Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bradford County Brutality OR That awkward moment you realize you're about to be on TV

I've been blogging for seven years now. A couple years back I decided to limit posts to things that I felt would be interesting to people besides myself. I know that's a very subjective criterion, but it was more than I had before. This caused my number of posts to drop dramatically––as there often just weren't that many things I felt would be interesting in my life. Tonight my problem is different though. There are too many interesting things that have happened since my last post. A photo-shoot with Tommy Hilfiger's sister, narrowly escaping getting gang-raped by serial RV'ers in Weedsport NY, Kayaking in Keuka Lake and nearly hijacking the Keuka Maid. All of these could be interesting stories in their own right. So I'm left having to resort to story-telling-triage by picking only the event that I feel is most compelling and best documented. The winner is: attending a protest against police brutality and judicial corruption centering around the arrest and incarceration of Robert Leone.

Robert is a man from Vestal NY who was arrested near Towanda PA in 2010, after not pulling over for a state trooper (the ensuing "car chase" reached the speed of about 45 miles per hour). When Robert finally was run off the road, the by this time five troopers in pursuit commenced to tase him, stomp on him, and do a number of other things that while not visible in the squad-car dashboard video were sufficient to leave him looking like he does in the prison mugshot below––and that was after he had been to the hospital.

There are numerous conspiracy theories and accusations surrounding the case ranging from the police beating him in the hospital to all out corruption within the Bradford County judicial system denying him parol until it was too late to file charges against the state police.

I tend to be fairly skeptical toward things like this, and would assume that at least half of what is said is untrue. In this case though, if even 10% of it is true––and I think at least 10% of it is verifiably true––I think it's worth being upset about. That said, I've always wanted to participate in some kind of a public demonstration. I have a hard time finding groups that I agree with enough to feel okay about it though. So when my friend Frank posted on facebook the night before asking if anyone wanted to come with him, I said I was in. Even though it meant getting up at five in the morning.

We arrived in Towanda a little before seven. There were only about nine people there, but we started anyways, even though it seemed a little awkward.

Slowly more and more people trickled in, and things got more intense.

As one would expect, while about 80% of the protestors were people who followed the case and were outraged about it specifically, the event was a draw for anyone and everyone with some grievance against the Bradford County judicial or criminal justice systems––which is to say there were some interesting characters.

Everything stayed peaceful and orderly though, and by eleven thirty, there were closer to a hundred people. That was when the media showed up in force.

There had been a reporter there from the Towanda Daily Review for most of the morning, but by noon, every TV news station for 80 miles (which is to say, two or three) had a crew there.

When they showed up, things took on an entirely different flavor.
While most people seemed enthused by their appearance––and showed it in their protesting––I was a little unsure about being on local news at any kind of political demonstration. So I swapped my sign out for my DSLR and took photos––something there were a lot of photographers doing at the point, making it easy to blend in. 

While this may have been a less-than-daring thing to do, it did give me a chance to get a lot of shots and footage of the event, so rather than pushing this post any further beyond the length acceptable for a readable blog, I will simply let the rest stand as a sort of photo essay of the experience. I also compiled some of the video I shot into a short, minimally edited video, that you can view here if you're interested.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are you not the Egyptian?

Last night I was reading in the book of Acts, and I think I have found new life verse. It hinges on the fact that the Apostle Paul and I, while I doubt we would have got along very well, have a shared experience. A bond even, if you will.

The story goes back not quite a year to the third of July, 2011. I was sitting in a Pizza Hut in East Amman with my college friends, Stephen, Michael, and Matt, rehydrating and scarfing down pizza. I had flown down from Beirut, where I was spending the summer, a week earlier, and after three days driving around in the desert skirting the Israeli border and consuming little but camel's dung tea and Bedouin food (which is amazing, but gets a little old), the pizza tasted good. After being away from everyone I knew for a month and a half and not even talking to anyone from back home in several weeks, it also seemed strangely wonderful to be with some people I had known before the summer's events and catch up with them.

As I was in the midst of the second or so pizza, my cell phone rang. I flipped it open, and it was a woman from the organization I was interning with at the time. While my main reasons for coming to Jordan were to first, make a video about the organization's work there and second, see Michael and Stephen, I was also ostensibly to be helping the media team there interview some locals and set up a website. The woman who called me was involved with that, so it didn't surprise me.

What did surprise me was that she was asking me if I was still going to come meet her. For the life of me I couldn't remember setting up an appointment. It had been a rollicking last few days though, and after all of the stress, excitement and heat-stroke, I couldn't rule out that I was just losing my mind (there was also the ever-present possibility that one of the arguiles I crossed paths with had more than just tobacco in it). So I said I would talk with my friends to make sure it was okay if I left them––and if it would be possible to find my way back to the place in West Amman where they were living by myself. They said yes, at which point, I called the woman back, and asked where she wanted to meet me.

Amman is divided into circles. Thus, when the woman told me the apparently prearranged location of our meeting––the place where she was at that moment waiting for me––and it was the same circle the Pizza Hut I was sitting in was on, I started to freak out even more. Maybe I was going crazy. Out of all the places in the city of Amman, we were less than a few blocks apart. I said I'd be right over.

Things weren't adding up at this point, but I was far too flustered to really see that they weren't. Fortunately, Matt suspected what the problem was, and suggested I call her back and ask her who she thought I was. I did this, and the reply I got was a rather incredulous sounding "Aren't you the Egyptian man?" "No, this is Andrew––the communications guy!" I said, at which point Stephen, Michael and Matt almost fell off their chairs laughing.

Apparently, when I had texted her my number several days before, it was at the same time that this mysterious Egyptian did the same, and the contact cards got mixed up in her phone. At any rate, this brings me to my point of Paul and I having a shared experience that not many people can claim.

