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What War Reporters Do



It's 3:28 a.m. The hotel's quiet. I open the window. The rain has stopped. The lights in the city are still on. I'm going to get some sleep.


-Sabrina Tavernise, for The New York Times Daily in Kyiv, 2/24/2022



It's difficult to get to sleep when war drums are pounding. We can't even say it's a welcome distraction from other news, such as the pandemic. It isn't. In the safety of my upstate home, I thought of my husband's Ukranian-Russian family and a journalist friend who re-settled in Kyiv after finishing his studies in America. I wrote a couple of FB texts:  "Thinking of you, hope you, your family and colleagues are safe."


1:36 a.m. a reply came in from the journalist : a thumbs up. It was repeated a while later, then stopped.  


When she can't get to sleep, her adrenalin pumping, Sabrina Tavernise takes notes, with time stamps, Like every well-trained reporter, she creates a  documentary record, a testimony, and thinks of herself as a witness to an historical event. 


This morning, there are videos on every news site, interrupted by inane advertising, yet another television war.


The documentation grows and solidifies: The Russian bear is loosed upon the world. The Ukrainian spring is over.


#peaceinUkraine #workforpeace #Ukrainianspring #honorwarreporters 

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The Night of the Howling Wind

"Origins," copyright Mary Louise Long, 2022. Mary Louise continually inspires me to rediscover the origins of our creative,human impulses. https://marylouiselong.com/    



One day soon, FB will only be a platform for: 1.beautiful photos 2. advertising 3. Wordlers.


-Carol Bergman on Facebook 2/17/2022



I had yet another robotic experience with a bank this week, got tangled in a labyrinth, and could not get in touch with a person who was not reading from a script, asking me about my day, or thanking me for my business. I was angry and disconsolate, not to mention that my "problem" had not been solved. I refused to do the survey. Why all these surveys? I then posted a provocative statement on Facebook, which reminded me that I have not ruminated about social media, declarations of love and war on social media, or the degradation of social media, in a while, so this post is both directly and obliquely related to yesterday's robotic de-humanizing experience with the bank, if that makes any sense. Does it?


I wrote about Facebook when it first began in 2004, soon after I got my MA in Media Studies from The New School where I had read McLuhan, among others. I applauded the platform as useful, enjoyable, an amplification of global discourse, a safe space to be playful and/or serious, all this long before the abuses of the platform by bad actors and the Congressional hearings about social media irresponsibility and regulation v The First Amendment, a difficult subject. I had found an old college friend who was a FB friend of a FB cousin, and was warmed by the reconnection. Stories such as these were commonplace, and still are, thankfully. Even the acronym FB is now solidly integrated into our daily digital and real-time conversations. We now understand that social media platforms can be humanizing or de-humanizing, used or abused, vectors of hate or love, a platform to bully or celebrate. It is our responsibility—what Graham Greene called the human factor—that evolves the medium, or devolves the medium.


During Covid isolation, our dependency on social media platforms has deepened. These are portals into a larger world from which, for so many months, we have been banished. But when I click onto Facebook these days, I feel queasy. I have noted for a while now that an interesting landscape and snapshots of happy families on vacation will get more "likes" than a serious statement, for example, or a post about Afghan women. Videos have become addictive—dogs and animals for me—and even the tart satire of Randy Rainbow and Trevor Noah has faded away from my feeds. Maybe I don't have enough friends, or the "wrong" friends, is that it? Or has this platform diluted so significantly that it will soon morph into a game show, a physical phenomenon known as entropy. Are we, as humans, also suffering from entropy? Are we so exhausted by—everything—that we can no longer sustain a serious conversation, or feel compassion and act on it?  Is this a fall-out reaction from the pandemic, or would it have happened anyway?


As I mentioned Wordle in my FB post, a reminder here that it is owned by the NY Times, a venerable and formidable institution I revere; it now has 7,000 journalists and a strict code of conduct. But what is Wordle beyond an enjoyable word game, exactly? Connective tissue? Scrabble on wheels, or a cash cow? Does it do any harm? Obviously not, or probably not? Is it addictive? Is it meant to deliver the user to an advertiser, change an algorithm? I'm not sure. My main complaint is its effect: my Wordle FB friends have stopped posting other comments. They seem obsessed.


This morning I woke to a howling wind and rain spattering hard on the windows. Wires went down again and there was a post from the New Paltz police that their telephone service was disrupted. I knew they would find a way to protect this small town regardless, as they did during the recent ice storm. I asked Alexa to play some piano jazz—yes, I have a robot in my apartment collecting data—and over a hearty breakfast, I read George Packer's disturbing article in The Atlantic, "We Are All Realists Now." I thought of the humanitarian workers I'd met and worked with when I compiled Another Day in Paradise. I am still occasionally in touch with four of them, all of whom continue with humanitarian work; they have not retired or lost their idealism. What explains their tenacity, their refusal to become disenchanted, discouraged, or robotic? Why are they the exception and not the rule? What if all of us shut down our phone and computers, stepped outside the door, and walked into the howling wind, regardless of the danger, or the interruption to our privileged digital lives?


