Thursday, March 30, 2006

The times of our lives ....

Geroge Mason Cheeleaders dbyrdI had an epiphany yesterday. Not a theophany, not a real revelation, but an epiphany nonetheless.

Somehow, I have gotten older.

And it stands off like black against white, especially when you are around a bunch of pumped-up college kids cheering their team on its way to the final four. But man, to have that kind of enthusiasm about something now.

I was at George Mason University's final pep rally before their team left for Indianapolis to play Florida in the men's college basketball tournament. There must have been 5,000 people crammed into the atrium of the Johnson Center on campus. And the music was pumping and the students, faculty, staff, and parents were all fired up for the Patriots to go against Florida.

As I looked around the room, and interviewed some of the students for the radio piece I was preparing, it hit me.Some of these kids could be my child! Not that I have any children, but had I had children in my mid-20s like some people do they would be 18 now - college freshmen! Just like these kids.

And then it really hit me. I must look like some of these kids' dad! UGGGHHHGHGHGGHHGHHHH! I look like their DAD!

When these students were born (some of them) the top 10 songs on the Billboard chart were:

*1 FAITH, George Michael (Columbia) (#1, Dec 1987)
*2 NEED YOU TONIGHT, INXS (Atlantic) (#1, Jan)
*3 GOT MY MIND SET ON YOU, George Harrison (Dark Horse) (#1, Jan)*4 NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP, Rick Astley (RCA) (#1, March)
*5 SWEET CHILD O' MINE, Guns N' Roses (Geffen) (#1, Sept)
*6 SO EMOTIONAL, Whitney Houston (Arista) (#1, Jan)
*7 HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON EARTH, Belinda Carlisle (MCA)(#1, Dec 1987)
*8 COULD'VE BEEN, Tiffany (MCA) (#1, Feb)
*9 HANDS TO HEAVEN, Breathe (A&M) (#2, Aug)
*10 ROLL WITH IT, Steve Winwood (Virgin) (#1, July)

I have been riding down the highway tapping my fingers to some of these tunes recently. I was grooving to "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins today. But the students I talked to yesterday would probably not even know who Phil Collins is.

Even writing this post I feel like America's favorite old fart. Reminiscing about what my wife calls "my turn." Any time we see young people acting crazy she just looks at me and says "it's their turn." Their turn? They seem to be having a lot more fun in their turn than I had in mine! My turn sucked by comparison!
Sharon Stone (c)
But hey, Sharon Stone is older than I am and she looks good! And people will be lining up to pay money to see her latest flick. So how about that!

But every body gets only one life. So I guess it behooves us to live it the way we will wish we had lived it when our turn is over.

Cherry Blossoms

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Okay so this is what they look like. Yes they're beautiful; yes the petals fall like snow; yes there are about 11 gagillion people at the Tidal Basin to look at them; no you don't need to join them. But if you do, be forewarned, the traffic will be absolutely horrific for the next week until our pink and white friends have disappeared.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fatherland, Fatherland ...

Germany by CIA factbookSo I got some good news today, although some of you might think I am crazy for saying that it's good news. I am not going to the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany this June! As I said, some of you might think I'm nuts, but to me it was a welcome relief.

See the deal is that the powers that be at my job don't want to - or say they cannot afford to - buy the broadcast rights for big events like the Olympics or the World Cup. That's understandable; NBC paid almost a billion dollars for the rights to the Olympics and the taxpayers ain't gonna foot that kind of bill.

But it makes it difficult if you have to cover events like the World Cup because if you don't pay, you have very little access. You get what's called a "non-rights holding" credential, which means that the closest you will get to the players is waving at the team bus as it goes by.

You can't go to the news conferences with a recorder, you can't go to practice fields or what's called a "mixed zone" after the games. So you are basically stuck watching the party without being able to participate. For a reporter - someone who is there to tell others who cannot be there what is happening - that is slow death.

