Posts Tagged ‘Odyssey’

Letter from Claverack, New York Thinking about a boy in Aleppo…

August 19, 2016

I am cozied in the cottage, the Smooth Jazz station playing on Amazon Prime Music, having returned only two hours ago from two days in the city.

Yesterday, I was in the city to have lunch with my friend David Arcara, a quarterly event for many years now; our conversations are wide ranging, deep, emotional and to the core of what is happening in our lives.  Yesterday’s underscored my appreciation for them.

There were drinks last night with Nick Stuart of Odyssey and Greg Nelson, formerly of Odyssey, who has returned from some weeks in Peru and that, too, was good. It gave me a chance to catch up with Greg, whom I have not seen for some months and, of course, to spend some time with Nick, my great friend.

When I woke this morning, I made my morning coffee at the apartment on the Upper West Side, and while sipping it, pursued the news of the day.  I read the NY Times and scrolled through the BBC News.

There I found a haunting image of a five-year-old Syrian boy in Aleppo, an image that has now gone viral.  Frightened and alone, covered in blood and dust, he sat on an orange seat in the back of an ambulance.  You may have seen the picture already.  If not, here it is:


It shattered my morning.  I sat staring at this image for many, many minutes and my heart screamed to the universe.  It became hard to move on, to not want to go and do SOMETHING to stop the madness.  It reminded me of pictures I had seen taken during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s; comparisons between that conflict and this will be made.

Later, I went to have lunch at the Ace Hotel with my friend David McKillop; we talked of new, upcoming adventures for him.  We talked of the: what WERE they thinking? moment of Ryan Lochte and the other swimmers claiming to have been robbed when in reality they were a bit drunk and screwed up. What were they thinking?

And, unfortunately, this is what will follow them for the rest of their lives, this moment of dishonesty.

And then, there was the moment of what was President Obama thinking when he said that the $400,000,000 turned over to the Iranians wasn’t “ransom” but a previously scheduled release of funds.  Today it was revealed that the US wouldn’t let the plane with the cash take off until prisoners were released.  Dancing with the truth?

The Syrian boy’s picture has colored my whole day.  I have thought about what can I do to stop this debacle the world has created, so complicated, so odorous, so lacking in humanity, so not a moment of “our better angels.”

When I wake up in the morning, I do my best to have a moment of gratitude.  I am not living in Aleppo.  Today that came home so much because of the photo of the five-year-old.  It is a picture that has come to represent the Syrian crisis as much as the photo of the three-year-old dead child washed up on the coast of Greece did to galvanize the world about the refugee crisis, much of it a result of the Syrian war.

Closer to home, the Blue Cut Fire in California has consumed 31,000 acres and it still rages.

In Louisiana floods have consumed 40,000 homes and at least thirteen lives.  A preacher man who “testified” that natural disasters were God’s way of punishing us for same sex marriage was forced to flee his home in a canoe.

I have been so lucky to have been born when and where I was.  Our world is changing.  It is becoming global and integrated and reactionary and frightened and fundamentalism is having a heyday. But we still care…

The answers aren’t in front of me right now.  But seeing that little boy in Aleppo makes me realize I must do better. That we all have to do better.

Letter From New York 10 04 15 Short, sweet and on the road…

October 4, 2015

Flooding in Cannes. MIPCOM. SNL. Doctors Without Borders. Indianapolis. Making Christianity relevant. Lilly Endowment.

Not much more than an hour ago, I arrived in Indianapolis for the Lilly Website Consultation.  It is designed to help various Lilly Grantees to be more aware of trends happening out there on the wild internet, in an effort them to help him use technology to spread the Christian word.

My client, Odyssey, is one of the grant recipients and so they have asked me to be here along with their CEO, Nick Stuart, who over the last seven years has become a best friend.

There is not much time in the schedule to do much so I am working to get out a brief letter before I need to go to the first of the conference events.

There has been massive flooding in south of France; two months worth of rain fell in a single night.  Sixteen people perished and the beautiful city on the sea is a mess.  It is also the opening of MIPCOM, the huge fall television market.  Opening ceremonies have been cancelled, not out of respect for the dead but because it is logistically impossible.

Saturday Night Live had its 41st season opener last night with Miley Cyrus and Hillary Clinton.  Didn’t see it but the reviews were pretty good.

It was damp and chill when I left New York City this morning.  Here in Indianapolis, the sun is bright and cheery and the war in Syria seems a long way away, which it is physically but it shouldn’t be emotionally distant.  I stop, quickly, and say a prayer for everyone in Syria.

Russian airstrikes are increasing in intensity and in the amount of chaos they are sowing in that ravaged country.

In Kunduz, Afghanistan, Doctors Without Borders, are removing themselves after 19 people were killed in an airstrike at their hospital in the town.

