I miss you, Allie

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Allie & Piffy, both gone

It is customary in life to remind ourselves of important events through anniversaries. Some are obligatory, which we mark on a calendar, while others are permanently etched into the stony foundation of our minds, whether through joy or pain. Today is such a day for me, for ten years ago this very day, I awoke to find my precious love Allie dead on our bathroom floor. An accidental but lethal combination of opiates and cough medicine shut down her breathing, and she passed quietly and gently through the veil. She was 41.

It’s not fair that I would go on to live another decade and have to do so without her, but I have. And now I sit here looking back at the joy she was to me and how very lucky I was to have been loved by her. Alicia Faith Smith was a tough as nails reporter with a grace under fire that all of those who worked with her knew well. With me, however, she was innocent and sweet, and she approached every moment with a joyful, golly-gee energy that was priceless and wonderful. I wish everyone could have known that about her. She was goofy and funny, and she leaned on me for a steadiness that grounded her every adventure. In her, I knew the truth of unconditional love.

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Christmas 2005

She was my Allie, and there’ll never be another like her. My favorite picture of her hangs over my shoulder, and I look at it often. I remember the moment it was taken. She comes to me in the night season, in dreams to quiet my sometimes troubled soul. I see her in the sunrise and feel her in the energy before a storm. Every dragonfly reminds me of her, for she had a special bond with these creatures. Her kisses were so sweet, and I miss especially the closeness I felt when lying with her. I read the Bible to her every night, and she would always whine and beg for “another chapter.” She called me “Papi,” and she was my papoose.

While my memories of this day are mostly sad, the outpouring of love that day from my online community was just remarkable, and it wouldn’t be right for me to note this anniversary without that. Alicia knew many, many people, and the love expressed for her and me that day was truly incredible. This was before Facebook, Twitter, and all we know as “social” media. My blog post that day received nearly 300 comments, and those thoughts sustained me through what was a horrible 24 hours.

If you knew Allie, you were lucky. She had a way of touching everybody she met, and the world was a better place with her in it.

I’ll see you soon, my precious papoose, where there’ll be no end to the extra chapters. Until then, I will always love you and miss you.

IDF Sergeant charged with manslaughter

The shooter, Elor Azraya

The shooter, Elor Azraya

This is important, because it’s the first time in ten years that the Israelis have issued the charge in a killing that took place during field operations. According to Haaretz, Elor Azraya is being charged in the death of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif on a street in Hebron. In a report here on the shooting, I showed frame-by-frame how Sergeant Azraya raised his weapon and executed al-Sharif as the Palestinian, barely conscious, lay bleeding on the street.

Haaretz reported that “Sgt E,” as they referenced Azraya, was heard prior to the shooting to say that al-Sharif “deserved to die” for taking part in the stabbing of another IDF soldier.

The shooting by Sgt. E. was filmed by a volunteer with the human rights group B’Tselem, and the film made wide rounds on social and mainstream media. The pathology report later confirmed that it was Sgt. E.’s shot caused Sharif’s death …

The killing lit a political firestorm with many Israelis hailing Azraya a hero. A major rally in his defense is scheduled for today.

A report from the Chinese news service Xinhua contains quotes from the indictment:

“The soldier took several steps towards the terrorist, aimed at his head and fired a single bullet from short range,” according to the indictment.

“The defendant did this in contradiction with the rules of engagement and without operational justification,” the indictment added.

Initially, the prosecutors said the 19-year-old soldier was investigated for murder, but they later changed that to manslaughter.

This case is one of the most egregious examples of extrajudicial execution ever caught on tape, and the Israeli government is acting according. An indictment, however, is a long way from an execution.

