Posts by Sarah Harris

My friend got a death threat for her reporting

My college friend Zaheena Rasheed is a journalist in the Maldives, a Muslim island nation off the coast of India. Zaheena has fought for basic political freedoms there since she was a teenager. She now writes for an online, English language newspaper, Minivan News. Minivan means ‘independent’ in the Maldivian language of Dhivehi.

For Zaheena, yesterday was scary.


Zaheena makes Ramadan treats with her family. Taken during my visit there in 2009. Photo: Sarah Harris

“Dark night in Male (the Maldivian capital),” she wrote on Facebook. “I received a death threat at 5:39 pm saying ‘you will be killed/disappeared next.’”

Vandals destroyed her office’s CCTV camera and launched a machete into their door.

Maldives is best known in the west for its high end island resorts and low-lying terrain that’s vulnerable to climate change. But what a lot of people don’t know is that Maldives is a country grappling with the confluence of democracy and religion. The past few years have been marked by political instability and and the ever-growing influence of radical Islam.

The Maldives was governed by dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for 30 years. During that time,  people left their home islands and migrated to the capital island Male, seeking services. Now, about 100,000 people pack into the capital island that measures a mere 2.2 square miles.

In 2008, Gayoom was ousted in a peaceful, democratic election, and replaced by now ex-president Mohammed Nasheed. I went to the Maldives with Zaheena in 2009. Democracy was an exciting, burgeoning force then — people felt their votes had made a difference.

But in early 2012, Nasheed was forced out by a military coup. And a month ago, Zaheena’s colleague Ahmed Rilwan, a journalist and active pro-democracy blogger, disappeared at knifepoint. He has not returned.

According to Minivan News, a recent report implicated radicalized gangs in Rilwan’s abduction.

I cannot help but contrast Zaheena’s political reality with my own. I have never had to fight for basic political freedoms. I enjoy freedom of the press every day, when I come into work and sit down to make phone calls and write stories. I might occasionally have to deal with a sticky bureaucracy of people who don’t want to talk — but that is very different than a text message threatening death.

On a road trip in Texas during freshman year spring break. Our friend Sam is on the left.

On a road trip in Texas during freshman year spring break. Our friend Sam is on the left.

I’ve spent the day and night worry about Zaheena’s safety. It’s hard not to, especially just after American journalists Fames Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded on camera by a militant from the so-called Islamic State.

In college, Zaheena and I spent endless nights giggling and and talking about our families and our boyfriends and our dreams. We both settled into the same career: telling true stories because it’s essential to healthy democracies and healthy communities.

But in the North Country, I can practice my craft without having to look over my shoulder. For me, independent reporting doesn’t have the same personal price.


Duck Dynasty and culture wars

Group in Duck Dynasty costumes, Halloween 2013. Photo: Anthony Acosta, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Group in Duck Dynasty costumes, Halloween 2013. Photo: Anthony Acosta, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

I’ve been following the evolving Duck Dynasty saga for a few weeks now.  For those of you who haven’t been drawn in by the drama, here’s a quick recap:

Duck Dynasty is a popular reality show on A&E. It follows the Robertsons, a family of camo-clad, bearded, Louisiana dads, sons, and brothers, and their wives. Duck hunting is the family’s raison d’etre. And so is Jesus: the Robertsons are devout Christians. But “Duck Dynasty” on A&E carefully keeps ideology of the airwaves: the show is more focused on silly stunts and family relationships.

Last month, GQ published a (rather flippant) profile of patriarch Phil Robertson. Writer Drew Magary goes hunting with Robertson. The whole affair causes him to look longingly (and with irony) at Phil’s outdoor lifestyle:

“I should be out here, dammit! Killing things and growing things and bringing dead things home to cook! There is a life out in this wilderness that I am too chickenshit to lead.”

But perhaps more importantly, Magary quotes Phil saying what he can’t say on TV about homosexuality, sin, race, and people’s private parts.

A&E responded by banning Roberston from future episodes of the show, saying that his statements weren’t in line with their mission.

Cue the internet – and cultural – firestorm.

Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and the tons of people on the internet weighted in. Gay rights groups were quick to praise A&E. This piece of satire from the New Yorker jokingly suggests that Justice Scalia called the decision to suspend Robertson unconstitutional.The Roberston family released a statement defending Phil’s beliefs and questioning whether they could go forward with the show. 

I confess that I’d never heard of Duck Dynasty until this fall. I don’t have cable TV. But then I started to notice their products all over the shelves at Walmart. And when I spent Halloween at Banford Elementary School in Canton, I saw droves of little boys dressed in camo, wearing Duck Dynasty t-shirts and sporting (very funny looking) long grey beards.

And now I  can see the appeal. The Robertsons can be funny and likable. And their lifestyle (being outside, huntin’ and fishin’, spending time with family) strikes a familiar chord with people who live in rural places.

And that is why, in part, the GQ article doesn’t sit well with me: its tongue-and-cheek tone doesn’t take Phil Roberson seriously. Yes, the guy made some outrageous, bigoted statements. Yes, the network probably had to say something. But the whole suspension and resultant uproar just allows people to decamp into their places on a broader culture divide in our country, between urban and rural, right and left, devout Christian and otherwise. 

I think that NPR’s Linda Holmes gets at it in this commentary. A&E’s statement, she says, isn’t just saying that Phil’s thoughts aren’t in line with the network:

“It is explaining,” she writes, “that Phil’s personal beliefs are not reflected in the show that is ostensibly about Phil. It seems that Real Phil is instead being suspended for opening his mouth to GQ and fussing with the carefully maintained image of Show Phil by telling people what he actually thinks — by telling people who have appreciated his family’s devotion to devotion, as it were, about the parts of their faith that A&E doesn’t talk about.”

And Holmes says there’s another possible, albeit more cynical, read: that the profile and suspension and reinstatement of Phil on the show are just a way to raise ratings. Which may not be too off base, seeing as A&E was running Duck Dynasty marathons during all the drama.

And after just a week, Phil was back on the show. A&E, in a carefully constructed statement, said the following:

“But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.”

Huh. Meanwhile the Duck Dynasty publicity and product machine keeps turning: the family rang in the New Year on Fox, and just announced they are releasing their own line of guns.

What’s interesting to me is that the drama struck such a chord with so many people. It’s been part of the cultural conversation for almost a month. I’m curious to know what what you think of the Duck Dynasty brouhaha. Are you a devoted fan? Are you reviled by Roberson’s remarks? Let’s talk in the comments below.


Plums! Pie!

I’ve just moved back to the North Country from Burlington, Vermont. It’s meant some big changes. For one, I now work in a real office, not at my kitchen table. It means getting dressed in more than just sweat pants in the morning, and actually seeing my colleagues every day.

And I’m also making the transition to rural living. Before, we lived in a densely packed Winooski neighborhood. You could hear the neighbors’ dogs — and, let’s be honest, the neighbors–plus the dull roar of planes flying in and out of the Burlington International Airport. Now, I live Winthrop (or maybe West Stockholm, I’m not totally sure which), and hear a different sort of cacophony:  birds, crickets and frogs, the brook pattering by, punctuated by an occasional car.

photo001The joy of both of those transitions was made evident to me last night and this morning. My partner Joe and I discovered a plum tree in the yard, and spent the evening harvesting these:

And this morning, my colleague Tasha Haverty emailed the office with an offer we couldn’t resist. The subject line: peach raspberry pie. Cue a mass migration of NCPR staff  to the kitchen. As you can see, we made short work of it!

It’s good to be back in the North Country. And if you have any good plum recipes, share them below!

7 Days goes Adirondack

Photo: Bistro du lac via 7 Days

Westport’s Bistro du Lac is reviewed in the food issue. Photo: Bistro du Lac via 7 Days

It’s that time again: Burlington paper Seven Days has put out its annual Adirondack issue, in which Queen City reporters wander west.

Two years ago, the issue raised eyebrows on the New York side of the lake with this snide review of Plattsburgh nightlife.

