Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Forrest Gump" or "Blue Rondo"

Grammy Jazz Whammy, 2013

Frank Ocean’s monotone love song to…yikes…Forrest Gump is afforded 3:48 while Chick Corea and company combine Take 5 and Blue Rondo a la Turk in 1:10 for “a fitting tribute” to Dave Brubeck. Really??!!!! But then, the Gammys might be saluting Mr. Ocean’s music 50 years from now, too. That should be a treat.

You decide:



Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Teaching Excellence Under Fire

From Helpless to Heroic

The evening was filled with tales of despair, frustration, struggle and ultimate success. The Carlston Family Foundation was recognizing five California teachers for the academic accomplishments of their students, who graduated from schools in high poverty/high risk environments and went on to succeed at prestigious colleges. An appreciative audience of family members, friends, students and colleagues were alternately roaring with laughter and fighting back tears as they listened to the teachers describe their journeys from cluelessness to mastery in the classroom.

Most of the stories had a common arc. “I cried every day of my student teaching. I thought, why spend all this time and money to become a teacher? It’s awful!” said Vickie Kurtz with a smile. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s been 28 years now”, since she began teaching English, British Literature, Composition and Rhetoric at Hoopa Valley High School on an Indian reservation near the Oregon border. Stanford student Natalie Carpenter, nominated Kurtz for the award. "Ms. Kurtz was the only teacher who showed any interest in my well being. She believed in me, even when I thought I was a failure. My life was falling apart around me, but she never allowed me to use my problems as an excuse for not doing my best.”

Another award-winning teacher, Jonathan Winn, was “way overwhelmed” in his first school assignment. “I quit after two years, cleaned out my retirement account and I went to Thailand and taught English over there and thought I was never coming back." But he returned to San Diego and found a home at Crawford High School’s math department. Teaming with verteran teachers Carl Munn and Becky Breedlove, Winn established one of the most successful calculus programs in the country. In a school where only one in ten students is a native English speaker, and 95 percent receive free or reduced lunch, the AP Calculus program has grown from 15 students to 150 in 3 years and boasts the highest pass rate in the district on the AP exam.

The Crawford calculus crew: Becky Breedlove, Jonathan Winn, Carl Munn

Keys to Success

In addition to working in schools with challenges, the winning teachers have many things in common. Carlston Family Foundation Director, Tim Allen, has interview hundreds of students who listed the qualities that make their favorite teacher stand out from the rest of the faculty. Here are nine of the key qualities/strategies outstanding teachers share:

1. Have a deep passion for teaching – love their subject matter and know it thoroughly.
2. Have high expectations that are fair, reasonable, consistent and clear.
3. Are scholarly and love learning themselves.
4. Hold all students equally accountable and responsible for learning and for their behavior.
5. Plan every minute of class time –never a wasted moment.
6. Will never leave students behind and will allow other students to help those who have difficulty.
7. Make the subject matter relevant to the lives of students and their immediate experience.
8. Have respect for students, are insightful about them on a day- to-day basis, are non-judgmental.
9. Are authentic, real and appropriately autobiographical.

No Good Program Goes Unpunished

Not only do the Carlston Awards honor individual teachers for their achievements, they also confer prestige on the schools and programs the teachers represent. But even the most successful programs have come under attack from administrators and school boards looking to cut costs.

San Diego’s Crawford High School was a failing comprehensive school until 2005, when several small schools, including the School of Community Health and Medical Practices (CHAMPS), where Jonathan Winn teaches, was established. Since then, drop-out rates have decreased 7 percent, graduation rates have increased 9 percent, and AP course enrollments have increased 19 percent. But the small school model is more expensive than the comprehensive model- about $40. per student, per year. Three principals are more expensive than one. Shutting down the small schools would bring the district about $370K closer to filling a 72 million dollar budget shortfall. So the San Diego School Board is exploring all options, including closing CHAMPS.

