Archive for February, 2015

Letter From New York 02 28 15 Working to understand…

February 28, 2015

It is the last day of February and, as I sit at my desk, the sun is just beginning to set. The amount of daylight is about the same now as it was in October. There are sharp shadows on the ground; soft jazz plays in the background.

It’s been a busy day. Early morning rise to do emails, followed by a run to the Post Office for a week’s worth of mail, a trip to the local Farmer’s Market held indoors in the community hall of Christ Church down in Hudson, a little cleaning, grocery shopping, a stop at the Red Dot for a bite to eat, then home to write this blog.

It was a good day. In my email this morning was one that indicated my Indian Visa has been granted so I will have to gather all the things I need to pick it up on Monday. Next comes finding a plane ticket, giving me the most luxury for the least amount of money. I am working to use miles to upgrade myself on both legs of a very long flight.

Monday I am seeing my doctor to get all my shots.

The world is reeling today from the death yesterday of Boris Nemtsov, a leading opposition figure in Russia who was gunned down while walking across a bridge last night. Every opposition figure in Russia is more frightened than they were. Nemtsov’s mother spoke frequently that she was afraid for her son’s life, afraid that Putin would have him killed.

Thousands paid tribute to him today in a march.

Putin has denounced the murder and is “personally” taking charge of the investigation of the assassination. I wonder how that will go?

In Egypt a new, even more severe anti-terrorism law has been passed. Following that, the Egyptian courts have ruled that Hamas, the Palestinian organization, is a terrorist group, pushing them further into a corner.

Also in Africa, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe threw himself a lavish million-dollar birthday party at Victoria Falls to celebrate his 91st. Yes, 91st. He is the world’s oldest head of state. It doesn’t seem to bother him that his country is desperately impoverished. Let the good times roll! Elephants were slaughtered for the feast and there were seven huge birthday cakes.

In Iraq, 37 people have died in bombing attacks, in and north of Baghdad. IS is believed to be responsible. IS controls about a third of Iraq and a third of Syria, that territory making up their so-called Caliphate.

One of that “Caliphate’s” most famous individuals, Jihadi John, has the world attempting to figure out how a nice kid from London became Jihadi John. People who knew him then say they are stunned by who he has become. Debate rages in the UK as to whether that country was responsible for turning him from the nice kid next door to the gruesome face of IS.

In Tyrone, Missouri, locals and local police are attempting to understand what triggered 36-year-old Joseph Aldredge to shoot eight people, killing seven, before turning the gun on himself. Four of the dead were his cousins. Apparently he had a history of drugs and guns and may have become unnerved at the death of his mother from lung cancer. She was found dead in her kitchen after the shootings, possibly having been dead for as long as 24 hours.

Next week, Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, will address Congress. The address, at the invitation of Speaker John Boehner, in addition to shattering protocol, has shattered the bipartisan show of support for Israel. Many Democrats will not show up for the speech. Several foreign ambassadors that have been invited have also declined. Two weeks after this speech Netanyahu faces a tough election back home.

The Administration has been accusing him of doing everything in his power to undermine the negotiations going on with Iran over their nuclear program.

It is a messy, dicey situation that will get worse before it gets better and it will be interesting to see if the Congressional speech helps or harms Netanyahu back home.

The sun is setting. I am getting ready to go to a neighbor’s for dinner. Tomorrow they are predicating more snow, which caused me to sigh audibly. This is the longest, coldest, snowiest winter I have remembered since being here.

Spring will come. I know it will.

Letter From New York 02 27 15 About missing a day…

February 27, 2015

For anyone who might have noticed, there was no Letter From New York yesterday. It was my intention to write it after a mid-afternoon appointment with a former client to do some more consulting for them. The client, Nick Stuart, has also become one of my closest friends. There were three of us at the meeting and when were finishing, Nick suggested that the two of us play hooky and go see KINGSMAN, the new Colin Firth movie, which we did. It was a chocolate cake piece of old fashioned spy fun with high tech tricks.

Then I went on to drinks and dinner with Leo Brunnick, the CEO of Patheos, largest Internet site devoted to religion, who has become a friend. We started with martinis at Sardi’s, the venerable theater haunt down in Manhattan’s Theater District, followed by tapas at Buceo 95, a wine bar on the Upper West Side, a part of New York that Leo does not usually visit.

