Monday, March 31, 2003

War in Iraq: (Heart)Breaking News

I have having trouble swallowing all this
Operation Iraqui Liberation - O.I.L

My son-in-law will be leaving this week on an eighteen-hour
flight to *somewhere* - His mission is above 30,000 feet, so
we pray he is safe and that his presence will somehow help
the safety of those on the ground in that stormy desert.

It's very painful to accept any of this as real. What is real is -
he's leaving - and no one will say when he's coming back.

I found this disturbing- Apparently, since he didn't have
five bucks on him to pay when they collected for in-flight meals--
and no one told him he would have to pay his meals- and no one
offered to pay it for him, like, that's OK, you can pay tomorrow -
and the USAF which is sending him out as a the only co-pilot on
an 18 hour flight without any backup, will not provide a meal for him (?) --
my daughter is making him sandwiches to take on the plane, so he doesn't starve!
Is this insane?

Sunday, March 30, 2003

It's Sunday and it's a beauty--bright and blustery.
Since it's Sunday, I figure I'll post up The War Prayer -
Mark Twain says it all.

The War Prayer
“O Lord Our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts,
go forth to battle—be Thou near them! With them – in
spirit—we also go forth from the sweet peace of our
beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help
us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;
help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms
of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the
guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;
help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane
of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending
widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out
roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the
wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst,
sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of
winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee
for the refuge of the grave and denied it –for our sakes who
adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract
their bitter pilgramage, make heavy their steps, water their
way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of
their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him
Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful
refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid
with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

Mark Twain

I have to say here that my sad cynicism in posting this prayer
is not about the kids we sent over there, or the people they
have been sent to battle against. It is a classic story, though,
that God is on "our side" and in His Name do we call it "just"--
as if "He" would approve of this horror and the aftermath...!

Saturday, March 29, 2003

The Truth

You can hide it like a signature
or birthmark but it’s always there
in the greasy light of your dreams,
the knots your body makes at night,
the sad innuendos of your eyes,
whispering insidious asides in every
room you cannot remain inside. It’s
there in the unquiet ideas that drag
and plead one lonely argument at a time,
and those who own a little are contrite
and fearful of those who own too much,
but owning none takes up your life.
It cannot be replaced with a house or car,
a husband or wife, but can be ignored,
denied, and betrayed, until the last day,
when you pass yourself on the street
and recognize the agreeable life you
were afraid to lead, and turn away.

~~Philip Schultz ( The New Yorker 3/10/03)
>Kucinich: This War is Wrong And Must End

WASHINGTON - March 28 - Today, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), who leads opposition to the war in Iraq, issued the following statement:

“This Administration has never made its case for war against Iraq. It is an unjustified war, which the Administration continues to misrepresent and exaggerate. The most recent example is the Administration's characterization of international coalition support for this war.

“This morning, President Bush once again exaggerated the extent of support for the war stating that the coalition of countries supporting this war is larger than the 1991 Gulf War. What Bush failed to mention was that back in 1991, all of the 34 coalition members offered military force, by contributing troops on the ground, aircraft, ships or medics.

“This war involves the troops of only the U.S., Britain, Australia, Poland and Albania. Not even the three members of the Security Council that support the war, Spain, Italy, and Bulgaria are committing military support.

“This Bush Administration has been adding coalition member to their list based on statements of “moral” support. As the Washington Post reported last week, if this type of criteria was used back in 1991, the size of the coalition would likely have topped 100 countries.
More at link - Common Dreams

Are you following this?
from Reuters News Service:

Earlier, U.S. military sources in central Iraq said troops had been ordered to pause
in their northward push on Baghdad.

"I think that with respect to a pause, there is no pause on the battlefield.
Just because you see a particular formation pause on the battlefield it does not mean
there is a pause," Major General Victor Renuart told a news conference.

"I don't believe there is any intent to pause on the battlefield. We will continue to focus
our operations. Sometimes they will be focused in the west, sometimes in the north,
sometimes in the south, sometimes all together," he said.

