Posts Tagged ‘Shia’

Letter From New York 01 05 16 Musings as heading and reaching home….

January 6, 2016

There is a pinkish tint to the sky as I head north on the train, heading home after thirteen days of being away.  The sun is beginning to set and the Hudson River flows south on my left.  We have just passed Bannerman’s Castle, a munitions depot that blew up long ago on a small island in the river.  Its wracked remains still stands and, sometimes, in the summers it is used to create a light show.

Bruce Thiesen, who reads my letters from time to time, commented that 2016 might test my optimism and it already has.

Yesterday, the market had a nose bleed after the Chinese market plummeted.  On its way to closing, it is up modestly today but hardly enough to get anyone breaking out champagne glasses.

Donald Trump has found himself used in a recruiting tape for terrorists.  He shrugs his shoulders about it, indicating there is nothing he can do about it.   While he is doing nothing about it, the British Parliament is getting ready to debate whether or not they will ban The Donald from Britain. 

That would be interesting.  I don’t think that’s ever happened before. 

The Sunni Saudi Arabian kingdom executed a leading Shia cleric and government critic.  The Shia of Iran rioted and burned the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran.  Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran, further inflaming the Mideast.

The Iranians have announced this will not cover the crime committed by Saudi Arabia but today one of Iran’s generals condemned the attack on the Embassy. 

Meanwhile, the Iranians are showing off another underground missile, likely to give conniptions to the US and some others who hoped the nuclear treaty would lessen Iranian obsessions with things military.

The US has remained silent about the executions as it needs Saudi Arabia in its fight against IS, which is mostly Sunni as are the Saudi Arabians.  The Iraqi and Syrian Shia get huge abuse from IS as do any others who don’t believe as the Shia do, including Christians and others.

In Washington, President Obama has issued Executive Orders regarding gun sales while surrounded by victims of shootings, including some of the parents of children killed in Newtown.

The proposals are modest but Rand Paul has already denounced them and the NRA has called them theatrics to deflect from his failed presidency. 

Anti gun advocates are gathering some big donors like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and are working state by state to tighten gun laws.

One result of his actions will be that the gun issue is now politicized and will be sure to be a topic of debate in the 2016 elections.

Not too surprising if disheartening is that gun sales have soared since news of Obama’s actions leaked out.  It is a good time to own Smith & Wesson stock I guess.

The journal Science is calling for more human computational effort in solving the world’s problems.  It took only ten days for humans using a computational game to solve a protein problem associated with HIV.  Let’s do more of that, say scientists. So do I.

I am now back in the cozy clutches of the cottage.  Returning home, I discovered my kitchen pipes have frozen and I am working to thaw them out.  Nothing, thank God, burst.

It was also forgotten by me that I left behind the detritus of my last night here.  I emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it but can’t run it until the pipes thaw.

Before I left, I checked the 14 day forecast and it was all in the 40’s.  That changed as it hit 4 degrees last night, the point at which the kitchen pipes freeze. 

Having missed the season premiere of the last season of “Downton Abbey” I am off to catch up.  It’s good to be home, more than I can tell you.  Here, I feel cosseted by the comforts of my cottage and the joy it brings me. 

The world outside is dangerous and it is tempting to retreat here and ignore it, I can’t.

The world exists and I must live in it.  As must we all…

Letter From Claverack 08 16 15 Thoughts as the sun sets…

August 17, 2015

It is moving toward six in the evening. The sun is beginning its slow set to the west; bright light glimmers through the trees and pools of sunlight litter the drive. I am sitting at my desk, looking out, keeping watch. A friend is coming over and I’m helping him think through his website, a first for him.

It has been a lovely weekend. Lionel and Pierre arrived on Friday evening, a bit ragged from a drive through heavy traffic from Baltimore. We ate at the Red Dot and then came home. Lionel and I had our traditional Friday night “cleansing vodka” and then I drifted off to a good night’s sleep.

