Archive for August, 2010

Letter From New York August 25, 2010

August 26, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

Sitting down to write this evening, I find myself in a predicament – the most important thing that happened this week, which I find myself wanting to write about puts me in the middle of one of the great controversies of the moment.

This past Friday I was asked by Odyssey, my bread and butter client, to attend a meeting regarding the hugely controversial Cordoba House, the Muslim center proposed for a site two blocks from Ground Zero. Disturbed by the clamor that has arisen and the vitriol tossed about, Robert Chase, the head of a not for profit group called Intersections, which is an interfaith organization which is a member of the Odyssey family, called a meeting of other interfaith organizations to discuss the issue. And Odyssey was one of the invitees.

It was a small group, thirty or so that gathered Friday morning at the Intersections office on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. I was struck by the fact that half the attendees were from the Jewish community in New York and were among the most concerned about the tenor of the dialogue surrounding the Cordoba Center.

This is a controversy that has risen to national prominence over the last few weeks, inspiring some really hateful things being said about the individuals involved with the Cordoba Center. As I headed to the meeting I read the New York Post while on the subway, a conservative newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is a tabloid and is as close as we get in the 21st Century to the “Yellow Journalism” of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is doing everything it can to swirl the Cordoba Center situation into a full-blown crisis of national proportions.

The Murdoch organization, owner also of Fox News, is doing all it can, it seems to me, to imitate William Randolph Hearst in its playing of the matter. [Don’t remember William Randolph Hearst? With his newspapers he probably single handedly stirred the country up to engage in the Spanish American War after the battleship Maine mysteriously sank in Havana’s harbor. Remember the Maine! was the battle cry and the U.S. got Cuba for awhile after that and the Philippines too – for about forty years until they became independent after WW II.]

This Cordoba “crisis” is a complicated thing. It’s been planned for years but only now has it become a cause celeb for Fox News and the rest of the Murdoch organization. Nine months ago they were pretty benign about it, treating it pretty much as a non-event until there was the smell of blood in the water.

One local politician is publicly calling Islam a “terrorist organization” which it isn’t. It’s a religion in which there are some pretty scary organizations that are terrorists. But not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Christians are good. Some Christians do some pretty despicable things. Christianity and particularly my tradition, Catholicism, have done some pretty horrific things along history’s way.

Last Thursday I had a conversation with a young woman, a Hindu journalist pursuing a story in Pakistan on the dichotomy there between the secular and radical Islam, of how that country is being torn apart and that, as she sees it, Islam is being hijacked by radical elements that have arisen over the last thirty years, since about the time of the fall of the Shah. And these folks are really, really, really scary. I acknowledge that. I find them terrifying.

But that is not every Muslim. They are not my Muslim friends, who have endured hard things since 9/11. There are Muslims to be feared. But not every Muslim. There are Christians to be feared. But not every Christian. Have we so quickly forgotten that Timothy McVeigh, who committed the largest act of domestic terrorism prior to 9/11, was not a Muslim but from the Christian tradition?

The tarring of an entire religion with a label so powerful should give us cause to think hard, very hard.

Letter From New York, August 17, 2010

August 17, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

I usually do a draft of my letter on Saturday or Sunday, mull it over, play with the words and then send it out on Tuesday. This past Saturday morning I was awake early, it was another beautiful day at the cottage and I had an impressive list of errands to run. The day started with perusing the news online. I was creating some witty things in my head to write about Steve Slater, the world’s favorite flight attendant gone berserk. He was, after all, the story of the hour. The blogoshpere was atwitter. It was something one could not not comment upon.

I spoke briefly with Torrey Townsend, head of the small team Odyssey had down in Haiti covering the earthquake six months after. He sounded in fine fettle. Lucia, his associate producer, had been down for a day but had bounced back. They had good things planned for filming. All was going well.

In the sun blessed day, with perfect temperatures and that soft wind blowing, I ran my errands. While I was weeding in the center patch I missed the phone ringing. Later I noticed I had missed a call from Lucia and that a colleague, Eric, had left me a message. Torrey, in the few hours since I had spoken with him, had collapsed with a high fever, gastroenterological distress and was hallucinating.