Rubber Tomahawks!
WASHINGTON -- U.S. ships in the Red Sea and the eastern Mediterranean apparently
have been ordered to suspend firings of Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Iraq after
several of the $1 million weapons fell into Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
``There are some questions about what went wrong. So for right now, airspace over
Saudi Arabia is closed to us,'' Capt. Nevin Carr, skipper of the Norfolk-based cruiser
Cape St. George, said Friday.

``It's ordnance, and you have to make sure it's as safe as possible,'' Carr said.

Such strange clouds ! - artifice and chemistry, stirred by Nature -
refracting awesome light.

Chickenlil still says the sky is falling....
(I'm sorry, but it is.)
Look up!

Friday, March 28, 2003

I am in a somber mood, and the grey sky is reflective of my
inner space - turbulent, with a froth of snow showers, against
deep purple mountains.

Our Jody is to be deployed! An unexpected turn of events,
we are overcome! This is not a certainty, or IS it? I am afraid
it is...and we are surprised and not surprised - of course we have
hundreds of thousands of people and planes and all that stuff over
there, so it should not be shocking - but it IS! I am speechless.

The photo I posted Thursday - I see my daughter and my little
grandson, walking off alone in the forest...I'm so sad for Jody
that he will miss his little boy and his beautiful wife - and they
are left's heartbreaking.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

This is a poem which we read critically with Ariana for a college English class--
we talked about it at length, the 4 of us on our recent visit, taking Noah to the
beach at Tybee Island, in a driving rainstorm : I think it is a great poem
by a father that is so powerfully expressed - with the weight of the snow
on his heart.

It is not about war - but it is about life, paring it down to the barest bones of it-
Reality! What's the price?

Night Thoughts Over A Sick Child
Philip Levine

Numb, stiff, broken by no sleep,
I keep night watch. Looking for
signs to quiet fear, I creep
closer to his bed and hear
his breath come and go, holding
my own as if my own were
all I paid. Nothing I bring,
say, or do has meaning here.

Outside, ice crusts on river
and pond; wild hare come to my
door pacified by torture.
No less ignorant than they
of what grips and why, I am
moved to prayer, the quaint gestures
which ennoble beyond shame
only the mute listener.

No one hears. A dry wind shifts
dry snow, indifferently;
the roof, rotting beneath drifts,
sighs and holds. Terrified by
sleep, the child strives toward
consciousness and the known pain.
If it were mine by one word
I would not save any man,

myself or the universe
at such cost: reality.
Heir to an ancestral curse
though fallen from Judah's tree,
I take up into my arms my hopes,
my son, for what it's worth give
bodily warmth. When he escapes
his heritage, then what have

I left but false remembrance
and the name? Against that day
there is no armor or stance,
only the frail dignity
of surrender, which is all
that can separate me now
or then from the dumb beast's fall,
unseen in the frozen snow.

---from this website (Link)
which has 94 poems by Philip Levine.
This came from from Dale Harris
-who produces Central Avenue, a small poetry magazine in Albuquerque
---this event was the first day of Spring - the beginning of the war
---and the day Lolly chose to pass on from this world.

Poets Against the War wrote:
Report on March 21, World Poetry Day

Scores of Readings Held Around the World
Poets Vow to Continue Working for Peace
March 22, 2003

Dear Dale,

Even as bombs destroy Baghdad and other Iraqi towns, lovers of poetry have continued to gather to read poems and cry out for peace over the past 72 hours. In Karachi, Pakistan, poets, writers and intellectuals of the Arts Council gathered at the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture in a reading titled "SPEAK OUT! Poetry for Peace," sponsored by Tehrik Khidmatunnas Secretariate, a charity organization. In Temuco, Chile, poets gathered in a Wednesday reading called "Words Against War." In Tucson, Arizona, poets held a reading and non-violent public protest against the attack on Iraq, called "Poets' Brains Chained to the Ground," at the Federal Courthouse. And in Seattle, poets gathered at the Richard Hugo House for a 4-hour poetry vigil Friday, declared World Poetry Day by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Poets Against the War converged, read poetry, and lifted their voices in protest at Acqui Terme, Italy; Austin, Texas; and London, Ontario, Canada. In the remote little town of Gustavus-Glacier Bay, Alaska, the Gustavus Peace Poets met at their local library to read their own poems and selections from, and to deliver a copy of the anthology of 13,000 poems to the Superintendent of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

