Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

Review: Application of Impossible Things, A Near Death Experience in Iraq

January 24, 2012

A true tale of survival and courage, sure to empower others who read it.

“Come one, come all! Be amazed and shocked as you peak behind the curtain into the realm of the unexplained!!!” From sideshow barkers to check out aisle tabloids the pitch so often outshines the experience that it’s hard not to become cynical. Not so with Natalie Sudman. Her first hand account of being Out of Body during her dance with death explodes off the page. In the blink of an eye she travels dimensions that shred time and space. Yet she writes with such uncommon wit, sophisticated insight, and stunning attention to detail that it will turn your view of reality inside out. This truly is a front row seat in the theater of “impossible things.” Do NOT miss it!

Paul Rademacher

Executive Director of The Monroe Institute and author of A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe: Travel Tips for the Spiritually Perplexed.

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Osama Bin Laden’s Death, & Our Opportunity

May 2, 2011

I’m saddened by the reaction of some of my American friends to Osama bin Laden’s death. Boasting and strutting Americans are, in my opinion, Americans at their most mortifying.

The effort to kill bin Laden lasted ten years, underlay two overt wars and countless covert ones, cost billions and billions and billions of dollars, spawned a creepily polarized political spin morass that fed a culture of fear, and cost a lot of soldier’s and civilian’s lives. All this, ostensibly to kill one man.

I wouldn’t call that something to strut about.

And this will not end the terrorist acts that cause Americans to puff up their chests and say, “Not here. Not inAmerica.” Osama bin Laden is not the only extreme fundamentalist, the only terrorist out there. Many people believe that violence is the only way to get what they want, to create what they desire, to force what they think is right. Others will take bin Laden’s place.

We still have not grown up. Our general comic-book mentality of one evil man destroying the world is useless and dysfunctional. We still have not matured enough to reflect on and respect the complexities of a world of vast cultural and political differences. We have not matured enough to understand that freedom means the freedom to choose something other than what Americans value and create. We have not matured enough to realize that our self-interested manipulations and exploitations of other countries politics and economies breed anger, frustration, and resentment in the countries and communities that we manipulate. We still have not matured enough to look at ourselves honestly, and to contemplate the fact that the ideals that we espouse are not often enough carried through in our actions.

The war inAfghanistanis not over. The death of bin Laden does not end the war or heal that country of its violence and tribalism.

The death of bin Laden does not end terrorism, Arab nationalism, or Muslim extremism. It does not spell the end of Al Qaeda. The Americans have killed one man, and think they have brought an end both a powerful organizer and a powerful symbol. But in this death, they have created a martyr to his followers, a potentially more powerful symbol that they may carry for decades, even centuries.

Memories of perceived wrongs are long and deep.America’s youth and cultural myths carry only one watered-down example of this: the Civil War. The South Will Rise Again. The Confederate flag. In the Middle East cultures (as well as other cultures – Albanians come to mind, Northern Ireland as well), perceived wrongs are carried for centuries, talked about as if they occurred yesterday, and acted upon with a passion and violence that belies the passing of time. Time does not necessarily heal. It can fester.

 As a wounded war vet, more than once I’ve been asked directly if I’m not overjoyed at the death of Osama bin Laden.

I am not.

I have multiple perspectives from which I view bin Laden’s death, because I walk the world feeling as if I am a bridge precariously touching two shores: the reality of the world that we have taught ourselves is real, and the non-physical or spiritual reality that I have experienced and know is as real as this physical world.

From the physical world reality, I feel neutrally curious about bin Laden’s death. A social disruption has been eliminated, and I wonder what waves and eddies that removal will cause. Be assured that there will be waves and eddies, and that many of them will come as a surprise to most of us.

From the perspective of the bridge, I am saddened that bin Laden believed that the only way to get what he thought he wanted or needed was to impose violence and disruption on others. I am saddened that his spiritual energies were imbalanced, and by the imbalances he spawned in others, including influencing others to use violence and disruption and including exacerbating the imbalance in Americans caused by giving in to feelings of fear, anger, and desires for retribution. I am disappointed that we seem unable to heal people like bin Laden and his followers – better yet, to heal ourselves as individuals and as a nation and as a world community, thereby making people like Osama bin Laden powerless.

