"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, April 30, 2010

A statue in Morris inspires awe

A U.S. Civil War testimonial this far to the west might be deemed rare. Morris was not founded until 1871, six years after the great conflict ended. We're also too far to the north to have been touched by the very nasty conflicts that involved non-uniformed combatants. The movie "The Outlaw Josey Wales" would give you a primer on that.
But we have a significant tangible gesture to the Civil War in this community. Yes, it's a gesture to the winning side. The "running rifleman" statue in Summit Cemetery ought to be admired by everyone who has ever lived here. I wonder whether a lot of the newer residents know about it. Also called the Sam Smith statue, it's a replica of a statue that graces the Gettysburg Battlefield (national park).
You will also find a mansion style of home in west Morris that has a whiff of the Civil War. The home was built by the son of President Abe Lincoln's secretary of war (last name of Stanton). Some past occupants of that house were known to refer to it as "the house of chimneys."
Civil War veterans made their way out here around the turn of the century, including one, Amos Pushor, whose background I studied when I was in the local media. He lived to an advanced age and was remembered by some local residents at the time I did the research.
"He was an old-timer (even) back then," I remember someone saying, the point being that the Civil War was very remote in time.
These veterans marched in parades until they couldn't march anymore and then they rode on wagons. Most seemed to sport long beards. You had to imagine when they were in their prime and could perform the kind of bold charge as represented in the "running rifleman" statue.
The statue is a tribute to the First Regiment of the Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. It was a subject of special research by John Q. "Jack" Imholte in the days when he was polishing his academic credentials. The retired University of Minnesota-Morris chancellor - it was called provost then - wrote a book about the celebrated Minnesota unit. It's at the Morris Public Library.
We are privileged to have an exquisite replica of that Gettysburg statue which would have to rank as one of the most artistically striking monuments there. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, became the focal point post-war for the various military units, both North and South, to be remembered with monuments.
The First Minnesota was in several of the best-known engagements of the Civil War, paying a dear price. But the conflict of July 2, 1863, stands out. It was the day when the Union's Army of the Potomac "came of age," according to Civil War artist Dale Gallon. Gallon talked about "a stoic determination to hold the ground." The artist did a limited edition print on the First Minnesota but I found it to be too bleak in content to purchase. The dead and wounded are visible.
The artist thought it important to capture the intensity of small unit combat at this pivotal clash which occurred at dusk in a swale.
Gallon was most familiar with the memorial statue. He noted that every time he passed by it, he "tried to imagine what those men saw and thought when (Major General Winfield) Hancock ordered them forward."
He continued: "I had read of the charge many times and marveled at their discipline and valor. I also became engrossed in accounts of their gallant stand down in the swale. For ten minutes, suffering crippling losses, they held the Confederates at bay while Hancock brought up critical reserves. I knew that what I wanted to capture (in the painting) was hidden somewhere down in that smoky hollow."
You might want to check out Imholte's book and then make a visit to our Summit Cemetery, close your eyes and imagine the same valor as Mr. Gallon did. His painting shows a row of soldiers (the ones having survived Confederate bullets to reach that position) delivering their volley. It was Day 2 of the celebrated battle. The day was coming to a horrific end along the upper reaches of Plum Run west of Cemetery Ridge. A hole in the Union line had to be plugged.
I remember running into Imholte at the City Center Mall restaurant after I had read the book "The Killer Angels." (The mall restaurant hadn't yet taken on its Chinese theme.) Aware as I was of Imholte's research, I had to ask him about some of the perceptions offered by that book's author, a Pulitzer Prize winner. The book was a wondrous historical novel about the Gettysburg battle. It was a key inspiration for the Ken Burns Civil War documentary.
The author made Confederate General James Longstreet a sympathetic figure. The sympathy was not for the basic Confederate cause. Author Michael Shaara, RIP, felt that Longstreet's dissenting opinions during the Gettysburg campaign were valid. The general was a right-hand man to the iconic Robert E. Lee and it was Lee, obviously, with the final say.
Lee went with his pugnacious instincts. He wasn't inclined to finesse or patience. But he was in unfamiliar country and outside the South, so perhaps a little more finesse and deliberation were called for. I asked Imholte if Shaara's sympathetic portrayal of Longstreet, from the standpoint of military acumen, was justified. He answered yes.
Longstreet desperately wanted Confederate forces to assume a defensive stance in this campaign - to find good ground and induce a Federal attack. The Federals were under great pressure to push back the rebellion. Surely they would act swiftly and perhaps with impulsive recklessness to try to throw the rebels out of Pennsylvania.
Longstreet's pleading was unsuccessful. He grew sullen. After the war he became a scapegoat in the eyes of the "Lost Cause" adherents in the South.
It was Longstreet's assault that had to be checked on July 2, 1863, when the Minnesotans ran directly into that withering fire amidst twilight.
The running rifleman statue captures perfectly the sense of duty and willingness to sacrifice. This unit prevented the Confederates from pushing the Federals off Cemetery Ridge. This charge versus a much larger enemy force was a ploy to buy time. The unit's casualty rate was a staggering 83 percent. Those still standing helped repulse "Pickett's Charge" the next day.
I asked Provost Imholte if he had seen the movie "Gettysburg" which was current at that time. He hadn't yet seen it. But he was aware that the First Minnesota wasn't represented in it, and he seemed disappointed.
The first part of that movie focused on the bayonet charge on Little Round Top. Jeff Daniels played Joshua Chamberlain who led that charge. After intermission we got to appreciate Pickett's Charge which basically came across as a big slaughter.
Pickett's Charge could more accurately be called Longstreet's Charge. Longstreet was a tragic figure in the movie. He seemed to have the sense and savvy to know the best strategy. Lee, seeming almost confused and disoriented at times, wanted a fierce, all-out assault even if all the parameters weren't known.
Lee's top cavalry commander was gone for much of this battle - a significant handicap (or so it's suggested). Actually you could put together a list of screw-ups, but the bottom line was that fate and destiny were working against this rebellion. Its resources were inadequate, its numbers were being reduced and it lacked the kind of political footing it needed even in the South.
Pundit George Will has written that the Union forces won because they simply killed all the Confederates. Will wrote this shortly after the terrorist attack of 9/11, suggesting that we'd have to make a comparable effort to simply kill all the terrorists. Analogies are dangerous, of course.
We can't begin to relate to a United States that could be torn apart by the Civil War. We can't relate to the kind of brutal hatred shown in the "Josey Wales" movie or the travels of Jesse James. James of course wasn't some sort of Robin Hood outlaw, deserving of a mixed appraisal. Folklore might have nudged him in that direction, but in fact he was a figure that grew right out of the Civil War.
James was a Confederate guerrilla. His side lost and with virtually no nuances suggesting otherwise. That's why they ended up killing each other. That's why gravesites of some of the most famous Confederates aren't even well tended (which I learned in a book by Tony Horwitz, who had a hard time even finding a significant cemetery).
Lee had only the most tense contacts with his former comrades after the Civil War. Whenever a lawyer wants to make an analogy that suggests total defeat, he/she cites the Confederacy of the Civil War. A whole class of people - the planter aristocrats - was wiped out.
I suspect that Civil war remembrance is suppressed some today because we want to feel brethren with southerners.
But the sacrifice of the First Minnesota Volunteers, so well documented by Imholte and others, can never be forgotten.
Perhaps a new "Gettysburg" movie will be made someday - remakes are the norm in Hollywood, right? - and it will show that swale lit up by bursts of gunfire in the twilight, as these gallant, running riflemen of Minnesota helped preserve the Union and eradicate slavery.
Make a visit to Summit Cemetery sometime and feel the same awe as artist Dale Gallon.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Can Pete Carroll escape "Peter Principle?"

