A Little More Optimism

March 31st, 2003

My father emailed me this morning and said “I’d like to see a little more optimism on your web page… I don’t think it’s the end of the world!”

I appreciated the sentiment, but discounted it just a little bit given the global condition. But then my buddy Matt in L.A. emailed me this afternoon and said, “I’ve been reading your journal and please be sure to think of a few good things in your life as you wade through all the info.” Maybe they’re onto something. So here’s some optimism for you:

I spent Saturday afternoon with my cousin Brian, his wife Roxane, and their two-year-old Nora wandering around Central Park. It was a beautiful day. Nora was mesmerized by the carousel, and spent an hour on the slide. I sat there watching and smiling and, with all the kids playing and the simple joy all around me, forgot there was any strife anywhere in the world.

I’m looking forward to flying to Las Vegas Saturday morning (despite the threat of SARS). I’m going to go hiking in Red Rock Canyon in the morning, sit by the pool in the afternoon, and drink umbrella-topped “Nancy drinks” as the sun sets on the desert.

And I’m listening to the new Pete Yorn record, Day I Forgot, casting aside envy (for recording with Peter Buck, for one), and rockin’ out to the first single “Come Back Home.”

All that, and I’ve launched www.benjaminwagner.com v. 2.0. Not done, but on the right track. Props to The Agonist for inspiration.

And props to you for reading.

Screwing The Pooch

March 30th, 2003

If I hadn’t spent the vast proportion of my weekend alternating between radio, television, internet, newspaper, and magazine coverage of this war with Iraq; if I weren’t a little frazzled from the anxiety all the news, background and commentary had created; if I weren’t hungry despite a steady diet of Starbucks coffee and Lean Cuisine frozen dinners, I’d go on and on — a thousand words, easy — about how I think we’ve really screwed the pooch on this one.

More and more I’m seeing overwhelming evidence of a long-hawkish president contributing to an already religiously divided globe, frightening overlap with Iran Contra’s main players, big business entanglement and averice, all, right there, in the cradle of civilization.

Remember social studies? Mesopatamia. The Fertile Crescent. The Bithplace of Man. It’s where we cam from.

It it appears to be where we’re ending it all.

Light Reading On War, Death & Conspiracy

March 28th, 2003

The Wall Street Journal ran an OpEd piece this morning on MTVNews.com‘s coverage of the war in Iraq (see “Gen Y Goes to War”).

“While surfing through the news section of MTV’s Web site,” they write, “We happened to stumble across its “At War With Iraq” link, and it sure belies the cable network’s spoiled, Generation Y image.”

Pretty cool, and pretty rewarding.

I’ve speant an inordinate amount of time in the last week reading everything I can get my hands on about the conflict with Iraq. Alot of what I’ve been reading has been blogs, which despite my Daily Journal being, basically, I don’t often read many. Knowledge is powers, so I thought I’d share some cool links for further reading:

The Memory Hole:
Mining the Freedom of Information Act for lesser-known facts.

Russia’s New York Post, but valuable as another perspective.

USA Today’s War Weblog:
Daily scan of war news and commentary from around the web.

Chinese People’s Daily:
The Sleeping Giant’s state publication.

RealVideo and Windows Media newsfeeds from around the world.

Check out front pages of newspapers around the world.

Back To Iraq:
Internet journalist Christopher Allbriton’s blog from the Iraqi theater.
Frequently updated blog.

War-related blog hub.

So we’re watching MSNBC as the work week closes at the MTV. There was an enormous explosion at the Ministry of Information building in Baghdad — the pool feed I wrote about a few days ago — about an hour ago. And just now there was an explosion in Kuwait City.

All this on a day when Donald Rumsfeld basically threatened Syria and Iran. Kinda’ makes you wonder if this whole thing’s gonna’ blow up, and the entire Middle East is gonna’ go up in flames.

Bombs Ove Baghdad (Or, The New Normalcy)

March 25th, 2003

We continue to endeavor towards normalcy at the MTV. That is, in addition to publishing three war-related updates and a fistfull of military emails every day (these are actually emails from kids “in theater,” as they say), we’re posting news on Snoop, J. Lo, and the likes.

REM has a protest song (see “Lenny Kravitz, R.E.M. Record Anti-War Songs”) which I don’t love (musically), but I appreciate (politically).

Despite our best efforts at work, though, there is no normalcy now. In a brainstorming meeting today, everyone jumped when the window washer’s ropes slammed against the windows. We’re all a little gun shy.

