Friday, April 24, 2009


Some would have you believe that Tis the winter of our discontent… whether from Shakespeare’s sarcastic Richard III or Steinbeck’s Ethan Allen Hawley who would sell his soul to the devil to have his way. There is no winter here today, only Spring and flowers, positive attitudes and the prospect of lives renewed.

Turning 60 might stop some folks dead in their tracks and that was going to be the subject of this post, even while I contemplate my own mortality – being closer to the end than the beginning.

I was going to wax philosophic and name this post On Turning Sixty though after a cursory search on the Internet, I found post after post, article after article, countless poems and even books with the same title. No Joe Biden here (hence an alter title) though I wasn’t surprised when you realize that most folks do age, hit that august mark in the 21st century and then find some way to either glorify or denigrate that event. In my case we’re talking about a young Lady who’s really too young to be sixty as she has redefined the milestone.

After this weekend she will have achieved that maturity and moved on to some other aspect of her life while the collective rest of us muddle on the twilight side of sexagenarianism. While many of us have a tough time wrapping our arms around just the concept of sixty, the truth is that sixty, at least chronologically, and in the context of the big picture, is not all that different from fifty-five or even fifty. It’s that whole lame frame of mind thing and, well, you’ve heard all the coddling, assuring and patronizing crap mostly from the AARP about sliding into home plate and then seeing and following the light! Well, the reality is that sixty is, indeed, the new fifty.

I certainly believe that we don’t have to acquiesce and accept our mortality with nothing more than a whimper. We can as author Judith Viorst invites us to consider and we paraphrase, "drink wine, make love, laugh hard, care hard, and learn a new trick or two as part of our job description." While Viorst was talking about seventy there is no reason to think this great and sage advice isn’t applicable to any age beyond fifty. Indeed, that message has been taken to heart by the pig in the python Boomers who still appear to be reinventing the culture and then once having attained a longevity never before experienced, try and figure out how they are going to pay for those years…. Ah, the new paradigm in a new economy.

We who are in the War Baby and Boomer Generations (cohorts) redefined our culture, are now an estimated 80 million+ demographic (and decreasing) and represent more than 30% of the US population. On a personal note I certainly wonder what happened to the US War Baby Generation that has apparently morphed to the Silent Generation though in some circles a 1943 birth day willl earn you a Boomer appellation (shame on you Wikipedia). I will continue to recognize the Boomers as those fortunates born between 1946 and 1964, while War Babies were, well, Eureka, born from 1941 to 1945.

As I mentioned this seniority has prompted many literary offerings, including many poems, many of which are downright depressing. Among all of those I found fellow sexagenarian and poet Don Thompson and his version of Turning Sixty. No doubt his clarity springs from his life experiences and Masters earned at the University of British Columbia. Don speaks for me…

It’s not a change for the worse, unexpected, not an abrupt
grinding downshift for a corner you’re going too fast to make.
It’s not like that, not at all like locking up the brakes
to skid sideways to a stop with an inch or so to spare,
the engine still idling, so quiet you can hear the dust settle,
idling as if nothing had gone wrong.

No, aging is more like a slow segue, a glissando rather than incremental clicks;
or a few degrees on your thermometer that don’t amount to much quantitatively,
yet separate warm and familiar, comfortable, from distinct chill.
Those few degrees add up to the end of a long season.

Maybe a storm would make it all easier: blistering rain
with winds that thin your hair and blow the color out of what’s left,
Mach One winds that make your jowls sag.
A man could stand up to that or to a wreck, a cardiac crack-up.
But it’s not like that. Instead, an almost imperceptible desiccation sets in,
passions thickening like old paint in cans you can barely pry open.

So turning sixty isn’t disaster after all, nor crisis, panic, despair, malevolence,
but merely a bit more of what’s already troubled you for years—
that and gravity’s fat thumb becoming heavier, heavier, heavier.
For others turning sixty life has become an uncontrollable, simplistic and fatalistic journey, “riding the late train, lights flashing on and off as the car clatters and sways waiting for that unimaginable last stop.”

