Editor's Choice Archive 1

Editor's Choice Archive 1

The Charter for Compassion

By Patricia Keegan

As we face each day trying to process an immense tide of information, there is one general theme popping up everywhere. While we have always lived with undertones of uncertainty, the concerns were familiar and ageless, balanced by the optimism of a new generation. But more and more of us have gradually accepted a harsher, more pessimistic view of the state of our country and the world. Our futures don’t seem as promising on a communal or national level. Responding to the negatives only zaps energy by adding to the fear factor, but we have a choice. Rather than reiterating a litany of all the things we now fear, I will jump to how we could change the direction of some of these currents and move forward with faith and courage.

Despite the dissonance and the pain, a new wave of creativity and YES, idealism, is taking place across America. It is planting seeds of hope and connecting people in this digital age, in a way unprecedented in the history of our country and the world. There are hundreds of high energy, proactive efforts out there which hold great promise for the future.

Most of us are already familiar with the fantastic work of the Bill Gates Foundation in preventing malaria and saving lives, but not everybody can have such a major impact on the world. During the past few weeks I have looked at some of the less well known projects and found inspiration in what is possible when people come together with compassion. Three of the most exciting to me were Groceryships, The Center for the New American Dream and especiallyThe Charter for Compassion. Visit and discover some of the new energy at the grassroots of our nation.

Groceryships is an inspiring story of 30 year-old Sam Polk, a successful hedge fund trader on Wall Street who made “a pile of money,” but felt “empty and unfulfilled,” so he left to find something more satisfying.

Now he is looking outward, well beyond the money chase. He is working on projects that will remove some of the obstacles that deplete hope, bring misery and cast the “unfortunate” totally outside the realm of the “American Dream.” When he and his wife started the non-profit Groceryships, they wanted to help impoverished families who are food insecure and struggling with health issues. Groceryships is a six month program where families receive financial help, weekly nutrition classes, emotional support groups, cooking classes, guided shopping trips and exercise classes. By providing some of the tools to help people climb out of misery, the Polks will be exposing them to a better, more healthy lifestyle which will make for happier families and healthier children. Let us not forget that there are 50 million Americans going hungry, one in six of us, and one third of them are children.

The mission statement of The Center for the New American Dream at newdream.org states, “We seek to cultivate a new American dream one that emphasizes community, ecological sustainability and a celebration of non-material values.” New Dream offers two publications, Guide to Going Local to help people build community, reduce consumption, and support local economics, and Guide to Sharing, on how to begin building a sharing community.

In facing just two of the seemingly insurmountable challenges of this century -- feeding the hungry and preventing our planet from burning up -- one’s singular effort may seem comparable to an ant climbing a mountain. It can only become successful if the glue of “compassion” can hold these endeavors together. So how do we ignite this fire of compassion with urgency, so it has a magnetic pull, a contagious affect that would bring hundreds of thousands together with a common purpose to make a difference in our own communities?

In my research I discovered The Charter for Compassion, an organization reaching out and calling for change at the grass roots level. Membership in the Charter has grown steadily since its inception in 2009. It includes cities, towns, states and even some countries. The Charter is rapidly gaining momentum with signatures of well-known celebrities, writers, artists and educators, all making a commitment to “awaken compassion in our children, ourselves and our world.” The Charter for Compassion articulates why we who live in these times should be concerned about our fellow humans and our planet, and be inspired to take action.

The Charter is the brainchild of Dr. Karen Armstrong who received the TED Award in 2009. The TED organization was conceived in 1984 at a conference bringing together people from the three realms of Technology, Education and Design. Since then, the scope has become even broader and offers three yearly prizes of $100,000 to a leader in her/his chosen field of work. The winner must have an unconventional viewpoint and a vision to transform the world. The Charter For Compassion is Dr. Armstrong’s vision to promote the principles of the Golden Rule across the religious and global spectrum. It is a document that aims to inspire compassionate action around the world. This effort to build an interfaith ‘charter for compassion’ is guided by the Council of Sages, a multi-faith, multi-national group of religious thinkers and leaders, which includes Desmond Tutu, the Dali Lama and other notable international visionaries.

Oxford graduate, former nun and prominent scholar of the world’s religions, Dr. Armstrong has written more than 20 books around the ideas of what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common, and their effect on world events. In her extensive travels and study of the world’s religions, Dr. Armstrong has managed to connect some of the dots that factor into the pain of human chaos, and raises questions about the “unfulfilled promise of religion.” Her studies have revealed that the one common thread that runs through all major religions -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism – is compassion. Compassion is the core of spiritual traditions and the basis of ethics in general. In her writings she raises the question, “If compassion is the fabric of morality, why then has religion failed us?”

When the spirit of compassion is put into action, it’s not outside the realm of human understanding, but an act, which even a young child feels and understands. Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you is the Golden Rule we recite routinely. So if we see around us a world lacking compassion, it probably means that we are not living up to the ideals of our religions. Arguably, in some ways we see progress, but in others there is obvious regression.

We don’t yet know the long- term effects of living in a global community, in a high tech digital age, with instant communication in which most of one’s day is spent staring at a screen. Could the time come when we are too busy or too over-stimulated to stop and feel the pain of those around us? Does that offer us an ultimate sense of emptiness, and how could that emptiness manifest itself in society other than destructively? One of my favorite Russian writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky, wrote in The Idiot that “Compassion is the chief law of human existence.”

Martin Luther King, in his philosophy of non-violent activism, emanated compassion; never sounding bitter, always looking toward the greater good of humanity. From his own interpretation of the golden rule, he was carrying out what he believed to be his purpose for existence. He once said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Compassion is not easy, it means investing care and love into someone else, or into a “dream” for millions, as Dr. King demonstrated, without needing, or expecting a reward. In his interpretation of compassion, Vietnamese Zen Master Tich Nhat Hanh, one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time, writes, “The essence of love and compassion is understanding. It is the ability to recognize the physics, material and psychological suffering of others. We go inside their bodies, feelings, and mental formations and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the subject of our observation.”

Karen Armstrong’s discovery of the thread of compassion is woven through us all, and really is the gold we carry around casually. It is buried deep within our being, but once ignited could become a driving force to set a new direction in the world.

To learn more about The Charter for Compassion visit charterforcompassion.org

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Albrecht Durer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints from Vienna’s Albertina

On display until June 9, 2013

By Patricia Keegan

The first time I beheld Albrecht Dürer’s drawings, I was spellbound. It was in Weimar, in the former East Germany, shortly after the Berlin wall came down. I remember looking at the lines, at the detail, but mostly at the emotion depicted in the head’s slight tilt, in the eyes, in the fineness and confidence of each line. To me it spoke of a heroic intimacy with life. Far from being an art critic, I only know what excites me -- and what doesn’t -- and here was the epitome of the combined magic of pencil, soul and paper.

On a recent visit to the National Gallery of Art, once again I saw even more of the amazing work of this great master. I particularly love the head drawings starting with the artist’s self portrait at 18 years of age, the Head of Christ, Head of a Young Woman, Head of an Apostle with cap, Head of an Apostle Looking Up, until finally I became teary-eyed standing in front of An Elderly Man of Ninety Three Years. The set of the head, the sadness of lowered eyes, the lined, dry-looking skin, the curly beard, all combine to create a profoundly moving image of life. In my humble opinion this drawing should inhabit the same space in the world’s consciousness as Leonardo da Vinci’s, Mona Lisa.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

The Gathering -- Ireland’s Doors Open for a Reunion in 2013

Get Ready for the Party of Your Life

By Patricia Keegan

In Dublin, during its 2012 New Year’s Eve celebration, in spectacular style, Ireland launched its 2013 plans for the “Gathering” -- a unique celebration of what it means to be Irish. This is an open invitation to friends and family around the world to step across Ireland’s doorstep and embark on a great adventure. They will discover that the legend of Irish hospitality, the drama of its landscape, and the charm of the Irish, was not just a fairytale told by the leprechauns -- it truly is what makes Ireland unique in the world.

Former president Mary Robinson upheld this welcoming tradition by placing a lighted candle in her window, symbolizing the warm, Irish welcome. Ireland, the land of saints and scholars, bursts with a lively, young population of talented and creative people. In recent history, Riverdance left an indelible imprint when this dynamite dance production arrived on the world’s stage, and the singers ofCeltic Woman played our heartstrings with emotional Irish ballads. This, and so much more, showcases the creative power and poetry of a small island.

To walk the land, as one of the family, and partake of its attributes, has the potential to be life changing. One finds shop keepers and taxi drivers who enjoy a good “craic” (chat), sharing a laugh, a story, calling you “luv,” and making you feel at home. A good laugh is never far from the Irish perspective on life, a welcome adjustment that one makes with ease.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Storm Brewing in the East China Sea


By Patricia Keegan

In the October 10 full page ad in the Washington Post, initiated by the Republic of China (Taiwan), and accompanied by copies of old documents supporting their claim, Taiwan appeared to be making an effort to clarify for readers some of the intricate history behind both China’s and Taiwan’s claim to sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands. The claims have caused a major dispute with Japan, with the Japanese government adamantly asserting that the islands belong to them. The situation has developed into a crisis as, according to an article in Japan Times on September 11, the Japanese government purchased three of the five islands from a private owner and placed them under state control. The challenge is how to avoid threats that could lead to military action between China and Japan. It may seem ludicrous that what looks like, and literally is, an uninhabited string of rocks could cause such a commotion, but it’s the waters around these islands that are rich in sea life and possibly oil.

The four photocopies, visible in the ad, show that these disputed islands lie within the borders that separate China and foreign lands. According to these official documents the islands are within the borders that separate China and “foreign lands,” and they were placed under Kavalan County, Taiwan. Included in the record is the following, “Qing China’s long and effective administration over the islands as part of Taiwan.” The documents, and all that follow, leave a trail of proof of ownership.

According to the points made in the advertisement, Japan’s claim begins in 1895 when it secretly annexed the Diaoyutai islands during the Sino-Japanese War. Today the Japanese government asserts that on January 14, 1895, their government began to rule over the islands “because they had monitored the islands and found no sign of inhabitants or no sign of control by the Qing Empire.” However, if they had looked at old Meiji documents, unearthed from their own Japanese archives, they would have read that in 1885 the Meiji government acknowledged China’s ownership of the islands. Following China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, Qing China was forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki on April 17, 1895, which ceded “Taiwan and its appertaining islands” to Japan. This Treaty held until after WWII.

