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Curtain

Pigeons fly as a policeman guards residents praying outside the Shah-e Doh Shamshira mosque during the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr in Kabul on Aug. 30, 2011. Photo by Erik de Castro/Reuters

Hyenas are one of the oldest species of canine on Earth.  Indigenous to Africa and more closely related to felines, they exist in four subspecies: spotted, brown, striped and aardwolf.  Despite these slight differences, hyenas are carnivorous creatures.  They’re also basically scavengers; waiting until a larger animal dies or is severely incapacitated before ripping it to pieces.  And – depending on the victim – they leave little behind, except horns, hooves and tails.  All subgroups of hyena boast another attribute – they can’t be tamed.  They’re not like domesticated dogs, which have become one of humanity’s truest non-human companions.  The hyena mindset is too rudimentary to allow it to sit and stay.  They’re just too savage and wild to conform to human-induced pleasantries and commands.  You really don’t want one as a pet.  Hyenas just need to be left alone.

Afghanistan is a hyena.  It’s savage and wild.  We really don’t need it as an ally.  Unlike a domesticated dog, it doesn’t return the love.  We just need to leave it alone.

This landlocked pocket of mountains sits at the crossroads of Asia and the Middle East; languishing in another realm, a universe unto itself.  Its current borders were established in the 19th century, but Afghanistan bears an ancient history.  Its geographic location made it a principal feature of the storied Silk Road, which carried travelers and traders between Southern Europe and China.  Excavations throughout Afghanistan prove that humans populated the region as far back as 52,000 years ago; when Neanderthals were the dominant bipedals.  Archaeologists have shown that more stable, urbanized societies began developing by 3000 BCE.  With its history closely tied to neighboring countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, the Afghanistan of millennia ago was part of two of the earliest and largest civilizations on Earth – Indus Valley and Mesopotamia.  Mesopotamia is notable for evolution of one of the first writing systems in the world.

For almost as long as its relatively modern existence, Afghanistan has been subjected to one barbarous onslaught after another.  It fell to the Achamenid Empire, after Darius I conquered it around 515 BCE.  Alexander the Great stormed into the region around 330 BCE and defeated Darius III.  The Maurya Empire took control of most of the region where it further entrenched Hinduism and introduced Buddhism.  A variety of successive conquerors and empires descended upon Afghanistan and surrounding areas.  Islam arrived in the 7th century CE via Rashidun Arabs coming from the Byzantine Empire.  In 1221 CE, Mongols invaded Afghanistan under their founder Genghis Khan who oversaw unbridled destruction of towns and villages.

All of these invaders had to battle a common enemy: Afghan tribesmen, gangs of nomadic and uncultured warriors who had little more than determination and grit as guiding forces.  Even when the British first arrived in the 1830s – hoping to annex Afghanistan and protect the latter’s position as a vital trade route from the Russian Empire – they were confronted with bands of ruthless fighters.  Great Britain tried three more times to conquer Afghanistan, resulting in a 1921 treaty to…well, leave them alone!

The most recent invasion attempt came with the former Soviet Union in 1979.  While the Soviets had been able to swallow up much of Eastern Europe throughout the 20th century, the seeming backwater of Afghanistan proved to be more formidable than others.  The Soviets may have easily overrun such nations as Hungary, but Afghanistan tribesmen fought harder than even the great Russian bear anticipated.  The United States likes to claim it helped Afghans defeat the Soviets and drive them out before they could mark a full decade of their presence.  But one thing remained certain.  Afghanistan just couldn’t be tamed; that is, it couldn’t be conquered.

Afghanistan’s remote location has made it as difficult to study as it has been to conquer.

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is only recent; dating to the 1980s.  Before then, most Americans couldn’t point it out on a globe of the world.  Many probably still can’t.

But in the modern schemes of geopolitical events, the fact the U.S. promised to help Afghanistan rebuild after defeating the Soviets and then failed to do it gets lost in translation.  It’s this failure that led to the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s.  The Taliban rejuvenated antiquated views of how the world should function, including a more brutal version of Islam – which is akin to evangelical Christianity: narrow-minded and filled with more hate than love.  What infrastructure remained in Afghanistan collapsed, and women became relegated to a status one step above cattle, driven from schools and forced to walk around dressed like beekeepers.  It was this bloodthirsty atmosphere that spawned the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which in turn, culminated in a 20-year occupation of this ragged bunch of mountains and its disoriented tribal factions by the U.S.

And, as of August 31, we’re gone.  The U.S. has left the region; exiting as a construction company forgoes building a skyscraper in quicksand.  It’s not that America is wimping out and giving up.  We’re tired of this place.  Just as some people can’t pinpoint Afghanistan on a map, some Americans were surprised to know we were still there.

And now, we’re gone.  Good riddance!

