“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. (Warning: graphic content)

The photograph that went round the world. The Guardian tracked down the child with the bottle, two-year-old Reza Khan, and spoke with his mother about her family’s struggles.
Photograph: Mohammad Sajjad/AP
                   
“The next question had to be, why go on? If memory continually brought us back to this, why build a home? Why bring children into a world in which God and man betrayed their trust in one another?” ~ Elie Wiesel, from his Nobel Speech

Despite your initial reaction, do not turn away. Force yourself to take all of the time necessary to see the face of human tragedy unfolding in real life.

I realize that what I am asking is hard, painful, that it would be so much easier to click off and move on to something else: an innocuous joke in your inbox, a comedy during primetime television. But you are better than that. At least, I hope that you are.

I know that when this image appeared on my screen, my first reaction was to scroll down, to move beyond the image to the words, but then I realized that ignoring the image would not make the reality of what is depicted any less palpable, that it would not put milk in that child’s empty bottle, that the flies that cover their bodies would continue to torture their skin relentlessly, no matter how much I wished it all away.

So I forced myself to look. I forced myself to see what was before me. Yes, you already know that I am a bleeding heart, that my empathic nature only compounds the wounds to my psyche. But I refuse to pretend that this isn’t real, just as I refused to look away when images of bloated bodies filled the blood-stained waters of Rwanda. Just as I have carried with me from office to office, bulletin board to bulletin board a faded, yellow newspaper image of a man carrying his skeletal son atop his shoulder during the Ethiopian famine.

I do this because I am human, and because sometimes I forget to place things in their proper context, and I carp too much about the difficulties of my life, forgetting just how little so many individuals in this world actually have to call their own, how the things that I and those like me take for granted that we can turn on a faucet and have clean drinking water, that we can close a door and use indoor facilities that carry away our bodily waste so that we do not have to dwell on the smells. I complain when there is no more Pepsi in the house, and I bemoan that fact that a carton of Breyer’s ice cream isn’t sitting in my freezer.

I am human, but when confronted with the face of unimaginable suffering, I feel that I am the alien, the being from another world, a world that takes what it wants and leaves little for those most in need. I hate feeling this way, but I hate more that we still inhabit a world that tolerates and ignores large-scale suffering—not just in countries far away, but in our own country.

So please don’t turn away. I am appealing to that side of you that it is easier to tuck away beneath the veneer of civilization and creature comforts. Look at the picture. Read the story in its entirety below. And then, if you can, do something.

Behind the photograph: the human face of Pakistan’s deadly flood
Rania Abouzeid in Azakhel
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 September 2010

It was an image that conveyed the human cost of the Pakistani floods – and the failure to deliver aid to those affected –more powerfully than any statistic: four young children lying on a filthy patchwork quilt, one of them sucking on an empty yellow bottle, all of them covered by flies.

The photograph by Associated Press’s Mohammad Sajjad went around the world and featured in the Guardian’s Eyewitness slot last week. The Guardian identified the child with the bottle as two-year-old Reza Khan and tracked him down to a makeshift camp at a roadside in Azakhel, some 19 miles from Peshawar, the capital of the insurgency-plagued province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan.

The camp is a hotchpotch of about two dozen tents donated by various aid organisations, but it is run by none. Its residents must fend for themselves, and rely on the charity of passersby. There are 19 families here, all of them Afghan refugees: people who were displaced once by conflict in their homeland have now been displaced again by the month-long deluge.

Reza’s family is from Butkhak, near the Afghan capital, Kabul. His father fled the area as a young boy, some 30 years ago, to escape the cycle of foreign occupation and internecine battles plaguing his homeland.

When we found him, Reza was in a tent with his mother, Fatima, who, like most Afghans, has only one name, and six of his seven siblings, all huddled on a blue blanket extended over the muddy floor. He was still clutching the same bottle. It was still empty.

Fatima tried to calm the boy, who cries in a constant, low whimper, as well as his twin brother, Mahmoud. She covered three of her other children–she has eight, all under the age of nine–with a dirty mosquito net somebody in a passing car gave her, but it has several gaping holes. Her eldest child, a nine-year-old girl called Sayma, is mute and seems dissociated from her surroundings. Her green eyes stare blankly ahead, seemingly oblivious to her brothers’ wails. Flies carpet the few blankets arranged on the floor, and swarm all over the children. There is precious little in the tent–one cooking pot, a few cushions and two or three items of children’s clothing. The stench of human and animal waste is overwhelming in the hot, humid air. There is no sanitation, just shallow, open ditches of raw sewage that attract flies and mosquitoes.

