Monday, March 28, 2011

Atheists and Theists - A Personal Reflection

A few days a friend forwarded to me the following story, one many of you have doubtless received, and maybe chuckled about:
In Florida, an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover Holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians and Jews and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days.

The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, "Case dismissed!"

The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, "Your honor, How can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays."

The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant."

The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists."

The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that, if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned."

You gotta love a Judge that knows his scripture!
The story is a politics-cum-humor item that purports to be true but that is false and has been circulating through the Internet since at least 2003. I suspect that my friend who forwarded it didn’t know or care that it wasn’t a true, but sent it as a joke. The friend had also forwarded the story to several of our mutual friends.

I didn’t find the story funny. Those of you who know me, know that I have little patience with political, religious, or any other stories that purport to be true but aren’t. My thought about such stories is that if you need to make up a story and circulate it as true when you know it isn’t, then there is something wrong with the cause you are trying to bolster. My friends would also tell you that I love jokes so much that I die laughing at my own jokes which interrupts the telling of the joke. I didn’t love this joke.

So, I hit the “Reply All” button and sent this response:
Apart from the fact that the story about the Florida judge is not true, I do not chuckle at it as a joke. Maybe my sense of humor is lacking, but I take little delight in the caricature of people who do not believe in God, even as I do not delight in the caricature of people who do believe.
No sooner than I had hit the “Send” button than I began to have second thoughts. Has that ever happened to you? I said what I thought, but I wondered if I weren’t too harsh with my friend, who is about the least bigoted person I know. The story touched a nerve deep inside me, and I wasn’t sure why.

At breakfast, I talked to Connie about the forward, my reply, and my second thoughts. She asked if my response had anything to do with my new friend in Taiwan. The light went on! “Yes, no doubt!” I replied, and began to think again.

I have a lot of friends in Taiwan, but this one I’ve known only about twelve weeks and have only talked to on the telephone.

After breakfast, I went back to the computer and began to write a letter back to my friends. I said that my initial response had been too abrupt, and I apologized. These friends had all heard something about this friend in Taiwan so his existence was not news to them.

I explained how I met this friend in Taiwan. In late December (2010) I posted a description of Fireproof Moth: A Missionary in Taiwan’s White Terror on my blog in hopes that someone might see it and help me find a publisher. At the time, my manuscript and proposal were on the desks of half a dozen publishers collecting dust. Within a day or two of my posting, he came across my blog.

This person, I went on to the friends, sent a comment to the blog saying that he was an atheist and chastised me both for believing in God, and more, for having been a “missionary imperialist” imposing western cultural values in the name of religion. I hadn’t a clue who he was. I had responded with this message:
Thanks for your candid response. In my time in Taiwan I saw much that would fit your description, but I also saw those who resisted the imperialism of government and our faith.

I resist the dogmatism of your "there is NO God" as much as I resist the dogmatism of religions. I think modesty in the face of both is appropriate.
In response, this unknown person in Taiwan read through my old blogs (all of them) and wrote me back that he was really amazed that I believed and practiced what I said. He apologized for his harsh language and removed his comments from my blog. (If you go to the site, you can see where the comments were “removed by author.”)

His response, I explained to my friends, began a daily dialogue (and that is indeed what it has been) about matters of faith and non-faith. Only last week, I received from him this powerful (and I believe true!) statement:
"I find that almost any system can theologically and intellectually produce "authenticity" in terms of creativity, humanity, social consciousness and individual freedom in healthy balance. But the institutionalization tends to destruct the values of this authenticity. This is true whether one is an atheist or a spiritualist, or a convert to religion. The tension is always there. The magnetism of an institution which provides legitimacy, power, and authority is both seductive and enriching (financially and in terms of power). The lone individual is like Odysseus (sp) fighting against all temptations."
I had to do a little research on Odysseus to fully appreciate his statement, but when I did, I wished I could have stated what he and I both believe as well as he did.

This is the friend who within two weeks of our first cyber encounter decided that my book was worthy of publication. It was he who knew a publisher and persuaded him to publish it and to do it quickly. The rest, they say, is history, except that it is not over. He has also been the driving force to get publicity for the book and to get it into a Chinese edition. Over these twelve weeks, he and I have become friends.

