February 13, 2015

Oscar Romero ~ Santo de America

Earlier this month, Pope Francis, the Argentinian Pope, ruled that Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered by a fascist death squad in 1980, had died as a martyr and will be beatified.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, or as he is now known in Spanish, Francisco, is the first pope from Latin America, and he unblocked Romero's sainthood process very shortly after his election in 2013. I remember the day well as we were riding in a taxi in Buenos Aires when the news of Bergoglio's election broke on the cab's radio. The process of Romero's sainthood had stalled under the conservative popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, all because they saw him as being much too close to Liberation Theology and the movement to align the church with the poor and to radically oppose injustice in society.

"We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways." - Oscar Romero

The Archbishop of San Salvador was shot dead on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated mass in a hospital chapel. One day before he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, young conscripts mostly, ordered to kill in the name of national security, to stop carrying out the government's repression and violence against the people of El Salvador.
"Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says Thou shalt not kill. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God... In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people whose cries rise up to heaven, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you: stop the repression." - Oscar Romero

Romero's funeral, held six days later, attracted over 250,000 mourners, and was itself an act of protest against the US backed junta. The funeral was not without violence as government forces threw smoke bombs into the assembled crowd and army sharpshooters, dressed as civilians, fired into the chaos from the roof of the National Palace. Official reports claimed 31 deaths, but journalists and others reported as many as 50 deaths and many injured.

To date, no one has been prosecuted for the assassination, nor has anyone confessed or admitted to involvement. It is widely believed that Roberto D'Aubuisson, a major in the Salvadoran military-intelligence apparatus, was responsible for Romero's murder and the attack on the funeral. In 1972 D'Aubuisson was trained at the infamous School of the Americas, an American Department of Defense "institute" in Georgia that provided training to government and military personnel from US-allied nations in Latin America. Torture and assassination were part of the training.

Romero's murder was one of the more shocking moments in the long conflict between a series of US-backed governments in El Salvador and the FMLN or Frente Farabundo Mari para la Liberacion Nacional. The civil war, spanning almost 15 years, concluded in 1992 with a peace agreement and the democratic election of the FMLN. The war, sponsored by the United States, claimed over 75,000 lives.

I was a much younger man when Oscar Romero was assassinated. I recall listening as As It Happens reported the story and its background. It would be another few years before I read any Liberation Theology, probably beginning with Gustavo Gutierrez and his 1971 book Theology of Liberation. In it, the Peruvian priest articulated his view of a preferential option for the poor; that the Creator has a distinct preference for those who are insignificant, marginalised, unimportant, needy, despised and defenseless. Later, there were other books, including the much more accessible, at least to me, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes by the American, Robert McAfee Brown.
"Nowadays an authentic Christian conversion must lead to an unmasking of the social mechanisms that turn the worker and the peasant into marginalised persons. Why do the rural poor become part of society only in the coffee and cotton picking seasons?"                                           - Oscar Romero

I'm not one to believe in miracles. Nor the power of prayer. The real saints of the world reside in places like the slums of Kolkata and the Downtown East Side. They are reflected in the faces of teachers and fast-food workers, and in the people who walk the streets, alone and afraid, hungry and cold. Saints aren't only named by some guy in Rome, even if he cheers for San Lorenzo. Still, it brings comfort to know that a martyred priest in Salvador, who could well have played it safe, chose to stand with the poor, the marginalised, unimportant, needy, despised and defenseless, is now being recognised officially as the the people of Latin America have known him for years: Saint Oscar Romero. Santo de America.

"Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty."                               - Oscar Romero

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray

February 11, 2015

English to become only official language of European Union

In stunning news, and largely unreported is the report that the European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will become the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility. The EC recommends reading the following statement aloud for maximum understanding:

As part of the overall negotiations, the British Government has conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and accepted a five year phase-in plan to bring about what will become known as Euro-English.

During the first year of the phase-in, the letter "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy.

The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing pulik enthusiasm in the sekond year of the plan when the troublesome "ph" will be replased with "f". This will make words like fotograf twenty percent shorter.

During the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the fourth yer peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl.

Zer wil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German jest lik zey vunted in ze forst plas.

February 10, 2015

Bernie Sanders ~ An American Socialist

Does intelligent life exist within the Congress of the Excited States? Just days ago a senator from North Carolina suggested that restaurants in his nation should not have to make their employees wash their hands after visits to the toilet. Apparently that kind of legislation is taking big government too far.

Then again, there is Bernie Sanders. Serving his second term in the Senate after winning re-election in 2012 with over 70 percent of the vote. His previous 16 years in the House of Representatives makes him the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history.  Not aligned with either party, Bernie Sanders is a rare thing in American politics: a politician who calls himself a social democrat; sometimes even blurting out the socialist moniker, and he's thoughtful and intelligent.

Mr Sanders was born in 1941 in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants. In the 1960s he was active in the Civil Rights movement and became an organiser in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (the same SNCC depicted by two lone organisers in the film Selma). In 1964 he moved to Vermont, became active in the anti-war movement, and tried his hand at politics, losing a variety of elections.

In 1981 he ran for Mayor of Burlington and defeated a six-time incumbent in a hotly contested four way contest. He ran as an independent against the machines of the both political parties. He ran for mayor three more times, winning each time, and in one election went up against a candidate endorsed by both Democratic and Republican machines.

The images that appear after doing a Google search for Bernie Sanders are generally less than flattering. Mr Sanders is usually depicted in a state of disarray, angry perhaps and most certainly dishevelled. The fact is that Senator Sanders, independent socialist senator from Vermont, is mad as hell.

