Sunday, December 22, 2013

Remember that woman awarded millions after she spilled coffee in her lap?

If you're an adult, you probably do. You probably thought it was an outrageous example of our court system gone mad.

After you watch this piece from the New York Times, which offers details the national and international media never shared, you'll be singing a different tune. And it won't be the McDonald's theme song.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lake Erie freezes over

I'm an admitted weather geek, so I found this time-lapse video of Lake Erie freezing over in a three-day span fascinating.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The pale blue dot

Carl Sagan eloquently puts things into perspective....

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inspiring words from a giant of our times

Nelson Mandela died today in his native South Africa. He was 95.

He was, in my mind, a modern-day Gandhi, able to overthrow a deplorable regime and culture - apartheid - through peaceful defiance. Yes, he was considered a terrorist at one time and did not always embrace nonviolence as the vehicle to achieve lasting change.

But his words and example inspired millions around the globe, and international pressure not only led to his release from prison after 27 years but the collapse of apartheid.

Here are 15 moving quotes from a giant of our times.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A city that survived its own death

I spotted this image in a video clip of Warsaw soccer fans paying tribute to the courage and valor of their descendants recently. Given what that city endured in World War II, I found it very moving.

The Nazis bombed Warsaw mercilessly in the opening weeks of World War II in September 1939, badly damaging the beautiful city steeped in history. But it didn't end there.

The Nazis decided to eliminate all Jews in Warsaw - first by herding them into a "ghetto," then systematically shipping them to extermination camps. The Jews eventually fought back, however, in what became known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The Polish resistance group Zegota worked tirelessly to rescue Jewish children from the ghetto. Irena Sendler recognized that the children would be killed if they weren't smuggled out of the ghetto, so she devised an elaborate system to extricate as many children as she could.

Her remarkable efforts saved 2,500 children until she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. She endured brutal torture without giving any details of the rescue network and was condemned to death - surviving only because the Zegota bribed a guard to set her free just before her execution.

Her story remained largely unknown because Poland spent decades behind the Iron Curtain. The Soviet Union wanted no one who was not Russian or a Communist to be portrayed in heroic fashion. It wasn't until after the Iron Curtain fell that a group of students from a small Kansas high school spotted her name in a magazine article while looking for a project to enter in the National History Day competition.

The rest, as they say, is history. I'll let this documentary tell the rest of the story.

A bit of a disclaimer here: I was assigned to write a story about how Kansas schools fared at the National History Day competition in Washington in 2000. Uniontown didn't win, but as a state historical society official talked to me about "Life in a Jar," I wanted to learn more. I talked my editors into letting me do a story about the students and the project. When I spoke to Elizabeth and Megan and Sabrina, they told me they would do a couple more performances of the play for friends and relatives and then tuck it away, changed forever by that brave woman in Poland.

But my story was picked up by the Associated Press and received wide distribution, prompting numerous requests for performances. Soon, they were doing the play at a synagogue in Kansas City (mentioned in the above documentary).

Their trip to Poland to see Irena became national news there, coming just as the country was wrestling with painful revelations about natives collaborating with Nazi atrocities. Irena became a hero they - and the world - could embrace. Her story of selfless bravery and indomitable courage was timeless and universal.

I would write several more stories about the "Sendler Girls," as I came to call them. This was one of my favorites.

The reporter who normally writes stories touching on history for the Eagle was gone that day in 2000 when my editors wanted a short story about how Kansas schools fared at National History Day, so it was given to me because they knew I love history. I considered it a routine assignment....until I heard about Irena and "Life in a Jar."

It still amazes me when I think about how much happened after that. But Irena and her "girls" deserve all the credit. Heaven knows the world needs the inspiration of their example.

Monday, September 30, 2013

How this nonsense would look from the outside

How would we cover it if this shutdown of the federal government were happening somewhere else?

