Monday, September 24, 2007

Apology to Iranian President

Photo: John Smock/AP
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has arrived in New York to a very un-welcoming reception.

He plans to appear at several events at the U.N. and at Columbia University to set the record straight with the American people who, he says, have been denied "correct information," about going to war with Iran and about Iran's intentions with its nuclear development.

As an American, I am appalled and embarrassed that we would treat a foreign head of state in the manner depicted in this photo. This protest, according to the Associated Press, was organized by a New York City Council member--David Weprin--no less!

We seem to have forgotten that other sovereign nations are SOVEREIGN NATIONS and that we are obligated to deal diplomatically with their their presidents and senior representatives. Growing up in the cold war, I do not recall us ever treating Gorbachev or even Castro this way.

Secondly, New York has denied Ahmadinejad's request to lay a wreath at Ground Zero, claiming that he would "violate sacred ground." What does that mean? Have we labeled the man a "terrorist" because he refuses to be bullied by the United States? Did the Iranian government have anything to do with 9-11? Are we really all so ready and eager to label this man our enemy, as our government would have us do? We are treating the man like a first-rate criminal. Is this right? We need to be very careful!

All along, I have been wondering about what right America has to insist that another SOVEREIGN NATION not develop nuclear technology. It is nothing short of bullying. Are we supposed to believe that in our hands, the technology is safe, but not in anyone else's? And why wouldn't Iran want to keep some kind of ace in the hole when it has seen what we have done to its neighbor, Iraq, without any justification?

I think the American people should use their manners, and hear what this man has to say! At the very least, he needs to be treated with the dignity and respect that any foreign leader and, for that matter, human being, deserves.

I hope Ahmadinejad will know that not all Americans are this rude, obnoxious and yes, stupid.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ham It Up

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Two Eagles

Today out my window I saw two bald eagles circling in the sky. It's not something I see every day, and I thought it was a fitting image to mark September 11th. I was awed by the coincidence of nature's activity and my need for commemoration--I don't think anyone could have planned or orchestrated a more appropriate moment of silence.

September 11

Many people have questioned, since the very beginning, America's involvement in the events of September 11, 2001. Many are calling for an independent, international investigation. For more information see and

Union Square vigil, NYC

I was in NYC on that day and in the weeks after. The following are some excerpts from my 9-11-01 journal:

September 15, 2001

Last night at about 11:30pm I went to Union Square to take part in the vigil going on there. Part of me just wanted to go to bed, but I had not yet participated in any way in this "Day of Remembrance"--and since I have a suspicion that prayer does make a difference, I felt a sense of duty to go and add to the numbers.

The first thing that struck me as I walked from my neighborhood towards the square was the number of people in bars and night clubs--just like any other Friday night--dressed to the nines, talking fluff on their cell phones, resuming what now seems like such an inappropriate, if not meaningless, social activity. I was carrying a candle and was dressed in jeans and a sweater. Who can think about makeup and tight clothing at a time like this?

The scene in Union Square was 180 degrees from that. I was very touched by the number of people who had gathered. There were candles EVERYWHERE. Impromptu shrines were set up on the walls, the drinking fountains, in the grass. People had drawn "love" and "peace" in chalk on the base of a statue of some general on a horse, and put an American flag in his upraised hand.

There were millions of flowers, poems, photographs, drawings, murals, collages and candles upon candles. There were even people who seemed to have taken on the job of relighting the candles that had gone out. People were passing out food. I felt as if I had been transported back to the 60s and was encouraged to see so many people standing for Peace amidst a horrible attack.

In one part of the park there was a drum circle with people chanting, in another corner, a heated argument, in another, a guy with a guitar leading songs. Around the main shrine where a piece of metal from the WTC stands, people were sitting and standing in prayer and reflection. The variety of faces was fascinating. I would glance around the circle from time to time and see many new people filtering in and out. At one point, as I scanned the crowd, I saw face, face, face, dog, face. Someone from behind had held up their Greyhound so the dog could see into the circle. It made me smile. This disgrace is not only an affront to humanity...but to LIFE.

At one point a man began to shout hysterically. "Who has an ANSWER?! There are 2000 of us here. Someone MUST have the ANSWER! SOMEBODY TELL ME WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO!!!"

After sitting there for about an hour, I decided to walk through the park to experience the other groups that had gathered. There were so many forms of expression happening simultaneously, with quiet beauty and grace. I hadn't realized it right away, but there were many discussion "huddles" of people straining to hear what the speaker was saying. I joined one of these groups, and ended up standing there for the next 4 hours.

They had a "talking stick" and the rule was that only one person was permitted to speak at a time, without interruption or response. When they yielded the stick, another person could express themselves. This was the most powerful thing I've yet seen. Utter strangers discussing their feelings, their fears and anger, their criticisms of themselves and of America, pleas for peace, pleas for retaliation.

And then someone mentioned passive resistance.

I have often wondered if a time would come when I would be able to actually practice the passive resistance that I so admire in figures such as Gandhi, MLK Jr., Jesus... The question is, would passive resistance work against a terrorist mentality? It has been proven to work against oppression. Would it work against aggression?

It's absolutely fascinating to watch a Peace Movement forming right before my eyes, and so quickly on the heels of so much immediate loss of life here. There are those who demand retaliation, but often decisions made in haste and rage are the wrong ones. I think the most important need here at the moment is the dissemination of ACCURATE, OBJECTIVE historical information about America's relations with the rest of the world, particularly the middle east. We need to be educated--and fast!

