Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day, 2005

So much going through my head at this time ... how to express it? ... maybe I shouldn't try's been said before, and said much better than anything I could compose ...

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

President Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863

Sunday, May 29, 2005

In Memory of Pat Baskin ...

The Midland community lost a good friend - one of its best friends, really - when
Pat Baskin passed away this weekend. There were very few facets of our town, its government, or its society in which he did not serve long and serve well.

He was a both a tireless servant and an inspiring leader in the judicial system, in municipal government, in his church, in the arts, in education and in so much more. Our paths would cross many, many times over the years ... me as a news reporter, he as a newsmaker. It is a testament to the man, and his life and work, that the subject of my reporting was never negative ... it was never about something he was trying to deny, an allegation he was trying to refute, a wrongdoing he was trying to explain away or foist upon someone else.

Like many in the Tall City, and across West Texas, I am thinking back to the first time I met Pat.

In my case, it was on the stage of Midland Community Theatre. It was almost twenty years ago, and we were both in the MCT production of Kaufman and Hart's "You Can't Take It With You." Pat had a starring role as Martin "Grandpa" Vanderhof, the patriarch of a lovably eccentric family ... and he was wonderful. Grandpa's easygoing and accepting nature - his decision to drop out of life's rat race, his ability to see through what we think we're supposed to be, and his encouragement to others to find the courage to do with their lives what they really want to do - found excellent expression through Pat's talents. The result was the enthusiastic reception this loving tribute to non-conformity received ... even here, in this community where conforming is so very, very important.

Me? I was an assistant stage manager, working in the wings ... though I did go on stage, briefly, at the end of the first act, as one of the "J Men" who uncover, then set-off a basement full of fireworks. It was a brief moment, and a single line ... but at least I can say, 'I once trod the boards with Pat Baskin.'

And for that, and for all that he has done for Midland in a long and distinguished life and career, I will be forever grateful.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Now, It Gets a Little Harder ...

Summertime - measured, at least, by society, if not yet by Mother Nature - has begun. School's are letting out for the summer break ... and they aren't the only institutions that are settling into 'summer mode.'

You feel the effect of summer break in the news business, as well. In some ways, our job just got a little harder ... as it does every time this year. Right now, there is an avalanche of stories out there. But that will soon change.

Graduation ceremonies, in general, are always good for coverage. But also those features that inevitably crop up this time of year, about special graduates ... an elderly individual who left school for some reason, and now has come back to receive a diploma ... or some youngster that has beat the odds, someone fighting a serious illness, or a single mother, or a former gang member.

The sports reporters are busy as the last few holdouts among high school athletes finally sit down and sign letters-of-intent with some college.

(Speaking of sports, and a story that's still developing, good luck to the Andrews Lady Mustangs as they head to the state softball Final 4)

End-of-the-year honorees, young people being recognized for outstanding academics, or attendance, or whatever.

Inevitably, there will be some report on a tragedy ... a young life lost in the midst of all the end-of-school celebrations. At the same time, we'll hear about special efforts by the police to get people to slow down, to avoid drinking-and-driving, to wear a seat belt. With all those efforts, maybe ... just maybe ... we won't have one of those stories this year.

(Speaking of that, the various 'Project Graduation' efforts around West Texas also make for good reports. )

A LOT of stories in a relatively short period of time. Then, it becomes what Elmer Fudd might describe as "vewy, vewy, quiet ..."

With the advent of summer break comes a three-month lull in one of the traditional sources of news and sports stories ... the schools.

Of course, there ARE other stories out there. But during the summer, they don't have to compete with the school stories. It's a good chance to produce more 'On the Road' features, heading out and about West Texas to uncover some of the all-too-often overlooked points of interest that are out there.

A little more phone work, a little more leg work, more time on the road ... but very much worth it.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Advice to the U.S. Army ... Don't Get Creative ...

Sometimes, the basic facts, in and of themselves, are enough to present a compelling, provocative story that moves, perhaps even elevates its readers. It's something that no amount of embellishment can improve upon ... in fact, such embellishment may even be detrimental to the story itself, and to all the stories that follow.