Whatever else the Seattle Seahawks do to try to revive their competitiveness, I hope they permanently abandon those hideous dark blue head-to-toe uniforms. That would be enough to get me to look forward to this squad on a national telecast again.
Seattle fans are demanding a great deal more, though. And in this process we're seeing another college coach seek to morph into a successful pro coach.
Granted, Pete Carroll has coached in the pros before. Carroll coached the New England Patriots in the Drew Bledsoe, pre-Tom Brady era when they couldn't quite break through. Bledsoe was erratic. Eventually he got beat out by Tony Romo in Dallas and has faded into obscurity.
Carroll retreated to the college ranks at the University of Southern California where he had abundant success. Now he has percolated to the pro level again.
Carroll was a leading candidate to take over the Minnesota Vikings at the time Denny Green was hired. You know, Denny Green of "The Bears are the team we thought they would be!" fame, and "We let 'em off the hook!"
Green presided over a choke for the ages when his Arizona Cardinals lost to the Chicago Bears in an early-season prime time game. The Cardinals might have won that game if their quarterback, Matt Leinart, had just protected the lead by taking a knee on every first through third down.
The state of Arizona has bigger concerns now than the state of its football team. The "show me your papers" state might slip into serious disarray and decay. Kurt Warner has retired as the Cardinals' quarterback. It looks like Leinart, the lefty from USC, will get another shot. And Carroll, the seasoned coach who found a comfortable home at USC for a long time, is going to try his luck at the pro level again.
Will Mr. Carroll end up with a "Peter Principle" tag? If his regime in Seattle sputters, he may end up being remembered like a predecessor of his at USC: John McKay. There were many New Year's Days when I'd watch McKay on TV patrol the sidelines in Pasadena, California. Eventually he was signed to usher the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into existence. He was humbled. He didn't take it very well either.
McKay grew into a gruff, "glass half empty" person who contradicted the image he groomed with the USC Trojans. He openly questioned how he could be expected to win with a team full of discards. Not cool. It was harder for expansion teams to start out well in those days.
At the time, I questioned why the Bucs would take a runningback with their very first prime draft pick. It was probably because of marketing. That runningback had marquee value (Ricky Bell).
It would have been more prudent to trade the very highest picks and stock up with middle-rounders. Seattle chose that route and seemed to reach respectability faster.
Tampa Bay wasn't just bad, they were a joke (even on the "Gong Show" where Chuck Barris would say "Take it away Tampa Bay"). McKay could have steered that ship better.
We'll see if Pete Carroll does better in his second stint in the pros. He won't want his first name to be synonymous with "The Peter Principle" - the idea of reaching your ultimate level of incompetence.
Carroll takes the reins of a Seattle team that not only has been mediocre over the recent past, they've been boring. All the more reason to wince at those uniforms. The Seahawks made the Super Bowl toward the end of Mike Holmgren's tenure there, and Holmgren had at his side former University of Minnesota-Morris coach Jim Lind. Lind was the tight ends coach. Lind coached at UMM in the mid-1980s and rode the gravy train that was the UMM Cougar football program at that time.
It was sad ultimately to see UMM football drop from cock-of-the-walk status to complete doormat. Lind was long gone by the time the latter status set in. A losing streak stretched to where national media attention of the most unwanted kind was drawn. The nightmare finally ended as UMM found a new conference home and can now hold its own.
Holmgren is now calling the shots for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have gotten beaten up just like the Seahawks. Naturally everyone cannot win in the NFL. There is no guarantee that Carroll and Holmgren will be able to work any special magic.
Vikings fans should know there is no absolute guarantee their team will finish above .500. Relying on a quarterback in his 40s, one with an eccentric off-season reputation, doesn't seem like a prescription for confidence.
I recall Sid Hartman, the famous and long-of-tooth scribe for the Minneapolis dead-tree newspaper, being a cheerleader for Carroll when he seemed on the verge of becoming the Vikings coach. At least that was the appearance.
Green got the nod instead and initially he was called the "new sheriff." As time went on he seemed whiny and he had an abrasive relationship with the press that grew tiresome.

Green was very much an up-and-down coach who had too much trouble winning in the clutch. His Vikings started out a season 6-0 only to miss the playoffs. The biggest down note was when the Vikes made the NFC championship game only to be crushed as if by a steamroller by the New York Giants who had Kerry Collins at quarterback. It became known as the "donut game." The Vikings scored zero points which equates with "donut." A Patrick Reusse column in the Minneapolis paper inspired that description.
We can probably all remember where we were when we sat transfixed by that debacle.
Green brought his shaky tendencies to Arizona and was eventually shown the door there. His abrasiveness with the press came through again after the big choke on national TV against the Bears. The only consolation is that the abrasiveness can translate to a nice beer commercial.
Our Vikings took a defensive back with their top pick in the draft. All defensive backs look alike to me. The typical fan doesn't spend a lot of time evaluating defensive backs. We take them for granted. They depend on a good pass rush to do their job. I get the impression that middle-round draft picks often become diamonds in the rough when it comes to the secondary.
We hope that Chris Cook, out of Virginia, lives up to his billing as a prime pick for the secondary.
I will quote someone else, anonymously, in regard to the Vikes' second draft selection, who I assume raised eyebrows among many for the wrong reason. I have alluded to racial profiling, in a backhanded way, in connection to Arizona (the state, not the team) in this post. Now we'll profile runningbacks this way and suggest that a Caucasian is indeed unusual surfacing in the second round for this position. At least that's what my friend noted.
The Vikings chose a Stanford player who we hope can perform contrary to the "White Men Can't Jump" stereotype. He's Toby Gerhart.
From the fourth round down we're pretty much talking a crapshoot, so we'll just hope some overperformers surface here. We find two defensive and four offensive players here.
And what is Pete Carroll up to, to try to prove again that he can hold his own in the pros? He's seeking familiarity. He's reunited with LenDale White who is a former USC Trojan. White got beat out by Chris Johnson in Tennessee. Seattle traded draft picks to get White. Carroll obtained Leon Washington, former all-pro kick return man, also in exchange for draft picks. The moves seem rather underwhelming.
Time will tell as with all trades and draft selections. My opinion is that the Seahawks will rebound if they permanently retire that all-dark-blue abomination of a uniform.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, April 26, 2010