Since then, articles have taken a more, uh, complimentary view of the North Country.

This summer, the paper looks into the proposed NYCO Minerals, Inc. land swap with the state. There’s a profile of two Montreal businessmen-turned-Airstream-restorers in Plattsburgh. Food writer Corin Hirsch eats his way through Lake George, and Alice Levitt dines at Le Bistro du Lac in Westport.  Plus, political columnist Paul Heintz paddles the Seven Carries Route and hitchhikes home with a nun.

Your Adirondack interesting? quirky? worth-a-visit recommendations?



On Grindstone Island, a bevy of cemeteries

Grindstone Island.

NPR’s doing a series, Dead Stop,  on interesting cemeteries, and one of them is in NCPR’s back yard: Grindstone Island, which sits squarely in between Clayton, NY and Gananoque, Ontario, in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.

NPR reports that “there are only about 130 households on the island, which has no bridge or ferry service. In the past, wealthy summer residents would leave on their own boats at the end of the season. Many of the poorer residents would have to wait until the water froze over, so they could walk back across to the mainland . . . Perhaps it’s the remoteness of the island, or just the spirit of the place, that has led to a certain laissez-faire attitude to burial habits.”

Apparently the island is dotted with cemeteries, official and otherwise, with graves dating from the Civil War. You can find the full NPR story here.

It makes me think of an NCPR series produced by Angela Evancie two years ago, on Greening the Afterlife. And it also makes me curious — when you die, is there anywhere in particular you want to go?



Make your own michigans

Some scrumptious dogs at Ronnie’s Michigan Stand in West Plattsburgh

One thing about michigans: they’re all unique. As I sampled different dogs for today’s story, I learned that every michigan joint has their own secret sauce recipe. They all have beef and tomatoes, but it’s the combination of spices that defines each sauce.

If you want to give michigans a try at home, whip up one of these not-so-secret sauces. The first is from Gordie Little’s wife, Kaye. He warned me that it’s spicy and packs a real punch. The second is a less traditional sauce by Adirondack Life reporter Niki Kourofsky that’s  featured in NCPR’s Stories, Food, Life cookbook. And check out Niki’s entertaining and thorough exploration of North Country michigan culture here.

Kaye’s Michigan Sauce Recipe

1 16 oz. can tomato sauce

¾ tsp. garlic powder

6 or 8 tsp. chili powder

1 or 2 tsp. cumin

¼ bottle hot sauce

6-8 minced onions

2 tsp. black pepper

2 lbs. hamburger

Place all incredients in a sauce pan and cook over low heat slowly. Let it simmer, stirring occasionally until ready.

This makes a rather “hot” sauce; so if you like it milder, just back off on some of the ingredients. If you like it hotter, add more.

Serve on steamed hot dog placed in a hot dog bun with copped onions either under the hot dogs (buried) or on top. Add mustard and/or catsup, if desired.


Michigan Sauce

2 lbs. uncooked hamburger

16 oz. tomato sauce

8 to 10 tsp. chili powder

2 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. black pepper

Onion or wild leeks

2 cloves garlic (omit if using leeks)

Hot sauce, to taste (about ¼ bottle)

Ketchup, to taste (makes it sweeter)

Mustard, to taste

Horseradish, to taste

¼ bottle beer or less (overdoing the beer will ruin consistency)

Combine all ingredients. Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 hours.

In with the old, in with the new

You may have noticed some new shows on NCPR lately. There’s the TED Radio Hour, Cabinet of Wonders, and Ask Me Another. They’re all pilots. And as today’s New York Times points out, they’re all trying to capture a younger audience.

I talked to Jackie Sauter, our programming director, on the phone today. She says that the station’s been receiving brisk feedback about the pilots. People like the TED Radio Hour. They’re a bit more on the fence about the other two. Of course, that’s no indication of these programs’ ultimate success: Jackie told me that when Car Talk first came on the air, people thought it was too silly for public radio. And they weren’t so fond of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me either.

