Saturday, December 15, 2012

The horror and the horrible

It seems more and more that I am compelled to write when I am confronting death in some way. In November it was dealing with the sudden and unexpected passing of my good friend and former college mate. Today it has been in dealing with the horrific shooting deaths of 28 souls in Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of them children.

There are no words of consolation for a parent who sends a child to school in the morning and who receives a chilling call hours later that something has happened. Even if that parent was lucky to find that his or her child survived the ordeal, the fallout - the loss of innocence and trust of that youngster - can never be recovered. Worst than that would be to deal with knowing your precious little one was taken from you, never to be seen again. Those little eyes that peered into your soul, those little hands that reached for you, that little voice that made you sigh - all gone in a flash of the muzzle from a gun!

Anyone who knows me knows full well how much I love children and how I can never countenance their being taken advantage of or abused in any way. This reprehensible action on the part of a loathsome coward can never be justified. I don't care if he brandished his weapons to give himself a better self-image or to improve his low self-esteem, if he was mentally ill or if he felt taking the lives of these young victims would somehow make the killing of his mother even more grim. He was a little man whose life will now be linked with that of a madman and I will not darken the words I have posted here with his own name. He shall remain nameless and as anonymous as the slugs being removed from the bodies of his victims. Their memory shall be exalted and his shall fall on the scrap heap of history, never to be acknowledged, lest it serve as an example to other idiots that his is a way to achieve lasting fame.

I have the most sympathy for the classmates of the victims and the parents and grandparents who now have to deal with the unfathomable. My words ring hollow as the depths of their despair shall know no bounds for some time to come. The actions of this callow fellow shall forever impact the lives of brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles too. How can anyone do such a thing to innocents? Only an unthinking, unfeeling and self-centered sociopath could ever do such an act, let alone scores of others.

The next few days shall be full of remorse and grief as the media retells the stories of the brave teachers who paid the ultimate price protecting their young charges and the heartrending tales of the littlest victims of this monster. It will be hard to bear for any of us and I am certain the tears we shed shall not diminish for some time to come.

In America we elevate the memories of these kinds of events, ostensibly so that they will never be repeated. We have memorials in places where a federal building once stood, where a McDonald's restaurant was once opened and where twin towers fell. It will be difficult for the relatives of the victims of this tragedy to not call for the closure of Sandy Hook Elementary School and a memorial to be erected on site.  This will, no doubt, be so they can have closure. The sad reality for this woeful day is they will never have closure. For that I am truly sorry.

How ironic this all takes place during the season when mankind expects the very best from one another. This should be a season of peace and good will, not a time of mourning and lamentations. This too has been stolen from us all by the actions of a craven and malevolent fiend. May the evil deeds of one depraved and dastardly lout be erased from our memories and may the souls he has taken from us and those affected by this horrible day be comforted and soothed one day. Unfortunately, this will take time and may never be achieved in my lifetime.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dr. George Dalton Long (1956-2012)

Over 30 years ago the movie The Big Chill was filmed in a sleepy town in South Carolina, It told the story of a fictional weekend where the former classmates of a well-loved, but troubled friend gathered for his funeral in order to say goodbye to him with all their heartfelt best wishes and to console each other over their common loss.

Many film buffs will note that Alex, the unseen character whose life was being memorialized was slated to be portrayed by none other than future big screen legend Kevin Costner. Yet Costner’s Hollywood screen debut ended up on Lawrence Kasdan’s cutting room floor, the victim of the director’s final vision for the film.

Like Alex, we all knew George as the very best of our generation, a man whose dedication to medicine, his friends and his family was unquestioned. But unlike the film character, George’s real-life role was not a brooding genius unable to cope with the vicissitudes of life. George took on the task of confronting life with exuberance and his enthusiastic nature carried him in whatever he did. 

Back when the film premiered in 1983, it was almost inconceivable that our group of Tulane friends or George’s friends from Westminster High School would be gathering to bid adieu to one of our own number.  George had just graduated from Tulane Medical School and was preparing to follow his dad and fellow alumnus, Dr. Crawford Long II, as a well-respected and dedicated obstetrician-gynecologist. 

There was little chance we would be similarly affected like those characters in the film. It would be safe to say we all knew this concept of loss was something that would more likely affect our parents. We were ready to begin our lives. We were ready to embark on our chosen career paths. In many cases we were searching for spouses and, possibly, considering having offspring. The job of burying one of our own, we reckoned, would not be something we would have to face for many years down the road.

So, the story contained within The Big Chill of love and life lost and friendships renewed after that loss never really materialized for most of us in real life.

When my wife Sally and I married, we had no way of knowing that our marriage would be the exception rather than the rule. Our ten years together were punctuated by a battle with Hodgkin’s Disease, the birth of our son, and a final battle with MDS that took her and all she ever loved at the age of 43. But during the time we were married, we enjoyed the company of George and his wife Debbie on several occasions, mostly Rolling Stones concerts or NFL games in New Orleans. Sally was a wonderful spirit who loved George’s unshakable persona and her sudden passing was especially devastating to David and me.

