Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Baltimore Sun Massacre

Quarter of newsroom staff
fired in a bloodbath
by bankrupt Tribune Co.

Tears, cheers for departees
on a dark day at The Sun

Tribune Company reapers whacked their way through the Baltimore Sun newsroom Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon in a bloodbath of layoffs that decimated the staff – editors, columnists, photographers, copy editors, page designers and support personnel.

Except in the sports department, the reporting staff seemed to remain mostly intact – but with some alterations in duties as the company reorients the newspaper toward an online and local news focus.

As much as I expected (and in my last blog posting foreshadowed) new layoffs at The Sun, my former home of 40 years, the extent of the slaughter was unimaginable: At least 15 editors, and 40 other staffers. The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild issued a statement saying Tribune was cutting 27 percent of the already reduced newspaper staff. Online accounts put the total number of layoffs as high as 61.

With names of the casualties mounting in back-and-forth Facebook messages and updates, it seemed like waiting for word on passengers after an airline disaster. And with messages received overnight here at The Real Muck, names of more apparent victims have been added to this account Thursday morning.

Little more than a week ago, new top editor Monty Cook gave a talk at Johns Hopkins University about how The Baltimore Sun was no longer a newspaper company and had to adapt to the digital age. Nonetheless, he singled out a few particular employees for praise – including my longtime friend and colleague Ann LoLordo who, as opinion editor, oversaw the editorial page and the online “second opinion” blog.

Tuesday evening, LoLordo, the newspaper’s former Jerusalem Bureau chief among other key reporting positions in her storied career, was among at least 15 management people ushered out the door. Accounts that these key editors – some, like Ann, having dedicated more than a quarter-century of their lives to the newspaper – were given 15 minutes to get out of the building and watched over by a beefed-up contingent of security guards could not be confirmed.

But clearly there was not much notice. Ann LoLordo was still listed atop Wednesday’s Opinion page, along with deputy opinion editor Larry E. Williams, who also was sent packing. Of the four news and opinion editors listed under the names of publisher/CEO Timothy E. Ryan and editor J. Montgomery Cook, only Larry Williams’ wife, deputy managing editor Marcia Myers, seemed to have survived the purge. The other deputy, Paul M. Moore, was told earlier that he is leaving – but not immediately and he apparently remained on staff Wednesday.

Forget the Derby

Sports reporter Bill Ordine had his tickets and reservations to cover the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, but instead was packing up his desk Wednesday afternoon. Reached by phone, Ordine said he had been expecting to cover the race but was not surprised at the sudden change in plans because “I was pretty low on the [Newspaper] Guild seniority list.”

A longtime sportswriter in Philadelphia, Ordine came to the Baltimore paper as an assistant city editor before going back to his specialty and a Guild- jurisdiction job. His byline topped the lede story, on horse racing safety, in Wednesday’s sports section.

Below the fold of the morning newspaper was popular sports columnist Rick Maese. With the Los Angeles Angels in town, Maese was writing about the team’s Western Maryland-raised pitcher Nick Adenhart, whose anticipated return would never happen. Adenhart was killed in a car accident three weeks ago, hours after pitching his first game of the baseball season for the Angels. It may have been Maese’s last column in The Sun.

Wednesday afternoon, Maese was back at work at Oriole Park doing an interview when he got the news of his layoff by telephone, according to accounts from colleagues at the newspaper.

Also getting the ax, according to various accounts: Sports columnist David Steele, and sports editors Ray Frager and George VanDaniker.

Other casualties, according to word trickling out through Facebook messages among friends and through telephone interviews, are at least eight members of the newspaper’s stellar photographic staff: editor Chuck Weiss; photographers Monica Lopossay, Glenn Fawcett, Chiaki Kawajiri, Liz Malby and Doug Kapustin; and photo technicians Danielle Bradley and Denise Sanders.

Shopping bags and tears

Ellie Baublitz, who put in 22 years and four months as a Sun editorial assistant after a few years as a community news freelancer, wore a spritely yellow outfit to work Wednesday, to “cheer people up” -- but having heard from a newsroom confidant of the Tuesday Night Massacre, she came prepared.

“I stuffed two shopping bags into my briefcase, just in case I needed them.”

About 2 p.m., as the newsroom awaited an expected announcement, Ellie and fellow editorial assistant Fay Lande were summoned by a top editor into his office and told of their layoffs.

