The recent HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” was fantastic television. Although I’ve since read criticism that some facets got the Hollywood treatment, the show brought this horrible incident – and the lessons it taught – vividly to life. Lesson one: Brave people exist in all cultures and countries. Many people sacrificed their lives in the fight to present this event from becoming an even bigger disaster. Lesson two: Bureaucracies that deny inconvenient scientific truths for the sake of ideology do so at their peril. Just sayin’.
The series ended with the show trial of the plant operators that included a crystal clear explanation of how a nuclear power plant works and what went wrong at Chernobyl each step of the way. In the end, more than grievous operator errors, more than cost-cutting design flaws, a systemic chain of lies was ultimately to blame. Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s leader at the time, later said Chernobyl was the real reason for the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Watching “Chernobyl” made me recall a story I wrote nearly 15 years ago about a University of Washington scientist named Scott Davis who worked to understand the health effects of the radiation on the surrounding population. Click on the link above to read about his efforts.
My wife, Julee, and I wrote an op-ed for the Tacoma News Tribune asking the Legislature to shelve three bills that threaten the ability of hairdressers and other self-employed people to make a living. Between the time it was submitted and the time it was published, additional bills have emerged. The 2019 legislative session seems more and more like a war on the self-employed — not just hairdressers but everyone who works as their own boss.
It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to write about a family-owned business. Port Blakely isn’t a household name, but it has deep roots — literally. The company has been growing trees for five generations and owns 200,000 acres in Washington, Oregon and New Zealand. The family wants to make money, but also take care of the land. “When you’re standing on top of a ridge looking at 20,000 acres of forest that you’re responsible for managing, and all the wildlife and natural resources there, it’s a pretty humbling and awesome experience,” said Rene Ancinas, CEO and great-grandson of one of the company’s founders. My story ran in the Feb. 1 edition of the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Sad to note the passing of Charles Krauthammer. I didn’t always agree with him, but I appreciated the construction and presentation of his arguments. He was a brilliant persuasive writer even when he failed to persuade me. If you want to be well-informed, it pays to find and follow a sharp mind with a different perspective than yours. I discovered Charles years ago when his column ran in the Seattle Times. I admired his sly wit, deep intelligence and measured tone. I saw him as someone with genuine conservative convictions, but who didn’t drink anyone’s Kool-Aid. We’ll never know what Charles would have had to say about the unnecessary pain and anger caused by the Trump Administration’s cruel and pointless separation of children from their parents at the border. I like to think he would have begun by acknowledging the importance of border security and the responsibility borne by parents trying to enter the U.S. illegally with their children. He may even have called some of the news coverage overwrought. But I also like to think he would have concluded that separating asylum-seeking families did nothing to advance security, lacked compassion, caused a political headache for the GOP and gave America a black eye. In other words, I like to think he would have – in much more elegant fashion — called bullshit. RIP, Charles.
I really LOVE writing for the Tacoma School District website. So many cool and inspiring stories to tell. I recently wrote about the Lincoln High School Drumline after two nationally known pros, Ralph Nader and Harvey Thompson (below), spent a weekend coaching and inspiring drumline members.
Their visit was made by possible by a spontaneous $1,500 donation to the drumline by a Tacoma couple, Dan and Margaret Hannula, who were “blown away” after watching the drumline perform at a community event. I was also blown away by the dedication and thoughfulness of the students and by the energy and commitment of their director, Peter Briggs.
Here’s a quote from Dan Hannula about why he and his wife reached for their checkbook. The quote didn’t make it into the story, but probably should have. “Sometimes we hear negative things about the youth of this country, and how many problems we have, but I saw all these young people who were enthusiastic and talented … and very wonderful representatives of Lincoln High School.”
The worst part about free-lance writing is the best part. You never know what’s around the corner. You may score a half-dozen assignments one month, then get skunked the next. New clients can pop up like dandelions, then blow away with the breeze.
Right now I’m celebrating an opportunity that popped up to write for the Microsoft Alumni Network – a gig that allowed me to profile Claude Changarnier (on the left), a retired Microsoft executive whose family has grown grapes and made wine in the Burgundy region of France for more than 250 years.
Some stories transport you as you are writing them. Writing about Domaine Changarnier made me thirsty and ready to grab a passport.
Hard on the heels of my story about the centennial of Oberto Brands last month came some bittersweet news. The Oberto family is thinking about selling the jerky juggernaut.
The sweet part is that the family appears to be acting on their terms and not because they have no choice.
The not-so-sweet part — at least for me — is the possible loss of one more family business to corporate ownership.
Longtime family businesses like Oberto — founded in Seattle in 1918 and now based in Kent — are local treasures. Their unique and refreshing ways of doing business reflect the quirks of their founders and the character of the communities where they’re rooted.
I was disappointed the timing wasn’t right for me to interview Oberto Brands patriarch Art Oberto for my story in the Puget Sound Business Journal, but the Seattle Times published this terrific profile a number of years back. To read my story, click on Story Links in the menu bar above and look under Business.