The eaves of my mind

Alicia Faith Heaton at WAAY-TV reunion, 2003

Alicia Faith Heaton at WAAY-TV reunion, 2003

My three score and ten arrives this summer, and I find myself thinking thoughts that percolate in the dark eaves of my mind, where Life accumulates a certain waste from the flows and streams entertained for all those years. It’s a strange and not-so-friendly place, for it contains the things left undone, the words unsaid, the love withheld, the pain of sorrow, the pain of loss, the sadness of certain memories, the buried tears, the squandered hours, the unkept promises, the people I’ve used, the relationships that shriveled, the bridges burned, the unexplored dreams, and the regrets, those awful regrets. I don’t often visit this place, because it looks backwards, and I’ve lived my life on the opposite side of the here and now, in the future where anxiety has forced my attention since very early on. These eaves are also home to a type of quicksand that empties into the Slough of Despond, a miserable condition known as self-pity. Poor me.

But three score and ten means there’s not much left to worry about, and I’ve reached that place where the view of my life is almost entirely looking backwards, and honestly, I don’t care much for what I see.

The broken hearts are all in that waste swamp, and who wants to be reminded of the countless times I let somebody down? The pain of loss is there, too, and the bitterness of expectations not fulfilled. The darkest realization, though, is the speed with which it all has gone past and the unrelenting pace at which the hourglass empties on the road ahead. It’s not so much scary to face one’s mortality, but it can be profoundly sad.

There are those who will suggest that I’ve wrestled more out of Life than most and that I should be grateful. On a certain level I know that’s true, but the price I’ve paid physically, emotionally, and spiritually has been high, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. It also feels sadly delusional, for a man isn’t the measure of what he’s gained; it’s about the character he demonstrated in the process, and that’s where I’ve failed most often. There are no failures of talent, the old saying goes, only character.

“That which I would do,” the apostle Paul wrote, “I do not, and that which I would do not, I do. O wretched man that I am. Who can deliver me from this bond of death?” Only one who has been there can fully appreciate the depth of the misery that Paul addresses in this passage. Thank God for recovery, because at least I’ve made an effort to make amends. I’ve experienced the spiritual awakening of recovery, and I know what it’s like to change the way I react to certain people, places, and events.

As such, I’ve learned that the rear view mirror isn’t one of total darkness, although at this stage of life, our regrets do seem able to cast shadows over the light we’ve known, and that’s what I really want to talk about today. The light; yes, the light. That’s what it’s all about. Like the bluegrass band Balsam Range sings, thank God for the Trains I Missed:

It’s a big old world, but I found my way
From the hell and the hurt
That led me straight to this.
Here’s to the trains I missed.

I must agree that the light I’ve known is sufficient to overcome the darkness of those thoughts that linger in the eaves of my mind. Everything in life has two sides, and we always have choices. I cannot see the past truthfully without considering those things that gave me the opposite of sorrow, those events that produced a kind of euphoria that, although often brief, took my breath away in a reminder that I was always right where I was supposed to be in that moment. I’ve had many of those, and likely so have you. It’s amazing how hard we try to duplicate such and how impossible the task actually is, which is, again, why it’s so important to live in the moment. It’s the only way we can avoid taking such for granted, to not squander the hours that might have been worthwhile, to keep the memory eaves flowing smoothly with fresh water.

My greatest joys and greatest shames have come in my relationships with others, especially women. I “was” a misogynistic womanizer in an attempt to overcome something awful that happened to me as a child, and I used a lot of people in the process. I’m not proud of that, but I’ve been forgiven (by most) for it. As a man, the ultimate shame of youth is a lack of knowledge or experience in matters of sex. It is THE strongest of shame messages transmitted to teenage boys by the culture, and overcoming this is paramount in resolving much of the gender conflict of today. For young men, this knowledge must be acquired in secret, for one is “expected” to know without the public or parental embarrassment of being taught. This is not just an issue that impacts women, for victimization isn’t reserved for the female gender.

Most people – especially those who’ve seen me take over a conference session with my personality or seen me on any stage with my guitar or banjo – don’t realize that I’m actually quite an introvert; INFJ or INFP according to Myers-Briggs. Who knew, right? I qualify as a “highly sensitive person,” too, and I’m happy to stay that way, because I wouldn’t trade a connection with The Unbroken Web for anything. I think sensitivity is a gift that is underrated in our self-centered culture. I believe artists today are the true prophets of God, for that is the task of those with the sensitivity to hear God’s voice. And yes, God does talk to people today, even though Christianity reserves that for “the Word.” The problem is that only the listener is able to discern the voice of God, not the speaker.