When George and fellow Tulane alumnus Charles Driebe heard of my loss, they spared no quarter in making sure they came in from Atlanta and were with my son and me at the hour of our collective distress. That selfless act of compassion on their part has never been forgotten. Yesterday in Atlanta I paid back that debt in some small measure as I attended the memorial service for Dr. George Dalton Long at the church he attended every Sunday.

It is the plain truth that time has marched on and, sadly, it would seem that we have reached the beginning of that epoch in our generation's lives where we will be seeing our company diminish in ever-increasing numbers. We have now raised our families and sent them off to college. In some cases we have married, divorced and remarried. Now, with the release of our friend George, also known affectionately as Corgus, we say goodbye to the first notable of our number who makes the journey we all are slated to take one day in the (hopefully distant) future.

The remembrances at Trinity Presbyterian yesterday were all fine. George’s friends Thomas Calk, a fellow physician, and longtime friend Steve Massell had their turn recalling his irrepressible spirit. Another friend, Dan McGrew had the unpleasant duty of following the first two, who had pretty much hit it out of the ballpark. Yet even McGrew captured much of what we all remembered about George: his idolization of his dad (whose funeral had been held in the same sanctary less than two weeks previous), his love of fast cars (most especially Porsches), his commitment to his church, his unswavering commitment to conservatism, his dedication to medicine and (along with his deep compassion for his friends) his love for his wife and two sons.

Both the two female ministers, one of whom was a nurse and fellow worker at his office, expressed joy as having known George Long. George’s family had made arrangements to cremate his body and so there was no coffin or similar object to take the focus off an examination of his life rather than a depiction of his death. The inside of the church was clean and bright. The mood inside was upbeat and not at all woeful. It was a glorious sendoff for a man who had done so much in his short time span.

While the organ played the “Toccata” from the Widor “Symphony No. 5” at the conclusion of the service, I couldn’t but help wonder once again about The Big Chill. I thought to myself what it would have meant to scores of Rolling Stones fans like myself had the organist at Trinity Presbyterian launched into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” just as the organist in the film did. I think George would have liked that. I know I would have. Perhaps that was why we enjoyed each other's company so much; we thought a lot alike.

But as the hymns were sung and the eulogies delivered, there was another revelation. I realized that very much as an element of a film, these testaments were, in fact, George's final credits, his end titles as it were. It was time to let him go and to cherish his memory. 

So, I say, rest in peace, my good friend. By comparison to others, your life was way too short, but it was a life well-lived and meaningful. I’ll forever treasure our time together and always remember you.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We vs. The Power of One

Three years ago at the National Order of the Arrow Conference, I was impressed with the concept of "The Power of One." The "power of one" advocated that one person could make a difference. Images of famous people who took a stand or were caught up in the maelstrom of historic events still come to mind. The moral was for all of us to consider how we could all make a difference. We were advised to not diminish just how important one purposed person could be. One person dedicated to change or preventing change from occurring could be a remarkable thing. There were numerous examples including those unsung heroes who by their  helped shape our Declaration of Independence and kept President Andrew Johnson from being convicted at his impeachment trial. The theme for today's Blog Action Day is the Power of We. Many might consider this is very different than the "power of one," But the two terms are actually quite close. In the Power of We, there are instances of action taken by a group, which have positive consequences for society or mankind. There have been reactions to organized threats, the most horrific being war. World War II was a great example of two opposing forces fueled by the Power of We with destruction raining down on the earth as a result. The outpouring of generosity by Americans after seeing tragedy following destruction from Nature's wrath is a sterling example of the Power of We. My own hometown of New Orleans was saved by the intervention of thousands who sent millions of dollars and who came to the city to aid in the recovery effort, some of whom still live here. But the Power of We is really more than just charity. It is the capacity for men to live in harmony and respect one another. Without the Power of We there is no chance for peace or advancement. The Power of We is truly The Power of One amplified and repeated in the hearts of men and women who care. How we live as people and how we treat one another is truly the Power of We.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Behold! The IT Pro Experts!

Microsoft MVP Jeff Middleton is having a ball at his conference!

For those in the IT industry Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) Jeff Middleton is a highly respected and trustworthy figure. Following the devastation of the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina, Middleton put on the first of the conferences. The theme at that first conference revolved about disaster recovery, something from which many area businesses were still reeling. Middleton put on follow-up conferences in 2008 and 2010 and added a cruise segment for those that wanted to enjoy a little downtime after spending such a "hard time" in the Big Easy enjoying the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street, etc. Even though it's been two years since the last conference, IT professionals have made provisions to be in New Orleans to benefit from his knowledge and from the many industry gurus he has invited to take part in this year's IT Pro Conference. This year's conference title is "Trusted Identity: Faith in a Technology World." Many professionals have traveled from as far away as the European continent and Australia to make it here to enjoy a very beneficial series of events that will help professionals enhance their businesses and give them the tools to better serve their clients. And Middleton makes it fun. Check out his new IT Pro Experts logo, a new brand he soft-launched today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Daily Battle

Organizer of "Save the Picayune" rally Anne Rolfes, left, chats with Rock 'N Bowl owner John Blancher, right.

