Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Little Foxes

"Catch for us the little foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom."  Solomon

In the last little while I've had the opportunity to have a discussion with a lawyer concerning the use of Sharia law in the United States courts.  Now we all know that lawyers live on their own planet, and some of them actually think that planet is Earth.  If you've ever been involved in any legal procedure at all, you've probably found that legal interpretations make little sense to the average person.  Justice is blind, they say.  Sometimes she's deaf, too.

Sharia law is quite involved, just as American law is; I'd almost bet my house that this lawyer doesn't understand or know the complexities of Sharia law.  The situation we discussed was one involving a mosque in Florida, the current leaders, and a group of ex-trustees of said mosque.  The disupte between these two groups involved a sum of money obtained from an eminent domain settlement.  This is a civil suit, not a criminal case, and the two groups agreed to a mediation by the Florida court.  The current leaders appealed a decision by the court to use Sharia law to settle the dispute, and the result of the appeal was for the case "to proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law."  According to the court order, the remainder of the hearing will be to determine if Islamic dispute resolution procedures have been followed.

The thinking of the lawyer is understandable:  this decision does not preclude the use of US law, and the case is between two groups of Muslims.  My question is why it is being heard in a Florida court if a decision is to be rendered on procedures of Islamic law?  Procedures are provided in Sharia law for such a disagreement:  if Islamic brothers cannot resolve a disagreement, they should go before the members of the mosque or the greater Islamic community.  If that is not successful, the case can be heard by an Islamic judge.  The current leaders of the Florida mosque apparently did not want to proceed under Islamic law; they sued in a Florida court.  Now the appeals judge has agreed to hear the case, but pursuant to Islamic law.  If the mosque leaders had wanted the case to be settled using Islamic law, why would they have sued in a Florida court? 

The lawyer who shared his thoughts with me (including whether I had the ability to read) felt it was ridiculous and paranoid of me to think that this case indicated that Sharia law was creeping into US court systems.  It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you. 

Sharia law covers many aspects of life, including banking and finance.  Business is conducted through partnerships, rather than corporations.  Equity is shifted over time between institution and client, with the individual accepting equal consequences in losses as well as gains.  According to James Crotty in the Cambridge Journal of Economics, Islamic financial and investment models are flourishing and taking root even in the West as Western corporations collapse. 

I admit it.  Sharia law scares me.  When a political party tried to introduce Sharia law in Turkey, courts dissolved the political party in 1998, saying that democracy is the antithesis of Sharia.  The party appealed to the European Court of Human Rights which ruled that Sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy. 

As a woman, I find Sharia exceptionally distressing.  Under Islamic law, women come out on the wrong end of honor killings, female genital mutilation, adolescent marriages, polygamy, and gender-biased inheritance rules.  Statistics are impossible to determine in these areas, but the National Geographic reports that the UN says that thousands of women are murdered annually in family honor killings.  In a National Geographic documentary Michael Davie reported that every day at least three women (including victims of rape) are victims of honor killings in Pakistan.  One example cited involved a mentally impaired girl who was killed in front of the village tribunal.  Just Google "honor killings" to read about the atrocities, including the increasing occurrences in Muslim families in the US.

The National Geographic article says that being labelled culturally insensitive inhibits the United States and the media from reporting these murders as honor killings.  Hmmm.  Seems I just read a book about Nazi Germany in the 1930s which said that the US did not intervene in the German government's abuse of its citizens because the US did not want to appear intrusive and heavy-handed.  Besides, the German government owed us money.

Then there are the stories about the Muslims who want the entire world to be ruled by Sharia law. About three years ago the Archbishop of Canterbury in Great Britain suggested that Sharia law should be a component in British law.  CBS News reports that at that time the British government quietly authorized Sharia judges to rule on divorces, financial disputes, and domestic violence cases, taking the place of legal solutions in the British courts.  The report indicates that Sharia law is only binding in Britain if both parties agree.  Ahhhhh!!  Just like in the Florida civil suit. 

NPR reports that US courts already recognize and enforce Sharia law in commercial contracts, divorce settlements, and wills.  But in the same article Clark Lombardi is quoted as saying that we're not going to see violent, retaliatory enforcement of Sharia because it's inconsistent with our public policy, but our system is similar to the one in use in Britain.  US law supersedes religious agreements if these agreements are based on tenents not congruent with our laws. 