To my friends here, I went on about how this friend comes from a Jewish family in Massachusetts. While he is non-practicing and more of an agnostic than an atheist, he has respect for his heritage.

His first hot words to me about “missionary imperialists” were an appropriate reminder that in much of the world (perhaps most of the world) “Christian missionaries” are viewed the same disdain as many in this country regard “Muslim extremists.” This was not news to me. There is sufficient historical truth to the charge of “missionary imperialism” for us not to disregard it. At the time, he didn’t know that my book acknowledged the truth in that charge.

My long note to these friends concluded with recognizing Connie was right (she usually is); it was because of my friend that I am more sensitive to the way many Christians view atheists. The story about the judge seems a good example of how we shouldn’t deal with each other. The dialogue with my friend is an example of what can happen when theists and atheists take each other seriously without feeling the need to deride or belittle each other. As I wrote in the conclusion of my book, the most “real Christians” I met in Taiwan (those who genuinely practiced what I had learned as the “Christian way”) were three men who had no affiliation (or interest) in the Christian religion.

There is great need for serious conversation between theists and atheists so together we can discover what gifts we have for each other. What do you think?

- Milo

Monday, March 21, 2011

From Oregon to Taiwan

[Photographs by The Bulletin's Rob Kerr show Thornberry with Peng, holding a sweater given to Peng the night he escaped Taiwan in 1970. Another photo shows Thornberry in a recognition ceremony with President Chen Shu-bien in 2003.]

By Dan Bloom, Chaiyi, Taiwan
Special to Janus blog

TAIPEI -- A newspaper in Oregon has applauded the work of a former Methodist missionary in Taiwan during the 1960s who played a key role in secreting Peng Ming-min out of the country to Sweden in 1970.

The Bend Bulletin in Oregon profiled former missionary professor Milo Thornberry last Saturday, saying he aided Taiwan in the "fight for liberty in Taiwan in 1960s, 1970s."

Reporter Heidi Hagemeier reported that Thornberry and his then-wife Judith Thomas participated in experiences "worthy of a spy thriller: smuggling cash to families of political prisoners, slipping victim names to Amnesty International, and orchestrating the escape of an internationally known scholar and democracy activist."

The newspaper noted that "change has come to the island [nation] where he risked so much as a missionary in the late 1960s and early 1970s, [and now] Thornberry [is] free to tell his tale, he said he feels it's an obligation."

When asked why he was going public with his story now in an English-language memoir published in the U.S. last month, Thornberry told The Bulletin:
"I'd like for Americans to know a little bit more about this history. My role is only a couple of sentences in this struggle in Taiwan."
Deported as "terrorists" in 1979, Thornberry and his ex-wife did not return to Taiwan until 2003, when they and others were honored their contributions to Taiwan.

"That meant a lot to me,” Thornberry told the Bulletin, his voice cracking with emotion.

The newspaper also interviewed Taiwanese journalist and historian James Wang, who told the Bulletin:
"Milo is really a low-key person. When we [first met], he didn't reveal how he helped Peng escape from Taiwan. When I found out, I said, 'You have to write about this.'"
While Thornberry's book is currently available only in English, he told the Bulletin that he is in talks with a book company in Taipei, which is interested in releasing it here in a Chinese-language edition. Interminds Publishing, which published Peng's memoir in 2009, is among those publishers in Taiwan interested in the translation rights to Thornberry's book, according to sources.

Wang told The Bulletin that he hopes the book will reach Taiwanese readers:
  "[The KMT] would rather not have it published .... in Taiwan. They don't want the younger generation to read it. But it's an important page in Taiwan's political history. We should know this and we should appreciate Milo's help.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Turn Out the Lights [Before] The Party's Over

Canberra, Australia

I can still hear “Dandy” Don Meredith intoning these lines (slightly off key) at the deciding moment of a Monday Night Football game. There might be time left on the clock, but the winner and loser of the game had been decided. On Saturday night, March 26th, when people around the world turn off their lights for an hour, between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, it will be in a symbolic stand against climate change, an expression of hope that it is not too late (that the “party” is not yet over).