I look at the mirror in the morning and notice my not so subtle changes now include a new turkey waddle and thinning hair. I see her beautiful form and incredible mind and sense of humor and realize that She is like the Boomers reinventing themselves as necessary to meet the challenges of a new era. While doing so she remains a constant pillar for me and all those around her. For her sixty is no sweet surrender, rather the time to celebrate life anew, a time to keep promises and hold tighter to her Friends and Family - a literal rock.

So to many, achieving this seniority is akin to the world turning upside down while for the rest of us and especially our good Friend just achieving this milestone, it’s all just starting to make sense. As Winston Churchill mused, “No one grows old by living. Only by losing interest in living.” The student has become the teacher and she doesn’t know it…yet.

To Mary, Aye,

Ned Buxton

Friday, April 17, 2009


The other morning around 6:00 am I was out airing the dog and picked up the Dallas Morning News off the lawn. I waved at a respected and well-liked neighbor still in his pajamas and slippers performing the same chores and then all of a sudden appreciated that I was in a Norman Rockwell moment. Then in a further epiphany I looked around and sadly realized that this scene could sooner rather than later become a part of our past. It certainly appears that the major American institution we know as print newspapers is being reinvented probably to the delight of Internet Champions. It seems that many of the great newspapers of our country are slowly deep sixing or morphing to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

My paternal Grandfather, Col. G. Edward Buxton, Jr., was a war correspondent in WWI and later the Business Manager and Treasurer with the
Providence Journal now owned by Dallas-based A.H. Belo. My Father, Coburn Allen Buxton, worked in Advertising/Special Features for the Dallas Times Herald for thirty of the paper’s one hundred and three years after relatively short stints with the Troy Record of Troy, New York and the Dallas Morning News (DMN). In a tried and true capitalist maneuver designed to eliminate competition, the afternoon daily Herald is no more after a bargain basement buy-out by the Dallas Morning News in 1991 - seven short years after my Father's passing. Glad Dad didn't see that for the DMN shut the Herald down one day after their purchase. Some folks here in Texas felt this was a mercy killing though the irony is that the DMN is now under that same gun. Goes around, comes around…

The current Belo Corporation is the successor corporation (as of February, 2008) to the original A. H. Belo Company. Belo now operates just the TV and Cable side of the old business while the new/old company, A. H. Belo, still owns and operates the Dallas Morning News, the Providence (RI) Journal, The Denton Record-Chronicle of Denton, Texas and the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, CA (serving the “inland empire” of southern California). That spin off was a white flag and declaration of defeat as all the current A. H. Belo newspapers continue to be stressed. In 2007 A. H. Belo lost $347.01 million though “improved” in 2008 only losing $62.30 million. Grandfather Buxton is spinning in his grave.

It is more than a little ironic that these papers are reporting on the current challenging economic situation (maybe even adding to the feeding frenzy) while they remain squarely in the bulls eye themselves. They have all lost circulation, readership and unrecoverable revenues.
You can’t sell yesterday’s news today…

February 27, 2009 marked the end of another great newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News (RMN), just 55 days short of its 150th anniversary. The RMN was another casualty in a long line of newspapers recently deceased with more in the offering.

Let’s put these failures into perspective. In the last couple of years scores of newspapers have ceased to exist or have morphed into hybrid online-print or online-only models. They include: the Baltimore Examiner, Kentucky Post, Cincinnati Post, King County Journal, Union City Register-Tribune, Halifax Daily News, Albuquerque Tribune, South Idaho Press, San Juan Star, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Capital Times, Detroit News/Detroit Free Press, Christian Science Monitor, East Valley Tribune, Ann Arbor News, Flint Journal, Bay City Times, Saginaw News, Catskill Daily Mail/Hudson Register-Star and others. Scores of other Neighborhood and Community print newspapers have ceased to exist…

Other newspapers that appear to be in deep trouble include The Boston Globe, USA Today, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chicago Sun-Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, Miami Herald, Philadelphia Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Cleveland Plain Dealer and surely not last the aforementioned A. H. Belo newspapers. The respected online “financial news and opinion operation”,
24/7 Wall Street, is predicting that it’s possible that eight of the fifty largest daily newspapers in the United States could cease publication in the next eighteen months. By the way if you are looking for insightful and objective financial reporting, don’t hesitate to visit these folks.

