Archive for the ‘Taliban’ Category

Letter From Claverack 09 12 2017 Memories, hard and bittersweet…

September 12, 2017

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Living disjointedly in time, apparently, I woke up thinking yesterday was September 10th and, as I read the morning paper, realized I was out of step with time.  Yesterday was the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11 and I had a deep heaviness fall on me as I listened to a young woman on NPR who had been born after that day and for whom it is an event heard about in history classes, not something she can return to in her mind as so many of us can, particularly if you were in New York City, Washington, or Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

It’s not often I go there in my mind and today, for the first time, I haven’t felt an emotional ouch of the kind I have every other year.  Much of that is that I am monitoring Irma as friends and family are enduring her as she moves up the peninsula.  My sister and brother-in-law are without power but seem okay while I have friends not yet heard from in Jacksonville which is suffering “historic” flooding.

Yesterday was not dissimilar to that day sixteen years ago; bright sun, hardly a cloud in the sky, warm, waking on a day that seemed God had made to put smiles on our faces.

So, it is I ended my day with a moment of silence, thinking on the thousands that died that day and all the many, many thousands more that have died since in the ripple of effects of 9/11.

For perhaps the eighth or ninth time, I re-read the last few pages of “Call Me by Your Name,” a novel by Andre Aciman, a brilliant and, for me, painful read.  It is the story of seventeen-year-old Elio, son of a professor, living on the Italian Riviera who has an affair with Oliver, a twenty-five-year-old graduate assistant to his father.

Andre Aciman’s writing is so exquisite it is hard for anyone who works with words to read because that kind of beauty is so hard to achieve and I know I will never achieve that kind of beauty in my own work.

It was also hard for me to read because during my 17th year I had my own Oliver, though we never consummated our affair.  On a sunny, spectacular Minnesota fall day I walked into my first Spanish class of my freshman year and there was Marvin, my T.A., a man slightly taller than I, exotically handsome.  He looked Latin, as if he walked out of Andean village.

He was from Queens, who had been in the Peace Corps in Chile.  As I came into the room, he greeted me with “Hola, rubio!” “Blonde one” and that is what he called me during the year.  And I am not sure how it was I became friends with Marvin but I did as well as his two closest friends, Maryam and Caroline.

We had dinner together at the old Nankin restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, a palace of Chinese deco and good food.  Marvin and I talked through the night on many nights, wrapping each other in words when we probably wanted to wrap our arms around each other.  Maryam lived in Mexico when she was not in school and was addicted to Coca-Cola and we made a hysterical search for a real coke one winter night, tearing around in my Acapulco Blue Mustang.  Place after place served Pepsi and that was no alternative for a Maryam in need of a fix.

Early on, Caroline and I sat drinking coffee in Coffman Union and she suddenly looked at me and said:  why am I telling all of this to a seventeen-year old?  But we told most things to each other and I loved them all and Marvin most of all.

Not seducing me was his way of loving me.  And I remember the last summer, drinking Cuba Libres and hearing how he was not coming back to work on his Doctorate but leaving for New York to become a rent boy, which shocked the other three of us.

He left one day, leaving me with a sadness that still can be called up in my heart.  Caroline went on to more grad school; Maryam back to Mexico and that magical year slipped into the wake of my days, coming back to bittersweet life as I read the story of Elio and Oliver, remembering a time when I had an Oliver.

 

Letter From Claverack 03/02/2017 From Saba to a Trump Speech…

March 3, 2017

It has been about ten days since I’ve written; I just went back and looked.  Last time, I was on Saba, writing when I wasn’t able to sleep.  Tonight, I am back at my dining room table, floodlights on, looking out over the creek, having just returned from Coyote Flaco with Pierre, sharing chicken fajitas.

When I reached the cottage this afternoon, I felt I’d been away for a week, at least.  Monday morning, I went down to DC for some meetings for the Miller Center on the Presidency and then to New York last night to have a wonderful dinner with my friends, David and Annette Fox.  It’s a quarterly event; we gather at their marvelous UWS apartment, order Indian and catch up on our lives.

It is very hygge.  As was the dinner party I gave last Friday night for Fayal Greene, her husband, David, Ginna and Don Moore, Lionel and Pierre.  Leek soup, sautéed scallops in a brown butter sauce, and carrots in a lemony oil garlic sauce, with a baked polenta to die for, followed by a flourless chocolate cake provided by Ginna and Don, via David the baker.

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It was an extraordinary evening.

And I, at least, need evenings like this to keep me sane in these extraordinary times.

On Tuesday evening, in Washington, after an early dinner with my friends Matthew and Anne, which followed drinks with my ex-partner and his now fiancé, I watched the address to Congress by our President, Donald Trump.