During the war, in 1943, arrangements were made in the Cairo Declaration and later in the Potsdam Proclamation that called for restoration of the islands to their pre-1895 legal status. Japan agreed to “restore all territories taken during the war.”

But there was a big surprise in store. When Japan returned Taiwan to the ROC, both sides adopted the administrative arrangements of Taiwan with the Allied powers. But none of these entities, including ROC, had any inkling that Japan had changed the name of the islands from Diaoyutai to Senkaku. Apparently, with the name changed, the Japanese insured they would still own the islands — the idea was that because the islands weren’t mentioned by that name in the relevant legal documents, they still belonged to Japan. However, the Cairo Declaration stated that Japan “also be expelled from all other territories which she had taken by violence and greed.” Therefore, the ROC maintains the position that the islands did not need to be listed in an itemized fashion if Japan acquired them through imperialism between 1895 and the Second World War; they were to be returned. In 1972 the United States transferred administrative rights to the islands to Japan, but Washington sent an official notice to Taipei specifically stating that the transfer had no impact on the ROC’s claim to sovereignty. The US has since maintained a neutral stance on the issue of sovereignty.

In trying to resolve this claim, ROC President Ma Ying-jeou, on August 5, 2012, proposed a two stage East China Sea Initiative based on the concept that “while sovereignty is indivisible, resources should be shared.” He called on the parties concerned to replace confrontation with dialogue, shelve territorial disputes through negotiations, formulate a code of conduct and engage in joint development of resources.

President Ma’s plan gives a vision for the future — not only in the East China Sea region, but for what daily becomes more and more apparent — we are looking at a world with diminishing resources, in which we can choose either to settle disputes peacefully by working together in sharing those resources, or just resort to war, in which case everybody loses.

Hopefully, the Ma proposal of trilateral negotiations, and an East China Sea code of conduct , will show positive results and become a blueprint, not only for the peaceful settlement with Japan on the Diaoyutai Islands, but for all the predictable and similar disputes over resources about to converge. The current conflict portends what the world is facing. It portrays the urgency for governments to have plans in place to cope with similar challenges and to seek alliances willing to share, rather than hoard, resources.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

It’s Time to Visit Dublin!


UNESCO City of Literature

By Patricia Keegan

Ireland, a tiny island of approximately four million inhabitants, stands nobly -- long fingered peninsulas reaching into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a confident posture evoking a built-in desire to expand its horizon, knowing it has been created with room to grow and to spread a unique culture across the world. Its dreams, aspirations, even its agonies, have always loomed out of proportion to its smallness in size; even its contribution to world literature is acclaimed as disproportionally large. This little island survives and thrives. Survival is a keystone in its history, and it will weather through its current economic challenges.

To be born on the island of Ireland was to grow up with a love for books, one of the greatest and proudest legacies a human being can expect -- a stroke of good fortune! To those who ask why such good fortune, I would say it's the lively combination of the laughter, the inspiring conversations and the ever elusive beauty of the land, which even poetry can’t capture!


So I was not surprised when, in 2010, Dublin was chosen by UNESCO as a Literary Capital of the world. Few cities in the world can boast such an all pervading surge of literary and creative impetus. Some of the success stems from the encouragement of the government which doesn’t require artists and writers to pay taxes. But don’t think this is what crimped the advance of the Celtic Tiger!

Ireland’s literary heritage extends over many, many centuries with seeds planted in the ancient world. The era of the saga and the custom of storytelling once possessed a large part of that ancient world, without which we would know little of the habits of the Celts. Although the Celts and their runic ogham scrip,t (five-foot high stones with ancient scrolls), were spread across Europe, it was generations of storytelling that enabled Ireland’s great contribution to the global understanding of the Celts. I recall how I loved reading about Cu Chulainn and Finn Mac Cumhaill, and I didn’t think there was anything unusual about the Celtic heroic tradition of the equality of women -- the power of goddesses featured in roles of similar diversity as their male counterparts. It simply becomes an intricate part of one’s outlook .

Fortunately, for all of us, the art of story telling lives on and was revived in Ireland in 2003. (For a sample of a hilarious type of storytelling, check out storyteller Eamon Kelly, on YouTube -- start with the “Tae Man.”) Much of the popularity of Ireland’s music is in the form of storytelling put to music -- romantic, political, humorous and often self-deprecatory, all with a uniquely fresh point of view on life.

The Irish became fully literate with the arrival of St. Patrick and the introduction of Christianity in the 5th century. Once written in the language of Ogham, the real beginnings of Irish literature started with writing in the Latin alphabet by monks in monasteries which began to appear all over the land.

This early Christian period produced world famous illuminated manuscripts, including the Book of Kells and the Book of Darrow, permanently on display at Dublin’s Trinity College library. It has remained a mystery as to where the inspiration for these old masterpieces came from. The Book of Kells is believed to have been written between 700 and 800 AD. The magnificent Book of Kells is the Latin text of the four gospels copied by hand and illuminated by monks. It is predated by the Book of Darrow, the oldest complete, illuminated insular gospel book which was written in the period 650-700 AD.

To stand before these amazing books at Trinity College, with the slightest inkling into the immense amount of spiritual energy, inspiration, time and patience required by artists, is uplifting and comparable to visiting a holy place. To turn away, leaving behind the all-pervading presence of the monks, is like being introduced to still another of life’s mysteries; you want to know more.

The Book of Armagh; The Confessions of St. Patrick, is another astounding book written by St. Patrick shortly before he died. It is safe to say that without St. Patrick, Ireland’s history would lack its richness. Beyond the revelry, the myths and celebrations on March 17th, in memory of St. Patrick’s death in 461, there was a deeply spiritual man of great conviction, great energy, great charity, with a practical side, who combined the drive and audacity of a soldier with an immense love for Ireland. He manifested this great love by sowing the seeds of Christianity against all the odds.

During the ancient and early Christian periods the stage was set for monastic and literary tradition which set Ireland apart from many European countries in the coming Dark Ages/Middle Ages from the 5th to 15th centuries. Monasteries built in the 6th century played important roles in teaching and worship. They became renowned as the best in the world for teaching the gospel as well as poetry, literature, and the arts. Anyone who had an interest in learning went to the monastery. It was then that Ireland became known as the island of saints and scholars. The monasteries housed historical documents as well as gold chalices and items of great value.

When the Vikings invaded Ireland in the 9th and 10th centuries they set out to attack and destroy monasteries and to steal all the possessions. But the monks were ready for such invasions, having built defensive round towers. The round towers you see dotted across the land were hiding places where valuables were stored; so although much was destroyed, much was saved. Even more destruction was to come in the 12th century with the Norman invasion.

The first Irish Rebellion came in 1641, which turned into the Confederate Wars, pitting Irish Catholics against English Protestants and lasting 11 years. The United Irishmen, led by Wolfe Tone, appealed to Napoleon Bonaparte in seeking to overthrow British rule. When the next Irish rebellion broke out in 1798, French troops landed and battled British troops but were defeated.

Following the thread of Ireland’s literary development in the 17th and 18th centuries under British rule, the Gaelic language was forbidden. A few outstanding Gaelic authors continued to write. Among those were Michael O’Cleary, who fearing that the ancient records of Ireland would be lost, became the chief author of a history calledThe Annals of the Four Masters. Geoffrey Keating (1569-1644) wrote a masterpiece of Gaelic prose in a delightful history “ called Foundation of Knowledge in Ireland, and blind poet Turlogh Carolan (1670-1738) had some of his poems put to music . These are sung today by various bands including the 'Chieftens” and the “Dubliners.”

Ireland in the 1800’s was again filled with strife and was stretched to the limit with the Famine of 1845-1852, which wiped out entire communities and ended in the deaths of 450,000 people. The entire century was marked with Irish resistance against British rule.

Meanwhile, a number of internationally famous playwrights emerged leading to the Irish Literary Renaissance. Leaders of this enlightened movement, which included W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, were sensitive to the revival of interest in Ireland’s Gaelic heritage and the growth of Irish nationalism. They joined forces with the demands of political agitators against the controlling powers in the British government and called for a national theater. The first theater, the National Theater, (i.e. Irish Literary Theatre), was established in 1871 and is now the Abbey Theater. The low price of tickets opened the doors to a cross section of the populace, giving everyone the opportunity to sit down together and laugh, cry, or glean a greater insight into the political mood of the country. It was the belief of the nationalist that every Irish person needed to feel a sense of common ground, a shared past and an interrelated future. The stage became the sounding board where playwrights of the period found the freedom to express ideas, some which were seen as irreverent by the government, but would culminate in a gradual emergence of a stronger Irish identity and a sense of belonging on their own land.

Still struggling for independence, the seeds of rebellion came around once again in full force in The Easter Rising of 1916, and the War of Independence. Ireland’s independence finally came in 1921 with the Anglo Irish Treaty, but with a partition between 32 counties in the south and six northeastern counties, including Belfast, which would be ruled by Britain.

Needless to say, the Irish have a lot to write about continuing in the great tradition of its ancestors. Through its novelists, poets and dramatists, Dublin has enjoyed an unparelled influence on the world. For students and lovers of great literature, always lively Dublin provides a unique cultural experience with literature at its heart. A “Literary Pub Crawl“ guided tour is a must and a great way to get to know James Joyce and all the other famous writers who resided in the city. Combining the jovial pub atmosphere with Irish literary history, wit and humor makes it is an unforgettable learning experience.


Editor's Choice Archive 1

The United Nations — the World’s Last Best Hope!

By Patricia Keegan

Living in the era of ever-present, dramatically changing events — ranging from earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires and terrorist threats, to lack luster presidential debates — it is important to keep searching for all that truly inspires and offers hope for the future. There is a hunger in the world that is literal and figurative.

Looking to the east and the “Arab Spring,” we see an amazing series of revolts born from idealism, a surging youth filled with passion to exercise their birthright — freedom — regardless of where it may lead. As we have seen throughout history it takes a revolution to crack apart the powerful shackles of suppression, and render brutal governments dispensable. The desire for freedom, justice and peace is innate, its exercise comes with a price — to make choices based on a sound value system that does not infringe on, but respects the rights and property of others. We, the United States, starting with President George Bush, promoted democracy in the Middle East, relegating it to the very center of his foreign policy. However, judging from the current ad hoc approach, apparently there was no workable plan in place on how to deal with the outcome of such uprisings. It is hard to imagine how any of these countries, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and hopefully Syria, each in a very fragile state, can recover without outside assistance.