I have no qualms about leaving.  Afghanistan wasn’t worth the trouble.  The U.S. couldn’t maintain its place over there.  We can’t always be the ones to protect people from themselves.  We’ve spent trillions of U.S. dollars (taxpayer dollars) and have nothing much to show for it.  The Afghan Army, for example, surrendered to the reborn Taliban as soon as the Americans started leaving.  All that time, effort and money spent to train the locals to fight against the more brutal elements of their own society evaporated.  It’s like training nurses to work in the emergency room and then watch them pass out at the first sight of blood.

So what now?  Nothing!  Once we beat back the Taliban and helped move Afghanistan into the 21st century, the Afghan people should have been able to take control at that point.  Instead tribalism and that vehement version of Islam swarmed over the country.

Afghanistan donned the hyena mentality once again.  But that seems to be its true nature.  It’s wild and can’t be tamed.

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Happy Saint Patrick’s Day 2021

St. Patrick

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Best Quotes of the Week – March 13, 2021

“I believe this… historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people of this nation – working people, middle class folks, people that built the country – a fighting chance.  I’m going to have a lot more to say about that tonight and the next couple days.”

President Joe Biden, upon signing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill

“ … Conspiracy theories should have no place in the Christian life. As people who claim to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, we should not risk our public witness for political fantasies. We should denounce any movement that spreads false information.”

Seth Brown, in response to social media posts by Luke Coffee, former actor and conspiracy proponent, who took part in the January 6 Capitol Hill riots

Brown works with North Carolina-based Biblical Recorder and has written extensively for Southern Baptists about QAnon.

“In societies with bigger differences between rich and poor, women are less enfranchised and have less power, resources, and prestige than women in societies where those differences are smaller.”

Kate Pickett, British epidemiologist and Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of New York, in “Fissures That Tear Us Apart and Pressures That Weigh Us All Down”, Social Europe, 03/08/21

“In Austin, we’re committed to saving lives, period.  If state officials don’t want to do their jobs protecting people from the virus, then we will.”

Greg Casar, Austin, Texas City Councilman, responding to Gov. Abbott’s order rescinding mandatory mask-wearing in public

The Governor’s new order went into effect March 10, but the City of Austin plans to retain a mask mandate for the immediate future.

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Dead Friend

Have you ever had a friend with whom you disagree on something?  You know what I mean – someone you’ve known for a while; shared things with; commiserated with; know some of their family; treated to lunch or dinner for their birthdays.  I have a few of those friends.  As a bonafide introvert, I don’t have many friends in the first place, so I value those relationships I’ve managed to maintain over any length of time.

I had one such friend, Pete*, until recently.  He and I have known each other for over 30 years.  Ironically, we attended the same parochial grade school in Dallas.  I didn’t know him back then, as he’s three years younger.  Even more curious is that our fathers had known each other; they grew up in the same East Dallas neighborhood and attended the same high school.  When Pete’s father died several years ago, my father was heartbroken, as the two hadn’t spoken in a while.  I attended the funeral service at a church in downtown Dallas.  In turn, Pete attended my father’s memorial service in 2016; his sister and her young daughter joined him.

Pete used to host annual Christmas gatherings at his apartment; his sister and her two sons, along with many of that family’s mutual friends, joining us.  In effect, I became part of their family.  I was fond of Pete’s parents, as he was of mine, and was truly excited when one of his nephews joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006.

So what happened?

Politics.

Last month “The New Yorker” published an editorial on the sudden and unexpected support for Donald Trump among Latinos.  In Texas trump won a larger share of the Latino vote in the last election than he did in 2016.  Reading the piece left me stunned – and curious.  How could a man who made such derogatory comments about Mexicans in general, the same one who hurtled rolls of paper towels at people in Puerto Rico, find greater support from others in those same groups?  Even though Trump had disparaged Mexican immigrants, I felt it was just a small step away from demonizing all people of Mexican heritage or ethnicity; people whose Indian and Spanish ancestors had occupied what is now the Southwestern U.S. since before Trump’s predecessors arrived on the East Coast.  Many of those people are also among the nation’s working class; the blue collar workers who form the unappreciated and under-appreciated backbone of any society.  And yes, even the white collar workers, such as myself, who have struggled through the chaos of corporate America.  Regardless of race or ethnicity we’re the ones who suffered the most in the last Great Recession and in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  That an arrogant, elitist, tax-cheating buffoon of a charlatan can find kindred souls in this crowd truly boggles my mind.

Pete, on the other hand, said the editorial made “perfect sense” so him.  He had already expressed some support for Trump, especially in relation to his reactions to China.  He then went on to demonize both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris; dubbing them “evil” and decrying what he perceived to be their socialist agenda.  In other words, Pete was reiterating the paranoid mantra of right-wing extremists.

But he went further.  He bemoaned the stimulus payments coming out of Washington; claiming they were unnecessary and that anyone suffering financial distress during the pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn deserved no help or sympathy; that they should have prepared better for such a calamity.

Seriously?

I pointed out that I was one of those people struggling now.  I had taken off a lot of time to care for my aging parents and had managed to save some money over the years; adding that a lot of that hard-earned money was now gone and reminding him I have had trouble – like so many others – finding a job.  I also noted that it’s that people don’t or won’t save money; it’s that they can’t – not with both the high cost of living and stagnant wages.

