jamie-0073Over the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about my late Aunt Betty — and have developed an even greater appreciation for her incredible impact on my life and very existence.

Although I  appreciated her while she was alive, I failed to grasp how much she sacrificed for me and contributed to my life until only very recently.

As I have said previously, Aunt Betty raised me (and even decided that I would be called “Jamie”) and acted essentially as both my mother and father — particularly as I got older. She was the rock on which I leaned and the person with whom I confided my most awkward, embarrassing, private and, more often than not, mediocre musings. Although she had cancer for six months, until she actually died, I could not grasp even the possibility of her leaving me — and even now, more than a year later, I am still frustrated that I cannot pick up a phone and call her. Perhaps that is why she continues to be at the top of my iPhone favorites list.

jd_0006But back to my point…

Without Aunt Betty, I would be a very different person. Quinnipiac works diligently to help elementary, middle and high school students see themselves in college. Everyone from education students to deans at the university have told me on a number of separate occasions that the significance of such cannot be overstated. From day one, Aunt Betty had me thinking about and working toward college. Not earning my bachelor’s degree was never an option. Every assignment from as far back as second grade was in preparation for such, she would tell me.

She worked diligently to read every essay and paper I wrote for as long as I could write. She managed to decipher my chicken scratch and massage my ego enough to convince me that not every word I jotted down as God’s gift to humanity — and made me a stronger writer as a result. She gave me the confidence to apply for an internship intended for high school seniors as a high school freshman and persuaded me to go back after my editor picked apart the first newsbrief I constructed; being an arrogant, all-knowing 13-year-old, I wanted to quit on the first day. She held me in her arms as my ego bled and encouraged me to try again and work harder — and promised with effort, I would get better. She was, like in so many other instances, right.

jd_0022When I was younger and would scrape my knee after falling off my bicycle, she would offer the same kindness and support and promise me that everything was going to be OK.

I miss her gentle tone and generous words.

Without Aunt Betty, I likely would not have gone to Quinnipiac — or, for that matter, Fairfield Prep. Who knows if I would have even graduated high school. Education was never a priority for my parents in the same way that it was for her. Aunt Betty supported her encouragement with her wallet and financed my entire private high school education and as much of my college experience as she could — including the books. She viewed such expenses as a necessary investment in my future and would not even consider me taking out any more loans than I had to. She gave up her plans of spending her retirement traveling the world to take care of my brother and me. What a sacrifice!

jd_0047

I grew up in Aunt Betty’s house. She was my personal Santa. Sans the red suit, she ensured I got everything I ever wanted. Perhaps it was because she was born but four months before the Wall Street crash triggering the Great Depression and was the daughter of immigrants, she spoiled me and did everything she could to ensure I was happy. She was very successful in that. I never wanted for anything — and, in fact, my only regret is not appreciating her for all she gave me while she was still alive.

She also introduced me to music and the arts. For as long as I could remember, she would discuss both fine and modern arts with me — and attempted in vein to get me to be able to draw. As I got older, one of the ways I enjoyed giving back was taking her to the New York Ballet and New York Philharmonic several times each year. She was particularly excited to hear pieces written by Rachmaninoff — or see really any ballet. She glowed like a child on Christmas morning every time we would reach Lincoln Center. She beamed as we would explore the Met or peruse MoMA. Boy, do I miss those moments.

jd_0078Before each performance, we would try to take in the moment over a glass of white wine at a small restaurant in Avery Fisher Hall. We’d hypothesize about where the other patrons were from and what they did. She would get particular pleasure from seeing young children enjoying the concerts.

Aunt Betty was also my guardian angel even when she lived.

When I was young and my parents were together, my mother and father would often fight ferociously. She would always pull me aside, give them a very pointed glare as if to remind them I was there and then try to make things as normal for me as possible. Aunt Betty always put my brother, Daniel, and me first. My parents tended to be more concerned with themselves — particularly when it came to new relationships. Despite that, she would encourage me to treat my parents with their due respect and try to give them the benefit of every doubt. She led by example and was a better, more patient person than I ever could hope to be.

Although Aunt Betty may not have bore me (or any child, for that matter), she was as much the parent of my brother and I as our own parents — if not more. When her older sister, my grandmother, needed a place to stay after a painful divorce, Aunt Betty took her in. My aunt demonstrated repeatedly that we are not to judge others; we are to rather help them. Thankfully, because she encourage my grandmother to move in with her a few years before I was born, I was able to have another strong  and loving influence in my life — and, as a result, a very happy childhood.

It’s fitting that the people she enabled me to meet — at Fairfield Prep, Quinnipiac and the Connecticut Post — are now the majority of the people holding my metaphorical hand through this still difficult healing process.

All of this has taught me a few very valuable and important lessons:

  • Life is short. Yes, it’s cliche, but also very true — and something often not appreciated until tragedy rears its ugly head. Value as many moments as you can as you never know if the people or opportunities will be there in your next breath.
  • Recognize the small things in life. They will lead you down the path toward the bigger revelations, which brings me to my next point…
  • Say “thank you” often, and mean it. I wish I had recognized how much Aunt Betty had done for me while she was still sitting on the couch next to me so I could look her in the eye and say “Thank you” — and not only in response to specific things, but for everything.
  • Prioritize. I put work before my personal life for too long, which she warned me about and I ignored. I worked feverishly to get ahead — often more than 100 hours a week between various responsibilities to the sacrifice of my personal relationships. If I could do it all over again, I would have worked substantially less, and spent substantially more time with my family and friends — especially after I discovered she had cancer.
  • Don’t put things off. I wish I did more with her. I don’t have anyone to blame but myself for not going to New York with her more — or to the casinos; she loved slot machines, particularly at Mohegan Sun.
  • Value the quiet moments. Aunt Betty would often encourage me to not always do, but enjoy. She loved sitting on her covered porch and watch the birds — but I never appreciated those moments. I would always, as she put it, “have to do.” I would give anything to have an afternoon to sit next to her on the porch just enjoying her company.

Fortunately I am still  young and am realizing these lessons while I can still make positive impacts on other relationships in my life. I suppose it’s just another lesson she managed to offer.

Leave it to Aunt Betty to get in one more.

 

For all intents and purposes, the passing of Aunt Betty was the first real death — and most serious trauma — I experienced.

In the preceding three decades, I was blessed with the absence of real loss — but as the sixth month anniversary of her passing approaches, I find myself asking if that period was more of a curse.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned since that frigid January morning was that one cannot appreciate life until one experiences death — which is fitting as Aunt Betty warned me of this on more than several occasions during our precious time together.

However, only after she was gone did I truly begin to grasp exactly what she had meant.

In the hours and days following her death, as I struggled to organize her funeral with my brother, the one thing I wanted more than anything was Aunt Betty, not necessarily because I missed her — I now realize I was numb to her loss at that point — but rather because I wanted her guidance and reassurance that I was making the right decisions. Not only was the service for a person I loved, but it would be the first burial I ever attended.

However, in a way, she did guide me through the process.

Because I worked with the same funeral home and cemetery that she coordinated the services and burials for her brother and mother (who had died within three months of each other) two-and-a-half decades earlier, I was able to see what she had deemed appropriate for those she held in such high regard. I followed her lead.

Fast forward 160-plus days.

I find myself wishing that I had experienced death during her lifetime — as illogical as the idea may seem, and perhaps be. I believe that I may have both better learned to deal with grief and appreciated my time with her more if I grasped the concept of how precious life is and how incredibly quickly it could end while she was still physically with me.

In the time since her death, I find that the most reassuring activities are related to the things I once shared with my beloved great aunt.

In the initial days following her passing, I would find myself replaying the hymns sung at her funeral. Among them: “Here I am, Lord,” “How Great Thou Art,” “One Bread, One Body” and “On Eagle’s Wings.” As the days passed, I added songs that held special significance to my time with Aunt Betty to a special “Aunt Betty tribute” playlist I had assembled on Mog.

However, as weeks have turned into months, I find myself returning to the playlist less and relying more on the physical places that shaped my experiences with her.

The earliest and most numerous memories I have of Aunt Betty involve gardening, and so I suppose it makes perfect sense that I find myself drawn to her old flower and vegetable beds — not because I enjoy tomatoes anywhere beyond pasta sauce, but because I enjoy both gaining insight into one of her most beloved passions and continuing a project we started so many decades ago.

I am also finding that the grieving process is not as black and white as I had thought.

While I believe I am learning how to better cope with her loss, a day has yet to pass where I have not thought of or spoken to Aunt Betty.

It seems rather comical now to think back to about a week after her death when I declared to a colleague that the grieving process was over, and that I was ready to move on.

So much for that.

I am happy to report that my sorrow has been largely replaced with confidence that Aunt Betty is giving me the strength and insight that will help to shape the rest of my life.

Aunt Betty was an incredible woman from whom I continue to learn wonderful and invaluable lessons.

 
Aunt Betty celebrating her birthday last year

Aunt Betty celebrating her birthday last year

My world has changed dramatically in the five months since Aunt Betty’s passing – and I thought today, what would be her 84th birthday, would be a great day to reflect on where I am.

Aunt Betty was a deeply private person. She never understood social media – or what would compel someone to share every mundane and private detail of their life with the world. Every time I would post a tweet or Instagram post, she would roll her eyes – but would always be willing to look at my glowing little screen, smile and say something to the effect of, “Very nice. Now can we eat?”

Since her passing, I have learned a lot more about how she lived, and just how much she sacrificed for my brother and me – without ever complaining or even pointing it out. For her, seeing those she loved happy was the greatest reward. Cliché? Perhaps, but definitely true.

During her eulogy, I described her as “a parent, a mentor, a rock and my best friend.” In the months since, I have come to the realization that she was so much more. Simply put: She was my foundation on which I have grown and developed.

Aunt Betty died the way I hope I one day do: Quickly, seemingly painlessly and without much warning. Sure, she was battling lung cancer, but she believed she would neutralize the devastating invasion – and even if she didn’t, she would have at least a year or two of life left to live. The morning she died, she woke up in her own bed and prepared for another round of chemo therapy. She was optimistic about her future.

Within a handful of hours, her breathing would become challenging. She would be rushed to an area hospital and I would be notified of her condition. At first, it appeared she had pneumonia and might need to be hospitalized for a week or so – but then clues to death’s arrival became clearer. I posted a plea for prayers to Facebook – and friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances responded in force.

Before Aunt Betty breathed her final breath, hundreds of friends offered their support. It was overwhelming – and only the beginning.

Over the next few days, I was met with unanticipated levels of support and love. I was blown away.

Many friendships strengthened and some family bonds grew stronger.

One thing became very clear: I am not alone.

To the friends, family and colleagues who have stood by me, even when it was not easy or convenient: Thank you! I hope I could one day adequately repay you – or, at the very least, demonstrate how much you’ve meant to me. This would have been a much more difficult journey without you.

I talk to Aunt Betty often – and visit St. Michael’s Cemetery several times each week. In honor of her birthday, I will be planting red, pink and white begonias at her grave.

One wise colleague told me in the days following her passing that the secret to recovering from the loss of a loved one is not about forgetting or moving on, but rather learning to live in the new reality. This was as profound as it was accurate.

A day does not pass when I do not think about Aunt Betty – or her impact on my life. However, I am still learning how to live a life in which she is not physically present.

I continue to learn of the seemingly countless ways Aunt Betty shaped my life – and continue to learn invaluable lessons from her.

In some ways, I feel like I am living an episode of “Boy Meets World,” where I am developing a dynamic skillset with which to live my life.

I have no doubt that Aunt Betty is giving me the strength and insight I need to go on.

Waking up on the frosty morning that would be her last day with me, I could never have anticipated how much my life would change in just a handful of hours.

More had changed with her passing than any other event in my life.

On Jan. 9, 2013, I grew up.

She was no longer there to offer me hours upon hours of advice, talk me off of countless metaphorical ledges or share with me 80-plus years of life experience – much of which I am happy to report, I listened to.

Since her passing, I have had to make the toughest decisions on my life – and am confident that she would have agreed with most, if not all, of them.

Through it all, though, I feel like she prepared me throughout her life for her death. She gave me the skills and perspective I would need to make the tough decisions, even when the choices were not the easiest.

I have no doubt that Aunt Betty is still here. All around me. Laughing when I overthink seemingly simple things. Rolling her eyes when I incessantly post to Facebook and helping me up when I stumble.

Clear indications are all around me. My brother, after a three-year exhausting and terrifying fight with a potentially fatal heart condition, is showing the first signs of improvement. Growing up, a beloved shared activity was gardening together. I now own the house in which my aunt raised me – and have even managed to plant vegetable and flower gardens around it that are showing signs of survival.

She, more than anyone else, has made the person I am today. I only hope that I will one day have that same impact on someone else.

 

See ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

93886_galSilver Linings Playbook” is a powerful film that captures a family’s struggle.

The film follows a 40-something bi-polar attempting to get his life back on track after walking in on his wife having sex with a colleague.

“Silver Linings Playbook” successfully mixes humor with heartache as Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, tries to repair his marriage. Pat, however, is not alone in his suffering. His father, Pat Sr., portrayed by Robert De Niro, struggles with anger and gambling issues while his mother, Dolores, played by Jacki Weaver, tries to hold the family together.

Throughout the course of the two-hour movie, Pat develops a friendship Tiffany, who is struggling with depression and loneliness following the untimely death of her husband.

The writing is rivaled only by the film’s strong and effective writing.

While the film’s course is somewhat predictable at times, it offers a great way to spend an afternoon. Check it out.

 

auntbettyIt’s been slightly longer than a week since Aunt Betty’s passing — and to say it’s been a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement.

Aunt Betty was my best friend. She was my parent. She was the rock on which I leaned.

Since her death 10 days ago, I have experienced more emotions than I ever realized I had.

As she breathed her final breaths, reality came crashing down upon me.

Tears filled my eyes.  My head felt like it grew to three times it size. The emergency room in which I stood began to wobble. All of the chairs, desks and people within it began to spin.

I posted to Facebook a desperate plea for prayers for my aunt, who just three hours earlier had woken in her own bed confident that she would beat her lung cancer. She had a year left, doctors promised. But my aunt being the eternal optimist and bedrock of my family was convinced she had longer.

I believed her. After all, my aunt was always there and would always be there, right? I could not imagine a universe in which she was not.

My phone began to vibrate as hundreds of positive thoughts, well-wishes and notes of support poured it. My friends and colleagues are just awesome like that, and I could never adequately thank them for their support.

Doctors came in and walked out as I leaned against a wall in St. Vincent’s emergency room as doctors and nurses worked feverishly to save my aunt. My mother tried to rub my shoulders and implored me to sit — but I couldn’t.

I was waiting for good news — but only bad news came.

Only 20 minutes earlier, I was told she had pneumonia and would be home in five to seven days.

Now, death lurked outside her room.

A friend called and I tried to find an exit.

Disoriented I could not find the exit. After what felt like an eternity, but was likely 15 or 20 seconds, I found my way outside the hospital.

I tried to tell him, “She isn’t going to make it,”  – but I couldn’t get the words out.

My knees buckled.

As I crouched beside the emergency room entrance, tears streamed down my face.

I tried to remember the last time I cried. Perhaps it was when I was in elementary school. Regardless, my aunt would have consoled me. Now she was fighting for her life — and there was nothing I could do.

After three or four attempts, I got the words out: “She’s probably not going to make it,” I wailed.

I had to go back into the hospital.

Now she was likely not going to make the night, something I was promised not five minutes earlier.

My knees buckled again.

A priest arrived. My brother had called for him to administer final rights, and he had as I waited outside.

I didn’t like him. He seemed too mechanical.

My grandmother, my aunt’s older sister, arrived. She found the priest comforting — and clung onto his hand, as she did his every word.

I couldn’t find God. I felt alone.

I sat quietly in a conference room outside of the emergency room. My mother, brother, grandmother and Father Al discussed what would come next.

The nightmare that had encompassed my reality 20 minutes earlier made it difficult to concentrate.

I was asked, “What do you want to do?”

With a ventilator, she might have another day. Maybe two. What was certain was that she would never go home. Cancer had spread throughout her body in the last 72 hours. She fought hard. She never complained. Even in her final moments, she remained strong.

I was pressed to make a decision.

Instead, I headed for the door.

I needed air.

I couldn’t pull the plug. She wasn’t a dog.

I went outside and called another friend.

Again, I struggled to say,  ”She’s not going to make it.”

Two times I called her back trying to get the words out and I finally came close. She understood and didn’t make me utter the poison.

She spoke slowly and comforted me.

She expressed concern. I needed that. She told everything was going to be OK — eventually.

She reminded me of my aunt. Her words made me feel slightly better.

I was becoming increasingly numb.

My brother called repeatedly. I had to go.

Inside, I accepted the new reality. She was dying.

My tears continued.

I was finally able to go into the room and see my aunt.

I was only able to stare in disbelief. So many wires. So little life.

Cancer sucks.

My nightmare worsened as I was lead to the intensive care unit.

A nurse handed me a tissue box as I floated through the room toward an elevator.

“I am so sorry,” I heard so many times as I made my way to an elevator.

Most of the medical professionals seemed genuine. Others seemed robotic.

There were people laughing in the elevator.

“Where is Betty,” my grandmother asked.

“We will see her upstairs,” my mother, or was it my brother, replied.

My grandmother, who is facing dementia, was suffering — and having to learn of the new reality every few minutes.

It was so cruel. And not fair.

Father Al spotted a nun in the elevator. I forget her name.

She did not seem to grasp what was happening. To her, Aunt Betty was just another patient — and we were just another grieving family. I understood, but she still seemed cold.

I spoke with my aunt, my mom’s sister, in Florida. She was preparing to fly up. She would be here Friday.

Soon, my aunt would be brought to a room in the ICU on the eighth floor.

I encouraged my mother, brother and grandmother to each say goodbye before they pulled the plug. Doctors couldn’t say for certain how long she would have after they removed her life-support.

I went last.

As I grasped her hand, tears poured down my face.

I told her how much she has meant to me — how she was my inspiration and everything I have and will accomplish will be a testament to her.

I apologized for the times I  let her down and for being sometimes short with her.

I wasn’t sure if she heard me, but hoped that she did.

I softly kissed her forehead.

Doctors then removed her life support.

I returned to the room and grasped her hand and held her arm.

I spoke with her until the end, as two friends have suggested.

Her heartbeat began to slow. Her hands became cold.

Tears continued to stream down my face.

I told her I loved her, how I needed her, how she made me the person I am today.

A wonderful nurse kept checking in on me.

My grandmother, brother and mother came in. My grandmother started to shake. It was too much for her. It was too much for all of us.

My brother wheeled my grandmother, who was in a wheelchair out of the room. My aunt would have been proud. My grandmother needed my brother more than ever at that moment.

My mother tried to rub my shoulders, but I needed to focus on my aunt. I didn’t want to be touched.

At some point, they left.

Within 10 minutes, the nurse returned with water for me. It tasted so cold, but I so needed it. My throat was like the Sahara.

Aunt Betty’s heart rate continued to drop. It hung around 20 beats per minute.

My mother returned.

I continued to grasp my aunt’s hand — as she had done for me countless times. She was always there for me. I would be there for her until the end.

The nurse suggested I tell my aunt that it’s OK to go, that she was holding back from her maker.

As tears poured down my face, I told Aunt Betty she has taught me well. I promised to take care of my brother — and to try to hold my family together.

I cried.

At some point, my brother and grandmother returned.

Within 45 seconds, her heart stopped.

She met God, and my universe has not been the same since.

 

Aunt Betty, a tribute

On behalf of all of her loved ones, I thank you for your tremendous outpouring of support, love, prayers and generosity during this incredibly difficult time. Each of you helped – and continue to – make it a little bit easier. In fact, I would not have the strength to stand before you today without the countless phone calls, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram tributes you offered. In a way, it’s ironic because Aunt Betty hated social media and found it to be little more than a mindless distraction – for which I was unable to offer a sufficient argument of how wrong her assessment was – until this incredible outpouring now. Your words made this week easier. Although even now, I know she’s rolling her eyes as she stands in paradise.

Aunt Betty was an incredible person. Indeed one of the most wise, thoughtful and generous individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

While our family tree would lead you believe she was my great aunt, reality was that she was much more. She was a parent, a mentor, a rock and my best friend, with whom I lived most of my life. I spoke with her ahead of literally every decision I ever made and while we may not have always seen eye-to-eye, she was always supportive and full of invaluable insight and perspective.

Aunt Betty was a wonderful woman I wish each of you had the opportunity of knowing as well as I do. Through it all, her passion and devotion to education shone brightly.

In fact, despite retiring in 1991, she always spoke highly of her position within the Norwalk Public School’s arts and music department. For as long as I could remember, Aunt Betty edited my papers, corrected my grammar and pushed me to the next level. Never settle for the easy path was her mantra. Look always toward the future, she implored. You could always do better.

When I was old enough to understand the most effective way of grasping an art supply – or perhaps even slightly before – she would bring me boxes of crayons, markers and colored pencils. And while nearly three decades have passed, and I am still working to perfect the perfect stick-figure, I am confident she has successfully instilled in me a deep love for the arts.

However, her most valuable lessons were often much more simple.

She encouraged me to see the world through other people’s eyes, and work to better understand other folks’ struggles and challenges. She always reminded me never to assume I know anything about a person or that my struggle was somehow more difficult. Be generous, she urged.

However, she did more than just preach these ideals, she lived them. She made sacrifices for me throughout my entire life, helping to find that first internship for me at the Connecticut Post and giving me the courage and confidence to start a new career at Quinnipiac University. She bought me a piano and took me to lessons, encouraged me to learn a foreign language, bought me my first computer and pushed me to be the best I could be.

When Aunt Betty was diagnosed with lung cancer in July, my world shook – but she stood strong. She reminded me that she had already beaten cancer once and was prepared to do it again. Regardless of what happened, she said, she had lived a long, happy life full of incredible people, opportunities and travels.

Money, she would often tell me, was not the key to happiness, but was rather only a crutch that could lead to collapse when one leans too much on it. Instead, she said, focus on who and what makes you happy – and never be ashamed of who you are or from where you come.

She loved the world and was unnaturally curious. She began each morning reading the Connecticut Post and The New York Times. After dinner, she would watch Peter Jennings and, later, Brian Williams. She would end each night by watching “Seinfeld” or “Big Bang Theory.” You need to be informed, she would tell me, but you can’t take life too seriously either.

As my family’s matriarch, she supported each of us even as she courageously fought cancer – rarely revealing any pain, challenges or struggles. Her focus was always on those around her – and never on herself. She freely offered guidance, advice, perspective and insight. Even as she breathed in artificially-produced oxygen in her final days, she would ask, “How was your day?” And when you’d ask about her? “Oh, I’ll be fine.”

When she was diagnosed with lung cancer, her only request? To spend a day at Mohegan Sun, or “the Indians,” as she referred to her favorite place in the state. Fortunately we made it there – and somehow she managed to even leave the reservation with several portraits of Benjamin Franklin in her pocket.

She loved life and lived it to its fullest – even until her final moments.

Fortunately, when death came, it came quickly. She woke up in her own bed on Wednesday, prepared to begin another round of aggressive chemo therapy. When she couldn’t breathe, she was rushed to St. Vincent’s, where she asked doctors to take every possible step to save her life. She was confident she still had another year left. Maybe more. Unfortunately, she would never wake up, and within a handful of hours, she ascended to paradise, quietly and peacefully in a dignified way. Even in her final act, her final decision, she taught me something – how important it is to fight – but also that it is OK to accept what you cannot control. As I grasped her hand as her heartbeat slowed, a nurse said she was hanging in there for those family members standing vigil around her and urged us to tell her it’s OK to go, that she has prepared her family well. I did, because I knew she had. And within a minute or so, her heartbeat stopped and she was reunited with her parents, brother and countless friends. She had a lived a good, long life.

She is hardly gone. She lives in our hearts and memories forever.

Her passion for life, learning and helping those around her lives on in her sister, nieces and nephews – three generations strong.

She has left this world, this family and, certainly, me, for the better.

Aunt Betty, I will always love you.

 

News raced around the world late Sunday into Monday about the publication of tens of thousands of secret military documents pertaining to the NATO-led war in Afghanistan.

The archives, posted collectively as the The Afghan War Diary on the donor-funded WikiLeaks’ website, offered a unique perspective on the war that is reportedly grimmer than how the Pentagon has often portrayed it.

WikiLeaks most recently garnered international attention when it published a controversial video three months ago that reportedly showed a 2007 American helicopter attack in Baghdad. A dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, were killed.

This time, however, the site gave the New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel access to the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents spanning six years several weeks ago on the condition they do not report on the materials before Sunday, the Times indicated in a story.

However, perhaps more important than what the documents included was how the whistle-blowing site, WikiLeaks, partnered with professional media partners to legitimize and analyze the pages of information.

The Times reports that the documents indicate “the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001” despite the nearly $300 billion spent on the war.

“The archive is a vivid reminder that the Afghan conflict until recently was a second-class war, with money, troops and attention lavished on Iraq while soldiers and Marines lamented that the Afghans they were training were not being paid,” the Times reported.

Through the partnership, the publications were able to offer perspective that raw data is unable to. For example, the Times reported that while the “documents do not contradict official accounts of the war,” they showed that the American military made misleading public statements in some cases.

The Times also was able to offer perspective on what the documents were lacking, specifically: “The archive is clearly an incomplete record of the war. It is missing many references to seminal events and does not include more highly classified information. The documents also do not cover events in 2010, when the influx of more troops into Afghanistan began and a new counterinsurgency strategy took hold.”

Not surprisingly, many governments, including the United States, criticized the release.

However, the way WikiLeaks opted to break the story is important and ground-breaking – in many ways.

In addition to further legitimizing the data, the site demonstrated how beneficial such a partnership could be when professional journalists and members of the public come together to share information.

As newsroom staffs continue to shrink, assistance from outside of news organizations are growing more critical – to both the survival of the practice of journalism and the very democracy on which this nation has been built. This story demonstrates that the public can – and should – contribute more than just photos of wild weather, but also of potential government failings. It is up to the press across America to encourage that.

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Ex-half-term Gov. Sarah Palin has a problem. She has a problem admitting that she does not know everything — and that will ultimately lead to her collapse.

Her unfounded arrogance has gotten her into more trouble and instead of simply acknowledging her mistake, she did what she always does — blame the media.  And guess what — except for the dwindling percentage of her far right-wing supporters who hang on her every word. She got called out again and then predictably cried victim, again.

Last week, the former Republican vice presidential hopeful tweeted:

Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate

Unfortunately refudiate is not a word, despite the fact she said it on FOX’s “Hanity” as well as in the tweet she took down after folks began to criticize her.

She then reworked the same tweet three times, according to a report (complete with screen captures) published on Gawker until she arrived at a defensive tweet published on July 18:

“Refudiate,” “misunderestimate,” “wee-wee’d up.” English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it.”

If Palin had simply acknowledged her mistake, she would not have received the wide-scale attention that she did — and could have likely avoided the attention similar to what she suffered when she couldn’t define the Bush Doctrine, or offer the name of a newspaper she reads regularly during relatively easy interviews on the presidential campaign trail two years ago.

Perhaps, if the former governor was known for her linguistic abilities, or background in the language, she would have been able to explain her gaffe away as she did — but she’s just the opposite. The image that she created for herself is that of a rural soccer mom, not an English literary scholar.

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A popular retailer has come under siege for essentially developing a logical and intelligent sales strategy.

Forever 21, the must-visit store for many teens and early 20-something girls, is being criticized for launching a line of maternity clothes called love21maternity in states with the highest pregnancy rates among young people. To that I say, bravo!

The clothing line, according to Syracuse.com, one of the many media outlets reporting the story, is said to be as “sophisticated, on-trend styles for moms-to-be at affordable prices.” What’s wrong with that? Should pregnant young people dress is rags and dirty linens? Give me a break. Why don’t we just sew a scarlet letter to pregnant girls’ tops?

The line was launched at the end of last month in Arizona, Alaska, California, Utah and Texas, according to Syracuse.com.

The Gloss, a fashion website, reported that Arizona, California and Texas are among the states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the United States. OK, so? Should Forever 21 market maternity clothes in states where there is not a lot of pregnancy? What kind of sense would that make?

People, we live in a capitalistic society. Stores need to make money — particularly as the economy struggles escape one of the worst recessions in this nation’s history.

An ABC affiliate, according to The Stir, quoted teen girls as saying they believe the clothes will inspire some of their friends to have sex and deliver a child. Hmmm… perhaps if girls are saying trendy maternity clothes would provoke a surge in teen pregnancy, there is something more wrong with the girls than the store? Perhaps better parenting is needed. Or perhaps the girls really just wanted to say something sensationalistic to get quoted on TV.

Regardless, just because a store markets a clothing line does not mean people will run out to purchase the products. No store would ever go bankrupt if that were the case.

I commend Forever 21, a store I have never shopped in or have any affiliation with, for making a smart business decision — and denounce the critics for being stupid and insinuating are stupid. Just because something is pretty does not mean one will get pregnant to wear it. Retailers ought to go where the money is within reason — and what Forever 21 did certainly falls within that purview.

I apologize for not posting anything in the past several months. It has been a very busy time in my life. However, I plan to change that — starting now.

However, first, please indulge me as I fill you in with what you may have missed.

The past has been about change. If it were a chapter in a book, a potential title would be “transitions.”

Since leaving FOX News in May, 2009, I completed the majority of course work needed to earn a masters in Interactive Communications from Quinnipiac University. It has been an eye-opening experience — and has connected me with some inspirational people.

While working toward my degree, the Connecticut Post, a Hearst Connecticut-owned newspaper, was generous enough to take me in. I have been working there four to five nights a week as a part-time copy editor and page designer. In addition to working on Post pages, I have also had the opportunity to work with editors and reporters from Hearst’s other Fairfield County entities, namely The Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time and Danbury News-Times. Folks are putting their hearts and souls in these papers, and if you have the opportunity to read one, I highly encourage you to do so. In addition to working on the copy desk there, I have also written technology pieces. You can check out my blog, Tech Talk, here. It is updated daily, and so I hope you check it out often — and offer suggestions and potential topics.

In addition to the Hearst properties, Quinnipiac generously offered me a graduate assistantship. Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of meeting a few dozen of the Hamden-based university’s best and brightest students, faculty and members. I was delighted to write about my experiences that have been used across numerous platforms.

Well, the graduate assistantship worked out so well it has become my next adventure. Beginning Monday, I will begin a new job — as assistant director of public relations and social media at Quinnipiac. You heard it here first, folks. It is a position that promises to be as rewarding and enjoyable as it will be challenging and cutting-edge.  I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with you here.

I have also been contributing to the Radio Television Digital News Association, a fantastic organization for journalism professionals. You can read some of my writings — as well as the perspectives of others — here.

And, speaking of journalism, I have continued my work with the great people of the Society of Professional Journalists. I am the vice president of the Connecticut pro chapter. If you are not yet a member, please consider this your personal invitation to join. The organization is composed of some really talented and great individuals. Particularly in a time of uncertainty in the industry, it is important to be part of such an esteemed and important organization. You can learn more about events happening in Connecticut here. Most of the events are free, so what are you waiting for?

OK, enough with the pitches. I look forward to continuing where we left off.

Oh, and if we’re not yet connected on Twitter, let’s do so.

Until next time, rock on.