My agency's solution is to give you small-format TV camera and a laptop and send you to the boonies on the taxpayer's dime to do features - you know "this is Klaus the sausage grinder whose business has been here in Gelsenkirchen since the 1880s." Makes me want to vomit, and it's a waste of taxpayer money. If you want someone to report from the games, to say who won, who lost, and why, then I'm your man. If you want Klaus, forget it.

So my editor let me off the hook today. Turns out, we are having a huge hassle getting credentials anyway. Apparently the people who hold the radio rights are not allowing us - or CNN or some other news agencies - to get creds because they paid for the rights.

Again - like my earlier post on Daron Rahlves's dog - you no pay, you no get in. And if I had to buy a ticket to see a game, forget about it. I'd rather be home with my wife - who happens to have been born in Germany of all places!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

If music be the food of love ....

Paino (c) Walkingmantis.comthen you'd better practice! I have been studying (actually more wrestling than studying) the piano the last few years. And I have my first recital in about three weeks. Needless to say I am nervous, but there is a great sense of accomplishment when I get something right. It also helps to exorcise some old spirits that have no place in my thinking.

My brother - the classical pianist and organist - was the one who found refuge in the 88 friends of our Ivers and Pond baby grand when we were kids. I remember when my dad had the thing delivered. It was a real surprise. I think - memories are sometimes a little foggy - that my mom was originally the one who wanted to play it, but it was my brother who became the real musician. My mom learned one song - Sweet Hour of Prayer - and that was it. She never really stuck it out.

But my brother fled the toxicity of our upbringing by hiding in the piano. Not literally, but the instrument requires such focus that you cannot - cannot- be thinking about anything else.

And that's where my current struggle brings up the old ghosts. My brother - having achieved a certain amount of musical success - always found poignant ways to tell me how much I sucked when I played guitar. To this day, when someone compliments my music, I will give an "aw shucks" kind of response or deny what they say. Isn't that sick? I work hard to be a decent musician and I am taking lessons, so why should I have such a negative reaction to what people see?

It's a Faustian bargain. I want the praise of others - that's one of the insecurities I believe all artists carry - but at the same time I am expecting their criticism. I act to prevent criticism by practicing, but even if I perform perfectly, I am harder on myself than anyone. Sounds a little like an addictive cycle, but I know a lot of performers who struggle with it.

It's like being out there with the paidagogos the guy with a stick who used to escort young Greek men to school. If you got out of line he smacked you with that stick.

But I don't believe that God gave us music to be smacked with a stick. I think He gave it to us to express what's inside, and it's a gift. And the gift reflects the giver. So there is something to playing well - I'm exercising the gift. But I need to remember that the Giver is not going to smack me with the stick if I miss a note or two. And I don't think He wants me smacking myself with an internal stick either.

So I will continue getting ready for my recital. Pray for me. I need it both to perform well and to let go of the anxiety of performance.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Biesenblog: An Actor's Journal

Biesenblog: An Actor's JournalThis is the actor's blog I was talking about. He goes by the name "Danger Boy" but his blog is actually called Biesenblog. I think his name is Rob Biesenbach, but that's only a guess.

Having been married (at one time in my wasted youth) to an actress, I can understand all the questions he has. Needless to say they are real questions. And the answers are not always as forthcoming as you would like.

An actor's lament

So I was trolling last week and came across an actor's blog from Chicago. He had some things to say and after reading his post it inspired this poem. Some of the lines are taken driectly from his post, others I made up.Hope you enjoy it.

What is it about the middle of the night?
When you’re a kid there’s monsters under the bed.
When you’re grown it’s the voices in your head.
Do we ever really get beyond the fright
Of the things that we don’t know,
Do we ever grow out of it?

So many questions racing through my mind
But the answers are far behind,
They don’t seem to catch up quite as fast.
Three in the morning and all alone,
Wondering where my life is going.
Wondering why I chose this path.

In the stillness the mem’ries come
Of all the things I should have done,
And all the shit I wished I never would have
Thought of.

