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Sweet Land of Liberty: Religious Rights and Jury Duty

 

Every now and then, God, in his infinite mercy, sends an abundance of blessings, covers us with blessings. In a time in which I have found myself uncharacteristically  depressed and anxious about the path our country is taking, for one brief moment, the last few days, all depression has lifted and all anxieties have calmed.

One source of anxiety has been a personal matter, a family matter, and that has resolved itself graciously, happily, with a great feeling of relief and gratitude.

For Sunday, July 2nd, our priest had prepared us for a new set of studies, kicked off by an examination of Democracy and Religion. There were rules – 1) Be nice (that’s what they say in the South for ‘be civil’) and 2) Try to see the issue through the eyes of someone with whom you disagree.

The church hall was set up with twenty-four chairs. A half hour before he was due to start, people started pouring in, and we started pulling out more chairs, and more chairs and more chairs. He actually started off early with a reflection on our Old Testament reading, the story of Abraham and the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. (My Moslem friends correct me; they tell me it was Isaac. Let’s just agree that it was Abraham and a son, and perhaps the details will come clear on the other side of the great divide.) More people arrived, more chairs put out until we were out of chairs. Toward the end of the discussion on Religious rights and Democracy, I did a quick count of chairs and people standing and figured we had over ninety people – and one of the best Sunday School classes ever.

Our priest took a Socratic approach, asking questions, bringing in current topics. In these times of divided opinions, there was, surprisingly, a lot of laughter. My favorite moment was when we were discussing limits on religious freedoms, and things that there are laws against – live animal sacrifices, bigamy, sale of alcohol on Sunday before 11 a.m. – then one of the lawyers added “How about serving liquor to minors without checking IDs every Sunday?” That got a big laugh. It’s what we do; we use real wine in the communion cup, it’s Anglican / Episcopalian tradition. And yep, even young children get to take a sip. Oops.

As divided as we are, as it turns out, we have a lot in common. It takes a lot of courage to open up such a topic to the congregation. We all behaved. I think we all came away thinking we need more of this.

The very next day, yesterday, I was at the County Courthouse for my first ever call to jury duty. Well, this was my first ever call where I actually was living in the United States and able to show up. While we lived overseas, I would have to get on my VOIP late at night when the Clerk’s office opened and tell them I was living in (Germany. Kuwait. Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Jordan. Tunis. Take your pick.)

Jury duty is an exercise in tedium. At one point when the large selection pool left a courtroom, one of the potential jurors was going “Baaaa baaaaa baaaaa; we are all like sheep.” You park in one place and get on a trolley to the courthouse, you line up to enter the courthouse, you gather in a room and you wait to be called. You get instructions, you watch instructive videos, you get pep talks on your civic duty.

I had my eyes opened in a lot of ways. First, that I would guess more than two hundred people showed up, and this was a Monday between the weekend and the Fourth of July holiday. Many had to take time off from work to show up. We were supposed to be in “business’ dress, but this is Florida, and I guess ‘business dress’ is a matter of interpretation.

Groups would be called to go before judges for jury selection. There were many cases, so almost all of us were a part of one group or another. From my group, juries were being chosen for three trials, so they asked a lot of questions up front that would pertain to all three trials, then the lawyers for the prosecution and the lawyers for the defense would ask questions.

The questions surprised me. They named the witnesses, and the defendants were there in the courtroom; they asked if anyone knew the defendant or any of the witnesses. They asked about our prejudices for or against law enforcement officials, and could we overcome our prejudice to listen to the evidence fairly. They asked about our own court experiences, and they asked about our convictions for drug use, and other things. Many of my pool had served many times on juries and knew how things went. Many were reluctant, yet, there they were. Serving. Doing their duty.

Here is what really surprised me – at least in Florida, the defendant, who is sitting there through all the questioning, gets a say in who will be on his jury. I had no idea! We don’t see a lot of jury selection on TV (although the lady sitting next to me said I need to watch a show called Bull, where jury selection is what the show is about.)

