May 21, 2010

Calderon Go Home!

If you don't want to like Arizona's law SB1070, ok don't like it. If you think it violates civil rights, then design your own law that gets rid of illegal aliens.

But don't cheer the President of Mexico while he denounces it on the floor of the U.S. Congress!

It was the Democrats who disgraced themselves by standing and clapping, although a few lefties say some (unnamed) Republicans stood too. More likely though those were student pages standing on the GOP side filling in empty seats since many Republicans didn't attend the speech

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has it right

"It's inappropriate for a head of state to question our laws, especially when the state of Arizona only acted in the best interest of its citizens and with the support of seventy percent of its people," said Hatch in a statement.

Hatch said Arizona was forced to pass the immigration law -- which compels state law enforcement officials to require proper legal residency papers from people they suspect may be in the U.S. illegally -- because of the federal government's failure to stop drug and human smugglers, as well as illegal immigrants, from coming across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rasmussen says that 71 percent of Arizonans support the law, and a Fox News poll shows that

...65 percent of American voters think states should have right to make their own immigration laws and protect their borders "if they believe the federal government has failed to act," while 32 percent disagree. Moreover, a 52 percent majority favors their own state passing a bill similar to Arizona's new immigration law. Some 31 percent would oppose it and another 18 percent is unsure...

The key provisions of Arizona's immigration law receive significant support. Over two-thirds (65 percent) favor allowing local authorities to question anyone who they think may be in the country illegally, while 76 percent favor allowing local officials to detain anyone who cannot prove their immigration status.

The Democrats are on the wrong side of this issue.

On the right side of the issue, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA04) blasted Calderon and the Democrats who cheered (via Sister Toldjah)


M. Speaker:

I rise to take strong exception to the speech of the President of Mexico while in this chamber today.

The Mexican government has made it very clear for many years that it holds American sovereignty in contempt and President Calderons behavior as a guest of the Congress confirms and underscores this attitude.

It is highly inappropriate for the President of Mexico to lecture Americans on American immigration policy, just as it would be for Americans to lecture Mexico on its laws.

It is obvious that President Calderon does not understand the nature of America or the purpose of our immigration law.

Unlike Mexicos immigration law -- which is brutally exclusionary -- the purpose of Americas law is not to keep people out. It is to assure that as people come to the United States, they do so with the intention of becoming Americans and of raising their children as Americans.

Unlike Mexico, our nation embraces immigration and what makes that possible is assimilation.

A century ago President Teddy Roosevelt put it this way. He said:

"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language ... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

That is how we have built one great nation from the people of all the nations of the world.

The largest group of immigrants now comes from Mexico. A recent RAND discovered that during most of the 20th Century, while our immigration laws were actually enforced, assimilation worked and made possible the swift attainment of the American dream for millions of immigrants seeking to escape conditions in Mexico.

That is the broader meaning of our nations motto, e pluribus unum from many people, one people, the American people.

But there is now an element in our political structure that seeks to undermine that concept of E Pluribus Unum. It seeks to hyphenate Americans, to develop linguistic divisions, to assign rights and preferences based on race and ethnicity, and to elevate devotion to foreign ideologies and traditions, while at the same time denigrating American culture, American values and American founding principles.

In order to do so, they know that they have to stop the process of assimilation. In order to do that, they must undermine our immigration laws.

It is an outrage that a foreign head of state would appear in this chamber and actively seek to do so. And it is a disgrace that he would be cheered on from the left wing of the White House and by many Democrats in this Congress.

Arizona has not adopted a new immigration law. All it has done is to enforce existing law that President Obama refuses to enforce. It is hardly a radical policy to suggest that if an officer on a routine traffic stop encounters a driver with no drivers license, no passport, and who doesnt speak English, that maybe that individual might be here illegally.

And to those who say we must reform our immigration laws I reply that we dont need to reform them we need to enforce them. Just as every other government does. Just as Mexico does.

Above all, this is a debate of, by and for the American people. If President Calderon wishes to participate in that debate, I invite him to obey our immigration laws, apply for citizenship, do what 600,000 LEGAL immigrants to our nation are doing right now, learn our history and our customs, and become an American. And then he will have every right to participate in that debate.

Until then, I would politely invite him to have the courtesy while a guest of this Congress to abide by the fundamental rules of diplomacy between civilized nations not to meddle in each others domestic debates.

Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2010

05/20/10 News and Headlines Update

Sorry, sorry, not much blogging as I've been so involved in local projects I haven't had time. When I do get to this thing I've been spending my time working on a book review of Kimberley Kagan's The Surge: A Military History. Unfortunately it's going to take another week or so to finish it but if you are interested in that sort of thing make sure to check back.

In the meantime, there are quite a few stories of diverse nature below the fold, so comment away!

Second Amendment

First up is this

Mexican President Felipe Calderon called on Congress Thursday to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons that he said are ending up in the hands of violent drug cartels south of the border, using a highly contentious estimate of U.S. guns seized in Mexico when addressing Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Mr. Calderon said he respects the Second Amendment but argued that violence south of the border spiked in 2004 after the expiration of a U.S. ban on semiautomatic weapons. Echoing statements made by President Obama Wednesday, Mr. Calderon said the U.S. bears some responsibility in propping up the drug trade with its demand for narcotics and supply of guns.

Of course, they don't have a Second Amendment in Mexico, and although the Mexican Constitution allegedly guarantees the right to own firearms, legislation has made it nearly impossible to do so. So it's all a lot of nonsense for him to say he respects it.

But there are a few larger points.

One, liberals are always telling us that we can't sacrifice our civil liberties for the sake of reducing crime. In this case they are mostly right. Once those gun-control freaks an inch and they'll take a mile.

