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The World from a Hospital Bed

Here I am with my temporary, dapper walking stick, a brand new Hoyas T-shirt courtesy of a co-worker, and sitting in front of a Chinese symbol for Serenity with my Faith, Hope, Love cancer bracelet...ready to take on BEAR.

Here I am with my temporary, dapper walking stick, a brand new Hoyas T-shirt courtesy of a co-worker, and sitting in front of a Chinese symbol for Serenity with my Faith, Hope, Love cancer bracelet on my left wrist…loaded for BEAR.

I last posted the night before major cancer surgery, expressing both confidence and alarm.  It’s now been about ten days and I am doing extraordinarily great, especially considering the circumstances.

Here’s kind of a blow-by-blow:

Pre-Op

Arrived at the Georgetown University Hospital Surgical Center Thursday, May 2nd at 6:30am.  Everyone and I mean everyone on Georgetown staff is so cheery and positive and kind.  Where do they find these people, I ask myself.  They are like cheerful mutants from a faraway galaxy where there is no such thing, for example, as road rage.

I pick up my bracelet with my name and birth date so from here on out, no one accidently removes wrong body parts or gives mistaken medications.  The bracelet also contains the bar code on which thousands of dollars of medications will be charged in the days ahead.

In the actual operating room I have a brief chat with the chief surgeon and crew.  The gentleman performing the operation is the Surgeon-in-Chief of the Lombardi Cancer Center, Dr. Waddah Al-Refaie.  I ask the doctor if he had a good night’s sleep and he confirms he is well rested and ready to rock and roll.  At this point the anesthesiologists  suggest that considering the length and complexity of an operation expected to result in the removal of 60% of my stomach, would I be up for an epidural?  Incredibly strong pain killing meds delivered right into the spine and nerves?   Yesireee, I would like that, gentlemen!

And that was the last thing I remembered.  They put a tube in me to do the breathing while I was gratefully and completely and totally out like a light for the next 7 hours, 6 of which were actual operating time.  Operations are like time travel.  Your loved ones get briefed once an hour on what’s happening but for those of us on the table there is only before and after.   There is no time in between.

Immediate Post-Op

I awake in post-op and my girlfriend, Millie is letting me know that while I was away, the surgeon did, indeed, take 60% of my stomach.  And, oh, an extra 10% of ye’ old liver.  Oh, and the gall bladder.  Gall bladder’s gone but they found nothing wrong with it and they put it back.   Still groggy, I make a mental note to revisit this analysis.  I would be correct.  Poor Millie had gotten lost in the fog of war.  They don’t put stuff back after they take it out.  But she was right that there was nothing wrong with it. They saw something they didn’t like that turned out to be benign.  Goodbye gall bladder.  Of questionable value as a mere bile creator to help the stomach handle fatty foods, I will not even miss the little guy.   “And so…” sums up Millie, “The operation was a great success!”

I smile to hear this; still slightly alarmed they took some liver.  But hey, it regenerates!

The next two days were mostly a sleepy haze.  The boys with the epidural did a masterful job.  Patients in hospitals are always being asked to gauge their pain on a 1 to 10 scale.  The first 48 hours after this big a surgery I had pain of 0 to 1.   That’s amazing.  For all the advances in medicine, the single most important has got to be anesthesia and the art of pain killing.

But, alas, Saturday came and they’d have to stop the epidural- can’t keep that going for long- off to the land of IV drugs!

I honestly didn’t even look at my sutures until day 3.   Nice job. Very handsomely done.  I counted about 36 staples from below the belly button to the solar plexus.  And they all hurt just a little bit!   Dilaudid into the veins helped.

All of this stuff, by the way, is measured in small hourly and daily victories.  The catheter comes out.  Yay!  Day 4, a day earlier than I thought, they pulled the NG tube.  This is a fiendish device that during surgery is put into your nose and way down into the stomach.  A kind of suctioning event is generated and bile and other bad things from the belly go into a vessel and the pressure also helps the stomach in some way no one adequately described to me.  The NG tube was an unwelcome addition to my head.  It also tethers you as much as an IV does.   It’s really fun when they pull it out too.  Oh, the laughs.

