#MeToo

Me too

By Samra Jones Bufkins

In the wake of the many sexual harassment allegations in a variety of industries, the social media hashtag #MeToo has gone viral. Women who have experienced workplace harassment or sexual assault are telling their stories, most after years, even decades of silence.

I’m one of them.

Some background: The term “sexual harassment” was first used in 1973 in a report to the president of MIT by the university’s ombudsperson, Mary Rowe. Although Dr. Rowe is reluctant to take credit for coining the term, her work on this subject led to MIT developing one of the first anti-harassment policies in the nation.

By the mid-1970s eight activists at Cornell University were using the term, but it didn’t see common usage until Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. In the late ’70s courts were recognizing a woman’s right to sue her employer for unwanted sexual advances, and the Supreme Court upheld these cases in the 1986 decision Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or
    condition of an individual’s employment, or
  2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis
    for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
  3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an
    individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or
    offensive working environment.

The EEOC recognizes two main types of sexual harassment: Quid pro quo (“Do this if you want to keep your job.”) and ongoing hostile environment (Speech or conduct that is pervasive, offensive, and demeaning and affects the target’s ability to work.) The harassment can be from someone of the opposite sex or the same sex.

Why we waited

When I first experienced sexual harassment, in the 1970’s, it was just becoming an issue, and few talked about it. Women who complained were often labeled “whiners” and “troublemakers.” We believed we won’t be taken seriously. We fear retaliation, and often left a job because we felt nothing would be done. Most women suffer in silence.

It didn’t help that Phyllis Schlafly made statements like “sexual harassment on the job isn’t a problem for virtuous women.” She fed the flames of victim-blaming that still exist today.

Additionally, many of the incidences of harassment we endured weren’t exactly recognized as harassment until Anita Hill brought attention to the problem of offensive comments in the workplace. Many of us thought these guys were just jerks, and if they didn’t specifically ask for sex, or threaten us, we toughed it out.

Remember Lisa Olson? She was a sports reporter for the Boston Herald in 1990 when she was trying to conduct a locker room interview with members of the New England Patriots football team. When her complaint became public, the Patriots team owner called her a “classic bitch.” An investigation by the NFL resulted in three players and the team being fined. Olson was subjected to harassment by Patriots’ fans, death threats, and a home burglary. She was villified in the press and by comedians. Playboy asked her if she’d pose. After settling a lawsuit against the team, she relocated to Australia to continue her journalism career.

It’s because of treatment like Olson received, along with victim-blaming, that many women still don’t talk about their harassment.

What I put up with

Here’s my litany of squirm-worthy incidents, most of which I’ve never told anybody about until now.

University of Kentucky, about 1975: A male professor in my major constantly made comments about my “flat ass.” These comments were made in class and during departmental social activities, within earshot of other faculty and students.

WKYT-TV internship and summer job in 1976:

  • The station’s sales manager would constantly come up to me, get way too close, and say “Take me to your ladder, I’ll see your leader later.” (I am six feet tall.) I usually rolled my eyes. What was I supposed to do? Ruin my career before I even graduated from college? That’s what would have happened in 1976.
  • Production crew members constantly referred to local female commercial talent by the C-word, and in one case said of a pair of twins known for their ads: “They both go down like a submarine. I want a threesome.” This was all in my presence.

WTVQ-TV, first job after graduation in 1977. Multiple incidents.

  • In the film editing room, where I worked, I was subjected to a day of watching pornographic film. My supervisor’s friend from Chicago was visiting, and showing off his work in the field.
  • While working a night shift in the control room, one of the guys was making video copies of the film “Deep Throat.” I had no choice but to listen and see this film displayed on multiple monitors. I complained to the night director, who told me to grow up.
  • The morning after the Deep Throat episode, I found the August issue of Hustler magazine, the one with the infamous scratch-n-sniff centerfold, open on my desk.
  • While visiting two college friends, a brother and sister, and their mother out of town one weekend, we ran into the station’s general manager in a posh local restaurant. He came to our table (really an elegant booth) to chat. I introduced him to my friends and without warning, he said “God you look good” and leaned over the table to kiss and grope me. My male friend planted his hand in Charlie’s chest and pushed him away. All of us were mortified. When I returned to work on Monday I told my supervisor (yes, the guy with the pornographer friend) and he went to the manager’s boss. Soon I was in his office telling him what happened, and he seemed appalled. Later that day Charlie came in, shooed everybody out, and apologized, saying he was drunk. He sent handwritten apology letters to my friends, their mother, and my parents.
  • After the incident in the restaurant, I started getting written up for petty infractions–things everybody else in the station got away with, like using the copier late at night (this TV station located the new copier in the women’s restroom), returning from lunch 5 minutes late, and so on. It was clear retaliation for reporting the manager, so what did I do? I found another job.

WTHR-TV: This was a larger station in a larger market, so I didn’t deal with as much of the abuse I did in my previous jobs, But there were some comments and dirty jokes. I also observed incidents with other female employees.