Better to draft for football than for war

A friend forwarded a link to an item about famous NFL draft busts last week. It was occasioned by the annual draft of pro football prospects from the college ranks.
Fortunately the word "draft" has only innocuous connotations today in contrast to when I was young and the nation's youth were erupting in discontent, largely because of the U.S. military draft. Kids today may associate the 1960s with Woodstock. We should have been so lucky. So lucky as to have ushered in new tastes of music and fashion, as if those were the biggest issues to be resolved then.
The military draft spelled tragedy for countless U.S. families. It may have been Lyndon Johnson's war (Viet Nam) but Richard Nixon had the responsibility of ending it. It took him six years.
In the end we had those famous images of people practically hanging off the sides of helicopters to escape the onrushing victors, and U.S. troops being told not to wear their uniforms on their way home. The troops might have been subject to verbal abuse from war critics who felt the U.S. was guilty of atrocities. The mood was nothing like today when our National Guardsmen who have been serving abroad get such festive welcome-backs.
The troops, of course, deserve nothing but respect.
I have heard of at least one community having a belated ceremony honoring the people who served in Viet Nam. I gathered that the ceremony was inspired by the kind of welcome backs we have seen here in Morris for our Guardsmen. Perhaps the Viet Nam veterans of Morris, who I don't think were ever feted by anything of gala proportions, could get an appropriate tip of the hat sometime, while they're still with us. Some have died from health problems that were probably attributable to the war environment. Remember the opening to the movie "First Blood?"
I don't think Watergate is really what got Richard Nixon removed from office. In the end it was just the catalyst. Viet Nam was a debacle that disillusioned a whole generation.
The boomers, in the long haul, ended up resilient and adopting American values. The New Left died but the counterculture survived in its innocuous manifestations like the Woodstock foolishness. And the music.
But ultimately we discovered a new young generation enjoying music that we just called "noise," exactly as our elders had decried our listening fare. At least the succeeding generations haven't had to deal with anything like the Viet Nam War, at least not with the scope of that or the ultimate failed outcome.
Today we talk about the draft in the context of athletes in their early 20s (i.e. the pro football draft), with these athletes salivating over making zillions of dollars.
The NFL's annual draft was held last week. It has moved into prime time which is no surprise. The draft is an event for fans to whet their appetite for their favorite sport in the too-long off-season. Roger Goodell is privileged to be commissioner of a sport which is by far the best and most exciting of them all.
While the NBA and major league baseball plug away through seemingly endless regular season games, nearly all of which have no special significance, the NFL plays a schedule of just 16 games in which each one in fact carries significance. They highlight the weekend with the true feeling of being an "event." On Monday we tune in to ESPN Sportscenter and hear the analysis of all the twists and turns, and get updates on the human interest stories that inevitably arise (like Chad Ocho Cinco's antics).
There is nothing to really replace the NFL during its off-season. The week of the draft picks up the slack a little.
There was a time as a young man when I followed the draft closely. Then I slowly realized what a crapshoot it was. Highly touted picks would fizzle and free agents would blossom and star. Today I note with interest whom the Minnesota Vikings draft but I don't exhaustively research.
The Vikings presumably did their homework in the years when they drafted Troy Williamson and Dimitrius Underwood. I mean, I assume they weren't blindfolded and throwing at a dartboard. But they might just as well have been.
Fans my age will remember Vikings draft busts like Leo Hayden, Mardye McDole and Jarvis Redwine.
When the Vikings drafted Chad Greenway, I think it was a deliberate move away from the crapshoot mentality and toward drafting someone who was sure to help us in some way, shape or form - a healthy player with a sound psychological profile from a big-time college program. It worked out.
The Vikings held on to Williamson for one season too long. Not only did Williamson not help the Vikings, he hurt them with dropped passes. One of them, against Green Bay in a Thursday night game, might have helped Tarvaris Jackson solidify himself as starting quarterback. The next year, Visanthe Shiancoe dropped a touchdown pass against Indianapolis that would've spelled victory, and as a result Jackson was forced to the bench. Gus Frerotte took over.
And now we have the mercenary Brett Favre playing his annual game of "will I retire?" Nothing is certain in the NFL. Maybe the Detroit Lions will finally rise from the ashes. Maybe Green Bay will find a defense.
As for the Vikings, will they stay cohesive? Are they devastated by the manner in which they lost to New Orleans in the playoffs (with a typically stupid Favre interception)? Would they be demoralized by a couple more ill-timed Adrian Peterson fumbles?
I don't know, but certainly we'll be relieved when NFL training camps open and we'll again be treated to sports entertainment in which the games all carry a reasonable amount of significance.
Let's see, that comes up in August.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Morris scouting visionary imagined bike trail

A prime asset of Morris: our bicycling/walking trail to the east, by the river. It wasn't there when I was young. A forward-thinking peer of mine gets some credit in this post. (B.W. photo)

Legend has it that a Morris Boy Scout of my vintage once envisioned a bike path east of Morris much like what eventually became reality.
I'm told he mapped it out as a Scout project. He was from a very civic conscious family as his father served as mayor. His mother was gregarious and eager to share on matters of local import.
We had to wait many years before the bike trail became reality. Now of course we take it for granted, and on any given warm weather day - even on cool ones - you'll find walkers, bike riders and dog walkers enjoying the serene surroundings close to the lazy flowing Pomme de Terre River.
I remember going out there as a media person to give some attention when this feature first became reality, and thinking "wow." I remember coming upon Nancy Erdahl who was out walking the dog, a large setter as I recall.
When I was a kid the bypass hadn't even been constructed. The wonderful natural environment close to the river, with its butterflies and dazzling wildflowers, was pretty remote to us.
We were aware of a curious dirt road that circled around and joined up with Green River Road, but it wasn't all that close to the river. I say "curious" because the road has no obvious purpose. I once heard it was built with funds "left over" from some other project.
I heard the same thing about how our high school tennis courts were built (i.e. with "left over" money). I got scolded by a former high school principal who said I shouldn't use the term "left over money" in connection with the tennis courts.
"They were built because of prudent management of school district resources," this now-deceased individual told me. "If you say 'left over funds' you'll be in trouble with the superintendent. . .again!"
That dirt road east of town was used by the Morris High School cross country team for early-morning workouts. If it weren't for that, I might not have been aware of its existence. Perhaps a new housing development was envisioned as a possibility out there. What we have today is the Rileys' townhome development on one end, right off the bypass.
The rest of that dirt road is as barren as it ever was, making you wonder "What was the purpose of this?"
Further to the east you'll find that wondrous bike path/walking trail. There are gazebos and benches enhancing the route. Also there's a spur that goes right down to the river's edge, on the west wide of the river. You might "spook" some Canada geese there certain times of the year!
If you find the people at work seem like the Cyclops character in The Odyssey, just go to this peaceful place for a while. Its serenity is an antidote.
Those big Skyview apartment buildings could never have been envisioned years ago, before the bypass came into being.
The housing development east of the bypass with its "McMansion" type houses couldn't have been envisioned either. Only my Boy Scout acquaintance with his forward-looking images of recreation might have been able to see all this in his imagination.
This individual went on to play football for the University of Minnesota-Morris Cougars and get a tryout in the NFL. I haven't written his name yet but I've given enough clues. It was Cary Birch.
Remember Cary, the big, bruising ballcarrier?
We've had an unseasonably warm April in which many people have gotten out to the bike path for healthy exercise and communing with nature. If you do the full "lap" you should know it's four and a half miles, according to Myron Syverson who made it a project to find out. Myron enjoys bicycling.
We should all remember the Birch family as we make our rounds out there.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stadiums and weather: our conflictedness

