Wednesday, December 26, 2007
They weren't home for Christmas
Interesting thing about spending Christmas on a U.S. military base in Iraq ... it is a lot easier to look for Santa when you are in a desert away from city lights ... this year, staring toward full moon-lit skies. Slightly disappointing, however, to discover the flashing objects overhead aren't reindeer and sleigh, but Black Hawk helicopters ferrying troops across the country.

This isn't my first Christmas in a war zone. However, it was one of the more pleasant holidays, as these things go, in Iraq. Spending a lot of time reporting live from the U.S. Army Camp Striker Dining Facilities - at least we were well fed.

I try to remember that these soldiers are somebody's mothers, fathers, sons, daughters - or the wacky cousin everybody loves to talk about. And this Christmas, most families of U.S. troops in Iraq can only talk about these men and women - instead of physically hugging them or exchanging gifts around the tree.

CNN cameraman extraordinaire, Ken Tillis, captured one powerful image that really symbolizes the get-on-with-it spirit of these American service members trying to cope so far from home.

This is Sergeant First Class Kerensa Hardy. The Army public affairs officer was responsible for dealing with a CNN crew for live Christmas coverage, seemingly non-stop for 48 hours. Earlier in the week, her boss stepped on buried bomb - survived - but lost a leg and was recovering in hospital. So it was up to her to see that we were happy - and that no soldier acted the fool (or worse) on live tv. We later learned this is Hardy's first holiday deployment in a war zone ... and that she's missing her four-year old daughter back at home.

Image courtesy Ken Tillis

Between live reports, Ken photographed Hardy reading a newspaper while waiting for a Christmas call from her baby girl. You'll see her phone is placed on a door fixture just outside the Dining Facility. The dining hall structure (it seats 1,800 troops) doesn't allow for cell phone coverage inside.

To remain so composed, professional - and patient - given all that must be going on in her life this time of year, sort of took us aback.

We weren't privy to the mother-daughter conversation (we were workin'...and privacy is at a premium on a military base) but I'm betting there's a four year-old somewhere in America, who is very proud of her military mom.

Watch my reports on Christmas Day in Iraq and Santa stopping in Iraq

From CNN Correspondent Alphonso Van Marsh at U.S. Army Camp Striker, Baghdad
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
The Don't Divorce Me Club

In the corner of a small Japanese restaurant, a dozen dark-suited businessmen gathered at a large table. Smoke hovered over the dinner and beer disappeared as quickly as it was poured. At first glance, it looked like a typical Friday night post-work scene played out all over Tokyo’s taverns. But then your eye stops on a poster-sized sign propped up next to one of the middle-aged men. It reads:

Three Golden Rules of Love:

* Thank you (say it without hesitation)

* I am sorry (say it without fear)

* I love you (say it without embarrassment)

All the men at the table stood up. Equally spaced out and still wearing their stiff black suits, they chanted in unison: "I can’t win! I won’t win! I don’t want to win!" The chant was followed by a deep bow, a straightening of the backs, big smiles and a burst of applause. The meeting of the "National Chauvinistic Husbands Association" was under way.

If you're confused at this point, don't fret. The group is called the National Chauvinistic Husbands Association because it's a club for bossy husbands who need help (a little lost in translation effect here.)

So the title is appropriate for this group of men. In an abrupt about face from traditional Japanese relationships, the men are learning how to give their wives more respect.

More poster signs surrounded the men at this meeting:

Three Golden Rules of Renewing Family:

* Let's Listen

* Let's Write

* Let's Talk

Three Golden Rules for Extramarital Affairs:

* I don't do it

* I am not doing it

* I am not even thinking about it

And there's even a system of ranking your husbandry in the club:

Rank 1: Love your wife after three years of marriage

Rank 2: Help with the household work

Rank 3: No extramarital affairs or at least she doesn't know about it

Rank 4: Ladies first

Rank 5: Hold hands with your wife in public

Rank 6: Listen to what your wife has to say carefully and seriously

Rank 7: Solve issues between your wife and your mother

Rank 8: Say thank you without hesitation

Rank 9: Say I'm sorry without fear

Rank 10: Say I love you without embarrassment

The meeting was jovial and there was laughter at times. But the undercurrent was serious and taken to heart by the 4,700 members of this club in Japan. They're all acutely aware of a new law in Japan this year that entitles a wife filing for divorce to claim half her husband’s company pension.

