Busted Halo

Busted Halo distributed Flip videocameras to undocumented individuals and agencies and asked them to start videoblogging. We hope Busted Borders gives a personal glimpse into the humanity of these strangers in our midst.

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January 29th, 2010

Benita describes how a routine traffic stop has turned her life upside down.

In episode one, Benita discusses her background and the difficulties she faced growing up.

January 27th, 2010


No good deed goes unpunished.

How many of us have used that phrase at one time or another? Sometimes it means that we secretly wanted more gratitude than we got in return for our trouble. Sometimes it’s a preemptive excuse for not going to the trouble in the first place. In general, it is a lousy phrase, and I hate it when I hear myself using it.

Nevertheless, I have learned that there are genuine risks to trying to help others, and it is best to stop and anticipate those risks before leaping into situations we may not fully understand. Otherwise, the results can be the very opposite of what we intended to achieve.

I think of Jack Henry Abbott, the self-educated career criminal whose book on life behind bars, In the Belly of the Beast, came to the attention of the writer Norman Mailer in 1981. Impressed with Abbott’s talent, Mailer involved a number of other literary figures in a successful effort to get Abbott paroled, and for a brief while Abbott became a sort of poster child for redemption through literature — until, just a few months out of prison and living in a halfway house on New York’s Lower East Side, Abbott stabbed and killed an unarmed stranger over a trivial misunderstanding outside a restaurant. Ironically, the young man he killed, Richard Adan, was also a writer, an aspiring actor and playwright in his twenties who had just gotten married.

In the aftermath of the killing, it became clear that no one involved in gaining parole for Abbott understood the extent of his pathology, or the difficulty of taking a man who had spent almost his entire life behind bars and reintroducing him to civil society. Yet the warning signs had been there for anyone who took the time to stop and look: Abbott had grown up in a series of foster homes and juvenile reformatories, and had spent most of his adult life in high-security prisons, with frequent intervals in solitary confinement for violent behavior. His skillfully written memoir described …

January 26th, 2010


Having spent more than three decades chronicling Catholic life as an author of novels, short stories, essays, memoirs and biographies, Mary Gordon decided to take what some might consider a radical leap for a Catholic: she actually read the bible. In Reading Jesus, Gordon attempts to understand the rise of fundamentalism by engaging the Gospels herself as a reader. The volume that resulted from this challenge is a compelling blend of meditations, reflections and memories on her own faith life and the evolution of her belief. In the interview that follows, the Barnard professor reflects on the experience of truly reading — for the first time — stories she has heard her entire life, as well as her complicated — and often strained — relationship with the institutional Catholic Church.

Busted Halo: As an English professor as well as a long-time reader and writer, was this the first time you approached the Bible as text?

Mary Gordon: Oh yeah, absolutely. One of the things I had to come to terms with was that this was the first time I really read it, because the kind of Catholic I was brought up, we really didn’t read it. It was a big difference after Vatican II but I was brought up pre-Vatican II. I had never read the Gospels straight through. I’m sixty and I’ve never read them straight through, so for me it was as much a reading as a religious experience.

BH: I like the scene at the beginning when you were in a cab and you became really frustrated at the Pentecostal Christian preacher on the radio talking about hating gays and divorcees and immigrants, etc., and you became fired up about it. Is that really what started all of this?

MG: It was a metaphor for it. It was a metonymy for it. I’m just very upset about the fundamentalist agenda, which is so heavily sexualized, and one of the things that is absolutely the case in the New Testament is that Jesus doesn’t seem very interested

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January 25th, 2010

Want to see more? Watch other episodes of “The Princess, The Priest and the War for the Perfect Wedding”.

Dr. Christine B. Whelan, is an Iowa-based social historian, professor, journalist and author. She is the author of Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love, and Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women.

Fr. Eric Andrews CSP is the President of Paulist Productions, the film and television ministry of the Paulist Fathers, located in Los Angeles, California. Prior to entering the priesthood, he worked for Jim Henson and the Muppets on a variety of television productions.

