Monday, December 14, 2009

A Recommended Blog

Every once in a while I run across a blog that I like well enough to recommend to others, and Spence Smith's blog is one of them. I really like Spence’s blog, what he writes about, and the way he writes. I guess it proves the value of social media, because I ran into him on Twitter.

Take a look, wander around and see if you don't agree with me that he writes about some very worthwhile things.
His link is:



Wednesday, December 9, 2009

For a future to be possible

Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that for a future to be possible on this planet, we – each of us – has got to do something to turn things around so that a future is possible for our children, grandchildren and beyond?

“The day we stop killing off our own species,” writes Zoe Taylor of McClure Middle School in Seattle, WA, “our world will become a book with no more torn pages.” (Source: Wisdom Commons, That ought to be so obvious that no one would question it. Yet people go on killing each other every day in acts of war and vengeance.

Are there active movements where you live to reduce violence and the madness of war? If there are, what are they? If there aren’t, why not? What prevents such  movements from happening? Historian Andrew Bacevich has written that Americans are seduced by war (“The New American Militarism”). I am convinced that America and its citizens are seduced by violence. It’s in our militarism, our video games, our domestic relations, our language and in our gangs. Is this true where you live? What can you – can we – do to change this where we live? What are we willing to do.

For the first time in my life, I live in a country – Japan – that is committed to the peaceful means of solving conflicts. Nonviolence has been written into its Constitution since the end of World War Two. Does this mean that war thinking has ended? Not at all. It means that the nation, and its people are dedicated to seeking peaceful means to solving conflicts. Looking back at the horrors of World War Two, the Japanese people wanted nothing to do anymore with war and warmongers, and they have stuck resolutely by that and demanded that their politicians and military leaders do the same. (The last military officer to publicly rattle his sword, a four-star Air SDF general, was summarily fired from his job earlier this year and mustered out of the Self Defense Force.)

South Africa changed from a White controlled government to a racially inclusive government led by Nelson Mandela without the eruption of violence and hate that most people had predicted. And in Northern Ireland, in spite of occasional outbursts of sectarian violence, the people and their leaders seem committed to a peaceful future.

For a future to be possible we, as individuals, neighbors, communities and nations, must begin committing ourselves to beliefs, attitudes and activities that bring a peace that respects our differences.

What do you think?

All for this post,



Monday, November 23, 2009

Good books and old friends

Some books are like old friends. I love getting together with them, settling down with a cup of tea, or just settling down and getting into them. These books make me smile, warm my heart and leave me satisfied and anticipating the next time we can get together.

I have two books to recommend this winter Holiday season that are like old friends. I know because that’s what readers say about them. They are The Old Man and the Monkey and Grandfather and the Raven. Read about them below, then pick up a copy or two from Abbott ePublishing at The Old Man and the Monkey is listed on their “Fiction” page. If you own a Kindle, the books are Kindle-ready and downloadable to your machine.

The Old Man and the Monkey and Grandfather and the Raven covers

Here’s what readers are saying about these two warm-hearted books:

The Old Man and the Monkey:

"I was immediately drawn to it. Wow! Nothing short of monkey magic.” –Thom Rutledge, author, Nashville

"Makes you look within to find the best that you can be. I love this story. It gets better every time I read it.” –Jean S., Seattle

“Reflects the rare values of unconditional friendship; love, trust, respect, loyalty and dependability.” –Stella T., Rotterdam

Makes you “feel you’re with” the old man and the monkey.”  –Aneeta S., Kuala Lumpur

Wakens you “to the wonder of life and death and friendship.” –Wendy M., Quebec

Grandfather and the Raven:

“A delightful collection of life fables that warms you all the way down, leaving you looking forward to another reading in the future.” –Jean S., Seattle

“Full of wisdom and simply a pleasure to read! A book that rejuvenated me.” –Meam W., Karachi

“Suffused with a gentle knowingness and humour, accompanied by a sharp disapproval of unprovoked violence.” –Tim Roux, author, Belgium

“Like that piece of chocolate that you have with your afternoon cup of coffee... short, sweet, and leaving you wanting another piece.” –Shawn C., author, Sapporo

The raven “speaks in a mysterious voice, which some people can understand, and others hear only as a noise. These stories are fun, and would be fun to read to a child sitting in a loving lap.” –Wendy M., Quebec

Be sure to pick up your copy at You’ll find The Old Man and the Monkey listed on their “fiction” page. Then settle down with a cup of hot chocolate, tea or coffee, pick up the books or turn on your Kindle and enjoy a wonderful experience. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Holidays and happy reading,

Jorge (“Toasty”) Tostada

(Who’s that George Polley fellow? It’s me, writing under my author name, the one my parents gave me when I was born.)


