Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

I Dream of Cheney

This is why I care for Dick Cheney.

Lately I've been reading Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy by Charlie Savage. It is horrible. Or maybe I should say, horrifying. It goes through, point by point, in excellently written prose, all the ways that Bush and Cheney have subverted the constitution. It doesn't do this just referring to obscure aspects. It doesn't just present opinions. The book looks at the core of the constitution, at the Separation of Powers, and how Bush Cheney et.al. have worked to remove that from the basis of our country. Savage gives a huge amount of meticulous evidence, albeit written in a style that makes it feel like a story. A story worthy of Shakespeare, or some Greek tragedy. This is not a case where Cheney made a mistake, or misunderstood something. He has been working since his time under Nixon to expand the power of the President. It's not just a case where there's a disagreement on the interpretation of the constitution. He truly believes that Congress should have no oversight over the President, that the President should make laws, and that this was what the Founding Fathers intended. Far worse, over the last seven years, he's enacted his beliefs, so that they are now the custom of the land.

A friend counseled me not to read this book, for it would just make me angry. He was right. But I think we need to be aware of what's going on. Where we once had a country built on the rule of law, with the finest document devoted to freedom and equality in history, upon its creation, we now have only tattered cloth and shattered dreams. And two men ruling us, devoted to power and control, with no compassion within them.

Last night I fell asleep reading this book. The final dream of the night, just before I awoke, was confusing. I didn't understand it all. Something about a gun fight in the Old West style. My mom was the principal of a school, and I met her in the parking lot. But there was another part.

Somehow, in the gun fight, Cheney's wife was shot, and killed. And Cheney came back to the school, and sat down on a chair, and covered his face with his hands, and wept. He had lost the love of his life, and now knew only mourning. He curled up in that chair, and tears flowed unceasingly.

For all he has done, Cheney is but a man. He is a man like any of us, with fears and desires, with pains and joys. And he deserves our compassion as well.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

What's another $7 Billion?

Another personal connection in the news: the largest case of fraud in world history was reported today. An employee of the French bank Societe Generale lost 7.18 billion in bad investments that were hidden from bank regulators. The bank's large enough that it says this will have little impact on its overall financial sustainability. Strangely, the perpetrator made no profit from these investments. I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse.

As I listened to the story on NBC, it slowly dawned on me that I knew the bank in Morocco as شركة عامّة - Asharikal 'Aamma. I stored my funds in there, in one of the predominant banks of Morocco, with significant ownership by the king. I always found the Moroccan employees I dealt with to be extremely helpful. Asharikal 'Aamma is a major bank in the Francophone world, so I was just one of millions of customers. But it's a rather peculiar connection for the English-speaking world.

People are getting all up in a tizzy about how much money this is. Honestly, what's another 7.18 billion? Its only 26 days of the war in Iraq.

I think I lied about the Societe Generale caper being the biggest fraud in history.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Things are Gettin Better...

I previously reported my troubles with the IRS. Those troubles remain. But recently, there has been some reason to hope. At the end of 2007 I got my own Tax Advocate, someone assigned by the IRS to help get things done, and get throught the beaurocracy, without actually filling the role of a tax attorney.

Today I found out that she was able to get ahold of my original 2005 tax return (something I'd never been able to do), and from her more extensive knowledge of tax law, was able to determine what the original issue had been. When I filed my original 2555 for 2005, I had filed it as a Bona Fide Resident, and not using the Physical Presence Test. It turns out, I wasn't bona fide. The Advocate said it is an easy mistake to make, as it seems from the instructions that, when one is in the US for two months in a given tax year, the Bona Fide Resident status applies, but it doesn't. I must file under the Physical Presence Test, which I easily meet.

So, now she's sending me the 2555 to fill out (again), and I'll do so with the Physical Presence Test. She even told me to call her once I got it, so I can fill it out with her on the phone, and make sure it's done correctly. At that point, she's optimistic that either she can clear this up herself, or the IRS can, but that the return should now actually begin processing its way through the system to get me my 2006 Refund that I was expecting in Summer of 2007.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

The End of an Era: No More Hospitable Hostage-Takers

Some sad news. Nearly the very beginning of my blogging was of my trip to Yemen two years ago. A big part of my enjoyment of that trip was to the fabled Shibam, a city of ancient skyscrapers made of mud in the middle of the desert. I just learned that al Qa'ida terrorists killed three, two tourists and a Yemeni, there as they left the town of al Hajreen to head to Shibam, in the middle of Wadi Hadremowt (Hadramawt).