To the great relief of almost the entire world, he did not go off the rails and sounded presidential.  It was, Tuesday night, all about the delivery.  Wednesday morning people started to parse what he said.  Even the conservative writers that I read, and I do read some, found a lot of flaws with the speech.

Short on specifics.

Fact checkers found a lot of fault, pointing out Trump claimed as victories some things which had been in play for a year at some corporations.  Ford isn’t keeping production in the US because of Trump; they are pulling back on their Mexican plans because those plants would have built small cars and people aren’t buying them.  They’re buying gas guzzlers because gas is cheapish again.

When talking with David and Annette, I said that if Trump had not held it together last night, his presidency would have begun to unravel.  He would actually be President but, in reality, his claim to power would have begun collapsing.  Lots of people on his side of the aisle are slightly unhinged by his behavior.  McCain and Graham are frankly, I think, apoplectic.

And he held it together and while he should have been able to take a victory lap, Wednesday morning brought the revelation that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had said in confirmation meetings he had not met with any Russians in the run-up to the election, actually had two meetings with the Russian Ambassador, one in his office on Capitol Hill.

Republicans are excusing while Democrats and some Republicans are accusing.

This is a wild ride and I’ve never seen anything like it.

Sessions has since recused himself from all investigations regarding anything Russian but there are those on both sides of the aisle who smell blood in the water.

While we were having political meltdowns, Amazon’s vaulted cloud computing world went offline yesterday for 4 hours and 17 minutes because of a typo in a command.  OOPS.

It’s a little scary.  150,000 websites were affected.  Amazon is the king of cloud storage and that’s a big oops for the King.  I would not have wanted to be the head of that division yesterday.

And, before Tuesday’s Trump speech, we had the foll der wall of the biggest Oscar mistake in history.  First “La La Land” was announced as Best Picture but it really was “Moonlight.”  Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were humiliated and PwC, the accountants, were more than humiliated.  They handed out a wrong envelope.

OOPS.

When it happened, I was safely in the arms of Morpheus, having strange dreams of Mike Bloomberg dating the pastor of my church, Mother Eileen.

Snap Inc. had a very successful opening on the market today; it was the biggest initial offering since Facebook and they have a rocky road to travel and they are a force to be reckoned with and it will be wonderful to see how it plays out.  The next Facebook? Or the next troubled tech company, which is where Twitter is today.

It’s time for me to say goodnight.

By hygge.  Regardless of your political persuasion, it will help us all get through.

 

 

 

Letter From Claverack, New York 08 23 2016 Generous souls…

August 24, 2016

It is later in the evening than I normally write; I did a roundtrip to the city today.  There were a couple of meetings and then I turned around and returned to the cottage.  It is dark.  I have turned on the floodlights so I can see the creek glitter with their light.  The trees are silhouetted by the light, green and verdant.  Nights like this are ones I love, with the floodlights giving an eerie beauty to what I see in the day.

Earlier today I had a long and good conversation with Sarah, who is my oldest friend.  We have known each other since we were three and except for one brief period have been a close part of each other’s lives.  She is one of the most loving and caring women I have known in my life and has always been that way.

In 7th grade, when Sister Jeron knocked me on the back of the head with a Gregorian Hymnal, humiliating me in front of our class, Sarah turned up that evening with one of her brothers and we went sledding down the hill by our house.  She knew I was hurting and came to help take the hurt away.  I remember that night as if it were yesterday.

Since I last wrote not much has changed in the world.  Aleppo is still a horror show.  Omran, the child in the photo, still haunts my dreams.

There are bombings hither and thither.  A Turkish wedding was destroyed by a suicide bomber who may have been no more than fourteen.  It was not the only bombing but it seems the most tragic with a child being used as a weapon.

Trump is attempting to moderate his tone and I hope it is too late.  Hillary is caught in the crossfire of the Foundation and her emails, which probably will never go away.  Even if she wins the Presidency, the Republicans will be chasing those emails and Benghazi into the next century.

The state of our politics this year is deplorable.  While discouraged, I remain hopeful that some good will come from all of this.  It must.

Out there in the wide world, North Korea has fired a missile from a submarine toward Japan.  Provocative as ever, the chubby little dictator is testing the limits of what he can get away with.

Remember the Boko Haram?  One of their leaders may have been badly wounded in a Nigerian airstrike.  I hope so.

The Iraqis are intent on reclaiming Mosul.  More than a million people will be displaced if they do it, according to estimates.  More refugees in this horrific war that never ends…

The Brits voted for Brexit and Brexiting are a large number of corporations who are moving their money out of Britain.  Not good for Britain who is going to have to do a lot of juggling with this Brexit thing…

It is late.  I am distracted.

Long ago and far away, I was friends with the Elsen family.  Don Elsen, patriarch of the clan, passed away today. He was 90, lived a good long life.  I saw him a year ago.  Unable to walk, he managed the world with a motorized wheel chair, mentally sharp as ever.

