"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
Robert Stone

June 2009 Archives

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June 29, 2009


On-the-spot photography and video – taken by citizens on the frontlines of a crisis - greatly enhanced the world’s understanding of the London bombings, the Asian tsunami, the Lebanese-Israeli conflict, the Burmese crackdown, and several other incidents since the attacks of September 11. In today’s New York Times, journalist Brian Stelter has a solid piece about how the Iran post-election showdown has gone one step beyond: radically altering how breaking international news is processed due to the essential nuggets of information provided by citizen journalists. These scrub cub reporters uploaded photos, videos, blog posts, and text-messages, and used Twitter, YouTube, and the vast array of social-networking sites as vital lifelines to the outside world. They sometimes worked in consort, as well, with traditional media companies, whose news sites and blogs and online photo-and-video desks were receptacles of real-time submissions (all questions asked later).

Writes Stelter: “The combination amounts to the biggest embrace yet of a collaborative new style of news gathering — one that combines the contributions of ordinary citizens with the reports and analysis of journalists….

“As visas expired, many journalists packed up, and the ones who stayed were barred from reporting on the streets. In a news vacuum, amateur videos and eyewitness accounts became the de facto source for information. In fact, the symbol of the protests, the image of a young woman named Neda bleeding to death on a Tehran street, was filmed by two people holding camera phones.

Stelter quotes Matthew Weaver of the Guardian, in the U.K., “[When rallies and conflicts occur] first the tweets come, then the pictures, then the YouTube videos, then the wires. It’s extraordinary…. [What people are saying] at one point in the day is then confirmed by more conventional sources four or five hours later.”

Adds Stetler, picking up on the observations of Nico Pitney, of the Huffington Post, “[Minute-by-minute blogs] produce a synthesis of professional reporting and reliable amateur material. Essentially the news tips that reporters have always relied upon are now being aired in public.”

The entire news landscape has changed, thanks to technology and globalization - and thanks to the thirst for news and, in many cases, the thirst for democratic reform - brought about by the rise of 24-7 news, digital imagery, and the Internet.

(It's hard to fathom, but on 9/11, there were no camera-equipped cell phones, no YouTube, no videoclips embedded in blogs, no Twitter. Facebook was in its infancy; search engines barely in their adolescence.)

June 21, 2009



The Iranian showdown has been both heartening and heartbreaking to monitor as it shudders and shifts, day by day.

As I mention in Watching the World Change, new technological breakthroughs – digital cameras, digital video, satellite and cable television, the World Wide Web – have allowed us to witness dissent, and atrocity, on the far side of the globe in close-to-real-time. What’s more, new social networking sites and services like Twitter have proved crucial in helping Iranian protesters to organize.

I was pleased this weekend to hear President Obama use a phrase that was first popularized during the 1968 riots outside the Democratic Convention in his hometown of Chicago. Quoth the president: “The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching.”

Herewith, a passage from Watching the World Change (pages 244-5):

“At the very pinnacle of the U.S. student demonstrations in 1968 – at the Democratic National Convetion, held that August – organizers and protesters were so conscious of how their brutal treatment by police would be transmitted via TV cameras that the demonstrators’ signature chant was not ‘Stop the War’ or ‘Kill the Pigs’ (that era’s nickname for police), but ‘The Whole World is Watching.’

“The whole world was watching. In a year when a war raged in Southeast Asia, the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia, and both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, TV cameras had sprung open the political portholes. It was no surprise that within two months, when two African-American athletes won medals at the Olympics in Mexico City, they would choose to raise their clenched fists in a Black Power salute – during the American national anthem – knowing that the world’s TV screens were tuned to the ceremony and that few activists had ever had a more visible platform for making a worldwide statement.