We had a great time but by the time I sent him home in a taxi and walked back to my place, it was late and I was exhausted.

Now, I sit in the Acela Lounge at Penn Station, waiting for my friend Lionel, who lives across the street from me in Claverack; we’ll ride the same train back home.

When I was kid, one of the many things I wanted to be was to be an archeologist. So I was shocked this morning as I perused the Times to find that IS is systematically destroying ancient monuments and treasures in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, which has been under their control since last summer.

The treasures date back to the ancient Assyrians, who ruled a vast Middle Eastern Empire three thousand years, which at the time was the largest empire the world had yet seen. They left behind stunning works of art to which IS is now applying the delicate touch of sledgehammers.

The present day descendants of the Assyrians are Christians and another group of them has been kidnapped from their villages by IS. The IS militants are swarming across the territory they control intending to remove from it, one way or another, anyone who subscribes to a different religious view than theirs. There is a stretch of 30 Assyrian Christian villages that now stand deserted, residents having fled to safety or been captured by IS.

Against this backdrop, the Assyrians have joined forces with the Kurds and are fighting back, with some success.

Eric Holder, still Attorney General, has encouraged Malls around the country to enhance their security. The fear of a homegrown terror attack is what keeps him up at night, he says.

What might keep up many at night is that tonight funding for the Department of Homeland Security will expire. The Senate has passed a bill to keep it going but the House remains riven and Boehner is scrambling.

To my great sadness, Leonard Nimoy, creator of the character of Spock, our favorite human/Vulcan half-breed in the Star Trek television series and series of movies, passed away today.

In Mexico today, “La Tuta” [The Teacher] was arrested. His real name is Servando Gomez who started his life as a teacher and became a Drug Lord. For years he has taunted authorities with videos, boasting of his close ties to politicians. He swore never to be taken alive. He was captured, without a shot, while eating a hot dog at a hot dog stand.

In another sad story, seven people killed, and another one wounded, in a shooting spree by a 36 year old man who then fatally turned his gun on himself. Tiny Tyrone, Missouri is reeling. A lonely little town 50 miles from the Arkansas border, it is the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else.

The top news story this morning when I woke was that “Jihadi John,” the IS militant believed to have beheaded western hostages, had been identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwait born, London bred 27 year old who once upon a time was “the boy next door.” He studied computer science at the University of Westminster. He is now one of the world’s most wanted men.

Speaking of being wanted, it will soon be time for my train and I must sign off, gather my belongings and head for Track 5.

Letter From New York 02 25 15 Things Pleasant and Unpleasant

February 25, 2015

It is a bright, sunny afternoon outside. Temperatures have soared to 39 today, making this the warmest day in quite awhile. The sky is a soft blue, tinged with a few soft white clouds.

Freshly back from my dentist, I have sparkling teeth from my semi-annual cleaning, a process they know I dread. In my adolescence, I was outfitted with braces by Dr. McMengele, an orthodontist who seemed to delight in tightening my braces every week, a torture I still remember vividly. It’s why I had such a time watching the dentist scene in THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, if anyone remembers that.

So, thankfully, my current dentist treats me very gently. She is a firm believer in that there should be NO discomfort. I like that.

But it is not a comfortable world right now, is it? We are coming up on Friday when the Department of Homeland Security faces defunding. Because almost all of them are considered “essential” they will keep working, without pay. Not particularly good for morale, I suspect. Mitch McConnell is attempting a solution but the House Republicans seem to be on the edge of rejecting it. Tomorrow, we will see what happens.

Today, in Miami, Obama is giving a speech on immigration to a largely Hispanic audience, hoping to score public relations points even as a Texas court has put a stay on his Executive Order regarding immigration. Presumably, in this speech, Obama will lay out his next legal steps to see his order carried out, promising a breather for millions who are living under the threat of deportation.

