Archive for January, 2010

Letter From New York January 25, 2010

January 26, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

As the Friday night train trundled languorously north, there was an animated conversation between my fellow passengers about what had been the most important stories of the week – in a week that was full of important events.

Haiti still dominated the news and my train companions were all struck by the number of children who had been orphaned, a tragic number in a tragic situation, helpless individuals in an almost hopeless situation.

Friday night there was a telethon for Haiti, organized by George Clooney, a star studded event that pulled on heart strings, opened pockets in a desperate economy, raising an unprecedented 58 million dollars. The reality of the devastation of Haiti has struck everyone – there hasn’t been a story that has quite captured the attention of the world to this degree since 9/11. It is a story that has seized the hearts and minds of people around the world.

Nothing really matches it but the drumbeat of news goes on.

Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts for the Senate seat once held by Edward Kennedy. He campaigned as an opponent to Obama’s Health Care Reforms and his victory has dark ramifications for Democrats, a signaling of discontent one year into the Obama Presidency. Even loyal Democrats are discontent, wondering why there is so much focus on Health Care Reform when the economy remains mired in trouble with employment not rebounding. Why health care and not job creation? Without jobs, who can pay for health care? As a close friend of mine stated: it’s the economy, stupid.

Following close on that and outraging most of my Democratic friends was the news that following a Supreme Court decision corporations are now granted the right to spend as much as they want to support candidates. Conservatives rejoice and liberals are rending their clothes. The ruling overturns decades of precedent and could fundamentally change the landscape of American politics. Have we opened the door to office going to the highest bidder?

While the Haiti catastrophe played out in the endless news cycle and while Democrats despaired because of Massachusetts and the Supreme Court ruling, the pop culture landscape was also the focus of attention as NBC came to terms with what to do with its late night franchise. In the end, Conan O’Brien was out, Jay Leno was back in and Conan went out on Friday night with a great deal of humor and more class than could have been expected. In his final remarks, he lauded NBC, his home for many years while acknowledging their current differences. It was a moment he will be proud of in the future; he did not go darkly into that good night.

I went to a hotel in downtown New York on Tuesday evening to meet a producer I’ve known for years though have not seen for many of them. He and the woman he is partnered with were staying in the Millennium Hilton, which overlooks Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site. Both of them as well as many of the crew they were with had not been to that part of Manhattan in all the years since 9/11 and all of them were struck in awe by being by the site and felt, they said, the ghosts of that day all around them. It both left them awestruck and unnerved.

As a New Yorker, I simply was glad that, after all these years, construction cranes were sprouting from the site and there was movement in moving on. The actual site holds less trauma for us now; we are glad to see movement, real movement, in building fresh while at the same time recognizing the city will never be the same – and this has been a week where events have indicated the world will never be the same. It won’t be in Haiti. It won’t be in politics. New York is not the same. But then nothing is ever quite the same, from week to week – it’s just this week seemed to underscore that more than most.

Letter From New York January 18, 2010

January 18, 2010

I know very little about Haiti.

I know it is reputedly the most impoverished country in the hemisphere.  I know French is the language and they won their freedom from the French at the beginning of the 19th Century.  I know Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.  I know my mother stopped there on a cruise and was shocked by the level of poverty.  I know it suffered a catastrophic earthquake this past week, with destruction of a magnitude that is almost impossible to imagine.

It has been hard to put fingers to keyboard.  Every other event or situation this week has paled against the backdrop of this tragedy, a word that seems too soft for events in that poor country.  And I have not known what to say regarding Haiti.  Coming home last night and other nights this week I have been riveted to the news, watching the awful scene unfold in front of me on the television screen.  In a move that was different from my recent behavior, I found myself looking to the television screen rather than my computer screen for updates on events.  The catastrophe filled the airwaves and news channels were focused on Haitian events; visuals were not hard to find and this is a story of devastating visuals.

As is often the way, Americans have begun to donate money. Millions have been raised by texting the word “Haiti” to 90999, thus donating $10 to the American Red Cross via your cell phone bill; the sum is over $10,000,000 so far.  An acquaintance is flying to Haiti on Thursday with volunteers funded through the Clinton Foundation. All major organizations seem to be directing funds to Haiti

It is a story that has pushed all other stories away from the front page, below the fold.  Obama has pressed Clinton and Bush 2 into service to focus attention and raise funds for Haiti.  U.S. service men and women have arrived and are arriving to help maintain order, get supplies through the bottleneck at the airport and to provide desperately needed medical aid.  I watched reporters this morning discuss their reactions to what they’re seeing and they are overwhelmed, all saying they were witnessing the worst situation they have ever seen.