Ellie came out in tears and, by one reporter’s account, “That really broke the newsroom up, when Ellie broke up.”

In a telephone chat Wednesday night, Ellie acknowledged the account as “pretty accurate,” and recounted how colleagues cheered and applauded staffers leaving the building after getting the same fate.

“It was pretty ugly down there,” Ellie said. “They probably did me a favor. The last couple of years have been really bad.”

For Ellie, that included the death of one of her three children and transfer by the newspaper from one suburban office to another, in shutdown after shutdown, until she was commuting from her home in rural Carroll County into the city each day.

She had an interesting spin on the timing of the layoffs. “Friday [May 1] starts the new vacation year, so they had to get rid of us before then. I know how the jackals work.”

After Ellie and Fay got the word, one reporter said, “it was like the Angel of Death walking around the newsroom.”

Designers done in

Staff artists Shirdell McDonald and Wes Harvey, former business editor Bernie Kohn, pop music critic Roshod Ollison, librarian Phyllis Kisner (40 years at The Sun)… all are said to be among the Tribune departees, as well as page designers Dave Zeiler (who also wrote an Apple a Day blog on Apple Computer news), Bill Wachsberger, Todd Windsor and Tracy Logsdon Dieter.

Wachsberger immediately fired off a Facebook message, saying: “it's done. i'm officially laid off and headed to o'sheas. good luck to the survivors.” Others joined the party at Mick O’Shea’s pub, celebrating what was left to celebrate – one another.

Bernie Kohn survived an earlier dismantling of his business section and its staff, and was overseeing what little investigative journalism remained at the paper. Until Monday, when his term in office ended, Kohn had been president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Wednesday night, the copy desk was mostly vacant. Its chief, John McIntyre, who authored a highly-regarded Sun blog on editing and language, had been fired Tuesday night. According to an unofficial account from the newsroom, much of his current and former staff – some of my close friends in the newsroom, given my last six years there as night metropolitan editor – got the ax, among them: Mike Kane, Beth Hughes, Peggy Cunningham, Mark Fleming (copy editor on The Sun’s 1998 Pulitzer-winning Shipbreakers investigation), Paul Bendel-Simso, Jeffrey Landaw (who was on vacation in Prague). Also whacked: Connie Knox, former Guild president and longtime union activist.

However, the status of the copy editors remained murky, as all those listed appeared to have higher job titles and may have "bumping" rights to return to lesser status -- unfortunately, at the expense of colleagues with lesser seniority, newsroom sources said.

“There’s so few people [on the copy desk], I can’t tell who’s gone forever or who’s off,” a newsroom veteran said, quietly, in a brief telephone chat from the belly of the beast.

In his final posting for his blog at The Sun (, McIntyre was gracious and eloquent despite being fired.

“I expect to continue blogging elsewhere, but you will no longer find me at my post here,” McIntyre ended. “In addition to colleagues who have been great fun, I have had the good fortune to collect a remarkable corps of loyal readers, and I salute you all with gratitude and affection. You have enriched my life.” appeared to have the first big listing of the toll of editors, which also included Patricia Fanning, who oversaw medical and science stories (and was held in highest regard by the reporters who worked with her); regional editor Jay Apperson and his counties editors Joe DeCarlo, Dan Clemens and Bill Caufield; and Eileen Canzian, a state editor and former reporter whose tenure at The Sun goes back three decades.

Fanning was said to be editing a story when she got the tap on her shoulder.

Who they gonna call?

Steve Auerweck, a longtime staffer who oversaw newsroom computer operations, was terminated – leaving no one instantly available to help reporters or editors unlock frozen stories or, in what he considered the most important element of his job, act as a liaison between the news operation and Information Technology departments.

So who they gonna call? “There’s the Help Desk in Orlando,” Auerweck said, adding that there was also “someone from IT” in the newspaper building during operational hours. “Clearly they made the decision that what I do can be handled by the Help Desk. It will work for some things; it will fall apart for others.”

Steve's first words after I reached him at home Wednesday night: "I didn't think they could shock me anymore, but they did."

High security for Exodus

Newspaper staffers confirmed that the added security Tuesday evening, as editors were canned, included a guard posted on the skywalk across Centre Street between the building and the employee garage.

