Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Random Thoughts · Three cups of uproar
. . . .

Three cups of uproar

Robert Downes - May 2nd, 2011
Three Cups of Uproar
A tempest in a teapot for humanitarian Greg Mortenson
“When it comes right down to it I am nothing more than a fellow who took a
wrong turn in the mountains and never quite managed to find his way home.”

-- Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools

Is author and adventurer Greg Mortenson -- who wrote Three Cups of Tea --
an outrageous liar or just a good-hearted humanitarian who happens to have
really sloppy business practices?
It depends on who you ask.
In recent weeks Mortenson has been roasted as an imposter and a scoundrel
by journalist Jon Krakauer and 60 Minutes.
Krakauer has published a 75-page e-book exposé called Three Cups of Deceit
($2.99 on Amazon’s Kindle), which goes into excruciating detail about
Mortenson and his claim to have built over 170 schools in some of the most
dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, helping to educate more than
68,000 students.
Turns out there may be only ‘half a cup’ of truth to Mortenson’s story.
Some background: Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, has roosted for five
years on the New York Times bestseller list, with his follow-up, Stones
into Schools, close behind. His Central Asia Institute (CAI) has raised
more than $50 million in donations to build schools overseas. President
Obama gave the charity $100,000 of his own Nobel Peace Prize money and
kids all over the world have sent thousands via Pennies for Peace.
Closer to home, Mortenson got a hero’s welcome in Traverse City in
January, 2009, when supporters raised $40,000 for his charity. One woman
even left a $1,000 check in the penny pot, according to a news account.
And his work perhaps served as an inspiration for the local On the Ground
project which recently raised funds for schools in Ethiopia.
But as 60 Minutes revealed, only 41% of the money raised by Mortenson’s
charity has gone into building schools in Central Asia. And in Krakauer’s
book, it’s claimed that Mortenson has “misused millions of dollars donated
by schoolchildren and other trusting devotees.”
“Greg,” says a former treasurer of the charity, “regards CAI as his
personal ATM.”
On the other hand, Sally Stilwill, an educational consultant who organized
the event that brought Mortenson to TC, says she’s met the author on
several occasions and has been to his home and CAI headquarters in
Bozeman, Montana. She says Mortenson and his family live in a modest home
and his charity is a small operation -- certainly not opulent. These are
hardly the hallmarks of a swindler.
“I think the attacks may not be fair and would be very careful about
judging him before this is all resolved,” Stilwill says.
She notes that Mortenson is in extremely high demand as a speaker and is
pulled in many different directions, traveling 140-150 days per year. All
of that travel and fundraising effort takes money to support building more
But, she notes, Mortenson is also a shy person who has a reputation for
being “not that organized.”
“It’s often said about Greg that ‘I’d trust my life to him in a second but
wouldn’t ask him to set up the daily chore list,’” Stilwill says.
Of note, Mortenson also has staunch defenders in the media, including
Outside magazine, which has vetted his work, and New York Times columnist
Nicholas Kristof. While some of his schools haven’t taken root, that may
be for reasons beyond anyone’s control: for instance, a lack of teachers,
or parents who don’t send their kids to school for fear of reprisals from
the Taliban.
“The man himself is someone I still believe in,” Stilwill says. “I think
he’s a generous man who’s given up a huge amount of his personal life to
this cause... I hope I won’t be disappointed because I believe in his
ultimate mission.”
Even Mortenson’s detractors agree that he has worked miracles establishing
a significant number of schools in Central Asia, even if there are holes
in his story.
But at the very least, Mortenson seems to be guilty of going along with
what might be generously called a ‘tall tale.’
In his e-book, Krakauer -- who donated $75,000 of his own funds to CAI --
rips Mortenson’s tale to shreds, backtracking in his footsteps and
interviewing close to 40 expedition members, porters, tribal chieftains
and other associates to debunk dozens of claims.
For starters, Mortenson’s claim that he wandered out of the Himalayan
mountains into a Pakistani village called Korphe after a failed attempt to
summit K2 in 1993 is “a myth,” Krakauer writes. Instead of staying in the
village for an extended time recuperating, inspiring village children and
“fixing broken bones,” Mortenson hopped into a jeep in another village and
went on a sightseeing tour of the region. He didn’t visit Korphe until a
year later; nor did he place his hands on the shoulders of a village elder
and promise to build a school there, which is a dramatic moment in the
Nor was he kidnapped by the Taliban for eight days as he has claimed in
his book and hundreds of interviews. Instead, Krakauer tracked down a
friendly Pashtun scholar who showed Mortenson around his village in
Waziristan; the man was shocked to find himself depicted as a kidnapper
and jihadist and that no one ever drew guns on Mortenson or placed him in
any kind of danger. He was in fact a guest of honor.
“The first eight chapters of Three Cups of Tea are an intricately wrought
work of fiction presented as fact,” Krakauer writes. “... The image of
Mortenson that has been created for public consumption is an artifact born
of fantasy, audacity, and an apparently insatiable hunger for esteem.”
It’s possible of course, that Mortenson was simply naive or ill-informed
about what’s ethical in writing a memoir. His background is as a trauma
nurse and mountain climber, not a journalist. He’s currently said to be
backpedaling and shifting the blame to co-author David Oliver Relin for
embroidering the truth. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that he had five
years to set the record straight himself.

