Sunday, November 29, 2009

Precious 2--or 2,000?

The film Precious reappears in the form of an investigative report in today's Los Angeles Times.

Thank you to Hector Becerra for his interviews and excellent writing in the series titled "Innocents Betrayed.",0,7023900.story

Johnetta Harrison is the abused fourteen-year-old who cares for her alcoholic mother and five younger siblings in Compton, south of Los Angeles.

Majella Maas is the kind preschool teacher who tries to intervene and get help for little Dae'von Bailey--like the school counselor played by Mariah Carey in Precious.

But in this case Dae'von is beaten to death by the man in whose home he is placed, and afterward Johnetta is taken to live with a kind relative in Hesperia, north of Los Angles County.

As we enter Advent, remembering the birth of a baby who came to bring love and to face down evil, let us also remember the precious children around us endangered every day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Help for Military Families

Suicides are rising not just among those who have served or are serving in the military but among their families.

See this interview on National Public Radio with Kristina Kaufmann, an advocate for military families:

To see what you can do to help, go to the website for Blue Star Families:

From Gentle Man to Killer

Jessie Bratcher was found "guilty except insane" for killing the man who fathered a child with his girl friend while Bratcher served in Iraq.

See the moving story by Kim Murphy in today's Los Angeles Times:,0,6298478.story

As a child, Bratcher had gone hunting with his grandfather but never wanted to do the killing. "He just didn't want to see anything die," recalls the grandfather.

As a new infantryman in Iraq, "he refused to open fire on what he believed an an inknown target in the village of Tarjil," reports Murphy.

Later when an investigation was launched into killing in Tarjil that day, he was seen as a "snitch."

Then he watched a close friend crushed to death in a Humvee accident--and stopped caring.

According to Murphy's article, on later patrols in Iraq he'd say "I'll shoot 'em. I'll kill 'em."

Bratcher came home to Oregon, had problems, and was finally declared 100% disabled with PTSD.

When he found out his girlfriend's pregnancy was not his own child, he immediately found and shot Jose Ceja Medina, the child's father.

From his jail cell, he blamed his military training.

First they work to dehumanize you, he said.

"Then... they want to dehumanize the people you're fighting, the enemy.... they've pretty much altered your value of human life. And then you come back home."

Friday, November 27, 2009

In Memoriam: Mike Penner

It's not easy to be a sexual being. We are pushed and pulled by desires, responsibilities, boundaries.

It's even harder to live between the two ends of the gender continuum, as Mike Penner did.

A sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, he announced his gender change to become Christine Daniels two years ago but returned to his birth name in recent columns.

"The hardest thing he had ever done" the AP reports him saying.

Apparently, he took his own life today, one of the first casualties of this year's holiday season.

See this AP news report posted on

We are all asked or asking, "How was your Thanksgiving?"

Our hopes for acceptance and love in family holiday gatherings are high--but we face intense interactions with parents, siblings, children, and others who may lack empathy and betray us for their own reasons.

Let us give thanks for Mike's honesty and his 52 years of courage.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Martha: A Miracle

On Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 13, just before 5 pm, my cousin Martha suddenly felt a splitting headache. She knew the pain was completely different from anything she'd ever felt before.

"Worse than childbirth?" I asked her today.

"Oh, yes," she said.

"I didn't know it was possible to go past that kind of pain," I said, unable to imagine it.

Soon she was in an ambulance, in the hospital, in a helicopter to Denver, and the next day in surgery for a small aneurysm in her anterior communicating artery. A team of seven opened her skull and put a clamp on the "berry" type of bulge in a Y-shaped place where the artery branches into two.

"There are two types of aneurysm," her daughter Sarah explained to me today. "She had a 'slow bleed'--not a burst artery. But during surgery the berry did break and bleed. The doctors cleaned up the blood after clamping it."

Martha explained that aneurysms are a type of stroke--a bleeding stroke. I knew only about clotting strokes. Both types can deprive part of the brain of oxygen.

A month later, Martha is home, walking and talking--a glowing, healthy miracle. We went out to lunch at Shuga, the cafe where her son is the chef.

She has headaches some days--like today--and she's taking medicine to reduce the blood clot in her lower right leg. She tires easily--not yet ready to return to work.

But she's very thankful as Turkey Day approaches.

From her smile and from talking about all this with her daughters, I learned so much about thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Serious Man

A film that starts with a quotation from Rashi (medieval Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki) written across the screen?

Receive with simplicity everything that comes to you.

Then there's a short puzzling story about the apparent visit of a dybbuk to a family in Poland in 1890 or so.

Finally we move to Minnesota, 1967, and watch Larry Gopnik (a Job-like figure) face a ludricous series of betrayals and demands by everyone in his family, workplace, synagogue, and community.

I was completely taken with this Coen brothers film.

It's very funny--a "black comedy" one website calls it--but also profound. After all, these things happen in life. We live surrounded by assholes and narcissistic people who place impossible, contradictory demands on us. We are wounded.

Receive with simplicity? That sounds dangerously close to "Be a doormat."

Nevertheless, I think there's a way to face these people without fighting back in a way that harms them. Larry's moves may be seen as too passive for some people--but at least he doesn't choose verbal or physical abuse. I admired him.

