Monday, April 30, 2007

Alan Johnston update

There is further news on Alan Johnston, the missing BBC correspondent. According to Palestinian authorities, he is alive and they "know what they have to do" to secure his release.

You can read the full article here.

More of Alan's story can be found by following the link on the right of this page.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rolling Stone article - thoughts Part 3

So... basically I was expecting the article to mention Kirk, but focus on Ryan. I did not expect anything new; I did not expect what was written.

I'm not going deeply into the details, but basically the problem is that for three years I had been trying to accept that I would never know what really happened, that I would never know whether Kirk was really alive or dead. After the CID briefing, there were still many things that I did not know, but some at least that I did; including why Kirk died.

The article didn't exactly shatter that idea, but it cast things that had been black and white into shades of grey again.

Now, I suppose I have once more accepted that at the moment anyway, and probably forever, I don't really know. I don't know who was involved, I don't know who was to blame. I'm not sure how I feel about that. At the moment - mostly numb.

There is a great deal that doesn't make sense, but as always there is very little I can do about it. What we do is collect as much information as we can, try to relate it with what we know about Kirk and then...

... wait.

Maybe someday we will know more.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Rolling Stone Article - thoughts Part 2

So... the interview itself. It took a while to set it up actually. Originally Dan Halpern was going to come out here and talk to me in person. I have the impression that he did go to Turkey... or maybe Russia... or something, and talked to several of the other people face to face. I'm pretty sure he met with Greg Manelick, and probably the Ultra Service employee mentioned in the article. By that time I think he knew already that he wanted to spend more time on the Manelick story, and so coming out here was probably not really justified.

Finally he just called, and we talked for several hours over two evenings. It mostly ended up being a verbal version of this blog really... I don't know if he learned anything new; I did probably tell him more about what happened after Kirk went missing.

It's funny, I can't really remember much about the interview; it did seem to go fairly quickly.

It took months after that for the article to come out. By that time we had met with the CID (and I had let Daniel know what they said), and I really thought maybe the magazine had decided not to publish at all. Finally Dan contacted me and asked if I could provide some pictures. At the same time he let me know that the article would not include much about Kirk and his background; he said he was sorry, that he had fought for it, but the editors had the final say.

I did fish out a few pictures. And I told him I didn't mind about the story being cut. I assumed that Kirk would hardly be mentioned, which made sense to me since it was no longer a mystery.

Final thoughts tomorrow.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Rolling Stone Article - Thoughts part 1

It's taken a while to post this, partly because it took a long time to sort out my thoughts, partly because I knew it was likely to be a horribly wordy post. In fact, I think it's best to split it up into smaller, hopefully more digestible bits.

First - why I did the article.

My friends and family know how vehement I was about keeping the story secret at first. There was a logical reason for it - although I know there was also a strong, and more complicated personal reason as well - I was trying to keep Kirk safe. Even after months, even when it had become less and less likely that Kirk was alive, I still refused to let the story out. It was a means of control of course, and it made things very difficult for my family.

The problem was that after December 2003 it wasn't just our story any longer; it was now also Ryan Manelick's story. The Manelick's journey was a far different one than ours because of course they knew Ryan had been killed. They didn't know who, or why, but they did know how.

Since the two stories were linked, my stubbornness about publicity affected them as well. Ryan's father, who was working out of the country, was making enormous efforts to investigate Ryan's death, and of course this includes trying to get the press involved so people would know and care about the situation. Although he was always polite, I knew he was, at times, tremendously frustrated.

So when a friend contacted a reporter for Time Magazine, I agreed to be interviewed and even have a photographer come. This was a huge thing for me. It meant I had to tell my boss the story - before this only one person at work had known (and she knew only because she asked so many questions about my life I had to tell her or start actively lying). I had to loosen my grip on what had happened and admit that it was part of more than just my small family. It was utterly terrifying; I had no idea whether the story would be picked up and become a huge thing or not. Our experience with the media when Kirk's story first broke had left me almost unbelievably sensitive. I was relieved when nothing happened at all.

It didn't resolve anything though. It didn't help Ryan's family, it didn't get the spotlight on the situation that they, and many of Kirk's friends, wanted. I realized how selfish I was being, and I felt extremely ashamed. So when Daniel Halpern sent me an email about doing an article for Rolling Stone, I decided I should go ahead and do it.

I did write to the CID and let them know what I had decided. To my surprise, they said they wished I hadn't agreed. They knew it was my decision, but they weren't happy about it. It made me uncertain about the choice, but I had already given my word. I think some of Kirk's friends were nervous as well, about how the story would be portrayed, about the bias that might be brought, or the sub-voca hints that might be laid. These are people I love and respect; their concern added to my discomfort and fear.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


New from the BBC site -

Missing BBC reporter Alan Johnston is still alive, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says.

Alan Johnston

There is still no news on missing BBC reporter Alan Johnston. A previously unknown organization claimed several days ago that they had killed him, but no confirmation or further information has been received.

I have added an image and link to the sidebar. Please follow the link, learn about Alan's situation, and spread the word.

I know, at least as much as I can, what his family is going through right now. I urge you to read his story, and get involved if you can. If you have a website or blog, please consider adding the image to your own site. This page explains how.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Stories for Sale

This is a slight side-step from talking about the Rolling Stone article, but it does fit a little.

Right now there's a bit of an uproar in England, a minor one maybe, because the sailors who were seized and then released by Iran have sold their stories to the media. Naturally the one female sailor has gotten the most press, and possibly the highest price, but she's not the only one who had something to tell. I'm not sure if the outrage is because the stories were sold at all, or because there was some allegation that the government was involved in the sale somehow.