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turned their lights off for one hour to take this stand. Only a year later and Earth Hour had become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries/territories participating. Global landmarks such as the Sydney Harbor Bridge, CN Tower in Toronto, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Coliseum, all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.

On Saturday 27 March, Earth Hour 2010 became the biggest Earth Hour ever. A record 128 countries and territories joined the global display of climate action. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Asia Pacific to Europe and Africa to the Americas switched off. People across the world from all walks of life turned off their lights and came together in celebration and contemplation of the one thing we all have in common – our planet.

Will turning off the lights for one hour really make a difference in combating climate change? Only in the sense that we will be reminding ourselves that the sum of our actions is important and CAN make a big difference.

Believing that the SUM of our actions is important, a group of students at National Cheng Cheng University in southern Taiwan with their teacher/ journalist Dan Bloom have produced a short virtual graduation speech video about the need to "tighten the noose around coal and oil" in the coming decades -- or else (“the party’s over”)!

CCU senior Aremac Chuang produced the 4-minute YouTube video titled "A Virtual Graduation Speech to the Class of 2099" and filmed it in the communications department's blue-wall studio, with British National Taiwan University exchange student Deanne Laforet writing a translation in Chinese on a separate blog. The students persuaded their teacher to be the graduation speaker for the “Class of 2099.”

Listen to the student-produced "Class of 2099" speech and see if it adds anything to your knowledge of "what must be done" if humankind is to survive the coming centuries and continue with its magical exploration of the marvels of high-tech and electronic reading devices.

What will life be like on planet earth in 90 years, when the “Class of 2099” graduates at Taiwan National University and at universities throughout the world? It might be something to ponder on March 26 as Earth Hour is observed throughout the world.

Our lights will go off at 8:30 pm next Saturday night as an expression of our hope that the game has not yet been undecided and that we can still make a difference. What about your lights?

- Milo

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick: A Story Worth Re-Telling

No matter one’s faith persuasion or choosing not to have one at all, I suspect that we all live by stories. Even though I am neither Irish nor Roman Catholic, and not one given to venerating many Saints, I think this is a story worth remembering. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. I would like to think that all those lining the parade routes in South Boston, New York City, Dublin and hundreds of other cities, and who will fill large churches in special services to honor him, will be doing so because they admire the way St. Patrick lived and want to imitate him, but I'm not sure that will be the case. I sometimes wish that it was St. Patrick that I see on Wheaties cereal boxes or in the Nike ads, but perhaps its OK that he never has been and never will be. It may be that my children will only know about St. Patrick if I tell them.

Patricius was born around 389 on the western edge of the Roman Empire in a place in Britannia we now call Scotland. Patricius spent his early years in comfort in a family of Roman citizens. His parents were nominally Christian, like many of the hundreds of thousands who had become Christian because it was the fashionable thing to do. Their casual indifference to genuine faith would not sustain the boy when he was sixteen years old and kidnapped, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave. Across the sea to the west Ireland was just beyond the westernmost boundary of the Roman Empire. Patricius was sold to a tribal chief who sent him to the mountains to care for his sheep, a place where he was so alone that his only constant companions were nakedness and hunger. Without any other faith resources, the youth began to pray the only prayer he knew, "Our Father, who art in heaven…" Over and over he prayed it, day after day, night after night, until the time came that God became close and real to him.

After six years as a slave, Patricius was led in a vision to escape. He walked over 200 miles to find a boat that took him back to the safety of his family. Although his family wanted nothing more than for him to stay at home and pursue a career there, Patricius had another vision that called him back to Ireland, the place where he had been a slave. After he was trained as a priest and became a bishop, he returned to Ireland to serve for the next thirty years, where he became St. Patrick, apostle to the Irish nation. As the Roman Empire was crumbling, Ireland was moving from chaos to peace. And it was because of Patrick.

There are many legends about Patrick that may or may not be true. He didn't really run the snakes out of Ireland. He may or may not have used a three-leaf clover as a symbol for the Trinity. But what he did is far more remarkable than any of the legends about him. I want to mention three of them.

