Review: Going To Trindad

The author of Going To Trinidad says in his preface that he grew up in “an era when most people believed gender was a binary thing.” I’m a little more than 10 years older than the author and I grew up believing the same thing so I bought this book in the hope that I would learn something about transgender people. 

I also bought the book because the author, Martin J. Smith, is a former student and I am pleased to report that I have done no harm, although I could have said that many times over the years after reading some of his novels and another nonfiction book,

The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. Marty always tells a compelling story. 

In Going To Trinidad, which has the subtitle A Doctor, a Colorado Town, and Stories from an Unlikely Gender Crossroads, Smith focuses on two men who struggled with gender identity and ultimately were treated by Dr. Stanley H. Biber, once a surgeon in a MASH unit in the Korean War where he learned how to replace missing body parts, among other things. Trinidad, Colorado, is the town where Biber practiced and “going to Trinidad” means getting transition surgery. Both patients provided contemporary reports on their lives and Smith has done a good job of using that information to complete the story. 

To say that the story is complicated would be an understatement and to tell you why would be a spoiler. I cannot even say that the book is a comprehensive examination of the transgender condition. Smith never set out to write such a book, as the subtitle tells us. Even as Smith began his research, he had to endure challenges from the transgender community, and Smith gives space in an afterword to a woman doctor, once a man, who says his two subjects are atypical of the people who have gender transition surgery. He wrote about that in The Hill and you can find the essay here

If I have any real criticism of the book it would be that his main characters transitioned physically from male to female. Smith mentions, but does not include in any detail, someone who transitioned from female to male. Of course, that could always be another book.


All the news that's missed in print


By R Thomas Berner

I’m a news junkie. I subscribe to at least six newspapers and receive free daily newsletters from others. Certainly, that’s overkill for national and international news but when it comes to local and state news, I can’t get enough from a single source. That’s how bad things are in the local news business—and it’s not for want of dedicated reporters trying despite the corporate owner. 

I belong to the school of journalism that mandates coverage of local government

and schools. You write a story about the agenda of the next council meeting; you write a story about what happened at the meeting; you follow up on some things that were discussed but not voted on at the meeting. Plenty of local stories throughout the week and maybe an in-depth one for Sunday. In the sports section, you make room for all of the high school sports, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs called in by the team manager. 

Short staffed as it is, the CDT can no longer do that; in fact, hasn’t done it for years now as the staff shrinks and the institutional memory fades. Local coverage is so thin that some people I know in Bellefonte subscribe to the Lock Haven Express, which routinely covers Bellefonte council and school board and makes sure the outcome of Friday night sports events are reported in Saturday’s printed edition. 

In addition to the CDT and the Express, I also read the Centre County Gazette and I follow the editor of statecollege.com on Twitter and recently signed up for his daily newsletter as well as Penn State’s. And the letters in the CDT are a mix of opinion and fact not seen elsewhere. Is it any wonder I spend two hours every morning just checking my news providers?

The dearth of state government stories no doubt pleases our elected officials for it keeps us in the dark about their shenanigans. If it weren’t for legal advertising, we might not know there are efforts afoot to change the state’s constitution that would set us back a century. If you want to stay up to date on what’s happening in Harrisburg, I recommend a $9 subscription to Spotlight PA. The news service provides in-depth stories you don’t see anywhere else. I also get Pennsylvania Capital-Star, which accepts donations, and PoliticsPA, a news aggregator looking for a sponsor. 

What I really want, though, is a local newspaper well stocked with local and state government news. A print newspaper is probably out of the question. You need a press and a circulation department. Both are expensive. 

But we could have a worthy electronic newspaper. I envision a subscription-based newspaper that publishes seven days a week and with deadlines late enough to carry stories on evening meetings and sporting events. I envision in-depth and investigative stories. Let no stone go unturned. 

I’ve been in touch with a couple of my former students who are now experts in the field of online newspapers. They’ve offered me lots of good advice. The only thing they haven’t offered is money. 