At this moment, ripe with confusion and underlying chaos, you only have to be awake to see how everything is changing; this is a time to be proactive. In this new world we need new guidelines and a global consensus on impending crises that negatively affect the entire planet. America is not the policeman of the world, but since the end of WWII, it was designated the leading “moral authority.”

As the so-called moral authority, having watched the relentless slaughter in the Arab world, we should call for a “time out” to establish a boundary line that protects peaceful demonstrators, and warns brutal regimes of rapid and dire consequences once that boundary line is crossed. We should also not keep tarnishing the image we had in the world as advocates of human rights by valuing one country’s rights and devaluing the other. The Israeli population has the right to live in peace and freedom, but their rights cannot take precedence over the rights of the Palestinians. As we promote democracy, and with it, freedom of speech, nothing should impede the Palestinian right to speak out and plead their case before the international community at the United Nations, without fear of reprisal, or “punishment” by our Congress. Living in what they consider a veritable prison, with their land slowly ebbing into the hands of Israeli settlers, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas came before the UN in a most civilized way. After 20 years of negotiating without results, he brought his plea for statehood to the one platform where the ongoing plight of the Palestinians could be heard and judged by the international community. First they want legitimacy, then to negotiate the 1967 borders. This may sound like a reasonable request to the majority of the world. However, there have been threats of financial consequences from the US government and even more grave warnings from the Israeli government. On September 27, just four days after coming before the General Assembly, and disregarding the fact that Abbas had told Israel, and the world at the UN, that it would not negotiate or participate in further talks until construction of housing for Jewish settlers was halted, Benjamin Netanyhu, Prime Minister of Israel, announced construction of 1,100 more housing units in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian territory.

Looking back on the history of the UN, perhaps there are lessons to be learned, or pitfalls to be avoided. The idea for the UN was first conceived one year after the end of the first World War, during which 6 to 8 million lives were lost on the battlefield alone. As the world reeled in horror, heads of state came together to brainstorm and came up with some visionary ideas to help in the prevention of large scale wars. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat and two term President from 1913 to 1921, was the primary architect of the League of Nations that came into existence in 1919.

Wilson had support from a majority of Americans, who believed that the availability of a platform for open discussion would encourage countries to come together in a civilized way to resolve differences. The mandate for the League of Nations was that countries would settle their disputes in a legal manner and that every country deemed worthy of becoming a member would have equal rights and representation. Above all else, it would contribute to a better and more peaceful world. The irony was the United States did not become a member; Congress, during Wilson’s second term, was controlled by Republicans, who sought a return to isolationist policies set by the Monroe Doctrine.

After the war, in an effort to keep countries from rearming, The League of Nations implemented sanctions against Germany. The sanctions were ineffective because too many countries were either allied with Germany or remained neutral, ignoring the sanctions by continuing to trade. The League of Nations waned as the power of Germany, Italy and Japan lead toward WWII. In retrospect, it was believed that such an organization can only work if the United States takes an active leadership role. Some even believed this lack of US involvement lead to war. At war’s end in 1945 the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations, a shared idea between Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt.

In 1945 the UN had 51 members, it now has 193 of which more than two thirds are developing countries. It is the principal outlet for their foreign relations initiatives, and for many developing countries, the UN is the source of their diplomatic influence and their moral equivalency. Every country on earth, facing conflict, needs to believe in an organization that can, through its wisdom and experience, bring hope to implacable situations. Supporters of the United Nations need to shore up strength against what could become an indifferent and soulless world leading to more war.

Freedom is now a contagion, nothing will work unless everyone has equal opportunity. In this new world we are witnessing the consequences of what happens when freedom is long denied. So before we formally relinquish our moral authority, we must reflect carefully on our choice — to be on the side of justice for those who want to live in a free world, or to become bogged down by political ramifications. Hopefully, through the auspices of the United Nations, the aspirations of those who come seeking justice will be heard and dealt with accordingly.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

2012 and the Mayan Prediction


By Patricia Keegan

Whether we study it at length, or superficially, there is something intriguing about the Mayan prophecy for 2012. How has it stayed alive across thousands of years? The Maya calendar ends on December 21, 2012, which causes a stir among the curious, the doomsday prophets, Christian Fundamentalists and end of world predators. But did the Mayans actually predict the end of the world?

Since the aftermath of 9/11, there is an overriding sense of imbalance and turmoil throughout the world with what appears a never-ending series of crises. We know man has exceeded his limits in the realm of our environment, and each day we witness Mother Earth’s rebellion. On the threshold of 2012, we can dismiss all the hoopla as New Age rubbish, and never give it another thought, or we can look at it as a stimulus to learn more about the Maya -- who they were, and what they really said. End of the world or not, we might ask if there is something we should be doing.

The pre-Columbian civilization known as the Maya emerged in 300 AD in Mesoamerica between Guatemala and the Yucatan. They became renowned during their Classic period of 300-900 AD by developing one of the most advanced, evolved civilizations ever to inhabit the earth. The Maya calendar came into existence long before the Julian or Gregorian calendars. It is based on naturally occurring energy cycles and a close connection to Mother Earth. Because the Maya honored Mother Earth and the energy cycles that are present here, they were in tune with the cycles. In contrast to our own culture which focuses on matter, the Maya based their understanding by relying on frequency vibrations and harmonics. They believed that everything comes from and returns to one source -- divine inspiration.

By tracking the sun, moon and other heavenly bodies, the Maya created their calendar to not only reach into the distant past put also foretell the future. The scientific superiority and galactic sophistication of the Mayan calendric, (formulas) of each of the three calendars, was due to the fact that they were based on an entirely different standard of measurement and mathematics than any time keeping devices known today. By creating three calendars, the Mayans could view three different dating systems in Parallel, The Long Count, (the one which ends in 2012) the Tzolkin (divine calendar) and the Haab (civil calendar). To see an imposing, architectural example of a Haab (365 days) Mayan calendar, one can visit Chechen Itza, in the Yucatan, and climb the narrow, worn steps of the Kukulkan Pyramid. Each of the four sides has 91 steps which represent the 365 days of the year.

According to Mayan calendar researcher Jose Aragulles, The Mayan held a theory of time, using all three calendars, to which past, present and future all exist and flow equally, always meeting in the present moment. To them linear time was an illusion. To be able to access time in three dimensions, the calendar was set up on a frequency capable of a positional mathematics with flexibility and qualities superior to our own. The calendar encompassed natural time which is based on natural processes such as the motion of the stars, planets and galaxies, the biological rhythms of plants and animals, as well as the subtle inner dimensional movements of consciousness and mind. This is where the study of the Mayan calendar becomes more intriguing, but requiring a lot of concentrated time.

According to the Mayan (Long Count) calendar ending on the Winter solstice, December 21, 2012, a unique astronomical event will occur which only happens every 26,000 years -- a rare conjunction of the sun with the ecliptic of the Milky Way galaxy. The precession of the equinoxes will lead the sun to align with the Milky Way in a region known as dark rift, created by interstellar dust clouds. The result of this new alignment will orient the Milky Way in such a way that it will rim the horizon at all points, thereby opening the cosmic sky to a new energy ether, which will progressively increase. The ancient Maya considered this to be the dawn of the fifth world age. Right now we are between the between the fourth and fifth. The Mayans said nothing at all about this being the end of the world. They did say it would be a time of change, a spiritual transformation.

On November 6, 2009, NASA posted an article on its website: Earth will NOT cross the galactic line in 2012, and even if these alignments were to occur the effects on the earth would be negligible. Each December the earth and sun align with the Milky Way galaxy, an annual event with no consequence.

New alignments take place all the time, and unless we are studying the stars we would not even be aware of them. If it were not for Hollywood blockbusters and all the books that have been written, we would most likely sail past the moment the world is supposed to end without even a glitch on our computers.

If, however, we view all this information and disinformation from a spiritual aspect, as does Carlos Barrios, a Mayan elder and Ajq’ij, (a ceremonial priest and spiritual guide of the Eagle Clan). Concerned about all the distortions, Carlos initiated an investigation into the different Mayan calendars circulating and found a lot of conflicting interpretations of Mayan hieroglyphs, petroglyphs, sacred books of Chilam Balam and various ancient texts. Carlos and his brother, Gerardo, studied the history and interviewed nearly 600 elders to widen their scope of knowledge. Carlos says if the people of the Earth arrive at 2012 in good shape, without having destroyed too much of the earth, and if we put aside our differences and unite, we will rise to a new, higher level of consciousness.

“Mayan Day-keepers”, he says, “view December 21, 2012 as a date of rebirth, the start of the World of the Fifth Sun. It will be the start of a new era. The emerging era of the Fifth sun will call attention to a much overlooked element -- Ether. Along with the four traditional elements -- earth, air, fire, and water, there will be the fifth, the ether element which represents spiritual energy.”

Humanity will continue, but in a different way. Materialism will change, making us more human. The spiritual ideal of this time is action. He calls for human beings to came together and unite in support of light and life. “Right now each person and group is going his or her own way. The elder of the mountains say there is hope if the people of the light can come together and conquer the trends of darkness.”

NASA scientists predict that as the world consumes increasing amounts of fossil fuel for energy, green house gas concentration will continue to rise and earth’s average temperature will rise with it. The intergovernmental panel on climate Change (IPCC) estimates the earth’s average temperature will increase 2 to 6 degrees Centigrade by the end of the 21st century. Ecosystems will shift as plants and animals that adapt the quickest move to new areas to compete with currently established species. Scientists note, with increasing concern, that the 21st century could see one of the greatest periods of mass extinction of species in earth’s entire history. Ultimately, NASA tells us, that global warming will impact life on earth in many ways, but the extent of the change is up to us.

“The change is up to us.” We have the same message from the Maya: It is our responsibility to come together in wisdom and rational thinking.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Obama, Idealism and the Promise of Tomorrow

By Patricia Keegan

When a baby is born in America and awakens for the first time in a strange, new world what will be expected of this child and what is the promise of tomorrow? The child is, in itself, a wondrous miracle, a gift of joy, a vision of perfection. Awesome in its presence, mysterious in its mind, the baby is the majestic affirmation of a loving God. The primary instinct of a family is to protect the innocence of the child and to point to the wonders, the beauty, the possibilities in the surrounding world. Ideally they nurture the soul, helping it to grow strong, happy and confident, knowing that one day the child will face life’s inevitable challenges and be able to make the right choices.