January 22nd, 2010

Giselle discusses the incident that forced her to look at the immigration issue.

January 20th, 2010


This past January 22 was the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion in the United States. There aren’t very many other days in the United States that manifest such division. I can’t think of any other anniversary that has consistently been celebrated with public demonstrations of opposing beliefs and emotions. Some, including such high profile figures as Alan Keyes, have compared the abortion debate in this country to the debate regarding slavery in the 19th century. That’s a pretty serious comparison considering that that debate was resolved by a civil war.

The latest Gallup Poll conducted between May 7 and May 10, 2009, found that for the first time since this question was first posed in a Gallup Poll in 1995 more Americans (51 percent) consider themselves to be “pro-life” than “pro-choice” (42 percent) with respect to the abortion issue. While I am heartened by the information, I don’t have the same optimism that some pro-life groups have that this will suddenly change the law. And, whether it’s rooted in my own cynicism or in my basic distrust of politics, I don’t think that simply “voting pro-life” will do the trick either.

Before I go any further, let me insert a disclaimer. I personally can never vote for a pro-choice candidate when a comparable pro-life candidate is also running. However, I have lived through the presidency of three pro-life presidents, as well as a Republican-led Congress. As far as abortion is concerned, not much has changed. With a track record like that, I can understand my peers who don’t get the logic behind voting for pro-life candidates as the answer to the abortion debate.
Changing the reality regardless of Roe v. Wade

Most women must pass a church on their way to have their abortion. I wonder what the symbol of that church building is communicating to each of those women?

While Catholics receive information from their bishops urging them to vote pro-life, I don’t ever remember hearing with as much emphasis other ways that we can …

January 19th, 2010


A ventriloquist’s cartoonish dummy can vocalize insults that would earn the ventriloquist himself a punch in the nose. In much the same way, on “harmless looking” adult animated comedy shows humorists can get away with things they never could on a live-action program.

As a rabbi with a lifelong passion for comedy, I often find myself torn between my love of a good (or even a bad!) joke, and reverence for my religious beliefs. The TV program that challenges my sensibilities the most is probably The Family Guy.

A recent episode of the notorious and unfailingly offensive show — called “Family Goy” — skewered a host of clichés with even more blatant disregard for propriety than usual.

In that episode, Lois, the mom on the show, discovers that her mother, Barbara Pewterschmidt, is a Holocaust survivor who had later renounced her Judaism — to help her husband get into country clubs. (“It was the right thing to do, dear,” says Mrs. Pewterschmidt ).

“So Grandma Hebrewberg is actually Jewish?!” exclaims Lois.

“Yes,” her mother explains. “When she moved to America, her family changed their name. It was originally Hebrewbergmoneygrabber.”

“Family Goy” includes the return of Jewish accountant Max Weinstein, the popular mensch character from a well-known earlier episode called “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein.”

The newer script, written by Mark Hentemann, takes a few dark, mean-spirited turns.

At first, Peter embraces his wife’s Jewish heritage, going so far as donning a tallit, kippah and Star of David necklace (chest hair included). He even adopts a Hebrew name that is nothing more than a long guttural “chchchchchch” sound.

When Lois objects, Peter kvetches: “Leave it to a Jew to take all the fun out of being a Jew.”

A dark, mean-spirited turn

Peter is then visited by the ghost of his father Francis, who warns him that he will go to hell for renouncing his (nominal) Catholicism. Sure enough, the next day, Peter turns anti-Semitic. That is, he attempts to shoot Lois with a sniper rifle!

Incredibly, Peter is purposely emulating Amon Leopold Göth, the Plaszów concentration camp commandant featured

January 18th, 2010

Fra Angelico's The Conversion of St. Augustine (my patron saint)

I’ve been taken aback these last few weeks by all the retrospectives and their universal declaration that the “aughts” were an awful decade. Objectively, it’s hard to argue as they trot out disaster after disaster, setback after setback. And when pressed, I recall that as the decade began I had a six-figure salary at a high-flying dot-com, millions to come with the genuinely likely public offering, and a beautiful girlfriend. I had none of those things within a few years. But I need to be reminded of the losses and setbacks and derailed career, because my perception of the story line of the decade is entirely different. For me the aughts weren’t awful; they were awesome.

