The 100th Anniversary of the Wall Street Bombing

At 12:01 pm on September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded in the financial district of Manhattan in New York City. 30 people died instantly with 8 more deaths to follow. 143 additional people were injured. It was the deadliest terror attack on American soil up to that point.

According to Wikipedia, this crime was never solved, but it is suspected that it was carried out by Italian anarchists. It had to do with postwar social unrest, labor struggles, and anti-capitalist agitation. (Sound familiar?)

The bomb rolled up on a horse drawn carriage, times being what they were. It consisted of 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of shrapnel. Given that there was a timer, you’d think the terrorist would have had the decency to save the horse, but no. The driver escaped, though. Of course.

The explosion mostly took out young, lower level employees; messengers, clerks and the like. That hardly seems fair. But of course none of this was fair.

It also caused 2 million dollars in property damage, which would be worth nearly 26 million today. It was no accident that this happened at lunch hour at the busiest intersection of Wall Street. You can still see remnants of the damage to this day.

Needless to say, trading on the New York Stock Exchange was suspended immediately. James Saul, aged 17, took a car and spent a good deal of time transporting 30 people to hospital. I bet he turned out to be an amazing person. Unfortunately, that information seems to be lost to history.

So anxious were they to get back to business as usual that they cleaned the area up that night, destroying a lot of evidence. But flyers were found that said, “ Free the political prisoners, or it will be sure death for all of you. American Anarchist Fighters.” It is now assumed that the political prisoners referred to were Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who were erroneously arrested (and later electrocuted) for murdering two people.

So there you have it. A bit of history to enjoy while eating your corn flakes this morning. You’re welcome.

Not a good day to be on Wall Street.

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Absentee Colonialism: A Fable

Once upon a time, in the heart of your beloved country, there was a people that we now call the Others. History shows that this place had been their home since at least 1150 B.C. They lived here, loved here, built their communities here. This was home.

But your people needed a home, too. And so, about a hundred years ago, with the help of rich and powerful allies, you moved in. A more accurate term would be “occupy”. You occupied a land that had already been a home to the Others.

At various times, you’ve used warfare and violence to support your claim. Your military might, provided by allies, is unsurpassed. You’ve locked the Others into smaller and smaller areas, hoping they would just disappear. You’ve restricted their movements and their ability to earn a living. You’ve imprisoned them, and attempted to politically expunge them from the record of the world.

You’ve tried to portray their often violent protests regarding your home invasion, as outrageous, terrorist acts. How dare they be angry in any way? What gives them the right? This is your country, bought and paid for by powerful allies. Nothing else matters.

And yet the Palestinians persist. How annoying. How inconvenient.

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Are We Having a National Stroke, or What?

Please explain. How is it that our elected officials can make so many self-destructive and nationally-destructive choices and yet still remain in power? We are becoming an international embarrassment.

Do you have any idea how backward and ignorant we look as a nation when the only other countries on the PLANET that aren’t going along with the Paris Climate Accord are Syria and Nicaragua? Yes, let’s hitch our wagon to a star made of coal, even though it’s destroying the world, and is an increasingly outmoded form of energy. Who needs to prepare for the future? Why be on the cutting edge? While we’re at it, why don’t we subsidize the corset stay industry, and the coalition to promote powdered wigs?

Does anyone think that history is going to look back on this fiasco and say, “Woot! Brilliant choice, Donald!”

Oh, and single payer health care? Who needs that? Who needs health care at all? Let’s decrease the surplus population, since it seems to be against life-saving vaccines anyway! Poor health is really a lifestyle choice, after all.

Oh, and the increasing number of white males engaging in hate crimes and domestic terrorism? Let’s ignore them. Surely they will go away on their own, just like police violence is going away on its… oh. Wait. It’s increasing, too? Temporary glitch, no doubt.

And education is highly overrated. The more ignorant you are, the better the choices you are bound to make (see again: resistance to vaccinations). This administration is living proof of that!

Have we had a national stroke, or what? Why aren’t we doing anything about this insanity? Is this your idea of America being great? Then, yay, us! I guess.