But let’s get back to that light. It shined brightest for me in the person of Alicia Smith. The tenth anniversary of her death is upcoming in a couple of weeks, and I think about her throughout every day. That will never change, although what I’m remembering is different than what it’s been throughout those years. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get sad about losing her from time-to-time, but today’s most common memory is how lucky I was to have been in love with her. Read the haunting words of Alison Krauss from her hit, A Simple Love, and you’ll understand:

I want a simple love like that
Always giving, never askin’ back
For when I’m in my final hour lookin’ back
I hope I had a simple love like that

I’m proud to say that, yes, I had a simple love like that once. She quieted all my fears and taught me that I was, indeed, lovable. Allie was my gift from God, who loaned her to me for a sadly too short season, so that we could hold each other and know that we both were loved. One day, I’ll write our story, for my true wish for younger people is that they, too, would find such a simple love.

The here and now is all that truly matters today, and the only problem with that for me is the speed with which it races by. I’m told it’s illusionary that time gets faster as one gets older; it’s simply my perception, because every year I accumulate shortens the relative length of any single year, and that’s why a moment today is but a scant wisp of a moment from my youth. Or perhaps the computer in my head simply takes longer to register a single moment, because I always seem to be trying to catch up.

John Pavlovitz writes often of experiencing the moment. He’s one of my favorite Christian writers, and he recently found himself looking back once again:

We are all having a near death experience in this life.

As we breathe, eat, sing, work, laugh, argue, sleep and do all manner of seemingly ordinary living, we do it all just an onion skin’s thinness from the threshold to whatever awaits us beyond this place.

In our most mundane and uneventful moments we are tightly pressed up against the edge of eternity.

This truth, he writes, “snaps me out of the sedated autopilot experience I so often operate within.” That’s what I’m hoping to leave with each of you in posting this today.

Scott Peck opens his wonderful book The Road Less Traveled with a simple declaration:

Life is hard.

The real danger of hanging around those eaves for too long is that I begin to think that I am somehow unique in the experience of difficulties in life. That’s a trap, for life is hard for everybody. And those difficulties are nothing compared to all that Life has to give.

The light. Love yourselves, my friends.

Applying a Postmodern context

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Current events continue to reveal what our culture is up against as the age of Postmodernism continues to unfold and expand. This vision is so clear to me that I see things that others don’t, and while I’m sure some people view that statement as arrogance gone to seed, it would be foolish of me to deny reality. The problem most folks have with this is a lack of context with which to view ongoing events.

Premodernism: I believe, therefore I understand.
Disruption: The printing press.
Modernism: I think and reason, therefore I understand.
Disruption: The internet.
Postmodernism: I participate, therefore I understand.

The single, most important difference between Modernism and Postmodernism is that the former is hierarchical while the latter is horizontal. This produces an inherent conflict, and while these conflicts can be obvious, they don’t mean anything other than just news items unless and until they are put into the context of a significant cultural shift.

For example, here’s a cute story about 9-year old reporter Hilde Kate Lysiak breaking a murder story ahead of the local press. Ha-ha. Funny, huh? No, this is heavy-duty stuff in light of the culture change. Miss Lysiak has her own printing press – a.k.a. website – and considers herself a journalist. Here’s the way the Washington Post put it.

As the editor and publisher of the Orange Street News, in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pa., about 50 miles north of Harrisburg, Lysiak is a dedicated multi-media journalist who loves going after crime stories. Her father is an author and former New York Daily News reporter who took Hilde to his newsroom and to stories he covered around New York and hooked her on the rush of chasing news.

“I just like letting people know all the information,” Hilde said Monday. It’s also what she sees as her career, no matter what stupid adults might say about the future of journalism. “It’s just what I really want to do. And crime is definitely my favorite.” She said she learned of the murder story because “I got a good tip from a source and I was able to confirm it.” Well, that’s how it works.

