Sunday, December 31, 2006



I was blessed with the opportunity to travel and leave behind my tourism dollars in several tourist-lacking lands in 2006.

I went last January during the first Haj of 2006 to Jordan, where I had long planned a visit to one of the great wonders of the ancient world— to Petra and its troglodyte surroundings in a national park and various canyons, dating back to the Decapolis mentioned in the Bible three millennia ago. (Besides enjoying the mixture of gorgeous scenery and architecture in Petra, in Amman I met refugees from the Civil War in Iraq in Amman.)

Later that same month and into February 2006, I traveled in central and southern Sri Lanka as new bombings and insurgencies imperiled the years-long cease-fire that had once brought home to that tsunami-drenched land.

As the bookend to these journeys in 2006, in early December I determined to fly via coupe-damaged Thailand to the wonderful island of Bali. Bali, a historically peaceful Hindu state within Muslim Indonesia, had suffered bombing attacks in both 2002 and 2004 in the heavily-touristed town of Kuta. So Bali, too, is just recovering from violence as the year 2007 approaches.

Each of the three countries I have mentioned above and had visited in 2006 are heavily dependent on tourism to make income for the underdeveloped local and national economies. As a world-traveler who has now been blessed with the ability to visit some 90 lands in less than two and a half decades, I have become sensitive to the give-and-take of cultures that come from an economic and cross-cultural relationship based on tourism.


I was impressed with the balance that these three violence-wrought lands—Jordan, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia-- are able to carry out. This is especially true of Bali, where the likes of Margaret Mead and other anthropologic academics once lived and studied. After decades of experimentation, Bali has created (following years of developmental mistakes, like to loss of great coral reef barriers off the coast of Candisa) a balance between development and tradition, which I till now had not witnessed elsewhere to such an advanced degree.

For example, in central Bali—and away from the overdeveloped beach resort of Kuta in the south—one can visit three or more different traditional dances & modified dances any day of the week now. (Hence, during any one week, one can thus see in different villages some dozen or more different dances and varieties of dances performed. Further, some groups & villages offer special festival-related dances each month.)

I, myself, initially stayed in Central Bali for a week in a timeshare that I had traded for with a company called RCI. This particular timeshare is called Bali Masari Villas & Spa. It was the most relaxing retreat and seemingly well-integrated resort I had ever experienced. This aged and green resort had managed to develop and coexist for decades without effecting negatively the way of life of those living around it.

From my balcony, situated on the edge of the township of Sukhuwati, I could observe and listen to life in the neighboring village of Saab, located on the hill across a small ravine from my resort. All day long, local villagers would march down the hill laughing and joking on their way to the tiny river below the ravine. Further to the west on that same creek, those same Balinese would bathe in the river, secluded behind the shade of large trees and vegetation, just as their ancestors had done there for millennia.

At nights from that balcony, I often heard neighborhood youth playing volleyball just behind some large palm trees that obscured the view of the Saab village. I, too, got up one morning and walked to the river, waded across, & trekked through the village of coconut trees, Hindu house temples and rice fields—before wading back over to the resort-side of the small valley.

One evening at dusk, as I finished my swim, I hear drums. I thought, ‘What was that?”
When I asked one of the local native school teachers, whose family I had invited over to enjoy a swim in the resort’s pool, what exactly that drumming was about.

That same physical education instructor nodded and shrugged, saying that the community was obviously calling to order the village meeting -- using the traditional instruments made throughout the region: drums.


Sadly, the situation for many Balinese and those living on neighboring islands, like Lombak which I also visited, remains depressed since the Bali bombings of the first part of this decade carried out in the southwest resort town of Kuta. Nearly 250 reported deaths occurred in that fateful September night 2002. There were likely more local deaths which went unreported as the poorer injured local victims simply went to their family’s hometowns to die--without making an official report to the police. (It is very important for the traditional Balinese to die and be buried in a local plot for 2 to 3 years—before official ceremonial cremation is carried out as part of the Hindu rites.)

Ostensibly, an extremist Islamic group from another corner of Indonesia was responsible for the bombing at the Kuta disco in 2002. Two years later there were further bombings. took place again in Kuta. Luckily, in 2006 there were no bombings in Bali. Alas, tourism was still way down —being just under 60% of the pre-bombing totals.

Worse still, just after I left Bali on December 21, the U.S. and Australian state departments warned their citizens to avoid Indonesia. The officials claimed that their were terrorist threats.