Would somebody at the United States Army, and the Department of Defense consider that ... please?

Take the case, for example, of U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was killed in action last year in Afghanistan. Most of you reading this post are probably well familiar with the story ... Tillman, a popular player for the Arizona Cardinals, gave up stardom in the National Football League after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to join the Army Rangers with his brother. After a tour in Iraq, their unit was sent to Afghanistan in spring 2004, where they were to hunt for the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Shortly after arriving in the mountains to fight, Tillman was killed in a barrage of gunfire from his own men, mistaken for the enemy as he got into position to defend them.

The basic facts of the story ... the decision to leave behind the comfortable lifestyle of a pro sports star, to do more than just talk about the war on terror, to join a unit guaranteed to fight rather than a celebrity guard unit in the U.S., and his ultimate death in combat ... were enough to produce the kind of story I mentioned above. Yes, even considering the circumstance of 'friendly fire,' which is tragic, but is a factor of warfare nonetheless.

It is now reported that investigators learned the facts of his death almost from the beginning. But that didn't stop publicists with the U.S. Armed Forces from putting out a very different story. It has since been revealed that "the Army kept the soldiers on the ground quiet and told Tillman's family and the public that he was killed by enemy fire while storming a hill, barking orders to his fellow Rangers. " This from the
Washington Post.

Weren't the simple, basic facts enough?

Apparently, they weren't enough in 2003, when a convoy from the U.S. Army's 507th Maintenance Battalion was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers during the early stages of the Iraq War. That's the engagement that gave us all Private Jessica Lynch ... and I wish there was some way we could give her back.

Me? ... I'd rather have Sgt. Donald Walters ... who? ... exactly!

In this case, embellishment by publicists in the Department of Defense not only exaggerated Lynch's role in that engagement - which left 11 American GIs dead, and 6 captured - but completely obscured the heroism of another soldier in that unit . In fact, according to Julian Loman, writing for Britain's
News Telegraph, many of the heroics attributed to Lynch, were actually Walters' ... fighting on alone, shooting until the magazine was empty, even the multiple shot and stab wounds, which in Walters' case proved fatal.

To give credit where credit is due, the United States Army and the U.S. Department of Defense have acknowledged that these embellishments have confused the situation, and obscured the facts of these cases. And they have even owned-up to what actually happened ... though at no time has it been done in so public a manner as the embellishments were originally celebrated.

As for me, I am forever grateful that, when it's time to walk the walk, the people who step forward are people like the football player from Arizona, and the cook from Oregon, and not the journalist wannabes sitting in the rear with the gear. God bless Tillman and Walters, and all the men and women who offer the last full measure of their devotion to our country. They are, in fact, the reason we still have a country ... and no amount of embellishment, no amount of spin can take that away.

Monday, May 09, 2005

What Hath Blog Wrought? ...

This is a repeat post ... of sorts. Some time back, I wrote about LANL: The Real Story a weblog created and maintained by members of the staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), perhaps the most storied scientific institution in the United States.

I return to the topic once again, because, among those now discovering the concept and impact of weblogging is the Congress of the United States. They have become especially mindful of that impact as it pertains to an institution that has known more than its share of controversy in recent years ... controversy that has been given, at least in the opinion of some, too much coverage in the blog. And, the opinion of those inside the Washington beltway ... LANL and BLOG do NOT mix.

An audio report airing today stated, "Last winter, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory began a Web log, or blog, for employees to post concerns and complaints about fixing problems at the government nuclear facility. But now, some members of Congress who've seen the blog see it as a reason to shut Los Alamos down." The link for listening to the entire report can be found at Yes, yes, I know ... that's National Public Radio.

By the way, another blog-related feature running just after this morning's LANL blog report was a commentary from Catherine Seipp, that also makes for interesting listening.

And while I'm at it, I'd also like to recommend (one of a number of blogs over at in which Reynolds looks at some recent examples of attempts to silence bloggers. What's interesting about this particular post, is that those attempts are not coming from the traditional boogeyman of the blogosphere, the mainstream media. No, the examples he cites come from corporate America - General Motors, and Apple.