From the perspective of spirit, I feel detached yet interested. My curiosity is aroused by the intense passions, difficult lessons, and strange creative paths we each choose for our lives. Watching the energy matrices of the physical and non-physical planes shift with the death of Osama bin Laden, I choose to add my energy and attention to the most beautiful of the possibilities being explored: the most peaceful, the most balanced, the most integrating, the most forgiving.

I believe that it’s worth taking the time to ponder on the positive energies and lessons available in the life of Osama bin Laden and in the ripples that he created across the earth. It’s possible that each individual would find their own lives reflected in some aspect of his extremism, his anger, his frustration, his self-righteousness, and his choices of action in responding to those beliefs and passions. If he indeed chose that path as a spirit, he served us all by offering an extreme example of the sad power of fear and frustration, thereby also offering so many of us an opportunity to rise above it.

“I am more than my physical body. Because I am more than physical matter, I can perceive that which is greater than physical reality. Therefore, I deeply desire to expand, to experience, to control, to use, such greater energy and energy systems as maybe beneficial to me and to those who follow me. Also, I deeply desire the help and cooperation, the assistance and understanding, of those whose wisdom, knowledge, and experience are equal to or greater than my own. I ask for their guidance and assistance, and their protection from any influence or any source that might provide me with less than my stated desires.”  (The Monroe Institute – www.monroeinstitute.org)

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Peculiar Driving Habits in Different US States, Cities, or Regions

November 19, 2010

A non-scientific observational listing of the quirks considered normal by residents of particular states and regions that are not, frankly, considered normal by any normal person, and including cautionary notes for the wary traveler through said regions.

 Washington DC region:

1.) *While normally and officially yellow traffic lights are considered a caution to slow down, in the DC region they are considered a warning that if you don’t step on the gas hard, you’re going to miss this light and sit for up to 4 minutes waiting for the next green light.

Cautionary note: When your traffic light turns green, pause to look both ways before proceeding into the intersection or you’re liable to get wiped out by that last car trying to sneak through on the yellow (by now red) light.

* This seems to apply to most cities in the northeast

2.) Except in DC itself, where it is illegal, cell phone use (talking or texting) while driving a vehicle is common. A rigorous scientific study conducted by my boyfriend and me (he is a real scientist, with a PhD, if that matters) concluded that 50-75% of all drivers on the road at any given time are talking (hand held) or texting on their cell phone. Of the remaining 50-25%, half of those are fixing their hair or makeup, reading the paper, or trying to deal with a recalcitrant child in the back seat. The remaining drivers are foreigners, the majority being Hispanic (aggressive and apparently lacking knowledge of a use of signals) or Asian (slow and tentative to the point of extreme aggravation to all drivers in their immediate vicinity). 

Cautionary note: Granted, more than half of all time spent in a vehicle in the Washington DC Metro Area is spent sitting in traffic at stoplights. Regardless, that still leaves half of any journey open to being killed by cell phone-wielding drivers, multi-taskers, and foreigners. When driving in the DC Metro Area, do not assume that the drivers around you are conscious. Drive defensively at all times.

Florida

Changing lanes in heavy traffic? Trying to make a left hand turn out of a side road onto a busy street? Attempting to get out of the gas station near a crowded intersection? No problem. Whether due to innate Southern graciousness or the presence of a lot of old people who were raised in a different world, Florida drivers are polite to those around them.

Cautionary note: If you’re stuck in a long line of traffic, expect those ahead of you to let in every car that comes out of a side road in front of you, exacerbating your already snail-like progress.

Mississippi & Louisiana

A following distance of ten feet is considered adequate for all speeds up to and including travel on highways and freeways. In one ten minute drive across town in Hattiesburg, I witnessed five rear-end collisions. I’m not sure cars down there are even equipped with turn signals.

Cautionary note: If you have to slow down for a turn, signal your turn and slow down well ahead of time to allow the idiot on your bumper to react. When at a stoplight, watch what’s coming in behind you because I’ve seen an inattentive tailgater plow right into the car in front of them when a light turned red. Although it’s unlikely that any of the drivers around you will signal their intentions, go ahead and signal yours – they’ll probably be able to figure out what they mean.

