A Talk On New Edition Of The Riddle Of The Sands

On 14 April 2011, Erskine C. Childers, gave a talk at Glucksman Ireland House of New York University on the new 2011 edition of The Riddle of the Sands. His great-grandfather, Erskine Childers’s book. The talk spoke on the competition for naval power among European empires to control the sea. The book’s plot concerns the growing arms race during the build up to the first World War. Germany and England at that time were in a tight rivalry for supremacy. Erskine Childers, the author, wanted to use the novel to warn the British Government about a possible invasion by Germany through the North Sea. My son read from two sections of the book and summarized parts of the content from his “introduction” in the new edition. He also explored the complicated life of his great-grandparents, their love of sailing, and their struggle and fight for the independence of Ireland. The talk included  family photos of his great-grandfather, with old maps of northern Europe to illustrate the setting of the story. My son shares in the love of sailing. In his introduction, he described his great-grandfather’s love of the sea: “Sea salt was on his brain at all times, and it was becoming his meditation. On the water, he felt most at ease; the bliss of the skipper and its sense of control. On the sea he had to answer to no one. There, it was his world, and his decisions.” As a young boy my son went on several cruises in many parts of the world with his father, Erskine B. Childers. At the age of seven, he went with his father to the Navy Docks in Dublin to pay a visit to the Asgard; the famous 1914 Howth gun-running yacht belonging to his great-grandparents (see my photo below). Years later, as a young man, he continued sail training at an Australian school off the coast of Thailand. This new 2011 edition of his great-grandfather’s spy thriller and sailing novel is available now at all major bookstores worldwide in paperback, and also in digital e-book format for iPad readers. This is a book for anyone that loves the sea, and adventures upon it.

Millennium Development Goals Summit

When heads of states and governments met at the United Nations Headquarters in the year 2005 for a World Summit, they had agreed on eight Millennium Development Goals. They were sure that they can eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empowerment of women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development by the year 2015. I was among those skeptics who did not believe that the set targets and goals are achievable within that short a time frame. I thought that those world leaders were too optimistic. But now I am surprised that despite the financial crisis, numbers of countries have made progress in some areas i.e. improve enrollment of primary school, lower rate of child mortality, improve service for maternal health, and HIV/AIDS prevention, improve awareness of the importance of reproductive health and rights, of gender equality, and women’s rights. This week from 20-22 of September 2010, heads of states and governments have come together again at the United Nations to review past action, achievements, and the areas for future action to meet the set goals. As for the outcome of this Summit, I hope to see a firm commitment to accelerate efforts to reach targets of the Millennium Goals. Increase in quantity and quality of development assistance is key element of success. The same as for the full participation of all stakeholders in development policy and programs which can strengthen local ownership within each country. NGOs and Foundations have a vital role to play in mobilization of people and resources. A good example of this is the activity of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Their media program, TEDxChange, organized in New York as a parallel activity to the Millennium Goals Summit, has made a tremendous impact around the World.

