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Sunday, April 30, 2006

17 ways to landscape on the cheap
It's easy to spend thousands cultivating an idyllic lawn and garden. But a little ingenuity and patience will go a long way to keeping some green in your wallet, as well.

By Ann Archer

Traditional thinking says you should expect to pay anywhere from 5% to 15% of your home's value on landscaping. Even at the low end of that range, you're looking at spending $10,500 if you live in the median-value American home worth $213,000.

That's tough to stomach no matter how much you love the outdoors. Thankfully, you can do it right and still spend a fraction of that amount. Here's how.

Get the most visual bang for your buck: First of all, realize that budget gardening can still be beautiful. Let's say you've got less than $1,000 to spend. The first things you should focus on are improving your soil and adding trees, recommends Joanie Clarke, a design consultant for Classic Nursery and Landscape Co. in Redmond, Wash. "You can spend $500 on plants, but they're not going to grow in clay or sand," she says. Clarke advises amending your soil with compost and other ingredients to improve its quality. Buying soil, in comparison, can cost as much as $27 a yard plus delivery.

Take advantage of freebies

• Your city, your friend: Cities often give away free trees, mulch and compost. In Seattle, for example, groups of neighbors can request 10-40 trees from the city in exchange for planting and maintaining them.
• Demolition sites: These are great sources for bricks and stones, but make sure you have permission to remove them.
• Fellow gardeners: See something you like in a neighbor's yard? Offer to trade cuttings. Also, set up seed exchanges with other gardeners or check out existing exchanges online such as those on iVillage's GardenWeb and
Avoid costly mistakes: Really think about how you're going to use your outdoor space. If you plan a water feature but are annoyed by the noise of babbling brooks, you’re going to spend more money ripping it out and replacing it with something else later. Take the time to educate yourself and you'll avoid common pitfalls such as planting a tree too close to your house.

Work with what you have: Preserving existing plants and trees can help you save the cost, materials and resources needed to establish a new planting. Educate yourself about plant care and pruning; that 12-foot magnolia in the back yard would likely cost you $65 and five years of growing to replace. (For tips on pruning, check out this page on the U.S. Forest Service site.) Similarly, knowing which areas in your yard are flood-prone and which are always in the sun can help you buy the right plants for the right conditions. Some areas might be better for swing sets or patios.

Hire yourself: The best way to save money in landscaping is to do as much work as possible yourself. A 3-gallon bush may cost $20, but the price skyrockets to $30 or $40 when it's planted by a landscaping professional. A $3-to-$4 perennial will cost about $12 installed.

Know when to hire the pros: There are times when it makes sense to hire a pro. Beverly Katz of Exterior Designs in New Orleans suggests hiring help for jobs that take more muscle or design skill than you have, such as creating hardscapes, while you take on more manageable tasks such as planting small shrubs and perennials. (You can find landscape architects at the American Society of Landscape Architects Web site and certified landscape designers at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Web site.)

When using pros, try to get a packaged deal: Check out nurseries that offer landscaping services. Many will offer discounts on plant material to their landscaping customers. Classic Nursery and Landscape Company in Redmond, Wash., for example, offers a 20% discount on all plant material for one year to their clients.

Hire a consultant: A full landscape design that includes drawings and a planting plan can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on the complexity of the design and the overall budget of the project, according to Katz. A less-expensive route is to draw your own plan and hire a landscape designer to review it. "I charge $100 to $150 an hour to consult. I’ll make notes and add to the plan," said Katz.

Take a phased approach: Divide your plan into phases and pay as you go with funds on hand. You'll save on loan or credit costs and be able to evaluate your progress and adjust plans before moving to the next phase.

Time your purchases: Buy trees, shrubs, perennials, soil and mulch late in the season when retailers want to be rid of them. Depending on your region that could be early fall, a great time for planting because it gives the plant time to develop roots before the summer heat arrives.

Check alternate resources: Look beyond stores for bargains. Arboretums, botanical centers, plant societies and gardening clubs often hold plant sales. You can join The National Arbor Day Foundation for $10 and receive 10 free trees shipped to you at no cost. At Free Trees and Plants, a retail Web site that helps train and employ the disabled, you only pay shipping and processing fees on all your orders.

Buy small: Purchase small-sized plants; five 1-gallon Shasta daisies at $3 apiece cost the same as one 3-gallon plant at $15 at Armstrong Nursery in Carlsbad, Calif. Depending on the species, the smaller plants could double in size in two years, giving you more plant for your money.

Protect foundations: Roots can damage concrete blocks, driveways and sidewalks, so plant large trees at least 30 feet from those areas.

Divide: Look around your yard for any perennials that can be divided and used elsewhere in the landscape. A one-gallon perennial can cost about $9 at a nursery, but you can easily divide the one you planted last year into four plants, saving $27.

Compost: Save money on fertilizers and mulch by composting your own, using yard waste and food scraps. Compost piles can be made of recycled 2 x 4s and chicken wire. All you need is access to the pile and enough space to turn it every now and again. You'll pay as much as $5 per small bag of compost at your local home improvement store.

Think about maintenance: A large lawn is great if you don't mind mowing. But if paying a yard guy $50 a week is part of your plan, make sure that goes into your budget.

Be water smart: According the Environmental Protection Agency, outdoor water use constitutes almost 20% of total home water use. Look for plants that are drought-tolerant to save on your water bill.

Finally, be patient. Plants will not fully mature for a good two to three years, longer for trees and many shrubs. Enjoy the process -- and the money you saved.

Missing soldier dies in hotel ductwork
Body found in air conditioning unit ID’d as Iraq war vet missing for 12 days

The Associated Press

Army Spc. Robert Hornbeck is shown in an undated photo provided by his family.

SAVANNAH, Ga. - A Fort Benning soldier missing 12 days before his body was discovered in a downtown hotel died after he got caught in an industrial-sized air conditioner, officials said Saturday.

A maintenance worker at the DeSoto Hilton hotel found the man’s body Friday in an area accessible through a maintenance door after guests complained of a foul odor in the lobby.

He died after being struck by a large, spinning blower wheel, said Lt. Mike Wilkins, a spokesman for Savannah-Chatham County police.

“At this point, it appears to be an accident,” he said.

‘At least we have closure’
An autopsy Saturday confirmed the identity of Spc. Robert Hornbeck, 23, of Lapeer, Mich., who was last seen outside the hotel April 16 after a late night of bar-hopping with an Army buddy. He answered his cell phone briefly after his father arrived just after 3 a.m. to give him a ride. He said, “Dad, I’m on the stairs,” then the connection went dead.

Family members spent nearly two weeks combing Savannah’s historic district for him. They posted fliers with Hornbeck’s photo in store windows, took out a full-page ad in the local paper and offered a $10,000 reward.

“At least we have closure and we can get him home and do the proper things to honor him,” said Kirk Hornbeck, the soldier’s uncle in Savannah.

Police had not determined how Hornbeck got into the hotel maintenance area or what he was doing there. He was not a guest at the hotel. Blood toxicology tests were also being performed. Hornbeck’s father had previously said he suspects his son was intoxicated.

“I think maybe he’d in fact had too much to drink,” Kirk Hornbeck said. “He might’ve thought he was going out the right door to the outside and got turned around inside the building and ended up in the wrong spot.”

Recently back from Iraq
The soldier had traveled to Savannah to spend Easter weekend with his father and stepmother. He had returned to Fort Benning in January from a yearlong tour in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division.

Hornbeck planned to leave the Army at the end of April and return to the University of Michigan, where he studied psychology before joining the Army in 2004. He was scheduled to marry his college sweetheart in July.

Hornbeck’s father was traveling back to Michigan on Saturday, where the family planned to bury Hornbeck with military honors, his uncle said.

While you were sleeping, the paperboy grew up
Readers bemoan loss of community as more adults take over routes

The Associated Press

Julia Malakie / AP
J.J. Polcari, 15, of Wilmington, Mass., delivers copies of the Lowell Sun along his route on Tuesday. Teenage paperboys are a dying breed, as adults now make up 81 percent of the country’s newspaper carriers.

WASHINGTON - A young teen riding his bike at dawn reaches into his shoulder bag, grabs a tightly folded newspaper and deftly throws it to the front steps.

It’s an image as American as apple pie, but the paperboy has gone the way of the milkman.

Today’s papers usually arrive by anonymous drive-and-toss. For reasons including the demise of afternoon papers, a shift to centralized distribution and earlier delivery deadlines, adults in cars now make up 81 percent of the country’s newspaper carriers.

“I don’t know who delivers my papers,” said Stacey Rufe of Glen Allen, Va., lamenting the disconnect she has with her Washington Post carrier. “When I was growing up, our carrier was my friend Mike and his brothers. If you had a problem, you called Mike.”

As recently as 1994, more than half of newspaper carriers — 57 percent — were under 18, often neighborhood kids, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

As the job moved into the hands of grown-up independent contractors, who don’t come to the door for payment anymore, many bemoan the lost sense of community in which the paperboy played a unique role. Also lost is an opportunity that gave children as young as 10 business skills.

Rite of childhood
If you weren’t a paperboy or girl, your sibling, parent or friend was. And if you didn’t do it, you subbed for your brother when he went to scout camp. Parents, more likely than not, helped — either driving on bad weather days or helping stuff inserts into the Sunday papers.