"October surprise" is a term from politics but it might apply to baseball here in Minnesota if the Twins were to make the World Series. Baseball in October would be the supreme test for the new Target Field.
We're told that our new ballpark is so much more appealing for baseball purists than the Metrodome. But the Metrodome might look pretty inviting if the Twins are playing in October during the kind of weather that can typify that month.
The World Series has been challenging enough, from a weather standpoint, in other places like Philadelphia. It's a shame when weather tarnishes a sport that is meant to be played in the prime of summer's pleasantness.
Here's another factor making it worse: So many post-season games are played at night. Night baseball in October in Minnesota?
We could pray for unseasonably mild weather like what we have had this month of April.
With the Metrodome we didn't have to pray.
If the Twins play in October in unpleasant weather conditions, the national media will again stigmatize us for living in a northern clime with its unavoidable challenges. I remember these barbs from years past (like from Johnny Unitas, an NFL color analyst who carped about coming here for a playoff game).
It was a wonderful luxury having the Dome and not even having to worry about these issues.
You may need reminding, but World Series games at night are a somewhat recent phenomenon. When I was a kid, you'd come home from school at the end of the day and find out who won that day's game. Baseball then was run by people whom the late Bowie Kuhn called "sportsmen" who tried to put the purity of the game ahead of the sheer profit motive.
Baseball was meant to be played during the day. The World Series couldn't be played any other way, reasoned those purists, not that they weren't quite rich anyway.
Kuhn was the commissioner of major league baseball. Night World Series games became reality during his tenure, and he was mocked widely for his attempts at "selling" these night games by underdressing (i.e. with no special outerwear) for World Series games. He would later joke in his memoir that his detractors didn't appreciate how effective long underwear was.
Poor Bowie. In reading his memoir you can appreciate what an intelligent, feeling man he was. But he was in the crosshairs for a tumultuous transition, from the days when players were almost like chattel labor, to where they wielded great power and could amass great wealth. We take their latter status for granted today.
The labor movement derided Mr. Kuhn as an "empty suit" mouthpiece for the ownership. In many respects he was. But he deserved no less respect than the vast majority of all people who have to defer to ownership in some way. The young generation then and the middle class in general saw a lot of things labor's way. The term "labor movement" seems almost anachronistic now.
There was a feeling among the young boomers of that time, many of whom had read "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton, that players fully deserved their newfound power and rights.
The previous arrangement may have been unacceptable. But today we realize the players are subject to the same self-centered motives and greed as those old, evil owners. The players strike of 1994 left a scar that still lingers.
The compensation of top players puts them in a world that the average person cannot relate to. When "Ball Four" was written (based on the 1969 season), baseball players were just well-paid professionals and not independently wealthy. The biggest negative for them was job insecurity. Calvin Griffith, who was certainly a member of the old guard, once said that when a player's career was done he should simply find something else to do. He felt players should simply be motivated by the honor of wearing a big league uniform.
As with Kuhn, I think Griffith was fundamentally a very good person - he brought big league ball to Minnesota - just with values that were about to get swept away by a new consciousness in the 1970s. A better educated young generation felt people should have more leverage in laying out their lives - more options and rights. The new consciousness took on the concept of the U.S. military draft and obliterated it.
The new world they created might not be all they expected. Major league players have not used their blessings to benefit the fans.
Baseball instituted night games for the playoffs and World Series purely for economic reasons. The television audience would be much greater at night. But conditions in northern cities can turn cold and unpleasant on October nights.
Humorist Dave Barry joked a couple of years ago that "baseball playoff games are games played on TV after everyone has gone to bed."
When the Minnesota Twins played in the 1965 World Series, I learned the details of the weekday games upon getting home from school. It was October of 1965 and I was in the second month of my fifth grade year with teacher Pearl Hanse. Pearl is still with us. Her family has deep roots in the Morris area and she has an old homestead document tucked away that has the signature of Ulysses Grant.
The biggest academic memory of my fifth grade year was trying my hand at fiction writing. It began as a short story about boys running away from home and grew from there to a quite extensive piece, even with illustrations. Looking back it was rather bizarre and included its share of violence, with these boys prepared to defend themselves with large slingshots that could be planted in the ground in front of you for leverage.
In those days I could be complimented on my lively imagination, not much different from what we saw in comic books (a big influence on me). Today the violence in my stories might put me over the line with "zero tolerance" school policies. I might be assigned to a school psychologist and be prescribed behavior medications.
The boys in my story lived in treehouses in a country grove. I'm not sure if my subconscious was trying to say something. Looking back, the story was rather rambling and incoherent in some ways - certainly not a candidate for a major motion picture.
Our society doesn't need a revival of slingshots. Mrs. Hanse guided us along in our day-to-day studies even though many of us were distracted by the '65 World Series. In the end it was heartbreaking because the Twins lost in seven games. The home games were played at the outdoor Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Weather was a factor but we got through.
Writer Roger Angell of the New Yorker had a condescending way of writing about this series, seeing it more in the context of the end of the New York Yankees' dynasty (of that time) than of anything special happening here. He dwelt on how many major league teams of that time had relocated or come into existence through expansion. The Twins had relocated from Washington D.C. So what? This was clearly "our" team in 1965.
We didn't need some snooty east coast writer reminding us of what neophytes we were. I'm fascinated that Angell could get by with referring to the L.A. Dodgers' Lou Johnson as a "negro" outfielder. Well, Angell wrote for the New Yorker so he must have known what he was doing. These writers find Fenway Park charming but it would be viewed as an abomination if it were in America's heartland somewhere.
Angell referred to Met Stadium as an "airy Cyclotron." I'm pretty educated but I can't figure that one out.
I have so many special memories of the Met. I remember once when a couple members of our party were strolling on the second deck concourse behind the press box and passed by a partially open door through which you could see Hubert Humphrey. A woman who was a family friend of ours, from Brainerd, said "there's Hubert Humphrey" (with no intent of him necessarily hearing this). But he did. And his political instincts kicked in. He sprang from his chair, interrupting the conversation he was in, and came out to chat.
Our friend was thrilled and never forgot it, and perhaps she was more inclined to vote Democratic!
Halsey Hall was at the radio microphone for Twins games in that era. I recently shared in a post about how Halsey visited Morris for the ceremonies honoring Jerry Koosman in 1969. Halsey was a throwback character whose fondness for alcoholic beverages gave him some of his charm (in an era when we generally smiled at the idea of overconsumption).
Halsey was an older man but unlike Bowie Kuhn, he was not the object for any derision by the smart-alecky younger crowd. Quite to the contrary, he was beloved by everyone.
I remember Halsey seated on a temporary stage with other VIPs in front of the Morris Public Library. I believe I may have even made eye contact with him for a moment. You knew just from being close to him that he loved life and loved being part of this baseball event, never mind that he was out here in sparsely populated western Minnesota. He was unquestionably a "people person."
Jerry Koosman, with roots in our area, had just helped the New York Mets win the world championship. The Morris connection to Koosman has seemed to fade in our collective memory. The Met Lounge got its name through this. Baseball in October brought joy for us then just like it had in 1965 (up until Game 7 anyway).
But will it be a joy if the Twins make the World Series at Target Field, or will we get a sleet storm? I'd laugh.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Target Field: new chapter in varied history

