The Day Before

On the evening of September 10, 2001, I attended a talk by former Senator George Mitchell at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan. He spoke mostly about his book Making Peace, an account of his role in the negotiations that led to Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement in 1998. 

Mitchell’s talk is available online. Fortunately C-SPAN’s Book TV recorded it. It’s long, but worth listening to, and the actual speech ends around the 44 minute mark; you can skip the Q&A.

I had been to Ireland with a friend in 1999 and thought it a beautiful country. We went off-season (in October) and were free to mosey around the country without crowds of tourists. One of our first visits was to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. It was a weekday morning (and, anyway, not our faith) so we were just there to admire the architecture. We happened to arrive just as the boys’ choir was finishing practice and the Minister led everyone assembled–the choir, tourists, and a few locals who seemed to know that this would take place–in a prayer for peace. Being vaguely aware of the previous year’s peace accord, it seemed particularly meaningful.

We were somewhat alarmed, on a later walk through Dublin, to see posters about an upcoming election from the Sinn Féin party. That’s the legitimate political party of the Irish Republican Army, who before the peace agreement had been responsible for some of “The Troubles.” But they’d gone legit and their political candidates were, to all appearances, following the law. Still, it was a little jarring in our otherwise relaxing vacation.

So as I listened to George Mitchell speak, I thought about Ireland. And I thought about the United States, where political violence was extremely rare and usually confined to isolated incidents. Yes, we have our problems, our own injustices–but people didn’t worry about bombings in our marketplaces or other public areas. Military personnel carrying rifles don’t patrol our streets.

I felt proud, perhaps comforted. Looking back, very soon after, I would describe that feeling as “smug.” 

Because the next morning, as I was showering and preparing to start the day, everything changed.

 

Replies to My Spam

My spam folder gets more mail than I do. It amazes me what strange comments are offered up from “readers” with names like “best trash removal” and sharing dodgy links to YouTube and Polish websites. Most of them are not worth reading and a few are downright unreadable, as if a dictionary had gotten hideously drunk and puked up random words.

But once in a while there’s something that is almost worth sharing, despite the non-name name and dodgy links. So I’ve collected the highlights from my spam folder for the past few months and will reply to them here.

Hi! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

I’m happy to oblige. This is a WordPress site.

First of all I want to say great blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I’ve had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Continue reading

They Swarmed Us: What Would Happen if the Wealthy Rebelled?

A remarkable thing happened recently. The Oxfam Action Corps in New York City hosted a Hunger Banquet and things didn’t go according to plan.

That’s a good thing.

Spoiler alert: The best way to understand a Hunger Banquet is to actually attend one, no expectations. It’s a participatory event to make issues of hunger and poverty real, and words can’t do it justice. So if you’re planning to attend one in the near future, I recommend you wait to read this after the event. But if you’ve attended a Hunger Banquet before, of if you’re not sure where or when you might be able to, read on!

We had a good turn-out at St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn on October 14, about 50 people in a venue that supposedly holds 70, but still it seemed crowded.

As guests enter a Hunger Banquet they are asked to pick a ticket from a basket. Those tickets describe hypothetical people all around the world, divided into the high-income group (about 15-20% of the total), the middle-income group (about 30% of the total), and the low-income group (about half the participants). These represent the global demographics of rich, middle and poor. Continue reading

Close to Home

The post I was preparing for Blog Action Day has been scrapped. It was too academic, too impersonal, and now much too irrelevant.

This past weekend I was reminded that even in the most developed nations, where rule of law and respect for human rights are the norm, there are those who act out of hate. They single out targets based on irrational fear and bigotry. Yes, even here in one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities on Earth.

Sadly, there have always been isolated incidents of hate in New York City. The flip side of our wonderful diversity is that it isn’t always easy for people of different cultures, religions, languages and opinions to live side-by-side in close quarters. Usually this creates a stimulating environment of contrasts.nOccasionally there are flare-ups.

Continue reading