Some former paperboys recall loving the responsibility and sense of pride; others hated the early mornings and collecting from stingy subscribers.

“It was a great first job because I had to manage for myself,” said George Rohling, 41, who delivered The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review in the 1970s. Like most paperboys, Rohling was paid according to how many papers he delivered, and he collected payments each week. “I wasn’t standing at a register, asking if they want fries.”

President Truman, actors John Wayne and Bob Hope, and baseball star Willie Mays all had paper routes when they were young. So did TV journalist Tom Brokaw, cartoon great Walt Disney and investment whiz Warren Buffett.

Teens and tweens really started delivering America’s papers in the postwar era, NAA Vice President John Murray said. Boys had hawked newspapers on city street corners, and as customers moved to the suburbs, it was a natural fit.

“They were appealing, tenacious and would work in a small window of time,” Murray said. In return, delivering papers rewarded kids “relatively speaking, handsomely.”

More than a job
In the 1950s, Henry Petroski earned the then-lucrative sum of $20 a week delivering the Long Island Press each afternoon and Sunday morning. The job taught him how to deal with people and money, as well as how to fold a paper.

“It wasn’t that easy; the first few times the paper would open in the air and would fall apart,” said Petroski, now a Duke University professor and author of a memoir, “Paperboy: Confessions of a Future Engineer.”

“By learning what didn’t work, you learn eventually what not to do more than the secret of doing it right.”

Now Petroski receives his Durham Herald-Sun each day from an adult driving a car. It’s not the same, particularly when it rains.

“When I was a paperboy we would what we called ’doorknob,”’ he said. “You would walk up to the door and put the paper in the storm door. Here, it’s just a yellow plastic bag at the bottom of the driveway.”

You missed — whoever you are
Rufe, 34, never knows where to expect her paper, or even what paper she’ll get.

“Today (the paper) was on the bottom of our steps, usually it’s on the driveway, sometimes it’s in the paper box,” said the part-time lawyer. She said she’s received The Financial Times, The New York Times and The Korean Times, many times in lieu of her preferred Post.

Yes, she can call the Post to complain, but “If I knew who my carrier was, I could call him,” she said.

At least one paper is bucking the trend. Since December 2005, The Sun in Lowell, Mass., has shifted about 2,000 papers from adult routes back to youth carriers.

“It’s strengthening everything all the way around,” Circulation Vice President Michael Sheehan said. Routes grow future newspaper readers, he said, while young carriers provide better service and create customer loyalty. Sun paperboy Joseph “JJ” Polcari, 15, is learning about the value of good service. A five-year veteran of delivering Sun papers, he was recently named carrier of the week.

“If you treat people well, they give you good tips,” said Polcari, who earns about $40 a week. Delivering 20 papers takes only 20 minutes each day, he said, thanks to his bike.

And the work is paying off: His mother, Debbie, said J.J. is saving for a car and already has enough for insurance.

Yet this return to youth carriers is an alternative not open to many morning papers. In Bloomington, Ill., The Pantagraph employs about 200 young people in its carrier force of 480. Circulation director Bill Hertter says it’s tough these days to find teens willing to deliver the morning paper by 6 a.m. every day.

“Money is too available,” he said. “Why would they want another five, 10 bucks when they have everything?”

Cute ways to get close
By Maggie Kim

It’s the end of your first date and suddenly, your date’s personal space seems like a no-fly zone. Breaking the physical barrier for the first time can seem daunting, but here are some real people’s creative maneuvers to get touchy-feely—without seeming creepy.

1. Do a practice touch.
Going for a hand-hold or kiss after not having touched a person at all can be anxiety-provoking for both of you. But casually touching the person mid-conversation gets you both used to being close, which makes things easier later. “I’ll often touch people to emphasize a point, show empathy or even to highlight humor, like an affectionate light slap on the arm,” explains John Emch from Seattle, WA. A similar strategy is to make a relatively big move—but then back off. Peter B. from New York, NY, does this by putting his arm around a date and then removing it. “I’ll just throw my arms around a girl’s shoulder like I would a friend’s at the start of a date,” he says. “It lightens the vibe up immediately because it’s just me being friendly.” It also sends the message early on that he’s interested, which lets his date give her own cues freely and without fear of rejection.

2. Rely on chivalry.
Small, gentlemanly gestures are an unthreatening way to make contact. “I hold my hand out to help a date out of a taxi,” says Jeremy Kagan from New York, NY. “It's polite, and it allows my date to be the one to actually reach out.” Put your hand on your date’s lower back as you go through a door, or help your honey out of a car—or into a coat. “My ex-boyfriend used to help me with my coat, then lift my hair out from under the coat for me,” says Ann Lee from Philadelphia, PA. “It was thoughtful and also sensual to have his hands brush against my neck and stroke my hair.” And ladies, there’s no need to wait for the guy to make a move. “If I’m walking with my date, I reach for his arm so we wind up linking arms,” says Megan of Morristown, NJ.

3. Lean in.
When you’re sitting very close together, the space you must cross to touch one another becomes much smaller—and less terrifying. “I took my now-girlfriend to a concert in the park,” says Bryan Dunn from Austin, TX. “It was really crowded, so we had to stand close together... and that kind of closeness often leads to kissing.” You can get the same effect by sitting right next to each other at a tiny café table, too. Even if you’re not in a crowd or sitting right next to each other, try lowering your voice gradually over the course of the date—you’ll find yourselves leaning closer just to talk, with your faces getting nearer to each other than they would be otherwise.

4. Cook something up.
During at-home dates, teaming up in the kitchen lends itself to getting cozy. “As a chef, I know for a fact that asking your date to help in the kitchen is a good way to initiate touching,” says Matthew K. from Portland, ME. “You make contact when your bodies pass by each other in the close quarters or when you show your date how to chop properly.”

5. Sniff it out.
An innocent excuse to zoom in on a person’s touch zone sends the message that you’re interested in more, and you don’t have to be brazen to pull it off. “I was at a bar with a guy who seemed too shy to make a move, so I sniffed the air near him and said, ‘Wow, what’s that smell?’” says Stasia King from Los Angeles, CA. “I sniffed all around and then zeroed in on his neck area and exclaimed, ‘Oh, it’s you!’ Then I leaned in for a long, slow, circular inhale just under the earlobe. He got the picture after that.”

6. Pick a hands-on date activity.
For an easy intro, choose an activity that requires closeness anyway. “I take my dates salsa dancing,” says Johnny F. from Houston, TX. “You have no choice but to touch each other and move together in a pretty sexy way. Even if you’re not good dancers, you can laugh about how you’re missing the steps.” If dancing isn’t your style, try something else physically active (like rock climbing) that requires participants to make contact.

7. Be direct.
What keeps many people from breaking the touch barrier is not knowing whether their dates are interested. Being brave enough to ask makes it obvious that you are looking for contact, and you two will know what to do next. “I’ve really been straightforward,” says Leonard R. from Los Angeles, CA. “I just say, ‘Can I kiss you?’ It’s worked out pretty well!” Tina H. from Miami, FL, puts a fun twist on it. “I’ve said to guys, ‘You want to kiss me, don’t cha?’ They love it because it takes the pressure off them but it’s still light and fun.”

Friday, April 28, 2006

Perdue approves Bible classes, Ten Commandments bills
By Matthew S.L. Cate, Staff Writer
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Chattanooga, TN - Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue put his signature on two bills Thursday designed to promote the Bible in the public sphere but likely to face legal challenges over their constitutionality.

Under one new law, public schools can offer elective courses on the Old Testament and New Testament starting in the next school year. The other law gives local governments a blueprint on how to post the Ten Commandments with other historical documents.

"Governor Perdue signed these bills into law today because the Bible is one of the original textbooks in the history of human existence," gubernatorial spokeswoman Heather Hedrick said. "It's an acknowledgment of the importance of these two documents as historical documents."

Supporters have said both bills were drafted to allow communities to recognize the Bible's impact on Western civilization and U.S. democracy. They said the laws have been designed to withstand any constitutional challenges and to provide state-funded legal help to defend local governments.

Opponents said the bills blur the lines that should separate public policy from private religious convictions.

"We don't want the government getting involved in our religious viewpoints," said Maggie Garrett, a staff lawyer with the ACLU of Georgia. "It is troubling when you look at bills like this."

The Ten Commandments bill passed the General Assembly with four dissenting votes out of 236, and the Bible courses bill had nine "no" votes. That's a margin one Northwest Georgia lawmaker said proves the bills' popularity with the general public.

"This is mainstream America," said Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga. "Maybe if we put this back in our society, it will turn out to be a better society."

The laws stipulate that local officials can offer a different Bible course, or none at all, or post the Ten Commandments how they see fit, just as they have in the past. But doing so would forfeit state help in defending their actions.

Ms. Garrett said the ACLU closely will watch how individual schools teach the as-yet undeveloped Bible-based lesson plans. The group could file a lawsuit as soon as someone "comes to us with a case" once the Ten Commandments are posted, she said.

The state Board of Education now must develop curriculum for optional high school classes titled "History and Literature of the Old Testament Era" and "History and Literature of the New Testament Era."

