Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’

Letter From Claverack 09 30 2016 Reaching for the stars and more…

October 1, 2016

Something like sixteen or seventeen years ago, my friends, Medora Heilbron and Meryl Marshall-Daniels, began having weekly phone calls to shore each other up as we were all in transition points in our careers.

That wonderful custom has continued to this day.  Almost every week, except when one of us is traveling, we have had calls, sharing the highs and lows, the concerns, the fears, the triumphs of our personal and professional lives.

Today, we had one of those calls.  When it was my turn to comment on my state of affairs, I burst out with, “I am verklempt!”

Yesterday evening, an email that should have come in on a project I am up for did not come as promised and, for reasons that are hard to explain, released what Winston Churchill called, “the black dog.”  Discouragement and depression.  I woke at three in the morning and read for three hours before falling back into a fitful sleep.

It has been amazing to me the number of times in the last couple of years that I have awakened with a sense of happiness. Today, it was all I could do to speak my usual morning affirmations.

After our phone call, always good for the spirits, I made a decision to do NOTHING today but work on my physic wounds and get back my equilibrium.  Three loads of laundry and tearing recipes out of the newest issue of “Food & Wine” was as ambitious as I got.

The day matched my mood; grey, hostile, chill and rainy.   Marcel, the dog I am caring for, and I curled up on the couch.  He napped, I read.

Now that the day has slipped into evening, I have to say “the black dog” and I seem to be getting distance from each other.  Largely because of the wonderful support group that is our weekly call.  Together we have laughed and cried.

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon when my spirits were beginning to lift that I even looked at the news of the day.  The sound of uplifting jazz plays in the background.  Happier than I have been all day, I am sipping a martini and typing.  Getting back to the happy Mat.

What did make me happy today was that Alabama’s Chief Justice, Roy Moore, was suspended for the rest of his term over his urging state officials to refuse to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples.  Interestingly, this is not the first time he has been kicked out of being Chief Justice.  Last time was his refusal to take down a statue of the Ten Commandments.

And I was both sad and happy that Rosetta, the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, did a belly flop onto the comet’s surface and went silent, leaving behind reams of data for scientists to parse.  He/it/she was a plucky fellow.  What do you call a spacecraft anyway?

Elon Musk wants to send people to Mars.  He is thinking of a million or so colonists over the next fifty to a hundred years.  He has envisioned a rocket to take them there.  And they should be prepared to die, he said.  It made me think of the first colonists who came from Europe to the Americas.  They had a hard time too.

The thought excites me.  More than likely, I will be gone by the time there is a first rocket to go but if I were here, I would volunteer.  Wow, what an adventure…

The New World captured the imagination of the Old World and millions upon millions poured into North and South America, looking for better lives, something different.

My father’s family came from Germany.  My mother’s from Sweden.  We are a nation of immigrants and we always seem to forget that.  I am not sure how we manage to forget that but we do.

Growing up Catholic in Minnesota was nothing like growing up Catholic somewhere else as I have learned in conversations with friends over the years.  My good friend Bill told me once that he wouldn’t have been allowed to know me where he grew up in rural Missouri.

So I look forward to a time when we go out and populate the planets and then the stars.  I think it’s in our blood to do that.

Letter From New York 06 28 15 Thoughts on a rainy Pride Day…

June 28, 2015

It has been unremittingly; resolutely grey for the last two days, creating another set of grey days in a summer of grey days. It is so chill; I have actually turned up the heat in my bedroom to warm the room where I am writing. I’m wearing a sweatshirt and it is about to be July! After the long, hard winter it is as if the world is not willing to give us summer. It has been grey and wet more than it has not.

I am at my desk at the cottage, looking out at the verdant green that are my God’s two acres. I just wish it wasn’t this chilly.

Down in New York, it is Pride Weekend and the parade is being rained upon. I’m not there but texts from friends have informed me of the weather conditions. It’s a joyous weekend for gays in this country. The Supreme Court has ruled that marriage is a constitutional right for all.

As I have said, I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime but it has. And I’m grateful for all the people for whom this will mean so much. I never really understood what it meant to be married until two men that I knew, Gary and Angel, got wed and I understood, for the first time, on a visceral level, what it meant to celebrate your relationship in front of other people. Their love, as I said at the time, was incandescent.

On this grey afternoon, I am thinking about marriage and I am thinking about race relations. The murder of the Charleston Nine has caused a reaction in the South I didn’t expect. Alabama has taken down the Confederate Flag and uprooted the flagpole. Time to move on.

The South, which is becoming a haven for so many international businesses, cannot afford to focus on the past but must look to the future. Which is why, in Alabama, they took down the flag of the rebellious South, even though that was the place Jefferson Davis was sworn in as President of the Confederacy.