In other political news in the States, Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, did not earn enough votes to avoid a runoff election for another term as Mayor. He is facing Jesus Garcia, who won 34% of the vote to Mr. Emmanuel’s 45%. Mr. Garcia, from Durango in Mexico, had strong support for public school teachers and minorities. This will be an interesting race to watch. Mr. Emmanuel will be a fierce opponent. Once Obama’s Chief of Staff, he is an accomplished and focused politician.

The FCC is likely to adopt utility style rules to ensure “net neutrality,” eliminating the possibility of pay-to-play fast lanes on the Internet. It is intended to prevent abuse by Internet service providers, generally the cable companies.

Next week, Israel’s Prime Minister is coming to Washington to address Congress. He is expected to denounce the negotiations that are going on with Iran regarding its nuclear capabilities. Susan Rice, National Security Adviser, has called the visit “destructive” to Israel/US relations. That’s the strongest words yet from the White House side regarding the upcoming, protocol-breaking visit.

When Netanyahu is in town, the President will not be seeing him. Vice President Biden will be in Central America and John Kerry will be negotiating with the Iranians. Netanyahu tried to set up a meeting with Senate Democrats but they have turned him down.

I am sure House Republicans will give him a rousing welcome.

In a nervous Paris, drones have been spotted flying around important spots, like the Eiffel Tower, during the last two nights. Their source remains a mystery and a concern.

Yesterday, the Reverend Phyllis Sortor of the Free Methodist Church was abducted in Nigeria. Today a ransom of $300,000 was demanded for her return. The suspicion is that this is not an act of Boko Haram but bears the signature of other kidnappings for money that have taken place all over Nigeria.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, charged with monitoring the Ukrainian Truce, is asking for help. Some have been held hostage, one had his car blown up and one of their four drones was shot down. Russia says it will help with radar and drones. We’ll wait and see.

Ah, the sun is beginning to set, a soft golden yellow glow is filling the western horizon, and the sun is a dazzling orb above the treetops along Riverside. I must prepare. I am attending NOT NOW DARLING, a play being put on by a theater club in New York, and a friend is appearing in it. Everyone attending must dress up. I won’t get in without a coat and tie.   Goodness knows when the last time was I wore a tie!

Letter From New York 02 24 15 Contentious Times…

February 24, 2015

Waking in New York City this morning, I grabbed my mobile and checked the weather. There was a wind chill of 5 to 10 below zero. I wanted to curl back up and wait for the day to warm. Thankfully, despite the cold, it was brilliantly sunny and therefore I felt brighter if not warmer. After a couple of cups of coffee and a hot, hot shower I ventured out into the world; my cheeks were burning from the cold by the time I made it from Riverside to Broadway.

After a few errands and some work on my Indian Visa application, I headed south to the West Village where I met up with my friend Mick Kaczorowski, Executive Producer par excellence, recently departed from Discovery, for a long, good catch-up lunch.

After lunch, I headed to Staples and purchased a printer for the NY apartment and then sat down to blog.

There is the growing brouhaha over whether Bill O’Reilly of Fox News “embellished” his war reporting credentials. David Corn in the magazine Mother Jones wrote an article about Mr. O’Reilly having his own “Brian Williams Moment” and Mr. O’Reilly responded with what I gather is typical vitriol by calling Mr. Corn a “guttersnipe.”

I don’t watch Bill O’Reilly or Fox News. I don’t watch CNN either. I am a cord cutter so I don’t have cable in my home. But in the moments I have had exposure to Mr. O’Reilly, I have found him distasteful so I haven’t searched him out online either.

His efforts to quell the controversy don’t seem to be working. They just seem to put the spotlight more on a situation that would probably have gone away if he had ignored it. But that is not the O’Reilly style. He has gone on to threaten a reporter from the NY Times and has drawn the ire of several colleagues who were with him in Argentina during the Falkland War. One of them has called his version of events a “fabrication.”

O’Reilly covered the war from Buenos Aires. There was a riot while he was in Buenos Aires. He did cover that. One reporter described that riot as the “chummiest” riot he had ever seen but there is footage that O’Reilly showed on his program last night.

The video shows unrest and chaos but no shots being fired. One person reporting on the O’Reilly tempest said that O’Reilly had “yet to find the bodies.”