“There were security guards stationed in the building and at the end of the bridge… different faces you don’t always see,” said DeCarlo, the editor for Anne Arundel County news. “Additional guards. You’ve got to stop and think, the people we’re talking about here -- nothing bad’s going to happen with that group. This is top- and mid-level management. It’s probably just procedure; they do this for any purge.”

Apperson met with DeCarlo and Clemens and told them he had been fired; they had been unable to find Caulfield, but learned soon after that he was in another office being told of his own termination.

Amid the growing turmoil and shock as colleagues gathered at desks of the departing, DeCarlo said he managed over about an hour and a half to pack up his stuff.

“When I walked out of the newsroom [Tuesday], I said to a couple of people, “The way we put out the paper Monday night will never happen again. It can’t be. Maybe Chicago [corporate home to Tribune and its flagship newspaper] thinks that’s a good idea. We’ll see.”

According to the Newspaper Guild, “Since Tribune acquired The Sun in 1999, the newsroom staff has been cut by more than 60 percent to currently 148 employees from roughly 420.

According to several newsroom sources, The Sun is expected to increase its dependence on content from Chicago – helped by a transition to a computer system that links all the newspapers in Tribune’s bankrupt empire. Some pages likely will have modules left open for local news which the remaining Sun staff will produce.

And that switch to the design style of the Chicago Tribune is coming soon to a newspaper near you.


Overnight messages since the initial "massacre" posting included this one from a friend still on the inside:

If you want a description of what it's like to be a survivor, you can use this unattributed quote:"It's a little like being the turkey who survives Thanksgiving but knows Christmas is a month away."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Newspaper ironies

Dismantling of print edition
picks up speed as Sun editor
focuses on all things digital

'No longer a newspaper company'

In a talk last week at Johns Hopkins University, top editor J. Montgomery Cook declared – to some public amazement – that The Baltimore Sun is no longer a newspaper company.

Unfortunately, he’s right… or nearly so. It’s becoming clear at every turn that the newspaper is being slashed one staffer, one page, one section at a time, to the point of self-fulfilling prophecy: No longer a newspaper company, soon if not already.

You can hear Monty’s talk online, courtesy of Johns Hopkins, at While his characterization of the company was personally painful to me, as a 40-year, now-retired newsroom writer and editor, I was disturbed by his views on the roles of reporters – comments that seemed in opposition to objective journalism. He speaks of wanting reporters to be “passionate,” in nearly the same breath as he uses the words fairness and balance.

But there’s so much to be upset about these days in the print media and at my old haunt, which just last week eliminated the Tuesday features section – a day on which the section’s focus, ironically, was on the digital age. Monday’s features section had been cut earlier. It seems to be part of a dismantling of the newspaper’s entire features department, as some of its daily content is scattered to parts of the surviving news and sports sections and the staff survivors focus on Sunday sections and online content.

As a subscriber for home delivery, I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t notice another recent change – the increase in the street-sale price of the daily newspaper to a dollar. There’s that saying, almost a cliché, about doing more with less. When you purchase the newspaper now, it is a case of less for more.


Saturday night, friends held a farewell party for Howard Libit, who in nearly 15 years at The Sun had risen from two-year intern reporter in the suburban Howard County office to assistant managing editor for news. He did not get the ax; he got a job offer from a company engaged in corporate communications.

Amid all the turmoil in the newspaper business, and the burdens of overwork imposed on employees and managers trying to keep it and themselves going, the grass on the other side of the fence held obvious appeal. And it is yet another loss of great talent for The Sun, and for print journalism.

He’s escaped just before the next bloodletting. Staffers are expecting word on deep personnel cuts at The Sun within the next two weeks. One top editor has already been told he is leaving – Paul M. Moore, deputy managing editor and former ombudsman for the newspaper (the last to hold that position before it was eliminated).

Moore is listed among the top executives of the newspaper – with Timothy E. Ryan, former vice president for circulation, at the top as publisher, president and CEO, and Monty Cook as editor. Then come Paul Moore and fellow deputy editor Marcia Myers, along with the editor and deputy editor overseeing the opinion pages. There’s also a half-dozen vice presidents for such struggling areas as advertising, marketing, finance, business development, and operations and technology.

Watching the names these days may become kind of like the era when observers noted the faces lining the front of the reviewing stand for the Soviet Union’s or People’s Republic of China’s May Day parades to determine who was still in favor or power.