Well, it first appeared to me that we were all in some sort of a vigil, a death watch, as these papers are inexorably toppling down due to the “virulent Internet.” I initially decided to do this post for no other reason than documenting for my grandchildren that there used to be print newspapers. I thought that “Death Watch” might be an appropriate title, Googled it and wouldn’t you know it – there’s a popular and well-read blog entitled
Newspaper Death Watch authored by one Paul Gillin, a talented and insightful writer whose declared passion is journalism. He sounds like someone of Scots extraction though probably a cousin Irishman – gude enuf! Try him out especially if you want all the details about the “demise” of the American newspaper industry and how this is not necessarily the end of journalism. Interesting reading… I have copped his title for this post, with admiration and respectful apologies.

As an aside to all this journalistic palabber, appropriately and to the angst chagrin of my Father, I flunked Journalism 101 at Ole Miss. It was an 8:00 am class and I made few, damned few, of the classes. Ole Miss had a no cut policy of three classes and I was soon on the trash heap. I liken that to Faulkner flunking English at the hands of Ms. Cone. If I had pre-tested, I would have aced the class. And so back to the demise of some of our respected newspaper giants…

As Gillin has reported, “The high fixed cost of print publishing makes the major metro newspaper business model unsustainable in a world that increasingly wants information to be free.” Enter now the ever evolving Internet dragon that seems to be reinventing itself every six months or so while offering solutions and options even while precipating the necessity for this transition.

While some newspapers may, indeed, be on a Death Watch, there are some papers out there that appear to be negotiating around this financial morass. They are cutting staff, renegotiating union contracts, expanding and reporting on germane topics of interest, looking for new income streams that have put them mightily in the middle of the Internet. They are now managing web sites and blogging/posting, texting, twittering and keeping up with the new generation while recreating themselves. Some newspapers following this new model have even made money!

Unfortunately, a large part of our now geriatric population will probably be left out and unable to participate in this new information revolution. This is not the 1950’s TV and Radio era where all they had to do was flip a switch or turn a knob. Many seniors just don’t possess, or can’t afford to buy, computer hardware, nor have the capacity to develop the skills necessary to negotiate the Internet or even send an e-mail. All the great work by credible organizations like the AARP, local & state workforces and community colleges around the country can’t seem to make a dent in the retraining necessary to make our seniors communicative or marketable in today’s workplace. I have been there, done that and got the T shirt. It seems almost an impossible task.

My Mother like many in her generation was a victim of technology and refused to take that next step. In her legal work world she literally was the best and didn’t need these new fangled gizmos…. She was an IBM beta tester for their Selectric I & II typewriters and Mrs. Barbara Blackburn of Salem, Oregon aside (Dvorak), Mother routinely typed 170 words per minute (corrected) on the Selectric Qwerty keyboard though I honestly do not know how long she could maintain that pace. Incredible though this was timing was the major factor for her as computers were coming into vogue just as she was retiring. She was mercifully spared the indignity of the great transitions and makeovers that large law firms like Edwards & Angell in Providence, RI made to enter the technology age – and all for the better. By the way, Elisabeth Alden Littlefield Buxton would routinely complete the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, in ink, within 30 minutes.
I could not carry her bags…

So where are we going with all this? I hope that along with the survivial of some of the largest and most viable of newspapers, where we will get much of our national and international news (still slower than the Internet), you will see a rebirth of some local mostly human interest tabloid-style papers though most will be on the Internet, generally more responsive to their communities where grammatik and spell checker will have to be at the fore; where an article generated will be an article published; where much of the news will be mundane, trivial and old, very old. The local news will mostly be positive and Chamber of Commerce ads for the community though still the forum for dissent/disagreement and not so mainstream opinions. They will become conduits of operation for local and county governments. We will know who drank too much last weekend and what idiot whacked his wife. We will hopefully know who has the prettiest flowers and largest tomatoes and how about that 237 pound pumpkin? Maybe all that will be driven by vanity and the desire to see one’s name in print – electronic or otherwise. Richard Pierce and Benjamin Harris of
Publick Occurrences would be proud.