Now consider the rhetoric of one British citizen, Anjem Choudary, who has vowed that the "flag of Islam" will fly over the White House.  He tried to organize a demonstration in Washington, but couldn't make it because he is on a no-fly list and was thus unable to travel to the US.  He and the extremist group, Islamic Thinkers Society (based in New York), called the demonstration "a rally, a call for the Sharia, a call for the Muslims to rise up and establish the Islamic state in America."  Choudary also said, "I think the American people's hearts and minds are open to receive Islam as an alternative way of life."  Well,  maybe in the case of a certain lawyer mentioned above and a judge in Florida. 

Another statment of Choudary's concerning Sharia in Britain:  "We are going to go to all these same areas and implement our own Sharia-controlled zones.  We want to run the area as a Sharia-controlled zone and really to put the seeds down for an Islamic Emirate in the long term."

The little foxes are the ones who eat the grapes, a few at a time, and eventually the vineyard is destroyed.  First, we decide contract issues according to Sharia, if both parties agree.  Then a woman's divorce is settled according to Sharia.  Before we know it, American citizens are demanding Sharia controlled zones.  Then democracy dies. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Walking in the Tiergarten

Children called him Uncle Dolph.  Generals called him fuehrer.  The world called him monster. 

Back when the History Channel actually had programs about history, it aired so many programs on Nazi Germany that we called it the Hitler channel.  We learned about Hitler's family, Hitler's women, Hitler's health, Hitler's art.  It's difficult to study and read about the leader of the Nazis without wondering how shopkeepers and bank clerks and mechanics succumbed to the charismatic leader of the Nazi party.  They all but worshipped him.  They lined up to die for him. 

I am deeply interested in finding out in what kind of world this phenomenon could take place.  Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts sketches a view of pre-World War II Berlin when Europe was on edge.  The story is a personal one about an American family who moved to Berlin but were completely unprepared for Hitler's brutal ascent to power.

In the introduction Larson refers to photographs of the era, black and white photographs that fail to catch the vitality of the spirit of the times and what life looked like.  This book sprints into the reality of life in Berlin with walks in the Tiergarten, outings to the countryside, and parties in the garden.  Reality also included parades of Storm Troopers, assaults on Americans, and late night visits from the Gestapo.  The book refers to the pervasive fear even within the Gestapo where everyone was under suspicion.  One Gestapo officer was advised by his superior to always walk up a stair well against the wall because this would make it difficult for someone to get a clear shot at him from above.  Which was the true Berlin: the "gemuetlich" city with the feel of a neighborly small town where people adored their dogs and horses or the murderous web of national plots ready to cleanse the society of anyone not fitting the Aryan model?

One screaming aspect of Nazi Germany is how un-Aryan the leaders were.  None of them fit the Aryan perfection they sought to secure for the country.  They were middle-aged men, a mediocre artist and a chicken farmer (Himmler), mainly seeking to secure absolute power for themselves. 

Many Germans did not support the policies and actions of the Nazi party, but there were no heroes in this story.  Remarks taken from diaries and letters of Americans reveal the undercurrent of the prejudice with which Jewish people were held.  The Nazi officers were accepted in the most elite social circles in Berlin, and when people found some of their talk and actions distasteful, accommodations were made for their unsavory views.  No one would have believed what would happen to Berlin in the next few years.  It was just ordinary life with an unusual government in charge, which many believed the German people would not tolerate for long.  Things, however, grew increasingly worse, and the book describes in detail the purge on June 30, 1934, when, according to estimates, nearly 100 people were pulled from their everyday lives and shot, and Hitler's hold on power was cemented in history. 

Where were the Americans during this time?  Reluctant to get involved.  Why?  Germany owed the United States millions of dollars in loans, and the American government was afraid Germany would default on those loans.  Even when reports indicated Americans were randomly attacked in Germany, when reports indicated that Jewish people were persecuted and camps were filling up, when reports indicated a mammoth building up of military equipment and armies, the United States refused to disavow the Nazi government. 

