Category Archives: Uncategorized

If Not For My Neighbors: Why I Care What Happens to the Children of Yemen

I

For nearly six years I lived next to a family from Yemen. Today it is impossible for me to see people from that country as the nameless victims shown on TV. Whenever I see a starving baby from that country, even if it is a standard three second picture of them suffering in a sparse hospital room, I instantly remember my friends Rad, Halamad, Ghada, and Batoule. I think of them playing soccer in the street after dark. I think of them getting up early to help their dad out at the Amazing Meat Market before school. I think of them swimming in their pool on hot summer afternoons. I often found myself admiring the way they lived their lives with dignity and their faith with conviction; they were always willing to teach me more about Muslim customs such as Ramadan and ʾifṭār.

So it makes me sick to my stomach to see how my country is conspiring to wage a near genocidal war against the people of Yemen. According to a joint statement by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP), “As many as 20 million Yemenis are food insecure in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” In fact, “already 15.9 million people wake up hungry” in Yemen, it said, citing an analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a food security survey. And Save the Children has reported that 85,000 infants under the age of five have died in this war since 2015.

For me, these numbers are not faceless. They have the face of children laughing and chasing my cats around the backyard. For me, these are not senseless statistics that can be reasoned away as collateral damage; they are hearts and souls of children with dreams. The children I knew from Yemen want to be scientists, singers, soccer players, and successful business owners. One of the youngest daughters told me that she was the best math student in her class. The oldest boy worked at his father’s store stocking shelves and running the cash register until 10:30 pm every night.

Excuse me if I sound angry, but when I hear that President Trump has already spent over 13.5 million on trips to Mar-a-Lago, I immediately think about how many lives in Yemen are on the brink of being snuffed out because of a lack of medicine, supplies, food, and water. How many children could be saved if that money was used to host a summit between the warring factions in Yemen? How many babies could be rescued from the agonizing death of starvation if Trump demanded an end to Saudi Arabia’s ruthless campaign of terror? Trump’s silence is bad enough. Trump’s apathy is worse. But Trump’s complicity in this war is unforgivable.

Before the Senate voted to stop the US’s involvement in Yemen, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut wrote a scathing article published by CNN. “For three years, the United States has supported a coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is waging war inside Yemen, trying to oust a rebel government made up of members of the Houthi tribe. Our role in the coalition is significant – we sell bombs and weapons to the Saudis, we help them pick targets inside Yemen, and until recently, we refueled their planes in the sky … it’s clear that the US is engaged in a war in Yemen. And yet this war has not been authorized by Congress… US involvement started quietly under Barack Obama, and increased under Donald Trump, with more than 10,000 civilians killed in the Saudi-led bombing campaign since the beginning of the civil war….Targets have included schools, hospitals, weddings, a funeral party and recently a school bus carrying 38 children to a field trip.”

Even more despicable, President Trump appears ready to evade the Congress’s deadline to verify who ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi amid new revelations that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince spoke of threatening the journalist with a “bullet.” Shame on Trump for putting money ahead of international justice. Shame on all of us for letting him get away with a cover up that not only makes the United States look like mobsters, but ensures that the war continues unabated. 

And shame on the Democrats and the mainstream media. Enough already about blackface! Every minute spent talking about what type of shoe polish the Virginia governor wore on his face in college, is a minute that could have been spent talking about children with real black faces in Yemen. Where is the outrage over the death of 85,000 children? Where are the protests on the lawns of statehouses? Yemen had more people displaced last year due to conflict than any other country on earth. Who cares? Maybe I wouldn’t either if not for my neighbors. 

Independence River


There is a forest that I return to

when I can’t get away from the pulsations

of thinking. A forest of tombs as still 

as dead tree trunks and melodious as raindrops

on red pine needles. The paths of my ancestors.


In this forest, I am not alive like I usually am.

 Stepping in mink tracks, I know this place in

my tendons like a ghost knows the temperature of

fog. Here, the Independence River runs like a lovely

ribbon until it pounds into a ravine of crumbling shale. 


And I know that old hunger returning from vanished glaciers. 


In this forest, my arms, as I meander, wave like prayer flags

hung out to the ragged border between life and death- a place

where I can survive outside the womb. A place where I can

become a wilderness dancer touching the mud softer than ivory. 

