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Thank You, US Postal Service

January 25, 2015

The United States Postal Service gets a lot of grief these days. Derided as the delivery agent for ‘snail mail,’ they are criticized for being too expensive,  too slow,  outdated and time consuming in the era of instant communication.

I am here to defend them.letter

Yes, I have tracked letters sent via ‘Priority Mail’ as they traveled to San Diego before reaching their intended destination 10 days later, two zip codes from my office. I can send a package to Hawaii (from San Francisco) in two days, but the same size box to Boston takes over a week.

And yes, grandma, I remember when a first class stamp was 5 cents. I now buy forever stamps in rolls of 100, so I don’t even know what first class postage is. (Great marketing, if you ask me.)

I can text my friends all over the country and within 10 minutes will have a response…any longer and I get impatient. Email, which we all thought was great a few years ago, is now too slow, since most people still have to check before responding.

I tweet to my followers, and most of my relatives have Facebook pages,so we’ll all know who’s doing what. I write this blog so everyone knows how I feel about what’s going on in the world.

But none of those methods can generate the emotions of a stamped letter. Neuroscientists now know that memories are more than just events. Our brains recall all five senses and any of them can spark a memory.

I was reminded of that this week, when a good friend, David Allen, sent me a batch of letters, found while cleaning out his mother-in-law’s attic.

They were written over 47 years ago when I was a freshman at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. In fact, they were written in the first few months of college, when I was really still attached to my high school experience and scared to death about the future.

I remember the onion paper, the smell of the inked ribbon , and the old green and white Smith Corona that I used, to peck out letters to my parents, friends and former high school classmates. I still have the typewriter in fact – even had it reconditioned after I found it while going through my old homestead when my Dad died. I’m told it’s a collector’s item.

The letters were written to David’s wife, Betty, my best friend, and while we were never involved romantically, are filled with good natured banter that would pass for flirtation.

The actual content is really irrelevant: my observations about  classes, social life, campus events, and gossip. It was 1967, and I know every campus was awash in protest and politics, but there’s none of that, so I doubt Oliver Stone will need them for some new 1960’s expose.

But for me, they are more important than any email, tweet or text I will ever send.   When I re-read the words, and hold the letters, the memories of those years come flooding back. More importantly, I’m talking to my friend, Betty, again, even though she was struck down by cancer 12 years ago.

So, while I can find endless versions of various web pages, and can see the trail of my texts to friends and colleagues, none of them will ever hold the power of the printed word that I can pick up, hold in my hand, and still smell the memories from so many years ago.

For that I thank the US Postal Service and David, who was thoughtful enough to mail them back to me..





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Can We All Agree…? 1/17/15

January 17, 2015

Can we all agree that at least having the Supreme Court make a final decision on gay marriage is preferable to living with questions? Although I can’t see how they could overturn what has become the law in 24 states.

Can we all agree that all the talk about Oscar ‘snubs’ and ‘campaigns’ is getting a bit old? But we’ll all still tune in to see Neil Patrick Harris February 22.

Can we all agree that the “all Caucasian” list of nominees is an embarrassment for Hollywood?

Can we all agree that the Golden Globes would have been better if Amy and Tina got more TV time?

Can we all agree that if 2014 was the hottest year on record, we have a problem? In same vein, the mass extinction of ocean animals will not help.

Can we all agree that trips to Cuba will be the trendy vacation in 2015?

Can we all agree that the GOP’s effort to avoid looking like ‘crazies’ could be hurt by one candidate who blasted the president for letting his kids listen to Beyonce and a House member who compared him to Hitler?

Can we all agree that The President erred in not sending someone more senior, such as Joe Biden, to Paris last weekend?

Can we all agree that the Pope’s admonishment that religion should not be criticized may not reflect the general view here in the US.

Can we all agree that the ISIS threat will get worse before it gets better?

Can we all agree that Hillary is running, and has been for about 1 year…at least?

Can we all agree that Bill Moyers, who retired (again) this week, is among the best journalists in the country?

Can we all agree that with unemployment dropping and consumer confidence rising the GOP may have a tough time running on economic issues?

Can we all agree that The President’s veto stamp may wear out by mid year?

Can we all agree that the first College Football Playoff was a great success – no matter what team you supported?

Can we all agree that there are already too many (announced and potential) GOP presidential candidates? Seventeen by my count.

Can we all agree that, while the 2016 election should be a barn-burner, having a US Senate race on the ticket in California, really spices things up…especially with the state’s new election system?

Can we all agree that swimming 16 hours after your boat capsizes is pretty remarkable?

Can we all agree that the House action on immigration is ill-conceived and punishes many people, just to make a political point?

Can we all agree that Al Qaeda in Yemen claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks is not exactly a big surprise?

Can we all agree that when you are a GOP Presidential candidate, getting slammed by the Wall Street Journal editorial board – as Mitt Romney 3.0 did – is not a good sign.

Can we all agree that climbing Dawn Wall on El Capitan without equipment is a world class achievement? Can we make it an Olympic event?

Can we all agree that the hires at the ‘Niners and Raiders says volumes about how the teams are viewed outside of the Bay Area?

Can we all agree that selling 3 million copies of any newspaper or magazine in the age of the internet is a statement, period? Even if many people just wanted a souvenir.

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Would You Reprint Charlie Hebdo’s Cartoons?

January 13, 2015

Ever since the attack on Charlie Hebdo last week I’ve been wondering what I would have done if I were still an editor at a newspaper.

The day after the attack, I was consumed with embarrassment for my profession when so few papers, who reported the murders, printed any of the offending cartoons.Madonna-Uses-Paris-Shootings-Je-Suis-Charlie-to-Promote-Her-Album-469566-2

As part of their coverage some publications in Europe did print a cartoon, but except for the Washington Post, I’m not aware of any major US publications who printed an example.

Even the Post printed the cartoon on the editorial page leaving the news columns free to describe the artwork. They, like the New York Times and other publications, claimed the actual drawing ‘were not relevant’ and their message could be communicated in words.

Clearly the cartoons were relevant, and just as clearly, mere words could not describe why the cartoons led to the attack. In truth, after looking at a sampling of the cartoons, I found many childish, insulting and tasteless, but I would still defend their right to publish them.

Almost every religion came under attack, but according to some, only the Muslim faith specifically prohibits depictions of their prophet.

My outrage, was tempered by a good friend, recently ‘retired’ from a small local publication, who noted that if had been editor, he’s not sure if, as a married father, he could take the risk of publication, even in a small hometown weekly.

Would the emotions of any editor be any different. Presumably they could all be the mothers or fathers of young children, and publication would open them up to the same fate as Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists.

I guess my anger was more rooted in the excuse that the cartoons “were not relevant” to the story. I just wish the editors would admit they were scared and, while they knew that failure to publish meant the jihadists had won, they would be honest about it.

I had the same thought this week when the new cover of Charlie Hebdo was released and the announcement in my email, only showed half the drawing.

I still don’t know what I would have done, were I still the editor of a newspaper or even if I should use a cartoon to illustrate this blog post?

But I hope I would at least be honest with my readers.

Maybe, if somehow everyone published the cartoons, there would be strength in numbers like the 1 million French citizens who marched in defiant solidarity in Paris last weekend.




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