Ohio

On the generally crowded highways of Ohio, drivers are erratic and aggressive. Signals are sometimes used, sometimes not. Drivers change lanes and dart toward exit ramps as if on a sudden and unexpected whim. Cutting in front of another car with less than three feet of clearance between the front and rear bumpers is apparently acceptable.

Cautionary note: Drive defensively at all times – these people are erratic and dangerous.

Chicago

Understand that speed limits are a vague suggestion.

Cautionary note: Drive with the speed of traffic, even though it’s up to 30 mph over the speed limit. Try to avoid driving to or through Chicago if you own a slow, clunker car or have slow, clunker instinctive reaction times.

Upper Midwest *

Generally polite, practical and able, Midwesterners are perhaps at their most inept when merging onto a freeway. Not all have grasped the concept of speeding up to seamlessly merge with the flow of the freeway traffic.

Cautionary note: As you head down the entrance ramp, don’t assume that the car in front of you won’t come to a dead stop at the point where the entrance ramp meets the freeway. Plan accordingly.

*more generally true outside metro areas; includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, rural Illinois, and Indiana

Minneapolis

Traffic lights are NOT strung up across the roads. Instead, they are located on posts on the street corners. Blizzards would destroy lights hung on cables across intersections.

Cautionary note: Watch for traffic lights to be located atop on posts on street corners.

South Dakota

If it’s a two-lane street and cars are only traveling in the left lane of it, a right hand turn onto it from a side street is de rigueur.

Cautionary note: If you’re one of the cars traveling in the left lane and suddenly see a car emerging from a side street, stay alert but try not to panic. If the right lane is clear, that’s what they’re aiming for – and they’ve had a lot of practice so they’re pretty good at it keeping their nose out of your lane.

Denver

Many of the older freeway entrance and exit ramps are very, very short.

Cautionary note: Natives really hit the gas on the ramps in order to work up a decent amount of speed to merge with traffic. Don’t expect those on the freeway to shift their trajectory too much to accommodate you – adjust your own speed if possible. If you have to crawl out into fast traffic to get off the ramp and avoid the inevitable next exit that’s only about 100ft away, go for it. Natives seem to have quick reactions and hey, they’ve had to do the same thing themselves on the same damn ramp. 

 California

Every California driver that I know describes him/herself as a really good driver, and brags (yes, I chose that word specifically) that California drivers are the best drivers in the world. There’s your first clue to the reality: California drivers are arrogant. They are generally assertive and impatient with any form of dilly-dallying, legitimate or not. They also consider a ten foot following distance normal at any speed. On the plus side, they are more attentive than Mississippians and use cell phones less than East Coasters, so you’re unlikely to get rear-ended unless you fail to signal your intentions.

Cautionary note:  Know where you’re going before you start your journey, or as you peer at the street signs or slow to figure out which exit you need, you’ll have some self-important Californian right up your butt – as if s/he can push you faster by forcing that small airspace between your bumpers to act as a plow. Use your signals, and use them well ahead of time to avoid a heart-stopping near-miss rear end collision. Pay attention: it’s a fast-paced world but you’ll usually get warning time to react if you watch for other drivers’ signals.

Arizona & New Mexico

See California above, though without the arrogant (and erroneous) assumption that they’re the best drivers in the world.

Arizona

1. ) Some genius (honestly) has designed most left turn traffic arrow lights to come AFTER the through-traffic green lights. As through traffic thins, some drivers waiting for a left turn can execute, and the rest will clear on the green arrow.

Cautionary note: While waiting to make a left turn, it’s acceptable to creep out into the intersection because you’re not going to get stuck out there: the green turn arrow is coming up. Check the intersection signs – if the green turn light does NOT follow the green through traffic light, the signs will tell you that.

2.) In Tucson and Phoenix, be aware that U-turns are happening all over the place.

Cautionary note: Before you make that right turn on red, check that no one is U-turning into your lanes.

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My House

November 11, 2010

Three months ago the last of my doctors finally turned me loose. Workman’s Comp finally settled on the amount of a schedule award for loss of sight in one eye. So the bulk of the bureaucracies associated with being injured in Iraq have come to a satisfactory conclusion. I’m feeling free and new.

Time to buy a house of my own!

