Saturday, May 8, 2010

Where have all the watchdogs gone?

Just by way of comparison I found this list of the editors and staff at the Flint Journal in 2006. Nearly all, with a few exceptions, were full time employees.

Here is the list today. Please note that many of those names are covering multiple beats and many are part time employees.

I give the new staff credit for doing all that they do with as small a staff as they have. You could probably find similar reductions at newspapers all across the country. It does not bode well for the future watchdog role that so few are watching so many.

A Saturday laugh

Found this on Facebook and found it too good not to share. This is the motto, or name of a donut shop apparently owned by some police officers. Their online store has a funny line of clothing.

Happy Mother's Day! It's not just for moms

Mother's Day is always a mixed blessing for me. My mother died just four days after Mother's Day in 1987. She left us way too early. When she died my mother was 59 and had battled breast and other cancer for 14 years.

I was just 39 years old, my brother was 36, and my sister was only 26 when she died. I still miss her tremendously. It was more than a year before I quit having the urge to call her on the phone, only to remember she was gone.

In the intervening years, I have tried to continue to honor the other major female influences in my life on Mother's Day. My wife, of course, but also my Aunt Judi, my mother's younger sister, who in many ways was always a second mother to me. My stepmother, Janet, who at a relatively young age took on two boys who were already half grown. I was also blessed with great mothers-in-law during my life.

Years before, my grandmother Ethel (from my father's side), was a tremendous influence on my life. We often stayed overnight in her beautiful hillside home in the Hollywood Hills. Grandma Smith was the gentlest, kindest person I remember in my life. Excellent behind a sewing machine, she devoted many years to making hospital gowns and clothes for children at The Children's Hospital in Los Angeles. She left us in 1969. But her example of kindness and service was one I could never forget. She was a tremendous cook and hostess and the times I spent in her care were some of the fondest of my life.

My cousin Cynthia (another great mother) and I were recalling how we used to slide on our stocking feet down her long tiled hallway at the Dundee Avenue home. Sometimes we would run around the house in circles, often flying off the stairs into the spacious living room without ever a rebuke from Grandma. She was so patient. Might have had something to do with raising three boys. She taught me a love of words through crossword puzzles and Scrabble and she sent me many times to look up words in a large (and I do mean large) dictionary that sat on a wooden pedestal in her living room.

My grandmother Ardath (from my mother's side) was more aloof, but no less loving.

Aunt Judi, Janet, the grandmothers and the mothers-in-law all contributed in large ways to the man I am now. So you can partially blame them. Not really, the faults I have, and they are legion, are the result of my own failings.

One day, long after my mother died, I was standing in a grocery store line in Davison, Michigan and a man in front of me had two pretty full grocery carts. As he checked in the items from one cart and paying for them and then repeating the process with the second he complained to the clerk, "It is really hard shopping for both my family and my mother."

His comment, an innocent and understandable gripe, caught me up short. I piped up. "You know, sir, there is only one thing worse than having to shop for your mother?" He looked at me with a funny look and I continued. "That would be when you don't have her to shop for anymore." He shook his head affirmatively and went on about his check out.

Today, Joan and her sister will attend the Mother's Day tea at the Buffalo-area nursing home where their mother is now living. I cannot go because each resident can only have two guests because of space limitations, but I know Joan's mother will appreciate the visit.

Yesterday, Joan received an extremely thoughtful gift from her daughter, my stepdaughter, and a note that made her cry, in a good way. It wasn't the gift that made her cry, but the wonderful sentiments in the note.

Parents know that none of what we do is for recognition. What we do, even when we fail, is done out of love for our children with no expectation for some reward. But, the acknowledgment and appreciation of what we have done by our children may be the greatest rewards we receive on earth.

Tomorrow, if you are blessed to still have your mother with you reach out and let her know just how much she has meant to you. If she is gone, remember those women in your life who have helped nurture and love you.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Grand Rapids trip over, blogging should resume, a little

Been away at a conference in Grand Rapids for a few days. I really love this city. Joan came with me so we went to the "Lord of the Dance" performance Tuesday night and the Ford Museum last night.

Both pretty cool.

I'll get caught up on blogging before we head over to Buffalo for my Navy reunion next week.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The world is running out of rocks, time to conserve

Oh, how I love satire, and no one does it better than The Onion. Thanks to Nathan for the link.

Lies, lies and more lies, Navy reunion approaches

For the first time in 43 years, I will be reunited with some buddies from my Navy days next week. My first ship, the USS Cogswell, which was affectionately called a "tin can" by those of us who served on her, has been out of U.S. service since 1970.

The reunion, which is in my second favorite city, Buffalo, New York starts Sunday. Joan and I are both going. Many of them have been meeting for years, but I have only recently had the time and availability to join them. The Cogswell was transferred to the Turkish Navy in 1970 and has since been turned into razor blades.

