Editor's Choice Archive 1

Editor's Choice Archive 1

The World 2006

By Patricia Keegan

Before me: standing between 911 and the future,
Hangs a dimly lit veil.
Waves rush ahead of the shifting quicksand,
Foresight lies frozen in time.
A spiraling wind sweeps across the earth,
Devastating land and trees,
Spinning homes into sawdust.

Stranded polar bears
Lose their confidence
As footsteps dissolve into shattered ice.
The searing sun dries the plains,
And turns to brittle the tiny bodies
Of African heroes of Hope.
Fragility abounds!

Above me: The sky is endless, orderly,
Flooded with a billion stars.
Sunrise, Sunset.
A brilliant moon to break the darkness,
A sun pouring warmth into the hungry
Mouths of flowers and trees.

But O sad world
What have we wrought here?
You ride your daily cycle on tilted axis,
Savaged and torn apart,
Carrying the wilted, withered, wounded and weary
Into the redeeming arms of God.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

New Orleans: A National Treasure

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Melodies of Loss and Love

By Patricia Keegan

If you tossed 50 stars, representing 50 American cities, up in the air and tried to catch the shiniest, brightest and most alive, without a doubt, you would be reaching for the birthplace of jazz -- New Orleans.

What I found in New Orleans while attending the Satchmo Summer Fest, just two weeks before Hurricane Katrina, was one of the happiest and most inspiring places I have ever been. Inspiring because as I learned the history of the survival of New Orleans through devastating fires in the late 1700’s, yellow fever epidemics in the 1800’s, the floods of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, and its struggles during the Civil Rights era, it was clear to me that what attracted visitors from across the country and around the world was something the people of New Orleans created with their own limited resources -- Joy!

Jazz and joy are intermixed as expressions of the human spirit. There is no other city in America that has the concentration of music in quite the same way as New Orleans. This is one example of the melting of differences between black and white when spirit sees beyond the realm of limited dimension.

I attended a screening of Make it Funky by New Orleans filmmaker Michael Murphy. One of the most memorable, and now most poignant moments, was when the camera zoomed in on leaves of trees lit by moonlight in the garden of pianist Allen Toussaint. He is talking about the importance of family. In the background we hear “Southern Nights” playing softly. Toussaint was asked why someone with his fame and talent and the opportunity to live anywhere in the world returned to live in New Orleans.

” I am home,' he said. 'There is nothing more I need, I am here with all the people I care about and knowing they are close and well, is enough!“ In Make it Funky I saw the Laurel Plantation which at one time held 80 slave cabins. The image of slaves working the fields, and the sadness of their deep, heartfelt sighs which gradually turned into song, still resonate at the very roots from which blossomed much of the jazz tradition.

As Fred Johnson Jr. expressed it: 'The history of music and survival are so close for African American people that it is difficult for anyone to tell which came first. . . If we worked like a dog, we sang songs that kept us spiritually uplifted to get through the heat of the day, or the whip that was coming across our back, and out of that came a hum, or a moan or something. . . Then came a sound and a tone.”

Could this deep, heartfelt moan from the past be the same brokenhearted sound we hear erupting in New Orleans today -- an unrelenting moan for the loss, for the dead?

We hear a sadness across our country as it struggles to understand why the cries of people on rooftops, in flooded homes or in squalid holding areas were not swiftly answered by an organized government prepared for quick response to the inevitable.

How will the depth of pain ever be assuaged? Will it have to circle back to its very roots and start over?

Despite the horrifying sights daily unfolding in New Orleans, beautiful images kept crossing my mind. I am walking down Chartres Street, heading toward the Ursuline Convent Museum, when a startling tableau of beauty grabbed my attention. I paused to listen to a five-year old boy, framed in the doorway of an antique shop, playing Leibestrum on his violin. In this music centric city, a tiny Chopin, with pale, delicate features and long curls, had found his own stage upon which he could play freely. As each earnest note lifted into the air, passing strollers were being blessed by a wondrous and generous moment of perfection.

