Monday, November 16, 2015

Whither the Refugees?

The recent deadly terrorist attacks in Paris have raised new questions about the wisdom of welcoming hundreds of thousands of Syrians into the United States.  At issue: whether some those refugees might have terrorist ties and further, whether their presence in our country would put American citizens at risk.

President Obama says it would be unAmerican to refuse entry to the refugees, especially since many of them are victims of terrorism themselves, and that it will be possible to guarantee both their safety and our own.  But Friday's attack, and the reported involvement of at least one terrorist who entered France as a refugee, makes one wonder:  Are "guarantees" against terrorism even possible?

Several U.S. governors have answered that question.  At the time of this writing, ten governors have announced and/or notified the Obama administration that the safety of their own citizens is more important than that of the refugees, particularly since those refugees might include terrorists.  

And why aren't Syria's neighbors doing more for the refugees? It would make sense, wouldn't it?  In countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the refugees would be closer to home, both culturally and geographically, than here in the United States. But at last report, those countries have refused to admit a single refugee, citing a fear of terrorism.

I don't know what the answer is.  On the one hand, welcoming the refugees seems like the right, even the American thing to do.  On the other, why put ourselves at risk to do something not even Syria's neighbors will do?  Why invite more trouble?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Climbing Jacob's Ladder

I attended a town meeting in Aurora last night.  The subject of the meeting was a drug rehabilitation center scheduled to open here sometime next year.  The Jacob's Ladder Rehabilitation Center would help young men solidify their sobriety in a safe environment. It would be located in an existing facility called The Aurora Project.  Read more reporting about Jacob's Ladder here and here.

Present at the meeting were Doug Leech, the founder and president of Morgantown Sober Living, State Representative Randy Smith, State Senator Dave Sypolt, and Preston County Sheriff Dan Loughrie.  Notably absent were any members of the Preston County Commission. That's significant because Aurora is not incorporated; it is considered part of the county and therefor under the commission's jurisdiction.

[Update: A reader tells me that Commissioner Dave Price did attend the meeting. If so, he was not introduced ...nor did he introduce himself its outset.]

West Virginia's drug problem is well documented, as is the dearth of facilities available to drug and alcohol abusers who want to tackle their addictions and turn their lives around. And there is mounting evidence that it takes more than the 12 Steps, a one-month chip, and the occasional meeting to keep sober someone whose every instinct is to use and abuse.

We need more facilities like Jacob's Ladder.  The question is, do we need one in Aurora?  And will the participants in Jacob's Ladder pose a threat to this sleepy community, where Sheriff Loughrie says residents can expect a delay of a half hour or more between a call for help and the arrival of the authorities? And what's in it for Aurora? It doesn't sound like Jacob's Ladder will create jobs for anyone, or that local drug and alcohol abusers could afford to get help there.  So why Aurora? And why we are only hearing about it now, as essentially a fait accompli?

Those are the a few of the questions Dr. Kevin Blankenship of Morgantown could have answered, had he bothered to attend last night's meeting.  It was Dr. Blankenship who decided to locate Jacob's Ladder in Aurora, after what the Dominion Post describes as "several meetings with community leaders." Those meetings were news to many of us in the Aurora community, as were plans for the project itself.

The sentiment I heard expressed most often last night was that Blankenship is "forcing this down our throats."  He not only should have attended the meeting, to answer the many questions that Leech could not, he should have called it.  That might have gone a long way toward warming the welcome for Jacob's Ladder.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Why are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump getting so much attention from voters during the current election cycle?

Much of it stems from their status as "outsiders" in Washington, D.C.

Sanders, of course, is a longtime U.S. Senator. But even though he caucuses and votes with the Democrats, he is a Socialist ...a party of one. He's an outsider on the inside.

Trump is an outsider on the outside. A businessman, perhaps even an entertainer ...but not a politician. Nominally a Republican, Trump is really running against both of our traditional political parties.

Their popularity speaks to the voters' dissatisfaction with "business as usual" in Washington. We're fed up with a president who legislates by executive order, with Chicago-style strong-arm politics, with a Congress that refuses to challenge the president ...and the list goes on.

The question is, how much longer will our infatuation with outsider candidates go on? Or will we at some point embrace the comfortable and familiar instead of electing a leader who is willing and able to challenge the establishment.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

It's Horrendous! Horrific!

I was down in the gym this morning, watching Fox News' coverage of the mass shootings at the church in Charleston, South Carolina, when two reporters in a row stepped on a raw nerve.  One reporter referred to the shootings as "horrendous;" the other, as "horrific." 

When I worked with young reporters on writing and presentation, I spent a lot of time on removing judgement from their stories, but managing it in their presentation of those stories. 

