Category Archives: World News

Boston Bombings: I Want to Run

Yesterday two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 150.

It’s always difficult marshaling my thoughts in the wake of these tragedies. Everything is a little scattered and disjointed.

News Coverage
As has become the norm, this is another event I learned about through social media. I saw the first comments about an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon (my first thought: They run the Boston Marathon on a Monday?) on Facebook. I hopped over to CNN for details, found the barest sentence of an update and went back to social media for all kinds of updates. Seems like it took less than 20 minutes for photos and video of the blast to surface. Vague details, misinformation, ridiculous speculation and stories of the triumph of the human spirit were all flowing.

I turned on network TV coverage for only a few minutes, just to watch the president’s address, and was quickly pushed back to the Internet. I can’t stand the unending footage of shaky cam footage of carnage. I much prefer the news online where I can pick and choose what I want to see, decide for myself whether that video is worth watching, get the warning about gruesome photos and decide if I need to see that.

It’s a different experience. Though the need to know something, anything, is pretty much the same.

ContextRight now this attack feels huge. It will be interesting to place this event in context once we have some distance. It’s not Sept. 11 big, but it has that kind of feel to it. While the number of injuries is enormous, so far the deaths are, thankfully, relatively low.

I think the manner of the attack rather than the impact is what makes it feel so large in my mind. It wasn’t just some random bombing, it was targeting a major sporting event that draws half a million people. It’s also the first major attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11. While we still don’t know much about the attacks, the manner of them—what appears to be IED-type bombs like what our soldiers face in Iraq and Afghanistan—in some ways brings those conflicts home. It’s too early to know if there are any connections, but it’s a similar style of attack.

Finally what makes it feel larger in my mind right now is perhaps the way I’m experiencing it with almost immediate social media updates. The 1996 Atlanta bombing at the Olympics would be pretty comparable—major sporting event, two dead, more than 100 injured. Though my experience of that event was extremely limited. I would have been in high school at the time and would have paid minimal attention to the news. I knew it had happened, but I don’t remember following the updates. While the Olympics was obviously covered pretty heavily, we didn’t have the civilian photos and videos like we do now.

For better or for worse, that allows us to experience these violent events more intimately. It gives us a small taste of what some people around the world experience on an almost daily basis.

I Want to Run
One thing I do feel after the Boston bombings: I want to run. I’m not much of a runner, but I’ve been getting into it, slowly trying to build up my endurance. I don’t know if I could ever run a marathon (I don’t think I’ve even run five miles at once yet), but at times I think about it. I usually run on Tuesdays, so running today isn’t anything special, but it is important that we get up and keep moving. In my own little act of defiance against our attackers and in a show of support for those hurting in Boston, I’m going to run.

Update: I ran five miles this morning (and didn’t collapse).

Libyan Tunnels: Fredd & I the Spies

As the Libyan rebels raided Colonel Gaddafi’s compound this week I was reminded of a story I wrote in fourth grade: Fredd and I the Spies. The basic plot is that President George H.W. Bush asks me, a 9-year-old boy, to make a friend in Italy (the oddly spelled “Fredd”) and spy on a chemical weapons plant in Libya.

Why a 9-year-old spy?

“If we sent a grown-up man then it would be more obvious.”

As you can imagine, it’s pretty incredible.

Incredibly painful.

One of my favorite moments is that they give me a car that converts to a submarine and that’s how I get to Libya. I drive across the Atlantic Ocean:

“It took me a few hours, but I finally made it.”

Awesome.

We did much of our spy work by reading a newspaper article in a McDonald’s which laid out Libya’s plans to attack the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (yes, that’s what it was called when I was in fourth grade) with chemical weapons.

A less ludicrous plot point in the story is that we discover a secret tunnel that gives us access to the chemical weapons plant. Fast-forward 20+ years: This week the Libyan rebels discovered a secret network of tunnels under Tripoli.

But my life as a spy was not meant to be. When President Bush asked me if I’d like to be a full-time spy during a press conference (!) announcing the success of our mission, I declined.

