Friday, February 10, 2006
Viewer call leads to missing mom's body
We met Denise Herbert, a hurricane evacuee, last month in Atlanta. She told us that being displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina was the least of her problems, because her mother, Ethel Herbert, was still missing.
I was interviewing Denise at a program for hurricane victims, an event attended by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. In the middle of my interview, Denise both shocked and touched us by screaming uncontrollably that her elderly mother had been missing since two days after the hurricane and nobody in government had helped her.
The governor met with Denise and pledged help, but it was one of our viewers, David Lipin from California, who recognized a picture of Ethel Herbert from our story and called us. Lipin was part of a medical team that treated Ethel at the Superdome. He said she was in grave condition when she was put on an emergency helicopter. We then contacted officials at the morgue, and sadly, last week, they proclaimed that one of their unidentified bodies was that of Ethel Herbert.
So today, we are in New Orleans with Denise and other family members as they prepare for the funeral service tomorrow of the matriarch of their family. Denise is grief-stricken and heartbroken as she comes back to New Orleans for only the second time since Katrina. But she thanks God that her mother is no longer suffering and that she finally has a body to bury.
I don't mean to get preachy, but...
I'm heading to New Orleans today. We will broadcast from there Friday night.
As you know, I am personally very committed to making sure that what has happened and continues to happen in Louisiana and Mississippi does not get forgotten. In this day and age, with so much information and such short attention spans, it's easy to just move on to other subjects, other stories. Anyway, I'm not going to get all preachy about it, but I think we owe it to those who perished in the Gulf and those who survived to keep the focus on recovery, rebuilding and remembrance. Unless we study the mistakes, unless we hold public officials accountable for their words and actions, we will repeat the same mistakes.
Few politicians have acknowledged specific mistakes. Many have blamed others or issued vague, general mea culpas, but that's always easier, isn't it? OK, so I'm getting preachy. I'll stop. See you in New Orleans.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Target sets sights on hard-to-crack cases
I got an unusual assignment this week -- Target's crime lab. Yes, I'm talking about that Target, the national "upscale discounter," as they style themselves in the information package the company hands out to reporters.
Turns out Target has one of the most advanced crime labs in the country at its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was initially set up to deal with things like theft, fraud, and personal injury cases in their stores. Now, Target also helps law enforcement agencies nationwide solve crimes, even murders. Target has worked with the Secret Service, the ATF, and the FBI, to name a few.
Target does the work for free, seeing it as a kind of community service. It doesn't advertise its crime lab services, but word started spreading and law enforcement agencies started asking for help. Some government agency labs aren't as well-equipped as Target's. In other cases, Target can get results faster because of logjams in agency labs.
Target's lab is run by an ex-FBI agent and boasts a staff of forensic experts. They spend a lot of time analyzing video from surveillance cameras in their own stores.
The day we visited we looked at how they helped crack a murder case using video from a convenience store security camera in Minneapolis. The Target team cleaned up the image of the shooting suspect, but that wasn't enough to identify him. Then they figured out what kind of car he was driving, even though you could barely see the vehicle through the store's window on the surveillance tape. It was the stuff of CSI.
Police put these pieces together to help identify the murderer. He's now serving a life sentence in prison.
Sensory overload leads to bad buzz
You know those commercials where everything moves really fast and details are blurred, like life is on overdrive? That's how the world looks to Katrin Andberg most days.
Katrin, you see, has "Asperger's Syndrome," a neurological disorder not unlike autism. People with Asperger's are very uncomfortable in social situations and can't look others in the eye. Not once during our interview, for example, did Katrin and I make eye contact. It was a little disconcerting at first, but I got used to it.
Katrin, 22 years old, lives every day on sensory overload. She even hears the buzzing in fluorescent lights and sees them flicker every 30 seconds. (I didn't know they flickered.)
Despite her condition, Katrin is quite functional, and smart too, as I discovered when I interviewed her at her home in Foxboro, Massachusetts, for a piece that airs tonight.
Katrin graduated 6th in her high school class, runs her own business, and gets around town as long as James, her dog, is with her every step of the way. She says James calms her.
People wonder why Katrin has a service dog, because she doesn't look like she needs the help. But they can't see what's going on in her brain.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Bin Laden cheered by cartoon demonstrations?
You could call it Osama Bin Laden's battle plan. I am looking at a world map and all of the places where violence has broken out in response to those cartoons about Islam, and I am wondering if Bin Laden and his followers are celebrating right now.
