Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pancho and Lefty

Let me start by saying I'm not a huge fan of country music. I can count on one hand the number of country artists I would pay to see and I've seen three of them, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. Johnny Cash is dead and so is Waylon Jennings so I doubt that I'll see many more.

Haggard's my favorite country artist for three reasons. He's a fairly slick guitar player, his remarkable voice, and he's a fabulous song writer. I can listen to Merle sing Big City and That's the Way Love Goes again and again. But my favorite country tune is Haggard duet with Willie Nelson that was penned by Townes Van Zandt.

I can't put a finger on why I love the song Pancho and Lefty. It just strikes a chord (excuse the pun) deep within me. I've even learned to play it on guitar. I came across this version that is the best of all things, Pancho and Lefty with a little help from Bob Dylan.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Promise Fulfilled

I write in praise of Dathan Ritzenheim. The American distance runner first caught the attention of track and field fans during his impressive high school career. The 26-year-old native was a two time national high school cross country champion. He ran impressive times for two miles and 5000 meters in high school and continued on at Colorado where he was an NCAA cross country champion.

He gave up college running after his junior year in Boulder and turned professional. Injuries had plagued him at Colorado and continued to bother him off and on as he progressed toward a fine career, but one that never captured the promise that he had shown in high school. Ritz as he is known, was good, but not great.

He finished a respectable ninth in the marathon at the 2008 Olympics. But after a disappointing marathon in London this year he decided it was time to move on to his third coach in five years. This time he joined Alberto Salazar in Oregon. Salazar had built Galen Rupp into a 10000 meter terror and coached Kara Goucher to a World Championship bronze medal and world class marathoner.

The new coach quickly made his mark. Ritzenheim surprised everyone in the 10000 meter World Championships two weeks ago in Berlin beating Rupp and finishing an impressive 6th place in a major personal best of 27:22.26.

The icing to the comeback cake came tonight in Zurich where Ritz trailed field and the mighty Kenenisa Bekele by as much as 50 meters in a lightning fast 5000 meter race. Ritz made an incredible charge over the last 1000 meters to run a staggering 12:56.27 to finish third and in the process take down Bob Kennedy's long standing American record.

Way to go Ritz!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy

I'm a little sad today. The passing of Senator Edward Kennedy also marks the passing of an era of American politics in which civility and common sense still mattered. It marks a time before the bombast of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glen Beck or the shrill protests of Keith Olbermann or Alan Colmes. Politics was the art of compromise and Kennedy represented the best of that.

I actually voted for him in the 1980 Presidential primary in Arkansas. I had registered as a Democrat for the first time in my life. This was before the Republican Party had re-emerged in the post Civil War South. I couldn't vote for Jimmy Carter because he was an ineffectual fool and voted for Ted Kennedy.

In 1984 I was a field producer at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco for WDAF TV. This convention actually had some drama as Colorado Senator Gary Hart was taking former Vice President Walter Mondale to the mats for the nomination. Mondale won in a contencious fight.

We had a skybox inside the hall for the convention and I was lucky enough to be in there to watch Ted Kennedy deliver a stem winder of a speech to pull the party back together. It was like watching a rock star hold sway over an audience His ability to deliver a speech was captivating. I count my lucky stars that I actually witnessed history.

As we all know Senator Kennedy was a deeply flawed man. So were his brothers. But all were great men nevertheless. The torch is passed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The 9/11 Fallout

Two thoughts flashed into my mind as I stood in a hotel room outside Springfield, Illinois watching the events of 9/11 unfold on the television. I had just gotten up after a restful night's sleep in the midst of a long drive from North Dakota to Tennessee when I switched on "The Today Show" that awful morning. The first thought was for the safety of my brother-in-law. At the time he was a helicopter pilot in the Army Special Forces. I knew something like this could put his life in peril. My second thought was the fallout this event would have on the civil liberties in the United States. I knew the events in New York City, Washington, D.C. and in rural Pennsylvania were a game changer.

As I raced back to North Dakota in my car I had a lot of time to reflect on the attacks and the changes that were to come into our lives. My guts said we've got to get the bastards who did this and it would require this great nation to do things that were better left unspoken. I had no problem with pushing the envelop in terms of human rights when it came to fighting terror.