Pete sounds like many evangelical Christian leaders – the folks he once denounced as the heathens of Christianity – the idiots who propagate the myth that poverty is a result of moral failings; that people choose to be poor because they have no desire to work hard and sacrifice.  He got upset with me over that; he – a devout Roman Catholic – being compared to an evangelical Christian?!  The people who read and study only half the Christian Bible?!  How dare I make such an analogy!

But that’s how I felt.  Then and now.  His new-found beliefs and sudden change of attitude are one reason why I left the Catholic Church and why I no longer align with any branch of Christianity.

I reiterated my discussions with Pete to friends and a relative who his both agnostic and generally conservative.  The latter considers himself a Republican and has been very successful in life.  He also subscribes to “The New Yorker” and had read that particular editorial.  And he found it “awful” that so many Texas Latinos supported Trump who he does not like.  He also noted that anyone can experience financial problems and that a lack of personal resources isn’t always a sign of any kind of moral failings.  Like me he was raised Roman Catholic, but – unlike me – is not in any way spiritual.  He also reassured me that I’m not a failure.  A few other friends have told me the same.  At times like this, I need that kind of support.

It’s a shame I felt the need to sever ties with Pete.  I mean, how does a 30-plus-year friendship come to an end over an editorial?  Is that something that needed to happen?  I wonder if I was overreacting or my past hyper-sensitive persona had suddenly resurrected itself.

I’d like to know if any of you folks have encountered the same dilemma.  Have you ever felt the need to end a friendship with someone over such strong personal disagreements?

*Name changed.

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Worst Quotes of the Week – January 16, 2021

“There’s no comparison.  The disgusting events of January 6 do not threaten this country nearly as much as the suppression of free speech does.”

Dennis Prager, columnist and radio talk show host, on the January 6 riots

“What we have here is a classic collusive oligopoly, a kind of new wine in an old bottle.  What we saw with this attack on Parler was chilling to me. It’s one thing to de-platform everybody for free speech. But, this was a pincer move where Google and Apple, [the] first part of the pincer, was to not allow Parler apps to be down.”

Peter Navarro, Director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing, on the move by various media firms to remove Parler from its platforms

Parler is a conservative alternative to Facebook and other social media venues.  Apple and Google removed Parler in the wake of the January 6 Capitol Hill riots.

“We have an executive order – not from Congress or D.C., but from the desk of the CEO of heaven, the boss of the planet.  He said from his desk in heaven, this is my will; Trump will be in for eight years.”

Brandon Burden, pastor of Kingdom Life in Frisco, Texas, in a sermon on Sunday, January 10

Burden had insisted that God told him Donald Trump – a serial husband, tax cheat and draft dodger who once grabbed about grabbing women by their genitalia – was destined to serve 8 years as President of the United States.  The FBI has been in contact with Burden.

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Worst Quote of the Week – October 10, 2020

“He literally saved Christianity. There’s a full-out war on faith in this country by the other side.  I mean, the Democratic Party, the far left, has become the party of the quote-unquote atheist. They want to attack Christianity, they want to close churches, they want to ― they’re totally fine keeping liquor stores open ― but they want to close churches all over the country.”

Eric Trump, on WZFG-AM radio

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Worst Quote of the Week – July 25, 2020

“I would never ask someone to vote against their conscience, but I would challenge them to reconsider how their conscience is framed.  Remember that by voting for Trump, you’re effectively voting for many more people. Sure, Trump’s name is on the ballot for president, but you’re also voting for Mike Pence.  You’re voting for outspoken Christians like Mark Meadows, Mike Pompeo, and many other committed non-carnal Christ-followers.”

John Reid, in a column for “Christian Post”.

Reid also declared: “If you’re a Christ-follower who’s wrestling with whether to vote for Trump in 2020, I get it.  I understood your plight in 2016 and I understand it now, though less-so now.  I’ll admit that in 2016 I abhorred the man’s behavior and I certainly wasn’t confident that Donald Trump would be the conservative policy-pusher that the Christian-right wanted.  But I have no reservations now, and, my brothers and sisters in Christ, neither should you.”

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Photo of the Week – June 5, 2020

President Trump holding a Bible outside St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 1 – looking much like he holds up a USD 100 bill, when he wants a woman’s p***y.

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Photo of the Week – April 3, 2020

“Prophecy” classes canceled?!  Wow!  Imagine reality smacking head-on into religious ideology!  Happens every time there’s a REAL crisis!

Academy Christian Church

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Worst Quote of the Week – March 20, 2020

“They’ve redefined family for the first time in a federal – in a piece of federal legislation, to include committed relationships.  The problem with that is it’s really hard to define a committed relationship, and it’s really hard to define anything related to that.”

Rep. Andy Biggs, on a radio program produced by the conservative Christian group Family Research Council.

Biggs was one of 40 lawmakers who voted against the coronavirus stimulus bill, said he did so in part because the legislation included paid sick leave benefits for domestic partnerships.

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