For years, they openly pined for the day when they would achieve their much desired Clash of Civilizations, a war between the Muslim world and the West. Look at a map of these protests, and you can't help but wonder if they are getting closer. From Africa, through the Middle East, all the way to Indonesia, the protests are erupting in many of the major Muslim countries.
Are most Muslims involved? Of course not. Moderate Muslims are denouncing the violence and saying those who are burning and breaking and killing represent a tiny fraction of the Muslim community. Most Muslims, they say, are offended by the cartoons, but just as troubled by the violence.
Still, Bin Laden and his followers have been appealing to poor and politically and educationally disenfranchised Muslims for years to stand up for their faith in a radical way. Looking at a world map right now, I wonder how many people out there are listening to them and using this dispute as an excuse to further radical Islam's war on the West.
Senator now just an upset homeowner
It's a battle of titans. Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott is suing State Farm insurance to get them to pay for his hurricane-damaged home.
Hurricane Katrina leveled Lott's 154-year-old waterfront home in Pascagoula, Mississippi, last August. The insurance giant says the storm surge destroyed the home. Lott had federal flood insurance, but not enough to rebuild.
The house was worth $750,000. Lott got on the Senate floor in December, pounded his fist and said homeowners along the Gulf Coast are fed up, warning that insurance companies better do the right thing or there will be "hell to pay..."
One of Lott's more colorful neighbors, Pete Floyd, is still finding some of Lott's personal effects in debris strewn throughout the neighborhood, including a Christmas photo of Lott and a silver plate Lott's daughter received as a wedding present. Floyd paid about $300 a year for flood insurance and received $130,000 dollars from his insurance company.
We chased after both parties for interviews, but Lott's office says he isn't talking about this "personal" issue. State Farm isn't talking either, saying it is a matter of "litigation." In court filings, State Farm says precedent is on their side.
It's a familiar scene being played out in courtrooms across the Gulf Coast.Correction: An earlier version of this post reported that Senator Lott did not have flood insurance on his Gulf Coast home. In fact, Senator Lott did have federal flood insurance. CNN regrets the error.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
More riots and more debate
So, I'm on the air right now, blogging in commercial breaks. I'm liking this whole blogging thing.
Anyway, we just had blogger Andrew Sullivan on with Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It was a really interesting discussion, and I should have let it go longer.
There were more protests in a number of Islamic countries today, attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan. Nihad Awad believed the cartoons were intended as an attack on Muslims around the world, though he says he condems the violent reaction to them. On his blog, Andrew wrote, "Religions that enforce rules against blasphemy are defensive, cramped faiths, closed to the possibility of error, which is to say closed to the possibility of a great truth."
I don't think we settled anything in the discussion, but this is not an issue that can be settled in seven minutes, or an hour, or perhaps even a lifetime. It's important to have it, though, and we will continue to do so.
By the way, thanks again for all your comments on the blog. Even if I don't use them in the show, I check the blog throughout the day, and your comments are really smart and well thought out. (Even the ones that aren't well thought out are welcome too, especially the funny ones!)
Riots over cartoons reflect gulf of understanding
Last night, we brought Andrew Sullivan, an incredibly sharp writer and blogger, on the program.
We had him on to discuss the ongoing demonstrations in the Muslim world over the publishing of several irreverent cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. As we were talking, I was looking at pictures of the demonstrations, wondering how such a great gulf in understanding can exist between different groups of people.
Andrew pointed to recent depictions of Jesus Christ in popular media in the United States -- citing the current cover of "Rolling Stone" with Kanye West dressed up as Jesus Christ. We live in the West, he said, we can depict anybody without people rioting.
We're going to explore this issue tonight on the show. We'll also take a look at the demonstrations through the eyes of CNN correspondents who are on the ground in these countries.
The demonstrations have all of us wondering how moderate Muslims are feeling these days. Can Islam co-exist with freedom of speech and freedom of the press? What is off-limits? What is allowed? We're interested in hearing your thoughts.
Baby's light disorder left doctors in the dark
A baby is born and appears completely fine. Slowly though, complications develop. Her little heart is beating too fast, her breathing is not quite right. As they put her under the heat lights to warm her, she swells and turns black and blue.
The doctors try to save her, but everything they do makes her worse. They soon discover that light itself is her demon. She is allergic to the sun, fluorescent light, even a 100-watt incandescent light bulb.