When community members squawked on Facebook that a 9-year old has no business reporting on such, Miss Lysiak went ballistic: “If you want me to stop covering news, then you get off your computers and do something about the news. There, is that cute enough for you?”

Meanwhile, across the sea, two people described as “freelance multimedia journalists” produced a video about Israel bulldozing Bedouin homes and a school in the occupied territories, presumably to one day build Israeli settlements on the land.

And of course, the big story worldwide this weekend was the release of what are being called “the Panama Papers” from an unknown whistleblower. Wired reported that the cache of documents leaked was enormous:

”In total, the leak contains: 4.8 million emails, three million database entries, two million PDFs, one million images and 320,000 text documents. The dataset is bigger than any from Wikileaks, or the Edward Snowden disclosures.”

So the whistleblower – presumably someone with access to the knowledge of the “business” dealings of the Panamanian law firm that was the source of the documents – was able to transfer these files to investigative reporters around the world via the same network that makes participation in the distribution of knowledge files possible in the first place. This has nowhere to go but up, and if you’re involved in some hierarchical dealings that you’d rather not your underlings know about, I’d be pretty damned nervous about what’s going on in this “Age of Participation.”

Technology may be providing the means, but it’s the culture’s rebellion against hierarchies that is providing the heat for the Postmodern awakening. The press, in the form of a 9-year old neighborhood reporter, freelance multimedia journalists in the Middle East, or whistleblowers distributing confidential business documents, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of disruptions to modern western culture. Every complex organization will be impacted, because the view from the top is no longer private, and as I wrote long ago, every day that an average person uses the internet, they become more and more disruptive. This principle shows no sign of slowing down, as long as the Web remains open. Efforts to close it – through government or privatization – are already beginning to appear, for example, with net neutrality threats.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Those who have eyes to see, let them see.

Another postmodern signpost – banks

Here we go again.

A new Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions (GPS) report on how financial technology is disrupting banks provides another look for us into our rapidly ascending postmodern future. According to the report, mobile distribution will be the main channel of interaction between customers and the bank, which will mean a dramatically reduced need for bank branches. This will lead to the loss of 1.8 million employees between now and 2015, down a whopping 40-50% from its peak in 2007.

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An article in Business Insider referencing the report compares it to earlier projections:

That’s in line with former Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins’ recent prediction that pressure from the tech industry “will compel banks to significantly automate their business” and “that the number of branches and people may decline by as much as 50% over the next years.”

The CITI report suggests that as more and more transactions move to mobile, there will be a “rebalancing of staff from transaction-based roles to advisory-based roles,” but I don’t believe such jobs will pay as much. As such, I’m not certain this “rebalancing” will make much difference for those out of work.

This is downside of the Great Horizontal, when it’s viewed from a strictly modernist, top-down perspective. These bank executives know that reduced expenses mean increased profits, so their concern about employees is disingenuous, at best. They will be surprised when faced with the granular investment opportunities that will occur along the bottom of their top-down paradigm, and then the real postmodern disruption of the banking institution will begin. A modernist culture requires banks, but I’m not convinced they will be at all relevant as the twenty-first century moves along.

One thing is absolutely certain: making a living will be completely redefined, and the time to start thinking about that is today.

Remember the name: Emad Abu Shamsiya

The mainstream press won’t do this, so I will and proudly.

Regular readers know that I am a supporter of Palestinian rights and a staunch anti-Zionist. I have Palestinian family that lives in Amman, so my view is outside the mainstream. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, and therein is the problem, for supporters of Israel must believe they are one in the same. They are not, and the events that take place in the region daily are badly – and deliberately – distorted by influential groups who are manipulating truth for their own gain. This is especially true in the United States, where we send staggering resources in support of an Israeli government that is badly out of control. It’s the duty of certain American evangelical Christians to look the other way, because they believe Zionism is Biblical prophecy fulfilled. With such a belief in place, it’s necessary to deny any narrative that disputes this, no matter how logical, reasonable, or validated it may be. So deeply held is this belief that their ears are utterly shut to all but the Israeli narrative.