For example, a reporter covering the story of a search for a missing child might write:  "Thankfully, the child was found" or "Sadly, the searchers found the child's body."  I would submit that "thankfully" and "sadly" are the reporter's judgement on the news that the child was found. It is something that someone who is involved or invested in the story ...a member or friend of the child's family,  or a member of the search team ...might say.  It is not something an objective outsider, reporting on the story, should say.

In fairness, one might argue that a reporter cannot be expected to report on an emotional story like that without being affected by it.
I agree. That is why I urged them to remove judgement from their stories, while managing it in their presentation.

Taking the same story as an example, the reporter shouldn't say that one outcome is good news, or another is bad. What he can do, though, is use his expression and voice to convey those judgements. Telling one version of a story with a happy face, with good pace, moderate to high volume, a wide range of highs and lows, and lots of inflection will convey happiness;  conversely, telling another version with a sad face, a slower pace, low to moderate volume, a narrower range of highs and lows, and less inflection will convey sadness.

Try it for yourself.  Try reading out loud to a group of kids.  If you really want to capture their attention, you will not simply read the words.  You will bring the story to life with the animation of your face and vocal tools like volume, pitch, pace, and inflection. The kids will know when to be happy, sad, or scared ...not because you tell them, but from the physical and vocal cues you give them.

I don't need a reporter to tell me that a mass shooting in a house of God is "horrendous" or "horrific." But I don't mind if he lets me know that that's what he thinks, by the way he tells the story.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Happy Memorial Day

I had any number of pet peeves while working in the newsroom.  It always bugged me when reporters used an apostrophe to make a singular noun plural.  It's also known as the "grocery store plural."

                                            One apple costs 25 cents.
                                            Buy five apple's for a dollar and save 25 cents!

I chafed at the practice of using a variation of the word "they" to avoid a stereotyping sexual assignment (although it appears to be gaining more and more acceptance from people who know more than I about the English language.)

                                             It's back-to-school time.
                                             Make sure your child gets their shots!

And every year, as summer approached, I reminded my staff that Memorial Day is not about veterans.  And it's not happy.

Memorial Day dates back to 1868.  Americans first observed it as Decoration Day and decorated the graves of the Civil War war dead with flowers.  As time went by, it evolved into a day to remember every American who died while serving his or her country in time of war. And so it is today.

Memorial Day is not a happy occasion.  It is not appropriate to wish anyone a Happy Memorial Day.

Neither is Memorial Day a day for thanking our veterans.  Veterans Day is November 11 (although the point could be made that every day we wake up in the greatest country in the world could and should be observed as Veterans Day.)

Veterans Day is for the living. Memorial Day is for the dead.

So. Memorial Day is neither happy nor about veterans.

It is also, despite what the Democratic Party might suggest, not about President Obama enjoying an ice cream cone.

The Democratic Party tweeted this image with the massage, "Happy Memorial Day Weekend, Everyone."

It is disgraceful, and insulting to the memory of every serviceman and woman who offered up what another president, Abraham Lincoln, once called "the last full measure of devotion."

By all means, go out and enjoy your three day holiday weekend.  I certainly will.  But remember what the holiday is all about and govern yourself accordingly.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know...

Oh, how I envy people of faith ...people who, like the song says, "know" that Jesus loves them.

Last week I attended funeral services in New York and Texas. My family buried my mother at West Point and then celebrated her life in College Station. And even though I am not the believer I was when I grew up in the Episcopal Church, I found great comfort in the services. I'm not sure whether it was the familiar language and setting, or standing shoulder to shoulder with my brothers, or the collective faith of the congregation, but I did feel better. Mom always used to say that the beauty of the Episcopal funeral service was that it celebrated both the life lost and the promise of life everlasting. Who wouldn't feel better?

Somewhere along the line, I lost my faith. I believe in God, of course. How else can we explain this amazing world of ours? It couldn't have "just happened," could it? But the story of God born as man, tortured and executed by other men, only to become God again ...the more I thought about it, the more I questioned it, the weaker my faith became. As for organized religion: do we really need priests and churches to tell us what God expects of us, or how to talk to God, or how to live good and godly lives? And what kind of God stands by as believers kill non-believers and non-believers kill believers, while people around the very world He created suffer from hunger, disease, and the like? Is that God likely to answer your prayers, even as He ignores the prayers of others?

I suppose that if I had faith, questions like those wouldn't matter so much. But it is the very reason and free will with which God blessed me that keeps me from embracing faith with no questions asked. 

Ironic, no?

Mom firmly believed that when she died, she would go to heaven and be reunited with Dad. I want to believe that, too, even though I don't have a logical explanation or proof for it. I guess maybe that's a good first step.