This is not an episode of "House" or "ER." It is real. In this case, doctors figured out what was wrong, and the baby survived. But she hardly ever gets to be outside, and when she does, she is completely covered head-to-toe. She never gets to see the sun or feel its warmth on her body. It is not the childhood any parent would envision.
It seems everyone in our newsroom has been coming up to me in recent days and telling me stories about their own medical mysteries or those of friends.
I was one of those medical students who firmly believed I had every illness my professors talked about in class. I was the guy in the back of the lecture hall slowly bringing my hand to my head and worrying what malady would strike next.
I slowly got over my hypochondria, but it resurfaced over the past month while working a series of stories about rare medical disorders, including this one about light disorder, which airs tonight. It's enough to make me want to rush home to my seven-month-old daughter to make sure everything is fine.
Donate your face? Thoughtful replies
Thanks for all your responses to our question about whether or not you would donate your face. I read the many comments published in response. There were some really thoughtful ones, and a few funny ones as well. A lot of people asked questions about my book, but I'll blog about that some other time. In case you didn't see the show last night, we've started reading some of your blog comments on the air, so keep them coming.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Girls' school mourned Bloom, prays for Woodruff
At the Convent of Sacred Heart, a school of 700 girls and women in Greenwich, Connecticut, the war in Iraq has hit home again. I just visited with some of the students and the school's headmistress, and they tell me they are doing a lot of praying right now.
David Bloom, an NBC correspondent who died from a blood clot in 2003 while covering the Iraq war, was a great supporter and friend of the school. His daughters go there and he attended as many school functions as his schedule allowed. When he died, his good friend, Bob Woodruff, then a foreign correspondent for ABC News, took his place.
Woodruff filled in during father-daughter dance nights, even once at grandparents night. And he delivered the commencement speech that David Bloom was scheduled to give until he died in Iraq. I just looked at the speech on video, which you can see tonight on 360°. It makes for chilling viewing given the serious injuries Woodruff received recently in Iraq.
"He was tired and afraid and uncertain about what would happen next," Woodruff said at the commencement. "Dave understood what we all knew. Surviving this war would be largely about luck."
Arab-Americans fear NSA wiretapping
When I got the assignment to cover Arab-American reaction to the Bush administration wiretapping revelations, I knew who to call.
Osama Siblani is the publisher of the Arab American News, a newspaper based in Dearborn, Michigan, with an online edition that's read around the world. For more than a decade, whenever I've contacted him, he's always given me an accurate picture of what's going on in metro Detroit's Arab community, one of the largest outside the Middle East.
Right off the bat, Siblani told me many Arab-Americans fear their government is listening to their phone conversations. In fact, he says he's quite sure his newspaper's phones are bugged. I asked him if he had any evidence. He said no. But since he regularly makes calls to contacts in Arab countries overseas, he reasoned that his newspaper would be a likely target for eavesdropping.
A few things I should point out. The National Security Agency does not comment on where or on whom they do surveillance, but General Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and now the nation's deputy director of intelligence, recently said neither Arab-Americans nor any other ethnic group are a target of the wiretapping program. Hayden said the program targets "only those we have a reasonable basis to believe involve Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates."
Some Arab-Americans we spoke with had no problem with wiretapping without warrants. As one man born in Iraq told me, you have "to do what you have to do to protect the country."
Still, Osama Siblani assured me, a large share of the Arab-American community feels they are being monitored. And, he says, it is sparking anger. Many Arab-Americans now believe their loyalty to the United States is being questioned.
For our story, we talked to a number of folks from Detroit's diverse Arab community to see if that was valid. And sure enough, it wasn't tough to find Arabs and Arab-Americans who did not have any evidence, but did have a lot of suspicions that they were being wiretapped. And they weren't happy about it.
Would you donate your face?
Hope you all had a good weekend. I spent most of mine in a self-imposed news blackout. I'm finishing up a book I've been writing, and am already past my deadline.
We had our morning editorial call early today, and there was a lot of discussion about the French face transplant recipient. I get pretty squeamish watching surgeries, but I find this procedure fascinating. The fact that once you have the transplant you won't look quite like yourself, but you also won't look like the person whose skin you're getting, raises some provocative issues.
For example, if this surgery becomes more common, all of us are going to be confronted with the question: Would you be willing to donate your face when you die? It's an interesting question. Several people in our office who are organ donors weren't sure they'd be willing to go that far. I'm not sure how I feel. Logically, it's no different than donating an organ, right? Nevertheless, I find it tough to think about.
I'd be interested to read some of your thoughts.