Category Archives: Profiles

Prayers Needed For Chuck Graham

I’d like to dedicate today’s blog entry to one of the greatest guys I’ve ever been fortunate enough to meet in my 50 years on the planet. His name is Chuck Graham and, as I type this tonight, he’s battling for his life in a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Chuck is my beautiful fiancee Janet’s brother and he’s battling from brain cancer. He was admitted to the hospital last week because of pneumonia. He’s a very sick man, but miracles do happen. It’s a crying, awful shame that he’s suffering so much in his long and valiant fight with cancer, but all we can you – all anyone can do, is to pray.

Chuck is an engineer and owns his own multi-million dollar company in North Carolina. He’s hands down the smartest guy I’ve ever met, not just when it comes to engineering which is mostly over my head, but simply when it comes to life. He is smart and sharp about everyday things and could figure out in minutes things that would take you and I much longer to decipher. For example, last Christmas he assembled a magnificent model railroad village in his living room, while entertaining his guests, cooking, attending to the needs of his family which included a wife and two beautiful girls, on in high school and the other in college. I watched him multi-task and marveled at the genius of a great mind that he possesses.

Chuck was born and raised in the sleepy, Dayton area community of Centerville, Ohio. It was a wonderful place to grow up with it’s myriad of similar aged children, always friends to find and things to do. And Chuck, with his charisma and charm, always had plenty of friends. Even the neighbors thought he was the greatest.

I was amazed by this the very first time I met Chuck. It was on Christmas Day of 2008 and Janet had invited me to Chuck’s home outside Charlotte, North Carolina to celebrate Christmas. That night he had what was billed as a “small gathering.” In no time, his house was filled with nearly a hundred friends and neighbors, along with the warm glow that always comes when you are surrounded by the ones you love and who love you. Everybody always wanted to talk to Chuck and Chuck tried his best to oblige, mingling with the Christmas visitors.

Chuck is like a magnet who attracts attention and light. He always has an interesting story and a great sense of humor to go with it. He’s just plain fun to be around. Even then Chuck is not feeling well from his treatments you’d never know it. I never once heard him complain. Complaining and belly-aching is not in Chuck’s nature. Living is.

When it came time for college, Chuck chose the school that dominates his home state, Ohio State. And once, Chuck became an Ohio State Buckeye through and through. As recently as last season he was excited about attending Ohio State football games and typically he’d bring along his wife and parents, Charlie and Evelyn. When he couldn’t be there in person, Chuck will also watch the games at home, hanging on every point scored. His brilliant mind knows all the players on both sides of the field and all their statistics. Just another example of his genius.

I can’t remember the first time that Janet told me that Chuck is battling cancer, but it’s been several years. It first metastasized in his throat, and facial glands. This always made for great discomfort for Chuck. But this wonderful, loving man continues to fight like a prize-fighter. Through countless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, leaving Chuck with vicious, blinding, head-pounding headaches and other side effects, his wit and friendliness remains. Chuck has taken everything he’s been given with great bravery and courage.

A short time ago, Chuck lost his hair, a common side effect and continued having a difficult time eating. I would send Chuck emails trying to try to cheer him up. But in recent months, I noticed that his responses were growing briefer. I’m certain it was all he could do to go through his email.

Here’s a picture of Chuck and his family last Christmas.

Last week, Janet and I got word that Chuck was in the hospital with pneumonia. His lovely daughter Kelly posted a one word message on her Facebook account. It said: “Pray.”

And that’s what I’m asking all of you to do. Janet and her family are being incredibly strong in the face of all of this. I am doing my best to be strong and to help Janet through this incredibly hard time. All we can do is pray for Chuck. Pray for a miracle. Pray that he’s not suffering too much. Pray that God will show some mercy and help Chuck.

As my father used to say, when he was dying, it ain’t over till they throw roses on you. So let’s pray for a miracle, for they do happen and I’ve seen living proof.

Please pray that Chuck isn’t suffering and that the doctors are keeping him comfortable. Pray that the doctors can make him better again. Just please pray…pray…pray.

On behalf of Janet, her family and Chuck’s family, I thank you.