Other images appear of the rousing spirituality of the Jazz Mass I attended at St. Augustine’s where people of all shades held hands and swayed together to waves of music praising God and enfolding each person in a harmonious sense of oneness. From there we all joined the Second Line parade behind a brass jazz band playing 'When The Saints Go Marching Home'. We danced, walked --then shuffled along in the blinding, searing, hot sunshine. Now this was authentic New Orleans.!

I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to experience New Orleans, and I will always remember the highlight of my jazz experience -- seeing superb trumpeter Irvin Mayfield in concert, conducting his jazz orchestra. Mayfield has an extraordinary musical talent that oozes from every pore. He is brimming with attitude, and it’s no wonder he has been officially given the title of New Orleans Ambassador of Culture.

When Mayfield was interviewed September 3rd on Larry King’s fundraising program for New Orleans, despite being steeped in worry about his father and one of his brothers with whom he had lost contact, he played his newest post-Katrina creation, Wing Song. At the end of his performance he said that the only way for New Orleans to recover from this horrific tragedy was for musicians to get back to playing, teachers to get back to teaching, and children to get back home and grow up properly. He also said that tragedy gives people a mandate to define themselves -- what they are going to do, and who they are as human beings.

“Jazz says, yes, it’s hard right now, but it’s gonna get better. You don’t just stick things together, you have to do it with style.”

With this kind of positive leadership and the response shown not only from America, but from diverse countries across the world, we are sure to witness the gradual rebirth of New Orleans, one note at a time,back into the city that gave joy to all.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Mourning Has Broken

By Patricia Keegan

On the PBS evening News Hour we watch them in silence, the Honor Roll of American military members killed in Iraq. Clear-eyed, eager, proud, some caught up in the family legacy of service to country, others jobless and willing. All trained, then flown to Iraq, young and believing that life is forever.

Adventurous, they leave behind small towns and cities that could not hold them. They leave behind families that cling to last words and promises, wondering if they should, or could have loved then more.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Tsunami Grief and the World's Problems

By Patricia Keegan

What was stolen from all Americans on 9/11 was our individual sense of environmental security. It was barely noticed until it was gone, perhaps forever. What was stolen from all tsunami victims, from Indonesia to Sri Lanka to Africa, was their trust in the magnetic beauty of the ocean. They too have lost their sense of environmental security. The massive destruction and human carnage has shaken world consciousness on many levels, some not yet clear.

From both the sea and the sky came unimaginable and unpredictable violence. Nothing can be taken for granted -- not the sea, not the sky and not the lives of those we love. We have moved toward greater awareness of the fragility of life, and will, most likely, move still further.

Solomon once said, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Events are forcing us to look beyond our small, local interests to the bigger world and to view more compassionately its stress-torn areas.

The world’s response to the tsunami’s affected regions is an inspiration. It is also an indication of the enormity of potential relief for festering problems facing our planet. This must give some consolation to the beleaguered United Nations, working 24/7, endeavoring to bring hope to all the sad corners of the planet where children die from malnourishment, legacies of war, ongoing violence and disease.

Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Relief, at a press conference on January 3, when asked about the anomaly of “competitive compassion” in response to the Tsunami, gave this surprising reply: 'This is the first time we have had a “fully funded appeal.”

From Egeland’s perspective, he sees parts of the world as experiencing a tsunami in one way or another every week. A few weeks ago the United Nations issued a report detailing the deaths of 29,000 children every day due to malnutrition and disease. That is equal to 10 million children in one year. When his organization sends out an appeal, Egland said, they receive a mere third to fifty percent. Why this apparant lethargy? I can only believe that no one hears the call. If it takes a tsunami to reach our souls, what is it going to take to keep us informed and caring and keep this “competitive compassion” energized?. Other than putting in early warning systems, we cannot control Mother Nature, but we ought to change what we can, while we can.

Where is the apolitical leadership that could move this wave of unprecedented, compassionate initiative forward?