Nothing much will come of this. Fox News likes controversy and I’m sure it will give a boost to their ratings. Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News and master spinmeister, is thoroughly behind the consistently high rated O’Reilly. NBC launched an investigation into the Brian Williams story; Fox News will not look deeply at O’Reilly’s actions.

It says much about the organizations.

In other media news, Keith Olberman was suspended from ESPN for a few days over churlish tweets about Penn State.

Things continue to be tense in Ukraine and it is now being called this generation’s West Berlin.

There have been more suicide bombings in Nigeria and masked men kidnapped an 87-year-old American missionary, the Reverend Phyllis Sortor. Soldiers from Chad claim they have killed over 200 Boko Haram fighters.

The three British schoolgirls who flew on their own to Istanbul last week to apparently join IS have successfully managed to cross over into Syria. Also in the land of IS, dozens of Assyrian Christians have been abducted and taken from their villages. Thousands more have fled.

In less violent news today, Greece made more concessions and a four-month extension has been granted them to work out their future. Markets in New York and London ended up for the day.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell is working on a deal to keep the Department of Homeland Security from being defunded. It will be interesting to see if he can get the Republican Congressmen to go along with the scheme.

And, as widely expected, President Obama vetoed the Keystone Pipeline Bill, issuing in a new period of contentiousness between the White House and Congress.

What will be contentious for me is seeing if I can get the new printer printing tonight. I must remember to read the instruction book!

Letter From New York 02 23 15 Any shame or guilt?

February 23, 2015

Ah, the joys of the bitter cold. Just as I was headed to Amtrak to catch my train, I received a text message alerting me my train would be at least ninety minutes late and I would thus miss the conference I was scheduled to attend this afternoon in the city.

Thankfully, I can partially make up for it by the fact a good friend is being ousted from his office early today so it can be painted, so we will get together for a late lunch, early cocktail or a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or some combination thereof.

Feeling rather on the low side last night, I ended up sleeping instead of watching the Oscars so my only experience of it was this morning, reading about it online and in the NY Times. The Wrap did a very funny montage of moments from this Awards season, which seems to have gone on forever this year.

And, not unexpectedly, the Oscars are the top story this morning, everyone weighing in on the good and bad moments. I missed them all. I wish I had been able to see in real time Patricia Arquette’s remarks for winning Best Supporting Actress. She addressed gender equality in Hollywood. I must look for the video of it.

As of this moment, the world stage is mostly a retread of yesterday’s news.

The ceasefire in Ukraine has yet to take hold; Germany is very worried. Everyone should be worried.

The families of three young British schoolgirls who appear to have departed for Syria via Istanbul have yet to be found; their families continue to plead with them to return.

Potential Presidential Contender, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, was at the White House last night for a dinner. He took a selfie with his son and posted it. The response wasn’t kind. Governor Walker was accused of looking a bit tipsy, if not as mashed as Johnny Depp was once during this Awards season giving out an Award. Depp had trouble reading from the teleprompter.

The dinner Walker was at with his son, Alex, was for the National Governors Association, jokingly called the National Association of Aspiring Presidents.

US Malls are stepping up their security measures since the Al-Shabaab threat against them, particularly the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada. The Head of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, has asked all to be extra vigilant.

Of course, the Department of Homeland Security faces defunding this month unless a compromise is reached. Congress is unhappy with President Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration and DHS is caught in the crossfire.

Ah, the joys of politics.

A political figure in Egypt has been sentenced to five years in prison. Alaa Abdel Fattah, a renowned blogger in Egypt, was found guilty of organizing an illegal demonstration and “thuggery,” among other things. He and hundreds of others who have protested have been sent off to prison. This was a retrial for him; the first time he was sentenced to fifteen years. More than twenty others were sentenced along with him, receiving sentences of three to fifteen years.

At the same time, Egyptian President al-Sisi is saying that he would release wrongly detained young men.

Egypt is also calling for a Pan-Arab force to battle terrorist groups, not to invade but to defend.

In an event that is deeply disturbing, chilling and troubling, a suicide bomber in Nigeria killed five, including herself and wounding another forty-six. The bomber was a child, a girl, perhaps as young as seven. It is believed the lovely Boko Haram is behind this event.