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obama’s Bow

The headline in this morning’s Yahoo! News reads “Outrage in Washington over Obama’s Japan Bow”. I said “What?” Seems the conservative pundits in DC have their knickers in a knot because President Obama bowed to Emperor Akihito when he met the Emperor and his wife.

“Oh, God! What shame!” Bah! I am disgusted with this kind of arrogance. “Ugly Americans” are alive and well and kicking, and are as blind as they ever were about how the rest of the world views them.

In case you’re wondering who “ugly Americans” are or what the term means, it means the loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens and corporations abroad and at home.

It means acting as though it’s proper to walk into anyone’s house or country and do what you want without apologizing for the inconvenience, discourtesy or disrespect.

It means telling others what is good for them instead of asking because you don’t consider them important (and you consider them too “stupid” to understand how important you are, though they recognize how self-important and arrogant you are).

So William Kristol, Bill Bennett and others are having hissy fits. "We don't defer to emperors. We don't defer to kings or emperors. The president of the United States -- this coupled with so many apologies from the United States…” Some said Obama’s bow was particularly grating after he publicly bowed to Saudi Arabia’s Kind Abdullah at the G20 meeting in April. Quelle horreur!

These people say the president “has hastened America's decline as a world superpower by being too apologetic and too deferential in his dealings with other world leaders.”

Oh, really. What they’re missing besides good sense and good manners is this: The best way to shore up US power in a region increasingly dominated by rising giant China is to show respect for the people you want to improve your relationship with. In countries where bowing is a sign of respect, this means bowing where it is most appropriate. And bowing to Emperor Akihito is very appropriate and important to the Japanese people.

But if you’re an Ugly American, you don’t see it, because you think walking in and telling people people what you’re going to do is the way to win friends and influence people. Self important, arrogant behavior is “ugly”, and it just does not go over well. Showing respect does.

Here’s an example. I spent a few months in Mexico City in 1973-74 when President Nixon was involved in the Watergate scandal (his people had sent burglars to break into someone’s office) that eventually forced his resignation. The Mexican people greeted the affair with high hilarity. Here was good old self-righteous Uncle Sam caught with his hand in someone else’s till. “Ho-ho-ho!” A restaurant in the Zona Rosa featured a special dessert made of minted  peaches. It was delicious. The restaurateur called it “Impeach mint.” Still makes me laugh out loud!

How does President Obama go over in Japan? His face, his words and his books are everywhere. Kids use his speeches as part of their English language study. His bow to Emperor Akihito was played over and over again on the news. (I know because I watched it.) It was a gesture of respect and kindness, a huge step forward in repairing damages done, especially over the previous eight years by an administration that had no time to genuflect to anyone, including their own country’s citizens.

Former President Bush? He threw out the first ball at Japan’s recent baseball championship game, he’s popular with former Prime Minister Koizumi, and without trying he does a pretty darn good imitation of Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. (“What, me worry?”) Neuman .

Mad Magazine, Alfred E. Neuman

All for this post,


Sapporo, Japan

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guest Blogger Meam Wye, “Shining History - Medieval Islamic Civilization”

Meam Wye is one of my favorite bloggers. Her blog, “Shining History – Medieval Islamic Civilization” http://www.shininghistory.comis one I heartily recommend to anyone interested in discovering the rich history of Islamic civilization, especially in the areas of engineering, medicine, science, aviation, cosmetology, education and the creation of hospitals. All of these fields owe a tremendous debt to the pioneering work of the people she writes about. I would hazard a guess that most people in the West know nothing at all about these people and the contributions they made. What we hear about is a tiring litany of negative reportage and comments about Islam and Islamic civilization.

Meam Wye’s guest column today is a response to some of that. A reprint of a comment by someone known as “burymore”, and her reply, appears below. First, the comment by “burymore”:

    “If muslims would come to realize that the fundamentalist extremes of their culture are holding them back, then they might have a scientist or inventor of note that lived more recently than three hundred years ago.

    There is not an invention or scientific breakthrough of any importance to come from the muslim world in centuries.... seeing this list of great minds from a thousand years ago only points that out more.

    Quit marginalizing half your population. (Quit treating women like garbage) and quit putting the spiritual leaders in charge of the governments, and maybe Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and all the rest can actually progress a little as nations.”

Next, Meam Wye’s reply:

“I fully agree with the second paragraph of your comment -more than a couple of centuries that any significant contribution has been made. This raises two important questions:

1. What were the factors behind the rise of this glorious civilization?

2. Why this civilization declined?

These are thought-provoking questions, the answers to which require an in depth study of history, religion and a detailed analysis of socio-political situations in various eras to reach at some meaningful conclusion.