  • One colleague was an extremly well-endowed woman. One of the new directors shouted “Bazooms!” the first time he met her in our office. That nickname followed her around the station until she left.
  • Sex, male sexual prowess, and the goings-on of a married weather forecaster having an affair with a videographer were constantly discussed in the control room, hallways, and offices.
  • The weather forecaster mentioned above was married to a reporter at the station. When word got out about the affair, the assignments editor constantly assigned the videographer to work with his girlfriend’s estranged husband. (Yes, I’d consider that an ongoing hostile environment.)
  • When editing video programs in the master control room, union rules required the presence of an engineer to operate the recorder. More than once, while perched on my stool, I was brushed, patted, rubbed and other subtle but inappropriate touches. When I complained, I was told “oh, they’re just doing that because they like you.”
  • Male co-workers made constant sexual comments about the women in the programs, female reporters, and female staff of the station, usually within earshot of women so they could enjoy our disgusted reactions.
  • One videographer made a practice of asking any woman on camera (employees, public officials, guests being interviewed) to lick her lips as he set up the shot. He did it nicely, and if anybody asked “why?” he explained it away as a way to relax before going on air. Those shots of women licking their lips were edited together into a reel that made the rounds of the station, accompanied by crude comments. I was on that reel. I walked into a room and saw the guys watching it, and after that refused to lick my lips for any cameraman. When I complained I was told that was just harmless fun.

King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1982-1985.

  • Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m only listing it here because it is the only place I’ve worked (I was in the engineering office with only 2 other women) where I was treated with respect and dignity by all the men. When people find out I worked in Saudi Arabia, their first reaction is to say “oh, wasn’t that awful?” No, it was not.

Hermann Hospital, 1988–1990.  

  • My boss was the VP of development, and he had a habit of making sexual innuendos, including this comment about a sighing sound our photocopier made: “That sounds just like (my wife) Paula when we’re making love.
  • He constantly said things like “Men make more money than women, get used to it.”
  • When he fired his secretary (he wanted somebody better looking) she sent me an interoffice envelope containing the offer letter sent to a young male employee, just out of college, with no experience. It listed his starting salary at nearly $10,000 more than mine. By then I had tendered my resignation and went to the EEOC. That’s where I learned his comments and behaviors (and everything that came before) were sexual harassment. I received the difference between my pay and the new employee’s pay going back to when he was hired, and the VP of development was put on “special assignment” and never set foot in the hospital again.

I was extremely fortunate over the next few years to work in environments where sexual harassment seemed non-existent, at least to me. But then I went to work for Reliant Energy in the fall of 1999.

  • One male co-worker had the disconcerting habit of staring at my chest whenever he talked–and he loved to hear himself talk. He did this to all women, and when challenged about it he said “that’s just where I focus, I’m not really looking.”
  • One manager in a department we worked closely with made crude sexual remarks, which were dismissed as “oh, but that’s just Dan, he’s harmless.” The day he walked behind me while I was standing in my boss’ doorway and tucked my baggy blouse into the waistband of my shirt, I was speechless. My supervisor immediately got up and took him into our VP’s office. Nothing was done. When he retired, he said “thank you for putting up with all my transgressions.” Everybody laughed.

University of North Texas, Mayborn School of Journalism, 2009–2017. 

Again, very fortunate to work in a place where sexual harassment, at least from my experience, was rare and not tolerated. We were required to watch training videos to help us identify and avoid behaviors that could be considered harassment.

  • I had one male colleague who was a master at “mansplaining” the obvious.
  • He also made sly comments under the guise of “I can’t say things like this anymore because I’m afraid of being accused of sexual harassment.” He would go on and on and on about how sad he was that he could no longer tell a female (colleague or student) that he liked her new haircut or outfit, and belabored the point ad nauseum.
  • When a colleague was fighting a terminal illness, we made a get well video to pep him up. This guy began his comments with a joke about sexy nurses.
  • I had one female student report to me that her boss at an internship had framed photos of nude women in his office. She overheard him say “I do it because I like to see their reactions.” We reported this firm (the boss in question was the owner) to the university’s career center and asked that they no longer be allowed to recruit on campus. A year later, their internship and job postings were back on all the job boards.

It was hard writing this, but it was also cathartic. I haven’t even told my husband about the stuff I endured before we were married. I also have a feeling I’ve left some incidents out.

Now what?

To some, (men and women) many of the incidents cited can be considered inconsequential, and women reporting them are labeled as petty. But as Lady Gaga sings in “Till it happens to you,” you don’t know how it feels.  Men particularly have no idea, and women who have not experienced it are often the worst of the victim-blamers. But I truly believe if the #MeToo movement gains traction, we might make some headway in erasing this blight from our culture.

Culture change takes time, however, and all you have to do is read comments on news articles and social media posts to know we still have some knuckle-dragging neanderthals everywhere we look. The problem of sexual harassment is much broader and deeper than being whistled at by construction workers or groped in the file room. It’s also not the fault of women, although we are the ones offered anti-rape classes and workshops. Where are the workshops and classes for men? (They exist, and are often treated as a joke.) When are men told to be aware of their surroundings and watch how they’re dressed?

We need more men proactively working to keep their peers from continuing this behavior. We need more women willing to report incidents in a timely manner. We need HR departments to take allegations seriously and not let the reporting process be intimidating.

We won’t end this plague overnight, but we can speak up and demand its cessation. Beginning now. Sexual harassment is everybody’s problem, and it’s high time men stepped up to the plate to call out their male colleagues’ behavior and support women’s right to dignity and respect in the workplace. I’d think they’d want nothing less for their daughters, sisters, mothers and wives.

stop sexual harassment

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane evacuations: Never an easy decision.

By Samra Jones Bufkins, MJ, APR.

Irma

As I write this, I am watching news coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which produced the largest mass evacuation in U.S. history.

Hurricanes are big, destructive storms, terrifying many people in their paths, but modern forecasting technology makes it easier to predict the areas that will be affected. People living in those projected areas need to be safe.

As the old saying goes, you run from water, you hide from the wind. Evacuation of low-lying areas is proven to save lives, as it probably did with Hurricane Irma. However, mass evacuations have their own problems, and there is much discussion about how to efficiently transport millions of people out of harm’s way.

Hurricane Harvey, which hit the Coastal Bend area of Texas in late August, 2017 before going back out to sea and moving northeast to sit over and flood the Houston area, is a case in point. After the Houston Metropolitan area received 55” of rain, flooding much of the city, people started criticizing the mayor and other officials for not evacuating the city.

As a survivor of the evacuation ahead of Hurricane Rita in September, 2005, I think they made the right call.

Hurricane Rita evacuation

Barely three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Superdome_Roof_Damage_FEMAcoastal Mississippi and Alabama, Hurricane Rita unexpectedly grew to a category 5 hurricane, bearing down on Galveston Island with alarming speed. Based on storm surge projections and floodplain maps, officials ordered an evacuation of people in vulnerable areas. Millions of people from Corpus Christi to Beaumont packed up and left for higher ground.

On paper, Houston and Galveston had what appeared to be a good plan. Starting with the barrier islands, people were instructed to leave in stages, based on their geographic area, with those in the most danger going first. Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 21, traffic streamed north on the Gulf Freeway as thousands of people fled the island and coastal areas.

Houston mayor Bill White called for the city to be evacuated, emphasizing those areas subject to storm surge flooding. We were in a mandatory evacuation zone because our house was near Clear Lake and Galveston Bay. Our assigned departure time was 3-5 am Thursday, Sept. 22.

My husband and I were in the process of putting our house on the market. Bill was already working at his new job in Dallas, and I had quit my job to prepare for the move. He left work in Dallas early on Wednesday and drove to our home in Bay Area Houston to help me load up and evacuate.

When Bill arrived about 9 p.m. we packed the truck and the car, hanging the bicycle rack on the back. We got to bed about midnight and slept restlessly for a few hours. At 3 am we received a reverse 911 call with a recorded message by Mayor Bill White, telling us we should be getting on the road.

We made a final check of the house, secured our bicycles on the bike rack, packed the cats into crates in the car, and Bill took our basset hound in the truck. When we closed and locked the front door at 4:45 a.m., Rita was a category 5 storm headed for a direct hit on our area. We weren’t sure if we’d have anything to return to, but I left the porch light on.  Hurricane_Rita_Peak

Thus began a journey none of us will ever forget.

Gridlock

We hit the Gulf Freeway and headed north at a normal speed, listening to the radio for traffic reports. Remember, this was 2005, before all the gasoline and traffic apps we have today. As we got closer to the South Loop, traffic slowed. gridlock

Bill called me and suggested we take the Hardy Toll Road, which began north of downtown Houston. We got off I-45 and snaked through deserted side streets until we got on the toll road. Where we sat, without moving more than a couple of car lengths at a time, for six hours as the temperature approached triple digits.

On the radio, Mayor White and County Judge Bob Eckels were begging Governor Rick Perry to authorize removing the concrete barricades and allowing northbound traffic to drive on the southbound lanes. Those pleas were rebuked with excuses like “we’d have to get cranes down there to remove the barricades.” The logistics of blocking more than 100 exit ramps to prevent head-on collisions would also require hours. Meanwhile, 3 million people were sweating on a hot freeway, with some getting sick from the heat. To save fuel, many of us turned the A/C off.

The state eventually agreed to open contraflow lanes, but we had already inched past the opening on I-45, and they wouldn’t let cars enter the southbound lanes directly from the exit ramps. In other words, northbound lanes were gridlocked, and the few cars in the southbound lanes whizzed by, safely on their way to Dallas.

Out of gas, out of food, out of time

Low on gas, about 10 p.m. we got off the freeway in Huntsville. We had gone 95 miles in 17 hours. There was no fuel or food anywhere in Huntsville. I was ready to check in to the state penitentiary just to get off the road.

Bill took the exit for Bryan/College Station and I followed down the dark country road. roans prairieThere was traffic, but it was moving, until it suddenly came to a complete stop. This time Bill grabbed a bike off my car and took off up the road. When he came back he said “It’s a gas station!”

Ninety minutes later we gassed up both vehicles, got some snacks and caffeine, walked the dog, and chatted with people in the parking lot. Locals in the tiny community of Roans Prairie had come out to direct traffic, make coffee, check the restrooms and provide comfort to strangers.

We had pretty smooth sailing from there, taking back roads and I-35 to Waco. Cars and trucks were pulled off on the side of the road, with families camping there. Convoys of utility and supply trucks headed south. It was an eerie spectacle reminiscent of some apocalyptic movie.

About 3 am we pulled into a church parking lot where several other families had parked to get some rest. One man was planning on staying awake all night with his shotgun, willing to protect us all from crime.

The next morning, many fast food places were running out of food and coffee. We headed up to Bill’s Dad’s house in Denton. When we arrived about 10 a.m., we had been on the road for 29 hours.

I’m sure there are similar stories coming out of Florida and Georgia as people flee Hurricane Irma.

Lessons learned

Could a mess like this been avoided? Maybe. But there are things people could have done to minimize the agony.

Too many vehicles

Bill and I took two vehicles. I know we weren’t alone. Most of my neighbors took two cars, and we talked to people along the way with as many as four vehicles per family. That had to contribute to the gridlock. We Texans love our cars, and when faced with losing everything left behind, knowing you have a car gives you confidence as well as one less thing to repair or replace.

Looking back, we could have left the bicycles and a few other items, put the cats on the back seat with the dog, and made the trip in the truck.

But how would you limit families to one car? What about large families or those with lots of pets? I’m not sure there’s an equitable way to manage this, other than urging people to leave earlier.

Shadow evacuations

Another factor contributing to gridlock was the thousands of people well inland who decided to evacuate, clogging roads and using up resources along the route. This phenomenon is called shadow evacuation, When people inland of mandatory evacuation zones decide to leave, they often get in the way of people truly needing to get out.

For example: about 11:30 in the morning I got a call from a friend asking if we wanted to have lunch in College Station. Lunch? I just wanted to get off the Hardy Toll Road. These friends lived near downtown Houston and the Heights, well above any flood danger, and 50 miles inland.

When I realized we weren’t going to be off the road by dark, I called a former colleague who lives in The Woodlands, hoping to crash at her house. She said they were in Dallas at her brother’s house. All their neighbors left when they did that morning.

The Woodlands is a good 75 miles inland.

How do you minimize shadow evacuations? I don’t think it’s possible in a free society. When authorities can’t force people to leave during a “mandatory” evacuation, you can’t force those who want to go to stay behind

Fear of another Katrina

Many people with no need to evacuate left, either out of fear of another Katrina, or to avoid the inconvenience of being without power for a few days. Add in the fact that thousands of people from New Orleans were in Houston—and undoubtedly didn’t want to ride out another hurricane–you have a recipe for gridlock.

When evacuation is worse than the storm

Approximately 100 people died in the Rita evacuation, from heat-related illness, stress or accidents. Deaths included 24 nursing home evacuees who died when their bus burned on I-45 south of Dallas. That nursing home was near the Houston Galleria, well away from storm surge or potential for wind damage, and was not even close to a mandatory or voluntary evacuation zone.

After Rita, coastal counties and the governor made changes in procedures, and when Hurricane Ike approached Houston in 2008, contraflow lanes were considered, although not needed or implemented.

Houston has survived major flooding from storms in the past, without evacuating ahead of time. People will debate the decision not to evacuate until the next storm comes along. When people evacuate and the storm changes course—as Rita did—they become angry and complacent the next time a big storm blows through. Despite mixed messages by government officials, fear of another Rita was probably at the root of the difficult decision made by the mayor and Harris County judge.rita evacuation tweetWatching six or seven million people struggling to evacuate south Florida this week brought back bad memories. As sad as I am to see the suffering of people stuck in flood waters in Houston, I still think they made the right call not to evacuate. Lets hope the powers that be prioritize infrastructure improvements and communications to avoid future debacles during natural disasters.

 

 

Twin Peaks Shooting: Early Thoughts and Observations on the (Lack of) Public Relations

It’s a little more than 48 hours after a biker gang brawl in the parking lot of the Waco breastaurant Twin Peaks, (killing nine, injuring 18 and resulting in the arrest of 170) and there’s barely a word from the Twin Peaks corporate office.

Sure, there was one tweet from the corporate account about 6 hours after the midday tragedy:

TWin Peaks tweet

A similar message was posted on the corporate Facebook page:

Twin Peaks facebook

Yesterday, about 24 hours after the events, the corporate office posted this on their Facebook page (you can go to the page to read the comments):

Twin Peaks facebook 2

Is that enough? I don’t think so. It’s admirable the company shut down the franchise within a day (the TABC pulled their liquor license ) but what else are they doing to contain the damage to their image?

Very little.

Looking at their Twitter account you see they still have a Major League Baseball Opening Day tweet pinned to the top of the page–folks, that was April 6.

Twin Peaks tweet 2

I’m pretty sure my students, along with any half-decent crisis communications manager would recommend they pin their tweet about the carnage to the top of their page. I even tweeted that suggestion to them several hours ago. I’ll let you know if they do it.

A company called the Chalak Mitra group apparently owned the franchise–and another one near Fort Hood–but a check of their website gleaned no information there or on their affiliate website. Bad web presence or shut down on purpose?  Their Facebook page is gone as well. The same company owns Genghis Grill, and that company’s website and social media are operating normally. (Genghis Grill has had its own problems in the past.)

So what’s a company to do in a situation like this? The franchise owner claims they cooperated with police but the Waco police claim they warned the restaurant about the possibility of violence and were ignored. Before it was taken down the local franchisee’s website apparently promoted regular “bike nights” catering to motorcycle groups.

This story isn’t going away soon. Most people don’t know the difference between a franchisee-run restaurant and a corporate-owned location–they see the name and that’s it.  When you consider my public relations motto “If the public thinks you have a problem, you have a problem” in that context, Twin Peaks has a problem. I’m sure they would love to get the signage off the side of the building while it appears as the backdrop for all the police press conferences, but they can’t get in because it’s a crime scene. It wouldn’t matter anyway–the name is out there and isn’t going away soon. The company is doing little to mitigate the damage to their name.

What would I recommend? It could be “too little too late” but Twin Peaks needs to post a message on every landing page of their website decrying the violence, confirming their closing of the Waco franchise, and offering their sympathy to the families and loved ones of those killed. They would also do well to offer some sort of assistance to the many people left unemployed by the sudden closure of the restaurant–counseling for the witnesses, a job fair, training–something that might help these innocent people get over this trauma.

After all, their own Facebook page says they are “in the people business.”

Take care of your people, Twin Peaks. There are plenty of places to eat.

Helping spread the word about Alzheimer’s Disease

Connections are important in life, and I was pleased to learn my friend and PRSA colleague Gregg Shields had gone to work at UTSW Medical School.

Denton Walk to End Alzheimer's, 2014

Gregg called me to tell me he was excited to be assigned to the Neurology Clinic, and especially the Alzheimer’s Center. I told him how great the doctors and staff were, and then he asked me if he could write an article about Bill and me for their upcoming newsletter.  You can view it by clicking here: 361_Spring 2015 Alzheimer Newsletter_L5

In the “small world” department, when Gregg asked for a recent high-resolution photograph, I immediately thought of our staff photographer in the Mayborn School of Journalism where I teach. Junebug Clark and his father are well-known, especially in the Detroit area, where Gregg is from. So this project also brought two transplanted Detroit natives together.

I hope you enjoy reading about Bill and me, and also learning about the good works of the research team at UTSW. Let’s find a cure for Alzheimer’s, and soon.

New Year, New Stuff, New Musings

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-01/fireworks-light-up-the-sydney-harbour-bridge/5995388
Photo Credit Reuters: Jason Reed.

The year 2015 will be one of milestones and challenges. For starters, I’ll have a birthday ending in zero. At my age you don’t give much thought to birthdays unless they end in zero or five. This one will generate a lot of thought.

I’m moving all my blogs to WordPress. After teaching social media for four years I feel like I’ve put on my “big girl” blogging panties. Blogger was easy, Blogger was free, and Blogger was a habit. I also used Blogger for the collaborative blog created by my social media students–then one of them accidentally changed the primary email, making it his blog, not mine. Because Blogger is a Google product and his email is a Gmail account, my only option was to delete that blog and start over.  Classes start January 21 and new posts should start soon after that–in the meantime you can see what they’ve been up to in past semesters.

August 2014, Graduate School Commencement

The blog moving process, which is still in progress with the help of my former teaching assistant, student and now friend and trusted colleague Amber Morgan Freeland prompted me to make the change on all my blogs. I haven’t moved the “Missing Memo” blog (about dealing with my husband’s Alzheimer’s Disease) but that should happen soon.  In the meantime, playing around with the new WordPress blog sites is productive procrastination (that stuff you do that really accomplishes something but isn’t what you’re avoiding doing).

I also ended 2014 recuperating from back surgery, the same procedure Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo endured in 2013. Fortunately I don’t have to get tackled by people the size of small cars for a living, but as I endure physical therapy I have a new appreciation for that narrow column of bones and cartilage that was never designed for us to get up off our knuckles and start walking upright.

Starting a new year also involves starting a new semester, and this one proves to be a challenge. The number of public relations and advertising majors are growing, and I have 93 students enrolled in my course “Ethics, Law and Diversity for Strategic Communications.” While I love teaching this class (a required capstone course) I’m wondering if I’ll be able to get this class to engage in the kind of thoughtful, provocative, and often funny class discussions.  I’ll have two sections of my Public Relations Communications (also a capstone) course, and the social media class is shaping up to be its usual mix of craziness and seriousness.

Oh, did I mention I have a student doing an internship in California, working for the Dr. Phil show? I’m looking forward to reading her weekly reports.

Frodo
Frodo in his prime, in our garden in Houston.

There were losses in 2014. We lost Frodo, our gorgeous 17 year old Maine Coon cat, who came to us in a torrential thunderstorm in Houston and has left an indelible mark on our hearts. Frodo had been declining, and one day just didn’t get up.  He’s buried in an honored spot in our garden.

Frida
Frida, always about half the size of Frodo, was the “Alpha” cat.

Less than a month later we lost Frida, the scrappy little rescue cat who was only 12 years old. It seems she died of a broken heart, because she and Frodo were close pals since our days in Houston.  After he died she withdrew and stopped eating. When we found her she was beyond help. She is buried next to Frodo, with some lovely flowering plants and an angel cat ornament marking their graves.

Holly at the lake
Holly exploring the Lake Lewisville shoreline.
Last picture
Last photo with our darling dog.

Then, just before Thanksgiving, our beloved basset hound Holly couldn’t get up one day. We rushed her to the emergency clinic but the cancer that had silently invaded her body had spread throughout her vital organs. Classy until the end, she died in my arms as Bill, the kind veterinarian, and I sobbed. She was nine.

Holly swimmingSwimming next summer will be different without Holly, who, oddly for basset hounds, was an enthusiastic swimmer, especially when the weather was Texas HOT.

Mama Cat 52814
Mama Cat, really a kitten herself, when we found her on May 28, scared and alone with 5 newborn kittens.

With loss there is gain. In late May the stray cat we had been trying to catch to have spayed gave birth to five orange kittens in a downstairs closet.  She moved them several times before settling on the spot I had chosen for them. They gave us a lot of joy with every milestone and every toddler adventure. Kittens on hat Continue reading

Some thoughts on D-Day

When I pray my Rosary tonight I’ll be using this rosary.  

Photo by Samra Jones Bufkins

I have many rosaries, from all over the world and representing different milestones in my spiritual journey. All are special. This one is extra special because it’s a paratrooper’s rosary, made from nylon parachute cord. And it was made for me by a World War II veteran who made eight combat jumps behind enemy lines, including D-Day. He also fought with the infantry in the Battle of the Bulge.

The veteran was Brother Christopher Danz, a monk at Assumption Abbey, the Trappist monastery near Ava, Missouri, where my brother was a novice with the order in the mid-90s. Brother Chris was a tall, slender, dark-haired man of few words and broad smiles. If I can find a picture I’ll scan it and post it.

Sunday afternoons are the monks’ time off for rest and relaxation after a long week of work and prayer. Typically they awaken at 3:15 a.m. for the office of Vigils, followed by Mass, a day of scripture study, meditation, community prayer, and work. (They support themselves by baking and selling excellent fruitcakes.) Some monks work in the gardens, the kitchen, or the guest house, and they are mainly in silence while at work. Over a two week period they will sing all 150 Psalms.

When I’d visit the monastery they would come to the guest house to hang out and socialize after Sunday lunch, and Brother Chris always brought his guitar and harmonicas. We’d sing hymns, Woody Guthrie songs and what Chris called “hillbilly music.” The other monks would all tease my brother with the question “Brother Mike, why can’t you sing like your sister?” During one visit, Chris gave me one of his harmonicas after trying to teach me how to play it. I never mastered it, and it’s now in the safe keeping of Barry Landry, who sometimes plays it in our church choir.

Brother Chris didn’t talk about the war much–I learned about his accomplishments from the other monks. It was obvious to all that the war had a terrible impact on him. We knew he lied about his age to enlist at 16 or 17, and had just turned 19 when the Allies invaded Europe. When the war was over and he was discharged from the Army he immediately entered the monastic life. He had been at Assumption Abbey from the beginning, and spent his entire adult life after leaving the Army in prayer and meditation.

Image from Our Catholic Prayers

Chris kept the horrors of war to himself, but was known for his devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. Undoubtedly seeing so many young men struck down in battle caused him to identify with our Lord’s blessed mother, who had to watch her son die horribly on the cross. She heard the Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2: 34, 35) and personally witnessed her son’s passion and death. Mothers of WWII soldiers had to wait for news via radio, newspaper and newsreel. The really bad news came by telegram.

Brother Christopher’s answering the call to a life of silence, prayer and work in community with other monks was also probably reparation and penance for whatever he had to do to survive the hell of the battlefield. PTSD and survivor guilt were real but undiagnosed traumas of WWII veterans, and some coped better than others. Chris coped through a life of sacrifice and prayer.

While the monks were pretty aware of what was going on in the world–they had one computer with an Internet connection, and subscribed to several daily newspapers in order to know what and whom to pray for–most, especially Brother Chris, really had no idea about popular culture. So on one visit, while sitting in rocking chairs on the guest house patio, I told the monks about former President Bush’s parachute jump to celebrate his 75th birthday.

Chris was flabbergasted. “Why would anybody jump out of a plane if they didn’t have to?” (A question I often ask myself.) My brother (a former Marine aviator) and I explained about new parachutes, and the ability to steer them. Pointing to the yard in front of the monastery Mike said “Those jumpers are so good they could land right out there.” Chris was amazed. We explained that President Bush did a tandem jump, strapped to an expert jumper, and Chris started to get interested. The Abbot jokingly suggested they plan such a jump for the monastery’s July 4 picnic, to which they invite the whole community. I could tell Chris was fascinated by the idea of jumping out of a plane for fun, without getting shot at, and with a pretty decent idea about where he was going to land. But that was as close as we came to getting him to talk about the war.
I think about Brother Christopher often. He passed away a few years back, and is now at peace after a life of keeping the pains of his war experience between him and God. 
Photo by Samra Jones Bufkins

Watching the many documentaries and stories about today’s 70th anniversary of D-Day prompted me to pull out a few pieces of war-time memorabilia.

Daddy didn’t see combat during WWII–he was injured during aviation cadet training, developed osteomyelitis in his foot, and spent more than three months at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio as a guinea pig for a new drug, penicillin. Once he regained his health he spent the rest of the war as a B-29 mechanic based in Tucson.

Daddy had this Army-issued pocket-sized New Testament, which was presented to every Christian soldier in those days. (This one was printed by John C. Winston Co.) Looking at it and holding it I can’t help but think every soldier storming the beaches of Normandy probably had one in his pocket.

Photo by Samra Jones Bufkins

We also have my father-in-law’s Army/Navy Hymnal  (Remember, the Air Force as we know it was part of the Army until 1947, and the Marines are part of the Navy).  In addition to hymns it has sections of prayers labeled Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, with selected scriptures and Psalms. It’s fragile, but I love looking through it. I can visualize chaplains blessing the troops before going into battle, and perhaps the soldiers singing familiar hymns for comfort before the invasion.

Last but not least among my dad’s religious memorabilia is a small crucifix, origin unknown. It’s made of unknown metal with inlaid wood, and the Body of Christ is brass. My dad didn’t become Catholic until about 1960, but Mom said he always treasured that crucifix, carrying it with him in a B-29 during combat missions over Korea.  She couldn’t recall who gave it to him, and he never talked about it.

My dad’s war experiences are nowhere near as dramatic as those of the brave men who stormed the beaches of Normandy or battled on the sands of Iwo Jima. But holding these remnants of his past bring me closer to him and to all those of the Greatest Generation who went before us and to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

Freedom isn’t free. Bless the souls of all who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Veteran William Spriggs, 89, of the 83rd Infantry Division, who took part in the invasion of Normandy, in the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Fracking comes to my back yard

Sometime in the wee hours I woke up to an unfamiliar sound. At first I thought it was the furnace malfunctioning, but walking around the house I realized it came from outside. It sounded vaguely like the highway noise we occasionally hear from I-35E, but it was too loud and too steady, with occasional pounding sounds. Certain that nothing was wrong with the house I went back to bed, but when I awoke this morning the sound was still there, still loud, still annoying.

I stepped out on the patio and looked toward South Lakes park, where I had recently seen some drilling rigs on the Acme Brick property on the other side of the park. The rigs were gone but the noise appeared to come from there.

Source: Denton Gas Well Sites (markup is mine)

Bill and I decided to take advantage of the 65 degree weather and walk the dog at the park. Sure enough, the roaring noise was coming from the other side of a “sound barrier” around the gas well. I recorded it and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. I’m told what we’re hearing are probably the pressure pumps and the diesel engines that run them.

This is a lovely park, with a popular jogging and bike trail as well as natural areas abundant with wildlife. We’ve seen wild turkeys there. People eat the fish from the well-stocked lakes. The nearby McMath Middle School students use the park and jogging path for sports and PE classes. Their football team practices near the well. An apartment complex backs up to the property very near to another well.

Later, while watching the Kentucky basketball game with the volume quite loud I could still hear the noise, so I stepped out on the patio to record it. It’s appropriate to mention that, based on Google Maps, this drill pad is about 3,000 feet from my house. That’s at least half a mile.

My Fracking Evolution

I lived in Houston for 18 years and even worked in the energy industry. I’ve always been a fan of natural gas because it is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and can be extracted from the ground with minimal environmental impact.

Source: TexasVox.org

Or so I thought when I moved to Denton in 2005 and heard lots of complaining about “fracking.” We live over the Barnett Shale, and gas wells were popping up in downtown Fort Worth and Arlington, and all around Denton County and Denton. My reaction to all the complaints was “Whiners. There are far worse things you could have in your back yard than a gas well.” And that’s true in places like Houston where the gas is formed in pockets in the earth or salt domes. But extracting shale gas from the ground is very different, and it’s taken me a few years to learn about it. Still, I considered it somebody else’s problem.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process by which gas, trapped in shale, is removed from the ground and brought to the surface. This is done by pumping water, sand and chemicals into the well to break up the shale and free the gas. Contamination of groundwater, air emissions, re-injection of drilling waste and earthquakes are among the concerns of people living in drilling areas. And right now, 9 out of 10 gas wells in the United States involve fracking, according to an article by ProPublica.

Gas drilling is so pervasive in our area that the Denton Record-Chronicle, in partnership with Mayborn School of Journalism graduate students, produced an award-winning series called “Citizens of the Shale” in 2012. It focused on the people affected by the industry, the regulatory climate, and other issues. It’s worth the time to read it.

Before gas wells started sprouting around town the biggest polluter in town was Acme Brick, which supplies more than a third of the Toxic Release Inventory emissions in Denton County. Their compliance has improved, thanks to installation of new scrubbers on their stacks several years ago ahead of an enforcement schedule.

Photo (c) David Minton, Denton Record-Chronicle

While Acme Brick appears to be doing its part to be a good neighbor, the driller on their property, Eagle Ridge, apparently has not. A recent blog highlighted issues faced by a neighborhood near an EagleRidge site adjacent to the UNT campus. While writing this blog I found other blogs and blog posts dedicated to the drilling issue in Denton, which at one time imposed a moratorium on gas drilling. There’s even a blog post about the well that woke me up this morning. Recently the city council has been inconsistent in the messages it sends via votes, such as this recent zoning change that could allow houses as close as 250 feet from wells. It’s enough to make your head spin.

All Fracked Up?

There’s too much to say about this dilemma in one short blog post. I’ve passively watched it play out, and while I was quoted in a Denton Record-Chronicle article by Peggy Heinkle-Wolfe and Lowell Brown about unscrupulous public relations practices by the fracking industry, I really wasn’t paying much attention to the issue.

Until I was awakened by roaring and thumping in the wee hours of a Saturday morning.

This won’t be my last post on this topic.

Blogs I am now following:

TXSharon BlueDaze Drilling Reform blog includes an incredible list of blogs and resources on this topic.
Denton Drilling is a local blog by a UNT professor who also writes for Slate.
City Councilman Kevin Roden’s blog often covers gas drilling issues.
Denton Citizens for Responsible Urban Drilling has a great blog and possibly the best acronym (DCRUD) ever.
Denton Drilling Awareness Group has an informative website.
Shale Stories by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, reporter for the Denton Record-Chronicle.
Barnett Shale blog by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Fracking uses a lot of water, so I’ve bookmarked the Texas Drought Project.

Remembering November 22, 1963

Social media 1963 style–two editions of the afternoon paper.
Living in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, it’s impossible to forget what happened 50 years ago today. Like so many alive on that fateful day, I vividly remember much of the day and those following.

I was in third grade at Lydick Elementary School in South Bend Indiana. I remember the teacher being called out of the classroom. When she returned, she was crying. A few minutes later the principal announced that the president had been shot, and we were being sent home for the rest of the day. It was much easier in those times to send kids home from school because there were fewer working moms, fewer single moms. Moms were at home crying in front of their TVs because of the news that was announced when their favorite afternoon soaps (in Mom’s case As the World Turns) were interrupted.

On the bus, the driver had a small transistor radio with him. He’s the one who told us “He’s dead. Somebody killed the president.” The bus got quiet. A few girls cried. Somebody asked if the Russians (as we all called the Soviets then) did it.                                                                                                                                                                                            You see, this was in the days of “duck and cover” drills, the Cold War exercise designed to make us feel like there was something we could do to save ourselves in the event of a nuclear attack. All it really did was scare the crap out of a whole generation.

At home we watched CBS News with Walter Cronkite. It was the first time for live “wall to wall” coverage of news events. (WFAA-TV has made their 1963 live broadcast available on their website.) My brother Mike, in high school then, came home and Daddy soon followed.  There were phone calls. I guess that’s how my parents knew to go to church–or else it was announced on TV that our Catholic church would be having special prayers. 
We sat in the warm, dark church, which was packed, and the priest led us in a rosary, and there was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We prayed for peace, for the safety of our nation. I remember feeling very bewildered by it all. Mom and Dad and Mike and the adults all talked about scary things and political stuff I didn’t yet understand.
Associated Press photo

The rest of the weekend seems to be a blur of constant TV watching, including seeing Oswald shot, Kennedy’s lying in state in the Capitol–and Jackie and Caroline kneeling before it–culminating in the moving funeral on Monday.

Among my memories of the funeral are the horses, the clattering of hooves, the drums, and the silence of the huge crowds lining the streets of the nation’s capital all the way to Arlington National Cemetery.

America changed then, in many ways. The innocence and optimism of the ’50s gave way to cynicism. As conspiracy theories swirled and the Vietnam war  escalated, Americans grew less willing to accept everything the government told us. We asked questions, we protested, we got involved.

Dallas 50 years later

During the fall semester I teach a class at the UCD in downtown Dallas, across the street from the building where Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. My route home takes me through Dealey Plaza. I have never driven through there when there was not someone–alone or in a group–walking around, looking at the Texas School Book Depository, or the grassy knoll.

Living here means I have the privilege of attending events at which people who were witnesses to this historic tragedy speak. Five years ago, at a Dallas Press Club event, I heard Buell Frazier tell his story as a panelist in a program that included several key figures from the events of that day. He’s the guy who drove Oswald to work, and he’d never told his story publicly before.

Among the people I’ve had the honor of meeting is Hugh Aynesworth, former Dallas Morning News reporter, author, and the only person to witness the assassination, Oswald’s arrest, and later his murder. He produced a fascinating documentary that was screened at UNT this past week. The screening, and the Q & A afterward brought back memories for those of us who remember the end of Camelot.

For most of the students in the room, November 22, 1963 is a date in a history book. For those of us who remember, it was a defining moment in our lives.

Let’s never forget we are ALL Americans

Once again we are remembering what happened 12 years ago today. And while it–like the Kennedy Assassination, the first Moon landing, and many other historical events during my 58 years on this planet–remain ingrained in my memory, I feel strangely detached from it today. And that’s bad.

Yes, I changed my Facebook cover photo to a 9/11 photo and my profile pic to something more somber for the day. The flag is out and I have a 9/11 photo on my Twitter profile. I’ve resurrected my blog post from September 11, 2009 reminiscing about the day.

MSNBC is repeating their coverage from that morning, in real time, as if it were playing out live. That’s really surreal.

Two years ago, for the tenth anniversary (“anniversary” sounds so crass), I was interviewed by Eric Adelson for Yahoo News about the terrorist attacks and how the existence of social media might have changed things that day–news coverage, families messaging each other, last goodbyes. It’s all speculation of course, and most of it was too awful to contemplate. I still remember that phone interview, and how Eric was so concerned about covering the story with sensitivity. He’s a sports reporter–and a good one–but recounted how he and his family were talking about 9/11 and the ways they found out about the attacks that day, and he decided to write about it in terms of social media. He said he wrestled with the idea of doing a story, because it’s still so raw for all of us. think we can all imagine what social media would be like if, God forbid, something like this ever happened again. We’ve seen it with all kinds of disasters, big and small, local and regional. Good and bad people get on social media and the online universe goes nuts–and that sometimes becomes the story itself.

Divided or Separate?

For a time after 9/11/2001 we were one nation, united in front of a common enemy. Today we are more divided than ever, and that’s sad. We’re winding down the second of two unproductive, unwinnable wars since 2001 and debating starting a third. Our nation’s finances are a shambles, Congress won’t do anything but disagree with the other side and nobody else can agree on anything except perhaps that Miley Cyrus is controversial right now. Development of the 9/11 Memorial Museum was riddled with controversy. So on this day of commemorations, resolutions, memorials, and probably some tasteless newsjacking by some clueless marketing person with a fast Twitter trigger, take five minutes to watch this video and remember we are all Americans.

As Tiny Tim of Dickens fame said, “God Bless us, Everyone.”