Tuesday, January 30, 2007

This I Believe

Is a radio series that began in 1951 under the auspices of Edwin R. Murrow, and recently revitalized by NPR. Since they were inviting entries, I thought I might as well throw one in. The theme is familiar to anyone reading this blog; here it is:

“I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I'm not going to stop because we keep losing.” So says Doctor Paul Farmer, a wonderful human profiled in Tracy Kidder’s book, Mountains Beyond Mountains.

While Doctor Farmer’s statement might be considered radical, or even inflammatory, to me it was an awaking of hope and a call to action. His words reflect a straightforward acceptance of purpose and conviction in the face of overwhelming resistance that I find deeply moving. In a world where it is all too easy to find signs of decay and despair, Farmer’s statement is a clarion call to salvation. Because of his example, I believe humankind will survive.

The hard truth is that the world is a mess. In such circumstances, it is easy to speak of hopelessness. I have questioned myself, my faith, and human nature in search of the cause, the root of what makes us drive ourselves to the brink of destruction. Finding no answers, I was in dire need of hope, and in response, God moved in mysterious ways and lead me to Kidder’s book.

It is truly hard to find hope and sustain it in this world: Doctor Paul taught me that the fight is fought no matter what, that we never quit, even if we’re loosing. To not fight is to give in, and giving in is unacceptable. After reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, I heard of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett contributing much of their wealth to causes such as Dr. Farmer’s Partners in Health. I learned of U2 lead singer Bono’s One Campaign, and the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals. From these wellsprings came fresh energy, focus, and hope.

And finally, the lessons sunk in and ushered me to action. What can an itinerant writer and guitar maker from Fort Worth do to contribute to the cause? He can make guitars and donate them to people who have none, or sell them and donate the funds to charity. He can organize an U2charist service at his church, raising funds for Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. He can help facilitate a benefit concert for a church and a community in Mississippi wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.

And he can have hope, and sustain hope, and believe that we all can make a difference. Just as Partners in Health ministers to the poorest of the poor, and not to governments or agencies, so we all can hope and help and believe, one by one; and in so doing, we can change the world. This I believe, that as Doctor Farmer noted to friends in Haiti, the invitations for what to do are there for the taking, if we, “Listen to the messages from angels.”

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Serious Deja Vu

I used to fight wildfire, way back when, in my adrenaline junky days… Looking back, it’s amazing how blessed I was with cool things to do for work in really beautiful places. I would start my year in Grand Canyon, first at the south rim, and then usually we’d wander over to the north rim to do stuff over there. From there, we’d head north to Yellowstone in the late summer, for Montana’s fire season. When that was done, it was off to Santa Monica for the California fall fire season. Yeah, Santa Monica, as in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: We lived at a former Nike missile site converted to barracks for us and a training facility for L.A. County Fire. The Santa Monica pier was right down at the bottom of our road. Debby Reynolds’s house was at the top. Chris Christopherson ran with us a couple of times. Weird, huh?

And it was there that I experienced one of the weirdest incidents of déjà vu I’ve ever had.

There was actually a fire, you see, in the Santa Monica Mountains in ‘82, and we were sent to work it. We were digging line through the Manzanita and whatnot, working up and across a little hill through what was pretty much uninterrupted brush with some little paths than here and there. We took a brief break to assess where we needed line to go, so the Crew Boss and I walked to the top of the little hill to see where we were headed. Down below us was an area on the right which had been partially burned over, with unburned brush to the left. We looked at the site and got the ‘I’ve Definitely Been Here Before’ feeling. We were kinda staring at things, trying to figure it out, when one of the sawyers came up and said, ‘Holy shit, it’s MASH!”

And indeed it was. We were working on the Malibu Creek State Park, which was also known as the Paramount Ranch – Yeah, that Paramount Ranch, which had been donated to the state some time previously. In front of us was the familiar rock circle where the flagpole stood, the outlines of the tents. the whole shebang…

We had been here before, many times in fact. The fire was actually incorporated into the final episode, since, to use the familiar outdoor sets, they didn’t have a bunch of choice, did they?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


How much do you know about Somalia? As we say here in Texas - I’ll tell you whut: If y’all ain’t aware of their history, listen up…

Oddly enough, Somalia has been occupied predominantly by Somalis for the last 2500 years or so. Islam became prominent long ago there, and Mogadishu was founded around 900 as a result thereof. Then, in the 1500s, a long-term war broke out between Somali and Ethiopians and things really started to unravel. The Somalis won, initially, but that prompted the Portuguese to come help, and the once strong central Somali state crumbled. The land wasn’t colonized with any vigor, however, until the late 1800s.

Then came the Brits, the French and the Italians in the late 1800s. In keeping with the colonial spirit, all three took a chunk of the poor country and stamped their brand on the locals, none of which went over very well. National hero Mohammed Abdulah Hassan rose to prominence during the long war for colonial independence, which lasted over 20 years. Unfortunately, superior military technology won out and the British kept their fiefdom until World War II, when Mussolini’s Fascists took over briefly. In a sick twist of fate, the fledgling U.N. assigned Somalia to Italy as a protectorate, where it remained until it declared independence in 1960, (Sort of; the Brits and French kept their little chunks out of spite, malice, or pride, depending on who you ask, and didn’t give ‘em all up until 1977)

The period following 1960 can be called, unfortunately, the age of coups. As is all too common in many small, poor countries, military takeovers began, culminating in the rise to power of Mohamed Siad Barre, who declared himself leader kin ’69 and stayed there until ’99. Though he was brutal and ruthless to opponents, he did some good works, building a national infrastructure and raising literacy rates. In the late 70’s, Somalia fought a war against neighboring Ethiopia, ostensibly to regain lands lost during the colonial period, but probably realistically started due to age old animosities. Originally backed by the USSR, the Somalis did quite well, maybe too well, because in mid stream, the Soviets changed sides and the Somalis suffered greatly as a result. As the Soviet block fell, the Somali government became more and more dictatorial, and that, as it often did, lead to a very active resistance movement.

In the early 90’s, the country began to split up as factions declared independence, and the U.N. stepped back in trying to help – Those efforts failed miserably, and the whole scenario has spiraled into horrific internecine fighting that continues to this day. On top of the manmade problems, Somalia suffered from the great Tsunami of 2005, and has experienced debilitating floods since then.

Hence, the bottom line is that this place is a complete mess, and the ones who have suffered, as usual, are the people, who have little or nothing to do with wars and politics, and who’s interests are focused on surviving; where do they find food, water, shelter, and medicine, in a place where even the U.N has given up?

Well, all is not lost – There are NGO’s, (Non Governmental Organizations), who, thank God, fill in to the best of their ability when everything else fails. The Somali Support Secretariat is a collection of agencies trying to do what no one else will do.

And we can support the outfits and people who sacrifice much to do this work, and we can pray for the people of Somalia – Both are really good ideas.