You see, for me the key events of the decade are: reclaiming my sobriety, my conversion and baptism, and feeling and answering the call to return to writing, with a new focus on spiritual work. The past decade has in many ways been the most joyous of my life. It has been a period of spiritual growth, of expanding community, and of a radically increased sense of usefulness and purpose.

There’s an obvious connection here. As I said in my column, “Losing your footing and finding the ground“, losing the material things that define our lives can shake us into adjusting our focus, our priorities.

But mine is not a neat and tidy conversion story of: “My life was pointless and painful, then I found God, and now everything is rosy.” For me, the life stripped away by the dot-com bubble burst and 9/11 did matter and, in many ways, was good. I looked forward to going to work every morning and figuring out how to bring more music into people’s lives. My work was both creative and challenging. I lost a good thing. And the same was certainly true of my relationship.

January 15th, 2010

haiti3-insideLast September my mother returned to Haiti after a seven-year absence from her home country. It was a brief trip involving minor family matters and she came back telling us how amazed she was at the economic growth she had seen. Many families had personal computers or cell phones. Some of the small villages had better roads and bridges. After the tragic events there this past week the country my mother visited just a few short months ago no longer exists. In the wake of the earthquake I keep thinking of the “what if’s:” What if my mother had traveled last week instead? What if I had gone to visit her? What if my sister had finally found the money to spend Christmas, New Year’s in Port-au-Prince? The “what if’s” are choking my family right now. Since Tuesday we don’t even know how sad to be.

There is a distinct difference between mourning for a country and mourning for a beloved niece or cousin, and in my family’s New York City home we’ve been vacillating between both of those states. My father, an emotional guy by nature, started crying Wednesday morning. We got an e-mail about the village he grew up in; it had a church with a kindergarten attached. Both structures collapsed killing everyone inside. His aunt with lung cancer was pulled out of the rubble of her home, with her life and not much else. My mother has a cousin and sister living in Port-au-Prince that she speaks to at least once a week. Both women have several children. She hasn’t heard anything. Over the past week my mother, who is a quiet person, has become even more silent. My siblings and I are worried.

Meanwhile I’m supposed to be studying for a Neurology exam, working at my school’s library and finding bloggers for “Busted Borders.” Instead I’ve been watching CNN, MSNBC and the local news in hopes to see someone we know in the footage of a ruined hospital—it hasn’t happened. Somehow, I am supposed to be living life …

January 14th, 2010

Jean Montrevil and his family, from whom he is currently separated while in an ICE detention facility awaiting deportation to Haiti

Jonathan Freed hasn’t eaten since New Year’s Eve. The South Florida immigrants’ rights activist is one of six people who say they will not eat until President Obama puts a stop to deportations that separate immigrants from their American families. (Download the letter to the president.)

After a few days he stopped being hungry or thinking of food, he said. Instead he is consistently queasy, and his head is a little foggy.

The hunger strikers are part of a increasingly impatient immigrant movement that wants to see a moratorium on deportations until comprehensive immigration reform is enacted by Congress.

So Freed and his companions are camping on the grounds of St. Ann’s Mission in Naranja, Florida. Naranja is a community filled with Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian immigrants, too many of whom, Freed said, are at risk of deportation either because they are in the country illegally or because they’ve committed crimes ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) deems worthy of exile.

“In our community the amount of enforcement is ripping families apart,” he said Wednesday. Freed, who is executive director of We Count!, a immigrant rights organization, acknowledges that the hunger strike is a dramatic step — and one that could fail. But more traditional forms of protest haven’t worked, he said.

“People have marched, written letters, held rallies and vigils. We’ve done all that. The situation has become so critical we felt we had to do something dramatic,” said Freed.

So for thirteen days now Freed and five others — among them undocumented immigrants with American children — have slept in a tent on the church grounds and spent their days explaining their action to visitors, keeping each other company and praying.