The glimmer of hope, the one bright light, is that I just read an article that says that several U.S. states and cities plan to uphold the Paris Accord in SPITE of our “leader”. That’s a step in the right direction. Now it’s time to clean house. That big one on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Peace Day

If I were getting a masters degree in world history, my thesis would be an attempt to answer this question: Was there even one day in the recorded history of mankind when no one on the planet was at war? I’ve honestly wondered that my entire life.

Of course, you’d have to create a firm definition of war first. For example, America may have tried to call the war in Vietnam a police action, but I’m sure those covered in napalm were pretty convinced they were at war. Perhaps “non-peace” would be a better term.

By that definition, it would be easy to eliminate huge swaths of time. World Wars I and II. Civil wars. Revolutions. Invasions. Pogroms. Genocide. Hostile occupations. Coups d’etat.

After that, you’d be left with a patchwork quilt of time frames, and you’d have to look at each country and/or culture’s individual history. I’d suggest you go with the big and/or influential countries first. America. Russia. China. England. They are the troublemakers. They’d eliminate a bunch of dates on your calendar. (Of course, reconciling the various calendars so that we’re sure we’re discussing the same day would be an additional challenge.)

Then perhaps go to the more tribal areas of the globe. Whenever you create a scenario that is “us” vs. “them”, you are sure to have conflict. Should we count terrorist activity? If people are getting killed, I’d say yes.

I guess my point is, humans in general are a violent species. I want there to be a day that we can all look to and say, “See? We are capable of peace.” Just one day. I need to know that day exists to give us all hope that it’s really achievable.

I hate to say it, but I doubt we’ll find it.

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How People Become Radicalized

Nothing makes me feel more bitter and cynical than feeling that I’m being treated unfairly. My mother would say, “Life isn’t fair.” Yeah, ma, I know. But that doesn’t give people a free pass to take advantage of that atmosphere and pile on. You still have the moral, ethical, and often legal obligation to do the right thing. Otherwise we have chaos and anarchy.

Without going into detail, recently I was screwed royally by an organization that pretends to believe in justice and equity. This was an organization that I trusted and relied on, so I’m feeling a little at sea. I don’t know what to do with my anger and frustration. I feel as if I could implode under the sheer weight of my righteous indignation.

And when I get pissed off, I cry. I’ve been crying quite a lot in the past few days. Not that that does me any good.

But this experience has given me a bit of insight. First of all, when counting my blessings, I realize that I have a great many blessings to count. If this organization’s douchebaggery is my biggest problem, then I’m quite fortunate indeed.

But it has given me a tiny taste of what it must be like to become so frustrated by the systems that hold you down that you feel forced to act out. It has made me see how a person becomes an activist, a protester, or, worst case scenario, a terrorist. Not that I’m advocating the latter. I am a pacifist to the very marrow of my being. I’m just saying I now get it. I may not approve, but I get it.

If this is my current level of anger and frustration, I can’t even imagine what it would be if I were trapped in a situation where my country was at threat from outside forces, or I perceived that my religion were under a similar threat, or global economic forces were such that I was watching the people around me starving or losing hope… I can’t imagine that level of fury. And then, if I didn’t have the education to realize that nothing is solved through violence and hate, if I didn’t believe I had options, and the only visible leaders who were proposing any type of change came from the lunatic fringe… what then?

It makes me think of a sign I once saw in an art gallery that said, “If you had behaved nicely, the communists wouldn’t exist.” Perhaps if we stopped being ruled by our own power and greed and worked more on raising others up instead of stepping on them, perhaps if we chose to be the voice of reason rather than the voice of fear and paranoia, we wouldn’t have so much homeland insecurity. Just a thought.

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“It’s a leaf.”

I had some business to do at the courthouse. When I entered the building, I waited patiently in line like a good girl to pass through the metal detector. I couldn’t be more harmless if my life depended on it, but I’ve come to accept that this is a world in which one occasionally has to be metal detected.

Finally it was my turn. I put my keys in the little plastic tray. I walked through the detector. No beep. Why am I always relieved? I went to gather my keys and go about my business when a guard grabbed me by my forearm.

“Is this a weapon?” he asked.

“What, my keys?” I was totally confused.

“No, that. That!” he said, pointing to my keychain.

“Uh… no,” I said, stupidly, “It’s a leaf.”