The loss of life is profound and may reach higher numbers than the death toll in the Chinese earthquake and it is in our own backyard, not all that far from our shores, inflicted upon people who have significantly less internal resources than the Chinese.

It is a tragedy of a depth I find hard to comprehend.  I was in Los Angeles for the 1994 Northridge earthquake and so have some base of experience yet I cannot imagine what this is like.  In Los Angeles, the earthquake struck a city that had evolved knowing it was vulnerable to earthquakes and so had built itself accordingly.  The destruction was terrible but mitigated by construction designed to survive and bolstered by an infrastructure that survived the earthquake and was able to respond.  In Port Au Prince the city was not built to earthquake standards and has little social service infrastructure that seems to have survived the quake.

This is the kind of cataclysm that results in men and women of faith looking skyward and wondering where is God in all of this?  It is the common result of any tragedy, of events in life that seem unfair and unjust.   It is devastation not often seen on such a scale and it will live with all of us for a long time to come, reminding us of the fragility of life and the power of nature and, hopefully, the resilience of the human spirit to rise above tragedy and, at the end, come to peace with it.

Letter From New York January 7, 2010

January 8, 2010

Or: as it seems to me

The Right Thing

On Tuesday evening of this week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the world premiere of BRACE FOR IMPACT, the incredible story of US Airways Flight 1549 and Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the man who a year ago became a beacon of hope and light for Americans [and I suspect a lot of other people around the world] when he did the unthinkable and safely landed an Airbus in the Hudson River. Everyone was saved; no one was hurt. A legend was born.

Dan Birman, a friend and colleague from my days with the Television Academy, produced the documentary for TLC; he told the story well. It did what a good documentary should – kept me engaged, wanting more, satisfied with what I saw and caused me a moment when tears came to my eyes. Take a bow, Mr. Birman.

It was the story of the Captain, the crew, the passengers, the flight, the air controllers, the rescuers – all the people whose lives intersected in that short frame of time when history was made. It is a story of people who did things correctly, calmly, bravely, on all levels and on all fronts, people who in a moment of crisis saw what needed to be done and did their duty in the moment of need. There was a Captain and a crew who turned training into life saving actions and maintained their calm and professionalism as they moved through the crisis of their lives. Air controllers maintained their calm. Passengers did not panic. Ferry crews shed their moorings and sped to the downed plane to pick up passengers and crew within minutes of the ditching. It was a moment in time when everything worked the way it was supposed to and the story captivated the world and continues to do so, as it should.

It was an especially important story happening against the backdrop of an economy in free fall when fear walked the land and folks felt as if nothing would or could go right again. It was a good story in a time when it seemed there could be no good stories.
And it was good for me to have seen this film, this week, to remind me, a year later that there are times when things work the way we hope they will work and that there are people who will do the right thing at the right time.

This is a week that could cause one to feel a bit of despair about the human race. A young, radicalized Muslim attempted to blow a jet liner out of the sky. An irate man walked into the Court House in Las Vegas and shot and killed before he was shot and killed. Another apparently irate man walked into a company in St. Louis and killed a few before he killed himself. Security contractors in Afghanistan are being held on suspicion they killed some Afghanis. A patrolwoman in a western state was killed by the driver of a car she’d pulled over. It has been a disturbingly busy week for killing – instances of men not doing the right thing, not rising to the occasion. As the rat a tat of arriving Breaking News stories arrived in my inbox there wasn’t anything to inspire me to more than a bleak view of the world in which I live.

And yet it is not as bleak as the breaking news indicates because we have the story of “Captain Sully” and all the brave people who made history that day. Despite all the grim news, there are stories of people doing the right thing at the right time and those stories have the power to lift us further than the dark stories can take us down. It is in our DNA, I think, to look up more than it is to look down. Thank you, Captain Sullenberger.

Take another bow, Mr. Birman. And the show airs on TLC this coming Sunday, January 10th, 2010. Take a look. Be inspired.