29 December 2011

Congressional medals to honor those who were killed on 9/11

President Barack Obama signed a bill on December 23 which directs the Treasury Department to create three Congressional Gold Medals in honor of those who were killed on September 11, 2001 in Manhattan, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia.

According to an article in The Washington Post:
The medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress. The awards are to be displayed at each of the three memorials planned and built in lower Manhattan, Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania as tangible recognition of the victims.

24 December 2011

'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close': a 9/11 film that follows the novel, but not the day itself according to NYT review

This is just a quick note about a 9/11 film to show two things. First, that 9/11 will for many years inspire creators of popular culture, as it has up till now. And second, that these artists will continue to struggle, often unsuccessfully, to create a work that captures something authentic and essential about the events of that day and their aftermath.

What struck me about the Manohla Dargis review in the New York Times of the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was that I now had no desire to see the film or read the book upon which it was based. (Even though it stars Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, two actors I love to watch.) I was drawn in, however, by a scene that echoed Beverly Eckert's very real 9/11 experience of speaking with her husband, Sean Rooney, as he struggled to escape from the burning floors above the impact zone in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

The images from Sept. 11 of course remain profound triggers for many of us. Some of that day’s most vivid imagery appears in the movie: there are snippets from real television news reports, but there’s also an aestheticized re-creation of a falling man that’s mirrored, with stunning imbecility, by a shot of Oskar joyfully soaring into the air on a swing. There’s also a scene in which Linda, after receiving a call from Thomas, who’s trapped in one of the towers, gazes in horror out her office window at the burning buildings. The shot is obviously composited, but it’s nonetheless a jolt because the buildings reverberate so intensely. It’s this intensity — and our deep emotional responses — that the movie tries to appropriate for itself.
But according to Dargis, the film suffers from the same shallowness and sentimentality that crippled the novel. The result is kitsch.
In truth, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” isn’t about Sept. 11. It’s about the impulse to drain that day of its specificity and turn it into yet another wellspring of generic emotions: sadness, loneliness, happiness. This is how kitsch works. It exploits familiar images, be they puppies or babies — or, as in the case of this movie, the twin towers — and tries to make us feel good, even virtuous, simply about feeling. And, yes, you may cry, but when tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage.


22 December 2011

A victory for Flight 3407 families: New rules to fight pilot fatigue

Flight 3407 families and friends light candles in memory of those they lost. 
Thanks in large part to the hard work and persistence of the family members of the victims of Flight 3407, new rules will go into effect to ensure that cockpit crews on regional airlines will be better rested to promote a safer flying environment. Beverly Eckert's sisters Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque were among these citizen-advocates, who made frequent trips to Washington in order to push for airline safety.

The crash of Continental Flight 3407 and its aftermath is a significant local story in Buffalo and has received extensive coverage in the Buffalo News. In the paper's account of the latest episode, Bourque is quoted as saying that the new rules "are much more rigorous than the current rules." She added that the rules would contribute to the efforts on the part of family members to ensure that regional airlines are held to the same safety standards as are the national carriers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the work of the family members, saying they turned their "unimaginable heartbreak... into a powerful commitment to save the lives of others." He added: "They pushed us to make progress, the progress we're making today. This rule really should be named in honor of the families" and the Flight 3407 victims.

While this measure is very significant, safety advocates note there is more to be done. Here's a quote from the coverage on the "Frontline" program's portion of the Public Broadcasting Service web site, which has done in-depth reporting on the crash of Flight 3407 and the struggle for safer regional airlines.

“Today marks a very important day in pilot safety,” said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), whose district includes Buffalo and who has been pushing the FAA to implement the new rules. “Finally, guidance has been provided by the FAA that will help assure the American public that when they step into a plane, their pilot is well-rested. … While I’m pleased we have a final rule on pilot fatigue, we know from the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board, that it was not the only factor contributing to the tragic crash in Clarence two years ago. There must be more done to address pilot training, especially on techniques as basic as how to fly in ice when landing in Buffalo.”