America is now at a turning point that could move the country even further away from idealism into the stagnant pit of cynicism, or open the path to a more enlightened society where differences in opinion, color or creed are a source of interest, not anger, and where immediate gratification is expected only by two year-olds.

In the amazing and colorful pattern of the fabric of our society, if we look through a positive lens, there are buds struggling to bloom, there are courageous people who want to add to the cohesion and understanding of the larger world. The effort to avert a clash of civilizations, or even abate the insults hurled back and forth against Muslims may, in the long run, dilute the current state of hysteria, produce civil discourse and promote better understanding of each other. Reaching this point means listening more to learn more, and having the sensitivity to not stigmatize a group from a biased or narrow perspective.

The unfortunate dilemma of the human condition is that our communication is generally confined to words, and words, given their limitations, are inadequate -- at times even hazardous. Who could have found the words to give Barack Obama a complete overview of what faced him as President of the United States? Not past Presidents or history books. Who could have shown him the depth of the pitfalls of war, the intricate toppling of the financial world, or the fickleness of people? Who could have warned him of the vitriol that would be heaped upon him?

Like a rainbow of hope, the Obama wave was an arc of idealism spanning a country desperately looking for a change. Searching for miracles to heal the cynical divide, young and old alike were caught up in that captivating message of hope. They expected the impossible because they didn't realize how the inner cauldrons of influence worked in Washington. Their source of hope, Barack Obama, did not walk on water. Though idealistic, gifted and noble in his philosophy, he could not transform the world in one or two years because he was merely human! Whether or not that fact is acceptable to Obama’s constituency will be a significant harbinger of the future and how it will affect our children. Will idealists still rise from the young or will they grow up in an angry, cynical world as non-participants in the electoral process?

Only by uniting in pursuit of the common interest can our country move forward. The issues on the table are serious and need immediate and undivided attention that call for a bipartisan approach. Since the Great Depression and WWII, Americans have not been bombarded with such dire predictions regarding both domestic and global issues.

Today the President of the United States carries an unrelenting, unforgiving burden of responsibility on his shoulders. Adding to the hefty weight of two wars, we now face the unpredictability of a terrorist attack and the predicted ravages of global warming. Is this not an unprecedented array of problems to be carried by an American President? From Eisenhower all the way through the last 60 years and nine presidents, not one had to face the enormous challenges that confront Obama.

If one were to take even a few moments to ponder the immense burden this man carries, it would be clear that our President deserves our respect, as well as our prayers.

Today, as our children become more aware of the world around them and start planning for the dream of a good education, this nation must remain a land of promise and pride, encouraging our young to study, to travel and to learn about other people, cultures and languages We are at a turning point where all could be swept up in negativity. That great promise of dignity and the pursuit of happiness, as laid out in the Declaration of Independence by the founding fathers, could become nice words of aspiration, but meaningless and beyond the reach of most hard-working people.

Something good has to happen to prevent this ideal from disappearing from our lives and the lives of future generations. Goals have to be set, solutions found. The seeds of reason must rise, take hold and bear fruit; the good of the whole country must become the national priority. We have a leader with the ability to make this happen, but he can't do it alone. If the youth, the idealists and the visionaries who rallied around candidate Barack Obama have faith, if they unite and energize, they can move the country out of this rut of negativity. Rather than trying to fast-forward the pace of the Obama “Change”, it is still possible, step by step, to avoid the slump of indifference, and with hard work and patience build a resolve high enough and strong enough to catch the light beyond the clouds.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

'Every Man Dies Alone'


Book Review

Just recently I discovered Hans Fallada, a profound, deeply sensitive, newly translated German author who, in Every Man Dies Alone, explores the disturbing question of what it means to be fully human when surrounded by war and oppression.

In his novel, Fallada takes us into the destructive, disturbing atmosphere that he lived through, one that few writers have being able to describe in such detail. I felt that I was in Berlin living through the cruelty of the times; seeing, touching, feeling all the fear and tension that was felt by the majority of the German population living under the Hitler regime. In Nazi-controlled Germany during WWII, the loss of individual freedom became so stultifying that each person was left with a choice to either survive in half death, or risk everything by defying the system.

In Every Man Dies Alone, Fallada parades all manner of men before us in a compelling, deeply moving and true story which he turned into a novel. Obscure for many years, Fallada’s books are finally being translated into English.

This beautifully crafted masterpiece tells tells the horrendous tale of an elderly, working-class German couple living in Berlin during the Nazi Regime. It takes the reader on a suspenseful journey into the psychological conflict between what men do, and what they ought to do, when they observe injustice. It compels us to reflect on the world we live in. While most of us grow up reading about heroines and heros who have the courage to stand up for truth and justice, years pass, and our childhood dreams of noble acts of courage fade. We meld into the politically correct, safe, status quo, “don’t rock the boat” pattern -- but even in democracies, although minor by comparison, there are consequences This is not rational to the idealist, but it is a fact of life. One's freedom can gradually get chipped away unless it is guarded as a sacred right. Across the world freedom, compassion and human rights must be looked upon as necessary for the survival of the entire human race and the next step toward both intellectual and spiritual enlightenment.

Indeed there was nothing spiritual or religious about Otto Quarangel, or his wife Anna, living through WWII, yet there was a decency alive in the very marrow of their bones. They were both practical, hard-working people. He worked in a factory, she kept their little apartment clean and lived for the return of her son from the war. When they receive tragic news about their son’s death, their world changes, and they realize they have to choose to feel “free” by standing up to the Nazi suppression or slowly dying within. They choose the former and risk their lives in the hope that it will bring about a response from more German's hiding the same sentiments.

The book is filled with passion and a parade of despicable characters in positions of authority within the regime. This is brilliant writing as it weaves a refreshing thread of ironic humor throughout. The reader will meet some of the slimiest, most cowardly and vicious of men, all puppets of Hitler wielding authority over their own people with a vengeance and a goal of de-humanizing a whole culture. In this suspenseful page-turner the only hope is that the regime will fall and the war will end before all is lost.

Hans Fallada is an expert on the human condition, his writing cuts to heart of man’s inhumanity to man and how far and how deep this wielding sword can reach. This is a book that will last in our memories as it subtly challenges the reader to ask, “What would I do in the same circumstances?'

Hans Fallada was born in 1893, the son of a magistrate, and he lived until February 5, 1947, having survived WWI and WWII. Every Man Dies Alone was first published after his death and was translated into English for the first time in 2009. Currently, 10 of his of his 25 published works have an English edition.

Fallada had a tumultuous life and was prone to a variety of ailments, but he loved to read and was born to be a writer. Jenny Williams notes in her biography, “More Lives Than One”(1998) that Fallada's father would read aloud to his children works by Shakespeare and Schiller. Before he was 16 he immersed himself in the works of Flaubert, Dostoevsky, and Dickens.

Shortly after he turned 16 in 1909, he was in a severe road accident. He was run over by a horse drawn cart, then kicked in the face by the horse. A year later he contracted typhoid.

This was a turning point in an otherwise happy childhood. His adolescent years were characterized by increasing isolation and self-doubt compounded by the lingering effects of his ailments. He developed what became a life-long drug problem that started with the pain killers for his injuries after the accident. These issues manifested in multiple suicide attempts. The first attempt was in 1911 when he made a suicide pact with a friend. They decided to mask their suicides believing that a dual would be seen as more honorable. However, it was bungled because of the boy's inexperience with weapons. Fallada killed Hans Dietrich, but was only grazed by Dietrich's bullet. When he saw what happened Fallada was so distraught he picked up the gun and shot himself in the chest, The death of his friend insured his status as an outcast of society. Although he was found innocent of murder by way of insanity, from that point on he served multiple stints in mental institutions.

What is truly remarkable about this larger-than-life character is his resilience. With the ability to overcome obstacles that would confound even the hardiest of men, he was able to produce multiple works of literature that have been compared to Thomas Mann, Remarque, and Tolstoy. He was married twice and had one son.

Fallada remained a popular writer in Germany after his death. Although Little Man What Now had been a great success in the US and the UK, outside of Germany, Fallada faded into obscurity. Melville House re-issued several titles beginning in 2009 including Little Man, What Now?, and for the first time, Every Man Dies Alone. In 2010 Melville House released Wolf Among Wolves, in its first unexpurgated English translation.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Heartbroken Haiti

By Patricia Keegan

Sudden, uncontrollable, unforeseeable --
From the whimsical shift of the indifferent earth
A mighty force of destruction bursts forth
Unleashing hell -- chewing, churning and splitting
The delicate fabric of Haiti.


An ominous silence descends, calm as a concussion.
Images cascade from the TV screen,
Like a ghost, I stand transfixed, inadequate
Against this tidal wave of loss.
Everywhere, loss, loss, loss, loss.
Among the rubble: fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters,
Babies, children, the old, the young,
Homes, dreams, aspirations, security,
Gone forever, decreed dead, diminished to mere glimpses
Sown randomly within the threads of time.


Impotent, solitary we stand, no blame, no anger,
No method of retaliation against
The insane eruptions of the oblivious, detached earth,
Blythly continuing its path around the sun.


And now from somewhere deep within the shifted land
The muffled cries begin:
A symphony of pathos emanating from the rubble,
Urgency clutches at time,
Each precious second, each ebbing moment a life can be saved.


Rescuers: Faces of kindness lean close to the ground
Digging dirt with their hands as they kneel,
Shouting words of resistance against time slipping by:
'Don’t give up, We’ll find you, We’re here.'
Their hands are all bloody, their shouts filled with hope,
But the sun cannot hold back the night.


Etched against the chaos, tall, straight and noble,
Wearing a red-ribboned straw hat and long cotton skirt,
A mother stands in the half-dusk,
Watching men with swollen hands begin to leave the rescue site.
'Come tomorrow,' she pleads.
'My child, my daughter, lying beneath the rubble, is alive!'


Dust fills the days, dead bodies line the roads
Cries of anguish pierce the nights.
I am transported to Port au Prince,
Fixated on this agony of agonies;
Hunger, thirst, excruciating pain,
Field hospitals devoid of surgical tools,
Limbs amputated crudely with saws,
Vodka spilled onto wounds for sterilization.
Left to their own devices
What will the Haitians do?