Saturday was a lot of running around; neighbors came for cocktails and a visit with Lionel and Pierre.

This morning, I woke early. Heavy fog drifted above the creek, making the place look otherworldly, almost mystical. I prepared breakfast for the three of us and saw them off on their return trip to Baltimore. While I was doing all of these pleasant tasks, the world continued.

An Indonesian plane lost contact with air controllers and there have been reports it crashed into a mountainside. E’Dina Hines, step-granddaughter of Morgan Freeman, was stabbed to death last night in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan by a deranged man, thought to be her boyfriend, who was attempting to cast demons out of her.

Premier Li Keqiang of China visited the port city of Tianjin, the scene of a huge warehouse explosion that was so big it registered on seismic meters. The warehouse contained dangerous chemicals, including sodium cyanide. The warehouse was close by apartment complexes; at least 112 have died and 95, many of them firefighters, are missing. 721 are injured. There is a huge evacuation zone; protests are being held at the hotel used for press briefings.

Sadly, Julian Bond has passed away. He was a young firebrand in the 1960’s and went on to become a respected state legislator in Georgia and head of the NAACP for some years. He was a voice for civil rights and agitated against the Vietnam War, a man to be admired I always thought. And now he’s gone, after a short illness. I will miss knowing that he is alive.

Donald Trump is still leading the Republican polls; he is calling for an end to “birthright citizenship.” Hillary Clinton is trailing Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, which must be causing her some sleepless moments.

Sleepless in Syria are all kinds of people. Assad bombed a suburb of Damascus over the weekend. The war is going badly for him; Damascus is his nominal seat of power though he has long been rumored to have left the capital for the coast. His troops are being defeated and seem to be in slow retreat. Iran has sent ministers to Russia, seeking some kind of political solution.

Iraq, long riven by Shia/Sunni conflicts seems to be facing a Shia/Shia conflict too. I will need to do more reading to understand. I don’t right now. A few days ago, an American General stated that Iraq might have to be partitioned. And it is beginning to look like that might be a viable solution. Iraq was created a century ago by the Brits for their own reasons, mostly, one suspects, oil.

Amazon is one of my favorite suppliers. I don’t want to work there. Reports about the environment for employees indicate it’s a brutal, brutal, brutal place to work. I am, nor ever have been, up for brutal. I still use them, enormously. I am an Amazon Prime customer. Probably will be until the day I die. But not to work there. Oh my!

Apple is apparently building a self-driving car. As is Google. I will bet on Apple. Google’s devices…

Night has arrived. The floodlight on the fountain has turned on. Outside the cicadas are making noises. I am at the end of my day, about to step into yet another Steven Saylor book. I have been binge reading instead of binge watching. Actually, it feels good.

Letter From New York 05 12 15 In a world of choices and not so many choices…

May 12, 2015

Once again, when I went to sleep last night, I expected rain today. When I woke it was cloudy but rain was not in the forecast. It’s sunny and warm and summery in the city. I am working from the office of Broderville Pictures, founded by my friend Todd and I’m doing some work for him.

Another friend is helping organize a documentary film festival in China in December and I’ve recommended a few people to him and will see if I can come up with others.

It’s been an interesting week. I’ve been networking with lots of friends and catching up with people. It’s been good. I had lunch yesterday with Ty West, who is producing “Charlie Rose: The Week” for PBS. He is a good friend; another one I met on the train between New York and Hudson.

Today I had my eyes examined and am just beginning to see again after having had my eyes dilated. My eyes have changed a fair amount in the last two years. My left eye is weaker. My right eye is stronger and now I need to go through the painful [for me] process of choosing new glasses.

I am lucky. I live in a world of choices. Too many people must feel like they have no choices when they are living in places like Yemen and Nepal.