Here is some more the press coverage:












21 December 2011

Working on the working title..

I love the visual arts as well as the literary ones. So I cannot resist dabbling in the craft of book jacket design for the first time in my career. Here's my latest version of the book jacket for No  Truer Hearts, which incorporates one of my favorite photos of Beverly (by Associate Press photographer Douglas Healey, taken in Beverly's Stamford home on May 24, 2002). There is a universe of emotion in those sky-blue eyes. Her face is slightly drawn and thin, from months of mourning, pain, anger and stress. But I still love her complex expression, at once loving, mournful, hopeful and strong. And she is hugging Sean, as she did so often when he was alive. If a photo is all that remains of a loved one, or a watch, a shirt, or a lock of hair, we will hold on to the precious relic in a tender way, hoping to receive through our fingertips some of the living presence that once had contact with the same object.

In addition to the work I've done on these visual elements, I have also changed the working sub-title of the book, removing the "story of love, loss and 9/11 reform," because it seemed redundant in the context of the photo, and sleep-inducing (for most people) with the word "reform." It was indeed a journey that Beverly took during the too-brief and dramatic course of her life. She passed through the hell of 9/11, accomplished great things with the help of her colleagues and allies, and now she is in the "beyond"...

19 December 2011

'Rubble': A New Book About the 9/11 Families

When I first learned last year that journalist Bob Kemper was writing a book about 9/11 family members, I was slightly apprehensive. After all, in the world of book publishing, what new author wants competition? But after reading Rubble: How the 9/11 Families Rebuilt Their Lives and Inspired America, my apprehension evaporated. Kemper's book and mine are quite different. One difference is that No Truer Hearts is a biography of one 9/11 family member, while Rubble deals mainly with the work of the Family Steering Committee of the 9/11 Commission. Another thing that sets our books apart is the viewpoint and sources. I'll be presenting Beverly's work (along with that of her colleagues on the FSC) from the inside, often through her own eyes, using her own words. Rubble is based mainly on published sources, with the occasional interview with a handful of family members. There is not much information in this book that cannot be gleaned from other sources, so there are none of the illuminating and dramatic revelations that my book will have. But the utility of Kemper's book is in the way it has pulled together various strands of the family member story in a brief and readable form. For a quick overview of the 9/11 attacks, the creation of the 9/11 Commission, and the political wrangling that resulted, with the family members coming out victorious, this is the book for you.

For a 9/11 family member book that takes the reader on a more personal, detailed and emotional journey, readers will just have to wait a little bit longer.


14 December 2011

After the terror of 9/11, "Peace on Earth" was a calling for Beverly Eckert, not just a greeting card phrase

Peace does not just happen. It takes hard work. Whether it is the calm and contentment within each human soul, or the state of good relations among the countries of the world, peace does not just happen.

After 9/11, Beverly Eckert thought deeply about what kind of person she wanted to be, and what kind of world she wanted to live in. And despite the horrific violence and hate that touched her life in the deepest and most painful way, taking from her the man she loved, Beverly took the path of peace, of forgiveness, of tolerance. True, she worked tirelessly on the political arena to make sure the terrible losses of 9/11 would never be visited upon Americans again. But she also decided that in the long term we must all find a way to solve our larger problems without the use of force. So she joined September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

I'll discuss her work with this group in my book, of course, but I thought it appropriate that I mention Beverly's calling as peacemaker during this season in which peace is especially celebrated. On a regular basis I look online to see if there's anything new to be found about Beverly, whether an article, an anecdote, or a photo. This morning I spent some time on the Peaceful Tomorrow's web site because I discovered a page devoted to Beverly's participation in the organization. There was no information there that was new to me, but there were some wonderful photos I had not seen before. Beverly is smiling in each one, happy in the company of other 9/11 family members who decided that the only answer to hatred and violence is peace, justice and love.