More, the problem has little to do with guns per se. The problems are demand for drugs in the U.S. and the fact that Mexico is just about a failed state. It's run by an oligarchy that has rigged the system to keep the rich people rich and give no one else a chance. They callously boot their poor over the border and then complain when we object.

The simple fact is that any gun ban won't make the slightest dent in the drug trade. Calderon is using it to cover up the corruption of his own government, and liberals in the U.S. will use it as cover for their anti-Second Amendment agenda.

Illegal Immigration

You just can't talk about Mexico without talking about illegal immigration and the story of CNN's Wolf Blitzer's interview with Mexican President Felipe Calderon has just about gone viral


Here's a summary of some of the interview:

Citing a Washington Times article explaining Mexican immigration laws that incriminated those who willfully participated in illegal immigration or helped illegal immigrants, Blitzer asked President Calderón to contrast those laws with Arizona's. Calderón replied that, while the Times assessment used to be true, it is no longer, and immigration cannot be illegal in Mexico. "Of course, on the border, we are asking people 'Who are you?'" explained Calderón, and "Once they are inside the country, what the Mexican police do is, of course, enforce the law, but any means immigration is a crime anymore in Mexico... if someone does that, we find them and sending [sic] them back."

In response to that, Blitzer noted that many in the US do not know that Mexico does not criminalize illegal immigration, and reference the older, harsher laws to argue that border states are only trying to do what Mexico does in its lower half, as well.

Blitzer later asks if Mexico checks papers at the border, and Calderon says yes, but when then asked if Mexican police do not go around asking for papers to prove residency, Calderon of course answers no. The coup de grace is when Blitzer follows up by asking him if a Guatemalan who is illegally in Mexico can just go and get a job, and Calderon is forced to answer no.

Yet he demands that we allow Mexicans to come illegally into the U.S. and get jobs.

Illegal Immigration II

Here's a headline good for a laugh Obama urges passage of immigration law
Fears racial profiling by states

Who are all these people kidding who claim that they object to Arizona's law because it allegedly profiles? We all know they're just in favor of illegal immigration.

Here, I'll prove it. My challenge to anyone who claims that they object to Arizona's SB1070 over civil rights issues is this; write your own law that enforces our immigration laws and gets reduces the number of illegals in the country. They never do it.

Leftist Intolerance

Here's a story that struck me today, Scientist booted off oil panel over writing

The Energy Department removed a St. Louis scientist from a select group picked by the Obama administration to pursue a solution to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico because of writings on his website about homosexuality and race relations.

Washington University physics professor Jonathan Katz was one of five top scientists chosen by the Department of Energy and attended meetings in Houston last week.

Mr. Katz is a leading scientist, but his website postings often touch on social issues. Some of those writings include defenses of "homophobia" and doubts about the value of racial preferences and similar diversity efforts.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu was not aware of Mr. Katz's writings before selecting him for the panel, spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller told the Associated Press. It was not immediately clear how the department became aware of the writings.

"Dr. Chu has spoken with dozens of scientists and engineers as part of his work to help find solutions to stop the oil spill," a statement from the Energy Department said. "Some of Professor Katz's controversial writings have become a distraction from the critical work of addressing the oil spill. Professor Katz will no longer be involved in the Department's efforts."

Mr. Katz, reached by phone by The Washington Times, said he had no comment and referred a reporter to official statements.

"There's enough mud being thrown around. I think it would be better if I just referred you to the public record," he said.

The extent of work he performed on the oil-spill recovery effort was not immediately known.

In a website posting titled "In Defense of Homophobia," Mr. Katz wrote that "the human body was not designed to share hypodermic needles, it was not designed to be promiscuous, and it was not designed to engage in homosexual acts."

"Engaging in such behavior is like riding a motorcycle on an icy road without a helmet. It may be possible to get away with it for a while, and a few misguided souls may get a thrill out of doing so, but sooner or later (probably sooner) the consequences will be catastrophic. Lethal diseases spread rapidly among people who do such things," he said.

In another posting, Mr. Katz questioned the value of universities' diversity efforts, saying they show no intellectual diversity and merely ingrain race-based thinking.

"The diversity movement is racist at its core," he writes. "When dealing with people, we should be concerned with intellect, talent, character and accomplishment. People aren't dogs or cattle; race matters only to racists."

When I read the things that Mr Katz wrote I thought "yeah, I believe most of that too."

Just remember, the left loves diversity! And don't you dare say otherwise.

Elena Kagan

We're supposed to believe that Elena Kagan is a moderate, that she's oh-so-smart, yada yada. Well, I don't know about the second part but anyone who believes the former needs to let me know because I've got a nice bridge to sell you.

She'll turn into another proponent of the "living constitution" theory which basically says make it up as you go along to fit your political agenda. Yep, it's Queen of Hearts time, folks, conclusion first, Constitution second. Want to take bets on how may penumbras she'll find over the course of her time on the bench?

Don't believe me? From her masters thesis: "Judges will often try to mold and steer the law in order to promote certain ethical values and achieve certain social ends.... Such activity is not necessarily wrong or invalid."

"Anti-Incumbent? Try Anti-Obama"

Fred Barnes says it's nonsense to think that the mood in this country is anti-incumbent:

The idea that anti-incumbent fever, striking equally at Democrats and Republicans, is the defining feature of the 2010 election is as misguided as last year's notion that President Obama's oratory would tilt the nation in favor of his ambitious agenda. Yet the media, echoing the Obama White House, has adopted anti-incumbency as the all-purpose explanation of this year's political developments...

What demolishes the notion of anti-incumbency as a scourge on both parties are the calculations of credible political analysts--Democrats and Republicans from Charles Cook to Jay Cost to Nathan Silver to James Carville--about the outcome of November's general election. They believe dozens of congressional Democrats either trail Republican challengers or face toss-up races, while fewer than a handful of Republicans are in serious re-election trouble...