But the events which followed, the unnecessary war in Iraq and the blatant power grab by Vice President Dick Cheney have left me wondering how close we were to living under a kind of tyranny that we have not witnessed since the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II. I don't like the idea of prying the lid off of the activities of the CIA. I guess I ascribe to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" theory when it comes to this sort of activity. Yet the United States under the Bush Administration sought to spread its vision of democracy throughout the world through whatever means necessary. It's the greatest political oxymoron of my life.

Now Darth Vader (Cheney) keeps injecting himself into the public discussion about these activities. It's disgusting. The United States tortured people. It's wrong, it destroys our standing with people we want to sway and it alienates our allies. Cheney used the Justice Department to rig the game to cover the Bush Administration's tracks. Now he has the gall to call out the Obama Administration for "rigging" the investigation into these clearly illegal operations.

Honestly, I could give a rip about what happened at Abu Ghraib and I think the vast majority of Americans would agree. And I think most Americans could care less about the bulk of the activities conducted against Al Quaeda terrorists. But I do care when Americans on our own soil like Jose Padilla, even if they are terrorists, are systemically deprived of their rights as citizens of this country. I do care when politicians subvert our system of justice to their own means. The rule of law is what makes this nation great.

The right is working hard to equate President Obama with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. By that line of thinking I guess that leaves it to the left to put the Bush White House alongside Joseph Stalin and the Communists. Am I missing something in all of this? Can Dick Cheney just stay in his bunker? I would like to be with the President on this one and simply look forward, but God almighty we need to ensure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wake Up NBC

The withdrawal has started. Ten days of track and field are at an end. The World Championships in Berlin were incredible. The only reason I know this is because I watched almost all of it on the internet thanks to Universal Sports, a division of NBC.

The trio of announcers used by Universal were fabulous. There knowledge and insight put to shame the efforts on NBC Sports. The three, Steve Ovett, Stuart Storey, and Peter (didn't catch his last night) gave wonderful commentary and added jabs of humor throughout their long days of work.

Steve Ovett, a Brit now living in Australia, was one of the best milers in the world in the late 1970's and early 1980's. He won Olympic gold in the 800 meters in Moscow and I had to watch his gritty performance in Los Angeles where respiratory problems brought him to his knees.

NBC's announcers just plain suck. Tom Hammond and Lewis Johnson are clueless. Thank God there was no Carol Lewis. Ato Boldin does a very good job with the sprints as does Dwight Stones with the field events.

NBC completely missed the drama in the two big races on the last day of the meet competed on the track. The United States had three men in the 5000 meters and three women in the 1500. Lewis Johnson sounded like he had pounded down about three Red Bulls as he jabbered on nonsenically through the 5000. Meanwhile on Universal the trio of announcers noted the subtle tactics and surges that were taking place in the race.

The worst came in the 1500 meters. With about 200 meters to go the Spanish runner Rodriguez basically ran through an Ethopian runner Burka, sending her sprawling to the track. Rodriguez ended up sprinting away to victory. The NBC announce crew barely noted the collision and went to break after the race. It was clear a foul had been committed but you wouldn't know it watching NBC.

Watching the Universal feed the outrage was instantaneous. The announcers immediately noted the foul and as soon as the race finished started questioning whether Rodriguez would be disqualified. They showed multiple replays and gave definitive opinions about the incident.

NBC would later come back from a break and note that Rodriguez had indeed been disqualified and an American, Shannon Rowbury moved up to the bronze medal. But it completely lacked the drama and insight offered by the Universal Sports crew. NBC needs to swallow its pride and jetison the Tom Hammond gang and bring the crew over from Universal Sports.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

World Leader - Pretend

Any claim ESPN makes as the world wide leader in sports fell to pieces today during the 6 p.m. airing of Sports Center. The lead story, Plaxico Burress pleading guilty to a gun charge and agreeing to a two year prison stint. Really, this was the most important story in the world of sports.