“They have had nothing to eat today. I have no food,” Fatima says as she tries to swat the flies away from her children with a bamboo fan. “He’s crying with hunger,” she says, pointing to Reza. “It’s been a month since he had any milk.”

Pakistan floods: Reza and Mahmoud Khan sit with their mother Fatima

Two-year-old twins Reza and Mahmoud Khan sit with their mother Fatima and six other siblings in a roadside tent. Photograph: Jason Tanner for the Guardian

On this day, Reza’s father, Aslam, was in a nearby hospital with his seven-year-old daughter, who has a skin infection caused by the unsanitary living conditions. Reza and several of his siblings also bear red spots, and appear malnourished. Their thin hair is coming out in clumps, their mother says. “We have been here for a month, a month!” Fatima says. “We are tired of these flies and of being without food. Before the waters came, my husband worked. We were poor before, but we had full stomachs.”

The family of 10 used to live among the 23,000 residents of the Azakhel Afghan refugee camp, about 20 minutes’ walk from their current roadside location. Aslam sold chickens for a living, travelling from door to door on a rickety bicycle, one of the family’s prized possessions. He made about $2 a day.

Their mud-brick home was small, Fatima says, but it was enough for her. They lived among her husband’s clan, about six families in all. “I had a kitchen, and there was a water tap close by,” she says as her youngest child, one-year-old Ayad, tugs on her lilac dupatta, the scarf Pakistani women drape over their heads, arms and chest, pulling it away from her hair. She quickly readjusts the worn, holed fabric. “These clothes are all that we have now,” she says, almost apologetically.

The loose mud bricks of their home were no match for the raging waters of the nearby swollen Kabul River. The floodwaters gushed into the house in the morning. She and her husband snatched several of the children in their arms, while extended family members helped bundle the others out of the house.

The clan of some 60 people walked toward the main road linking the town of Nowshera to Peshawar. They spent five days out in an open field, eating whatever scraps they could forage.

Aslam’s older brother, Taykadar, set out on foot to find help, stopping at several of the dozen or so organized relief camps nearby. “They would ask us for our Pakistani identification cards in order to register us, but we are Afghans,” he says. “And we are too many, that’s the problem. We don’t want to be split from each other. We’ve already lost our homes, we don’t want to lose our families.”

The men managed to obtain several tents from various organisations. Fatima’s, for example, was donated by the Saudi government while others bear the logos of UNHCR. The Afghans say they have nothing to return to. Taykadar says they haven’t received any help from a government he knows is overwhelmed by the destitution of its own people. The busy road that they have camped alongside is now their lifeline. Men, women and children rush out towards any car that appears to slow down alongside them. Hundreds of hands stretch out, hoping for food, water or clothing.

“We have to run after the food, it isn’t given by some organisation in the tents,” Fatima says bitterly. Her children eat once a day, usually in the evenings, thanks to charity organisations that provide iftar meals during Ramadan. But Ramadan ends this week. “I just want to say to the world, isn’t there any way they can get us food?” she pleads. “Look,” she says, pointing to the twins in her lap. “Please, our children are dying of hunger.”

Click here to find a list of organizations helping with the relief effort as well as a list of donations that can be made via text.

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

Advertisements

Tragedy Unfolds in Real Life

 

the-baseball-game-by-g-fitz

The Baseball Game by G. Fitz

The Rueful Story of One Man’s Doomed Dreams

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ~ Johann Wolfgang Goethe 

Right before I hit my writer’s wall, I had planned to write a post about a story that I had read that really touched a nerve with me. It was the story of one man’s lost dreams and eventual suicide, and how all-too-often, people in the public eye, even in a minor way, are treated as commodities instead of people. It was the story of John C. Odom.

john-odom1
Former Baseball Player John C. Odom

Normally, I do not peruse the sports news as admittedly, this particular area does not hold a lot of interest for me, but when I read the headline—”A Tragic End for Minor Leaguer Traded for Bats”—I knew that I had to read more. This story appeared on March 3 of this year in The San Luis Obispo and was picked up by the AP. Apparently, Odom, a minor league with a fast arm, was picked up by the the Loredo Broncos of the United League for the price of 10 baseball bats.

Odom was originally drafted by the Giants as a 44th round pick in 2003, but his inconsistent record caused the Giants to release him in the spring of 2008. The Calgary Vipers offered Odom a job, but because of a 1999 aggravated assault conviction, Odom was not eligible for entrance into Canada.