Out of the darkness comes a voice, a single note,
Like a sigh, soaring and soaring as though reaching for restoration from the heavens.
Higher and higher, joined by another and another.
A crowd gathers, holding hands, faces turned upwards,
As though searching for solace among the stars.
They lay their burden down, rest for awhile,
Standing together as Haitians
Finding strength in their faith and each other
They will overcome.


The returning sun reveals again the deadly chaos,
Jagged scars everywhere,
But amid this devastation
Miracles and beauty rise to the surface:
We see hope in the clear eyes and dust-caked face
Of four year–old Monley.
After five days in darkness, he blinks against the sudden light,
Yet upon his face, no fear reflected,
Only memories of love and trust
And the echo of his father’s last words --
'Don’t move, just be patient and someone will come!'
The sun still rises in a dazzling light over Haiti,
Leaving behind a sky filled with billions of stars,
Beneath this sky, the pain goes on and on and on.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

The Nascent Obama Foreign Policy Doctrine


By Patricia Keegan

At no time in history has an American President been faced with such a stark mountain of ever mounting complexities. In this new era of the invisible enemy springing from discontented populations, we can't leave ourselves without new and creative ways to solve these unprecedented challenges.

President Obama has been criticized for deliberating too long on the agonizing decision of sending more troops to Afghanistan. If he sends more troops and the war continues for years without the expected results, he will be blamed. On the other hand, if he doesn't send troops and Afghanistan or Pakistan fall into the hands of terrorists, the responsibility will fall heavily on his shoulders. So what is the 44th President of the United States supposed to do?

What is taking place is the precise calibration of a rational, intelligent approach seeking a balanced response to the invisible enemy's irrational aggression. Moving away from old habits of throwing our blood and treasure at problems that can't be solved around the table, is like Sisyphus climbing the mountain and continually slipping back. We will continue to slip and slide over and over again, until a new thinking embeds itself on the world's conciousness.

Obama won the Noble Peace Prize because he has given many corners of the world hope. The prize also reflects the need the world has, at this moment, to look for calm, thoughtful, and visionary leadership. Although the timing is off, and a 'new vision' for the world might have caught on more quickly if it had been developed soon after the Cold War ended, it wasn't then, and now we are dealing with the consequences.

In the nascent Obama Doctrine, Obama articulates a new framework where the world works together to solve some of the dire problems we now confront. This doctrine substitutes 'democracy' with 'dignity promotion' by endeavoring to fix the conditions of misery that breed anti-Americanism and prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity from taking root. In a recent speech to the Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, ''We will lead by inducing a greater cooperation among a greater number of actors and reducing competition, tilting the balance away from a multi-polar world to a multi-partner world.'

Even the thought of a 'multi-partner' world is huge. It gives us all hope that when nations come together as non-competitors, desiring and working for common goals i.e., the elimination of nuclear weapons, combating climate change, fighting disease, and addressing our lagging resources, almost anything can be accomplished. Place this vision in juxtaposition to the alternative --- a world that finds it impossible to work cooperatively will stay on a fast track to the ruination of our planet. What is needed to make our common cause of cooperation become a reality is TRUST!

Although he hasn't yet said it, as an idealist, Obama can conceive of a world without war. He plants the seeds for a more peaceful world by reaching out to diverse groups, believing in dialogue, standing strong against those who are set in the rigidity of Cold War thinking, and by appearing honest and trustworthy. But how do we build that trust, the missing piece of the equation, in order to help these seeds flourish.

Speaking in Pakistan on October 28th, in the wake of a bomb explosion which killed more than 100 women and children and injured 200 innocent people, Clinton courageously emphasized cooperation between countries, 'Not only government to government but additional partnerships, in the private sector, universities, nongovernmental organizations, civil society groups, religious institutions and most importantly, people to people.'

These are fine words, but under the circumstances, an immense task. Yet, if the future of our children's and grandchildren's world depends on doing something now, we have got to start somewhere.

If the people to people idea were to somehow be put into operation, how would we start, and where would we start? There is a momentum here that can't be lost. Could Georgetown University partner with one of Islamabad's universities, like the National University of Modern Languages, which teaches many languages and tries to bring people together. Could the Washington National Cathedral partner with Islamabad's Faisal Mosque in Islamabad?

The foundation for trust must start now. We hear the slogan, 'Winning the hearts and minds of people,' over and over, but it rings false to me. Becoming interested in the hearts and minds of people takes knowledge of their culture and mores -- respecting their way of life without trying to impose our values on them. It is not a game that someone wins, rather it can be a discovery that is immensely rewarding.

In this new century, peace movements will continue at the grassroots level, taking the shape of the times we are living in. This is the age of IT which keeps pushing us toward a stronger interconnectidness. We have the technology and the means of communicating with friends in other lands -- now let's make it even more meaningful. Today's youth could make an enormous impact by becoming interested in the potential for greater understanding between cultures in the very tools they carry. A purpose-filled Facebook or Twitter communication, driven by a passionate goal of ending war and preserving our small planet, is just one way of contributing to a calmer world.

One thing we can be sure of is that within the family unit, which exists in billions all over the world, there lives a common bond that deplores war, wants to protect their children and live in dignity and peace.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Dresden Loses UNESCO Designation

By Patricia Keegan

It was in July, just after President Obama left Dresden that I made my 6th visit to my favorite city in the world. When I heard about the limitations on the President’s visit, I felt sorry for him, so harnessed by the restraints that come with the office. On a hectic schedule, he stayed only one night at the Taschenberg Palais, overlooking the baroque Zwinger Museum. There was tight security everywhere, the city was cleared out for more than 15 hours. He paid a visit to the renowned Frauenkirche, ( Church of Our Lady), he met with officials at the King’s Palace, and the next day he was gone!

Unfortunately, he missed really seeing and feeling the city of Dresden -- still being restored after the Allied (Britain and US) fire bombing on February 14-15, 1945, at the end of WWII. During my stay in the same hotel on my very first night in Dresden in 1995, although restoration was in full swing, rubble from the bombing was still visible in different areas. I could imagine President Obama looking out those great hotel windows in the evening and seeing the surrounding Baroque architecture and the lantern lights shining invitingly on cobblestone streets and wishing he were free to explore. I can almost hear him saying to himself, “One day I will return and really see Dresden.”

For cultural addicts, Dresden is a place that combines the great works of art and architecture gathered by Saxon Kings in the 17th and 18th centuries with the history of the world’s finest musicians and composers who either lived or gave concerts here. In a small city, nurtured on culture and overflowing with everything the soul needs to enrich life, all was well -- until the advent of Hitler and the war. Near the war’s end, with Hitler falling in defeat, Dresden was considered a safe place to shelter from the approaching Red Army, so thousands of women and children poured into the city. Husbands and fathers were still deployed in combat. It was then that Dresden‘s residents, its refugees and all its monuments to beauty were fire-bombed. There were no records of the number of refugees arriving daily, and there is still no accurate tally of the number of people burned to death. Some say as many as 250,000 died, others estimate range as low as 15,000.

Even 64 years later I still haven’t heard a reasonable argument as to why Dresden was bombed. People glibly give me answers wrapped in clichés such as “war is war” and “stuff happens.” For 44 years the question was overshadowed by post-war history as Dresden and East Germany fell under the communist sphere of Soviet empire.

The nightmare of fire bombing, human suffering and political oppression is in the city’s past, and the world has moved on, but it adds a poignancy to Dresden that is even palpable today and bound to affect the sensibilities. I believe the feeling comes from the juxtaposition of the human potential for greatness alongside man’s inhumanity to man.

Who can understand? It is an awesome thing to ponder, but the city of Dresden remains a true reflection of the capabilities of the human spirit. Like few cities in the world, it carries a legacy that, hopefully, will be studied and learned from through generations to come. I believe that legacy also carries a huge responsibility to tenderly care for all that is beautiful and conducive to uplifting that part of the human spirit that yearns to be enriched by other than material gains.

After a four year absence from Dresden, I walked around in awe of the carefully planned restorations of the Neumarkt, the old baroque buildings around the Frauenkirche, and the spectacular King's Palace, a work still in progress. I was thrilled to be back among buildings that spoke to the human potential for greatness, serving as monuments to Germany’s early history when the environment held a soothing power.

But there was a snag -- one that had loomed in my mind and was brought to my attention again by a woman on the train from Dresden International Airport. She was on her way to her mother’s birthday party in Dresden, and later was setting out on a bicycle trek along the Elbe River to Prague. Full of enthusiasm, she told me, “I will pass old castles, and villas and small historic towns. It is an inspiring journey.” She asked if I had seen the advertisements about the “ugly bridge.” She said the bridge would spoil part of a ride such as hers. “I can’t believe we were dropped from UNESCO’s World Heritage List for that bridge!”

The only other site worldwide to have ever provoked deletion was Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in 2007.

Dresden, like every modern city, faces the challenge that change brings. Sometimes its not pretty. This beautiful city recently lost its UNESCO designation over a bridge that is planned across the Elbe River and its unspoiled valley. For me this was hard to fathom. I could only conclude that either UNESCO was out of control, or Dresden had made a huge mistake.

Later I had the opportunity to ask Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz about plans for the bridge. At an opening reception for a new No Violence Revolution exhibit at the Stadt Museum, honoring the 20th anniversary of freedom from Stasi control under communism, I spoke with her. She seemed a little surprised at my question. She told me that the “decision by UNESCO is not discussed anymore.” She said the decision to go forward with the bridge has been made by the court, and there is still a chance of restoring the designation somewhere further upriver. She said all agree it will not affect tourism. The people had voted for the bridge, she said, and the project was already started and nothing would change.

I came away thinking that if the citizens voted for it, they must have taken everything into consideration, including the potential loss of UNESCO’s designation, an outcome which couldn’t help tourism. Without UNESCO oversight there are no limits. The bridge can be designed so large as to obscure views of the historic city from some locations. I still wasn’t sure if this was a done deal -- a lost cause. I know there are thousands of Dresdeners who are not about to give up. They have always wanted to build a tunnel instead of a bridge.

The fact is that in 2005 a plebiscite was held, and with a low voter turnout two thirds voted for the bridge. However, before the plebiscite the people were not informed about the alternative -- a tunnel, nor was UNESCO consulted to find out if the bridge was compatible with UNESCO standards. When Dresden first applied for World Cultural Heritage recognition the bridge was announced, but at a different site, apparently further away from historic areas.