The lazy, lovely Saturday I was enjoying was shattered and in a moment I was engaged in the process of extracting a team from Haiti, one of them very ill and the other two very worried and scared. Torrey was the team leader and with him down…

It took me back to a moment some years ago now when I helped Brent and Craig Renaud get an assignment from Discovery Times [the now gone, much lamented network] to go cover the Iraq war, embedded with the Arkansas National Guard, returning, eventually, with an award winning ten hours of programming that is one of the things I am proudest of having been involved with. The day they got on the plane to Iraq, were on their way, I broke down and sobbed. Jon Alpert, the great documentarian, was on the phone with me. He too was fighting tears. We had worked for months to fulfill their wish to do this job and when we had succeeded, it came down crushingly, we had just put two wonderful young men into harm’s way and their was no guarantee they would come back safely.

When we learned Torrey was ill, hallucinating in Haiti, on a Saturday when the normal office infrastructure was unavailable to support us, I filled in. I had to. I had sent him there and in his moment of distress, it became my job to organize our getting him and his team out. SOS Emergency got him booked on a flight out on Sunday. I secured the last two seats on that flight for his team, thanking God for credit cards, internet access and the intervention of God that I could get those seats. I did not want him alone, sick, on that plane. We got Lucia focused into getting some local doctors to provide some care, which they did and which, it turned out, turned the tide.

There was huge frustration because I wasn’t on the ground, getting things done. I was on the tenuous tether of AT&T cell service. Each step we took helped me feel I was doing what was my responsibility to this young man and his team. They had gone willingly, even joyously, to Haiti.

Several times as we moved Torrey and team out of Haiti and back to the states and through the hospital and to the good news that he was on the mend and that the drugs given by the Haitian doctors had been good choices, that as relief came, I found tears near the edge of my eyes, grateful, as I had been when the Renaud brothers returned unscathed, while pondering the bond sensed when lives intersect, even briefly, in some crisis.

Letter From New York August 10, 2010

August 10, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

The past weekend was one of indolence for me. Friday evening when I returned to the cottage, the air was clean and crisp, perfectly balanced in temperature. I threw open all the windows and allowed the air to flow through, a soft wind billowing in the scent of the woods and the creek from below the cottage. I watched a bit of television, read more of Sherlock Holmes, this time off the iPad, on loan from the office. I slept a deep, clear sleep, waking early and rolling over to once again surrender to Morpheus.

As sleep found me on Friday night, I determined to let the weekend be a small vacation. It had been a harried week. The mobile app had launched on Droid but we still wait for iPhone and Blackberry approval. There had been a meeting of channel editors, from all over the country, churning through ideas, one after another for the future. So when morning came on Saturday, a day stretched in front of me with no commitments other than the whim of the moment. I did a few things around the house, stopped at the dry cleaners on my way to town, picked up the weekend papers and settled in to a long leisurely brunch at the Red Dot, lingering in the lovely garden, warming in the sun, reading of the events of the world from which I felt far removed, safely, for a moment, insulated and protected.

It was an illusion, of course, but one I immersed myself in – for a moment wanting to be like friends who have ceased reading newspapers or scanning news websites or listening to anything but music on radio or net. I am not that person though and I found myself deep in the New York Times and my current edition of The Week, seeking some illumination in the words on paper, seeking to understand the ebb and flow of the violence that wracks the world we inhabit, seeking in that sun kissed garden the reason why one person would strap explosives on and then go detonate themselves in the middle of a crowd of strangers. Suicide is at least somewhat comprehensible, mass murder is not.

Deep out in the once pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it appeared BP had staunched the leaking well. I swished flies away as I sat lazily on the teak bench on the patio, thinking about the rapacious need for oil that has resulted in our digging deeper and deeper in every accessible [and almost inaccessible] spot on earth to keep our machines rolling, wondering, lazily, why we have waited so long to seek alternatives? Perhaps because we are as lazy as I was Saturday afternoon, content to let things be than to expend energy to make changes? Do we, like the Louis XV, sit in our gardens and shrug, “Après moi, le deluge…”

And now that the well has been capped and it appears that ecological damage is less than feared, our collective media attention seems to be drifting away from the Gulf and on to…what? We wait to see what new events the digital throngs will next flock to follow, praising or bemoaning. On Saturday, I was only curious. There was nothing on the horizon that seemed the next frenzy in waiting. We have not excited ourselves about Pakistan’s floods or China’s landslides.