First, Patrick led the people of Ireland, the whole nation, to Christianity. Most of the other nations in Europe and the Middle East had become "Christian" because it was the "Roman" thing to do. Ireland is the first nation to become Christian because they chose it, not because of political coercion or any social status it offered. In fact, the Christianity established in Ireland by Patrick was distinctly un-Roman. Not connected with the papal system or the Roman hierarchy, Celtic Christianity developed around individual leaders and monasteries, and the Irish monks were leaders in spreading and preserving the Christian faith. In the monasteries a woman could have authority over men and women alike – an irregularity which would have offended Roman sensibilities. And it may very well be that one of Patrick’s converts, Brigid of Kildare, was the first woman ever to be consecrated a bishop.

Second, under Patrick’s leadership the previously illiterate people of Ireland became literate. The Irish were learning to read and write as the people of the Roman Empire were sinking rapidly into illiteracy. As the libraries and precious manuscripts were being destroyed throughout the old empire, the Irish became the scribes who copied and preserved the books. Where once they had prided themselves by carrying the heads of their enemies tied to their waists, now they carried books. That so many early Christian documents and scriptures, as well as the classics of Greek and Roman culture, survived the “Dark Ages” is largely due to Irish Christians, hence Thomas Cahill’s conclusion stated in the title of his book,
How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Third, led back to serve in the country of his enslavement, Patrick became the first person in recorded world history to speak out unequivocally against the institution of slavery. Within his lifetime or shortly thereafter in the fifth century, the slave trade ended in Ireland. No voice would be heard like his on this issue again until the seventeenth century -- thirteen hundred years later! It would not end in England until the 18th century, and in America it would not end until the 19th century.

Don’t you think this a story worth re-telling? Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

[1] Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York: Anchor Books, 1995) p. 173.

- Milo

Monday, March 14, 2011

Is This What Class War Looks Like?

Would most of us know what class warfare looked like if we saw it?

One of the cherished myths many of the people of the United States have held is that we are a “classless society.” “Class warfare” was a reality in other countries, but not ours. At least that is what I was taught in school. Okay, so it was school and college in Texas, and it was many years ago. You probably never held the notion.

For many, publication of Howard Zinn’s A Peoples’ History of the United States: 1492 - Present, in 1980, forever disabused them of that myth. That's a book I really wished had been available when I was in school. Zinn was fond of saying, “We have had class warfare for a very long time,” and an honest reading of our history demonstrates it.

More recently, Warren Buffett said without pride, "There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning."

Donna Cooper has prepared “Infographic: Tax Breaks vs. Budget Cuts” that may give us a graphic picture of class warfare in real time. The chart above compares the 10 safety-net programs slated for deep cuts with the cost of the tax breaks that should also be considered for reduction or elimination to bring the budget into balance. The column on the left is a list of safety-net programs that have already been targets of the House leadership’s budget ax. The column on the right is the cost to specified tax breaks (see end of her article for her sources).

According to greywolf359 this charge mirrors what we're seeing in Wisconsin,
where Governor Walker (R-Koch) claims that ordinary public sector workers need to fork over at least $137 million to save the budget. Problem is, he just gave away $117 million in tax breaks for his corporate pals. This is out and out class warfare. The big corporations in America have decided that they can get even richer by raiding the public treasury. It's time for the middle class to stand up and defend itself!

If I were to look class warfare in the face now, I could imagine it would look a lot like this. What do you think?
- Milo

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Swindler Wins Journalism Award for Integrity

She has to be tough to take all of the ribbing she gets for her name, but on April 1st Samantha Swindler, publisher and editor of the weekly Headlight Herald in Tillamook, Oregon will receive the 2010 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism.

In case you didn’t know,
The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, gives the award in honor of the couple who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years. Tom Gish, who died in 2008, and his wife Pat were the first recipients of the award.

Samantha, like the Gishes, is being recognized for her journalism in Eastern Kentucky and in Texas, where she began her newspaper career less than seven years ago. She has been in Oregon since July 2010.
The award will be presented to Swindler on April 1, at the spring symposium of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association in Albany, Ore. A native of Metairie, La., Swindler is a 2002 graduate in communication from Boston University.

What did such this young person do to deserve this prestigious award?
As managing editor of the daily Times-Tribune of Corbin, Ky., circulation 6,000, Swindler spearheaded an investigation of the Whitley County sheriff that helped lead to his defeat for re-election and his subsequent indictment on 18 charges of abuse of public trust and three counts of tampering with physical evidence.

