Archive for January, 2009

Letter From New York 01 11 09

January 13, 2009

Letter From New York
January 11, 2009

It is a Sunday evening; as the sun set last night snow began to fall. When I woke this morning, there was a foot in the circular drive of the house. It had been my intention to go into the city and meet some friends but as soon as I opened the door I knew it wasn’t going to be my day to go to the city.

So I curled up in the cottage, read magazines, talked to friends and family, had a fire in the stove, listened to music, did paperwork, spent time with myself. On Tuesday I have to go out to Los Angeles, something that came together on Friday and so it felt good to be able to spend some unexpected time with myself in my home.

Out there in the world, it is not a pretty place. Both Hamas and Israel are rejecting the cries for ceasefire so the dying goes on. Particularly difficult to see are the photos of children hurt, frightened, scared to death by forces they didn’t create but which are shaping their lives going forward. All around the world protests and counter protests are being staged. Support Gaza! Support Israel! Supporting either side isn’t getting the killing stopped. What is particularly troubling is the charge that Hamas is using innocent civilians as human shields. Israel says it is near to achieving its goals in Gaza. However the offensive will continue. Why? May be because Hamas is lobbing bigger rockets into Israel. None of this, of course, is doing much to resolve the underlying issues but it is doing a good job of making sure they don’t soon get resolved.

While Gaza suffers, Hollywood gathers to award the Golden Globes. It’s the official beginning of the march to The Oscars. No matter what the shape the world is in, we continue to celebrate the work done in movies and on television. The Oscars were a constant during the Great Depression and will be a constant through whatever it is we end up calling this crisis.

The ripples continue from the Madoff affair, people constantly performing exegesis on the events, attempting to understand how a fraud of this dimension could have gone undetected, especially by his own sons – who seem to have little to say about the matter. Meanwhile, it has now become apparent that it will take years to unravel the mystery of the affair. Meanwhile, Mr. Madoff is working out a defense. Insanity is being floated; it hasn’t resonated well so far. We’ll see if they actually use it.
In one of the rare instances of sane behavior on the part of the Bush Administration, we discovered this weekend that they denied the Israelis high tech bombs so they could attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. It was a rare instance of restraint on their part, for which I am grateful – one of the few things from this Administration for which I am grateful.

This has been the week in which Forbes did a study of the effects upon billionaires, giving us a look at twenty-five of them who have been ravaged by the crash. Some of them are barely millionaires any more. There is one man who has in the last nine months lost twenty-five BILLION dollars. Losses all around are staggering.

It is winter and I am warm and cozy in the cottage. Europe has been living under the threat of freezing because of a gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia. Pictures from eastern Europe showed people shivering on trains that weren’t being heated to save fuel. A deal was done between Ukraine and Russia that resolved the problem; it began to, not surprisingly, unravel almost immediately. The EU is scrambling to save the deal – one fifth of its natural gas flows through the Ukrainian pipeline and temperatures are dropping.

What I am seeing at the end of this cozy Sunday in the cottage is that the world is in a very hard place and it seems that the issues may be insurmountable. However, we are human and in the human heart beats hope and hope is what we need right now.

Hello world!

January 4, 2009

Letter From New York
January 4, 2009

Come Tuesday evening, 12th Night, the Holiday Season will come to a close and whether or not we leave our trees up longer, the world will expect us to ramp back up into our everyday selves and manage what it is we do on a day to day basis.  I don’t know anyone who is sorry to see 2008 slip into the wake of time.  However, knowing what we’re facing as a world and as a country, I am not facing 2009 with unadulterated excitement.

Sitting at my computer, perusing stories from around the world, gathered neatly together by the home pages of some of my favorite sites, I found it not comforting that the world didn’t take a pause from its violent ways for the Holidays.  The violence in the Gaza strip is particularly disheartening – it could be the birthing of a whole new Intifada, a word that means “shaking off” in Arabic and one that has taken on rebellion as its meaning.  To me, far and away when I hear the word, I now know we are in for trouble and that many will die. While I have been writing this, Israeli troops and Hamas forces have engaged on the ground in Gaza, deepening the crisis there.

I have written before of the duality of our race, capable of such generosity and at the same time capable of such horrible deeds.  The past year has revealed us in all those ways – and the horrible didn’t include just acts of physical violence.  The Madoff Affair is the pinnacle of the mountain of greed that shadowed us for the last decade or more.  Mumbai reminded us that terrorism is everywhere and can be very focused in its victims – westerners, Jews living in India, the wealthy.  The work of the Mumbai terrorists was on a par with what we expect from our elite Navy Seals in terms of organization, speed, and ability to strike without warning.

After almost six long years, the U.S. is slowly beginning to hand over control of Iraq’s cities to the Iraqis. Forward Operating Base Callahan has now reverted to its pre-war name:  Sha’ab Market.  Allah willing it will again be a market.  The slow departure from Iraq has begun, quietly, with relatively little fanfare here, hopefully an orderly pullout that will allow Iraq to transition to a functioning country.  God willing.  Yet while violence as a whole is down, a female suicide bomber killed dozens of worshipers at the Kadhimiyah shrine, a holy place to Shiites on Sunday.

People that I know are not eager to return to work as they are frightened of the scene to which they will return.  Economic news is grim and for the last ten days reality has been held at bay by the warm glow of holiday spirits.  Now the sobering future is upon us.  The Governors of many our 50 states are petitioning President Elect Obama for a trillion dollars in state aid, to help get the state and national economies moving.  We are becoming inured to the word trillion.  Senator Everett Dirksen, of the mid 20th Century, once said: A billion here, a billion there and soon you’re talking real money.  We are in sight of the day when someone will say, a trillion here, a trillion there…

As we depart the Holiday season and move into the inevitable future, everyone who has a job is grateful and those who do not are hopeful that an Obama administration will be able to handle the financial tsunami that is engulfing us. Gradually, over the last year, most of us have come to think of America at the brink of something bad and are looking for someone to lead us back. On Saturday as I did errands, I heard the weekly radio address from President Bush and the counterpoint from President Elect Obama.  What struck me were not the words they said but the tenor of the voices speaking, President Bush sounded exhausted, as beaten down as some of his fellow countrymen.  Obama sounded alive, confident, hopeful, focused – all the things we are desperately going to need in the next months and years.