When the announcement was made May 23 that the Times-Picayune would cease operations as a daily newspaper, there was disbelief and anger that raged both inside and outside of the newsroom. The change to a beefed-up digital circulation through its website was kept so secret that even top level managers were kept in the dark. Subscribers were incensed they would be losing their Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday editions, while staffers were left reeling with the news that most of them would soon be out of their jobs. Even longtime staffers have to re-apply for their jobs. To say that upper management dropped the ball is an understatement of understatements. Many editorial and advertising staff members got the news from social networking sites like Facebook after a New York Times reporter dropped the initial news bomb shortly after midnight. The fact that an outside news reporter got the scoop on a story that, decidedly, should have been been the Times-Picayune's alone to announce is a testament to the tremendous schism that exists between management and staff.  The belief that management had been deliberately withholding the truth from its dedicated worker bees seemed to be proven. The conspiracy theorists saw collusion and intrigue in the large number of layoffs and the hiring freeze that had been in effect for years. Truly gifted writers were made to feel like they were not appreciated. Those that were offered an early retirement grabbed it and the dust had barely settled on their leaving, when questions arose. Who would replace that reporter or columnist? The answer was always a deafening silence. Those writers who came on board as replacements were only shadows of the literary giants who had sat in their chairs before them. The dumbing down of the paper was bad enough, but the Times-Picayune was very much like what a parents feels towards a recalcitrant child. You may not be completely satisfied with his behavior, but you don't disavow your relationship with him. The Times-Picayune had just gone through a 175-day series in which every year it existed was re-examined on a daily basis. Printings of the series into book form rapidly sold old. The loyalty of the public to its daily newspaper was solidified and, I dare say, was probably at its highest point in years. Copies of the "Amen" edition when the Saints victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV sold out many times over and framed copies of the various front pages from that year are still proudly displayed in businesses across town. The paper had shrunk in recent years, both in broadsheet size and in terms of advertising and coverage. The effect of the Internet in sucking out the profitable classified advertising from the newspaper and moving them to free sites like Craig's List or to referral sites like Angie's List cannot be denied. Display advertising shrank from the downturned economy and the continuing effect of a post Katrina landscape in which a quarter of the city's citizens never returned had to weigh heavily on the paper's owners. Yet, the move that the Newhouse family opted for here was still unexpected. No one could have predicted that management would have been able to get away with such a disloyal move to its own workers and, yes, to the city they purported to love. The point is they have enjoyed a monopoly in New Orleans during the decades that other cities had two or more papers competing with one antoher. In recent years no one had ever challenged the Times-Picayune, especially after it had purchased the New Orleans States and the New Orleans Item and merged them into an afternoon edition called The States-Item. An afternoon paper became a luxury item after the 1970s and so the Times-Picayune became the city's only daily paper. The Newhouse family is really not attempting to stop from losing money. The cut down to a three-day publication week is a way of monetizing their profits and making sure no other interest can gain a valuable foothold while they streamline their operations. While management chomps on the possibility of an online model for news delivery, dedicated staff members who have worked 30 or more years await the news as to whether they will be able to support their families. There isn't much hope out there for a newspaperman to walk across the street and snag a new job. While waiting for the ax to fall, several staffers have solicited outside help in organizing protests. While similar cost-cutting measures were announced in Huntsville, Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama, there has been little public outcry there. By contrast in New Orleans there have been numerous rallies and the social networks have been set ablaze with online petitions and demands to keep the paper as a daily. A rally was held at the parking lot of local institution Rock N' Bowl on Monday. Several big name New Orleans performers such as Allen Toussaint, The Igauanas, Kermit Ruffins and Armand St. Martin played music to entertain the crowd, who were encouraged to bring their own food or sample the fare at the Rock N' Bowl. Owner John Blancher estimated the crowd to be 700 strong throughout the four-hour event with 400 gathered at its highest concentration. Organizer Anne Rolfes was there at the end surveying the temperament of the crowd and asking for support from the local community members. "This is the first salvo," she said after the rally was winding down. One of her hardest working members is former New Orleanian Eric Parrie, a Yale Law student who is in for the summer visiting relatives and an adept Facebook devotee. He is responsible for creating the "Save the Picayune" Facebook page that has about 3,000 members added to date. Both Rolfes and Parrie are doing this for the purest of intentions. They believe in the necessity of a daily paper for such a large, albeit smaller city in a post Katrina world. They have a long way to go and some fairly stubborn heads to turn before their job is over. As a faithful subscriber, I, too, feel the need for a daily paper and through it a connection to my local community. However, as a journalist, I recognize the downward slide in quality the paper had exuded. Many great writers remain on staff, but when the ax falls, will there be enough left around to make a difference even if management relents and alters its present course? I say to Rolfes and Parrie: "Be careful for what you wish."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