All the Republican candidates have, I think, denounced the Supreme Court’s decision about marriage. Jeb Bush has been moderate in his comments, as has Marco Rubio. Huckabee has been vitriolic. As have most of them.

Sorry, friends, I think the field of Republican candidates, are an embarrassment. I was raised Republican. Who are these boobs? Narrow minded souls who might win the nomination but I doubt could win the election. And for that, I’m relieved, as I think it would be a catastrophe for the country to have all three parts of the government controlled by Republicans. They’re not intelligent enough.

I am on my soapbox as I am so disturbed by this field of Republican candidates.

Outside, the rain has relented. It will return during the night, I’m sure. Flash flood warnings are in place until 9:00 AM tomorrow morning.

In the background, jazz is playing and I am feeling warm now that I have turned on the heat. Thank goodness. I have been chilled all day.

The world is wobbling on. Greece is a mess and I think we have a not pretty outcome happening there. Hopefully, world markets have factored in the Greek drama so that no matter what happens it won’t shock the markets the way it would have a few years ago.

In Tunisia, a shooter killed something like 39 tourists. He was targeting them. There was an attack in France on an American owned plant that left one person beheaded. A Saudi born suicide bomber killed dozens at a Mosque in Kuwait. Sitting here, surrounded by my trees and the quiet of my world, it is so hard to understand the need to kill. But it is a need for those who do. The Tunisian terrorist was 23 and was dead before he left the beach but behind him were the dead.

Why this hate? Why?

Letter From New York 03 04 15 Dazed and confused?

March 4, 2015

It is a grey and damp afternoon in New York City, warmer than it has been with a weather advisory for tomorrow indicating we will have as much as six inches of new snow. Once I have finished a meeting tomorrow around noon, I am going to scamper back to the cottage to finish prepping for the annual income tax adventure.

I have just returned from lunch with my old friend Jeff Cole, who is the Founder of the Center for the Digital Future at USC in California. He is one of the foremost thinkers on the future of media. We’ve known each other for over twenty years, since we were both working on The Superhighway Summit for the Television Academy. He travels more than anyone I know and is off to China, Australia and Columbia the week after next.

We talked of media, as we always do, but wandered far afield over our two-hour lunch.

We discussed an article in the New York Times yesterday about the plight of Afghan women who have fled their families. Women who leave their families or their husbands seem to be fair game for honor killings. We also discussed an interview done with a man in jail in India, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a young woman two years ago. He resolutely feels the whole thing was the victim’s fault. No decent woman would have been out past 9:00 PM, he said, and besides, she fought back.

These are stark reminders that we live in a very different world from much of the rest of it.

In Iraq, General Qasem Soleimani of Iran seems to be guiding operations in the assault on Tikrit. The Iranians, who are Shia, have been arming and supplying Iraqi Shia militias that are joining the Iraqi army in the assault against the Sunni IS. There are fears from many, including some here in the US, that the Shia will take their revenge on Sunnis who have been living under IS control for the deaths of many Shia soldiers who lost their lives when Tikrit fell to IS last year.

In what is a masterstroke of irony, we find ourselves on the same side with Iran in the desire to defeat IS. There is no formal coordination.

The Boston Marathon trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has begun on a surprising note. The chief defense lawyer declared in her opening statements that, “It was him.” He did it. He killed and maimed those people. But he was under the influence of his older brother. She is not trying to get him acquitted; she is trying to save his life.

In another terror trial here in New York, Abid Naseer, was found guilty of providing support to Al Qaeda while planning to detonate a bomb in the New York subway.

While declining to press charges on Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, MO police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown last summer, the Justice Department at the same time condemned the Ferguson Police Department of widespread racial discrimination. Attorney General Eric Holder has called for “immediate, wholesale” action to counter this.

The speech by Netanyahu yesterday continues to provoke responses. The BBC used the word “scathing” to describe Obama’s response. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, thought it insulted the intelligence of the American people. Republicans have hailed it and it seems to be getting a mixed review back in Israel. It was good if you like Netanyahu and bad if you don’t.

Also provocative was the ongoing fallout from Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a personal email account during her tenure at the State Department. This revelation has caught many Democrats off guard and scrambling to respond. Their fear is that it will strengthen the perception that she is secretive and controlling.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments regarding Obamacare today and seems sharply divided on the issue. Chief Justice Roberts, who may be a deciding voice in the matter, said very little today. A ruling will come in June.

And in yet another dizzying turn of events in Alabama regarding gay marriage, the State Supreme Court has ordered judges to stop issuing marriage licenses for gay couples, in direct contradiction of a federal ruling that to do so is unconstitutional. Is it any wonder that judges in Alabama feel a bit dazed and confused?

