Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Context Post # 3

These are things out in the world that occupy some part of my mind of late. (As always, disclaimer--no claims to total accuracy in reporting...this is the news filtered through a layperson's sensibility and memory. My sources these days are NYTimes online, NPR and other radio, articles posted by friends on blogs and Facebook.)

1) BP Oil-Spill. A British Petroleum owned deep-sea drilling rig stationed in the Gulf of Mexico suffered an explosion on April 20th. The explosion killed 11 platform workers and injured 17 others--but it was days, if not weeks before I understood this, because of the wider tragedy. This explosion released a massive sea-floor oil gusher--spewing oil at an incredible pressure and a rate of thousands of gallons a day. There's been controversy over how many gallons a day, as the numbers released by BP have been consistently lower than estimates by independent scientists and organizations--but the upshot is that this oil spill is now considered the largest spill in U.S. history.

It has had, and will continue to have for perhaps decades to come, and impact on marine and wetland life, and and also damages the fishing and tourism industries around the Gulf of Mexico. The spill happened off the shore around Louisiana, but the damage to beaches reaches down to Florida. I have friends in Tallahassee noting they won't be able to go to certain beaches this year, and maybe the next.

After two months, and many failed attempts to stem the spill by doing things like trying to pour a bunch of extra heavy mud in the hole ("top kill") there is now a "cap"that is capturing much, but not all, of the spewing oil, and they say they are going to replace it with a better cap in the next few weeks--one that will fit tighter, and hopefully withstand hurricane season.

2) Gaza Freedom Flotilla raid. On May 30, a group of six ships laden with pro-Gaza activists from 37 countries, humanitarian aid and reconstruction supplies set out from Cypress to reach Gaza by sea. There is a blockade in effect by Isreal. After a few days, Israeli forces boarded the ships and conflict ensued. Nine activists were shot and killed and many others were injured, seven of the Israelis were also reported wounded. The aid was seized, the activists detained. And , according to this Wikipedia entry I'm reading, the Israeli's offered to deliver the supplies over land, but Hamas has refused it until the Gaza blockade is lifted.

Both of these stories have had my attention over the past weeks and months. I've been hoping each day that attempts to fix the oil leak would be successful, and I cheered on boats with supplies for people who need them.

Both of these stories have also been surrounded by other stories--about manipulation of information.

In the case of the flotilla, there is a huge amount of discrepancy between the two sides, activists say the Israelis open fired before they boarded the ships. The Israelis say they fired only in self-defence after they were attacked with pipes and objects after boarding the ships. Did they used live ammunition at first, or paint-balls? Who said what on the radio? The Israelis have confiscated all the camera film and recordings, and have released some--but the released tapes seem to have been doctored to contain phrases uttered by the activists that they
say were not really said.

BP also was tight-fisted with its video of the spill, until pushed to provide a live feed of the clean-up process, which they did do after a month, Now I see rumors abound that the company has bought certain search words from Google, so that people will not easily see the breadth of coverage and commentary about the spill. I don't know whether these are true or not.


The upshot for girl-on-the-street like myself, is that you can kind of get an overall impression--big oil spill, people getting shot--bad. It is very hard to find solid ground when it comes to everything surrounding the incident or issue. For instance, two of my friends who are quite educated on the subject of Israel/Gaza relations supply me with up-to-the minute news firmly in support of the Gazan people, I was surprised confused by an interview I heard on NPR where some other guy who sounded smart said that the while the incident was a PR nightmare for the Israelis, they "held the moral high ground" in boarding and seizing the ships, which were in violation of their policy of protecting themselves against Hamas "who have a declared mission of destroying Israel." (I wasn't surprised that there were two different points of view on the matter, but surprised that these friends and my friends at KCROW weren't on the same page.) He also said that the ships with the aid were likely sent with the very intention, not of delivering the aid, but of creating and incident like this to draw attention to their cause.

In the end, I follow stories like these, I invest some time, some emotion, some hope. But as the primary incidents devolve into a morass of secondary issues, I start to emotionally remove myself. What's happened has happened, I tell myself, and my reading more about it doesn't affect anything. Unless--says another voice--you decided to take some action.

But, for now, I've arrived in Indiana, where my mom is suddenly plagued with mysterious joint pain and lack of mobility, and my Google search history starts to fill up with things like "natural anti-inflammatories" and "arthroscopic surgery." She'd like to sort through forty years worth of household goods and memories so that when and if she has to leave this place, she can, and so each day, I work to help cross items off the list, and looks at the emails building up in my inbox, and try to juggle deadlines.

And the news hits me, it makes me wonder if somehow I should be doing something else, something entirely different with my life and my time, but then I have to let it go--knowing that if I were to do so, I'd just feel guilty for not being exactly where I am now. For now I choose to believe that my life and my causes will find me where I am.


  1. NPR, while a good news source for many things, is horrible on Palestine. And the New York Times...well, their Jerusalem bureau chief has a son in the Israeli army and lives in a house stolen from a Palestinian family in 1948, so draw your own conclusions.

    Of course, there is lots of hard evidence about what happened on the Freedom Flotilla boats. Problem is, it's all in Israeli hands, since they forcibly confiscated every conceivable media tool--cameras, video cameras, cell phones, laptops--from the 600+ people onboard, including professional journalists, then held those people incommunicado for up to three days while the Israeli side of the story got a nice head start. Doesn't exactly seem like the behavior of people who have nothing to hide, does it? Of course there are some things even they aren't denying, like the fact that the ship was in international waters when attacked.

    And as for the mission not really being about aid, as my friend Ali said: "That's like Southern segregationists complaining the lunch counter sit-ins weren't really about lunch." The point is to break the blockade, which is collective punishment and therefore illegal under international law.

    What both these issues demonstrate is the cowardly he said/she said style of the American media that masquerades as "objectivity." Longtime war journalist Chris Hedges recently wrote a great article about this:

  2. Anonymous3:20 PM

    your friend, the middle east journalist, agrees entirely with laura (on everything, including her assessment of NPR and the NYT) and would like to add that israel entered international waters to board the flotilla. absurd.