Photo by George Cassidy Payne


Trump’s Omission of Yemen from SOTU is Telling


According to the Government Accountability Office, President Trump’s early trips to Mar-a-Lago cost 13.8 million dollars. The Defense Department and Homeland Security incurred a majority of those costs, approximately 8.5 and 5.1 million respectfully. 

Meanwhile, the nation of Yemen is embroiled in a ghastly war, one that has claimed the lives of at least 85,000 children. As Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen, said in a statement: “For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death-and it’s entirely preventable…Children who die in this way suffer immensely. As their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop.”

In 2017-18, Doctors Without Borders treated 101, 500 patients in Yemen for cholera. Those are just the patients treated. The actual deaths from cholera are reaching near unspeakable levels of human suffering. 

In his SOTU, Trump addressed everything from manufacturing jobs to tax codes to NASA missions to prison reform to infrastructure to partisan politics to NATO and ISIS. But one topic the president totally ignored was Yemen. On his watch, an entire generation of children are at risk of starving to death. Yet he does nothing. 

Chris Murphy, a Democrat senator from Connecticut, has used his platform to call attention to the Trump administration’s complicity in this crime against humanity. In an article written before the historic Senate vote to end aid for the war, he wrote: “For three years, the United States has supported a coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is waging war inside Yemen, trying to oust a rebel government made up of members of the Houthi tribe. Our role in the coalition is significant — we sell bombs and weapons to the Saudis, we help them pick targets inside Yemen, and until recently, we refueled their planes in the sky. To anyone paying attention, it’s clear that the United States is engaged in a war in Yemen. And yet this war has not been authorized by Congress. Our involvement started quietly under President Barack Obama, and now President Donald Trump has increased our participation. And it’s not as if our participation in the Yemen conflict hasn’t come with serious consequences. Yemen has become a hell on earth for the civilians caught within its borders. More than 10,000 innocents have been killed in the Saudi-led bombing campaign since the beginning of the civil war. Targets have included schools, hospitals, weddings, a funeral party and recently a school bus carrying 38 children to a field trip.”

Tragically, Trump’s unassailable relationship with the Kingdom provides little hope for those starving children. Instead of trying to stop the carnage by ceasing arms sales to Saudi Arabia and using his political capital on the international stage to break the humanitarian assistance blockade, the president remains silent. Worse than that, as if to accentuate his apathy, he spends millions on vacations while babies starve to death. 

I think my father said it best, “What is it about our human condition that fails to see children as our most precious assets? There is no greater crime against humanity, indeed against all creation, than the disrespect of the next generation of citizens in such brutal fashion.”

Wild Wings: Promoting Personal Responsibility for the Natural World

This weekend I brought my son to Mendon Ponds Park, one of our favorite destinations in Monroe County. This time around we decided to check out the park’s Wild Wings, a not-for-profit educational organization that houses and cares for permanently injured birds of prey which are unable to survive on their own in the wild.

According to one of their staff members, the mission is to teach environmental stewardship through programs featuring their resident raptors as teaching partners. I also found out that the organization travels with their raptors to schools, scout meetings, and many other corporate and private events. Check them out! It’s a really cool place that the whole family will enjoy.

Photography by George Cassidy Payne


Mural of an owl adorning one of the fences around the facility.
View of the meandering path through Wild Wings at Mendon Ponds Park

“Thousands of birds of prey are injured in the U.S. every year. If their injuries are treatable they are released back into the wild. However, the fate of many of these injured birds is euthanasia because they can no longer survive in the wild on their own. The alternative is placement in an educational facility such as Wild Wings. Among the raptor residents are eagles, hawks, falcons, vultures, and owls. Their injuries range from imprinting to gunshots and car accident victims.” -Wild Wings website

Meet and Greet Demonstration ($175.00, 2 hours for $300)
 
Wild Wings will have two educators bring out a variety of birds. Unlike our other live bird of prey demos…this is more informal. The public can approach the educators and not only learn about the animals but also be able to ask questions on a one-to-one level.
(taken from Wild Wings website)
Have you noticed any of these guys in your backyard?
Feeders at the facility in Mendon Ponds Park

Live Bird of Prey Demonstration ($175.00)
 
What is a raptor? Why and how are they different from other birds? The audience will be introduced to different families of raptors – an owl, a hawk and falcon. Learn the natural history, biology and physical adaptations of birds of prey. With many hands-on items we explore size, feathers, flying, hunting styles, beaks, feet and talons.
(taken from Wild Wings website)
Raven
Wood carved sculpture piece at the facility in Mendon Ponds Park

According to their website, they currently house “a Baltimore Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Kingbird and Red Bellied Woodpecker.”

