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The Last Dispatch

At a memorial at MASS MoCA on Saturday night, friends and former coworkers remembered Daniel Pearl, the former North Adams Transcript, Berkshire Eagle and Wall Street Journal reporter who was slain in Pakistan earlier this year. Following are excerpts of speeches made at the service.Writing about friendship, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” Choose a single word to describe Danny Pearl, and it would have to be “friend.”

John Whipple

Danny and I met when he came here to work at the North Adams Transcript. He stood out at once. For one thing, back in those days, hardly anyone was fleeing sunny California to work in North Adams. But more than that, in no time he seemed to know everybody in northern Berkshire, and had amassed this huge circle of close friends. He was forever introducing me to new local people, and I’d been living here for years.

It takes a lot of work to sustain friendships the way Danny did. Most of us are lucky if we can really be friends with more than a handful of people over a lifetime.

The Transcript was Danny’s first real newspaper job. At the time, I had a house in North Adams where Danny, other journalists and I hung out. We called it Nick’s Bar and Grille. It was sort of a bachelor place. There were several pinball machines, and a full-size Asteroids arcade video game—that was just the living room.

It was always fun when Danny arrived at Nick’s Bar and Grille—he always had some story to share, some wild adventure to tell us about. I love remembering the way Danny played that Asteroids game. No frantic zooming around the screen, firing wildly, for him. No, it was always easy does it. . . . Somehow, despite what I will call his leisurely style of playing, Danny attained, and still has, third-highest score on the Asteroids game. His name and score—42,880—is still written on the glass in grease pencil and has survived on the machine for 17 years. . . .

I have learned a lot over the last two months. For one thing, I talked to friends who had never met Danny, and didn’t know I had any connection with him, who said they had been praying for him. I guess I didn’t know people did that—regularly pray for people they didn’t know—or I’d never really thought about it. I realized that sometimes you don’t know who your friends are. In some cases, you’ll never know.

More than that, I learned that we shouldn’t take our friends for granted.

Friends like Danny who give us their unconditional friendship are incredibly rare. But they do it with such grace that it’s easy to forget what a treasure, what a “masterpiece of nature” they are.

If I leave you with one idea from what I have learned, it is to take a moment to think about your friends. Do you have a friend like Danny, someone who’s there for you when you need them, a person who always puts you first? If you do, then give that friend a call, tell that person how much they mean to you. I can’t think of a better way to honor Danny Pearl.

—Nick Noyes,
former chief photographer,
the North Adams Transcript

John Whipple

Like the rest of you, I have had at least a thousand thoughts and insights about Dan Pearl since his abduction and savage death.

One of them will surprise you, as it surprised me.

I never called him Danny. To me, he was always Dan.

Among those thousand thoughts in the days after his kidnapping, I found myself wondering how come I had never called him Danny.

I now know. It was because in the late 1980s, when we worked together on The Berkshire Eagle, I considered we were engaged in serious stuff. We covered the business community. Instinctively, I thought the name Danny was a throwaway name and would not cut it in the business community. Dan was not a throwaway reporter. In my stuffed-shirt mind, he deserved the more dignified name of Dan.

I tell this story because his experience on the Eagle foreshadowed an astonishing career as a newspaperman. I use the term newspaperman with reverence. There are a lot of reporters and editors in the field of journalism, but there are only a few newspapermen and newspaperwomen. Dan, unquestionably, was a newspaperman.

Dan’s later career was about understanding cultures unfamiliar to the rest of us, and then writing about them in a way that compelled serious readers to understand. It is already clear that his legacy will be through efforts in his memory to foster understanding of cultures, particularly those represented by Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, with each tormented by its own conservative, liberal and radical factions. . . .

There are so many things to be said in praise of his work and his persona. Above all, Dan had an understated style, one that was strong and also laced with enormous civility. His writing reflected thought and understanding of the shades of gray behind every story. In his personal life, he was a renaissance man, a musician, an appreciator of fine wine and food, and a raconteur. He was on the cusp of a magnificent career when he was murdered, one that would have included the writing of important books. It is already clear that his brave and talented wife, Mariane, will carry on their work.