Buffalo is the host city for the USS The Sullivans, DD 537, which is a sister ship to the Cogswell. We'll get a chance to tour her as a group. That will be fun re-living memories. The Sullivans was named for five brothers who drowned during World War II while serving on the same ship. Following that tragedy, the Navy didn't allow sole surviving brothers to serve together.

When I was an 19-year-old sailor I didn't appreciate the old "Cogs" history. Built in the crucible of World War II she was on duty for many of the crucial battles of the South Pacific and was arguably the first ship into Tokyo Bay following the surrender of Japan. Arguably, because a number of destroyers claim to be the first ship leading the convoy into Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony. But the Cogswell was there.

She served during Korea and then again in Vietnam and I served on one of her Vietnam cruises. The reunion will include crew members from her entire history, including a "Plank holder," which is the designation for a crew member who served on the very first crew. I'm very excited to talk to him.

My tour of duty about the Cogswell started in 1966 and ended in 1967, a total of about nine months. I reported aboard just days before she left for a "West Pac" (Western Pacific - Vietnam) cruise. My previous experience at sea had been a trip to Catalina Island, 26 miles off the California coast.

Fresh out of boot camp, my uniforms were pressed and polished and I was eager for the adventure. The adventure started with three straight days of puking. Basically I had my head over the side from San Diego to halfway to Hawaii.

My first night I was awakened at 11:30 p.m. to stand my four-hour bridge watch at midnight. Sick beyond belief my request to be excused was met with an angry "no" and a helpful gift of a bucket to carry with me on watch.

Mercifully, they put me on starboard lookout so the cool wind would blow in my face and keep me awake when my head wasn't in the bucket. I was supposed to be looking for ships and obstacles in front of the ship, but I don't think I would have seen the Queen Mary if she was 50-feet off the bow.

Three days in, and about three boxes of saltine crackers consumed to keep something in my stomach and sop up the green slime that seemed to burn all the way up and out, I started to feel like I didn't want to die. It was the last time I would ever suffer from any kind of motion sickness. That includes a typhoon we hit just outside of Japan.

The bridge of the ship is about 30-feet off the water and the top of those waves were higher than the bridge. We rolled side-to-side to the point we were concerned we might roll completely over. (It has happened)

You ate with one hand holding your tray. If someone spilled something, it would slide back and forth across the deck as the ship rolled. Ocean water seeped through the hatch on the fantail and our sleeping compartment had an inch of salt water on the floor sloshing back and forth.

For fear of being swept overboard you made your way through the ship through the inside passageways. I loved every minute of it.

More than 100 men lived in a space not much bigger than a very large living room. Bunks were hung on a pole with three racks on a side. It was close quarters and the head (bathroom) was just as small. (Photo below shows the racks from USS The Sullivans)

My favorite times were at night, after the work was done, sitting on the fantail looking at a sky almost solid with stars. Later in my Navy career, both on the Cogswell and the USS Hoel, DDG-13, I was a quartermaster, which unlike the Army, is a navigation rate. Those stars were used to navigate. Today, I'm sure satellite navigation is the preferred method of establishing where you are.

The methods we had then were not so precise, although a good star fix using a sextant would put you within a mile of where you are. A sexton is an ancient seafaring instrument that was incredibly accurate. The star charts have been used for hundreds of years. The math and track of those stars was known by sailors in the middle ages.

Ship life was often routine, custodial chores and later when I moved to the bridge, keeping navigational charts filed and up-to-date. During underway refueling, I was the ship's helmsman, as well as during battle conditions and going in and out of port.

Speaking of ports (both ships), there was San Diego, Hong Kong, Pearl Harbor, Yokosuka, Subic Bay (Phillipines), San Francisco, Vallejo (California), Midway Island and Kaohsiung (Taiwan).

Visiting exotic places was pretty heady stuff for a young man who had only been to one other foreign country, Mexico, and then only the City of Tijuana.
During her entire history, about 3,500 crew members served aboard the Cogswell. Only 300 at one time, so about the equivalent of eleven crews. I'm proud to be among one of them.
More later.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Once again, federal government slow to act in the gulf

When George Bush tripped and fell all over himself in the wake of Hurricane Katrina he was pilloried in the press and public opinion. The federal government was slow to act.

Now, many days after an oil leak, President Obama finally made a trip to region and made a lame statement that they had been on this since "day one."

Not exactly, even his Homeland Security head admitted they had been slow to act. Many experts said a quicker response would have made the spill containable before it moved all over the gulf. The New York Times covers both sides of the issue.

One would think after all the bad experiences that the government would be quicker to respond. Not so much.

Once again, those folks who were all over President Bush for his slow response are defending President Obama for being asleep at the switch. And vice versa. It would be so refreshing if the two extremes in this country would be honest and even-handed, just one time.