I am unable to understand your term 'fundamentalist extremes of their [Muslim] culture'. Different countries, with predominant Muslim population, have different cultures -food/dresses/language/ arts/literature/architecture/wedding festivals etc. Being Muslims, as guided by Islam, they however do share common elements as well. For example, the greeting ‘Assalaam-O-Alaikum'  (meaning: Peace be upon you)  taught by Prophet Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him) is the same across different Muslim countries/continents. So is true for many other traditions including the way Muslims clean themselves, what they don't consider lawful to eat, the manner in which Ramadan and Eid are observed/celebrated, the preference of opening fast with dates (although other menu items vary greatly across different regions), the ability to at least read, if not comprehend, Arabic (the language of Quran) by almost every educated Muslim, irrespective of the mother tongue and so on.  I and for that matter any unbiased person cannot see any elements of ''fundamentalist extremes of their [Muslim] culture' in this.

If you are referring to the barbaric customs, like honor killings etc. then these barbaric/beyond humanity acts have absolutely no link/place in Islam. In fact, Islam very strictly prohibits the killing of innocent people and violation of human (and other living creatures) rights.

Beyond humanity/barbaric acts that are carried out in the name of culture/religion, are unfortunately part of many 'non-Muslim' countries/societies as well. For example, in India, considered to be the largest democracy of the world, there is a custom called 'sati' among Hindus in which the widow of the deceased husband is burned ALIVE along with his husband's dead body! The last 'reported' case of Sati (though outlawed) is dated, not a century back, it's October 11, 2008. Quite shocking. Have you ever heard of 'Bridal Burning'? According to a recent official report, 6000 women, each year, are murdered by putting gasoline and fire on them in India. Reason:  these women do not fulfill the demands of dowry by their husband [Hindus traditionally consider dowry as a 'groom-price' - money/valuables that the man is entitled to for taking the woman in marriage]. Several examples of these and other kinds of horrifying acts can be found in many other under-developed/developing countries and uncivilized cultures. However, the media never labels them as 'Fundamentalist Hindu/Christian/any other religion Culture'.

Your third point 'Quit Treating women like Garbage': This blogger is a woman and an engineer (with a Masters degree). Had I been treated like garbage, I would have been in a garbage dump or inside a landfill and not online now. Whatever I have achieved (and I've got a resume in which there is plenty in the 'Honors' section to boast of), perhaps would not have been possible without the great and continuous support and love of two MEN - initially from my late father and later from my husband. And I am not the only example. There are numerous other Muslim women across various countries and societies, making positive contributions in life while being treated respectfully like a fellow human being, both by their respective societies and their families.

Like many other countries of the world, violation of women's right  are unfortunately part of, to varying degrees, of many Muslim countries as well.........again nothing to do with Islam and something that is, beyond any kind of doubt, truly deplorable. Violation of any living being's (human beings, animals and plants) rights is equally and highly deplorable.

Do you know that the oldest continuously-operating degree-granting university in the world, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, was founded by a Muslim woman Fatima in 859 CE - 9th century. Oxford University did not allow women as late as 1878! This is just one small example. There are numerous other great examples, starting with the women during the life of Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon him). This in itself is a topic for a whole book.

Islam gave women the rights that are now taken for granted but was unthinkable of in the 7th century. Many of these fundamental human rights were not given by the west to women as late as 19th century!  Islam gave women:  the right of being human (with rewards of good deeds equal to men), the right of earning, the right of  inheritance, the right of owning property (married/unmarried/divorced/ widowed), the right to get divorce, the right to choose her husband, the right to say no for marriage proposal without giving any reason, the right to get custody of children after divorce, the right to be provided for and cared by father/spouse/brothers, the right to get education, the right to teach others [including men], the right to pass religious judgments, the right to argue, disagree and advise men on any matter - political, religious or personal at any place - home, mosque or public, the right to re-marry after divorce or husband's death, the right not to spend their own earnings on their family if they don't want to (unlike men, women have a choice here :) ), the right that no woman is held  responsible or faces gender discrimination on account of the mistake committed by both Adam  and Eve (not Eve alone), the advantage of being considered as 'Blessing of Allah' if you are lucky to be a female child and  many more. 

Whatever and wherever violation of human rights - women, men, senior citizens, children or animals -  it is unfortunately a common practice among many countries - more common in developing/under developed countries. Had these violations of basic human rights not been there, these countries would have also been progressing.