Run for your Lives- It’s Cable News!

And now here was the part of the hospital visit that sucked the very most.  It wasn’t nurses and techs walking into your room at 4am to take your vitals or give you another blood-thinning injection.  No, it was no longer being groggy enough to sleep the day away and being awake and alert.  And ready to become the unsuspecting victim of CABLE TELEVISION.

This was the day Cleveland police officially arrested Ariel Castro and two of the three women the horrible little man tortured for a decade, returned to their homes.  This was the day America’s favorite villainess, Jodi Arias, was convicted in the gruesome stabbing death of her boyfriend.   This was the day of the Benghazi hearings.  In other words, this was the kind of day that was created for Cable News.  And, here I was, comfy in my hospital bed with my right trigger finger on the remote control.

Over on CNN, they covered everything in great detail, concentrating about 70% of their programming on the Cleveland House of Horrors.  Nice coverage- couldn’t complain about a thing.  They didn’t get any facts wrong.  They brought in solid contributors along with their own paid experts and personalities like Nancy Grace.  Over on Fox, no developing story of any magnitude could budge the network from its breathless coverage of the Benghazi hearings.   One guy at the witness table almost cried.  Another had triple the normal amount of emotion in his voice.  I didn’t see what else there was to it by way of red meat…or new facts.  And this is categorically not a political view on my part.  I was just a highly drugged-up guy in a hospital bed switching from cable channel to cable channel.

On one channel, live TV crews watching the Cleveland women arrive home, stunning police news conferences; bizarre, sick revelations about the nightmare decade for these poor women.  On the other channel, congressmen getting pissed or preening depending on their political persuasion and more white guys in suits at witness tables.  Every now and again, Fox News anchors went away from the hearings to Fox News reporters to explain to people the significance of something that just happened in case they couldn’t discern it for themselves.

And then….the Jodi Arias verdict!  This time, Headline News jumped into the fray, primed as they were positioning themselves as the Arias Verdict Network.  This hurt them early in the week as they went live to Phoenix repeatedly for two days before there was any verdict or news.   But now that the jury was back- Christmas for Headline News!

CNN adjusted and did a pretty darned good job covering both the Arias verdict and the House of Horrors.  Over to Fox; continued highlights and analysis of the Benghazi hearings.  By 6pm, even a Fox News anchor made reference to the fact there had been a lot of breaking news on this day but maybe tomorrow when it’s her birthday, they’ll let her cover all these other stories.

Then it was off to sports where I simultaneously monitored the Washington Nationals and Caps- the Nats on radio the Caps on the tube.   Nats won, Caps lost.  And they lost the next night too.  I came close, but would later dismiss notions of suing the Capitals for emotional distress.

I wrapped up my TV orgy day with the Science channel and three straight one-hour episodes of Stephan Hawking on space travel, space aliens and wonders of the cosmos.  It was an absolute pleasure to watch houses of horror, Benghazi hearings and murder verdicts shrink to their appropriate cosmological scale.

And I Thank You for Your Support!

Within two days I would be discharged.  And here we are, about four days at home.  I just got back from my first post-op consultation with the surgeon.  The tumor was larger and invaded a bit more territory than everyone first thought.  But no lymph node cancers.  And none to be found anywhere else in the body.  I am officially staged at stomach cancer 2b.  This gives me about a 65% chance of living through the next five years, odds I gladly accept.

I will likely get some chemotherapy this summer and fall but the all the cancer has been surgically removed.  We’re talking preventative measures.  Then after a few months of that loveliness it’s just a matter of monitoring until five years from now, we can all declare, “case closed.”

And I do not accept alternate outcomes.