But Winn and his students don’t plan to let that happen without a fight. Students and teachers have staged several protests on campus. A few weeks ago, the superintendent called for a "revisioning meeting" with the community, but few parents attended, since a robocall announcing the meeting went out the day before the event in English only. (35 different languages are spoken at Crawford). “Crawford students overwhelmingly want the small schools model”, says Winn. “Crawford teachers overwhelmingly want the small schools model. Teachers are skeptical about the degree to which the school district will do what is best for this community.” As a contingency, “a group of Crawford teachers, including myself, are currently wrapping up the framework for a new school we would like to open in this community. We are in the process of securing $20 million in funding for this new school”.

Nominate an Outstanding Teacher

The Carlston Family Foundation is looking to identify the next class of heroic teachers. Each honoree receives a $15,000 cash award and their high school receives a cash award of $5,000. You can find more information about how to nominate an outstanding teacher here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Baja Brotherhood
by Ken Ellis

On Sunday, July 3rd, at 2:00 a.m., a tourist fishing boat, the Erik, went down in the Sea of Cortez approximately 100 miles south of San Felipe and 2 miles off Mexico's Baja coast. There were 43 passengers on board: 27 American tourists and 16 crew members. At this time, seven passengers, all tourists, remain unaccounted for. This is the story of four brothers, one of them still missing, who were aboard the Eric that night.

Glenn Wong and catch, courtesy Wong Family

Alameda, California, July 16th
Gary Wong laughed at the sight of his brother hugging the gargantuan mahi-mahi he had wrested from the Sea of Cortez. “I hooked one like that and he almost pulled me in”. Dozens of photos of fish and sea creatures caught by the four Wong brothers covered the dining room table...stringers of trout and bass, nine inch abalone, and a stunning, two hundred and seven pound tuna the four brothers landed with light tackle on 50 pound test line. That catch had been a team effort.
“It was 100 degrees, so I was spiting on the reel to keep it from overheating, as it was starting to smoke and Brian was wiping the sweat off Glenn’s face, so he could see what he was doing.” “The sea was deep crystal blue,” recalled Glenn Wong. “When the fish come out of the water, they’re beautiful…iridescent. But when they die, the color disappears.”

Craig, Brian, Glenn,and Gary Wong

Craig Wong, the youngest brother, who recruited the others to join the annual Baja expedition, is an Alameda County Deputy Sheriff. Brian, 54, works in Alameda County’s Human Resources Department. He usually wins the family fishing derby. Glenn has been a welder for PG&E for twenty-five years, and the eldest brother, Gary, recently retired after 30 years as a Water Treatment Plant Operator for East Bay MUD. The bond between them has been deepened by decades of shared fishing adventures, like the Baja trip. They were among 27 passengers and 16 crew members who boarded the “Erik” in San Felipe, Mexico on July 3, for what was to be a weeklong fishing trip in the Sea of Cortez. Their voyage ended tragically shortly after midnight, when the boat sank, spilling passengers into the roiling sea without warning, without life jackets, without any distress signal being issued. After more than fifteen hours in the water, two of the brothers managed to make it safely to shore. Another one was picked up by a local fishing boat. The fourth brother is still missing and now, presumed dead.

The Erik, courtesy Wong Family

They had done the Baja trip before aboard the “Erik”, an ungainly, rusting, 115-foot mother ship trailing day boat “pangas” in its wake. After pumping water, diesel fuel and shaved ice aboard, the boat headed out under clear skies and calm seas. “We were all excited,” recalled Glenn. “On the previous trip we caught a ton of fish - 25 pound Yellowtail’s also referred to as “Hamachi” at the local sushi bar. We always got our limit and shared our catch with other guys who didn’t do as well.”

Shortly after the evening meal, Glenn became sick and went to bed, falling onto his bunk in the small, below decks cabin he shared with his brothers. As the evening wore on, the sea turned ugly and the Erik was gradually engulfed by an electrical storm. At 2:30 AM, Glenn was startled awake by screams of his brother, Brian. “The boat is sinking! The boat is sinking!” They didn’t realize it at the time, be they would have less than 45 seconds to escape before the Eric slipped below the surface.

Still woozy from food poisoning, Glenn got up and groped for his lifejacket, as the metal shelving crashed to the deck, blocking the way out. “We got the stuff out of the way, opened the cabin door and we’re not walking out, we’re climbing out because the boat is now at a 45 degree angle leaning to the port side. Craig is in front of me, Gary is behind me and I assume Brian is behind him.” As they reached the passageway to the main deck, their escape route was blocked by a 200 plus pound passenger who was struggling to climb the stairs. “So Craig puts his shoulder into him and pushes him out. It’s like he had super powers - this guy was huge!”