That change led to a spike in divorces in the country, as some Japanese women, tired of their long-absent salarymen, decided they’re better off on their own. These men say they don't want to be alone so they'll change for their wives.

As the men talked in their support-group-setting, you quickly became aware of how rare it is to see men, especially businessmen, so emotionally intimate. One man confessed his typical Japanese workday (spanning 16 hours at times) was making his wife angry.

The group leader warned he’s on the highway to divorce and he needs to put his wife before work. Another man said he's too Japanese and can't seem to put his wife first. The group leader warned he's too old-fashioned. Another man, married 22 years, shared the fear that he'll be alone in old age because his wife complains about his snoring. Heads around the table nodded up and down in sympathy.

I couldn't help but ask: "As an American, it seems so easy to hold hands or say 'I love you.' What’s so hard about your rules or rankings?"

The group leader looked at me and said what's hard about the seemingly simple rules is following them fully and changing your behavior. He said it's easy saying it or doing it, but changing who you are and really believing it is quite another. He also pointed out to me that the divorce rate in America is over 50 percent. In Japan, the rate is still below 10 percent. Maybe, he suggested, some of the ways the Japanese approach love and marriage isn't so strange after all.

After the meeting, we followed a young man named Yohei Takayama home. He'd just been promoted to "Rank 4." He admitted that "Rank 5," holding hands with his wife in public, was not going to be natural or easy. He and his wife have been married for two years. His wife said he’s been a member of the club for a year and a half and it has changed their relationship dramatically.

Namely, she said, he helps more around the house, listens to her more, and understands she also has a career that exhausts her. What they’re growing into, she said, is a partnership. They went grocery shopping, and I noticed he carried the bags and helped her decide what to buy. As they left the store to go home, he took her hand in his. It didn't look like the most natural thing in the world for him, but he was trying. His wife smiled as they walked home.

You can watch my report here.

-- From CNN Correspondent Kyung Lah in Tokyo
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Kid Rock does NOT rock Baghdad
It was supposed to be the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen's 'thank you' to troops serving in Baghdad over the holidays. Fly in musician Kid Rock, comedian Robin Williams, beauty queen Miss USA and some others for a concert at Camp Liberty - one of the U.S. Army bases in Iraq’s combat zone.

When my producer, cameraman and I arrived at the military base field house more attune to a high school gymnasium than a concert hall, we could hardly believe the line of hundreds of soldiers snaking outside the building, along the concrete t-wall barriers intended to deflect incoming mortars. But that is the lure of the United Service Organization, better known as the USO. For generations, the charity organization has been bringing celebs from Bob Hope to Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong to conflict areas to entertain the troops.

"Kid Rock rocks!" and "It is great that [the celebrities] support us, that they'd come out to see us during the holidays!" - that’s pretty much the theme we heard from soldiers, some who had been waiting four or five hours in the winter cold for the night concert to begin.

But it wasn't meant to be.

Along with the winter chill came terribly strong winds – and eventually an announcement from the Joint Chief of Staff Chairman himself: the concert was off. Admiral Mullen, who had come to Camp Liberty before the bad weather set in, said the Blackhawk helicopters set to bring the entertainers from another gig in Tikrit, north of Baghdad, could not fly safely to Camp Liberty. At first, some of the troops cheered – thinking the Admiral on stage in front of them was joking. But then they realized the concert meant to bring Christmas cheer, was not going to take place. The disappointment was palpable.