None of the defendants wanted me, and I can understand why. They want people on the juries to truly be as close to their peers as possible, people who can identify with being arrested, maybe even convicted of a crime. They want people who might give them the benefit of the reasonable doubt.

How often have you been arrested? My son, who has been a part of the system, once told me that there are Americans who never have a brush with The Law, other than maybe a traffic ticket or a DWI. Now and then, I ask my friends. None has ever been inside a jail, but these days, a friend or two has a child who has become involved with heavy drug use, and has spent some heart-breaking time in the system.

It was a long day, full of tedium. I thought about the judge, and the lawyers, who go through this day after day, asking the same questions, looking out at groups full of people who maybe don’t even want to be there, going through the process to insure that our system is as fair as possible, day after day, month after month. I had no idea that the wheel of justice ground so finely, so relentlessly, on and on. I had no idea what stoic determination it takes to be a part of that system, and trying to make sure that while the state makes the case, the defendants rights are protected.

I’ve lived, as you know, in countries where justice prevails – occasionally. I remember living in one country, which was peaceful, and thinking to myself that they were educating a lot of people for positions they will never be able to fill, because they are not in the elite.

We have all seen, in every country, that those with the money to buy the best legal protection can often escape the consequences of their crime, but there is hope, for me,  even in making them stand trial.

I had no idea how proud I would feel at the end of the day, being a part of this huge effort, seeing how many of my fellow citizens, at great sacrifice to themselves, showed up. I had no idea what an education it would be for me. I had no idea how often those who least want to serve are those chosen to serve – and they persist. They show up.

I was in a room with maybe two hundred people from all walks of life. We were really just numbers, there to fill a systemic need. Some may even be, like me, a little cynical about how much justice our system really delivers . . . and we show up.

One of the defense lawyers yesterday asked us “Do you know what we are here about today?” and while we were all thinking about the charges, she answered “we are here about this man’s liberty. We’ll be deciding where he will spend his time in the next weeks, and months and years. We’ll be deciding his liberty.”

I’m glad I showed up.

Happy Fourth of July 🙂

 

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July 4, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency | , , , , | Leave a comment

What Successful People (Who Are Actually Happy) Do Differently

The outcome of the recent election has not been a positive thing for everyone. Fuzzy headed liberal thinkers like me have some hard work to do in the next four years, feeding the hungry, making sure the homeless have a warm place on a cold night, protecting our drinking water, our drugs, protecting the air we breathe (what? you didn’t think all that regulation was for you?) and protecting against the removal of financial protections against those shenanigans by banks and financial institutions which  brought us the great recession that peaked during the last year of the second Bush administration.

We will be the guard-dogs against gerrymandering, and against the stripping of human rights, reproductive rights, voting rights, protection against child abuse, spousal abuse and animal abuse. We will insist that the laws are enforced, equally, and do our best to protect against bad legislation.

Meanwhile, this wonderful article appeared in the HuffPost, well worth a read. Successful people have some really healthy habits and attitudes.

What Successful People (Who Are Actually Happy) Do Differently

(Dr. Travis Bradberry 

Author of #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and president of TalentSmart, world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence

Achievement rarely produces the sense of lasting happiness that you think it will. Once you finally accomplish the goal you’ve been chasing, two new goals tend to pop up unexpectedly.

We long for new achievements because we quickly habituate to what we’ve already accomplished. This habituation to success is as inevitable as it is frustrating, and it’s more powerful than you realize.

The key to beating habituation is to pursue, what researchers call, enduring accomplishments. Unlike run-of-the-mill accomplishments that produce fleeting happiness, the pleasure from enduring accomplishments lasts long after that initial buzz. Enduring accomplishments are so critical that they separate those who are successful and happy from those who are always left wanting more.

Researchers from the Harvard Business School studied this phenomenon by interviewing and assessing professionals who had attained great success. The aim was to break down what these exceptional professionals did differently to achieve both long-lasting and fulfilling success.