Gary Wong followed Craig and Glenn, scrambling up the port side passageway to the main deck. “I looked for Brian and he had his hand on the support railing and hadn’t made it out yet. I yelled ‘hurry up!’ And as I pulled myself up, the boat tilted again and I heard things crashing down. All of a sudden I hear another voice below me yelling, “Help Me, Help Me!” I look down and, oh god, there was a guy trapped between two refrigerators that had fallen, one on each shoulder. All I could see was the top of his head and his cap. He was pleading for help…but I knew it was too late. Before I knew it, the water was over his head, over my foot and within a second or two, it went over my head.” The force of the water broke his grip from the railing and Gary started floating toward the surface. “I closed my eyes and tried to relax, but I panicked for a second, tried to paddle and took a big gulp of water. Getting to the surface felt like a lifetime. When I got there, I thought, oh I’m alive! Then I started taking in so much water I thought, I’m gonna die again.”

Standing next to each other at the moment the boat submerged, the brothers were scattered by torrents of water. When they surfaced, they were by themselves, facing twelve-foot waves and fifty-knot winds on a black, moonless night. Since the crew had not prepared the passengers to abandon ship, there were no life rafts, life jackets, or flotation devices at hand. A silhouette of something floating caught Glenn’s eye. He grabbed for it and found himself next to two other survivors, clinging to an ice chest. Vomiting and cramping, Glenn joined the others in kicking against the swift current to stay afloat.

At the same time, Gary was gasping for air, desperate to find something to hang on to. He finally saw a life ring attached to the side of a raft, but was too weak to reach it and called for help. A Mexican crew member on the raft shouted a one-word reply, “NO!” A moment later, he plucked a fellow crew member from the sea. Another passenger who had climbed onto the ring pulled Gary up by his feet just before a powerful wave crashed over them. Moments later, he heard Craig’s voice, calling out for his brothers. The two were reunited as they clung to the life ring, joining 3 other passengers, Jim Miller, Bruce Mar and Lee Ikegami, and four crew members from the Erik, all of whom were wearing new lifejackets.

Sitting between two heavy weights, straddling the 3 by 5 foot ring, Craig would be in chest high water for most of the next 14 hours. “I asked one of the crew members if the captain had issued a distress signal. My jaw dropped when he said no. I knew then that we were definitely on our own, and more than 9 miles from shore. I thought, these guys know the waters, so we’ll let them make decisions about where to go. There were 7 crew members on the life raft, and 4 on our ring. And they argued about whether to go toward the island or the mainland. They were yelling at each other, fighting, paddling, and bumping into each other for a few hours. We finally decided to untie the line that held the groups together. Our ring went toward the mainland and their raft went towards an island.”

During the night, a steady stream of flotsam - mostly in the form of ice chests- swirled around the men on the ring. Snagging one of them, Gary opened it and found a bottle of vitamin water, a half-gallon of orange juice and a coke…with his name on it. “I said, that’s MY name. That’s MY cooler! It was like a dream come true.” And he had to laugh when an unsuspecting crew member probed a black bag in the cooler and dredged up a handful of gooey, defrosting squid.

Two crew members left the group and tried to swim to shore, only to return, huffing and puffing, thwarted by the swift current. But just as the grim prospect of spending another night in the water was setting in, they spotted their salvation. A panga, one of the small fishing boats that was towed by the Erik, was floating in the distance. Craig called cadence as the nine men paddled furiously toward the small boat. When they got to it, they found 2 other passengers who were bailing water just to keep the panga afloat. I thought, oh man… this thing is leaking!” Craig recalled. “But now we were 11 strong, and we got a plan together; a few of us would paddle and a few of us would bail. So we make it across the channel. We get about 50 yards from shore and see this makeshift tent. And this couple comes out and the crew starts waving and yelling in Spanish. And I think…they don’t understand Spanish. So I start waving and yelling, ‘Call the Mexican Coast Guard! A boat went down.’ And one of the crew goes, ‘no, no. they’re illegals...Guatemalan.’ And I’m thinking to myself, illegals …in Mexico?! This can’t be real.”

