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After the draw down

Shipley Swamp Looking toward Nabnasset Lake, across the beaver pool

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Twin Towers

I read in today’s Globe that a grade school teacher observed that teaching about 9/11 is like teaching about the civil war. The kids in her class didn’t experience 9/11 so for them 9/11 is history. Is it becoming history — in that negative way that Henry Ford evoked when he said “History is bunk” —   for us? Are we going to forget?

Have we already forgotten that none of   the issues related to 9/11 have been resolved? As a nation we still don’t know what hit us or why. We have fought and still fight wars without satisfaction and without settling anything. We’ve apparently learned little.

The terrorists knocked down two symbols of American financial might. Recently some of the greatest financial firms were knocked down by their own stupidity. 

I think these events are related. And unfortunately the destruction of financial institutions is out of the terrorist play book

That our financial system is structurally  unfair and leaves many people disenfranchised and without hope is difficult to refute. The American middle class and above has been living in a dream world, disconnected from the realities of life for most people around the globe. The death and destruction of 9/11 could have awakened us to that reality. But it did not. The unfair economics of greed is still our way of doing business. The cruelty of structural violence and structural prejudice that crushes millions of people every day is unfelt by most of us living comfortable lives in the States.

Paul Farmer is one American who has fought structural prejudice for all of his professional life. He does this in Haiti and right here at home. We need more Paul Farmers and fewer chicken hawks who want to send unmanned drones to kill enemies and let the collateral damage fall where it may.

We have a volunteer army that relieves most of our children of sacrifice. Is this sensible given our situation? Or is military power any kind of solution at all? The last 60 years of our history tends to teach us that it is not.  Perhaps instead of sending armies into places under distress we should be sending Doctors and agricultural and economic experts. Or volunteers like  Joyce Tannian  who learned from 9/11 that service to humankind would make her happy. She founded Water is Life Kenya and spends most of her time helping the people of Kenya live better lives by helping them have water; something both precious and scarce in Kenya. Before she decided to serve in this way, Joyce lived in Manhattan and on 9/11 learned a lesson — about what is important in life — well.

May God bless Paul and Joyce and may their numbers increase!

If our nation and people started to use  power to help the helpless in the world instead of  constantly trying to impose our will or “protect our interests around the world” — goals that reenforce structural violence against people —  we might find that we would be loved by the same people who now hate or distrust us. Sounds like a dream? I think it is our only way forward. The military solutions of the last 60 years have not produced good results. Isn’t time to try something new?

In any case let’s not forget 9/11 — not until we learn what Paul knew along and what 9/11 taught Joyce.


Did we lose our innocence on 9/11/2001? What did we learn? Did we learn anything?

I was dazed by the event not reacting until much later.  Did the bastards who did it even know what the impact would be? Did they care about anything but their anger, their own needs? Did they understand the death and horror they inflicted on strangers?

What should we care about now? Anger? Defiance? Revenge? Or should it have driven us to our core? Should we have learned what to care about? Yes but did we?

Should it have taught us that we are one with the terrorists? Reminded us that our nation has used terrorist methods against our enemies?

Why are we enemies with Muslim extremists? Must we hate them? Should we? Or is love the answer, all we need?

Our leaders tell us we were attacked because of jealousy and hate, because our enemies hate us for our freedom and are jealous of our life style. Is that it?

Are we too quick to defend “our interests abroad (oil)?” Too ignorant of the needs and lives of brothers and sisters around the world? Yes? But if so does it justify what was done?

Baha’ullah wrote that there must be a spiritual solution to the economic problem or words to that effect. But that leaves it up to us. What does it mean anyway? What are we to do, live for the benefit of others? Maybe that’s the key.

Baha’i’s, many of them wait for ‘the calamity’ foretold by Baha’ullah to teach mankind a final lesson and drive us all to God. But we have had calamity after calamity and yet we seem not to learn. And will some may have turned to God, others just turn away. Calamity seems not to be our salvation (for which I am grateful.)

So the West spends billions on space exploration and particle accelerators — we want to know where we came from. And the West spends millions on aid to the needy — we want to feel as if we are helping.

Don’t we have our priorities backwards? Our interests come first, second our science and exploration, a distraction from work to feed and heal the poor — which seems to be our last priority — and build a safe, healthy world for everyone not just for Americans or ourselves.

Sorry this is a ramble. I will try it again if I ever have a moment of clarity. But right now I think the lesson is that we in the West are too selfish and cut off from the world. And that people are capable of anything — the holocaust and WWII should have taught us that.

The Twin Tower destroyers and their leaders were and are unspeakable bastards but we have been behaving like spoiled children.

Do you think we have learned anything from 9/11? If so please tell us what you think it is.

Shortly after the Twin Towers came down

Shortly after the Twin Towers came down


Brooklyn Bridge

A bridge tower complete with the wrapped wire cables invented by John Roebling

Hart Crane wrote the best tribute to the world’s greatest bridge that I know of:

To Brooklyn Bridge

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty–

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
–Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,–
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,–

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path–condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

I read somewhere years ago that Crane wrote this while living, unbeknownst to Hart, in the same apartment wherein Washington Roebling, chief bridge engineer and son of John, the designer of the bridge, lived out his final, painful days suffering from the bends that struck him while he dived under water to check pilings progress. Suffering there he watched the crew continue work on what was becoming the largest suspension bridge in the world and the tallest structure in New York at that time. Finally Washington Roebling watched as Grover Cleveland, Chester Arthur and many of the Citizens of New York opened the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge opened in 1883.

Washington’s father, John died from tetanus in 1869, two years after starting work on the bridge, after sustaining an injury that crushed his toes on one foot.