The facility is open Friday through Tuesday from 10am until 2pm!
They are closed Wednesday and Thursday.
Wood carving in the courtyard


Wild Wings does not charge an admission fee but keep in mind that ALL donations and sales go directly to the animals!
Mendon Payne showing the way



  Wild Wings Inc
27 Pond Road
Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
585.334.7790
info@wildwingsinc.org

Jeremy Kappell and the Pathology of Racism

 

At the risk of feeding into a story that has probably received too much attention already, I feel compelled to make a point about the firing of meteorologist Jeremy Kappell. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the story, during a broadcast, Kappell said “Martin Luther Coon Park” when referring to a downtown park named after Martin Luther King Jr. He was promptly fired by WHEC-TV. In an interview with Don Lemon on CNN, Kappell said, “It was a mispronunciation and I could tell that I was fumbling the words a little bit. The moment I realized that I was fumbling I immediately put the emphasis on King, not knowing that I had made a major error. I did what all of us journalists do. I moved on.” 

William Clark, president and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester, released a statement commending the News10 NBC leadership “for taking swift and decisive action.” Clark added: “As a child growing up in the South in the 1960s, I am personally well aware of the racist intent of this word, which is used to dehumanize and degrade African Americans, portraying us as less than human…I know there is still great work to be done to diversify newsrooms in the Rochester Community and across this country. Perhaps, if there were more African Americans and people of diverse cultures on staff and on the management team, someone might have caught that disgusting, insensitive, and racist word sooner.”

So, on one side you have Kappell and his supporters who state that he had no intention whatsoever to use that slur. It was just a flub. On the other side, you have those like Mr. Clark who see his use of the word as “disgusting and insensitive.” Regardless of whether he meant to say it, many people in the community-both whites and blacks-felt degraded by his actions.

But what is not being talked about is the pathology of racism. Setting aside what Kappell did or did not mean to do when he used that word, white people in America are infected with a disease. More often than not, they are totally unaware of the way this disease is incubated within the subliminal regions of their mind. The reason why these type of “slip ups” occur is because racist thoughts, innuendos, proclivities, stereotypes, prejudices, and concepts swirl around in the unconscious mind. These thoughts and feelings are rarely invited in by the host. Instead, they are passed down from generation to generation like genes disposing one to cancer.

 UCLA’s Roya Rastegar has written: “Racism is not about right or wrong. It is not something that can be turned on and off. Pathology seizes the entire body – not just of the individual, but the collective body of society. Pathology infects the way we see, and bleeds into the ways we experience the world… this pathology manifests through desire – not just sexual, but also social and cultural – to occupy, control, and consume everything until the myth of white manifest destiny is concretized in law, laid in the foundation of an entire economy, and preserved by culture.” 

To be candid, from what I have observed in the Kappell video, I do not believe he meant to say that word. Nor do I believe that he harbors malice towards MLK and black people. If there is a history of such hate filled incidents in his past, they have not been brought to light-at least not to my knowledge. Nevertheless, on some level, that does not matter. As white people are repeatedly told by people of color, the intentions of individuals do not matter as much as the consequences of institutional and pathological racism. Given that racism is a disease, we should not be surprised when white people in America say racist things without even knowing what they are doing. Just as a rash breaks out- or some other physical manifestation of illness seemingly appears out of nowhere- the truth is a bacterial organism has been gestating for centuries.

In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud wrote: “Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech…The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder.”

The Lyric Theater: East Avenue’s Apotheosis

There is a paradox about great architecture. Since it is so accessible to the public, those who walk or drive by it so often tend to overlook or take for granted how magnificent it truly is. That is surely the case with the Lyric Theater on East Avenue. Unquestionably it is one of Rochester’s most awe inspiring buildings. Yet situated alongside so many other gems, it sometimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  With that in mind, it was my goal, in a series of photographs, to capture the full glory of this Rochester masterpiece.

Luckily, once I arrived, there was a staff member working overtime. With a generous and trusting spirit, he allowed me to not only take pictures, but to explore the building from the inside out. 