The Guatemalans disappeared before the men reached shore. But the survivors were eventually taken in by locals, who drove them back to their vacation home, and offered food, water and lodging for the night. Craig and Gary were safe, but they had no word on the fate of their two other brothers.

Glenn had been carried several miles further south, clinging to an ice chest and a cushion, along with a crew member and three other passengers, including Charles Gibson, Police Chief of the Contra Costa Community College District. “I’m still cramping and throwing my guts out, but feeling better every time I do,” recalled Glenn. “In the morning we could see land and Charles says he thinks he can swim to shore, but he doesn’t have a life jacket. I’d known Charles from a previous trips and he always made me laugh… always had something good to say. So I gave him my life jacket and I said, ‘Charles don’t say I never gave you anything.’ And I saw that big old smile on that big fat face and I said, ‘Oh Yeah! That’s the Charles I know.’ At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do. Four hours later I was cussing at myself. What do you think you’re doing giving away your life jacket? You’re no Superman! But I would have had a hard time dealing with myself if I survived and he didn’t.”

A few hours after Gibson and the others headed for land, a shark began to circle Glenn and his companion, Warren Tsurumoto. “I saw a fin coming toward us and I told Warren, don’t move, don’t panic. I could see the shark’s eyes, he was that close. I’d heard survival techniques about poking them in the eye. I had a knife, so I was gonna stab him in the eye. He circled a few mores times and I lifted my legs up because I though he’s gonna bite my legs off. Then the fin disappeared and I thought, OK, he’s coming in for the kill. I had the knife in my hand thinking, I’m gonna at least take a piece of him if he’s gonna take a piece of me. We waited for a few minutes and nothing happened. So we started kicking for shore again.”

While Glenn knew their only hope was to reach the mainland or any of the rock outcroppings before 5pm, when the tide would ebb again, he comforted his companion with assurances that they could make it through another night at sea. “I told Warren, don’t worry, we can last another evening. …but I was lying out my ass.” As they approach the island, several boats came within hailing distance. “We see a boat coming straight for us and we start waving our arms and then he turns and follows the shoreline. We could have sworn he saw us, but he didn’t. That happened about 5 times.” Finally, three Mexican fishermen came to their rescue. They spoke English and asked the men if they were thirsty. After slamming down four bottles of water, Glenn convinced them to search for other survivors in the last hour of daylight before heading to Gonzaga Bay. “It was heartwarming to find people who were so giving. Ken Hopper and his wife, Laura, offered us a place to stay and fed me the best tuna sandwich I ever had. I drank 6 more bottles of water and took another one to bed with me.”

The next morning, Glenn, was flown back to San Felipe in Mexican military helicopters where he was reunited with brothers Gary and Craig. Their reunion was bittersweet, since their brother, Brian, was among 7 passengers still missing. The captain and crew of the Erik had all been rescued.

Mexican Navy helicopters and patrol boats, fishing boats and a US Coast Guard C130 joined to search for survivors, while anxious family members, most from the San Francisco Bay Area, monitored news reports and held conference calls with Coast Guard officers, the State Department, local representatives and Senator Barbara Boxer.

As the week wore on without a trace of the missing, one of the brother’s cousins contacted a well-respected Mexican intuitive, and asked him a difficult question: is Brian alive, and if so, where is he? The intuitive’s response was surprisingly good news. He believed that Brian was alive and still at sea with other survivors. He even pinpointed their location, circling an area on a Coast Guard search grid. But he emphasized that time was running out, and that the small, weary group would be difficult to find, due to the movement of the water in the area. The Coast Guard took in the information and rechecked the area, reporting “no signs of distress” there.
Two days later, the search was officially called off.

Before the survivors headed home, officials of the Mexican Navy called them together to take their statements about the incident. Glenn Wong feels a knot in his stomach when recalling that meeting. “As each person spoke, I saw a piece of the puzzle coming alive… the negligence on the part of the Captain, not turning into the waves but running sideways to the waves. There was no “rouge” wave. The captain never sent a distress signal. At no time were we given any warning to abandon ship. But the deckhands all had brand new life jackets on. They may have their side of the story, but, to me, it was very disheartening. To me, it’s like cold-blooded murder. They might as well have put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger on my brother.”