And so it goes…

I’m off to the first conference event, this has been fast and short.

Have good Sunday afternoons and evenings.

Letter From New York September 3, 2014

September 3, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

The sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds; it is warm but not hot, only slightly humid. Sighing, I am noticing that more leaves outside my window where I write are turning yellow while the soft breeze blows through the branches.

Outside my living room and dining room windows, a tree is being taken down; struck last year by lightening; it has given up the fight. Dying, it needs to be removed lest it fall upon the cottage. I am sorry to see it go; it was a good, strong tree that provided shade to the deck. It was sturdy; it had its place in my life and then, literally, lightening struck and it now is going. It will change my view of the creek; its departure will change my life a little.

But that is what they say life is about: changes. So I have to embrace the change. I am doing a lot of that lately, with having moved on from Odyssey. Appointments in the city moved from this week to next and I find myself with a week at the cottage, an unexpected delight – and a challenge. Now that I do not need to go into town everyday, I am discovering how to discipline myself so I don’t go completely to seed here at the cottage.

The day begins, as it always does, with a perusal of the news from the NY Times, assimilating what has happened overnight. Today there may or may not be a ceasefire in the Ukraine but the possibility of one is a hopeful sign.  

The world is continuing to grapple with the death of American Steven Sotloff, gruesomely beheaded by ISIS [or IS or ISIL, depending on which source you’re reading or who is being quoted].

And, in another sign of change, the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, will now allow gay groups to march in it. Come next March 17th you can be out and proud and Irish all in the same parade.

Not all change is bad; much of it, in fact, is good if we allow room for it in our lives. That old adage: nothing stays the same is true. Recently, I cleaned out a box of old pictures and nothing reminds you of the time going by then photos of yourself from a different time and life.

I consigned them to the dustbin of history and sent them to be recycled. I am more concerned about now than then. I have carved out a good life for myself here at the cottage and down in the city. I am embracing it. I smile to myself at times; it is a time to cherish, watching the light splatter on my drive, the little fountain in the center of the circular drive gurgling. I have good friends, good neighbors, and good things happening – all the while the world is changing about me.

Carpe diem, said the Romans. Seize the day! And so I am seizing the day and moving on with it, nurtured by the sight of leaves turning in one more cycle of life.

Letter From New York

March 27, 2013

Letter From New York

March 26, 2013

Or, as it seems to me…


It is Sunday, early evening.  The days have grown longer; the sun sets slowly in the west on a day, mostly gray, in the Hudson Valley, a quiet weekend for me.  Friday I arrived at the cottage, fell asleep watching video on my ROKU box, woke to a Saturday that was errand filled and capped by friends for dinner.  Today, Sunday, Palm Sunday for those who follow the liturgical calendar, the Sunday before Easter, was a day of long rest, waking, coffee, TIME Magazine in the morning, the NEW YORKER over brunch at the Dot while everyone else labored over the NY Times Crossword Puzzle.

At Odyssey, it is a time of strategic planning.  I feel data flowing out my ears, having looked at it from so many different ways I understand why down looks like up to me.  Sun comes wafting through the clouds now and again and I feel like that’s a bit of the metaphor for life right now – sun breaking through the clouds now and again.

Strategic Planning feels like that, too.  Sun coming through clouds, once and again, while struggling over a past to make sense of a future, a healthy exercise most organizations go through now and again.  And, in the midst of it, it causes one [namely me] to think strategically about my own life; a thing we should do now and again.

Undeniably middle aged, I must look at the next act of my life, think where I might want to be and all the answers to that question seem to be here.  To the here I have created over the last twelve years, in a home I have owned longer than any other, this little cottage overlooking the Claverack Creek, a small and cozy shelter.  Thankfully, all on one floor, minimal maintenance, all the things one looks for as one grows – older.

Older.  What a powerful word that is in a world that worships the sun-kissed golden youth of potential immortality that is inherent in the celebrity obsessed world of early 21st Century, not just in North America but in the industrialized west; we have become glued to goings on of people like the Kardashians who have perfected the art of being famous for being famous.  They make Paris Hilton look like a piker; they, too, will be followed by someone else who will be even more famous for being simply famous, someday.

I was standing at the pharmacy counter waiting for a prescription [another reality that hits the undeniably middle aged] and looked over the tabloid magazines clustered near the check out register and wondered:  WHO are these people?  Most of them, it seemed to me, were famous for being famous or having done one thing that they continued to trade upon to keep them famous.

This is not, you understand, a new phenomenon.  It’s been with us for quite some time – it just seems it has become more of an art form.  And it makes me laugh somehow.

Because while all of this is going on, there are those who don’t ascribe to the culture of fleeting fame, but are looking, in this, the early days of the 21st Century, for something deeper.  Folks my age, who have had the glitter and the glory, who have stopped and gone:  yes, but I need to know the meaning of my life.