                                Photography by George Cassidy Payne

 

 

 

According to the Lyric Theater’s homepage: “Since the early 1900s, the members of the First Church of Christ, Scientist worshiped at—and took loving care of—their magnificent building, including a breathtaking 700 seat auditorium where worship services were held and a spacious Sunday School hall with a balcony. When the members began to consider selling their beloved building, located at 440 East Avenue near downtown Rochester, they were mindful of preserving the character of this National Historic Landmark.

The Rochester Lyric Opera (RLO), meanwhile, was looking for a permanent home for its performances and educational programming. Although the RLO leadership was near a decision on another site, they jumped at the chance to view this building when they learned it might be available. One visit was enough to convince them that they were looking at the future Rochester Lyric Theater. The Christian Science congregation was delighted to find an appropriate steward for its architectural treasure.”

According to the RLO:

Of the approximately 25 area public venues listed by the Arts and Cultural Council of Rochester that are actual theaters or auditoriums, only three are near 1,000 seats and only two of those are in the vicinity of downtown Rochester. None of the three has an orchestra pit, and the two near downtown do not have proscenium stages or back stage areas and are not conducive to the presentation of performing arts. Moreover, the owners of those theaters are not presenting organizations, and therefore do not attract national or international performers to their stages. The larger theaters downtown—Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre and the Auditorium Theatre—serve their audiences well, but at 2,326 and 2,464 seats respectively, they are too large to suit the needs of smaller ensembles, chamber groups, individual artists and other local, national, and international acts.

The building’s neo-classical motifs are embodied gorgeously by the stained glass windows.  

Built on the former site of the Cogswell family’s 1850s home, this Beaux Arts-style structure exhibits a strong Italian Renaissance influence. Designed by Rochester architects Gordon and Kaelber, the church was begun in the fall of 1914 and completed in 1916 at the cost of approximately $250,000. The church boasts four impressive granite pillars at its entrance. The roof is covered with Spanish tiles. Note this building’s symmetry and the leaded glass windows. It is located at 440 East Ave in Rochester, NY. (from Flickr website)

From the building’s front lobby.

The building was one of George Eastman’s major inspirations for the Eastman Theater. No feature showcases this influence more dramatically than its near-identical Palladium ceiling. They also share the same red clay-tile roofs and four massive columns.

Another view of the building’s iconic Spanish red title roof.

Wisely, the new owners have preserved the many interior features that made this a landmark house of worship for over 100 years.
440 East Ave
Rochester, NY USA
14607

Not only is the Lyric Theater an ideal performance space for plays, it is also an outstanding venue for musical recitals. More recently it has become a marquee venue for jazz at the Rochester International Jazz Festival. 

A view of the building’s front from East Avenue.

Address/Location: 
440 East Ave
Rochester, NY USA
14607

The Cinema


Rising from the bottom of an

unfillable sink of inside space, 

the Cinema is a Mondrian; its

meanings come rushing over

hazy filters of digital luminescence:

a cosmology of sound and light,

blasting gigantic sweeping

images, like felled redwoods on

a dusky red cored forest floor.

photograph by George Cassidy Payne

The Cinema Theater: Rochester’s Oldest Neighborhood Theater

I’m sure there is a study out there that looks at the psychology of people who enjoy going to the movie theater compared with those who like to watch films at home. Going to the theater has always been a strange way to bond with other people. The goal is not to talk, be seen, or be bothered, but to have a collective experience, sort of like a group meditation or Quaker Friends meeting.

Personally speaking, I do not want any contact. I purposely come in 5 minutes before the film starts, procure a seat that no one else is sitting near, and try my best to block out the extraneous static and ritualistic pre-screening chatter. Once I am seated and well organized, I look around the darkened space and wonder why I’m even there. What is it about going to the theater that makes watching a movie different or better than checking it out on DVD or Netflix? But I’m there, so there must be an answer in that.

Technologically speaking, the theater experience blows away any home stereo system. I don’t care how hooked up you are, there is nothing like watching and hearing a film on the big screen. The theater itself becomes another character/presence in the film. It becomes, in other words, the medium which allows the director’s vision to be fully channeled and realized through the sheer size and dimension of the platform itself; and it allows everyone else from the cinematographer to the sound editors to show what they originally felt in their heart when they began the project. You can’t get that at home. No matter how tricked out the DVD set is, or how enhanced your HD is, the theater makes movies truly movies.