2012 Big Easy Music Awards

Marie Lovejoy, Big Easy Awards executive director, with Female Entertainer of the Year Meschiya Lake

The 24th annual Big Easy Music Awards ceremonies were held last night at Harrah's Casino amid much revelry and glitz and down home New Orleans flavor. Executive producer Margo Dubos and executive director Marie Lovejoy put together a showcase of some of New Orleans's biggest show business names and the music community came together to honor one another with a very diverse and talented line-up of stars.

Drummer Johnny Vidacovich ("Astral Project") took to the stage as the master of ceremonies for the evening as Honorary Music Chairman, arriving in a cloud of smoke and a drum set that afforded him the opportunity to emulate different styles of play. Later, he called his wife Debbie to the stage to "sing" the rules for eligibility to the tune of "Basin Street Blues" while he tapped out a beat with his drumsticks.

Top recognitions went to the Rebirth Brass Band, recent recipients of a Grammy Award for their Basin Street Records release "Rebirth of New Orleans." The Rebirth Brass Band won for the award as 2012 Entertainer of the Year, presented by their former member Kermit Ruffins as well as the Best Album of 2011 and the award for Best Contemporary Brass Band of 2011.

Jazz performer Meschiya Lake, also a presenter and last year's Female Entertainer of the Year recipient, repeated that award for 2011.

Trombone Shorty, absent from the ceremonies, won the Male Entertainer of the Year Award for 2011. New Orleans Jazz Fest executive director Quint Davis and jazz educator and performer Germaine Bazzle accepted the award on his behalf.

Irma Thomas presented the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award to Walter "Wolfman" Washington, a former member of her band. Earlier, Washington was surprised by Mac Rabennack - Dr. John - who won the award for Best Rhythm and Blues 2011 and insisted on presenting it to him as a token of his appreciation.

The 2012 Ambasadors of New Orleans Award was presented to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who also picked up the award for Best Traditional Jazz of 2011.

Performances by Irma Thomas and the Professionals, Los Po-Boy-Citos with Blac Sol, the Stooges Brass Band, Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue and Big History were interspersed between awards. The final jam session in honor of Washington had Washington on guitar, Ivan Neville and Dr. John on keyboards, George Porter Jr. on electric bass and Vidacovich on drums.

Special recognition awards went to Dithyrambalia for "The Music Box," a performing space on Piety Street dedicated to musicians and to the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living, who were given the 2012 Business Recognition Award by Margo and Clancy Dubos on behalf of The Foundation for Entertainment Development and Education, which funds the Big Easy Entertainment Awards for Theater, Music and Classical Arts.

The 2012 WWOZ Guardian of the Groove Awards were presented to volunteer Eric Ward and on-air personality Gene "Jivin' Gene" Mark for their longtime dedication to the radio station.

A special video tribute to the late executive director Gloria Powers was also seen by audience members, who remembered her dedication to making the awards shows bigger and better for the more than two decades she served. Powers died February 7 and a memorial service was held in her honor on February 17, her birthday.

Other awards presented were:
Best Gospel Choir 2011 - Tyrone Foster and the Arc Singers
Best Gospel Grop/Individual 2o11 - Trin-I-Tee 5:7
Best World 2011 - Debauche
Best Latin 2011 - Los Po-Boy-Citos
Best Mixed Bag 2011 - The New Orleans Bingo! Show
Best Roots Rock 2011 - Honey Island Swamp Band
Best Cajun 2011 - Lost Bayou Ramblers
Best Zydeco 2011 - Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Cha-Chas
Best Funk 2011 - Galactic
Best Blues 2011 - Tab Benoit
Best Traditional Brass Band - The Storyville Stompers
Best Rock 2011 - GIVERS
Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal 2011 - Haarp
Best Contemporary Jazz 2011 - Helen Gillet
Best Rap/Hip Hop 2011 - Big Freedia
Best DJ/Electronica 2011 - Mannie Fresh
Best Country/Folk 2011 - Hurray for the Riff Raff
Best Emerging 2011 - Brass-A-Holics "Gogo Brass Funk" Band


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Philadelphia Kid

Dick Clark (©

As a child growing up in the Sixties, I was very much aware of the music coming over the local radio stations. New Orleans was a major breakout center for singles in the nation as was Baltimore at that time. But when it came to a national center for breaking out new artists, there was only one city that was mentioned with reverential tones that bordered on a rock and roll religion. That city was Philadelphia and if there was a prince of broadcasting there, it was Dick Clark. Clark, with his lean, good looks and easy demeanor was a natural for the camera lens and was beloved of most every boy and girl who turned on his "American Bandstand."