Fighting the voices in the ling’ring night
But all looks different in the light
Nice people, decent money,
Not as cheesy as I thought it’d be.

But I know there’s more than this,
More than just the busy-ness
that I cram into my
Day to make the voices go away.
There is a reason to go again,
Something other than just the din
Of the midnight whispers
and all they have to say.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hearts and Minds?

In Shakepeare's Hamlet, his Father tells the forlorn prince that by a "forged process of my death" - a lie - the ears of Denmark are being "rankly abused." Lemme borrow from the bard and set a few things straight -- I am NOT a propagandist. I never have been one and I don't plan to start regardless of who is in the White House.

In a Washington Post column earlier this month, David Pitts said that Voice of America - the place where I have worked for 17 years - is to some degree "a propaganda organ." I Googled David Pitts, and turns out he is a prolific writer, who used to work for the USIA - the U.S. Information Agency, which was VOA's 'parent' organization when I arrived in 1989.

However, I have never - never - been interested in the hostile overthrow of a foreign power, I don't give a whip what the official policies of the U.S. government are, and I am not a diplomat. I am a reporter - I report.

I report on what I see, what I learn from sources, and on what happens. My job is not to try to persuade someone to believe something or change their way of life or anything like that. My job is to tell people what happened.

Pitts goes on to say that the BBC - the British Broadcasting Corporation - has "a well-earned reputation for fairness and impartiality, much more so than the Voice of America." I find his choice of words and the idea they convey an insult.

I have stood next to the BBC reporters in mixed zones at sporting events - as well as the AP, AFP, Reuters, UPI (when it existed), and other journalists and we all shared the same information, the same interviews with the same sports figures. The other reporters didn't seem to think me less than credible - in fact some of them used quotes I got because I was in the right place at the right time with a tape machine and they were not.

So to be labeled - as many misinformed people do - as a propagandist pisses me off. The only idea I advocate is the truth - whether the White House, Congress, James Dobson, Hollywood, or Madison Avenue likes it or not. "Truth is an anvil that has worn out many hammers." As a matter of fact the first ever VOA broadcast contained the words "the news may be good, the news may be bad; we will tell you the truth." I still hold to that credo. The idea is that if you are honest with people, if you tell them the truth, they will respect you. And you can have a dialogue with them even if you disagree.

You might hear some news stories in the coming months about VOA terminating its flagship English broadcast VOA NewsNow. That will happen unless Congress tells the Broadcasting Board of Governors - which ironically is supposed to protect VOA and other U.S. Government broadcasters from political influence, but has sadly become a sandbox for those in power - to stop the madness.

VOA has broadcast in English for 64 years now - since 1942. By the end of September, most of that broadcasting will be silenced - Special English and English to Africa will remain. Secretary of State Rice has asked the Senate for an extra $85 million this year, most of which will be dedicated to building a Farsi language broadcast service to Iran. But English will die. Who knows, maybe then people will stop calling the dedicated journalists with whom I work propagandists.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Morning Meditation

Sunrise, Virginia Beach, March 2006, DByrd"No matter whether we be called to community or solitude, our vocation is to build upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, and on the Chief Cornerstone which is Christ. This means that we are called to fulfill and to realize the great mystery of His power in us, the power that raised Him from the dead and called us from the ends of the earth to live, to the Father, in Him. Whatever may be our vocation, we are called to be witnesses and ministers of the Divine Mercy."
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Shambala Pocket Classics, Boston, 1993.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The End of the Danger Zone?

F-14 Tomcat (c) Askfactmaster.comAt least it's the end of the road for what is now called The Venerable F-14 Tomcat. I called it the baddest mamma-jamma of my 20-something years, and Tom Cruise road it to millions in 1986. But the last squadrons of Tomcats, Fighter Squadrons 31 and 213, flew over Hampton Roads this week. But man wasn't it a great ride?

