Category Archives: current events

Memorial Day 2017

Memorial-Day-Hero-2-H

Memoiral Day Weekend! The start of summer movie season and a little bit more.

Time stands still for no one. Memorial Day comes around toward the end of May every year and we celebrate with backyard barbecues and the beginning of Summer Blockbuster Movie season. We have some really good movies out right now and some that are kind of …interesting. But Memorial Day started as Decoration Day in the years following the U. S. Civil War. Memorial Day began as a time when the widows of soldiers who did in that Civil War went to clean and decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in burial sites near their towns and communities. Memorial Day began as a day to remember those soldiers (sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen) who died fighting for every American’s freedom and way of life, and the freedom of many, many more.

When we were kids, of course there were the barbecues and maybe a ceremony or parade. The high school marching band and the Veterans of Foreign Wars would march down Main Street and play patriotic music. For my generation we had Star Wars and Superman movies to see (or see again).

Now that I have classmates who have died in the recent wars, and I have friends and fellow graduates who lost husbands, wives, fiancés, children, siblings….My perspective has changed. Now that I have have been part of an Afghan Army Advising Team that had active threat streams targeting us and our counterparts, my perspective has changed.  Some people will spend a good chunk of time this weekend bringing their children, nephews and nieces to the military cemetery, or war monuments, to honor departed fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, loved-ones and friends. Others will barbecue and go to the movies or concerts.

There’s a meme that’s gone around Facebook the last few years with the widow at the military grave bawling her eyes out next to a toddler and an infant. That touches my heart. I have a dear friend who loved flying helicopters more than almost anything in the world. But she may not ever fly a helicopter again because she loves her fiancee who died fighting in Iraq more than she loves flying. Fortunately, it’s her son that she actually loves more than anything else in this world. I have classmates and fellow graduates from West Point who died in these recent wars. I know a graduate from the class after mine who lost her son to combat this year. My heart moves for these stories and others.

Some people will never quite get past the loss of their loved-ones in combat. And maybe they never should. I don’t know. I’m not them. I haven’t walked thru their experiences or lost anyone I loved more than my own life, yet. So all I can say to them is, “Grieve as you need to and live as you can.”

Some people don’t quite understand the sacrifice of courageous military men and women who died fighting for their freedom. Some people just enjoy a sunny weekend, grilling food in their backyards, drinking beverage of choice, and going to rock shows or movies.

Some of us military folk have looked down on those who just barbecue and go to movies and concerts for Memorial Day. We think we’re superior because we understand the sacrifice that made it possible for the others to celebrate. I’m not sure that either celebrating without knowing why, or the smug sense of superiority is really very good. I think our relatives and friends who died for our freedom and way of life, would want us to do all of these and more, but do it to honor their memory and without feeling smug.

Thanks for reading. If you liked or hated what you read, please tell your friends.  If you liked it and want to read more, feel free to peruse my blog, and also click follow.  Lastly, please remember that DoD, Texas Military Department, the U. S. Army and the Texas National Guard all have actual spokespersons and Public Affairs Offices and I am none of these.  These opinions are my own.

Difference-Between-Memorial-and-Veterans-Day

Texas Adoption Bill

The Texas Legislature made some waves earlier this month when the House sent the Senate a Bill about the rights of conscience in Child Welfare Services.  It’s called HB 3859.  This link goes to the text of the bill.  The New York Times, and Atlantic Monthly, have written about it. Equality Texas is particularly opposed to it, saying the bill would trample the rights of Gay and Lesbian couples.  ABC News complains loudly the bill could allow Texas Adoption Agencies to ban Jews, gays, and Muslims.

If you want to, take a few minutes and go to the link and read the bill for yourself. We won’t go away while you’re gone.  We’ll still be here.  We promise.

Are you done reading, yet?  Good.  The whole Bill is about four pages long in 10 point font, a little longer if I make the writing bigger for old eyes.  The Texas Legislature isn’t like Congress in that respect.  Congress likes bills hundreds of pages long, or even thousands, written in complex legalese that require a JD to even pronounce the words.  The Texas Legislature drafts short bills in plane understandable language.

Does the text contain the name of any religion?  It does not.  Does it specifically call out gay, lesbian, transgendered children or couples? It does not.