And there are younger people like my nephew Kevin, who seeks to make a contribution and isn’t caught in the allure of the glitter and the glory, making an investment in education both for his future and the future of the rest of us, for he will be helping to shape all our futures.

When I feel despair [just look at Congress], I pause and think of the engaged, seeking to make things better.  When it seems nothing has changed, I look at issues that were unspeakable fifty years ago that are now common conversation [gay marriage] and know that the world evolves.

It is a grossly imperfect world.  It always has been.  The powerful and mighty always seem too mighty and powerful.  Economic inequality seems to exist and yet seems, to me, so much less than a century ago.  War still rages but we haven’t blown up the planet.  Tendrils of hope still grope for life all over the world. 

It is imperfect.  But hope has not died.



Day One at SXSW

March 11, 2011

SXSW – Day One, March 11, 2011

Greg and I arrived at SXSW Interactive, Film and Music Festival safely. The security lines at Newark Liberty Airport were eerily non-existent and we got through in record time, which was the theme of our travels – all went smoothly, which is how you want travel to go.
Austin itself is, at night, a jewel of city, rising up out of the Texas plains, glittering, beckoning and promising. We arrived at the hotel, checked in, settled and walked across the parking lot to the legendary Threadgill’s Restaurant, a down home Texas place which, in its various incarnations, has nurtured many an artist, including Janis Joplin.
Over dinner, we poured over the SXSW official app, which is available on the iPhone, Android and Blackberry smartphones. There is a prodigious amount of material there; it’s free. If you have an interest in finding out what is going on at SXSW and have a smartphone, I suggest you go into your app store and download the app. It gives a blow-by-blow account of what is happening, what kind of panels there are and who is on them.
It also lets you know the 579 companies that are exhibiting at SXSW and how to find them. It has comprehensive maps, helps you create and organize a schedule. It seems to be a great app for this event. I found a few glitches in the search function but still pretty amazing.
There are a couple of conference calls I have to do and then I’m headed off to pick up my credentials and to get down to what is happening. The number of panels that I would like to attend is overwhelming. Each time slot has more than one that would be worth attending. Two that have caught my attention so far are “Lessons Learned from the Arab Spring Revolutions” and “The Potential for Augmented Reality”.
There is also a panel about digital changes happening to the Cargo Container business; new digital tools are apparently about to radically improve that business. You can also learn about creating your own event around digital advances, and another one about how textbooks may be morphed into social gaming opportunities, a radically new way of imagining education. Apparently in both Texas and California, states followed by most others in education, the traditional textbook is on the path of the dodo bird.
There are at least six panels happening at 2:00 I would like to attend. Same for 3:30 and same for 5:00, which has a panel on “Hate Gone Viral” as well as one discussing the impact of “singularity” – when machines are smarter than we are. Hello, Watson!
And as the days go on, over 2000 bands will be performing at SXSW and hundreds of films will premiere. There are classes offered by the festival on how not to be overwhelmed by the festival. Sounds like a good thing to me.
And so it goes. Greg and I have arrived and overwhelm begins. We’re excited. All of Austin has been taken over by the festival, a hotel room is impossible to find and the streets are crowded with an interesting mix of people. Right now, it’s the place to be if you are a digirati – or a film buff or a music aficionado. 100,000 people are attending, the biggest SXSW yet. More to come…

Letter From New York October 30, 2010

October 30, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

The last week has been more than a bit business mad; Odyssey Networks has been doing a whole series of productions. I fell into the role of point person for them. We sent a man to Nigeria to shoot footage of the Imam and the Pastor, a Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam who have emerged from the religious warfare in that country as spokesmen for peace and interfaith hope. Pastor Wuye lost his hand in the violence, chopped off by a Muslim. It became the moment he moved beyond his hatred to embrace a different way. He and the Imam have become a team, founded a mediation center in Kaduna in Nigeria and have become world famous for their efforts.

They were honored on the 26th at the We Are Family Foundation Gala with the Mattie J. Stepanek Award. Mattie, if you recall, was the extraordinary boy who spent his brief life besieged by a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which killed him weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday. He wrote books on peace, became a national personage because of his presence on the Oprah Winfrey Show and was eulogized at his funeral by President Jimmy Carter, with whom he co-wrote a book. The Imam and the Pastor describe Mattie as a prophet, as he might well have been. Certainly his words echo beyond the time encapsulated by his short life.