Swindler and her reporter, Adam Sulfridge, received repeated warnings about their safety as they revealed irregularities in how Sheriff Lawrence Hodge accounted for missing guns his officers had seized, problems with his alleged payments to informants, his failure to present cases against anyone arrested for felony drug violations, failure to send seized drugs to the state crime laboratory, and his officers' repeated failure to testify, resulting in dismissal of serious drug charges.

“She did not let anyone scare her off the story or push her around,” said William Ketter, who worked with Swindler as senior vice president/news for Community Newspaper Holdings, which owns the Times-Tribune.
Swindler recounts her experience in the latest edition of Nieman Reports, published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.
“There is a great need for good investigative journalism in rural America,” she writes. “Young reporters tend to think they need a byline from The New York Times to make a difference in the world. If they really want to have an impact, get a job with a community paper and start asking the tough questions that no one ever asked before.”
Swindler’s exemplary work on behalf of the community was not only in Kentucky. When Swindler was managing editor of the Jacksonville (Tex.) Daily Progress, the paper won a Freedom of Information Award from the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors for coverage of city police corruption. The city manager was fired after Swindler, then a reporter, found he was illegally burning condemned houses.
“She makes a wonderful example for the rest of us,” said Ben Gish, editor of The Mountain Eagle, son of the couple for whom the award is named and a member of the award selection committee.

“If in the past decade there's been any other journalist in America, rural or city, who has demonstrated the level of tenacity, courage and integrity Swindler did with that series, then I'd like to meet them,” Gish said. “Unless they were able to walk in her shoes, it would be impossible for a reporter/editor at a large metropolitan daily to understand the danger Swindler faced while letting Whitley County know its top law enforcement officer was a crook.”
William Ketter put in words why this story struck me with such force and made  me think how fortunate Oregon is to have her here now:
“Never has there been a greater need for perceptive, courageous reporting in smaller communities as big city papers reduce their resources and reach across rural America. That’s why it is so important that journalists such as Samantha Swindler stand their ground, however fraught with risks, as the people’s surrogate, holding public officials accountable.”
Welcome to Oregon, Samantha! May your tribe increase!
- Milo

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Forgiveness From Another Angle

[Note from Milo: "Forgiveness" is a common theme in the Christian tradition during Lent. A friend wrote to me saying that he was doing a series of sermons on the subject and asked for any insights I had. I confessed to him that what seemed such a simple concept to many, had always been difficult for me, and I thought much abused as to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer might have called "cheap grace." Connie and I talked about it one more time (we've talked about it many times before). After the conversation, she read me a few paragraphs in a book she is reading. I think there might actually be a breakthrough in my understanding of this issue. I encouraged her to write what she found to our friend and send me a copy for my reflection. When I read what she wrote, I asked her if I could share it with you. I'll be interested to know what you think. Thanks Connie!!!]

Milo tells me you are doing a series on forgiveness for Lent and I thought it interesting that some of the stuff I’m reading right now goes along with that. Have you heard of Caroline Myss? She is a medical intuitive. I’m reading her book, Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason. I’ve just started reading and have jumped into a deep pile of something that has everything to do with forgiveness. She states that healing can’t come without it and that neither healing or forgiveness can come from reasoning. The following quote nailed me!!

“Until you surrender the need to know why things happened to you as they did, you will hold on to your wounds with intense emotional fire. Your mind will want to heal, but your pride, anger, and emotions will remain caught up in wanting to make sure that the people who hurt you feel bad about what they’ve done. Or you may want to hurt them back. But rest assured, your emotional self will remain attached to the unfinished business rooted in feelings of abandonment and humiliation, of having lost something or been cheated. Your mind may do what’s required for healing and go through all the prescribed steps, but your heart will never fully participate in the healing process. In the end, forgiveness is an act of release, surrendering the need for an explanation. From that perspective, forgiveness has nothing to do with the individuals who harmed you. It is the act of accepting that there is a greater map of life, through which flow many rivers of events and relationships, all interconnected. Forgiveness is your release from the hell of wanting to know what cannot be known and from wanting to see others suffer because they have hurt you.”
She describes surrender as “fundamentally a mystical act of transformation, not a rational or intellectual one. It is a leap into the unknown that defies reason and requires every ounce of courage you have.” Also, “Giving up the need to know why things happen as they do requires a belief in some higher order or power that transcends rational thought….’some call it surrendering to God’….others surrendering to the Universe.”
She says the people she knows who found healing found it elemental and essential to give up the need to know why things happened as they did. What she clearly states is that because of our “reason,” our need to know belief system, that we think we can somehow answer the question, “what went wrong,” and that knowing will cut off the "bad juice", so to speak, so we will be healed. Our punishment and reward belief system in a nutshell, yes? Well apparently it can’t hurt to know the whys but it doesn’t guarantee healing. Like my surgeon said, “It might be a perfect surgery, but you may not get what you want.” I’m not quite sure whether that was wisdom on his part or a foot in the back door – guess I need to work on some forgiveness when it comes to him??