The beat goes on. From Paris to Pisa to Philadelphia, poets are speaking out for a world in which compassion and non-violence will ultimately prevail over the Bush administration's philosophy that horrendous crimes are justifiable in the service of its unilateralist agenda. Our call for peace is more critical than ever before. Please join us. Organize a reading. Join a protest. Lift your voice.

Create a reading of Poetry Against the War.

Create a presentation to a government or organization of 13,000 antiwar poems, a roster of 12,000 poets and a showcase of 35 chapbook poems.

While it is important to record and acknowledge the deep sadness and sense of devastation so many of us feel, we must continue to channel and broaden our efforts for peace and justice. Remember that history is made by millions. Together we have created a presence on the world stage that can serve as a limit and counterweight to future wars, and the seed of a healthier world created by the conscience of the true majority.

We encourage you to read a thoughtful, eloquent article at Common Dreams by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Ian Urbina titled Antiwar Thinking: Acknowledge Despair, Highlight Progress on Moral Preemption.

-- Your friends at

A Peaceful Place

Jody took this photo of Ariana and Noah, walking under
cherry blossoms in Macon, Georgia this week.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Real Clouds

This photo was taken along the ditch in Corrales in October 2002.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

So, I found the book Lolly gave me, under my bed, covered with dust.

I had attempted to read it, but it is a heavy book, considering the
slimness of the volume. It is called Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth
and Death: Buddhism in the Contemporary World
by Daisaku Ikeda.

I picked it up, amazed at the title, and fanned through the pages.
Here is what caught my attention:

...Most people involved in medical care today are well versed in the
physiological processes of death but they seem to have very little
knowledge of its emotional and psychological aspects -- that is, the
internal experiences of the dying person. It is perfectly understandable,
therefore, that some people reject the idea of being taken into hospital,
preferring instead to die at home in a serene, loving environment.
The only trouble is that, almost always, family members too do not
know how to care compassionately for the dying person.

Clinical death is thought to occur at the moment when death becomes
irrevocable, a moment signalled by physiological symptoms such as the
death of the brain stem and the cessation of breathing and the heartbeat.
It is at this moment that the individual is believed to be experiencing death.

If relatives and friends continue to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo after this,
the dying person is helped to pass peacefully through the process of death.
At this moment the individual's mental and physical energies, such as the
five components of life -- form, perception, conception, volition and
consciousness -- all become dormant and are subsumed into the sphere
of alaya-consciousness. Hearing the chant, the life of the deceased in the
intermediate existence, if not already on its way, begins the journey
towards the pure land of Eagle Peak - which represents the life of
Buddhahood in the Universe.

....So - this tells me that Lolly courageously chose to die at home, consciously -
and that Harley in his great love and strength, allowed her to do that, and respected that choice,
even if he didn't know it was really happening at that moment.

...And that she was chanting her way across, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
to the Pure Land of Eagle Peak -- of this I am certain.

She soars, of this there is no doubt. She took the plunge
into the Lake of the Heart.

I was so stunned when I heard the news about Lolly,
I went to look for a book she had given me during her
last visit. I looked on the shelf, and found a pile of
Druid Animal Oracle cards, which I had not seen in

Thinking...What insight might I receive from this?--
I drew a card.
It was EAGLE.

Here are the words I read:

If you will allow the Eagle to work for you, it will bring
you a sense of purpose and the courage to see this
through, enabling you to venture into fresh territory
with confidence. It will allow you to detach yourself from
everyday worries and cares, and will enable you to grasp
subtle concepts. The eagle, when accepted, will also
show you the way to renew and rejuvenate yourself,
by demonstrating the art of plunging--at just the right
moment--into the lake of the heart.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

It's all blowing to bits.
This photo is a mirror of the one below -
my garden glowing in the setting sun on a Spring afternoon
the setting sun of the other side of the world.
The whole world's on fire.