Most people live where they work. I can live anywhere now, without worrying about finding a job to support myself. I intend to work – besides the psychic energy readings that I provide people, I intend to start my own custom funerary urn business. But that work doesn’t dictate where I can live. I’m able to do phone readings and set up a clay studio anywhere I choose.

In the past thirty years I’ve lived many places: Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, eastern Oregon, western Oregon, Wyoming, Florida, Maryland, and Iraq … I’ve camped for a month or more at a time in Arizona and New Mexico, Mississippi and Louisiana. Each of these places has its own unique beauty and spirit of place that tempts me to return. Minnesota has abundant water and a lovely, bucolic landscape. South Dakota has the rugged Badlands, the beautiful canyons of the Black Hills, and wide prairie spaces. Montana will always feel like my heart home, there where the prairie meets the Absarokas and Gallatins, clear rivers and spring creeks tumbling out of the canyons. Eastern Oregon has the best friends on earth. Western Oregon has the quiet serenity of forests and the rich and rocky coasts. Wyoming is a lost land of secret beauties, red dunes and private mountains, immense rocks and the widest skies. Florida has empty sugar sand beaches and lazy rivers; Maryland rolling green hills with stately old stone houses tucked between.

In trying to decide where to live, I went around in circles with the temptations of each. And with the drawbacks of each. Minnesota has epic winters, long and cold, and is perhaps too close to family. South Dakota and Montana have long winters as well, and the real estate prices haven’t dropped as far as they have in some other places. Much as I love my friends in eastern Oregon, the foggy winters are a horror to me. Western Oregon winter clouds make me want to point a gun at my head by February. Florida and Maryland are fatally over-crowded to my western mind. Mississippi and Louisiana are muggy bug breeders.

Figuring out how to assign measurable weights to these positive and negative qualities, as well as other more practical criteria, became a burden to me over the past two years as I worked toward the decision of where to live. I made lists of pros and cons, and spreadsheets with geographical qualities weighted appropriate to my interests and desires. I spent hours on realtor.com and trulia.com and spent afternoons on the phone boring friends with my circular fretting. I added states I’d never lived in, then crossed them back off the list. One week I settled on Rapid City and the next I knew that was simply wrong and I should concentrate on Nebraska or Oklahoma. Two days later I was convinced that I should live in Minnesota. Friends and family hunted houses in their areas of the country, urging me to move near them. I felt like a fine mist scattered across the continent.

If you could live anywhere, where would you choose? How would you choose? How would you weight qualities like weather, arts and cultural outlets, sports, politics, taxes, friends, family, topography, water, and demographics? It took me two years of head spins to begin to sort these things out for myself.

Making matters worse, I’d never owned a house before. As The First House, the decision felt huge and dire. What if I bought a house and six months later hated living in that town or area? I wouldn’t be able to just give 30 days notice to the landlord, pack my truck and move on. This house ownership business would require a leap up in the level of commitment that I was accustomed to taking on. I longed to look into the future offered by each place, then choose knowing I’d chosen safely, wisely and well. Perhaps my spirit, my soul, was doing just that, but none of that information was coming through in meditation, dreams or other forms of communication…

In the end I simply became sick of thinking, of trying to reason my way to an answer. Action felt necessary. I packed my truck and hit the road, hoping that by visiting some of these places I’d either find the perfect house for me, or eliminate some of the choices. Desperately watching for signs from my higher self or the All That Is, I nervously tiptoed around the country trying to feel my way to a decision, catching many eddies and hiking up quite a few side canyons. 

 It took two months and over 8,000 miles of driving, but it worked.

My new home is in Arizona.

I should close on the house before Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t it carry some strange symmetry if I closed on November 24, 2010 … three years, to the day, after being blown up in Iraq.

The Hurt Locker (spoilers, so beware)

March 8, 2010

I wanted to like this movie. Kathryn Bigelow got enough things right that I wanted the wrong things to be overwhelmed by them. Unfortunately, while I watched the film I felt that the wrong things were too much. It’s hard to overlook the majority of scenes being ludicrously implausible, and a main character who’s a walking Article 15.

I’ll overlook the wrong desert and the wrong uniforms … they had to shoot it somewhere, and they probably got a deal on the uniforms. But a one-Hummer EOD team wandering around alone, and rather randomly at that? They would travel in, at the very least, a two-vehicle convoy. 