After the meeting, the men were presented with English translations of their statements.
“When I read it, it was nothing like what I actually said,” recalled Glenn. “Not even close.” The survivors refused to sign their statements. The next day, after the others left San Felipe, the brothers hired a boat and continued to search for Brian and the others on their own.

Two weeks later around the dining room table at Glenn Wong’s home in Alameda, Gary sat with fractured ribs and leg wounds and Craig with one broken toe from the incident. But the surviving brothers managed to smile and laugh about some of the details of their recent ordeal and past adventures. Brain’s wife and two daughters were at the table too, thankful to be in the company of loving family members again, still clinging to hope.

The Wongs and other families of the seven missing men have been working with their local Congressional representatives to push for a dive on the wreck of the Erik and continue the search for their loved ones. The Department of Defense denied a request for Navy divers, and the families set up a website (http://http://findourfathers.com) to raise private money for the dive.

“If they find him alive, it would be like winning the lotto,” Craig said. “If it hadn’t been for Brian, none of us would be here,” Glenn added. “He will always be my hero.”

The Wong Family is pressing for a full investigation of the incident by U.S. authorities. They have also established a fund for Brian Wong’s family. For more information, contact the Wong family at: caw4871@gmail.com

Brain Wong, courtesy Wong Family

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rock Star Teacher: Jonathan Winn

  It's a few minutes after 7 a.m. on a drizzly Friday morning and math teacher Jonathan Winn is standing just outside his first period classroom yelling at the top of his lungs, his voice reverberating across campus. "How does that go?!" He's not so much yelling at his students as yelling for them, exhorting them to shout out the answer to a complex calculus problem, in unison. A few minutes later, Winn is dressed in a wig and a white ruffled shirt, playing 18th-century mathematician Gottfried Leibniz doing calculus in Paris. Later in the 90-minute class, he puts on a drum major's hat and exchanges drum beats and claps with his students.
This is how they roll in Winn's AP calculus class on the campus of Crawford High Educational Complex in San Diego, California. Teaching the most popular class on campus, Winn fills every one of the 100 seats in the school's theater -- and there's a waiting list to get into his class. One in ten of the students are native English speakers and 95 percent of them receive free or reduced lunch. While Winn's theatrical antics are entertaining, he insists they are part of a collection of proven techniques to get the most from his students. And he gets results: some 80% of seniors who have gone through the Crawford's math curriculum have received at least one acceptance letter to a four-year university.
Winn says his success in the classroom didn't come easily. "In my first teaching assignment, I was way overwhelmed. I quit after two years, cleaned out my retirement account and I went to Thailand for like three or four months and taught English over there and thought I was never coming back." But he did return to San Diego, and that's when he started observing several master teachers. He was especially impressed by the work of Crawford's 9th grade algebra teacher Carl Munn, who insists that every student can succeed at math in high school. After observing one of Winn's lectures, veteran teacher Becky Breedlove came out of retirement to volunteer in his classroom. She thought, "how does a guy plan, prepare, and deliver these amazing lessons for more than 100 students and keep up with the paperwork? I said I'd help with the paperwork part and I ended up staying and coming every single day."
Winn has helped raise money to bus students to testing centers for their AP and SAT exams, and helped jump start a popular math club. While he occasionally works with students into the night and on weekends at school, he also makes time for his personal passion, surfing. "Being out in the water is a really important experience for me. Being on the edge of a wave, being out there and potentially falling and getting crunched... In that moment, you have to figure it out -- it's kind of like a life or death situation. I don't think calculus is life or death for the students, but I do think that when you're faced with a really tough problem, you either have the skills and the capacity to rise up, or you don't -- and I believe that the key is self-belief."

Winn has just been voted San Diego Unified School District's High School Teacher of the Year.