Reinvented newspapers and their paradigm shift to the Internet and electronic reporting (and whatever form their successors take) will be the real chroniclers of relevant history. We will adapt and the best among us will survive.

We are reinventing news reporting, every day and, yes, the reports of its demise are somewhat exaggerated and I look forward to another Norman Rockwell moment whilst retrieving the Texas Times Herald?


Ned Buxton

Friday, April 10, 2009


It seems that we in the Dallas, Texas area are always in the epicenter of much that is good, though sometimes bad. That would appear to put us squarely in synch with the rest of the world where the might of right ultimately opposes ignorance and injustice. Maybe we can put into perspective a recent and hopefully isolated incident that deserves our undivided attention and understandably weeks later is still big news here in north Texas.

An automobile with flashing hazard lights stops then proceeds through a red light and is almost immediately followed by a police officer displaying lights and sirens. The car would not stop for the police officer though pulls into in the parking lot of a nearby hospital a short time later. The occupants of the car (save one) bail out and the police officer apparently intimidated, draws his pistol and attempts to detain the driver and occupants. The driver of the vehicle while always respectful though in an understandably very animated and agitated manner tries to explain to the police officer that his mother-in-law was dying inside, imploring the officer to let them see her. Two of the occupants disregard the officer’s orders (and gun) and run into the hospital. They turned out to be the daughter and aunt of the now deceased woman. The Father stayed in the car reflecting later that he was afraid for his life.

The thirteen minutes that the driver was detained tragically included the last few minutes of the life of his mother-in-law. The police car’s dashboard camera documented the entire event making even more amazing the police officer’s patently unprofessional behaviors that included such cold and callous classics as, “I can screw you over.” and “I can make your night very difficult.” He also apparently threatened to cite him for illegally parking in the hospital parking lot (private property). Can he legally do that? As absurd as it sounds, the officer later stated that he felt he was just doing his job before publicly apologizing for his “poor judgment and insensitivity.”

The officer was seemingly impassive to the pleas of the driver and contrary to his oath showed no compassion or understanding of the needs of one of his citizens. It wasn’t until a security guard, nurse and a Plano, Texas police officer arrived and clarified the situation that the officer relented. The footage which has been played over and over ad nauseum on local and national TV demonstrates early on the true nature of the situation. These weren’t criminals trying to avoid the law, rather a Family earnestly trying to capture one last moment with a loved one.

I find this situation wholly repugnant, and the purpose of this post is to point out that the officer’s questionable behavior once again reinforces that nothing in our lives is black or white, rather varying shades of gray. While the police officer was technically enforcing the laws of the State of Texas as they are written, he didn’t factor in any extenuating circumstances. He demonstrated absolutely no common sense, a basic commodity that should be in the playbook of every police officer. Why the police officer acted this way we may never know though it could have involved pure and honest fear, racism, the cynicism that recent drug related scenarios have provoked, a lack of training, an indication that this individual was just not suited for law enforcement or all of the above.

That said where was the desire and willingness to protect and serve? Where was that basic common sense and logic? We all understand the tightrope of zero tolerance and citizen rights that police officers have to maneuver though this incident appeared to be locked up in a controlling and egocentric personality not suited for law enforcement. When does talking down to somebody elicit their respect and cooperation? I find it hard to believe that this officer hasn’t acted unprofessionally in other scenarios and, indeed, local prosecutors are reviewing other cases brought by this officer that now may be suspect.

The very high bar set for law enforcement might have come tumbling down were it not for the actions and positive examples set by other Dallas Police Officers. One Dallas TV station while reporting the mostly negative reaction to this incident recounted the statement of one woman who in a eerily similar situation was recently stopped by a Dallas police officer who then escorted her to and into the hospital where he stood duty (with hat off) outside the room of her dying relative until he was summoned on another call. There are many other examples of the compassion and service rendered by the finest in the Dallas Police Department to include the officer who recently risked his life to pull a citizen bent on suicide out of a window in a high rise Dallas hotel. Who heard about that? The bottom line is that the many good deeds routinely performed by the department mostly go unreported.

