Sam Harris on Trump vs. Clinton

trump-clintonToday’s post  is the first – and very likely the last – political post of my blogging career.  The reason for this is simple: I am one of the most apolitical people I know.  Ever since 1964, when Goldwater ran against Johnson, I’ve tried to avoid political discussions, which to me seem unproductive at best and divisive at worst.  Whenever I hear a political argument, or am tempted to advance one myself, I hear a little voice inside me saying, “But what about this?” or, “What about the other hand?”  The closest I come to a personal political philosophy is a paraphrase of Newton’s Third Law: “For every political argument, there is an equal and opposite rebuttal.”

So why have I chosen to turn my back on my apoliticism now, after more than half a century?  The answer is two-fold.  First, the upcoming presidential election here in the United States is, to a greater extent than ever before, more about character than about issues, and I feel on much more solid ground evaluating the candidates’ personal strengths and weaknesses, which are on display daily for everyone to see, than their political positions, which are subject to endless debate.  Second, I recently discovered Sam Harris: American author, neuroscientist, and philosopher.  Harris sees clearly – and articulates precisely – what most of us see only dimly and cannot articulate at all.  He has strong opinions on the subject of Trump vs. Clinton.  I’m convinced he’s right, and am happy to let him speak for me.

Harris regularly publishes a podcast, “Waking Up with Sam Harris,” and the video below is taken from his update of June 15.  While there is obviously more that could be said about Trump vs. Clinton, what follows is enough.  As Harris says, a lesser-of-two-evils argument makes perfect sense here.  Take a few minutes, listen to what he has to say, and judge for yourself.

Derrick Robinson

Published in: on July 27, 2016 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I Can’t Sleep in Your Prayers

Last August, my wife Susie and I received an email from our niece Shahmin, in which she announced that she had joined a group of volunteers that would be traveling to Bulgaria and Greece in the fall to help support the staff of A21, a world-wide organization dedicated to combating forced labor and sex trafficking.  Shortly after her return, we received another email from Shahmin in which she described some of her experiences and impressions from her trip.  Even while reading it, I knew that I wanted to share it with readers of this blog.

Shahmin’s letter needs no further introduction, but if, after reading it, you would like to know more about A21 and their mission to equip young people with strategies to avoid becoming victims of trafficking, you can visit their website by clicking here.

Shahmin's Team of Volunteers

Team of Volunteers

Hi all,

I hope this letter finds you well!  I just wanted to send word and some photos to you about my experience during my recent trip to Bulgaria, and what it meant to me.

When I first conceived of taking this trip, I was unsure how or why I was going.  I know that for a lot of my friends it was out of the blue.  I had felt a strong desire that I just needed to go, even though for me it was out of my comfort zone and very different than anything I have ever done before in my life.  I also had heard some stories and statistics of how real and growing this problem of sex/human trafficking is.  Things like 27 million are being trafficked today – a fact that slavery is bigger than it has ever been!

I am so grateful that I was able to go.  Things became so real to me about this growing epidemic.  One of the stories that really stood out to me happened one day in the A21 Office (the organization we supported and for which we raised funds).  I was looking around and noticing the pictures of different Roma kids (the kids that are targeted for trafficking purposes in Bulgaria).  I was about to take a picture of this one particular photo because I thought the baby in it was so adorable with absolutely beautiful eyes!

The photographer who had taken this photo came up to me and asked if I would like the story behind it.  He then went on to tell how the prior year he had volunteered and been in this Roma village when he took this photo.  He made a comment to the father about how beautiful his baby was.  The father then said, “50 euros?” putting his kid up for sale.  I had heard this story before the trip and it was one of the triggers to prod me to go.  It became all the more real when I was drawn to this baby’s picture and met the photographer who took it.  JoAnne, who led this trip, told of how extreme poverty breeds desperation.  Suddenly my problems and my worries seemed insignificant after seeing the condition of those who are truly suffering.

A21 SHELTER DAY

One of my favorite days was when we went to clean the shelter for the girls who had been rescued from sex trafficking.  We did not get to meet them and we were not told how many even lived there (it is a very guarded location for their safety, and is often changed to keep the Mafia from targeting them).  All we knew was that two of them had babies.  We were able to leave some items for them and to buy scarves and jewelry that the girls had made in order to support themselves.  It is these small little gestures that were so huge to them – to see that the things they made were actually sold and gone when they came back.  It was awesome for me to demonstrate through a small gesture of cleaning their home that there are people out there who care very much about them.  I was able to drop off the letters that many of you wrote at my dessert fundraiser and I know how encouraging that must be for them.

