This  morning I talked on the radio about a village in India where people are terrified to walk the paths between their town and those of their neighbors. When darkness falls they huddle in their homes, fearful for their lives because a leopard has  been stalking and eating humans, twelve victims in the past two years.

Can you imagine having something like that to worry about?

My partner, Amy, and I also talked about the Islamic terrorists in northern Iraq who have been slaughtering Christians and beheading babies. By comparison, that village in India seems like Disney World with a plumbing problem.

In Africa people are dying by the thousands of Ebola, which is highly contagious, rarely curable and never satisfied to simply snuff out lives. It insists on doing so in a long, drawn out, fevered, hemorrhagic horror.

People in their Ebola death throes sweat profusely as their eyes bleed and their minds scream for deliverance.

Meanwhile, here in America we’re all wound up about two very wealthy young athletes who both have apparent tendencies to snap and hit people they love. So far none of the people they love have been seriously hurt and are defending their attackers.

In our house, our dog Amelia has an intestinal virus but the vet gave us some medicine and says she’ll be fine.

Carolann and I are also trying to figure out how to save enough money to buy Christmas presents for our family in California.

We’re healthy and happy but we do stress about our weight a bit.

Sometimes we’re annoyed when the WiFi doesn’t work right.



Tradition: the generation gap

When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21 I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. — Mark Twain

The idiocy of ageism has angered me for as long as I can remember, decades, not just in recent years.


The doorway to sexism, racism and all other isms is here, in our childish disrespect for other generations on either side of us.


Here is a link to the piece that published these memes and got me riled today. It’s a website called Elite Daily, which bills itself as “The voice of Generation Y”:

‘Scumbag Baby Boomer’ Meme Is The Perfect Response To People Who Criticize Gen-Y

This is my published reply, by no means intended for everybody whose birthdays fall within the arbitrary range of years defined by the author of this piece:

Shocking as it may be to some of you whippersnappers, we old farts understand how you feel and think. We grew up as hippies, peace and love and all that. We were going to change the world. At the time we thought our parents were “square” and backward. Every generation does. But we still loved and respected them. 

This is just nasty. 

Gen Y is apparently defined as people born between 1980 and 2000. Good God, some of you are in your mid 30s and still bitching and whining.

Y’all are on your own. 

Personally, I accept very little credit for my children’s wonderful qualities and no blame at all for the decline of American society, our government and our family values. 

My old fart friends and I have worked hard to live honorably and remain relevant. We succeed in varying degrees but we can only fail by the self-righteous judgment of you, whom we coddled and still love. 

You will ultimately define us, but at least have the decency to wait until we’re dead.

Live your life, fix your world and if you can’t show a little respect, just leave us alone.

And, stay off the lawn.



Robin Williams

Robin Williams ended his life nine days ago and I can’t get over it.


In the past few days CarolAnn and I have watched five or six of his movies we had never seen before, the ones that weren’t big box office smashes, the ones the critics sniffed at with condescension. We’ve discovered that we love his chiseled face, his body language and the way he spewed lines with deadly comedic or dramatic accuracy.

But mostly, we just love his simple, vulnerable honesty.

There are a lot of extremely gifted actors who can portray reality but Robin wore his soul on the outside for all to see instead of guarding himself as the rest of us do.

After all the talk of alcoholism, drug addiction, clinical depression and the early stages of Parkinson’s, as we struggle to understand how a man overflowing with enough joy to share with the entire world and yet be so tortured as to take his own life — I have finally reached a conclusion:

I don’t and can’t and will therefore never get it.

Maybe Robin’s gifts so isolated him from normal folks that the rest of us drove him mad with boredom and loneliness.

Or, maybe the cacophony of circus noise inside his unfiltered creative genius finally led him to throw the off switch just so he could get some rest.

Maybe a lot of things.

I don’t spend much time on questions that have no answers for me but I think I owe Robin Williams the gratitude and respect of not assuming he is to be pitied.

Enough of the “tortured soul” stuff.

I choose to think Robin was simply finished. He knocked off early and went home.

His work should never again be picked at with clinical tweezers by the superficial arts of critics and their students.

Academics, as Robin showed us time and again, are merely sign posts to self discovery. And unless we are instinctively inspired by a higher source, as he apparently was — we need to follow our curiosity, just dive in and live.