Last weekend I walked across the bridge and back with my daughter Robin. She was visiting Brooklyn to accompany her boy friend to a crossword puzzle conference and had some time to spend with me. It was a pleasure to be with her — so bright and smart, beautiful and uplifting — like the day we shared.

We had a wonderful day. In fact my weekend was one to remember. Friday I took the train to Manhattan and then the subway to Brooklyn. I felt capable and proud to navigate Penn Station at 6 pm on a Friday – my old New York instincts kicked in and I had a good trip reading on the train and people watching the whole time (an old hobby).

On Friday evening, after checking into the Comfort In Brooklyn Bridge (it actually in South Brooklyn) I took a cab to the Williamsburg section and had dinner at the Like the Spice gallery – Marisa Sage’s fine art gallery, appropriately located on Roebling street. (http://likethespice.com/) I met some great folks there and enjoyed a wonderful meal catered by Scottadito Osteria Toscana, an Italian restaurant in Park Slope on Union Street, described as ‘rustic, traditional Italian.’ Can’t say anything about the atmosphere, but the food on Friday was superb – fresh, natural without that over spiced restaurant taste and after taste (they use natural and organic ingredients when ever possible).

The two artists currently featured at the gallery spoke: Rachel Beach and Nora Hertling. Both were elegant and articulate describing their excellent and intriguing work without pretense in a way that I found engrossing. I learned something about the aesthetics  for a fine artist. The work is so particular — its about a small detail in life — not big questions or observations but small ones honed to perfection. Lovely people and lovely pieces!

The hospitality provided by Marisa, her father (who was a delight to talk to) and the other guests put me at ease and provided the cushion needed for a most fine evening!

But spending the day with Robin was the real highlight of the weekend. We took in the promenade in Brooklyn Heights overlooking downtown Manhattan and the bridge. We visited The River Café (one of the best) and Robin made reservations for Sunday night (don’t know if she had dinner there – a jacket is required Sunday evenings and Jim did not have one with – question was – Macy’s or no).

Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building from the promenade

Next we started across the bridge. Now the weather forecast was for snow and or rain. So we thought the Brooklyn Museum would be a better bet. But once we started out it was clear that it was clear – and bright, sunny with a gusty wind that ‘made our hearts a dancer.’

Empire from Brooklun Bridge

The Empire State Building from the Brooklyn Bridge

Wedding couple, colorful photographer, cyclists sweeping over, crews of friends photographing each other, gulls winging and the city stretched out before us and all the while the bridge reminded us that New York is a fine old city ans seaport (being on the bridge is like being on a sailing ship).

Colorful PhotographerWedding Couple

Some folks enjoying the bridge as we passed by (no that’s not Robin)

On the promenade we were reminded of 9/11 and the missing towers. But the bridge beckoned with promises that what made New York and Brooklyn special was still alive. The bridge, the Woolworth Building and the entire sweeping vista represented a New York in its heyday so our hearts were uplifted.

Somehow this was like a homecoming for me. To be with a beloved daughter in the city of my birth (was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1943) on a beautiful pre-spring day did make my heart a dancer. It’s a weekend I’ll long remember.

Thank you daughter. Thank you bridge. May you both enjoy many years of life and love.

(Then on Sunday, Aurora and I joined the First Parish Church of Westford Massachusetts in a ceremony that touched us both. This was a bridge crossing of another kind, one that I will write about later on, making the weekend one of trips and crossings from start to finish. For me this joining includes become a Unitarian or at least moving in that direction. I don’t know exactly where this will lead but the trip so far has been a delight…..(many thanks to Reverend Cindy and all the new friends we have made at First Parish Church United.)


New York Skyline 1987

Is it stupidity or is depravity our enemy?

No, I think our deep seated enemy is our own stupidity. Our lack of ability to think clearly in the face of a world that is so much more complex than ever before because now we are forced to live together.

Today belief systems and ways of life that hold martyrdom as one of the highest achievements no longer effect just the followers — they effect us all. Just as belief systems that completely outlaw sex tend toward human extinction, beliefs that include a love of martyrdom lead to death and depravity. Those who follow them may not necessarily be stupid but they tend to behave in a less than intelligent manner. A hallmark of intelligence in a species is the ability to adopt to changes for the purpose of survival. As a species we are not doing that very well these days.

Intentional death and suffering in the form or war or terror — in today’s world — are always the result of poor choices and brutal thinking. When we do it and when Islamic extremists do it.

Our shock and awe in Iraq was a terrorist tactic in retaliation for terror that was brought about by people other than the Iraqis. The terrorists that attacked us on 9/11 did so (as far as we know) in the name of God. That’s not just gosh awful and murderous, its absurd and stupid behavior. But so is our behavior in Iraq.

At the start of the war we used ‘shock and awe’ to stun the Iraqi nation and bring it to its knees. Can anyone tell me that this was not terror?

Governance and daily life is more complicated now than ever in history. We must evolve — become a more thoughtful, kind and intelligent species or we will cease to exist.

And to those who might tell me about the coming of God in some shape or form — The World Order of Baha’ullah and the rapture included — save your ink. It will not work. In fact that line of thought will lead as it always has to more martyrs and more death in the name of God.

As Christ is reported to have said: “The Kingdom Of God is within you.” If it exists or has a chance of existing it must be found within the human heart, which modern brain science is finding is a function of the brain.

Look now into your heart. If you do not live a thoughtful life, if you do not measure your impact on earth everyday, you are contributing to the stupidity of the human race. It is stupidity that will get us at last, and soon unless we wise up.

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