We left the girls with a small bag of beauty products that had been donated by my employer, as well as other samples that had been donated by other girls on my team.  We wrote on each bag “You are beautiful” in Bulgarian.  I heard later that the girls were so excited and felt so touched that we came and did this.  It was amazing to me that these little efforts meant so much to them.

ROMA VILLAGE

shahmin_1Later on that afternoon we were able to go to one of the Roma villages that was targeted for trafficking.  We played with the kids and gave them games, toys and crafts.  It was cool to hear that just a year before the kids would not even step out or were hesitant to do so, and now they ran up to the vans in anticipation of their friends.  We brought winter coats for the children but I had been working in the craft room and had missed them giving out these coats.  When later I went out, I saw a little girl walking around in one of the coats I had brought.  I asked to get a picture of this!  It was quite a thrill to see how I could help meet someone’s needs and wants.  A $25 coat from Ross can help a little girl keep warm for the winter.  I felt honored to see this and see the joy of that little girl wearing that new pink coat.

AWARENESS EVENTS

The rest of the events involved learning about A21’s efforts and being part of larger demonstration events.  Our first demonstration was in Bulgaria near the A21 office and the local university.  We handed out fliers that had stories of girls who had been trafficked while looking for summer jobs.  We wore duct tape and had our hands chained while handing these fliers out.  One of the girls after the event said that two guys circled around the block and back and asked her, “How much?”

shahmin_6

Our other event was in Thessaloniki, Greece, a heavily trafficked area due to its being a major port city.  We handed out simple black and white fliers that looked like alerts, in the same block where 3 girls had been trafficked just a month prior.  Most of the Greek people were alarmed by the information and we heard after the event that many did call our A21 hotline that night to report suspicious behavior.  On this same walk the Greek leader in our group actually came across a job posting that was clearly a scam asking for “models”.  We continued down the block ripping down these posters.

THE PEOPLE

One of the last stories I’ll leave you with was about one girl who I got to meet who came from a Roma village and had come from difficult circumstances.  Some years ago she had come to a meeting that JoAnne held and had asked for help finding work and a place to sleep.  Upon leaving, JoAnne said, “I will be praying for a place to sleep for you.”  The girl replied, “I can’t sleep in your prayers.”  JoAnne made it to her car, but turned back and invited her to accompany her home.  She has now become such a significant part of A21 and JoAnne’s family.  It was truly touching to see how her life changed.  It was something else to see her hold JoAnne’s new grandson and how she loved the Roma kids when I was told that previously she didn’t care for kids.  Now she is the connection between the A21 team and her own village.

Shahmin and Bubba Rosa

Shahmin and Bubba Rosa

These are just some of the stories and circumstances that happened.  Personally, it became apparent to me how important “relationship” is.  I loved the host families we stayed with.  They were so supportive and loving.  I loved Bubba (grandma) Rosa, who always had such a smile on her face and was happy to cook for us and feed us!  I was feeling so ugly and down before the trip and how beautiful and very loved she made me feel.  She would say how beautiful I was in Bulgarian about my ugly passport photo!  She even gave me her homemade jam to take back with me to the U.S.  She reminded me so much of my Pakistani Grandma, so welcoming and loving.  Although Bubba couldn’t communicate with me in English, I still read her loud and clear.  Bubba Rosa’s daughter Julia, and Julia’s husband Emil, were an amazing host family.  Only Julia could speak English.  They told of how they had been in this same one bedroom/one bathroom flat for over 30 some years.  Julia and her mom Rosa had to share the living room where Rosa now sleeps while the Communist government put two strangers in the main bedroom.  Julia and Emil got married and still shared the living room with Bubba until the old couple in the bedroom died.  My roommate and I slept in their main bedroom while they slept in their kitchen.  How encouraging this family was.  We laughed so much and I looked forward to dinners just sitting and enjoying them – they, by far, were my favorite part of the trip, and for the opportunity to meet these people I am forever grateful.