“I’d rather have friends than bullet holes.”

After 36 hand-written pages of James Bond-inspired (i.e. heavily borrowed) violence, I suddenly became aware of the potential for harm.

(While the story is packed with James Bond references—this was 1989 and the height [and end] of the Timothy Dalton as James Bond resurrgence—I was pleasantly surprised to see a reference to the “pocket grenades used by Leonard (in Leonard Part 6).” If you’re not familiar with it, Leonard Part 6 is a 1987 Bill Cosby spy spoof so bad that Cosby himself urged people not to see it. He went so far as to buy the television rights so it would never appear on TV. My 9-year-old self disagreed. I still remember a spectacular scene where Cosby fended off man-eating lobsters using their natural enemy—what else?—melted butter [surprisingly, the clip doesn't hold up as well on YouTube]. I also remember wishing I could watch the five previous installments that surely existed. Ah, to be 9 and have such low expectations. Despite Cosby’s efforts, Leonard Part 6 is available on DVD and Amazon’s Instant Video.)

Haiti Update from Lauren Stanley

Last night I went to hear Rev. Lauren Stanley speak about the relief efforts in Haiti (after catching the end of the Daytona 500, of course, which made me a little late). She is a missionary of the Episcopal Church appointed to serve the the diocese of Haiti and has been asked to remain in the United States, coordinating immediate relief efforts and long-term development through the Episcopal Church and Episcopal Relief and Development.

So basically her boss is the Bishop of Haiti, Jean Zache Duracin (last I heard he was living in a tent). The Episcopal Church of Haiti is running something like 20 refugee camps and caring for more than 20,000 people. Among those are the priests, parishioners, parents and students of the churches and schools with which my own church has had a 20-year partnership.

So Lauren Stanley was giving Twin Cities churches an update on what’s happening on the ground in Haiti. I went to hear what’s happening in Haiti and learn how the money Color4aCause has raised is helping (a tiny, tiny fraction of the money that’s been raised). Lauren had sobering updates, butt-kicking statements and in-depth stories and history to share. She’s a firecracker.

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Reflection on the Earthquake in Haiti

There is an endless stream of tragic stories coming out of Haiti right now after the devastating 7.0 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince. These ‘mega-tragedies,’ if you will, seem to be happening more frequently than ever before. I’m sure that’s not the case, because tragedy of one kind or another has always followed humanity. But technology has enabled us to see tragedy unfold almost instantaneously, and the result is a magnification of that tragedy. We began to see it with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and it’s become much more palpable with recent tragedies, from the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2004, Katrina in 2005, the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, etc.

Updates come instantly, from text-based updates sent out and passed along on Twitter or Facebook to video and pictures that are captured and immediately broadcast. We no longer have to wait for the six o’clock news—or even flip to cable news, like my generation—to see what tragedy has occurred today.

This is an example of technology making tragedy more palpable, more personal, more painful. You can see it in the way we open our pocketbooks and lift up our prayers. With that endless stream of tragedy there’s also an understandable temptation to turn away. It can all be too much.

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9/11 Confession

I didn’t want to do this. I don’t like the whole reflect on tragedy thing. I clearly didn’t like it seven years ago either (I think I’ve mellowed a bit since then, thankfully). Even eight years ago I was understandably uneasy. (I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but I haven’t blogged on this day since 2001.)

But as the tweets kept coming up today and I started clicking on links and reading stories, first this one about a 9/11 curriculum and students who don’t remember 9/11 and then this collection of Pulitzer prize-winning 9/11 photos. The first article was hard enough to get through (it doesn’t help that parenthood has set in since 9/11, which has made me more emotional)—it’s weird to realize my kids won’t relate to 9/11 like I will. But then I started to remember.

I was at my desk in the Internet department at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, getting started on work as other coworkers came in telling stories about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. At first it sounded like a small prop plane, but as we tried to get online and find out more it became clear that it was much worse. Much of the morning was spent trying various web sites, trying to find one that wasn’t crashing, trying to get some sort of update.