To my friends:

I thank you for the books, the magazines, the musical play lists, the T-shirts, the kind sympathy cards, the wicked-funny cards, the thoughts, prayers, animal sacrifices and smudge ceremonies and as the three words on my blue left wristband say- for the love, the hope and the faith too.

We are beating this together.  Thank you for that.

Hollywood on the Potomac- It’s NOT for the Little People

The Kardashians at the 2012 WHCA Dinner (Photo:AP)

The Kardashians at the 2012 WHCA Dinner (Photo:AP)

I vented  about this almost two years ago and there’s a growing chorus of respectable journalists like Tom Brokaw  who have vocally joined the cause.  Whatever the hell that function is that used to pass as the White House Correspondents Dinner is now so over the top, so disgusting in its opulence and crassness and such an incestuous and inappropriate coupling of the so-called independent media and those they are supposed to cover impartially- that it’s no wonder the public can’t stand either the blowhards who populate politics and Hollywood or the blowhards who cover them.

But as the Washington Post points out, the dirty little secret is that this dinner is actually about corporate interests. The celebrities are really the window dressing; the honey that attracts the corporations- i.e.- potential advertisers that populate the Washington Hilton dinner tables and after-parties as much as the so-called stars. Yes, cash-strapped news organizations that fire journalists every quarter, spend upwards of a quarter a million dollars a year without batting an eyelash in order to host a party that draws the stars that, in turn, draws the CEO’s and CFO’s and maybe, if they’re lucky, get a little money spent on banner ads and 60-second spots. There’s no way of knowing how much return there is on the investment. And no, you can’t blame media companies for trying to find funding- but this really has become an unseemly orgy of power, celebrity and money mongering.

Not that the celebrity portion of this is tasteful or measured in any way. For example, it was revealed this week that the White House Correspondent’s Association is threatening to sue a company over its use of the WHCA name to invite celebrities to its “gifting” suite on the night of the dinner. That’s right, a “gifting” suite. Bags of expensive swag only for the celebrities being invited by the various media companies. This is like the goodie bags they hand out at the Oscars. New this year and offered as yet another exhibit of the superficiality of this once fun and interesting event.

The point of this event used to be to give reporters an opportunity to invite their sources to a nice dinner where there would be humorous speeches by special guests as well as the President of the United States. It all changed in the 1980’s when then celebrity-of-the-moment, Fawn Hall, got an invite on the strength of being Oliver North’s secretary. Then the following year, Donna Rice of Gary Hart fame got an invite.  Now, media companies shell out 1st class airfare, hotel suites and cold, hard cash to get the buzziest celebs.

So as this celebration of incestuous trough feeding continues to morph into the grotesque, with Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians supplanting the Donna Rices and Fawn Halls, let’s call this what it really is: the erection of more and more walls separating politicians, corporations, and the media from the public- the people who elect the pols, give corporations their profits and read, listen or watch the media. The little people are not welcome on this day except behind the rope lines to watch the preening on the red carpet.

The current President of the WHCA, Ed Henry of Fox News, justifies all of this decadence by pointing out that over $100,000 is raised to support needy kids hungry for scholarships. A good cause, indeed. But considering the money media companies spend to put on their parties and fly in their celebrities, really, 100K is chump change. It ought to be more like a cool million.  So here’s an idea, Ed.   For 100K, hold a friggin’ bake sale.   Hey- it’s all about the scholarships.  Right.

Bye Bye Old NPR Building

NPR Old and the New

Well, NPR is moving. Most everyone except Newscast, Digital News and Technical Operations has left the old building at 635 Massachusetts Avenue for the beautiful new headquarters building at 1111 North Capital Street. We, the stragglers go last- next week.

What will become of the old building that housed NPR for some two decades? It will be destroyed in just a few weeks; demolished and turned to dust. So….what do a few hundred snarky, already cynical NPR-types do to a building they know will cease to exist in a few short weeks?