September 16, 2001

It seems like a YEAR since Tuesday. And yet the individual days seem to go by very fast.

I spent last night and again today in Union Square where thousands of people still congregate to hold vigil and pay respects. I spent some time walking around to all the missing persons posters trying to feel some sense of the reality of this thing. But it's too overwhelming. There are posters plastered everywhere. On phone booths, walls, fire hydrants, trees, even cars with desperate determination. But Giuliani announced today that there are no more "john doe's" in the hospitals. Everybody has been identified. We can infer that the 5000+ that are still missing are now presumed dead.

In the park today, a group of about 100 Tibetans were gathered with prayer beads, incense and flags, chanting. In another area, a large crowd of Mexican people with their red, white and green flag, and portraits of the Virgin were calling out the names of the missing, and their countries of origin, in spanish. There are candles and wax everywhere, and the grass is trompled to mud. The chicken-wire fences that were meant to keep people off the lawns have long since been tossed aside.

The breadth of creative expression in the park is remarkable. Someone has created a giant likeness of the twin towers entirely out of flowers on the lawn. Around it, other people have added poems and quotations and candles. There are children's drawings of the world trade center being attacked by planes taped to fences. There are piles of paper cranes being strung and hung from telephone poles. There are hand made posters, paintings, sculptures--one is a giant american flag welded out of metal that people are scratching thoughts into with a metal object.

There are hippie Christians singing songs with a guitar and distributing leaflets and street preachers shouting through microphones. Other religious groups are handing out free sandwiches. The Tibetan ladies in traditional dress are handing out coca-cola in little plastic cups.

I spent most of the day with a group of jazz musicians who were playing for Peace.

There's lots of wierdness too. There's a lady dressed up like the Statue of Liberty who will let you take your picture with her if you donate to the Red Cross. She was standing up on a box with a huge crowd around explaining how she was a school teacher from Indiana...blah...blah..blah. Last night I heard someone playing "Yankee Doodle" on a piccolo. What the hell? Then there was a Broadway chorus singing "It's up to you, New York, New York." Then of course there are many small groups of musicians singing the peace ballads of the 60's. And it struck me that we have not yet had time to write our own songs about this tragedy or this upcoming war, so we're having to appropriate music from other eras and circumstances. None of it quite fits the occasion, but in one form or another, it does seem to soothe.

Probably the most disturbing sight is all the "memorabilia" that has sprung up overnight. T-shirts, hats, posters, American flags--even candles--being peddled in every shape and size. So just as we've all been reminded this week that there are ill-willed maniacs living among us, we are also confronted with the fact that many among us are quick to profit from the loss and tragedy of others.

Tomorrow the Mayor wants us all to go back to work. For most of us, work seems pretty meaningless at this point...but what else can we do?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Everything is Illuminated

My mother recommended this film to me after taking a trip to the Ukraine this summer to explore our ancestral homelands in the villages near Odessa. Our relatives were Germans from Alsace who had fled as refugees to the "bread basket" of Russia, having been invited to settle and develop that area by Catherine the Great. (See here) As mom continues to explore this side of our history, more and more fascinating details have come to light.

In this film, a young Jewish man named Jonathan, played by Elijah Wood, is a collector of his family's artifacts--strange things, like his brothers underwear or his grandmother's false teeth. His grandmother, as she lays dying, gives him a photograph of his grandfather as a young man standing next to a pregnant woman, who is not his grandmother.

Jonathan travels to the Ukraine to solve the mystery of who the woman is and encounters an old man and his hipster grandson who is also his hilarious translator. The three of them, with the old man's dog, named Sammy Davis Junior, Jr., travel throughout the countryside searching for a very small village. It is apparent that the old man has a secret that is somehow related to this place they are searching for.

The film is very funny, and also very poignant as both young men discover many new things about their grandfathers and their families' histories. The film is structured in chapters of a book that one learns, at the end, is being written by the translator for Jonathan to describe how profoundly moving their trip was for him and "to leave a record for those who may come looking."

As mom said, the film is a wonderful representation of the landscape and general feeling of the rural areas around Odessa, and it is really a great and very entertaining story. Two thumbs up.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Goodbye Pavarotti

"I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent and this is what I have devoted my life to."

-Luciano Pavarotti

I remember the first time I saw him in concert. My mother made special velvet dresses for me and my sister. I think we were the only little ones there at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Those were the days when people really dressed up to go to the symphony, and it was truly magical to glide down the red velvet staircases of Heinz Hall and count the crystals in the chandeliers. It was such a special occasion--Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland singing together.

We stood in line for over an hour after the concert waiting at the stage door where the stars were going to sign autographs. I remember dad holding my sister--I was too big to be held, and too excited to be tired. It was cold. Dad was wearing a woolen Italian cape over his tuxedo. I can picture vividly how handsome he looked and how warm the cape was as I stood under it to stay warm.

Finally the line began to move. I remember Pavarotti being very kind, and Kristen and I received special attention from him and Joan Sutherland for being so well-behaved (and awake) at such a late hour. I still have that autograph.

I saw him again--standing room only--in NYC several years ago. I went by myself, again in velvet, and was enthralled by his voice. I always have been. I hoped to meet him again, but there was no opportunity.

It is hard for me to lose him right now, not only for the great talent that the world loses in his passing, but also because he represents a significant part of my childhood. He is a significant factor in my fond memories of my father, whose health is ailing at the moment, and who may never return to his most vital self. Pavarotti's death is deeply saddening in its own right, and as an untimely marker of the transition in my father's life.

It is so hard to lose the people we love.