Month: April 2009

Big Media Bails on Torture

What’s more newsworthy: President Obama’s decision to declassify C.I.A. documents on torture, or the actual contents of those documents? The U.S. media chose the former, and in doing so, has once again failed the public in providing clarity and context on a complex issue – failing to ask hard-hitting, provocative questions, and failing to hold our political leaders accountable.

Rather than investigate what these memos reveal about the harsh interrogation techniques implemented under the Bush administration and who can be implicated for using torture, our media has focused their debate on political posturing and gossip surrounding Obama’s decision to release the memos.

A report by Link TV compares U.S. coverage of the torture memos to the international press coverage in countries like Chile, Iran, and France. If we’re ashamed as a nation about torture, we should also be embarrassed about how our press coverage of torture stacks up. Click through to see the Link TV video… (more…)

Disarming The Wilderness

“The first bomb dropped from an airplane exploded in an oasis outside Tripoli on November 1, 1911. [...] It was Lieutenant Giulio Cavotti who leaned out of his delicate monoplane and dropped the bomb — a Danish hand grenade — on the North African oasis Tagiura, near Tripoli. Several moments later, he attacked the oasis Ain Zara. Four bombs in total, each weighing two kilos, were dropped during this first attack.”

So begins A History of Bombing, by Sven Lindqvist. In this incredibly complicated and interwoven story (Lindqvist himself describes the book as a “labyrinth,” not designed to be read cover to cover but rather as more of a choose your own adventure) Lindqvist traces a history of bombing that cuts right through the human body – literally and figuratively. The book — which I first read in a post-colonial studies course — focuses on the physical, psychological, and historical impact bombing has had on the world, with special attention paid to nationalism, class, race and power.

However, of less concern to Lindqvist is the impact of this history of bombing on the land. A recent article in Orion Magazine prompted me to go back to my bookshelf and dig up my copy of Lindqvist’s book. In “The Forbidden Forest” Johnathan Olley profiles “a small band of démineurs from the Département du Déminage” in France. The démineurs are a team of bomb experts assembled after Wold War II to find, remove and destroy the detritus of two World Wars: thousands of tons of unexploded munitions. Olley reports that “The French Interior Ministry estimates that at least 12 million unexploded shells reside in the hills and forests that rise above Verdun.” (more…)

The Highs and Lows of Parenthood

Flipping through the journal that my wife and I wrote in while she was pregnant, I stumbled on a entry I wrote almost exactly a year ago and was struck by how appropriate it is to this moment. At that point my wife was nearing the end of her first trimester, now my son is five months old. Here is what I wrote:

Today is perhaps the most beautiful day since we found out we are pregnant. The spring has been manic — in both the pace of our lives and in terms of the weather. As Erica and I have see-sawed between successes and challenges at work and at home, the weather has swung, pendulum-like between frigid rainy gray and steamy bright sun.

Today however, the see-saw seems to have slowed, balancing at level, evenly perched, and the pendulum has settled at the midpoint of its wide arch. This past week has been a microcosm of the entire spring, with highs and lows at work, but towards the end of the week, like a raging stream emptying gently into the ocean, this week has slowed and deposited us here, like silt, forming new land.

The sky is almost too blue, with enormous white clouds accenting the horizon. In the sun it is almost too hot but in the shade, where we are sitting now under a maple tree, the air is cool and the breeze glides by.

Today, this moment makes all the highs and lows worthwhile. This is the kind of day that couldn’t exist without the extremes that preceded it, because those extremes are what make the simple joy of this moment possible.

And I guess that is what I want to say about parenthood. A reminder of sorts. With this new life, this new adventure, there will be highs and lows. We should not despair during he difficult times, nor should we always strive towards the high points. For the most part both are fleeting. But in between there is an incredible depth of beauty and peace. (more…)

Disconnecting

I recently wrote a post entitled “Wired to Connect” which explored how we are expressing our drive to connect with others in the age of Twitter, Facebook, and MySapce. A few weeks later I read a really interesting article called “Am I Still Here: Looking for Validation in a Wired World” which also explored the idea of “connecting,” but took a more skeptical view of the role of new technology.

The article, by Anthony Doerr, points out the ways in which, through technology, our desire to connect with others can develop into a persistent need for validation. To make this point he introduces us to his “dark twin,” named Z.