Beleaguered Nepal suffered another massive earthquake, killing more, shaking down more buildings, and frightening the population even more. An American helicopter, involved in aid work, seems to have gone down there. The newest quake will make it even more difficult to get the aid to remote villages. Some roads that had been cleared are now filled again with rubble.

Today a ceasefire is to begin in Yemen. In the hours leading up to the ceasefire, the Saudi led coalition bombed Sana’a relentlessly. An Iranian cargo ship is headed there, convoyed by Iranian naval vessels. The UN is suggesting they deliver the aid to a distribution center in Djibouti, an African nation directly across from Yemen. The Iranian convey has everyone nervous. The Saudis are supporting the Sunni side and the Iranians the Shia side. The new UN envoy to Yemen is saying that fighting will solve nothing but that’s what they seem intent upon doing.

No longer having any choices whatever is Ananta Bijoy Das, a secular blogger in Pakistan who was hacked to death on his way to his day job at a bank in Sylhet, in the northeastern part of Bangladesh. He is the third secular blogger hacked to death in that country.

Tomorrow is the day when John Kerry is supposed to meet with Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, site of the last Winter Olympics. Putin is supposed to be there; that’s why Kerry is en-route but today the Russians said Putin was yet to be confirmed. Last time Kerry saw him, Putin was three hours late for the meeting.

For the last five years the El Nino effect has been quiet. Now it is rearing its head again with unpredictable results. British forecasters are suggesting it might mean record snow next year in the UK, Australians are saying there might be severe drought in northern Australia. It could mean heavy rains on the US West Coast and its Gulf Coast but may be not enough or soon enough to ease the drought in California. The Australians think it is going to be severe and meteorologists in Canada and the US are suspecting it will be moderate. Wait and see. Weak or strong, it’s coming.

My friend, Lionel, just move to Baltimore to be Vice President of Ad Technology for AOL. Today I woke to the news that AOL had been purchased for $4.4 billion by Verizon, mostly for their ad technology. One business pundit said something like that was pocket change for Verizon and another said it was another bad move by Verizon in the Internet space while others thought it was a very smart move. Time will tell, as they always say.

In the long ago and far away days when I was working in Los Angeles for an Internet start-up, one of my very good friends was dating Sandra Lee, the TV food star.   Later I was best man in his wedding to another woman but during their tenure, I met Sandra a few times. She is now living with Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York. Today she announced she had breast cancer. I wish her well.

The day is beginning to come to a close. I am going up to the Café du Soleil tonight for a bite and then home to read a book.

Letter From New York 03 19 15 With the speech over, back to Delhi…

March 29, 2015

It is always hard to know exactly how well it went when you give a speech, which I did today. Personally, I think it went well. No one fell asleep. There were very few yawns. It was supposed to go for sixty minutes; it went for 90+ with all the questions.

Professor Ron Eglash, who spoke before me, stayed for my speech and when we got into the car to go back to the guesthouse, he told me that I was brilliant! And he’s American, so he wasn’t using “brilliant” the way Brits do, to say that was nice. He thought I was really good and I appreciated it.

Twenty students rushed the stage to have their pictures taken with me so I felt, for a few seconds, like a rock star.

All good.

The day came grey and drizzly today and the grey has never really gone away. Post speech, I’m feeling a bit tired and am going to finish this and then try to catch a few minutes catnap. I’d really love a glass of wine but the campus is “dry” so I will have to wait for Delhi for that.

Now that the speech is done and the conference closed, I have gone back to perusing world events a bit more closely.

Angie’s List has put on hold its expansion in Indiana until it further understands the implications of that state’s Religious Freedom Act. They were about to break ground in a few days on a $40 million building project. In the meantime, the legislature is drafting a “clarification” of the law, which it plans to unveil in a few days. I am very curious to see the clarifications. I’ll still be in India when they come out but I will be looking.

It is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Christian’s Holy Week. Pope Francis prayed for the victims of the Germanwings crash in the service today.