The Dumas Kid

Last week Carolann and I enjoyed our first long road trip in several years. We drove from Dallas to West Yellowstone, Montana, and stayed off freeways except for one short stretch of I-80 across southern Wyoming. Otherwise we took back roads through the Heartland and I highly recommend it. It refreshes the spirit. You’ll meet wonderful people whose regional natures will IMG_20140707_111126amaze you, different as they are from one place to the next.

Texans and Oklahomans tend to be more gregarious than Kansans and Wyomingites, who are friendly but wary.

Coloradans are happy to meet you, happy to serve and happy to see you leave.

Taking days rather than hours to get from here to there renews your sense of awe in the sheer size of our country that travel by air destroys. You have to suffer through several hundred miles of sagebrush and alkali to appreciate it, if your attitude will allow.

And, there’s another advantage that you’ll learn to appreciate though it might drive you slightly crazy for the first day:

Nearly the entire distance is void of a usable data signal for smart phones and digital tablets. That, too, will soon be a thing of the past in the name of technical advancement.

For now though, in great chunks of the American West, Facebook will have to wait. Words With Friends becomes Words With Spouse.

With no option but to actuaIMG_20140706_101927lly talk with each other Carolann and I had a wonderful time made even more enjoyable by the presence of our not quite 12 year-old grandson, Isaiah.

As we drove north from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Amarillo and on, across the desolate Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, our adventure took us through the town of Dumas, Texas. As we passed the city limit sign the boy read it aloud:

“DOO-mas,” he said.

“That’s not right,” I told him. “You’re mispronouncing it but it’s not your fault. The town used to have a ‘b’ in the middle of its name. It’s called ‘Dumbass,'” I said seriously.

Isaiah thought that was very funny. He giggled for a long time. We all did. Then, for the rest of the trip we called eachIMG_20140708_034243 other “DOO-mas” from time to time.

This is the stuff a kid remembers for his entire life. It’s what makes parenting and grandparenting especially rewarding. A quip and a laugh in an innocent moment is a moment enshrined for decades.

None of us will remember the frustrating times he fussed and pouted about having to take a bath or go to bed. And though we’ll always treasure the pictures of Isaiah and his Nana in front of Yellowstone Falls and of him holding a long fork with a flaming marshmallow for a campfire s’more burning out of control, it’s the shared laughs that fill our hearts for the rest of our lives.

No matter how old he and we get, Isaiah will now and always be the Dumas Kid and we will always love each other more for it.

The accidental journalist

I started writing and reading radio news a long time ago by accident. In my mid-twenties, after several years as a rock and roll disc jockey, I decided it was time to grow up.

One morning in 1975, whilSeattle 2012e writing and recording commercials for a news and talk station in Sacramento, I was drafted to fill in for the real news anchor, who was sick. The station was desperate for somebody to just sit in the chair, read the stories and play the commercials.

Almost forty years later it still feels like I’m just filling in for the real news anchor.

I never had any desire to be a reporter but I learned by being sent to boring news conferences and terrifying police actions.

Early on I did a live report from inside a cloud of tear gas while a guy in a trailer was taking potshots at anything that moved.

Another day I found myself outside a bank where a shootout and police standoff suddenly made me a network reporter for ABC. A couple of months later it happened again when an attempted plane hijacking occurred at an airport near my home.

In that first year or two I was always in the wrong place at just the right time. (Or, vice versa.)

I never wanted to be in the serious news business. I’m not a serious guy. I was just a radio guy doing what I was told to do: tell what’s going on and how you feel about it.

Some of my past and present colleagues won’t be amused to learn that I have always thought the word “journalist” to be snotty and condescending. A few of you who find and develop your own stories are the real deal, of course, but most of us are fakers. I never wanted to have that label, “journalist”, hung on me because I don’t like it and I haven’t earned it. I just tell stories and try to be interesting and entertaining.

Weirdly, along the way through forty years I have gotten a bunch of awards I didn’t seek or expect, including four Mark Twain Awards from the Associated Press. The anti-journalist in me must admit, I kinda like those because Mark Twain is my hero.

Mark Twain told stories. He was interesting and entertaining.

This past week I was stunned to learn that I’ve been recommended for a fellowship to join six or seven other American “journalists” to travel to Germany in early November for the 25th anniversary commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Suddenly – after forty years of delivering news and information in the morning – it has finally landed on my thick skull:

I am an accidental journalist in the tradition of my hero who said, among many other wonderful things:


If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed.
If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.“

–Mark Twain


imageI recently came across an article in the New York Times that left me slack-jawed.