Undeterred, I determined to invest in a time-share on a neighboring island and will commit my tourist dollars to that beautiful and under-attack country for the next 25 years. (Further, as I do not want my timeshare to go under water, buying this property on an island commits me to fighting apathy related to global warming effects threatening all island states throughout the 21st Century. Hear Me, Congressmen! Pass legislation reducing Green House Gases and Global Warming NOW!)

[to be continued]


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Feast of the Holy Innocents and Ann Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

I started to read Ann Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt today, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28 ( on the Catholic church calendar). Rice’s bestseller starts with Jesus telling the story of an incident in Alexandria, Egypt, which had occurred when he was only 7 years old. In the episode, Jesus explains that, almost by accident, he kills a neighbor boy—a neighborhood bully, that is.

Let me explain, the 7-year old Jesus and his friends were playing a game—maybe like an ancient form of American football or Annie-Aye-Over. During the game, the much-large bully, named Eleazor, charges the young Jesus of Mary and Joseph. Jesus says to him, “You’ll never get where you are going.” [p. 3]

Immediately, the Bully Eleazor falls down in his tracks—dead. Naturally, there is an uproar in the neighborhood. The other kids and soon their parents are shouting, “He’s dead … He’s dead!” [p. 4]

Naturally, a few pages later, the young Jesus has visited the home of Eleazor’s family and he reaches out and touches the dead boy. Immediately, as Jesus relates, the Bully Eleazor jumps up and starts to pummel Jesus. While he is swinging away and jumping on the smaller Jesus, Eleazor over and again shouts, like a prophet of old, these three words, “Son of David.”

Anyone who has read Matthew 2:13 through 2:18 knows why and how Jesus and his carpenter family had ended up in Egypt. The explanation is found in the tale of how King Herod of Israel felt threatened by the birth of the King of Kings in lowly Bethlehem. After receiving word from the lord in a dream, Jesus’ father Joseph takes the family to Egypt.

That is why Ann Rice starts to tell her novel in Egypt. Later, in Matthew 2, we read that Joseph brings the family back to live in Israel—namely to Nazareth.

Importantly, Ann Rice, the author of this novel on Jesus’s life after Egypt, begins her narration by noting that earthly politics and social economics effect Jesus’family in Alexandria, too—just as they had in Israel. Within the first few pages, it is clear that others in the neighborhood in Egypt are jealous of the carpentry success of Jesus’ father, Joseph.

Joseph had recently won a lot of good contracts and the neighboring contractors, including the bullying boy Eleazor’s father, seek to use the incident of Jesus accidentally killing the bully as part of as a smear campaign to get other businessmen and families in Alexandria to stop dealing with Joseph’s (currently successful) family business as carpenter. In short, the actions of children can affect families.

I am writing you today as a member of the human family today and wish to return to Matthew 2 and remind you of how we are to treat children—an issue at Jesus’heart.


In the narration of Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ escape to Egypt in Matthew chapter 2, one learns of the tragic consequences of Herod’s political gambit to rid his kingdom of the Son of God or Messiah/Christ.

Like the Pharaoh in Egypt who ordered the execution of children in the time of Moses, Herod has all the boys under the age of 2-years killed in the land of Israel. This is the horrible event that the Catholic calendar date December 28 recognizes. Interestingly, this solemn occasion is given the positive sounding title: “Feast of the Holy Innocents”.

I recall the first time I ever actually celebrated the FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS. It was during my first years (1983-1984) in Europe while living and working on farms in France and Germany as an Intermenno Trainee (part of a work-homestay program organized with help of the Mennonite Churches in Europe). At the end of 1983, I had gone to Rome to see the Midnight Christmas Eve Mass led by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. It was a blessing and I felt like I had enjoyed the mass with kings—and I had: King Juan Carlos of Spain had been sitting only two rows in front of me.

However, by 5am that Christmas morning, I was sitting on a train for Switzerland, and I eventually made my way to the home of a Lutheran minister and his wife near Stuttgart. This religious couple, like many European citizens in autumn 1983, were very concerned with the possibility that a war might break out between East and West as a large number of nuclear war heads were being deployed across the continent at that time. [This is not unlike the tension I feel in Kuwait and my family in America (and Egypt) feel today when we note another set of wars and nuclear weapons stress taking place in the Middle East today, in 2003.]

By the way, I, myself, had already just been to Stuttgart in late October 1983--holding hands with the 240,000-plus peoples between Ulm and Stuttgart Germany one Saturday to protest the deployment of new nuclear weapons on the continent. However, I had not met this Lutheran minister and his wife at that junction.