Through the years his fuzzy black and white image became sharper and more focused as color broadcasting was the norm. And the music changed with the times. The Doo Wop sound of the American streets became the mop top harmonies of the British invasion, eventually giving way to the psychedelic era of the Woodstock generation, the anti-war protests of the Vietnam War era and the me first generation of the Eighties. Through it all was Dick Clark, a man who changed with the times and changed the times through his constant search for new, pertinent music performers and styles. He made no distinction about race or ethnicity. If there was talent to be found and a worthy sound to be heard, he brokered those deals and received the gratitude of younger generations, who looked upon him as one of their own.

Eventually, his many productions became instrumental for a host of different TV and radio programming, his American Music Awards, Golden Globes and Rockin' New Year's Eve broadcasts ushering in year after year. Even after a debilitating stroke in 2004, Clark showed his capacity to be resilient and viable for millennial audiences. I remember working in college radio where Dick Clark Productions (DCP) provided weekly programs available on transcription discs. The programming was free of charge as long as embedded commercials - most of whom were from the U.S. Army - were broadcast. It was a stroke of genius. Most college radio stations were not looking for recruitment ads, but they were hungry for good, solid programming. DCP filled that bill and the only requirement was that the shows be aired during prime time.

It is incredible to think that the man who helped introduce America to Bill Haley and the Comets, Roy Orbison, Dion and the Belmonts, Chubby Checker, the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Jackson Five was the same man who gave Madonna and Aerosmith some of their early breaks. In the end it was, as Clark himself admitted, all about the music. While dance shows have gone the way of the 78 rpm disc and the record industry has undergone a paradigm shift, there is still an abundance of music to be had, much of it still waiting for a visionary like Dick Clark to introduce it to contemporary audiences. Yet, there is a sadness, an acknowledgment by most in the know, that there will never be another icon like Clark. The music business is so fractured and the popularity of music sharing and downloading services and websites so different from the way it was in the past that much of the only way musicians and singers can make money these days and achieve fame is through touring and merchandising. Back in the heyday of the record business, hundreds of performers made millions of dollars. Today the sad news is that millions of performers are making hundreds of dollars. Even a tireless producer like Dick Clark would not be up to the challenge of today's music scene. Rest in peace, Dick. Your legacy will live on as those whom you touched remember you as the broadcasting pioneer and music legend you were.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What happened to winter?

Even the iconic cherry blossoms in the nation's capitol are early

According to scientists, today marks the vernal equinox, the beginning of spring. As a season in the Northern Hemisphere, spring is regarded as romantic and highly anticipated, coming as it does at the end of the cold, unforgiving winter season. But after the last few months, when the expected snows and cold winter weather failed to appear, the big question is where has winter been hiding? Does this confirm the alarmists' predictions of global warming? Or does this mean that every now and again winter loses its grip and peters out? There is a another decided downside to all of this warm weather. If there never was a winter, then the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico have hardly had a chance to chill in any way. That means they will be especially nurturing to any closed weather systems that enter the gulf during hurricane season. That spells the possibility of super storms of the type like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita nearly seven years ago. This is not something most people along the Gulf Coast would prefer. As a matter of fact, most residents could well do with a heavy, frigid winter if it meant somehow a guarantee that the hurricane season would be mild. Yet, as I recall, the winter season before those major storms was considered within normal range. Oh, well, it's not up to us. Indeed, like the flea that rides atop the canine bounding in a field, we are mere hitchhikers along for the ride. Here's to the season....

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jeff Zaslow's Lasting Legacy