Admiral Mullen, somewhat moved by being the bearer of bad news to hundreds of young soldiers, apologized and allowed service members to take pictures with him. Then the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff handed out much coveted challenge coins – considered in many military circles as an award for bravery, hard work or service.

I understand the sentimental value of these coins - I was there when U.S. military commanding officers gave coins to troops who took part in the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. Some troops will spend 20 or 30 years in the military and never receive a coin. And here’s the military’s top brass handing out his coin - for standing in a line for USO concert? It almost seems over the top. But don’t tell that to a 20-something soldier spending his first Christmas away from home, in a war zone.

-- From Alphonso Van Marsh in Baghdad
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
What's in a Lee?
It was inevitable that in a country in which the surnames Lee, Kim and Park constitute two-thirds of the population that that a Lee became a president.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t dread the day.

The issue for a broadcaster is in the pronunciation.

The Lees of Korea have the same Chinese character as the Lees of China.

But while the Lees of China actually pronounce this Chinese character, Lee, Koreans pronounce this Chinese character, Yi.

So in Korean, while spelled, Lee Myung Bak, the president-elect is called Yi Myung Bak in Korean.

Now why the Lees simply didn’t spell their last names, Yi, is the question of the day.

Perhaps it was deference to their Chinese neighbors, who started the Chinese characters, after all.

Or they just didn’t bother.

So for generations, the Korean Lees allowed non-Koreans to spell their last names Lee, and call them Mr. Lee.

Some Lees tried to break free and actually spell their name Yi or Eee, but they were the exception, not the rule.

But now one of them has gone and become president.

So what now, does Lee Myung Bak go the route of most other Lees in the country and lead a double life? Or does he come out and declare himself a Yi?

We’ll see.

From CNN Correspondent Sohn Jie-ae
Monday, December 10, 2007
Are Norwegians energy conscious?
Oslo's festive streets are filled with Christmas shoppers, but also with some visitors who make a point of scheduling their trips during the Nobel Peace Prize events.

Architect Karin Hansen, now a resident of Malaga, Spain, has visited her hometown for the past several years to witness the concert, torchlight procession, and performances by local children.

"I think sometimes they give the prize hoping it will lead to peace," she said. In the case of this year’s winners, she said the attention on global warming could help raise awareness of conservation, especially in the developed world.

Are Norwegians energy conscious?

Not as much as they should be, we could all do more," said Hansen.

The city of Oslo encourages residents to save energy by using public transportation.

Part of the incentive to leave the car at home is a hefty hit to the pocketbook for driving downtown. Toll booths across the city charge 20 Norwegian Kroner, or about $4, just to drive in the city. Parking fees are likewise pricey, and limited.

Suhak Kawwani works at a newsstand across the street from The Grand Hotel, where some of the Nobel events are taking place. While the kiosk always sells newspapers from across Europe, he says he has noticed a bit of extra traffic with all the dignitaries in town.

A native of Afghanistan, Kawwani is pleased that Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won this year’s prize.

"Just like there is peace for the soul, nature also needs peace," said Kawwani. "And we need to do more than just rely on technology to deal with it."

He said many Norwegians knew of Gore when he was vice president, but in recent years also because of his crusade to raise awareness about global warming.

Industrial design student Armand Bentzen, working the night shift at an Oslo 7-11, isn't so wowed by all the hoopla in the center of the city. And he acknowledges that developed countries like Norway, that guzzle the most power, need to take the lead in going on an energy diet.

"We are starting now to be thinking more about it, so far we are not very good at it. We waste a lot of power here," he said.

While he says it's more of an economic issue than one of being green, Bentzen doesn't own a car. He says public transportation is pretty good across the country.

He said affordable electricity in both Europe and the United States sometimes keeps people from thinking about how much they use.

"It's a difficult thing for people to change their way of living. It's a global problem, everyone needs to do their part," said Bentzen.