Nonetheless, while at one of the peace demonstrations and during information sessions that weekend, I had received a few flyers about a planned demonstration at Vaihangen Air Force Base scheduled on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. I had decided that I would try my best to attend that ecumenical meeting of Christians and to let my voice be heard.

At the Lutheran couples home on Christmas night, I met a group of Peace Pilgrims who had just flown back from their months-long Peace Walk to Jerusalem. (In September 1983, the U.S. military had lost over 220 soldiers in Lebanon, where civil war was raging after an Israelis invasion the year before—otherwise the Peace Marchers would have walked the whole stretch by land to Israel via Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. However, the fighting had forced the Pilgrims to take a boat from Greece in order to bypass another slaughter of innocents in Lebanon that autumn 1983.) The next day there was a tremendous Concert in one of the great Lutheran structures in Stuttgart. The pacifist Peace Pilgrims and I attended the concert together. The following days, there were preparations made for the demonstration, including interviews with local and international press.

That somber musical program in the Lutheran church on the Second Christmas Day was the lead-on to a lot of news stories on the march at Vaihingen Air Force Base to mark the FEAST OF THE HOLY INNONCENTS that winter 1983. Sadly, some newspapers simply made fun of the Pilgrims and their ideals, i.e. trying to March for Peace--in Europe, during strife in the Middle East, and nuclear tensions throughout the Cold War world.

Since many of the Peace Pilgrims had studied in the religious and non-violent training center of Taize in France, one of the strongest pacifists in the group, a women, was simply mislabeled “Joanne D’arc” by the newspapers. They did this simply because of her blonde hair and because she was the only female pilgrim undertaking the Peace March to and from Jerusalem that year. They ignored the fact that she took no sword in hand but simply felt called by God to work and march for peace.

Despite the great derision shown in the local German and international media, more than a thousand people showed up at the Vaihangen Air Force Base on that December 28, 1983. Some, including the Lutheran minister’s wife, were prepared to be arrested for crossing to the fence directly at the base entrance to hand symbols of peace there.

These thousand were not only prepared to commemorate the Feast of the Holy Innocents by protesting the world’s leaders’ blind faith and usage of national moneys to support the global arms build-up of the Reagan-Breschnev eras, they set out to share many others symbols of peace and childhood. They sought not just to protest but to paint a positive picture of the world when the militaries would not take money from the world’s poorest and least powerful citizens—its children.

This Lutheran couple, whom had served in Indonesia as missionaries in the 1960s before the Suharto massacres had killed nearly a million Indonesians in that poor archipelago (mostly in the name of Cold War), had been collecting letters from children around the globe to hang on the fence of that Vaihangen military base for several months. Similarly, children’s toys were donated and collect for the occasion of FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS.

These toys and other symbols of childhood were also hung up with the children’s letters asking for peace on the fences of that base U.S. military base that day as all of the participant marchers took turns commemorating the lives and deaths of children on that Feast of the Holy Innocents.

In short, like Joshua and the trumpets (and our trumpets were certainly only children’ toys that December 28, 1983), we marched around the base at Vaihangen and prayed for an end to the insane arms race that would soon cripple the Soviet Union and leave Bushites and Reaganites in charge of U.S. foreign policy and military planning for decades to come. (In other words, the combined Reagan and Bushes’military buildups have impoverished children in America and left starving & undereducated billions of lttle-ones around the globe over the past 25-plus years. For this, we need to continue to mourn this December 28.)

For this reason, I ask you all to commemorate this Feast of the Holy Innocents by searching for a way to help children—maybe donate to an orphanage, a school or some other institution around the world. ( I just donated to an orphanage through HOPE Worldwide in Indonesia.) Or, feel free to commit yourself to be a volunteer tutor or big brother/big sister to a needy child as soon as possible.

Stand up and say “NO” to complacency and “YES” to Peace in 2007. By marching for peace and focusing on education and peace activities, we can bring down more walls than either Joshua did in the old testament or the East Germans did in 1989—i.e. when their peaceful demonstrations mimicked our cries for Justice, Human Rights, and Human Development back on December 28, 1983 in Vaihangen, Germany.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006



A few days ago, upon my return to Kuwait from Indonesia, I listened to a great discussion on DEMOCRACY NOW (December 21, 2006 Thursday). This is an extremely important discussion because it asks the basic question of whether the U.S. Congress--which in accordance with the creation and plans of our 19th Century founding forefathers has control over funding the Presidents foreign affairs—in 2007 will finally begin to do its job. In the 21st Century would be a very important opportunity development as American citizens need to see a roll-back of the “blank check” that the 2001-2002 Congress passed after 9-11. This legislation basically allowed George W. Bush (and his boss, Dick Cheney) to invade any country in the name of fighting terrorism—regardless as to what the real facts on the ground are as-related-to-threat actually posed to the U.S.