Treasures of Afghanistan

Anyone interested in ancient arts and history should not miss the exhibition on the Afghanistan Hidden Treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These treasures, some of them dug-up from tombs, have been on tour in the United States since last year, beginning at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, then the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. I went to see the exhibition on July 8. As I stepped into the hall, I saw a stunning photographs of a beautiful panoramic view of the mountain terrain of Afghanistan, then I watched a documentary film of the Greek architecture from the second century B.C. city of Ai Khanum. The history of the people who live in the country in ancient times and their arts were on displayed in the connecting rooms. I like the normadic gold jewelries of the first century that were excavated from the old city of Tillya Tepe. The background Afghan music played throughout the exhibit hall, had created an atmosphere of actually being in Afghanistan for that moment in time. The display of ancient art treasures, statues, carnelian and turquoise jewelries, gold coins, carved ivory were set up in separate compartments keep secured in a glass-top tables and walls under controlled temperature. The museum organized this exhibition in cooperation with the National Geographic Society, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities grant. I went to Afghanistan for the first time in 1969. I considered myself to be very lucky in having seen the full exhibition of all the historical treasures of Afghanistan that were kept at the National Museum of Kabul before they were destroyed during the civil war. At that time the museum rooms were over flowing with arts and artifacts from Greece, Mongolia, China and India. The National Museum artfully displayed those hand-blown glasses and vases of different shapes in pale blue/green colors that were brought over by Alexander‘s army; silver and gold coins brought over by Bactrian and Mongol merchants when they traveled through the ancient “silk route” crossing the Hindu Kush mountain. I was told then that there were much more priceless materials collected at the Museum than from what I had seen, because there were no space to display them all. The museum, therefore, had to store them in the basement. When the Taliban took control of the government in the late eighties, I was concerned that those precious treasures would be lost forever. Many of them were destroyed when the museum were bombed during the war. But in 2003, the Afghan new government announced to the public that they had found some of the treasures hidden in the vault of Kabul’s Presidential Bank.The staff of the museum had hiden them underground to avoid possible looting and destruction during the fighting. In Bamyan valley, the Sunny Taliban destroyed the two big Buddha statues when they fought with the Shi’it Hazaris people living in the area. The two statues were built by Buddhist monks pilgrims who built meditation chambers by carving the rock on the side of the mountain along side the Buddha statues. Bamyan valley was a crossroads of many cultures in Central Asia from traders to pilgrims. The Taliban wanted to eliminate all forms and influences of other religions and ethnic groups and made Afghanistan an Islamic State. Now, there is a war going on between the NATO force and the Taliban establishments in the rural areas. What I am afraid of is that the modern weapons used could damage historical places shown at the exhibition namely one of the Unesco Cultural Heritage sites, the Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamyan Valley. The exhibition will end on 20 September 2009.

Strolling The Highline

I am glad that there is a new park just opened in lower West-side of Manhattan – an usual park created by landscape artists on an elevated railroad track above the meat packing district, between the Southernmost blocks of Chelsea and 20th street. To surprise me, my son took me for a Sunday stroll in Manhattan but he did not tell me where we were going. Just sheer luck, I brought along a camera with me. It was spectacular entry when the elevator door opened. I saw Highline Park for the first time – a park in the sky full of colorful flowers planted between the tracks. This is a gigantic environment and conservation project aimed to rescue the old West-side railway from demolition. It was based on a dream of two men: Robert Hammond and Josh David. They receive funds and other support from over 1,500 people who called themselves “Friends of the High Line”. Mayor Bloomberg and New York City administration joined in this creative endeavor to make the dream come true – making the city livable in a healthy environment. Thanks to them, we have a new place to relax in the middle of the hectic life of New York city. They have succeeded in transforming a broken down railway track into a long smooth path of concrete and wooden planks, with sun deck, amphitheater, long stylized sitting benches. We walked along the path above ground admiring newly planted flowers and trees and grass, artistically grown between the railway tracks and cement planks. Wooden steps are made along the path so that people can sit, zip a drink and eat a boxed lunch while watching sunset on the bank of the Hudson River. The park is opened free to the public but not to bicycles, roller blades, dogs, or cats. It is kept clean for pedestrians only, which I very much appreciated. While strolling, I took several pictures of the plants and flowers shooting up between railway track, the total view of the garden and it’s surrounding city blocks with the street below. Sunday walk in Highline Park on a clear day in Manhattan is a memorable experience for me that I want to share with everyone. I hope that you enjoy seeing some of the pictures that I took last Sunday.

Gender Personal Choice

Should people be allowed to alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery?
This is a question that is being discussed right now in community forums and by members of the New York City Board of Health. I have a simple answer to this question, that “freedom” means people are in total charge of their own bodies, therefore they ought to be able to decide whether to live a life as a man or a woman. Nature has equipped some species of fish with a capacity to change sex. Human beings are not that well equipped for they have to rely on sex-changed surgery by doctor’s, which is now a booming business in Asia. Thailand is now called the capital of sex-change. But sex-change surgery costs money and not many people can afford it. To be fair, all people should be allowed to have their personal choice on this.
A word of caution for a person who wants to make this sex-shift without going through the surgery; he/she must be prepared for life-long turmoil and confusion in social interactions with other people. This matter is not just a change of the boxes in one’s birth registration certificate, cross-dressing or exaggerated mannerism of one sex or the other, but it is a serious matter in dealing with existing prejudices in most traditional societies and in marriage laws, drafting and military services, parenting and child-adoption, children’s education and school administration. Most difficult of all, I think, would be the struggle to psychologically cope with the confusions of other people’s perceptions as to who you really are, while at the same time maintaining your own good mental health.