-- From CNN Producer Marsha Walton
Christmas spirit in Oslo
Oslo is a city that really knows how to decorate and do it up for Christmas. The city twinkles with lights (all of them white) and there are Christmas Carolers everywhere.

A trio of Santas gathered outside our hotel (The Grand) last night, and apparently fueled by aquavit or something, sang Jingle Bells over and over again well into the wee hours.

I am shoehorned in a small room on the backside of the hotel (beyond the wi-fi umbrella!)

My colleagues who scored spacious suites in the front were a little more “bah humbug” about the long performance. Sometimes being in the cheap seats has its advantages.

-- From CNN Anchor/Producer Miles O'Brien
Champions of peace
The Norwegian Nobel committee is a low key, taciturn, downright secretive group. They are appointed by the Norwegian Storting (parliament). Many of them are former members of the Storting -– and all of them are politically engaged in one way or another.

They meet just a few times a year –- sorting through the mounds of nominations mailed to the Norwegian Nobel Institute on Henrik Ibsen’s Gate here in Oslo.

They have a pretty simple mission -– in as much as their mission statement is the 200-word last will and testament of 19th century Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.

Nobel committed most of his fortune to fund the prizes. Each year the interest from the endowment is divided evenly and awarded to the winners in each category. This year the each award was 1.5 million dollars.

The prizes go to "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine literature, economics as well as "one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

For reasons that remain a mystery, Nobel wrote in his will the "champions of peace" should be selected by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting.

-- From CNN Anchor/Producer Miles O'Brien
Al Gore on friendly turf in Oslo
Al Gore may be the object of derision at home, but he sure is on friendly turf here in Oslo. This is a left-leaning socialist country with a cradle to grave social safety net that provides, among other things, a year of maternity and paternity(!) leave for new parents.

Like most Europeans, people here need not be convinced global warming is a problem. The vast majority of them understand the science -– and concur with Al Gore's assessment of it. So you won't find any protestors here decrying the peace prize or this year's recipient.

And remember this: The Arctic Circle bisects this country -– locations at this latitude are among the first to feel the effects of climate change. The Sami (formerly known as the Laplanders) of northern Norway are just like the Inuit of Alaska and Nunavut –- they are subsistence hunters who rely on a sheet of ice in order to survive. But the ice is disappearing, of course.

As for Oslo, it remains relatively temperate because it is in the path of the warm Gulf Stream current. Should climate change stop that current (and there is a long range prediction that warns of that) Oslo would quickly enter an ice age -– Global Warming could lead to a big chill here.

For now, however, the city is much warmer than it used to be this time of year. Temperatures at night are hovering about 4 degrees above freezing. While I am still wearing my long johns, most people here remember these dark days of December being much colder.

Today, as Al Gore toured Oslo, he ran into the 3-year-old son of the leader of Greenpeace here in Norway. He gave Gore a single white flower called a wood anemone that was picked growing wild here this winter, even though it usually blossoms in the spring. The young boy’s dad sees it as a symbol.

But here is the paradox – that leads to hypocrisy. Norway is sitting on an 8 billion barrel reserve of oil beneath the North Sea. Oil and gas are the leading economic engine (if you will) here -– the country exports 3 million barrels a day. And while they are also big users of hydroelectric power here, there are some who suggest the country could do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Gore met with Norway’s Foreign and Environment Ministers today to discuss some ways the country could do more. Gore said he is pleased with the "initiatives that the government may be considering" But he would not offer any more details. Must have been an awkward moment behind closed doors.

-- From CNN Anchor/Producer Miles O'Brien
Science and politics at the Nobels
No-one is certain why Alfred Nobel decided to have Norwegians preside over his peace prize. Nobel was a Swede -– and Stockholm would have been the logical place for him to establish the foundation that would select the winner and dole out the money. And in fact, Stockholm is the place where that happens for every other Nobel Prize (medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics) except this one.