Graffiti! Big time Graffiti. On all the walls, the elevators, the CEO’s old office bathroom. You name it. The entire place has been turned into a kind of performance art canvass where features of the building itself are part of the show. We have been unleashed like 6 year-olds with finger paints.

Here’s the old, handy, 3rd floor defibrillator:

NPR Defibrillator

NPR’s Supreme Court/Legal correspondent, Nina Totenberg, is photographed by White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro as she leaves behind her mark…

NPR Nina

Later, an unnamed colleague added their snarky rejoinder:

NPR Nice Things

The old building had its quirks. There was only one elevator that actually took you up to the 7th floor cafeteria. All other elevators took to you to the 6th floor and you’d have to walk up a flight of stairs. But that one elevator that went all the way up was also very, very popular. It could take up to 5 minutes or longer before you’d hear the cheesy little bell that signaled its arrival.

NPR Virtue

This is one of the other elevators. It featured a special guest rider all Friday afternoon. I maintain we are the only major radio network in the world with a headphone-wearing mannequin.

NPR Elevator

And continuing with the elevator theme- some are taking the move rather philosophically:

NPR Elevator 2

We always wondered what this old 3rd floor valve did, exactly. And we still wonder but just to be on the safe side….

NPR Valve

Remembering Brenda Box

Brenda

A truly loved and appreciated colleague passed away this morning. Brenda was an editor with NPR’s Newscast unit. There wasn’t a word spoken by an anchor or an NPR correspondent that didn’t get her keen eye, and eventually her approval. I was her boss. This is the note I sent to NPR staff around the world today. The outpouring of affection has been enormous. She will live in our hearts forever.

——————————————————

We are deeply saddened to announce that our beloved and respected colleague, Newscast Editor, Brenda Box, has passed away after a courageous four years dealing with pancreatic cancer. She was 58. Anyone who ever dealt with Brenda knows what a special and unique person she was; equal parts cynical and sensitive, outspoken and hilarious, brilliant and fun and warm and self-deprecating.

Correspondent, Carrie Kahn, who largely dealt with Brenda on the phone, but grew close to her anyway, put it this way in a recent note to Newscast staff: “Every time I called newscast and she answered the phone, no matter how stressed or busy she was she always had a few moments for a quick chat, great banter and that memorable laugh. Not that filing spots is not fun enough, but Brenda made it something special, personal and among friends.”

Newscast’s Korva Coleman has a further explanation of Brenda’s role in the unit: “Although you never heard her name on an NPR broadcast, she shaped what you heard. While you never heard her speak to you on the radio, she guided your understanding of events. Brenda Box was the editor every journalist dreams of, one who elicits the best from reporters and quietly removes the errors…Brenda often concluded her conversations with her trademark, “Cool beans.” That was the indication that her exacting eye had reviewed the reporter’s work and approved.”

There is no justice served remembering Brenda only in the context of her health issues in recent years. But it must be said that in this particular respect, she taught us all the true meaning of gentle grace under great adversity.

Brenda graduated with a journalism degree from Colorado State University, worked as Capitol Hill correspondent for USA Today Broadcasting/Gannett News Service, as an anchor for the UPI and NBC/Mutual radio networks, and as a reporter for West Virginia Public Radio and WTOP Radio before coming to NPR ten years ago. Outside of broadcasting she worked for the Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation and served as Press Secretary for the District of Columbia’s City Administrator.

She was a long-time member of the National Association of Black Journalists, winning an NABJ Excellence award for a series on Black Pioneers. The Gannett News Service honored her work for radio coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington.

Brenda is survived by her husband, Steve Johnson, her daughters, Chantel and Chanel and her son, Anthony.

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By way of remembrance, the family asks that donations in Brenda’s name, be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Pancan.org.

Thoughts on the Deaths of the Innocents

December 18, 2012 2 comments

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I run a newsroom so I couldn’t avoid the sudden immersion into the evil and the insanity. The Newtown shootings story unfolded in seeming slow motion last Friday but, finally, about three hours after the last bullets were fired, the scope and brutality of the event became clearer and clearer until it was finally laid bare for all to see.

