May 28, 2011

Our Memorial Day

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

This Monday is a national day of remembrance for US military Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors that have given their lives in defense of this country and freedom. Memorial Day should have a sense of the sacred, but for most it’s the weekend of barbeques and beer, the weekend that officially kicks off summer, and the weekend of sales. I don’t know how many man in the street interviews I’ve seen that the interviewee has no idea what this holiday is about. This day, not to be chauvinist, is a day that anyone living in a free country should observe and honor the US Military.

The day itself started out as a commemoration of those that died in our Civil War, and was call ‘Decoration Day’. Since then over a million American servicemen have paid for defending freedom with their lives.

The kind of men these are was best summed up by General Douglas MacArthur at an address he gave in 1962 at the U.S. Military Academy:

"Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world's noblest figures -- not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast."
 "In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs in memory's eye, I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God. I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: duty, honor, country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light."

These are exceptional people, I knew them when I served, and saw them killed in firefights, and wept at their funerals. In those years we had the draft, and draftees served with the same commitment as those that volunteered. Now our military is all volunteers and are making the same incredible sacrifices. It deeply saddens me that so many in this country do not honor them, and so many, including our president, have contempt for them. (One piece of evidence, among many, of that statement about our president, is his refusal, so far, to participate in the traditional presidential Memorial Day ceremonies.)

Ronald Reagan on this day in 1962:

"I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. Yet, we must try to honor them not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice."
  "Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we -- in a less final, less heroic way -- be willing to give of ourselves. It is this, beyond the controversy and the congressional debate, beyond the blizzard of budget numbers and the complexity of modern weapons systems, that motivates us in our search for security and peace. ... The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery. One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero and, in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GI's of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike, like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way."
 "As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. ... I can't claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don't know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: 'O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?' That is what we must all ask."

This day, for me, I honor not only those million plus servicemen that have fallen protecting our freedoms, not only of America, but every nation now free, but the personal loss of those I knew, that fell.

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."
John 15:12-14

We ask for the prayers, love and support of every American Serviceman now serving anywhere in the world, as well their families.

May 26, 2011

May 26: Saint Philip Neri

O God, who never cease to bestow the glory of holiness on the faithful servants you raise up for yourself, graciously grant that the Holy Spirit may kindle in us that fire with which he wonderfully filled the heart of Saint Philip Neri.

[Original Latin text: Deus, qui fideles tibi servos sanctitatis gloria sublimare non desistis, concede propitius, ut illo nos igne Spiritus Sanctus inflammet, quo beati Philippi cor mirabiliter penetravit.]

~ Missale Romanum 1975 editio typica altera (Via Fr. Z's Blog)

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 
The Virgin Appearing to St Philip Neri
Museo Diocesano, Camerino 
Saint Philip Neri was the gracious, cheerful Rome’s apostle of the sixteenth century, but at the same time he is one of the glories of Florence, where he was born of an illustrious Christian family, in 1515. His peculiar charisma was a burning love of God, a love that imperceptibly communicated itself to all about him and that made him one of the most beloved saints in Christendom. I have to say I have always loved him since I was a little boy in Rome (where I grew up), because my Religion teacher, an old cheerful man, Father Contenti (which in Italian means “happy” in plural…), would often tell us kids stories and anecdotes about him—some of my most cherished memories ever!

What is not commonly known is that he was also a very good friend, admirer, counselor, and confessor for many years of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the greatest composer of liturgical music of all time—it was in his arms that the great composer breathed his last. That’s why I think a good way to celebrate him is to listen to this sublime Alma Redemptoris Mater mottetto:

May 20, 2011

Welcome to the 21st-Century Food Wars

From the Middle East to Madagascar, high prices of food are spawning land grabs and ousting dictators. The food crisis of 2011—which is real and serious—may bring with it yet more bread riots cum political revolutions. What is worse, if until a few years ago sudden price surges were quickly followed by a return to the relatively low food prices that helped shape the political stability of the late 20th century across much of the globe, now both the causes and consequences are worryingly different... Welcome to the 21st-century food wars.

Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy:

In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family's dinner table.

Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we've seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet's poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute -- and it has -- to revolutions and upheaval.

Read the rest.