While other materials may be used in the class, the new law stipulates that the primary textbook will be the Old Testament and New Testament. The law forbids teachers from proselytizing.

Northwest Georgia school officials have said they will consider offering the Bible courses, though they must weigh resources and community interest.

"We have to make sure we have enough teachers available to teach the courses required to graduate," said Marissa Chambers, spokeswoman for Catoosa County Public Schools.

The Ten Commandments proposal arose after a federal judge ordered Barrow County, Ga., officials last summer to remove a posting at the county courthouse.

Also last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings on the matter striking down a Kentucky posting while approving a Ten Commandments display in Texas that was surrounded by other religious and secular monuments.

To get state-funded legal help to display the Ten Commandments, Georgia courthouse displays must include copies of the Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, lyrics of the national anthem, preamble to the state constitution, the Bill of Rights and an image of Lady Justice.

Georgia Lawmakers Want Bible To Be Standard Textbook In Public Schools

Georgia wants to make the Bible a standard textbook in public high schools. Georgia lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the bill; now it goes to the governor's desk.

If signed, the law would become the first of its kind in the country.

Those who oppose the bill said they're ready to fight it, since very few students have expressed interest in religion electives already offered in school.

Clergy group attacks schools’ Bible study course
Watchdog group says class promotes fundamentalist Christian world view

The Associated Press

Dr. Mark Chancey, professor of biblical studies at Southern Methodist University, center, speaks Monday in Austin, Texas, about a report he wrote for Texas Freedom Network examining a Bible study course marketed to public schools. Kathy Miller, the network's president, at left, joined Chancey in denouncing the course.
Thomas Terry / AP

AUSTIN, Texas - A religious watchdog group complained Monday that a Bible study course taught in hundreds of public schools in Texas and across the country promotes a fundamentalist Christian view and violates religious freedom.

The Texas Freedom Network, which includes clergy of several faiths, also said the course offered by the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools is full of errors and dubious research.

The producers of the Bible class dismissed the Texas Freedom Network as a “far left” organization trying to suppress study of a historical text.

The National Council on Bible Curriculum Web site says its elective course is offered in high schools and junior highs by more than 300 school districts in 37 states.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said her group looked at the course after the Odessa school board voted in April to offer the class. It asked Southern Methodist University biblical scholar Mark A. Chancey to review the curriculum.

Chancey’s review found that the course characterizes the Bible as inspired by God, that discussions of science are based on the biblical account of creation, that Jesus is referred to as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, and that archaeological findings are erroneously used to support claims of the Bible’s historical accuracy.

He said the course also suggests the Bible, instead of the Constitution, be considered the nation’s founding document.

“No public school student should have to have a particular religious belief forced upon them,” the Rev. Ragan Courtney, pastor of The Sanctuary, a Baptist congregation in Austin, said at a news conference held by Texas Freedom Network.

Elizabeth Ridenour, president of the Bible class group, accused the Texas Freedom Network of censorship.

“They are actually quite fearful of academic freedom, and of local schools deciding for themselves what elective courses to offer their citizens,” she said in a statement.

According to the Texas Freedom Network, 52 Texas school districts offer the class. In Odessa, more than 6,000 people signed a petition in support before it was approved in April.

Although representatives of the Bible council have attended school board meetings in Odessa, superintendent Wendell Sollis said course materials have not yet been selected.

Miller said the Texas Freedom Network supports study of the Bible as a significant historical text, but not in a way that amounts to religious indoctrination.

See You in Bible Class
Georgia plans to teach the Good Book in schools.

By Sarah Childress

Paul Zoeller / Odessa American-AP
Appeal: Leading a prayer outside school district offices in Odessa, Texas, as officials debate adding the Bible to the curriculum

May 1, 2006 issue - Fresh from a bruising federal court fight over the teaching of evolution, Georgia marched back into the culture wars last week when Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill allowing Bible classes in public high schools. An estimated 8 percent of the nation's schools offer some form of Bible study. But the Georgia law is the first to set statewide guidelines and earmark public dollars for a Bible course. Five other states are considering similar measures. Georgia's school board has until February 2007 to decide how the courses should be taught, and forces on both sides of the issue are bracing for a messy battle.

In the past, school Bible lessons were informal. Now two groups with national influence and powerful backers are offering states comprehensive curricula. Last fall the nonprofit Bible Literacy Project published "The Bible and Its Influences," a textbook endorsed by moderate Christian and Jewish groups. So far, 30 schools are teaching the pilot program, and the group says 800 schools have shown interest. Meanwhile, the National Council for Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, backed by a long list of conservative evangelicals, including Pat Robertson, says its curriculum is already taught in 353 school districts. However, if Georgia opts for either program it will be the first time that a state has officially adopted a Bible curriculum. "You can't turn a public-school classroom into a Sunday-school classroom," says Dan Quinn, spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group that commissioned a report on the council curriculum. The study, written by Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University, says that the program teaches the Bible from a primarily conservative Protestant view. The council says its approach is constitutional. Just in case, it offers legal aid to districts that teach it. State Sen. Tommie Williams, one of the Georgia bill's authors, used the council's curriculum as a guide when drafting his proposal. "We simply have to teach 'This is what happened—make your own judgments'," he says.

Whatever the Georgia state school board decides, observers predict a flurry of lawsuits. And Georgia teachers will once again find themselves in the cultural cross-fire.

Gimme That Prime-Time Religion
With so many faiths celebrating holy days in the spring, it’s important to remember why we believe what we do.

By Marc Gellman

April 12, 2006 - During this week and in the days ahead, most religious people on earth are preparing for some holy day. A jumble of Jews will be observing Passover. A mass of many Muslims will observe Mawlid al-Nabi, the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Several Sikhs will observe Baisakhi, which is their spring holiday. A bunch of Buddhists will be preparing for Wesak Day at the full moon of May (Lots of Lamaist Buddhists from Tibet wait one month for Wesak). Wesak is the day the Buddha was born, became enlightened and died. And of course for Christians, this week began with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter.

Springtime is prime time for religion, and luckily for the media conglomerates, it also includes sweeps week and the opening of “The Da Vinci Code.” So, let me take a moment to celebrate the many ways my brothers and sisters of faith welcome this season, and the way the media hunker down to survive it, profit from it and appease the doubting of their secular customers.

The main accusation cynics throw against religion and its defenders is their belief that the foundation stories of religion are not true. The most recent and popular fictional iteration of this antireligious screed is “The Da Vinci Code” and its by now well-known thesis that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene (the true Holy Grail) and had a child. The knowledge of this fictional truth has supposedly been kept a secret by the Knights Templar, a group of dedicated Christian ninjas, until, of course, it was finally revealed to the world by Dan Brown and the PR department of Random House.

In the world of archeology, the recent surfacing of the Gospel of Judas from its decades-long repose in a safety-deposit box in a bank in Hicksville, Long Island, now casts doubt on the gospel account that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The new version, based on anti-Christian Gnostic texts, is that Judas was a trusted accomplice in the effort to get Jesus crucified so that he could fulfill his mission on earth.

What Christians can say in response to the DaVinci/Judas flap depends upon how seriously one takes Dan Brown as a theological expert and how important the role of Judas was to the role of Jesus as the Messiah sent by God to heal the sins of the world. Brown is a novelist and that, really, is that. As long as Brown claims his book is fiction, it should be treated as such, although it is fair to be highly suspicious of any work of fiction that has as its effect the spreading of unsubstantiated lies about a tradition that has brought faith, hope and charity to millions. As a Jew, I am too often called upon to remind people that the anti-Semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is also just a fictional creation meant to whip up anti-Jewish sentiments.

It is important, however, to distinguish the details of Jesus’ life and the belief in Jesus' mission. Facts may alter this or that historical verdict on the role of Judas or the life of Jesus, but no historical facts can deflect or damage the belief in Jesus as the Christ, which remains the central claim and enduring promise of Christianity. There is one exception to the invulnerability of Christianity to historical refutation, and that is the resurrection of Jesus. If it could be shown through irrefutable historical and textual evidence that Jesus' followers stole his body from the cave and cooked up the story of his resurrection, then the spiritual project of Christianity would indeed suffer a mortal blow. However, this is highly unlikely, and even if it were possible to prove this, it would still not diminish, for example, the vision of Paul on the road to Damascus nor the heroic martyrdom of Christians for their faith nor generations of Christian saints and scholars who have taught a vision of salvation that sustains and sanctifies one out of every three people on earth. Christianity is primarily built on sacred history and, save the one event of the resurrection, that history is immune to the vicissitudes of history as determined by National Geographic Society, Random House and Columbia Pictures.

Tonight my faith commands me and excites me to remember the going out of Egypt, the plagues there, the splitting of the Red Sea and the burning mountain where Moses received the Torah written in black fire upon white fire. If it were somehow possible to prove that nobody left Egypt, and that the miracles never happened, and that the law was cooked up by a bunch of priests in the time of David, it would insult my faith, but it would not diminish it, because the message of the Passover is a message of freedom, and freedom remains God's gift to all people. This is true not only because historical events from the Exodus to today proves it. It is true because the spiritual legacy of freedom cannot possibly be false.