As I sit on the train, watching the ice clogged Hudson slide by, I wonder if the poor child had any idea of what she was doing, what was being asked of her, and if the ones within Boko Haram who directed her, had any sense of guilt and shame about what they were doing?

Letter From New York 02 22 15 Happy Oscars Viewing…

February 22, 2015

Unusually, I am starting work on my blog early in the afternoon; usually I wait until the sun has begun set but about that time today I will need to be down at the Hudson Train station to pick up friends who are returning from Baltimore, where they spent the weekend.

The Hudson Train Station is charming in its way. It is the oldest operating train station in the Amtrak system. It looks much the way I imagined it looked in the 1940’s.

Almost a hundred and fifty years ago, the train carrying the body of Lincoln and his son, Willie, back to Illinois, stopped for a few minutes in Hudson, greeted by a tableaux that was described by Edward David Townsend, Commander of the train, as “one of the most weird ever witnessed.” There was a coffin, with a lady in white draped over it, mourning; the station was draped in black and white bunting, with evergreens. At either end of the coffin were a soldier and a sailor. A number of women, also dressed in white, sang dirges. All of this was lit by torchlight. No wonder Townsend thought it weird. [Thank you to The Gossips of Rivertown for the details.]

The town is planning to recreate that weird scene this April 25th, the Sesquicentennial of the event. I can’t wait.

Hopefully, by April, the weather will have warmed. We are still living in the land of snow, ice and cold. Today it is warming up to thirty degrees, only to plunge again in the days ahead with more snow predicted.

What I would not have predicted was turning to the news today to find that Al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group, had released a video suggesting there should be attacks against American and Canadian shopping malls, including Mall of America, which is in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis, my home town. Particularly of concern is that the Minneapolis area is home to many refugees from Somalia. Al-Shabaab has been actively recruiting young men from there and some have gone back to Somalia to fight for them.

Perhaps more predictable is that there is still heat in Giuliani’s comment about Obama not loving America. Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California suggests we should thank Giuliani for questioning the President’s love of country. Not unexpectedly, the NY Times has countered with a chronicle of the number of times President Obama has declared his love of country. Giuliani reports he is receiving death threats.

Brian Williams continues to take it on the chin. Today he is being criticized for not giving money to his “cash strapped” high school. I haven’t given money to my high school either. I didn’t like the place very much.

Tonight, of course, are the Oscars. But have you paid attention to last night’s Razzie Awards? They’re given out to Hollywood’s worst. SAVING CHRISTMAS, starring Kirk Cameron won Worst Picture. He won Worst Actor, too. Cameron Diaz won Worst Actress for SEX TAPE and THE OTHER WOMAN. Worst Screen Combo was won by Kirk Cameron and “His Ego.”

I attended the Razzies the year Halle Berry won for Worst Actress for CATWOMAN. She arrived clutching her Oscar and was quite funny. They have grown from a personal party to Hollywood’s anti-Oscars.

Tonight’s Oscars will be interesting. It appears that BIRDMAN and BOYHOOD will be duking it out for Best Picture. Having seen both of them last night, I would be hard pressed to make a choice. Both were excellent, neither of them blockbusters, just very, very good films.

The sun is brilliant today, casting clear dark shadows on the freshly fallen snow. Marcel, the dog I am babysitting, sits asleep at my feet as I write this. Having not eaten yet today, I am going to head down to the Red Dot for a bite before picking up my friends.

Happy Oscar viewing!

Letter From New York 02 21 15 As the snow falls…

February 22, 2015

Outside my window, a soft swirl of fresh snow is falling. Soft jazz plays in the living room, with the sound drifting to my desk where I am writing. The day has turned grey and everything outside looks muted.  The big orange plow trucks are patrolling the streets but I am now in for the duration, a fire burning in the Franklin stove. My neighbors’ dog, Marcel, is asleep in the living room. I am babysitting him for the night; I have done so before. He is quiet, good company.

Around noon, I went down to Hudson to meet a friend at Stair Gallery, where he was bidding on some objects at their auction. Just before I arrived an enameled music box went for $120,000. He won the bid on a piece of silver, an articulated fish, and then we went off to lunch.

Post lunch, I dropped him back at the Gallery and came on home to tend to Marcel and to be off the roads, already treacherous when I was heading home at 2:30.