Consider this. For over 500 years the banks along the Elbe were looked upon as sacred territory, and for many centuries animals and rare plants flourished here. People could walk the banks and enjoy the quietly flowing river, but that could end if so called “progress” takes over. The four lane bridge will certainly be a detriment to peace in the valley and will add pollution. Those in favor, including some business owners, say they need the bridge to relieve traffic congestion, some say the other five bridges are old and not strong enough. Those against the bridge roll their eyes and describe it is as a “disaster.” They are afraid this will only precipitate further development of a treasured area, and they dread to think of what could be forfeited next.

It is possible that those who favor the bridge do not see the rarity of the treasure that Dresden offers the visitor. Like every other city it has to respond to change and keep its economy functioning at the highest level. At the same time it cannot afford to take for granted a beautiful and magnetic attraction for tourists and to forfeit a prize like UNESCO World Heritage status in the name of progress.

The keepers of Dresden have to be more careful than other cities not to disturb their unique environment. It is not like any other city in Europe, it fits into an image of “the ideal.” Maybe that’s an unfair burden as compared to most city’s commercial and public works projects. But if it were like any other city, geared toward commerce, it will have lost its presence, its character and its spirit, and that would be a real tragedy.

It would be a shame if President Obama, on his next visit to Dresden after his White House tenure, with the freedom to really enjoy the city, was not able to stroll several miles along the banks of the Elbe without encountering a noisy, four lane bridge.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

The Mind of Obama and the Speech in Cairo


By Patricia Keegan

No intelligent being could listen to a speech by President Barak Obama and not be intrigued by the richness of his thought processes. Although I favored Hillary's realism and experience over Obama's idealism, that has changed. When I listen to what Obama is trying to accomplish, I am convinced it comes from a strong desire to take a fresh approach to the world's problems. I see him as courageous, with a unique approach to each challenge.

He demonstrates the laser concentration and analytic approach of one who feels he can untie the Gordian knot. The knot that represents the difficult, the intractable, the insolvable problem. According to ancient Greek legend, Alexander the Great slashed through the knot with his sword and was rewarded with Asia. But that was cheating. Obama wants to find the ends and untie it thoughtfully. His aim is to find common ground in a more rational world.

If I were a visitor from another planet and didn't feel so deeply involved with the high stakes of confronting and untangling these complex knots, I would just sit back and enjoy the show.

Barack Obama seems to be on a mission to follow truth no matter where it leads. Indeed, this should be the logical approach for a new president as he wades into international waters. In this era of instant communication and openness, it seems appropriate for a newly elected American president to go on a world tour telling the public where he stands on major international issues, otherwise they would expect the status quo.

In the past we have seen former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shuttling back and forth across the world without the public ever really knowing the major goals were or what was being accomplished. We know President Barack Obama wants to give the world his best gift -- the audacity of hope!

This is a new age with the clock ticking down on approaching disasters -- the myriad effects of climate change which are considered almost out of our control, and nuclear proliferation which is barely controllable. Then there are the weak governments and failed states and the dire predictions of clashing civilizations.

So when Barack Obama contemplates his major tasks, it is his innate quality of hope and optimism that gives him the “audacity” to try counteracting this wave of pessimism by letting the world know and better understand American principles. Once he has told the world where we stand as Americans- has reached out the hand of friendship and follows his words with the implementation of his ideas, he can then fulfill his leadership role with a clear conscience. He will know he was true, not only to himself, but also to the promise the Founding Fathers laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson, chief author of the Declaration, spoke of its fulfillment in the Constitution by saying, “Preserve inviolate the Constitution which, if cherished in all its chastity and purity, will prove in the end a blessing to all the nations of the earth.”

Speech in Cairo, June 4, 2009

In his New Beginning speech in Cairo, reaching out to the Islamic world, President Obama spoke of America’s early link with Islam: “The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Muslims.”

Obama went on to say that since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. “They have fought in our wars, served in our government, and have stood for civil rights, they have taught at our universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Noble Prizes, built our tallest building, lit the Olympic Torch and when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, kept in his personal library.”

The Israeli/Palestine conflict is the #1 Gordian knot that no American president has been able to untie. President Obama left no question that he wants to see justice on both sides. He presented a new image of America, with a more even-handed approach to the conflict. He is firm about a two state solution and no more settlements. The next few weeks should show the effect of his words.

If he opted to stay in the White House and not confront these problems head-on, I believe they would continue to fester with more and more lives lived in hopeless conditions of chaos, terror and fear.

In his Cairo speech Mr. Obama said Iraq was a war of “choice,“ and how events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and to build international consensus whenever possible.

I don’t think any American wants to ever again witness the atrocities precipitated by that pre-emptive strike.

On the economic front Obama wants to create more partnerships. He points to education and innovation as the currency of the 21st century, yet sees too many Muslim communities remaining underinvested in this area. On education he wants to expand exchange programs and increase scholarships. This year he will host aSummit on Entrepreneurship to find out how to deepen ties between business leaders of countries.

Given his balance between EQ (Emotional Intelligence), and IQ (Intelligent Quotient), Barack Obama appears to see the world, with all its problems, as an overall decent place where people, regardless of color or creed basically try to do what is best for themselves and their families, and where common ground can be found and nurtured.

The calming voice of the new President of the United States helps the world to understand more about his leadership, gauge his sincerity, and see if he can influence for good their own governments and their own futures.

Solomon once said; “Where there is no vision the people perish.“ From the mind of President Obama comes a new vision for the world. Enchalla! God willing!

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Obama and Clinton -- Sweeping up the Mess

By Patricia Keegan

When Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were vying for the Presidency, we heard both say whomever won the office would face the daunting task of sweeping up a “mess.” Only George Bush could have known how immense is the mess.

Unfortunately, the sweepers who get a close look at the intricacies of the mess are blamed as soon as they pick up the broom. They are admonished for not cleaning up the inherited mess fast enough, their approach is too far left, and we hear irresponsible comments from talk show host Rush Limbaugh and others that it would be better if Obama “failed.” These infantile, attention-provoking remarks are a disservice to our country. It is in each and everyone's interest, indeed in the world's interest, that President Barack Obama succeed.

When Barack Obama spoke many times about changes, some were predictable and some were not. Now we traverse completely new territory, with new international and domestic challenges arising each day.

On the international stage, Hillary Clinton has entered a “hot zone.” Never before has a US Secretary of State faced so many complex problems that require so much tact and clarity of strategy. With her broom she has to follow on the heels of “if you break it, you own it,” as Colin Powell stated early in the Bush administration when the breaking began. She is now navigating her way over egg shells. In view of the subversion of diplomacy by George Bush, the US faces a myriad of challenges – foremost, the revitalization of America's image in the world.

On her tour of Asia, her first overseas mission as new Secretary of State, it was not long before the world began to see a fresh, more direct approach in US diplomacy under the Obama administration. In China, Clinton was criticized for not putting human rights front and center. As a pragmatist, Hillary must weigh the major issues the world is facing and try to come up with solid solutions, requiring the cooperation of not only our allies, but those who consider themselves competitors. On March 10 a lead editorial in the Washington Post chided the Secretary of State for not making human rights a major issue of the Asian tour. “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to devalue and undermine the US diplomatic tradition of human rights advocacy in her dismissal of raising human rights concerns.”

Her response was: “We pretty much know what they are going to say about such issues as a greater freedom for Tibet, we have to continue to press them. But our pressing them on these issues can't interfere with dialog on other crucial topics.”

On March 12 Clinton said the Obama administration regards the issue of human rights on the same level as economics and international security. “A mutual and collective commitment to human rights is [as] important to bettering our world as our efforts on security, global economics, energy, climate change and other pressing issues. We are going to look for ways to be effective where we can actually produce outcomes that will matter in the lives of people who are struggling for their rights to be full participants in their societies.”

Anyone who doubts the Obama administration's commitment to human rights hasn't been paying attention. There is a choice -- to keep lecturing on human rights without affect, as we have seen in the past, or to come up with more creative methods, as Clinton seemed to suggest.

The world is focused on pressing issues – the catastrophic meltdown in world economies, the slow destruction of the planet caused by global warming, nuclear proliferation, scarcity of water and food, and biological and nuclear terrorism. If you set out as Secretary of State on a mission to mend fences in an imperfect world, you must know in advance what your priorities are. If the US and allies fail to confront the issues of nuclear proliferation or any one of those volatile challenges -- there goes human rights on a global scale.

If a major part of the sweep-up is to somehow reestablish moral authority, squandered in the Bush administration, we must proceed not by the words we speak but by our overall policy of justice. During the late 90's, we were focused on a global economy that was ordained “to raise all boats” and improve living conditions around the world with little regard for its effect on climate change or human rights. Today the imminent danger to our planet is finally being addressed front and center. Our priorities of the past tended to be reactive rather than proactive.

What we are beginning to see from the Obama administration is the realization that amid today's complexities there is greater need to find common ground. In order to solve world problems we first must TALK. Finding common ground and talking is now the only answer. Throwing bombs at problems has to become obsolete. Talking requires leadership and focus, otherwise it's just babble. Leadership requires intelligent listening.

The first week of April saw a breakthrough in finding common ground. The days sizzled with TV and print images of a purposeful America on the move again. First there was the UN sponsored Afghanistan/Pakistan conference in the Hague which brought together more than 80 countries, including non-governmental organizations, in a joint effort to stabilize the Afghan government. When 80 countries, including Pakistan, Iran and Russia, come together to bring stability to a part of the world, something good has to happen. Leaders have a chance to express their opinions and listen to others. Iran was free to express their concerns regarding their neighbor and the spill-over of narcotics into their territory, as well as their fears that the presence of “foreign forces” has not improved the situation and an increase in numbers “will prove ineffective too.”

The Secretary of State praised a speech made by Mr. Akhondzadeh, Iran's deputy foreign minister, describing it as a “promising” sign of how Iran wanted to engage with the US and other states in ways to improve Afghanistan's future. Meanwhile, Mr. Holbrooke held a brief and cordial exchange with Mr. Akhondzadeh. At least this is communication -- a small step, but a start!