The researchers found that people who were both successful and happy over the long term intentionally structured their activities around four major needs:

Happiness: They pursued activities that produced pleasure and satisfaction.

Achievement: They pursued activities that got tangible results.

Significance:
 They pursued activities that made a positive impact on the people who matter most.

Legacy: They pursued activities through which they could pass their values and knowledge on to others.

Lasting fulfillment comes when you pursue activities that address all four of these needs. When any one of them is missing, you get a nagging sense that you should be doing more (or something different).

The behaviors that follow are the hallmarks of people who are successful and happy because they address these four needs. Try them out and see what they do for you.

1. They are passionate.
 Jane Goodall left her home in England and moved to Tanzania at age 26 to begin studying chimpanzees. It became her life’s work, and Goodall has devoted herself fully to her cause while inspiring many others to do the same. Successful, happy people don’t just have interests; they have passions, and they devote themselves completely to them.

2. They swim against the current. There’s a reason that successful and happy people tend to be a little, well, different. To be truly successful and happy, you have to follow your passions and values no matter the costs. Just think what the world would have missed out on if Bill Gates or Richard Branson had played it safe and stayed in school or if Stephen King hadn’t spent every free second he had as teacher writing novels. To swim against the current, you have to be willing to take risks.


“To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.”
– Carl Jung

3. They finish what they start. Coming up with a great idea means absolutely nothing if you don’t execute that idea. The most successful and happy people bring their ideas to fruition, deriving just as much satisfaction from working through the complications and daily grind as they do from coming up with the initial idea. They know that a vision remains a meaningless thought until it is acted upon. Only then does it begin to grow.

4. They are resilient. To be successful and happy in the long term, you have to learn to make mistakes, look like an idiot, and try again, all without flinching. In a recent study at the College of William and Mary, researchers interviewed over 800 entrepreneurs and found that the most successful among them tended to have two critical things in common: they were terrible at imagining failure, and they tended not to care what other people thought of them. In other words, the most successful entrepreneurs put no time or energy into stressing about their failures as they see failure as a small and necessary step in the process of reaching their goals.

5. They make their health a priority. There are an absurd number of links between your health, happiness, and success. I’ve beaten them to death over the years, but the absolute essential health habits that successful and happy people practice consistently are good sleep hygiene (fights stress, improves focus, and is great for your mood), eating healthy food (helps you to focus), and exercise (great for energy levels and confidence).

6. They don’t dwell on problems. Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. By fixating on your problems, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress, which hinder performance. However, by focusing on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you can create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance. Successful, happy people don’t dwell on problems because they know that they’re most effective when they focus on solutions.

7. They celebrate other people’s successes.
 Insecure people constantly doubt their relevance, and because of this, they try to steal the spotlight and criticize others in order to prove their worth. Confident people, on the other hand, aren’t worried about their relevance because they draw their self-worth from within. Instead of insecurely focusing inward, confident people focus outward, which allows them to see all the wonderful things that other people bring to the table. Praising people for their contributions is a natural result of this.

8. They live outside the box.
 Successful and happy people haven’t arrived at where they are by thinking in the same way as everyone else. While others stay in their comfort-zone prisons and invest all their energy in reinforcing their existing beliefs, successful people are out challenging the status quo and exposing themselves to new ideas.

9. They keep an open mind. Exposing yourself to a variety of people is useless if you spend that time disagreeing with them and comforting yourself with your own opinions. Successful, happy people recognize that every perspective provides an opportunity for growth. You need to practice empathy by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes so that you can understand how their perspective makes sense (at least, to them). A great way to keep an open mind is to try to glean at least one interesting or useful thing from every conversation you have.

10. They don’t let anyone limit their joy.
 When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing yourself to others, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When successful, happy people feel good about something that they’ve done, they don’t let anyone’s opinions or accomplishments take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within. Regardless of what people think of you at any particular moment, one thing is certain — you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.