It seems there is a growing movement at major universities across the country to require “trigger alerts” to warn students that the academic materials they’re about to ingest may upset them. World History classes, for instance, might come with a caution about subject matter relating to death, destruction, enslavement and torture.

Examples given by the Times are more specific: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains racist themes; books and classes on Greek Mythology and ancient works of art may display sexually explicit pictures, drawings and statues.

Students who support these academic admonitions say some people, rape victims or war veterans for example, might find some materials to be particularly traumatic. That’s possible but you can’t whitewash the lessons learned from painful experience and research for the sake of the few who have more personal issues to deal with.

Somewhat surprisingly, to me at least, the people most opposed to the idea seem to be the teachers at these schools. According to the Times:

The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace.

I think our chickenimage2s have come home to roost.

Some years ago we stopped keeping score of little league and youth soccer games so as not to distinguish winners from losers.

Some schools don’t allow teachers to use red ink in grading papers because it might be too stressful for our children to be told their work was less than perfect.

We hand out trophies to everybody or nobody and a decade or two ago schools began passing out those “My child is an honor student at Foonman Elementary” bumper stickers to every kid in the school because we didn’t want to hurt the non-honor roll students’ feelings.

Those kids are now in college and they expect to be protected.

God help them when they are forced to live in the real world.

It’s easier to be righteous than right

When I was about fourteen years old my dad said something in passing conversation that I have never forgotten. It comes to mind more frequently these days because of an amazing phenomenon:

Though we live in an age in which information is as close as a Google search we seem to be more gullible and closed-minded than ever.

A couple of days ago I ran across a news story in the Washington Times about a handful of law students at Washington and Lee University threatening to perform acts of civil disobedience unless campus authorities ban the flying of the Confederate flag and at the same time admit that Gen. Robert E. Lee — for whom, in part, the school is named — was a racist.

Getting easily riled up over perceived civil rights offenses is a rite of passage for people growing from their teens into their twenties. It’s natural, it’s healthy and it’s cute. The only problem is, they are often wrong because things are never as simple as they seem.

Robert E. Lee was far from a racist. In fact, he was strongly opposed to slavery and publicly celebrated its abolition.


In 1870 he told fellow Virginian, Rev. John Leyburn, “So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished.” He went on to say the end of slavery was a goal well worth everything he personally lost in the war.

The law students at Washington and Lee either never heard this or just don’t care.

I wonder if they know that President Lincoln asked General Lee to lead the Northern Army in the Civil War? Forced to take sides Lee reluctantly declined so that he might defend his Virginia home, family and friends. He was tortured by the choice.

You might have learned all of this in high school history class. I did. But the students at Washington and Lee apparently value their hormonal opinions more than the complex yet enlightening facts.

And, that’s where we are today, I think. It’s easier to be righteous than to be right and everybody wants to talk rather than listen.

You might think law students, of all people, would have spent a minute or two Googling the subject of their  attack. If they had, they might have stumbled across this quote from General Lee:

“Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good, and, when summoned away, to leave without regret.”

Which brings me back to what my father, Donald M. Williams, told me when I was a kid:

“People say you have a right to your opinion. That’s only half true. You have a right to an informed opinion. If you don’t know what you’re talking about you should shut the hell up.”


Erin, go bra-less

CarolAnn and I took a road trip this past weekend and, as usual, we relaxed on the four hour drive to Smithville, Texas and the four hour drive back by listening to an audio book from her collection.

This particular novel is called Tears of the Moon. It’s a Nora Roberts romance, the second in her Irish Trilogy.


This is not at all the type of literary fare I would normally choose to read for my own pleasure but keeping company with the lovely-and-feisty CarolAnn Conley-Williams is all the pleasure I need for a long Sunday, so Nora Roberts it was.

It’s actually a pretty compelling story of an Irish family of sisters, another family of siblings that owns a pub and one of those siblings who is also a terrific cook, a fair to middlin’ songwriter and a spectacularly hot hunk of a man.

That’s right, he’s a just-the-perfect-age young, yet wisely experienced man who can cook, compose and sing a love song before sweeping a fiery Irish woman off her feet and turning her into a downy soft lump of glistening satisfaction.

Talk about blarney.

But, the narrator delivers a wonderful Irish accent in her characterizations and the lilting song of Gaelic heritage is music to me ears. 