The immersion into this gruesome, horrifying nightmare of a story continued all that Friday as journalists walked a minefield of rumor, assumption and misinformation. Into the night and the next day there were conference calls, pleas for extreme caution with the facts and the constant monitoring of the cable networks.

It was after the Sunday news talk shows when I finally threw in the towel. No more of this, please. I need a break. We all need a break from this. A fever and a sore throat that set in on Sunday were welcome because it meant I could stay home and avoid the story some more on Monday.

Unfortunately, for the victims of violence or the desperate parents of mentally ill children who could be the next Adam Lanza, there is nowhere to run and hide like I was able to for a couple of days.

In the course of my self imposed black-out on the Newtown massacre, I missed a few things that I discovered this morning as I returned to work. Turns out even previously 100% pro-NRA voting members of Congress like West Virginia Senator, Joe Manchin, were now saying it was time to consider legislative action of some kind. Dick’s Sporting Goods stores announced a moratorium on the sale of modern sporting rifles.

And brave, courageous and desperate parents like Liza Long were coming out of the woodwork talking about the fear they live with everyday with their mentally ill and psychologically unstable children. Please read this account if you haven’t already, of her life with her son, Michael, a genius who is sweet and kind most of the time- and an absolute life-threatening terror on too many occasions. She says she has been told by mental health professionals that the only thing that will help her son is when he gets in the hands of the criminal justice system.

By then, of course, it’s usually too late.

It is unfortunate it would take the cold-blooded elementary school murders of twenty children and six adults to start the important conversations that seem to be underway in earnest now. After all, these are not the first innocents to die in the line of fire and mental illness. I could list them for you if you’d like- the mass shootings that have taken place in this country in just the last two years. But I won’t.

If you have been unable to detach yourself from this story; if you are unable to avoid it in the course of your mass media consumption- I would highly recommend pulling the plug for a bit. It’s ok to get away from this thing. In the meantime, take heart from the famous quote by Winston Churchill- “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

Noonan Eats Crow- Gracefully

November 9, 2012 1 comment

It is only fair to recognize that after Peggy Noonan’s November 5th forecast of a Romney victory because she could feel it through yard signs and well-attended closing rallies for the Republican candidate- the reality of what occurred on election day has hit home.

With grace and a certain amount of humor, this is the former Reagan speechwriter in today’s Wall Street Journal:

President Obama did not lose, he won. It was not all that close. There was enthusiasm on his side. Mitt Romney’s assumed base did not fully emerge, or rather emerged as smaller than it used to be. He appears to have received fewer votes than John McCain. The last rallies of his campaign neither signaled nor reflected a Republican resurgence. Mr Romney’s air of peaceful dynamism was the product of a false optimism that, in the closing days, buoyed some conservatives and swept some Republicans. While GOP voters were proud to assert their support with lawn signs, Democratic professionals were quietly organizing, data mining and turning out the vote. Their effort was a bit of a masterpiece; it will likely change national politics forever. Mr. Obama was perhaps not joyless but dogged, determined, and tired.
Apart from those points, everything in my blog post of Nov. 5 stands.

Which is to say, there’s not much left of it to stand.

My point in comparing the prognosticating approaches of Noonan and the New York Times’ Nate Silver earlier this week, also stands. And my point was an intentionally narrow one. Data analysis and empirical research trump emotion and “feelings” every time.

And by the way, what works in the world of political forecasting, also works in the rough and tumble world of political campaigning- and specifically, the art of the political ground game. Noonan is absolutely correct when she says Republicans may have been putting signs on their lawns, but Democrats were organizing, data mining and turning out the vote.

The precision and demographic targeting of the Obama campaign amounted to the most impressive GOTV (get out the vote) effort in modern political history. Because they identified their voters and then motivated them to get to the polls through personal and local volunteer interaction, they, in essence, created their own electorate.