In other Francis’ news, he keeps hinting that he thinks his Papacy will be short, ended by some great event. I hope not. He is popular among Catholics and is stressing Christian themes in a way no Pope has for decades.

In good news for heavy drinkers, it is being reported that coffee counters the bad effects of drinking on the liver. One cup of coffee turns back the dial on three drinks. I predict coffee sales will rise.

Rising slightly are hopes that a nuclear deal will be made with Iran, but only slightly. There are still major differences and it’s not clear they can be overcome. Secretary Kerry was to return to the States for an event honoring his friend and colleague, the late Ted Kennedy. Kerry has cancelled the trip to remain at the negotiations.

Netanyahu says the deal is worse than he feared.

There are no negotiations going on in Yemen. There are lots of dropping bombs. Saudi Arabia claims to have destroyed the ballistic missiles the Shiite rebels seized when they toppled the Sunni government. The Arab League is holding a summit and is presenting a pretty united front against the rebels, announcing at the same time a regional security force.

The situation underscores the tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Places like Yemen and Libya are the grounds now for proxy wars while the two powers attempt to become dominant in the Middle East.

In the confusing battleground that is Syria, the Al-Nursa Front has taken the city of Idlib. As they entered the city, they reported that Syrian troops had executed some detainees before fleeing the city. Al-Nursa is one of the groups, along with IS, vying for power in fractured Syria.

It is difficult to keep the players straight.

Singapore is saying farewell to its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. The Prime Minister of India is there along with many other world leaders. The city is said to be at a standstill. For them, it’s like saying good-bye to George Washington.

Tomorrow, I leave Roorkee to return to Delhi. The weather looks ominous and so I will be praying for a safe driver. It will be good to be back in Delhi, where creature comforts are a bit more available. Not only is the campus “dry,” it is also vegetarian. I am hankering for some chicken tikka.

Letter From New York 03 04 15 Dazed and confused?

March 4, 2015

It is a grey and damp afternoon in New York City, warmer than it has been with a weather advisory for tomorrow indicating we will have as much as six inches of new snow. Once I have finished a meeting tomorrow around noon, I am going to scamper back to the cottage to finish prepping for the annual income tax adventure.

I have just returned from lunch with my old friend Jeff Cole, who is the Founder of the Center for the Digital Future at USC in California. He is one of the foremost thinkers on the future of media. We’ve known each other for over twenty years, since we were both working on The Superhighway Summit for the Television Academy. He travels more than anyone I know and is off to China, Australia and Columbia the week after next.

We talked of media, as we always do, but wandered far afield over our two-hour lunch.

We discussed an article in the New York Times yesterday about the plight of Afghan women who have fled their families. Women who leave their families or their husbands seem to be fair game for honor killings. We also discussed an interview done with a man in jail in India, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a young woman two years ago. He resolutely feels the whole thing was the victim’s fault. No decent woman would have been out past 9:00 PM, he said, and besides, she fought back.

These are stark reminders that we live in a very different world from much of the rest of it.

In Iraq, General Qasem Soleimani of Iran seems to be guiding operations in the assault on Tikrit. The Iranians, who are Shia, have been arming and supplying Iraqi Shia militias that are joining the Iraqi army in the assault against the Sunni IS. There are fears from many, including some here in the US, that the Shia will take their revenge on Sunnis who have been living under IS control for the deaths of many Shia soldiers who lost their lives when Tikrit fell to IS last year.

In what is a masterstroke of irony, we find ourselves on the same side with Iran in the desire to defeat IS. There is no formal coordination.

The Boston Marathon trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has begun on a surprising note. The chief defense lawyer declared in her opening statements that, “It was him.” He did it. He killed and maimed those people. But he was under the influence of his older brother. She is not trying to get him acquitted; she is trying to save his life.

In another terror trial here in New York, Abid Naseer, was found guilty of providing support to Al Qaeda while planning to detonate a bomb in the New York subway.