But what is the meaning of his awful, uncivilized and savage death? In the hours following the news we all had dreaded for so many weeks, I thought his murder was so senseless, so unnecessary. Yet it happened. . . .

Dan’s life and brutal death have forced us to look at the world in a different way. For me, and I hope for all of you, the message he sends is that we must commit ourselves to understanding other cultures and searching for such common ground as improving the quality of life throughout the world. We must embrace peace and outreach. There is no other way.

Dan. Friend. Colleague. Newspaperman. Renaissance Man. Music Man. As the song goes, “We hardly knew ye.” Now we must vow, each in our own way, to continue to make your music.

—Lew Cuyler,
former business reporter,
The Berkshire Eagle

John Whipple

It’s remarkable and lucky that in the vast flurry of our lives, a single tragic event can bring back the memory of someone who was around for just a short time before moving on to the next life step. In recent months I have been greeted with a slow, unfolding series of memories about Danny.

I sat between the two Dans, Danny Pearl and Dan Bellow, for two rather high-pitched years at the old Eagle office. I remember Danny rolling in later than everyone else on the day shift, usually with an armload of flapping papers. While the rest of us were getting ready for the day, Danny was already deep into some scoop or other.

He would smile to everyone, say hello, check in with Lew Cuyler. They were an intense team, good-humored and tremendously productive. Danny would drop his pile of stuff on top of the other piles of stuff on his desk. Then he would lean down under his desk to get his own personal coffeepot brewing. The scent of hazelnut floated up. The floor beneath his desk was a lethal place none of dared to look at for long.

Danny worked late, long after the rest of us day people had left. He was fearless of analyzing documents, statistics and fearsome mathematical calculations. He was calm, but full of vigor. He was a workhorse. He knew shorthand. The chaos of his desk, his falling piles of papers and messy coffee setup included a meticulous scrapbook of clips. He offered to help me organize mine once, and I went to his apartment to cut and paste. There wasn’t much there. He was clearly moving on. He did. I stayed.

I was surprised to learn that a guy as focused as he was found time to play violin in the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra and to teach English to new immigrants in Pittsfield.

Soon he was gone, and now he’s back in a new way for all of us. We are all so lucky to have had a few years with him. Some had sustained friendships. What a fine man, what a fine memory he’s left us, what fine stories in the archives of many papers.

Heaven’s arms have opened wide for this good man.

—Ellen Lahr,
The Berkshire Eagle

Danny Pearl breezed into the North Adams Transcript newsroom in June 1986, notebook in hand and precious violin packed carefully in the back of his brand new four-wheel-drive Toyota pickup. His infectious, perpetual grin and sleepy-eyed, laid-back manner instantly won over the entire staff, but some of us wondered how this mere lad of 23 would cope with small-town beat reporting.

Not to worry. On his first day, he unveiled a snappy, tight writing style that some reporters work years to achieve, and some never reach. Within two weeks, he showed an uncanny grasp for local politics, how government functioned, even how to decipher budgets and where to find the buried treasure of good features.

His time at the Transcript and later the Eagle wasn’t all a honeymoon. He drove some editors crazy because he liked to use every possible second of time before deadline, reworking and polishing his articles as if they were precious jewels. “Pearl!” a scowling copy editor would bellow, “I need that story NOW!” With a glance at his watch, Danny would bellow back, “I’ve got three minutes!” Precisely three minutes later, his story would arrive in its proper queue, and the editor’s glares would turn to smiles as he scrolled the spare, accurate, often compelling prose—not a comma out of place, perfect grammar, not a word misspelled. And this long before spell-check. . . .

