Posts Tagged ‘Nigeria’

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 06 18 2016 via The Vineyard

June 18, 2016

It has been five days since I’ve written a “Letter.”  I’ve done some other writing but nothing that faced the world in which we live.  The death of Jo Cox, a Member of Britain’s Parliament, murdered in her district affected me deeply, a tearing of the barely forming Orlando scar off my physic skin.

Her name was vaguely familiar.  The man who has been arrested for her murder apparently shouted “Britain first!” repeatedly as he shot and stabbed her.  She was campaigning against “Brexit,” the vote for which will happen next week.

When arraigned, John Mair, the alleged killer, gave his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” 

A man described as gentle by his neighbors, he suffered mental health issues, assuaging them with volunteer work.  He also was in some way affiliated with a neo-Nazi group out of America.

Jo Cox’s death affected me because… 

Because it was one more example of the politics of hate in which we are all mired, because it happened in Britain where political verbal vitriol has been honed to a fine edge but where rarely are political differences manifested in physical actions.  Perhaps over football but not politics. 

And that is probably an Anglophile’s rose colored glasses view of British politics but it does seem rarer there that they have such events as Orlando, much rarer.

In the days following Orlando, a California pastor preached that all LGBTQ folks should meet the same end as the Orlando victims.  We should all be killed off.  It is not the first time in my life I have heard people call for the slaughter of the LGBTQ community but it seemed more painful this time.  We have come so far from when I was a boy.

On Thursday, in a conversation with my friends, Medora and Meryl, I told them that it was on how far we have come that I had to choose to focus or my sadness would be unbearable.  It had seemed an impossibility that in my lifetime gay individuals could exercise the right to wed.  And now we can.

I did not think in my lifetime I could speak openly of my feelings to friends who were not of my own community.

Yet these things have happened.  In my little world of Columbia County, New York I have seen the changes over the fifteen years I have been there, the opening of the community and the general acceptance by “locals” to outsiders and to outsiders were “different.”

We think the world is changing and changing for the better and then there is an Orlando, ripping at the sense of safety creeping into the world.  And then come the stories of people who remain fearful, even in New York, because a show of same sex affection could mean violence.

Only since Orlando have I come to know that the LGBTQ community is, far and away, the group that is most likely to experience hate crimes.

There seems to be some movement about more control over assault rifles. One small step, one hopes.  I had thought there would have been movement on that after the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown.  There wasn’t but now there might be.

Young Christina Grimmie, a “The Voice” alum who was shot to death last Friday by a deranged fan who then killed himself, was buried yesterday.  She, too, was killed in Orlando.

Disney there has been putting out signs to warn tourists about crocodiles and snakes after a two year old was hauled off and killed by a crocodile last week, an adorable young boy.

In Nigeria, eighteen have been killed by Boko Haram.

Belgians have arrested twelve in “terror raids” and Iraqi forces say they have retaken most of Fallujah.

Where have all the flowers gone?

To graveyards, every one…

I am sad but am choosing, must choose, not to feel hopeless and powerless.  It is beautiful outside, another in a day of beautiful days on Martha’s Vineyard.  The world is better than it has been, in many ways.  And I must remind myself of that.Vineyard View 2

Letter From New York 07 05 15 Civilized things in an uncivilized world…

July 5, 2015

Well, at last there is a sunny day! I am sitting at the dining room table at my friends’ apartment in Baltimore and sun is pouring down on the deck. It’s been sunny all day! And I’m just delighted.

As many people have been doing, I have been watching what has been happening in Greece. It seems the Greek people are voting “no” in the referendum that was held today – at least that is what the early opinion polls are showing. And now we will wait to see how it plays out this week. Will the European Central Bank give fresh funds to Greek Banks, who will probably run out of cash this week? Will a deal be done or is this Greece’s farewell to the Eurozone?

As the Greeks were voting, US warplanes were striking at Raqqa, the “capital” of the IS Caliphate. It was intended to cripple the group’s efforts to move military resources further into Iraq or Syria.

IS has been active in Sinai, at least fifty are dead there. From there, they have heaved some missiles into southern Israel.

An evangelical church in Nigeria lost six worshipers today when a suicide bomber attacked.

Donald Trump is riding a populist wave with his remarks about Mexican immigrants, causing consternation among Republican candidates. Rick Perry has found him offensive and others are working to distance themselves from him. He may be a train wreck but he’s ahead in the polls, believe it or not.