Bringing It All Together

People who are successful and happy focus on activities that address a variety of needs, not just immediate achievements.

What other habits can make you happy and successful in the long term? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

January 17, 2017 Posted by | Character, Civility, Community, Friends & Friendship, Health Issues, Interconnected, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Values | Leave a comment

“Yes Ma’am, That Was For a Bus Ticket to Mexico”

“We see it all the time.”

As long as we lived overseas, AdventureMan and I never had a problem with our credit cards. I used ATM’s all over Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to make cash withdrawals when I needed what my Mom calls “jingle money,” you know, walking-around money for lunch out, for fabrics in the souks, for whatever we needed cash for. It was easy, and it must have been safe. We never once had a problem.

 

nsa-spy-cartoon-2

Now, we’ve had to change our numbers several times.

This one was particularly odd, though. I got a second notice on a card I call my “hurricane” card. When you live in Florida, massive calamity can happen literally overnight. You may have to suddenly evacuate to a strange city and need funds for emergency housing, and housing the pets. No running to the bank for a withdrawal when an area has been destroyed by a tornado; it can take months for infrastructure to be back up and running normally.

The charge was made just after we returned from traveling, so my first instinct was to check my wallet, and the card was not there. Oddly, while it was my account, it was AdventureMan’s card, which has a different number. He assures me he never made the change. I believe him; I find both cards safely tucked away, unused, in a safe place.

I call the bank. I explain that we had been traveling, but neither of us think we made this charge, the only charge on this card, the card we not only never use, but don’t even keep in our wallets. The bank lady takes a look and laughs and says “Oh yes. That was a bus ticket to Mexico. We’ve seen that before.”

Long story short, this kind of fraud has become so routine that they have routine practices that go immediately into effect to protect us, to protect their other customers and to restore our hurricane card.

But when she said it was for a bus ticket to Mexico, I burst out laughing, and all my anxiety disappeared in a heartbeat. No. I did not charge a bus ticket to Mexico, and neither did AdventureMan.

It’s just so odd, to me. These are cards that have never even been in our wallets. They never leave their safe place. How was someone able to use them?

December 8, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Crime, Customer Service, Doha, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, fraud, Kuwait, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia, Scams, Survival, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

“Boys, It’s a Great Day for the Confederacy”

This is an interlude post, not a trip post. This is a social issues post, and a very personal post. Just skip over this; like I’ve said, it’s personal.

This is what we say we believe. This is what believers believe:

Matthew 25:35-40New International Version (NIV)

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

This is what we believe. We are told that belief/faith is nothing without actions.

We are horrified. We are stunned, of course, by another election where a candidate wins the popular vote and loses the electoral college. We are stunned by the divisions in our country. We are stunned at all the hatefulness coming out of hiding, people proudly exposing racist and sexist beliefs in superiority and joy. Good Christian people so full of hate for the Other.

What shocks me is not only that the most vicious and vulgar candidate won, but also that the winners are so jubilant and so nasty.

AdventureMan had just listened to a National Public Radio article about Francis Ford Coppola and his famous movie “The Godfather;” he was in the mood for Italian food. We headed to our favorite place, and were seated before we realized we were sitting next to a table of true Southern Good Old Boys, and they didn’t care who heard what they had to say. We hadn’t been there long, when another entered and came to their table to be welcomed with “Boy, this is a great day for the Confederacy!” They found the safety pin movement hilarious. They had a lot to say about liberal thinking, about race, and about women. They talked about the spread of red on the map, the pockets of blue and the heavy blue of the cities and coastlines, implying it was racial.

What we should have done is ask to have our table changed. As it was, we listened to opinions that made us feel tarnished and dirty. We had the rest of our lunch packed up and got out as soon as we could.

I had my own moment of joy yesterday as I learned that Planned Parenthood is getting record-setting donations, and that many people are donating in the name of Mike Pence, notorious for his anti-women positions on reproductive rights. For each donation, he gets a thank-you note. That just tickles my heart.