A proposition can be true, philosophy reminds us, by correspondence or coherence. It can be true because it corresponds to something that happened in the world, or it can be true because it forms a coherent explanation of the way the world works. Religion is the first coherent explanation of why we are here on earth and what we are meant to do and hope and endure and transcend. Everything else is just Nielsen ratings.

Happy Passover, Easter, Baisakhi, Wesak and Mawlid al-Nabi. And to everyone else who just doesn't know what to believe, Happy Springtime!

Voyage Apart in the Same Direction
Everything I have learned about brides and grooms.

By Marc Gellman

June 2 - Since the author of The Spiritual State in June is overscheduled with weddings, this seems to me an appropriate time to tell you everything I know about brides and grooms. I have watched a parade of them enter my office, enter the holy state of matrimony and enter the world as its newest family. Marrying these people (and naming babies) has made every fractious and interminable committee meeting I have ever attended seem to be merely a minor annoyance.

At first, 33 years ago, I used to ask everything and listen to everything brides and grooms said as they gurgled out their love for each other. Now I ask less and listen and watch more. This is what I have learned. I am sure that other preacher folk have learned the same things from touching other springtime loves. Do they touch and do they laugh? This is the single most important question I ask about people in love who want to get married. They are all I look for now.

Brides and grooms who do not touch each other, hold hands, sneak a kiss, touch the other’s cheek or brush away a stray lock of hair, but instead sit apart as if they were riding on a bus alone, they have no chance. Of course I cannot know this for sure, but I am sure nevertheless. They may stay married for 60 years but they have no chance of ever having even a single day of true passion and true love. I am not looking for physical lust. What I am looking for is the sheer joy of touching the one you love. You can learn this lesson in death as well. We bury our loved one in the ground and put a marker stone on top of the grave so that we can touch the stone that touches the earth that touches the one we love. Touching is the way love begins and it is the way we try to keep it from ending even in the face of death. Once, at a funeral I was told by a couple’s children that they used to walk in on their mom and dad slow dancing together in the living room. I was entranced by that image because I know that in dancing with the one you love, it is never the music that matters, it is always the touching.

I also watch to see if the brides and grooms sitting across from me laugh at anything. I am definitely funny enough to deliver some sure-fire laugh lines, but even in the absence of my own humor, I watch to see if they find certain things about their wedding, or their relationship or the world in general so silly, so amusing, so ironic, so joyous that they just cannot hold back a giggle or a laugh. Unlike touching, which is an obvious consequent of physical passion, laughter is not. Laughter can be caused by many things, love is but one of them. But for me, laughter reveals trust and joyousness, humility and helplessness in the face of love. In older people who have not been Botoxed, I read their wrinkles for signs of laughter. A life of laughter puts laughter wrinkles at the corners of your eyes (crow’s feet be damned--they are laughter wrinkles). Conversely, a life of frowning imprints itself on your face with frown wrinkles between your eyebrows. You can pretend to be an optimist or a cynic, but your wrinkles will always give your real self away. When brides and grooms giggle and laugh it shows me that they are genuinely happy to be with each other, and that they are similar enough to find the same things funny.

I will marry people who do not touch, and I will marry people who do not laugh, but if they don’t touch or laugh I try to talk up the virtues of the other rabbi down the street or I tell them that on the day of their proposed wedding I suddenly realized that I will be in Patagonia herding penguins. If you are in love, or if you are watching your child or grandchild or friend fall in love, take my advice: don’t listen to anything they say about their love for each other. Just watch and listen and ask the only questions I ask: “Do they touch and do they laugh?” It really is all that matters.

One final thing. I always ask brides and grooms what they love about each other, and then I listen to their lists. If the list is filled with qualities that will not fade in time, I know they are OK. If the list is filled with self absorbed or outward attributes, I use the penguin line. And if anyone dares borrow the line from the movie Jerry Maguire, “he completes me,” I threaten them with bodily harm. Mostly, all brides know what they love about their fiancés. Mostly, all grooms know what they love but have no real ability to put it into words. That’s OK with me. Men are limited creatures. Except for David and Dana. When I asked them what they loved about each other, Dana said, “Once we were driving over the Triborough Bridge on a blazing hot summer Sunday. There was a guy at the approach to the toll booths selling newspapers. David bought all the guy’s newspapers and told him to go get out of the sun.” Then David said, “Dana teaches kindergarten, and one morning she was sitting on the bed naked working out some project with little stick-on letters for the kids. She would not go out for breakfast until she finished her lesson for her kids. When she was finally finished, she got out of bed and walked away from me to the bathroom. I saw that a little silver 'A' was stuck to her butt.” They both asked me why I was crying, and I just could not explain that in my line of work you just don’t hear perfect answers that often.

When I marry brides and grooms who have passed the laugh/touch test and who love things about each other that have nothing to do with their abs or boobs, I bless them. Rarely, and only if they are like David and Dana, I will share with them these unpublished words about marriage written by D. H. Lawrence from the Modern Library edition’s introduction to “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”:

So it must be: a voyage apart in the same direction. Grapple the two vessels together, lash them side by side, and the first storm will smash them to pieces. This is marriage, in the bad weather of modern civilization. But leave the two vessels apart, to make their voyage to the same port, each according to its own skill and power, and an unseen life connects them, a magnetism which cannot be forced. And that is marriage as it will be when all this is broken down.
And then, to myself, as they are dashing off to eat the little hot dogs with the crusts around them, I offer a personal prayer, also in Lawrence’s words: “May you have the courage of your tenderness.” That is my prayer now for all the brides and all the grooms who are just beginning their voyage apart in the same direction.

P.S. Please let me know where to send the gift.

Oral Sex at the Synagogue
Uncomfortable or not, it is time for clergy to speak out about how God wants our kids to use their bodies

By Marc Gellman

Nov. 9, 2005 - Last Sunday afternoon I had a nice chat with sixth-grade children and their parents about oral sex. Let me assure you that when I studied to be a rabbi, oral sex was not an elective in my seminary’s curriculum, but now it seems to me of much greater importance than teaching these kids how to bless a challah bread.

I write this week, not only to both of my dedicated readers, but also to the thousands of clergymen and clergywomen who have avoided teaching their congregants and the children of their congregants about sexual promiscuity—and I know why. First of all, it is just unbelievably embarrassing to talk about this stuff. I am a fearless public speaker but my palms were sweating all through the lecture last Sunday. In the follow-up to the lecture, the main question the kids had was, “Do you really have sex?”

There is another obstacle to speaking about things sexual in a house of worship, and that is the ancient and nearly universal religious embarrassment about talking about the urges of the body. Religion simply prefers things soulful to things corporal. This is derived from Aristotle’s preference of form over matter and therefore we are regularly addressed from the pulpit as creatures who are but little lower than the angels, when in fact we are also like my guide-dog-in-training who, as I write these words, is happily humping my leg. Religious leaders today must remember that we are embodied souls, and those bodies are now being seduced by an unprecedented avalanche of sex carried by TV, movies, video games, music, magazines and beer ads. The avalanche’s roar carries a single message: love and sex do not have to be connected in any way at all. Sex can be just hooking up, this message says, and to avoid pregnancy (obviously true) and to avoid AIDS and STDS (utterly false) oral sex is seen by our kids as nothing more than an after-school snack. Many kids now consider it as nothing more than a social convention, a mark of popularity, a sign of sexual liberation and a pleasant way to pass the time in the back of the bus on the way to school.

Houses of worship have not been quite as blind to the threat of drug, alcohol and cigarette abuse because those health dangers are obvious and speaking about them does not cause your palms to sweat. However, it is time for us clergy folk to speak out in a sensitive, not hysterical, non-judgemental, but loving and firm way about how God wants our kids to use their bodies.

What is needed now is a common and loving message to our kids that they don’t have to live this way. That message, grounded in our faith and values and love for our children can and must stretch from liberal to evangelical pulpits. It can be a message offered not imposed, reasoned not dictated and lovingly shared, not bombastically ordered. Even though the religious leaders of America are theologically and politically divided on a host of topics, there ought to be, there must be, universal agreement that the national upsurge of oral sex between minors who do not love each other is not what God wants for them, even if, in a moment of boredom or passion, it is what they want for themselves. Even if such sexual behavior were not illegal or physically harmful or immoral, which it is, it would be profane. If the religious leaders of our country cannot all bring themselves to speak about this intimate and embarrassing but central moral issue in our culture now, then frankly it does not matter much if we give great movie reviews or political diatribes in our next sermon. It does not matter if our kids perfectly know the words to prayers and hymns but have no idea how to preserve their sexual virtue until a time when they are no longer children and when they no longer ride the bus, prowl the malls and play Grand Theft Auto.

I asked the girls I teach and love last Sunday, “When you offer oral sex to a boy who does not love you and may not even like you and who will most probably destroy your reputation by telling his friends what you will do, are you proud of yourself? Do you think you are making your parents proud of you? Do you think this is what God wants you to do with your body? You are better than that. You are much better than that.”

I asked the boys I teach and love last Sunday, “When you ask or beg or plead or coerce or manipulate a young girl who likes you and just wants to be popular to go down on you, are you proud of doing that to her? Do you think you are making your parents proud of you? Do you think this is what God wants you to do with your body? You are better than that. You are much better than that.”