Not much could stop Danny from getting a story he wanted. Witness the time a North Adams club decided to host a charitable fund-raiser featuring, of all things, male strippers. It was a risqué idea at the time, and you-know-who wanted the story. But he was thwarted at first by the owner’s edict that no men other than the strippers would be allowed inside the building. So, of course, he got a wig and a dress, shaved his legs, donned his disguise and went to the club. “Danielle” Pearl got inside, and he got the story:

Headline: “Dedicated reporter dons drag to get story on male dancers.”

NORTH ADAMS, Feb. 14, 1987—“I’ve been dancing for five years, and I’ll tell you one thing. I love North Adams!”

The dancer, wearing a G-string that is barely wider than his moustache, leaves the microphone amid a chorus of high-pitched shouts and gets back to loving North Adams. He moves from table to table as feminine hands clap together. Some of the hands contain dollar bills, for which he makes his G-string a safe deposit box. Each depositor is rewarded with a kiss, a hug or something halfway between a hug and a reenactment of the Death of Marcus Brutus, who embraced Strato’s sword on the field of battle and succumbed with a smile.

“Why do they always get him on that side of the room?” a girl near me laments. I smile weakly. I’m praying for the dancers to stay on the other side of the room. I’m thinking there must be 10,000 harder ways to make money than the way he’s making it—flexing his mostly naked body before 350 women for half an hour. I’m thinking there must be 10,000 easier ways to make money than the way I’m making it—standing camera and notebook in hand, make-up and eye shadow on face, wig on head, pretending to be one of the 350 women. . . . Luckily most of the ladies were too engrossed in the boys with the bare bottoms on stage to take heed of the “girl” with the razor shadow among them. I tried to respond in lady-like fashion to those who did notice.

“You make a terrible girl,” said one.

“You make a wonderful girl,” said I.

“How many people have noticed you’re a guy?” smirked another.

“What if I were an ugly girl?” I said.

“I’d be pretty embarrassed,” she said.

A girl next to me felt my fake hair. I felt her hair. She squeezed my flat chest. I put my hands in my pocket.

Over the past few weeks, the best description I’ve heard of Danny Pearl came from his family. “Walking sunshine,” they called him. That’s the way I remember him. And the way I will always remember him: Mourning his death, but celebrating his life with a perpetual smile.

—Glenn Drohan,
The Berkshire Eagle

Safety Dance

John Whipple

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty (D-Green Island) were in Albany to announce support for a new Homeland Security Block Grant bill that would provide $3.5 million in federal aid to communities dealing with increased security needs as a result of Sept. 11.

According to projections, cities across the United States are expected to spend an additional $2.6 billion by the end of 2002 alone. Overtime pay for firefighters, police officers and emergency-response workers is expected to skyrocket as cities continue to beef up security at public places and major events. The money provided under the proposed bill would be distributed through grants to local governments that establish plans to increase fire, police and emergency-response personnel; refurbish aging law-enforcement and safety equipment; improve cyber infrastructure, including cyber- security systems that protect public water supplies, transportation corridors and chemical-manufacturing facilities; improve disaster-response programs; and coordinate efforts to track down possible terrorist activity.

The notion of increased homeland security has alarmed civil libertarians and government-watchdog groups who fear that national, state and local governments already have too much potential to abuse law-enforcement opportunities. They say that Sept. 11 has given the federal government an opportunity to further erode individual freedoms and civil liberties, and that increased security has already begun to be enforced well beyond so-called antiterrorist measures. However, supporters of increased homeland-security measures say that underfunded municipal law enforcement may be the weakest link in preventing future terrorist attacks.

Happily Ever After

Neighborhood groups end infighting by joining together to support downsized Lark Street renovation plan

Usually, there is no upside to losing $6 million. But for the Lark Street Business Improvement District and neighborhood associations in the Lark Street area, there’s a silver lining to the cloud that rolled over the area when Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings announced that the street might not get the $6.5 million streetscape renovation its business and neighborhood proponents had hoped for: The groups have finally found an issue on which they have enough common interests that they can work as a united front to better the neighborhoods they share.