Enter Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the UNDP, (United Nations Development Program), who has just been appointed by Kofi Annan as his new chief of staff, to promote economic development in the world’s poorest countries. This is one of those rare cases where precisely the right person is in the right place at the right time. Malloch Brown, a dynamic, experienced, humanitarian, knows the troubled corners of the world and has for many years worked tirelessly to ignite the flame of transformation. Malloch Brown came to the UN from the World Bank where he was Vice President for External Affairs and for UN Affairs from 1996 to 1999. During the early part of his career he worked for the UNHCR, (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and from there he went to Thailand to serve as field director for Cambodian refugees. In 1981 he was appointed Deputy Chief of the Emergency Unit in Geneva, undertaking extensive missions in the horn of Africa and Central America. In 1981, UNHCR and its staff were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Malloch Brown founded the Economist Development Report and has been consistently involved with the plight of refugees from Cambodia to Bosnia. In speaking at a forum in Washington on the Millennium Development Goals, he talked about how the reponse to 9/11 changed the world and how problems from Afghanistan to Sierra Leone, left unaddressed, breed “alienation, frustration and despair, and a damaging lack of faith in political institutions. It fuels the spread of deadly diseases and environmental degradation and has a devastating impact on human dignity, leaving us all more vulnerable.”

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Election 2004 -- Has America Missed a Great Opportunity?

By Patricia Keegan

There is something funereal about watching a presidential candidate stand before a crowd of supporters and courageously concede his quest for the highest office in the land.

Senator John Kerry was noble and valiant in his tough battle for the presidency. He came to the race with all the attributes that Americans would presumably look for in a candidate to negotiate a viable path to the new world of the 21st century.

No one ever legitimately questioned John Kerry’s intelligence, his experience, his patriotism, his character, or his sincerity, which combined to gave him a unique window on the world. He had seen the horrors and devastation of war, and one has to believe that he would use military power only as a last resort.

There were two paths offered in the election. We chose to stay the course offered by the Bush doctrine, advocating pressure on the Middle East to democratize, believing that everyone shares a primary desire for personal freedom, and that, we, as sole superpower should define and advance that goal for them.

So far, the two examples of how we would achieve that goal are the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. The first seems to have had some success in getting rid of the Taliban and holding elections. The second, however, is a calamitous disaster. We have destroyed an entire country to get rid of one man. While I was against this war prior to its onset, I believe we should have departed Iraq when the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled. According to latest estimates, 100,000 Iraqis and over 1,100 Americans have died. Meanwhile, we have a worsening security situation, failing police force, growing insurgency, and no viable exit strategy.

If a more globally inclusive approach had been the choice, we might see ourselves as part of a larger partnership with all of Europe. From this partnership would have evolved a fresh and more energized support for what needs to be accomplished, both in Iraq and in the war again terrorism. Because of Europe’s remembrance of two devastating world wars in one century, Europeans have come to reject war in resolving conflict, and that is exactly the direction toward which America should be leading in this 21st century.

But, like a waxing and waning moon that spreads light across the land and is gone, we have a missed an opportunity to see things in a global perspective. Some recognized the historic significance of this election, others deliberately blotted it out. Now, at a crucial turning point in history, we continue down the path of being unending victims of our own incompetence.

We now have a president who said in a post election press conference, “I cut my eye teeth in the first four years in Washington.” That statement is worrisome at a time when we most need a seasoned leader. Senator Kerry cut his eye teeth decades ago.

It is time for the “red states” across America to realize that the world of today begins with our hometown economic problems of jobs and education, but transcends local interests into a global perspective. The issues facing us cannot be honed down to gays, guns, and attempts to trivialize God in political debates. That is regressive! If we sincerely wish to frame our aspirations under a moral values construct, we must begin by stating that unprovoked war is immoral. The obliteration of human rights is immoral, capital punishment is immoral, the continuous exploitation of the environment is immoral, corporate stealing of employee pensions is immoral, and on and on. The list reaches far beyond the three G’s: Gays, guns and God.

So why were the results of this election so diminishing? We have head pundits say that Republican strategists mined the intolerance and ignorance of the electorate. I think that unfair. Madeleine Albright, in her final year as Secretary of State, pointed to the problem that Americans, in general, know little about foreign policy. Therein lies the void that must be addressed. Our policy toward each and every country should be on the table, in the light of day for all to see. Front pages of local papers should carry international news. Unfortunantly, our media is firmly under corporate control. Pertinent questions are not being asked. TV viewers are manipulated, so how does information get to Americans so they can make informed decisions. Church pulpits are trending toward filling the void. Isolationism, combined with fear, is the outcome of this limited world view.