“It’s a political action, but it’s also a spiritual action that you try to get God to intercede and change the hearts of those in government,” Freed said.

A senseless policy — a family suffers

That is

January 14th, 2010

haiti-insideEarlier this week a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti and we are learning only now of the complete destruction that has fallen on the Haitians. Early estimates are putting the death toll at 50,000. Here are ways to help:

Follow the lastest developments on the Catholic Relief Services site and blog.
Catholic News Service has this list of ways to help.
Tips For Funding Haiti Earthquake Relief Efforts from Charity Navigator
You can even donate with your mobile phone via Red Cross, by txting “YELE” to 501501 for a donation of $5, or “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10. The charge will show up on your cell phone bill.

May God comfort and be with the Haitians, and may He be merciful to us for the ways we have failed them and guide us in ways we can serve.

January 12th, 2010


As a natural healer, I noticed that some clients got well in a reasonable amount of time while others, even though they might have the same complaint and receive the same treatments, never improved. This was a conundrum for me until I met Don Elijio Panti. In 1982, my family moved to Belize and I began searching for a local healer to teach me about the medicinal plants of my new home. Everyone I asked said, “You have to go see Elijio Panti in San Antonio.”

Don Elijio, a traditional Mayan healer, was already ninety years old when we met. It took a full year of visits to his stick and thatch clinic in the Maya Mountains of Western Belize before he agreed to teach healing to a gringa. Over the next twelve years, he taught me the uses of more than five hundred medicinal plants, as well as folk massage, acupuncture with stingray spines, cupping, herbal baths and prayer. Prayer, he said, was the most important tool in his work. After a year as his apprentice, I saw that Don Elijio was much more than an herbalist. He was, in fact, one of the last living Maya shamans of Central America.

During this apprenticeship, two aspects of his ancient medical system impressed me the most. The first was his attention to women’s health. More than half of the one hundred patients who trekked on foot to his clinic each week were women with menstrual complaints or fertility problems. “The uterus is a woman’s center,” he told me. “If it is not in good health, then her life will be out of balance physically, emotionally and spiritually.” He treated these women with phenomenal success, using a five-thousand-year-old method of abdominal massage that repositions the woman’s uterus in its rightful place. Now I teach these Maya Abdominal Massage techniques all over the world.

The second was his emphasis on there being a spiritual dimension to many forms of illness. People came from all over Central America to consult with Don Elijio about matters of …

January 12th, 2010

Rishi talks about his family’s move to Canada from Trinidad.

December 31st, 2009


Did any among us not grow up with Disney? Children of the 40s marked their years with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. For boomers, it was Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians and Jungle Book. By the time I came along, Disney’s animated features had lost their spark. But my family gathered around the family TV set every Sunday night at 7:30 to watch The Wonderful World of Disney — a collection of animation, feature movies, TV dramas and nature documentaries. This brew, rich on American stories like Davey Crockett, helped shape my worldview. For children of the 80s and 90s, Disney animated feature films returned to the forefront and for this we have one person to thank: Disney’s keeper of the faith, Roy E. Disney.

Twice when Disney the corporation drifted away from its basic mission, Roy E. Disney, son of Walt’s brother, Roy O., has stepped in like a prophet to remind them of what matters.

Though his father was CEO and president of Disney until his death, Roy E. was never given control, and held only one percent of the company stock. He did have an executive title and a seat on the board of directors, though, and after Walt’s death in the mid-60s, then through the 70s and early 80s, he watched as Disney Corp. drifted away from its roots. The board’s focus on high-yield activities and careful protection of capital had turned Disney into what Roy E. once called a real estate holding company that happened to make movies.

Fed up, in 1977 Roy resigned his executive position, and then in 1984, he dramatically quit the board, signaling to investors and analysts his lack of confidence in the company’s leadership under Walt Disney’s son-in-law. Roy and other major shareholders brought in Michael Eisner, head of Paramount Pictures, to replace him, and Roy returned as vice-chairman and head of the animation division.