Don't worry, though, he also cites one example from "LinuxWorld" magazine, too. And that counts as mainstream media ... I guess. So, you can keep on ranting about how the MSM is out to get you, or how we're 'disrespecting' you, or running in fear from you ... or whatever the heck it is we're doing.

But, if some bloggers want to make the move to news producers/reporters - rather than news critics/commentators/spinners - then they better get used to this. They better get used to ongoing and continuous efforts by government, corporate and special interests to direct their product. And they better learn how to respond to those efforts, and protect their product. So, while I am pleased, in a way, to hear that corporations are trying to muzzle the blogosphere - hey, it's how you learn - I am especially pleased to hear how the blogosphere is responding. Read Reynolds' post, and tell me what you think.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Last Call at the Ground Floor ...

A couple of weeks back, the family and I headed downtown for a cup of coffee and some conversation at one of the Tall City's best locations for both. It was a night like many others I had enjoyed over the years at the Ground Floor Coffee House in downtown Midland. But there was also one big and - for me, at least - sad difference. It was to be our last night at the Ground Floor.

The coffee shop's closing is old news to most of you by now. But I only just got the attached photo developed, so I'm writing about it now.

I started off as a weekly visitor to the Ground Floor several years back, when it was still owned and operated by John Nute. Like so many of us, John "wasn't born in Texas, but got here as fast as he could." He brought with him an entrepreneurial spirit, the speculation that bordered on high-odds gambling, that was much akin to that of the old pioneers in the oil and gas industry.

I was working for the Thursday morning weekly Fort Stockton Pioneer newspaper and, every Wednesday night, we brought our dummy sheets up to the pressroom at the Midland Reporter-Telegram for printing. The printing - even for a relatively small run such as ours - took some time, and I was glad to discover one of the few downtown locations that was still open after dark, where I could just walk in, have a little something to eat, and fortify myself with enough coffee to get me back to Stockton later that night for the inserting and delivering of Thursday morning's paper.

John was almost always there. He seemed to illustrate that old adage ... "the best part about owning your own business is, you only work half-days most of the time ... and you get to pick which twelve hours you work each day!"

Once we made the move to Midland, we became more frequent visitors to the Ground Floor. A Saturday tradition for the boys and I was a trip downtown to visit the library, and then the Ground Floor ... a cup of coffee for me, Italian cream sodas or granitas for the boys, and cookies all around. We'd sit and play games, like chess (which John and I taught the boys) and Crazy 8's or Mancala (which the boys taught us).

We weren't alone - though there were some days it seemed we were - in our appreciation of the coffee house. Whenever friends and visitors came to town, sometimes pulling off I-20 late at night, we could always count on the Ground Floor to be there, open and easy to find, with a line of sandwiches and drinks to appeal to every taste, and a staff that didn't mind you lingering long after the meal was over, talking and catching up on old times. It was a favorite stop for Southwest Airlines crews overnighting next-door at the Hilton - John had a whole row of Southwest tee-shirts, carrying the names of airline staff who 'signed-in' ... it became something of a tradition with them.

It was a popular spot for the young people, high school students who received a genuine welcome when they walked in the door - rather than a suspicious glance. In fact, a pretty good number of young people took jobs at the Ground Floor over the years, starting off as counter help, with some moving on to manage. It was for many of them their first real-world experience in business, and most of them turned out very well, indeed. It was "THEIR" place - in a way no other business in town could be - and they cared about it. When the time came to hand over more and more of the Ground Floor's operation, John found young hands ready, willing and able to take over.

John also set the example of a responsible business citizen, and a promoter of downtown initiatives. For Artwalk and Celebration of the Arts, he would bring in artists and musicians. Throughout the year, he provided free meeting space - and plenty of coffee - for poetry readings, political gatherings, and meetings among 'Friends of Bill W.' Young artists were given walls to hang, display and sell their works

And now it's gone ...

Much has been made recently of the latest batch of movers-and-shakers who are going to rejuvenate Midland's downtown. They have surveys and they have plans, they have executive boards and they have committees ... they even have taxing authority.

And now, they have one more empty storefront ...

