"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy Birthday!

I am thanking God today for another birthday!

Why, yes, I am the birthday girl!

And it's also Samer's birthday ... he's just 24 though.

Psalm 118

The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation. . . .

17 I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done. . . .

21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;

23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.

27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us. . . .

28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Pictures from Homs, Syria
Krac des Chevaliers
February 8, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Damascus -- Outside the Castle

More scenes from outside Krac des Chevaliers . . . The following information is from Wikipedia.

The Hospitallers rebuilt it and expanded it into the largest Crusader fortress in the Holy Land, adding an outer wall three meters thick with seven guard towers eight to ten meters thick to create a concentric castle.

The fortress may have held about 50-60 Hospitallers and up to 2,000 other foot soldiers; the Grand Master of the Hospitallers lived in one of the towers. In the 12th century the fortress had a moat which was covered by a drawbridge leading to postern gates.

Between the inner and outer gates a courtyard led to the inner buildings, which were rebuilt by the Hospitallers in a Gothic style. These buildings included a meeting hall, a chapel, a 120-meter-long storage facility, and two vaulted stone stables which could have held up to a thousand horses. Other storage facilities were dug into the cliff below the fortress; it is estimated that the Hospitallers could have withstood a siege for five years.

In 1163 the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Nur ad-Din, after which the Hospitallers became an essentially independent force on the Tripolitanian frontier. By 1170 the Hospitallers' modifications were complete. In the late 12th and early 13th century numerous earthquakes caused some damage and required further rebuilding.

Saladin unsuccessfully besieged the castle in 1188. During the siege the castellan was captured and taken by Saladin's men to the castle gates where he was told to order the gates opened. He reportedly told his men in Arabic, the language of his captors, to surrender the castle, but then told them in French to hold the castle to the last man.

In 1217, during the Fifth Crusade, king Andrew II of Hungary strengthened the outer walls and financed the guarding troops.

In 1271 the fortress was captured by Mameluke Sultan Baibars on April 8 with the aid of heavy catapults and mangonels, at least one of which was later used to attack Acre in 1291. Baibars refortified the castle and used it as a base against Tripoli. He also converted the Hospitaller chapel to a mosque.

King Edward I of England, while on the Ninth Crusade in 1272, saw the fortress and used it as an example for his own castles in England and Wales. The fortress was described as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world” by T. E. Lawrence.[3][4]

This fortress was made a World Heritage Site, along with Qal’at Salah El-Din, in 2006,[5] and is owned by the Syrian government. The fortress is one of the few sites where Crusader art (in the form of frescoes) has been preserved.

Pictures from Homs, Syria
February 8, 2009

April book -- Chuck Norris

Black Belt Patriotism
-- by Chuck Norris (CN) ... Just some quotes and thoughts from this book.

"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government -- lest it come to dominate our lives and interests." -- Patrick Henry

Home schooling was outlawed by the Soviet State in 1919, by Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1938, and by Communist China in 1949 -- pg. 21

Under "one nation under debt" and in regards to economic stimulus checks, CN asks, "who are they to offer us incentives with our own money? It makes it seem that we are the dependents, rather than the masters, of our own government." (pg. 33)

The chapter on America's "nightmare of debt" focused much on greed. The author ended the chapter encouraging us to give stating, "the only thing that can break a spirit of greed is a spirit of generosity." (pg. 48)

Chapter 4 - Secure and Protect Our Borders began reminding us that our country was first attacked by Muslim extremists right after the Revolutionary War when our ships were confronted by the Barbary pirates. Words to our Marine hymn "...to the shores of Tripoli" commemorate "America's victory back then over those Muslim sea radicals." (pg. 53) -- Back then we negotiated with terrorists and paid huge ransoms (estimated as much as 20% of America's federal budget in 1800). Later Marines and warships were sent to end this.

"Pre-emption is still our best solution. Our offense must be as strong as our defense." (pg. 55) Author doesn't think America should be the world's police and that we are too involved, however, at times, he feels it is justifiable when our borders are breached (e.g. 9/11) About the Iraq War he writes, "They [our military] are attracting our enemies into foreign territory and fighting them there, instead of within our own borders. Is that not a form of border patrol and protection?" (pg. 59)

He likes Mike Huckabee (obviously since he did commercials with him), but also favorably quotes Ron Paul quite a bit.

Chuck Norris shared briefly about his faith in God and how he got away from a heart knowledge while pursuing money. He said this cost him a marriage and now he has gone back to following God as of a few years ago.