Disney’s animation renaissance

While Eisner knew little about animation and

December 31st, 2009

cronkitebwinsideLong before Twitter or Drudge or Huffington or Gawker, there was another one-word media monolith, bigger and more influential than any one else.


Television viewers didn’t call him Cronkite. Or even Mr. Cronkite. To America, he was just Walter. Everyone knew who you were talking about when you uttered that name. When I was growing up, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he was part of an American ritual: come home, have dinner, watch Walter. He told us “that’s the way it is,” and we know he was right. Occasionally, people would also sit down to Chet and David (over at NBC) or Harry and Barbara (at ABC). But Walter was it. Nobody could touch him. He was gravitas, and veritas – gravity and truth – and he was the face in front of the most respected broadcast news outlet in the world.

CBS News.
His voice, my words
In 1982, fresh out of college, I landed a job in CBS’s Washington bureau, as a Production Secretary. I typed and answered the phone and learned how to work a newfangled thing called a fax. They paid me 11-thousand dollars a year. I considered myself rich.

It was a great time to be there. Just one year earlier, Cronkite had retired from the CBS Evening News, replaced by Dan Rather. When I arrived on the scene, the place was still very much in transition. The ground had shifted. The Evening News was changing its style and focus. Walter, meantime, was mentioned, but never seen. It was understood that Dan wanted it that way. Cronkite popped up from time to time on television – hosting the Kennedy Center Honors, or narrating something for PBS – but rarely on his old network.

But in 1986, I got the opportunity to play a small part in one of those appearances.

“The world has splintered into Googles and Facebooks and Politicos; there are a thousand little

December 31st, 2009

Also check out the latest Busted Halo Cast about Frank McCourt.


Deanna, my ex-girlfriend, grew up in Boston. Recalling her early home life, she would sing a litany of parental neglect, substance abuse and financial mismanagement. Apparently, the one bright moment came when she saw one of her friends break most of her toes in a step-dancing accident.

I envied her. She would never have to search for her Irishness.

My own connection with the land of St. Brigid and Molly Bloom was much more tenuous. My mother’s family had left it sometime before the outbreak of the American Civil War. My father’s family, consisting of Polish and Ukrainian Jews, never made it there in the first place. Reaching backward across the Atlantic forced me to build my own bridge. Being the product of my adolescent tastes, it was, of course, a bridge of kitsch, with Pogues music serving as the piers and Cagney movies as the planks. By the time I reached my twenties, I found the structure so shameful and ungainly that I abandoned it. Later, when I saw M.C. Everlast, House of Pain’s L.A.-raised front man, flash his pro-IRA tattoo to an MTV reporter, I thought: There but for the grace of God go I.

Angela’s Ashes — McCourt’s memoir about moving from Brooklyn to Limerick, and finding nothing but superstition, starvation and bad weather — found me in a skeptical and unforgiving mood. My mother had thrust it upon me as airplane reading when I left to study in Moscow, during the summer of 1997. It stayed in my duffel bag. The jacket photo, which featured a barefooted urchin sporting a jaunty grin, somehow reminded me of The Commitments and every other piece of twaddle designed to produce plastic Paddies of the type I’d narrowly avoided becoming.

But after three weeks, the strain of thinking in Russian, with its three genders, six cases and perfective and imperfective moods had me crying for twaddle. One rainy afternoon I gave in and cracked it. Only those who have experienced the …

December 31st, 2009

novak2-insideOn a sunny-cold February day in 2001, I drove 70 miles to an Indianapolis hotel to pick up the journalist Robert Novak, whom I would be introducing at rural Wabash College for a public lecture that evening.

Snow covered the cornfields between Crawfordsville and Indianapolis. As an aspiring journalist — not quite 21 years old — I was eagerly looking forward to spending some personal time with a man who had “hit it big” as a newspaper columnist and pundit. What was his secret? How did he get so many scoops?

Memories of this day flooded back to me recently as I thought about Novak, who died this month at age 78 and was laid to rest on August 24. Although I spent only two years as a newspaper reporter before joining the Jesuits, I can think of no one who influenced me more as a writer than Robert Novak, and in such an intangible way.