Slate attempts to answer that question. It's a revealing read.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ten in a row gets it done

It only took the longest winning streak to close the season in Cleveland's history to make the playoffs --- but that's just what they've done.

Pardon me while I wear a very pleased smile over the next few days. On Wednesday, the Indians host the winner of a tie-breaker Monday between Tampa Bay and Texas.

The winner of that game gets to play Boston in the divisional playoffs. The Red Sox merely put up the best record in the American League.

But I'll only fret about that if the Indians win Wednesday. Considering the Tribe lost at least 93 games in 3 of the past 4 seasons, to win 92 this year and make the playoffs is quite an accomplishment. And to do it with their top pitcher on the disabled list and their closer having a late-season meltdown is remarkable indeed.

So I'm going to wear my Chief Wahoo tie to work this week and smile.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"A swing and a drive....."

It's late September, meaning baseball season is down to its dying embers.

Against remarkable odds, my Cleveland Indians are still alive for the playoffs with only a half-dozen games left. In fact, they hold one of the two wild card spots.

But their hot-and-cold closer has just given up two home runs in the top of the 9th to blow the lead --- and, it seems, the game. That, in turn, would erase the tenuous hold on that playoff spot for the Indians.

Before you know it, there are two outs in the bottom of the 9th for the Indians. Hope is fading. And then this happens.

Monday, September 23, 2013

First snow of the season!

In Montana, at least.......

Friday, September 6, 2013


Speaking of a family's sacrifice in the time of war, this scene from "Saving Private Ryan" never fails to move me deeply.

It is, indeed, an actual letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a woman whose five sons served in the Civil War. However, Lincoln was incorrectly told all five were killed in battle.

In truth, only two of the five sons died in battle. The other three survived the war.

For Love of a Brother

The ESPN documentary series "30 for 30" has presented some wonderful pieces in its fledgling existence. One of its most recent offerings, a short film called "Arthur and Johnnie," touches particularly close to home for me.

The film explores how the Ashe brothers, Arthur and Johnnie, were both serving in the U.S. military in the late 1960s.

After seeing multiple sets of brothers killed in action in World War II, the U.S. Army adopted the Sole Survivor Policy in 1948. Other branches of the military adopted similar codes generally preventing brothers from serving in combat operations at the same time.

Johnnie was sent to Vietnam. In keeping with the policy, Arthur, a blossoming tennis star, was sent to West Point.

Recognizing that his brother had a year of military duty still to serve, and realizing that Arthur could be sent to Vietnam once his own tour of duty there had ended, Johnnie volunteered to serve a second tour in Vietnam.

That spared Arthur Ashe from combat in Vietnam. Johnnie sensed Arthur didn't have the disposition to handle combat and he knew his brother had the chance to become a pioneer in tennis. That's just what Arthur did, becoming the first black man to win the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He went on to become a legend as a tennis star and as an international humanitarian. He didn't know of his brother's sacrifice for years. Johnnie told no one except their father.

This story resonates because my father was drafted to serve in World War II. Normally, when a family has multiple eligible sons, the oldest son was the one drafted.

But in the case of the Finger family in Larned, the oldest brother - Leonard - was skipped. Instead, Marvin Finger was tapped by the draft board.

It wasn't until after Marvin returned home to Larned after the war that he learned from the head of the local draft board that his father had told them to pick Marvin instead of Leonard.

As Francis Finger had put it, Leonard was too valuable to the farm to go off to war. In other words, Marvin - who liked to joke and laugh and often drew criticism from his stern family that he didn't take life or work seriously enough - was expendable. Leonard was not.

But my father wasn't crushed by that revelation.

"It's a good thing I was sent overseas instead of Leonard," he would tell me years later. "Leonard wouldn't have been able to handle combat. He wouldn't have made it home."

Dad, like Johnnie Ashe, made it home from combat. They both paid high prices internally for what they endured. Dad also suffered physical injuries that dogged him the rest of his life.