He looked at it more closely. “Okay. Move along.”

With that I was dismissed like a disciplined school child. It took me a minute to regain my equilibrium.

I looked down at my keychain and remembered where I got it. I was watching a demonstration of the dying art of blacksmithing. I like to support artisans whenever I can, so I bought the keychain, which is a little curved iron leaf, less than the size of my thumb. It would never have occurred to me to attempt to use it as a weapon. The keys on the ring are probably more lethal, if it came to that, as are my teeth and my overall determination not to be f***ed with.

But what rattled me was that a guard could see a leaf and see me, and conclude that there was potential danger there, even if only for a second. That pretty much sums up the state of American paranoia these days. It makes me sad.

It reminded me of the time my nail clippers got confiscated at the airport. Again, my keys were left untouched. So was my laptop, which I could easily use to knock someone out if the spirit moved me. But those nail clippers? Lethal, I tell you! (Images of a terrorist holding a nail clipper to a hostage’s throat and saying, “One false move, and I’ll clip her! I swear to GOD I will!”)

You want to know what we really should be afraid of? The fact that the very people who would have us all hand over our nail clippers and artistic keychains are the same ones who feel that depriving the general populous of automatic weapons is an outrageous civil rights violation.

Heaven help us all.

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Thwart a Terrorist — Build a Bridge

As I’ve mentioned before, my most viewed blog entry is the one on Bridge Symbolism. It’s viewed about 25 times a day, by people all over the world. I have no idea why, but it gratifies me. Now more than ever.

Bridges symbolize connection more than anything else. They join places and people together that might otherwise find it difficult to interact. They link us. They allow us to reach out.

In a world where terrorism seems to be on the rise (as we have all seen recently), it is more important than ever to connect. Terrorists are the very opposite of bridges. They want to cause disconnection. They want us to stop interacting and communicating and learning about one another. They do not want us to be linked. In fact, they want to block our paths. They want us to be afraid to go around the next corner or across the next border.

So I implore you to reject all forms of disconnection and isolation. Cast off all forms of hatred. Extend your hand to your neighbor. Cross over. Make someone welcome. Be a bridge.

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[Image credit: careerrocketeer.com]

Ping Pong and Paris

I was in my car when I first heard of the horrifying, senseless, heartbreaking series of events that occurred in Paris on Friday the 13th. I had to pull over to process the many thoughts that I was having. Concern for all my friends and family who live in the area competed with sadness that anyone should have to experience such tragedy. I also felt anger that there is still so much ignorance in this world.

But the most unpleasant thought of all probably won’t make sense to anyone but me. Ping pong balls and mousetraps.

If you’ve ever seen video footage of a ping pong ball being dropped into a room full of mousetraps with still more ping pong balls quietly poised on top of them, you know how quickly the scene becomes chaotic and unpredictable. The chain reaction is rapidly out of control.

This is the effect that terrorists count on. All they have to be is the first, destructive ping pong ball. Then they get to sit back and watch without expending any further energy of their own as all hell breaks loose.

A gunman opens fire in a Paris bar, and before you know it, a gentle and loving high school student who just happens to wear a hijab is getting beaten up in the school yard in some small town in Canada. People are slaughtered while enjoying a concert in France, and someone is pulled over by a cop in Oakland simply because he has dark hair and olive skin. One destructive group decides to make a murderous point, and hundreds of thousands of immigrants throughout the world, who are simply trying to improve their lives, are viewed with hatred and suspicion. These reactions divide us. Terrorists thrive on division.

Every time you react randomly to a very specific event, the terrorists win. Don’t hate all Muslims for what one group of very specific crazy people decided to do. Don’t hate all immigrants. Definitely do not hate everyone who is different from you. If you have to react to these awful events, make your reaction specific, not random. Focus on the actual individuals who perpetrated this crime. If we all point our energy toward them, we will be more like a spear that finds its well-deserved target, instead of a room full of ping pong balls that are bouncing willy nilly, accomplishing nothing but more destruction. The terrorists would fear that spear, as well they should.

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Elephants Will Forget. Unfortunately.

If you haven’t seen the absolutely gorgeous short film “Last Days”, I strongly encourage you to take 3 minutes to do so. (I’m including it below, but if you are getting my blog via e-mail you can check it out at the Last Days of Ivory website.) It will open your eyes. It sure opened mine.

