Friday, August 30, 2002

report from the bunker


umass. day one. this is for mike g. and mary.

being the paranoid freak that i am, i went and checked to make sure your names were on the doors to the rooms of which you have been assigned. they are. so you're all good.

quiet so far. The Vortex has undergone a radical change - time and space have been broken down and restructured - and soon it will have a fresh personality. not that anything was wrong with the old - legendary - but there's a new kid in town. also, there is less beer.

well, things will get rolling when the g-man, bri and mare make it up on sunday. and, because he already misses us so damn much, ted will kicking it too with the lovely meg.

can't wait.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

back to work


this column will be run in the back to school issue of The Collegian.

my first of the year after a three-month layoff. figured i'd toss it up here for those that might be bored. read on.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

In early June, from the comfort of my own living room, I sat back in the chair from which I write now and watched Daniel Pearl die.
It’s a decision I’ve lived with for the better part of three months. Gruesome as the offer promised to be, I sadly admit it was a tempting proposal at the time: the footage of his death, readily available online, was a chance to cut through the swirl of media attention and view the heart of the matter. A direct line to the unseen we all seemed to be facing. A primary source. Journalists thrive on that.
You’d be right to assume that the images before me inspired my stomach to shrink back and my mind to wash over with guilt. The horrific tape was further blackened by extremist propoganda intercut with the scene of his execution, though these particulars of the video are seldom what keep you awake at night. Taken as a whole, it shook me in a way I was not ready for. Stripped of its inevitable social and political ramifications, it unabashedly proclaimed the slaughter of an innocent man at the hands of cowards. Three months later, it still echoes. I watched Mariane Pearl’s husband die. Adam Pearl’s father. A brother. A son.
I had no business being there, and regret that I ever was.
You know Pearl’s story, or rather, you should. An accomplished journalist who oversaw the Wall Street Journal’s South Asian bureau, he was an outstanding reporter and, by all accounts, a devoted husband and father-to-be. Up to his dissapearance on January 23, Pearl had been reporting in Pakistan, tirelessly pursuing interviews with leaders of the country’s Islamic movement. Four days later, the first email surfaced – including a photo of Pearl at gunpoint –verifying that he had been taken hostage. With so much doubt cast over the situation, the eventual news of a tape containing his death brought a stark reality crashing down. His obituary read, in part, like so many others have. 38-years-old, a husband and expectant father. College graduate. Reporter.
Pearl was a journalist, and though his travels overseas and my own work here aren’t fit for comparison, I felt for him at first as a colleague, admiring the standards he set for himself and so passionately adhered to. His subjects were complicated and diverse, his audience the world, yet his goals, boiled down to their essence, were shared with writers everywhere, accomplished or otherwise. Find the story, write the story, share the story. It’s a drive that’s complicated to summarize – it’s given at birth and up to the individual to pursue.
Pearl doggedly pursued this instinct to his death, an end brought by the hands of cowards who turned the slaughter into a media spectacle, both widely reported on and rapidly available to download on a whim in homes across the world. Locally, the website of the Boston Phoenix caused a national stir (no doubt reveling in the philosophy that negative press is still press) by publishing photos of Pearl’s severed head in print and posting a link to the video from their official site. The decision made The Phoenix one of the few media outlets willing to go to such extremes to provide supply for an apparent demand. Advocates of the decision lauded the “bravery” of the Phoenix in bringing attention to reality, however brutal it may be. Enthusiastic messages posted on the site proclaimed it was the only true way to keep Americans aware of how far terrorists were willing and able to go. Others scolded the paper for glorifying a human death in the name of publicity, for taking the private pain of a family and spreading it into the greedy hands of society.
As emotions and opinions swelled, it rapidly became apparent to those just sniffing out the story for the first time that this was a situation that could no longer be distilled into the simple headlines that were feeding us – “Journalist slain” merely hinted at the human tagedy unraveling beneath, raising more questions than existed answers. My only certainty was this, and remains so: whether he was murdered because of his reporting, his religion or for other reasons that have yet to come to light, the tragic end that Daniel Pearl came to should not have found its way onto a world stage for public consumption. Though it remains there as I write, it continues to fail as a “tool” for education or enlightment.
The Phoenix failed by garnering attention for itself through the death of a colleague. Publisher Stephen M. Mindich said that “…this is the single most gruesome, horrible, despicable, and horrifying thing I've ever seen.” Despicable, yet it remains for any curious mind – of any age – to stumble upon. Despicable, which is perhaps the sentiment that most appropriately sums up the publications actions.
And then there is me. I failed by choosing to watch it.
Mariane Pearl has said that her husband’s spirit lives on. It does, but not through the horrific images of his murder. Instead, it grows through the remarkable work he produced before his young life was brought to an abrupt end. Look there for your answers and insights – from ethnic cleansing and genocide to Middle Eastern politics, he cast a keen eye on difficult issues with a grace rarely found in print.
His words should stand as our true education, his life celebrated quietly by those who knew him and his death mourned privately by those who loved him. The rest of us simply don’t belong.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

drinking on the job


i suggest it.

next time you're stuck in a hellish shift, head up the hill to your favorite, giant chinese restaurant with a few of your favorite coworkers on break and knock a few down. sit back. watch the time fly.