I used to joke that if I hit the lottery, I’d buy the CDT. But I now realize the only thing I’d really be buying is a somewhat empty building at Dale Summit. The corporation that owns the CDT long ago dismantled and sold its press. So I’m thinking we start fresh and the least expensive way is electronic. 

My former students have advised me that my business plan is ambitious and might not attract a sugar daddy. But I want a thorough newspaper ready online every morning and that requires a cadre of reporters and editors (and I’d start by hiring the entire CDT newsroom) and subscribers. 

I mentioned a sugar daddy. What I really have in mind is a non-profit organization. Beyond organizing a newsroom, I am out of my element. But somewhere somebody is listening. Call me. 


R Thomas Berner is a professor emeritus of journalism and American studies at Penn State, a former State College Borough council member, and a former city editor of the Centre Daily Times.  


The Woman Who Smashed Codes. A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies. Jason Fagone. 444pp. Dey St.
I’ve always liked something Norman Mailer said about journalists and why he wasn’t one of them even though he had received a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Armies of the Night. In a subsequent book, he said of journalists: "They had first of all to have enormous curiosity, and therefore be unable to rest until they found out the secret behind even the smallest event."
Jason Fagone is a curious journalist and because of that, he has given us The Woman Who Smashed Codes, the story of Elizabeth Smith Friedman who with her husband spent most of their adult lives cracking codes using “pencil, papers and their brains” (to quote from the book) long before computers existed. Fagone explains that he first learned about the Friedmans in 2014 and decided to do research on Elizabeth, who seemed to be an afterthought in any of the stories written about her husband, William, in effect, the man who gave us the NSA.
Fortunately for Fagone, there existed a rich collection of his and hers personal papers, hers, though, mostly ignored. Fagone found love letters, letters to her children, handwritten diaries, a partial autobiography. The hunt was on!
From those boxes he had a good idea what Elizabeth was doing until 1940 when the records trail off. Then he wanted to know what she was doing during World War II. It took him two years to find out that during the war Elizabeth decoded messages exchanged by Nazi spies at a time when few people knew how to crack the codes. Pencil, paper and brains, not computers.

But that’s all I’m going to tell you. You have to read the book to learn about an almost forgotten American heroine. When you do you’ll also get a good overview of how codes were created and used, not just by spies but by organized crime. And you’ll read the story of the woman who cracked many of those codes and helped fight crime and win the war. This is a book worth reading.


An Enterprising Reporter

(Remarks by me at a memorial service for Terry Dalton on Feb. 19.)

Terry Dalton and I worked for the same newspaper in Centre County in the early 1970s and became fast friends. His job was to cover county and local government in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. That meant writing about anything from a boring planning commission meeting to a murder trial.

A fellow reporter recalls “Terry with phone propped between chin and shoulder typing notes as he interviewed people (some unwillingly). His desk was always heaped with papers, notes, and what-have-you--debris from news gathering and neglect. He was always intent and serious about his job, with proper measures of cynicism/realism and good humor. He worked long and hard at his craft and filled the CDT with a lot of fact and truth.  I remember he got a fair amount of ribbing about his stories being too long, something that carried over to his annual Christmas letters.”

Kathy, who as the editor of the letters shortened them every year, laughingly takes exception to that remark. But I digress.

Terry loved his job. No story was beneath him. And what made him even better was his enterprising attitude. He not only covered what he was assigned, but he came up with stories on his own. He was a self-starter.

An activist from back home remembers Terry’s in-depth and extensive coverage of an old mill about to be torn down resulted in a change of attitude in the community and on town council and saved the mill, which became the home of a very good restaurant and brewpub.

When he learned that a woman in the office where he worked had become an umpire in a male softball league, he turned that into a feature story.

When a national report revealed that female anchors on television news shows were required to be made up more heavily made up than males, he interviewed a woman who had been born in our county and was at the time a news anchor in Baltimore. He found a local angle to a national story, something he did many times.

When a local man was killed in a mining accident, he pursued the story and learned that safety in the mine was questionable and support for the widow was negligible. We had to run that story through our attorney—and he changed not a word.

Terry was dogged in pursuit of a story.