Technically the aviators in VF-31 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach will continue to fly the Tomcats until September, when they will convert to the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The jet jocks in VF-213 will convert to the F/A-18s next month, but this week marked their return to port from the USS Theodore Roosevelt. And how many young men's dreams were attached to that plane?

I had always wanted to fly fighter planes, but bad eyesight (and size 15 feet) kept me out of the cockpit forever. The closest I came was Top Gun, the 1986 Tom Cruise film that actually upped the Navy's recruiting. I first saw that movie in - of all places - Virginia Beach 20 years ago. And to step out of the darkened movie house - the fantasy - into the summer night and see a real F-14 fly over my head in formation with his wingman was enough to make a young man drop all plans and sign up.

I mean come on, the movie was a little cheesy, but it had all the right elements for a young man of 23. Super hot aircraft, a smokin hot co-star in Kelly McGillis, and of course faceless bad guys in the black F-5s that we were supposed to believe were Mig 28s. But hey, you could suspend your disbelief for the ride.

And who can forget the blue-light bedroom scene with Tom and Kelly and Berlin singing "Take My Breath Away." Every time I hear that song I am 24 again and watching the Tomcats fly over Lynnhaven Mall.

Some of my favorite lines from the movie were:

Iceman: You're everyone's problem. That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous.
Maverick: That's right! Ice... man. I am dangerous.

Goose: The defense department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.

Maverick: I feel the need...
Maverick, Goose: ...the need for speed!VF-213 and VF-31's final flight patch

Charlie: Are you a good pilot?
Maverick: I can hold my own.
Charlie: Great, then I won't have to worry about you making your living as a singer.
Maverick: I'm going to need a beer to put these flames out. Yo! Great Mav, real slick

And of course when Charlie sidles up to our boy Maverick and says:

I was afraid that everyone in the tac trailer would see right through me, and I just don't want anyone to know that I've fallen for you.


But I'm not 24 anymore. The Tomcats are being retired and Maverick is now an apologist for the church of Scientology. But I did hear a couple of the old birds buzz over the beach this past week. And it was like saying good bye to an old friend, even if our relationship was never as intimate as I wanted it to be.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Amelia Exotica photo

Image hosting by PhotobucketDear readers, as promised here is the photo of Amelia Exotica and your author on the Mall in Washington during National Invasive Weed Awareness Week.

Speaking of invasive weed, the guys on the hotel floor below me obviously were smoking some invasive weed last night. Made the room smell like burning oregano. And then the couple next to us decided they had to have some LOUD recreation of a different sort. Needless to say it's always an adventure!

Friday, March 03, 2006

People you meet 2

What is it about Fridays? I was walking to the National Museum of Art to get a brochure on the C├ęzanne in Provence exhibit they have there and I met a woman who was - literally - covered in leaves. Fronds. Holly. Ivy. All kinds of green stuff. Her name? Amelia Exotica. Yeah I know, sounds like something from a B & D bar. But she was actually here to lobby Congress as part of National Ivasive Weed Awareness Week. I am not making this up. I will post a photo her friend shot as soon as I get it. Apparently, invasive weeds are a problem. Who knew?

I was wrong . . . .

Why are these three words so hard to say? Why does everyone from a three year old child to the President of the United States avoid these three words like Bird Flu? When did being responsible for our own actions go out of style?

The Houghton Mifflin dictionary defines responsible this way:

"Liable to be required to give account, as of one's actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust." Another definition is: Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority: a responsible position within the firm."

Some synonyms include: Answerable, accountable, liable, trustworthy, dependable, reliable, sound. But sadly what we see is a condition that is all to familiar to human kind - passing the buck.

Adam did it; Eve did it. Abraham did it. We all do it, but that doesn't meant it's right. One who did not do it was Jesus. He was perfectly accountable and trustworthy in everything He did. He did not make excuses, He did not try to deflect criticism but answered His critics with wisdom that confounded them.