If there's a Republican wave in November, Republicans will capture the Senate seats in Kentucky and Arkansas and probably in Pennsylvania as well. The most important political event of the week may have been the revelation that the Democratic Senate candidate in Connecticut, the state's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, had falsely claimed to be a Vietnam veteran. That gives a Republican a chance to win in Connecticut, too--and maybe even a Senate majority.

We'll see. I'm not taking anything for granted. We've got a very good Republican congressman where I live in Frank Wolf (VA-10) , but he did vote for TARP which won't play well. I'm going all out to support him this year.

A Bomb South of the Border

Not in Mexico, thank heavens. But Brazil? Who do they have to worry about?

Turns out they've "extending over $1 billion in credit to Iran, in order to boost Brazilian exports to the country" . There goes the sanctions regime.

Above all, there is reason for doubt because of numerous signs that Brazil is working on its own secret nuclear program. The evidence is discussed in a recent paper by German nuclear security expert Hans Rühle. The paper is available in English from the German Council on Foreign Relations here. One point in Rühle's paper is of particular interest in connection with the policies of the current American administration. Rühle notes that in its December 2008 National Defense Strategy, Brazil confirmed its status as a member of the NPT, but also stated that "Brazil will not agree to any additional NPT restrictions until the nuclear weapons states make more progress toward nuclear disarmament." Concretely, Rühle points out, this meant that Brazil would not sign on to the 1997 additional protocol to the NPT allowing for expanded IAEA inspections and, in particular, would refuse to be more forthcoming about its suspect nuclear submarine program.

Brazil's conditioning of NPT cooperation upon the progress made by the existing nuclear powers toward nuclear disarmament reveals how the global "nuclear zero" campaign, of which Barack Obama has made himself the spokesperson, plays into the hands of would-be proliferators. After all, Iran itself has used similar arguments. Moreover, the stated condition for cooperation is entirely vague and flexible. How much "progress" is enough progress?

Another story with additional details here.

Lamest Mascots Ever

We end on a lighter note. Recently unveiled are Wenlock and Mandeville, the mascots for the 2012 Olympics in London

Wenlock and Mandeville

Video and story at The Guardian:

In the end they were neither animal, vegetable nor mineral. Nor, as some cynics had predicted, did they resemble white elephants.

Instead, Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots, elicited mostly baffled reactions as to just what they were at their unveiling today.

With a metallic finish, a single large eye made out of a camera lens, a London taxi light on their heads and the Olympic rings represented as friendship bracelets on their wrists, they resemble characters dreamed up for a Pixar animation.

Perfectly androgynous, they represent what the UK has become. No wonder the British Empire fell.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 24, 2010

Mission to Guatemala

Guatemala is a country behind a wall. Every house, every family, every community, every business, exists behind a stark concrete brick wall. This holds true in the cities, towns, and countryside. Those who can afford it put coils of razor wire on top. Others affix shards of broken bottles and pieces of glass, the sharp angles stuck up in menacing fashion. Most walls are some 7 to 15 feet high. All property save large plots of farmland is enclosed. Mostly the walls are painted an off-white.

Most doors to these are a simple piece of corrugated sheet metal attached by some sort of hinge system. Those with money install steel gates of the sort you see anywhere, and hire a guard to operate it. If it's a business of any size as often as not there will be one or two guards nervously fingering a pistol-grip shotgun.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

Driving down the street of a Guatemalan town or village is to drive down a tunnel. Did I say the streets are narrow with only the smallest of sidewalks on each side?

All windows have bars on them. Not just in the cities and towns, but all of them everywhere.

Inside the compound may be up to a dozen families. The poor, who make up the vast majority of this country live in concrete block or reed houses. Sometimes the houses are separate buildings, but often just a maze of rooms and courtyards.

Some doors are kept open during the day, a family member setting out a box or two of fruit to sell. Others set up "mini-marts" inside a (very) small room that opens onto the street. Superstores are rare.

Cooking is done over a wood fire inside the reed or concrete block house, which usually has a dirt floor. The smoke makes it almost unbearable to be inside while this is happening, but they seem not to notice.

Maps indicate the country is forested or woodlands. Not. Most of it has been cut down to fuel cooking fires or provide land for farming.

The country is a giant trash dump. Miles and miles of trash by the side of the road. Look over a fence and you'll see a lot more. The byproduct of our advanced manufacturing produce is a lack of biodegradable packaging, the result of which is in full view everywhere in this country.

Stray dogs are everywhere. Many were fearful of humans.

Pet lovers are advised to steel themselves or not visit such places. Inside the compounds we visited were dogs and puppies, cats and kittens, parrots and other birds as pets. All were in dreadful condition. All so terribly sad.

Most people seem to keep chickens. All were scrawny. One family kept a rabbit, which was large and healthy. It was kept in netting in the lower branches of a small tree. Carrot and other vegetable scraps lined the ground below it.

Almost half the population is Mayan Indian. Traditional dress is the norm among the women, especially in the poorer villages. It's amazing how much they can balance on their head.

The poverty is numbing. Not pockets of it as in the United States, but miles and miles of the most abject conditions.

The smell of vehicle exhaust is everywhere, no matter how far into the countryside one goes. Many vehicles spout a visible black smoke. The rest don't seem to have anything in the way of pollution controls, something that becomes obvious if you find yourself near an exhaust pipe.

The drivers are nuts. Pedestrians run every which a direction. People walk everywhere, and think nothing of cutting across the busiest highways. The death toll must horrifying.

American school buses get a second life in Guatemala. Brightly painted for identification (most Guatemalans can't read), they are run by independent operators who provide the "public" transportation system for the country. They're everywhere. And the drivers are crazy.