While declining to press charges on Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, MO police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown last summer, the Justice Department at the same time condemned the Ferguson Police Department of widespread racial discrimination. Attorney General Eric Holder has called for “immediate, wholesale” action to counter this.

The speech by Netanyahu yesterday continues to provoke responses. The BBC used the word “scathing” to describe Obama’s response. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, thought it insulted the intelligence of the American people. Republicans have hailed it and it seems to be getting a mixed review back in Israel. It was good if you like Netanyahu and bad if you don’t.

Also provocative was the ongoing fallout from Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a personal email account during her tenure at the State Department. This revelation has caught many Democrats off guard and scrambling to respond. Their fear is that it will strengthen the perception that she is secretive and controlling.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments regarding Obamacare today and seems sharply divided on the issue. Chief Justice Roberts, who may be a deciding voice in the matter, said very little today. A ruling will come in June.

And in yet another dizzying turn of events in Alabama regarding gay marriage, the State Supreme Court has ordered judges to stop issuing marriage licenses for gay couples, in direct contradiction of a federal ruling that to do so is unconstitutional. Is it any wonder that judges in Alabama feel a bit dazed and confused?

Not feeling dazed and confused, I am leaving shortly to attend a screening of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a follow-up to a film of nearly the same name, set in India and starring Maggie Smith [Downton’s Dowager Countess] and Judi Dench.

Letter From New York 02 14 15 Privileged to know…

February 15, 2015

Outside my window, as I write, soft snowflakes are falling. The roads are treacherous and I am just home from an afternoon at friends. Five of us who ride the train regularly got together and shared wine and nibbles. It was a lovely few hours. It was our Valentine’s Day get together.

Tonight I was invited to join some friends for a Valentine’s dinner but begged off. I am single and it is sometimes not easy being the fifth wheel, particularly on Valentine’s Day. I am glad I stayed home, enjoying the soft quiet that is my cottage.

While it is quiet here in Claverack, it is not quiet out in the world.

In Copenhagen, one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, there was an assault on a conversation about blasphemy that was attended by the French Ambassador and Lars Vik, a cartoonist who has been the target of attacks since he did a drawing of the Prophet Mohammed as a dog back in 2007. One is dead, three policemen are injured and the gunman is still on the run.

Here in the Northeast, we are bunkering down for more snow and brutal cold. Poor battered Boston is expecting another foot and we’re expecting another seven inches. On top of that, the cold is going to be brutal. Temperatures are expected as low as minus twenty-five wind chill factor, a temperature I don’t recall living through since I left Minnesota.

As I am writing, it is now past midnight in Ukraine when the truce is supposed to go into effect. I am praying that it does. The last hours leading to this moment have been a free for all on both sides, juggling for supremacy. This is the one of the greatest challenges the world has faced since Chamberlin gave away parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler. The West wants peace at any price and Putin wants his way at any price. It is a deeply disturbing moment in a deeply disturbing time, when we are assaulted on all fronts.

In Canada, that most peaceful and placid of countries, a plot was uncovered and foiled. Four people intended to shoot masses of people in Halifax. Apparently they had no ideological reason for doing this. They just wanted people dead.

Speaking of people wanting other people dead, ISIS launched some suicide bombers on a base in Iraq with a number of American soldiers. They didn’t succeed, either killed by the Americans or by detonating their vests prematurely. But in Iraq, the carnage continues. I am slowly beginning to understand the Shia/Sunni nuances and it seems as much as they want to kill us, they want to kill each other more. I don’t think this was on the agenda of the Prophet.

In Houston, a mosque was set on fire this morning. It doesn’t appear to be an accident.

The Supreme Leader of Iran, Khamenei, is apparently in a secret correspondence with Obama as the two countries work on an agreement about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It has to do with the Sunni/Shia divide. Iran is Shia. ISIS is Sunni. Never, it seems, shall the twain meet. If a deal is made between Iran and the West about the nuclear issue, perhaps we work together on the ISIS issue. Ah, the Sunni issue.

