Archive for February, 2010

Letter From New York February 27, 2010

February 28, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

As I begin to write this, I am watching the 2010 Winter Olympics – as I have done often during the last two weeks. It has been interesting to me that I have spent so much time on this Olympics, more than I have on any other. I have asked myself frequently why I have become so engaged with this event? Certainly I can’t remember any other Olympics in which I have become so engaged.

Perhaps it is because the U.S. is doing well and, God knows, we could use some good news – it has been pretty unremittingly awful for a long time now. Or is it that I am so aware of winter this year, writing while I am watching the Olympics and while the Northeast is struggling through another brutal winter storm, making me hyper aware of winter and its challenges.

Perhaps it is that having been in meetings back to back from the time [it seems] I have brushed my teeth in the morning until the time I have brushed my teeth at night, I wanted something that had nothing to do with anything else I was doing – escape. The Winter Olympics provided me with that, thank God.

There was a lot to escape from – the back-to-back meetings, for example. And then there was the former coffee cart worker who pleaded guilty this week to conspiring to blow up a bomb on a subway here in New York. The morning I heard that on the radio I didn’t get on the subway, a visceral response to an admitted threat. I was, for a moment, afraid. No wonder bobsled racing seemed interesting.

I had my favorites in Women’s Figure Skating. I wanted what was the actual result – the wonderful Korean for Gold, the magnificent Japanese for Silver and the very brave Canadian Joannie for Bronze, she who ice danced to a medal despite the death of her mother at the outset of the Games.

I had no idea who Lindsey Vonn was prior to these Games; same for Apolo Ohno – had no idea he had won Gold in Torino. Now I do. And I am following him now. All of this is a bit of a mystery to me – how did I and why did I become so engaged in these Games?
It was because I wanted escape. Escape from the back-to-back meetings. Escape from the man who wanted to bomb the subways. Escape from the unrelenting reality of the winter storms that have clogged the Northeast. Escape. Not a bad thing, I think.

The Olympics are reality, a reality as real as the snow and slush that dominate the streets of New York tonight. Men and women pushing themselves to the edge of what they or any human can do. It is inspiring to watch, humbling to see, awe inducing at the end. It has been an inspiring spectacle to watch. And a great escape from the endless meetings.

Letter From New York February 16, 2010

February 16, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

As I begin to write this, it is the end of the long President’s Day weekend, following on Valentine’s Day. Now the origin of Valentine’s Day, as I heard it recounted on NPR, goes something like this. There was a priest named Valentine who, during the reign of Claudius II, performed marriages even though the Emperor, for whatever reason, had decided no one should be getting married so he forbid it. Valentine got caught and thrown into prison and was sentenced to death by being beheaded [or clubbed to death, I’ve heard both].

While in prison he got friendly with the jail keeper’s daughter and before being led out to be beheaded [or clubbed to death], he left a note for her signed “Your Valentine.” It was February 14, 269 that he met his fate and February 14th has become Valentine’s Day – a day to celebrate love.

My Valentine’s Day celebration was punctuated by finding roses at my doorstep when I got home on Friday night, a remembrance from my friend Christine Olson, who gathered from the universe by some great sensitivity that I could use a bit of an uplift this Valentine’s Day. I spent Friday night arranging them in their vase and finding a place of pride for them in the cottage. It was, for me, the perfect uplift.

And the spirit of the day was carried through the weekend, with a surprising number of people wishing each other Happy Valentine’s Day.

Against the good spirits of the Holiday, the world itself was not so love filled. The largest NATO offensive since the invasion of Afghanistan itself was happening there, seeking to rout the Taliban from Helmand province – an adventure that seemed to be progressing well, despite the number of IED’s left everywhere as welcoming gifts for the soldiers.

Iran continues its mad plunge toward nuclear arms and Secretary Clinton has indicated that she thinks that Iran is becoming a military dictatorship. Yes, could well be given all that we’ve seen there since the last elections there. In the meantime, the world can’t seem to come to a consensus on how to respond to Iran and so they continue their mendacious ways.

Iraq, which is slowly taking control of its own security, is beset by recent bombings, with female suicide bombers making their mark, bedeviling that country’s efforts to climb back into civil stability.

The Winter Olympics have begun, with shadows. A young Georgian luge team member was killed in a practice run, casting a pall across the Games, which have been suffering from a surfeit of warm weather, causing delays in some sports as the runs are too slushy for competition. NBC says it will lose a couple of hundred million on the Olympics – the result of a too high bid for the rights when the economy was flush. All the computer modeling didn’t take into account the Great Recession.

So against Valentine’s Day, the celebration of love, there are a lot of things happening in the world that have little to do with love – from the nuclear ambitions of Iran to the suicide bombers of Iraq. It has been said that onstage dying is easy, comedy is hard. On the world stage, hate is easy, love is hard…

Letter From New York February 8, 2010

February 8, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

Every year for the last ten years or so, come the end of January, the beginning of February, documentary and non-fiction film makers descend upon Washington, DC for the annual Real Screen conference, a gathering that started as a conference and which has morphed into a market – a place to buy and sell non-fiction ideas, meet and greet, have non-stop meetings, eat and drink, back-slap, and party, see old friends, make new ones, feel connected to the business that consumes one’s life.