Then what does it do?  This bill simply protects the right of conscience of any private agency that works in child welfare.

  • If there were a Muslim Adoption Agency in Irving, Texas, that wanted to ensure Sunni couples adopted Sunni children and Shi’a couples adopted Shi’a children, they would be protected.
  • If there were an LGBT organization in Austin that wanted to step up and make sure LGBT kids get placed with LGBT families, as long as they have a religious explanation, they would be protected.
  • I dare say, that a Child Welfare Agency full of Secular Humanists who refused adoptions to Christians would also be protected by this law, as long as they explained their position in religious terms and referred them to another agency.

What this Bill actually does is protect everyone’s right of conscience.  I expect that if it were to become law and be challenged in court, it would even protect Atheists who have religious reasons to keep Christians from adopting.  The bill would require any agency refusing services on religious grounds to refer those seeking services to another agency that would help them, or to the Texas Department of Child and Family Services.

What this Bill doesn’t do is allow anyone to use threat of law suit or government force to coerce someone else to violate sincerely held beliefs.  Don’t we need more of that?  Don’t we as a society want more protection for all sincerely held beliefs, even if those beliefs aren’t exactly the same as anyone else’s?  Don’t we want more liberty and less coercion?

On thing we do need to ensure is that while Texas is requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the Legislature and State Agencies make adoptions easier and less expensive. Not harder.

If we’re truly pursuing Virtue here, then we need to make it easier for couples (or singles) who would nurture children and help them flourish to adopt, regardless of creed, belief or religion. As a society we should keep children out of the hands of the violent and the abusive regardless of creed, belief or religion.

Thank you for reading.  We do appreciate you.  If you liked (or hated) what you read here, please tell your friends and click the follow button.

And lest I forget, these views are my own and I’m not writing here to represent the Texas Military Department, the Texas National Guard, the U. S. Army or the DoD.  All these organizations have Public Affairs Offices and spokespeople who should not be confused with me.

Obamacare repeal begins. For real this time.

WASHINGTON, DC — On 4 May 2017, the U. S. House of Representatives overcame fear-mongering from opposition party members to pass the American Healthcare Act.  The American Healthcare Act is a bill that begins the process of repealing and replacing the prior Administration’s signature healthcare law.  Noteworthy within the prior Administration’s law were a large number of taxes, mandated benefits to be included in all health plans, employer mandates and the prohibition against health insurance companies pricing health plans by the health of the customer.

A brief review of the summary of the American Healthcare Act shows that this bill does repeal many of the taxes included in the prior Administration’s healthcare law, as well as  individual and employer mandates.  It looks like the bill may also open up the definition of what coverages are allowed/required in ‘qualifying health care plans.’  More freedom is seldom a bad thing.  The bill also allows health insurers to price their offered coverage according to the age and health condition of customers whilst also assisting those with ‘pre-existing conditions’ and severe health conditions in paying for their own coverage.

Further, it appears to allow States to decide whether to roll back the Medicaid expansion.  Federal Funding for the Medicaid expansion will continue to remain available to States through 2020.

The American Healthcare Act has several hurdles yet to be crossed before it can become law.  It must still be debated, amended and voted on in the U. S. Senate. It must have differences in the House and Senate versions worked out by a Joint Committee.  The final version must pass both houses of Congress.  Finally, the President must sign it into law.

This bill appears to go a long way toward removing the shackles the prior healthcare law placed on the entire U. S. economy with the taxes and mandates.  Employers will be free to give more hours to part-time employees and to expand their businesses by hiring more total employees, without the mandate to provide expensive healthcare coverage.

Without the mandates, philanthropists, public-spirited organizations and religious denominations will have to step in to ensure that noone falls through the cracks.

The bill passed the House by a margin of 217 to 213, with no members of the Democrat Party voting for it.

Opinions expressed herein are my own and in no way reflect those of Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Military Department, the U. S. Army or the U. S. DoD.  All of these organizations have their own public affairs offices and spokespersons, which do not actually include me.

 

Sources:

Summary and full text of the American Healthcare Act

Reuters

Wall Street Journal

UT Austin Stabbing suspect had mental problems; may also have been religious.