The technological advantage aside, obviously, for me, its not about the verbal communication with other viewers that makes going to the movies better than staying home. But it matters that they are there nonetheless. It is comforting to know that they are making the effort just like me. To hear when they laugh is a good sign that the director/ writer hit the mark. To hear the audible gasps, hushes, shrieks, shuffling of feet, popcorn crunching, wiggling buts, oohs and ahhs, helps make the film come alive. The film was made to be seen, and to see other people seeing it helps make the experience more visceral than it would be otherwise. You can cram 20 -50 people into the most spacious living room, but it still doesn’t have the same effect as the theater.

I often wonder if we will have theaters in the future. It is hard to tell right now whether this is a dying venue or one waiting to be reinvented. Will there always be small neighborhood theaters like the Cinema on South Clinton? I’m not sure but I hope so.

Photography by George Cassidy Payne

Since 2018, The Cinema Theater has been run by Audrey Kramer and Alex Chernavsky. Consider becoming a member by contacting them directly: audrey@cinemarochester.com or Alex at: 585-271-1786

The Cinema Theater

957 South Clinton Ave.

(Across from Highland Diner)

585-271-1785-movie schedule

585-271-1786-office

cinemarochester.com


The Cinema now features a modern digital projector, Blu-ray player, computer with PowerPoint, Surround-sound audio system, and wireless microphones.


The sidewalk along the Cinema’s exit doors.
The historic Highland Diner

Did you know that the Cinema has held birthday parties and private screenings?


A scene from Roma
 

The theater’s ticket reception lobby

Despite a Rush to Judgement, Covington High School Students Still Bear Responsibility

 Needless to say, what happened in our nation’s capital with the Covington High School students has become a powder keg-one that represents the deepest antagonisms and lack of civil discourse in our society. It turned out later that a lot of onlookers made assumptions without having all of the facts or firsthand information. Generally speaking, there has been an unsettling desire to make one particular group of students represent all white people, and a single adult represent all Native Americans – leading to an overly simplistic representation even after it had become apparent that this event was not so cut and dry. The incendiary role of the Black Hebrew Israelites, for example, was not reported in the initial rush to judgement. The actions of Mr. Nathan Phillips, the Native American drummer who decided to intervene with his prayer, have also come under scrutiny after more footage of the confrontation has emerged. 

Be that as it may, I am still deeply unsettled by the actions of those students. Any effort to whitewash their behavior denies them an opportunity to take responsibility for their own participation in that ugly scene. Regardless who instigated who, videos clearly show several of the students doing the Tomahawk Chop, dancing inappropriately, and mocking the Native American marchers. They also made insensitive statements regarding the demonstrators. As reported on Democracy Now, one student told a reporter that “people get their land stolen all of the time. That’s just how it works.”         

Besides, the simple fact that the students were donning MAGA hats is problematic. Maybe the president does not see an issue with that slogan but I do. When was America great? Was it when only white males could own land and vote? Was it when a black person could be lynched without a trial and due process? Was it when women were allowed to be sexually harassed in the workplace? Was it before we had homosexual candidates running for office? Was it before transgender soldiers were allowed to serve their country with honor? Was it when slavery was the number one economic institution in the nation? When was America great? Was it before a black man was allowed to be president? Was it when Native Americans were divided, disorganized, and lacking cohesive power as a national and international movement? Was it when we knew who the enemy was and believed that we had God’s blessing to destroy him? The MAGA hat is an overt symbol of racism and xenophobia. There is no way to rationalize, justify it, or turn it into a benign message of economic prosperity.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” 

Mendon Ponds

 Life is just beginning to

dawn on most of us.

But that happens here quicker

than most other places.

Even though here, the glaciers

were lured into a dead end,

as the huge claws of time

dragged across the ground like

a long pause in someone’s

conversation, leaving shoulder humps

like a bison’s, in loosely

formed spherical organisms.

Here, I feel the improbability

of our connected minds.

Codes in the maple trees disguised

as art, the oughtness of an ant,

and all those obscure little

engines inside my cells.

Mendon…full of meandering

streaks of golden eagle wings

covering a teal-white glow. 

Mendon…pixels of maroons and

Granny Smith apple greens,

and a pond dressed in

pastels of purple mandarin.

Mendon, a chemical reaction to grace.

I hear sermons in your stones.