Showing up on-site to find a deserted Humvee, its team cowering around the corner? Where are the f’ing radios – not just in this scene, but throughout the movie?

One lone Brit bounty hunter/merc truck on the desert? What was one little ol’ Humvee with one little ol’ 3-man EOD team doing alone out on a desert track anyway? Shooting each other up like that? No Brit team is waiting that long to be ID’ed. Then they couldn’t change a tire because one of these Brits threw the tire iron? 

Huh?? 

A sniper rifle in either of those vehicles? Pinned down all afternoon? And if I’m required to swallow all that, then at least provide them with enough water because I can pretty well guarantee that no merc or mil team is out without enough water.

The CO slobbering all over James? Aside from this weird and useless fiction, where are the officers in all the random wanderings of this lone EOD team?

Running through the streets of Baghdad in fatigues – or, frankly, even making off base in the first place? (Ok, I wasn’t there in 2004. Any vets out there, help me out with this one if I’m wrong.)

A 3-man EOD team taking off through the night to chase down a bomber? By this time, all I could do was roll my eyes and giggle.

James was junk. I was rooting hard for Sanborne to go for the malfunctioning detonator, hoping his action might help propel us all toward some more credible lead character. Sanborne’s initial reaction to him, and Eldridge’s telling him off as he was being evac’ed were – praise the lord – realistic snapshots. 

***

For all that, I made it through the entire movie without actually throwing anything heavy at the screen, and now I find myself developing a retroactive affection for the film. My strong desire for the movie to be better than it is stems, I think, from a sense of ownership in the content: this is my war.

This is my war, so I need you to get it right. Tell our story authentically.

Finding this thought and emotion surprises me, since I don’t think there’s any one story that would encompass the war authentically. I don’t mean that there are as many stories from Iraq as there are individuals who have been there – of course that’s true, but it doesn’t interest me. I’m thinking more broadly, in the sense that I don’t know the soldier story, really, and soldiers don’t know the DoD civilian story. Neither of us knows the contractor’s story. The journalists probably think that they know everyone’s story, yet many of us would sense they know nothing but their own stories. I know some of the PSD story, but not all of it.

If the soldiers’ story is told authentically, will I feel satisfied that my own has been done right? I wonder. I doubt it.

But it would be satisfying anyway. Because the soldiers are part of my story.

***

According to my affection, then, what Bigelow got right retroactively begins to forgive the things that she got insultingly wrong.

The dusty tan streets decorated with colorful trash were true. That’s close enough to how it looks, and it’s how the reality feels. I felt homesick for our mad dashes through towns, sirens whooping occasionally as we wheeled around a corner, dust billowing. I could smell the sharp twist of diesel and earthy dust, the fetid garbage, feel the smothering hot air.

When the camera lens filled up with the bag left behind by the men with the donkey, I whispered boom. Thank you, Kathryn, for that.  To illustrate how far my trust in this film had been eroded by then, as I whispered I wondered if it really would explode. I’d have given up on the movie entirely had it not.

My stomach clenched all over again under the squirrelly weight of all the eyes watching, watching, the men while they worked and I wanted to scream at the team myself: get the fuck out of there! Every moment is seared into slow motion on a good day, like you already know the next moment, the next action, the next reality. If you’re on, you’re on it. On a bad day, your brain starts spinning like a crazed rat and there’s absolutely nothing you can do yourself to stop the raging panic; you only contain it.

James walking into the shower all geared up made me laugh out loud. I’ve been there. And standing in the cereal aisle staring at all the choices was poetry in its silent summation of a reality so thickly layered with contrasts that it freezes itself and devolves into profound absurdity. Been there and Bigelow nailed it.

And perhaps most importantly, the foundation of the movie was authentic: war is a drug. It shifts perception into a heightened symphony of sensation. Good or bad, comfortable or not, that intensity is profoundly, achingly beautiful. For some, like James, that razor’s edge of living fully in the present is addicting. Anything else pales to a dream.

I guess I’d recommend The Hurt Locker, but with serious reservations. So far it’s probably the best Iraq movie I’ve seen, unfortunately. If nothing else, maybe Bigelow has raised the bar so the next Iraq war movie will not only get the environment and emotions right, but will give us a plausible plot, plausible scenes, and a plausible lead character.

Congratulations on the Oscars, I guess.

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