Saturday, March 08, 2008

It's the birthday of writer John McPhee, born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931), and considered one of the greatest living literary journalists। He is known for the huge range of his subjects. He has written about canoes, geology, tennis, nuclear energy, and the Swiss army. He once researched his own family tree and traced it back to a Scotsman who moved to Ohio to become a coalminer.

As a high school student, McPhee played a lot of sports, especially basketball। His English teacher required her students to write three compositions a week, each accompanied by a detailed outline, and many of which the students had to read out loud to the class. Since then, McPhee has carefully outlined all his written work, and he has read out loud to his wife every sentence he writes before it is published.

In college, McPhee was a regular contestant on a weekly radio and television program called "Twenty Questions," which he believes taught him to gather facts and guess at their hidden meanings. His goal as a young writer was to write for The New Yorker, but it took 14 years of being rejected before he published his first article there. During those years, he said, "I tried everything, sometimes with hilarious results. I think that young writers have to roll around like oranges on a conveyor belt. They have to try it all."

In 1962, he got a phone call from his father about an amazing new college basketball player at Princeton. McPhee went to see him play and decided to write a profile of the young man, whose name was Bill Bradley. The profile was published in The New Yorker, which invited McPhee to be a staff writer, and the profile became McPhee's first book: A Sense of Where You Are (1965). He went on to become one of the foremost journalists for The New Yorker. His name in the table of contents would actually increase the sales of that issue of the magazine. Then, in the early 1980s, he decided to write a geological history of the United States, based on the roadcuts carved out for Interstate 80. William Shawn wasn't sure readers would be interested in that particular subject, but McPhee didn't care. He spent almost 20 years writing about geology, and in 1999, he won his first Pulitzer Prize for his book Annals of the Former World (1998).

McPhee has published more than 25 books, even though he rarely writes more than 500 words a day. He once tried tying himself to a chair to force himself to write more, but it didn't work. He said, "People say to me, 'Oh, you're so prolific.' God, it doesn't feel like it — nothing like it. But you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart."

When asked what he writes about, McPhee said, "I'm describing people engaged in their thing, their activity, whatever it is."

From The Writer’s Almanac

August of 1965 I got off the train in Cedar Rapids Iowa and a cab took me and my steamer trunk thru the corn fields to Mount Vernon, Iowa.

The bulletin board in the wrestling room at Cornell College had a poster with Bill Bradley’s picture and his quote from McPhee’s book, “When you are not practicing remember that somewhere some else is, and when you meet, he will win.”

This inspired me to practice twice a day, with the team in the afternoon and by myself each morning lifting weights, running, and practicing my wrestling moves in the style I’d learned that summer studying Karate in Denver.

Looking back, the time may have been better spent studying, but it resulted in me winning the NCAA Division III Midwest Conference Championship my sophomore year in 1967: I made a last second take down to beat a senior from Grinnell College, I think it was, who had placed 2nd in the same championship tournament for the last two years, since his sophomore year.

Our Cornell team won the tournament and then spent two days driving to Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania for the national championship where we all went out in our first match, exhausted from the long drive.

My dad surprised me, I looked up in the stands to see him wave at me and for some reason started worrying about where he would stay that night. Tired and distracted, I was outscored and eliminated from the tournament.

Dad and I drove into New York City, stayed at the New York Athletic Club, and went to a night club where I had my first alcoholic drink, since I was finished with athletics, engage to be married, free from the religion I’d been raised with, having wasted two years of my life in the wrestling room practicing instead of studying.

Would Bill Bradley be in contention for the nomination for president of the United States today if he’d focused on his education instead of basketball? I’d like to see 500 words from John McPhee on that in the New Yorker.

Friday, March 07, 2008

On this day in 1923, Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was published in The New Republic magazine. It was Frost's favorite of his own poems, and he called it "my best bid for remembrance." He's remembered for many of his poems today, but that one is his best known and one of the most popular poems in American literature.

Though it's a poem about winter, Frost wrote the first draft on a warm morning in the middle of June. The night before, he had stayed up working at his kitchen table on a long, difficult poem called "New Hampshire" (1923). He finally finished it and then looked up and saw that it was morning. He'd never worked all night on a poem before. Feeling relieved at the work he'd finished, he went outside and watched the sunrise.

While he was outside, he suddenly got an idea for a new poem. So he rushed back inside his house and wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in just a few minutes. He said he wrote most of the poem almost without lifting his pen off the page. He said, "It was as if I'd had a hallucination."