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Paris Hilton – Eye Candy Arrested For Nose Candy

It is a sad and somber day today for Paris Hilton Nation.

The vapid 29-year-old celebutante was busted last night in Sin City itself – Las Vegas, Nevada, for possession of “the White Lady,” “the Devil’s Dandruff,” “Bolivian Marching Powder,” or just plain old cocaine. According to Associated Press reports, Paris Hilton was riding down the main Las Vegas Strip in a black Cadillac Escalade driven by boyfriend and nightclub mogul Cy Waits, when a motorcycle cop smelled marijuana “wafting out of the car” and pulled the vehicle over. Police say they found a yet to be reported amount of the white stuff in Hilton’s purse, a place usually reserved for one of her dogs.

Paris Hilton was arrested for felony cocaine possession, while Cy Waits was busted for misdemeanor suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

A crowd quickly formed around police and the not-too-happy couple late on The Strip and Hilton was escorted by police into the hotel “to keep her safe” during the initial investigation, said police Lt. Wayne Holman. Later, the scene queen and her 34-year-old boyfriend were taken to taken to Clark County jail where they were booked and then released without bail around 2:45 this morning.

In a bizarre twist, the starlets Tweeter account was updated after her arrest to indicate that she was in bed and watching “The Family Guy” and then she would be going to sleep. It’s unclear whether the tweet came from her or some other “party.”

If convicted, Paris would probably face probation, which if violated, would send her to the Nevada State Prison for between one and four years, which has none of the amenities to which Ms. Hilton is probably used to. It’s probably far too early to even speculate what would happen to any of her pets.

2010 has not been a good year for Paris. She was arrested this summer after the Brazil vs. Netherlands World Cup match in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on suspicion of possession of marijuana. That case was quickly dropped. Earlier this week, there was a frightening incident when police say a 31-year-old man wielding two large knives tried to break into Hilton’s Los Angeles home. The suspect was arrested and faces burglary charges.

These last two incidents involving partying and suspected drug use might come as a surprise to some, after Hilton was sent to the clink for 45 days after she pleased no-contest in 2007 to alcohol-related reckless driving. After spending 23 days behind bars, Hilton appeared on television with talk show host Larry King and said that experience had caused her to re-evaluate the role that partying played in her life. She said at the time that she wanted “to help raise money for kids and for breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.”

But the temptations are very strong when you’re a multibillionaire starlet, especially in Las Vegas, a place where the house always wins.

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Lone Wolf

When I lived in Boston it was not at all unusual to bump into rock and roll legend Peter Wolf.

The former late night DJ and the longtime front man of the J. Geils Band lives in Boston and often walks its streets. Whether meandering down the famed, exclusive Newbury Street or perusing additions to his vast music collection in Boston’s few remaining used record stores, the man was, to put it simply, not hard to miss. Dressed always in his ubiquitous black, from head to toe, and never without a chapeau of some sort, the slight and perennially pale Peter Wolf pretty much kept to himself. Pity the poor soul who chanced to approach him. The result was inevitably a disappointingly brief conversation consisting of a few brief words. So people would most usually leave him alone. He may have been the wild man of Borneo on stage or a mad gabber jabber on alternative radio all those years ago (“Wolfa Goofa Mama Toffa” was his nickname), but out in public and away from the spotlight, Peter Wolf is a man of very few words.

It’s really no wonder. The man born Peter W. Blankfield seems tailor-made to keeping his thoughts to himself. His own musical cohorts and influences, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, both make it a habit to speak in riddles and rhymes when they speak at all. The Chicago and Delta blues men who Wolf holds in the highest of esteem were men who spoke little and let the music do the talking.

Wolf’s history is a fascinating one. Once arrived in Boston in the 1960’s to attend art school, he was scooped up by recently acquired “progressive rock” radio station WBCN. Wolf said in a recent interview on NPR that he was offered half ownership in BCN for just $10,000. But Wolf, at the time was barely eking out an existence and says he barely had ten dollars. What Wolf did have was an incredible musical library, both LPs as well as an incredible variety of his beloved 45’s or singles. And so BCN, hoping to get their hands on all that music, offered him the overnight shift on the air. Wolf was on from Midnight until 7:00 a.m. and in addition to playing his own favorite mix of rock, blues and rhythm and blues, he also played requests. The program was a huge underground sensation and Wolf found a comfortable place behind the microphone where he discovered he had, well, the gift of gab.