"Good morals precede good laws, which is why government isn't much help. Unless the people and their legislators are grounded in morality, the best of laws will be broken and the worst of laws will be made, legalizing immorality" (pg. 76).

"The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men! And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it possible that an empire can rise without his aid?" -- Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention

Chapter to and about millennials --

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. ~Edward Everett Hale

CN urges people to get involved and for young people to not be as they are expected to be, but to rise above that. He refers to twins Alex and Brett Harris and their book, Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations.

"If we teach our children they are nothing more than glorified apes, then we shouldn't be surprised if they behave like animals. If we place our values in things, we shouldn't expect our children to value people. If we disrespect one another, we can't expect our children to be respectful. If we terminate children in the womb, we shouldn't be surprised that our own children think they can terminate others. If we teach our children that there is no God and there are no moral absolutes, then we shouldn't be surprised if they turn down immoral alleys to find meaning, purpose, and identity in their lives. The point of freedom is to be liberated from unjust laws -- to have the opportunity to do what is right. But if we choose injustice, if we choose immorality, we endanger the very basis of our freedom. As James Madison once wrote, 'Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty, as well as the abuses of power.' This is why the Founders believed that our liberty was ordained by God -- and for that liberty we were responsible to God" (pg. 113, 114).

"Government needs less of a role in running our children's education and more of a role in supporting parents' educational decisions for their children. Children belong to their parents, not the government" (pg. 123).

"This is all the inheritance I can give my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed." -- Patrick Henry in his last will and testament (pg. 141)

In the chapter on being fit -- "We've confused liberty for licentiousness. We think doing what we feel like doing is power and freedom, when really it's just carrying out what our flesh craves. True freedom is being able to look straight in the eye of what you feel like doing and possessing the power to say NO. Eating what we want isn't liberty -- that's tyranny. Eating what is right is freedom -- that's victory over oppression." (pg. 149)

"While the CIA and FBI track terrorist intelligence and activity, our military seek to calm international unrest abroad, border patrol and minutemen try to guard our country's borders, America's biggest threat is largely homegrown and has already infiltrated most of our homes: unhealthy eating habits and no exercise" (pg. 151).

"Our Founders healthcare system was a very simple one: take care of your health." (pg. 155)

The last chapter started off with this question: "What is the American Dream?"

"Our Founders feared that we would forget what freedom was all about and stray toward selfishness and greed, that we would forget the necessity of morality, integrity and service to others. Has their fear not materialized in our day? For too many, the American dream has indeed turned into an enjoyment of plenty rather than the responsibilities of liberty." (pg. 179)

Some quotes I enjoyed:

"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it." -- Abraham Lincoln

"It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" -- Patrick Henry

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen. -- Samuel Adams

April book -- David Jeremiah

What in the World Is Going On? by Dr. David Jeremiah (DJ) - I have more notes from this book which I filed in my Gmail "Islam" folder.

Here are notes from one chapter.

Chapter 2 -- The Crude Awakening -- explains our dependence on oil and how the quest and need for oil has made the Middle East of such importance; America uses about 25% of the oil produced; when the dollar was no longer backed by gold, Truman issued an agreement with Saudi Arabia for the dollar to be backed by oil; however, when Iran opened its own trading in February 2008 using euros, the stability of the dollar was threatened (pg. 29); because of the large demand for oil, people are looking for alternative fuel sources, however, studies have shown the "law of unintended consequences" at work -- "Rather than saving the planet from oil dependence and global warming, biofuels are raising food prices, endangering the hungry, and only slightly reducing the need for oil" (pg. 32). The book claims even if all soybeans and corn crops in the US were used for biofuel, it'd only be enough for about 20% of the demand for fuel.

The talk of how the Arab nations used oil as a bargaining chip in the early 70s was interesting (pg. 33). Essentially they punished nations who favored Israel with an embargo. Some leaders have called for the oil nations to stop selling fuel to America for just a month in order to make a huge statement about our involvement with Israel.

I found the discussion of the Carter Doctrine (pg. 34) to be very interesting because essentially this doctrine showed "the determination to protect the Persian Gulf even at the expense of our own troops." The author admits the first Gulf War was about protecting our oil supply. In fact, "experts agree that the Gulf War in 1990-91 was the first in world history fought almost entirely over oil. And make no mistake: while the war in Iraq is about terrorism, it is also about oil -- oil that is sold to finance the Muslim terrorist regime and oil that is necessary for the West to function economically."