The Pope arrived in Quito today on a trip to Latin America, the continent where he was born. He will be in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay but not his native Argentina. He will be bringing the church to the poor. It is seen by some as a test of his ability to keep the faithful within the church. Roman Catholicism has been losing to Protestant Evangelicals in many parts of the continent.

While warplanes were attacking Raqqa and the Greeks seemed to be voting “no,” little Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge was christened in the country, on her Great-Grandmother’s estate at Sandringham, at St Mary Magdalene Church, where Diana, Princess of Wales, was christened in 1961. It was a nod to the Princess’s paternal grandmother as were some of the music choices and the fact that a cousin of Diana’s was named as one of the godparents. Princess Charlotte has five of them.

Afterwards, Queen Elizabeth II served champagne and tea at her palace. 3500 came out to greet the newly christened Princess. It was a pretty day; with young Prince George wearing an outfit that was very similar to the one his father wore to Prince Harry’s christening.

All was very civilized and far from the chaos in other parts of the world.

Taking a cue from the civilized behavior of the Cambridge’s, I am planning to finish this, sip a martini, shaken, not stirred [as I am writing, I am also half watching a Sean Connery Bond movie, “Diamonds Are Forever”] and then head to the Thames Street Oyster House for a civilized dinner.P

Letter From New York 03 06 15 Ranting on a sunny evening…

June 3, 2015

Returning to the office from a series of appointments and meetings, I met with one of the phenomenon of New York City, the partially crazy person we all learn to just ignore. As I exited the 1 line at 28th Street, a very large gentleman came down 7th Avenue carrying huge black nylon bag, swinging at his side. As he strode the Avenue like a colossus, he was not exactly shouting; it was more like braying. He sounded rather like a human imitation of a siren. As I reached my turn at 30th Street, he began to alternate the braying with shouts of “I hate effing everything and everyone!”

No one seemed to really notice him. He just went on his way, slicing through the pedestrian traffic, a human battleship on some kind of mission.

Almost any foray onto the streets of New York means an encounter with at least one person with a loose grip on reality.

The other morning, there was a well-dressed, middle-aged lady on West End Avenue, chattering away. I thought she was speaking to someone while wearing a Jawbone. But she wasn’t. No Jawbone. Just having a merry conversation with her best imaginary friend.

We don’t intervene or do much except to give them as wide a berth as we can. If they’re not doing any harm, they sail on down the streets. Such people are part of the fabric of any metropolitan area. It sometimes causes me to think on the social welfare net we don’t seem to have for these folks.

There are so many human needs all over the world. Hundreds of thousands are facing potential starvation in South Sudan. Migrants are dying while attempting to reach Italy from Africa or from Myanmar to Indonesia. Nepal is in ruins. Heat is killing them by the hundreds in India.

The huge man on 7th Avenue got me thinking about the state of humanity. We spend so much time and money on fighting each other rather than uniting in curing what ails us. Howard Bloom posits that is part of our nature in “The Lucifer Principle.” He’s probably right. But my hope is that we head toward a better future though I’m not banking on it so much right this moment.

Fierce fighting has broken out in Ukraine again. Boko Haram has slaughtered thousands and kidnapped at least hundreds while Amnesty International is claiming the Nigerian Army has managed to kill off at least 7000 and should be investigated for war crimes.

China, Russia and the United States are all jockeying for position. Saudi Arabia and Iran are duking it out to see who is going to be the big kid on the block in the Middle East. Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines along with the U.S. are skittering to keep China from controlling the South China Sea.

But at the end of the day it is all geo-political nonsense that has been going on since the beginning of empires. The Egyptians wanted to be the big guy on the block and they were for a while. So were the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, Alexander had his moment – and it was just a moment – then came the Romans and so on and on and on. All about conquering and crushing.

I must pick up a copy of Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” Today it doesn’t feel like it.

While Mayor DeBlasio proclaims that New York is the safest big city in the country, murder rates have inched up the last two years.

Ah, I am ranting tonight but it’s what is on my mind tonight. And isn’t that what blogs are for? Our individual thoughts and rants and hopes and prayers?

Letter From New York 05 04 15 A series of glorious days…

May 4, 2015

As I wend my way toward New York this morning, the sun is splashing off the Hudson River, a small boat cruising north as I trundle south, green beginning to tip the trees that line the river bank. It will be another in a short string of beautiful days that have blessed the Hudson Valley.

Saturday was an exquisite day. I rose early and went to the Farmer’s Market, sourcing from there everything I would serve for dinner that night. Ron Eglash, who also spoke the Indian Institute of Technology/Roorkee when I was there, came down with his wife, Audrey Bennett, who is also a professor at RPI in Troy.