We take for granted that Minnesota is a big league sports state in 2010. The Minnesota Twins had a long history when they moved into Target Field, which all summer is going to be the object of considerable pride for all Minnesotans, or so we're told. Such is the media gushing about the new facility, I suspect that any naysaying, even nitpicking, is prohibited by law.
It deserves kudos no doubt. But we have lost the protection of a roof, something that made the elements no factor at all. It seemed like a miracle when Minnesota's teams entered the Dome, because all of a sudden the weather issues attendant with sports in this northern place disappeared, instantly, as if by magic.
Fans in Baltimore could bemoan rain in April and fans in Texas had to battle stifling midsummer heat (which was probably as much an inconvenience as any of our weather).
But once our Metrodome opened, we could enjoy the whole spectrum of big-time sports events including the mid-winter Super Bowl. The Metrodome still stands and it will be the home of Minnesota's Vikings, whose owner is pleading like a spoiled infant for his own new stadium. He'll probably get it.
The old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington is receding into the distant past. Part of the reason is that it's completely gone. At the end, as with all venues that are on the verge of being replaced, it was criticized in strong terms. This of course is always part of the process of selling a new stadium - insisting that the existing one is unacceptable.
But "the Met" gave us glorious outdoor major league baseball, something we now see heralded again with Target Field. And boy did we have to earn it here.
"The Met" was built on what was then called "the Bloomington prairie" in the mid-1950s. But we were actually a long way from getting major league baseball. And it wasn't a foregone conclusion that it was coming. We shouldn't forget the sheer balls that our state leaders had in furthering that project.
April of 1956 saw the Met debut as a baseball facility to considerable fanfare, as the Minneapolis Millers took the field vs. Wichita in an American Association minor league game. Can you imagine Minnesota being anything less than a major league state? The Millers were embraced fondly at that time and their caliber of play was really just a tiny notch below what the majors afforded.
But our state, understandably, wanted to be part of "the big show."
A lot of things in America weren't the same as they are now. America painfully watched as the deep south had to be dragged, pretty much kicking and screaming, into the modern age of civil rights. Joe Soucheray wrote that at the time the Met opened, "the United States Supreme Court had just ordered integrated seating on the buses in Montgomery, Alabama." Soucheray wrote this in a small book he wrote at the time the Met closed.
My eyebrows went up as I read Soucheray's review of some entertainment attractions in the Twin Cities in April of 1956. The Prom Ballroom! Pat Boone was playing there.
Dave Moore was always very protective of his memories of the old Nicollet Ballpark, and I'm the same regarding the Prom. These old landmarks, existing only in our memory now, were fine for their time but got bulldozed by progress. The late Dave Moore was a television news celebrity. He always felt the need to remind us of the Millers, who had in their ranks the likes of Willie Mays at various times.
It's always important for these legacy chapters to be impressed on us, to give us perspective, and I almost get misty thinking about the Prom Ballroom.
Real ballrooms aren't built anymore - are they? - and the one in Glenwood has the "ballroom" name, I assume, mostly out of nostalgia. The real Lakeside Ballroom there burned down. The new one is "better" by a whole lot of criteria but it isn't anything like the old Lakeside, where the men's room actually had a trough, like in a barn, for men to relieve themselves.
Imagine a much larger Lakeside Ballroom and that was the Prom Center in St. Paul. The size allowed the Prom to be used for much more than dancing. It was a very popular boxing venue.
In the 1970s, a rather large circle of jazz music enthusiasts in Morris would make "pilgrimages" to the Prom to hear certain prominent bands of the time. The adults included Doug Garberick, Larry Schaub and John Woell. Mostly it was high school and college-age youth of this community making the trip.
There were no reserved seats so it was important to jockey for the best seats available by just racing in when the doors opened. The young guys in our party, appropriately, rolled up sleeves for this task and "saved seats" for our elders who had crossed the street to enjoy some "refreshments" at a place called Denny's Loft.
We heard marvelous music in those days. The main attraction was the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra. Such was the mania that built among young fans of that band, Maynard actually had to work on them to "cool it" at least once.
Buddy Rich brought his band and one-of-a-kind drumming to the Prom. Buddy was in that distinctive group of artists who developed their artistry in vaudeville, a world in which you'd commit yourself totally to the exclusion all other of life's obligations such as education. Such artists could reach breathtaking heights of ability.
We went to see Woody Herman and his "Thundering Herd." I remember once as us young people raced in to reserve chairs, we ran right past Woody himself who was tinkering with and testing his clarinet.
It wasn't unusual in those days for band members to mix with the audience during intermissions between "sets." It seemed like a much more relaxed time. Band members might even have a cocktail visible onstage. Social drinking was quite approved.
Our gang wouldn't have gone down there to see Pat Boone, but I'm sure he put on a good show on that April of '56 weekend.
Soucheray wrote that "Downtown Chevrolet Company had a last-ditch closeout on 1955 Chevs for as low as $1,245." Yes, different times.
Charlie Johnson of the Minneapolis Tribune wrote that the new Met Stadium would be "the last word in baseball facilities, one that will stand for many years as a symbol of private enterprise at its best."
I'm not sure Johnson would envision the Met lasting only until 1981. Or that he could imagine the Dome at all. Right from the get-go, the purpose of the Met was to attract major league baseball. Construction began in September of 1955 when I was less than a year old. Our family lived in St. Paul then.
Minnesota came close to luring the Giants, the New York team that eventually landed in San Francisco. We ended up with the Washington Senators of Calvin Griffith, and I doubt anyone regrets it. The Met at its inception was minor league in its qualities, only with the potential to blossom into a big league park. Its seating capacity was around 20,000.
New "wings" were yet to come. Modest though it was, the Met was cause for considerable community celebrating. At 12:30 on Day 1 of baseball then, guess who was the first to speak into a microphone from home plate? Baby boomers will smile instantly at mention of the name. It was Halsey Hall.
Hall was like everyone's favorite grandfather, whom you had to watch carefully lest he sip a little too much booze. In those days we laughed about such things. I remember the iconic Halsey being in Morris for the ceremony honoring Jerry Koosman in 1969. I remember Halsey gesturing to the "key to the city" which had been bestowed amid all the merry recognition, and wondering if it might open the establishment across the street. It was a drinking establishment.
Today it's the Met Lounge which got its name from Koosman's accomplishments with the New York Mets. Koosman had his roots in this area. He was a starting pitcher for the New York Mets who won the world championship in '69. The Twins won their division that year led by the fiery manager Billy Martin, but lost to Baltimore in the league championship series. Baltimore was then done in by the fairy tale Mets with Koosman, a team that had been a laughingstock as an expansion franchise seven years earlier.
Humor such as Halsey's about seeking alcohol was popular in those days. but young people of today might just look puzzled hearing it. Drunk driving wasn't the life-changing offense it is today. Our beloved World War Two veterans were fond of their booze in their leisure time, and they had certainly earned any kind of entertainment they wanted.
The first-ever opening day for the Minnesota Twins in 1961 saw a crowd of just 24,000. It was 6,000 short of a sellout. April baseball never drew well in the Met Stadium years. Time will tell if our new Target Field with its meticulous engineering to blunt the elements, will do better in this regard.
In 1980 we reached a milestone that shouldn't be overlooked: rock and roll played over the sound system during breaks. It was a matter for debate at the time with Twins manager Gene Mauch actually expressing disapproval. Can you imagine that?
But time marches on, dragging everyone with irresistible force, just like those southerners who had to be forced by the Supreme Court to provide integrated seating on buses.
-Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Our old school, Met Stadium had parallels

I have previously written that our former school building in Morris, now abandoned, was like an "erector set," such was the manner in which it expanded through the years. In this respect it was just like our old outdoor major league sports venue in Minnesota: Metropolitan Stadium.
"The Met" was razed long ago. The Mall of America now sits there, an object of Minnesota pride just like Met Stadium was.
We're not so fortunate here in Morris. Our old erector set school, which is very conspicuous in the town, couldn't be more deserted or forlorn. I'm not aware of any city timetable to tear it down. Did the city get a good value when it purchased this?
The comparison of our old school and "the Met" came to mind when reading a little about the latter. Joe Soucheray once wrote that "the Met is like a solid cottage to which has been added wings as the family has grown."
I was prompted to read about the good old "Met" by the opening of our new Twins ballpark. It has become a very hyped event with nigh a discouraging word. The gushing reached a point Thursday where I felt everyone should take a deep breath.
"It's just a baseball stadium," I said to my breakfast compatriots at McDonald's. "We'll realize in a couple of months that we just have a new baseball stadium and not some kind of shrine."
Our old school was like an expanding cottage as the school age population grew here. After many years of exhaustive efforts to expand and improve, the whole works was judged hopeless and now the sprawling set of buildings is a cold, haunted embarrassment.
It still stands out on a the city's "skyline" so it's a constant reminder of obsolescence. In the scheme of things it really isn't that old. The 1914 building is the old anchor and it was a prime candidate for "reuse" possibilities. Everything to the north of that, including the rather new media center, was judged pretty unsalvageable. I don't know how to take that, because my fourth through sixth grade years were spent in that portion of the "erector set."
The anchor of the old Met Stadium was the central grandstand: three decks that wrapped around from first through third bases.
People associate construction of the Met with attracting a major league baseball team. You'd be correct if you stated that was the purpose, but you might need reminding that a fairly long wait was required. Met Stadium opened in 1956. That was a year after I was born. The Minnesota Twins were not born until 1961. Minor league baseball occupied the facility in the interim.
The Met was like the start of an erector set project in 1956, based on Soucheray's historical reflections. Not only that, the surrounding area was pretty barren and undeveloped. All of that changed pretty steadily.
Minnesota became "big league" in 1961 with the move of Calvin Griffith's Washington Senators to Minnesota. It was just in time for the baby boom generation to become enamored with big league baseball in Minnesota. And indeed this happened, especially with Minnesota's capturing of the American League pennant in 1965.
But the Met Stadium that opened in April of 1956 wasn't on a scale to accommodate the Fall Classic. It was more like a starting point, like our 1914 school building in Morris (and the accompanying auditorium). The Met had a seating capacity of about 20,000 at the start.
Modest though it was, the sense of community pride behind it was enormous. The Minneapolis Millers played before a record opening day crowd of 18,366. The best minor league teams in those days could hold their own with major league foes. But Minnesota fans were striving to attract the real big league product. It would be a while.
Soucheray called the Met "an orphan ballpark" in its early days. It wasn't a foregone conclusion that the majors were on their way here. Soucheray wrote of the prospect of achieving that: "uncertain and distant."
Met Stadium replaced a facility that was originally constructed in 1896. The Millers had made their home at Nicollet Park of that 19th Century origin. Dave Moore, a celebrity newscaster for many years, never seemed to get over the abandonment of Nicollet Park. He felt the need to remind us of its charms long after it faded into history's annals.
You could say he brought it up in much the same way as I recall East Elementary here, on the grounds of that abandoned school, a playground where (as I wrote recently) the "Johnsons" and "Goldwaters" battled in out in faux gang warfare in the fall of 1964 - activity that would surely be shunned by the powers that be today.
I recall the old Longfellow Elementary in west Morris in the same light. It was there that my third grade teacher was called out into the entry area one day, and moments later she informed us of the shooting of John Kennedy.
I approached a classmate on the East Elementary playground one day and asked him if he had seen a quite original TV show the night before: the very first airing of "Star Trek." We were captivated.
The ranks of those who can vividly remember school life in those places will get steadily thinner.
One can debate whether the new Target Field baseball facility in Minneapolis is really advantageous vs. the Metrodome. After all, the Minnesota elements never got in the way of anything at our beloved Dome.
Engineers and planners have worked exhaustively to try to blunt the effects of weather at Target Field. But this is Minnesota!
Here in Morris, one thing I'm quite certain is not debatable: our old football field, named for the late Bill Coombe (who I had as an instructor), was vastly preferable from a fan's standpoint to our new Big Cat Field. It's nice that some issues are black and white.
Our Stevens County Museum should perhaps preserve memories of Coombe Field while those memories are still fresh.
Reflecting on all this is an important reminder that building new is not always better, as tempting as it might be to think so. I'm not convinced that Target Field will be like some kind of "shrine" by season's end. There will be lousy weather days. Maybe the Twins will fade competitively. Eventually we'll realize we just have an outdoor baseball stadium - maybe rather pedestrian.
Instead of the urgency and almost religious zeal to get this built, maybe we should have invested more effort in ensuring that our bridges don't fall into the river.
Locally, will our old erector set school complex sit there indefinitely as a growing embarrassment - a display of blight that actually stands out on the skyline? I would guess it will. Our attention would certainly be diverted from that if, as many are predicting, Wal-Mart breaks ground here. That would be the equivalent of Target Field going up. It would transform the economy and culture of our whole community.
It would also be terribly divisive once it's announced. But there could be some irresistible momentum here, like the drive to bring outdoor baseball back in the Twin Cities.
"Big box" stores are undeniably a sign of economic vitality. We probably ought to welcome it regardless of the ramifications. The ramifications would affect many but we live in a world of fluid, constant change and we can't pretend that charming old Nicollet Park, or its equivalent anywhere else, can be preserved anywhere but in the mind of Dave Moore - RIP - and others of his vintage.
So I'd say "welcome" to Wal-Mart, which already has many customers from Morris, who now just drive to Alexandria (in large numbers).
But I'll be like Mr. Moore and pine apologetically for our old Coombe Field with its free-roaming fans, town square atmosphere and community-enhancing spirit in the heart of town, not on the desolate, wind-swept east edge of the community, where cold, hard bleachers are supposed to suffice.
Well, they're not sufficing. You can't just assume the fans will keep coming. Maybe ticket prices will have to be lowered. Maybe in another decade, cries will rise for Morris Area High School to have its own football field again, not shared with the University of Minnesota-Morris, and we'll be happy even if it's the most plain-jane type of high school football field.
Are cheerleaders stuck in our memory also? How about a male/female "cheer team?"
And maybe our school board could get off the schnide and do something to ensure that a pep band plays for every home game.
Such thoughts can be expected from common citizens.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is "Memory of Trees" memorable?