The G20 Summit in London brought Barak Obama onto the world stage. He had brought the seed of hope to Europe when, as nominee of the Democratic Party, he spoke in Berlin. Now that hope has blossomed into a full blown example of fine, thoughtful, intelligent leadership. While North Korea was readying its missile launch, Russian President Medevev was sitting down with Obama, smilingly pressing the “restart button” in US/Russian relations, with a US President who was calm, cool and direct. Throughout his European tour, he was clearing the brush and planting a new harvest, laying the foundation of a strikingly different tone in US/ European relations. He said he had come to listen, not to lecture. We knew he could listen as we watched him in press conferences and with students at a town meeting in Strasbourg where his intellectual honesty shone through. Along with his extensive knowledge on a diverse group of problems, he has convictions which he can rely on as he deals with each question. He endeavors to express his answer succinctly while transmitting sincerity, an important factor we have not seen in so long we have forgotten it was possible. He also smiles appropriately, eight years of inappropriate smirks were a little disconcerting.

Winding up his first overseas visit in Turkey, President Obama offered his hand in friendship to the Muslim world saying we are not at war with Islam and never will be. He said “The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy.” Overall one feels his sense of urgency that we have reached a point in history, where nuclear proliferation must be halted and where the rational world must begin to reassess prejudices that serve as barriers between cultures. He has asked his audiences at every stop to take fresh approach in looking at the world, not to become fixated on past history. As in the US, he wants the young to get involved, to see service to country as a noble endeavor. As long as the youth are paying attention, and regardless of what the skeptics say, there is still room for idealism in the world.

What transpired from this trip is a stimulation of new ways of thinking; as a country we were static for too long, now we are flowing again. The President's trip lays the foundation for more conferences like this G20 summit that asks world leaders to come up with solutions, not only in dealing with the nuances of the global economy, but in sharing expertise on other problems that beset our small planet. It takes strong leadership to address the challenges of a world that has become so intertwined that if one country is affected, the whole world feels the pain.

As part of his clean sweep Obama made an unannounced visit to troops in Iraq where he urged the government to take control of its country and stand on its own as a democracy.

In the first week of April, 2009, Barack and Michelle Obama have revitalized America's image in the world and have inspired by both their words and their example.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Do We Expect Too Much?


By Patricia Keegan

At a time when our country is going through an unprecedented transformation with a myriad of challenges converging simultaneously, Barack Obama’s time has come. Can he lead us back from the abyss?

For over two decades global financial problems have been building, caused by abdication of responsibility, lack of foresight and uncontrollable avarice.

Our expectations for President Obama may prove to be beyond reason, yet we see in him the potential of a steady leader, with a strong core and a sensitivity to the predicament of millions of Americans striving to keep their heads above water. Not only is Obama faced with domestic problems unraveling on a daily basis, but also with unpredictable international challenges. As of today, he is inheriting two wars, a violent clash between Israelis and Palestinians, and an ominous list of brewing confrontations. We have no idea what lies ahead and little control over the outcome. Whatever happens, from the start, we as Americans need to be united in faith behind our new leadership and in our ability to harness the courage to meet the demands ahead. The results of the last Presidential election is the evidence of a hunger for change. The change we were all hoping for may be deeper and more painful than first imagined in campaign slogans.

Obama’s skill in running his campaign, and in selecting an experienced, talented cabinet, speaks to his strong leadership skills. If he can provide inspiration, integrity, and practical solutions to our economic problems, there is a strong chance our country will come through this gracefully.

In the planned stimulus package set for Day 1, by first taking care of the most vulnerable, those in danger of losing basic needs -- including food, clothing and shelter -- he can secure the vitally important lowest rung of the economic ladder. For most Americans love of country comes directly after love of family, and we have been through an agonizing time seeing our country’s values distorted. We watched as the Executive Branch strayed from the principles of government set forth in our Constitution, and we engaged in a pre-emptive war based on false information. What stands before us now is the specter of a country we know, but barely recognize. Four years from now, when we look back on our country, how different will we be as a nation?

I believe this change represents a desire to get to the core, the truth, of what America stands for, not only to its own citizens but to a world who looks to us for leadership, justice and compassion . Hopefully, the combination of a new administration and unprecedented hardships will bring a cleansing of soul, leading to a country firmly positioned on a strong, spiritual foundation.

I recently read a prophetic speech made by the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard University in 1975 in which he both praised and criticized America. Much of what he says applies today. He talked about the fight for our planet as both physical and spiritual, describing it as a fight of cosmic proportions which is already upon us. He asks how the West declined from its triumphal march to its present sickness. He believed that anthropocentricity was the prevailing Western view of the world, meaning a humanistic autonomy, unlinked to any higher force from above, seeing man himself as the center of everything that exists. From an historical perspective, he says that while the Renaissance through the present has enriched our experience, we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.

Solzhenitsyn concluded his speech with the following.

“If the world has not come to an end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the middle ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled on as in the Modern era. The ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way but -- upward.

Now in the early stages of the 21st century, before the end of the first decade and in the midst of looming chaos, we have an inspiring, new leader in Barack Obama, who has come to turn the page to a new chapter in our history. In guiding us through this change, he has to be a statesman, head and shoulders above the rest. He has to be wise, he has to be disciplined, and he has to be a healer. In helping him deal with the enormity of the task, it is comforting to know the goodwill of our country is with him. We wish him well, while we pray for his success.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

A Reason For Hope

Editor's Choice Archive 1

The Mosul Dam - Iraq's Imminent Disaster!

By Patricia Keegan

(Nov. 30) We keep hearing that the “surge” has been a success, and we see Iraqi people, forced into refugee status, beginning to return to their country. This is promising; nevertheless, there remains an underlying sense of insecurity in the mixed messages coming from Iraq.

On October 30, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and several other major newspapers ran a startling and disturbing front page story headlined, “Mosul Dam Seen in Danger of Deadly Collapse.”

Should this catastrophe happen, the estimated death toll is as high as 500,000 people. The gargantuan impact of such a blow would shred any lingering optimism for order in an already devastated country. Hope would be washed away with human loss, and the world would be left stunned. Yet, since that story ran, there has not been the uproar I would expect. Outside of a congressional hearing, there has been little follow-up in the mainstream media.

There are many issues in today’s world that are either beyond our control or will eventually be resolved. But in this instance, we are talking about preventing a full-scale catastrophe, one that will not resolve itself or go away.

If one were to take a moment to ponder the consequences of the collapse of the Mosul Dam, it should jolt us into action. Just imagine turning on the television one morning and seeing a population being caught up in a tidal wave of one trillion gallons of water. Mosul would be under 65 feet of water and parts of Baghdad under 15 feet. The dam holds back 3.3 trillion gallons of the Tigris River. As Americans, we have seen and experienced the tragedy inflicted by Hurricane Katrina on an unsuspecting populace. This would be a calamity surpassing even the Asian Tsunami which took some 275,000 lives.

When something is preventable, and we neglect to harness the capacity of our “superpower” status to prevent it, we should not be surprised if we hear ourselves condemned by the world.

Used for both water supply and electricity, Mosul Dam is considered the most dangerous dam in the world. Built in 1984 on a foundation of gypsum, a soft mineral that dissolves in contact with water, the foundation is sustained by machines injecting the dam with grout -- around the clock!

British newspaper Independent, on November 29, said “there are irreparable, essential flaws within the foundation of the Mosul Dam.”

To make the matter even more inconceivable, the results of safety studies commissioned by the US government have been discussed with Iraq, the Iraqi government has rejected the report’s findings, and the imminent danger has not been shared with the Iraq people.

Are there not parallels between this forecast of danger and predictions of a terrorist attack on America before 9-11? Our government knew it was likely to happen, but they didn’t know when or where. Since nothing could be pinpointed, they neglected to warn the public. In the case of the Mosul Dam, they know it’s likely to happen, they know where it will happen, and it is within our means to avoid the catastrophe.

The Mosul Dam story that broke in the Washington Post included portions of a draft from an Army Corps of Engineers report. It was brought to the Post by an Army Corps official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Despite the warning, the Iraqi government, according to the Washington Post, believes the dam is safe. Salar Bakir, Director General of Planning and Development at the Water Resources ministry, said, according to the Post, that Iraqi officials do not think it is necessary to spend an estimated $10 billion to complete a partially constructed dam downstream that could be a stopgap measure in case Mosul Dam collapses.” The Iraqi official was already thinking the unthinkable.

If this is a reflection of how Iraq’s government conducts the business of protecting its people, it is a tragic and pathetic picture of ineptitude. If they cannot show the leadership expected of a sovereign country, the US, led by Ambassador Crocker and General Patraeus in this case, should step in and do what needs to be done to protect lives while the world’s best engineers decide how to prevent this imminent, DEADLY disaster.

There will be no room for recriminations once the dam breaks loose. Thousands more Iraqi lives will be lost, and all that our soldiers fought and died for will be washed away.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Poetry on Iraq

By Patricia Keegan

Dear Readers,

I published my first poem, For the Iraqi Children, in late 2002, just before the U.S. launched the Iraq War. That poem is reprinted below, followed by my second and most recent poem on the Iraq situation. Mere words cannot express my sadness for our country, for our soldiers and their families, and for the Iraqi people who continue to suffer and die. May the innocent be protected, the warriors calmed, and the healing soon begun.

For the Iraqi Children

Oh land of Abraham, and Ur, where Moses rose
Between the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Oh land of Noah’s great flood,
Where once you sank beneath the waters,
And now you call again upon the Sky God,
The Moon God, but it is the God of the Wind
Who carries your voice across the world
To this new land, Where deep inside the hearts of millions
A hallowed voice is heard.
It nags and nags and nags; It says, 'Thou shalt not kill!'

Once the capital of the world for two centuries,
Baghdad looks faded now,
Burdens of weariness etched across her face.
But children come and go and skip along in innocence
To school, to dance, to play,
While mother’s watch and wring their hands in fear.
And mornings come and go and still they rise
To put the coffee on, put on their shoes,
Then warily turn the front doorknob,
An opening to the naked sky.
Yet, still they wait, the moments drag...

Six thousand miles away
Debating voices rise...
Unseen in their chaotic world is the glorious perfection
Of the Iraqi children,
Their newborn skin, their shining eyes,
A tiny hand reaching for a father
To lift them up,
To view the wonders of the world.
For now, they are the fortunate, with precious moments left.
For others, all was lost through deprivation.
Victims of sanctions, 5000 die per month, their Fate
Carelessly tossed aside like random weeds.

