Sunday, January 31, 2010

Miep Gies and uncommon valour

Photo: Anne Frank Museum, Amsterdam

Miep Gies, shelterer of the Frank family, died on January 11th, aged 100.

The Economist often publishes obituaries on remarkable people who seldom rank in public consciousness alongside sports "legends" and Hollywood bimbos.

The magazine says in its current issue: "BY HER own account, Miep Gies did nothing extraordinary. All she did was bring food, and books, and news—and, on one fabulous day, red high-heeled shoes—to friends who needed them. It was nothing dramatic. But she also bought eight people time, and in that time one of her charges—a teenage girl called Anne Frank, the recipient of the shoes—wrote a diary of life in the “Annexe”. In these four rooms, above the office of Anne’s father, Otto, where Mrs Gies worked as a secretary, eight Jews hid for 25 months in Amsterdam in 1942-44."

In 1984, at the University of Michigan, Miep gave a lecture, named in honour of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who had saved the lives of an estimated 200,000 Jews in Hungary by issuing them  Swedish certificates of protection.

When her employer, Otto Frank, asked her if she was prepared to take  responsibility for his family in hiding, she answered “yes” without  hesitation. “It is our human duty to help those who are in trouble,”  Miep said in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “I could foresee many, many sleepless nights and a miserable life if I had refused to help the Franks. Yes, I have wept countless times when I thought of my dear friends. But still, I am happy that these are not tears of remorse for refusing to assist those in trouble.”

Miep tried to rescue the Frank family after they were taken from the attic, attempting to bribe the Austrian SS officer who had arrested them. Miep even went to Nazi headquarters to negotiate a deal, fully aware that this bold move could cost her life.

Last October, an asteroid between the planets Mars and Jupiter became known as Miep Gies, in honor of the Dutch woman.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) said it wanted to draw attention to the steadfast courage of the then 100-year-old last surviving helper of the Frank family.

The asteroid, which was was discovered in 1972 and would become known worldwide as Miep Gies, consists of rock and has a diameter of around 7 kilometres.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a double nuclear survivor, died on January 4th, aged 93 But in 2005 his son Katsutoshi died of cancer at 59, killed by the radiation he had received as a baby.

The Economist wrote: "WHEN he had stopped crying, Tsutomu Yamaguchi would tell you why he called his book of poems “'The Human Raft'. It had to do with the day he forgot to take his personal name-stamp to work, and had to get off the bus. Much was on his mind that morning. He had to pack his bags to leave Hiroshima after a three-month assignment as an engineer in the Mitsubishi shipyard; there were goodbyes to say at the office, then a 200-mile train journey back to Nagasaki to his wife Hisako and Katsutoshi, his baby son."

Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. He was getting off a streetcar when the so-called Little Boy device detonated above the city.

Yamaguchi said he was less than two miles away from ground zero that day. His eardrums were ruptured, and his upper torso was burned by the blast, which destroyed most of the city’s buildings and killed 80,000 people.

He spent the night in a Hiroshima bomb shelter and returned to Nagasaki, his hometown, the following day. The second bomb, known as Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, killing 70,000 people.

Yamaguchi was in his Nagasaki office, telling his boss about the Hiroshima blast, when “suddenly the same white light filled the room,” he said in an interview last March with the UK newspaper The Independent.

“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he said.

Marek Edelman, the last military commander of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, died on October 2nd, aged 90.

The Economist wrote: "Going to the gas chamber or the mass grave with quiet, considered dignity, like many of the residents of the Warsaw ghetto, was another way: far more admirable and more difficult, he thought, than running through random bullets as he did. But it was not for him. Only by dying as publicly as possible, loudly and with his gun blazing, could he let the world know what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in Poland."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Non-Stop News and Ireland's Charlie Bird

The current issue of the New Yorker magazine, has an article on the pressure to entertain or perish in news provision, which has fed the press’s dominant bias: not pro-liberal or pro-conservative but pro-conflict.

Meanwhile, in the city where news is one of the dominant industries, Washington DC, Charlie Bird, the resident bureau chief for Ireland's State broadcaster, RTÉ, is surprised that he hasn't a prominent role at events such as White House briefings, maybe believing that he should have had some preference because he's Irish and he feels isolated as a one-man show, with presumably a camera crew on hire as needed.

Why does RTÉ have Bird based in Washington, and currently in Haiti, when he could never cover stories as a well connected local would?

Apart from St. Patrick's Day, why spend maybe $1m or more on this self-indulgence when so many other areas are subject to cutbacks?

It's costly public relations for a management who reckless overspent during the boom and more than half the organisation's income comes from a tax.

As for Haiti, there are probably more well-paid journalists there than relief workers and is it really vital to have Charlie Bird there to give his Irish audience some special insight. they would miss from all the feed reports available to include in news reports - - at a much lower cost

“I don’t know what madness possessed me to take on this job,” The Sunday Times reports Bird exclaims in a documentary about his time in the American capital, to be broadcast Monday on RTÉ One. “I’m a home bird rather than a Washington person.”

“I didn’t know a soul in Washington and was facing into a whole life away from friends and family,” he says on the documentary. “It’s taken me a lifetime back home to build up solid political contacts, and in DC I started from scratch. I have to say it all felt a little daunting.”

He had been warned what to expect. “People who have come here before, who were working for RTÉ, have always spoken about the loneliness of the place,” Bird said. “At my age, I find it even more so. People have this notion that, when foreign correspondents are abroad, everything is fantastic, it’s hunky dory. It takes time to get to know people. I didn’t know anybody. I have to admit I found it really lonely.”