The late Tom Snyder used to say there was a snag in interviewing book authors, at least some of them. Snyder was a journalism pioneer, hosting a very late night (by the standards of that time) talk show on NBC that became very spontaneous. Often he would interview book authors.
Sometimes these guests, instead of giving informative answers based on their research, would say "you'll have to read the book." This kind of blatant book plug was rude and unacceptable. The host would have to try to steer the conversation back on some kind of constructive course. Some choice words might be shared in a commercial break.
I felt like uttering some choice words (or at least "sheesh") after reading an article about a book in Saturday's Star Tribune. (The paper is actually called "Early Sunday" if you buy it at the newsstand.) The book might be good although I'm somewhat skeptical.
The headline and subhead were inviting. The article and photos were displayed very prominently starting on page E1 (cover of the Variety section). Seated at DeToy's Restaurant and sipping my morning cups of coffee, I got my reading glasses perched on my nose just right and began reading.
It seemed like a classic article about baby boomers and transition. Boomers feel the whole world should feel such fascination with all their adjustments in life. Us boomers are definitely fascinated with chronicling them.
So I started reading and after wading in a few paragraphs I suddenly thought "wait a minute, this wasn't written by a Star Tribune staff writer."
So I glanced back at the byline. Sure enough there was an unfamiliar name and a "special to the Star Tribune" tag. "Special" is a pretty broad brush term. In this age of easy online journalism, anyone can stretch their writing legs and hope to maybe get something published in the legacy media, if that's what floats your boat.
The Minneapolis paper, meanwhile, has gone through bankruptcy, applied the machete liberally in making cuts, and pretty soon we've just got to start noticing the effects of this.
This space-eating feature article, written by someone whom I'll just consider a "freelancer," is evidence of the dwindling standards one can expect now in the crumbling newspaper industry. I'm not even faulting the writer. I'm faulting the paper.
How can I characterize the article? It's so meandering it's hard to sum it up here. So the prime fault is its meandering nature, by someone who appears to want to impress us with her writing ability. She uses novel-writing techniques to be descriptive in ways that don't further the subject matter. I'm not reading a novel, I'm reading a newspaper. I want easy-to-grasp background and information, not that I'd mind some compelling storytelling.
Although it's hard to be precise, it seems the article is about boomer-age people who have been forced, apparently by the economy, to leave the countryside. Such stories might be very illuminating and helpful. Maybe the book in fact reaches its target, but the article doesn't point in a very promising direction. It's too busy convincing us of the erudite and intellectual airs of both the author and article writer.
The headline was "View from the Treetops." The name of the book is "Memory of Trees: A Daughter's Story of a Family Farm," and its author is Gayla Marty. The Star Tribune article was written by Stephanie Wilbur Ash.
Ash observes of someone that "she's 71 but you'd never guess." The gem just cited was in parenthesis. Minus any context suggesting the relevance of age or appearance, this is just stupid. Is there something wrong with looking like a normal 71-year-old, whatever that might represent?
Trying to get a grip on the basic facts, as I read, was impossible. There is a quote from someone endorsing the book (in overblown fashion) but the background of that person isn't even reported. So right away I'm thinking "this is amateurish."
Is this what is becoming of my old friend, the Star Tribune (and before that the Tribune and Star, separate newspapers)? It's almost painful to keep writing this post. Ash quotes the author saying she's fascinated by the trees rather than the wide open spaces of farm country. Why? We never learn. But Ash says this orientation is one of the things that sets this book apart. We learn that the author gathered a leaf collection when young. Nothing real revealing there.
"It is an intimate story," Ash concludes of the trees and leaf fixation.
We learn that Marty's mother was part of an interesting arrangement where two sisters married two brothers. Ash then writes that "over time, religious ideology and economics fractured the families."
Fascinating, I guess. But those facts are then allowed to just sit there.
People are forced into transition all over the place by economics, which is sort of a catch word for "stuff happens." It's no more traumatic for farm families or baby boomers than for anyone else. Again, if Ash were able to report on this story in a way that made it seem unique or compelling, fine.
Maybe that story unfolds in "Memory of Trees" and Ash failed to relate it properly. I'm reminded of that problematic refrain on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" show: "You'll have to read the book."
I might not be writing this post were it not for the fact that Ash begins gushing over the author about midway through, emphasizing Marty's academic and refined qualities. Ash writes that "Gayla is a thoughtful, compassionate writer of deep faith."
A puffy, subjective sentence like this would never be written by a Star Tribune staff writer. Its effect would be lessened if Ash could just do better providing supportive material for this and other assertions.
The worst weasel words in the whole article were these: "(Gayla is) the quintessential baby boomer Minnesota farm girl who left for college in Minneapolis in 1976, but still kept farm ties and habits."
Oh, it's great to see a kid from "Petticoat Junction" leave the farm and "make good" in the big city, isn't it? I suppose some of her peers had to "stay behind" in the country.
But Marty pines so wistfully for the country now. Why? The trees? Why the trees?
What is a quintessential baby boomer? Is it someone who engaged in particular types of foolishness in the early 1970s? Is someone like this just an irritating narcissist?
U.S. Senator James Webb expressed some irritation with the term not long ago, suggesting that boomers were just people who happened to be born in the same general time period.
"Memory of Trees" is a paean, but is it a condescending paean?
The author is an academic person and maybe that's why we're supposed to be impressed. If she's fascinated by trees, we're just supposed to assume there's good reason for this, because someone with academic credentials obviously has a firm basis for all her feelings.
She says her tree focus sets her book apart from similar works (not specified) that emphasize open spaces. Academic people reflexively seek to stand apart from others. It keeps them in their exclusive circle.
There was once a popular song called "I Talk to the Trees," made popular, I believe, by the Smothers Brothers. Maybe Marty talks to the trees. Maybe her book is actually good. But I don't think I'll be shelling out for it. If it comes to the Morris Public Library, fine, I'll give it a shot, and maybe I'll find it's not a compilation of pretentious intellectual drivel.
That would be a pleasant surprise and I'd be delighted to write a new post!
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, April 12, 2010