In religious issues, Pope Francis, has named twenty new Cardinals, many of them from developing countries. Most are under eighty, which means they will have the voice at the next conclave, which will choose a successor to Francis.

And in the world of media, we’ve lost Bob Simon and David Carr and Stan Chambers. The last person is probably not as well know as the first two but he reported on air for KTLA in Los Angeles until he was eighty-seven. He pioneered the first live coverage of a news event. He was a gracious good man that I met once. May he rest in peace.

And the world has also lost Gary Owens. Most famous for his part in Laugh-In, he was also a world-class voice over artist. I worked with him at KMPC in Los Angeles and on several radio benefits for the US Committee for UNICEF. He was a lovely, generous man. I was privileged to know him.

Letter From New York 01 31 15 How lucky are we?

January 31, 2015

The days are growing longer. It is 5 PM and there is still light and I am grateful. It lightens my sprits for the days to be growing longer. Not so long ago it was dark at this time.

It is a white world that I look out upon. There was fresh snow yesterday and we are facing yet another storm that will lay another foot upon us and may disrupt my intentions of being in the city on Monday. It is very cold outside with wind chills of minus 15.

I am just back from a long and lovely lunch with my friends Larry Divney and Alicia Vergara. Recently they were in Mexico and while scouring a flea market there Alicia found two masks to bring back to me, knowing I collect them. They are wonderful and I already know where I will hang them. Primitive and powerful, they will make a great addition to my collection.

Alicia went off before we started lunch to buy something from one of the neighboring stores. While she was gone, Larry and I chatted about how lucky we are. For one, we are above ground. That’s always a good beginning. And we are living in Columbia County, New York. It’s a great place to be and we were having a lovely lunch at Ca’Mea, one of the best restaurants in Hudson. We had a martini and then a lovely white wine with lunch. I had onion soup and pasta with a chicken ragout – tremendous.

As we chatted, I confirmed how lucky we are. After all, we could be living in Donetsk in Ukraine, where there is a constant shelling of the city and where residents are running out of the most basic supplies. Apparently, the Russians are reinforcing the dissidents with their “little green men,” Russian soldiers or “volunteers” in uniforms with no markings. Lots of tanks have crossed over from Russian into Ukraine. They are dying by the dozens there.

We could be living in a hundred places where there is no peace but we are living in Columbia County, New York where there is a great deal of peace. Surrounded by white snow with more to come, it is hard to imagine a place more tranquil than this. As I waited for Larry and Alicia, I noticed two women at the bar, eating lunch and thought how lucky we all are. There is no shelling of the city where we live. We have all kinds of reserves. All we have to worry about is a coming snowstorm. That’s a luxury. In Donetsk, a snowstorm could be the difference between life and death.

In the “Caliphate” that is ISIS, there is video out that allegedly shows a second Japanese hostage being beheaded. I wince with pain that this is happening. While denouncing all the mistakes the west has made, ISIS is creating its own path of travesties, crimes committed for reasons I do not understand.

Far from my world of snow and peace, men are trampling on the rights of others in the name of religion. Christians and Protestants did it some centuries ago and now Islam is doing it, between Shia and Sunni.

We are so lucky to live where we do. As brutal as 9/11 was – and I lived through it – the thousands upon thousands who are dying in Islamic countries, as Sunnis kill Shias and Shias kill Sunnis, dwarf the numbers killed that day.  It goes on and on and on.

And I don’t really understand why. But then that’s what Christians were doing back a few centuries ago when Catholics and Protestants were locked in brutal warfare with each other, all in the name of God.

The sun has set. The floodlight on the fountain in my yard has turned on. I will soon go to a neighbor for dinner. We are gathering for a movie night, in a neighborhood where we aren’t worried about bombings. How lucky are we?