This is only the beginning in the book and I can see that it may take some trudging to get through it because like many people I know I have a tenacious grip on wanting to “know” and wanting “revenge.” But it seems this material has come to me in a timely way and I thought I might share some thoughts with you.
- Connie

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Taiwan's "Anne Frank" Story

When I lived in Taiwan in the 1960s and early 1970s, I learned that people like Shih Ru-chen were in hiding from Chiang Kai-shek's secret police. In time, I learned that over a hundred and forty thousand political prisoners were held without trial, tortured, and often murdered.

In retrospect, I wonder now how so many U.S. citizens lived in Taiwan in the time of White Terror (from 1947 to 1987) and knew so little about it. Both Chiang's regime and the United States government (who believed that support of Chiang essential in the fight against Communism) were good at keeping such unpleasant realities from public view. But I think it was more than that; I think individuals not wanting to know had a lot to do with it.

Personal friends in Taiwan were imprisoned and tortured. I knew families who had one or more members simply disappear forever. When I think of them now I still shudder. I have only recently learned the story of Shih Ru-chen. Professor Shieh Jhy-Wey at Soochow University in Taipei and well-respected television talk show host, has said that this is Taiwan's "Anne Frank" story. Read the story as it is told on a website created for English readers:
Everyone now knows the story of Anne Frank and her indominitable spirit in the face of sadness, loneliness and the Nazi occupation of Holland. She died during WWII, killed by the Nazis, but Anne Frank also remains alive even today through literature, art and......yes......memory!

Did you know that Taiwan has its own "Anne Frank" story about a man in Hsinchu who hid in small, secret hiding place -- a thin space between two walls, with no room to even stand up -- for 18 years during the White Terror period?

His crime? He committed no crime at all, but the government's secret police at that time were looking for him, and rather than risk being arrested, tortured and perhaps killed, Mr. Shih Ru-chen decided to find a hiding place. This is a true story, and it goes like this:

Mr Shih was a man who lived in Hsinchu with his family, a wife and a young daughter. He also had an open mind, a freedom-loving mind, and this sometimes got him into trouble with the miltary authories of that time.

Because of something he did or said or whispered, or because of some friends he had or some meetings he attended, the secret police were looking for him.

They wanted to arrest him, interrogate him, maybe even torture him and kill him. Mr Shih decided that, if he wanted to live, the best course of action would be to try hide from the secret police. So he left his home and walked to his brother's house, asking if he could find a hiding place there.

Mr Shih's brother, Shih Ru-chang, built a new wall in his house next to an old wall, and in the small space between the two walls, there was just enough space for a grown man to sit down and crouch -- but not stand. This is where Mr Shih Ru-Chen hid ... for 18 years!

Mr Shih did the same thing that Anne Frank and her family did during WWII. Rather than give in to the forces of darkness and evil, he decided to find refuge in a secret hiding place in his brother's house. And of course, in order to keep the police away, everyone had to keep the story very very hush hush ... for 18 years!

Every night, Mr Shih's brother, Ru-chang, would remove some bricks from the new wall and let him get out to stretch his legs, eat and get some well-needed exercise. Then after a short time, back into the hiding place went Mr Shih. This didn't go on for just one week, or one month, or even for a year. This went on for ... 18 years.

When Mr Shih began his ordeal, he was 37 years old.