The valley translates rather ironically as "The Valley of Death", so called because of the great heat and desolation in the middle of the desert. It's inverted mountains, a vast plateau with great rips and fissures in the Earth, where the people live down below where there is some semblance of water and shade. When on the plateau above, you can drive for kilometers without realizing that there is an entire world thousands of meters below you- until you come right up to the edge of the cliff.
.
This is the second time now that I've been in a place of later terrorism. I've been in this valley. Like the Hebrew metaphor, it is desert, and a lonely place. I drove with a couple Europeans and my taxi driver for hours and hours, and sometimes just me and my taxi driver (for I could find no one else to join us), through stifling heat, in the relative cool of the seasonal riverbed wadi, and above on the sun-baked empty earth of the plateau. There are many police checks as you travel, where they make sure you have the papers to be traveling to this area, in order to protect tourists, and ensure general order. It is very easy to lay the kind of trap the al Qa'ida operatives did. I can easily imagine the cars approaching the broken-down pickup by the dusty road, the passengers excited to be in a foreign country but tired from the heat, and suddenly their worlds change forever.

Yemen used to be the place where it was safe to be a hostage. I'm serious. It is like the old Wild West in some ways, with lawless tribes who enact concessions from the government by regularly kidnapping Westerners. The government will have promised them a school or a road, and not followed through, so the tribe will kidnap someone, and then treat them as an honored guest, following tribal code, for the next month- until the government comes and promises again to actually follow through this time. And the man would then be released, unharmed, with quite a story to tell. Talk about a captive audience!

But not more. There now have been a string of al Qa'ida attacks and murders of tourists in Yemen, beginning with the attack on Mary Quin in 1998. (They also attacked the USS Cole, but that was a military target.) The terrorists are now making their mark, even in this land of tradition and beauty. And sadly, the poorest country of the Middle East will lose the much-needed tourist dollars because of this- though it is still far safer than a place like New York City, as indeed every where in the Middle East is, with the exception of Israel-Palestine and Iraq, where there's ongoing wars and US involvement.
.
Even sadder is the loss of these women to the world, and all they had to offer. They had dreams like all of us, they had accomplishments, they had relationships. I would encourage prayers for these unnamed women, for their families, for comfort for them, and hope, and that they would see God meet them. And yes, also for their attackers, for the al Qa'ida militants who cowardly and visciously murdered these women. For they also are made in the image of God. I would ask you to pray that these men, right now, where ever they are in the desert, gathered around some tea, or chewing some qat, would stop what they are doing, and realize the enormity of what they have done. That they would suddenly understand, perhaps for the first time, that what they've done is in no way laudable. They would break down and weep to realize that they have taken life, that they have ended life, that they have usurped the authority of God by claiming that they have authority over the life of another. Let them realize that they have destroyed an Image-Bearer- someone, like them, who is designed to be the very seat of the Spirit of God.
.
And then, let them repent. Let this be the day, the moment, that these operatives begin a new life- a life dedicated to perpetuating life. And as my prophet counseled, I pray for blessing on these murderers. That they would know life, and know it abundantly. That they would be filled with all joy, and all peace. That they would know all good, and rejoice at the good that God has brought them.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Where Are They Now: Arts & Crafts Edition

I started the first internet memorial to Servant and the HMS commune the band was part of in the late 90s, over on Geocities. But over the years, Geocities has become less user-friendly, and the code on that page has degraded. So I'm closing that page, and moving the information to a few pages over here. Comments from the Geocities site will be artificially added here.

You may not have had a chance to read my first live blog posts, back in 1971, '72, '73, and '83, as I discussed my thoughts of living in the commune at the time, a form of fictive kinship society.

Since then, a few updates. The commune's most enduring concrete legacy seems to have been in the arts, in myriad forms, so that's the focus of this post. Some of the music of Sheep and Servant can be found here- just click on the drop-down box on the right to find the right band from yesteryear. Bob Hardy, one of Servant's lead singers, produced a solo cassette, Face the Distance, which was mellow and deep, due in large part to lyrics written by Servant's guitarist Bruce Wright, now promoted to glory. My dad, Jim Palosaari, later managed and promoted Whitecross with Rex Carroll, One Bad Pig, and Deliverance. More recently he did the narration for a PBS production of The Lonnie Frisbee Story.

Jacobstone was an alternative Christian rock band managed by Matt Spransy of Servant and Sheep fame, and including Daniel Spransy, a child within the commune. Max, another of Matt's sons has recently come out with his own music as well. And Mike Damrow has resurrected Sheep with Mole and Mary Barker in the Milwaukee area.

Matt's Queen Elizabeth in Oven Mitts, by Linnea Spransydaughter, Linnea, has done splendid artwork over the years, and now works with a group that prays through the visual arts. Matt's brother, Tim, is a successful commercial artist. Servant's guitarist, Owen Brock, went on to influence the development of Over the Rhine and does the artwork for them. Over the Rhine interestingly has a direct connection to Servant, as in later years the name of the band was retained though most of it's members changed. The final amalgamation of members included three who would eventually become Over the Rhine.

As for me, my most significant contributions to an artistic legacy were directing high school productions at a school in North Africa, of The Breakfast Club, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and most recently, Oliver. But those have been successful largely due to an excellent cadre of actors, incredible music direction by Elissa, and innovative set design by Joe.

