest when I spoke with him just a few minutes ago. A lot of Iranians from Iran rely on huffingtonpost.com for their information. If you could somehow post this on your website and get this out to the youth in Iran, it would mean a lot.”

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Taking Chance Home with Dignity – Lt. Col. Strobl’s Personal Experience of the Cost of War

21 02 2009

The stirring HBO movie “Taking Chance” brought tears to my eyes. It shows the reverence, dignity, honor, and respect with which soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are brought home.

Starring Kevin Bacon and premiering today on HBO, it was shown at

Michael Strobl - Credit: PBS.org

Michael Strobl - Credit: PBS.org

Sundance Film Festival and competed for the Grand Jury Prize. Kevin plays Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, who volunteers – out of some seeming guilt at not being in Iraq himself – to escort the body of 19-year-old Private First Class Chance Phelps home.

PFC Chance Phelps

PFC Chance Phelps

Chance was killed in Iraq on April 9, 2004. Strobl and those who assisted at each point along the way with transporting the body of PFC Phelps were deeply impacted and respectful and the cost of war was felt by all.

Lt. Col. Strobl is a Desert Storm veteran and served in the Marine Corps from 1983-2007. He daily read the list of Marines killed in Iraq and came across the name of PFC Phelps, who was from his home town in Colorado. That made his decision to serve as an escort for Phelps’ body personal and something he felt he had to do.

He kept a journal on his experience of escorting PFC Phelps home and from this came an article for the Marine Corps Gazette, which was published in July, 2004. I cannot access that article, but found a shorter version of it, which was published online at OrthodoxyToday.org in May, 2004. The article was widely circulated on the Internet and touched many people. It was given to Executive Producer Brad Krevoy when he attended the funeral of a friend’s son, who was killed in Iraq. He contacted Chance’s family and they agreed to allow the story to made into a film. Stobl went on to co-write the screenplay for the movie.

From the HBO site for this film:

‘Taking Chance’ chronicles one of the silent, virtually unseen journeys that takes place every day across the country, bearing witness to the fallen and all those who, literally and figuratively, carry them home. A uniquely non-political film about the war in Iraq, the film pays tribute to all of the men and women who have given their lives in military service as well as their families.

The life and death of Chance Phelps have touched a lot of people. The Chance Phelps Organization sponsors Run4Chance races and gives the proceeds to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, which helps them to “…continue [their] vital mission of service to our wounded and critically ill Marines, Sailors and their families.”

Here is a short HBO clip on taking the story from script to screen. Kevin Bacon, Lt. Col Strobl, and others are interviewed about the story and the movie. HBO will be showing this many times . I hope that you will check out the schedule and make a point to watch it. It is incredibly moving.

Coffins of Soldiers Killed in Iraq

Coffins of Soldiers Killed in Iraq being Taken off Plane at Dover Air Force Base - Credit: AFP, Getty Images

UPDATE: On 2/26/09 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that photos can now be taken of flag-draped coffins of soldiers if the family of the deceased soldier agrees.

UPDATE 4/5/09: For the first time in 18 years, the media today witnessed the return of a soldier killed overseas. You can read about it here.

UPDATE 7/16/09: Today it was announced that this movie is nominated for an Emmy Award for best made for television movie and Kevin Bacon is also nominated for an Emmy Award as best actor in a made for television movie.

UPDATE 1/17/10: Today Kevin Bacon won a Golden Globe for his role in this movie. The movie was also nominated for a Golden Globe award.





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!





Renditions and Torture: Outlawed

26 01 2009

A powerful 26 minute film that every American should watch. Go to this link to see it: http://hub.witness.org/node/8109. A description from the website is included below:

Human rights groups and several public inquiries in Europe have found the U.S. government, with the complicity of numerous governments worldwide, to be engaged in the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and torture. The U.S. government-sponsored program of renditions is an unlawful practice in which numerous persons have been illegally detained and secretly flown to third countries, where they have suffered additional human rights abuses including torture and enforced disappearance. No one knows the exact number of persons affected, due to the secrecy under which the operations are carried out.

Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the ‘War on Terror’ corroborates these findings through the harrowing stories of Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed, two men who have suffered as a result of the U.S. government’s disregard of the international legal instruments dealing with respect for fundamental rights. The film features commentary from Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael Scheuer, the chief architect of the rendition program and former head of the Osama Bin Laden unit at the CIA, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. President George W. Bush.

OUTLAWED is a 27-minute WITNESS production in association with 14 production and distribution partners worldwide, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Amnesty International; Breakthrough (US/India); the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; the Center for Constitutional Rights; the Center for Human Rights & Global Justice at New York University School of Law; Freedom House; Human Rights First; Human Rights Watch; the International Commission of Jurists (Switzerland); Liberty (UK); the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; Redress (UK); and Reprieve (UK).





Bush Legacy in 8 Minutes

16 01 2009

Sobering. The two men most responsible for authorizing the United States’ use of torture will receive pensions of $196,700 (Bush) and $132,451 (Cheney) per year – both adjusted for inflation. How does that make you feel to know that your hard-earned money is going to two men who crippled our country, egregiously broke the law, and decided they were above abiding by the Geneva Conventions? Watch and be reminded of why our country is in the shape it is.