So why is it so hard to own up to our screwups? NBC had video this week of the Presidential briefing before Hurricane Katrina struck last August. Some say the President was engaged, others say he was clueless, but everybody is looking for somebody else to blame. The President couches it in euphemistic language - mistakes were made. Great! Why can't he just say "I was wrong; I should have acted sooner,"? New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the Governor of Louisiana, Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff, former FEMA head Michael Brown - they are all looking to pass the buck.

But it doesn't really matter to those who are out of a home. Everything they had - all their possessions, all their memories and is some cases members of their family - is gone. They looked to the government for help and what they got was excuses. Katrina took no mercy on anyone - it was an equal opportunity destroyer. But the fact that most of those left in the Superdome and the Convention Center were poor, black, and disenfranchised should give us pause.

Former President Clinton and the first President Bush have been raising money to help people in the storm zone. There are people living in tents - tents, not trailers - in Mississippi. This is an AP Photo AP Image hosting by Photobucket of some of what people had left. Now they live in tents. Think of Hawkeye and B.J.'s tent on the old tv series M*A*S*H. You know, no heat, no running water, no toilet, no security. And the aid that the government promised seems to be slow in coming. Even this week, the Washington Post carried a story about Bishop T. D. Jakes and several other ministers wondering where $20 million in promised funds from the Clinton-Bush efforts was. Churches are places that people turn in times of crisis, but many churches were also devastated by the storm.

So when is someone going to step up and say "Hey, we screwed up! We were wrong and now we want to fix that." That would show something else - character, one definition of which is "moral or ethical strength."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

It's all about the Benjamins ....

or at least the Hamiltons in this case. The Treasury Department issued its new $10 bill today in a special ceremony at the National Archives. The link on the title of this post goes to a pretty cool interactive link at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that shows some of the features. The folks at Treasury have devoted lots of these Hamiltons to make sure the bad guys can't copy them. There's a sermon in there somewhere.

I discovered this news while walking past the National Archives building today. It was a slow day at work so I decided to get some fresh air. There was a photographer on the street and a video crew was packing up along Constitution Avenue, and I ask the photog what was up. He told me, and I went inside to get a press kit.

This new bill is first of all - pink! That's right it's pink; can't call this one a "greenback" any more. Granted there is some green in it, but mostly it's pink.

It has the first words of the Preamble to the Constitution on it (We the People .... all you Star Trek fans remember those as "holy words.")

It also has the Statue of Liberty's torch on it. The ink changes color, just like the $20 bill does, and there is a watermark image and a security thread.

A lot of time and effort went into the making of this bill. I had to get one once I saw the hubub around it. Alexander Hamilton is still there, though he is not encased in a circular motif as he was on the old bills.

You have probably heard the sermon about how the Secret Service wants their agents to know the real thing so they can recognize the fake ones. The become real familiar with the original so that they can pick up the fake ones easily. However, the advent of digital technology has made keeping ahead of the bad guys more difficult. I wonder if the physical is a reflection of the spiritual?

The other day I had a dentist appointment, and my oral hygenist was telling me about how her teenaged daughter was on "MySpace." She had posted her photo, her address, and other pertinent information about herself on her site. And her mom was justifiably upset. When she and I were teenagers, there was no Internet (Yeah I know, that makes me as old as Noah, so what!) Now we cannot imagine life without it, at least here in the U.S.

There have always been sexual predators, but now it is so much easier for them. You have probably seen the NBC report about catching sexual predators. So what to do? The U.S. Department of Justice has some guidelines at its website. Some of them should be obvious, but in our high-tension, fast paced world we might miss them:

a. Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on-line.

b. Never upload (post) pictures of themselves on-line to people they do not know.

c. Never give identifying information, such as school names, team names, etc.

d. Never download pictures from an unknown source, since they may be sexually explicit or contain computer viruses.

There are also some helpful tips in this brochure.

Parents need prayer. We all have to make a living, but take it from a survivor, making more Hamiltons will not replace a child's innocence.