What followed was a proposition of such bizarre proportions, that it landed Odom with the unenviable title of “Bat Boy.” Jose Melendez, General Manager for the Laredo Broncos, proposed to Calgary President Pete Young that Laredo buy Odom’s contract for $1,000. Young supposedly said that “the Vipers didn’t do cash deals because they made the team look financially unstable.” What Young needed, he told Melendez, was bats, and he proposed releasing Odom for 10 Prairie Stick bats, double-dipped black, 34 inches long, model C243, at a cost of $665 each.

Odom, who only wanted to play, accepted the terms and drove to Laredo, Texas. What ensued was completely predictable: the theme music to Batman, catcalls of “Bat Man,” and “Bat Boy.”

“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

There is a saying that “success is never final; failure is never fatal.” But in this particular instance, I must beg to disagree. It would take someone of tremendously strong constitution to withstand such verbal thrashings. Odom did not possess that constitution. Described by his college coach as more of an athlete with a musician’s heart, Odom at first claimed to be okay with the trade, but by June, Odom was visibly frayed. He went to Laredo Bronco’s manager Dan Schwam on June 10. According to Schwam, Odom came to him and said,”Skip, I’m going home. I just can’t take it. I’ve got some things to take care of. I’ve got to get my life straightened out.”

odoms-tattoo1

Within five months, Odom was dead. According to the medical examiner of Georgia, Odom’s death was an accidental overdose from heroin, methamphetamine, the stimulant benzylpiperazine and alcohol. A tattoo on Odom’s right elbow read “Poena Par Sapientia,” Latin for “Pain equals wisdom.” Odom was 26 years old. He died wearing his pain.

“One meets his destiny often in the road he takes to avoid it” ~ French Proverb

Odom’s teammates did not learn of his death until recently. Such had been his complete withdrawal from the limelight, and seemingly, from life itself.

The ten bats from the infamous trade? They have never been used and are currently in storage. The parties involved in the bat trade insist that it was not a publicity stunt and that it was not done to embarrass Odom.

But consider, at 26, after a shaky start, what young man or woman would not be embarrassed by such a publicized trade? For that matter, what 40-year-old would not be embarrassed? And how helpless would a person feel to know that his fate was no longer his own but instead, was due to 10 baseball bats?

I have to believe that someone, somewhere, at some point, had to stop and ask if this was the right thing to do. I cannot believe, wish not to believe, that the powers that ruled in this decision never had second thoughts on the soundness of such a move. If not, why not?

“What we call despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.” ~ George Eliot

I realize that athletes, in this country in particular, are treated as commodities. Hence the multi-million dollar contracts, the highly-publicized trades, the slaps on the wrist for infractions. The U.S. loves its athletes, but especially its good athletes. Its mega-stars.

But there is a whole other world that many people do not pay much attention to: the world filled with the less than stellar athletes.

Granted, the farming system is baseball’s tried and true method of finding its major league up-and-comers. But it is not a system that allows much room for those players who are different in some way, who do not fit the mold.

One of the best friends I ever had was a minor league player. He had an incredible arm and was blessed with agility and speed. Watching him play baseball was truly like watching poetry in motion, which I have often found to be the case when watching an athlete who is truly, naturally talented. Unfortunately, my friend blew out his rotator cuff and was no longer able to play. I know that that injury cost him in a number of ways, but most profoundly, emotionally, because playing baseball was such an innate part of who Alan was. To be unable to play, unable to fulfill a lifelong dream, was a bitter pill, especially for someone so imbued in the allure of the game.

It would probably be safe to assume that Odom, a player who began as a walk-on with a 90 mph fastball, felt that same allure. Certainly John Odom was not a perfect man or a perfect player. He had his demons. Some who knew him described him as having “black moods,” and an alleged substance abuse problem that he had conquered in the past. So is it any wonder that Odom drowned the “bat boy” persona with pills and alcohol?

odombat002
One of the Odom Bats

Odom will enter the record books as the player who was traded for 10 bats: A man’s professional life equating to $6,650. If not for this heinous degrading of a man’s dignity, Odom’s life and subsequent death would likely have remained in obscurity, just one more cog in the machine.

 

“The pain of the mind is worse than the pain of the body” ~ Publius Syrus

Again, I do not purport to know a great deal about the major league. I always preferred college baseball. But I do know about sports and the inordinate amount of pressure that players have thrust upon them from an early age. Living right next to the neighborhood park, I can sit in my room on any weekend afternoon during baseball season and listen to parents yell horrible things at the players, at their own children, at other people’s children.