Having said that this writer became privy to a traffic case in another Dallas County municipality where a motorist late in the evening exited a major Dallas freeway and entered an inside left turn only lane initiating his left turn blinker an undetermined distance (maybe thirty feet) before the red light. The driver sat at the red light which cycled through to green. When the driver turned left a police officer who had drawn up behind his car pulled him over for violation of not initiating his turn signal at least one hundred feet before the light. The driver was arrested and taken to jail for this seemingly minor offense. When we put this “offense” into context i.e. the driver’s intent was never in doubt as he was in the left turn only lane and the late hour of the night, it’s puzzling that local prosecutors even agreed to pursue the case. The Jury by their charge had to find the driver guilty given current state law and the driver’s admission. They, however, unanimously imposed a minimum fine sending the message that while the letter of the law may have been satisfied, the spirit surely had not. That case should never have been brought to trial. The fact that the defendant was of Middle Eastern origins was not lost on the jury.

I don’t know the statistics on the enforcement of traffic violations before and after 911. Notwithstanding population growth and the ever expanding number of drivers and roads on which to ply, it would appear that we are getting overzealous in the enforcement of our traffic laws – to the point that we are losing touch with our constituencies – the people that pay us to protect them. If the two cases cited above are any indication, we may not necessarily be close to a tipping point but perhaps at the time to reevaluate our traffic laws and the unrealistic, excessive enforcement of those that should require further scrutiny. That’s where we as citizens should take over and by contacting our representatives prompt a further review of these suspect offenses.

Don’t get me wrong we certainly need to aggressively enforce the law though some would argue that we need to take our limited resources and concentrate on those offenses and crimes that have a greater affect on our society. That doesn’t include an under control Family trying to capture one last moment with a dying relative or a college professor trying to make a left turn near the midnight hour.

We all know by now that the driver detained by now former Dallas Police Officer Robert Powell was NFL running back Ryan Moats of the Houston Texans. Many of the initial headlines keyed on Moats and his notoriety as if his job should have allowed him some special treatment. To his credit he never brought that up - an indication of his good character and his desire that he be treated no different than anybody else. And that should be one of the major lessons that we learn from this sad incident; that everybody should be treated equally and those that screw up like the aforementioned Dallas Police Officer, be held accountable for their behaviors.

Dallas police officer recruits are required to spend eight months in the department's academy followed by an intensive six months of field training and another six months riding with a senior officer. Before they even get to that point they have to undergo a battery of interviews and psychological testing in order to determine their suitability for law enforcement. Despite all the tests and training (hopefully covering those non-routine varying shades of gray) and other checks and balances that are in place, some recruits are invariably not going to make the grade. That’s part of the paradigm where no matter what you do your ultimate success is not going to be 100%.

We need not continue to isolate, harp and negatively exploit these incidents, rather learn from them. I thank God we mostly have great law enforcement. Though Moats has accepted Powell’s apology it would appear appropriate that far from other prying eyes and cameras Moats and Powell meet, talk it out, agree or disagree and really start the healing process…

Some of us also hope that the college professor ticketed for the absurd left turn violation knows that he won...


Ned Buxton

Friday, April 3, 2009


Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839), the very talented though indulgent, now mostly neglected songwriter, novelist and dramatist born in Bath, England on October 13, 1797 has lately been on my mind. If we touched on him in English Lit at Ole Miss it was only briefly and mostly because of the preponderance of even greater English writers. Bayly exhibited great promise for even as child he demonstrated a penchant for writing verse and you know how I love words. Despite being born of wealthy parents and assured a successful career in law, he gave it all up to study for the priesthood at Oxford. That didn’t last long and Bayly later went on to become a celebrated writer and despite some successes, his life came tumbling down, dying early at age 42. It was a Hell of a ride though and in that interim he managed to write some acclaimed pieces to include Long, Long Ago, a song destined to become an American favorite.