This story is an amazing story of courage and a secret hiding place, of secret police and an extended Taiwanese family who loved a very good man, husband and father. Mr Shih was never famous duirng his lifetime, of course, and even after he died, at the age of 55, very few people in Taiwan knew about him or his amazing 18 years in hiding. Only his family knew!

Even the ''funeral'' for Mr Shih had to be kept secret, so the secret police would not know about it. To tell the truth, dear Readers, there was no funeral for Mr Shih. Let us now remember his life gently in these pages.

For today, in telling and retelling this story, we readers, in Taiwan and overseas, revive his memory, salute his steadfastness and admire his courage. The Jewish people in Holland gave us Anne Frank. The Taiwanese people have given the world Shih Ru-chen as an example of deep personal courage and conviction. Let us never forget him.

Shih died in 1970 at the age of 55. He had been in hiding during the first four years I lived in Taiwan, and fourteen years before that. He died while I lived less than fifty miles away in Taipei. When I made my frequent train trips to Tainan, I must have passed within a mile of where Shih was in hiding. That sends chills down my spine. But more, I wonder how many others in hiding there were close around me in Taipei.

If you are not one of the hunted and despised, living in a police state can seem normal. I suspect that there were neighbors of the Anne Frank family who gave little thought to the plight of the Jews in their community and across Europe, and who chose not to open their eyes to the reality around them. 

Long live the memories of Anne Frank and Shih Ru-chen!
 - Milo


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bless You Molly!

[Milo's Note: Sometimes I read something and I can only say, "I wish I had written that!" That happened today when an old friend in Texas sent me an article by Bill in Portland Maine for Daily Kos'. From way up in Maine, Bill writes about a true American hero, Texas' own Molly Ivins. I agree with Bill's selection of her words that bear on the confrontation with Labor in Wisconsin. Thanks Bill! Thanks Molly!!!]

Hard to believe Molly Ivins has been gone for four years. Any time I get a hankerin' for some common sense mixed with sass, I crack open one of her books or Google one of her columns. She does a progressive soul good. Yesterday I decided to see what she wrote about labor unions. This is her most-frequently-cited quote:
"Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts."
In early 1996, she picked up the trail of the democracy-busting Koch Brothers, and gave 'em a little free publicity:
Another major [Bob] Dole backer is Koch Industries ($245,000), now the country's second-largest family-owned industry, and the Koch brothers are among the wealthiest men in the world (estimated worth: $4.7 billion). Among other right-wing groups, the Koches support the libertarian Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy, which should be called Rich Guys for Big Bidness. CSE wants to phase out Medicare completely, and Dole's regulatory reform bill---the one that would effectively repeal most of our health, safety and environmental regulations---is straight out of the CSE playbook.
And in 1998, she wrote about California Prop. 226, whose purpose sounds awfully familiar 13 years later:
The plan is simple: If the initiative passes, unions will have to get written permission from each member every year to use union dues for political activity. What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, as long as corporations are also required to get written permission from each shareholder every year before the corporation can use any money for any political activity. But this proposition is aimed only at unions. It would cost the unions millions of dollars and untold amounts of time to get these annual permission slips, and that, of course, is the whole point: to weaken the political power of unions, which are already outspent by business. Just what the country needs, complete domination of politics by corporations and the only organizations that speak for American workers shut out entirely.

It's a column worth reading in full because it gives you a sense of just how long union-busting has been on the conservative radar. (Fortunately Prop. 226 failed.

And then there's this from her 2000 column on the Great Southwest Strike of 1886:

A lot of busted heads and broken lives went into making the eight-hour workday a reality. Think how mad [Great Southwest Strike organizer Martin] Irons and all those other fighters would be at us for letting the corporations get away with mandatory overtime and 60-hour workweeks, month after month.

The thing about corporations is that they never give anything away out of the goodness of their non-existent hearts. As economist Milton Friedman put it, the only social obligation of a corporation is to make money. Workers still have to fight for a decent life.

Solidarity forever!
I'm not a big fan of playing the "What would [deceased person] say about…" game. But sometimes you can make an educated guess with relative certainty. And my guess is Molly would be cheering on the protesters in Madison, and urging the "Fab 14" to stay tough and hold their ground.