This is the reality of war. We bomb. They suffer.
(Impressions by independent observers on the scene in Baghdad)

Saturday, March 22, 2003

I have posted some thoughts on *shock-n-awe* as Shekinah --
very interesting and much too long to include on this page
but you can go to my other blog,
and check it out - It is a post from March 22 -- it's a lot to absorb, really.

My garden smells like mud and hyacinths.
It looks like marigold seeds are sprouting,
but they are probably just lamb's-quarters.
Weeds are feathery and attractive, deceptively sweet.
The mint and rosemary are bright and pungent, while
the low mat of grass springs under my step, like a sponge.

I dreamed a little dark woman in an old wool coat and
a head-scarf tied under her chin had come into our front garden
and picked all the hyacinths - I saw her, and went out to to
the wall to speak with her, but she scurried away, and I knew that
she thought--since the house is for sale, no one would
care about the hyacinths. She was stealing beauty.
There are no words, except shock and awe.
Here's this season's amaryllis ~~~~~

Friday, March 21, 2003

COURAGE ----for Lolly

After great longing
the wild orchid appears
sets down its tubular feet
in the softened walls
of the heart.
Breathing in
tendrils wrap their succulent
arms around your hunger
breathing out
pink light sprays
across the interior of the chest.
A sweet mist aerates the mind
and grief gives way
to rain forest
purple orchids spinning.

(Jean Boughton
from Open Mind / Diane Mariechild)

Lolly Simkins Daniels -- wonderful mother
of Lauren (age 11), beloved wife of Harley, daughter,
sister and courageous friend -- Buddhist woman
of great devotion, spiritual teacher who chanted
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo hours every day,
for love and sorrow of the world --
suddenly last night, left us -- she is gone! --

How close we are to the other side, we never know.

Goodbye, Lolly, my dear friend and teacher,
godspeed on your journey. May you find peace.
Know that you are loved.

Lolly and Harley, at the Valle Caldera
in the Jemez Mountains August 2002
It's the first day of Spring -
and the onions must know this...
one has sprouted four inches overnight!

This morning I picked up a book - The Rag and Bone Shop of The Heart,
an anthology of poetry edited by Robert Bly, James Hillman and Michael Meade (1992)

I was amazed that the book opened to this poem, by Robert Bly:

To President Bush
At the Start of the Gulf War

This thin-lipped king with his helmeted head
Remembers the quirky fits of light
That tempt the cobra. No, the temper of the dove
Does not fit him; and nothing in the world
Can bring him to bless. He will not feed,
Nourish or help; and his rabbity hand
Lifted in the fading light of the hemlocks
Waves to them, gestures to the young to die.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Here's another photograph I took on 12/27/02 in Gallina, New Mexico
at Shel and Sonja's place, looking across to the Nacimiento Mountains
in the San Pedro wilderness ... A fresh snowfall on the day after Christmas...

The newspaper headlines are six inches high: WAR

It is foggy and strange outside. It feels like the world
wants to stay under the covers.

Here is an article from Common Dreams which I would
like to share this morning---

This Present Moment:
Living in Baghdad on the Eve of War
by Ramzi Kysia

"The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door
to all moments."
- Thich Nhat Hanh

I am in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team, and we will stay here throughout
any war. We will share the risks of the millions who live here, and do our
best to be a voice for them to the world. Our risks are uncertain. Thousands
here will surely die. But most Iraqis will survive, and so too, I hope, will

A banner the government put up a few blocks from where we stay reads simply,
"Baghdad: Where the World Comes for Peace."

It's meant as propaganda, I'm sure, flattering Saddam Hussein. But without
knowing it, it states a simple truth: that the world must be present for
peace. We must be present in Baghdad as in America - in Kashmir or Chechnya,
the Great Lakes, Palestine and Colombia - where there is war, and rumors of
war, we must be present to build peace.