I have come to love these muted grey days, sitting at my laptop, working on this blog, music in the background, finding touch points with events of the day.

Like most days, this one started with coffee, very strong, and a dollop of the NY Times.

Yemen’s former leader left the capital last night, either released or escaped. No one seems to know. But when he reached his hometown of Aden in the south, he took up residence in the Presidential Palace.

In a startling kind of strategy, the Pentagon seems to be broadcasting its intentions to retake Mosul in the spring. Why, many are asking, would you want to broadcast that? Surely not! The response was that it was hoped that all the manpower being readied would discourage IS and encourage the residents of Mosul to rise up against IS.

Senator McCain is not amused. I am not surprised!

The truce in Ukraine remains fragile. The British Foreign Minister and Secretary of State John Kerry have been talking and they are talking about stronger sanctions against Russia.

Former New York Mayor Giuliani’s comment about Obama not loving America continues to get play. Not surprisingly, Rev. Al Sharpton is enraged while Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin commented that he really didn’t know whether Obama loved America or not. Walker is running for the Republican nomination for President.

Giuliani is no longer politically relevant and seems to be enjoying his moment, again, in the spotlight. He has no reason not to keep it up; he likes his name in lights. I agree with the White House on this one. It is sad.

The financial conundrum that is Greece continues to keep us on edge. A deal has been, apparently, reached.   In getting to this place, the Greek Prime Minister, Tsipras, has said: we won a battle, not the war.

Truer words were never said.

Tsipras has a lot to sell to the Greek public as the new deal, if it happens, has Greece still bowing to the Eurozone. It is a lifeline, not a solution.

Seeking a solution to a problem I didn’t know existed, Proctor and Gamble is selling off nearly a hundred brands in their portfolio, including Duracell Batteries, which will go to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway next year.

This year is the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination and hundreds gathered in New York to mark the moment.

There continues to be an exegesis of Brian Williams’ fall from grace. There will be an almost uncountable number of them written between now and the end of his suspension and, depending on what happens after that, countless more. The world is not being kind to Brian Williams and the comparisons to Edward R. Murrow have been unkind.

Outside it has grown dark. The jazz continues to play and I am near the end of this blog, for today.

It is predicted that the brutal cold will not be so brutal but that the snow will continue. Boston is a slow moving tragedy. Different from a hurricane, the snow has been probably as destructive to Boston as a hurricane would be to some cities but because it is slow moving, no one is noticing.

Tomorrow is another day. It’s the day of the Academy Awards. I am going to watch BIRDMAN and BOYHOOD this evening, the top contenders for the Best Picture Award.

Letter From New York 01 20 15 Having a good visit…

February 20, 2015

Train travel has been unpredictable today so to ensure that I am up in Hudson for dinner with my good friend, Paul Krich, I have moved my train up to the 3:15 Empire Service so that I will actually arrive in time for dinner.

I am sitting in the Acela Lounge in Penn Station waiting for my train, hoping that another of my very good friends, Robert Murray, will be making the journey with me. He needs to get home in time for a Soccer League Board Meeting. Always good company, his presence would be a boost but he might not make it until the 4:40. Last night we had dinner and drinks at Thai Market, having a good visit or, as my Australian friends would say, a good “chin wag.”

Waking this morning, it was blistering cold in New York with wind chills of minus eleven. And the heat didn’t seem to be working well last night so it was cold inside and out. I huddled under the covers, reading the Times and drinking coffee, took a long, hot shower and went out to brave the world.

When I reached Penn Station, I treated myself to a bowl of New England Clam Chowder and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at Tracks Restaurant on the lower level and then came up to wait for my train.

In the background, CNN is on the television. They are reporting on three British schoolgirls who have apparently flown to Istanbul with the intention of crossing into Syria to join IS. Their parents are understandably frantic.

My heart goes out to them. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to wake up and find that your daughter has gone off to join IS.

IS has made an art form of their murders and have gained huge attention to them. Also very real is that everyday many are dying from barrel bombs being dropped by the Syrian Air Force, wretched weapons designed to do maximum civilian damage. But they have not gotten the attention that IS has gotten with its gruesome videos. Yesterday, I said they were clever with their messaging.