As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, "May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city.” (Acts 21:37-39 ESV)

Paul and I have both been mistaken for Egyptians! Given, the consequences for Paul's mistaken identity were probably a bit more severe, ie, getting arrested and almost flogged. But then, I was on the verge of having to meet someone for a meeting I knew nothing about and then fight my way back across Amman into the most conservative neighborhood in the city to a place I couldn't really remember with only a smattering of Arabic in a country where all the taxi drivers are sharks. So, really, we both stood to lose something if it turned out we were Egyptians.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Blond Is the New Bad

Whatever happened to the time when the good guys were tall skinny people with blond hair and blue eyes? I remember it being that way once. It was back when I was a little kid––a very little kid––and movies like The Princess Bride, The Man from Snowy River and practically every Disney movie ever made featured tall, skinny, blond-haired protagonists.

Tall skinny people with blond hair and blue eyes were the heros. Always. A stereotype you say? Yes I'll admit it––and I'll put it one step further: it was an archetype.

But by the time I was old enough to really appreciate the fact that I am one of those people, the tradition, which can be traced back at least as far as Chariots of Fire and Lawrence of Arabia , had been completely abandoned. The blue-eyed blonds now played supporting roles as a new school of thought said that they were too "innocent" looking and replaced them with a darker, more worldly-wise, more built hero. Brunett was the new blond and girls all wanted "the tall dark one." If you look today, I think you'll be hard-pressed to find a movie with a blond protagonist. 

What goes around comes around I guess, and, even if I was born too late and missed the generational boat, it wouldn't really be fair of me to begrudge the brown-haired brown-eyed people who make up 90% of the worlds population their time in the spotlight. 

What disturbs me though, is a new trend. It's come in just last couple years, and it's one that does more than ignore the old archetype. It completely reverses it. Enter tall skinny blue-eyed blond as villan. 

Take just the last two movies I've watched, Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman:

David - the soulless robot in Prometheus. 
Ravenna - the Satan worshipping Queen in
Snow White and the Huntsman.
Finn, the spineless but cruel brother of Ravenna 
Meredith Vickers, the heartless corporate exec in Prometheus.
(Also played by Charlize Theron... maybe this is all just her problem)
And there are others. These are just the two that I've seen in the last week. 

What disturbs me more than the fact that tall skinny blue-eyed blonds are now uniformly cast as antagonists is that they have also become the go-to people for any role that is cold, hard-to-read and emotionless. That's because I've been described by many different people as all of those things. 

You'll have to excuse me. I need to go have an identity crisis.

Films mentioned in this post:

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Where I am now

I've been home for one month, and I'm already engaged in the activity of avoiding relatives and old friends. Anyone to who I might risk having to explain my life. The fact of the matter is, I've failed. At what is not really clear––only the fact that I have. I graduated college, and am now back right where I started with no serious plans to do anything else.

It's actually a lot more complicated then that. My Dad is relaunching a business with some other people and asked me to spend some time developing marketing content for it. I have been doing that––a lot of that––so it's not as if I'm not doing anything. The fact of the matter is, if it was exactly the same work only somewhere else for someone else, I would probably be really happy about it. But it's not, and I'm not.

About five months ago, at the beginning of my last semester, I was fairly determined to continue doing what I had been for the last three odd years: Getting as far away from here as possible and doing the craziest things I could think of. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted the next thing be, only that I did want it. I enquired about internships with documentary film production houses, I took the LSAT, I spent weekends at elite-financed Austrian economics conferences and stood in dark reception bars late at night swapping business cards with political journalists. So what happened?

Something actually did. In the very first week of that last semester, one of my few friends from back home killed himself. In addition to a month or two of depression, that event also caused me to reevaluate some things that are important to me. Maybe running from place to place for three months at a time, developing close relationships with people in extreme circumstances and then saying goodbye forever isn't the best way to live life? It also caused me to reconnect with a number of people who had been close to my friend.

So about half-way through last semester, I decided I wanted to come home (home meaning the area) get a job, and stay––possibly for a couple years. Anything to develop some relationships with people who would really mean something.

And things looked pretty positive back up north too. Thanks to the gas industry, there was, for the first time in my memory (and possibly the first time since the Great Depression) a significant amount of money in the area. There were also things and issues to talk about––which is usually good if you want to do something in media. Even my parents, who had been struggling for years, had some of their financial pressures eased to the extent that my Dad and a new partner were resuming a business that––despite its apparently huge potential––had been shelved for several years because of financial problems and legal disputes.

So I came home.

I was actually quite sick when I got back, but I still went to work, rewriting my resume for the fortieth time, talking with people I hoped knew people. By the end of that week, I had already learned that both of the companies at the top of my list in Corning and Mansfield were either laying off employees or considering bankruptcy.

I haven't completely given up idea of doing something somewhere else. Only a few days after I got back, I spent a day applying to a couple low level production assistant jobs in New York City. Unfortunately, in this economy, I don't think I have much chance of getting something like that without doing an unpaid internship or knowing people in the area first. And that takes money. And I don't really have that right now, and thanks to the second economic slump in the area, neither do my parents or many other people I know.

It hasn't actually been all bad so far. I think I've finally almost completely recovered from whatever disease I had for the last couple weeks of school. And it's also––barring a couple bad experiences the first week––been good to reconnect with people here and make new friends.

Also, the stuff with the 'family business' or whatever you want to call it, has actually been going pretty well, and while it will be a few weeks before I can really talk about it publicly, some exciting things have been happening. So I'd be lying is I said I was completely upset about the way things are turning out.

I'm still avoiding my relatives though.