We are present.

My country may arrest me as a traitor, or kill me during saturation bombing,
or shoot me during an invasion. The Iraqis may arrest me as a spy, or cause
or use my death for propaganda. Civil unrest and mob violence may claim me.
I may be maimed. I may be killed.

I am nervous. I am scared. I am hopeful. I am joyous, and I joyously delight
in the wonder that is my life.

I love being alive. I love the splendor of our world, the beauty of our
bodies, and the miracle of our minds. I bless the world for making me, and I
bless the world for taking me. I feed myself on the fellowship we inspirit,
in standing one with another in this, this present moment, each moment
unfolding to its own best time.

Different things move different members of our team, but all of us are here
out of deep concern for the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Iraq.
20 years of almost constant war, and 12 years of brutal sanctions, have
killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq.

We are here, today, because most of the world refused to be present, then.
What more right do I as an American have to leave then all the people I've
come to love in Iraq? An accident of birth that gives me a free pass
throughout the world?

All of us are here out of a deep commitment to nonviolence. Peace is not an
abstract value that we should just quietly express a hope for. It takes
work. It takes courage. It takes joy. Peace takes risks.

War is catastrophe. It is terrorism on a truly, massive scale. It is the
physical, political and spiritual devastation of entire peoples. War is the
imposition of such massive, deadly violence so as to force the political
solutions of one nation upon another. War is the antithesis of democracy and
freedom. War is the most bloody, undemocratic, and violently repressive of
all human institutions. War is catastrophe. Why choose catastrophe?

Even the threat of war is devastating. On March 11th, when we visited a
maternity hospital run by the Dominican sisters here in Baghdad, we found
that eight new mothers that day had demanded to have their babies by
Caesarean section - they didn't want to give birth during the war. Six
others spontaneously aborted the same day. Is this the spirit of liberation?

Don't ask me where I find the courage to be present in Iraq on the eve of
war. 5 million people call Baghdad home. 24 million human beings live in
Iraq. Instead, ask the politicians - on every side - where they find the
nerve to put so many human beings at such terrible risk.

We're here for these people, as we're here for the American people. The
violence George Bush starts in Iraq will not stop in Iraq. The senseless
brutality of this war signals future crimes of still greater inhumanity. If
we risk nothing to prevent this, it will happen. If we would have peace, we
must work as hard, and risk as much, as the warmakers do for destruction.

Pacifism isn't passive. It's a radical challenge to all aspects of worldly
power. Nonviolence can prevent catastrophe. Nonviolence multiplies
opportunities a thousand-fold, until seemingly insignificant events converge
to tumble the tyranny of fears that violence plants within our hearts. Where
violence denies freedom, destroys community, restricts choices - we must be
present: cultivating our love, our active love, for our entire family of

We are daily visiting with families here in Iraq. We are daily visiting
hospitals here in Iraq, and doing arts and crafts with the children. We are
visiting elementary schools, and high schools. We are fostering community.
We are furthering connections. We are creating space for peace.

We are not "human shields." We are not here simply in opposition to war. We
are a dynamic, living presence - our own, small affirmation of the joy of
being alive. Slowly stumbling, joyous and triumphant, full of all the doubts
and failings all people hold in common - our presence here is a thundering,
gentle call, to Americans as to Iraqis, of the affirmation of life.

We must not concede war to the killers. War is not liberation. It is not
peace. War is devastation and death.

Thuraya, a brilliant, young girl whom I've come to love, recently wrote in
her diary:
"We don't know what is going to happen. We might die, and maybe we are
living our last days in life. I hope that everyone who reads my diary
remembers me and knows that there was an Iraqi girl who had many dreams in
her life..."

Dream with us of a world where we do not let violence rule our lives. Work
with us for a world where violence does not rule our lives. Peace is not an
abstract concept. We are a concrete, tangible reality. We the peoples of our
common world, through the relationships we build with each other, and the
risks we take for one another - we are peace.