Of course, they ARE busy ... there are meetings to be held, speeches to be made, artist's renderings to be published, and tax revenues to be collected. And I wouldn't be surprised that some sort of honorarium, some type of award has already been prepared to celebrate their incredibly successful "vision."

But what about their "application" ... what happens when it's time to stop talking, and start working?

I hope something comes of it all ... not just lucrative write-offs for the usual, select few - but a rejuvenated and refurbished downtown from which we might all benefit ... I hope, but I don't know ... and I don't expect, either.

Otherwise, the last call at the Ground Floor will be just another note in the continuing, growing chorus, the last call for downtown Midland.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The View from a Blog at the End of the Universe ...

Last month, in posts and comments both in this space, and over at
Fire Ant Gazette, we were looking forward to a pair of films coming out this year, each based upon a well-known book - "War of the Worlds," and "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." At the time, I said I honestly didn't know if I was looking forward to the movies with enthusiasm, dread, or a mixture of both. While I'm a great fan of both H.G. Wells and Douglas Adams, and both of the works listed above are permanent fixtures on my bookshelf, what might Hollywood do with a pair of stories that have been favorites of mine for such a loooong time?

Well, part of the the question was answered this afternoon, when I took in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." And with that, I can now claim some sort of 'total Adams' experience,' having enjoyed audio tapes of the original "Hitchhiker" radio series, the book compilation of that series, the television series and, now, the feature film. About the only facet of "Hitchhiker" canon that I've missed is the old
Atari video game.

So, what did I think of the movie? It was alright. I'm not as gushingly-enthusiastic as the carefully-selected reviews cited by the film's promoters. But neither am I as angry as some people who saw the film as nothing less than the rape of a cultural treasure. For me, the film was, 'mostly harmless.'

Most of the laughs the boys and I got were from slapstick moments, like the time our heroes are trying to cross a field outside the Vogon city, and keep getting smacked in the face. Not much of the sometimes-satirical, sometimes-thoughtful humor of the book ... but then, I expected that. I never believed Adams' wit would translate well to a major Hollywood film, especially one made by the folks at Disney. The film's promoters made much of the fact that Adams shared in the scriptwriting, but have said next to nothing about the major work that script underwent following Adams' death.

So, what can Disney do well? Special effects, for one thing. The scenes inside Magrathea, the 'planet production floor,' were fantastic. And the Henson people pulled off another of their moments of Muppetry magic bringing the Vogons to life.

The story was kind of, well, strange considering the rich material from which it could draw. Eric at
Fire Ant was describing a scene between Zaphod Beeblebrox and his political opponent, that left me wondering ... though it did offer some insight into how a story is developed for a movie script. They took a couple of sentences out of the book, describing one planet's view of Creation (just a passing remark in the book) and turned that into a major focus of the film. They created the planet, the trappings of its religion and society, its leader, his political campaign against Beeblebrox, the confrontation between the two following the election, the mission Beeblebrox undertakes from that leader, the 'bond' he leaves to insure completion of that mission, the mission itself and its results ... all absent from the book.


(For those who wish for a more literal adaptation of Douglas' work, you can always get the
BBC Television mini-series on DVD. I highly recommend it. Snippets of that series pop-up in the movie ... you hear the TV series' opening theme song, for instance, when the Guide is ontroduced in the movie ... and among the film's creatures, standing in the queue at the Vogon office, is the TV series' Marvin the Robot.)

By the way, speaking of that confrontation between Beeblebrox and his political opponent, Eric suggested that the actor was playing Beeblebrox as if he were President Bush (the younger). I think Eric was right ... the actor's inflection, his tone, his delivery were all right-on through much of the film. He WAS talking like George Bush ... at least the way Bush sounded to me when I interviewed him. Not thinking we'd catch on, the filmmakers also gave him cowboy boots. Later, when Beeblebrox is doing lots of yelling and running around, the earlier nuances of his speech are lost.

Good call, Eric.

And don't be surprised if a sequel is in the works. The ending of the film seemed - not so much a good ending to a story, but, rather, a teaser, a springboard for generating buzz about what might emerge from the characters' trip to the 'restaurant at the end of the universe.'