Paradoxes abound. One day we went to visit a Mayan friend from the last year's mission in one of these compounds in which a family lived in typically appalling conditions. Only the wife was home. "Where is Ferdinand?", we asked. "On the mountain working his field," we were told. She pointed off into the distance, and after a bit we could make out a spec on the side of what must have been a 45 degree slope. "I'll get him" she said, and whipped out her cell phone.

In among a typically ugly and poverty-stricken town was an artificial-tree cellular tower. I was stunned. It was like perfume on body odor, like a flower in sewer. Who could think that such a thing would make any difference? Was it the result of some misguided grant from a well-meaning Western company? Was it in the yard of a politically-connected crony? Or just the result of an incompetent government so unfortunately typical of these counties?

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

A bad photo of the tower. If you're sure what type of cell tower I'm talking about, go here.

Welcome to the Third World.

Don't get me wrong; I roughly knew what I would encounter, and I've seen what I thought was serious poverty on mission trips around the east coast of the U.S. I wasn't so much shocked as numbed from seeing so much of it.

More, I am fully aware that Guatemala a few steps up from the worst our planet has to offer. We're not anywhere near African refugee camp here. As measured by GDP per capita the International Monetary Fund ranks Guatemala 108 out of 180 nations, the World Bank 100 out of 170, and the CIA World Factbook 110 out of 191 (see link for explanations).

Details, Details

Ten of us went from Cornerstone Chapel church in Leesburg, Virginia. We were in partnership with the missionary team of Forrest and Carol Kendall of Servants 4 Him

The Kendalls live in Antigua in a compound where the houses are up to Western standards. Antigua, a town of some 34,000 people at about 4,900 feet, is in the central highlands of Guatemala and is surrounded by three volcanoes, most of which are active. This sight greeted me one morning:

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

This marks my fifth mission trip, and ninth foreign country. Other mission trips were to Cumberland MD, Marion VA, Camden NY, and Scotland. On the first three we rebuilt houses, and in Scotland we taught a Vacation Bible School class. The first three were with a church in Vienna VA and Scotland with Cornerstone Chapel. The Foreign countries I've been to are (not in order of visitation) Canada, the UK (two trips; Scotland and a separate trip to London), Ireland, France, Belgium, Russia, Greece, Israel, and now Guatemala.

In addition to this blog, you can read the posts at the Cornerstone Chapel blog for additional perspectives. I wrote the one for day two, the one about our dental clinic and visit to Fernando's house.

Our primary work project was to build and rebuild some houses in a compound where the Lopez family lived, some 12 adults and 10 children total. The entire area was maybe a quarter acre at most, and held some four small houses. Two were all concrete block, one half block with a (rotted)wooden upper-half, and the fourth made of reeds. the roofs on all was corregated steel.

We brought with us many items that we donated/gave and used in our various projects. Basically we used our two checked luggage bags to bring team materials, and relied on our carry-on for all personal items. Some of the team materials were

- Hundreds of used children's shoes and clothing
- Hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Fun and games materials for the kids; coloring books, crayons, soccer balls, etc

Yup, we maxed out the weight limit on each bag.

Ten of us came from a church in Loudoun County, split evenly between men and women. We worked with a husband-and-wife missionary team permanently stationed in Antigua, Guatemala. The compound was in a small village inhabited by Mayan Indians maybe an hours drive from their house.

Our schedule was as follows

Thursday - travel
Friday - visit to Santiago Atitlan, a remote Mayan village
Saturday - dental clinic
Sunday - church in Guatemala city and free afternoon
Monday through Thursday - work in the Lopez family compound in a small village near Antigua
Friday - travel

The missionaries host teams from around the United States on a regular basis. The work projects are kind of an ongoing thing, so what one team starts another finishes. We did not finish all of the work in the Lopez family compound, for example, leaving some of it for the next team. More on this below

More on this later, but missionary work is a combination of spreading the gospel and doing good works. Essentially we show our faith through works. Missionaries do works to lead people to Jesus. The families in this compound were Christians, the result of efforts by the missionaries in the previous months.

The Gift

As I was laying concrete block one day one of the Mayan men, tapped me on the shoulder. "Follow me," he indicated through sign language.

He took me over to his house, which was a reed hut measuring maybe 20 by 8 feet. The roof was corrugated steel, held on by nothing more than gravity and a few bricks on top. The door was at one corner of the rectangular structure.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010
The reed hut is the structure to the right, and the door is swung open

Immediately to my left as I entered was a concrete sink, where two children played in water of dubious quality. In another corner a wood fire smoldered, over which the family was cooking their lunch of tortillas. Towards the back was some bedding, all on a dirt floor. The wife was sitting, and was holding one of her four children in a sling around her neck. Another child sat nearby, and the youngest, maybe a year or so old, sat by the woman's feet, eating, or rather sucking on, a mango. They indicated I should sit, which i did.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010
I went back and took these photos after the event

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

The odor wasn't exactly overwhelming, but it wasn't where you'd want to be. I shouldn't have to say that these we're folks who've never seen, much less taken, a bath or shower. And I'm not too proud to admit that at that moment I was glad I'd made sure I was current on my vaccinations before I left the states, and gotten a few extra of the sort you only need while in a third world country besides.

It was your basic Third World hell.

The ability to learn a foreign language has never been one of my skills, and even though I've memorized a few phrases my Spanish is pretty bad. Nevertheless, we introduced each other, and as always I used the Spanish "Tomas" as my given name. The Mayan adults were Jorge and his wife Candida, children Sara, Elsa, Jessie, Presley, and Isirisa (spellings unsure). The man's brother (I think), Valeniano, was also there.

We went through some hand signals and some pidgin Spanish and one of the men brought out two small fans. He pointed to a bundle of reeds in the corner, and to the fans, and indicated they had made them. A few of the kids took them, fanned me, and they communicated that they were there gift to me for helping rebuild their community.