“We do have some competing interests,” acknowledged Chris Burke, president of the Lark Street BID. “But we’re not going to go away, the neighborhood associations aren’t going to go away, and we’re stronger if we work together.”

Two weeks ago, when the Lark Street BID and members of the area neighborhood associations met to discuss options for the future of Lark Street, the Lark Street Revitalization Committee members—including the presidents of the Park South, Hudson/Park, Center Square and Washington Park neighborhood associations, Burke and 6th Ward alderman Richard Conti—drafted a letter of support for Jennings’ scaled-back, $2 million version of a Lark Street renovation plan.

In the letter, dated March 20, the committee told Jennings that it “has agreed to support the proposal to use city funds for the rehabilitation of Lark Street, with the understanding that the undersigned organizations and individuals will work in partnership with the city and its agents throughout the design phase of this project.”

At the end of February, when Jennings held a public meeting to address the community about his intent to shift the request for $6.5 million in federal aid from Lark Street to New Scotland Avenue, it was clear that the community was divided about how it should receive the news. While some merchants, such as John Wagner, proprietor of Waldorf Tuxedo at the corner of Lark and Lancaster streets, were relieved that their businesses would be spared the disruption of massive construction outside their doorsteps, others felt slighted. Elda Abate, owner of Elda’s on Lark Street, engaged the mayor in a heated public debate about his commitment to the area.

“You should give us the money, the $6.5 million,” she chided the mayor. “Without your project and your help, you know we’re going to die.”

Members of the committee that had worked for years on the rehab project expressed their dismay, and Alice Oldfather, president of the Center Square Association, said at the time that many association members found the turnaround “baffling” and were concerned that the mayor seemed to have made his announcement with minimal public input.

Oldfather said this week that she and her fellow neighborhood-association representatives have since explored their options and found the mayor’s plan to be the “best course” for the street. “I think some people are disappointed that we weren’t able to keep the federal funds,” Oldfather said. “But I think most people are being realistic. We’re getting most of the things we were concerned about.”

Burke said that from the BID perspective, the biggest concern has been that massive construction could close Lark Street down for up to a year. “That would be a big hardship on merchants,” he said.

Though details of the previous, more ambitious plan never were finalized, the proposals included a major dig and reconstruction of the street and sidewalks, with all power lines buried underground. In the smaller version, the city has tentatively agreed to resurface the street, rebuild the sidewalks, add textured traffic-calming crosswalks, and install historic lighting fixtures with increased illumination.

Burke said the new plan is favorable from a business perspective because it doesn’t call for major disruption of the street, it does call for better lighting, and it can begin as early as spring 2003. Oldfather said that the plan also addresses most of the concerns of residents, such as making the street more pedestrian-friendly, safe and attractive. So the groups decided it was time to put their ideological differences behind them and sign off on the mayor’s proposal.

Further, both Oldfather and Burke said, it seemed wiser to get on board with the mayor’s plan and be part of the planning phases of the project than to waste more time fighting with the city—or each other—over the details.

“There’s so many common concerns between residents and merchants,” Oldfather said. “It really doesn’t make sense to divide and conquer.”

—Erin Sullivan

Bad Genes

Corn found growing wild in Mexico lends credence to worries that GMOs can contaminate the environment

Last fall, a University of California, Berkeley researcher announced the discovery of genetically engineered corn in the remote highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico. The corn was popping up along roadsides, out of cracks in the sidewalks and seemingly anywhere else it could find soil, in scores of mountain settlements.

The discovery sent alarms through the scientific community: Mexico banned the use of such corn in 1998. Scientists say it provides yet more evidence that genetically modified organisms cannot be controlled once they are released into the environment.

The discovery is especially significant because the contamination occurred in the ancestral homeland of corn. Crop homelands must be preserved because they contain important genetic information scientists return to for developing blight-resistant crop strains when catastrophic pests or diseases strike. Oaxacans speculate that the transgenic varieties sprouted after falling off government trucks that brought subsidized bioengineered corn as food aid to local communities. “Genes flowing from genetically modified crops can threaten the diversity of natural crops by crowding out native plants,” Ignacio Chapela, the Berkeley scientist who discovered the contamination (published in Nature in September), said in a statement.