Our team here doesn't know what is going to happen any more than does
Thuraya. We too may die. But in her name, in this moment, at the
intersection of all our lives, we send you this simple message: We are
peace, and we are present.

Ramzi Kysia is a Arab American peace activist and writer. He is currently in
Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness' (
) Iraq Peace Team ( ),
a project to keep international peaceworkers to Iraq prior to, during, and
after any future U.S. attack, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people.
The Iraq Peace Team can be reached through


Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Rain is falling, after a long time of no rain, changing the world.
It is a sad day; a war is happening, undeclared but imminent.

We had some rain on Sunday, after we stood a little while out
by the road with a group of about sixty people from our small
community, holding candles in soda cups, trying to keep them
from flickering out in the wind.

It was not a spirited rally, and not enough people felt like singing
old protest songs--We Shall Overcome or Give Peace A Chance...
We know peace has no chance, that it is flickering out in the darkness.

Still, a memory of peace was among us, the old folks and little kids
that were there, standing there, for no reason but to do something,
feel something. Hoping that our fears will be unfounded, assuaged...

Two women were talking in the dark, I don't know if they knew each other...
I know them both. Once we were mothers at the family school, once we
were playing with new babies.

These women are married to men who have been wounded, though not by war.
One husband was paralyzed in a ski accident, and is still in a wheelchair.
The other has a degenerative brain disease, a frontal lobe mystery.

This quiet man told us that he took a sign "No War For Oil"
out to the intersection and stood there for a few hours, while
many cars drove by, and mostly everyone ignored him, would not
even look at him.

He came to the vigil with his candle, and his kids, and his
wife who says she hardly knows him anymore. He sang softly,
"This little light of mine...," pretty much by himself.

It began to rain, and the people ran to their cars and
went home, with melted candles and broken hearts
over a war we cannot stop but can only hold up a little light,
and hope it will be enough.


(View from my north window - November 2002)

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

This shocking bit of news - from the Village Voice - Happy Easter!
Retailers Put All Their Grenades in One Basket
Full Metal Bonnet
by Erik Baard
March 4th, 2003 1:00 PM

"A lighthearted and fun gift," says one merchant.

While Pentagon war planners may be gunning for an attack on Iraq by mid March, heavily armed soldiers have already quietly seized a strategic position: your Easter basket. National retailers like Kmart and Walgreens have stocked their shelves with baskets in which the traditional chocolate rabbit centerpiece has been displaced by plastic military action figures and their make-believe lethal paraphernalia. Tri-state Rite Aid, Genovese, and Wal-Mart stores promise their martial Easter baskets will arrive soon.
At the Astor Place Kmart, the encampment is on display just inside the main entrance. A camouflaged sandy-haired soldier with an American-flag arm patch stands alert in a teal, pink, and yellow basket beneath a pretty green-and-purple bow. Within a doll-arm's reach are a machine gun, rifle, hand grenade, large knife, pistol, and round of ammunition. In the next basket a buzz-cut blond with a snazzy dress uniform hawks over homeland security, an American eagle shield on his arm, and a machine gun, pistol, Bowie knife, two grenades, truncheon, and handcuffs at the ready.

One must hunt a little harder to find the Easter sniper at Walgreens, but what lies in wait among the bunnies and chicks there is perhaps even more surreal. The Super Wrriors (sic) Battle Set and Placekeepers (sic) Military Men Play Set bristle with toy assault rifles and machine guns, tanks, troop transports, bomber planes, commanded by armored men with shaved heads and sunglasses. The assortment also includes a space-age ray gun and other imaginary hardware for orbital combat. Packets of jellybeans are tossed in as if an afterthought, nestled in the cellophane underbrush like anti-personnel mines.

Not surprisingly, the merger of religious observance and jingoistic lust sparked the ire of Christian leaders. Bishop George Packard, who oversees spiritual care for Episcopalian members of the armed services, worries about practical issues. He's concerned about creating a backlash against the military, and questions the message sent to Muslims by the melding of a Christian holiday with images of war.