And will we send our sons and daughters
To press cold buttons on laser guided bombs
O’er hospitals, schools, factories, bridges and mosques,
And think they will return to us the same?
Their minds, if not their eyes, will forever
Journey backward through the path of destruction,
Seeing bodies strewn in the lingering hell of half-death.
Oh Sky God, Moon God, Wind God, God of Abraham, God of Moses,
And all who have the power to turn the world away from war,
Stop us, Stop us, before we hear the cry:
Forgive them God, they know not what they do.

-Patricia E. Keegan / November 2002

From the author,  The following poem was published in November 2006.

To the People of Iraq -- I'm Sorry

Your unending anguish breaks across my eyes,
Beats upon my ears, Searing its stamp of sadness on my soul
As I stand by and watch your proud world crumble.
Five thousand miles away, detached,
My world is orderly.
In cleanliness and comfort I drink the water,
Switch on the light,
Moving through my day with confidence.
While taut and alert you stand, sacrificed,
Wedged solidly between the vise of violence and victory.

Have I forgotten you?
No! NO!
I'm sorry,
I hear my voice whisper weakly through the darkness,
And to that sorry, I repeat louder,
I am sorry!

Today I saw your little girl -- Fragility,
All splashed with blood upon her dress,
Her shoes, and in her eyes bewilderment.
I'm sorry!

And now the sorrow builds, and I cry, louder --
It echoes back to me, and no one hears.
And what was started still moves on in madness, day by day.
Men, women, children fall, as innocent victims
Of the powerful Ares.
Blood flows more clear and clean than water,
Seeping its way through ancient soil,
Buried with shocked spirits
Who once looked up to us with hopeful eyes.

The web's self-installed spider,
finding no way out,
Gropes blindly for the exit.

What can we do
When sorrow's not enough?
Should I dip into the blood
Of our dead soldiers,
And write across the sky
For all the world to see,
I'm sorry for America's mistake, or
Should I have shouted louder, Stop this war!

Then speaking for Iraq's proud people,
You sadly tell me that apologies are as futile
As wisps of saffron flung like the wind
Across the heads of burdened lives, who'll walk
Forever grasping tiny rays of hope;
Devastated, desolate, ravaged, yet unafraid!

-Patricia Keegan / November 2006

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Warren Buffet - Breaking the Mold and Cracking the Code

By Patricia Keegan

In his inspired and unprecedented gesture of goodwill, billionaire entrepreneur Warren Buffet has broken the mold — the obsession of the richest among us with inter-generational wealth transfer. As his logic begins to resonate through our self-indulgent society, Buffet may also have cracked the code of denial — the denial of a world punctuated with misfortune and pain that could benefit directly from personal involvement.

In the gradual transfer of $30 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in an understated, yet forceful way, Buffet could be challenging wealthy Americans to look beyond the obvious benefits of accumulated fortunes to see possibilities for far-reaching change. He seems to be asking,

“Look everybody, when is enough truly enough? At what point do you extend your wealth beyond family to the greater good of humankind? When do the laws of diminishing returns apply directly to you? Are you really being served, are you really achieving adequate return, by yet another villa in Tuscany or Thailand?”

Buffet fully understands that extreme concentration of wealth is unhealthy for the economic future of America. During the past five years, both the Bush administration and Congress have spent an inordinate amount of time shaping domestic policy to coddle the wealthy. Government is acting as the guardian of wealth and of the successful, (i.e., less taxed), transfer of that wealth to second generations and beyond. In short, the accumulation of wealth is the “game,” and its transfer is the “end game.”

Buffet has always looked beyond this thinking, and his example is now a lightening rod for change. He is moving our thinking about wealth above and beyond what we have grown accustomed to at the end of the last, and beginning of the new, century. The flamboyant and egotistical Donald Trump may have created a game blueprint for some, but Warren Buffet is the first to bring the game to its ultimate, and logical, conclusion. Since the material world ends at death, and while the search for meaning in life still has its attractions, why not let your money bring hope to a world plagued with problems. Why not enjoy immediate, gratifying and “high return” investment results?

He has cracked more than one code, and in it, one can see an element of Divine inspiration. Unlike the common, futile clutch at immortality, Buffet’s approach is not an ego-building endeavor that builds a foundation in his own name. Instead, because of their experience and successful track record, he chose to put his billions in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. By being a model, showing the world where an American billionaire is focusing his attention, Buffet has cracked the code of complacency, desensitization, preoccupation with power, and insipid celebrity. The nobility of this gesture should inspire others to follow.

If even a small percentage of wealthy America’s 500 billionaires got on this bandwagon, taking the journey toward goal-directed compassion, they would be refreshed. They may rediscover the missing link — the sadly diminished altruistic spirit that made our country great in the first place.

Buffet may have added a new paradigm to the wealth accumulation game: Let’s see who gives away the most money before the game inevitably comes to an end. That, in itself, would be world changing.

In addressing the world’s problems, there is private funding and there is public funding. Each follows its own stringent rules and laws. Public funding is often choked with politically charged red tape, but it is fueled by the same source of energy — awareness and compassion.

For example, Jeff Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and leader of the New Millennium Project, an independent advisory group to the UN, has created the most well-thought-out proposal for dealing with the fact that eight million people die each year because they are too poor to stay alive. He has proposed a way to end this catastrophe by 2020. He has traveled the world promoting the UN’s New Millennium Development Goals which many countries have signed on to.

In Sachs’ book: The End of Poverty, published last year, he explains that a group of leading scientists and practitioners from several fields, agriculture, medicine, economics, education and engineering, has made a proposal to the world. If rich and poor countries will follow through on the promises they have made over the past five years to fight extreme poverty and disease — relying on the best technology to do so — the world can save millions of lives and extricate hundreds of millions of its poorest people from the trap of extreme poverty by 2020. The cost is 50 cents of every $100 of rich-world income in the coming decade. If we could only ignite these alternatives to war, and think in terms of healing the world with the same amount of energy, fortitude and even a small percentage of the national treasure that we pour into war and military might, we could restore the America we all celebrate on the 4th of July. Above the clamor of war and the fear of terrorism, we would again represent something to be proud of in the country we love.

What greater legacy could Warren Buffet, or anyone so inspired, leave behind than knowing that his/her money can immediately save lives, improve health, offer education and self-sustenance, and even bring about peace?

Editor's Choice Archive 1

The Pope and the Missing Point

The Dialogue of Cultures

By Patricia Keegan

As the outrage churns in reaction to Pope Benedict’s recent speech, it appears that the Pope is fallible in understanding the sensitivities provoked by historical references.  If he had it to do over again, he might also reference the Christian crusades for the sake of equality. But the core of his lecture was more directly connected to the opening of honest and frank dialogue between all faiths; in fact, it was an examination of the very essence of faith. In a world hooked on sensational sound bites, most will never return to the full transcript of the Pope’s speech. Nevertheless, it is a thought provoking exercise.

In his meeting with representatives of science at the University of  Regensburg in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI presented a lecture entitled Faith, Reason and the University — Memories and Reflections. In looking over the transcript of the Pope’s lecture, his tone is one of a philosophical, free flowing inquiry rather than rigid dogma or pointing a finger at any other religion.

From the beginning of his remarks, one has a sense that this lecture was intent on embracing four major topics — the early stages of Greek and Christian thought, modernity, the importance of dialogue, and the Nature of God — all under the heading of Faith and Reason.  He said he was painting, with broad strokes, a critique of modern reason.

It is important to remember that he was speaking to academics and scientists not widely known for embracing faith or intuition as guideposts in life.  In his opening statement he seemed nostalgic for the kind of open dialogue that was once encouraged between students and faculty.  He recalled his university days in Germany when students and faculty intermingled, when professors were accessible to their students.  He said there was an ongoing and lively exchange between historians, philosophers, philologists.   His main point was how beneficial for the entire community were the dies academics held each semester when faculty and students came together to discuss the right use of reason and the reasonableness of faith.

In agreement with Pope Benedict, I believe this subject is important and worthy of debate. We know that life is difficult and dangerous for a major part of the world’s population. Faith can make a difference by bringing hope, but, as he says, it must be grounded in reason.

While the West thrives, there is plenty of evidence that we, too, are living in a dangerous world, and that awareness can deplete our quality of life.  It becomes even more distressing when we hear that the war on terrorism will last for generations. This bleak outlook, together with the cynicism that is rampant in today’s culture, is stultifying.

Opening our minds to constructive dialogue with other religions can play a tremendous role in breaking this cycle of frustration and despair. In the Pope’s provocative, yet positive lecture, he makes us rethink the whole concept of Faith.

Where does faith come from? What energizes it? How do faith and reason bring balance and even joy to our lives?

His predecessor, Pope John Paul said, “Although faith, a gift from God, is not based on reason, it can certainly not dispense with it.  At the same time it becomes apparent that reason needs to be reinforced by faith, in order to discover horizons that cannot be reached on its own.” He is saying that reason can only take us so far, as many scientists — even Albert Einstein — discovered.

Pope Benedict, in the most interesting part of his lecture, calls for a genuine dialogue of cultures. Referring to modernity, he said that while we rejoice in new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities, and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them.  He believes the answers will appear only if reason and faith come together in a new way. “If we can only overcome the self-imposed limitations of reason to the empirically verifiable, we can, once more, disclose its vast horizons.”

He also says that theology belongs in the university alongside the wide ranging dialogue of science, not merely as historical discipline, but as an inquiry into the rationality of faith.  Through a definitive effort of openness, learning and exchange of ideas, Pope Benedict believes we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures so urgently needed today.

In reference to some of the obstacles in the Western world, he gave Europe and the entire Western world something to ponder. He said it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. “But when you examine the world’s profoundly religious cultures, one sees this exclusion of the Divine from the universality of reason, as an attack on their most profound convictions.  A reason that is deaf to the Divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.”

Toward the conclusion of his address he says the West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality and can only suffer great harm thereby. “The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason and not the denial of its grandeur — this is how a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters the debates of our time.”

If the Pope believes that Faith without Reason can become violent, and Reason without Faith is empty, the gigantic abyss standing between East and West can, at best, be filled by the combination of Reason and Faith which could expand our thinking.  Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of the 21st century and may even be, if truly understood, the discourse for which the world yearns.

Pope Benedict closed his talk with an invitation for all to enter into this dialogue.  “It is to this great logos, (i.e. the rationality of the human mind that seeks to attain universal understanding and harmony), that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures.'

This is the hopeful note that has not been the focus of reports on the Pope’s speech, but here is an urgency that we must respect.