Then I surrendered to my need to explain that this was not just me talking, but our faith talking and so I quoted the Talmud to them: “Be very careful if you make a woman cry, because God counts her tears. The woman came out of a man’s rib: Not from his feet to be walked on. Not from his head to be superior, but from the side to be equal. Under the arm to be protected, and next to the heart to be loved.”

And then I took a deep breath and wiped the sweat off my palms and watched their faces as they thought about something deeply important and difficult. Maybe I changed nothing. I think I started some important conversations at home, and all this happened in my synagogue. Last Sunday I know I did my job, and I did it without teaching anybody how to bless a challah.

The Dying Woman in Room 402
A story for all the people who could use a little encouragement today.

Rabbi Marc Gellman

May 19 - It was early in my friendship with Tommy Hartman, the priest. My wife, Betty, who freely admits to being the only woman in the world married to both a rabbi and a priest, was in Houston visiting her sister and I called up Tommy and asked him if he wanted to go out for a pizza and beer. He was happy to get out of his priest bunker and go.

When I picked him up and asked were he wanted to go, he said, “North Shore Hospital.” I said, “I don't think their pizza is that good, and I don't think their liquor license came through.” He replied, “I want to go there first because there is a woman in room 402 who is dying of breast cancer. I want to see her and pray for her before she dies.”

I am compassionate plenty during the week—plenty—and I am even compassionate for my congregants late on Tuesday night. But on Saturday night I need time with Betty and friends in order to fuel up for another week of explaining how people should not blame their pain and suffering on The Boss. So it was with some reticence that I agreed to accompany Tommy. What can you do when your best friend is a living saint?

The woman in room 402 was alone and sitting on the edge of her bed staring blankly out the window as if in a daze. Tommy said hello and I hung out by the door. I was thinking, “Mushroom, extra cheese, onions …” OK, I admit it: I need work on the compassion side, but as I said before, it was Saturday night.

Tommy quietly and respectfully sat down on a chair next to the woman, held her hands gently in his hands, and said, just like this, “Dear, you are going to die, but you have nothing to fear because God is going to hold your soul in his hands like a little bird.”

I was stunned. I had never seen such courageous honesty in talking to a dying person. My personal technique up to that evening watching Tommy, was to breeze into the room, smile and say, “Hey how ya doin? You look great! Well I have to be going now.” Tommy just went straight into the truth without hesitation and without fear. It took my breath away.

Then Tommy asked her, “Dear, are you still afraid?” She was crying her eyes out and could barely blurt out the words, “Yes, Father, I am afraid now.” Then Tommy repeated his healing spiel complete with the reference to God and the little bird (which he pantomimed for her by cupping his hands to show her just exactly how God was going to hold her soul in his hands like a little bird). Then Tommy asked her again if she was still afraid and all she could do was nod her head and breathlessly say, “Yes, I am still afraid.” Tommy then asked her, “Why are you still afraid dear? Why are you afraid?”

The woman in room 402 then recovered enough composure to answer my best friend. She sobbed, “I am afraid because I just came into this hospital for a hernia operation! What are you talking about? Why am I going to die? ”

Tommy, without missing a beat, rose and said to her, “Well then, you are not going to die!”

I was on the floor laughing so hard I thought I might die, repeating over and over, “Like a little bird … like a little bird.”

Tommy came over to me and said in an urgent voice, “Marc, I think we have to leave now.”

The woman was pressing the call button like it was a detonator; Tommy pulled me out of the room by my feet. We ran down the hall outracing the security guys; we laid rubber screeching out of the parking lot. Over several beers and no pizza, Tommy looked at me quizzically and said these words which have sustained me personally through many screw-ups. I offer Tommy's words now to everyone everywhere who has done the best job they can, but even so it all just went to hell for some reasons they should have known and for some reasons they could not have known.…

Tommy said, “Maybe the dying woman was in room 502.”

Missing Elderly Man Found Dead

89-year- old Cruz Fierro had been missing for four days.

The Fierro family spent countless hours this weekend posting flyers and looking for their father -- Cruz Fierro.
"It's very difficult - he has 10 kids all looking for him - this is not the way you should lose your father - not the way it should be," Irma Fierro said.

But Military Police found Fierro dead on Fort Bliss property Tuesday morning, near a rock wall. His family thinks he was trying to find his way home, just a few miles away. Police say he was discharged from Beaumont on Friday and left before his family arrived -- even though the hospital knew he suffered from dementia.

Police say they started searching the area around Beaumont on Friday, but Fort Bliss officials say police did not ask for permission to search their property until Tuesday morning -- 4 days after Fierro went missing. It wasn't until Tuesday morning's joint search between police and Fort Bliss that Fierro was found dead.

The family says they're disappointed and they're trying not to be angry at anyone because they want to show respect and dignity for their father's memory.

Soldier found dead after MySpace suicide note
20-year-old recruit apparently posted letter the day before taking his life

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. - A 20-year-old soldier was found dead in his barracks the day after an apparent suicide note was posted on his Web page.

The Army has not released the cause of Pvt. Dylan Meyer’s death on Tuesday at Fort Gordon, Ga.

But the last posting on the Tampa man’s Web page seemed to indicate that he had planned to end his life. said there is no way to determine whether Meyer wrote the message himself.

“Jesus, I don’t know if any of you have heard what has happened to me yet, but I just want to remind you not to be sad,” said the note, posted Monday. “Laugh, that’s what lifes about ... When it is all said and done, ... it is the ones you love who you will remember.”

Meyer’s father referred questions Thursday to Army public affairs. Joe Walker, a spokesman for Meyer’s unit, the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, said the investigation is still going on. — a social networking hub with more 72 million members — allows users to post searchable profiles that can include photos of themselves and such details as what music they like.

Dustin Triplett, a friend of Meyer’s from high school, told the St. Petersburg Times that many of Meyer’s friends were surprised by his decision to join the Army early last year. Triplett said Meyer told him how much he hated the military and that he was never comfortable.

On his MySpace page, a passage addressed to other soldiers read: “Have fun you simple minded creatures. The army needs drones like you, you are what they call life long enlisted.”

A film and drama fan, Meyer made a movie on April 21 that was added to his MySpace site, a short film about Army life called “Bored As Hell: A Weekend at Ft. Gordon.”

Man killed in Fla. when lightning strikes head
‘It was like somebody had shot him,’ neighbor says after witnessing event

The Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A man was fatally struck by lightning while talking to his neighbor about the coming hurricane season.

Harold Bennett, 65, was standing outside his home when he was hit in the head about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, said neighbor Judy Thompson.

“It was like somebody had shot him,” Thompson said. “The lightning went right through him ... It was horrible.”

It was lightly raining when Bennett was taking the garbage outside and spotted Thompson rearranging furniture.

“He always liked to talk any chance he got, and he asked me if I was moving,” Thompson said. “I said I was just clearing out the back for hurricane season.”

The two were standing about 25 feet apart. Thompson was not hurt.

Trying to Understand Angry Atheists
Why do nonbelievers seem to be threatened by the idea of God?

By Marc Gellman

April 26, 2006 - I think I need to understand atheists better. I bear them no ill will. I don't think they need to be religious to be good, kind and charitable people, and I have no desire to debate or convert them. I do think they are wrong about the biggest question, “Are we alone?” and I will admit to occasionally viewing atheists with the kind of patient sympathy often shown to me by Christians who can't quite understand why the Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection has not reached me or my people. However, there is something I am missing about atheists: what I simply do not understand is why they are often so angry.

So we disagree about God. I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil. I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don't get it.

This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don't mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse. I would ask for forgiveness from the angry atheists who write to me if I thought it would help. Religion must remain an audacious, daring and, yes, uncomfortable assault on our desires to do what we want when we want to do it. All religions must teach a way to discipline our animal urges, to overcome racism and materialism, selfishness and arrogance and the sinful oppression of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us.

Some religious leaders obviously betray the teachings of the faith they claim to represent, but their sacred scriptures remain a critique of them and also of every thing we do to betray the better angels of our nature. But our world is better and kinder and more hopeful because of the daily sacrifice and witness of millions of pious people over thousands of years.

To be called to a level of goodness and sacrifice so constantly and so patiently by a loving but demanding God may seem like a naive demand to achieve what is only a remote human possibility. However, such a vision need not be seen as a red flag to those who believe nothing. I can humbly ask whether my atheist brothers and sisters really believe that their lives are better, richer and more hopeful by clinging to Camus's existential despair: “The purpose of life is that it ends." I can agree to make peace with atheists whom I believe ask too little of life here on planet earth if they will agree to make peace with me and with other religious folk who perhaps have asked too much. I believe that the philosopher-rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was right when he said, “It is hell to live without hope, and religion saves people from hell.” I urge my atheist brothers and sisters to see things as Spinoza urged, sub specie aeternitatis—“under the perspective of eternity.”

And to try a little positivity. Last Sunday I took two high-school girls to Cold Spring Labs to meet Dr. James Watson. One of the girls wants to be a research scientist, and the other has no idea yet, but I think she will be a great writer. I think they also both want boyfriends. I want them to stay smart and not dumb down to get a boy. Watson spoke and listened to the girls, and they left, I hope, proud about being smart. I know that Jim believes way more in Darwin than in Deuteronomy, but he also believes that at Cold Spring Labs the most important thing is not whether you are a man or a woman, not whether you believe in God. The most important thing, as he says, is “to get something done.” Now there's an atheist I can believe in.