Those of us who stand with The Other, we have our work cut out for us. Who will protect the food we eat? Who will insure we don’t have another housing meltdown, thanks to unregulated banks and loan associations? Who will protect the health of the poor? Who will measure pollution in our rivers and seas, and regulate emissions from factories and sewage plants? Who will protect us from chemicals in the air, and make sure our railways are safe?

Who will work to bring female salaries into full parity with men? Who will enforce laws in a way that every United States citizen is equal before the law, and that they are not differentiated by skin color or religion? Who will protect us from greedy pharmaceutical companies marketing their drugs to people who don’t need them, or using harmful components?

Who will give the poor and middle class the opportunities they need to climb the economic ladder?

Those of us who can, are identifying the NGO’s that are holding the line against corruption and the exploitation of the weakest members of our society, and budgeting so we can continue to fight the good fight. When you have a government of thugs, that is no easy task.

The saddest prayer of all “Lord, who is my neighbor?”

November 16, 2016 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | 2 Comments

“They’ve Got a Bit of Swagger Now”

I am sitting and drinking coffee with my friend who comes in and helps me keep my house clean, and we are sipping silently, still stunned by the unexpected win of Donald Trump.

 

“We have more police rolling through my neighborhood now,” she begins, and then takes it in a direction I never anticipated, “They have their windows half down, so we can see them, see their faces, and they look at us and they don’t smile.”

I take that in.

 

“Sort of like ‘I’ve got my eye on you?’ ” I ask.

 

“Sort of like ‘We OWN you now’ ‘, she responded. “They’ve got a bit of swagger now.”

 

She owns her own house. She works several jobs to keep her youngest son in a good Christian private school. Her children, some grown, are solid members of their communities, good sons, good daughters. It’s up to her to put food on the table, pay the property taxes, and keep up with all of life’s normal expenses. She works really hard.

 

“What do you worry about the most?” I ask her.

 

“I’m trying to figure our what I am going to do about health care,” she responds. “You know that’s the first thing that is going to go away.”

 

Health care. One of the most basic needs for all people. Blood pressure medication. Emergency care. I remember. I saw it all when I worked with the homeless and working poor; medical care was often sacrificed in the interest of more immediate needs, like keeping the car running so you could get to your job.

 

I wanted to ask if she worried about her son, 6 feet tall and 12 years old – and African American. I didn’t ask. She really told me that when she started talking about the police rolling through her neighborhood, staring. Yes, she worries. He’s a good boy, and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, it doesn’t matter.

 

We are comfortable in our silences, but she breaks the silence, as if she read my mind, and says “You know who I worry about? I worry about all the gays and trans-gender people, now. Will they roll back the gay marriage laws? Will the transgender people not be protected?”

 

I think of the celebration, just over a year ago, when gay rights were guaranteed. I think of Roe v Wade, when our reproductive rights became our own private concern. I think of the movement towards enhanced training for police forces, so that the innocent won’t be killed in a moment of fear perceived confrontation. I think of all we have to lose. There are no answers; we are going to have a tough time ahead.

November 11, 2016 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Interconnected, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

Qatar Jails Raped Dutch Woman for Sex Outside Marriage

Abu Dhabi (CNN)A Dutch woman who has been in jail in Qatar since mid-March after she reported being raped, has been found guilty of “illicit consensual fornication” and being “drunk in a public place.”