But Wolf was not long for that vampire radio shift, which brings many men and women to their knees, and in 1966 Peter Wolf became part of a popular Boston-based band, The Hallucinations. A year later he went to see a performance by the J. Geils Band and quickly joined that group, becoming the hopscotching, fast on his feet, charismatic front man. That band lasted from 1967 to 1983. They played both blues standards and originals and they had a legendary live show, captured on three different live albums, all recorded in Detroit Rock City. Geils, as they were sometimes called, were soon one of the hottest rock bands in the country, playing to packed theaters, auditoriums and arenas from coast to coast and even garnering the coveted cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

I had a chance to see Wolf at his most outrageous, two times and both in Syracuse, New York. The first time was at the cozy Landmark Theater, where Wolf and the rest of the J. Geils band nearly blew the roof off the place. At one point during the climax of the show, Wolf left the stage and danced and weaved his way up and down the aisles of the theater “high fiving” with his fervent fans. The second time I saw him, he looked like a different man in 1982 when the band was on top with huge hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze-Frame.” Wolf had shed his long locks of hair and streamlined his stage show. But behind the scenes the band was, unknown to many, ready to implode because of “artistic differences” between Wolf and keyboard player and fellow songwriter, Seth Justman.

I worked at a rather large local college radio station I remember foolishly going backstage after the show. “Oh Jesus,” I remember thinking in the middle of the clumsy introductions, “what in God’s name am I doing here.” Wolf politely shook our hands staring blindly into the distance, barely even there. He seemed ten million miles away. And I felt bad for his discomfort.

With the band no longer a going concern, Wolf was left to retreat into the blackness of the Boston night, showing up here and there at bars and occasionally joining in to jam. I remember seeing him take the stage many nights in Boston with his pal Bruce Springsteen, but he never seemed comfortable in the guest spot, especially at larger gigs. He used to rule that city and now he seemed a drifter and a stranger in a strange land. Wolf eventually teamed up with some local musicians and made a series of solo records, none of which seemed to click until he finally found his way on 2002’s excellent solo album, “Sleepless.” It was ranked on Rolling Stone Magazines, “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.” Meanwhile, with rumors all the time of a J. Geils reunion, Wolf stayed silent on that subject, instead seeming comfortable to perform with his own group of new musicians and living off royalties.

During the 1990’s and into the new Millennium, Wolf continues to be seen around town. I would often be surprised when I got to a show early, only to see Wolf already seated, by himself, and waiting for the show to begin. I began to feel bad for him. Was this a chosen land of exile or did it reveal some deep loneliness. Nobody knew but Wolf and he wasn’t talkin’.

One night I went to see Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. I bought a ticket from some guy about ten minutes before the show and it was in the very last row of the theater. During the opening acts, I was scouting an empty seat closer to the stage and out of the corner of my eye I spied one next to the soundboard. I asked a very attractive young lady if the empty seat was taken, she said no and invited me to sit down. It wasn’t until after I had taken off my coat that I realized that I was two seats away from Peter Wolf and the attractive young woman was his date.

During intermission, I introduced myself to this woman and to Peter Wolf and he greeted me with a thin smile and handshake. I had just happened to have finished reading a book about rock and roll called “Mansion On The Hill,” in which he was quoted extensively. So I asked Wolf about his impressions of that book. Speaking softly he told me he thought it was “just okay.” Conversation over? Not quite. Wolf actually surprised me by asking me what I thought about it. I told him I believed the author was too critical of Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, who Wolf knew from days long ago in Boston. Wolf responded saying he thought it was too critical of a lot of people, including his friend Bruce. Then he got up and went backstage alone, ostensibly to say hello to Dylan, leaving me to have the most pleasant conversation with his knockout beautiful date.

I stayed and watched Dylan’s entire set sitting next to Wolf, looking over occasionally to see a man deep into the music. I left the theater, with the nice buzz that comes after a great show. But I was also happy to see that Wolf was not alone on this particular night.

