Archive for December, 2009

Letter From New York, December 31, 2009

December 31, 2009

Or:  As it seems to me…

It is the last day of 2009 and it’s a year that many will be glad to see the back of…it’s also the last day of the decade and I don’t know many who won’t be glad to see the back of the decade that the Financial Times of London called the “noughties.”   It started with a recession and ends with the Great Recession.  It was slammed in the face with 9/11 and ends with an attempted attack on an airliner as a reminder that there are individuals out there dedicated to killing great numbers of us, are willing to kill themselves to accomplish their desires and who have, it seems, a penchant for airliners.

The entire idea of flying has become even less attractive after this most recent incident and the measures being taken – not being able to leave your seat for the last hour of a flight, nothing on your lap – are bound to make air travel more difficult, more uncomfortable and less convenient, especially for those who use airplane flights to catch up on work on their laptops.  I expect a surge in video conferencing.

2009 was punctuated by the worst economic landscape in generations.  I heard yesterday that real unemployment hovers around 17%, almost double the official unemployment figure – many have surrendered to unemployment and have given up looking.  Or are severely underemployed.  It is a landscape unlike any I have experienced in my lifetime.  Reading the Time Magazine that named Ben Bernanke “Man of the Year” I came away believing that were it not for the extraordinary, albeit imperfect, measures taken by the Fed we would be living in a far worse situation.  We might well be living in the second Great Depression rather than the Great Recession.

We have a decade of faces that punctuate the landscape.  Start with Osama Bin Laden, supposedly resting in a cave somewhere in the rough landscape of Afghanistan/Pakistan who has lead Islamic extremists in their hatred of America and from his low tech haven has orchestrated acts of hate against us, including the most recent attempted attack on the Christmas Day airliner.  To many, it is hard to even begin to comprehend the depth of hatred these people have for America and everything about it.  Yet it is real, it is there and must be dealt with.

On the other end of the decade the other face that dominates the landscape is that of Barack Obama, President of the United States, the first African-American to hold the nation’s highest office, whom, by his election, has caused the world to stop and reassess our country.  It will be fascinating to watch to see if this man, elected with such hope, can come close to fulfilling the expectations placed on his shoulders with his elevation to the Presidency.

Against this backdrop of economic pain and international terror, there have been interesting things to note – there seems to be, it seems to me, a heightened sense of sensitivity to our fellow man, an acknowledgement we are all in this together and we best be kind to one another.

While the wars we are engaged in may be unpopular, we have not made the tragic mistake of the Viet Nam era of blaming the soldiers.  Instead, they are respected even if their returning home is fraught with negative aftereffects.  Post traumatic stress is taking a huge toll among those who are returning and we are faced with the tragic consequences of our conflicts in the severely wounded who are amongst us, men and women who might not have survived in other conflicts, saved by the valiant efforts of their fellow soldiers, medics and technology never before available.

It is a daunting landscape, dominated by war and recession.   Yet there are some small encouraging signs about the economy and, perhaps, some signs of stabilization in Iraq even while Afghanistan seems more frightening than ever while Pakistan is a wild card where events could shape the future more than anywhere.

And yet… we are alive and with life there is hope and hope, which springs eternal in the human heart, is the stuff by which we live and we will, I hope, enter 2010 in hope and see that emotion realized in concrete events and actions.

Happy New Year!  Thank you for reading.

Letter From New York December 15, 2009

December 15, 2009

OR: as it seems to me

Several times over the weekend, I found myself on the deck of the cottage looking down at the creek. It was a working weekend; I had a project that kept me close to my computer and never far from home, with a bucket of conference calls layered in. So, sometimes in between, I went outside to catch a breath of fresh air, a respite from the work I was engaged in. The air was cold but not so cold that it was unpleasant to be outside; it was not MINNESOTA cold.

I sent a copy off to a friend in the U.K. saying: it’s looking a lot like Christmas. And it was, fresh snow on the ground, several local radio stations had turned themselves into All Christmas, All The Time stations so it wasn’t hard to find the carols to match the scene.

What was hard was to find the spirit inside to match the carols and the snow covered landscape. I don’t know about anyone else but the Grinch seems running amuck in my world. Thank God I put up the tree Thanksgiving weekend because if I were asked to do it now it might elicit a huge BAH HUMBUG from me. I am farther behind in chasing Father Christmas than I have ever been in all my remembered life. I may not even manage electronic Christmas cards this year! And I have been annoyed, annoyed with myself for not managing better organization [could I have?] and being annoyed at the season for slipping away so quickly. Time goes faster when you’re older they say but this Christmas season is going at light speed. Is it just because I have been buried in this project? Is it that there is a bit of the Grinch inside me [as there is in most people] and that little bit of the Grinch wants to come out and play under the pressure of other events?

So I have had to take a moment, a moment for attitude re-adjustment. This is not the way I want Christmas to be and so if it is not to be the Christmas stolen by the Grinch I am going to have to un-Grinch myself.

Which is why I found myself on the deck several times this weekend, working to get into the spirit of Christmas by basking in the beauty that surrounds me – and taking a photo so I would have some digital evidence of it. The fault is not with the stars, it is with myself and with myself I have to make the effort to break the cycle in which I have been finding myself.