Regarding the 'spiritual leadership', I again fail to understand your usage of this term. There are two points. First, in the countries you mentioned, the leadership either is monarchy (Saudi Arabia), dictator-ship/occupied (Iraq) or democracy/presidential (Iran, Syria & Egypt). Nothing spiritual as you put it. Secondly and more important: the problem is with the Leadership - spiritual or non-spiritual. The nuclear  bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were done on the orders of Harry S. Truman - the 33rd president of United states ............ Was he a spiritual Muslim leader? The crime considered to be the biggest in the history of this world against one race - Was  Hitler a spiritual Muslim leader? The recent economic turmoil in USA?   George Bush was the last US president for eight consecutive years............Was he a spiritual leader?  The two Opium wars in the nineteenth century on China - courtesy British and French empires.......Were Queen Victoria or Napoleon Bonaparte spiritual leaders? This list can be easily extended without much research. The problem lies with the leadership. The world is expecting a lot from President Obama - Let's be hopeful :)

Although, you have not mentioned Afghanistan but I think that many readers might be thinking about the 'spiritual leadership' of Taliban. A country, that has been almost completely destroyed by three decades of war and carpet bombings -  more than one million civilians were killed, more than three million were wounded and five million became refugee by the end of first decade of war only! It is a country where babies who were born thirty years ago, on arriving in this beautiful world, did not hear some sweet melodious sounds of nature or the soothing voice of their parents as their first sounds;  they heard the horrifying sounds of dropping bombs and the never ending gun shots. When these babies started crawling, they came across dead bodies of their parents, saw blood while trying to swallow food, witnessed broken limbs and chopped arms of their siblings (if some miracle saved them from getting blind), interacted with paralyzed and shocked people, sighted the frightening faces and bodies of people with chemical burn injuries, played outside their destroyed homes with bombs disguised as toys (booby traps) and had destructed natural surroundings for their pleasure with nothing worth while to eat, what to speak of getting education! Living this life for three consecutive decades, they never even got a chance to live a life that even wild animals/beasts are blessed with - peace in the beautiful nature. Now after growing up, if they behave in an uncivilized manner, does the solution lies in continuing to kill them like cockroaches, by the so-called civilized world, or in reaching out to them and teaching them with love and compassion? A question that is not difficult to answer.

I thank you for your feedback and for sharing your views, 'burymore'. It would have been better had you chosen not to be anonymous by making your blogger profile private. Understanding each other is the first essential step towards making this beautiful world a livable place for everyone. I strongly feel that the need of the hour is to be less judgmental and a little responsible in reaching conclusions and forming strong opinions.

Thank you.

N.B. For any comments, please use the original post so that all related comments are on one page.”

Meam Wye

Thank you, Meam, for being the guest blogger for today’s post.

Jorge (“Toasty”) Tostada

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A wonderful story for young adults of any age

Review of “Habibi”, by Naomi Shihab Nye. Mass Market Paperback. Simon Pulse, 1997.

Naomi Shihab Nye brings her poet's voice to this touching story about 14 year old Liyana Abboud and her family as they move from St. Louis, Missouri to Palestine, where her father, a physician, was born and raised. The move isn't an easy one, for more reasons than one. The family arrives to find conditions more tense than they had expected, with growing violence and a growing Israeli military presence in the West Bank. The story is also filled with some memorable characters, one of the most memorable being Sitti, Liyana's 81 year old grandmother, who is the “glue” that holds her large family together, a veritable font of energy and wisdom.

It isn't easy being an American teenager in Israel, especially when you're half-Arab and half-American and female. The rules are very different (and Liyana tests them, as any self-respecting teenager will), you don't understand the language, dad (“Poppy”) has to do all the translating, you don't “fit” anywhere, and the tensions between your father's people (and hence your own) and the powers that be in Israel grow daily. To complicate matters, a friendship develops between (and warms) between Liyana and a Jewish teenager named Omer (she mishears his name as “Omar”). It is a time of hardening positions and escalating violence. “Did people who committed acts of violence think their victims and their victims' relatives would just forget? Didn't people see? How violence went on and on like a terrible wheel? Could you stand in front of a wheel and make it stop? ... It was better ... if you were able to let the violence stop when it got to you. But many people couldn't do that.” When a Jewish deputy mayor of Jerusalem proposes that two thousand Arab homes in east Jerusalem be torn down to make room for fifty thousand houses for Jews, and nothing is said “about pain or attachment or sorrow or honor”, what happens? When someone knocks on your door, walks in and kicks you and your family out without so much as a by-your-leave, and you lose everything, what's the logical consequence? These are the issues that Liyana, her family, and every other human being in that part of the world (and in many others) had and have to deal with every day of their lives.

As grandma Sitti says to Omer “You will need to be brave. There are hard days coming. There are hard words waiting in people's mouths to be spoken. There are walls. You can't break them. Just find doors in them. See?”

Ms. Nye does a wonderful job of painting in the details of her story in vivid color, images and anecdote.

This may be a book for young adults. In my view, it is a book that everyone should read.

All for now,

Jorge Luis Tostada (“Toasty”)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Keeping your word

President Obama has clearly said that he intends to treat America’s allies as equals. I take this to mean that his administration is open to the opinions and suggestions of their allies when the two sides sit down to discuss policy issues. The old “Top dog, Underdog” days are dead and gone. Or so we have been led to believe.