Every moment of Saturday felt joyful, even blissful. I don’t know that I have ever experienced a day quite like it. Everything I did seem to bring me pleasure in a soft, delightful way. I reveled in the sheer pleasure of each moment.

I did not write a Letter on Saturday or Sunday. To do so would mean that I would look out into the world when all I wanted to do was savor the inner universe I was so pleasantly experiencing.

But now it is Monday morning and I am headed back to the city. My old friend, Michael DiPasquale, who lives in Los Angeles but was born in New York, is here to visit family and is coming into the city today from Long Island to visit with me.

As I have been typing, a CNN News Alert came crossing my screen to let me know that Carly Fiorina, once CEO of Hewlett-Packard, has announced she is running for President. I believe this marks the first time in history that two women have been seeking the Presidential nomination of their individual parties. Ms. Fiorina is a Republican. Hillary, as we all know, is a Democrat.

Also joining the Republican field of candidates is Ben Carson, popular with Republicans under thirty.

In Nepal, aid is beginning to flow and a 101-year-old man was dragged from the rubble alive, with only minor injuries. The Nepalese government has stated they will need much aid over a long period of time to rebuild. The death toll is over 7300 and still climbing.

In happier news, in case anyone missed it, their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, welcomed a baby girl, yet to be named, into their family. They are going up to their country house, Anmer Hall, which is two miles from where the Queen is at Sandringham House, so they may introduce her to her newest great-grandchild.   Sounds so civilized.

Not so civilized is the continuation of the air strikes in Yemen, as more and more Yemenis find themselves displaced by the bombings. More women and children have been rescued from Boko Haram in Nigeria as have some thousands been picked up in the Mediterranean, as they attempted crossing from Africa to Italy. Ethiopian Jews in Israel rioted over the weekend, hurling bottles and rocks at police, as they protested against racism toward them. Israeli police have said the protestors crossed the line.

In Garland, Texas, near Dallas, police shot down two gunmen when they leapt out of their vehicle and began shooting at a security guard at an exhibit of drawings of Mohammed. Muslims believe that you cannot depict The Prophet in a drawing. It was hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group noted for its anti-Islamic stands.

In Vegas, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. won “The Fight of The Century” against Manny Pacquiao and pocketed a reported $180,000,000, though the crowd at the end of the fight booed him. They apparently had feelings about his record of domestic violence.

In Boston, Russian relatives of Tsarnaev are going to testify in the penalty phase of his sentencing. His defense team ceded his guilt and is trying to win him life in prison rather than death.

A light haze now floats about the Hudson River, adding a moment of magic to the day. Not long ago we slipped past West Point, that formidable redoubt, passing by marinas prepping for the summer season, the river calm, still and probably very cold.

The day won’t be chill. It is predicted to hit in the 80’s today, the warmest weather yet of the year. I look forward to a good day.

Letter From New York 04 29 15 Another anniversary in 2015…

April 29, 2015

It is nearly impossible for me to believe that we have reached the end of April. Today has been a glorious day in New York City, probably the finest day of the year. Warm with a gentle breeze flowing, signs of flowers blooming, I passed tulips and pansies on my way to the subway this morning, all bringing a smile.

South of here, in Baltimore, the city is quiet but very tense. Offices and restaurants that have been closed are reopening. In a first for Major League Baseball, a game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox was played in an empty stadium, it being considered too dangerous to bring people together in a public venue.

Schools reopened and protests continued, peacefully. The Maryland Governor is hoping that the peaceful night that preceded a peaceful day marks a turning point in the city. It is a city of fragile calm, a place that is delicately balanced between peace and violence.

In Washington, Prime Minister Abe of Japan, made a speech to Congress, acknowledging Japanese responsibility in WWII and making his case for a strengthened, resurgent Japan as a counterweight to China. He also made his case for the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Kim Jong-un, the pudgy little North Korean dictator, is reported as having killed 15 senior officials since the beginning of the year – that’s at the rate of about one per week. It may be true. It might not be true. It’s hard to know with North Korea but we do know little Kim Jong-un has a very itchy trigger finger.

Far away in Nepal, itself very, very fragile after the earthquake that has destroyed much of the Kathmandu Valley, there was a moment of hope today when a man trapped for 82 hours in the rubble was rescued. But hope is wearing thin and survivors clashed with soldiers as supplies continue to have difficulty reaching outlying villages that have been devastated. The death toll continues climbing and is now officially over 5200.