Despite the circumstances I was quite touched by the gesture.

Understand that I may as well have been part of an "away team" from the Starship Enterprise to these people. Although we had tried to communicate it as best we could, they had no conception of what the United States was or really where I had come from. They'd never been more than a few miles from their place of birth, and had maybe a few years of schooling. Most were illiterate. Their universe consisted of their valley, a few mountains beside them, and a nearby town or two. For all they knew this was the entire planet.

So on the one hand I was just part of a team of strangers who showed up every morning for a few days who helped rebuild their compound. They didn't really understand that I live in riches beyond their conception. Surely from my clothes and tools they knew we lived better, though from what I was told few if any of them had seen the inside of a modern home. So although I saw it as a dirt-poor family with nothing to give take the time and effort to make something that they could give as a token of appreciation to someone far richer, they no doubt didn't see the contrast as starkly as I did.

Nevertheless, they did think they had to give us something as a token. All of us on the mission team got these fans.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010
The fans back home

Now, all this said, it's quite possible that there was another motive behind the gift. We were not scheduled to rebuild the reed house that week, and I did hear word that Jorge (or one of them) had asked us to do so. So the gift could have been a sort of bribe or incentive to see if they could get us to do their house also. They didn't say anything to me about this at the time, but then again my understanding of what they were saying was spotty. Call me cynical, but I discuss the issue of Westerners being "taken in" in more detail below.

In the end I prefer to think that the gift was just that; a gift. I certainly hope it was, and that's how I'm going to remember it. After all, I'm not a newspaper reporter, writing a Ph.D. dissertation, or trying to justify a grant from some organization.

Theme Verse

Philippians 2:1-18

1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Shining as Stars
12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

14Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16as you hold out[c] the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. 17But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

v 1-4 is what do to
v 5 is how to do it
v 6-11 is as clear a statement of Christ Jesus as you'll find anywhere in the Bible.
v 12-18 is how to serve; "your attitude should be ____"

Did our team always meet the standard? Of course not. Do I? Don't be silly. Do all Christians? You know the answer to that.

But we try.

Not the Noble Savage

Don't think I have illusions about the Mayans. They have their petty squabbles and jealousies just as anyone else. One of the men who lived in the compound where we were working asked some of us on the team for various personal items several times. We told one of our missionaries, and she said that yes, he had a problem about this sort of thing and she'd have to speak with him about it.

I'm also fully aware that history is littered with the carcasses of Western intellectuals who have made fools of themselves by being utterly taken in by their hosts during a short visit to a foreign country.

"I have been over into the future, and it works"

Lincoln Steffens, 1921, after a visit to the Soviet Union

Paul Hollander wrote an entire book on this phenomenon; Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society . It's the story of Western intellectuals who traveled to communist countries, and came back and said they had found paradise. Two things contributed to this result: One, they let their preconceived notions determine their conclusions, and Two, their hosts went all out to pull the wool over their eyes. Of course our trip to Guatemala was different, but the lessons are still worth keeping in mind.

I try and remind myself of Hollander's book whenever I visit a foreign country. If nothing else, you need to keep in mind that by definition you're going to get a limited perspective from a short visit.

So I'll stick to a few quick observations. The Mayans are a short people, and not a woman I saw was more than 5 feet tall, with most being a lot shorter than that. They're an attractive people. I saw a few that seemed almost half-Korean, which made me look twice. Like other Indians, they came across on the land bridge from Asia after the last Ice Age, so my off-the-cuff theory is that it's a gene popping up every now and then.

There's not a lot of desire for upward mobility, we were told. It's as if they have a sort of "slave mentality," one that dates back to the days of true Spanish persecution. They're cultured to believe that they just can't get ahead, so there's no reason to try.

Don't Drink the Water

We've all heard the adage: "Don't drink the water in Mexico or you'll get Montezuma's Revenge!" And it's true, if you drink the water in any Third World country you'll be sorry.

What usually goes along with this advice is something to the effect that "the locals have built up a resistance to the bacteria so they're unaffected."

This second part is most certainly not true. The truth is that they're sick their entire lives. Ok, they do have some resistance so it's not quite so bad for them as it is from us, but they have diarrhea from the day they're born until when they die. That's the part they're used to.

One of the projects our missionaries do is install water filters. It's a sand filtration system, which long story short traps the troublesome bacteria and viruses and makes the water safe. The missionaries drink the water from them, though I didn't have a chance to.


When they drink clean water, and their bowels function normally, they think they're sick. They have to be informed that's the way it normally works.

The Hairy Beast

On Friday the 16th we visited a remote Mayan village called Santiago Atitlan. The town is on the edge of a lake called Lago de Atitlán, and is only accessible by boat ride from the town of Santiago Atitlan. The lake is situated between two volcanoes, and is at 5,105 feet (1,556 m). It was a several hour drive to Santiago Atitlan, and maybe an hour boat ride to our destination.

Once their, our interpreter hired a small pickup, and 10 of us piled in the back, standing up and hanging onto a system of bars they'd installed as handholds, and off we went.

We came to the courtyard where there was a church surrounded by some of their homes. We were in the poorest part of the village.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

A few dozen kids aged maybe 2-8 came up and we played with them a bit. Then it was inside the church for some fun and games.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

This would be me, surrounded by a dozen children.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

Apparently the kids only spoke a Mayan dialect, because while Christie, one of our Guatemalan friends, led the events in Spanish, a Mayan girl of maybe 12 translated everything she said into another tongue.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

During a lul in the activities, one of the children looked at my arm, and put his hand out and ran it over my arm feeling the hair. Another child did likewise, then another. Realizing what was up, I lifted my pants leg to my knee, revealing what was to them more body hair then they've ever seen. A dozen children said "Ohhhhhh" all at once, and several hands went forth to feel what was to them the leg of a hairy beast.