I lobbed a few ideas out at the brainstorm. During a discussion on the cost of this war, I suggested we quantify the price in ways our audience can better appreciate: the number of CDs it would buy, the years of tuition it could pay for. The truth is, I find it difficult to fathom $75B. Best of all, it would appear that my tubthumping about the so-called ‘Project For A New American Century’ (see ‘The President’s Real Goal in Iraq.’) has taken root in, of all people, my supervisor, who suggested further investigation. We’ll see what happens.

It seems to me that, below the surface of this “pre-emptive anti-terror” campaign, the Bush Administrations has apparent ambitions in colonize the world, sowing the seeds of democracy and (more importantly) capitalism with its invincible military. What I have admitted to only a select few, however, is the occassional thought — occassional — that maybe it’s not such a bad idea. I mean, I buy coffee at Starbucks, I rent movies at Blockbuster, I work for Viacom — do I think I’m exempt? Innocent?

That said, I’d rather see the $75B (how many super-seized value meals would that buy?) spent on aid to Africa, or the education system, or space travel, or at least on somehow pump-priming the U.S. economy — but maybe that’s what this is anyway. I guess I don’t really know. I just know that we’re “closer to the beginning than to the end.”

And that, as the E-bombs fall on Baghdad, it all makes me feel sad, scared, and in possession of a little less hope.

Missing The War

March 23rd, 2003

I had Saturday off. I cherished the sunshine, the blue sky, the cottonball clouds. I sat at Lincoln Center drinking coffee and reading every word of The New York Times’ coverage of the war. The War. I still don’t like the sound of it.

I spent today at work. We published three war-related updates, covering overnight developments, and news throughout the day. We spent much of the day cycling between CNN, MSNBC and Fox, as well as websites like Drudge Report, CNN, CBS News, Time. I read Pravda (“The consistent lies by the Pentagon regarding the development of this illegal terrorist attack on the sovereign state of Iraq makes this the source of deception and denial, not news”), China People’s Daily (“Power which lacks justice and common sense is conventionally and rightly considered to be a dreadful and dangerous thing”) for additional perspectives. Combined with continued bad news, for American and Iraqi troops both, it made for a long, difficult day.

MTV News is, for the duration of this war, subscribing to a service called CNN News Source. Basically, it’s an video feed of soundbites and news packages culled from CNN reporters and cameramen around the world. Between the fifteen or so minutes of newsfeeds every hour, CNN was feeding one of its four fixed camera in positions Baghdad. It was unbelievable to me that I could sit in an office building in New York City watching and listening to this war torn city thousand and thousands of miles away in real time.

It was a quiet street scene, mostly. There was little to see, really, just a cityscape of low buildings dotted by distant orange lights beneath a hazy, inky night. There was a road just below the camera, and a streetlight. I watched the signal change from green, to yellow, to red, and back again, while what sounded like wind — or thunder — rumbled in the distance. A few cars passed, none yielding to the streetlight. I turned up the volume on the feed, and could hear the cameraman stirring in the room, a dog’s distant barking, and as the hour passed, a chiming clock.

And then, again, I heard it rolling and throbbing: the thunder, more thunder, more thunder.

On “Shock & Awe”

March 22nd, 2003

So the “shock and awe” of this war with Iraq began yesterday afternoon. I watched CNN gape jawed, motionless, in my office. I kept thinking, ‘Please stop. That’s enough. Please stop.’ We ran downstairs to go live, but aired just a five minute brief, then returned to our plan to do a live half hour at 7:30.

What was most shocking to me as yesterday ended, is just how comfortable and casual we’ve all become with this whole thing. The control room was far less frenetic — though we were only doing a scripted half hour, not an unscripted, undetermined length of time — than it had been in previous days. People were exhausted, to be sure, and were quietly listening to the show unfold, even giggling at gaffes and puns. And to me that’s been the genious — intended or not — of the Bush Administration’s campaign. By the time the “show and awe” started, we’d been warmed up to it. We’d seen and heard some explosions. We knew the landscape. We’d learned the language: embedded, EPWs, weapons of mass destruction. And many just didn’t care anymore. They wanted their weekend.

One factor in that apathy, I think, at least as the (current) MTV Generation audience is concerned, is the desensitization that video games and Hollywood have created. We’ve seen it all before. According to our polling, 70% of the audience is not desensitization — they were shocked and awed — but I think they’re just giving us the “right answer,” not their truth. They’ve seen it all before, and they’d rather watch ‘Friends.’

I have so many thoughts on this war: the Administration’s goals, its apparent objectives in the “New Century,” the ramifications of this action, the benevolence and malice. Overwhelmingly, it is a most gray matter. That is, it is not black and white, good verses evil. It’s not simple. It’s complicated. It’s like a bowl of spaghetti, or the brain, each fiber intertwined with the rest, all connected, all messed up.