They were descendants of Germans and when I was with them, they could be screaming at each other and then burst into laughter and hug and hold each other.  It was amazing.  They were all full of love and Don was one of the most generous souls I have known in this life.

God rest.  Keep safe.  Be reunited in heaven with your beloved wife, Betty.  Your son, Jeffrey, and your brothers who went before you.

May I have such a homecoming someday.

 

 

Letter From New York, via the Vineyard 06 30 2016 Acts worthy of Shakespeare…

July 1, 2016

It is a bucolic time of day on Martha’s Vineyard; the sun is beginning to set.  A sailboat has gone by, heading to the north.  Its sail is designed like a huge American flag while moving to the south is the Edgartown Water Taxi, ferrying people to their docks.  The light is a marvelous gold and the water is steel blue.  Jeffrey’s sailboat rides at anchor directly in front of me, looking stately.  The scene is peaceful, other worldly, of another dimension than the rest of the world.

The rest of the world is not peaceful.

Britain is in spasms.  Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London, a prime supporter of Brexit, poised and desiring to be the next Prime Minister, found himself outflanked by the man who was to have been his campaign manager, Michael Gove.  Long saying he was not aspiring to higher office, he released a statement hours before Boris was to make his speech announcing that he was seeking to be Prime Minister saying that he could not support the former Mayor of London and that he was running for the position himself.

As Boris’ father said, “Et tu, Brute?”  It was an act worthy of Shakespeare.  Boris then announced he was not seeking to be PM. 

A nasty race is ahead for the Tories with Boris gone and characters worthy of “House of Cards” rend against each other.

The Labour Party is also rent.  Their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been given a “no confidence” vote by his party and it seems every politician in Britain is urging him to depart but he clings to his position with a kind of astounding ferocity surprising in so absolutely colorless a man.

Turkey says that the bombers in the terrible attack at Istanbul’s International Airport were all from the former USSR and were directed by IS out of Raqqa in Syria, their erstwhile capital.  One of the victims was a father attempting to prevent his son from joining IS.

Tomorrow is July 1st.  A hundred years ago marked the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in WWI.  In the eighteen months it raged, there were a million casualties. Today Prince William, Prince Harry and Princess Kate were there to honor the dead, to let the world know they were not forgotten.  In the first day of fighting, nearly 60,000 were wounded and a third of those died.  During those awful eighteen months “the flower” of English youth died in one of the bloodiest, if not the bloodiest, battle in all of history.

The Taliban killed 33 Afghan police recruits today, a number that is dwarfed by that of the Battle of the Somme, but like the English, French, South Africans who died in France in 1916, those 33 had families, wives and children perhaps, lives that will never be found again.

Hopefully found again will be a commerative coin given by President Obama to the country’s oldest Park Ranger, 94 year old Betty Reid Soskin, who was attacked last night in her apartment by a young man who punched her and robbed her.  She wants the world to understand she is not a victim but a survivor.  94!

I am winding down now as the harbor slips into a soft silver lavender light.  Faraway, a dog barks, a soft breeze is blowing off the harbor.  I am far away from all the madness.  A week from tomorrow I leave to return to my cottage, itself a haven from the madness.

Letter From New York 05 15 2016 Isn’t interesting…

May 16, 2016

This is one of the most enjoyable moments I have in a week, sitting at the dining room table, jazz playing in the background, the sun setting, looking across the deck to the wild woods across the creek, pulling together my thoughts as the sun slowly sets.

This morning I re-read my last online post [www.mathewtombers.com].  In the last part I wrote about Islam and the West having to come to terms with each other and as I read it I thought: whoa, Islam must come to peace with itself.  IS is mostly killing other Muslims.  Those numbers dwarf the numbers they have killed in Paris and Brussels and New York and London.  They die by the hundreds and thousands in Iraq and Syria alone.  Not to mention Yemen, which seems to be to Sunni and Shia what Spain was to Fascists and Republicans in the 1930’s.

We note with great care and deep exegesis the murders in the West and the daily drumbeat of death in Baghdad, Aleppo and Yemen is a footnote.  Muslims are mostly slaughtering other Muslims.

Not unlike the way Christians slaughtered other Christians in the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries.  We had the Thirty Year War, which started as a religious war and became so much more.  The Muslims seem to be having their Thirty Year War and it is much scarier because technology is so much more advanced.

And while they fight amongst themselves, some of them  rage against the West, those who are Fundamentalist Muslims.  They see us as abominations.

One late night here at the cottage I wondered if I was living a bit like a Roman in the 2nd or 3rd Century CE, knowing the darkness was coming and unable to prevent it so enjoying the present as much as possible. 

That’s a bit melodramatic I suppose.  Events are still playing out.  Outcomes can be changed. 

The forces at work in our lives are terrifying.  We have a saber rattling Putin, who denies everything negative, and a major religion that is going through an existential crisis, manyßåå of them thinking nothing of killing as a policy. 