Then there was another article on the BBC news website that had a quote from a newspaper editor, a man who had paid for stories throughout his career. There should, he said, be an end to this sort of thing. People should not sell their stories at all. Since this is a guy who made his living profiting from the sale of other people's stories I find this just a little hypocritical.

I'm not sure how I feel about the rest of it though, about the sailors selling their stories. I'm not entirely clear about why there is a problem with them making some money out of what must have been an horrific and terrifying experience. I also don't quite see how this differs from getting a book deal. Or is there some idea that a book deal at least entails some effort, even if it's just talking at length to a ghost writer? Of course, I live in a country where far more money is paid out for far less pain and suffering thanks to our litigious obsessions; maybe if this had happened to Americans there would not be the same righteous indignation.

There was an experiment done somewhere that involved offering people money under several carefully constructed deals. The subject was told that there were several people who would be given money, and the deals involved various distributions of the cash. Most people, it turned out, would refuse a deal that gave them a sum of money (cash we're talking, money they wouldn't otherwise get) if it seemed someone else would profit more than they would. In other words, they'd rather give up something themselves than see someone else do better.

Maybe it's like what I was told about crabs. You can keep a bunch of crabs in a bucket without trouble, or so they said, because as soon as one gets close to clambering out, the others will reach up and drag it back down. It's probably apocryphal, and even if not I doubt the crabs are thinking beyond instinctive scrabbling for any escape. Still, there are moments of pessimism when it seems all too familiar.

When Kirk first went missing I went to every length to keep the story out of the press. I thought I had to; if his story was told it could endanger his life. Of course I was aware that things might be easier for us if enough interest was raised, but there was never any question of doing that.

Since then there have been three articles - a short one in Time, the Rolling Stone article, and Susie Dow's three-part article online. I agreed to those articles for various reasons; none of them were for money. But don't give me credit for some moral integrity - I certainly did not ask to be paid, but nothing was offered either.

Still, I have no problem with those young sailors making some money from their horrific experience. I know it won't erase those memories, or solve the problems they now face. But I do hope they get some happiness out of it, even if it's short lived. There are enough crabs down here at the bottom of the bucket. I hope they make it out.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Alan Johnston

Please take a moment to read the story of Alan Johnston, a BBC reporter who was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip on March 12th. (Thanks to Stuart Hughes from his blog Beyond Northern Iraq for the image and links)

The image above is a billboard which has been erected in central London, to draw attention to the situation.

Read the BBC article written on the three-week mark

In particular, read the poignant letter written to Alan by his family.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What About the Article

Someone asked below about the Rolling Stone article. Good question. I'm not quite sure how to answer it in fact. I've been mulling it over, and I still haven't worked out what to say. In the meantime, for those interested, the text of the article is here.

You might also be interested in the first of a three-part article about the Defense Base Act written by Susie Dow and published by ePluribus Media. Iraq, Contingency Contracting and the Defense Base Act.

I'll be back to comment on the RS article.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

up in the air

I like airports. I like the whole idea of that sort of extension of reality. If someone asks if you've been to Grand Rapids, and you've only been to the airport you don't answer yes (well, unless you're hoping to bump up the resume of places you've been) because you've only been to that halfway place, the purgatory of travelers. I know you're supposed to whine about layovers, but I sort of like sitting in a place where you aren't really anywhere, and (after a cursory look around to ensure that all the reasonable outlets are taken) there's nothing more pressing to do than read a book for an hour or two.

However. Things I've recently experienced while flying that might not be so charming:

1. Woman with amazingly juicy cough - the sort that makes me see lovely animations of pink and purple viruses spiraling out of her mouth and dancing around the cabin and up my nose.

1 a. Same woman saying inexplicably to me that her husband refuses to be seen carrying THIS bag - then holding up THIS bag which is filled with what looks like cedar chips and Kleenex (tm). I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what horrible disease involved cedar chips and coughing. If you know, please email because I'm pretty sure I caught it.

2. It's a cliche - but babies. I had them, I had three of them. I traveled with them and so I feel I can complain legitimately when other people's infants howl for THREE DAMN HOURS with that sort of whiny, hiccuppy waa, waa, waa that starts to make your ears bleed after five minutes. Yes, it's petty. Yes, I know the parents probably felt more horrible than I. Yes, I almost certainly was lucky and not skillful in having children that never once cried on a plane. Still, parenthood should come with privileges and I'm claiming this one. Besides, I had been up since 5 am.

3. Smelly people. Having spent hours in three commuter sized planes in the last week I personally believe smelly people should have to be checked - you know, like oversized carry-on. There could just be a basic announcement at the start of boarding: "Those of you who have not opted to shower in the last 24 hours, or who have not yet been introduced to the wonder of deodorants will be issued a green tag at the aircraft door. Your traveling companions can claim you on deplaning."

Oh. And deplaning just sounds like it should come with a moisturizer.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Timing It

Why doesn't the world stand still? It should, I honestly believe it should. In fact, I believe it so deeply that I sort of assume it does stand still when I do something rash like go out of town or something* and so I'm always shocked at the emails and other little things that pile up while I'm away. So... yeah, I'm honestly getting back to you, I promise!

I know, what about just having the electronic world stand still, at least when I'm not able to easily access all those vital little internetty things?

*And as a totally unrelated side-note, the concept of time-zones? Very bad. I would like to have a private, brass-knuckle related moment with the time-zone genius. Sure, my way means that the lucky bastards on the coasts would have to cope with slightly bizarre sunrises and sunsets, but the positive thing (and I don't think this can be overstated) is that I would not be sitting here having gotten up at 5 a.m. (which is really 3 a.m. here, only it was there then if you know what I mean) completely exhausted but not able to go to sleep. I think I blame Ben Franklin. But that's just because I had a history prof who trained me to blame Ben Franklin for everything. I'll be fine. Just don't wake me up before 9... or is that 7? Maybe 11...