Text of letter sent to Sago victims’ families
‘I cannot explain why I was spared,’ McCloy wrote

The Associated Press

Below is the letter sent to victims’ families this week by Randal McCloy Jr., the sole survivor of the Sago Mine disaster. The letter mentions several mining terms: a “man-trip” is a vehicle that transports miners, a “rescuer” is an emergency air pack, and a “coal rib” is a mine wall.

To the families and loved ones of my co-workers, victims of the Sago Mine disaster:

The explosion happened soon after the day shift arrived at the mine face on January 2, right after we got out of the man-trip. I do not recall whether I had started work, nor do I have any memory of the blast. I do remember that the mine filled quickly with fumes and thick smoke, and that breathing conditions were nearly unbearable.

The first thing we did was activate our rescuers, as we had been trained. At least four of the rescuers did not function. I shared my rescuer with Jerry Groves, while Junior Toler, Jesse Jones and Tom Anderson sought help from others. There were not enough rescuers to go around.

We then tried to return to the man-trip, yelling to communicate through the thick smoke. The air was so bad that we had to abandon our escape attempt and return to the coal rib, where we hung a curtain to try to protect ourselves. The curtain created an enclosed area of about 35 feet.

We attempted to signal our location to the surface by beating on the mine bolts and plates. We found a sledgehammer, and for a long time, we took turns pounding away. We had to take off the rescuers in order to hammer as hard as we could. This effort caused us to breathe much harder. We never heard a responsive blast or shot from the surface.

We eventually gave out and quit our attempts at signaling, sitting down behind the curtain on the mine floor, or on buckets or cans that some of us found. The air behind the curtain grew worse, so I tried to lie as low as possible and take shallow breaths. While methane does not have an odor like propane and is considered undetectable, I could tell that it was gassy. We all stayed together behind the curtain from that point on, except for one attempt by Junior Toler and Tom Anderson to find a way out. The heavy smoke and fumes caused them to quickly return. There was just so much gas.

We were worried and afraid, but we began to accept our fate. Junior Toler led us all in the Sinners Prayer. We prayed a little longer, then someone suggested that we each write letters to our loved ones. I wrote a letter to Anna and my children. When I finished writing, I put the letter in Jackie Weaver’s lunch box, where I hoped it would be found.

As time went on, I became very dizzy and lightheaded. Some drifted off into what appeared to be a deep sleep, and one person sitting near me collapsed and fell off his bucket, not moving. It was clear that there was nothing I could do to help him. The last person I remember speaking to was Jackie Weaver, who reassured me that if it was our time to go, then God’s will would be fulfilled. As my trapped co-workers lost consciousness one by one, the room grew still and I continued to sit and wait, unable to do much else. I have no idea how much time went by before I also passed out from the gas and smoke, awaiting rescue.

I cannot begin to express my sorrow for my lost friends and my sympathy for those they left behind. I cannot explain why I was spared while the others perished. I hope that my words will offer some solace to the miners’ families and friends who have endured what no one should ever have to endure.

April 26, 2006

Randal McCloy Jr.

Mine survivor: Some air packs didn’t work
Letter to Sago victims’ families includes details of last moments

The Associated Press

• Miner's letter reveals final hours
April 26: New details about the final hours during the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia are contained in a letter to the miners' families, written by the one survivor. NBC's Ron Allen reports.
Nightly News

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. - Trapped deep below ground by poisonous gases, the Sago miners realized at least four of their air packs did not work and were forced to share the devices as they desperately pounded away with a sledgehammer in hopes of letting rescuers know where to find them.

Finally, resigned to their fate, they recited a “sinner’s prayer,” scrawled farewell notes to their loved ones, and succumbed, one after another, some as if drifting off to sleep.

“As my trapped co-workers lost consciousness one by one, the room grew still and I continued to sit and wait, unable to do much else,” the sole survivor, Randal McCloy Jr., wrote to his co-workers’ families in a letter dated April 26 and obtained this week by The Associated Press.

McCloy’s two-page typed letter offered the most detailed account yet of what happened in the mine after the Jan. 2 explosion, along with criticism that the mine’s operator, International Coal Group Inc., let them down.

The blast killed one miner and spread carbon monoxide that slowly asphyxiated 11 other men 260 feet below ground as they waited in the farthest reaches of the mine to be rescued.

McCloy: Miners shared air packs
The air packs — referred to in the letter as “rescuers” — are intended to give each miner about an hour’s worth of oxygen while they escape or find a pocket of clean air. But at least four of the devices did not function, McCloy said.

“There were not enough rescuers to go around,” McCloy said. He said he shared his air pack with miner Jerry Groves, as co-workers did with the three other men whose devices were not functioning.

In a statement, ICG said that the miners’ air packs, also known as self-contained self-rescue devices, or SCSRs, were tested by federal investigators.

“ICG was informed that the SCSRs found at the barricade were deployed and showed evidence of use,” the mine company said.

“The federal investigators did not note any defective SCSRs and all appeared to be in working order.”

After the blast, the miners returned to their shuttle car in hopes of escaping along the track but had to abandon their efforts because of bad air. They then retreated, hung a curtain to keep out the poisonous gases, and tried to signal their location by beating on the mine bolts and plates.

“We found a sledgehammer, and for a long time, we took turns pounding away,” McCloy wrote. “We had to take off the rescuers in order to hammer as hard as we could. This effort caused us to breathe much harder. We never heard a responsive blast or shot from the surface.”

Martin Junior Toler, 51, and Tom Anderson, 39, made another, last-ditch attempt to find a way out but were quickly turned back by heavy smoke and fumes, McCloy said.

“We were worried and afraid, but we began to accept our fate,” he wrote. “Junior Toler led us all in the Sinners Prayer.”

Last conversation recalled
McCloy said the air behind the curtain grew worse, and he lay as low as possible and tried to take shallow breaths, but became lightheaded.

“Some drifted off into what appeared to be a deep sleep, and one person sitting near me collapsed and fell off his bucket, not moving. It was clear that there was nothing I could do to help him,” McCloy wrote. “The last person I remember speaking to was Jackie Weaver, who reassured me that if it was our time to go, then God’s will would be fulfilled.”

He said he has no idea much time went by before he passed out.

Groves’ family members said Thursday they were grateful to McCloy, both for revealing details of Groves’ final hours and for sharing his air pack.

“If they’d both had one that would work, they might have lasted a little longer,” said Groves’ mother, Wanda, who suffered a stroke on Wednesday while reading McCloy’s letter.

Doctors have been unable to pinpoint why McCloy, 27 was the only who survived the 41 hours it took rescuers to find the crew. He left the mine battered and comatose and is still recovering from brain damage.

“I cannot begin to express my sorrow for my lost friends and my sympathy for those they left behind,” he wrote. “I cannot explain why I was spared while the others perished. I hope that my words will offer some solace to the miners’ families and friends who have endured what no one should ever have to endure.”

McCloy spokeswoman Aly Goodwin Gregg said Thursday that McCloy’s letter was given to the families confidentially, and he would not comment further.

How packs work
The Sago miners were using air packs manufactured by Monroeville, Pa.-based CSE Corp., according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. The packs use a chemical reaction to produce oxygen. The company’s literature says the units have a 10-year shelf life and require no maintenance beyond periodic visual inspections of moisture indicators on the top and bottom covers.

The SCSR contains a small window with a blue dot; if the blue dot is not present, then the SCSR is presumed to be ineffective and is discarded.

A call to CSE was not immediately returned Thursday.

ICG said in a statement that the SCSRs worn by the Sago miners “were all within the manufacturer suggested life,” that the devices are checked every 90 days by a person at the mine, and are also checked by the wearer every day.

Production at the mine resumed March 15, and it was not immediately clear if ICG miners are now relying on the same type of devices.

At least two miners who escaped the blast said they, too, struggled with their air pack. Arnett Roger Perry told state and federal investigators he could not initially activate his.

“They’re not worth a damn,” co-worker Harley Joe Ryan, 60, told investigators. “There’s going to have to be some design changes for them.”

Though state and federal investigators have reached no official conclusions about the cause of the explosion, ICG officials say they believe it was caused by a lightning bolt that ignited a buildup of naturally occurring methane.

The Bush administration is reviewing air packs and other safety equipment used in the nation’s mines after previously scrapping similar initiatives started by the Clinton administration.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hit the road
By Gmeleen Faye B. Tomboc

IF you had one or two days off and a full tank of gas, where would you go? For the wanderlust in you, 2bU! gives a rundown of beaches, historical monuments and natural wonders within driving distance of Manila.

There’s a lot more to Tagaytay than Mushroomburger and Breakfast at Antonio’s. A short drive from Tagaytay is Talisay town. Hire a small boat out to the volcano island in the middle of Taal Lake. You can arrange to trek up the volcano crater, or you can charter a horse to save you all that hiking.

If you’d rather stay away from this active volcano, head to the Taal Lake Yacht Club for sailing, hobie racing and windsurfing. Pitch your tent on the ground and have a roaring bonfire in the evening by the lake. On the way back to Manila in the morning, stop by Leslie’s in Tagaytay for bulalo and for a spectacular view of Taal Volcano.