Here’s a Time magazine piece on the Chicago bunker where the effort was centered, based always on pain-staking research and a conscious dismissal of all previous ground game assumptions.

By comparison, here are details of the Romney GOTV effort, which was supposed to have been coordinated through new technology that was never actually tested and which literally crashed and burned on election day as Romney volunteers realized their system for identifying which voters had voted and which had not, was simply not working.

The larger point here, is that information is power. Those who ignore it or fail to mine it, sift it, analyze it and understand it, do so at their own peril, whether they are trying to win elections or predict their outcome.

Nate Silver’s Probabilities vs Peggy Noonan’s Feelings

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Nate SIlver and Peggy Noonan


As part of the introspection that conservative partisans like Peggy Noonan are engaged in after the resounding reelection victory for President Obama Tuesday, surely one of the aspects of this exercise will be coming to the acceptance of the primacy of facts and research over emotion.

As conservatives started aiming their ire at New York Times numbers-cruncher, Nate Silver, in the closing weeks of the campaign, it is now apparent that all the froth was about what Silver was saying not the way he went about coming to his conclusions.  They were shooting the messenger.  And with every broadside, it seemed Silver would just keep upping Obama’s victory probabilities until by the final day, they had crested above 90%.   And for the second Presidential election in a row, he was spot on, accurately predicting 50 out of 50 states (presuming Florida finishes where it is now).

Over at the Wall Street Journal, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, seemed to be mocking Silver’s nerdy numbers approach by predicting a Mitt Romney victory based on, among other things,  the size of the Republican candidate’s closing crowds, their decibel levels, even her perception of how Romney lawn signs were outnumbering Obama’s.

There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.

She even magically entered the heads of the candidates at the annual Al Smith dinner in New York where she interpreted what she saw as an uncomfortable and distracted Barack Obama as someone who looked like they had just read disturbing data.

But sitting there listening to the jokes and speeches, the archbishop of New York sitting between them, Obama looked like a young challenger—flinty, not so comfortable. He was distracted, and his smiles seemed forced. He looked like a man who’d just seen some bad internal polling. Romney? Expansive, hilarious, self-spoofing, with a few jokes of finely calibrated meanness that were just perfect for the crowd. He looked like a president. He looked like someone who’d just seen good internals.

The remarkable thing about Noonan’s approach to political prognosticating, is that you’d think she’d know better by now.  She’s had her hand in the political game for nearly half a century.  Not that she’s alone in couching her hopes on imaginary factors she thinks she sees, like massive, noisy, huge campaign crowds at Republican rallies, advantages in political lawn signs, or someone’s demeanor sitting at a dais.   It’s natural- it’s human  to hope against hope.

Granted I was all of 16 at the time, but I remember feeling such hope for George McGovern in 1972.  Surely, polls can be wrong.  I mean, wow, 20 thousand people came out for him at one event or another.  How could a decorated World War II Air Force veteran with such strength of character be losing to Richard Nixon, for Christ’s sake.

Not too dissimilar, I suppose, from a conservative partisan thinking how such a good, religious, responsible family guy like Romney could possibly be losing to the likes of Barack Hussein Obama, for Christ’s sake.

Well, McGovern, of course, would go on to win  only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. and Mitt Romney would go on to lose every single swing state in the election except for North Carolina (and again, we await Florida).

The lessons here are obvious.  Not that it really matters, of course, if pundits get their predictions right or horribly wrong- they are paid to bloviate no matter what.  But if one wants to be accurate and be taken seriously again someday- it would be wise to keep emotions out of it.

It would be essential, I think, to not let your observations be colored by your tribal leanings.  It might make sense to understand that 21st century polling, for example, is actually a science and that the study of statistical probability actually has an anchor in reality.

The trick for those who want to be in the business of predicting things, is learning to accept that the facts you see may not be what you wish they were.  It’s human, even endearing to think that wishing can make things happen.  But it’s not very professional.