In breaking news, it appears the Eurozone has come to some sort of agreement with Greece, which is good news for everyone – until we lurch into the next Greek crisis. It may be a case of kicking the can down the road. I haven’t seen any details yet.

Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani declared that Obama doesn’t love America. It has become a bit of a case of “open mouth, insert foot.” Reactions have not been very good though Gov. Jindahl of Louisiana agrees, sort of.

Speaking of Obama, he was at the winter meeting of the Democratic Party, both mocking and criticizing Republicans, being relentlessly upbeat and energizing his party.

In Libya, 45 were killed in IS bombings. In Somalia, some government officials died while saying their prayers, killed by suicide bombers. More Muslims killing other Muslims.

Closer to home, the former First Lady of Virginia, Maureen McDonnell, was sentenced to twelve months and one day in jail. Her husband, the former Governor, was sentenced to more time than she was.

Brian Williams has resigned from the Board of the Medal of Honor Foundation and is not allowed to make public appearances during his suspension, confirmed by Bob Wright, former Chairman of NBCUniversal and close friend of Williams. A poll has indicated 52% of Americans think he should be given another chance while 40% think he should be canned.

Jeb Bush has hired a top-notch researcher, firming up convictions he is running for President.

SIM card maker, Gemalto, largest in the world has announced its SIM cards were hacked by US and UK intelligence services, a fact revealed in the mounds of documents that surfaced from Snowden. Gemalto wants some answers, not surprisingly.

Riding the train with me tonight is Brian Gallagher, the number 2 man at Amtrak. A gruff, blunt and honest man, I knew him from riding the Empire Corridor for a long time before I knew he was the number 2.

I suspect the train will arrive on time.

Letter From New York 02 19 15 As the temperature drops…

February 19, 2015

I am at a friend’s office this afternoon, working on a project for him. It is bitterly cold here in New York and the wind chill will be fierce by this evening. Weather Underground is predicting wind chills of minus eighteen tonight, which will be worse down on Riverside Drive, where there is a micro-climate due to its proximity to the Hudson. I can only imagine how chill it will be getting home tonight.

It is the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year, a forty-day celebration that will result in THREE BILLION trips during these forty days. It is the largest annual migration of people from one place to the next as individuals travel to be at home for the season.

This year is the Year of the Sheep [or the Goat or the Ram, depending on your translation]. Most people are going with sheep this year, because they are cuddlier than goats or rams. It is not a particularly auspicious sign so there is a bit of hesitancy going into this New Year.

Earlier today I had a fascinating conversation with my friend, Kay Rothman, about the recent apocalyptic comments made by IS [ISIS or ISIL]. They have pointed across the sea to Rome and are gathering around a place marked in Revelations as the place where the battle will be fought that will mark the beginning of the end.

They are clever in exploiting our fears. They are clever in their use of social media, far cleverer than the West according to comments made at Obama’s anti-terrorism conference. The Russians unexpectedly attended it, much to the surprise of Washington.

Obama suggested the world address the “grievances” terrorists exploit.

Former New York Mayor Giuliani declared today that Obama “doesn’t love America.” That has kicked up a firestorm, not unexpectedly.

Giuliani was not as unruly as the Iranian Ambassador at the nuclear talks has been at times. Apparently is has been so bad that Ayatollah Khamenei has ordered Ambassador Zarif to stop it.

Also, not unexpectedly, the German Finance Minister is accusing the Greeks of using “Trojan Horses.” I have been waiting for someone to pull that one out. It happened today. There will be another “extraordinary” meeting of finance ministers to discuss Greece. The Germans are adamant about holding firm with them and so a Greek exit from the Euro is possible.

Walmart has agreed to raises wages for employees and to improve customer service. It will cost about a billion dollars but the CEO of Walmart feels it’s an essential investment in their work force. Sales were not so good last quarter and customer service complaints were up. He’s hoping the raises make good sense.

The Ukrainian truce is as fragile as ever. While fighting around Debaltseve has quieted because the Ukrainians have retreated, shelling seems to picking up south of that city, with fears the separatists are making a move on the port city of Mariupol.