Reality has so far shown that what we are getting is more of the same old thinking and behavior: We are the top dog here, and you are expected to do as we wish without so much as raising an eyebrow. When we tell you to jump, the only thing we’ll accept from you is the question “How high, sir?” If you want to kill trust, this is one of the better ways to do it.

I am becoming more that a little annoyed with America’s petulant grousing about the Hatoyama government's taking President Obama at his word by dealing with American officials as equal partners in discussions on policy issues. If President Obama is serious about meeting with allies as equal partners, he needs to begin acting that way. The words coming recently from Secretary Gates and others within the administration give the clear impression that the Obama administration expects Japan to kow-tow to their wishes without so much as raising a question or offering an opinion. This is a replay of the arrogant “Just who do you think you are talking to!?” attitude that kills trust and plays well with no one. As an American, I find it disgusting and deeply troubling.  

Frankly, I think it is high time allies begin showing America that they expect to be treated with respect as equals,  especially when the “senior partner” says it is their policy to do so.

I am proud of Prime Minister Hatoyama and his Ministers who, ever so politely, have been showing President Obama that they intend to hold him to his word. I applaud them for it. Mister Hatoyama certainly has my support.

All for this post,



Monday, October 12, 2009

Mercedes Sosa, July 9,1935- October 4, 2009

Mercedes Sosa, Quito, Ecuador, 26 October 2008

Mercedes Sosa, in concert, Quito, Ecuador, 10/26/2008


My wife showed me an article about her passing in her daily Hokkaido newspaper yesterday, and it feels like I’ve lost a much-loved member of my family. A year younger than me, I think of her as a sister.

I first encountered Mercedes Sosa in 1977 when my Spanish instructor at the University of Minnesota showed me one of her albums, “Cantata Sudamericana”, which I still have. From the minute I heard her voice, I was hooked. It is full, rich, captivating. Her voice, her personality and her music captivated millions across South America and around the world.

Born in Tucuman, Argentina, she began her singing career at age 15, when she won a contest on a radio station. She was still singing 59 years later when she took sick and entered a hospital a few weeks ago.

Her music was always about the people: the poor and disenfranchised, the sick, the old and the persecuted victims of the military dictatorships that hated and persecuted her.

Doña Mercedes, I bow to you. Gracias, mi hermana; gracias por su vida y su canción. Rest in peace. Thank you for blessing us for all your life with all that you are.


Jorge Tostada


Friday, August 28, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009, Hero

In a time where politics is fraught with name-calling, paranoia and insult, Senator Kennedy was a man of graciousness and a passionate advocate for the causes and people he believed in. His accomplishments were legion:

  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

  • The Freedom of Information Act.

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act.

  • The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009.

  • Fought a four-decade crusade for universal health coverage.

  • Helped Soviet dissidents.

  • Fought apartheid.

  • Was one of 23 senators to vote against the Iraq war.

  • Vastly expanded the network of neighborhood clinics.

  • Virtually invented the COBRA system for portable insurance.

  • Helped create the law that provide Medicare prescriptions.

  • Helped create the Family Leave law.

What kind of man was he? Admittedly, neither a man without faults nor a self-righteous man who called names. In the words of Vice President Joe Biden, who worked in the Senate with him for 46 years, Senator Kennedy “never was petty; never was small. It was never about him, it was always about you.” He reached out to others, had a heart for others. When Mr. Biden’s first wife was killed in a terrible auto accident that injured their two children, Senator Kennedy was on the phone with him immediately, offering support.

What did Rush Limbaugh say about him? No surprise. If Kennedy was the Lion of the Senate, "We were his prey." No surprise there. I have two questions for Mr. Limbaugh: Does this mean that you oppose all of those things that Kennedy fought for that have benefited so many of your fellow citizens? Or do you simply not care?

“Today we have lost a great spirit,” Vice President Biden said. And so we have.

In a recent post, political cartoonist and blogger David Horsey wrote the following: “Teddy Kennedy is gone and we may not see his like again. But a greater tragedy for the nation would be if the politics of mutual respect, wise compromise and willingness to find common ground died with him.” So it would, David, so it would.

“If by a liberal,”, Senator Kennedy wrote, “they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind; someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions; someone who cares about the welfare of the people, their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, their civil liberties; someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicion that grips us; if that is what they mean by a liberal, I am proud to be a liberal.” —Edward M. Kennedy

And so am I.

All for this post,



Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saburo Toyoda, artist; my kind of hero

Saburo Toyoda was born in Japan in 1908. He has been a painter since childhood. Graduating from high school, he went from his small village to the big city to follow an art career, but no one liked his paintings, so he became a junior high school teacher, and continued his painting on the side, marrying and raising four children along the way. At age 68 his wife became ill, and he spent the next four and a half years caring for her. And then be became a full-time painter of pictures. A portrait of his wife  hangs on a wall of his home. At nearly 101, he lives alone, paints and teaches painting to his neighbors in his small rural  town. All of his landscape paintings, of the mountains and trees among which he lives, are done outside. Several times a week he slings a big canvas over his shoulder and, with his cane, paints and brushes, heads out into the countryside. It is hard for an old man nearly 101, but it is his life calling, and he keeps at it.