The Essence of a Good Story
Before meeting him, I had admired Novak’s syndicated column for its depth of knowledge and sources. I had seen him on CNN’s “Crossfire” program a few times, and I knew he wrote his columns with the help of a staff of researchers. But I had no idea of Novak’s character or person, which for me is always the essence of a really good story, and in this case struck me as the real reason for Novak’s success.

Novak’s ability to establish an instant personal connection with people was magnetic. He was talking on his cell phone when I found him waiting for me in the hotel lobby eight years ago. When he saw me, he turned the cell phone off, and did not answer it again in my presence. He was a gentleman.

Novak’s ability to establish an instant personal connection with people was magnetic. He was talking on his cell phone when I found him waiting for me in the hotel lobby eight years ago. When he saw me, he turned the cell phone off, and did not answer it again in

December 31st, 2009


Quick — can you give me the latest on the divorce drama between Jon & Kate Gosselin? Or why Paula Abdul isn’t going to be judging this year’s American Idol? Odds are you can answer those questions but you can’t tell me the name of the man who died recently after saving more than a billion lives.

I’ll give you another hint: He was one of only six people ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

You can probably name most of the other five recipients of this trio of honors — Martin Luther King, Jr., Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi — but odds are you’ve never heard this man’s name.

You’ve never heard of him, yet when he died he was lauded as history’s “greatest human being.” You’ve never heard of him, yet he changed your life.

Author Dr. Christine Whelan, Dr. Norman Borlaug and author's mother, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan

Dr. Norman Borlaug, who died September 12, 2009, at the age of 95, was humble and kind, and devoted his intelligence not to getting rich himself but to transforming the lives of those who needed help the most.

We spend so much of our time focusing on the goings-on of celebrities and reality TV stars — and that’s OK; it’s only human — but occasionally it’s important to give tribute to a person who is really changing our world, quietly, with no spotlight or paparazzi documenting their journey.

Dr. Norman Borlaug: An American Hero

Born in 1914 in rural Iowa, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work that contributed to ending the India-Pakistan food shortage of the mid-60s. Until Dr. Borlaug’s discoveries, rot and infestation could decimate wheat crops and reduce entire countries

December 31st, 2009

Nicole, a U.S. citizen, prepares to move her four children to rural Mexico to be with her husband who has been barred from reentering the United States.

In this segment, Nicole explains how her husband was barred from returning to the United States. Because of this, she is planning on moving with her kids to Mexico.

In video two, Nicole talks about the difficulties she’s facing uprooting her four kids and moving to a foreign country.

In video three, Nicole and the kids begin the process of leaving their home for Mexico.

In the fourth and final video, 24 hours before their move to Mexico, Nicole and the kids say goodbye.

Originally published on September 9, 2009.

December 31st, 2009

Hallett during better times

I love a good rags-to-riches story. A vampire spin-off is not the usual definition of riches, but for the millions of people who love the Buffyverse, Andy Hallett was a success.

Hallett started his career in Los Angeles as Joss Whedon’s wife’s personal assistant. For those who don’t know, Joss Whedon was the writer, creator and driving force behind the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly — series known for being equal parts camp and brilliant writing.

After Whedon and friends went to see Hallett sing at B.B. King’s in Los Angeles, Whedon conceived of an Angel character written just for Hallett. The character was Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan; a green demon with scaly skin and red horns. However, Whedon never lets first impressions determine what a fictional character can do. (Remember that preternaturally strong teenage Buffy Summers?) Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan, or Lorne, could read a person’s thoughts and future when hearing them sing karaoke. With that gift he helped Angel, the vampire with a soul, save lives.

Mostly, Hallett’s Lorne made it easier to deal with subject matter like the end of the world or a broken heart. It is difficult for an actor to embody a character so well that audiences can’t help but smile; Andy Hallett did that while singing Aretha Franklin, on pitch, again and again.

At 33, he died of a heart condition.

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