May 18, 2011

The Long Fall of Silvio Berlusconi

You may say that the round of Italian elections that closed Monday—which went badly for the center right ruling coalition—were only for local administrations, but Silvio Berlusconi emerged as the biggest loser as the outgoing mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, failed to avoid a runoff in her bid for re-election. In fact, it was he himself who had presented the local contest as a referendum on his government. He had staked his reputation in support of Moratti and had campaigned strenuously for her. But in spite of this, or maybe because of it, the left’s candidate for mayor, Giuliano Pisapia—a longtime independent member of parliament for the far-left Refounded Communist Party who had previously staged an upset by beating the mainstream center-left Democratic Party’s candidate in the Milan primaries—managed not just to secure a second round with Letizia Moratti but also to outdistance her by more than six percentage points (the two will face a runoff on May 29 and 30).

Add to this that Milan is politically significant in several respects, being a) Italy’s finance and business capital, b) Berlusconi’s native city, and c) the one from which he launched his political career. As it was not enough, Milan is also where Silvio Berlusconi is being tried on a string of charges, including the latest and most insidious one: the so-called “Rubygate”—even though, these days the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair makes Berlusconi look like Benny Hill…

But then again, at least in the case of Milan, it wasn’t just Berlusconi’s fault. Ms Moratti bears part of the responsibility for the current disaster. I primarily refer to what she did in the final moments of a televised debate: she unexpectedly accused Pisapia of long ago stealing a car and association with left-wing terrorists, what she omitted to note was that Pisapia was acquitted on the charges 26 years ago. This jarred with the traditionally moderate style of Milanese people—and every rule of good taste, fair play and even common sense!

It is also to be said that the results in Naples show that the center left is in no better shape than the center right. In fact, a candidate for the small Italy of Values party ran against the choice of Italy’s biggest center left group, the Democratic Party (PD), and won more votes. To say nothing about the results of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (almost 10% in Bologna, 10% in Ravenna, 15% in Rimini, 5% in Turin, 8% in Savona, and so on), whose goal is to demolish the credibility of the whole Italian political and economic establishment, which, of course, includes the Democratic Party.

However, as I said above, there is no doubt that Berlusconi is the biggest loser. Yet, Roberto Formigoni, center right governor of the northern Lombardy region, is right when he advises against anyone giving up Berlusconi for dead: “People have been saying that for 20 years, and he is still very much alive,” he says. But, even though it’s not over yet, it will take a miracle to stop the decline and fall—a long and somewhat painful fall—of Silvio Berlusconi. Yes, it’s a hard time for the man who was able to forge a powerful and strategic alliance between the various sectors of the Italian political right, which in turn prevented the post-communist left from winning an otherwise inevitable long lasting victory. That’s a great credit to him, but as French mathematician Henri Poincaré put it, “There are people who think that the right to ingratitude is the most important freedom.”

May 12, 2011

Draghi Is in Poll Position

A former Goldman Sachs banker and the current Governor of the Banca d’Italia, Mario Draghi is now in pole position in the race for the European Central Bank’s presidency. In fact, besides having been already endorsed by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, he has been given an official blessing by German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “I know Mario Draghi,” she told Die Zeit newspaper, “he is a very interesting and experienced individual … Germany could support a candidacy from him for the office of the ECB president ... He stands very close to our agenda of stability and solid economics.”

However, three weeks ago Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble was reported by The Wall Street Journal to have said that he was “open to Mr. Draghi for the post of ECB President.” And a few days later the German newspaper Bild defined him as the “most German of all remaining candidates.”Furthermore, back on February 13th, Wolfgang Münchau, associate editor of the Financial Times, endorsed Draghi as the best candidate for the job, and a few days later The Economist wrote that “the next president of the world’s second-most-important central bank should be Mario Draghi.”

Barclays Capital managing director Julian Callow told AFP that Merkel’s backing was indeed “the last box to check.” Draghi, he said, “has the intellect, the experience, the leadership, the judgement, the communication skills that (would) collectively make him an exceptional president of the ECB.”

Of course, we Europeans, all of us (especially here in Italy), hope all the above are right, even though all of them proved themselves anything but infallible—and we experienced this at first hand. Eurozone leaders are expected to agree in June as to who will follow Jean-Claude Trichet’s eight-year term.

May 11, 2011

Economic Survey of Italy 2011

From the OECD:

Italy’s economy has passed the deep recession triggered by the global crisis and seems set for a gradual recovery. The strength of this recovery is uncertain: it would be wise to plan for no more than the rather sluggish growth seen in the decade prior to the crisis. Hence, the priority remains structural reforms to increase growth potential, while maintaining a stable fiscal framework oriented towards consolidation, as appropriately pursued during the crisis. Such a policy can sustain confidence in Italian public finances in the face of the large stock of government debt, in turn helping to support the financial system whose health is crucial for the recovery.