The Liar’s Club
Reading Three Cups of Deceit, one can’t help but wonder if memoirs in
general tend to be written by people who like to fudge the truth.
After all, it was only a few years ago that the literary world was shaken
to its shelves with the news that James Frey’s “true story,” A Million
Little Pieces, was a bald work of fiction. Frey claimed to have woken up
on a plane, blind drunk and badly beaten, with no idea as to how he got
there. “I lift my hand to feel my face,” he wrote. “My front four teeth
are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are
swollen nearly shut.” Oh yeah, and his clothes were also drenched in “a
colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood.”
Funny, but Frey’s literary agent, editor, publisher, Oprah Winfrey,
legions of book reviewers and millions of gullible readers never thought
to ask how a badly beaten, thoroughly stoned man managed to make it onto
an airplane instead of being handcuffed by security or rushed to a
We readers wanted to believe Frey’s transparent lies because they made for
a good story. We want to believe in the Gandhi-like Greg Mortenson because
it made us feel that saints still walk the earth. That’s how con men
succeed -- they make their victims want to believe in them. Desperately.
Some memoirists admit up front that they embroider the truth. Travel
writer Thomas Kohnstamm, who wrote Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, a very
funny book about his adventures in northeastern Brazil, said in his
introduction that some of the people in his book were composite characters
and some situations were drawn from here and there in his life. His book
was how he had made up some of his research as a writer of Lonely Planet
guidebooks, so readers were forewarned that he wasn’t quite legit.
Similarly, Chelsea Handler has confessed that she’s not really as loose as
she pretends to be in books such as My Horizontal Life: A Collection of
One-Night Stands.
Then there are sins of omission: travel writer Paul Theroux -- who must
have the longest-suffering wife in the world -- is forever coyly alluding
to his sexual misadventures in both his fiction and nonfiction works
without ever fully spilling the beans.
The truest memoirs seem to be written by bad boy and bad girl types who
wish to expel their demons by telling their sordid stories, straight and
true: rockers Eric Clapton, David Lee Roth, Mackenzie Phillips, Slash and
Keith Richards all come to mind with their excellent autobiographies.
In any case, writing a memoir built on lies doesn’t seem to hurt sales:
Frey’s book got a nice bump when it was revealed to be a million little
lies; and last week Three Cups of Tea got a similar boost thanks to all
the bad publicity, celebrating its 220th week on the NYT bestseller list.
What should be our guide in believing what a writer purports to be a true
story? Perhaps if it sounds “too good to be true,” then we can rest
assured it’s not.

(Downes’ own travel memoir, Planet Backpacker: The Good Life Bumming
Around the World, was published last week as an illustrated e-book on
Amazon Kindle.)

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