Monday, August 31, 2009

Remembering Ted Kennedy

More years ago than I care to think--40 at least--I sat in the back seat of a chauffeured limousine en route to the Missoula, Montana airport. In the front passenger seat was a (then) 38-year old senator from Massachusetts named Ted Kennedy.

As a journalism graduate and reporter on the University of Montana campus daily, I was sent to interview Sen. Kennedy and to capture some of his liberal views against the Vietnam War, which he opposed so vociferously. His was a popular stance on UM campus back then, so I figured the job would be easy.

Not so. The young Massachusetts senator had just made two campus appearances: (1) as inaugural speaker for a new lecture series founded by (then) U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, and (2) as a young attorney and U.S. senator, who spoke from experience about law as a career to UM Law School students.

Thus, by the time I was permitted a jump into the back seat of his airport-bound vehicle, he was tired and not so keen on being interviewed. Clearly he preferred questioning the chauffeur and me about the nearby ski slopes and the magnificent scenery he was observing from the car window.

Nonetheless, he spoke with passion once I asked him about a recent battle in Vietnam that had meant heavy losses among USA troops: Hamburger Hill. It clearly grieved the Senator to speak yet again of untimely death among heroes struck down in their youth. He grew more intense and more serious as he spoke of battles, war, presidents, politics and unwanted heroism.

From that interview, two key impressions stuck with me: first, that Senator Kennedy seemed not at all eager to view himself as presidential material, and two, that he was too young to bear the burdens of history that had been thrust upon him. He clearly was not ready for greatness.

Thus, as I watched the Senator grow over the decades into a powerful force for liberal causes I believe in, then watched and cried through his memorials and funeral last weekend, I was struck by how hugely he embodied an entire era, starting in the 1960's and ending with his death from brain cancer in 2009. I remain grateful to the Senator for his mighty ontributions to me and my fellow Americans. We owe him much, I believe.

Finally, Senator Edward Moore Kennedy was a great man--not the reluctant man I interviewed in his burdened and burdensome youth. To me, his greatest achievement was a powerful and positive self-evolution. Unlike Teddy, however, few of us try and even fewer of us ever get there. I remain grateful for his personal example and my personal memory of the man.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm Baaaack!

Hello, World. I'm back.

It's taken a while, but these raucous "town meetings" over health insurance reform have raised my ire. My dander is up bigtime. To wit:

Q: Who is so misinformed as to think the majority of Americans are stupid and can't see the difference between manipulated frenzy and honest debate?

A: The right-winged fringe, apparently, and their key leaders across the land: Sarah Palin, Charles Grassley (who knew??), Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Fox News cable crowd. A fine mix of flirting and farting, if ever the mix were defined!

Count me out--unless, that is, I can participate in the way Montanans managed to pull off in Belgrade, MT yesterday. The President's appearance there was a fine example of honest citizen inquiry and legitimate official reply. Let's have more of THAT and less of the screaming, hating and threatening crowds. They're dangerous to democracy, frankly.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Maryland Basketball

I'm a fan of Maryland basketball. More especially, I'm a fan of UM coaches Gary Williams and Brenda Friese.

Gary and Brenda--Brenda and Gary--obviously know how to motivate kids. Their teams almost always wind up in the Sweet 16. And Final Four some years. With national championship pennants.

This season, Brenda and the Lady Terrapins are seeded number one in their regional tournament at Raleigh; they're squaring off against #4 seed Vanderbilt as we speak.

Gary and his always-fun-to-watch Terps got past Washington in the first round of NCAA competition, but fell to Memphis in the next round. Proud work nonetheless.

Good job in 2008-2009, Brenda, Gary. Go get'em in 2010! I'm rootin' for ya.

Friday, March 13, 2009


A week ago today, my life changed. I brought home a puppy.

Breed? Mixed. Gender? Male. Age? Five weeks then, six today.

I'm told the mother was daschund and the papa German shepherd. Defies physics, if you ask me, but who am I to argue with the total stranger who was kind enough to give away five of the pups in the litter. For me, it paid to go to the grocery store that day, as it meant I brought home a free puppy, as well as a carload of doggie toys and puppy food trays.

"Chester," gracefully named the next day by my pal Alice, was fourth in the donor's giveaway--and by my sights, the handsomest of the quintet. Sooner or later, his photo will show up on the web.

For now, we're content to let this sleeping dog lie. He's worn out from a day of inside play during heavy rains. Snoozing away, he seems perfectly happy in his plush little bed, perched on an open drawer by my left elbow at the computer desk. A happier scene I've not witnessed lately. At such moments, the piddles and worse are a small price to pay!

Friday, February 6, 2009


Poor Michael Phelps.