Some names you rarely see – notable among them the copy editors who read each story and write the headlines, and serve, unheralded, as a last check on accuracy. There’s anticipation that the next bloodletting will shrink their numbers at a time when some of the work of these union-represented professionals is being replaced with content created and edited in Chicago by non-union employees of parent Tribune Co.

Monty’s talk at Hopkins was interesting. He speaks about the importance of The Sun’s investigative and “watchdog” reporting that are to remain part if its content, but also notes the end of the multi-part series. So those investigative stories inevitably are going to be a lot shorter.

And as for “watchdog” content, that has been a matter of investigating why a particular malfunctioning street light hasn’t been fixed, or the trash in an alley hasn’t been removed for weeks or months on end. Matters that a complaint to your City Council representative ought to be able to fix with one phone call are eating up ever-shrinking newspaper space at the expense of serious content. Pothole journalism.

Numbers games

Monty speaks of a transition for the newspaper into new areas brought on by the digital revolution, and how it is evolving with the production of content for whatever information platforms people use. “Every job will have a digital focus,” he says.

Tweets are big these days, after all. But I haven’t figured how they generate revenue. It’s just part of the overall company goal Monty paints to “cement in people’s minds” that when something happens, they turn to The Baltimore Sun for information.

He cites growth in online “page views” and “unique visitors” and claims that “The Sun’s total audience is larger today than it was five years ago.”

But numbers are so easy to manipulate to justify change. Monty, whose specialty in coming to The Sun a few years ago was newspaper design, was the leader in creating its much-maligned free daily tabloid, b – which he claims has 125,000 readers weekly. I don’t know how that compares to the weekly print run, or who counts the copies left in the vending boxes each night, or whether the number is any more useful than that of “unique visitors” tallied on a Web site.

Online page views count the same, whether they come from a Pakistani using a Google search on an arcane topic that matches the wording in a Sun article or, ideally, from a reader in suburban Towson intently clicking on particular stories from the newspaper’s Web site.

Monty does not say outright that the print newspaper, the company’s Mother Ship, is dying.

But it is dying – and being murdered.

Killing The Evening Sun

It reminds me of the earlier murder of The Evening Sun, which was in trouble in the early 1990s as part of the trend of circulation shrinkage for afternoon newspapers. Then owned by Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Corp., The Baltimore Sun took steps intended to speed up the evening newspaper’s death by shrinking and consolidating staffs, then making content pretty much identical in both papers except in typography and style and one small new story in a space atop the front page that became nicknamed “the dynamite hole.”

People who subscribed to both the morning and evening papers pretty quickly made the obvious move of canceling one of them – and some of the more stubborn opted to keep the evening paper. But its circulation dropped close enough to the magic number of 100,000 that the company could more readily use that as an excuse to cease publication.

It didn’t create any goodwill, just alienation. In the Baltimore area, many readers staunchly preferred The Evening Sun and resented the moves that first took away its personality and then shut it down. It would have died eventually. But its closing in 1995 was lacking in grace, in respect for the readers. It was a clumsy killing.

The company is being clumsy now. It is giving readers less reason to buy the newspaper in vastly cutting content and raising the price. The readership base out there is not stupid. The company is pushing Webward, burning the print bridge behind it, and leaving many of its customers on the far shore.

Kissing off the elderly

Monty, in his talk, acknowledged with regret that some changes have been painful -- particularly for older readers who have not made the move to the Internet.

“There is a generational divide in this,” he says, “and I’ll be honest with you, that’s the hard part about transitions.”

I don’t know if he thinks, as I do, that those older readers represent a huge part of the audience for The Baltimore Sun’s print edition. It is an audience that is going to leave sooner than it has to because of the changes, and in my opinion that will accelerate the newspaper’s demise.

I was sorry that a scheduling conflict kept me away from Monty’s talk, which was ably reported by the online Baltimore Brew (

The Brew crew followed up with a report ( on a staff reorganization announced at The Sun by Monty a day after his Hopkins talk and geared for increased online focus. Among the changes is the naming of the former assistant managing editor for features, Mary Corey, as “head of print” with duties that sound similar to those of deputy managing editor Marcia Myers.

I’ve always liked both of them, and can’t help but wonder what follows.

Had I been present for Monty’s talk, I would have posed a question not raised by the small Hopkins audience:

“Monty, does Tribune allow you to say ‘no’?”