After all, one can’t remain a lone wolf forever.

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My Friend Don Meineke – NBA Legend

One weekend last summer, I had occasion to visit my fiancee Janet’s hometown of Centerville, a sleepy and sultry suburb of nearby Dayton, Ohio – the town where the Wright Brothers grew up and first dreamed of flying. On that warm late summer weekend, I had the thrilling experience of meeting, among a group of Janet’s parents friends, a very tall, unassuming gentleman named Don Meineke, who is not only one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but as it turns out, was also was the first man ever to be named NBA Rookie of the Year.

As it happened, Janet and I were in Centerville that weekend last summer, visiting her parents and my future in-laws, and we were invited to an old-fashioned neighborhood shindig. It seemed her neighbors, the Walshes, were having an outdoor patio party, the kind of thing that was popular back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s in close-knit neighborhoods. Back in those days it was commonplace for families who lived within spittin’ distance of each other to get together for no particular reason and have a dandy of a time, just talkin’, drinkin’ beer and wine; in other words celebrating life. I suppose this kind of thing stopped happening quite a while ago in most towns when people began locking their doors at night and stopped getting to know their neighbors.

But in Centerville it still goes on. (Although I’m pretty sure they lock their doors at night.)

I went along, looking forward to meeting some of my future in-laws’ good friends and enjoying a nice summer night, as well as meeting my in-laws’ best friends and neighbors never expecting to meet and talk half the night away with Don Meineke. When we arrived, Don was sitting completely contentedly next to his equally hospitable and kind wife, Mary Jane. After the introductions, and after being told that Don had not only been a college basketball standout for the University of Dayton Flyers, where he is still held in great reverence, but also a star for the former Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons), I moved to the closest chair near Don so I could listen and learn more. He looked like a guy with a few stories to tell and that night, Don didn’t disappoint.

Having personally been a tall teenager and an aspiring basketball player myself, and someone who still has a keen interest in the game, I was anxious to hear about what it was like to play “old school” basketball in the 1950s. Don regaled me with countless stories of his days playing, first college and then NBA basketball. He told stories of the low pay and big men he played against, including one of my heroes, Bill Russell and all the miles he traveled to get to the next city and next game – Syracuse, New York, Boston, etc.

But perhaps most fascinatingly, Don told me of his association with fellow Fort Wayne Piston star Jack Molinas, a man whose life has been chronicle’s in a book titled, “The Wizard Of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed The Game Of Basketball.”

According to author Charley Rosen, and confirmed by Don Meineke as I sat next to him in complete awe, Molinas was a guy with a tremendous amount of talent who threw it all away by fixing a bunch of basketball games. Don told me he was questioned by the team owner and the commissioner of the NBA, but they had nothing on him. For Molinas though, his criminal activities connected to basketball landed him in jail, then after he was suspended from the game, in the company of mobsters which led to, according to Rosen, “a gruesome and mysterious murder.”

Wow! Suddenly Don Meineke was telling me his story and the sad, but inevitable fall of Jack Molinas and I was more than a little intrigued. Don had other stories as well, about other records he set, and his years after he retired from the NBA and I sat and listened with rapt attention until it was late and Don and his wife had to call it a night. I spoke to Don again last December I went to a University of Dayton basketball game where Don and a number of other former stars were honored. (The team is quite competitive, winning the NIT championship last season by defeating North Carolina in the final game.)

I spent some more time at yet another party speaking to Don Meinike on my most recent trip to Centerville, I went to a Fourth of July gathering and Don and I posed for pictures together and talked some more. It’s not every day, after all, that you get to hang out with an NBA legend.

I hope that Don Meineke will always be my good friend.

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Oil Spill Protest – I’m Sticking With Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger is 91 years old and he’s still at it. This time he has a new song to sing; he’s protesting the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, you know, the one that’s turning that shoreline into an environmental nightmare of crude oil and muck. The song is both a social commentary on life in 2010, a call for all of us to get involved and a prayer of sorts, for a better future.

Amazing isn’t. Even after all these years, Pete Seeger has avoided the anger and cynicism that turns many bitter and silent. Instead, he seems as strong as ever and as hopeful as ever and if that isn’t an inspiration to you then I don’t know what ever could be.

The first concert I ever attended was in Boston in 1976, I believe, and it featured Pete on banjo, Jackson Browne on guitar and David Lindley on violin. It was a fundraiser for a group called the Clamshell Alliance which had been fighting and rallying for many years to stop the construction of two nuclear power plants in the coastal town of Seabrook, New Hampshire. By this time it was pretty clear that the plants would be built, but Pete and Jackson and David were still singing their protest songs; still holding out hope that the nukes would be stopped. They knew that it was up to them and that if they didn’t continue to fight the power then most likely nobody would.

I’m proud to say that I was at that show. And whenever I am in New Hampshire and come close enough to see the one nuclear power plant that still operates, I am proud that I was a very small part of the protest that may not have stopped construction but perhaps forced the builders to make the plant just a tiny bit safer that they might have.

The lives of people like Pete Seeger should stand as an inspiration to all of us to get involved, to as Pete would say, “think globally and act locally.” So today I ask that you listen to the song, to do what you can to protest it in the hopes that it doesn’t happen again.

In the hope that someday, maybe, “we’ll all pull through.”

Addendum: I was chatting via email with a great friend of mine and I was telling him about a really fantastic article that was published in the New Yorker that was written about Pete. Here’s the link. If you have a spare 15 minutes please read it. I know you’ll enjoy it: http://www.peteseeger.net/new_yorker041706.htm

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Where Have You Gone, George Carlin?

“Where have you gone, George Carlin?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo woo woo).
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
“Georgie C. has left and gone away” (Hey hey hey, hey hey hey).”

America has not been the same since George Carlin passed away in 2008. And our society and culture badly needs him back. With each passing year, the amount of bullshit in America piles like a giant mound of manure with hardly anyone challenging it. We need more of GC.

Of course the chances of George Carlin rising from the dead are not especially great, so we’ll just have to crawl on without his talent for speaking truth to power. Luckily, we get the next best thing and can go back to his amazingly intelligent, profane albums and HBO specials. He captured much of his intelligent humor and cultural commentary on tape, so in that respect my old friend will never die.

I say my old friend despite the fact that we really weren’t ever friends, although it often felt like it. George Carlin and I have a long history together whether he knew me or not.

I was first introduced to George Carlin by my cousin Mark, who visited my home outside Boston when I was about 14. Mark was from California and was just about the coolest guy I had ever met. His mother, my Aunt Jean, could tell a dirty joke with the best of them so Mark was hip to Carlin’s brand of comedy. While Mark was visiting my family, he purchased Carlin’s newly released album “FM & AM.” When we got home from the store, and with my mother and father out of the house, we put on the album and laughed so hard it hurt. And then we put it on again and listened to the whole album again. I was hooked. I thank Mark, because my mother would never have allowed me to buy such an album. She didn’t think the profanity was proper. I thought it was hilarious, but more importantly I shared with Carlin a love for the language, which I believe was his true talent and genius. It was the beginning of a love affair that continues even now that George is gone. I’ll always be indebted to him for this.

George Denis Patrick Carlin was born in the Morningside Heights section of New York City (also known as White Harlem) in 1937. His mother was an Irishwoman with a ferocious and proud attitude, and his father was an Irishman who had a problem with the drink and beat up his family, eventually leaving them to fend for themselves. Mary Beary Carlin would have a huge influence on George’s life, inbueing in him a strong sense of righteousness and instilling in him a very profound bullshit detector, which was always a large part of George’s personality and stage act.

He started out as a DJ in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1959 after a short stint in the military. Then he teamed up with fellow funny radio jock Jack Burns and together George and Jack began doing live comedy performances. The team only lasted a couple of years before George decided he was funnier on his own and began a solo act that would last nearly half a century.