Once realized, it hasn’t been that hard. Yes, I am monstrously behind in all the Christmas errands but that needn’t stop me from turning to the clerk in the store and wishing him or her a very merry. And, yes, I noticed when I was in the stores this weekend, squeezing in some essential Christmas shopping between conference calls, that there seemed to be very little merry, merry in the aisles. Well, I can help change that by changing myself and offering up a little of my own merry, merry!

The season of the year – whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or the winter solstice, lives not outside but inside – it is ours to make. And I have my work cut out for me in making this Christmas/Holiday season as merry as I want it to be – but I want it to be merry and fun and so I will do the work.

Merry, Happy/Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, whatever… may the joy of the season be with you and fill your life.

Letter From New York December 9, 2009

December 9, 2009

OR: as it seems to me

While I write this, many of the world’s leaders have descended or are going to descend upon Copenhagen to attend COP 15: United Nations Climate Change Conference.   While I would follow this story in the normal course of events out of natural curiosity, I am particularly engaged in this because my major client, Odyssey Networks, has a team of four there covering the conference from an interfaith perspective and I have been leading the technical team that is charged with getting their nightly reports up on the web and available for the 127 or so organizations and news services that have said they want them.  I have been on pins and needles because of Copenhagen, Climate Change and the schedule of Mr. Obama, who has decided he will attend, putting a stick in the works of getting some credentials for our folks over there.

The whole concept of “climate change” is under siege right now because of “Climategate,” a brewing scandal out of the University of East Anglia in the U.K. that charges professors there with manipulating information and bullying others in the field to make things look worse than they are, in fact.  At least one person has temporarily stepped aside from his post while investigations proceed and the resultant brou-ha-ha has caused the number of people who say they believe in climate change to plummet just as all these folks are pulling into Copenhagen to discuss and attempt to do something about climate change.

Regardless, I am deeply engaged because I have people on the ground and can’t afford not to pay more than a little attention.

My brother asked me over the weekend if I believed in climate change and I answered this way, based on a report I had heard over the weekend.  Back in the 1920’s there was no empirical evidence smoking was bad for you but some people said: hey, wait a minute, putting smoke into your body can’t be good!  And about fifty years later we found out that those folks were right, smoking isn’t good for you.  We have now learned that empirically.  Now I can’t say categorically that climate change is happening.  I’m not a scientist and haven’t parsed all the information.  I suspect something odd is going on based on all the strange things that are happening that might, anecdotally, point to climate change – glaciers disappearing, storm patterns changing but I can’t prove it’s really climate change.

Takes me back to a day when I first moved to Los Angeles and I was walking down the street and went under a freeway overpass.  I reached out and could feel the particulates in the air and thought: hey, wait a minute, this can’t be good!  Now, regardless of climate change we are going around doing some pretty ugly things to old mother earth that are tantamount to putting smoke in her lungs and that can’t be good. It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature so I am erring on the side of caution when it comes to this climate change thing.

Letter From New York: December 2, 2009

December 2, 2009

Or: as it seems to me…

As I was preparing this year’s Thanksgiving feast, starting my day by peeling yams, I had NPR on the radio to keep my company.  It seemed a docile companion, National Public Radio.  My thought was that there wouldn’t be any real news on Thanksgiving Day – everyone, like me, was in his or her kitchen, peeling yams, or prepping potatoes, making cranberry sauce.  The world didn’t have time to get into trouble on Thanksgiving… Ah, I had fallen into the grand American parochialism– if we were busy nothing could happen anywhere. Ah, I was wrong.

Utilizing the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States, along with a long Muslim holiday, to buffer fallout, Dubai World, Inc. announced it wanted to delay payments on its sixty billion dollars in debt by six months, a gesture that was tantamount to default, a move that shook the global markets that were operating. The London Exchange took a dive as did the German as did…   it had the potential of being a big mess, another nail in the world financial order’s coffin.  So far, it hasn’t turned out that way but it could have been…

But it was Thanksgiving and I had guests coming and there wasn’t much I could do about what was happening in Dubai or about the aftereffects in the rest of the world.  I had yams to peel.  And squash to make and bread to bake… And things to be grateful for… It was a staggeringly beautiful day, bright and  cheery and warm. Friends were coming to join me.  I was, at that moment, cozily safe in the cottage, surrounded by food that needed fixing for feasting.  I was not living in Baghdad or Kabul or Darfur.  I was living in the calm of Claverack and the creek was flowing peacefully by and I was undisturbed by bombs or IED’s, suicide bombers or the ravages of Mother Nature.  I was living an almost perfect moment.  There could be many regrets but at that moment regret seemed pointless compared with the gifts of the hour. Twice I ruined the soup I was making and each time I started fresh I had enough to start over.

Friends arrived, feasting was done, clean up was accomplished, leftovers sent home. Houseguests appreciated and were appreciated.  Black Friday was not celebrated by an orgy of commercialism.  It was, all in all, a pretty perfect Thanksgiving.  Everywhere I turned, there were things to be happy for… Kevin Malone had returned safe from Zambia, I was healthy, and the turkey was moist. Getting on the train on Sunday to return to the city, one of the conductors presented me with a birthday card she had put together with another conductor, carrying it until she ran into me. My cup overflowed.

We are living in parlous times and, against that backdrop, it is wise, I think, to take each moment and smell it deeply, savor it as much as possible.  Who knows what radio report heard while peeling yams will signal some great distress?  There is so little we can control and so much we can give ourselves permission to enjoy.