Never mind the fact that Memphis had its entire 2008 season flushed down the toilet by the NCAA. Never mind the fact that this is the second time in John Calipari's career that this has happened. Never mind the fact that Calipari fled Memphis and is the head coach at one of the nation's legendary basketball power Kentucky.

But that story pales when you consider what Usain Bolt did today on the track in Berlin. He destroyed the world record for 200 meters by 11-tenths of a second. Consider this. In five consecutive championship finals, last year's Olympics and this year's world championships, Bolt has set or been part of setting five consecutive world records. Think about it. Five consecutive world records.

Bolt is now in the pantheon of some of the world's greatest athletes, but deemed unworthy to be the lead story by ESPN. An aging wide receiver going to prison for being just plain stupid is a bigger deal. ESPN, world leader pretend.


I give up. Usain Bolt is insane. He demolished a very good field (it would have been great if Gay had run) at the World Championships today. I've got to believe that with a little work he could take down Michael Johnson's 400 meter record.

But forgive me because the bumper crop of medals by the Jamaican sprinter leaves me very suspicious. The women have scored three crushing victories in the 100, 100 hurdles and the 400 hurdles. Of course there's Bolt, but I really want to believe he's just a freak of nature. Two of the women gold medalists are both sporting braces on their teeth. That's a sure tip off to the use of HGH.

It's not sour grapes. The American women have run just okay so far in the sprints save for Sonya Richards in the 400 who struck a much deserved gold. Here's hoping that Allyson Felix can redeem the U.S. in the 200 meter final tomorrow night.

The meet has been nothing short of smashing so far. The competition has simply rocked. I even like the big goofy bear mascot that has managed to get itself involved in all manner of celebration with the winners.

Again, I highly recommend Universals streaming of the meet. It beats the television coverage by a mile. And the best is yet to come with this weekends marathons!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Revenge of the Nerds

American distance running has suffered on the world stage for the last 30 years. A championship medal here and an Olympic medal there by the odd Steve Spence or Shalane Flanaghan has been all the U.S.A. has had to show for all of its athletic prowess. Distance running is owned by the East Africans by and large with the North Africans doing well in the middle distances.

We're seeing a change at this world championships. The last 48 hours gave solid evidence of it. Three American men made it to the finals of the 1500. Galen Rupp and the resurgent Dathan Ritzenheim made respectable showings in the 10000. Ritz ran a PR to place 6th and given the length of Rupp's season his 8th place finish shows promise.

Jenny Barringer ran a monster PR and an American record in the women's steeplechase. She finished 5th and her charge at the end leaves one wondering what would have happened if she had made more of an effort to stay with the front pack. I believe she could have medaled.

Now none of the three American women advanced to the finals of the 800, but Maggie Vescey has had a dream season, winning a Golden League meet and running a sub 1:58 800. She's the real deal.

So far we haven't seen any medals but I believe we may see one in the men's 1500 and the women's 1500. Did I mention all three American women advanced to the finals in that event as well. Plus, Kara Goucher could sneak in for a medal in the marathon. We could be in for a memorable next five days.

Oh... and as for the revenge part. Check this out. The Sons of Maxwell are not taking their beef with United Airlines lying down. They want justice. Be sure to watch the entire video!

Monday, August 17, 2009


My mind is still trying to grasp the enormity of what I saw Sunday on the track in Berlin. A man that big shouldn't be able to start that fast and destroy a world record by such a large margin. Excuse me while I remain skeptical.

Usain Bolt has been something of a sprinting wunderkind since he came on the scene as a 16 year old sensation in the 200. What he accomplished last year in Beijing rivals the exploits of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics and Carl Lewis at the 1984 Olympics. But images of Ben Johnson keep popping into my head.

So I take what I see from Bolt and for that matter Tyson Gay with a grain of salt. Such is the state of track and field in this day and age. I want to believe that 9.58 is possible but history has proven that world records of this magnitude usually don't come without some sort of chemical assistance.

Whatever the case, Bolt is a freak of nature. Taking the 200 meter crown later in the week is a forgone conclusion. The race of races will be the 4x100. The showdown between Jamaica and the United States should be one for the ages.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Track and Torture

The World Track and Field Championships started Saturday morning in Berlin. The Czarina and I are like two kids in the candy store watching the telecasts. But we'll be switching to the Internet for the rest of the track fest in Berlin. NBC's coverage is just plain awful. NBC's Universal Sports website offers a British version of the event and it's so much better that words fail me.

There were two finals Saturday night in Berlin that were telecast on NBC Saturday afternoon. They showed the women's 10,000 and the men's shot put... sort of. They butchered the coverage of the 10K. They went to commercial just as a break was being made in the race. By the time NBC returned to coverage a pack of five runners had broken away and there were two miles to go. The broadcasters made no mention of how the break occurred nor did we learn how the American runners responded. They failed to move with the group. So viewers were cheated out of the drama except we did get to witness a stirring finish.

Then there's the men's shotput. The field was down to its last two throws with three Americans in medal contention, with the U.S.A.'s Christian Cantwell in second. But they shuffled off to gymnastics because it was time to go promising to bring the results later. By that time the Czarina and I headed to the computer to watch the rest of the meet.

The British coverage was outstanding. It was no frills, straight forward commentating by knowledgable announcers. Cantwell got off a big throw in the second to last round to win the event. The webcast was dramatic as hell. Plus we got to watch they mixed in coverage of pole vault qualifying and the women's heptathlon.

It was just great and so much more interesting than Tom Hammond stumbling over Lewis Johnson in the NBC booth. I will admit that I like Ato Boldin because he "gets" it. Dwight Stones can be pretty good as well. Those of us lucky enough to get NBC's much maligned triple cast during the 1992 Olympics can testify to the fact that when done right, straight forward coverage of track and field can be riveting.

I'm not going to bother watching NBC tomorrow or next weekend for that matter. The Czarina and I will sit infront of the computer and enjoy the Brits. I don't need the up close and personal crap that the networks insist on shoving down our throats to fill the "supposed" lulls during the meet. I want the "meet", not the potatoes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Over the course of a career in journalism that spans three decades few events measure up to what I helped cover five years ago today. Hurricane Charley slammed into Southwest Florida the afternoon of Friday August 13, 2004 gouging a path across Sanibel and Captiva Islands before roaring up the Peace River bringing devastation to Pine Island, Cape Coral and much of Charlotte County. It was certainly one of the most exhausting experiences of my professional career, rivaled only by the collapse of the skywalks at the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City 28 years ago.

What sticks out in my mind is a decision I had reached the night before as my head hit the pillow. Our news director John Emmert had decided to send out satellite truck and reporter Mike Walcher to the Tampa Bay area. All indications were that Charley was going to hit there sometime on Friday. But laying in bed I was beginning to have serious doubts about John's decision.

First thing Friday morning, which started well before 7 a.m. I told John that we needed to bring Mike closer to home and suggested that Charlotte County would be the ideal location. Fortunately, he agreed with me. By mid-morning it became increasingly clear that something was amiss with this hurricane. It had started to wobble. It made my guts churn.

By noon it seemed to me that Charley was going to slam into an area between Bonita Springs and Fort Myers Beach and cross an area just south of the Caloosahatchee River. I was scared shitless. The sense of dread in the newsroom was palpable. Sometime early in the afternoon Emmert called the staff together offering those who wished to leave a chance to escape before the storms full wrath had reached us. This was one frightened bunch but everyone hung together.

WINK TV sat right next to the Caloosahatchee so any storm surge could have left us several feet under water. By 3 p.m. I can honestly say I have never been as scared of anything as I was of that storm. Walcher and our satellite truck was in the midst of it taking refuge at the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office. We were scrambling in the newsroom making it up on the fly, desperately trying to get some live reporting on the air even though power was out in the area and the only audience was by radio or folks with battery or generator powered TV's.

Once the storm hit my anxiety level dropped tremendously. It was a big blow to be sure but it wasn't as frightening as it could have been. The worst of it had passed to our north. Mike Walcher and his photographer and Dan Bowens and his photographer experienced the worst of it as they were both located in Charlotte County. Both did wonderful work as did all of our other reporters out in the field who risked their lives to report on the storm... Trey Radel, Tim Wetzel, Melissa Keeney, Holly Wagner, Abigail Bleck, Candace Rotolo, and Judd Cribbs all stand out in my mind from that frantic day. We had a dedicated group of photographers like Darren Whitehead, Randy Hansen, Matt Lucht, Melissa Martz, Sean Peden, Tom Urban, Mike Levine, Andrew Miller and a couple of other guys whose names escape me. Even the sports guys, Brian Simon and Clayton Ferraro pitched in.

The next three days were a blur. We got very little rest and we did our best to bring this life shattering event to the viewers of Southwest Florida. It was the beginning of a nerve wracking hurricane season as we suffered glancing blows from Hurricanes Frances and Jeannie as well. I've never seen a group of reporters, photographers, anchors, and producers so worn out in the space of six weeks. It was an unforgettable time and one I hope none of us ever has to experience again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Lost Son of Havana

ESPN by and large stinks. It's turned into a parody of itself. Outside of PTI there really isn't much worth watching on the "Sports Leader" anymore. Maybe once a month I find myself stopping to watch something on Sports Center and its usually a feature by Jeremy Schapp or something of substance which rarely seems to make its way onto that once fabulous program. The over-hype of all things Lebron, Tiger, and Manning (Eli or Payton, take your pick) has simply worn out its welcome.

Then something comes along to renew your faith in the network. It happened last night. With almost no fanfare ESPN aired a documentary produced by the Farrelly Brothers. Yeah, the same guys who made the classic comedy, "There's Something About Mary." The documentary featured one of baseball's greatest pitchers, Luis Tiant. It's called "The Lost Son of Havana."

Back in the 70's I went to dozens if not hundreds of Kansas City Royals games. I never missed a Red Sox series. I loved watching the Sox and I loved Luis Tiant. He was a showman on the mound. He was an incredibly talented hurler who overcame a devistating injury and became something of an icon in Beantown.

The documentary looks back at Tiant's fabulous career and the deep personal scar that the Cuban Revolution inflicted upon his life. Tiant left Cuba in 1961 and didn't return home until 2007. The telling of that story is heartwrenching.

It should be required viewing. And while there was no explicit political message behind the story it's clear to me that the United States needs to end its outdated policy toward Cuba. It's people have suffered long enough at the hands of Castro. An end to the embargo would be a much needed blessing to the Cuban people and talk about an economic stimulus for one of the hardest hit parts of the United States. I'm talking about Florida of course. Yeah I live here and yeah, I'm still looking for a job.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Health Care

The first debate over health care that I can remember started during the Nixon Administration. President Johnson had already delivered Medicaid and Medicare for the poor and the elderly. Tricky Dick sought to deliver a form of national health insurance to protect families in the event of a catastrophic illness.

Unfortunately it wasn't long after President Nixon delivered his plea to Congress in March 1972 that the whole Watergate mess erupted. I think if Nixon's paranoia hadn't led to the scandal that catapulted him from office we may well have seen some form of national health insurance.

The next serious attempt at reform came during the first year of President Clinton's first term. It was an unmitigated disaster. The Clinton's (particularly Hillary's) penchant for secrecy completely undid any efforts to bring help to the uninsured. At the time I remember thinking it was just as well.

Now we're in the midst of another messy debate over health care. It's much nastier than anything aimed at Bill and Hillary. What I know is this. In 1978 when I got my first job I paid 10 dollars a month for health insurance for myself. I even had a job a couple of years out of college where it was free. By 1998 I was paying about 100 dollars a month with higher co-pays for worse health care insurance. My math isn't very good but I think that's a 1000 percent increase in my health care in 20 years, quite a bit more than inflation.

When I moved to Florida and tried to get health care at my new job for myself and my family I got a kick in the head. The station would give me HMO coverage for a mere $750 a month. I normally ask about benefits before I take a job but guess who forgot to ask this time? We had been paying about $120 a month in Fargo. We couldn't afford it so we went and purchased a catastrophic policy for the family until my wife managed to wrangle a job with reasonable benefits.

The point of this story if there is one is that our system of providing health care is a disaster. The insurance companies have to look for ways to increase profits and we all know that usually comes at the expense of the insured. Until I see an actual plan I'm not going to weigh in on the debate. But I do know this. There won't be death panels. I'm amazed that any elderly person with a lick of sense would buy into this crap. The system is broken, it's worth an attempt to make it better.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jonathan Parks

It was like watching a little girl getting the best gift in the world on Christmas morning. The Czarina got to spend a good half hour or so holding seven week old Jonathan Graham Parks at a party we attended tonight. It was pretty funny at first because when Mom handed the little one over the Czarina had a look of trepidation.

Then the little guy started fussing but within a few minutes he was dozing. The Czarina even got to feed him. She was in her element and just pleased as punch. I think it helped fill a big hole that she experienced in not getting more quality time with our granddaughter who is now age 3. The Czarina was in Latvia for the birth but and stayed for a couple of weeks but she really didn't get to play Babushka.

The party itself was great and although we were the oldest folks there by 20 years or so it was an enjoyable get together. It was good to get out and enjoy the company of good people. It was great to hear the excitement in my wife's voice talking about the pleasure she had holding a baby. I think she was in shock that the Parks entrusted their little one with her. It made the weekend!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


As the search for gainful employment grinds forward I am taking advantage of the "extra" time I have to do something that I haven't done in about 15 years... run doubles. The last time I ran twice a day I was in the same situation, except a lot younger. I had no job and was in the midst of a search that would take three months to bear any fruit. So I went batshit crazy and piled on the miles.

I went from running about 40 miles a week to 80 to 100 in the course of one month. In fact the month of May 1994 remains my highest mileage month ever at 383 miles. I ran every day, usually seven to ten in the morning, and another similar amount of mileage at night.

By the end of May I was in killer shape. I was in the midst of proving it during a 10K in Kansas City when I felt a twinge in my left calf that within a mile became a full on pull. I battled leg injuries for the next four months. It was a never ending battle with my calves and hamstrings that I've never really recovered from to this day.

I'm not aiming for 100 mile weeks. The idea is to jog an easy two to three miles every morning and do my normal four to six in the evenings. I'll stick with single runs on the weekends. With any luck I'll get in 40 to 50 miles a week. More importantly I'll drop another ten pounds.

Losing weight will be the key to any fantasies I may have about running a marathon. I haven't run one since 2002 when I clocked my slowest ever in Tucson with a 3:16. Right now I'd be happy to scrape under four hours. But with a few more miles, a few more long runs, and a few fewer pounds and I think I can get back under 3:30. The key will be whether those cranky calves and hamstrings can stand the stress. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Hit me with the morphine one more time. That's more like it. Maybe I can stumble into some drug induced sense of clarity in the aftermath of joining the ranks of the unemployed. A sense of dread started to overtake me about 120 hours ago. This isn't the first time I've found myself on the beach. But it is the first time I've actually applied for jobless benefits. It's the first time I've felt that finding another job may be a real bitch.

I've spent the last two plus years working for a company called Global 5. It's based out of Orlando and they've made a name for themselves as a public information company that knows a thing or two about transportation issues. I took the job expecting that I could ride this horse to retirement or at the very least three to four years. But a funny thing happened on the way to 2010. The project to which I was assigned is came to an end a hell of a lot faster than anyone could have ever dreamed.

All that federal stimulus money that could have extended and given the residents of Southwest Florida what they really wanted, which was 35 miles of expanded interstate, went poof. Instead the Florida Department of Transportation decided to extend a road in south Fort Myers that most drivers could give two hoots about. Folks around here wanted more of the interstate widened. It's all politics. I'm not bitter, not much at least.

The real kick is that I would really like to return to the newsroom. I'm one sick puppy. The TV news business is on life support. Most news operations would rather hire kids who don't read or care about what's going on in their communities and pay them crap then hire an experienced journalist who knows the difference between the prime rate and a mortgage rate. But that's a whole different rant.

I'm listening to Bob Dylan right now asking me "How does it feel?" It feels real lost.