Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mark O'Connell Remembered

If you were in Minnesota at some point in the last fifteen or so years, or in Tulsa, Oklahoma before that, I hope you got a chance to hear Mark O’Connell, one of the best broadcasters I ever knew. Mark and I worked together in the early nineties, doing a morning show at the Twin Cities’ KQQL-FM, “KOOL 108.” Later, and for many more years, Mark teamed up with Ron Rosenbaum to do their popular morning talk show for KSTP-AM.

Sadly and suddenly, Mark passed away on January 20th of this year. You can read more about him here

including my remarks:

… it was an enduring delight to be on the air with him. He held himself to very high standards, was a gifted and insightful journalist, and then, on a dime, could pivot and be the funniest guy in the room.

He was the most generous of partners, quick to take a back seat if everything was running smoothly, quick to take the wheel if we were headed for a ditch, without ever taking a victory lap for his efforts.
I loved watching football with him, or listening to him talk about his pride and joy, Gloria and their children, who turn out to be wonderful adults to be around.
There was an element to Mark's character that goes beyond what I can express here. In spite of his no nonsense manner, and his determination to create excellence, which he did, but never admitted doing, Mark was an incredibly compassionate man. What separated him from other also talented broadcasters was an old-fashioned sense of compassion for the human race, for each of us as individuals, and the determination that like George Bailey, he would constantly pay attention to the little ways that he could make everyone else's life a far richer experience.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Challenge of Borat

If you Google “Borat ethics” or “Borat moral” you’ll get about 1.5 million choices. But so far, I’ve been unable to find anyone discussing the real moral question this movie asks, so let's address it here.

Putting aside the men wrestling naked, the attempt to force Pamela Anderson into the “engagement sack,” and the other wacky physical gags, most of the discussion has centered on the behavior, typically by Texans and other southerners, that revealed a kind of bigotry that we might have thought outdated.

People who knew that they were on camera still went ahead and told “Borat” which caliber gun is the best to stop an oncoming Jew, agreed that women should be treated as property, and made other outrageous comments. Anyone who thinks these people were “tricked” or “trapped,” probably hasn’t seen the movie.

However, it is true that none of these participants were in the middle of bigoted behavior when Borat joined them.

So, the question is not, “are you a bigot?”, but rather, “are you willing to stand up against bigotry?”

The “suckers” who betrayed themselves on camera, were mostly following Borat’s lead. Yes, there are still some people who want to spread hate. But the Borat film reveals a much bigger problem—in social interactions, especially with strangers, a great many more people went along with these bigoted ideas, rather than opposing the bigotry and making waves.

Maybe I’m the only person who’s gone into the break room at work, the locker room at the gym, or just chatted with a stranger out in public, and had to make the choice whether to listen quietly and stay out of trouble, or open my mouth and say, “No, that’s not what it’s like at all, that’s not what ‘they’re’ like at all. I find that joke/idea/opinion insulting.”

If your income, your safety, or even just your popularity is at stake, many of us will look out for ourselves and keep silent, instead of stepping in and saying what our consciences are telling us to do.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Our Iraq Strategy and Antidepressants

Listening to the President talk about Iraq last night, I was suddenly seized by the sensation of déjà vu.

"Losing in Iraq would be a disaster for America. We’ve been sending over troops and bombs and planes. It isn’t working… let’s send more!!!"

Where have I heard that??? It’s so hauntingly familiar… I know—that’s what psychiatrists say!!!

If you, or someone you know has ever suffered from depression, of course it’s no joke—it can be physically exhausting and debilitating, ruin your immune system and make life so painful—but what is comical about it is, the way antidepressants are diagnosed.

Your doctor prescribes Zoloft or Wellbutrin or Prozac. Two weeks or a month go by, and your symptoms are the same. Maybe even worse. Here’s what your doctor tells you: one, you’re hardly taking enough for it to be a therapeutic dose, two, if it is a therapeutic dose, this isn’t long enough for it to take effect, and three, the side effects will probably go away. So….? Let’s prescribe MORE!!!

And so it continues, in this bizarre trial and error way, until, God willing, you’re lucky enough to find something that is consistently helpful, and you no longer have muscle aches, exhaustion and pain, just from walking from your bedroom to the kitchen in the morning.

The key difference here is, with proper therapy and treatment, nobody dies from trying an anti-depressant that doesn’t work. It just requires tremendous patience.
In Iraq, raising the dosage, the troop levels, while it might give Mr. Bush a temporary lift, shows little promise of relieving the problem. This is more like offering a drowning man a bucket of water.

It's a disaster! Let's keep it up! --Huh?

If you’re keeping score at home, and the Constitution says we’re supposed to, we were just treated with a nifty piece of rhetorical ju-jitsu by President Bush.

Every argument against starting a war in Iraq is now being used as an argument for adding troops. Opponents originally said, “Evil as he is, Saddam Hussein is keeping factions from fighting each other, and counterbalancing Iran. Once you remove Saddam, the country will be ungovernable. There’ll be competing factions, including radical Islamists.”