He's like Gimpel the Fool in Isaac Beshevis Singer's story by that name. People trick him and take advantage of him, but he turns the other cheek.

Perhaps I liked it because in the hour before the film started, I had faced three family crises. One daughter hyperventilated and had to breathe into a paper bag. Another who was getting the flu (and feared swine flu) called in tears. And my husband just wanted to get to the theater on time, demanding my full attention: "You put her ahead of me!"

What a relief to relax into this hilariously dark comedy about the same sorts of crazy demands.

Receive with simplicity everything that comes to you.

Hallelujah for the House 220 !

Hallelujah! Praise to the God of mercy!

The House passed the healthcare reform bill tonight, 220 in favor to 215 against.

What a gift to each of us, just before Thanksgiving Day. In so many homes as the prayers of thanks are made, this new opportunity to have health care will be first on the list.

Many compromises were made to gain these 220 votes. The single-payer proposal was given up months ago, and an amendment was passed today prohibiting federally subsidized insurance plans from providing legal abortions.

I care about access to abortion, but I care even more about access to health care period.

I listened to the debate on CSPAN as opponents of reform tried to use the abortion issue and the immigration issue to sink this bill. Giving up ground on these issues was a painful but necessary strategy for now. Perhaps the Senate version of the bill and the final bill that arrives on President Obama's desk will restore some of this lost ground.

With this historic decision by the House of Representatives, pressure is now on the Senate to meet the challenge and approve health care reform.

Will the Republicans and a few blue-dog Democrats succeed in stopping progress?

I pray that won't happen--but after the defeat of the ERA in 1982, I realize that votes in favor of equality and opportunity are not guaranteed.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sadness for 13 Lives

Thirteen people lost their lives. Thirty were wounded.

1. Michael Grant Cahill, 62, of Cameron, Texas

2. Libardo Eduardo Caraveo, 52, of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a Ph.D. in psychology.

3. Justin M. Decrow, 32, of Evans, Georgia.

4. John Gaffaney, 56, of San Diego.

5. Frederick Greene, 29, of Mountain City, Tennessee.

6. Jason Dean Hunt, 22, of Frederick, Ohio--newly wed.

7. Amy Krueger, 29, of Kiel, Wisconsin.

8. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, 19, of West Jordan, Utah.

9. Michael Pearson, 21, of Bolinbrook, Ill.

10. Russell Seager, 51, of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin.

11. Francheska Velez, 21, of Chicago--pregnant and recently returned from Iraq.

12. Juanita Warman, 55, of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

13. Kham Xiong, 23, of St. Paul, Minnesota.

See detailed biographies at

Thank you to the brave woman who stopped the killer: Sgt. Kimberly Munley.

I oppose all killing of one human by another--as Albert Einstein did--but I do support using a gun to stop a killer while trying not to kill him.

"My pacifism is an instinctive feeling, a feeling that possesses me because the murder of men is disgusting. My attitude is not derived from any intellectual theory but is based on my deepest antipathy to every kind of cruelty and hatred."Albert Einstein

Friday, November 6, 2009

Why He Killed

Profound evil is ultimately a mystery.

Nevertheless, as news coverage burgeons around Nidal Malik Hasan, some causes emerge.

1) He was a troubled man, lonely and crazy.

2) A Muslim whose parents had emigrated from Palestine, he was deeply affected by the horrors of his era: the 9/11 attacks, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the US bombing of Iraq and invasion of Afghanistan, the soldiers' trauma he listened to in his work as a psychiatrist, and the harassment he and other Muslims face in the US.

"Fellow soldiers once handed him a diaper and told him to wear it around his head, the uncle said; another time they sketched a camel on a piece of paper and left it on his car with a note that said, 'Here's your ride.' ",0,1886826.story

3) Against his will, this vulnerable man was being deployed to Afghanistan, the churning core of the maelstrom. His request to leave military service was denied.

Those three factors alone would not have caused this tragedy.

The final push apparently came from radical Muslims who found a floundering man and used him for their jihad. He learned from them that honor and service lay in becoming a suicide shooter.

"We're commanded to terrorize unbelievers," explained Younes Abdullas Mohammad on The Anderson Cooper Show, Nov. 6. "The Qur'an says very clearly, 'Kor hibuna'--'Terrorize them.'"

A man in Muslim dress visited Hasan the day before the killings, and he is reported to have shouted "Allahu akbar"--God is great--as he began shooting.

For a moment, let's imagine (with John Lennon):

* a world in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been resolved;
* a nation that had followed up the 9/11 attacks by increased vigilance at ports and airports--but not by bombing Iraq and Afghanistan;
* a military in which a soldier's request to leave active duty for personal reasons was granted.
* an educational system that stressed learning other languages and respecting other cultures.

Instead, we have a world filled with the oppression of one religious group by another, a nation bent on vengeance, a military that trains young people to kill, and schools that largely ignore the cultures beyond US borders.

The question should not be, "Why did he kill?" but "How many deaths will it take 'til we know that too many people have died?"

"Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding."
--Albert Einstein