At this point, we should be moving forward in our efforts to win hearts and minds, yet we seem to be moving backwards -- regressing to small-minded parochialism and intolerance. But now, more than ever, is the time to keep our vision alive. We must get behind strong voices in Congress, including Senator John Kerry, who is more intimate with America than ever before and “has our back.” We have strong Democrats and strong, moderate Republicans who will continue to fight for progress, balanced by reason.

Though the light of optimism may be dimmed for awhile, the strength and energy of our inherent idealism must address these problems and overcome this staggering setback.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

Regaining Our Balance as a Nation

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By Patricia Keegan

Since the photos of atrocities in Abu Ghraib prison were exposed to the world, on some subliminal level, I can hear America weep. How will this affect the courageous soldiers who have sacrificed so much in Iraq? What have we done to our honor? What has become of that 'sense of ourselves' that wanted to heal -- rather than attack -- areas of fathomless pain in the world?

Those photographs do not represent how we think of ourselves, yet they are a reflection of an America at war and, in the age of the digital camera, nothing can be hidden for long. These images of torture have sent us reeling, like an unexpected swipe at our consciousness.

Now Republicans and Democrats are coming together, calling for accountability and endeavoring to show the world how a democracy is supposed to function. Call it fate or Divine intervention, but this seems to have had more of an impact on our psyche than the first terrible days of war -- as we watched bombs being unloaded on Baghdad. It even seems to have impacted us more than the number of American soldiers we lose every day -- contrasting starkly with rarely seen photos of dead American heros returning in coffins. We have limited access to many aspects of the war, even to how many Iraqi people have been killed. Until now, most Americans saw a faraway, almost unreal, war -- in contrast to the painful immediacy it holds for those with family members in Iraq.

In looking back at all the Administration's “noble” causes for embarking on a pre-emptive strike in Iraq, we find the way paved with incompetence and blatant lack of vision. Now, I ask: In this chaos, what remains ofreason for both the Iraqi people and the American people who must pick up the pieces?

With true American optimism, I wonder if the power of these photographs lies in their longer term effect of finally awakening us to the predictable horrors of war. In a re-examination of ourselves, which we can only hope will take place, we must return to the basics of what made America great in the first place. Two things stand out. One that is continually recounted is our liberation of Europe and the defeat of Germany in WWII. The other attribute that gave America a moral authority in the world was our emphasis on Human Rights, a keystone of President Carter’s administration. In a cycle of revenge, which we may continue to see, there is scant opening for the respect of human rights, but it must be emphasised as our only hope for Iraqi peace and freedom. What we see is a growing imbalance between military power and respect for international law. If neither the US nor the British have ironclad rules in place with respect to the Geneva Convention, what is left to hold back this predictable tide of revenge?

It is time to calm down, step back, and let the power of all that is still decent and good about the people of our two countries emerge. Witnessing the Congressional investigation and the passionate concern expressed by both Republicans and Democrats gives us hope. Let us pray that the ball will not be dropped, and tactics for dealing with 21st-century problems will reach a level more worthy of our nation.

Editor's Choice Archive 1

What Happened to Reason in the 21st Century?

By Patricia Keegan

In the dawning moments of a new century, the sun comes up in a tender morning sky, the moon goes through its timeless cycles, and together they pour endless light and warmth into a world that now appears to be shrinking into darkness. Fear seems to have a steadfast grip on human consciousness. Why is this happening again in a world that has just emerged from the most violent of centuries? Is it because our leaders lack vision in imagining what this new century could look like, and so resort to old methods of resolving conflicts?

As citizens of this planet, where everything and everybody is in some way interdependent, it is time to bring an open mind to solving interdependent problems.

The way we have answered the following questions illustrate what I call dormant reasoning. The answers have created a void and fostered a crisis, illustrating policies in which the end does not justify the means.

Could it be that the vexing vision thing, missing in the first Bush administration, might still be plaguing the current administration?