The only good thing in this situation is that the four leaders still talk. Merkel and Hollande are determined to make the truce work. Putin seems removed and Poroshenko is infuriated.

Reportedly, the retreating Ukrainian soldiers are saying they felt abandoned by Kiev and were left without help. Regardless, Poroshenko is flying from the capital to personally greet and thank them.

Thankful in Texas is a lesbian coupled that were allowed to marry on the grounds that the denial of a marriage license was causing them irreparable harm. One of the two is suffering from ovarian cancer. It is a one-time event; no others will be done until the stay on granting marriages licenses to gays in Texas expires.

Congratulations to Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant!

In Los Angeles, there is an outbreak of CRE, a bacterium that is resistant to antibiotics. Seven are infected; 179 may have been exposed. Two have died. Another reminder that antibiotic resistant bacterium are on the rise.

The temperature is falling in New York, the afternoon sun is beginning to fade and I am prepping for chilly journey to Thai Market, where I will be meeting some friends for dinner. Wherever you are, stay warm and cozy.

Letter From New York 02 18 15 The Francis Effect…

February 19, 2015

As I sit down tonight to write in New York City, a light snow is falling though does not indicate that it a harbinger of bad things to come. So, after a relatively busy afternoon, I have returned to the little apartment on Riverside to write my blog.

Last night I met my friend Dan Pawlus for a drink at the Warwick Hotel on 54th Street and then I went with him to a screening of “The Francis Effect,” a documentary made by the Canadian Catholic television organization Salt + Light about the Holy Father.

Last year, about this time, I was in Rome to speak on a panel for SIGNIS, the organization of Catholic Communicators. In some breakout conversations, the talk was about “the Francis moment.” This Pope had, in a not too long a period of time, altered the perception of the Roman Catholic Church by much of the world.

The documentary last night chronicles the effect of the moment. It is hard not to admire the man. While he has not changed doctrine, he has changed the tone of the conversation. And that is a very good beginning. He has offered gentleness instead of reproach. In the last twenty years the tone of the church has been strident and reproachful; under Francis it is conciliatory. He has challenged the all-powerful Curia and reformed the reputedly corrupt Vatican Bank.

And he has only been in office for two years. It will be interesting to follow the rest of this man’s Pontificate.

When Dan asked me to the screening of a film about Francis, I asked him if it was about the Francis who was a saint or the Francis who would be a saint?

Until I saw legions of people in New York with black marks on their forehead I had forgotten today is Ash Wednesday.

In a remark that is indicative of the man that is Francis, he told people that this year they should fast on their indifference to their fellow man. A grand comment.

Francis is a saintly man but there are very few of them.

To help combat young men and women from the States going to jihad, Obama held a conference on extremism. The US and countries such as France, the UK, and Belgium are all struggling with young Muslims who are seduced to jihad.

There was a striking article in the NY Times today about a young man from Cairo, middle class, educated in private schools, who had abandoned his family and friends and gone off to Syria. He tweeted a picture of himself with a beheaded man. His family is devastated. He got lost somewhere in the tumult that has been Egypt the last three years.

We have medieval values being practiced by men with good weapons. In grisly rumors, IS has been accused by Iraq’s UN Ambassador of killing people to harvest their organs, then to re-sell them on the organ black market. It is a revenue generating operation reportedly.

In Ukraine, the Ukrainian government suffered a defeat today when its forces abandoned Debaltseve, the major rail hub between the rebel areas. They attempted to put a good face on it but there is no good face to a major defeat.

President al-Sisi of Egypt is pressing for international intervention in Libya. He has a problem in the Sinai with insurgents who are aligning themselves with IS [ISIS or ISIL]. He thinks the Sinai insurgents are getting some help from IS in Libya. Libya and Egypt have asked the UN to lift the arms embargo so they can better fight IS.

The snow is still falling lightly. I am getting tired and think I will retreat to bed and read Time Magazine and The Week [my favorite weekly] and drift off to the land of Nod.

A new version of Cinderella is out soon. The Oscars will be this weekend.

And I am prepping for a trip to India. I have been invited to go to the Indian Institute of Technology in Rourkee to speak about American media. I must sort out the intricacies of getting a visa now.