Tips for success in the classroom

I had the pleasure of hanging out a bit with Jonathan and observing his classrooms for 2 days while shooting this video. What struck me, in addition to the 100% engagement of his students, was his dedication to improving his craft. He shared these tips:
1. Learn from the masters. Winn says he was “way overwhelmed” by his first teaching assignment and quit after two years of frustration. He taught English in Thailand for a few months, then returned to San Diego and began to seek out master teachers. He met Carl Munn at Crawford High School, and observed his class for months. Munn lead Winn to Jaime Escalante and other mater teachers who were happy to share their secrets. When you are struggling, take a break and observe a master teacher. And don’t be afraid to borrow techniques from them if they are doing things that will work for your students.
2. Consistency- Be on time to class every day. To help set the tone that instructional time is extremely valuable, have regular activities for students to do before and after the bell rings. “I want them to know that the second they walk in the door, it is time to get to work”.
3. Tailor lessons to the needs of students. Textbooks and lesson plans are not “one size fits all” solutions. Look at the curriculum standards and the skills and needs of your students. If you have to re-write the book to meet their needs, do it.
4. A bell or chime is a simple, effective way to transition between segments of a class, e.g. from direct instruction to individual think time. It cues a psychological shift.
5. Math is an opportunity for students to feel successful, for teachers to give positive feedback. Understand that the eraser is the most important part of pencil. Making and correcting mistakes leads to greater self-confidence.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Remembering Charlie Wedemeyer

Last Saturday, a celebration of life was held at the 19,000 seat HP Pavilion in San Jose, California to honor former high school football coach and math teacher, Charlie Wedemeyer. Another celebration is scheduled this weekend in Honolulu, where Mr. Wedemeyer stared in baseball, basketball and football at Punahou School and was named Hawaii’s “prep player of the decade”. Always the smallest player on the team, he was recruited by coach Duffy Daugherty and played on the Michigan State national championship team of 1966, and the College All-Star game. He was a superb athlete. And if you look up “charisma” (personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm), you should see his picture there.

Charlie had a lot of friends, former football players and students, who consider him their hero. I’m one of them.

I met Charlie in 1978, the year he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehring’s Disease) and given two years to live by his doctors. I produced a short documentary about him for the San Francisco ABC station and ended up following him around with a camera crew in my spare time for the next seven years. During that time he lost the ability to walk, speak or breathe without a respirator. But with his wife Lucy at his side reading his lips, he continued to coach every game and practice. In 1985, his head coaching career culminated in a thrilling championship game, which became the final chapter of our PBS documentary, “One More Season”.

I learned a lot from Charlie and Lucy about the power of love, faith, and the preciousness of every day. “Remember”, Lucy would say, “tomorrow is promised to no one”.

In addition to his joyful approach to living with a terminal illness, Charlie possessed several characteristics that made him a master teacher and an extraordinary coach. Here are just a few of them:


As the youngest of nine children, he had to be tough. “He was the finest blocker on our team”, said Coach Daugherty. “ At 5’8”, 175 pounds, he could put 6’5” ends flat on their back.” In August of 1985, Charlie suddenly stopped breathing. He was rushed from the practice field to the ER, where doctors performed a tracheotomy and placed him in the intensive care unit. But Charlie had an All Star Game to coach later in the week. So, without the consent of his doctors, we helped him rig a phone line to the stadium press box so he could watch the game on TV and call the plays from the ICU, with his wife reading his lips. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been there and recorded it, but it was vintage Coach Wedemeyer.

High Expectations

While he subscribed to the “do your best/winning isn’t everything” philosophy, he didn’t tolerate anything less than maximum effort. Drills were run over and over to perfection. His favorite phrase on the practice field was “…not bad. One more time”.

If you used profanity, you ran a mile. Even Lucy said, “he was relentless”. His persistence paid off. Inheriting a mediocre program, his record as head coach was 78-18-1.

Sense of humor

A stern taskmaster on the field, Charlie had a wacky sense of humor that came out almost anywhere. He told bad jokes often and favored the Groucho Marx fake nose and glasses look. For one football banquet, the entire team dressed in grass skirts and performed a unique hula for him. He once managed to convinced me that he would kill for a slice of Marie Callender's banana cream pie. I drove around for about an hour and returned to his house with the pie. When I proudly displayed it, Lucy smiled and pointed to the feeding tube that had been recently installed in Charlie’s stomach. The two of them laughed for about 15 minutes. It was the best piece of pie I ever ate.