In Saudi Arabia, King Salman has re-ordered the succession and named as Crown Prince a member of the third generation, a grandson of the founder, King Abdullah. Prince Mohammed is said to be very pro-Western and very much against Al-Qaida [they attempted to assassinate him a few years ago],

In Nigeria, 300 women and girls have been rescued from the Boko Haram. They are traumatized and some have no home to return to as their villages have been razed in the fighting between the government and Boko Haram. They are described as needing psychological care and physical support.

While the group was being rescued, Boko Haram seized a town in what has become a back and forth battle between Nigeria and its allies and the Boko Haram, who are determined not to pushed off the stage.

I said in one letter that 2015 was a big year for anniversaries and another one is upon us. Forty years ago tomorrow Saigon fell and we ended our involvement in Vietnam.

As a young boy, I remember some older boys talking about our sending troops to Vietnam. I’m not sure why I remember it. Perhaps it seemed like a great cloud passed over me. For some reason, I remember exactly where I was standing when that conversation happened. I think some of those boys grew up, got drafted and went to Vietnam.

And now it is forty years after those horrific shots of helicopters departing the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon, with thousands screaming for rescue as they lifted away for the last time, forty years since we lost that war.

Last year, I went to a conference on “moral injury” and spoke with a man who had been to Vietnam, returned and lived what he thought was a normal life until one day, not long before I met him, it all cracked open and he came to wrestle with the demons that had stayed with him all those years from caring for wounded soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam.

We all carry our wounds. It is part of living, unfortunately. But so are the joys that come along, unexpectedly, like the tulips and pansies I passed this morning, lovingly planted on 93rd Street.

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 October 30, 2010

October 30, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

The last week has been more than a bit business mad; Odyssey Networks has been doing a whole series of productions. I fell into the role of point person for them. We sent a man to Nigeria to shoot footage of the Imam and the Pastor, a Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam who have emerged from the religious warfare in that country as spokesmen for peace and interfaith hope. Pastor Wuye lost his hand in the violence, chopped off by a Muslim. It became the moment he moved beyond his hatred to embrace a different way. He and the Imam have become a team, founded a mediation center in Kaduna in Nigeria and have become world famous for their efforts.

They were honored on the 26th at the We Are Family Foundation Gala with the Mattie J. Stepanek Award. Mattie, if you recall, was the extraordinary boy who spent his brief life besieged by a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which killed him weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday. He wrote books on peace, became a national personage because of his presence on the Oprah Winfrey Show and was eulogized at his funeral by President Jimmy Carter, with whom he co-wrote a book. The Imam and the Pastor describe Mattie as a prophet, as he might well have been. Certainly his words echo beyond the time encapsulated by his short life.

I met them briefly at the Gala, introduced by Jonathan Smith, the producer whom we had sent to Nigeria to get the footage. There was a sense about them of peace and joy, calm in the center of a tumultuous world, a presence that was tranquil and slightly transcendental. It was an honor; it was a moment I won’t forget, two men, once sworn enemies, standing together now against the ravages of the violence that racks their land. Six months ago Christians and Muslims were killing each other in the Jos Valley, the place both call home. When they left New York, they were headed for Sudan where they had been asked to lead a Peace Conference in that country, which is edging toward potential violence as it advances toward a referendum that might split the country in two. If it goes that way, there is a chance war will break out and the land that is home to infamous Darfur will once again be racked by violence, the victims of which will mostly be the poor, the desperate, the defenseless.

Nigeria, the Sudan, the Middle East, Columbia, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan… The list of countries wracked by violence, war, revolution, counter-revolution, insurgency goes on and on. Do we think daily of lawless Somalia, home to modern pirates that regularly seize ships in the Gulf of Aden, holding them for ransom? No, probably not. But while we live our reasonably secure lives, vast parts of the globe are war zones or de facto war zones. Jonathan described the vast sea of tension and fear that swirls through the streets of Nigerian cities as no one knows when the next bout of sectarian violence will erupt, bringing more pain and death into their lives. It is not uncommon that Muslims and Christians will chop away fingers or hands [witness Pastor Wuye] to remind their victims of their hate. The streets are filled with the disfigured.

Against this tide of religious vitriol, individuals like the Pastor and the Imam work as best they can to bring sanity into the world in which they live, to bridge the hatred, roots of which are now forgotten but not relinquished.

Against this hatred are the words of a child, Mattie Stepanek, the actions of two men of God, who stand with other men of good that dot the world, seeking in some small way to change the world, to offer an alternative to the generations of killing. For if we do not find some alternative, we will never find a way out of the vortex, one that is now more dangerous than ever as religious divide, hatred and extremism fills men who have capacity to wreck global havoc.