He later said that he would have liked to print the poem on one page followed by "forty pages of footnotes." He once said the first two lines of the poem, "Whose woods these are, I think I know, / his house is in the village though," contained everything he ever knew about how to write.

From The Writer’s Almanac

Yesterday I testified at the committee hearing on Rep. David Balmer’s House Bill 1006, a resolution that endorses a plan by the National Association of Secretary of States to go to regional primary/caucus dates for selecting delegates in future elections for president of the United States.

I was able to get an amendment passed that clarified that the fact that the proposal in no way effected the Colorado Caucus other than the date it will be held. It will now go to the full house for a vote. When? That’s a good question, as the online system for tracking bills has not yet been updated as I write this:

Still seems to me this should get a NO vote when it goes to the floor, that's the way to send the loud, clear signal that Colorado wants to retain it's caucus-assembly system for nominating to the primary ballot. Let our Secretary of State continue to shape a final plan that can be adopted or not after full discussion by all citizens in the state.

I just wrote this in response to a medical doctor's criticism of the political process and medical care:

William F. Buckley who we lost last week once suggested a solution for hunger in America. There should be feeding stations where whoever wanted a very basic meal could go and be fed, getting a very simple meal. It would be even better if there were volunteers there to offer a word of encouragement and direction. Dorthy Day did this on a voluntary basis and it seemed to work well.

Why wouldn't the same thing work with medical care? Free open clinics that offer the most basic care for free to the indigent. Then get the government out of everything else.

Seems to me that medical insurance, whether it is private or run by the government, is the problem and not the solution.

What would happen if some entrepreneur started selling food insurance, something that would be honored at grocery stores for food purchases? For $100 you can get all the food you want.

Sale would be fast and furious, people would start using the cards, and long lines would start forming at the grocery stores. The price of the insurance would go up, and food purchases would start to have to be approved before they were made. There would be calls for the government to take over the program.

What's the difference between this and what is happening now with medical insurance? Do we really want the government to do more than disaster relief? Seems to me that's the unpleasant reality. I agree with Dr. Shogan it is not being addressed.

Agree or disagree? Join us this afternoon (Fri March 7) for the Denver Grassroots Rally, 4 p.m. at Panera Bread, 13th & Grant here in Denver near the Captiol. More info and optional RSVP at Dr. Shogan, can you join us?

IDEA Café is this afternoon at 2 p.m. Join us if you are starting a new project, a new career, a new campaign, or a new business. Free and open to all, we just ask that you bring your brain for the brainstorming. More info and optional RSVP at

I'm forming a new Franklin Circle for entrepreneurs, business owners, and creative managers here in Denver that will meet once a month. More information on my website
(this is my blog) or just send me an email with your phone number and I’ll get back to you with an email and a follow up phone call to make sure you got it. This is going to be a great group, it’s filling up fast, contact me right now if you are interested.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Last night I heard Jim Wallis give an inspirational and very motivational talk at the LoDo Tattered Cover bookstore here in Denver about his new book The Great Awakening—Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. Just found this TV interview in UK about his previous best-selling book God’s Politics, makes several of the points in this interview that he made last night.

After his talk, I had the chance to talk with him about the caucus vs primary states. He thinks the caucus does promote greater civic participation, which is a good thing. He spoke of rebranding the Christian Church in politics, “Martin Luther King didn’t endorse candidates, he had candidates endorse his agenda.” Wallis is a great admirer of William Wilberforce who ended slavery in the UK, and the resent movie about him Amazing Grace.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Today is the birthday of Alexander Graham Bell (1847) who invented the telephone by mistake when he was working on a better design for the telegraph. It is believed that Bell was the first to say, “when one door closes another opens.” There are minutes of the Western Union board meeting that declined interest in the telephone; why would anyone want to talk over telegraph lines when the coding system worked so well?

Are caucus lovers just being closed minded? No says Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen in yesterday’s Denver Post. Bad sign for Colorado, NO COMMENTS ABOUT THIS CAUCUS COLUMN until I posted mine this morning. Take a look, post your comment, then ask a friend or two to do the same, OK? And mark your calendar now to join us Friday for the Denver Grassroots Rally where Dennis Gallagher will tell us about his caucus experiences. More info and optional RSVP at

Why do you think no one posted a comment on Quillen’s column? (Another attempt to get you to post a comment here on my blog--makes me feel somewhat better when I think of how few comments are posted on the Denver Post Online!)

See you tonight at the Tattered Cover? (See my Friday post here about who’s speaking and when.)