DJ reminds us to keep watching, working and waiting for the Lord. It's a great time to be alive and the time God placed us in so we should lift up our heads in "delight."

Damascus -- Views from the Castle

Krac des Chevaliers had many levels so we would climb and climb and enjoy amazing views down below.

We'd walk along these areas

and enjoy the scenic overlooks

Notice the village below me

Samer welcoming you to view more sights ...
just don't step off the edge!

The sky was hazy that day, but still we could see for miles.

I zoomed in from my camera to photograph these horses feeding on the grass

People walking on the road
Not nearly as crowded as Damascus!

See the cars on the street

and the big houses on the hill

Pictures from Homs, Syria
February 8, 2009

Damascus -- Castle Windows

Here we are talking about Krac des Chevaliers again. We already talked about stairs and saw some of the inside and outside views of this castle. Now let's take a look at some windows. Or doors.

Or look-out stations might be a better word.

Samer is standing in the window.
Let's see how high up he is and

have Andrew join him. Don't jump, guys!

This is where the guys were standing.

If these walls could talk . . .
I wonder what stories they would tell.

Can you spot the ancient hammam?

Pictures from Homs, Syria
February 8, 2009

April books -- TBGND & Shadow Warriors

The Black Girl Next Door is a memoir written by Yale professor Jennifer Baszile who shared about her life growing up in mostly white neighborhoods and schools in California. I enjoyed reading how she fit in with the children and also how her parents scolded her and her sister for not getting to know the black kids very much. Her father was angry that her older sister was talking to a white guy on a cruise, and their parents made it an assignment that they get to know every other black child on the cruise! It was funny reading about her first mall makeover and her first relaxer. I never realized how painful this process could be and reading how one prepared for it by not washing her hair -- or scratching her head -- for about 3 weeks prior was mildly shocking. I enjoyed reading about Jennifer's experience visiting her father's family in Louisiana and her mom's family in Detroit. It was interesting seeing things through a young black girl's eyes. She said segregation had been hard on her parents, and integration was hard on her. She decided to put much space between her and CA and went east for college where she was no longer the "black girl next door."

Shadow Warriors by Kenneth Timmerman ... This book really made me further disgusted with politics, bureaucrats, the media, even people I never knew I would have a "beef" with -- the CIA. The author shares about WMDs in Iraq, leadership within Iraq after the invasion, when the "liberation" became an occupation and problems found in Iraq that the US wasn't expecting. One startling thing was when CIA agents were guarding opposite sides. Two enemies met and agents were in charge of both sides. How can our country have agents on both sides? Argh!

Of interest to me ... worst surprises of liberation (pg. 70-1), CIA on two sides (pg. 72), media distortion (pg. 78), inviting Iraqis to be guests in their own country (pg. 89), change from liberation to occupation (pg. 89), Zell Miller's words re: the CIA (pg. 109), Clinton people in the Bush administration (pg. 206), the 16th U.S. intelligence agency (pg. 228), the chapter on the missing WMDs (pg. 258+), Shia Iran's involvement and using Sunni insurgents for its own purposes (pg. 313) and the concluding words dealing with the big question (pg. 321).

April books -- Afghanistan

I started April by reading and blogging about this book . . .

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is the story of Amir, an Afghani who came to America with his dad and later returned to his home country on a mission of redemption. I greatly enjoyed the cultural aspects of this book especially since I knew little about this region of the world. My heart grieved for people like Shorab who had seen his family torn apart and suffered cruelty at the hands of monsters.

"I want my old life back." Words like these should never be spoken by a ten-year old child. They make me want to weep for all those in the world hurting simply because this world is such a cruel place

I want to be loyal and forgiving like Hassan, the Hazara servant who won my heart. I wish to have Baba's courage to stand up for the weak and defend the honor of others.

Things of note ... back in Afghanistan, the Taliban was initially welcomed because the people thought the fighting and bloodshed was now over. Instead they got cruel leaders who implemented a form of Shari'a where public stonings were held at the halftime of soccer games. It was sad to hear of people selling their artificial legs on the black market in order to feed their children for a couple of weeks. In one chapter the Taliban guy talks of their massacre of Hazaras. He bragged that they would stop only for food and prayers. It was interesting when the Talib referred to America as the whore and asked Amir why he wasn't in Afghanistan with the Muslims.