He writes, “I like weather; Z survives in spite of it. I like skiing; Z likes surfing the web. I like looking at trees; Z likes reading news feeds. I pull weeds in the garden; Z whispers in my ear about climate change, nuclear proliferation, ballooning health-insurance premiums.” As a environmentalist with a gadget geek tucked away inside, his article struck home with me. Yet, while this characterization seemed spot on, it was something he wrote later that I found particularly insightful. See if you recognize this scenario: (more…)

Houses and Homes

My wife and I are in the middle of buying our first house, a 150 year old farmhouse on half an acre of land. As we talk about moving into this old home with all its history, I was reminded of the summer of 1995.

A few months before my senior year in high school my family took a two week vacation in Colorado. We flew into Denver and rented a Winnebago. It was to be a two week road trip around the state arriving back in Denver with enough time to visit my parents’ old neighborhood. They lived in Colorado for most of the seventies, until just after I was born, and they hoped to end our trip with a visit the first house they bought together.

On the last day of our trip my dad wound the big Winnebago through the city streets of Denver. However, when we got to their old block the tight rows of small houses that they had describe to my sister and I were missing. In their place was a monstrous grocery store. The gray cement building stretched across three blocks in one direction and its parking lot extended for two blocks the other way. My dad drove slowly around the perimeter of the building, gawking in confused disbelief. Tears streamed silently down my mothers face and filled the big vehicle with a tense silence. (more…)

A History Full of Flooding

The other day I drove past the oxbow in the Connecticut river that winds along the edges of Northampton, Massachusetts. As is often the case in early spring, the river, swollen with melted snow and spring rain, had spilled over its banks and flooded the local soccer fields and surrounding corn fields. Groves of trees sprouted up from the water as if they had lost their footing and floated out to sea.

Looking out at that scene I couldn’t help think of the images of the Red River in the mid-west that have been frequenting the evening news for the past two weeks. The media has been covering the flooding there with all the sensationalism and lust for tragedy that they have honed covering hurricanes and tornadoes. We get minute by minute precipitation reports and inch by inch measurements of the river’s steady rise. We are berated with heroic stories of bravery and terrible stories of loss. But in the end it is the images that stick with me, rooftops poke through the surface like capsized ships, bare tree reach upward out of the flooding like grasping hands.

In recent years our springs and autumns in southern New England have been punctuated by flooding. Two years ago I stood on a bridge overlooking the Connecticut River just before Halloween and the surface of the river was alive with bobbing pumpkins, swept off of flooding fields before they could be harvested for pie and jack-o-lanterns. For many, a few lost pumpkins were the least of their concerns. Nearby towns began to question the reliability of upstream damns, and farmers watched as their late season crop disappeared beneath the rising waters.

Long fascinated by the power of water, and the historical and social consequences of those places and events where humans and water have collided, I can’t help but see these most recent floods in a long context of human and natural flooding that has shaped much of the American landscape. Just in recent years we saw terrible flooding in the Pacific Northwest, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, flooding in the Northeast and now in the Red River.  Sometimes an idea seems to permeate your life, so that, regardless of what you are engaged in, the events in your life keep circling around a certain theme. For a number of reasons, I have found myself consumed by the idea of floods and flooding. (more…)

End the Broadcaster Bailout

NPR reported last week that General Motors had provided thousands of its white-collar employees with free cars and gas. And while this benefit has been around for decades, it’s being seen in a new light now that federal funds are propping up the automaker. GM’s story recalls the excesses of another company, AIG, which handed out millions of dollars in bonuses to executives as taxpayers were underwriting its failed business.

A fair question raised by the media in both of these instances is, “Should taxpayer dollars fund this kind of thing?”

Watching mainstream media pundits wag their fingers at these companies recalls the old saying about throwing stones from glass houses. If the media are so concerned with keeping a watchful eye on corporations getting government assistance, then they had better be prepared to turn that attention to themselves. (more…)

Part of the Problem

I have been traveling for work a lot lately and I feel as though, passing through airports, train stations, and a wide variety of other public spaces, there are fewer and fewer unbranded places left. We are quickly reaching a state of hyper commercialism where every bat of the eye is a transaction at once physical, cultural, and economic. In a world filled with ads we are unwitting (and often unwilling) consumers, traded and bargained for by ad execs and sales reps betting we’ll pass through their branded space.

Already fed up with TVs blaring from every lobby corner and storefront window, computer screens embedded in walls and kiosks, and old fashioned billboards and banners everywhere, I was dismayed recently when I turned the corner in my local airport and saw enormous ads being projected onto a formerly clean white wall. However, once I walked by I realized that these projections were much worse than just big ads. (more…)