Ironically, since his story has been featured in two documentaries, a made-for-TV movie and a book, Charlie was a private person. When we initially proposed a documentary about his life, he said “no!” several times until he was finally convinced that sharing his story would give encouragement to others facing similar challenges. His pride initially prevented us from recording a scene where Lucy walked him to the bathroom and shaved his face. Gradually, he allowed us to reveal more of his personal struggle and suffering. And his triumph. He was always open with his students, players and colleagues. The door to his home was always open, literally. He encouraged them to come and lay their problems at his bedside.

Facing death moment to moment for 32 years, the Wedemeyers packed every day with a remarkable joie de vivre, and their friends, students and colleagues were blessed to share in the glow of it. Charlie Wedemeyer’s legacy continues through the work of the Charlie Wedemeyer Family Outreach Foundation.

Ken Ellis

Co-Producer/Writer, “One More Season”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

in the beginning...

Hello out there in the far reaches of the blogosphere. This is my first effort in what I hope will be a series of weekly (more frequent whenever necessary) postings relating to the state of our nation's media meanderings and the glaring lack of media literacy on the part of most Americans.

I will attempt to dissect news reports, campaign spots, talk show rants, etc from the point of view of a seasoned (60-something) award-winning (Emmys, etc) journalist, writer and producer. I seek to provide a factual, reasoned, "mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" approach to breathing life into the body politic while lowering my BP. (on the recommendation of my wife who keeps saying- "stop yelling at the tv and do your blog!"
I'll use words and video to do this work.

I'll get my profile together soon, but here's the short version:
Grew up in Wilmette, Ill. BA in Philosophy from Dartmouth, MA in film from S.F. State University. Served in Viet Nam as a Naval Officer, and have been producing documentaries and writing for the past 40 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.

OK, here goes..
My blog is called MediaXmachina, inspired by...
"A deus ex machina (Latin IPA: [ˈdeːus eks ˈmaːkʰina] (literally "god out of a machine") is an improbable contrivance in a story. The phrase describes an artificial, or improbable, character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot (such as an angel suddenly appearing to solve problems, or the entire story having been just a dream one of the characters was having)."

I would submit that 9/11 was this country's most noxious example of media ex machina: the Bush admin/PNAC's media-enabled opera(tion) that turned a floundering president into a heroic fictional leader, fighting a faux war, with all too real consequences. If you don't know what I'm referring to, you can catch up by viewing the documentary 9/11 Press for Truth (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYEMu48apIA), on which I was a Co-Executive Producer.

But I digress..
Here's what I saw and heard on the CBS Nightly News the other day (6/20/08):
"Katie Couric is off tonight". That should have been the tip-off. Russ Mitchell, the weekend kid was filling in. I didn't pay attention to much until not one, but 2 slick ads for the wonders of "clean coal" rolled by. And then, IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE SECOND AD for "CLEAN COAL", the eager anchorkid, Russ intros a story on the energy crisis (you remember- the same one Jimmy Carter was dealing with before Reagan ripped the solar panels off the White House roof). Russ M: next a story about "the energy crunch that is making it necessary to drill in sensitive areas..." Huh? SEZ you CBS/Russ? Really, I thought that point might be open to discussion. The piece proceeded to extol the potential wonders of...you guessed it...Clean Coal!
And when the feeble objection was raised about the problem of sequestering carbon, the reporter came to the rescue with: "but scientists say there is a solution"! Really!? Perhaps not not the scientists who work for the NRDC or NASA, or even the EPA.
The piece concluded with a reference to the problem of winning over the hearts and minds of the ignorant masses, saying "that's why the industry needs an ad campaign". And they proceeded to play a 20 second clip from...I'm not making this up...YET ANOTHER AD FOR... CLEAN COAL!

If anyone still wonders if our mass media -even the once noble CBS-has been completely corrupted by big energy, et. al., get a tape of this show and wonder no more.

If anyone from CBS would like to offer a different set of facts or an opinion about this shameful broadcast, I'm all eyes. If anyone else is as mad as hell as I am about this sad state- blog on.
thanks for thinking.

PS- Remember, Russ, Nature Bats Last.