A View to a Drilling

The next day we set up a dental clinic in Santiago Zamora, which was within a half hour drive of Antigua. It was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I've been on several mission trips, and to several foreign countries, and each one has been unique. Each time God has decided He wanted to show me something special, and to use me in a special way to fulfill His plan. As I should well have expected, today was no different.

The plan was that our team would have fun and games with the kids as Duck-Duck-Goose! while they and the adults waited their turn for the dentist. We taught them songs and games about Jesus, color in pictures with crayons, and do a variety of all the sorts of arts and crafts that we do in the states for Sunday School.

Other team members taught the children how to brush their teeth, and then we distributed the toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste that we'd brought from the states.

Meanwhile, inside one of the school rooms we'd set up a dental shop. And we had one amazing dentist.

Dennis was his name, so of course he was "Dennis the dentist" for the rest of the day. A Guatemalan, his regular practice is at the church were is father is pastor. He brought his whole family, and two of his kids acted as dental helpers. The daughter, the eldest, held the tools required for that operation on a tray, while the son prepared the novocaine shots and handed other instruments as required. Meanwhile, his wife took over operations outside, choreographing the games and other activities. Each one, husband, and wife, were masterful at their respective ministries.

One of our number from Loudoun was a professional dental assistant, so she would help the dentist just as happens in a regular office. She sat right beside the operating table the entire time, handling suction and all those things that the dental assistant does back home.

Then, just as we got ready to start, a little problem crept up. The light that Dennis was going to wear on his head wouldn't work. The schoolroom was somewhat dark, and without a direct light there was no way he could see into the his patent's mouth well enough to work. We fiddled with it for a bit, changing batteries and such, and several of us guys all had a whack at it (stop laughing ladies, you know we all like to fix stuff). But try as we might we couldn't make it work.

Finally, I went outside to ask our team members if they by chance had a flashlight on then, and lo and behold Tim had one! It was just perfect, an LED with a sharp beam.

Thing is, Dennis couldn't wear Tim's flashlight on his head. So yours truly held that flashlight for about 8-10 operations until a new headlight could be brought in.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

Patient after patient filed in, and Dennis drilled, filled, and extracted. And I got to watch the whole thing from about two feet away.

Dennis' wife leading the activities outside:

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

What it's Really All About

In the end, though, it's not about good works per se. Oh yes, we're there to help people, to make their lives a little better, don't get me wrong. And indeed we show our love for Jesus through the works that we do. It's just that there's that thing called eternity that is just ever so slightly more important.

So while all this dentistry was going on, and the children and adults were learning outside, God was at work all around us.

You see, it wasn't us doing that work. It wasn't through our foresight, abilities, or organizational skills that made it all happen. It was the Holy Spirit at work in that room that made those things happen.

Which leads to our next story

There but for the Grace of God go I

Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.

Proverbs 22:2

As the work at the clinic wore down, several of us took a walk to visit a Christian family in the town. There we met Fernando and his family.

Let's just tell it like it is: Fernando and his family live in what we would consider appalling conditions. A few small shacks in a courtyard of maybe a 1/4 acre, a dirt yard, no furniture except what passed for a bed, and a bunch of scrawny chickens in a pen.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010
Fernando is the man on the far right

Fernando was uneducated but obviously smart. He worked with us at the main job site (more on that below) and he had construction skills. It was impossible to tell his age but he was physically strong. Born in another time or place he could have been a vice president of sales or... a dentist himself.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

And it could have been you or me in that house of his instead.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

1 Timothy 6: 7

The people we met today may not have a single thing on this earth that you or I would consider treasure, but they have treasures in heaven that would be the envy of King Solomon himself. Can I say likewise for myself? It is a question we should all ponder.

Latinos, Ladinios, and Gringos

We say "Hispanic" here in the states, but they don't use that term in Guatemala. The term for (relatively) pure Spanish folks is "Latinio." For those who are of mixed Spanish and Mayan heritage, it's "Ladino."

And much to my surprise "Gringo" is not a derogatory term, but just an every day description for Caucasians. We therefore had much fun calling ourselves "gringos" in various situations.

Barry the Builder

One of the men on the team, Barry, was a professional builder by trade, so he and Fernando ran the show. The other guys and myself had office jobs of of no practical value so we basically did as we were told all week. I learned how to build various rebar cages, pour footings, and do brickwork.

Monday through Thursday we built and rebuild the houses on the Lopez family compound. As mentioned above, it wasn't necessary for us to complete all of the projects, as the next team from the states would do that. From the Cornerstone Chapel blog

We had planned on rebuilding two kitchens, that grew to three. We had planned to replace a toilet, "bano", not only are we replacing one toilet, we are adding two more, complete with bathrooms (not as we know them), and added a shower. Today (day 6) we connected the kitchen sink "pilla" of one home to the community drainage system. Until now, it has had no connection at all, but ran right out onto the ground. We are also giving them a toilet, their first.


Get the sisters house finished and under roof (done), 2. Frame out the two new kitchens on top of the blocks we had laid so the Lopez family could have "open air" kitchens on their new stoves (done), 3. Pour concrete slabs around the plumbing completed yesterday for another toilet, shower, and pilla (done). Even though we are leaving with much yet to completed, the transformation of the Lopez families property is amazing. It is such a vast improvement and Fernando and other laborers Servants 4 Him will hire will complete the project after we are gone.

In addition, the women on the team led the painting efforts, sewed and hung curtains, organized and facilitated the shoe and clothing distribution program, and purchasing and distributing other gifts.