Allow change to beat down its barriers

There is an impulse within most of us that wants to root for newspapers. There is cascading news about the retreat that institution is mounting. "Retreat" means that someone is cleaning your clock. And these things happen for a reason in our economy of "creative destruction."
An author was on Book TV (C-Span 2) Saturday discussing his book about how the traditional music/recording industry is being uprooted just like newspapers. If these institutions are struggling it must be for a reason.
I feel that people are discovering, however slowly, that newspapers were never really about journalism. Newspapers have never been built around "selling the news." The primary aim of newspapers is to sell print advertising. And they develop their online product only to the extent that it helps their bottom line.
I dare say newspaper owners almost consider their journalistic obligation to be a nagging distraction, as with kids having broccoli put in front of them. They are insincere when they proclaim that journalism is their fundamental mission. Our so-called "great newspapers" didn't get that way because of journalism. They became household words because of achieving monopolies in their distribution areas.
The journalism mission was a far easier sell for newspaper owners when people lacked alternatives for getting information. Now that people have myriad and ever growing alternatives (thanks to the world wide web), the ink-stained moguls are back on their heels, defensively propping up their product while the bottom line fades.
Their old feeling of entitlement looks pathetic now. These people may be in denial publicly about what's going on, but behind closed doors many of them know what's going on. Most of them are engaged in what I would call "harvesting." Instead of trying to be innovative or to adapt, they're riding the old business model into the ground.
There's still some good money to be made, for a while, if you just cut like crazy and bleed your "legacy" customers. Advertisers have old habits and mindsets and the loyal readers are an aging demographic. I should add that this parallels what's happening in the old music/recording industry. It was affirmed by that fellow on Book TV.
The public denial of what's happening in the media is expressed not only by the self-interested professionals. It's felt by many people over age 50, "boomers" who have always prided themselves on their rapier-like analysis but who have trouble seeing what's happening in this instance.
They might also decry reduced "service" by the U.S. Postal Service. Well, let me advise you people: New generations come along, sans blinders, with insights you never dreamt of. It takes time for a young generation to apply its principles and insights because they lack power until they reach middle age.
The boomers have been through this. We saw the terrible flaws in the Viet Nam War, lack of environmental stewardship and poky civil rights progress, We screamed out but we lacked true leverage until we got older. The young generation of today readily sees the waste and defects in the legacy print media and maybe even in traditional book publishing - do we even need textbooks for kids? - and they might also laugh at the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Service is as much of a dinosaur as the newspaper industry's monopoly pricing structure for advertising.
The Postal Service is begging for dramatic restructuring. Older people, though, can be disturbed by dramatic change of this type. People over the age of 50 in academics are inclined to be protective about newspapers. They plead that papers have had "such an important role in our democracy" and other sheep dip.
Newspapers are watchdogs? Apply your brain. Local government everywhere is trying to find ways to put their legal notices online, for no cost, which is pretty darn tempting as opposed to paying newspapers to print it. You can find updates on this struggle all the time if you just Google the subject. Nearly all observers feel it's just a matter of time before local government can escape these archaic shackles.
What newspaper in its right mind, in this kind of climate, would try to be a "watchdog" and alienate the very people with whom they're trying to curry favor for these legal notices? Back when newspapers had some of the privileges of monopolies, they could easily "rock the boat."
As for Watergate, it was a total aberration. We're talking about the Beltway culture here which could just as easily be on Mars. It's no more useful to teach young journalists about Watergate than it is to try to get all college art students to paint like Jackson Pollack.
The real heroes of Watergate may have been the faceless employees in the Washington Post classified ad department. All the coin the Post raked in with its monopolistic ad leverage gave those testosterone-fueled young reporters the slack to do their thing and puff up the ego of the paper's owner. Today, online journalism would have Richard Nixon for lunch.
Paul Gillin of Newspaper Death Watch maintains that Watergate was a terrible thing for American journalism because it instilled a feeling of celebrity in writers. Writers deserve no such mantle.
I have read that the newspaper newsrooms of today are scared and meek places. Retrenchment looms every single day. It's no environment for trying to "speak truth to power."
Our newspaper here in Morris, owned by a Fargo company, comes out only once a week now and it seems more like a wrapper for an irritating pile of ad circulars, several from out of the area.
I suspect that the owner, which has made regular retrenchment moves, is "harvesting." The people at the top know "the jig is up" but that profits can still be made by cutting and playing many of their customers, I feel, for suckers.
But wait until that new generation comes up.
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Maybe movies were meant to be seen once

"Independence Day" can go from riveting to rather ridiculous once you've seen it about, oh, four times.
"Suspending reality" can be a very important part of appreciating a movie. Movies can be full of snags when it comes to plausibility issues.
Moviegoers are invited into a fantasy realm. The idea is to keep those plausibility issues suppressed in your mind. They must not get in the way of appreciating the story or the characters.
It can be harder today for movie viewers to deal with this. That's because of the opportunity to view a favorite movie multiple times - unlimited times in fact.
As with many aspects of our day-to-day living, this is a fairly new phenomenon. Changes in lifestyle wrought by technology are a regular theme in my writing here.
Today I'm reminding you that it wasn't that long ago, in the scheme of things, when watching a movie was pretty much a one-shot deal. You'd pay to see the movie at our local Morris (MN) Theater, appreciate it, hopefully not throw jawbreakers at the screen, and probably never see it again. It might turn up on network TV but only on rare occasions. Nothing like today, when our myriad channels would liberally replay various movies so you might actually watch it at 2 a.m.
In my youth the local television station, KCMT of Alexandria, would shut down not long after our bedtime. It would shut down with generic military footage (Air Force) and the standard "Star Spangled Banner" (John Philip Sousa style). I don't know why glorifying the military had to be part of ending our day. In my youth our military was getting entangled in the Viet Nam thicket of tragedy.
I could count on one hand the movies I saw more than three times. And hardly anyone would pay to see a movie more than once. I doubt many kids had the money to do a "Titanic" ritual and see a favorite repeatedly. But many people do see movies repeatedly today, thanks to the technology that first brought us VHS tapes, then DVDs and now "Movies on Demand."
Is this a godsend? As with anything we think we desire, when we get an abundance it might not seem as desirable anymore. It's a fundamental principle of marketing as author Harvey Mackay has pointed out so well.
As a kid I would have been disbelieving if someone had told me that someday there would be rows and rows of movies at our local Morris Public Library, movies that I could "check out" and watch at my leisure - once, twice, three times, whatever. It makes paying for a movie ticket somewhat questionable.
I have written excessive background here to what the main point of this post is: Watching a favorite movie repeatedly is not a good thing. The ability to suspend reality crumbles. Whatever emotional effect the movie originally had on you dissipates. Fundamentally, what happens (based on my experience) is that you begin to see the story as a movie in the most cynical sense, i.e. a crafted work of entertainment by professionals who are trying to manipulate you.
My first revelation about this came with the movie "The Natural." I never saw it at our Morris Theater. My first viewing may have actually been through television.
Who knows if it even played at our local big screen. Because our theater can only play one movie at a time, many get passed by. I remember waiting once for the movie "Mr. 3000," a fine baseball movie with Bernie Mac - RIP - and it never came here.
Eventually I told local Morris Theater promoter Warrenn Anderson (the attorney) about this shortcoming of our theater. This was when our old theater was being put on life support. It remains in that state today, operated as a co-op. I told Mr. Anderson that I often saw movies in Alexandria because I wanted to be assured that I could in fact see them, when there was no guarantee here.
"The Natural" was also a baseball movie. It's one of Robert Redford's better efforts. He was a wee too old to play the part at the time, and worked hard to fit a younger mold. But it wasn't as bad as Kevin Spacey playing a young Bobby Darin in "Across the Sea!"
The age issue was never a problem for me in "The Natural." But after I had seen the movie, say, four times, along with snippets on cable movie channels that I would catch incidentally (as we all do when surfing), the appeal of the movie diminished. I began just seeing a bunch of actors, movie sets and a script. And that's sad.
It was a moving experience to see "The Natural" the first time. It's been said that you judge a painting by the emotional reaction of the viewer. If that's true for movies too, "The Natural" ranks way up there. But I no longer have an emotional reaction to it. I found the same thing happening with "The Karate Kid."
And after seeing the Will Smith movie "Independence Day" several times, it went from being an interesting thriller to a joke. I mean, it was so full of implausible things. And it was so cynically crafted to pull at our patriotic heartstrings. My point is this: faults like these can be overlooked the first time you see a movie. Maybe the second.
Moviemakers know this and they work inside a "buffer zone." They probably lie awake at night worrying about whether their customers will in fact be able to suspend reality in order to like a movie.
In the early days of the HBO channel, comedian Rich Hall - where is he now? - had a feature called "sniglets," so popular a book sprouted. Sniglets are terms that aren't in the dictionary but should be.
Maybe there should be a "sniglet" for the phenomenon of de-appreciating a movie by seeing it too many times. Maybe the word is already in the dictionary: "bummer."
Seeing a movie too many times is "too much of a good thing." Seeing a particular movie too often dulls the senses. We might make an exception for "The Wizard of Oz."
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - morris theater mn - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, April 9, 2010