The evening before last, Japan’s public television network, NHK, ran a special on him on one of their education channels. Saburo Toyoda is my kind of hero because of his love for the land and its trees, his connection to its spirit and his ancestors, and his lifelong pursuit of his calling as a painter. Once a month, he puts on his best suit and heads off to teach his class. Every day he follows his routine: exercise to stay limber and maintain his strength, prepare his meals, eat, tidy up his house, then head off into the countryside to commune with the trees and work on a painting.

Our communities, neighborhoods and countryside are full of people like Saburo Toyoda. If we would but let them, they would enrich our lives and our land. It’s way past time that we begin seeing them as our heroes, the “unordinary, unsung ones” who, through their persistence, insight, depth and wisdom, have much to teach us in their quiet way.

I wish I had a photo to show you what Saburo Toyoda looks like, but I don’t. So instead I present to you this verbal portrait of a seer and wise elder, my kind of hero and, if you will, “superhero”.

All for this post,


Thursday, August 13, 2009

My kind of hero: Bernard Loeffke, Major General, USA (retired)

Bernard Loeffke

General Loeffke is on the left in the photo

A Vietnam veteran, Bernard (“Burn”) Loeffke commanded Special Forces and finished his Army career as the Commanding General of Army South. A graduate of West Point, he has an MA in Russian and a Ph.D. in Political Science. When retired from the U.S. Army in 1992, he did something that didn’t surprise anyone who knew him: he studied to be a Physician’s Assistant, receiving his degree in 1997. After graduation, he participated in several medical missions in combat zones in southern Sudan.

A professional soldier, Burn Loeffke is also a man of peace and compassion, the sort of man who commands respect because he gives respect to everyone he meets. In that, he’s like my old Naval Reserve Commander, Commander Roy Heffelfinger. I met General Loeffke at a conference at the Pacific Institute in Seattle in 1998, where he was speaking. I had just written my first book, “Things I’ve Learned From the Old”, and gave a copy to him. The next day he came up to me and said he’d read the book and liked it. Then he turned to those who were standing around waiting to speak with him, and, holding up the book, said: “This is a fine book. You ought to read it. And here is the author.” Out of the blue, unasked for, unexpected. That’s Burn Loeffke, and that’s what makes him my kind of hero: He has a heart for other people.

Here’s a quote from his book And the Least Beastly of Us Should Be Doing It: “Acting like brothers is the key to keeping hope alive in our Americas”. And by “brothers”, he means that every human being living anywhere from the North Pole to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, is a brother and sister and must be treated as such, and not left, marginalized and unwanted, to live in poverty and despair. That’s the way he treated the people under his command, and that’s the way he treats everyone. And that, more than anything, makes him my kind of hero. We need a lot more like him.

General Loeffke is the author of several books, including And the Least Beastly of Us Should Be Doing It; Our America, Our China (Dr Bernard Loeffke, Dr Renliang Xu, and Marc Loeffke); How These ... Can Make Us Healthier (with Carmen Queral) ;and From Warrior to Healer: 99 True Stories from a General to His Children, which I have read.

His website is Helping Others Today, a not-for-profit initiative with his son Mark and daughter Kristin that supports a variety of projects, including:

  • An orphanage in Guatemala
  • A reconciliation camp in Ireland
  • An AIDS clinic in Kenya
  • A free clinic in Haiti
  • A school in a refugee camp in Sudan
  • A day care center in Kosovo
  • Aiding low income children in the Third World
  • Educating nurses in Niger
  • Their website is at:

    All for this post,


    Sunday, August 9, 2009

    A hero

    Clarence Jordan


    Our news is so full of people who do all they can to attack, belittle and tear down that I’ve decided to dedicate the next few posts to people who stand up, confront wrong, build up, heal, and comfort – people who live by their beliefs in spite of all the garbage, violence and trash that is heaped on them. This is the first installment, and my hero is Clarence Jordan.

    Clarence Jordan was born in Talbottom, Georgia in 1912, and died suddenly of a heart attack at age 59 in 1969.

    Clarence Jordan lived what he believed, and he believed in living Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, binding oneself to the equality of all persons, rejecting violence, ecological stewardship, and common ownership of possessions. In 1942 he and his wife moved to a 440 acre farm near Americus, George, calling it “Koinonia”, a Greek work that means fellowship.

    Until the advent of the civil rights movement, their neighbors generally left them to live and farm in peace; then Koinonia became the target of a stifling economic boycott and repeated violence, including several bombings.