Here are a few construction photos

Digging the foundations
Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

They wanted their houses painted pink on the outside and lime green on the inside, so we obliged. It certainly livened things up
Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

Fernando laying a foundation
Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

One of the rebuilt houses. Now it just needs to be painted and curtains hung. It has a single electrical bulb and two outlets.
Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

So that they didn't have to cook over an open fire, here is one of their new stoves, purchased by people who donate money to Servants4Him.
Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

The People

I'm writing this after jason left his comments below, and it made me think I needed a specific section on just this topic. Basically, I echo all of his comments about the people of developing, or third world, nations.

The men of our team drove to work each day with about four or more of us in the back of a pickup. The sight of several 'gringos' sitting in the back of a pickup on their way to/from what was obviously manual labor got many looks as it was no doubt quite an unusual sight, but when we smiled waved to the people they all smiled and waved back.

The fact is that once you got out of Guatemala City almost all of the people we met did seem happy (big cities do something to people, I'm convinced). All of the Mayans I met were gentle, kind, and happy. They had the smiles and dignity that jason noticed in the parts of the world he visited (see his travelblog, Alexa and Jason's World Travels).

The families we helped neither wanted to be charity cases nor were embarrassed that we had come to help them and do things that they could not themselves. In my mission/work trips to parts of the U.S. we did encounter both attitudes, and frankly it was both disturbing and annoying. It was a pleasure to experience a completely different attitude this time.

From the Cornerstone Chapel blog

The entire week, our team never thought of themselves as special or as the rescuers for this poor Mayan family. Nor, did the Lopez family heap superfluous praise on our team. Instead, both our team and the Lopez family articulated that all that took place was from God and for His glory. We had come out of obedience and love and they received all that we did with thanksgiving in their hearts for God's provision. God was truly glorified!

Both the men and women of the Lopez family did what they could to help us. The men mixed the concrete and mortar and did so quickly and efficiently as soon as we told them we needed more. They helped carry bricks and other supplies as needed. The women kept the children away from areas where we were working (safety as much as anything) and they were quick to help in other ways by picking up a stray tool or such as required.

We shared our lunch with them every day.

Again, their attitude was neither that of dependency (the "gimme gimme gimme" that we see in the West), nor were they embarrassed that they could not build or afford new homes themselves. They took it all in course as just the way things were. How utterly refreshing.

Another interesting thing to note was that when they went out of their compounds the Mayan women tended to dress very nicely. This may seem a disconnect; living in abject poverty yet taking the time to put on one's good clothes and jewelry when going out, but it's really not. Look at photos of street scenes in the United States from 100 years ago and you'll notice that most or many men have on a suit and the women a dress. Today, most of us have on very casual clothes no matter what our income. In my life I've seen office attire go from tie required to business casual to every-day dress in some officers. We're much wealthier in the modern United States, yet we dress like slobs.

The explanation is simple; we all want to have some dignity and dressing relatively nice is an efficient way to do it if you don't have any money and live in bad circumstances.

The Shoes! The Shoes!

As stated above, we brought with us many things to donate both to the Lopez family and the other projects our missionaries were working on.

Before the trip team members gathered used children's shoes from friends, and toothbrushes and toothpaste donated by local businesses and hotels. We were truly blessed that so many good people and businesses gave so much!

We outfitted the Lopez family with new shoes and clothing, and here are some photos of the distribution.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

Did We Do Any Good?

The poverty is so widespread, pervasive, and overwhelming that I partially feel like what I did was so minor as to be insignificant. Even all of the many projects Servants 4 Him do is insignificant in the big scheme of things.

Some people, though, do have better lives, and have a shot at a better future. We can't save the world but we can help a little part of it.

But as mentioned before we weren't there to simply build houses.

Temporary Goodbyes: That Little Thing Called Eternity

On Thursday we gathered our tools and finished our projects. It was time to say goodbye. For now.

We distributed photos of ourselves and them that we'd taken during the week. We'd also brought pictures of our families from home that we gave the Lopez'. We even had them laminated so they would last.

The women on our team stared some songs, but before long the Lopez ladies took over and led us in Spanish

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010
I really do need a new camera, one that will do better in low light.

Guatemala Mission April 2010,Guatemala Mission Trip April 2010

Although I didn't know the words to the songs, it was evident by the way they pointed upwards a few times what they were about. The emotions grew heavy as we/they sang more. Hugs and kisses went all around before we finally had to leave.

I do truly believe that I will see those members of the Lopez family again in heaven one day. I believe I'll see my own family members, and indeed pets, again one day, and it's thoughts like those that keep me going.

This isn't a religion blog, so I won't hammer this point too hard. You either believe this or you don't, but I hold the Christian belief that it's faith in Jesus that gets you into heaven. Works are fine and good, but in the end it's eternity that counts.

Links and More

All of my photos can be found on my Photobucket site.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 21, 2010

Haiti Briefing - 19 January 2010 - Military Relief Efforts Under Way

This briefing is by Major General Daniel B. Allyn, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Unified Response. Previous to this assignment, General Allyn was the deputy commanding general for the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. On Tuesday General Allyn spoke via satellite from Haiti, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an operational update on progress in providing relief to the suffering people of that country.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From General Allyn's opening remarks:

GEN. ALLYN: ...We are employing all of our resources as fast as we can. And we continue to make progress here every day. We do not underestimate the scope of the challenge in front of us. We are here at the request of the government of Haiti. And we are working in partnership with the United Nations and the international community.

We enjoy incredible teamwork and support with and for all contributing parties and the people of Haiti. As I stated, we are making progress daily and building our capacity to deliver more each day, to those most in need.

Key developments today and on the immediate horizon: The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, has arrived and will move about 800 Marines ashore beginning today to support communities west of Port-au-Prince that gravely need assistance. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division -- nearly 1,000 strong -- continue to flow into country to support relief efforts in the vicinity of Port-au-Prince. The hospital ship the United States Naval Ship Comfort will arrive offshore tomorrow morning, increasing medical support available to the people of Haiti.