GMO contamination like that in Mexico is one reason many countries have strongly resisted the introduction of GMOs, especially in the genetically diverse developing world. In January 2000, more than 130 developing nations led the fight for an international treaty, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which would permit a country to refuse transgenic imports if it believes the shipment would endanger its population.

The United States has long argued there is no reason for such a protocol at all, and successfully weakened the accord, which is currently being ratified by signatories, with help from a handful of other grain-trading nations. According to Ben Lilliston of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the United States has not yet ratified the protocol, nor is it expected to do so anytime soon.

Last year, an estimated 130 million acres of biotech crops were grown by 5.5 million farmers in 13 countries. In the United States, which planted 88.2 million acres of bioengineered crops last year—68 percent of the global total—genetic pollution is already rampant. Virtually all Midwestern organic corn samples tested in 2000 showed some degree of transgenic contamination, says Fred Kirschenmann, executive director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. “It’s becoming clear that transgenic contamination can only escalate.”

Conventional corn farmers who grow non-GMO varieties are suffering as a result of the introduction of GMO crops. International markets for U.S. corn have shriveled, if not evaporated, since a global consumer revolt against bioengineered foods began in Europe in 1998. Bill Cristison, president of the National Family Farm Coalition, says the market disruption due to biotech corn has slashed nonorganic corn prices about 30 cents a bushel, or roughly 15 percent. It is a drop growers can ill afford, since it costs them more to produce their crop than the market returns.

Aside from market trouble, farmers are being targeted by biotech companies—especially Monsanto—when bioengineered seeds show up on their land. Biotechnology companies hold patents on their seeds, and Monsanto is currently suing more than a dozen farmers across Canada and the Midwest for “patent infringement.” Many more farmers are reported to be under active investigation. Considering that transgenic contamination is proving impossible to prevent, such legal action may eventually force farmers to buy bioengineered seeds whether they—or their customers—want it or not.

Though transgenic contamination threatens the lucrative and growing international and domestic markets for organic produce, the U.S. government doesn’t seem to care. Last November, the Food and Drug Administration warned organic food manufacturers not to label their products “GMO free,” because organic manufacturers likely could not substantiate the claim—which the agency views as misleading, in any case, since it insists genetically modified foods are safe.

But legislation opposing or regulating genetically modified products is appearing around the country. Last year, Maryland banned genetically engineered fish in its waters, and Oregon has a similar measure in the works. New York and Vermont are considering GMO-crop moratoriums, and Massachusetts, North Carolina and Hawaii are considering laws that regulate growing and marketing certain GMO crops. Grassroots farming organizations are also pushing legislation to protect them against lost markets, transgenic contamination, and liability resulting from GMOs.

But of the 11 states that have introduced labeling laws, only Maine’s—which is voluntary—has passed. On the other hand, according to the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, as of October 2001, two-thirds of the state laws related to biotechnology enacted last year were promoted by biotechnology companies and targeted activists vandalizing genetically modified crops or animals.

Meanwhile, the United States has embraced biotechnology as one of the pillars of economic growth. The federal government continues to operate as the biotech industry’s principal cheerleader and bully, and calls for moratoriums on future GMO releases from scientists and the public are ignored or vigorously fought. Despite the demands of foreign governments and consumers in the United States and abroad to label bioengineered food, the feds continue to refuse, working hard to prevent anything that might hinder the technology’s acceptance.

The Bush administration has inserted a provision into “fast track” trade legislation that would deem labeling genetically modified food by other countries an unfair trade barrier and make violators liable for costly trade sanctions. The administration also is preparing to challenge the European Union’s requirement for labeling transgenic food at the World Trade Organization.

—Karen Charman

Karen Charman is a New York–based journalist specializing in agriculture, the environment and health.

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