“….In this all-seeing age [the late 1990s to the present day], beset with its crashing tide of digital cameras and videotape, contemporary society has been imposing, quite inadvertently, a layer of accountability on social interactions. Happenstance photography, quite literally, provides an oversight function. Do something untoward and there is a good chance that it might be observed, recorded and, given time, judged. (That phrase might as well have been lifted, in its entirety, from the Scriptures.)

“The witness might well be a bystander with little or no connection to the action observed. The witness might be a hidden, closed-circuit monitor. But cameras – in the right hands – or at least in more and more hands of average citizens – may help create a culture in which the previously powerless have the welcome recourse of evidence against the culpable.

“ ‘We. . .are compassed about,’ says Hebrews 12:1, ‘with so great a cloud of witnesses.’ ”

June 14, 2009


From Janice Abarbanel
Portland, Maine...

Dear David,

My husband Neil and I were recently sitting in the kitchen of the Berlin (Germany) flat we were renting for the month of February. (Our older son is a jazz musician there and has lived in Berlin for 8 years, motivating us to make longer visits to see him). On the kitchen wall was a color postcard of Thomas Hoepker's 9/11 Brooklyn scene. When we returned to Maine, I Googled Hoepker's name and then went to buy your book.

Thank you for creating such a powerful integration of history, images, and access to the American and world experiences of those and future days.

Here's a bit more of our story and how it links with your book: Neil and I left Maine in 1997 to volunteer with the US Peace Corps in Romania -- we were some of the first mid-lifers to join up. We also spent a significant amount of time in Budapest, Hungary. When we returned, Neil had some job opportunities in Washington DC and, once there (we'd lived there at an earlier time in our careers), I re-started my clinical psychology practice.

So, on 9/11, we were impacted in particular by the Pentagon crash, and perhaps more importantly by the incessant talking heads of our (corrupt) government, followed by the anthrax attacks, and, a year later, the sniper experience [throughout the Washington, D.C. area]-- all of these traumas found their way in one way or another into my private practice.

I should say that my first knowledge of the planes going into the World Trade Center towers was auditory -- through a phone message. It was 8 hours later that I actually saw some of images you bring together in the book. The visuals have such a profound impact on trauma -- indeed there's a focused impact on the right hemisphere, the non-verbal part of our brains.

After awhile, I found myself averting my gaze to the repeated, looping TV images during the week (and months) following 9/11, and, though drawn to the Hoepker image, I was somewhat reluctant to read your book, but I am so glad that I did. You were able to create a moving and compelling story about people -- creating narratives and following the images so that 'sense is made' -- so much a part of healing and recovery. The art therapy you described also enters that process.

So, thank you. I'm very glad to have found your book through an image on a kitchen wall in Berlin -- a city of multiple traumas, but one that has started its re-birth with a high level of consciousness about its history.

Photo (c) Copyright: Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos



As I describe in the introduction to Watching the World Change, I was in Manhattan's Times Square when I first became aware that two planes had collided with the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. With that in mind, here’s a link to a piece I wrote for VanityFair.com two weeks ago about the new, traffic-free zone in Times Square, which I believe makes this thoroughfare much safer in terms of security.

Other recent pieces for VanityFair.com include three music reviews: a Steve Martin banjo concert, a Jazz at Lincoln Center Tribute to Blue Note Records on its 70th anniversary, and a typically raucous night at Manhattan’s incomparable Sugar Bar.

PICTURES IN PROVENCE. For friends in France, please note that on July 7, on the opening night of the 40th anniversary of the Arles Photo Festival, Vanity Fair’s director of photography, Susan White, and I will be presenting a parade of classic images from the book Vanity Fair, The Portraits, which traces the magazine’s photographic legacy across 95 years. The projection will take place in the famous Roman-era amphitheater, which seats 2,000. A companion exhibition, “Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs, 1913-2008,” currently on a world tour, opened last week at Australia’s National Portrait Gallery, in Canberra.


AND…A couple of friends have coming out with books lately. One in particular to watch out for is Bruce Tulgan’s latest, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y.