In the Garden of Beasts (named for the "tiergarten", a park in Berlin which means literally "animal garden") reveals what it was like to live in Berlin in 1934 when things began to go terribly wrong, before people began to understand that Hitler had more on his mind than uniting the German people.  I don't think even the Nazis realized how much poison could pour out of their souls.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Season of Change

Looking southeast.
The mountains are no longer shining in the sun like a copper penny.  In less than a week, the rain and wind have knocked the color out of the trees.  There are still many leaves to fall, but the mountains have lost that autumn sheen.  Now they sit rather dove-colored and gray as we slip on toward Thanksgiving. 

These photos were taken last week when the color was just peaking.  All of the photos are taken near my house on an afternoon walk.  The trees on the mountain are in full color, but in the lower elevation, leaves are much greener, not yet so colorful.
While I walked along my regular route, the mountains were so colorful that I made a special trip back to the house to get my camera.  The sun broke through clouds drifting along the rolling hills making a dramatic show.   We have not yet had a frost, so the flowers are still blooming.  Along the road are broad patches of chicory still lifting little faces to the sun.  

If you walk with your head down, you come across the most interesting things. I don't know what made me notice the paw print, but there it was, as plain as day. My first thought was that it was the track of a bear. Yes, a bear. Right in the middle of a housing development. I showed this picture to several people, and most voted for a bear track. I asked my neighbor, an old farmer, hunter, and fisherman, to walk down and look at the print which was right across the street from our house. Yep. He thought it was a bear track also, and he said his wife had actually seen a bear along the road about two miles or so from where we live. He said that bears don't have homes but wander around, and that this may have been a young bear who was kicked out by its mama. When our dog starts barking wildly now, we no longer assume it is for no reason.  

Anonymous paw print.

At the top of the hill the view opens up across the valley to the mountain range that contains the highest mountain in Virginia, Mt. Rogers, 5,729 feet.  North Carolina lies just across the mountains.  Rocks on Mt. Rogers indicate that volcanoes helped create this mountain range.  William Barton Rogers, the first Virginia state geologist, is the namesake of the mountain and later helped to found M.I.T.  There is a high-altitude spruce forest on the top of Mt. Rogers, and I understand that people can hike there.  I'm pretty sure I never will. 

At this point I turn right, heading due west, and walk out to the cornfield and barn.  I loved that corn field this summer, and I'm sure the deer did, also.  Now things are different out there.  The corn has been harvested, and just in the last couple of days, new shoots of some kind of grass has sprouted for winter cover. 

This is the season of change.  Young bears are sent packing; corn shocks are chipped up and put in a silo; wildflowers bask in the last days of warm sun before the frost. 

He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.  Daniel 2:21
The corn field after the harvest. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Help Me, Mary Jane!

By no means do I mean to elevate the public's cry for Mary Jane with Will Ferrell's plea for help from Chuck Norris.  Who is Mary Jane, you ask?  Cannabis, pot, weed, smoke. 

A Facebook flare this week started with a post claiming that there are NO deaths from marijuana use as compared to deaths from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs.  The discussion turned to legalizing the growing, selling, and use of marijuana.  Those who advocate the legalization of marijuana use think that the country should tap into that walloping source of income; fewer people would die because there would no longer be turf wars between dope peddlars staking out territory for their now illegal sales.  Besides, it's a natural substance.  These same arguments can be made for cocaine. 

No one wanted to discuss the researched side effects of the use of marijuana.  By doing an internet search on the terms, "side effects of marijuana", I found several interesting articles, some by people who describe how difficult it was to quit using the drug.  Can you say "addictive"?    The National Institutes of Health ( lists side effects of marijuana use as "distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory", as well as the depression of natural immunological functions.  These effects can last for days or weeks.  Having problems with basic algebra?  Try putting down the joint.  Someone who smokes marijuana everyday may function at a "suboptimal" intellectual level  all of the time.  Constant users also have a 25-50 per cent chance of becoming addicted to the drug. 

Marijuana increases the heart rate by 20-100 percent shortly after smoking; this effect can last up to 3 hours. In one study, it was estimated that marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug.  The smoke from marijuana has 50-70 per cent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.  Respondents on that previously mentioned Facebook flare stated that they just "refused" to believe that marijuana smoke was more harmful than cigarette smoke. 