Late Friday afternoon, in the lull between watching the Coalition bombing, and doing our live show, the murky gray New York skies were heavy outside our windows. There was a terrific white flash. An instant later, a terrific concussion tore through the city, rumbling through the canyons of concrete and glass. Everyone paused. The newsroom went silent.

Thunder. It was only thunder. Still, it stopped our hearts.

Life During Wartime

March 20th, 2003

It’s way too late, and I’m way too tired to articulately communicate everything that’s happened, and everything I’ve been feeling, these last 27 or so hours.

Moments after MTV News leadership sent most of the teams home, what is now being refered to as the “surgical strike” began. I was tipped off by the VP of the department running down the hall top speed yelling into the newsroom “Something’s happening.”

We were live on air within 15 minutes, and stayed live for just under two hours until 11:30. After putting the website to bed, I walked home, logged on for one last check, and went to bed around 2. I was up at 8, and back into work by 9, where we had just enough time to meet and post-mortem Wednesday night’s live coverage before the next volley began, and we raced down into the studio again. We were on the air for almost three hours, until 3:45, then again at 7.

I can’t even begin to explain what making live television is like. We were moving so quickly, I wasn’t always sure what we’d just done. I just tried to stay a step ahead, stay out of the way, and hit my marks. It’s like a time warp. Yesterday seems like years ago. This morning seems like last month.

Of course, adrenaline not withstanding, the whole thing feels quite sad. The sound of those first cruise missiles exploding was chilling. I imagine being there, in that city of 6 million, finally having fallen to sleep as dawn approached, and being jarred by that sound, that un-Godly thunder. It’s so grave. So frightening. So real.

Yet, as I walked home from work tonight just after 10, two days into this thing, this Life During Wartime, folks were leaving the theatre and stumbling drunk through the rain like any other Thursday night. What gives? Are we making TV and websites for others in the media? Does no one else care?

Anyway, I’m making no sense. I can’t think straight. I have so many feelings, so many thoughts, but I have to get to sleep, and get back in to work. We have another live show to do tomorrow.

Godspeed, God Bless, And God Help Us

March 19th, 2003

I’m sitting in my office at The MTV here in Times Square waiting for the “deadline” to pass, waiting to see whether we’ll be at war tonight or tomorrow (never no longer being an option, apparently). We had a “script runthrough” this afternoon — talent (John, Gideon, Kurt, Sway, etc), floor producers and directors — for a few uneasy hours this afternoon. It seemed like every siren in the city was blaring, every helicopter was circling just outside our windows. I just took a walk to the copy room to recycle some outdated show scripts, and the copier was churning away a blue final draft script. Creepy.< I got home about 11 last night after our third "war contingency rehearsal," and immediately logged on to check the site, and found some interesting links on Drudge. The most disturbing, and enlightening, was an editorial by Jay Bookman, editorial editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, called ‘The President’s Real Goal in Iraq.’ The long story short is that this whole the groundwork for this entire invasion had been lay years ago by a group of well-placed and highly-political conservatives calling who issued ‘Project for the New American Century’ years ago.

Now listen, the older I get, the more fiscally conservative I find myself. I’m not in college anymore, not hanging peace signs from the chapel, but I certainly think there are better ways to spend $80 billion. Democracy should spread on its own accord, by choice. But I guess President Bush made it clear in the 2000 elections individual choice — votes — a democracy do not make.

And so, here we go.

Godspeed the 19-year-olds in harms way.

And God bless the 24 million Iraqis soon to feel the might of our “liberation.”

In The Crosshairs

March 18th, 2003

Heaven forbid “The Terrorists” attack Disneyland. Or The Oscars are delayed.

I’m watching Peter Jennings, waiting for MTV News’ third (and presumably final) “war contingency rehearsal.” I kinda’ have the shakes. I can’t get warm. Or shake this headache. And I can’t stop fiddling with this one lose stitch in my gums. And I’m hungry, ‘cuz there’s nothing soft to eat.

Um… so I was watching Tom Ridge a second ago, again, wondering if this is what the Germans felt like as Hitler ordered invasions about which they did not approve. I certainly don’t believe Bush is akin to Hitler, but I personally wish there was a global concensus over Iraq, not just this ‘Wild West’ cowboy vibe. It makes me nervious. I’m not sure it bodes well for U.S. history, for what’s to come. It doesn’t make me feel all that hopeful. And I’m not the one in the crosshairs. Am I?

Mister Rogers On “Fresh Air”

March 17th, 2003

Here’s a link to Mister Rogers on NPR’s “Fresh Air” that I found and listened to last night. In this time of global conflict and discord, you might wanna’ have a listen.

Click Here