I met them briefly at the Gala, introduced by Jonathan Smith, the producer whom we had sent to Nigeria to get the footage. There was a sense about them of peace and joy, calm in the center of a tumultuous world, a presence that was tranquil and slightly transcendental. It was an honor; it was a moment I won’t forget, two men, once sworn enemies, standing together now against the ravages of the violence that racks their land. Six months ago Christians and Muslims were killing each other in the Jos Valley, the place both call home. When they left New York, they were headed for Sudan where they had been asked to lead a Peace Conference in that country, which is edging toward potential violence as it advances toward a referendum that might split the country in two. If it goes that way, there is a chance war will break out and the land that is home to infamous Darfur will once again be racked by violence, the victims of which will mostly be the poor, the desperate, the defenseless.

Nigeria, the Sudan, the Middle East, Columbia, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan… The list of countries wracked by violence, war, revolution, counter-revolution, insurgency goes on and on. Do we think daily of lawless Somalia, home to modern pirates that regularly seize ships in the Gulf of Aden, holding them for ransom? No, probably not. But while we live our reasonably secure lives, vast parts of the globe are war zones or de facto war zones. Jonathan described the vast sea of tension and fear that swirls through the streets of Nigerian cities as no one knows when the next bout of sectarian violence will erupt, bringing more pain and death into their lives. It is not uncommon that Muslims and Christians will chop away fingers or hands [witness Pastor Wuye] to remind their victims of their hate. The streets are filled with the disfigured.

Against this tide of religious vitriol, individuals like the Pastor and the Imam work as best they can to bring sanity into the world in which they live, to bridge the hatred, roots of which are now forgotten but not relinquished.

Against this hatred are the words of a child, Mattie Stepanek, the actions of two men of God, who stand with other men of good that dot the world, seeking in some small way to change the world, to offer an alternative to the generations of killing. For if we do not find some alternative, we will never find a way out of the vortex, one that is now more dangerous than ever as religious divide, hatred and extremism fills men who have capacity to wreck global havoc.

Letter From New York March 22, 2010

March 22, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

On Thursday of the week past, I was in Washington, DC with Nick Stuart, CEO of Odyssey Networks, with whom I work. Nick and I were in the nation’s capital for a few meetings, including one with National Geographic. As we were getting ready to go to DC, an invitation was presented to us to attend a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington to announce Morocco’s Charter of the Environment and Sustainable Development in conjunction with the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day [yes, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day!] that will be celebrated in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. There will also be a huge Earth Day celebration on the Mall in Washington, DC on the 25th.

Nick wanted to attend but it conflicted with another appointment he had and so he asked me if I would fly the Odyssey flag at the Press Conference, which I did. It was an intimate affair, covered by about twenty-five journalists with a slew of notables both from the U.S. and Morocco, ranging from the Kingdom of Morocco’s Secretary of State in charge of Water Resources and Environment, to Lisa Jackson, the U.S. EPA Administrator to Kathleen Rogers, President of the Earth Day Network, to Fathallah Oualalou, Mayor of Rabat to the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States as well as several others.

When the Press Conference was over, I got a few minutes to chat with Kathleen Rogers, Earth Day Network President. She mentioned to me a fact I’d forgotten that it is not only the 40th Anniversary for Earth Day, it’s also the 40th Anniversary for the EPA, which, today, is working with all parties to carve out environmental solutions, a role Congress might have performed but hasn’t so it seems to be falling to the EPA.

We chatted a bit about the green economy, one that she feels is coming into play, quickly and she speaks fervently of the result of better health that will come as a result of the green economy, the Green Revolution she is convinced we are experiencing. She feels that the Green Revolution is as profound a revolution as the Industrial Revolution and that we are seeing the way man lives transformed. And she feels that this Revolution will happen more quickly than the Industrial.

Around the time of Earth Day there will be a two-day conference that will gather together 200 entrepreneurs, bringing all the folks together to imagine ways to create new, green jobs. It will be all about creating “climate wealth” and will be held in the U.S., a country, interestingly enough, that has seen its investment in the green economy fall by 2% in the last year or so which is in contrast to the rest of the industrialized world where investment in a green economy is on the rise.

Kathleen Rogers feels strongly that unlike the time of the Industrial Revolution we don’t have the luxury of time to allow the Green Revolution to lazily reveal itself. The threat to health is too palpable. We don’t, she says, want to experience survival of the fittest.

Odyssey is an interfaith organization and so Ms. Rogers added that the Green Revolution needs interfaith leaders, like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had come into to say a few good words about Morocco and Earth Day just before attending another event at the National Press Club; they are voices to which people listen. There are organizations and movements like Creation Care in which religious people have become engaged. Religious leaders have the moral authority to encourage change, Ms. Rogers felt.

To be true, like most revolutions the Green one is taking its time to fall into place though, when we look back on it, it may be coming together faster than it feels while living through it. It is one that will have long lasting effects like the ones that came out of the Industrial Revolution. Both will have raised the quality of life for those who experienced them.