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Berry Friesen, Goodbye


Age 69

Died January 17, 2018

Berry died of renal cell carcinoma, but maybe too of grief for the world.

He wrote this blog for several years, his last one in December,  here.

His obituary is  here.

We remember him with admiration and appreciation, and give our condolence to his wife Sharon and children and grandchildren. 

—John K. Stoner

Tom Engelhardt on The American Empire

by John K. Stoner (January 6, 2018)

Tom Engelhardt’s engaging smile on his home page is real.  Why wouldn’t it be—his website  is described as "A Regular Antidote To the Mainstream Media."
Whose face wouldn't break into a smile if they knew they were providing such a needed public service?

Tom is on my short list of trustworthy commentators.  He is a Consulting Editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Metropolitan's The American Empire Project.

Today I introduce Tom Engelhardt via his last column for 2017 and his first for 2018.  On December 21 Engelhardt wrote:

The Most Dangerous Man on Earth: Who Cares?Not Them, Not It, Not Him, Not (Evidently) Us 
      Let’s start with the universe and work our way in. Who cares? Not them because as far as we know they aren’t there. As far as we know, no one exists in our galaxy or perhaps anywhere else but us (and the other creatures on this all-too-modest planet of ours). So don’t count on any aliens out there caring what happens to humanity. They won’t.
As for it -- Earth -- the planet itself can’t, of course, care, no matter what we do to it.  And I’m sure it won’t be news to you that, when it comes to him -- and I mean, of course, President Donald J. Trump, who reputedly has a void where the normal quotient of human empathy might be -- don’t give it a second’s thought.  Beyond himself, his businesses, and possibly (just possibly) his family, he clearly couldn’t give less of a damn about us or, for that matter, what happens to anyone after he departs this planet.
As for us, the rest of us here in the United States at least, we already know something about the nature of our caring.  A Yale study released last March indicated that 70% of us -- a surprising but still less than overwhelming number (given the by-now-well-established apocalyptic dangers involved) -- believe that global warming is actually occurring.  Less than half of us, however, expect to be personally harmed by it.  So, to quote the eminently quotable Alfred E. Newman, "What, me worry?" ....
Engelhardt goes on to help us to think about Donald Trump in context--as an expression of American character and Commander in Chief of the world's biggest military machine. This is help which we need, and I hope you will (read more).  
On January 4 Engelhardt wrote:  Seeing Our Wars for the First Time: Mapping a World From Hell ,,,76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror  
He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.
More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)
Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside down geopolitical fairy tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin: Once upon a time -- in October 2001, to be exact -- Washington launched its war on terror.  There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the U.S. had ended a long proxy war against the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden. 
By 2001, in the wake of that war, which helped send the Soviet Union down the path to implosion, Afghanistan was largely (but not completely) ruled by the Taliban.  Osama bin Laden was there, too, with a relatively modest crew of cohorts.  By early 2002, he had fled to Pakistan, leaving many of his companions dead and his organization, al-Qaeda, in a state of disarray.  The Taliban, defeated, were pleading to be allowed to put down their arms and go back to their villages, an abortive process that Anand Gopal vividly described in his book, No Good Men Among the Living
It was, it seemed, all over but the cheering and, of course, the planning for yet greater exploits across the region.  The top officials in the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were geopolitical dreamers of the first order who couldn’t have had more expansive ideas about how to extend such success to -- as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated only days after the 9/11 attacks -- terror or insurgent groups in more than 60 countries.  It was a point President Bush would reemphasize nine months later in a triumphalist graduation speech at West Point.  At that moment, the struggle they had quickly, if immodestly, dubbed the Global War on Terror was still a one-country affair.  They were, however, already deep into preparations to extend it in ways more radical and devastating than they could ever have imagined with the invasion and occupation of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the domination of the oil heartlands of the planet that they were sure would follow.  (In a comment that caught the moment exactly, Newsweek quoted a British official "close to the Bush team" as saying, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.") ...

One simple question: where did Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, just a few days after 9/11, get the number 60 as the number of countries where the US would take the war against terror, and  George Bush get the same number for a speech at West Point nine months later?  (See the links to their speeches in the excerpt above.)  To me this sounds like a prepared script. 
Read Engelhardt's full column to help yourself be impressed at the beginning of 2018 that the US has now taken the "war on terror" to 76 countries.  (seeing our wars)

Tom Engelhardt--a voice of truth. 


John Dear--Teacher of Nonviolence

by John K. Stoner (January 12, 2018)

    We have all heard people say, “I don’t know who to trust, the media is so unreliable.”  And that is a serious problem.  But I wonder, are all of the people who are saying this making a serious effort to find reliable voices?  I don’t see the evidence that they are.

This has set me on a course to use some blog entries here to share with readers some of the voices I have found reliable over the years

Last blog I shared John Dear’s essay “The Year of Nonviolence or Nonexistence.”  John is in the Roman Catholic tradition, which has a mixed record on the embrace of Jesus message of nonviolent  resistance to empire—actually more dark than light over the centuries.  And the Jesuit Order to which John belonged for years saw fit to make his life so uncomfortable that he left it a few years ago.  But John has remained firm in his witness.  Here you can learn more about that. Breaking Ranks 

As a teacher and educator, John has written many books and articles.  He now works with Pace et Bene (Peace and all good).  You can educate yourself and help others understand the power of nonviolence by reading his writings.  And learn about the nonviolence workshops taught around the country—these are a strong alternative to the apathy and despair into which people sink when they do nothing to act on their sense that something better must be done for our world.  See John’s books and workshops here

John Dear, a reliable voice. 

Year of Nonviolence or Nonexistence--John Dear

by John K. Stoner  (January 9, 2018)

The Rev. John Dear, a consistent and courageous peacemaker, wrote recently in Common Dreams

“Sadly, in the same way that warnings of climate change have mostly been dismissed for decades, Dr. King’s stark framing of the pivotal choice before us—nonviolence or nonexistence—was steadfastly ignored over the past half-century as the United States lurched from another seven years of the Vietnam War to decades of war in Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places, even as the violence of racial injustice, economic inequality, environmental destruction, nuclear proliferation, gun deaths, armed drones, and many other forms of violence spiraled out of control." 

Today I introduce you to, or remind you of, John Dear and his call to active nonviolence as the road to peace and justice, rather than war and superior violence as the road to peace and justice, as advocated by the American empire.  

There is a clear choice between these two ideas of how to make the world a better place.  Nonviolence or nonexistence, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. framed the choice at the Riverside Church in New York in 1967, is the stark choice which faces us more dramatically in 2018 than ever before.  

Dear goes on to say, "Indeed, over these decades we have consistently opted for violence even as we have shunned the word “nonviolence,” as if it were the most dangerous word in the English language" (full article).

I invite you to read Dear's article, and to make a commitment in 2018 to act on the truths he and Martin Luther King have set before us.

Generals Speak on Human Flourishing

by John K. Stoner  (January 5, 2018)

I promised blogs about those who pursue the goal of peace with the methods of peace.  

But first, one more on how hard it is to believe that war will get us to peace. 

Here it is:  How hard is it to believe, as the networks and millions of their viewers obviously do, that retired generals are a good source of wisdom and guidance on world affairs?  

Having generals, active or retired, comment on world affairs makes as much sense as having slave owners comment on civil rights.

Would you believe it?   Generals on human flourishing.   Slave owners on human rights.