The Sunday Times says in his characteristic habit of referring to himself in the third person, he says: “Nobody gives a flying fiddler who Charlie Bird is in Washington.”

Of course they don't.

It's like a priest arriving in Rome expecting the locals to tug the forelock.

The New Yorker says in September, Pres. Obama spoke at a memorial service for former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, in New York. In his speech, Obama said that Cronkite’s standard was “a little bit harder to find today.” During the 2008 election, Obama was the object of near-veneration, but now that the President has rolled out his ambitious initiatives, he bristles at the way he’s treated in the media.

The magazine says in the current issue, Ken Auletta examines the Obama Administration’s fraught relationship with the media (subscribers only). The President’s chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, tells Auletta that the President is on a mission “not just to change politics in Washington but to change the culture of Washington, and the media is part of it.” Auletta draws on dozens of conversations with Administration officials and Washington reporters to illustrate how this mission has not been entirely successful, as both the President and the press struggle to deal with the new media landscape.

Auletta writes, “The news cycle is getting shorter—to the point that there is no pause, only the constancy of the Web and the endless argument of cable. This creates pressure to entertain or perish, which has fed the press’s dominant bias: not pro-liberal or pro-conservative but pro-conflict.”

  • Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, tells Auletta, “What used to drive one or two days of coverage and questions is now readily subsumed every few hours.”
  • David Axelrod tells Auletta, “There are some really good journalists there, really superb ones. But the volume of material they have to produce just doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for reflection.”
  • The New York Times’s Peter Baker says, “We are, collectively, much like eight-year-olds chasing a soccer ball. Instead of finding ways of creating fresh, original, high-impact journalism, we’re way too eager to chase the same story everyone else is chasing, which is too often the easy story and too often the simplistic story—and too often the story that misses what’s going on.”
  • NBC’s chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, in a typical day does eight to sixteen standup interviews for NBC or MSNBC; hosts his new show, “The Daily Rundown”; appears regularly on “Today” and “Morning Joe”; tweets or posts on his Facebook page eight to ten times; and composes three to five blog posts. “We’re all wire-service reporters now,” he says.
  • The former White House communications director Anita Dunn says, “When journalists call you to discuss a story, it’s not because they’re interested in having a discussion. They’re interested in a response. And the need to file five times a day encourages this.”
  • Jay Carney, Vice-President Joe Biden’s spokesman, tells Auletta that budget considerations now keep reporters from travelling with politicians. “Eventually, there’s a loss of what the public knows.”
  • “This White House, like others, does its best to manipulate press coverage,” Auletta writes, and is known for its discipline.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Michael Hennigan Jnr returns to Philippines

Michael Hennigan Jnr, who is a Finfacts director, is returning to Ireland today with his girlfriend Jane Brownlee, after three weeks in the Philippines and Malaysia.

It was a magical trip for Michael to where he was born and adopted at the age of 10 months in 1986.

Michael commented on the work of Irish priest Father Shay Cullen (pictured above): "I was amazed and moved by the work he is doing, and has accomplished. He is completely on the ball regarding the media and is able to use his knowledge to make people listen. His PREDA organisation is doing very well with the connection with fairtrade."

Michael also met two remaining Irish priests in the main parish in Olongapo, Donal O'Dea and Fintan Murtagh. Father O'Dea also has responsibility for the descendants of the original settlers on the islands who are known as Aeta (black in Tagalog  -- the dialect of the main Philippine island of Luzon). They and the Aborigines in Australia, have a direct line with the first humans who left Africa and turned right towards Asia, 60,000 years ago.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bertie Ahern as an artist of some kind?

An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern T.D. (in canary coloured pants), the then President in Office of the EU, together with leaders of the G8 at the 2004 summit at Seal Island, Georgia, US.

Whether or not Bertie Ahern is an artist or as taoiseach was some sort of artist, it is a joke that he would benefit from a tax exemption system that was introduced in the 1960s to help struggling artists.

I recently noted in a piece on the raft of pre-Christmas books on the Celtic Tiger that it will also be interesting to note how many of the authors who have set out to show how the Irish economy was ruined by a corrupt system that evolved to protect insiders and promote crony capitalism, will take an advantage of the 1960s era tax break for indigent artists and apply to an Inspector of Taxes, who has the odd job of deciding if factual books are works of "artistic merit."

It is of course laughable that an Inspector of Taxes decides on the "artistic merit" of a factual book.

Labour TD Ruairí Quinn, who has availed of the exemption, said there very few direct accounts from Irish politicians of their time in office and this was something that should be encouraged - - the system is already very kind to them and they receive large tax-free sums during their careers and very generous pensions.

“But that’s a separate issue to the one of taxation. I think in the context now where we have a serious shortfall in tax revenue all of these schemes have to be looked at,” he told RTÉ News at One.

The Irish Examiner commented:

BERTIE AHERN did nothing wrong when he secured tax-free status under the artists’ exemption scheme for earnings from his autobiography. This, after all, is small cheese to a man who can claim travel costs even though he has a state car and driver.
But what he did do was to show how daft the scheme is and how discredited it has become. Though a threshold of €125,000 was imposed in last December’s budget, this indulgence, in its current form, is no longer appropriate.
It will have to be reshaped to help artists establish careers but it can’t be open-ended. People should only be allowed avail of if for, say, five years. It should only be available to anyone whose primary income is generated through the arts.
The spirit of the original legislation must be restored because what we have now is a shabby tax dodge of the most offensive kind.