Tonight, Bush said, “The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Another statement confused me. The President said that “my national security team, military commanders and diplomats conducted a comprehensive review.” Didn’t the President just relieve from command those military leaders who disagree with this new strategy?

Then he said, “We benefited from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group — a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.” Hard to understand exactly how they benefited, other than disregarding their recommendations.

The one theory that did make sense in the President’s speech tonight was his explanation that soldiers will clear an area of terrorists, but once the soldiers leave that area, the terrorists return. America’s military leaders have been complaining about this for a while, although it’s hard to imagine that 20,000 troops is some sort of magic number that will dramatically improve the situation.
Democracy wouldn’t be worth the bother if we didn’t accept the idea that someone else’s idea might work better than our own. With all the loss of life and limb in Iraq, in a war we’re paying for, I find myself, once again, praying that there’s a greater wisdom at work here than is manifest to me.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Office Siberia

There are many subtle ways to find out how you're going over with your boss.

Say, for instance, you work for the White House, you're a weapons inspector, and you conclude that there aren't any Weapons of Mass Destruction in some country where other folks in the building say there are Weapons of Mass Destruction.

How will your boss's displeasure be communicated? Will you be excluded from the monthly birthday party for everyone born that month? Not receive memos? Forced to park in Bethesda?

All possibilities. But tonight, I saw PBS's excellent "Frontline" show, a rerun of one I'd missed, called "The Dark Side," about Vice President Cheney's power struggle with CIA Director George Tenet, over control of intelligence, and specifically over information or disinformation surrounding the war in Iraq.

The "employee" we're talking about, in the picture, is weapons inspector David Kay. He testified that they couldn't find any weapons of mass destruction, and told the world that he couldn't prove there'd ever been any.

Kay said he got the hint that he wasn't welcome back at the White House when he came back to work and discovered he'd been assigned to an office in the basement, without a phone, surrounded by storage crates.

That's right, just because he gave the most accurate information he could, the folks running the White House decided to change him into Milton from "Office Space" .

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Hi There!!! The Fun Ends...on YOUR BIRTHDAY!!!"

I've always felt that my birthday was a bummer. Nobody wants to party on January 2nd. Even I am glad to get back to a routine after the holidays. Many years, I've celebrated on other days.

Of course, every year, advertisers, starting in September, begin their Christmas campaigns, reminding you, "the fun ends January 2nd," or "you better get in now, because it's all over January 2nd."

I wasn't all that excited about another birthday this year, but now, the "Charlie Brown" nature of the date has been bumped up a notch: President Bush has declared January 2nd a national day of mourning, to remember President Ford.

It's certainly appropriate to declare such a day, out of respect to Mr. Ford and his family. But President Ford died on December 27th. That's a week ago.

Certainly, I'll be thinking of Mr. Ford today, and wishing his family well. Betty Ford, particularly, is one of the great and courageous women of our lifetime.

But I can't help thinking they picked the date by saying, "Gee, it's the holiday season. Let's scan the calendar for a nothing day when everybody...there you go...January 2nd."

So, for me, prayers for the Fords. But then, cake.

Rest in Peace, Mr. President

In 1980, I was broadcasting in Hartford, CT. Our radio station was going live from the Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open. It was a hot and muggy day in the suburb of Wethersfield. And because it was, I interviewed the 37th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, in WTIC’s air conditioned motor home studio.

As I remember it, there was more than air-conditioning. One of our account executives had been a Michigan alumnus, so Ford agreed to stop in, on his way to playing in the “Pro-Am” event.

It happened quite suddenly, and I quickly realized that I would have to simply blank out my stand-comedy act from my head. I worked on stage a lot, and did impressions of whoever was in office.

The other thing I thought about was, be patient. We’d all seen President Ford on TV many times, and you always got the sense that he simply wanted to say whatever the necessary words were, at whatever pace they entered his mind, and that, above all, throughout this torturous process, no matter how lost he was, he was going to be a good sport about the whole thing.

And while some people today call it media bias, the truth was, he did fall down a lot, boarding airplanes, or climbing other flights of steps.

Then the ex-President came toward our studio, and I got the shock of my life. First of all, this fellow, whoever he was, was moving at a good clip, and at the same time, removing his golf gloves, and climbing into our mobile home, while insisting, “Just for a minute, okay? Just for a minute.” The slowpoke I’d seen on the tube was nowhere in sight.

This was right at the time that people were speculating about a Reagan-Ford ticket, and after a few niceties, I asked Ford about it. There’s a tape in an attic somewhere that has the answer, but I do remember that whatever he said moved that front page story another eighth of an inch forward, and I was delighted.

He was pretty quick to respond to questions, stayed longer than expected, and then got out of there to hit the links. The Gerald Ford I met was confident, responsive, positively charming, and entirely unidentifiable as the robotic dweeb I’d seen pushing those WIN (“Whip Inflation Now”) buttons on TV.

It's a good thing Chevy Chase didn't hang out with Mr. Ford before playing him on SNL. There's no way he could have done the bumbling buffoon routine, if he'd seen the man I saw that day.