Not feeling dazed and confused, I am leaving shortly to attend a screening of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a follow-up to a film of nearly the same name, set in India and starring Maggie Smith [Downton’s Dowager Countess] and Judi Dench.

Letter From New York 02 12 15 A very interesting week…

February 12, 2015

From Washington, DC to battered Boston, the east coast is being plunged into a dose of bitter winter cold. The temperatures will drop into minus territory tonight and tomorrow and Sunday. At this very moment, the sun is flashing down on the snow-covered drive. As I’ve said before: this is the coldest winter I’ve experienced in the fourteen years I’ve been in the cottage.

The breaking news this morning was that a ceasefire has been announced for Sunday in Ukraine. The pact was announced in three separate news conferences. One was held by Putin, another by Ukraine’s Poroshenko and the third by Merkel of Germany and Hollande of France. That there were three press conferences rather than one has caused observers to already speculate that this is an agreement fraught with trouble.

Already it is known as Minsk II and Poroshenko has announced it will be difficult to implement. Ukraine said that even while the marathon talks were happening more Russian heavy armor entered eastern Ukraine in advance of the stand down.

Minsk II is not too similar to last fall’s Minsk Protocol, which was violated within weeks of signing. Regardless, markets responded well and Merkel and Hollande cautiously celebrated.

The West has made it relatively clear that it will not use military means in Ukraine while Putin plays that hand continuously. His economy may be shattering but he has got a good army on the ground.

While I was in New York yesterday, Bob Simon of CBS News was killed in an auto crash on New York’s West Side Away, near 30th, a spot I have passed many a time. One of my first memories of a network news correspondent was of him, reporting from Viet Nam. He was on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon before it fell. He survived many a war zone; it seems ironic he would pass in an accident on the West Side Highway.

It is another marking point in an extraordinary week for news organizations. Brian Williams is on suspension, Jon Stewart is stepping down and Bob Simon has died.

In news that is hardly happy and seems incomprehensible as I look out at nearly six feet of snow piled outside my window but droughts in the continental US are predicted to become incredibly severe in the second half of this century, the worst in a thousand years.

Judicial disarray reigns for yet another day in Alabama over same sex marriages. A minority of counties are obeying the Federal rulings, a majority are not or are just not marrying anyone, gay or straight. The Probate Judges in Alabama are the ones who give out marriage licenses and the one in Mobile today was ordered to get going and give them out but that ruling was for one specific jurisdiction and it is unclear whether that will influence other counties. Probate judges are declaring themselves caught between two courts.

Ah, sweet Alabama!

And while we are visiting issues in the South, three Muslim students, shot execution style by their neighbor, were buried today. Supposedly it was about parking spaces though Keith Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minnesota and first Muslim elected to Congress, doubts that’s all there was to it.

A labor dispute is closing West Coast ports for four days. Each side blames the other, of course, but ships will be floating out at sea unable to offload their cargoes. The father of a friend of mine was bankrupted in such a situation many years ago.

Ashton Carter has been named the new Defense Secretary. It was widely expected he would be. Though President Obama’s nominee, he is widely liked by the Senate. The nominee for Attorney General has not been so lucky. Her nomination was not voted on today. The Senate doesn’t convene tomorrow nor is it in session next week.

The sun has almost set. The deer have yet to make their appearance. I have begun to think that it is timed to a moment when the sun is setting. I expect them soon. I have already started the cold-water faucet in the kitchen dripping against the bitter cold of tonight.

As I finish this, my brother is landing in Honduras to begin his two-week trip giving medical care. I will keep him constantly in my thoughts.

Letter From New York 02 11 15 A bit of chaos here and there…

February 11, 2015

As I ride south into the city, the Hudson River to my right is ice bound, with bright light glittering off the frozen surface of the river. The journey into the city was precipitated by a couple of meetings, one of which has already been cancelled while I was boarding the train. My friend Rita’s plane from DC was cancelled and she is rushing to the train station to get the next train.

After many bad experiences, I am skeptical about the wisdom of doing anything but training between Washington and New York.

My train is bumping along as it works its way to New York. It arrived late in Hudson because of equipment trouble but only by thirty minutes. The equipment is suffering from the cold and hence the ride is rockier than usual. I can feel it in my back.

The world of television has been rocked in the last twenty-four hours.

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show for the last fifteen years, announced yesterday that he would be departing the program this year, as early as July or as late as December, but he is leaving.

It is a double blow for Comedy Central, which also lost Stephen Colbert this year to CBS where he is taking over late night duties for David Letterman. The network has indicated The Daily Show will continue and there is scrambling to find a replacement for him.