AUSTIN, Texas — University of Texas at Austin Police Chief David Carter stated the suspect in Monday afternoon’s stabbing attacks, Kendrex J. White, “obviously” had mental issues of some description.  Chief Carter did not elaborate on the mental issues except to say that suspect White had been involuntarily committed recently in another city.  In documents obtained by Austin TV News KXAN, suspect White claims no memory of the attacks.

The fourth stabbing victim is apparently still in hospital as of this writing.

A review of suspect White’s twitter feed from the hours and days before the stabbing revealed several Bible quotes, some from the New Testament.  He last tweet before the stabbings was one word followed by ’emojis’ of religious symbols. Suspect White wrote “Yahushua” followed by an apparently Christian cross and the shape of an apparently Jewish six pointed star.

One could look at the word “Yahushua” and associate it with “Yeshua HaMoshiach” and the Sacred Name movement.  One further click on google reveals several pages of references to a ‘Yahushua the Black Messiah.’  So, this writer is going to suggest that the correct reference could be ‘Yahushua the Black Messiah.’

One internet observer, cited below, also screen grabbed some ‘Snapchat’ images from midday on 1 May 2017 that appear to be suspect White wearing a shawl white in color with blue Hebrew characters and blue stripes.  We’re still working on corroborating images for those cited at Heavy.com.  Photos and videos of suspect White being handcuffed by police, which are quite numerous, show that he could be wearing a grey or pale shawl with no apparent stripes of any color over a tan shirt and a multicolored bandanna.  None of the photos of the arrest found so far show an angle clear enough to positively identify suspect White’s clothing beyond his tan shirt and multicolored bandanna.

Only psychiatrists who interview suspect White can actually determine what was in his mind and the veracity of claims he doesn’t recall walking slowly and calmly, stabbing men chosen apparently at random on the afternoon of 1 May 2017.

Sources:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ut-austin-stabbings-student-suspect-had-obvious-mental-health-issue-police-say/

Dallas Morning News 2 May 2017 article

What we know about the University of Texas stabbing suspect

Kendrex White: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

UT stabbing suspect says he doesn’t remember the attack

Tragic Stabbing at UT Austin on 1 May 2017: suspect in custody

AUSTIN, Texas, 1 May 2017 — Authorities report one dead, three injured and a suspect apprehended on University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) campus in a series of stabbings Monday afternoon.  Austin police arrested knife-wielding suspect, Kendrex J. White, within two minutes of receiving the first phone call about the stabbings, according to UT-Austin Police Chief David Carter.  North Texas school district, Graham ISD, has identified the deceased as Harrison Brown, Graham High School Class of 2016.  As of the morning of 2 May, one victim remains in hospital and the others have been treated and released. Austin-Travis County EMS reported transporting three to hospital and treating and releasing an unspecified number of non-life-threatening injuries in connection with Monday afternoon campus stabbings.

 

According to witness statements, the suspect stabbed one victim adjacent to a food truck near Gregory Gymnasium on the UT campus around 1:45 PM.  Police reported recovering three other severely wounded victims within a few blocks.  Witnesses said the suspect walked calmly around the area stabbing his victims.  Police spokesperson said the suspect calmly surrendered himself to a responding officer who drew his sidearm and placed the suspect under arrest.  Photos of the victim being apprehended show an African-American male.

Suspect Kendrex White is a 21-year-old biology major at UT Ausatin. Mr White graduated high school in 2014 from Killeen High School in the central Texas town of Killeen, outside Fort Hood, Texas.  Travis County records indicate an April 2017 arrest for DWI in which Mr. White failed to yield the right of way, crashed a vehicle and reported a prescription for “happy pills,” listed as Zoloft.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.statesman.com/news/crime–law/stabbing-linked-mental-health-not-targeted-attack-sources-say/oCmhqRtxH14NhpHtvlcEJM/

Austin American-Statesman video interview with witness Rachel Prichett

http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/3d281c11a96b4ad082fe88aa0db04305/Article_2017-05-02-US–University%20of%20Texas-Stabbings/id-64011ac9401048be998cf52718280aa7

http://www.kvue.com/news/local/stabbing-reported-on-ut-campus/435658092

Kxan.com/2017/05/01/what-we-know-about-the-university-of-texas-stabbing-suspect/

Image Credits:

abc news image of suspect K White in police custody

http://www.statesman.com/news/breaking-news/photos-one-killed-three-hurt-stabbing-the-university-texas-campus-may/s5uLulWHJ3r7NQXoDjBBBK/#23

Image credit: Ray Arredondo

Jewish Fall Holy Days – Alef (So, what are We Celebrating, vol 2, parts 8 and 9)

Jews the world over have just celebrated Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur.  Sukkot is coming up in just a few days.  Rosh HaShannah, means the head of the year, or New Years. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.  Sukkot is the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths.  I’m going to focus on Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur in this piece.