Yet it was a price he was willing to pay for the sake of his brother. Much like Johnnie Ashe would later do for Arthur.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How a karate kick helped Wichita State win a basketball game

In one of the strangest plays I've ever seen in a basketball game, Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael kicked a Wichita State player in the chest while grabbing a rebound in the final minute of an intense Missouri Valley Conference contest.

How a foul wasn't called on the play to begin with is beyond me, but the refs ultimately reviewed the play and called a flagrant foul - giving Wichita State two free throws and the ball. That paved the way for an 8-0 rally in the final 41 seconds and a 68-67 win for the Shockers.

The victory keeps Wichita State at the top of the MVC standings with three games left to play. If the Shockers go on to win the conference title, Sunday's "karate kick" game will live long in WSU lore.

Student gets free tuition from coach's half-court shot

Here's something you don't see every day: the basketball coach for tiny Brandon University earned a student free tuition by sinking a shot from halfcourt:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Video of the meteor exploding in Russia

I was in Denver on business when the meteor exploded over Russia, so I'm a bit late in sharing this. But it's powerful even now....

What a reminder that we're not alone in this solar system, aliens or not......

Monday, February 4, 2013

Now that football has ended........

.....and baseball looms on the horizon, it seems apt to share this wonderful comedic bit by George Carlin. Enjoy....

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

'Memorial Day' on New Year's Eve

Grounded by a bad head cold, I ushered out the final hours of 2012 by watching the movie "Memorial Day" on Netflix.

It featured a World War II vet begrudgingly talking about his wartime experiences with a curious and insistent grandson in the early 1990s. It tugged at me, because in the movie the veteran character actor James Cromwell resembled my father physically and in his speaking patterns.

Not to mention his reluctance to talk about his combat experiences in World War II. I certainly understood it from the standpoint of not wanting to think about or relive the terrors of combat, or have the memories of close friends killed in battle resurrected from the hazy mists of the past.

But, as Cromwell's character noted late in the movie, souvenirs of battle are valuable for the stories that come with them - stories that reflect who we are and how we handled the challenges we faced.

That chat about a few souvenirs on a solitary Memorial Day weekend afternoon was all Cromwell's character shared about his war-time experiences, and it reminded me that so many family members who had loved ones serve in combat never hear about what that experience was like.

Compared to so many of them, I and my family have an encyclopedia of information about where and how Dad fought in France and Germany late in the war. Oh, I wanted more details, and poked and prodded and pleaded with him over the years. He shared in bits and pieces, and on a couple of occasions ricocheted from beginning to end - taxing ordeals that left him exhausted. I wanted more, because I knew the more he shared the more people would appreciate the man he was late in life, how much he accomplished despite the high physical and emotional price he paid while defending and protecting freedom.

In the years since he died in 2006, I have found hand-written notes scrawled in book margins, on notebook paper, on Big Chief tablet sheets...all sorts of places. I'm trying to pull it together into a cohesive narrative, so future generations can be blessed with his stories of what he experienced in combat.

To understand my father, you have to understand what he went through in battle and how it changed him. He once told me he was glad he was in combat, that he wouldn't trade it for anything in the world - but that he also wouldn't want to go through it again for anything in the world.

What he went through was so intense, so difficult, that when he would talk about them to Gulf War veterans struggling with post traumatic stress disorder they wouldn't believe him. "It couldn't have been that bad," they said. But it was that bad, and worse still for countless other veterans.

The stories are vital, for they are vivid tapestries of the human experience and reflections of the human spirit responding to extraordinary circumstances.

Plus, they are reminders of what Confederate general Robert E. Lee meant when he said, "It is good that war is so terrible, or we would come to love it."

Stories of all kinds are vital pieces of family and community history, so I encourage you to share them whenever and however you can. Too often they die with loved ones, and valuable knowledge and inspiration is lost.

Another sign our education system is failing

Spotted on Twitter today:

There's really no defense for that.....