His comedy was a mix of colorful characters, many whom he had encountered on the streets of New York, and later social commentary that was as sharp and cutting as a switchblade. He was a direct descendant of Lenny Bruce, but without the heavyness. He was sillier and funnier than Bruce, incorporating elements of Jonathan Winters, Jerry Lewis and even Spike Jones into his performance. On the album “FM & AM” he introduced us to the famous “Seven Deadly Words,” (which I memorized immediately after hearing them), and instigated a series of court challenges against having them played on the radio that eventually went to the Supreme Court, which bacially ruled stations could play the seven words but only really late at night. Minor victory, Carlin.

As the years went on Carlin grew much more cynical and angry onstage and off. He began to believe that there was absolutely no hope for a culture that, in his words, “had sold its soul for a cell phone and jet ski.” He believed American culture was the ultimate freak show and demonstrated this, using our own language and dissecting bogus euphemisms. He believed, as he stated repeatedly that “it’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for ya.” But until his death, he was always able to interject a considerable amount of laughs into his social commentary, so it didn’t seem to hurt so badly. He influence hundreds, if not thousands, of younger comedians and some of the best – guys like Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright and Bill Maher owe much of their careers to Carlin.

I had the chance to meet my hero twice, once at a book signing around 2000 and the second time just before he passed away, standing in the freezing cold outside a Boston theater house after a performance. I was by myself that night and ended up with a front-row seat to the best comedy show I’ll ever see. Both times I encountered him, I simply wanted to thank George for the way he used words and language, and I told him so. He was always gracious and patient with me, although the second time he told me, “Kelly, I’m freezing my ass off out here.” George was old and probably wanted to get back to the warmth of his hotel room.

When he died, I think I went into shock for a few seconds. I thought George would always be around, always playing the clown, always ready with a killer line. But nothing lasts forever and the road always takes a toll on performers. Sadly, as he once said about a man he greatly admired, Ed Sullivan, we never really got to say goodbye to George and formally thank him for the laughs.

George Carlin was one of a kind, a crucial link between the old comedians and the new, a truth-teller who would not be denied. And I doubt we’ll ever see another one like him.

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Dorothea Lange – Photojournalist

Most people know her photographs better than they know her name.

Dorethea Lange was probably the most important photographer/photojournalist of the 20th century. Her birth name was Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn, but she adopted her mother’s maiden name of Lange after her father abandoned the family when Dorothea was 12. Like the president who guided America through the Depression, Dorothea had polio, which not only gave her a weakened right leg and a severe limp, but perhaps also a sensitivity that lent her an empathetic lens.

She moved from New Jersey to California and turned her back on a much easier, more lucrative career as a portrait photographer in a San Francisco studio to go on out on the streets where she could chronicle the plight of the unemployed and homeless. Her excellent eye as a photographer was noticed by a couple of governmental agencies, including the Farm Security Administration and soon she was commissioned to chronicle the plight of the victims of the dust bowl and the depression. Lange turned her lens on those dirt poor sharecroppers and migrant laborers who were forced from their homes and out into the stifling heat of the picking fields. It was around this time that she took her most famous photos, including the above, “Migrant Mother,” her best-known photo series bringing to life this immense economic hardship.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dorothea Lange learned of the interning of Japanese-Americans into camps in California and decided to photograph that abomination. Once again Lange won awards and accolades. Unfortunately the U.S. Army decided to impound many of these latest photo’s. Thus much of her work on this campaign was never seen by the American public. It can now be viewed half a century later in libraries.

Dorothea Lange passed away in 1965 at the age of 70, after two decades fraught by ill health. But her legacy lives on in her photographs and in the faces of the individuals who many would have rather ignore.

In this new Millennium, we live in a new and different time of mass ignorance. One wonders why there are no present-day Dorothea Lange’s or other such photojournalists who could help awaken America from its current stupor and vapidity. My belief is that there are photographers who do similar important work, but we are just not that interested.

Take a look around you. There are just as many desperate faces and vacant buildings as there were during the depression of the 1930’s. Perhaps if we as a nation could take a second to distract ourselves from the current celebrity fascination and freak show culture in which we live we might start acting and voting based on the reality of life in 2010.

Maybe we can use the work of Dorothea Lange as an inspiration and as a template to dedicate ourselves to see into the eyes of the sick, needy and poor.

Perhaps then we can begin to rebuild the devastation that exists in our own dead cities, brick by brick.

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