These days, the definitive look at Servant can be found at a new website, launched a year ago, and I would encourage you to browse there.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

When do you pray in the office?

I started working at data entry at a law firm near the Pike Place Market. It's incredibly boring, entering in letters and numbers all day. The best perk to the job is sharing a corner office with some others doing the same work. This office has an incredible view- of the entire Elliot Bay of Puget Sound, from the shipping cranes up to Discovery Park. I watch the ferries and ships come in all day, and the fog roll in through the bay. Today it was eerie, with everything obscured as darkness approached. Other days it is crystal clear and the Olympics across the Sound jump out at me, as if they are right next to Seattle.

But there was a bit more excitement today, in the midst of the data entry. As I entered in yet another name and social security number, the woman who sits next to me let out a shriek. It was the kind that curdles the blood, that a woman makes only when a close loved one has died, just after she has heard the news.

I looked over at her screen, thinking she had just received an email, but there was only her work in front of her. Then I noticed her face was rigid, and she was jerkily collapsing towards her keyboard. I jumped up and put my arms around her to support her, telling coworkers that I thought she was having a stroke. I helped her to the floor as I told someone to call 911, and another person came over to help her. At this point she was jerking around substantially, and it became obvious that it was not a stroke, but a seizure.

She was alternating between extreme flailing about and calmer shaking, but seemingly completely unaware of her surroundings. Her eyes were fluttering, and her body betraying her authority over it. I supported her head in my hands and asked for a wooden tongue depressor to put between her teeth, but no one could find one. Someone offered a piece of cardboard folded over many times, but that didn't seem safe. I began to pray under my breath, that Jesus would bring healing to her, and calm her. I kept on letting her know that she didn't need to worry, that everything would be okay.

I was unsure though, of how to pray. What do you do, in this situation, in the middle of an American secular workplace, with someone who probably doesn't acknowledge God, or Jesus as Lord? I must confess a good deal of trepidation. I know I have the authority to pray for healing, and that healing works; that oft times when I pray for people in Jesus' name, they are healed, and demons are exorcised. But I've always done that in private, or on the street, and asking the person's permission first. Not in a place where religion is semi-officially banned, like an American workplace. So I don't think I prayed with the boldness that was appropriate for the situation, to fully command in Jesus' name to bring an end to the seizure, in part because the setting made it seem inappropriate. Knowing that this wasn't likely life-threatening probably also stymied me from being bolder.

What would Jesus have done? Even as I write this, I'm still not sure. He wouldn't have worried about the setting. But he also would have looked for faith- from the injured, or the one bringing the injured. Not measuring faith, but a desire to depend on him for healing.

In the heat of a moment, there is little time to think of all these things, when we become the sum total of all that went before us in our lives, and act on instinct. I was not only thinking of prayer, but also spending a good deal of my energy and focus making sure she didn't swallow her tongue, that she was comfortable, that she was knowing that people around her were loving her and caring for her, so that even if her body continued to move about, she need not fear. And in addition, in low tones I prayed for her.

The tongue-depressor search was unfruitful, but quickly her teeth clenched together so tightly that her jaw couldn't be opened. Someone else said that was okay. She gradually calmed, and her seizure subsided. She would occasionally reach her arm over to touch me, in a gesture of thanks. Then she insisted then on standing up, to sit in her chair, but she still lacked control over her body, her eyes, or complete mental processes. Twice she forcefully insisted on standing up, and walking over to her chair, and twice we helped her back down to the ground again, for she was not able to hold herself upright. We kept her there, holding her head up for her to rest, until the paramedics arrived.

I'm told they came very quickly, in only five minutes. I was shocked that it had been that long, for it had seemed no longer than a minute, on the outside. The paramedics treated her, checking her vitals, and she became more and more lucid. I let the paramedics know what had transpired, and the couple items of health history we'd gotten from her, in moments of lucidity. When they left she was fine again, and simply embarrassed. Though there was no cause for her to be so, it is an understandably difficult experience to have, not only because of what occurs, but because it is in front of so many strangers. She continued to exhibit a desire to be in control of her surroundings, wanting to stay at work, but finally acquiescing to go home, where she can rest.

It is difficult when our bodies betray us like that. Since we were mewing, puking babes, we have learned to request that our arms raise, a smile be expressed, an eyebrow go up- and it does so. I remember for a long time after I had my stroke, I would constantly feel my face, just to make sure it wasn't happening again. It seemed so wrong, that suddenly my body would no longer obey my wishes, and it left me so unsure that it would not happen again. For this coworker, she had the opposite and same experience, where her body was not obeying, yet doing too much. Even if the experience has happened before, it is extremely disconcerting. And there is always the remembrance that this could happen again, at any time, when we no longer have the God-given power we were born with, even over our own bodies.

But I continue to pray for her. For complete physical healing, and emotional and spiritual healing- that she would know no fear now, but rest, and rest deeply, cradled in the arms of a loving God, who suffered for her, and suffers with her, in every moment of her day.