Read an Overview of the Economic Survey of Italy and the Speech by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General.

May 8, 2011

When a Cloud Covers the Sun

“My life,” says the Dalai Lama, “has not been an altogether happy one; I have had to pass through many difficult times.” Of course hard times include losing his country to Chinese Communist invaders, and trying to promote and  preserve Tibetan culture in exile. “Yet, he continues, “I regard these difficult periods as among the most important times in my life. Through them, I have gained many new experiences and learned many new ideas.”

From His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s new book, How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World (translated from oral teachings and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins) :

Consider the so-called enemy this way:

  1. Because this person’s mind is untamed, he or she engages in activities that are harmful to you.
  2. If anger—the wish to harm—were part of the basic nature of this person, it could not be altered in any way, but […] hatred does not reside in the nature of a person.
  3. Even if it were the nature of a person to hate, then, just as we cannot get angry at fire because it burns our hand (it is the very nature of fire to burn), so we should not get angry at a person expressing his or her nature.
  4. This said, hatred is actually peripheral to a person’s nature. When a cloud covers the sun we do not get angry at the sun, so we should not get angry with the so-called enemy, but instead hold the person’s afflictive emotion responsible.
  5. We ourselves sometimes engage in bad behavior, do we not? Still, most of us do not think of ourselves as completely bad. We should look on others the same way.
  6. Therefore, the actual troublemaker is not the person, but his or her afflictive emotion.

When we lose our temper, we don’t hesitate to use harsh words, even to a close friend. Afterward, when we calm down, we feel embarrassed about what happened. This indicates that we, as persons, do not really want to use such harsh words, but because we were dominated by anger, we lost our self-control.
[W]e can learn to separate a corner of the mind from strong emotions like hatred and observe the mind from this vantage point; this indicates that the mind and hatred are not one, therefore the person and hatred are not one.

“Must’ve Been Drunk”

Merle Haggard & George Jones

This song reminds me of two old friends of mine years ago, when they met a young lady from Des Moines who made a great impression on them, in one way or another.

For lovers of country music only: two living legends in a very “relaxed” state of mind...

May 6, 2011


The cover of the May 4/10, 2011 issue of The Stranger
I have just learned that Al-Qaeda has confirmed the death of Osama Bin Laden. Well, I’m not what is usually referred to as a “conspiracy hunter,” but if I were, I suppose I couldn’t help asking why on earth they felt the need to do so. But  I just am not that kind of blogger. They must have become suddenly sincere and intellectually honest, despite their own (supposed) interests. Or maybe I’ve simply missed something… Who knows?

May 4, 2011

Weren't They a Bunch of Assassins?

Hypocrisy Watch: as everybody knows, Osama bin Laden was killed by SEAL Team Six, officially known as Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DevGru. Yet, when GW Bush was president the media called them “Cheney’s assassination squad.” Now that a Democratic President has employed them to take out Osama bin Laden a lot of things seem to have changed

Via DDMHA and The PJ Tatler

May 3, 2011

A Man of God

Yesterday in Saint Peter’s Square the late Pope John Paul II was proclaimed Blessed—the next-to-last step before a Catholic is formally declared a saint—before one million and a half faithful. Yet another show of strength from an extraordinary man. But the event began the previous night, when a crowd of hundreds of thousands, mostly young people, flocked to the Circus Maximus oval to pray, sing and celebrate as they waited for the beatification ceremony. And that’s where and when John Paul’s long-time spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told the crowd a simple truth: “The Church does not make saints, it just recognizes that a person lived a saintly life. John Paul was already a saint.”

 That’s what seems to me to be the great thing about the event. He was already a saint. Because of what he did? Well, he actually did many good things—amazing things!—for the world, but it was not mainly a matter of doing, it was a matter of being. You can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, you just know that he is blessed. You see him, you hear him speaking a few simple words and you immediately know that he is a man of God in the truest sense. A Man of God, is there a better synonym for sanctity, without any “ecclesiastical” rhetoric? His last days, his long, brave struggle with illness, his will to show us in his own flesh the Christ suffering... No, sorry, there are no words.

In a 1999 letter written to the world’s elderly he said: “It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the kingdom of God. At the same time, I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life. And so I often find myself saying, with no trace of melancholy, a prayer recited by priests after the celebration of the Eucharist: ‘In hora mortis meae voca me, et iube me venire ad te’ (at the hour of my death, call me and bid me come to you). This is the prayer of Christian hope.”

Thus prayed the old man of God. And as an ancient Indian saying goes, “The Prayer of the man of God does not go in vain.”