Nasugbu, Matabungkay
If lakes are not your thing, drive another 45 minutes past Tagaytay down the hill to Lian. Turn right after the sugar mill to Nasugbu, or turn left to Matabungkay beach. You can hire a raft for a few hours for around P1,000. For European-style cooking, hie off to the restaurant at Coral Beach Club in Matabungkay. An overnight stay at the more well-known resorts will set you back by P2,000-P4,000 per room.

Laiya, San Juan, Batangas
If you’d rather laze around on a white-sand beach, but don’t want to fly (or drive!) all the way to Boracay, head south to Laiya beach on the South Eastern tip of Batangas. Both economy and upscale resorts abound in this area, so budget shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Bring your own picnic basket and rent an open shed if you just plan to stay for the day. Swim, snorkel and go boating. If you’ve had too much of the sea, trek to the Naambon waterfalls about 3 km from the beach. For culture buffs, hop to the town proper and gawk at the elegant pre-war mansions. Laiya is quite a drive, so check for directions.

Rizal, Laguna
Allot an entire weekend to go around Laguna Lake. Start your trip by taking in the sights at Antipolo. Drive down through Cainta, Taytay, Angono, Binangonan, Morong, Baras, Tanay and Pillila. Most of the churches in these towns were built in the 18th century, so it’s best to drop by each.

From there you’ll reach the town of Mabitac, Laguna. Head to Pangil, and then to Pakil, renowned for its carved toothpicks. Next stop would be Paete, where woodcarvings and taka (papièr mâché) await. Drive on to Lumban, and check out the exquisite embroidery on the town’s famous barong Tagalogs.

Pagsanjan then awaits, its numerous Spanish era stone houses dotting the main road. Stop by Durafe for its pansit, and check out Step-Rite across the street for really cheap shoes. Check in at any of the numerous resorts in Pagsanjan, where you can shoot the rapids up to Pagsanjan Falls the next morning. Once you reach the falls, a raft will bring you to a cave right behind the waterfalls.

Resume your drive through Pila, until you hit the town of Bay. Keep your eye open for Kamayan sa Palaisdaan, where you can eat lunch in any of the huts floating around a pond filled with carp. And of course, don’t drive past Los Baños without some buko pie from Lety’s along the national highway.

You’ll need a lot of food as you might get stuck in traffic in Calamba, but with a little more patience, you’ll be back on South Superhighway and heading home to the city.

Kapampangan cuisine
Just 45 minutes north of Manila is the culinary center of the Philippines—Pampanga. Ivan Henares, heritage activist, recommends a visit to Claude Tayag’s house for bottled buro and taba ng talangka. Then head to Furniture Clay in Mabalacat, Pampanga, where export-quality furniture pieces abound at dirt-cheap factory prices.

For lunch, head to Abe’s Farm Pampanga in Mt. Arayat. Savor delicacies such as sinuteng hinubarang kuhol (escargots sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chilies), balo-balo (fermented rice and shrimp) and crispy tadyang “D Original” (marinated beef ribs deep-fried to a delicious crispiness). Then drop by Betis Church in Guagua, dubbed the Sistine Chapel of the Philippines, to view its wall and ceiling murals.

Don’t forget to take home some ensaymadas from San Fernando, which can be as big as eight inches!

Finally, cap off your day with dinner at the C Italian Restaurant along Fields Avenue, Angeles City for Chris Locher’s unexpected culinary delights. If you have an extra day, arrange for a river cruise along the Rio Grande de Pampanga. Find out why tourists are flocking to the Candaba Bird Sanctuary and to the mangroves in Masantol.

Visit for more on all things Kapampangan, or call the Center for Kapampangan Studies at (045) 888-8691 loc. 1311.

For a day of arts and crafts, drive down all the way to Calamba, Laguna. Start off your day at the Pettyjohn Pottery Workshop (tel. 049-5451608) with its pieces made of local clay and ash. About 30 minutes away is the City of San Pablo. Head to Kusina Salud (tel. 049-2466878, 7226985), the house of Patis Tesoro in Barangay Sta. Cruz, Putol, San Pablo City, for chef Paul Poblador’s sumptuous lunches.

Just outside San Pablo City is Tiaong, Quezon. Ugu Bigyan’s Potter’s Garden awaits at 490 Alvarez Village, Barangay Lucasan, Tiaong. If you have time, drop by Villa Escudero or check out any of San Pablo City’s seven lakes on your way back. At 104 hectares, Sampalok Lake is the biggest and is conveniently located in the city proper.

Take the Alaminos-Sto. Tomas, Batangas route on your way back to the South Superhighway so you can enjoy an early dinner at Rose and Grace along the highway. Warning, though, this is not your ordinary air-conditioned turo-turo. A small plate of vegetables will set you back by about P190. Stick to their specialty, the bulalo, to make the visit worthwhile.

Whether it’s a weekend on the beach or a day of checking out historical sites, there’s a lot awaiting the weary city dweller outside the metropolis.

Bring lots of drinking water, check if your car air-conditioner is working fine and take along friends who share your adventurous streak.

Buy a road map so that you can plot out your own road trips to out-of-the-way destinations. Just be sure to gas up so you can always drive your way back when you get lost. With a little creativity, a lot of daring and a tank of gas, the next two months might just be your most traveled summer yet.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New Ideas: Ordinary Objects That Inspire Design
by Doug Wilson

With just one day and a limited budget, how does Trading Spaces designer Doug Wilson turn boring spaces into showplaces? Here the celebrity stylist takes you step by step through his creative process and shows you how one ordinary object (what Wilson calls a "kick start") can inspire an extraordinary design scheme.

Vacation Memories

Bring back more than just souvenirs from your travels -- use the memory of a vacation destination to create distinctive looking decor. For instance, a trip to the sun-soaked sandstone rock formations of Colorado Springs' Garden of the Gods influenced the choice of vibrant earth tones in a southwestern living room. Quarry tile in a scarlet shade mimics the park's geology and provides cool flooring during intense summer heat. The walls, color washed in three shades of orange that includes terra cotta, fruit punch and agate, seem bathed in late-afternoon sunlight. Fabrics for pillows and curtains, which include a shimmery orange faux silk and a more formal yellow-and-red pattern, pull their energetic colors from the wall treatments. A solid, cowboy-brown leather sofa grounds all the orange shades, while kilim pillow covers in nubby wool add textural contrast. Soothing natural elements, like an arrangement of gerbera daisies in eye-popping yellow and a rustic vase constructed of windblown wood, look as if they were casually collected on a day-long mountain trek.

Box of Chocolates

Commercial design and packaging can be a great source of inspiration. A dedicated chocoholic gave me a chic purple hatbox, which originally contained an addict's stash of high-end chocolates. It immediately made me think of a teenage girl's bedroom. An assortment of bedding and curtain fabrics -- shimmery lilac satin, trippy purple linen, subtly sophisticated stripes, funky faux ivory leather -- matches the hatbox's sassy color scheme, and a light lavender and purple wall paint ties the various shades together. Since the hatbox's mod shape is reminiscent of the swinging Sixties, opt for furniture and accessories with a groovy bent: a purple throw pillow with psychedelic sequins, a table lamp as stylish as a pair of go-go boots and nesting tables in futuristic plastic that can be fanned out when friends drop over to chill and "study." Of course, practicality is also a consideration. A low, linear bed made from white-lacquered wood veneer will fit into the room's retro theme -- and any parent's budget.

Aroma of Chai Tea

Not all kick starts have to be tangible, visual cues; smells can be incredibly evocative. A steaming cup of chai tea, spiced with sweet cinnamon, sharp ginger and pungent clove, conjures up India's fertile Assam valley, with its hundreds of tea plantations on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. If that aroma were a living room pillow, it would be a fanciful tangerine number, delicately embroidered with green threads and studded with tiny mirrors. Pulling the paint color from the pillow yielded a soft shade of pine, which plays off a rough-textured seagrass rug. Shapely, low-to-the-ground rattan loungers also provide texture and capture the relaxed casualness of a coffeehouse. Cinnamon-colored copper, whether hammered onto an end table or molded into a wall sculpture, reinforces that sense of unwinding in a hip java joint filled with gleaming espresso makers. Smooth, gray slate flooring adds some unexpected contrast, while a lidded, acorn-topped wood cachepot is a handy spot for storing loose tea.

Striped Handbag

How can a living room resemble a handbag? When you translate a pocketbook's quirky combo of youthful and sophisticated notes -- saucy stripes plus a classic shape -- into a decor that's part modern and part traditional (much like its owner). The purse's proper brown leather trim translates into a practical chocolate carpet, while the bag's rakish leather-purple stripe yielded the fresh-looking wall color. A matching chair and ottoman in ivory microsuede, plus an overhead fixture with a repeating pattern of glass squares, captures the bag's clean lines. A mottled cashmere yarn, for creating open stitching on a pillow, keeps the look nicely off-kilter by bringing some handmade coziness to all the modernity. Shiny fabrics in light crimson, pumpkin and golden saffron brighten and exaggerate the colors in the yarn, and add some zest to the room when they're sewn into curtains.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Bonding With Lazenby
Was an Australian underwear model the best Bond ever?