    I met Clarence Jordan at a conference for Baptist ministers in a Chicago suburb in 1963, where he spoke about the civil rights movement and the response (or lack of) of the White churches in the South. A Bible scholar, we were eager to hear what he had to say about the civil rights movement that some claimed was “tearing our nation apart”. Interesting how discomfort turns reality around: It wasn’t racism that was tearing our nation apart, it was opposition to it.

    In his quiet, red clay south Georgia drawl, Clarence Jordan said it. The churches, both large and well-known and tiny and unknown, had turned Blacks and their supporters away and in so doing, turned their backs on everything that Jesus taught and stood for. He said it quietly, eloquently and pointedly.

    By the end of his first presentation, there was a lot of discomfort in that room. When we returned from lunch, with all of the local Church bigwigs seated behind us, he began by saying that they had asked him to apologize for saying what he had said about the churches negative response to the civil rights movement.

    With each of the bigwigs looking pleased, he began his apology. And with each word he spoke, the white faces seated behind him turned to scarlet. I don’t recall Clarence Jordan’s apology other than to say that it turned their words back on them as a scathing indictment.  All delivered in his quiet broad red-clay Georgia drawl.

    It was brilliant, it was deserved, and I was happy that I wasn’t on its receiving end. It, and the man who delivered it, stand as beacons to me of heroic living.

    So I give you Clarence Jordan, one of my heroes, as a life to be emulated.

    Among other writings, Clarence Jordan was the author of the Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament. Here is a sample, from his translation of Paul’s letter to Ephesians, which he translates as “The Letter to the Christians in Birmingham.” You’ll see why the church bigwigs at that conference were so uptight:(from Ephesians 11-13):

    "So then, always remember that previously you Negroes, who sometimes are even called "niggers" by thoughtless white church members, were at one time outside the Christian fellowship, denied your rights as fellow believers, and treated as though the gospel didn’t apply to you, hopeless and God-forsaken in the eyes of the world. Now, however, because of Christ’s supreme sacrifice, you who once were so segregated are warmly welcomed into the Christian fellowship."

    Hard to misunderstand, isn’t it?

    That’s all for this post,


    Sunday, August 2, 2009

    My kind of hero

    Bela Kiraly, Hungarian hero

    Bela Kiraly, 1912 - 2009

    Long considered a folk hero in Hungary, Bela Kiraly is the kind of man I admire.  A general in the Hungarian army, he was sentenced to death four different times for sedition, spending 4 years on death row.  Paroled in 1956, he led Hungarian freedom fighters against the Soviet invasion, escaping into exile with some of his forces when they were overwhelmed.

    Aside from all of his accomplishments, which include earning a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, here is what I like about the man, and what makes him a hero to me.

    He was a man of honor who stood for the honorable treatment of people. During World War Two his unit was assigned several hundred Jewish slave laborers. With the Nazis in power, rather than hand them over for transportation, he put them in uniform and made them part of his troops, saving them from certain death in the camps. He was later honored by Israel for it. Arrested by the Soviets at the war’s end and sent to Siberia with his men, he and a number of them escaped and hiked back into Hungary.

    During Hungary’s attempted break-away from the Soviet bloc in 1956, he was made commanding general of the rebels while still in hospital recovering from 5 years of prison for “sedition”.

    In 2006, learning that one of the Russian generals who led the 1956 invasion was still alive, he invited him to Budapest  to join the 50th anniversary celebrations. When the general declined the invitation, fearing that he might be arrested, 94 year old Kiraly flew to Moscow and spent a weekend reminiscing with his former enemy.

    “He will be remembered not merely as a warrior,” writes Nina Khrushcheva, “but as a humanist, the conciliator who called for no reprisals after 1989,” a liberal model for Hungarians, and for the rest of us.

    We need more heroes like Bela Kiraly.

    All for this post,


    Friday, July 17, 2009

    Natalya Estemirova, Fallen Hero

    Natalya Esemirova, human rights advocate

    By any human measure, Natalya Estemirova is a hero. A 50 year old single mother, she was kidnapped from a street in Grozny Chechnya by four men, bundled into a car, and shot four times in the head, her body later dumped near the capital city of Ingushetia.

    There seems to be no end to the idiots who believe that killing advocates for human rights, justice and compassion does anything other than make their advocacy stronger and more determined. Instead of stifling human rights advocacy, they strengthen it.

    But that's a lesson that abusive people and powers never seem to learn. They are like the person who becomes enraged because the elm tree refuses to give him pears, so he cuts the elm tree down. And thousands of tiny seeds begin to sprout and create a forest.

    The best response to these idiots is this: Wherever you live, stand for human rights, compassion and justice. In the end, nonviolence and compassion win. Violence, for all its horror, has no staying power.

    Celebrate Natalya Estemirova’s life by the way you live yours.