And I will be watching to see, when the expected round of layoffs is announced, whether publisher/CEO Tim Ryan and Monty Cook will allow The Baltimore Sun to report that news about its own cutback as fully as it reports on layoffs and cutbacks at other companies.

A Tribune lesson for journalists

There’s an amazing account from former Sun reporter David Folkenflik, who now covers the media for National Public Radio, about the layoff of 20-year staffer Lou Carlozo by the Chicago Tribune.

Carlozo, an arts reporter, had been writing at his editors’ behest about the effects of the recession on area families and blogging in recent months in "The Recession Diaries" about his own family's pocketbook concerns, Folkenflik reports. But on Wednesday, Carlozo was told that he was losing his job – and then, after he posted a final blog entry about how the recession had caught up to him, the Tribune removed it or, as they say, “spiked” it, in newspaper lingo for killing a story.

But you can read that last blog entry through Folkenflik’s NPR blog posting at Planet Money:

Carlozo also posted an account of his firing, in context as part of a wider Tribune bloodletting, at

Sadly, it gives me much the same feel of what goes on these days at The Baltimore Sun.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Movie review: Sin Nombre

Indie film weaves tales
of migrants, killers
on compelling journeys

It’s easy to imagine a porous Mexico-U.S. border, with immigrants flooding across in such numbers that only a relative few can be caught and sent back.

Harder to imagine are the scenes depicted in the new Indie film “Sin Nombre,” with migrants and ruthless gang thugs riding through Mexico atop northbound freight trains on a journey that few seem to complete.

This darkly compelling film brings together the life journeys of Sayra, bound from Honduras to New Jersey if she can somehow reach and cross the border with her father and uncle, and young Mexican gang member Willy, whose life is in turmoil after the killing of his girlfriend by his gang’s leader.

Their lives intersect atop the train, where acts of violence and redemption play out in a storm, and the journeys of the pair of not-quite-lovers become one in the direction of pre-ordained fates.

Actions beget consequences – from the tutoring of a younger-looking 12-year-old in gang ethics and murder to Sayra’s decision to leave the bond of family for the companionship of the fleeing Willy. Along the way, we witness grim acts of inhumanity (in one instance, the killing of a supposed rival who, it is suggested, is shot and then cut up and fed to the gang’s dogs); compassion and intolerance (bystanders who throw fruit to or rocks at the traintop passengers); and self-serving ambivalence.

Most disturbing are the dehumanizing indoctrination of the young boy into gang culture, and the uncompromising savagery of gang mentality. Fiction? Given the proliferation of gang culture in America, and the crimes linked to them in federal investigations in recent years, you have to wonder how close to reality the film hits.

For all the darkness of the tale, you can’t help but feel pushed into your seat and held captive emotionally by the plights of the characters who, for all their faults, are trying to flee unpleasant circumstances and hoping for better lives north of the border. You root for them to somehow escape.

The dialogue is sparse and quick, and with no more than a few years of high school Spanish nearly half a century ago to help, I had to rely on the film’s subtitles – much as I did a few years ago in seeing a film with a somewhat similar feel, “Maria Full of Grace,” in which a pregnant Colombian teenager becomes a drug mule.

More recently, the illegal immigrant theme was played out powerfully in “The Visitor” – a terrific film that had passion without violence (or, for the most part, subtitles).

What ties them all together, for me, is the message borne by the Statue of Liberty – that stuff about “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”

It’s a beautiful ideal, still. It is why I root for the underdog – for the Sayras and Marias and Tareks, as personified in these three very different films.

It’s a shame our world is not so simple and welcoming a place.

Today's fortune cookie message

Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think.

Daily number: 502

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Movie review: Disney’s ‘earth’

Disneynature Earth Day release
is a sight to behold, but has
a badly over-written script
and droning narration

Cue the violins: It’s dinnertime

The movie is being hyped as the epic journeys of three families across the planet, but Disneynature’s “earth” – timed for theatrical release on Earth Day -- is really an update of the stuff that old Walt himself was pushing back in the 1950s when color television was being introduced as the latest in technology.

Inspiring, well-filmed stories of wild animals, with a droning narrator. Time-lapse photography of flowers blooming. We’ve seen that before, although I readily acknowledge the old Wonderful World of Disney productions are rudimentary stuff when compared to “earth.”