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Famine in Ethiopia. Again.

It breaks my heart to hear the stories of starving children in Ethiopia. Thanks to drought, failed crops and rising food prices, Ethiopia faces a return to the 1984-85 famine that killed more than one million people. The Big Picture blog has stunning pictures.

  • 4.5 million children are threatened with starvation.
  • 75,000 children are currently suffering from severe malnutrition and need urgent care.
  • 3.4 million Ethiopians will need food aid in the next three months.
  • 6.8 million Ethiopians are at risk for malnutrition. (all stats via Telegraph)

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Minnesota: The Muslim Frontline

Is it me, or is Minnesota some kind of flashpoint for Muslim conflict? There were the Muslim taxi drivers refusing to carry alcohol, there were the six Muslim imams booted off a U.S. Airways flight, there was the charter school allegedly teaching Islam and now we’ve got Muslim tortilla workers fired for dress code violations.

Freedom of religion is turning into a frontline battle in Minnesota. What I find so perplexing is the double standard Muslims seem to face. Once upon a time Christians were in the same boat.

So far the Star Trib article covering the tortilla caper has 536 comments (though I urge you not read them—a newspaper article with comments is kind of stupid; it’s not quite the same as a personal blog entry). The infuriating comment the Star Trib highlights is bad enough:

Immigrate = Assimilate
“I don’t understand why recent immigrants have refused to embrace the American way of life. Why did you come here if you don’t want to change any of your behaviors? When my relatives came here, they learned to speak English and embraced the norms of American society. You can still love and respect your culture, but to live in American means to be an Americann.”

I’ve always understood being American to mean we have the freedom to live the way we want, not being forced to embrace a certain lifestyle. These kind of ‘Immigrate=Assimilate’ arguments always frustrated me. The initial immigrants to the U.S. (i.e., colonists) hardly assimilated with the natives—they just conquered them. The Native Americans were always the ones learning multiple languages and serving as translators while the Europeans sat idly by with their sole language. Times apparently don’t change.

And apparently we’ve forgotten the lack of assimilation of our forefathers. The church my mom and grandparents grew up in was founded by German immigrants and held German services well into the 20th century, long after everyone got off the boat.

I think the U.S. is quickly reaching a point where the dominant culture is no longer white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant males, and it’s freaking some people out. Welcome to the minority.

Death in Many Forms: Cyclones and Cancer

Last week Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar (aka Burma) and officially killed at least 22,980 people with another 42,000 missing, 1 million homeless and unofficial estimates expect the death toll to top 100,000. Those kind of numbers, like the 2004 Southeast Asia Tsunami, are staggering. In contrast, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was a stronger storm than Nargis yet only killed 1,836 people (still a staggering number). I can’t imagine the reality of that kind of widespread death.

Today a wife and her three children from my church are burying their 42-year-old husband and father after a 3-year battle with cancer. This death, though expected and small in number, is equally as staggering.

Death sucks.

My only comfort is that death is not the last word.

And I mean that in the sense that I believe in a life after death, and in the sense that our response to death—how we live our lives in the aftermath, whether it’s the death of a lone man or multiplied thousands—says so much more about us than death ever could.

The Food Riots I Didn’t Know About

Did you know there were deadly food riots in Haiti last week? And in several other countries around the world. The U.S. closed the embassy in Haiti, banned official travel, is discouraging civilian travel and encouraging U.S. citizens already in Haiti to get out. The soaring cost of food sparked the violent protests—around the world food prices have risen 45% in the past nine months and have doubled in the last three years. The Chairman of the World Bank, Robert B. Zoellick, said three dozen countries face potential social unrest because of rising food and fuel prices.

I didn’t hear about it until Sunday morning when our rector announced that our upcoming missions trip to Haiti (we have a nearly 20-year partnership with a congregation in Haiti) was up in the air. Apparently I’ve been reading the wrong news outlets (curse you CNN!). The U.S. has pledged $200 million for emergency food aid, so I guess it’s good that at least something is being done. Update: Though experts say this isn’t a short term problem.

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