The discussants on that DN episode were Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter. Seymour Hersh is the hero of journalism who exposed the Abu Ghraib scandal and numerous other crimes by the government henchmen related to invading Iraq and carrying out media manipulation, esp. by the Cheney-Bush Administration or Fox News network. Scott Ritter is the former American marine and U.S. weapons inspector who spoke out against the false propaganda and reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in Spring 2003.

What follows is a reprint of part of the discussion that warns American citizens of how serious the problem will be if we don’t get the Executive Branch of government behaving sensibly in 2007. (Brackets are mine):

SEYMOUR HERSH: … Let me ask him one more question. One last question, which is, OK, briefly, [imagine] we go to war. We begin a massive bombing campaign. Take your pick. Odds are it’s going to be systematic, at least three days of intense bombing, decapitation probably, which -- that is one of the things you do when you begin a bombing attack, like we did against Saddam twice and like the Israelis did against Hezbollah when they targeted Nasrallah. And I think we and the Israelis are now 0-for-8, almost as bad as Shrummy and his elections. But anyway, so the question then is -- we go to war -- tell us what happens next, in your view.

SCOTT RITTER: Well, it’s, you know -- it’s almost impossible to be 100% correct, but I’ll give you my best analysis. The Iranians will use the weapon that is the most effective weapon, because the key for Iran -- you know, Iran can’t afford, if this -- remember, the regime wants to stay in power, so they can’t afford a strategy that gets the American people to recognize three years in that, oops, we made a mistake. I mean, if that was Saddam’s strategy, it failed for him, because he’s out of power. Yeah, we realize we made a mistake now in Iraq, but the regime is gone. So the Iranians realize that they have to inflict pain upfront. The pain is not going to be inflicted militarily, because we're not going to commit numbers of ground forces on the ground that can cause that pain. The pain will come economically.

Our oil-based economy is operating on the margins, as we speak. We only have 1.0% to 1.5% excess production capacity. If you take the Iranian oil off the market, which is the first thing the Iranians will do, we automatically drop to around minus-4%, which means there ain’t enough oil out there to support the globe’s thirst for oil, especially America’s thirst for oil. And we're not the only ones drinking it? You think for a second the Chinese and the Indians, the world’s two largest developing economies, are going to say, “Hey, Uncle Sam, we’ll put everything on hold, so we can divert oil resources, so you can feed your oil addiction, because you attacked Iran”?

And it’s not just Iranian oil that will go off the market. Why do you think we sent minesweepers up there? We’ve got to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. The Iranians will shut it down that quick. They’ll also shut down oil production in the western oil fields of Saudi Arabia. They’ll shut down Kuwaiti oil production. They’ll shut down oil production in the United Arab Emirates. They’ll shut down whatever remaining oil production there is in Iraq. They’ll launch a massive attack using their Shia proxies in Iraq against American forces.

That will cause bloodshed.

The bottom line is, within two days of our decision to initiate an attack on Iran, every single one of you is going to be feeling the consequences of that in your pocketbook. And it’s only going to get worse. This is not something that only I recognize. Ask Dick Lugar what information he’s getting from big business, who are saying, “We can’t afford to go to war with Iran.”

When asked whether they thought the U.S. executive branch is headed towards a war—a war nobody (not even the Israeli) wants--with Iran in the next 12-month’s or so, both these experts—Ritter and Hersh--agreed that it would appear so. The current administration has not learned a single lesson about what the public desires!

This is to say: Unless either [1] Israeli lobbies in the U.S. persuade the Bush administration to change course or [2] the U.S. Congress withdraws the purse strings for making war on Iran and in other corners of the region.

For this reason, I think it is not too early to get in contact with your Congressmen and tell him or her:


I fear Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and all oil-producing regions near Iran would be adversely effected by any U.S. shooting in the direction of Iraq. In turn, for all other powers on the planet, insecurity is the only likely result of another U.S. misadventure. That is, economic-, social-, and political insecurity will haunt us all for decades if the Executive Branch isn’t brought in line by a Congress finally holding it to account, i.e. stopping its unlimited WAR CHEST.

By some analysts the costs of the Iraq war so far have already reached one trillion dollars and long-term spending will be more than triple that. Congressional analysts say the Iraq War is costing 2 billion dollars a week.