In addition, yesterday afternoon, United States Air Force C-17 aircraft flew nonstop from Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, and delivered nearly 15,000 meals and over 15,000 liters of water to citizens in northeast Port-au-Prince. This aerial delivery augments our ongoing relief efforts and continues to extend our reach to the stricken.

We currently have over 2,000 boots on the ground and over 5,000 afloat, and we anticipate we will have an aggregate strength of over 10,000 within the coming weeks, with about 50 percent of those forces directly involved in delivering humanitarian assistance ashore.

As of this morning, in support of humanitarian assistance efforts, we have delivered over 400,000 bottles of water and 300,000 rations to the people of Haiti in the past six days. Within the next several days, we'll have more than a dozen water-purification units producing water for humanitarian assistance needs across Haiti. Our ships supporting the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are producing 40,000 gallons of water per day for distribution in support of humanitarian assistance efforts.

Within days, we'll approach a self-sustaining water production capacity.

On to the Q & A. Most of the questions are along the lines of "why can't we do more faster." Quite understandable given the level of suffering. I don't know enough about either the situation on the ground in Haiti or the logistics of relief efforts to provide any commentary, so this will be quite different than the usual Afghanistan or Iraq briefings. A few excerpts that make the point:

Q General, it's Anne Flaherty with Associated Press. Could you explain to us why it took almost a week to organize the C-17 airdrop that you mentioned that took place yesterday? And do you have any more airdrops that are planned? Why didn't they do this sooner?

GEN. ALLYN: Obviously, the aerial delivery of supplies is a capability that has been part of our arsenal from the outset. The fact is that it takes forces on the ground to secure the areas where these drops must go in and to organize the people to avoid a chaotic distribution when those supplies come in. And we needed to wait until we had adequate forces to enable that to happen. And with that capacity building every day, we will continue to use this and every other means available to us to increase the reach of our efforts to the people of Haiti.

Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. People who are familiar with logistics say to me that, since you have a single runway at Port-au-Prince airport, it would make sense to create an unimproved runway. And they say you could do that with heavy equipment: create a dirt strip, and you could start moving in more C-130s, because they can land on just about anything. Is there any thought being given to creating that unimproved runway in Haiti?

GEN. ALLYN: There are several existing runways that are being assessed, and those that are immediately capable are being integrated into the air-flow plan. And we will begin to use two alternate aerial ports of entry within the next 24 to 48 hours, to relieve some of the pressure on Port-au-Prince.

And as you know, that you've been following this situation, the team of Air Force units and supporting units have been doing herculean work, extraordinary work, at Port-au-Prince. We have increased to over 200 sorties a day, from a capacity that on an average day, pre- earthquake, was 13 commercial aircraft into Port-au-Prince airport; so an extraordinary amount of work.

Q General, this is Dave Martin with CBS. You said the 2nd Brigade Combat Team is in Haiti 1,000 strong. The original timeline had the entire brigade being in Haiti by this weekend. So what is holding up the deployment of the full brigade? And if you can airdrop supplies, why can't you airdrop the troops themselves?

GEN. ALLYN: Yeah, that's a great question. And obviously the delivery of capability here in Haiti is a -- is a balancing act that requires troops on the ground to distribute humanitarian assistance, the supplies for them to distribute, and the mobility necessary for them to be able to reach the communities that are most stricken. And quite frankly, the earthquake did not take into account the location of drop zones when it achieved the effects that it did, and if we were to airdrop the 82nd, we then have other challenges inherent in that, and our focus becomes distribution of them from their dispersed locations to where they need to help. And suffice to say that in the ground commanders' view, we are using the best method possible to get the most forces on the ground as quickly as possible.

The insertion of the Marine expeditionary unit demonstrates one of those examples, where they will reach areas we've been unable to get to yet.

And we expect the last load of 2nd Brigade Combat Team to land here within the next 36 hours. And the adjustment in that airflow was in order to get higher priority capability on the ground, so that when those troopers arrived, they would be fully capable of disbursing the critical supplies that are needed.

Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. (Inaudible.) Understanding you said that, you know, the (USNS) Comfort arrives tomorrow and there are a number of field hospitals from other countries on the ground there, reports from various news organizations, including ours, on the ground there are showing a lot of Haitians desperately still needing medical attention on the ground within sometimes minutes, hours, according to some of the reports.

Is there an effort to kind of loosen that logjam on medical supplies or additional doctors or medical facilities to get in on the ground as opposed to flying people out as well, but increasing the medical capability, surgeons and other doctors, on the ground in a wider part of Haiti and Port-au-Prince?

GEN. ALLYN: Yes, absolutely. It's a great question. And that effort is ongoing.

As in all areas of our efforts here, our medical capacity has grown each and every day that we're here, as has our understanding of where the response is needed most. And obviously we are adjusting the delivery of subsequent medical capability that enters the theater to address emerging requirements that are not immediately being met.

Q General, this is Luis Martinez of ABC News. If I could go back to the creation of water, the water supply, the self-sustaining water supply that you talked about earlier, there's great interest in these giant bladders that are being produced, I guess, by the machine -- the desalination machines. Is that happening on the ground, or is that happening offshore? And how are they being delivered? And how do -- how are we ensuring that people are actually getting that water? And how long do you envision this self-sustaining water supply for?

GEN. ALLYN: Yes, and yes. It is being produced afloat and loaded into blivets that can then be slung load to the areas that it's needed. The -- there -- it is being produced in multiple areas around Haiti and distributed by a multitude of means. In some cases, it is being produced in close proximity of existing distribution points and is being pumped directly into those areas. It is being distributed by vehicle on -- in both bladders and pumping capability.

It is good to see our troops helping the people of Haiti as they are, and God bless them for their efforts.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack