Archive for June, 2009

The week’s media saturation of Michael Jackson’s death set me thinking about my music idols of my youth; most of a generation without it’s own music. That’s true.

My high school days were 1951-54 in Bend. Yes, we had dances. Yes, we had music. But it was not the music of our generation. It was the music of our parents.

We danced to Miller, Kenton, the Dorsey brothers, Goodman, Armstrong and Harry James. The bands of our parents. Vocals were done by Margaret Whiting, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Mel Torme, Paula Kelly and the Modernaires and a lot of faceless, unremembered others.

The really successful current popular music of that time was not great for dancing. We were at the beginning of the birth of American modern jazz. Dave Brubeck, Quincy Jones, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and a lot of others. Our contemporary music you listened to; you didn’t dance to.

How about the 50’s rock and roll, you ask? Well, check the dates. The first commercial success of R&B was Bill Haley and the Comets. 1955. Jerry Lee Lewis, too. Elvis cut records in ‘55 and went big in ‘56. The first four years of the 50’s were ancient history by then and we were out of high school.

For a while, a few names hung on: Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Doris Day, Teresa Brewer, Louis Armstrong, Nat “King” Cole and others who took over the big bands after their namesakes died.

But they weren’t the ones making music that was flying out of record stores from 1955 into the ‘60’s. Fats Domino, Rick Nelson, the Platters, the Tops, the Four Seasons, the Four Freshmen, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio and others. And of course, ELVIS!

Then the ‘60’s and the Beatles and all their copiers. Music styles morphed again and big bands and big band singers slipped further to the back on the record shelves.

It wasn’t that the people of my generation didn’t like the new music. It was fine. Most of it. But it was the music of our kids by then. It wasn’t ours.

It was the same with cars. Nothing stood out in the early ‘50’s. So we modified the cars of our parents. Fords and Mercury’s … ‘41 through ‘50 … were the most popular because of the V-8 engines. We graduated in ‘54. The next year, POW! The V-8 ‘55 Chevy, the Crown Vic and the kids coming up had new toys.

No music. No cars. So how did we get along? We shared. We shared with our parents. And it seemed natural.

That’s all gone now. The togetherness of the two basic items of teen survival have been replaced with “individualism” and “gotta be me.” And it doesn’t stop there. Now kids have to have their own phones and phone numbers, computers, TVs, styles, language, looks and, if the folks will sign the contract, new cars.

If I had ever told my pacifist mother, “Now, when you see me on the street, don’t talk to me in front of my friends” she would have cut a year or two off my life expectancy! But my grandkids say that.

While I’m not saying those days were better than these days, I think the sharing lifestyle of that time was a good one. There was a sort of family continuity of interest in the things important to teens. There was less separation of “your things” and “our things.”

Which brings me back to Michael Jackson. He seems to be one of a handful of major performers that was contemporary to more than one generation. Elvis did that. Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and maybe one or two others. The way fads come and go, that staying power can be quite a tribute.

Jackson was, in many way, a child in a man’s body. His life was one of childish spending for childish things. He indulged in a lifestyle most of us don’t understand and amassed and spent a fortune few of us could comprehend. He was badly treated by some of those closest to him, including some in his own family. He died the center of attention while mostly alone.

But the talent survives. Few think of Sinatra and remember his ties to organized crime. Few remember Elvis and dwell on the extravagant lifestyle and the copious amounts of drugs that eventually killed him. It’s the talent.

Michael Jackson was not a contemporary of mine. But he did have a huge appeal to more than one generation. That rare talent, in itself, is quite an accomplishment. And a pretty good epitaph.

As someone who puts opinions out for public discussion, it’s fun to read others doing the same. That’s the case with Sheila Lawrence in the Roseburg, OR, News-Review a few days back.

While finding some areas of agreement, I fundamentally disagree with her on two points.

First: term limits. In elected entities where they’ve been tried, many have revoked them. “One size fits all” almost never works in governing. Think OSHA. Think EPA. Careers of wise, effective people are arbitrarily cut off; historical experience of what works legislatively and what doesn’t is lost; civil servants who’re supposed to implement policy end up with undue influence on lawmaking and governing because they’re a constant. Lobbyists, too. Who do you want in charge?

Turn her argument on its head. We already have term limits. They’re called “elections.” The problem is we are not required by law to have an informed electorate. So millions go to the polls without a speck of candidate research on votes, issues, leadership, etc. They look for familiar names or ask someone else’s opinion. I’m married to one like that. Politics just isn’t her thing.

Then there’s the “my guy is a good guy but your other guy is a bad guy” syndrome. Nancy Pelosi is a good example. She can be re-elected in her district for life but she has a national approval rating of about 27%. Good guy-bad guy.

“A term limit that extends no more than 18 years … should suffice for an individual before he or she builds enough muscle to establish a power base,” Ms. Sheila wrote. Barack Obama had a congressional power base in two years; John Kennedy in less than six; John McCain, Dick Cheney and Richard Nixon in eight or so; to name a few.

I do agree that some politicians stay in office far too long. Robert Byrd at 91; a drooling Strom Thurmond at 96 being led everywhere for years. There are others; too many. But each is answerable to his own electorate and not to all of us. Compounding the problem, the seniority system (longest serving) is their golden rule. Not the best or the brightest but the one that got there first. I hate it, but no one outside Congress can change it.

The late “Mo” Udall, a favorite congressman of mine, once told me “Everyone in congress got here because he or she learned the rules, played by ’em and got elected. They’re the only ones who can change the rules. And it ain’t gonna happen.”

I’ve been around the political arena most of my adult life and I also disagree with her premise that new ideas and effective use of new thinking disappear with the graying of hair.

“Older people live in the twilight of today’s world,” Ms. Lawrence wrote. Road apples, says I. Reagan was a memorable president at age 70 to 78; Eisenhower 63 to 67; Truman at 64 to 68. Ben Franklin was the nation’s postmaster general at 70. Sully Sullenberger amazed the world with his skills at 58. Unlike her, I want gray hair in the cockpit!

Incidentally, airlines have upped the retirement age to 65 so they can keep older pilots “in the twilight of today’s world” in cockpits. The pilots are filled with today’s latest whiz-bang technology to go along with those years of experience.

Employers across the country are hiring back senior workers for their skills and for work habits better than many of today’s younger hires.

I agree with Ms. Lawrence that some older people do live in a world they don’t understand, and that they don’t like change. But they’re few. And getting fewer. Today’s 60 is age 50 a dozen years ago; 70 is, for many seniors, age 60 or so. Ask your doctor. I’ve also found the “don’t-understand-don’t-change” attitude is not limited to seniors.

“Put it together,” Ms. Lawrence wrote. “Old age, old ideas, reticent to newness because the world is changing so quickly around you, you simply can’t keep up.” Where in hell did that come from?

Brain research shows conclusively nearly all of us can continue learning as long as we stay active, stay curious, stay in the middle of things and off the sidelines. Just like exercise works with the body, brain “exercise” adds years to your life and life to your years!

For the record, I’m 73. Don’t look it; don’t feel it. My reflexes have slowed a bit but my reasoning power, physical condition and ability to take on just about any physical or mental chore has never been better.

I hope the “Senior Advocate” (her description of her vocation) and I stay in touch over the years. Considering her problems with age, she’s going to need the help of someone who’s been through it. Successfully.

Some of my best education as a human has come when circumstances in life were turned on their head, the usual points of balance were removed and I was at the mercy of the moment.

One such experience was spending a year near the North Pole in a barren, hostile environment. No trees. No car to drive. No female companionship. No door knobs. No flush toilet handles!

If you can’t adjust to those changes and a lot more, you aren’t a quick learner. You may not even be a survivor.

Valuable as that experience was, another situation far removed from the frozen tundra, had a much more important and lasting effect. Thanks to the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In 1970, I was a reporter for WTOP All-News Radio in Washington DC. One weekend, my assignment was to cover commencement at Howard University, at that time, an all-black university in Northeast Washington. Not an area normally hospitable to Caucasians. Especially considering the riots of various sizes, violent deaths and building burnings that had been going on in that part of the city for over a year.

The exercises were in a large, grassy common area surrounded by big brick buildings. A small platform was set to one side; about a thousand students in rows in front. Several black dignitaries were on the platform. Dr. Jackson, then one of the best orators in the country, was commencement speaker.

I got there 10 minutes early. I laid my microphone on the rostrum, then found I had forgotten the 30 foot cord. So, with eight feet to work with, I knelt down on the grass below the dias, facing the students while activities went on above me.

Then reality struck. I was a white man … the only Caucasian for several miles on all sides … on my knees … under a platform filled with black men and facing a thousand graduating black students. In the air you could smell smoke from the latest riots and the fires along Rhode Island Avenue NE.

For the first time in my life, I felt totally cut off from my world with the sensation of being absolutely alone. It was not, at that moment, a learning experience. It was real and I was afraid.

It got worse. Sitting about 25 feet in front of me was a tall, lanky black man. Instead of a mortarboard, he wore a white brimmed hat. His knees were separated and in his hand was a stiletto about 8 inches long. He was staring at me.

Jackson’s speech dealt with difficulties black graduates would have finding jobs in a white world. The deck, he said, was heavily stacked against them. Then his oratory heated up.

“Whitey will try to stop you.” “Whitey won’t let you in the door.” “It’s a white man’s world out there and he wants to keep it that way.” “Smell the smoke from Rhode Island Avenue ‘cause that’s how we got his attention this time.” “You’re going to have to shove whitey aside if you want to find your spot in the world.”

Meantime, the guy with the stiletto was flicking the blade deeper into the grass between his knees. And looking at me. His motions quickened and were harder. He was sinking the blade all the way to the handle. He kept it up for half an hour until Jackson stopped talking.

With Jesse’s last words, I leaped up, grabbed the microphone, crawled under and out the back of the platform and quickly … very quickly … got back to the station car. It was the first and only time a Ford Falcon burned rubber anywhere.

It took several years to learn from that experience. Up to that moment, the only black man I ever knew personally as a kid was the old gentleman who shined shoes at the Trailways bus depot in Bend and later, a few guys in the military. But I was always in the majority; always in control. I thought.

It’s been nearly 40 years since that June day at Howard University. I think about it often. In a positive way. Because that was the day I learned how the other guy felt all his life. I learned that he … not me … had never been in control of his environment and felt there was nothing he could do to change it. I learned the feeling of being a minority in someone else’s world. I learned that I didn’t always have control but, when I did, I had to share it.

An easy lesson? No. But wouldn’t our world be a far better place if each of us thought so? And practiced it?

Barrett Rainey is a semi-retired journalist. He can be reached at 444 NE Winchester, PMB 6-C, Roseburg 97470

There’s a time in everyone’s life when things pile up and up and up until one more piece added to the load drives you to the floor. Mine came this morning!

Most people, especially seniors like me, worked hard, raised kids, paid bills, sacrificed for necessary things and expected little in return. Most saved for what they wanted and paid for what they bought. The American way!

In the last year, these same people have been collectively hit with hundreds of billions of dollars in new responsibility — responsibility we didn’t want and never saw coming. We’ve bailed out banks, stock brokers, investment houses, car makers, credit and insurance companies, and more than a few greedy #%*&?@’s that got us here.

Now the last straw. The pile driver. The “clunker” bill.

On an almost straight party line vote, the U.S. House has approved “cash for clunkers” legislation which now goes to the Senate. My fondest hope is there it will be driven into a hole so deep no one will even remember it.

For the sake of those related to the auto business, let me explain. Over my lifetime, I’ve bought and sold more cars as an individual than some small dealerships. I’m a car nut, paying more for cars than for raising a family. Or alimony. Anything new … anything bright and shiny … anything with the latest accessories … I had to have it. Car payments sometimes exceeded half my income. I have been one of your main sources of support!

Barb and I still seem to each get a new car regularly. While we don’t make payments any more, we certainly support the auto industry. Directly. Now, our elected “representatives” are saying to me, “Silly you. If you had not spent all that money and just driven that last car for a couple more years, we would have given you up to $4,500 to get rid of it and buy something new and flashy.”

You get $3,500 if your new vehicle gets four miles per gallon more than your old one. Four! You get $4,500 if it gets 10 mpg. Ten! I’ve got friends that can tinker with their current car and beat those numbers.

In typical government fashion, something started as a half-baked, crackpot idea … use tax dollars to get rid of inefficient private vehicles … has morphed into another more half-baked, crackpot “save the auto makers” scheme. With tax dollars.

I wish the auto industry all the best top to bottom. A quick recovery. New, more efficient models. A hot market. Buyers lined up at the doors. Cars flowing like water off the lots. Record profits. I’ll even help. Remember capitalism?

BUT … giving a neighbor several thousand dollars to trade a vehicle he’s still making payments on … giving some guy who drives a truck or SUV getting less than 18 miles to the gallon thousands to get rid of what he had to have in 2005 … bailing out someone who’s upside down in a pickup he shouldn’t have bought in the first place … we can’t afford it!

And one other thing: the program lasts one year or until the money set aside is gone. Just imagine what will happen to car/truck values for those that don’t or can’t jump on the band wagon. Their vehicles will become valueless, mobile scrap heaps.

To some, this sounds like one whale of an idea. To me, it sounds like there’s a quick fix and found money for a few with a hook that will come back to stick us all in the end. And I mean “the end.”

Years ago, when Chrysler got into its first mess, government loaned millions to keep it afloat. We even stacked the deck against other car makers by buying only Chrysler vehicles for the massive taxpayer-owned vehicle fleet for a year or so. We got our money back. That time.

Now, GM alone has received $19.4 billion with another $30 billion promised. Chrysler billions more. Now, they want to add $4 billion to subsidize people who thought they were prudent keeping their cars/trucks for several years. Whatever happened to rewarding careful spending and living within your means? Why are the people who did that … the American way … being penalized and taxed for their lifetime of efforts?

Fed by an unreasonable craving for their products, I’ll continue to support the car companies with my dollars. But that is a choice I make, not one forced on me by a government hellbent on having a solution to everything by throwing our tax dollars at it.

The load is getting too big to carry. That’s my view from here on the floor.


With last week’s appearance of “SECOND THOUGHTS” on “” my byline and picture have been given resident status and will appear regularly in this spot.

Ignoring years of fine journalistic training and experience, Publisher-Editor Randy Stapilus has, at some possible jeopardy to his professional career, decided the assorted musings and mental gymnastics he’s witnessed from me over the years should continue. Regularly. More or less.

For me, the changed status is small. My weekly income has gone from nothing to nothing-plus, hardly a profitable career move but exciting nonetheless.

So, since we’re going to be seeing each other in this blog, maybe I should introduce myself and tell you what you can expect.

I was raised in Bend, Oregon, when Bend was a nice place to live. “Go Bend High Lava Bears!” My folks had a home on the banks of the Deschutes River across from downtown. Lawyer lived on one side of us and an Episcopal bishop on the other. I had no chance for a normal life.

Fleeing from the growing community of 9,500 in 1954 to seek my fortune, I spent nine years in the U.S. Air Force, discovered radio and television, gave up the stripes and spent the next 30 years wandering in the worldwide wilderness.

In some ways I’m like Forrest Gump and his 72 I.Q. Mine is a bit higher. Only difference, really. Because, like Mr. Gump, I found myself being dropped into moments in history and into the presence of a lot of famous people and situations that continue to amaze me to this day. I made many career and employment choices that could have been terminal; made many moves seeking the other side of the mountain that a more reasoned person would have rejected.

None of these adventures came from special wisdom on my part. They were, in most cases, incidental to an itinerant career in radio, TV and an occasional newspaper. I was crazy enough to go from a TV station in Boise, Idaho, directly to Washington, D.C. with $180 in my pocket. DC was … and is …the number one news market in the world with the toughest competition. In doing so, I ignored the very long odds against success. I was very, very lucky.

Most of my Bend classmates went to work for the phone company or the bank or the mills, spent
40 years with secure incomes and retired to buy the camper, the boat and fish the Paulina’s. Not me. I spent those years writing and rewriting my resume and never getting too settled.

But, after several years and some amazing encounters, I decided to leave once-in-a-lifetime employment and come home to the Northwest. I’ve never looked back; never regretted the choice. It gave me a chance to take on a whole new set of career opportunities that have been rewarding and allowed me a better understanding of both the world and myself.

Barb and I settled in Roseburg after our retirement travels partly because I was vaguely familiar with the area, having played high school football and basketball here in the ’50s.

As for the blog pieces, I’m a “generalist”.

There is no formal journalistic education for that. Nor is there any successful cure for it. It’s also something difficult to acquire until after the age of 60.

A “generalist” does not have to know how to fly the plane but he is expected to have strong views on how well the pilot does. A “generalist” doesn’t have to run for public office but has absolute license to critique and criticize those who do. A responsibility, really.

So, what can you expect here on an irregular basis? I really don’t know! Depends, I suppose, on what sets me off. I have an outsized sense of curiosity and a lifelong interest in what makes things work. Or not work. With these character traits and my Gump-like life of experiences, topics are likely to be all over the map. Literally.

Special thanks to my long time friend and new editor for helping to get the creative juices going again and for giving me a place to let them flow in what passes today for old newspaper “ink.” Feels great!

Come on back, ya’ hear?