Some examples of recent quotes in a Washington Post story on the outrage of Bernie Sanders:
"We are living in the United States right now at a time when the top one-tenth of one percent own more wealth than the bottom ninety percent."
"One family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart, owns by itself more wealth than the bottom forty percent of the American people."

And then he gets around to the Koch brothers, Charles and David:
"... the second wealthiest family in America, worth $85 billion... who are now prepared to buy the United States government. You're looking at the undermining of American democracy, okay?"

Charles Koch

And it is true of course: inequality is as bad now as it was just before the Great Depression, and the buying of American politicians has never been more obvious and condoned. The Koch brothers plan to spend about $900 million on the 2016 election and no one seems agitated, except Bernie Sanders.

David Koch

The Kochs are a strange, extreme right-wing family that made
their fortune in oil and chemicals and have, under the second generation, expanded into all manner of things. They oppose public education and health care, and think climate change is bunk.

The Koch brothers finance a variety of conservative political interests and think tanks, including the Fraser Institute in Canada. During three years beginning in 2008, the Koch brothers provided the Fraser Institute with $500,000. Annual donations have continued and are believed to be in excess of $100,000 each year. Their corporate holdings in Canada revolve around the tar sands.

For Bernie Sanders it's clear: The Koch brothers are trying to buy the American presidency. Hell, they're attempting to buy the entire government. In 2014, at least six successful new senate seats were elected with Koch money, though that went largely unnoticed by the corporate media.

Mr Sanders, at 73 years of age, is considering a run for the presidency in 2016. He considers Clinton to be soft on corporate America, perhaps in the pockets of the very robber barons he sees as the enemy. He doesn't hold out much hope for Elizabeth Warren, another would-be candidate for the Democratic ticket.

Unlike both Warren and Clinton, Bernie Sanders is charismatically challenged for a corporate media obsessed with image, and with the American political system dominated by big money, it's unlikely he can mount any kind of realistic challenge to Clinton, or anyone else. Feelings of apathy, frustration and hopelessness are rampant among voters and Mr Sanders acknowledges that fact.

"The anger is there but it's an anger that turns into saying 'Go to hell, I'm not going to participate in your charade. I'm not voting.' So it's a weird kind of anger... we're at the stage of demoralisation."

Yet Bernie Sanders, independent socialist Senator from Vermont and possible presidential candidate, remains mad as hell, and he's not going to take it without a fight.
"You have to take on the Koch brothers and you have to take on Wall Street and you have to take on the billionaires... I think you need a political revolution."
Bernie's time might yet come.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

February 09, 2015

Early signs of spring and the What Went Well Exercise

It's mid-February on the left coast of Canada. The air is warm and once-in-a-while the sun comes out. As does the first sign of spring, the crocus flower. It's a wonderfully positive experience.

Dr Martin Seligman is one of the founders of positive psychology ~ a movement premised on countering the disease model of psychology, which focuses on relieving suffering rather than amplifying well-being.

Dr Seligman has books and TED talks about all things positive. Being naturally cynical, as many of us are, it's easy for me to dismiss the exercises and routines he recommends. Yet here is one he promises will bring less depression to our lives, more happiness and an addiction to the exercise itself six months in. All that is required is pen, paper and perhaps a silencer for cynicism. It's called the What Went Well Exercise. 

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. It's important to have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance ("My husband picked up my favourite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today"), but they can be important ("My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy").
Next to each positive event, answer the question "Why did this happen?" For example, if you wrote your husband picked up ice cream, you might write "because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes" or "because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store." Or if you wrote, "My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy," you might pick as the cause... "She did everything right during her pregnancy." 
Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. 

Enjoying a wonderful walk in the sun with the love of my life, and discovering the first signs of spring, are two positives indeed.

I just need one more.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015.

February 01, 2015

I Want to Believe

It's been a dull, damp day here in Vancouver. After a few spring-like days it was just another typical winter's day on the west coast.

We went for a walk, like many walks before, to the coffee shop at VanDusen Gardens. Afterwards, a walk around the gardens; it's always changing through the seasons. Sometimes we see coyotes roaming the paths on days like this.

Rounding a bend, near the Rose Garden, a cluster of people were looking and pointing at something apparently above the tree line. An eagle perhaps? We came closer and saw it too.

There were lights in the sky and they were spinning ever so slowly.

Obviously connected in some fashion, a circle of sorts. Spinning. Turning. Hovering. Seemingly without substance, yet clearly a substance of some kind. A floating sphere of lights in the sky. Hovering. Most definitely: hovering.

I struggled to get my camera out out of its bag, and after fumbling with my cold hands and frustrated with getting the video on the camera to work, I managed to get a couple of still photos.

The people around us, a few more had arrived, still pointing, mesmerised it seemed, murmuring things like "What the hell is that thing?" and "We should leave right now." No one left.

Within seconds of taking the first few photos, a startled voice, that of a child's, exclaimed, "There's another one!" I was taking many photos at this point, not worrying about settings or focus. Trying to get as many photos as possible.

A scant moment later, the light shapes, shot up into the sky and disappeared. We waited, or at least most of us waited; some people hurried away with troubled looks on their faces. The rest of us waited, hoping.

I checked my camera. Only a few photos turned out; some of what I thought would be the best shots were completely blank. It's as if they had been erased. Not deleted because the camera still registered them as being photos. I looked over at my partner, "Did I have the lens cap on?" No, of course not.

We walked home in silence. What did we see? Did we see anything at all? Was it some sort of natural occurrence, like sun dogs in a prairie sky? I don't know. There was nothing on the news about it.

I should have interviewed the people around me. At least taken names and contact information. It all happened so quickly. We all saw the same thing. Or did we?

And just like the poster my daughters gave me years ago, which still hangs in my office, I want to believe.

But what did I see this day?

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray