Sunday, July 31, 2011

In Search of Rush Limbaugh

The Czarina and I took a drive across the state on Saturday for a little adventure.  The idea was to visit the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach but the Czarina wanted to find the home of conservative mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh.  He's got a massive compound in Palm Beach that sits astride the Atlantic Ocean. 

The expedition was a little disappointing.  The Limbaugh compound is surrounded by lush vegetation.  It was damn near impossible to see much of anything.  As we drove by the amazingly opulent beachfront homes it was pretty clear that folks like us are largely unwanted on this exclusive enclave.  They make parking a real crap shoot if you want to access the beach and enjoy a dip in the ocean, which the Czarina and I did.

But that's off the topic.  The Czarina was more than a little disappointed that she didn't get to see more and spent much of the night scouring the Internet looking at pictures of what we couldn't see from the street.

Rush must feel pretty proud of himself.  He's helped create the anti-tax, anti-government frenzy that calls itself the Tea Party.  And now the country sits on the brink of a needless economic calamity because of his spawn.

We live in a world where government needs to be smaller and entitlement programs need to be reeled in but we also live in a world where the rich, like those with their Palm Beach hideaways, need to pay more in taxes. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Boehner Boned

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.  It doesn't matter where you stand on the debt ceiling ruckus going on in Washington, D.C.  What's amazing is that John Boehner, Speaker of the House, can't get his own party in line for a vote.  Besides witnessing a economic meltdown, we are surely watching the end of Boehner's short reign as Speaker.

I almost feel sorry for the Ohio Republican.  I think he would have gone for historic proposal to cut spending and raise taxes as part of the debt ceiling deal discussed more than three weeks ago with President Obama.  But Boehner couldn't control the Tea Party segment of the Republican Party.  I also suspect the intentions of Majority Leader Eric Cantor.  It strikes me that Boehner's right hand man in the House covets the Speaker's job more than anything. If John Boehner is Speaker by the fall I would be shocked.

As for the debt limit fight, there's plenty of blame to go around.  Republicans want to blame President Obama for the economic mess while conveniently forgetting how George Bush's policies landed us in this mess in the first place.  Two wars unpaid for, a drug plan unpaid for, and a nice tax cut for wealthy Americans.

The President contributed to this mess.  The stimulus spending plan he produced in the first few months of his presidency was nothing but pork.  Instead of spending money on infrastructure projects that would have created thousands of jobs he was steamrolled by his own party and much of the money went for pet projects pushed by Democratic members of Congress. 

The healthcare reform bill missed the mark as well.  The country needs to get its healthcare house in order.  But once again President Obama's approach missed the mark.  Competition is the key along with tort reform.

One final thought as the clock ticks down to August 2nd.  The Tea Party is on a path to help destroy what's left of the the Republican Party.  Their unending push for a balance budget amendment is a red herring.  Think about it.  Even if the House and Senate would vote for the amendment it will take a minimum of two years just to get the amendment through all of the state legislatures in the United States.  That means it would be 2013 or 2014 at the earlier that it becomes the law of the land and more likely 2015 or 2016. 

The Tea Party can stand by its principals, wreck John Boehner's political career, and destroy the life savings of the Americans who can least afford the economic fallout a debt default will help bring about.  In doing so they will breathe new life into the unions and sway more independents back to the left.  The Tea Party doesn't care, they just want to get that black man out of the White House and they see this as the best way to do it. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Humility in the Humidity

The Great Heat Index Massacre of 2011 brought with it a surprising amount of relief this past week.  The afternoon rains have returned making the evening runs a lot more tolerable.  The 100 plus degree heat index has fallen to somewhere between 80 and 90.  While it's tolerable, the running really isn't a lot easier.

Training is a grind and will continue to be so for the next six weeks or so.  The hardest part is that the thought of doing a run of more than 90 minutes is impossible to imagine.  Strolling down memory lane through the old training logs I know I've survived summer long runs in Southwest Florida.  It's a matter at this point of risk/reward. 

I can tolerate 40 to 50 minutes of hot weather running, sometimes even an hour.  But I don't see much to be gained by hammering out more miles and feeling absolutely miserable.  Most evenings when I return from a training run I'm drenched in sweat.  Only my shorts are relatively dry and as soon as I stop they get soaked as well.

It's even tougher for the Czarina.  Her shorts are usually soaked within the first 15 minutes of any summer run.  Her Northern European blood just doesn't like the heat and humidity. 

We've been discussing the realities of hot weather training.  I'm trying to convince her that she doesn't need to do the same amount of mileage I attempt on any given day.  All too often now she's having to stop and walk in the middle of one of her runs.  The Czarina is so tough-minded that she doesn't want to concede anything.  But her seven months of layoff because of plantar fasciitis is showing itself.

The biggest problem is we're both getting older.  I think our age is really beginning to show itself in our ability to tolerate the heat.  What once was a breeze at 50 isn't nearly so easy at 55. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heat Index 134

All the news about the big heat wave makes me laugh.  I've survived many summers living in Arizona and Southwest Florida.  I know what hot is, at least I thought I did until today.

The Czarina got home as usual just before 6 p.m. and I noticed that some clouds had rolled in making a longer than unusual run appear inviting.  We headed out the door about 6:15 and I was ready to go 6 miles.  The Czarina wasn't so sure.

A massive cloud hid the sun for the first mile or so and I noticed at about a mile and a half it had rained in that section.  The trail immediately went into sauna mode as the sun started peaking out, steaming the left over moisture off of the asphalt.  The wet part of the trail gave way to dry pavement at 2.5 miles and I thought it's not so bad.  I turned around at 3 miles still feeling full of run and noticed the Czarina was nowhere in sight.

I was clipping along pretty good until just before 4 miles and the breeze out of the south felt more like a blast furnace.  Usually any breeze on a run around here in the summer brings welcome relief but not this time.  Shortly after 4 miles I began thinking how nice it would be to walk home, but then I realized the Czarina didn't have a house key and if she was facing a bathroom emergency upon her arrival home all hell would break loose.

I soldiered on wondering if it was possible that my brains could be melting inside my head.  I checked my split at 5 miles and saw that I had actually managed to run a 9:15 mile.  As I looked ahead I spied a solitary figure in the distance walking.  I realized that the Czarina had succumbed to the heat and was walking it in.  She was a half mile in front of me but I figured I would catch her before I reached home.

Now I was motivated to keep moving forward and I kept putting one foot in front of another.  Two blocks from home I caught the Czarina who was strolling down the sidewalk.  Once I hit the 6 mile mark I turned around and walked home with her.  She told me the heat forced her to stop her run at 3 miles.  I couldn't blame her.  It was brutal.

I hit the front door and headed for the computer, curious to see what the temperature was at 7:15 p.m.  It was 95.9 degrees, in small print just below it read Heat Index 134.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  But then I looked at the dew point, which stood at an unbelievable 87 degrees.  No wonder I wanted to walk home after 4 miles.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The World According to Rupert

Never underestimate Rupert Murdoch.  Despite his horrific performance before a British Parliament committee, as long as Rupert has a pulse, he's a force to be reckon with.  I say this having once been an employee of Rupert Murdoch.

My years working for a FOX owned and operated television station were probably the best I'd ever experienced. The benefits were good, there was no agenda from corporate telling us how to cover the news, working for FOX wasn't bad at all.  In the end despite all the hoopla over the actions of Murdoch's British tabloid "News of the World," I think Murdoch has already paid whatever price he's going to pay.

As much as some folks would like to see this spill over to FOX News and hurt that brand I rather doubt it.  FOX News doesn't engage in anything remotely looking like investigative journalism.  It presents a decidedly right-leaning approach to its news coverage.  The only program that's watchable is Shepard Smith's one hour newscast.  Otherwise the vast majority of FOX's talking heads drink the kool-aid concocted by Roger Ailes. 

Still again, Murdoch looked like a befuddled old man.  He refused to take responsibility for the actions of his lieutenants.  Personally, I doubt that he knew the hacking was going on.  His son James on the other hand, I think the jury's still out on his culpability.  In the end, as long as nothing else scandalous or underhanded comes out, the Murdoch empire will survive

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Hyatt Tragedy

30 years ago I covered the biggest local story of my career in television news.  At about 7 p.m. on Friday July 17, 1981 two skywalks spanning the lobby of the Crown Center Hyatt Hotel collapsed.  One pancaked on top of the other slamming onto the crowded lobby floor.  The loss of life was astounding.  114 people died and more than 200 more suffered all sorts of injuries, some devastating.

The day was like any other day for me at WDAF TV where I worked as the 10 p.m. producer.  I had one reporter working that night, Bob Thill along with two photographers, Mike Maier and J.W. Edwards.  I can't even begin to remember what story we had assigned Bob to cover but we had decided to skip one in particular.  They were holding a "tea dance" in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel.  It was one of many such dances which attracted large crowds but in my mind didn't seem to be very newsworthy.

Whatever was going on that night I know I must have been behind on my work because instead of going out and picking up food I had asked Mike Maier to pick me up a hamburger just before 7 p.m.  A few minutes later reporter Zan Anderson called into the newsroom and I answered.  Zan told me that a fire captain had just called him with a tip that there had been an accident at the Hyatt.  At that exact instance the scanners in the newsroom exploded.  The volume of emergency calls was mind blowing and I knew immediately that something very bad was going on at the Hyatt.

I immediately called Maier and told him to forget the food and head to the Hyatt.  Now I faced my biggest challenge, I had J.W. and I had Bob but I didn't have a live shot engineer on duty to run the microwave truck.  At the time under union rules the truck had to be operated by a union member.  I spent a frantic 15 minutes trying to get an engineer to agree to take the truck out.  J.W. knew how to set the truck up and we ended up getting the late great technical director Harry Thomas, to agree to accompany J.W. down to the Hyatt to set up a shot.

If my memory serves me correctly we got on shortly before 8 p.m.  The night is a complete blur.  I remember an angry Bob Thill coming back to the newsroom with tape, knowing he had been duped by Del Walters, who wanted to front coverage from the scene.  I remember Mike Maier coming back with the last video shot inside the hotel, water running onto the lobby floor, sheets covering bodies, and desperate first responders doing what they could to save those trapped.  I remember Mike Lewis and Jenny Hoffman coming in and helping coordinate the long night of coverage as more and more of our reporters and photographers came in to help out.

We knew early on that KMBC had gotten the scoop of the night.  Mike Mahoney, a relative newcomer as a reporter to the market, was covering the tea dance with photographer Dave Forestate.  They barely missed the actual collapse because they were changing tapes.  But the stunning aftermath they captured spoke volumes.  That night made Mahoney a reporting legend.  He has since backed it up with 30 years of top flight reporting with a special knack for politics.  The other thing I love about Mike is that he is a probably the biggest Bob Dylan fan that I know and that's saying a lot.

The entire night was like a slow motion nightmare.  Every 15 minutes it seemed the death toll went up.  First a dozen, then 30 plus, and then more than 50.  I think by the time we went on the air with the 10 p.m. news the death toll was closing in on triple digits.  Much of what went on is a blur.  I know I was in the newsroom until 3 a.m. as we continued doing cut-in's covering the rescue effort.  It was a monumental undertaking complete with cranes needed to lift the steel and concrete off the many victims.

I was back at work at about 10 a.m. to work on a one hour special report that aired that Saturday at 6 p.m.  Our hour of coverage was top flight.  I wish I had a copy of that special.  It was one of my best producing efforts.  We later won an award for our coverage that I produced the night the results of the federal investigation into the tragedy came out.  We were live in Washington, D.C., our coverage fronted by one of my all time favorite anchors Phil Witt and the incredible Danice Kern.

Two things have bothered about the tragedy.  One was the secretive nature that surrounded the handling of the debris and the public relations efforts by Crown Center.  I'm sure it was a nightmare for those involved but they didn't do much to endear themselves to the media.

The other thing that bothers me is that we didn't go wall to wall with our coverage once the tragedy happened.  Remarkably, I don't think any of the stations did until 10 p.m.  Everyone was doing a lot of cut-in's but I don't remember seeing anyone going wall to wall.  I may be wrong, it was such a crazy night.  I can only imagine if something like this happened now we would have gone non-stop for at least 24 hours.

But 1981 was a different time and place.  How different?  I remember getting a call from CNN begging me to allow them to set up shop somewhere in the station.  No one knew anything about the upstart news network and wanted nothing to do with them.  I knew about them because I had been offered a job with CNN when it was starting up.

Anyway, our coverage of the Hyatt tragedy was an important step for WDAF.  The tragedy came at the beginning of our ascendancy to the top spot in the Kansas City news ratings.  I think our coverage that night and the days and weeks to follow of that horrific event showed that we were a serious player in the local news arena.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Politics of Hate

Some time ago I wrote about the Tea Party and my fear that they hate President Barack Obama more for his race, than his politics.  Now it seems these right wing goofballs are willing to play a high stakes game of economic chicken and risk the nation's economy.  Politics is the art of compromise.  But Eric Cantor and his ilk, Michelle Bachmann, et al; turned up their nose at a historic plan to cut the deficit because it included taxes.

What's happened to the Grand Old Party of Reagan and Dole?  It's being held hostage by the Tea Party.  They don't want President Obama to score any political points by attacking the deficit problem.  They fear it will only serve to help re-elect him in 2012.  They'd rather go down with the ship than let the captain survive.  A debt crisis won't hurt the very rich which finances the Tea Party, but it will destroy what's left of America's crumbling middle class.

It's a shame neither the President nor the Congress took the Bowles-Simpson Plan seriously.  The tax code needs to be reformed, social spending needs to be reeled in, and we need to get out of Afghanistan now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Running in a Humidor

Running in Southwest Florida from May until October comes with a lot of humidity.  You get used to it, sort of, and you plan your hard, longer runs carefully.  But the older I get, the tougher it is to just deal with the dew points that rarely dip below 70.

Take today for an example.  Thunderstorms rumbled through our neighborhood around 3 p.m. the sun went away and the rain swept away some of the humidity.  I was itching to get out the door to take advantage of the cloudy conditions at 4:30 but decided to wait for the Czarina's arrival from work.

We headed out by 6 p.m. with clouds still lingering in the area but the sun was doing its best to break through the overcast skies.  It was about 85 degrees with a dew point in the mid 70's.  Leaving the house and heading out to the trail it felt great and I felt great.

Three miles into the run I was running full of energy clipping along at 8:30 pace, the Czarina was even running faster than usual about a minute behind me.  But a half mile later I could really begin to feel the humidity and by mile four I was beginning to feel the air closing in on me.  I had really wanted to run strong for that last mile on the trail before heading into our neighborhood but I decided to take my foot off the accelerator about three-quarters of a mile from home backing off the pace. 

I arrived home a sopping wet mess.  I sat on the chair in my bedroom in a pool of sweat trying to recover from what should have been a relatively easy run.  I got out of my soaked clothes, showered, and realized the Czarina hadn't made it home yet so I went off, water in hand, to look for her in my SUV.  She was walking it in when I found her at the end of the block, more than happy to take the water from my hand.  She had taken a bathroom break at the Preserves, a park that sits at the two mile mark on the trail.  The Czarina was happy that she had made it the five miles but we both wonder as we get older how much of the hot weather running we can take.

A five mile run at 7 p.m. in Fort Myers is nothing like a 7 p.m. run in Sacramento at this time of the year.  The air temperature will certainly be hotter in Sacramento but with the low humidity the runs are much easier.  The only difference is I would find myself desperate for a drink after a run in Sacramento whereas in Fort Myers I don't feel as dry.  The Czarina and I can't wait for November!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Internet Heaven

One of the best things about the Internet is you can now watch just about any sporting event you want  live.  That was something unheard of just a decade ago.  For the Czarina and me it's watching the top track and field meets whether they're in the United States or Europe.  Universal Sports offers a smorgasbord of track and field throughout the summer for a very reasonable price.

Our home viewing really took off during the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.  If you search back through the blog you will find my words of praise for the British broadcast team that we enjoyed so much and the straight forward presentation.  NBC's efforts paled in comparison.  Their coverage focused on the personalities and the hype of the individuals instead of the straight forward drama and excitement of the events that the meet offered.  But I digress.

Our viewing pleasure has been enhanced thanks to my laptop that I purchased last year and the wide screen TV Andrei bought us for Christmas 18 months ago.  Now I run an HDMI cable from my laptop into the wide screen and now we can watch the meets as big as life.  The Brits still do the announcing and today's meet from Birmingham, England offered non-stop action with no commercial breaks.  The best part of the two hour meet is that Universal doesn't run any commercial breaks and least you think that there's a lot of dead air between running events, think again.  That's when you get caught up with what's going on in the field events.

I think this afternoon's excitement got the better of the Czarina and me.  Looking out the window at 3 p.m. we could see it was overcast and thought it was a great time to go for a run.  Not more than a couple of miles out the door of what was supposed to be an easy eight mile run the sun had returned with a vengeance.  The Czarina showed excellent judgment turning around and heading for home.  I made it just over 5 miles before I finally had to walk.  The heat whipped my ass.  It's the first time in years that I've walked during a run when I wasn't injured.

I walked and jogged most of the way home before the Czarina pulled up in her brown Honda offering me a ride home.  She knew that I had bitten off more than I could chew.  Besides, I've picked her up a couple of times under the same circumstances.  What a day, from Internet heaven to running hell. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Lunacy of Nancy Grace

The Czarina was addicted to the murder trial of Casey Anthony.  In fact as I write, she's sitting and watching this afternoon's coverage which led up to the verdict which occurred more than six hours ago.  She watches it on HLN which features the heavy handed theatrics of Nancy Grace.

Since coming back to Fort Myers I've had to endure the non-stop Casey Anthony coverage every night.  But I will give the Czarina credit, she can't stand Nancy Grace either.  She'll skip through Grace's nightly snake oil show disgusted by the repetitive use of video sound clips and the holier than though tone that this disgrace of a television talker takes regarding the status of the case.

I watched enough of the trial to know full well that anybody in their right mind could not convict Casey on the first degree murder charge.  Prosecutors overshot the mark and I think in doing so hurt their chances on even getting the jury to go along on the lesser charges.  Reasonable doubt reigned supreme in that case.

The not guilty verdict was nearly worth it because the wicked witch that goes by the name of Nancy Grace went into full meltdown mode.  Grace and her compadres of pompous pontificates all sat there stunned with their brains melting out of their collective brains.  I thought for a second Grace's eyes were spinning in her head.  The entertainment value was priceless.

Grace and her ilk are garbage in, garbage out.  When you put yourself in the position as the moral arbiter of truth and justice the fall is a mighty long one.  Defense attorney Cheney Mason hit it out of the park with his spot on critique of the talking heads, the only mistake he made was not mentioning the victim first, little Caylee Anthony.

And as for Casey Anthony, does anyone remember Amy Fisher?  Tot Mom, meet the Long Island Lolita!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Power of Family

The Czarina and I took a short trip to Sarasota for a visit.  My cousins who I shared many an adventure with out on the farm of our grandparents Frank and May Walter, a little boy, where on a vacation trip for some quality beach time.  Two years ago Mike and Nancy actually came to Fort Myers but as fate would have it we were in Latvia visiting the Russian part of our spread out family.

Mike brought his family with him his children whom I hadn't seen in 16 years and Nancy brought her husband Bob, who's just about the best guy you could want to call friend, or cousin for that matter.  Given the turmoil that has been our life as of late I think the Czarina and I were ambivalent at best about making the drive.

But as soon as I saw Mike and Nancy walking out to greet us from their beach side condo everything that had been troubling my mind the last three to four months disappeared.  I think the Czarina noticed immediately.  The four hours or so we spent with Mike, his new wife Christine, Bob and Nancy and another old friend Sheila Ryan and her boyfriend Paul, lifted some spirits that really needed lifting.  It made me realize how much we had all been through and all the memories we shared, especially with Bob and Nancy.

For nearly a decade Bob and Nancy were a near weekly part of my life.  Whether it was playing cards, drinking beer, family dinners, or going to a restaurant together, we had a lot of fun together.  The Czarina was enraptured with Nancy's ability to tell story after story about her children, about me, about the fun we've all shared through the years.

On the drive home the Czarina compared notes about the differences between her Russian family and the one she's inherited in America.  The vastness of Russia, the turmoil, and especially World War II, did a lot to tear her family apart.  The Czarina is amazed at how close I am to my sisters and even the incredible closeness that we share with our cousins.  Not just Mike and Nancy but our cousins Keith, Rita, and Kenny.  It was a special evening and it made me realize that I can never take the bond that I have with my family for granted.