I remember when Dan Rather of CBS News spoke at Penn State. Terry covered Rather’s speech in an auditorium then walked with Rather to another venue for a news conference. Most reporters would have just gone to the venue. Terry attached himself to Rather—it looked to me as though they were joined at the hip—and interviewed him on the way, even correcting Rather when he was fuzzy on some facts. Terry had done his homework.

He loved politics regardless of party. He was “the consummate apolitical political junkie.” He had an understated aggressive style—I know that’s an oxymoron--backed up by facts, which meant the person he was interviewing couldn’t lie about something. There were no alternative facts in a Terry Dalton story.

He interviewed a lot of national and state political figures. When you go to the reception in McDaniel Lounge later, check out the photos of Terry interviewing various politicians. My favorite is Terry interviewing Jerry Brown. Talk about up close and personal. You’ll see.

Also in those photos is John Anderson, who ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1980. For Terry, it was a great story. I’m sure he would have loved covering Bernie Sanders, whom he had met when he lived in Vermont and Sanders was the mayor of Burlington.

One of the criticisms of the press is that it covers elections like horse races, even when the ballots are being counted and the results are already determined but not yet public and are made public after they are logged in and counted. Sensitive to that, Terry turned the criticism on its head and covered one election from the point of view of how the candidate was reacting to the returns as they slowly arrived at his campaign headquarters and the outcome kept changing. It was a horse race for the candidate even though the polls had closed.

Kathy told me the other day about a self-deprecating story Terry used to tell, that he had learned in ROTC how to take a rifle apart but he never could reassemble it. Maybe not, but he certainly knew how to assemble a set of facts into a good story.
He was a very good deductive thinker. When he was growing up in New Jersey, the family TV went on the blink. This was in the day of vacuum tubes and expensive repair visits. Instead of calling someone, Terry turned on the TV, let the tubes warm up and touched each one—carefully, of course. When he found the tube that was cold, he went to the TV store and bought a new one and replaced the cold one. Problem solved. Repair bill avoided.

Even when he was fighting Alzheimer’s, he continued to be a deductive thinker. About two years ago we had lunch with the family, and Terry and I were reminiscing about people we had worked with 40 years ago. Suddenly, he was stuck for a name. He started going through her attributes: Live wire. Journ student. Italian. And then he said her name. As it was, she wasn’t Italian but her name did end in a vowel. He was not to be denied.

Let me share some comments that others have posted on Facebook or shared with me via email.

Brian Weakland: I'll remember Terry for his passion and joy.  He enjoyed life and enriched those around him.

Robert L. Frick A good man who took the time to help me during my CDT internship, when it wasn't his job. You never forget mentors like that.

Diana Griffith … Terry was my first mentor from the time I was in high school. He was one of my instructors in the Penn State J-school and took the time to write a note of praise while I was writing for The Daily Collegian (student newspaper at Penn State). ... He was a wonderful person.

Bill Wallace … Terry was not much older than the rest of us, but he was always the grown-up in the room. He led by example, although I doubt he realized it. Most of us learned to be better journalists by watching him work, and reading his work. He was a respected colleague and a good man.

Rosa: … As a Collegian reporter, I had covered (a local politician) at the same time Terry covered him for the CDT. I learned so much from asking questions while sitting beside a great reporter. Before I left for Chicago I gave Terry an illustrated copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" ... I told Terry that, like Whitman, he was a scribe of democracy.

(I love that description.) a scribe of democracy

David Morris … Terry and I both arrived in Harrisburg for our respective papers at the same time in 1983. We bonded over baseball and politics. Fittingly, the last time I saw him was a chance meeting in Cooperstown.

Speaking of Cooperstown, Terry and Kathy were married there in 1981. For those of you who don’t follow Terry’s favorite sport, Cooperstown is the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But, wait, it gets better. Ever the sports junkie, on their honeymoon in the Bahamas, they met and interviewed Muhammad Ali who was there training for the final fight of his career


Let me close by borrowing a couple of lines from W.H. Auden.

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
Terrence Dalton is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

And so, Terry, from all of your friends, farewell and thank you for being you.