When I left for Italy on June 25, I was resolute to stay away from the Internet and TV. I did well staying away from the web, but the lure of seeing some foreign TV firsthand proved to be too strong, and so I started looking at RAI in the evenings.
That’s how I learned there was a massive blackout in New York City. It was on the Italian national news. They showed footage from CBS, showing some large place (maybe Grand Central Station) with a guy sitting on the floor reading The Sun that said BLACKOUT across the top.
Oh no, I thought. My poor city. I went online, holding my breath as the New York Times homepage loaded. But . . . . there was no banner headline. Quickly scanning the major stories, there was no headline at all. How strange. Finally, in the Metro section I found one article about a minor blackout in the Bronx and some of the Eastside that Bloomberg said was a “minor inconvenience.” This made the Italian national news? I wondered, had RAI shown a little B roll of the 2005 blackout, thinking it was appropriate? How off could they have been? Was Bloomberg deliberately underplaying yet another example of Con Ed’s inability to keep our lights on? I don’t know.
Then on June 29 I saw the images of London, and it was serious enough to switch over to CNN International, and SKY. The coverage was intense, and got even moreso when the Glasgow airport bomb exploded. I had a sickening feeling watching that situation unfold, and the strange story of the doctors who were the alleged suicide bombers.
Now that I was catching more TV, I saw the other big stories were relentless fires in Greece, and the floods of Yorkshire. I caught images of these stories in bar TVs, the hotel lobby’s media center, on the covers of the Italian newspapers.
Then the siege at the Red Mosque in Pakistan exploded, and that took center stage and was covered from every angle, 24 hours a day. I watched most of it between midnight and 8:oo a.m., trying to keep the day lighthearted and filled with sightseeing.
It was all starting to feel apocalyptic. The fires and floods, explosions, killings. I wondered what the coverage of these stories was in New York. Did Islamabad and Glasgow feel as threatening at home? Why do I, a native New Yorker, feel so safe at home? Is it pragmatic denial, so as not to become completely paralyzed? Or is it now insane to get on the subway everyday.
On the 4th of July I was in Lugano, talking with a photographer from Seattle’s News Tribune who said his paper made a commitment to cover every funeral of every soldier who had gone through the local base. A sober conversation between Americans abroad on a national holiday, while trying to enjoy Switzerland’s beauty.
Even in my own small, nonpolitical world, it’s pretty obvious there is no taking vacation from the world situation.
And yet, as Frank Rich writes, “it's our own government's vacation from reality this summer that should make us very afraid.”
From the Washington Post:
“Six years after the Bush administration declared war on al-Qaeda, the terrorist network is gaining strength and has established a safe haven in remote tribal areas of western Pakistan for training and planning attacks, according to a new Bush administration intelligence report to be discussed today at a White House meeting.
“The report, a five-page threat assessment compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center, is titled "Al-Qaida Better Positioned to Strike the West," intelligence officials said. It concludes that the group has significantly rebuilt itself despite concerted U.S. attempts to smash the network.”
Gordon Brown called for vigilance from the Brits, which Michael Chertoff echoed, "[Al Qaeda] continues to adapt and rebuild," Michael Chertoff told CBS's The Early Show. "The message, again, for us is we have to continue to be vigilant."
One hopes that their entreaties mean at least as much to the average citizen as Mad-Eye Moody’s exhortation for “Constant Vigilance.”