The late Jeffrey Zaslow, an amazing man and journalist

When February rolls around in New Orleans, the fever pitch of Mardi Gras parades and balls hastens and in typical fashion this year, the days leading up to the big celebrations prevented me from hearing the tragic news that Wall Street Journal columnist and author Jeffrey Zaslow had been killed in a car crash on a snowy Michigan highway on February 10. Zaslow, who had appeared in New Orleans to promote his book "The Girls of Ames" on November 18, 2010, was scheduled to reappear this year as part of the Jewish Community Center's "People of the Book" series of events to pitch his latest and, unfortunately now, his last tome "The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters." Some of us know of the incredible and intriguing story of Zaslow, an award-winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who heard about a story that called out to him. A dynamic professor at Carnegie-Mellon University was going to be delivering to his students what had been termed as his "last lecture." Randy Pausch had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had been given only a matter of months to live by his doctors. Zaslow was in Detroit when he improbably heard about the lecture. The drive to Pittsburgh would take five hours and another five to get back. Lesser reporters might have opted for a phone interview or an exchange of e-mails. He elected to drive there and see for himself what this dying man might have to say to his students. The lecture so interested and energized him that he and Pausch became fast friends and Zaslow's writing about the lecture in the Wall Street Journal tugged on the heartstrings of the nation at large. Pausch insisted that Zaslow help him write his story in the short time he had left. Pausch became a viral video star on the Internet and a genuine celebrity, appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show and other TV news programs. With a very short time to prepare a book, Zaslow worked on a draft for "The Last Lecture" and after it was quickly edited and released, sales of the book climbed into the millions worldwide. The book established Pausch as a noted figure and Zaslow as a very capable writer and made them both wealthy. It wasn't long after that episode of his life ended with Pausch's passing that Zaslow seized on the story of the "Miracle on the Hudson." He focused on Chester "Sully" Sullenberg, the reclusive U.S. Airways pilot who had saved every single passenger on Flight 1549 when it ditched into the Hudson River in January of 2009. Again, with public demand for a book at high pitch, Zaslow set to work to get Sullenberg's story in print at great haste, but with great taste. The result was "Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters." Zaslow's easy manner and cheerful disposition made his ability to connect with others like an uncertain airline pilot something of a fete accompli. I saw this myself when he spoke at the New Orleans JCC about the ten ladies in his book "The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship," all lifelong friends. It was as if he channeled each one of the various personalities, regaling audience members with details of their lives with immaculate recall. But that was what made meeting him so special. He had an amazing gift of empathy. He could look into your eyes and glean more of your soul than you thought possible. This gift proved especially important when he took on the happy task of writing about Gabrielle Giffords, the U.S. Representative who was the target of a deranged gunman. That attack, which left several others dead, left her partially blind and unable to speak for a time. Yet, it was Zaslow, along with her astronaut husband Mark Kelly, who captured for America her indomitable spirit in "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope." In just a matter of five short years Zaslow had established for himself a journalistic career as a prolific writer, who not only got the story right, but got it out fast. I remember what an impression he made on me when I showed him a picture of my dad I kept as the wallpaper on my phone that night in November. Knowing his close work with Pausch and the effect of pancreatic cancer on everyone who ever had had the displeasure of dealing with it, I told him this is "my dad who died of pancreatic cancer almost 16 years ago." Right away he honed in on what I was saying. He understood what those words meant and more. The two of us exchanged contact information. I was more than pleased when a few days later he accepted my request to be a Facebook friend. In his last book, “The Magic Room," Zaslow recounts in the forward of the importance of family. He speaks about his three girls and the importance of being there for them through their formative years and the hope he would be there for them as they grew older. By all indications he was a great father and reveled in being there to give each of them positive reinforcement and support. He mentions how the words "Remember, I love you" were endearingly spoken by an Illinois judge to his daughter as she went out the door one night never to return, the victim of an automobile accident. The judge took solace that the last words he said to her left no doubt about his feelings for her. It is sad that Zaslow was, likewise, a victim of a similar scene of carnage on the highway. There is little doubt that he shared his love for his daughters with his wife Sherry, a Detroit TV anchor and that she will have a difficult time dealing with his sudden, unexpected departure. But that is the happenstance of life and the unpredictability of nature. There should be great comfort in knowing that he knew of their love for him and that they deeply felt his. Since hearing of the grave news of his passing, I began to ponder just where Zaslow's remarkable capacity to connect with others came from and I remembered how, early in his career, Zaslow had won a contest at the Chicago Sun-Times to replace Ann Landers as the advice columnist there. He had already displayed his capacity to empathize with others and write about his feelings in a way that readers could appreciate and he was only 25 years old. What a remarkable man and what a remarkable career! While there are other writers who will bemoan the loss of their longtime friend and colleague like Bob Greene, I only had the luxury of knowing him for a few minutes. But those minutes were well spent and I am truly glad I had the opportunity to get to know him, however briefly, and to share my world with him. He set the bar as few other journalists have done before or probably will in the future. Jeff Zaslow was only 53 at the time of his death. With Pausch gone and Giffords still recovering, it was the courageous airline pilot “Sully" Sullenberger who gave the moving eulogy at the funeral service at Congregation Sharey Zadek in Southfield, Michigan on February 12. He described how Zaslow went after his own story and how he came to like him within the first 30 seconds they had met. They worked together over the phone and in person for six days a week and over a period of several months before the book was finished. He described their experience as a long-distance relationship, but one that worked. Sullenberger was charmed by Zaslow's quest for life and his appreciation for how fleeting the nature of life is. "Many of you think you know who I am," he said to the crowd. "Let me tell you who I am and why I am here. I am a friend of Jeff." For me, too, that pretty much says it all.