At a court hearing in Doha Monday, the 22-year old, whom CNN has identified only as Laura, was handed a one-year suspended sentence and placed on probation for three years for the sex-related charge, and fined 3,000 Qatari Riyals ($823) for being drunk outside a licensed location.
She’ll almost certainly be deported immediately.
A Syrian man also appeared alongside her and was found guilty of the same crimes. He was sentenced to 100 lashes for the illicit fornication charge and a further 40 lashes for the illegal consumption of alcohol. As a Muslim he is not allowed to drink at all under Qatari law. 
No mention was made of the rape accusation during proceedings. Neither defendant was present in court, in what was the third hearing in the case.
According to Brian Lokollo, a lawyer who was hired by the woman’s family, Laura was at a hotel bar having drinks with a friend in the Qatari capital, but then had a drink that made her feel “very unwell.” 
She reportedly woke up in an unfamiliar location and realized “to her great horror” that she had been raped after her drink was spiked, Lokollo said.
When she reported the rape to the police, she herself was imprisoned. 
The Dutch government and its embassy in Doha have been in close contact with Laura and her family in the Netherlands. Addressing reporters after the court hearing, the Dutch ambassador to Qatar, Yvette Burghgraef-van Eechoud, said: “We will do everything we can to get her out of the country as soon as possible to where she says she wants to go.”
She added that Laura has appealed for her privacy to be respected.
 
The Qatari authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Adultery a crime

“Fornication outside of marriage,” is a crime in Qatar as well as other countries in the conservative Muslim Gulf regardless of the marital status of those involved.
According to Qatar’s Penal Code 2004 (Law No. 11), “anyone who copulates with a female above sixteen without compulsion, duress or ruse is convicted to no more than seven years in prison. The same penalty is also imposed on the female for her consent.”
In the nearby United Arab Emirates in 2013, a Norwegian woman who reported being raped by a colleague was sentenced to 16 months in jail, charged for having unlawful sex, making a false statement and the illegal consumption of alcohol.
Marte Deborah Dalelv was later pardoned by Dubai’s ruler.

June 13, 2016 Posted by | Crime, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Qatar | | Leave a comment

Ten and a half million dollars?

Wouldn’t you think that if you were finding people to help me abscond with ten and a half million dollars, you would do a little research? Mr. Cheong wants to know my name, address, phone number, age, sex and occupation. I have no respect for a scammer who doesn’t do his homework. You can respond to him if you wish; his e-mail address is:

dgersh1@synacor.com

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am Mr. Nathaniel Jung Cheong, I worked for a Bank but i have since stopped due to this project. I wish to place your name as the beneficiary to ten and one half million dollars ($10,500,000) due to the death of the depositor who died without any heirs.

I assure you that this transaction will be executed in a manner that will protect you from any breach of the law both in your country and here.

I am requesting your collaboration with me, the money will be released to you in any country of your choosing. I urgently require the following information for my attorney to start processing vital legal documents:

1
)Name:
2)Address:
3)Tel:
4)Age:
5)Sex:
6)Occupation Status:

Please note that my share of this fund will be sixty (60) percent and I intend that you invest it in your country real estate on my behalf. You may keep the remaining forty (40) percent for yourself. I want you to know this transaction will be directed by me through the help of my lawyer; it will help us secure all vital documents that will support your nomination as the Next of Kin, As the true beneficiary to the said fund, money will be released in your favor. What I require from you now is complete trust and honesty.

Awaiting your quick response,
Mr. Nathaniel Jung Cheong,

May 4, 2016 Posted by | Crime, Law and Order, Scams | Leave a comment

Shoot Out in Pensacola with the new Bonnie and Clyde

 

We’d been up late. This was the first text I received, early this morning, as we entered our day a little more slowly than usual.

 

“Shoot-out in Pensacola! Are you OK?”

 

Yes, we are OK, and we were in the thick of things last night. We’d both had long days, and we were headed to bed a little earlier than usual. I had just finished my prayers when I heard a very loud screech of wheels going around a nearby corner. Usually when the screech is that loud, it is followed by a crash or a thud, but this time the car seemed to be OK. Very soon after that, however, I noticed flashing lights on the ceiling, flashing and dancing in red and blue.