The products themselves, Packard says, are "really, really bizarre. It's a crass embrace of the far end of a range of options for parents to provide their kids. Easter baskets have been deteriorating for a long time, but they've really gone over the edge. I am so disturbed, I am so confounded by this bad taste."

Other Christian groups agree. Dr. Richard Land, president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention commission on ethics and religious liberty, says, "Well, of course, it certainly would be a jarring note for the celebration of Easter. I certainly wouldn't buy one for my children, when my children were small."

The religious leaders noted that the eggs, bunnies, and chicks so intimately associated with the holiday are also unrelated to the narrative of Jesus. They are instead the trappings of Ostara (also known as Eostra), a Teutonic goddess of spring, fertility, and the dawn, who also lends her name to estrogen and the East.

But guns would seem to be at odds with that convergent pagan and Christian spirit of renewal. The juxtaposition is an affront to some soldiers, too. "I call that, myself, a pretty stupid insult and a slap at a religious observance," says Bruce Zielsdorf, who served 23 years in the air force and is now a spokesperson for the army in New York City. "First they commercialize one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, and now this? It sounds like some vendor threw some stuff up on a shelf to see what would sell. I can assure you that we were not consulted on any decision to make any such Easter baskets."

Retailers went on the defensive. "There was no intention on our part to offer up a violent Easter basket. We're very conscious of what will and what will not offend our customers. It was meant to be a lighthearted and fun gift," says Kmart spokesperson Abigail Jacobs. "It's in my opinion a harmless toy included in an Easter basket."

The reaction to a Voice query at Walgreens contrasted sharply, with company representatives retreating instead of digging in. "Going forward next year, we don't plan to have Easter baskets with toy soldiers or a military theme. The thinking on these Easter baskets was more toy-related and we didn't really think about it otherwise," says Walgreens spokesperson Carol Hively. "We apologize to anybody who is offended or felt that this was inappropriate."

That's not enough for Bishop Packard. "Well, isn't that nice? What about this season? This is when it really counts," he says. "Kids are eavesdropping on the talk of war and get enveloped in its trauma."

The armored baskets are only the latest combat-themed toy to hit the shelves. Hasbro's G.I. Joe is a perennial favorite that's surged 46 percent amid the war fever, and new ones like Tora Bora "Ted" are still being rolled out by other companies. In the current climate, the plastic soldiers allow children to "role-play out their feelings about war," says toy industry analyst Reyne Rice of the NPD Group.

Easter provides a way for makers of generic troops to capitalize on the trend. Unlike superhero dolls, war toys don't come with costly trademarks attached. That lowers the bar to entry for small manufacturers, today typically Chinese. That industry has followed confectioners to transform Easter into the second-largest selling season, Rice says. "Maybe they are trying to promote products in another way, to draw attention to them. Obviously this isn't the kind of attention they intended," she says. Kmart's basket supplier, Megatoys, didn't return calls.

Most toy-filled baskets contain items like sandbox goodies and cuddly dolls, and this isn't the first time the toy soldiers have made an appearance. This year, though, the action figures seem to have more prominent shelf positions at the two downtown Kmart and Walgreens stores. Hively says they were particularly strong sellers. Walgreens' supplier, Wondertreats, justifies its product as the result of careful market analysis. "We don't determine the mix [of toys]. It's determined by what the consumers want. We talk to kids and watch kids in stores," explains Greg Hall, owner of Wondertreats. "They're exposed to the violence and blood that sells newspapers. We don't create that, we're just responding to what customers want."

Such toys are, however, a frequent focus of children's advocacy groups like the Lion & Lamb Project, which during the Christmas season highlighted another toy, the Military Forward Command Post, made by Ever Sparkle Industrial, that seemed to cross culture lines in an unsettling way. The Web site for Kay-Bee Toy Stores describes it as "a lifelike replica of a real battlefield headquarter. . . . Two-tiered and loaded with realistic weapons, accessories, furniture and equipment, this set is ready for action." This "battle-worn playset," also carried for the holiday season by Kmart, Toys "R" Us and, looks like a dollhouse but has been gutted, torched, and bullet-pocked. A similar toy offered by features a bombed-out farmhouse.