From the producers of Mystery Quest to the producers of John and Kate Plus Eight, they’re there. Ben Silverman, former head of programming at NBC, gave a keynote as did Abbe Raven, CEO of A&E Networks, which includes History Channel. If you are in the non-fiction film business it was the place to be.

At the end of the day, I still think what programmers are looking for in non-fiction boils down to this: networks are looking for larger than life characters who are in unique situations [preferably life threatening] that will give an embarrassing amount of access to their lives. If you have that, you have a good shot at a series.

While I was backslapping, eating and drinking, doing non-stop meetings, the world continued on its merry pace. If you call a financial crisis spreading across the southern part of the Euro Zone “merry.” Greece is in trouble, Spain and Portugal not far behind with Ireland beginning to look like a southern European country, at least financially. Toyota became even more mired in recall drama, its credibility damaged. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came out for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military, a stance reinforced by Colin Powell, who announced he agreed with Admiral Mullen, saying times had changed since he had sat in that seat.

And while the world was moving on, as the deficit was mounting, as Greece tottered on the edge of default, while the fate of gays and lesbians in the military was again being debated, while the world continued its news making, I took a couple of days off to visit friends and family, a trip that reminded me of many of the good things about life – good people, who are part of your life, who have been and will be. I visited with my brother, soon off to Honduras to provide medical care to those who have none, with my lovely cousin Virginia, who has been a beacon of kindness my whole life, as well as her sister Marion, my friend Christine Olson, whom I have known since I was a sophomore in college, elegant as ever, real as always, my old friend Kevin Rozman, a friendship from high school days that has been revitalized since we re-encountered each other several years ago.

It was the perfect capstone from a week where I was surrounded by all kinds of people I know and love, first at the conference and then in my flying visit back to the land of my birth, for a few moments basking in the glow of friends and family, who are so important, particularly in a world as uncertain as the one in which we find ourselves…

Letter From New York February 2, 2010

February 2, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

The week flew by…

The work velocity was such that it was Monday, I blinked and it was Friday. Most weeks seem like that these days and I know I’m not alone in the experience. Similarly, events went by, blinking quick, making impressions while it being difficult to discern which day which event had made what impression.

Haiti’s horrors grind on. Medical airlifts to the United States have been suspended while all parties determine who is going to pay for the care of the desperately ill. And following the natural course of events, children are being born, entering life in a sea of uncertainty, in a land that is devastated and destroyed, in a place where hope is in short supply.

Attention is still focused on that sorry land. Anderson Cooper and CNN is still there, focusing attention on the Haitian plight while others proliferate other reminders, letting people know, for example, that if they text “Haiti” to 90999 a donation will be made to Haitian care. Millions have come from text donations. Churches and denominations rally also, sending human and financial resources to the beleaguered nation.

Here in the United States, economic growth in the Fourth Quarter was the most robust it has been in years though many an expert suggested temperance in interpreting these results as a definitive sign we are moving out of the Great Recession. The question remains: is this growth sustainable? We just don’t know. And it isn’t translating into new hiring – employers are finding ways to do more with less. Hence, weeks go by in a blink for more than just me.

And it was economic growth and job creation that was at the heart of Obama’s State of the Union address. Widely considered an effort to “reboot” his Presidency, Obama focused on the economy and efforts to put Americans back to work. He apparently had heard the message: “it’s the economy, stupid.” Economic fear is marching through the fields and the cities and reports of one quarter’s robust growth are not laying that fear to rest and won’t, not until jobs begin to appear again.

In what became a sigh of relief for New Yorkers, it appears that the Obama administration has reconsidered and the 9/11 Terror Trials will be held elsewhere. The probable cost kept rising, to a staggering $200 to $250 million dollars a year for a potential four or five years and that sobered a number of folks up. Plus the nerves of the city are frayed again – the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day underscored New Yorkers fears, feeling that this city has a bull’s-eye painted on it and so why ask for more trouble with trials. The Real Estate industry has been cringing, thinking a locked down portion of the city, watched over by snipers, was not going to be good for business. It’s not official yet. The city will breathe better when it is.
Toyota has issued a recall for a huge number of vehicles, issuing an apology at the same time. They have gone so far as to suspend sales of vehicles until a fix can be found for accelerators that stick. It has been a jarring note for Toyota, once a halcyon of reliability, a reputation now in danger of being tarnished as the recall spreads globally.
In the world of pop culture, Elizabeth Edwards kicked out John; he having moved from political icon to tabloid fodder. According to some, Brangelina is breaking up while others deny and one tabloid has Jen taking Brad back. The world of the tabloids has lots of room for celebrity sensation but not a lot of space for the horrors of Haiti. But perhaps we need our escapism; the world is cluttered with realities hard to fathom and harder still to assimilate into our lives.