The Olympics superstar is lightning fast in the water, but he's shown himself a bit slow in grasping this dry-ground reality: in the early 21st century, there's no escaping the prying eyes of camera phones or videocams. They're everywhere.

A while back in the UK, the young Phelps got caught on someone's cellphone camera as he manfully handled a bong to help get the marijuana into his 6-foot-plus swimmer's frame. Now Kellogg has dropped him as a sponsor of their cereals, on account of his not being a proper role model for kids or an appropriate ambassador for what passes today as "wholesome grains." (Yeah, like THAT'S an agribusiness aim.)

So here's my question: how far will we go and how long will we all permit spying to rule our days? Raising a cellphone and clicking away in a crowd seems harmless enough at a concert or a celebration, but what of the "innocents" caught doing what seemed harmless enough but later turns out to be a crime, or at the very least, an embarrassment that requires beaucoups des explanation? Are we not obligated to give them a fair shake, some means of defending themselves against camera-slinging invaders?

To that, I say yes. We must devise ways to protect people from slingblade picture-taking. As a citizen of our increasingly small and dangerous planet, I want no part of using private cellphones or videocameras as extensions of law enforcement. For my part, I would even do away with traffic cameras, despite the rich income they bring for cash-strapped communities these days.

Granted, Michael and his bong-wielding buddies were flirting with getting caught by smoking marijuana at all, but let the police do the enforcement--not the teeny-bopper who may have been under-age and crashed the scene in the first place.

Come on, People. Spying with cellphones and videocameras is NOT fair game. There are no Olympic medals for it. Not yet, anyway.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Old vs. New "New Journalism"

In my salad days--we're talkin' 1960's--"new journalism" referred to works of writers like Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Hunter Thompson, i.e., those who saw the world with x-ray eyes, described it with acid tongues, and moved readers to act in ways aimed at changing society. For such writing and talent, these "new journalists"got paid handsomely.

Today, I use the phrase "new journalism" in the same context we're living the rest of our lives: raw, harsh, economic realities worldwide.

That is, in the early 21st century, "new journalism" is made by those whose careers and reputations--and increasingly their incomes--are created and hustled quite cheaply online. I may be wrong, but a few sample readings in that genre tell me X-ray vision, incisive comments and handsome salaries are neither likely nor required.

Take, for example, the "" U.K. outfit whose journalistic enterprise consists of asking readers which story they'd like to see written about. For a small donation, combined with other small donations on the topic, the blogging outfit assigns a writer to cover the requested subject. The assigned reporter looks into the matter, gathers whichever facts or quotes s/he can, and puts the story online.

According to "Day to Day" on National Public Radio, a recent "big story" for was about the Oakland, CA police department and why there's so much police absenteeism in a city noted for having the fifth highest crime rate in the USA. Check to see if you can find the story and discern its chances at effecting change in Oakland police or other citizens' lives.

Meanwhile, I'm content to rely on "the old journalism" as performed by well trained journalists--those who grasp the role of reporting in a free society and know why readers are better served when important topics are not bought in a financial vote but are produced by public-spirited editors and reporters who live in and know their communities and have a stake not only in whether their communities survive, but also in whether they thrive for everybody--not just for sellers and buyers.

In short, I like the old New Journalism a lot better than the new New Journalism. In this case, back to the future sounds about right.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


At last, here's January. It's my favorite month. Why?

January is talented; it looks forward while also looking backward. In the cold light of First Month, we can see things better: what's past is over, what's ahead is blank. In January, we get to feel more confident of that.

Other months have a way of muddling things and missing the point. Which point? "Choice." In January, we're more likely to choose what we'll start now for accomplishment in the coming year. Here are some fresh examples:

Today is the first full day of my friend's return home after her latest bout with alcohol and depression. As she made her way to her car, the sun shone brighter, her step was livelier and her smile was wider. It was easy to think things will be better for her in the coming months.

In another January success, the dead, brown stalks of November chrysanthemums are giving way to green leaves and tiny shoots that want to be full grown someday. I shall try to help them stick to their plan.

Even the two tall hibiscus trees that are wintering in the garage are on their way to showing off again. One of them has a topknot blossom that bloomed in the dead of dark; I spotted it today while putting away strings of multi-colored lights and other reminders of Christmas past. Another January satisfaction.

Finally (even if we admit to no "finally's"), there's this: January 20, 2009 presents the start of Something Big we Americans have been building toward since January 1960, when JFK was inaugurated: a clear break with the past and a chance, albeit challenging, of a better future with a smarter, more youthful president. It means the pain of birth and hope of rebirth simultaneously.

Okay, January, 2009. Let's get at it!