Those of you who have read me for a  while will know that when I write about religion or about religious holy days, I usually write about Judaism and Christianity together.  For Holy Days, I tend to write about them in groups that are connected thematically or happen to fall next to each other on the calendar that year.  Judaism observes a calendar based primarily on lunar cycles, while the civil calendar is based on the solar year.  Thus Jewish Holy Days move around a few days or weeks, earlier or later, within the Gregorian calendar, each successive year.  For example, the eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas usually overlap or fall close together in late December. Though sometimes Hanukkah falls several weeks earlier.

There aren’t any Christian religious holy days that fall on or near Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, so there isn’t really anything to pair them up with besides each other.  This isn’t going be exhaustive or encyclopaedic.  I’m just going to hit the high points and then leave myself some room to write more about them next year.  So, if I failed to mention your favorite tradition or left out something you feel is important, write about that in the comments.

Okay, here goes. Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur (part 8)

According to scripture, the fall cycle of Jewish Holy Days starts on the first of day of the seventh month, the first of Tishri. For many Jews preparation starts the prior month in Elul, which is traditionally a time for reconciliation and making amends. Spending the month of Elul making amends isn’t commanded in the Scriptures, but it’s practical. If it’s been a bad year, it may take the whole month. If it hasn’t, then we’re spending the time reconnecting with friends and relations.

The first of Tishri is celebrated as Rosh HaShanna or New Years’ in rabbinical Judaism. It’s a time for commemorating the creation of the world by the Divine and celebrating the Divine as King over mankind. Another component of the first of Tishri in many congregations is the Feast of Trumpets or Yom Teruah. It’s a day for blowing shofarim or ram’s horn trumpets and rejoicing.  In some Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups, Yom Teruah is regarded as heralding the return of the King, Messiah Yeshua.

Ten days later comes Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. In ancient times, when the Jews had The Temple in Jerusalem (or before that, the Tabernacle in the wilderness) Yom Kippur was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place.  All the Jews would fast, and no one would work, on Yom Kippur.  Before entering the Most Holy Place the High Priest would offer a series of sacrifices covering himself, all the other priests, etc.  He would also wash several times. Then they would take two goats, and onto one goat, called the Azazel goat, the High Priest would symbolically transfer the sins of all the people.  The other goat, he would sacrifice and take its blood into the Most Holy Place with him.  The Azazel goat would be set outside the camp, or taken to a cliff and thrown down on the rocks.

In modern times, prayer services are substituted for all sacrifices.

The prayer services on Yom Kippur are largely about confession and repentance and dedication to serving God.  But its group confession and group repentance and group dedication.

Kol Nidre (part 9)

Now, what I really want to talk about in this piece is the tradition of Kol Nidre.  It’s a prayer service held at sundown on the evening that Yom Kippur starts.  It features the assembly of the congregation, the closing of the doors, and the Cantor singing the Kol Nidre.  Kol Nidre is prayer asking for God to forgive us for and release us from vows made falsely, usually under pain of torture or death — such as conversion to another religion. Or from vows we have intended to fulfill, but didn’t. It is by no means permission to lie, cheat, or steal in business or civil matters.