I think that is what I came to realize coming home, just how important our relationships are and showing people that you can be interrupted from your schedule/life to talk and laugh and be there, just sitting, no TV, no deadlines, just enjoying their stories and sharing yours.  You all were so supportive in my efforts to raise funds, donate toys, beauty supplies – anything you could, that I realized how blessed I am.  How lucky and grateful I am to have you all in my life, so many compassionate and loving people.  How small gestures turn some peoples’ lives around or give them renewed hope and love.  How building those relationships with those kids might help them have someone to turn to that they can trust so they can avoid the traps laid out for them.

Thank you all so much for giving me this once in a lifetime experience.  I greatly value your friendships and support and I realize what truly amazing people I have in my life.  Your efforts helped those who have nothing, to realize how much people whom they have never met, care about what happens to them.  You helped me to see the truth in the saying, “Compassion is not compassion until you’re willing to be interrupted.”  Thank you for letting your lives be interrupted for this trip.

Gratefully yours,

Shahmin

Published in: on December 31, 2013 at 1:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Remembering 9/11

The attack on the United States that took place ten years ago today was one of those rare events that etch themselves so indelibly upon our memory that for the rest of our lives we can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard news of it.  In this respect, it was like the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and for an earlier generation, the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The attack on the World Trade Center had a certain immediacy for me because I had been to New York and visited the World Trade Center just over a year before, in May of 2000.  I had traveled to New York with my son David’s high school choir, where we sang Poulenc’s “Gloria” at Carnegie Hall.

One of the many highlights of that trip was a visit to the World Trade Center, but before I went there, I went to the Empire State Building, where I took this picture.  The view here is toward the south, and from this perspective, the North Tower (also known as Tower 1 or WTC 1) is on the right.  To give you some idea of the size of the two buildings, the spire atop the North Tower was 360 feet tall, the length of a football field from goal post to goal post.

This picture was taken from a boat on the way to Liberty Island to visit the Statue of Liberty.  From this perspective, looking northeast, you can see at once how the World Trade Center defined and dominated the skyline of lower Manhattan.

Here is another view of the two towers taken from the south.  Both towers were 110 stories high.  The South Tower (WTC 2, on the right in this picture) was struck on this side, between the 78th and 84th floors.  The North Tower, which was the first one struck but the second to collapse, was struck on the opposite side, between the 94th and 98th floors.

This picture and the next were both taken from the indoor observation area on the 107th floor of the South Tower.  In the picture above, you see the south wall of the North Tower, as well as the massive spire that gave the tower a total height of 1728 feet.

In the picture below, taken from a slightly different vantage point, you see the east wall of the North Tower, and in the distance, midtown Manhattan, with the Empire State Building faintly visible in the center of the picture.

In the video that follows, recorded just four days after 9/11, Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBC Orchestra in as heartfelt and poignant a performance of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” as you will ever hear.  This performance was intended as a tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11, and while the video was put together in that same spirit, it was intended also as a tribute to those who survived, particularly the emergency services personnel who lost so many of their colleagues.  A total of 411 fire fighters, policemen, and emergency medical personnel lost their lives on 9/11.  This video captures the disbelief, shock, and grief of those who worked with them side by side.  These are hard men, brave men, many of whom had spent years facing death and disaster in one guise or another, and yet, we see in their faces and eyes that they are utterly overwhelmed.

 

Published in: on September 11, 2011 at 6:45 pm  Comments (2)  
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– The Assassination of John F. Kennedy – 46 Years Later

October, 1963 – My Sophomore Year

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who was killed on this date in 1963.  At the time of his death, I was a sophomore at George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado.  I had recently turned 15 years old, and had begun keeping a diary only the month before.

I watched the non-stop news coverage of the assassination obsessively, waiting for some detail or explanation that would help make sense of the inconceivable.  Perhaps more real to me than the image of Kennedy as President was my image of him as a family man.  He was only 46 years old when he was killed.  His beautiful wife Jackie was 34, his daughter Caroline almost 6, and his son John Jr. almost 3.  Regardless of one’s politics, they were our First Family, and their loss was our loss.

Writing in my diary was one way I tried to come to grips with something totally outside the realm of my experience, but not for days would I escape a dreamlike sense of unreality.  With a tip of my hat to the boy I was then, I have reproduced below my three entries relating to this historic event.