Ye can practically hear the pipes, the pipes a-callin’.

Still, we’ve got the physical romance problem to deal with. Okay, I’ll spell it out:


Though it takes awhile to develop, when Brenna O’Toole, our heroine lass, finally hooks up with hunky sibling cook/musician, Shawn Gallagher, they’ll have no foolin’ about it. They get down to a bit o’ rough and tumble in excruciating detail.

Look, I’m a 62 year old man. I’ve been married twice and did a wee bit o’ skirt chasin’ in my younger days. I understand that romance — the physical aspect of it — is an important part of life and, therefore, of modern literature. But, faith and begorrah! ‘Tis no spectator sport and I’d just as soon not hear vivid descriptions of two fine specimens of entwined humanity heaving, sweating, writhing, quivering and panting!

I admit that the writer in me took some detached fascination with Nora Roberts’ profound command of carnal verbs and adjectives but a very small smattering of that goes a very long way with me. Just tell me that they kissed and then begin the next paragraph, “When they awoke the next morning…”

If that’s all you say I promise, I’ll get the drift.

CarolAnn and I have been married for nearly 26 years and we’re both a little prudish, I guess. She admitted as much to me after we got home and sat down in our family room, in separate recliners, to continue listening to the story anyway.

I could just turn my back on Nora Roberts’ rollicking tale of lust in the clover I suppose, but honestly, I’d kind of like to know how the story ends.  I guess I’ll just hope the rest of the book and its sequel are a bit less spicy.

But I won’t wager a farthing on it.

The faces of grief

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared yesterday an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. 239 people were on board and as I write this nobody knows what happened to them or their airplane.

Most of those people hugged friends and loved ones at the airport, smiled through their tears and said goodbye.


Now they’re gone and the world wants to know what happened. Most of us are merely curious but a relative few, the families and friends of those on board Flight 370, are desperate for answers. For them the past 30-some hours has been a nonstop nightmare of shock, disbelief, fear and unimaginable grief.

Lives, loves and families are sometimes destroyed with no possible explanation.

Search Continues For Missing Malaysian Arliner Carrying 239 Passengers
© Reuters News Service

In the past 24 hours most of us have seen this terrible reality play out on TV news as we snack and flip through channels looking for something worth watching. The newspapers and websites that clamor for our attention do so with pictures.

The news writers and talkers dutifully, effectively, professionally and, for the most part, responsibly report what few facts and new developments they learn.

The pictures are another matter. You can’t produce pictures of a missing airplane. You can only show the human story left behind: shock, denial, rage and terrible, terrible grief. 

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport
© Reuters News Service

When does it become too much? At what point does tragedy become too personal and none of our collective business?

Each of us has our point of separation, where we turn our heads in horror from a body on a highway or respectfully avert our gaze from the bottomless grief of a parent, a child or spouse.


But if you’re a journalist, where do you draw the line, pack up your gear and walk away — leaving these tortured people to weep in privacy?

Here is what the Society of Professional Journalists has to say on the subject of ethics and sensitivity:

Journalists should:

— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
— Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.

Wait, run that last sentence by us again:

Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.

Who determines what is an overriding public need?

The bottom line is very messy because it’s just as personal for news producers as it is for news consumers. It should be, at least. The SPJ guidelines are well expressed and yet hopelessly vague.

I’ll tell you one thing for sure, though. I would never publish a picture of the faces of grief surrounded by half a dozen other cameras.

© Reuters News Service

This tells an unintended truth.

We might draw the line in different places but each of us must find that place.

© Dave Williams 2014








The venerable secret of a sage

Today is Misao Okawa’s birthday. She’s 116, the oldest person alive on Earth.

From time immemorial it has been human compulsion to beat a path to the eldest of our tribe in search of epiphany, the spiritual and dietary recipe for eternal bliss.

What is the secret to a long, satisfying life?

Today that path brings us to Misao Okawa, the Sage.

Misao Okawa, the world's oldest woman celebrating her 116th birthday in Osaka.

And do you know what she said?

She said, — and this is apparently the direct quote:

“Eat and sleep.”

And that was it.

The multitude waited for more but no more was forthcoming. Misao Okawa just smiled through those ancient eyes as if to say, “There you go, run along now. And keep off the lawn!”

Eat and sleep.

As a mere toddler of 62 I’m a bit disappointed. But she obviously knows what she’s talking about.

Misao Okawa’s kids are 92 and 94.