"Parents say, 'Oh, kids know it's fantasy,' and then they want to tell their kids to believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny," observes Lion & Lamb director Daphne White. "You can't have it both ways. To market war as something fun and to play around with is sending them a very dangerous message."

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Bush The Articulate - Hearing Voices

by Jay Weidner


Many people are wondering how our President George W. Bush went from a stumbling, error-prone, inarticulate speaker to a fairly coherent presenter, especially in the last 9 months.

It has been known in most inside circles that our beloved President has dyslexia. This fact further muddies the waters, as it is highly unlikely that a serious reading disorder like dyslexia can be overcome, even with expert tutoring and plenty of practice.

While watching a recent speech by our beloved President it became clear to me what was really happening.

I noticed that his eyes never looked at the TelePrompTer. This is a device that carries the written words of the speech on a TV monitor. The monitor sits right above the camera with the words of the speech rolling by. The person on the screen reads the words and it appears as if they are staring right at the camera. When it is done right it has a very folksy effect because it appears as if the person on the TV is talking directly to you. President Ronald Reagan was particularly good at TelePrompTer reading. He did it so well that I believe this ability was one of the major reasons for Reagan's many successes. He could stare right at the camera while reading the TelePrompTer. It was like Uncle Ronnie was talking straight to you.

Reagan knew how to work the TelePrompTer like no one else.

As I watched Bush give his recent speech I realized that his eyes wandered from right to left and from left to right. It was obvious that he was not reading from a TelePrompTer. Also I noticed that there were long pauses between his sentences. On queue he would look left and then right before beginning his next sentence. It soon became apparent to me what was going on and why President Bush had suddenly become erudite.

As a Film Director I recognized immediately what was happening. After making many documentaries, in all sorts of conditions, it is sometimes impossible to use a TelePrompTer to assist the narrator. For instance, sometimes the glare of the sun will blank out the words on the TelePrompTer screen, or there may be a number of other technical glitches that get in the way of using it properly. On these rare occasions when the TelePrompTer cannot be used, I, and others, have used, instead, another device to help the narrator remember his dialogue.

Using a small earpiece a FM signal is broadcast into the ear of the narrator. Another voice reads the dialogue and the signal is sent to the earpiece. The narrator hears the words in his ear and uses this as his prompt.

There are several problems with this technique, which is why it is used only rarely in films and documentaries: First, it should be said that the earpiece prompt is usually a last ditch effort to prompt the narrator, or actor, while shooting a film. Technical glitches aside, when a Director resorts to an earpiece prompt it usually means that the narrator, or actor, has trouble reading or remembering their lines. Secondly, long pauses have to be built into the prompt and the script. These pauses take place in between sentences so that the prompt does not get too far ahead of the person speaking. Thirdly the script must be rewritten for the earpiece prompt. The sentences must stay short and concise so that the narrator, or actor, does not get confused.

Is this what Bush is doing? My answer is a definite 'yes'. During this same speech I watched as he immediately corrected a word that he had just mis-spoken. I have encountered this before during film shoots using the earpiece prompt. This is done because the speaker has gone slightly ahead of the earpiece prompt. He makes the mistake and then hears the correct word in his ear. He then corrects himself and goes on like nothing happened.

Watch the next speech. Notice how he pauses between sentences. His eyes veer robotically left and right. He then begins his next sentence. It is clear to me that these pauses are placed into the speeches on purpose so that the earpiece voice prompter does not get too far ahead of the President. Our beloved President has become an articulate spokesman for the ruinous destruction of our country. Isn't showbiz grand? V


Saturday, March 15, 2003

Wage Peace
by Mary Oliver

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out
sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong
friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh
and precious.
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Don't wait another minute.

(The photograph is of my grandson -
I took this picture in Georgia while visiting
Ariana, Jody and Noah (16 months)