Going forward, public radio faces the challenge of creating programming that both appeals to its core older audience and attracts a younger generation of listeners. As a young reporter and listener, I know that I prefer to listen to newer programming, like the Moth and Snap Judgment, along with news and culture shows. And to my young ear, some of the old public radio mainstays are starting to sound a little  . . . dated.

Don’t get me wrong. I will of course be nostalgic for Car Talk and programs of yore. But I also look forward to public radio’s future, to its new voices and perspectives.What I’ve learned from all the old hats at NCPR is that a thriving public media system requires vision. And that gets me thinking. What do I want public radio to look and sound like in 10, 20, 30 years?

I’ll ask you the same thing. What do you want to hear on the radio? And how can we build strong programming for public media going forward?

Editor note: you can find out more about NCPR’s three new program tryouts, weigh in on your experience, and provide feedback to NCPR and to NPR on the New Program Showcase page. –Ed.

Severe weather in the North Country

I’m watching the weather from my apartment in downtown Burlington, Vermont, where it’s pouring heavily on and off and thundering loudly every few minutes. It looks like we’re in for an afternoon and evening of severe weather, with thunderstorm warnings, flash flood watches, and tornado watches in effect. According to the National Weather Service, a tornado watch is in effect for the entire North Country — almost all of Northern New York and Vermont — until 9 p.m. That means that weather conditions are ripe for producing tornados.

Growing up in North Texas, tornado watches — and warnings — were par for the course. We’d be at the public pool in early summer when lifeguards would blow the whistle at the first sign of lighting or a funnel cloud. Then my mom, sister, and I would beeline home and and set up shop in the closet under the stairs with our transistor radio, extra batteries, flash lights, and snacks. The other destination of choice during a tornado: in your bath tub, with a mattress pulled over your head. what memories do you have of severe summertime weather?

As today’s storm progresses, we’d like to know about what’s happening in your region. Feel free to post below or call the station (315-229-5356, or toll free 877-388-6277) to report severe weather.

On Maurice Sendak

Illustration from "Where the Wild Things Are," 1963. Photograph from the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, via

I was sad when I learned that children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died today at 83. His books hit the shelves in the early sixties, when my parents were kids. They loved his books, so when I arrived on the scene, they proceeded to read them aloud to me.  As a small child I was drawn in by the fierce monsters in Where the Wild Things Are, by the surreal baking and cityscapes from In the Night Kitchen. My mother’s battered copy of the Nutshell Library — four small books in a box — was always on the nightstand. The soundtrack to “Really Rosie,” Carole King’s rendition of the Nutshell Library put to music, was always playing on the tape deck in our car.

Maurice  Sendak’s books were wild and scary. And they were controversial: In the Night Kitchen was criticized for its depictions of a naked child. But their lessons made their way off the page and into my early life. Remember Pierre, the nonchalant child who was eventually eaten by a lion? If ever my sister or I muttered a desultory “I don’t care,” my mother would issue a stern reprimand: “Don’t be like Pierre!”

You can read a New York Times tribute to Maurice here.

Things You Can’t do on the Radio: This American Life goes live, on screen

On Thursday, May 10, This American Life will perform a live episode of their show and “beam it live via satellite to more than 500 movie theatres around the US and Canada!” (this from their website).

The theme: things you can’t do on the radio. The line-up: TAL’s host Ira Glass, writers David Sedaris and David Rakoff, comic Tig Notaro, Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington, a short film by Mike Birbiglia, dance by Monica Bill Barnes and Company, music by OK Go, and more.

Where you can see it in our region:

Lake Placid: Lake Placid Center for the Arts

Potsdam: Potsdam Roxy Theater

South Burlington, VT: Palace 9 (there will be another screening on May 15)

Middlebury VT: Middlebury Town Hall Theater

Ottawa: Coliseum Ottawa Cinemas, Empire 7 Cinemas, SilverCity Gloucester Cinemas

Kingston: Cineplex Odeon Gardiner’s Road Cinemas

Montreal: Scotiabank Theatre Montreal

Cote St. Luc: Cineplex Odeon Cavendish Mall

Kirkland: Coliseum Kirkland Cinemas