The irony of this is that Zionism – which was born of a response to the Holocaust – has produced in Israel a clone of the Warsaw Ghetto from which the Jews fled in the first place. This ghetto is where Israel “allows” Palestinians to live in the occupied territories, a euphemism for land the Israelis possess illegally. Israel wants all of that land for itself, and American Christians support it, because God promised them everything from the sea to the Jordan River. Of course, this promise was tied to righteousness, which is nowhere to be found in the current State of Israel. But I digress.

The shooter, Elor Azraya

The shooter, Elor Azraya

I’m a reader of Mondoweiss, a publication that reports about the Middle East from a perspective that asks hard questions about the Zionist narrative. Well-intentioned Americans may think of the daily events in these territories as reflecting on our own “wild west,” but the law in the west never sanctioned extrajudicial executions of outlaws by lawmen. This is why a disturbing video by Emad Abu Shamsiya last Thursday of such an execution in the streets of the Hebron ghetto has raised such alarm. The photo to the right is Elor Azraya, a young Israeli soldier who executed a wounded, immobile, unarmed, and incapacitated Palestinian named Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif. According to the Israelis, the victim and an accomplice had stabbed another Israeli soldier.

The shooter, Azraya, claims he thought the victim might have had a bomb and shot him when the semi-conscious man moved. This documented event is causing turmoil not only in the occupied territories but on the streets elsewhere, for we have seen this kind of atrocity coming for months. Azraya’s real crime was getting caught on video, but even his lawyer says it was justified, that Azraya “acted in accordance with the rules of engagement as suggested by his superiors.” Mondoweiss reported recently that “the practice of Israeli medics abandoning triage protocol is increasingly prevalent and has support among medical professionals and some in the government.” The abandonment of internationally recognized triage protocols means death for the Palestinians, and death outside judicial oversight.

I’ve seen the video a dozen times. Here, I’ve isolated frames of the video, so that you can see for yourself what happened. This is murder in the streets, in a ghetto created by Israelis to support its expansionism.

The Palestinian is on the ground (arrow), just beyond an ambulance that is moving slowly. Azraya is circled. He’s speaking with another soldier who some suggest is a superior. Watch what happens, and note the two soldiers closest to the Palestinians. They are talking on the phone and are 3-4 feet away, and yet they do not suspect any sort of threat.

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This is the frame in which the gunshot rings out and the man on the ground’s head explodes. After the ambulance passes, we see streams of blood flowing from the man’s head. It’s hard to watch and not be affected.

Mondoweiss interviewed the man who shot the video a few months ago as part of an ongoing series of reports about life in the Hebron ghetto. He has been threatened many times, and especially since the release of the above video last week. The latest insult today comes from two Israeli Hebron settlers who suggest that the shoe cobbler who shot the video was acting in concert with the two dead Palestinian attackers in the hopes of capturing on video exactly what he did. They call it “naive” to think otherwise:

Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bentzi Gopstein, far-right settlers and followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, have filed a complaint with Israeli police against Emad Abu Shamsiya, the Palestinian videographer who captured the execution of an incapacitated Palestinian suspect in Hebron.

In their letter to the police, they claim that Abu Shamsiya’s presence during the killing is no coincidence, but was coordinated with the alleged attack in order to capture damning video.

Remember the name Emad Abu Shamsiya – the shoemaker. He will be in the news again.

And so the story advances, with only one side being told in the West. The Israelis have charged the shooter with murder, but there is no evidence whatsoever that he will be held accountable, despite the public pronouncement of Israeli leaders. This is simply political chest-beating, while the real story takes place in the streets, where shoot-to-kill is the order. Such is the dehumanization of Zionism’s opponents.

And if you can get quiet enough, you’ll hear the voices of the brave Jews from the ghetto of Warsaw crying out in shame, “How could you?”