One Hundred Billion Versions of Silence

Will these names be spoken by American officials this weekend in Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi, Ali Mohamed al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Ashraf Fayadh?

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The president of the United States will have one hundred billion reasons after this weekend to ignore the facts about the nation he chose as his first foreign destination: Saudi Arabia. He and his already embattled administration chose Saudi Arabia as the location of his first summit abroad—rather than Canada or Mexico, which U.S. presidents traditionally visit first—for a photo op: the president with King Salman and a game-show-style giant check between them.

The United States and Saudi Arabia will announce this weekend that Saudi Arabia will purchase at least $100 billion worth of military equipment, software, and ongoing expertise from American military contractors. Some military business experts estimate that after a decade the deals will be worth three hundred billion dollars.

“The customer is always right,” goes the old retail cliché, and there are two parts to a customer’s continual rightness: the customer has a right to complain about the product purchased or the service in the store no matter what, and the service has a duty to remain silent about the customer’s behavior, even when it is offensive.
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On Broadway!

A continuing series: How to Be AwkwardTM, by Mark Aldrich.

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Noises Off is one of the most popular comic plays of the last forty years. If you have ever seen it performed, you know it can be hilarious; the film version proved that there are some plays that can not be made into movies because they are so completely theatrical.

This is a story about the original Broadway production and an apology from me to Victor Garber, who starred in it.
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Joel Guerrero Freed; What Comes Next?

Numbers only provide a snapshot, a sense of the size of the story. In February, soon after the new U.S. President announced a desire to deport three million illegal immigrants in his first year in office, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started to conduct what it called “targeted enforcement operations” across the nation.

Sources report that in a five-day operation in February, some 680 individuals were detained under ICE’s new mandate. In March, another 729 were arrested in actions across the country. The total numbers are not yet known. The number deported has not been publicized.
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In Memory of a Fallen Friend

Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.
Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”

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Six-foot-four. If you asked him, and people often did while gazing up at him, “How tall are you,” he would reply, “6-4,” as if someone had once told him that “6-5” (his obvious actual height) sounded like a brag and he did not want to add a brag to his already imposing height. The man bent his head to pass through door frames. He was tall.

Modesty was the virtue he most cherished. It was not a false modesty or a virtue-signaling; I have learned that you will sometimes meet people in life who radiate modesty because they know that life cuts all of us down and they have learned it in the hardest of ways. Mickey J. was one of those people, and when I went to bed last night, I still thought I lived in a world shared with my friend, but he had died yesterday. I woke to the news on my phone.
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Gil Gutiérrez at Opus 40

Gil Gutiérrez is a master guitarist who has performed at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and in intimate venues like the Jazz Standard in New York City.

In recent years, he has performed with symphony orchestras and jazz combos; over the last decade, he has been a member of the San Miguel 5, Doc Severinsen’s current group, which has several performances scheduled this year to celebrate Doc’s 90th birthday.

Gutiérrez maintains a busy performance schedule in America and at home in Mexico, but perhaps the most fulfilling way to experience his ongoing musical exploration is in an intimate setting such as a wood-lined parlor while he is at work in a small group, such as in a trio with violinist Robert Stern and bassist David Rodriguez. Hmmmm. On Saturday, May 13, Gil Gutiérrez, Stern, and Rodriguez will bring their music to the Barbara Fite Room at Opus 40 in Saugerties, New York.

Tickets are available for $30 in advance, $40 at the door. Tickets are available online through PayPal, or by calling (845) 246-3400.
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Justice Delayed: ‘This is my existence … I’m Shawkan’

A journalist’s job is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Perhaps it is an indication of progress that the latest adjournment in the ongoing trial of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the Egyptian photojournalist who goes by the name “Shawkan,” was announced in court today for a date that is less than a month in the future: Saturday, May 20. Most of the postponements in the trial have been a month or longer.

Perhaps it means nothing at all. The court was presented with a “report on the forensic medicine of” Shawkan but Shawkan was reported to not be present:

Eleven days. For a human rights trial noteworthy for its glacial pace, perhaps the fact of a briefer delay until the morning that Shawkan can have his case heard means something, but this trial rebuffs all attempts to interpret its tiny shifts and huge delays.

Today is Shawkan’s 1365th day in prison.

Shawkan’s ongoing story, with its staggered month-by-month steps, is one of the denial of basic human rights by a nation allied with Western governments, but it also has been a story of many citizens stepping up and making certain that Shawkan’s story is heard. Both stories are worth knowing.

Shawkan is one of approximately twenty-five journalists jailed in Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

For those unaware of Shawkan’s story, I recently wrote the following background article:
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Better and Better

A friend told me about eating out with her “sarcastic” friend—we all have one—when the two of them saw a toddler, bundled up in winter layers, bounce off a closed glass door and fall because the child had not perceived the door.

The sarcastic friend said, sotto voce, “Get used to that, kid.”

Life is a clear, freshly cleaned, plate glass door that I haven’t noticed is a door, even with a shiny metal door handle at every-door-you’ve-ever-seen’s-door-handle-height on it, because I have been too busy thinking about life (or “thinking” “about” “life”) until I bonk into it. Loudly.

When are we too young to learn that? or too old to be reminded?
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Will Justin Trudeau Speak Out for Raif Badawi?

Raif Badawi remains in prison. Raif Badawi still awaits 950 lashes with a whip. Raif Badawi remains in danger …

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In an open letter published May 3, Amnesty International Canada asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “renew and intensify efforts to encourage Saudi Arabian authorities to free prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi.” The letter’s authors, Alex Neve and Béatrice Vaugrante, emphasize that the organization is asking that the Canadian government “and you personally” (meaning Prime Minister Trudeau) work for Badawi’s release. The letter was directed to Trudeau as a part of World Press Freedom Day, which was marked with events around the globe on May 3.

Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and the couple’s three young children moved to Canada in 2014 as refugees and have permanent resident status in that nation. The city in which they now live, Sherbrooke, Quebec, awarded Badawi an honorary citizenship in 2015. Thus, the letter writers remind Trudeau, “Canada is well positioned to urge Saudi officials to release Mr. Badawi on humanitarian grounds so that he can reunite with his family.”

“In fact,” Amnesty International Canada urges, “there is no other country with a stronger responsibility to champion Mr. Badawi’s case.”
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