Monday, February 6, 2012

To err on the side of imprudence

The final act of revenge (Photo by Laura Graham)

Josh Powell had maintained all along that he hadn't killed his wife. Even after offering the most questionable of alibis, his stone face denials continued. You may remember that while his wife, Susan Powell-Cox, a beautiful vibrant brunette was busy vanishing in 2009 from her home in West Valley City, Utah, he had taken it upon himself to take his two young boys camping in the middle of a snowstorm. According to Powell, when he returned, she was gone. It made little sense to the Utah authorities who considered Powell a person of interest in the disappearance. But there was no evidence of the crime withstanding and so, without the corpus delecti being able to be proven, all the police and judges could do was wait and hope that Powell would trip up in some way and make a case for them. To his credit, he did not. Meanwhile his father Steven became an unwitting tool in this drama, suggesting to ABC News that the victim had been sexually flirtatious with him and, more to the point, was a trollop. Perhaps his thinking was that he could persuade the public that Susan had found a more attractive man than her husband, which would explain to a few delusional supporters of Josh that he was right. Susan, the tramp, had run off with some other guy and left Josh alone to rear her two young sons. Yeah, that made a lot of sense. Steven eventually got arrested in September and now faces some steep jail time himself for child pornography. By putting the spotlight on himself, authorities focused their attentions on his own lifestyle and found compromising video images of neighborhood children and Susan that were apparently taken without their knowledge in addition to images of young children engaged in sexually explicit conduct on his home computer. But with the paternal grandfather hauled off to the hoosegow, authorities had a problem. The mother was missing. The father was the subject of a criminal inquiry and the grandfather was accused of serious crimes himself. Neither of them was an appropriate person to take charge of the two littlest victims of this tragedy, the two little boys. Quite rightly, Utah child protection services stepped in to take custody. Chuck Cox, Susan's father, filed for custody the day after Steven Powell was arrested and he was granted temporary custody. If only the court had seen fit to make that condition permanent. Josh petitioned the court to get his children back. To their credit the court refused to grant him any relief. In fact it was just this past week that a judge denied Powell the right to regain custody of his two sons. So a recalcitrant Powell petitioned the court for a weekly supervised visit. The judge reluctantly agreed that a four-hour supervised visit would be allowed. Child protective services was ordered to bring the two boys to Josh Powell's home for the first time yesterday. The court apparently saw no implied threat to the children and so the social worker was ordered to observe Powell with the boys and to bring them back after the visit was over. When the social worker arrived with the boys without a police escort, Powell took the children inside and barred the woman from entering the house. She immediately called her supervisor for police intervention and to complain the house smelled of gasoline fumes. No sooner did she make that call, the house burst into flames, the explosion shaking neighbors' homes and sending flames high into the air. The propellant used killed all three Powells and forever ended the possibility that Josh Powell would ever be brought to justice for the suspected murder of his wife. Powell sent a tersely worded e-mail to his attorney just prior to the explosion: "I'm sorry. Goodbye." Some police consider that an admission of guilt and will now use all speed to close the case of his missing spouse, which has cost millions of dollars. There is no doubt here, though. Josh Powell was a murderer. His two boys will never get to experience what could have been long and productive lives. This senseless act of rage against authority should serve as a cautionary tale. Never should children be allowed to be used as innocent pawns by selfish sociopaths whose parental rights should not be restored without the most rigorous series of protective acts put into place. Powell should have been made to go to a neutral site where authorities could have kept a better eye on him and not put the children in harm's way. But I guess this is all good with 20-20 hindsight. No matter what provisos authorities had put in place, Powell would have bided his time until he passed muster with the courts and then carried out his nefarious plan of double murder and suicide. I care not for Powell, but I do mourn for those two kids who lost their mother and were used by their father and grandfather to further their own agendas. No one is left to mourn for Susan Powell-Cox except for those of us who shake our heads in dismay and disgust and her father who should take the court to task for two wrongful deaths. Perhaps now the courts will be prompted to err on the side of caution knowing that such a tragedy could make an already bad situation even worse. In the future when a defendant asks why his children are not allowed to visit in his home, all authorities need to do is show two photos - one of the two innocent boys and the other of the burned out remnants of the Powell home. I anguish over this senseless tragedy and want to cry out "never again!"

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mama Glo

The news for the New Orleans arts community is sad today. Gloria Powers, the executive director of the Big Easy Entertainment Awards, is about to take to the heavenly stage after her busy life here on earth. In recent days some have begun to refer to her as "Mama Glo," perhaps a tribute to her deeply nurturing spirit or to acknowledge the fact that she is to many in the New Orleans music, theatre and dance communities a second mother. Gloria suffered a debilitating pontine stroke a week ago and doctors have advised that her chance for recovery is slim. Although she is breathing on her own, the family has girded itself for what they believe will be her final transition. Like no one else that I know, Gloria can move easily from one artistic sphere to another. She is equally at home talking to a Mardi Gras Indian Queen as she can be to a member of the New Orleans Opera Association or to a local ballet mistress. Her ability to integrate with such widely divergent artists is one of her great strengths. Her ability to empathize with artists and to petition on their behalf has been nothing short of amazing. Gloria has been a tireless promoter for all things that are unique to New Orleans including its Creole heritage, its history and its vibrant music scene I, myself, owe a great deal of my journalistic career to Gloria's insistent push that I be a member of not one, but two Big Easy Awards committees (Theatre and Opera and Classical Music). She never failed to make me feel special in what I was doing and to let me know that my dedication was appreciated. Gloria is a force of nature and it is sad to think of her as in the process of leaving. Her special friendship has been extended across New Orleans to hundreds, if not not thousands, and I pray that she is surrounded now by the positive energy of well-meaning family and friends who hope for the best for her.