The verbal abuse hurled at these children is horrendous. I have heard a father chew his son out the entire way from the park to the car that was parked next to my house because the boy missed a ball. The boy could not possibly have been more than 8 years old.

What does this have to do with Odom? Who knows. I know very little about his family, his background, how he grew up and what kind of support he did or did not receive as a player in the pony leagues that exist in every neighborhood in America.

What I do know is that no one comes out better from being called names, whether that epithet is “you stupid boy,” “no-talent so and so,” or “here comes batman.” Baseball is the great American past time, but at times, the price paid for admission to the game is just too high.

If he were still alive, I think that John C. Odom might agree with me.

(Information for this article comes from the original article written by Ben Walker, AP baseball writer (http://www.sanluisobispo.com/346/story/639018.html).

Remnants: Hillary, Karma, and Rick Rolling?

If It’s Friday, It Must Be Leftovers

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton? You Betcha

The Obama Campaign was renowned for its lack of leaking. Reporters bemoaned their inability to penetrate what was dubbed the tightest campaign ship in history, especially in comparison to the leaky frigate U.S.S. McCain, from which new leaks sprung hourly. Hence the surprise over the leaks that have come from the President-elect’s camp since the election: his choice of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff, and now the word that Hillary Clinton is being eyed for Secretary of State, a position that is much coveted by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Would Clinton be effective in the position? She is already widely recognized by world leaders and is on a first-name basis with many of them. She is a tough negotiator, articulate, and well-schooled in foreign policy. In fact, Clinton’s foreign policy experience was often thought to be superior to Obama’s during the campaign, and many thought that it would be the one thing that would trip up the junior senator from Illinois. There is no doubt that Clinton is qualified. 

She has already made the trip to Chicago. The big question now is whether or not she would accept. The bigger question is whether or not it would fit in with her larger plans because there is no doubt that Senator Clinton, in her indubitable wisdom, has bigger plans.

My Son Would Be So Proud

I have admitted to being an avid “Rachel Maddow” fan, so you will imagine my surprise when her “Just Enough” segment featured her being RickRolled! My youngest son finds this pasttime hilarious for some reason, and every member of the family has been RickRolled at least twice. He hides the link behind other links so that you never know when you are going to hear that obnoxious song.

For those of you lucky enough never to have had this experience, being RickRolled is a prank involving the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The person RickRolling you provides a web link that they claim is relevant to a topic you might be interested in and sends it to you in an e-mail, or posts it on their MySpace, but the link actually takes you to the Astley video.

I’m sure that neither Maddow nor her “Just Enough” segment companion Kent Jones planned the RickRoll, but it was priceless nevertheless. I can’t wait to show my son. He’ll love it.

 

Obama Roll/Rick Roll (not the one on Rachel Maddow Show)

 

Don’t Drink This Wine. Savor It.

Remember Michael Vick? How could you not? After all, what a fine specimen of a human being he is, taking all of that NFL fame and fortune, buying a bunch of dogs, a large house, 15 acres of land, and living a life of quiet leisure in the off-season. No wait. That wasn’t Michael Vick, was it? Oh Michael Vick, that sleazoid who thought it would be really cool to buy a bunch of dogs and train them to rip the flesh of each other while a bunch of other sleazoids bet money on which dog would die first. That Michael Vick? Well this section isn’t actually about him. It’s about the dogs.

Seems that the dogs who were saved from said sleazoid had a piece written about them by AP news and featured on “Today.” The dogs have been undergoing retraining and rehabilitation at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in southern Utah. One of the founders of the sanctuary, artist Cyrus Mejia, began painting the dogs after they arrived. The portraits have captured the dogs souls, not their pain.  And Matt Hahn, co-owner of Carivintas Winery, decided to combine the art with his wine. And voilà: The Vicktory Dogs Wine Collection, which features colorful portraits of the 22 dogs confiscated from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

Each bottle includes a portrait of one of the dogs on the front, and a brief story about the dog on the back. The entire set includes 22 bottles and two others commemorating Best Friends’ 25th anniversary, and costs $672. The set can be split, and each half sells for $380. Individual bottles are $40. Ten percent of each sale goes to Best Friends. The money will be used to oppose dog fighting and to fight laws targeted against specific breeds of dogs.

What a great ending to what began as a portrait of a man with too much money and time and not enough humanity and heart. In the end, the dogs won, and not in the way that Vick had planned for them. He’s sitting in jail eating macaroni, and the dogs’ visages are gracing the labels of fine wine. Karma is a good thing.

More later. Peace.