Here are some facts from the website:

·        An elephant is murdered every 15 minutes.

·        Over 30,000 elephants are killed by poaching every year.

·        Elephants in the wild could be extinct in 11 years.

·        African terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab, The Lord’s Resistance Army, Boko Haram and Janjaweed use the sale of illegal ivory to carry out attacks.

·        Trafficking in endangered species is the 4th largest illegal business in the world after drugs, weapons and humans.

Saying elephants never forget is a myth. They will forget, once they are wiped off the face of the earth. We need to put a stop to the poaching of elephants. Don’t buy ivory.

The Best Museum I’ve Ever Seen

Walking down Andrassy Street in Budapest at high noon can be a chilling experience regardless of the temperature. It’s a beautiful historic boulevard with gorgeous architecture, and you have enjoyed every bit of your Budapest experience up to this point. The food, the people, everything about Budapest is lovely. And then a shadow crosses your path, and it says “Terror”. In English. In big, block letters. And that’s by design. You look up at the building that has created this word and realize that in a not so subtle way, it has also created that feeling within you. It’s grey. It’s austere. It’s imposing. It’s Budapest’s House of Terror, the best museum I’ve ever encountered in all my travels.

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This building used to be Nazi headquarters during their brief occupation, and then became the headquarters of a Communist terror organization for 40 years. Untold numbers of people were tortured and killed in this building. It’s a part of history unpleasant to recall, but one which should never be forgotten.

You take a deep breath as you enter because you get the feeling you will need it. When you walk into this building, you are greeted by a huge Russian Tank that isn’t dwarfed by the cathedral ceilings. What does dwarf it, however, are the rows upon rows upon rows of photographs of the people who entered this building and never came out again. It renders you silent. And the eerie music makes the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up.

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From there you go up to the top floor and work yourself down to the scary basement, which was the one place on earth you did not want to find yourself in that era. That basement looms in your future the entire time you’re in the place.

What is so incredibly impressive about this museum is that it isn’t row upon row of cases of artifacts and dry explanations. Let’s be honest. Halfway through a museum of that type, you tend to stop reading, stop learning, and you just look at the displays and move on. But this museum isn’t only about informing you. It’s about making you feel like you were there. It uses a variety of displays, including video, abstract art, and actual artifacts, so you are never bored.

There are a lot of videos with English subtitles that show people who have survived this building, people who haven’t, and what was actually happening in Hungary during these occupations. There is a room filled with communist propaganda posters that make you really feel how absurd and yet how powerful and scary the adherents to this movement were. Each room has flyers with an English explanation of the display, which is very helpful and informative.

One room had run out of flyers, however, and I wish it hadn’t. The walls were made of these white rubbery bricks. What did they represent? Rendered human fat? I guess I’ll never know, and that made it all the more chilling.

Another room holds banks of listening devices, and really brings home the fact that you couldn’t say anything to anyone, anywhere, ever. They were listening, and they did not have your best interests at heart. How exhausting to have to live under that level of paranoia just to survive.

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As you go downward, ever downward, you are treated to a display of the puppet court that could sentence you to death just for being Jewish, and/or intellectual, and/or an enemy of the State. You really sense the feeling of helplessness.

And then you arrive in the basement. The ceilings are low and feel as if they are trying to crush you. Everything is grey. You see the labyrinth of tiny suffocating cells and the torture chambers, and you can almost hear the sounds of people screaming from years ago. As I peeked into one room, which was designed for a type of torture so horrible that I can’t even bring myself to describe it to you, I was hit by this wall of terror so tangible that I nearly sank to my knees. I had to leave. I mean, I HAD to get out of there.

Perhaps the most profound and meaningful experience in that museum is leaving it. You have been transformed. You have gotten a little tiny taste of what life must have been like under a terrorist government. The fear, the futility, the inevitability of it all, the hopelessness, all of that resides within that building. And then you walk outside into the beautiful city of Budapest and see the hustle and bustle, the variety, the joy that is that place, and you are struck by the fact that they’ve overcome. That it’s possible to survive.

As long as you never forget, it’s possible to be free.