It is widely regarded that Kol Nidre was written by rabbis in Europe during the Middle Ages, when Jews were frequently under various persecutions by Catholics or Muslims.  Under threat of torture or death, many Jews would change their names, begin going to the other religion’s worship and prayers in public, but practice their Judaism in private.  They would become crypto-Jews and hope that soon the King, Sultan, Prince, Bishop, or Caliph who decreed the persecution would be overthrown or die, or that they could move somewhere far away and practice their Judaism openly again.  Jews asked themselves questions like, “How can we serve God, if we’re dead?  How can my great grandchildren serve God, if they are never born because my bloodline is extinguished in this persecution?”  The answer was Kol Nidre.  We convert in public, but in private, before Yom Kippur, we will ask God to absolve us of the conversion.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is precisely how a guy who calls himself StThomas comes to be writing about Judaism in the first place.  My real last name is a Spanish forced conversion name.  So, somewhere up the family tree, one of my  grandfather’s great grandfathers faced that decision about changing his name and going to Mass.  Some would call that cowardly.  I say it takes more courage to live in hope of freedom.  And none of us have faced the Spanish Inquisition or ISIS.  I’m sure you’d like to think that when Jihadi John has picked you out to star in an ISIS / Daesh video and he threatens you [redacted to be in good taste]…. well, I hope you get the point.

So, Kol Nidre has become more dear to me in recent years.

But here’s the lesson for our daily and relentless pursuit of virtue. We need to make things right with our friends and relations. We also need to make things right with God.  Judaism tends to focus on the making amends to friends and relations with 39 days devoted to that and one evening to Kol Nidre.  Christianity, with its Confirmation, rededication, and numerous alter calls, tends focus more on getting right with God.  As men and women of faith and virtue we cannot neglect either.  We must make amends to our friends and relations; we must ask forgiveness from the Divine and we must live more righteously tomorrow than we did yesterday.

Opinions expressed in these writings are my own and are not endorsed by any Rabbi, Rebbe, Priest, Minister, Pastor, Bishop, Imam or Shiekh; neither are they endorsed by my employers, the National Guard, or the Department of Defense.

If you have a favorite Rosh HaShanna or Yom Kippur tradition that you want tell the Internet about, please share in the comments.  If you enjoyed this piece, why not take another moment and follow some of the links below to others?  Why not click the follow button, and bring your friends back with you?

Choosing who we are and what we value (part 1)

Constitution Day falls in September, in the USA.  It makes the date when the U. S. Constitution went into effect after the ratification process in the thirteen original States.   Constitution Day also reminds of the promise made to many of the States which had hesitated to ratify the Constitution because it didn’t sufficiently guarantee the rights, privileges and immunities they had recently fought a war to secure.  The first Congress of the U.S. made good on that promise and delivered in the form of the Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights secures in the law of the land many rights specified and alluded to in the Declaration of Independence, among the life and liberty, private ownership of property, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  The Constitution does not mention the Divine, but the first amendment secures freedom of religion; that is to say, freedom to conduct our lives and daily affairs according to our understand of the Divine and what the Divine calls us to do and to avoid; or not.

It wasn’t that long ago that Americans recognized the role of the Divine in the affairs of men. The Declaration of Independence refers to unalienable rights granted by a Creator, appeals to the Supreme Judge of the world, to Divine Providence, and Nature’s God. The Continental Congress opened its regular sessions with prayer during the War for Independence. Presidents have ended speeches with “God bless America,” for as long as newsmen have had recording devices to capture their words. Our money still says “In God we trust” on it.

There was no debate over whether it was the Congregationalists’ God, the Puritans’ God, the Catholics’ God, the Deists’ God or the Jews’ God. All agreed that man was under the Divine and had a responsibility to understand and operate within Natural Law.

We have a couple more religions in our country today than we did at the time of the founding. And while the secularists, humanists and atheists claim to control the national agenda, over 80% of Americans believe in the Divine as some form of Deity, with most of those being Christians and Jews. Americans and their institutions used to acknowledge that even though many of us understood the Divine differently than others (all those different sects and denominations) we all agreed that the Divine was over us and we had to operate within Natural Law.

As I tipped in the title of this post, this is going to be a series, because I can’t get to everything I want to say in one post of readable length. Eight hundred words being the standard length for a “column,” from the old days of ink and paper and printed newspapers.  In this series, I’m going to highlight some major cultural decisions we’re facing today, in the U. S. and the world, and make a moral, ethical case for doing the Judeo-Christian right thing. Hopefully, this series will be interspersed with some pieces on the Jewish fall Holy Days and reviews of fall TV premiers.  But I may leave off writing about the television, because another series of mine, “So, what are we Celebrating,” is still missing any more than a passing reference to the Jewish fall Holy Days. I feel remiss in that omission. Soon, it will be time that I rectified that.