4/09/08 from Vietnam, to Annapolis, to the Movies

This has been an interesting week. First, the Peabody Award comes for our work on the series we produced called Just Words. It was funded by the Open Society Institute and aired on WYPR for a little over a year. We submitted the work for the prestigious Peabody but had no expectations of winning one. It is a little overwhelming to be in the company of Steve Colbert, Planet Earth, Sixty Minutes, and other incredibly important national shows (including Project Runway, which I watch at my 11 year old daughter’s behest). It is quite an honor.

From 2005 to 2007 dozens of NPR stations around the country aired our six part documentary series, Shared Weight. I don’t know how many of you heard them (all six will be up on our new website for you to hear and podcast). They are six stand-alone hours produced with and about Vietnam veterans from both sides of the conflict. We spent six weeks in Vietnam recording and three veterans of that war went with us.

At any rate, we planned to return to Vietnam sometime in June or July to finish one of our stories. The first hour in our series was the story of Vietnam Veteran Homer Steedley and North Vietnamese soldier Hong Ngoc Dam. Homer killed Dam on his first day in Nam. They met coming around a bend in the road. There they were alone face to face. Homer got his gun our first. Dam died. Homer took the documents off his body. He kept them in his mother’s attic. For over thirty five years the image of that young man’s face and the documents he kept haunted him. He had to find Dam’s family to give them back that piece of him, of their son, husband and brother. We found the family. That first hour was called Wandering Souls because Vietnamese Buddhists believe that souls of the dead wander if their bodies or something of theirs is not returned home. Dam was one of 350,000 Vietnamese MIAs.

Now, Homer is going back to Vietnam for the first time since the war. He wants to meet Dam’s family and together they will journey to Kontum to find Dam’s body. We want to be there to finish this story of healing.

Well, we found out this week the trip is moved up to May. So, producer Jessica Phillips and I will be journeying to Vietnam. Hopefully, we will be sending back stories to you, with any luck with sound and pictures.

When we get back, we will head out in early June to the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They want to hear, and we want to tell, the story of what happened at WYPR. We want to tell the story of this community’s efforts to keep the public in public radio and to build and keep our sense of community. There will be thousands of people there who are dedicated to keeping alive and creating community non-corporate-controlled media. We will let you know what we find.

Then I am off for a week to the Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico to teach radio to a national gathering of Native American high school students. It is a camp called Native Visions started by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. It is not my first time there over the last fifteen years, but I love teaching at the place. Hopefully, more stories for me to share.


OK, Annapolis is done. The session is over. So, what really happened?

The biggest crime was the Constellation Energy deal being ratified by a bullied State Senate and House of Delegates. It was 1999 deregulation redux. I know, I know, the reregulation debate can still occur. The Public Service Commission was not granted subpoena power. This is the single most important failure of that deal and legislation. Read Sun Business Columnist Jay Hancock’s column today. We still do not know why energy cost so much after the 2005 auctions or what goes on at the auctions. The control of the grid and wholesale electric market is opaque, at best, at the state, regional and national level. It is controlled by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is controlled by the federal government, which, as we found at the beginning of the Bush/Cheney administration, is controlled by big oil and coal. Remember Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force in 2001 that would not release its report and never did. Do you remember that it was made up of all his friends in oil and coal and their ancillary industries?

What we needed was a bill that put teeth in the PSC, that changed laws to allow full disclosure of deal making in that industry and encourage our elected Congressional representatives to demand reform at the national level.

We can have openness, honesty, and a strong energy future with Constellation or anyone else. These ideas are not mutually exclusive.


OK, enough blah blah … what I want to know is when will these clouds go away? I want sunshine.

We saw the film Stop Loss the other day at Hunt Valley. It was a powerful movie about the back door draft affecting the lives of so many American soldiers. It was by directed by Kimberly Pierce, whose previous film was Boys Don’t Cry. We went to a 5 PM show. We were the only two people sitting in the theater. I know Mondays at five may be a slow movie time but I think Americans don’t want to hear about this war. So few of us know people who serve, who died there or who were wounded in battle. What about you, do you know anyone who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan? After we saw the film I was thinking about my student’s brother who died in Iraq and another woman I know whose son was killed in Iraq. This war makes me angry.

We also saw John Sayles’ Honeydripper at the Charles. What superb acting, wonderful script, great music and uplifting. God, it felt good to walk out of a movie smiling.

And Thursday night, it is the Stones in Scorsese’s Shine a Light at The Senator. I can’t wait. Talk about feeling good. I am afraid to tell you all that I saw my first Stones concert in the spring of ‘64 in Albany, New York. I have been hooked ever since. I was always more of Stones man than a Beatle boy. Though I loved post 65 Beatles. OK, too much information.

See you at the movies.