Trouble is, the new film for all its terrific spectacle has been weighed down with not only the droning narration of those TV days of yesteryear but an over-written script and jumbled story lines that the voice of James Earl Jones cannot save from mediocrity. (James Earl Jones? Very suave, very mellow, but he’s even disappeared from the Verizon ads!)

Now I have nothing against cute baby polar bears climbing out of their ice-hole den as spring comes to the Arctic, and playfully exploring the white wilderness while their mother tries to shepherd them toward the sea. So very, very cute, and so wonderfully filmed.

Meanwhile, daddy polar bear has gone far ahead in a desperate trek to find food as his world shrinks to global warming. By the time he finds something to eat, it’s a baby walrus whose colony keeps the big white predator at bay on an ice shelf. Poor papa polar bear is too weak to go on, and so the movie crew leaves him – returning us to the growing, thriving cubs who, we are assured, will carry on with his spirit in their hearts.

Yup. James Earl Jones really tells us that.

You’d like to think the photo crew up in the helicopter could have thrown a few fish to Papa Bear before leaving.

The other main story lines feature a herd of African elephants in their trek across a barren Kalahari Desert to reach the lush delta where water and food will be found, and mother-and-child humpback whales swimming thousands of miles to their Southern Ocean summer feeding waters.

But that wasn’t enough. As we are shuttled back and forth between the animal families to check on their progress, it seems there was some footage of enormously entertaining monkeys fording a river, so that gets thrown in, along with various other creatures. (I’ll allow, however, the giant shark rising out of the ocean devouring a whole seal in its horrifying maw.)

We also get to see in breathtaking time-lapse imagery entire forests change in color with the seasons. There are some terrific sunsets, too.

But the violins in the orchestral accompaniment are as unrelenting as the voice of Mr. Jones, and a solomn strings theme warns us when it appears an animal being chased down as prey is about to be killed and eaten by critters higher up the food chain. A pack of lions chases and jumps, biting, onto the back of an elephant fleeing in the near-darkness. (So that jungle cat-and-elephant circus act really is natural behavior!)

Cue the violins. Time for the Darwin theme. Elephant sushi is on the menu. The lions eat tonight.

I hate to criticize a movie that probably was conceived as well-meaning.

I cannot praise the photography enough. It is cutting-edge amazing. I kept wondering how the incredible scenes in “earth” could have been captured.

Patience was rewarded. Scenes showing how share the screen as the credits are rolling.

So don’t get up and leave too soon. You might miss some of the best moments that “earth” has to offer. You can also check them out at greater length online at, including the weeks of determined labor to capture with a high-speed camera that giant shark breaching the water with a seal in its teeth.

The photographers get four stars, and all the thumbs-up I can muster. It’s such a shame that the script and editing let them down.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Burn, baby, Burn!

Burn ball-carrier (in black) heads turfward in the grasp of a Comets tackler at Saturday's exhibition game. (Photo by Bonnie Schupp)

Opening day nears
for some bruising hons
playing women's football

Baseball season may be upon us, but even with an Oriole victory over the hated New York Yankees on Opening Day, my heart right now goes out to the Baltimore Burn women's football team.

With the season opener two weeks away, the Burn took on – and took a few licks from – the Columbus Comets Saturday in an exhibition game at Baltimore’s Northwestern High School.

In case you missed the link two weeks ago to my featured story and Bonnie’s photos at the growing news blog, the Burn play in the 38-team Women’s Football Alliance. Tackle football. Helmet-crunching football. Colliding-bodies football. Lying-limp-on-the-ground-for-two-minutes-after-colliding football.

Scary-stuff football, particularly when you’ve got a vantage point standing at the sideline and can hear the crunch of the offense and defensive lines, the grunts and oomphs of collisions and tackles, and… yup… occasional unladylike expletives.

Ranging in age from 18 to almost 50, these hons have the hearts of lions… and not the Detroit kind, although I’m sure those lions are also fierce. This is Baltimore!

About 100 spectators attended the game, and watched the Burn fall a couple of touchdowns behind in the first half – then rally with a pair of TD’s and two-point conversions, but not quite enough as the visitors from Ohio took the game by a score of 21-16.

A few problems for the Burn: The lack of a kicker Saturday, which meant turning over the ball deep in their own territory several times; and a novice quarterback whose initial passing attempts were far off the mark or fell into opponents’ hands.

The Comets seemed better organized on the field in the first half, but the Burn defense grew considerably stronger in the second half while the home team rallied for its touchdowns – one on a long run by Stephanie Walker, the other on a pass from quarterback Tracy Deuber to receiver Robyn Munford.

Lacking a place-kicker, the Burn ran successfully for the two-point conversion after each touchdown.

Among the players seeing action on defense was Burn co-owner Deb Miller, a 49-year-old middle school gym teacher and six-time grandmother who is the oldest on the roster.

Keeping stats on the sideline was another 49-year-old on the roster, psychiatrist Betty Jo Salmeron, who was dealing all week with problems on the home front – talk about irony for a player on the Burn, her house in suburban Towson was heavily damaged by a fire. No one was in the house at the time, and a neighbor alerted the fire department, she said.

Dr. Salmeron, who played last year as a rookie kicker and defensive cornerback, was joined on the sidelines Saturday by the youngest of her three daughters – the only one not “mortified” that mom plays football.

For locals interested in checking out the team, the next practice takes place Saturday morning, beginning about 8 a.m., at Southside Academy in Baltimore’s Cherry Hill neighborhood.

The Burn’s eight-game season begins on the road April 18 against the Connecticut Cyclones.

Home games – all at 4 p.m., at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High’s Art Modell Field – are scheduled April 25 (Philadelphia Liberty Belles), May 16 (Cyclones), June 6 (Keystone Assault) and June 20 (New Jersey Titans).

Tickets are $10, and there’s a discount for military and police, and seniors 60 and older. Season tickets are available at $30 by emailing a request to The Burn Web site is

Check it out. Buy a hotdog. Applaud the cheerleading-and-drum troupe, and root for the home team. They’re not making a million bucks. They’re out there for the love of it, and in sports these days, that alone is something to cheer for. Let the Baltimore Burn light your fire for a couple of hours!
(If you missed the earlier story, here's the link:

Bonnie’s exhibition opens

I might have posted the football report in a more timely fashion, but the weekend calendar was overloaded as Bonnie’s two-year photographic project, “Defining Ourselves,” had its gallery debut Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis.

In case you hadn’t read or heard about or participated in the project, Bonnie asked a diverse range of people to answer this question: “How do you define yourself?” The reply had to be in a single sentence, of any length, beginning with the words “I am….” Answers were not shared with participants until they, themselves, had submitted a response.

Bonnie worked with most participants on a collaborative portrait illustrating their answers, which was a huge challenge given the geographic spread across the planet… some as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Japan. In one case, we drove about 650 miles out of our way on a road trip for Bonnie to take the picture of art professor Petronio Bendito, a Brazilian on the faculty at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana.

We had to get his picture. His answer was one of the shortest, yet one of our favorites:

“I am all that I love.”

We drove to upstate New York to get Texas-based singer-songwriter Dirk Hamilton, while he was attending a folk music convention. His answer was subtly deep, and even shorter:

“I am here.”

Some of the photos taken that rainy weekend ended up as the front and back cover illustrations for Dirk’s new, just-issued CD, “More Songs From My Cool Life.” (

We hung the 13-by-19-inch portraits Thursday and Saturday, taking up every available space in the church gallery with 52 of them – people ages 4 to 102. Others that didn’t fit were hung in smaller images on a tabletop “tree.” There’s also a bulletin board for visitors to post their own self-definitions.

Bonnie’s exhibition will remain on display at the church until April 29, and she’s hoping to find other venues for it in the future.

It’s not your average art show. It’s unlikely that visitors would be purchasing the photo portraits of strangers. Like those football women who play for the love of the game, Bonnie’s project came straight from her heart. And touched the hearts of others -- participants, and the dozens of folks who attended the opening reception on Sunday.

And by the way, if you haven’t thought about it before, how do you define yourself?

Remember, just one sentence beginning “I am….”

Message to Conrad

Thanks for your recent comment on my blog. Wasn’t sure how best to message back, but since you indicated you’re going to keep visiting – thanks for taking the time here. I think I’m averaging 35 visitors a day, and that makes you one of my favorite people!

Today’s fortune cookie message

You always bring others happiness.

Daily number: 272

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Saving the planet

Robert Howell, on visit last year to Maryland, gazes at Chesapeake Bay. (Photo by Bonnie Schupp)

Quaker group's new book
aims at keeping Earth
from tipping point

I had a telephone chat early today with my New Zealand friend Robert Howell, who reports that the book he labored on for several years with a group of fellow Quakers from around the world on the little matter of saving our planet has at last been published.