Scrambling is also going on over at NBC. Steven Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, paid a visit to Brian Williams yesterday and informed him that he was going to be suspended without pay for the next six months. It may be the beginning of the end of Williams’ career. Twitter has tweets that NBC is now looking into his expense reports and investigating the veracity of other stories that Mr. Williams has told about his in-field experiences.

As I write this, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France are huddling in Minsk, Belarus, in an effort to find some political solution to the Ukrainian crisis. There are rumors of some progress, but sides still seem far apart. More than 5,300 have lost their lives. Somewhere between 1.2 million and 1.5 million have been made refugees.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, has commented that there has been “noticeable progress.” Interpretation: Russia is getting closer to what it wants, I guess. Ms. Merkel of Germany holds out slim hope but will continue to walk the diplomatic path in honor of the civilians who have died.

Hundreds of refugees from Africa are believed to have died in an attempt to reach Italy, joining the thousands who have already drowned in the last years, trying to cross the Mediterranean, hoping to find a better life in Europe.

Three Muslim adult students were gunned down in Chapel Hill, SC. It may have been a hate crime or it may have been a parking dispute. Either way, a tragedy.

Obama has asked for war authorization against ISIS. He used interesting phrasing, with the plan barring “enduring offensive combat operations.” It is to last three years. Speaker Boehner quickly criticized the plan and indicated there would be Congressional changes.

A little over three years ago, the cruise liner Costa Concordia ran aground off an Italian island and 32 people lost their lives. Today, just moments ago, its Captain, Francesco Schettino, was found guilty of manslaughter. He faces 26 years in prison. He was also accused, and found guilty of, abandoning his passengers to save himself.

It was said that when the Costa Concordia hit the rocks, there was chaos. In Alabama today there is a bit of judicial chaos. The Supreme Court refused to put a stay on gay marriage in Alabama and that should have been the end of it. But gay couples can only get married in parts of Alabama today as some judges refuse to carry out ceremonies. An Alabama female minister was arrested on disorderly conduct charges after offering to conduct a same sex wedding. She is in jail.

Alabama has a long history of fighting orders from the Federal Courts. It will be interesting to watch how all this plays out.

Far enough south now, the Hudson River flows freely at the center. The train is approaching New York City. The equipment, however, has not thawed out and I will be glad to end the bumpy ride.

Letter From New York 02 09 15 In the midst of an absurd winter…

February 9, 2015

For the last eighteen hours it has been snowing steadily here in Claverack; about ten inches in on the ground and it’s supposed to continue snowing until morning. The snowplow was just here to plow the drive and got stuck backing down the drive. Another truck had to come and pull him out. It was interesting to watch. I went out and asked the driver of the stuck truck if he wanted to come in and wait inside but he demurred and shortly after his boss arrived and they managed the situation.

Two and a half feet of snow are piled on the deck; icicles ring the house and the snow keeps falling. It’s very much winter in the Northeast. Boston is buried in snow again and has run out of room to put the newest snowfall. Some in Boston are calling this winter “absurd.”

From pictures I have seen today from Alabama, it is not very wintry there. Gay couples in shirtsleeves showed up this morning to get married. In some counties they could and in some counties they couldn’t and in some counties nobody could get married, gay or straight.

The Alabama Supreme Court Justice, Roy Moore, declared that Probate Judges, who issue marriage licenses, didn’t have to obey a Federal Court order that they had to start marrying gays. Understandably, some confusion ensued. The Supreme Court of the United States refused a request by the Attorney General of Alabama to stay gay marriage in that state until the Supreme Court rules upon the matter later this spring.

So, some gay men and women got married in Alabama today, the 37th state to now acknowledge gay marriage. At least in some places.

The Ukraine crisis stutters along. More consultations will take place, ministers will meet, Heads of State will confer but, as the Washington Post, opined today we don’t have a long-term strategy towards Ukraine. Putin seems to have one. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and other foreign ministers were at the annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Lavrov continued the Russian hard line while also apparently insinuating that the re-unification of Germany might not have been legal. Normally a staid affair, it was anything but this year.

In Marseilles, gunfire erupted between drug related gangs, with the city’s police chief momentarily pinned down by the violence. The French Prime Minister was just arriving in the city to boast how crime was on the decline in Marseilles, a big center for drug trafficking from Morocco.

In what was disturbing news today, even a bit creepy, is that apparently your Smart TV, if equipped with voice recognition software, might just be spying on you. That fight with your significant other might be being piped over to the servers of the set’s builders. And it has been sometimes been happening even when the feature has been turned off. I think that unseemly. I wonder if Amazon’s Alexa does that? I will have to be careful of what I say when I am over at my neighbor’s.