It seems the way we live, from frenzy to frenzy. But frenzy seemed far away this past bucolic weekend, devoted to laziness and indolence. From the Dot I wandered Warren Street, sat with friends in their shops and discussed the summer heat and the pleasant relief the day was giving. I lingered at Olde Hudson, the perfect place for cheeses, pastas, wonderful meats and fishes and took in the steady stream of shoppers, stocking up for a lovely summer evening and when I finally went home, I slipped between the cotton sheets and once again felt the soft summer embrace of my little world, far away, for the moment, from all the madness that makes the world so often threatening, preventing us, at times, from the lazy glory that is around us some of the time, at least.

Letter From New York August 4, 2010

August 4, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

As I write this, I am sitting outside, on the deck, overlooking Claverack Creek, sunlight glinting off water so clear the bottom of the creek is visible; cicadas thrum in the woods that surround the cottage, NPR plays on the radio, amusing and informing me.

There was no letter last week as on Sunday, when I sat down to write, I found myself locked out of my computer – turns out I needed a keyboard replacement, and so I found myself without my trusty laptop for a week while it was worked on. I discovered myself feeling very edgy, as if I were constantly searching for something I had lost. I write this in my time away from the office and in my time away from the office I did not have my trusty MacBook and found it difficult to work. So, late on Thursday, I was overjoyed when the laptop was returned to me in working condition. Now I have to plow through all the emails that have accumulated to see if there are any I might have missed as I was improvising in finding ways to answer them.

This unfortunate incident happened while I was weekending at the home of my friends, Joyce and Jeffrey, who summer on Martha’s Vineyard and had generously invited me to spend some time with them there. It was while I was languidly sitting on their veranda, soaking in the beauty of the water lapping on the boats at anchor in Edgartown harbor while listening to the coughing splutter of the launches puttering from boat to boat that this misfortune befell me and, at first, I felt it was a sign from the universe that I shut off work and continue my literary indulgence of reading Sherlock Holmes short stories, digestible bites of innocent intellectual satisfaction.

Returning to work, it was another story, certainly more painful and certainly revelatory in the degree of dependence I have upon my main digital device – deprivation from which was quite like, I suspect, being denied a necessary medication upon which one has become dependant for functioning. In other words, unpleasant.

While I was somewhat disconnected from the digital universe, the universe itself continued on…

Chelsea Clinton got married to her long time beau, Mark Mezvinsky, on Saturday in the lovely Hudson Valley hamlet of Rhinebeck, an event I noticed mostly because my Friday train home crawled out from Rhinecliff Station [Amtrak stop for Rhinebeck]. The train tracks apparently run directly along the edges of the estate where they were married and there was concern some luckless paparazzi would lose his or her footing while crawling on the embankments over the tracks and end up on them rather than above them.

Vastly more important than the Clinton wedding was the leak of tens of thousands of secret Afghan documents by, a website devoted to, well, leaks… From what I’ve cleaned, it is a site run by volunteers, 1200 around the world, and led by a man named Julian Assange, a former hacker out of Australia. They didn’t uncover the information; they simply published it. The actual whistleblower is suspected to be a 22-year old soldier who allegedly smuggled classified information out of his office disguised as Lady Gaga albums. He then provided them to Wikileaks and then Wikileaks made an alliance with the New York Times, the U.K.’s Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel and the rest is history…

Secretary Gates has questioned the morality of what they have done – names were named and it is possible, perhaps even highly likely, there will be reprisals. The leaked documents raise the question of whether or not the Pakistanis are working with us or against us. Apparently the documents can be read either way. The Administration points out, perhaps futilely, that the documents are all at least two years old, all 80,000 of them. What they do, it seems, is provide a history of the Afghan War, a long and bitter fight from which we are far from finished.

They are also a testament to the changes being wrought by the technology we utilize; thousands of documents can find their place in the sun with a single keystroke, igniting controversy and providing more information than we would have been able to obtain in another age, all because someone seemed to be using Lady Gaga for cover…