#socialmedia #wordle #humanitarianinitiatives 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 88

To Mask or Not to Mask—That is My Question



I'll come out and say it: All of this is truly exhausting, and it very much sucks.


        -Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic,


Happy Valentine's Day. I have a gift for you: total confusion. I have spent nearly three blissful mask-free days in upstate New York, attended an in-person book club in front of a cozy fire, dressed and undressed mask free at a locker room at the gym, had a long conversation, albeit distanced, with the lifeguard, the first in months and months and months, and returned to a sensational Mexican restaurant in town that stayed alive doing take-out, for which we are grateful. To treat ourselves to delicious food during the worst of the restrictions, well, it was solace. Today, I ventured onto the SUNY campus where masks are still mandated in all indoor spaces. Oddly, all the students strolling outside on an unseasonably warm day were still wearing their masks. I felt unprotected, perhaps a bit careless. Maybe the lifting of restrictions is premature?  What if next week, say, someone arrives at JFK from somewhere or other, and this unsuspecting traveler, who tested negative before boarding the plane, is incubating a new variant which no one, not even the most canny scientists, have detected or sequenced, and what if that innocent traveler attends a celebration somewhere or other, super-spreads this new variant, and we all get very sick? All those days and weeks and months of vigilance, the boosters, the masks, the protocols,  all for naught. Why throw it all away prematurely? Is it premature? Is the decision to relax mask mandate political, Blue Governors versus Red Governors? As per my Valentine's Day gift: total confusion.
Some pundit said this week that our brains are not wired to navigate conflicting messages that may not may not endanger us. We shut down, space out, run in circles like rats in a cage, then slide onto the track that feels most comfortable to us. Like everyone else, I have some friends and family that gather and travel, some friends and family that do not, and won't for a long time. What we do is often not consistent with the dangers or the science, we rationalize and justify the risks we take, or become overly cautious, or opt out of a decision and say, "what the heck." For me, relinquishing a mask feels both freeing and scary, depending on the day and the circumstance. The pandemic will segue into an endemic illness eventually, I say to myself. In the meantime, best to stay calm and carry on.



#maskmandates #getvaccinated #staysafe 

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Strawberries in Winter


Strawberries in Winter       



Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings, too.       


-Heinrich Heine


There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. 


-Ray Bradbury


Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth.     


-Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate in Literature, 1986



Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, was published in 1953 at the height of the McCarthy hearings. Writers such as the preeminent Arthur Miller had to testify in front of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Were they communists? Had they ever been communists? Could they name other communists? Miller refused to name names and was cited for contempt. His passport was impounded, then returned when the Supreme Court reversed that ruling. He headed to Brussels for the opening of his play The Crucible about the Salem Witch Trials, the foundation story of America's continuing persecuting and censorial spirit, an autocratic—often  racist—impulse; it will not quit.


Actors, producers, writers, and directors working for television and Hollywood in the 1950s had to sign loyalty oaths in order to work. In the midst of writing a short biography for Chelsea House Press about Sidney Poitier, I came across references to the possibility that he had done so. I was shocked, but I understood. If he hadn't signed would we have the memory of his important body of work? What a difficult time it was.  We have progressed, undoubtedly, but the forces of reaction remain strong. Indeed, the persecuting spirit ricochets back to the landing of the Mayflower, the takeover of stolen land, and the pretense that enslavement was necessary to work that land. These false narratives are part of the American story and they must be faced. Book burnings will not erase the truth of the past, or anything else that is threatening to the status quo, received opinion, or what some educators and politicians consider threatening or subversive.


Last night a writer friend called to tell me she has canceled a trip to Tennessee for a conference because a local school district banned the Holocaust graphic novel, Maus. A local pastor then staged a a live-streamed book burning event. Harry Potter and the Twilight novels, considered "demonic" went up in flames as the crowd cheered, echoes of the KKK, public lynchings, and the May 10, 1933 Nazi book burnings. "With a Jewish last name, I'm not going to risk it," my friend told me. She's staying home.


I'm searching for strawberries in winter. Rich, sweet, succulent fruit. Please tell me there is some available, that there is hope for this democracy, that we are not drifting irrevocably towards the celebration of fascist ideas. Is this one book burning a foreshadowing of worse to come, or has the worst already arrived in the January 6th attempted coup? Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, the cheerleader of the May 10, 1933 book burning, used the code word "debris" to describe the works of Jewish and other German intellectuals. The word "debris" soon morphed/escalated to "cockaroaches." The Jews and other "degenerates"  were then murdered en masse.


I am a long time member of PEN America, which is one reason I am writing this post today. For years, this organization, along with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others, advocated and monitored human rights abuses, including censorship and the persecution of writers, in failed states and authoritarian regimes. Much as I am concerned about the shut down of a free press in Hong Kong and the persecution and prosecution of writers all over the world, I am paying much more attention these days to what is going on in school districts and state courthouses in America. I urge my readers to do the same; the mid-term elections are not far away.



PEN AMERICA:   https://pen.org/    





#censorship #bookburning #bookbanning #protectourwriters #educateourchildren


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