Monday, January 23, 2012

When greatness succumbs to disloyalty

Less than a year ago, had he expired from the lung cancer that ultimately robbed him of life, legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno would have been mourned across the board as one of the greatest men to ever tread upon a college gridiron. In October, short of the news that he had covered up a scandal involving young boys and one of his former assistant coaches, Paterno set the record as the winningest Division I coach by eclipsing the 408 wins set by Grambling Coach Eddie Robinson. His record will probably stand for some time to come because most of the more successful college coaches these days end up being tempted by the National Football League or run afoul of their alumni for one reason or other. To have a successful college program that is consistent in its winning ways, to stay at the same school from his time as a young man, to have good health and live long enough to realize the title are all long odds prospects. The great "Pops" Warner (Glenn Scobey Warner) owned the record for decades when I was a young man. It was the University of Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant who exceeded his staggering 319 wins in 1982 and then promptly retired. Bryant died less than a month later, never having really been given a lot of time to bask in the sunset of his historic career. Since then several other coaches have moved up in the ranks including Robinson and the now-retired Bobby Bowden from Florida State. Of all Division I coaches Paterno had the most wins of all coaches. Only if one includes smaller Division III schools do the names of John Gagliardi of St. John's of Minnesota (484-133-11) and Larry Kehres (317-24-3) of Mount Union even get mentioned in the same comparisons as that of Paterno and company among active coaches. But the scandal that swept up "JoePa" in the last several months and ultimately robbed him of exiting in a graceful manner likely contributed to his declining health. Paterno was a fighter and influenced a great many of his players to give more than they thought they were capable of doing and to contribute positively to society. When it came time to consider his institution over the lives of several young men at risk, Paterno did only what was necessary. He failed to report the alleged incidents of sexual abuse in such a way that he could distance himself from the scandal. He reported at least one incident to his immediate bosses in 2002, but never made calls to the police to advise them of the scandal. Again, after 35 years at College Station, Pennsylvania, Paterno made an ill-advised call. He thought he could balance the lives of possible victims of sexual abuse against the image of the university he called home. He took a chance that doing just enough would keep the eyes of an inquiring press and an outraged nation off him and focused instead on the alleged perpetrator. In the end Coach Paterno forgot what he emphasized to his young lieges through his many decades as head coach at Penn State, to wit, just doing enough will not win the game. As one has to excel on the field of play, so, too, does one have to do all they can to find justice in the world for possible victims of those who would take advantage of their positions as mentors. It may have been one of the few times Paterno failed to read from his own playbook and it ultimately cost him universal worship of his great achievement and an unsullied legacy. With the passage of time his reputation may regain some of its former luster, but for now, Joseph Vincent Paterno is gone and so is the opportunity to have left the game with his head high, much like Robinson and Bryant did. It is an American tragedy which will continue to play out in the press and in the courtroom. The final ticks of the clock have come for this celebrated coach. His record of 409 wins, 136 losses and 3 ties will stand long after his passing, but so will the specter of coverup and possible disloyalty to those innocent victims who would have been better served by a coach more closely following his own guiding principles.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's my fourth anniversary

Today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. A lot can be gleaned from the fact that I haven't written a word since November here. Actually, I've written gobs, just none here. It's not that I don't want to write here; it's more a factor of time and other commitments that have conspired to keep me from my appointed rounds here. Nevertheless, for those of you who do follow this blog, please know that even though I may not be here as regularly as I was before to speak my piece, I will continue to do so, just with less frequency. Now that I am writing regularly for both and Arts America, it is difficult to find the time to squeeze out more writing. Despite what some may suggest, I do have a life (of sorts). In addition my new duties as the theatre reviewer (critic carries with it such negative conotations) for WYES-TV have eliminated a great deal of my earlier "down" time. Also, this is the time of year when I am concentrating on my efforts to finishing the five...make that six...Mardi Gras ball manuscripts, five of which I will additionally serve as narrator at the balls. It all makes for a great deal of stress and pressure to succeed. Yet, I would be remiss if I did not thank all of you who still check out Kosher Computing for one reason or the other. This blog carries my imprimatur, but in a sense it truly belongs to those who read and glean from it something of value. May the words and thoughts we share be of special meaning as we begin yet another new year and celebrate this anniversary of Kosher Computing.