    All for this post,


    Saturday, June 13, 2009

    Guest blogger: Strategizing industrial development in Africa

    My guest blogger is my friend Stella Evelyne Tesha. She is active with Green Waters ( and Friends of Afrika (

    Give her post a good read; it’s well worth your time.

    Strategizing industrial development in Africa

    Developing countries in Africa have long since faced extreme poverty challenges. Yet according to available natural resources this should not be the case.

    The natural resources in developing countries include minerals, ocean resources, forestry resources and people skills. Africa is very rich in resources.

    Development in Tanzania as well as the rest of Africa, is crippled by lack of good strategies, disorganised governance, corruption and international policies.

    The best strategy I can think of to accelerate the development process , is region by region development.

    Regional by region development:

    Taking an example of one of the richest regions in Tanzania, Arusha. Among other things, this is a region rich in minerals such as tanzanite, rubies, diamonds, gold, and forestry.

    This is just one of the many rich regions in Tanzania, and yet the UN HDI shows that the country is one of the poorest in the world.

    Why region by region development?

    First of all, available resources are usually what stimulates the people skills. Therefore, in an areas such as Arusha, mining and hunting are the main existing primary skills, professional trainings can be given to improve on these.

    The best strategy for region by region development, would be to establish processing industries within the regions. These industries should focus on increasing the value of the products and creating employment for the local people.

    The government will benefit by getting more tax payers, and furthermore the regional administration can create enough revenue to contribute by investing in i.e local health and educational institutions.

    For lake regions, creating fish processing industries, will also carve employment spaces for people in tools making, uniforms and other required stock for fishing industries. I can only suggest from experience that restaurants with special local menus will be a huge attraction both locally and internationally, if well publicised.

    For agricultural regions, food processing/packaging industries will do the same.

    These are the projects that are needed in developing countries, because they are sustainable and they utilise local resources.

    Furthermore, regional administration is a way to upset corruption. This is by making regional administration systems accountable to the government, to enable more transparency and a detail oriented system.

    Region by region development is also a ‘’bypass’’ to international policies, and will provide possibilities for locals from different regions to be more focused on product value for fair trade, locally and internationally.

    It is not possible, to have a topsy turvy, happy go lucky system as it used to be in the past. Development and globalisation are now hand in hand. The economic interdependence regional and international, is there to stay. The value and price competition is going to be even more tougher, considering available subsidies from the first world. Governments from developing countries, have to be more proactive in planning and de-centralising.

    I would urge the first world to keep an eye on the bigger picture and assist region by region development. Throughout history Africa has always been a big market for the first world, but with increased poverty Africa is hard hit and can’t afford to buy as much.

    This has affected all of us living in Europe, production without demand is a recipe for profit loss which leads to job losses, less tax payers, more dependency on social welfare, less spending, increased stress and health hazards, higher health insurance which has to be paid by the governments, as more people loose their jobs.

    By helping third world countries to develop sustainable regional industries, this will create more purchasing power among individuals , and most especially create demand for high technology tools from first world for the regional industries.

    Furthermore, the situation might enable the achievement of millennium goals and lower the need for humongous grants. The available funds can then be reinvested in reducing the ecological footprint and maybe we can manage to reverse the damage we have already caused on our environment.

    I believe, we all need to work together in development, we each can make a contribution even by just suggesting an idea and letting someone else work on it!

    It really is a win win situation.

    Stella Evelyne Tesha

    “The people are the foundation for development” J.K Nyerere

    Thursday, March 26, 2009

    Review of “Grandfather Stories”

    You’ll find a new review of George Polley’s book Grandfather Stories

    All for this post,


    Monday, January 5, 2009

    Palestine – Continue the insanity, or create peace?

    Newsweek Cover article is 'WILL IT EVER END? IT COULD – HERE'S HOW,' By Managing Editor, and former Jerusalem bureau chief, Daniel Klaidman:

    As Klaidman writes, “There are no options other than a comprehensive agreement that creates two sovereign states, Israel and Palestine, warily coexisting side by side. ...” 

    “But how to salve the wounds of Palestinian grievance? One intriguing solution is offered by writer Walter Russell Mead in an essay in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Mead argues that though Israel must take some responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy, the entire NAKBA, or catastrophe, 'cannot simply be laid at Israel's door.' Israel must acknowledge its part in the events of 1948, but the international community must take 'ultimate responsibility' for the 60-year-old crisis. In this way, the world would acknowledge that the Palestinians have indeed suffered a historic injustice, but obviate the need for Israel to bear full responsibility. 'This is a way to confer dignity on the Palestinian people,' says Levy-a crucial step toward securing an elusive peace.' “ –- from Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook Daily Update

    Think about it: isn’t it about time for this tragedy to finally end in peace for everyone? Isn’t it time to put resentments and grievances behind end the suffering for everyone? I sure think so. Enough of the lunacy!