In college, I took an Honors course on Medieval Islamic Civilization and they were civilized.  Something has gone very wrong there and, hopefully, for all of us, they will sort it out.

In the meantime, the rest of the world keeps moving.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Not being mentally healthy is a debilitating stigma many carry.  As someone who has been in therapy since he was sixteen, I empathize.  It is not, in many places, åstill, now, acceptable to talk about.

And it saved my life. And in the years between then and now, many members of my family have taken me aside to thank me for having broken the dam.  I was the first and I was pretty loud about it too.  Everyone knew. Everyone rolled their eyes at me, then they began quietly to look for their own therapists.

We are still dealing with racial issues and we are still dealing with mental stigmas. So good there is a Mental Health Awareness Month.  We need all the mental health we can get.

Our politics continue to look like a sideshow. Friends who live in Japan, Australia, Europe ask me what is going on?  I don’t know.  Does anyone?  There has been nothing like this in my lifetime and it is a bit scary.

I have been reading articles about the raucous Nevada Democratic Convention and I haven’t parsed  the events quite but there was a showdown between the Bernie supporters and the Hillary supporters.  Hillary won but her supporters are worried about a similar scene playing out at the national convention.

It has grown dark now.  The sun has set.  While it is mid-May, the temperature is going down to 34 tonight so we are not actually in real Spring yet. I had to turn up the heat tonight.  I might yet light a fire.

The jazz lures me to a quiet place of introspection.

Letter From New York 09 28 15 Dealing with Putin, Obama, VW, NASA and IS

September 28, 2015

Super Moon. Putin and Obama at the UN. Water flowing on Mars. An independent Catalonia? Taliban rising, again. Living on $17 a day. More on Volkswagen.

Last night, when the eclipse came at 10:47, I was already deeply in the arms of Morpheus. I had thought I might be able to make it but I was asleep before ten, drifting off, like many other days, reading a book.

Now I am on my way into New York City to have dinner with my godson, after a meeting this morning in Hudson. The day, which I thought was going to be sunny, has turned gray and mournful. The Hudson River looks like a sheet of beaten silver. Leaves are beginning to turn though I suspect it may not be a too colorful fall; the leaves that have turned haven’t much color and look as if they had just surrendered to winter, without a final burst of brilliance.

Both Putin and Obama spoke today at the UN. Even though he is meeting Putin today, Obama questioned Russian motives while leaving the door open for a constructive working relationship. That feels a little hard to imagine, a day after Russia, Syria, Iraq and Syria made an agreement to collaborate with each other on IS, without alerting or consulting the U.S.

But who knows what will happen behind closed doors with the two of them?

NASA now says that water flows intermittently on Mars. While it may be briny, it does flow at times which opens the doors wider for life on the Red Planet at some point in its past or present. Wouldn’t that be amazing? [And you’re correct, I am eagerly awaiting the Matt Damon starrer, “The Martian.”]

While I was wrapped in the arms of Morpheus, worshipping the god Somnus, the Taliban seized most of the city of Kunduz in Afghanistan, giving them a prize they have long desired. Afghan Security Forces and UN Personnel fled to safety as defenses collapsed.

It is the first time in fourteen years that the Taliban have managed to swarm into a city rather than attack with isolated bombings and individual acts.

Far to the west, in Spain, the Catalonian region held elections yesterday. A year ago, the region held a referendum on independence from Spain and those who wanted to leave outvoted those who wanted to stay. Madrid declared it unconstitutional and Catalonia remains part of Spain.

In yesterday’s elections, secessionists won a majority of seats but conventional wisdom seems to be thinking that Catalonia doesn’t really want independence but it wants a better deal from the Central government. This election helps strengthen their hand.

17 Florida legislators, mostly Democrats, are going to live on $17.00 a day for a week in a gesture to support a law to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. They figure that $17.00 is what a minimum wage worker has left over to live on when all the basics are paid.

We all know that Volkswagen had some really good code writers for the software they used in their diesel cars. It fooled testers into believing the cars weren’t emitting pollution when they were.   Now the former head, who stepped down after the scandal broke, is now being investigated for fraud. Martin Winterkorn intimated he knew nothing but the German authorities aren’t so sure.

VW has lost a third of it market capitalization since the crisis exploded and the 78-year-old company is facing its biggest challenge.

More dull economic news from China resulted in more losses for the markets today. No denying it’s a global economy.

Nor can I deny that the sun has come out as I am passing the slowly rising new Tappan Zee Bridge. It burst through clouds and now glimmers off the silver water.

The train is well over an hour late and the conductors are being bombarded by questions as to when we’ll get to New York. One poor man is attempting to catch a plane out of Kennedy. He might JUST make it.

I will make my dinner with my godson and for that, I’m grateful.