By Dan Oko

"This never happened to the other fellow." Those were the first words out of George Lazenby's mouth as Bond, James Bond, when he took over the role from Sean Connery in 1969 for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In the film's opening scenes, he's beaten senseless by goons on a Portuguese beach after saving a suicidal countess, who thanks him by racing away without looking back. A new DVD of the film, counted as a lost classic by many faithful Ian Fleming fans, was released last month. Finally, Lazenby, arguably the best Bond ever, will receive the respect he deserves.

As a child of the '70s, I was a latecomer to this view. Raised on the vapid Roger Moore as Bond, I preferred Indiana Jones. My discovery of OHMSS came shortly after watching GoldenEye, the 1995 picture that featured Pierce Brosnan in his first turn as Bond. Few remember the controversy that embroiled Brosnan, fresh off the set of Mrs. Doubtfire and still best known for his lead role in television's Remington Steele. As a TV star with Irish roots, Brosnan was viewed as a lightweight. Die-hard fans wanted a macho basher closer to the Connery-Lazenby mold to retake the role. Adding to Brosnan's woes, the traditionalists were not happy to see spymaster M played by a woman, Judi Dench.

As the actor Daniel Craig prepares to take over the Bond mantle—and his license to kill—in Casino Royale, he has emerged as a target for insufferable Bond purists. At, a site that hopes to spark a boycott of the upcoming film, the petulant attacks run down not just the actor's ability ("My suspicion is that he is just not a very good actor. …") and looks ("Everyone I know thinks he is stone ugly. …"), but even his manhood ("Very fey."). On the other side, offers this assessment of the British up-and-comer: "Everybody who's seen Craig's performance in Steven Spielberg's Munich has witnessed that Craig is the right man to do the job."

Craig might be comforted to know that even the Adonis-like Lazenby had to live down a range of pointed, physical criticism. "He's tall, dark, handsome and has a dimpled chin," wrote New York Times film critic AH Weiler in 1969. "But Mr. Lazenby, if not a spurious Bond, is merely a casual, pleasant, satisfactory replacement." Yet, I stand with the crowd that believes that if Connery had not returned to her majesty's service with Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 (having failed to spark his career with roles other than 007), Lazenby would have continued playing the part for many years to come.

The producers of On Her Majesty's Secret Service were concerned about having a virtual unknown carry the film—prior to winning the role, Lazenby was a top-earning underwear model and former combat trainer with the Australian armed forces. Seeking box-office ballast, they brought in the leggy Diana Rigg from The Avengers to play the countess, and a relatively youthful Telly "Who Loves You, Baby?" Savalas to play Bond's nemesis Blofeld (complete with fluffy white cat). Lazenby outclasses his peers. With his swimmer's build and model's insouciance, the actor cuts a supremely confident figure amid dangerous car chases, superb ski scenes set in the Swiss Alps, and, notably, when he infiltrates Blofeld's mountaintop hideout disguised as a kilt-wearing expert in genealogy and winds up entertaining a bevy of international beauties while uncovering a plot to poison the world. But there's more to Lazenby as Bond than simply repeating the formula that earned United Artists more than $82 million during Connery's early tenure playing the part.

While it's not fair to call the Connery movies a corruption of Fleming's novels—in fact, with Connery's early success, the author even acknowledged the actor by giving Bond a Scottish birthright—the films, like the stories, had started to grow increasingly cartoonish by the time of Fleming's death in 1964 (several years before Lazenby's arrival.) With a new actor on deck for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the first-time director Peter Hunt took a chance to re-establish Bond as the brutish agent described in Fleming's early novels. The director also slowed the action down enough to allow this characterization to take hold. While Connery remains the prohibitive favorite for many fans, it took just this one movie for Lazenby to make the character his own. He turns away from the sly, self-conscious wit that made his predecessor a box-office draw and allows the wear and stress of being a secret agent to show through. Plus, given Lazenby's training as a martial artist, his fight scenes remain a high point for the franchise.

To the great pleasure of Ian Fleming readers, the film likewise hews closely to the 1963 novel. The audience is treated to Bond's professional doubts (he threatens to resign, and ultimately is forced to team up with villainous Draco to defeat Blofeld), and we witness Bond falling in love and getting married—for the first, and I imagine, the last time. OHMSS closes with Lazenby cradling the corpse of his bride, and the look of resignation on his face shows an emotional unraveling that the other fellows who played the role never came close to touching.

Despite his tremendous screen debut, Lazenby did not go on to have a successful acting career. When Connery came back to the franchise, the Australian didn't make another big-time movie until the 1977 spoof Kentucky Fried Movie. A scan of the Lazenby page in the Internet Movie Database turns up bit parts in forgettable TV series and a few international films, although nothing on par with his first professional coup. It's a slide that Daniel Craig is more than likely aware of. A more encouraging predecessor is Pierce Brosnan, now the most successful ex-Bond, who appears to be aging gracefully and gaining recognition for his talent. That's a far better fate than Timothy Dalton, whose brief tenure as Bond is rightly forgotten today.

Oregon man survives 12 nails to the head
33-year-old meth user attempted suicide using nail gun, doctors say

The Associated Press

The nails were not visible when doctors first examined the man an Oregon emergency room, so doctors were surprised when X-rays revealed six nails clustered between his right eye and ear, two below his right ear and four on the left side of his head.

PORTLAND, Ore. - An Oregon man who went to a hospital complaining of a headache was found to have 12 nails embedded in his skull from a suicide attempt with a nail gun, doctors say.

Surgeons removed the nails with needle-nosed pliers and a drill, and the man survived with no serious lasting effects, according to a report on the medical oddity in the current issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery.

The unidentified 33-year-old man was suicidal and high on methamphetamine last year when he fired the nails — up to 2 inches in length — into his head one by one.

The nails were not visible when doctors first examined the man in the emergency room of an unidentified Oregon hospital a day later. Doctors were surprised when X-rays revealed six nails clustered between his right eye and ear, two below his right ear and four on the left side of his head.

The study did not say how long the nails were, and a hospital spokeswoman refused to release that information. A photo published in the study suggests the nails range from 1½ to 2 inches long.

No one before is known to have survived after intentionally firing so many foreign objects into the head, according to the report, written by Dr. G. Alexander West, the neurosurgeon who oversaw the treatment of the patient.

The man at first told doctors he had had a nail gun accident, but later admitted it was a suicide attempt.

The nails came close to major blood vessels and the brain stem but did not pierce them. The patient was in remarkably good condition when he was transferred to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where the nails were removed.

The patient was later transferred to psychiatric care and stayed under court order for nearly a month before leaving against doctors’ orders.

Army suicides hit highest level since 1993
83 soldiers killed themselves in 2005, up from 67 the previous year
The Associated Press

U.S. soldiers from the 1st Armored Division search for weapons caches along the banks of the Euphrates River near the Iraqi town of Hit on April 18.
Ho / Reuters

WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. Army soldiers who took their own lives increased last year to the highest total since 1993, despite a growing effort by the Army to detect and prevent suicides.

In 2005, a total of 83 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 67 in 2004, and 60 in 2003 — the year U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq. Four other deaths in 2005 are being investigated as possible suicides but have not yet been confirmed. The totals include active duty Army soldiers and deployed National Guard and Reserve troops.

“Although we are not alarmed by the slight increase, we do take suicide prevention very seriously,” said Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin.

“We have increased the number of combat stress teams, increased suicide prevention and training, and we are working very aggressively to change the culture so that soldiers feel comfortable coming forward with their personal problems in a culture where historically admitting mental health issues was frowned upon,” Curtin said.

Many served in Iraq
Of the confirmed suicides last year, 25 were soldiers deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — which amounts to 40 percent of the 64 suicides by Army soldiers in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003.

The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 25 years, from a high of 15.8 per 100,000 in 1985 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001. Last year it was nearly 13 per 100,000.

The Army recorded 90 suicides in 1993, with a suicide rate of 14.2 per 100,000.

The Army rate is higher than the civilian suicide rate for 2003, which was 10.8 per 100,000, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the Army number tracked closely with the rate for civilians aged 18-34, which was 12.19 per 100,000 in 2003.

When suicides among soldiers in Iraq spiked in the summer of 2003, the Army put together a mental health assessment team that met with troops. Investigators found common threads in the circumstances of the soldiers who committed suicide — including personal financial problems, failed personal relationships and legal problems.

Army increase prevention efforts
Since then, the Army has increased the number of mental health professionals and placed combat stress teams with units. According to the Army, there are more than 230 mental health practitioners working in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with “about a handful” when the war began, Curtin said.

Soldiers also get cards and booklets that outline suicide warning signs and how to get help.

But at least one veterans group says it’s not enough.

“These numbers should be a wake-up call on the mental health impact of this war,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “One in three soldiers will come back with post traumatic stress disorder or comparable mental health issues, or depression and severe anxiety.”

Rieckhoff, who was a platoon leader in Iraq, said solders there face increased stress because they are often deployed to the warfront several times, they are fighting urban combat and their enemy blends in with the population, making it more difficult to tell friend from foe.

“You don’t get much time to rest and with the increased insurgency, your chances of getting killed or wounded are growing,” he said. “The Army is trying harder, but they’ve got an incredibly long way to go.”

He added that while there are more psychiatrists, the soldiers are still in a war zone, “so you’re just putting your finger in the dam.”