But we are remembering him in this post as the credited composer of that old now clichéd adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” taken from the last line of the second verse of one of his songs, Isle of Beauty, Fare Thee Well from the first volume of Songs to Rosa (his wife was Helena Hayes from Dublin) which was published posthumously in 1850. The line goes, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder, Isle of Beauty, fare thee well!” I found the sheet music and lyrics at a University of North Carolina site and was bothered that the second stanza bore a striking similarity to a passage attributed throughout much of the Internet to John Milton in his epic poem, Paradise Lost. In fact, the verse attributed to both Bayly and Milton is exactly the same. Since the blind Milton wrote Paradise Lost from 1658 to 1667, one hundred and thirty-nine years before Bayly was born in 1797, I wanted to clarify this issue for all time.

I engaged Boolean searches and scanned the entire Milton epic for the passage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder, Isle of Beauty, fare thee well!" and have not found it. I scanned all twelve books of the second edition for words contained in the entire second verse of Bayly’s Isle of Beauty and found no similarity in any of Milton’s work. I also engaged three study guides with similar results.

What I did notice was that the heroic verse, without rhyme (blank verse) style of Milton’s Paradise Lost is not the same as the mostly rhyming ballad style of Isle of Beauty and that should have tipped me off immediately. In fact, it’s obvious that the credit for “Absence” goes to Bayly and I am sure that would be validated by any Professor of English Literature worth his or her salt. The attribution to Milton was either a deliberate fraud or honest mistake by one citizen which once Internet-fed, was picked up by intellectual zombies where it has been repeated over and over to exponential heights. Sorry Bayly, we have you back in the winner’s box.

We can totally exonerate Bayly though the absence sentiment had apparently attained almost cliché status by Bayly’s time. We can understand that the message is universal and not surprised that others have more or less expressed the same powerful sentiment over the ages. We believe that The Roman
elegiac poet Sextus Propertius (ca 50 BCE to 15 BCE) who was a good buddy to Ovid gave us the earliest form of this saying in his Elegies, “semper in absentes felicior aestus amantes”, “Always toward absent lovers love’s tide stronger flows.”

The contemporary Absence version appears first as the title of an anonymous English poem in 1602 though that may be attributed to either Francis or Walter Davison, publishers of
A Poetical Rhapsody, a collection of "divers sonnets, odes, elegies, madrigals, and other Poesies.

Francois Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) the noted French author of maxims and memoirs makes his contribution to our sentiment in his Maximes (p. 276), “Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire or as my best Friend from Montreal would say, “L'absence diminue les mediocres passions et augmente les grandes, comme le vent eteint les bougies et allume le feu”. Well, Rochefoucauld was right but that sentiment comes from the same man who recognized that, “True love is like a ghost: everyone speaks of it, but few have seen it.” In fact, few have ever experienced true love.

Not surprisingly, Shakespeare has also had his hand deep in the till with such famous lines as, “Absence doth sharpen love, presence strengthens it; the one brings fuel, the other blows it till it burns clear” and one of my absolute favorites, “Absence from those we love is self from self - a deadly banishment.”

James Howell, Historiographer Royal of England under Charles II in his mostly fictional Familiar Letters (Epistolae Ho-Elianae – 1650 CE) says that, "Distance sometimes endears friendship, and absence sweeteneth it." All this from a man that spent some nine years in prison for treason and/or indebtedness. That would taint me…

There are countless other writers who have played to the celebration of this same theme and it comes down to us to interpret based on our own life experiences.

For me, it’s Bayly and Shakespeare who for all time cement this little bit of simple transitory emotion and logic as I seem to have been alone most of my life, even when I’ve been surrounded by other folks. That may explain my more melancholy nature though those that know me attribute that to my Scots ancestry (a DNA thing).

It takes a huge leap to reveal your real self and especially in that moment of total vulnerability demonstrate actions that say, I trust and love you. It was never as easy as grandmother Aline Armstrong Buxton’s always exuberant instruction, “Open up the window and let love fly in.”

In a world characterized by constant change and almost frenzied, choreographed transition, the drive to achieve a lasting and special intimacy with that singular person becomes even more meaningful. When that “right” person becomes part of your life don’t be afraid to commit and show your real self – no games. If the relationship has depth, strength and breadth it will succeed and overcome any trial including distance.

The always profound Leo Buscaglia once said, “What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.” Thanks Bayly, thanks Leo, thanks William - I choose life…


Ned Buxton