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July 2012

June 2012

The Ruling, Initial Reactions

As I listened to NPR I was thrilled with the initial announcements.  On a philosophical, theological, ethical levels this is an important gain for our social contract and our compassionate responsibilities toward one another.

As the ruling was further analyzes, I admired it even more and look forward to reading it (I still haven't heard enough about the dissent to understand their arguments).  

I appreciate that the Court ruled that Congress cannot expand the Commerce Clause to cover this.  I too was always uncomfortable with the originally conservative proposal that mandated individuals purchase a product in the private market.  Though I have since learned of previous such government mandates and have been slightly more comfortable, in theory, I've never been a huge fan of "the individual mandate" without the public option.

I appreciate, however, that they understood Congress to have the power to impose fines and penalties under the taxing power, which no one really disputed.  On the one hand, my preference would probably be that the Court tell Congress they had to go back and redo, but that ideal rule of law world doesn't exist, and I appreciate the Court, which often seems out-of-touch with how reality works, for understanding that.

Based on analyzes I had read prior to the ruling, I was not surprised that Roberts was in the majority.  I was surprised that Kennedy was so avidly opposed, and look forward to reading his opinion.

Black Elk's Cabin

Bud Cassiday first recommended Black Elk Speaks to me.  I finally read it in 2011 and was immediately struck by its power, beauty, and wisdom.  I’ve been something of a Black Elk fan ever since.

Black Elk grew up during the last of the “Indian Wars” and was a young man at the time of the 1890 massacre of Wounded Knee.  As an old man he told his story and his childhood vision to the poet John G. Neihardt who published it in the book Black Elk Speaks.  Near the end of his great vision, he has this moment of epiphany:

And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.  And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.  And I saw that it was holy.

This is a great, holy, eschatological vision that we have not yet achieved --  many hoops making one circle, humanity living in solidarity with creation, everyone being sheltered and provided for. 

During our mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation, we had lunch one day at Bette’s Kitchen near Manderson, South Dakota.  It is a wonderful place where you sit outside under and arbor and enjoy remarkable view of the pine ridges.  Bette is a descendant of Black Elk’s.  I asked our Lakota guide if this was in fact Black Elk’s land, as I knew he lived near Manderson.  The guide said that it was and that Black Elk’s cabin still stood downhill from where we were sitting, in a grove.  He pointed out the trail down and invited me and others to walk down there.  A small handful of us did.

The cabin is old and not maintained.  Inside walls were covered with graffiti.  I wish it were a preserved historical site like the homes of so many prominent persons.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed visiting the cabin, taking in the view, and imagining the wise old man sharing his vision in this very spot.

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Prometheus reconsidered

I wrote about Prometheus the other day and how I enjoyed it.  The more I've thought about the film, the more my opinion of it has lessened.  There are just too many things about it that are stupid or make no sense (even if they are to await a sequel).  For instance:

Why do the scientist act so stupidly when they encounter exotic animals and black goo?

If the Alien is born at the very end, then why is an Alien creature carved in stone in the room with the big human head in a relief that looks something like a place of worship?

I still think it is visually stunning, had promising conceptual and aesthetic qualities, and that Michael Fassbender was riveting to watch.


Our first full day on the reservation, we took a brief hike in the south unit of the Badlands.  It was rather too controlled for my taste, though despite that control, two folk broke their ankles/legs.

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The best part was a moment where we were invited to sit silently, meditate, and soak in the moment and the environs.

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There is a hill above the Re-member site from which you can see many miles in every direction.  To the south, you can see the Nebraska-South Dakota border.  To the north you can see eighteen miles.  It is a common feature of a trip to Re-member to make multiple visits to the hilltop, especially at sunrise or sunset (or to get a cell signal).

Earlier in the week I went up there during a windy evening and stood on the crest of the hill, my arms outstretched facing the wind.  It was near sublime.

The night of the solstice, our last night on mission, a large group found their way to the hilltop with many intending to sleep out.  Guitars were carried to the hilltop and songs were sung.  I danced a little.

Stephen loves astronomy and guided everyone through the bejewelled night sky, pointing out all the constellations and planets.  The space station passed brilliantly by.  He said that people who never see the night sky can pretend that they are the extent of creation.

We laid together on sleeping bags, adults piled near one another, joking, telling stories, and laughing.  Like we were kids.

I have never seen a twilight last as long.  There was light along the western horizon for more than two hours after the sun actually set.  

The best summer solstice of my life.

Valentine, Nebraska

In northern Nebraska lies the town of Valentine.  It sits near the Niobrara River in a place where east meets west and north meets south, according to the brochure for the Niobrara National Scenic River.  This is the western edge for many eastern species and vice versa.  To the south is the Sandhills and to the north the landscape changes.

The town was once a rowdy, wild west town.  Old Jules told of his visit there while en route to settle in the Sandhills farther west.  There he saw the outlaw who inspired his imagination for years (and later saved his life).  

In recent years it is more known as "The Heart City" as many people send their St. Valentine's Day cards here to be stamped.

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Last week we stopped in Valentine, both going and coming, from our mission trip to Pine Ridge, South Dakota.  We had lunch at the Cedar Canyon Steakhouse both times.  The food was good and inexpensive and the desserts are not to be missed.  

On the way back we took in some of the sites.  We drove through the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, where we saw prairie dogs, bison, and elk.  We crossed the river on the Berry Bridge and then headed to Smith Falls State Park to play and swim.

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The water of the falls and the creek was cold, especially compared with the much warmer water of the river.  The falls are most beautifully arrayed, as the stream comes over a knob and then cascades down all the sides, with fun places to stand and sit under them.  We were there mid-day, just after the solstice, and the sun stood just above the falls, glistening through the water.  It was a delight.

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Last Gay Jewish Survivor of Holocaust dies

Read about Gad Beck here.  Excerpt:

Perhaps the single most important experience that shaped his life was the wartime effort to rescue his boyfriend. Beck donned a Hitler Youth uniform and entered a deportation center to free his Jewish lover Manfred Lewin, who had declined to separate himself from his family.

The Nazis would later deport the entire Lewin family to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.

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