Aside from the common bond of being Quakers, the folks who wrote and edited the book are experts in diverse areas – Robert, for example, having been an organisational and strategy consultant, teacher and city manager in New Zealand. He also founded and is CEO of a little group there called the Council for Socially Responsible Investment.

We first met Robert more than 25 years ago, when he was enrolled in a program at Johns Hopkins University and spent a weekend in our home through our shared membership in the global peace organization Servas.

Robert, who holds a master’s in philosophy and doctorate in health planning and management, describes himself in brief these days as an ecological philosopher and strategist. He noted in our half-hour catch-up telephone discussion that the news media there has been reporting on New Zealand’s influx of eco-migrants – people moving to his incredibly distant nation because it will be least affected by the coming environmental disasters. (How distant? 11 p.m. Wednesday in Maryland is 4 p.m. Thursday in Auckland.)
Robert also noted, sadly, that New Zealand changed administrations last year, electing a conservative-Republican type prime minister who is moving the country in the wrong direction on environmental issues just as the United States seems to have reversed course politically and morally in a better direction with the election of Barack Obama. (“A breath of fresh air,” Robert says of the new American president.)

I well remember on the visits Bonnie and I made to New Zealand and Australia in 2006 how just about everyone we met disliked George W. Bush. (Disliked is really too soft a word.) Alas, the global economic meltdown precipitated to a large degree by the Bush administration has cut even into the socially responsible investments as far away as Robert’s homeland, he says.

The book is “Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy,” by Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver, from Berrett-Koehler Publishers. You can have a peek at

On a visit to North America last year, Robert made time for a stop at our home in Pasadena and participated in Bonnie’s then-growing project on self-definition and related photographic portraits that will have its debut Sunday at the Annapolis Unitarian Universalist Church. Robert talked with us then about his group’s book and its underlying thesis that Earth could reach its tipping-point in sustainability over the next few decades if major steps are not taken to change the global economy.
"From 2030 onwards the effects of a 2 degree plus warming to the planet will begin to have very significant effects," Robert said Thursday.
Bonnie took Robert’s picture (above) as he gazed out at the Chesapeake Bay from an overlook at nearby Downs Park. It was an appropriate spot, given the bay’s worsening environmental woes.

If you know anyone of influence on the economy and environment, please forward a link to the group’s book. We might not all be here in 2030 (Robert and I would be about 84 years old then), but surely our children and succeeding generations will be dealing with the dire consequences if change does not come.

Here’s a description of the book from the publisher’s Web site:

Our current economic system—which assumes endless growth and limitless potential wealth—flies in the face of the fact that the earth’s resources are finite. The result is increasing destruction of the natural world and growing, sometimes lethal, tension between rich and poor, global north and south. Trying to fix problems piecemeal is not the solution. We need a comprehensive new vision of an economy that can serve people and all of life’s commonwealth. Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver use the core Quaker principle of “right relationship”—interacting in a way that is respectful to all and that aids the common good—as the foundation for a new economic model. Right Relationship poses five basic questions: What is an economy for? How does it work? How big is too big? What’s fair? And how can it best be governed?
Brown and Garver expose the antiquated, shortsighted, and downright dangerous assumptions that underlie our current answers to these questions, as well as the shortcomings of many current reform efforts. They propose new answers that combine an acute awareness of ecological limits with a fundamental focus on fairness and a concern with the spiritual, as well as material, well-being of the human race. Brown and Garver describe new forms of global governance that will be needed to get and keep the economy in right relationship. Individual citizens can and must play a part in bringing this relationship with life and the world into being.

Bonnie’s big project

For two years, my wife Bonnie Schupp has been engaged in a photographic project called “Defining Ourselves,” in which participants were asked to do just that – in a single sentence beginning with the words “I am….”

Try it. Not easy to do it well. But close to a hundred diverse people, ages 4 to 100 and representing a dozen countries, gave it a whirl, and Bonnie went to great lengths to take photographic portraits inspired by their answers.

The result will have its first exhibition debut at noon on Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 333 Dubois Road, and Bonnie will give a brief talk on the project which will remain on display in the church gallery through much of April. (Suggestions for future venues are welcome.) A little more detail can be found at Bonnie's blog at

Today’s fortune cookie message

The brain is not a vessel to fill but a fire to ignite.