Among the theories: That the Norwegians are among the most peace loving people in the world, their country is small and relatively isolated and they are fiercely independent -– thus making the decisions of the peace prize committee less likely to be tainted by politics -– or so Nobel may have hoped.

Of course, these days there is very little that isn't seen as a manifestation of political ideology. And so it was no surprise that many people in the U.S. assumed politics was in play when the six Norwegians on the committee (all political activists) here chose Gore –- along with the U.N. organization that synthesizes the work of the world’s leading scientists who study climate change and its impacts.

While it would be naive to say there isn't a clear message to George Bush embedded in the selection of this year's Laureates, it is worth remembering this is a fundamental difference between science and politics.

Scientists are, by nature, conservative –- not in a Red State way –- but rather they are extremely circumspect in making statements they cannot support with data. That is an important point to remember as you try to assess those "interim" reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Science is not a belief system –- but in the past seven years in America, that is precisely what many people have come to think. Somehow the Red Staters have come to the conclusion that it is an affront on business –- and thus their ideology -– to embrace any regulation that would protect our environment.

The notion is complete nonsense –- and in fact -– there are a lot of good sound business reasons to be in the vanguard of the effort to deal with global warming -– and the inevitable day when the fossils stop flowing.

Remember, the man considered to be the first environmentalist in the White House was Teddy Roosevelt, and the man who created the Environmental Protection Agency was Richard Nixon. In those days scientists were not treated as if they were simply another political party -– their statements carried the weight they deserved. They are, after all, not creating hot air – as they warn of its coming.

-- From CNN Anchor/Producer Miles O'Brien
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Voices in Tehran

There was no surprise in Iran's president claiming victory over the United States after the latest intelligence report. Uncharacteristically, he waited a day to even respond. Iran politically seems keen to not overstate its sense of validation, but rather let it play out and ideally keep another round of sanctions at bay.

But traveling around Tehran, I found what you wouldn't expect. There wasn't a sense of joy. Even the hardliners didn't take to the streets railing against the West. Instead, there was a sense of vindication and subtle hope that maybe the rhetoric can tone down between President Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and that some solution can come to resolve the crisis.

To be clear, there was plenty of anger about how Bush has not changed strategy despite the latest report from the National Intelligence, which said Iran had stopped nuclear weapons work in 2003 was vindication.

As 40-year-old shopkeeper Majid said: "It made me feel American politicians, who want to run the world, are betraying everyone."

And those we go to for analysis, university professors here, said that by Bush not changing strategy, Ahmadinejad only gains.

"George Bush could have been more conciliatory, which he wasn't, and now Ahmadinejad can turn to Iranian people, can turn to the Arab people, can turn to the Muslim people, can turn to the world and say this man has something against us," one professor said.

The vast majority of Iranians don't want a conflict with the United States. They want their lagging economy fixed, an end to what has seems like an endless string of crises and as Majid said, "People to people in each country, we have no problems with each other."

It seems rather a battle between duelling presidents at the moment with their citizens stuck in between.

I also heard something I didn't expect here, when I sat down with 65-year-old Mehdi. "We also have the right to not insist on some of our rights. And if Iranian politicians left enrichment alone, maybe the economic situation here would improve. The sanctions at least would end," he said.

It's unlikely that'll happen, and after this report, Mehdi's view is an even rarer voice, but vindication has given way to hope that the world will now see Iran, not through the eyes of George Bush, but through the eyes of the Iranian people.

-- From Aneesh Raman, CNN International Correspondent, in Tehran.

Hear from CNN reporters across the globe. "In the Field" is a unique blog that will let you share the thoughts and observations of CNN's award-winning international journalists from their far-flung bureaus or on assignment. Whether it's from conflict zone, a summit gathering, or the path least traveled, "In the Field" gives you a personal, front row seat to CNN's global newsgathering team.
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