Body counts in Iraq 2003-2006 are in the hundreds of thousands.

Question: What good will expanding the war(s) by the U.S. executive branch be? Answer: NONE

Peruse these and related sites:


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Teacher: WHAT WE SHOULD ALL BE DOING THIS TIME OF YEAR--an invitation for all in Kuwait to volunteer more and more

Monday, December 04, 2006

WHAT WE SHOULD ALL BE DOING THIS TIME OF YEAR--an invitation for all in Kuwait to volunteer more and more

Over this past weekend, I was blessed with an opportunity to help a needy person as follows.

I was home in my flat here in Kuwait on my day off. Suddenly, I heard a knock on my door. Too my surprise, it was from an unknown elderly Bengladeshi woman, wearing a black hijab. She explained that she worked in a local factory in Mahboula township. She said she didn't have enough money. Her face was old and withered--and she was quite thin.

She spoke to me in Arabic--which I could barely understand. She mentioned something about not having money.

I then asked her to sit in a chair while I first looked around for either some gifts or cash for her.

Not wishing to turn the old woman away—especially as I don't often find NEED knocking so clearly on my door--, I went to my kitchen and soon came up with about 20 pounds of goods, including a large unopened 5-kilo package of rice, some fresh fruit and canned vegetables.

As I returned to the front entrance of my flat where the aged woman was seated, this aged female worker jumped up and eagerly took the large bag of rice and other goods out of my hands. Then she smiled.

I had been afraid till that point that, being so old, frail and exhausted-looking, this poor elderly woman would not be able to carry the two bags I had ready for her.

However, after thanking me, she looked refreshed and almost skipped quickly out the door--touting the goods with a great joy in her steps.


Civil society and voluntary charity participation in Kuwait is at a minimum these days—although the needs here are often great. One major reason for this lack of participation is that it is widely believed that one needs to have official permission to organization most activities. It is also believed that forming such a group requires having special government connection.

Nonetheless, there are both a few legal and a few informal bodies in this country who do, in fact, privately help the many immigrants to this multicultural state.

One exception to this trend of lack of volunteerism in Kuwait is the recently (2005) founded: Operation Hope-Kuwait. See information on it at .

According to the Operation Hope website, the group had been set up to guide a “mission that seeks to Help Others Practically & Evangelically [hence HOPE] by providing gifts of coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and socks for those less fortunate during the colder season in Kuwait & to share the love of God by serving them” Operation Hope seeks to serve the poorest in Kuwait, many of whom might often earn less than U.S. $150 a month in an otherwise, resource-wealthy land.

Operation Hope-Kuwait is also seeking volunteers and donors to fulfill their mission of aiding the poor, and it is holding another year-end drive now as the coldest weather from both Asia and the desert invade this coastal oil-boom land each winter


In contrast, in America, where I grew up, there were very many opportunities for young people to learn how to volunteer and help others in their own community or around the globe. For example, I recall that we participated as teenagers in fundraising walks of awareness against poverty, such as in the CROP Walk. See for more info on this way of helping others.

Later, in college, I participated in Special Olympics as a hugger—of all things

Over the years, I have also volunteered in soup kitchens and in townships in the wake of tornadoes, with such organizations as the Mennonite Disaster [Relief] Service:

I share this message now in December 2006 as another Eid (Holy period and celebration in the Islamic calendar) and the Christmas holiday are only a few weeks away. It is at this time that All of Us are asked to not only celebrate—but more importantly to not forget the poorer and needy of this world.

I also write this as a special encouragement for all my former Kuwait students at Gulf University. I ask them to reach out more and more to the poor of this world and, thus leave a positive impression on others in this society—who are often criticizing the youth of today for not showing much concern and respect for others.

In a series of discussions I have had with young adults in Kuwait, I have learned that many young people have certainly felt inclined to volunteer and aid others in their own civil society and even go abroad and volunteer assistance to others. However, there are almost no networks where young people can turn to, in order to get advice or training as to how to work with handicapped, sick in hospitals and other needy peoples in this country. This is certainly a neglected part of the educational process in a nation with the highest per capita income of any nation on earth. [Admittedly, there is among Kuwaitis also wariness--or an underlying fear--that such organized charities may be fronts for the few sinister and extremist Islamic causes!!!]

I encourage you (all these former young Middle Eastern students of mine) to step out of your routines and find out how to be legally volunteer and incorporate yourself as an NGO volunteers active in Kuwait, in order to make this land of yours a better place for all to live in!

I also certainly encourage other throughout the Middle East to try and make a special effort to help the poor in 2007, too.