 I started college in 1968 when pot was the drug of choice for most people.  The drug was everywhere on campus.  I know what it smells like, so if you have been smoking cannabis, I can smell it on you.  I've been around people who searched their coat pockets to find a marijuana seed to eat, just as a person described in an internet article how they constantly searched their bedroom, their couch, their car to find just a scrap of the herb that might be left over. 

Although anxiety is listed as a side effect of the drug, I found an article on the internet which advocated using marijuana as an antidote for anxiety and stress problems.  This article also stated that there was "little to no risk" involved in using marijuana which is helpful in giving a person a different perspective so that they will be better able to solve their problems.  Cigarette smoke is a stimulant, but smokers desire to smoke to calm down.  It's the addiction that makes smokers nervous when they don't smoke and drives them to get a hit of nicotine.  When the addiction is satisfied, they feel calmer.  So it is with marijuana:  the habitual user is anxious without the drug and feels less stressed when using it. 

Yes, I've been around many of those people who are medicating so that they can better solve their problems.  Their vacant stares and inability to focus precede their concerns about their failing grades.  Those people I knew in college who were picking seeds out of their pockets?  They didn't graduate.  They were absorbed into the pot culture, constantly seeking the drug, talking about the drug, smoking the drug.  Their lives were completely taken up with the pointy leaf. 

Other than the physical problems people experience from marijuana use, one ex-user on the internet pointed to the nearly $20,000 they had spent on pot--the same amount as a down payment on a home or the price of a new car.  The irony of this situation is that the people whose perceptions and whose thinking and problem-solving ability have been altered by the use of marijuana are the people who most strongly champion the legalizing of the drug. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dream a Little Dream

If you watch any television at all, you will notice that some terms and phrases catch fire and burn through every conversation among the dunce he...I mean, talking heads.  When George W. Bush was president, Dick Cheney said that something went "beyond the pale."  What the heck does that mean?  But in no time, the phrase was used at least once, sometimes more often, by every commentator on television. 

I looked up the phrase and found an excellent explanation on (  The definition includes some Jewish history in Russia and the date of the first use of the phrase which has to do with palings, as in a fence.  Originally it dealt with keeping certain groups of people outside the normal society. 

As with so much of what is discussed these days, the phrase was repeated over and over and over...well, too many times.  This also happened with the word "disingenuous" and more recently with the phrase "kick the can down the road", when someone talked about our inability to deal with the American debt crisis. 

Now the phrase of the day is "American dream", as in, "People come to our country to pursue the American dream," or "People are not able anymore to achieve the American dream."  As it so often happens with a vague term, the phrase takes on various meanings, depending on which person is using it. 

"American dream" is so vague that it really doesn't have any meaning.  In a conversation these types of phrases are like static on the radio and snow on the television.  It's indistinct sound and a hazy whiteness that interferes with true understanding. 

America is a country of individuals, a country, more than any other, that allows for expression of the individual.  In defining "American dream", there is no collective aspiration that is common among all our citizens.  There is no American dream. 

There are millions of dreams, though, particular and peculiar for each individual.  People with cancer dream of surviving another day, of seeing the sun come up and having no pain.  Mothers who have worked decades at minimum wage jobs dream of watching their children live a financially secure life.  Homeless people dream of sleeping in a dry, warm bed.  Pastors dream of conducting a committee meeting where no one gets angry.  Corporate executives dream of having 24 hours uninterrupted by phone calls and anxious assistants with unbalanced spreadsheets.

I went to college as a young woman, not because of lofty aspirations, but because I really had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.  I had no money.  I had no job.  I had no idea what I wanted to do.  People look at my life and say that I have accomplished the American dream.  No, I have not.  Anything I have accomplished is only through the grace of God, with no foresight on my part.  I could never have dreamed the things that have actually occurred in my life.  Reality, while disconcerting and surprising at many times, has turned out overall to be much better than anything I could have planned.   

Each of us has a dream of some kind, but there is no American dream that all of us have.  Raised by parents from the "greatest" generation, I realize that there is work to do, and no matter what I'm doing, I need to commit everything I have to it.  So things haven't worked out the way you thought they would?  Margaret Rucker was the administrator of what was called the Department of Welfare in the 1970s in Mercer County.  She once told a woman who was experiencing difficult times to "get up off your knees".  In other words, stand up and do what you have to do.  The opportunity to do just that is the only dream that Americans have.