 

I know those lights. When we lived in Kuwait, we lived on a busy corner, a corner where the Kuwait police frequently set up check-points to check people’s residence cards. AdventureMan could sleep right through them, but sometimes I was wakeful, and would watch. There was a lot of drama as the cars had no where they could go, there was no where they could turn off, they were trapped. Many people who lived in Kuwait illegally, or whose visas had expired were caught and taken in to be processed and, if they couldn’t prove someone was sponsoring them, deported.

 

It was ugly, and heartbreaking, and sometimes . . . comical. Ancient Arab men would talk to the police, it was begging of a different sort, and kiss the policeman. Kissing a policeman is just something that would never occur to me, so to me, it looks absurd, but in the context of Kuwaiti culture, it is perfectly acceptable. Sometimes the old Arab man would get a pass, just as a pretty girl in the US will sometimes get a pass.

 

So I “arose from my bed to see what was the matter.”  There were big SUVs with flashing lights blocking traffic to the south, seven or eight cars in an array to the north, cars blocking entrances to several streets to the east. The only traffic were Sheriff’s department cars, trucks and SUV’s, some with flashing lights, some unmarked. They were all working together.

 

I called the Police Department.

“I live at blah blah,” I said, “and there appears to be a lot of activity, flashing lights and stuff, is there something I should know?”

“We’re looking for some suspects,” the officer answered tersely.

“OK, thanks!” I chirped, not knowing any more than I knew before.

There have been gangs of kids who come through the neighborhoods from time to time, looking for unlocked cars to steal cash, guns, or even the cars if the owner leaves the keys in them. Recently three young teens in Pensacola stole a school bus and drove it for about three hours before being stopped. This response seemed a little extreme for neighborhood looters, even more grown burgers. There were a lot of resources involved, people, cars, canines, a lot of man-hours and teams of people going door to door, searching the backyards with flashlights and the dogs.

They searched our yard twice.

We have a high fence and keep our gates locked. When I saw the team methodically making their way towards our house, I called out to AdventureMan to go down and unlock the gates. As the team was trying to get in, I opened the window, and flashlights zipped up to illuminate my face.

“My husband is on his way now to unlock the gates to let you in,” I said.

One of the guardians of the law looked at me, astounded, and said “You lock your gates?”

It seemed very funny to me at the time, considering the activity, but I didn’t dare laugh, clearly this was serious business, and around then AdventureMan opened the gate for them.

It was a cold cold night in Pensacola, near freezing, and I felt sorry for the pure, hard work of searching house-to-house in the very cold temperatures.

A part of me also felt sorry for whoever was being chased, hunkered down somewhere, being chased by dogs, and, once the adrenalin wears off, being really cold.

Cars raced here and there, the teams continued their searches and we kept watch. We heard a helicopter, briefly, and we don’t know if it was a police helicopter or a news helicopter. Then, around 12:30, all the cars raced off. Somewhere. It was very quiet, and we gratefully went back to bed.

This morning I didn’t feel quite so sorry for the couple, who had invaded a house in our neighborhood, held a couple hostage, and then stole their car to escape. Those were the last few minutes of a man’s life, and he spent them terrorizing and stealing that which was not his. After another – their third – dangerous fast car chase, they were trapped, and a gunfight ensued, killing the man. During this final gunfight, Blake Fitzgerald used his girlfriend, Brittany Harper, as a shield.

I was never afraid. If you had seen the number of police / sheriff’s deputies out last night, you would understand. They were focused and professional. They were given an opportunity to practice their skills. They performed as a team, and you could feel that they were excited to be doing the job, on a grand scale, that they are trained to do. They stopped a couple on an interstate spree of kidnapping, abducting, robbing, invading houses, burglarizing and terrorizing. They can feel good today, about what they accomplished last night.

And I was just telling you in my last entry what a quiet life we lead . . . 🙂

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Friends & Friendship, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Safety | , , , | Leave a comment

Play Station, Romeo and Juliet, ISIS, and Syrian Refugee Discussions

I belong to a group that I can only describe as “thoughtful” Christians; it’s a church-related study group, and as everywhere else in the US of A, people are discussing recent events in Paris, and the related issue of resettling Syrian (and not only Syrian) refugees in the United States.

