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Katerina Sulova/CTK/AP

Observing Red Wednesday in the Czech Republic (Katerina Sulova/CTK/AP)

Metro Minute

Night of remembrance

An Episcopal church in Manhattan offers prayers for Asia Bibi at a service for persecuted Christians

A New York moment: 

Last Wednesday churches around the world lit up red in solidarity with persecuted Christians, an event called Red Wednesday. Here in New York the only church I found that marked the day was Calvary-St. George, an Episcopal church. Calvary-St. George’s music director, Kamel Boutros, comes from an often-persecuted group in Egypt, the Copts. 

A prolific composer, Boutros set a new tune for the Martin Luther hymn “From Deepest Woe I Cry to Thee” for the congregation to sing at the opening of the evening service. The service alternated liturgy with information about various groups around the world undergoing persecution. First there was a video about the killing of Copts. 

The congregation prayed together: “God of grace and peace, who stretched out your arms upon the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace, pour your power upon all the people of the Middle East: Jews, Muslims, and Christians, Palestinians and Israelis.” 

Then there was a responsive reading of Psalm 22, which opens with the famous line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Though the evening focused on Christian persecution, the congregation also reflected on the October shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. Later on, Rector Jacob Smith stood up to read a news article about Asia Bibi, noting her current life-and-death plight: She seems to have no path out of Pakistan, where she faces constant, widespread death threats. 

The night ended with a hymn: “Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear; arise, O Sun so longed for, o’er this benighted sphere. With hearts and hands uplifted we plead, O Lord, to see the day of earth’s redemption that sets your people free!” 

Worth your time:  

The trailer for Peter Jackson’s new documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, where he colorized World War I footage and hired lip readers to decipher conversations:

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Handout

Mormon-sponsored giving machines at 125 Columbus Ave. (Handout)

Metro Minute

Mormons in Scrooge City

On ‘Giving Tuesday’ in not-so-generous New York, Mormons try to raise money for groups like Catholic Charities via vending machine

A New York moment: 

It’s Giving Tuesday in New York, and I paid a visit to the Mormon temple down by Lincoln Center. The Latter-day Saints had set up three beautifully designed vending machines on the busy sidewalk, where New Yorkers can “buy” items like a first aid kit for CARE International (a humanitarian organization) or a winter blanket for the local Catholic Charities or a gallon of milk for a neighborhood food pantry.

The vending machine dumps a box with a picture of the item to the bottom, like a normal vending machine. Even though the machines have only been open a couple of days, the bottom bins were piled with gifts—pacifiers, basketballs, children’s boots. Out in the blustery cold, three Mormon missionaries stood helping people make purchases and answer questions. 

“We’ve seen [people purchase] a couple cows,” said Meletupou Vaka, who had a ukulele she was strumming in slow moments. 

The three missionaries emphasized to browsers that none of the donations go to the LDS temple, but that 100 percent of the donation goes to the item you purchase. The LDS organization covers any overhead costs associated with the item. A vending machine in Salt Lake City, Utah, last year raised about half a million dollars, they said, and now there are other machines in London and the Philippines. 

Speaking of Mormons, Utah is much more charitable than New York. Last week I came across this map of charitable giving by county in the United States. The Bible Belt and the Mormon-Belt in Utah come out looking good, while the Northeast and Wisconsin look pretty stingy. Maybe Mormons can get New Yorkers into a charitable mood this Christmas. 

Worth your time:  

Meet the New York City official who makes $1.7 million a year by collecting debts on behalf of predatory lenders. The office of city marshal goes back to Dutch colonial days in New York, and the payment scheme hasn’t changed much since then. The marshals get a cut of whatever debt they collect. 

Most of the debt comes from small-business owners who find themselves in a tight spot and turn to a predatory lender. One month after a plumber had borrowed $6,837, a marshal went after him and got the plumber’s bank to freeze his entire account. The plumber paid the marshal $13,453 to unfreeze his account.  

This week I learned: 

Many Chinese car buyers don’t like the “new car smell” that Americans love, and now Ford is finding a new way to get rid of it. 

A court case you might not know about: 

The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in the dusky gopher frog case today, sending the dispute over the endangered frog’s habitat back to lower courts for further consideration on the definition of “habitat.” The frog hasn’t lived on the land under dispute since 1965, but its legal journey to possibly live on that land some day in the future continues. 

Culture I am consuming: 

We re-watched The Godfather over Thanksgiving. If you’re going to make a movie with a three-hour running time, it’d better be this good. Others in the stellar three-hour category: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Barry Lyndon; and Amadeus. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

 

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Photo/Mark Lennihan

Sidewalk graffiti expressing opposition to the location of an Amazon headquarters in New York (Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Metro Minute

Prime subsidies

Local outrage over the Amazon deal in New York, and scientific delight over termite pyramids in Brazil

A New York moment:

All the buzz in New York at the moment concerns the new Amazon headquarters coming here with a promise of about 25,000 jobs. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and state Gov. Andrew Cuomo, typically archenemies, showed a united front supporting the deal. But they seemed surprised by the level of anger from the community about it—people who feel the transit system is already overloaded, who don’t like how much money taxpayers will shell out for the deal, or who just don’t like Amazon. 

I listened to several local call-in radio shows, like The Brian Lehrer Show, and almost every caller had something negative to say about the deal. Their concerns included rising real estate prices and environmental worries about development on the waterfront. Welcome to New York, Jeff Bezos!

De Blasio appeared on Brian Lehrer to answer calls, and it was interesting to hear the self-described progressive defend bringing a large corporation to the city. (He has said he would never allow a big-box store like Walmart into New York.) He also found himself arguing on the show that more good jobs bring people out of poverty long-term. 

New York has promised about $1.7 billion in incentives, but most of that number involves incentives available to anyone bringing jobs to the state. New York government as a matter of practice offers a lot of corporate subsidies. The newish Yankee Stadium? It got $1.2 billion in public funding. 

New York Daily News editorial board member Alyssa Katz pointed out that Hudson Yards, a $25 billion development project on Manhattan’s West Side, is “getting far more in N.Y. government aid than Amazon.” Related Cos., the real estate developer overseeing the project, has received about $4.6 billion in public incentives. She added that “no one’s complaining except construction unions that aren’t getting 100 percent of the work.” 

Worth your time:  

Termites built 200 million mounds in hexagonal patterns over thousands of square miles in the forests of Brazil, according to a recent discovery. The earth they moved is the equivalent of 4,000 Great Pyramids of Giza.

Also: The Los Angeles Times had a team of reporters find people who experienced the Camp Fire firsthand as it exploded into an inferno, and the resulting piece is an amazing narrative that feels like a nightmare. Shoes melted into pavement as people tried to run away, authorities issued chaotic orders, tires popped from the heat. It’s devastating to think of anyone from that area with a missing loved one. 

This week I learned:

Better news from Northern California: The leukemia-stricken Batkid who took over the city of San Francisco five years ago is cancer-free.

Culture I am consuming: 

Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a film about the true story of 1990s literary forger Lee Israel. (Laura Finch reviewed it for WORLD.) The pacing was a little off, but I really enjoyed the combo of Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant as the leads. My sister-in-law Kate Belz pointed out that it’s sort of an anti-Nora Ephron film, showing the seedy underbelly of New York in 1991. And indeed, Ephron is the butt of a couple of writer jokes in the film.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org

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