In 1989, when the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall came down, America became the superpower. Led by a powerful democracy, we were confident that the world would become a safer place. Human expectations, long neglected because of Cold War budgets and fears, would at last be addressed. The world breathed a unified sigh of relief. Our patience, our diplomacy, and our quiet strength had helped us avoid the annihilation of nuclear war.

Diplomacy had triumphed, and now more resources would be available to raise living standards among the poor. America was respected, former enemies became allies, there was abundant goodwill. We had more friends than ever. To secure the peace, we would engage with adversaries, we would use dialogue and diplomacy until we were blue in the face!

At this turning point a mental leap should have been taken -- a leap in faith away from the irrational toward a safer, non-proliferating world in which lasting peace was conceivable. But this was all new territory. We had never been in this position before, and because we either could not, or would not, envision such a future, we adopted a laissez fair attitude. We moved ahead but marked time without new thinking, without optimism that now the world might actually be different. Uninspired by monumental changes and the potential for an enlightened world order, we stumbled into the 21st century without a creative blueprint. We couldn’t seem to find any new guiding principles or vision. We heard talk of a new world order, but nothing concrete was ever articulated.

President Clinton had the ability to reach beyond the tragic breakup of Yugoslavia, to process the bigger picture and present a new vision. To his credit, he was instrumental in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, and he worked hard to formulate the Oslo Agreement. But beyond the globalization of economies and talk of “raising all boats to a higher standard,” there was no encompassing vision that could lay the cornerstone for the 21st century.

Consequently, residuals of the Cold War remained. We continued our role as the biggest arms dealer in the world, and our rhetoric did not always live up to our actions. Nevertheless, we still had loyal friends and partners around the world, and we had the respect of most of the world.

Then came that terrible day in September, 2001, and along with the loss of life, America lost its innocence and its way in the world. It was a turning point that had to be treated with the utmost delicacy. It would be the prism through which the world would judge us. We were faced with a new kind of enemy, one that stayed in the shadows and could not be openly identified. It was, and is, an enemy that can even hide in our own country.

How did we handle it? Instead of maximizing our intelligence power -- fighting terrorism with competent undercover agents spread across the world -- and minimizing our firepower, we made no distinction between a conflict with terrorists and a pre-emptive war against another country. In order to bridge the obvious gap in reasoning, President George Bush called the enemy any state that harbors terrorists and named Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the axis of evil. It was a terribly provocative statement. Worse, it was an outright trampling on principles of diplomacy. We were sending the wrong message to the world and to those countries that some would say were already irrational.

President Bush launched his doctrine of preemption. This seemed to resonate well. It sounded tough, it was action-oriented, we would get the bad guy before he got us. But in the long run the policy provokes enmity and exacerbates the build up of both offensive and defensive weapons as countries follow our lead, adapting to a preemptive world order. Such a doctrine does not evoke reason or diplomacy.

The pulse of the world’s discontent can be measured by the international response to our unilateral actions in Iraq and the lack of post war security. It can also be measured by reaction to our unwavering support of Ariel Sharon’s provocative, escalating campaign against Palestinian terrorism. Every ounce of American influence, diplomacy and even-handedness should have been concentrated on bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Do Americans have higher expectations from their President? With an election on the horizon, it might be a good question to ask. If this administration cannot restore confidence and convince us of the soundness of their ideas and decisions, then, hopefully, the next one will have the wisdom to offer a fresh, new outlook.

We all live in the present. What we need is a leader challenging us to focus on the longer term. Throw out those advisers from the Cold War era who see the glass as half empty. Open the White House to the genius of the nation, to Nobel Prize winners, and those who excel in their fields. Bring them together to foster constructive ideas and new direction; tell the political spin-meisters to take a hike. Promote an understanding that the vast majority of people in the world, regardless of religion, are peaceful people who have co-exited and still want to co-exist and live in harmony.

As the 21st century sun lights our days and the moon punctuates the darkness of our night, we can still be assured that the profound goodness of humanity will prevail. We have the opportunity to turn that goodness into greatness by magnanimously turning away from our superior weapons and toward our superior intellect as a means of solving conflicts. We have to live up to the responsibility of being a “superpower” by bringing back policies that are in sync with the values that made us proud to be Americans.What Happened to Reason in the 21st Century?