. . . and ended the month with this one by the same author.

A Thousand Splendid Suns
tells the story of two Afghani women, Mariam and Laila, who grew up in very different households, but ended up together sharing the struggles of living in war-torn Kabul. One woman made a great sacrifice so the other could live "happily ever after." On a personal level, this book made me better understand what some people have endured the last decades. While I was living my life - being born, going to school, graduating from high school and so forth, Afghanistan has endured fighting and rule from the Soviets, the Mujahideen (Afghani rebels), the Taliban and warlords. Sadly, many women are also oppressed and mistreated by their own husbands. Great book to learn about a part of the world in the news these days.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Damascus -- Inside the Castle

We've seen some sights from outside Krac des Chevaliers and a post with lots of stairs, so how about we view a few things on the inside of the castle.

Samer can be our guide.

Some of the passageways were dim

The stable area

Here is where the guards could keep an eye on the surrounding area. Believe me from that view, you could see the enemy coming from miles away.

Talking to a guide

I had to take a ceiling picture, right?

Some inscription I cannot read .. and it isn't Arabic either.

On the castle grounds was a chapel later converted into a mosque when the Muslims took over. Here Samer is pretending to be the imam delivering his address to the congregation.

Abu Muhammad pretended to be a knight in shining armor

Ready to head outside again?

Pictures from Homs, Syria
February 8, 2009

Damascus -- Steps @ the Castle

So I was looking through my pictures from Krac des Chevaliers and noticed a theme. I have lots of steps pictures! Here are some of them.

Andrew in the courtyard

Susanne headed inside

Samer, Andrew & Abu Muhammad wave

I loved all these levels where we could see the ruins and surrounding area. Here is Samer on one side while I am photographing him from another.

I greatly enjoyed walking along the edge of the wall. The greenery and small flowers add to the charm.

The gang

No guardrails on these stairs! It's all natural!

I loved looking down on these views

We went up these stairs and looked over the countryside

Pictures from Homs, Syria
February 8, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

Damascus -- The Crusader Castle

One Sunday morning not too many weeks ago, we visited Krac des Chevaliers for several hours. The trip took about 2 hours from Damascus and along the way I saw a road sign for Baghdad and a dead donkey lying beside the road. Both were firsts for me. Below I will share some things from Wikipedia about this castle.

Krak des Chevaliers (pronounced [kʁak de ʃəval'je]), transliterated Crac des Chevaliers, is a Crusader fortress in Syria and one of the most important preserved medieval military castles in the world. In Arabic, the fortress is called Qal'at al-Ḥiṣn (Arabic: قلعة الحصن‎), the word Krak coming from the Syriac karak, meaning fortress.

The castle is located east of Tripoli, Lebanon, in the Hims Gap, atop a 650-metre-high hill along the only route from Antioch to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of many fortresses that were part of a defensive network along the border of the old Crusader states. The fortress controlled the road to the Mediterranean, and from this base, the Hospitallers could exert some influence over Lake Homs to the east to control the fishing industry and watch for Muslim armies gathering in Syria.

The original fortress at the location had been built in 1031 for the emir of Aleppo.

During the First Crusade in 1099 it was captured by Raymond IV of Toulouse, but then abandoned when the Crusaders continued their march towards Jerusalem. It was reoccupied again by Tancred, Prince of Galilee in 1110. In 1142 it was given by Raymond II, count of Tripoli, to the Hospitallers, contemporaries of the Knights Templar.

Krak des Chevaliers was the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades. It was expanded between 1150 and 1250 and eventually housed a garrison of 2,000. The inner curtain wall is up to 100 feet thick at the base on the south side,[2] with seven guard towers 30 feet in diameter.[3]

The Hospitallers rebuilt it and expanded it into the largest Crusader fortress in the Holy Land, adding an outer wall three meters thick with seven guard towers eight to ten meters thick to create a concentric castle.

There were some very nice views from the top!

The fortress may have held about 50-60 Hospitallers and up to 2,000 other foot soldiers; the Grand Master of the Hospitallers lived in one of the towers. In the 12th century the fortress had a moat which was covered by a drawbridge leading to postern gates.

We enjoyed seeing the surrounding area: the greenery, the wavy land. It reminds me more of waves or ripples than hills. I have more pictures of this day that I will share another time.

Pictures from Homs, Syria
(the first 2 are ones Samer sent me long ago)
February 2009