1,095 days and counting

image (c) it's been three years since we went into Iraq. So far there have been nearly 2,300 U.S. troops killed - male and female, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Arab - and it doesn't appear that we are any closer to the end than we were last year. The President has declared "Mission Accomplished" aboard an aircraft carrier. I wonder if the families who lost loved ones this year believe him?

The Associated Press line reads "BC-Afghan-US Toll Capsules." It's one of those things that is supposed to get your attention among the thousands of stories that come across the wire. There was another one that read " BC-Iraq-US Toll capsules-February, 4 takes" . Four takes! That means there are so many that it takes four reports to cover them all.

I thought that it might be appropriate to let you know some of them (These are the AP reports)

Army 1st Lt. Garrison C. Avery
Fourth-graders at Chanhassen Elementary School loved getting letters from Garrison C. Avery, who told them about Iraq and the children he had met there.
The class also sent Avery a care package filled with stuff -- coloring books and crayons, trail mix, chewing gum and hand lotion.
"When I was writing the letter to him, I didn't even think about him being killed or anything like that," said Julia Galler, 9. "It didn't even cross my mind."
Avery, 23, of Lincoln, Neb., was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Feb. 1. He was assigned to Fort Campbell.

Army Spc. Marlon A. Bustamante
Marlon A. Bustamante's devotion to his country was so strong that his younger brother, Omar Ciro, followed him into the Army.
"He believed if the president called him to do a job, it was his duty," Ciro said.
Bustamante, 25, of New York, was killed by a roadside bomb Feb. 1 in Baghdad. He was assigned to Fort Campbell and was on his second tour.

Marine Pfc. Sean T. Cardelli
Sean T. Cardelli loved to cook and eat. He was particularly fond of his grandmother's mostaccioli and chicken cacciatore and liked anything spicy, particularly chorizo and tamales.
"Instead of going out and getting something to eat," said his friend Joe Torres, "he'd go in the fridge and say, 'We can make something.' My mom would wake up at 1 in the morning and see Sean cooking something over her stove."
Cardelli, 20, of Downers Grove, Ill., was killed Feb. 1 by small-arms fire near Fallujah.

Marine Pfc. Javier Chavez Jr.
Orosi High Assistant Principal Gabriela Medina remembers Javier Chavez Jr. -- but not for getting in trouble.
"He never had to be sent to the office," Medina said. "He was really quiet but very mature for his age."
Chavez, 19, of Cutler, Calif., was killed Feb. 9 by an explosive near Fallujah.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jay T. Collado
Bernie Grivetti, a social studies teacher who coached Jay T. Collado in football and soccer, remembered the Marine as a tough competitor despite his standing only about 5-foot-4.
"Jay was a small kid with a lot of heart," Grivetti said. "He always had a smile on his face. He was a very well-behaved young man who was disciplined, hardworking, and conscientious."
Collado, 31, of Columbia, S.C., died Feb. 20 in a bomb blast near Baghdad.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Lance S. Cornett
Family members said Lance S. Cornett loved his career and his country.
"Lance took great honor in protecting our freedoms and our way of life," a family statement said. "We are so proud of Lance's bravery, selflessness and sense of duty."
Cornett, 33, of London, Ky., was killed Feb. 3 by injuries sustained during combat near Ramadi. He was assigned to Fort Bragg.

Army Spc. Clay P. Farr
When he was a boy, Clay P. Farr colored everything camouflage, until his kindergarten teacher broke the news to him that camouflage isn't really a color.
"He was born a little soldier," said his mother, Carrol Alderete.
Farr didn't let personal tragedy distract him from his drive to serve. In February 2004, shortly after he started boot camp, his fiancee was killed in a car accident.
But when the Army wanted to stop his training so he could grieve and start again in six months, he refused.
Farr, 21, of Bakersfield, Calif., was killed Feb. 26 in Baghdad by a roadside bomb. He was a 2003 high school graduate and was assigned to Fort Drum.

These are just a few of those who have paid for the freedoms we enjoy. God give them leaders who deserve such sacrifice!