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The same discussions are taking place on FaceBook. I’m inclined to think that those who are thinking lime me are measured, and thoughtful, and that those who disagree with me are overly emotional, even rabid, and that their attitudes might be Un-Christian as well as Un-American.

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I am not so blind as to not see that they may see the exact same thing, in reverse. It’s the times, and the issues.

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One very smart woman communicated something I haven’t heard anywhere else, that investigators believe these Paris murderers might have been communicating by creating a Play Station group, so you can message your group members, and your message disappears seconds later.

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One neuron sparks, synapses connect and the outline of a picture emerges. Of course. This plot was not that complex. My major focus would be on how they got the weapons, but other friends tell me that now weaponry can be had very inexpensively on the dark market in Europe.

But what has puzzled me, until now, was the kind of thinking that would put this scenario together, and I have concluded that we did. By our entertainment technology, we have taught them to strategize. We have trained them to think through scenarios, and to have branching options. We have taught them to join forces. We have taught them to work in teams. Some may have had some training to operate the weapons so accurately, but this was the equivalent of a canned hunt, shooting fish in a barrel. They had rapid fire weapons, and rooms full of people expecting no more than a pleasant night out. Before they knew what was happening, the event had come and gone.

They are young. The so called “master-mind” (I really don’t like that label; I don’t think this took masterful planning, and they did not accomplish their major goal, which was terrorizing the soccer game) escaped, but not for long. They calculatedly and callously used expendables to accomplish their mission. There was no escape planned for most; give them suicide belts. Give them death. Did they know that the one pulling the strings had no intention of dying with them? So why on earth didn’t they question this plan?

When you are playing games on a Play Station, and you lose, you get another life. Hey, just like jihad! They are young, death means little, and they are easily manipulated. A glorious death, if you don’t look too closely. As I was in water aerobics this morning, we danced along to an old ditty called “Just Like Romeo and Juliet” and I thought how appropriate it was to these times and circumstances – a tradition of hatred between two groups, two young people who cross the lines, and then, their death rather than the hard work of trying to make changes in the real world.

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Death isn’t romantic, and the God we share, the God of Father Abraham, hates the shedding of innocent blood, no matter by what name you call him. He tells us that only he knows the intentions of the human heart. When he chooses someone to do his work, it tends to be leaving this country and walking to another, leading a people out of slavery, bearing a child, or memorizing the words of an angel, not bombing, or shooting, or forcing others to worship in the way you believe everyone must worship.

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The one true God also tells us, all of us, that we are to love our neighbor, and that our neighbor is that naked, helpless, beaten man lying by the side of the road that the fastidious religious men crossed the street to avoid helping. We are to take him in, pay for his care at the inn, tend to his wounds, not for any hope of gain, but because it is the right thing to do, the decent thing to do, for our fellow human being, our neighbor.

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One final note, when we use the Statue of Liberty coming to the rescue of France, showing the colors of France, noting her origins in France to honor our own “Liberte” we most not fail to take note of the words at her base: Give me your tired, your poor; The huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shores; send these – the homeless, tempest tossed to me! I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

November 19, 2015 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Counter-terrorism, Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Law and Order, Leadership, Values | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Expendables; Pray for Paris

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I have to take a break from my trip stories to express an opinion.

We are The People of the Book. Suicide is not an option. The most precious gift we are given, of the many gifts, is the gift of life. One of the most heinous crimes against God / Allah is to shed innocent blood.

A callous theocracy sends “inspired” martyrs, testosterone-hopped-up jihadists to kill themselves, and to take as many victims as they can with them.

By what stretch can they claim to do God’s will? Where is the submission to the word of God? Where is the peaceful Islam of the Prophet Mohammed?

November 14, 2015 Posted by | Character, Charity, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Counter-terrorism, Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Law and Order, Leadership, Paris | , , , | 1 Comment