Friday, November 22, 1963

What a day this has been.  The events of this day still seem unreal to me.  The date, November 22, 1963 will go down in history as one of the most earth-shaking days in this century.

For me it started quite normally.  I was wakened at about 7:00 o’clock.  I dressed and went downstairs.  Mom took me to school because the temperature was twenty-seven degrees.  Today was to be the day of the Thespian play, “The Late Christopher Bean,” and after fourth period I went directly to the ticket booth to sell tickets.  Nobody was in the booth, and this was strange because someone should have sold tickets fourth period.  The treasurer was there and she asked me to go to her office to get the box which contained the tickets, the key to the ticket booth, and five dollars in change.  As I left for her office, I saw a girl lying on the cement deck by the patio door.  I heard someone say that she had hit her head on a metal banister.  I ran to the nurse’s clinic, getting there just before two other girls.  I explained to the nurse that a girl had been hurt, and left the rest up to her.  I then went to the treasurer’s office.  When I returned to the ticket booth, I prepared to sell some tickets.  I saw the girl being carried away on a stretcher.  Just then [School Principal] Mr. Waldman’s voice came over the P.A. system.  He said something to the effect that there had been a great tragedy.  At first I thought he was talking about the unfortunate girl.  He continued, saying, “The President of the United States and the Governor of Texas have been shot.”  I don’t remember the rest of what he said except that they were both in critical condition.  I was completely stunned.  The blood all rushed to my face and my skin became very hot.  Later, when Karen [another Drama Club member] came into the booth, we said very little.  It was just too hard to understand.  In seventh period we were told that Mr. Kennedy had died.  This only confirmed my belief.  It is still hard to grasp the fact that he has been assassinated.  It all seems so unreal.

Saturday, November 23, 1963

I am finally able to grasp the fact that President Kennedy is dead.  Our family has spent almost the entire day watching the television and I am able to relate most of yesterday’s tragic events.

President and Mrs. Kennedy, with Governor and Mrs. Connally, moments before the assassination.

President Kennedy had gone to Texas; although it was classified as a non-political trip to heal the Democratic Party split, most people were sure that it had political connotations, next year being an election year.  He had made a speech in Fort Worth and had then flown to Dallas.  He was in his famous bubble-topped Lincoln Continental with Mrs. Kennedy and Governor and Mrs. John Connally of Texas when three shots rang out.  Two of them hit President Kennedy.  The third hit Governor Connally.  Mrs. Kennedy screamed, “Oh God, he’s been hit.”  The time was 11:30 a.m. MST.  The car then rushed to Parkland Hospital where Kennedy was rushed to the Emergency Room.  The Governor was also rushed to a separate Emergency Room.  Doctors worked frantically for about thirty minutes but at noon he was pronounced dead.  Governor Connally was in critical condition.  President Kennedy had been hit by two bullets, one in the brain, the other in the chest.  Governor Connally had been hit by one, which went through his collarbone, punctured a lung, broke three ribs, and passed out of his body.

There is a prime suspect in the shooting, Lee Harvey Oswald.  He is a self-styled Communist.

President Johnson was sworn into office on the plane that carried President Kennedy to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.  He is our thirty-sixth president.

I don’t think whoever killed Mr. Kennedy could have thought about the profound effect it would have on people of the United States and of the world.  Monday is a day of national mourning.  There will be no school in Denver and in most other cities in the United States.  This assassination has so much effect on this nation and the world that it is impossible to comprehend it.

Tuesday, November 26, 1963

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald

There has been so much that has happened in such a short amount of time that it is very hard to grasp the enormity of it.  Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspect in President Kennedy’s assassination, was himself murdered Sunday.  He was being transferred from the city to the county jail when a man, Jack Ruby, stepped out of the crowd of reporters, put a gun into the stomach of Oswald, and pulled the trigger.  Oswald groaned and slumped to the floor.  Police grabbed Ruby and immediately took him into custody.  Oswald was taken to Parkland Hospital, the hospital where President Kennedy died.  He died in a room only ten feet from where Kennedy died.

Maybe tomorrow someone will shoot the man who shot the man who shot President Kennedy.  What a mess.  Who has gained anything?

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 11:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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