Boomers and their less structured youth

Sarah Palin made a playground analogy when commenting on President Obama's foreign policy negotiations Thursday. Obviously she criticized it as surely as the sun rises in the east. She's a Fox News barking dog. But the playground analogy reminded me of the old abandoned school playground here, of which I wrote a few days ago.
The issue in the previous post was: what will become of the old playground and the massive old school complex that overlooks that part of Morris?
Today the topic is plain old reminiscence along with cultural analysis.
The baby boom generation gave our public school a firm base of numbers. I dare say the people who worked in that system took those numbers for granted. They were comfortable in their positions and felt they could shoo away or intimidate critics. And the boomers' parents weren't likely to be critics anyway. They were very gentle and deferential. The term "helicopter parent" hadn't yet been coined.
Parents who had been through the Depression and World War Two weren't very excitable. Parents were more likely to work with teachers on discipline than to protect children from it. The whole system just rolled forward, and I suspect many education professionals felt it would always be like this. They probably looked forward to lower enrollment because they felt it would make their jobs easier and improve the educational environment.
But there has been unrelenting retrenchment. The young parents of today, many of the "helicopter" type, don't blandly accept what happens to their kids in school. They set rigorous standards (for the teachers) and demand answers.
As schools wrestle with the numbers issues, it is incredibly ironic to note all the advantages and programs that have been created for the young people of today, compared to when us boomers flooded that old playground. Many tiers of special education have sprouted. In an earlier time, kids who lagged behind might be branded as stupid but they largely forged ahead anyway. They made do with their limitations and their peers accepted them. Many kids with apparent special needs were "mainstreamed."
Another term is "social promotion" based on the idea that kids need to be kept with their age peers with whom they have bonded. Of course, once you graduate and enter real society, that peer network is gone.
Nowadays the "slow" kids get identified with "learning problems." Many of these kids who are assigned to specialists would have been considered quite normal when I was in school. By the same token, kids with behavior issues when I was in school had to try to just "go with the flow" as best they could. Their peers learned to deal with them and maybe even help them.
Behavior medications weren't handed out like candy as can be the case today, apparently. Those medications weren't available as a crutch for educators to just tranquilize problem kids.
As enrollment has seriously declined, we have this huge irony of resources available to kids that weren't dreamt of when us boomers romped on the playground. Girls sports is a huge one. So is the indoor ice arena. Then there's FFA. In God's name why didn't Morris have an FFA program back then?
We have a jaw-dropping concert hall. It was like pulling teeth to get the high school auditorium built back in the mid-1970s. The superintendent at that time, Fred Switzer, would later tell people "I almost lost my job over that."
What would have happened to him if he had tried to sell that concert hall? Tar and feathering?
Our new school complex is vast and excessive. How did we get here? How did we get sold on a new football field that is slowly being forgotten by the community? People are always groping for something new. A few years ago we got all the toys we could have wanted.
But the school of yesteryear had its charms. The kids were challenged to get along with each other and gained maturation, despite bumps in the road. Those bumps could include teasing and conflict. Behind all that, kids were forced to take a thoughtful look at those around them and sort out how society is put together. There were far fewer "excuses" that would lead to special ed coddling or behavior medications.
Could it be rough? Yes. Today, "conflict resolution" would be quickly imposed on kids who are inclined to roughhouse behavior on the playground. When I was a kid, in the fall in 1964 there was faux gang warfare on the East Elementary playground between the "Johnsons" and the "Goldwaters." This mirrored the presidential election of that year: the incumbent Lyndon Johnson vs. the pure conservative Barry Goldwater. Johnson inherited the JFK legacy but he was destined to be scarred by the Viet Nam War.
The playground conflict ended up a pretty scientific study too because the "Goldwaters" were a decided minority. Johnson indeed won the election going way, paired with Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, his runningmate whose later timid approach on Viet Nam probably cost him the presidency in 1968.
You could get into trouble on the playground if someone came up to you and asked your opinion on N.F.O. (the National Farmers Organization, at attempt to unionize farmers which was sort of like trying to herd cats). I believe that a few blows were struck in the name of N.F.O.
Is there such a thing as unfettered "recess" time anymore? Or is all playtime strictly governed? In our risk averse culture (with litigation hovering at all times), something like the "Johnsons" vs. "Goldwaters" would probably be discouraged.
Our school in the 1960s was in a friendly neighborhood setting. The biggest issue with our school facilities was available space, because the boomers were filling everything up to the brim. But I don't recall any fundamental criticism of the facilities i.e. their quality.
Our teeming numbers forced "split shifts" until finally a new high school was built with a new gymnasium. The "new" gym built in 1968 was the focus of considerable community pride. Its predecessor was the type of gym that could have been a backdrop in the movie "Hoosiers." It had to be replaced because it was of substandard size and the seating capacity was inadequate.
And it was just, well, antiquated, although it could easily be used for theatrical and music purposes today along with youth basketball. It was an auditorium/gym complex and it seems destined for the wrecking ball now, if the City of Morris can come up with the money. If not, it will just stay cold, empty and haunted - a blight.
And the 1968 gym? It isn't even good enough for varsity basketball anymore. Most of the original bleachers have been taken out. You could say it's forgotten. Another new gym was built in 1991 and it only briefly captured our imagination. Now it too is forgotten, and it never did have enough bleachers to accommodate major varsity competition.
It seems that no matter how much we do for our schools, more is demanded.
Our new varsity gym and concert hall would have boggled minds if shown to parents of the "Wonder Years" 1960s. If Mr. Switzer thought it was risky to push for the very modest high school auditorium, my God, what must he think when looking at all the new stuff?
All these incredible new facilities, along with girls sports that has total parity with boys, are for current generations with substantially smaller numbers than in the "Wonder Years."
But maybe we'll find we can't afford it after all. Maybe we've been doing it with mirrors, sort of like Sarah Palin's ascendance politically. The future can never be predicted.
Maybe future generations of parents will want to push aside all the "extras" like sports and special ed and push for neighborhood schools in intimate, friendly settings where kids can be gently developed, aided by the limitless frontier of information on the Internet.
What does the future hold for Sarah Palin? Politically she has nothing to offer except buzzwords for the political right, but she will surely end up spectacularly rich. No wonder she appreciates John McCain.
Palin is using Fox News to build her fame. Fox News is harassing the Obama administration, which was democratically elected, to the point where it might be considered treasonous. Glenn Beck might as well be in a comic book. They cheerlead for the Tea Party which might just as well don white sheets.
We can only hope that Fox News keeps pushing the envelope until its excesses finally bring it down. In entertainment there is always an urge to "push the envelope." And Fox News and its ilk are clearly entertainment but it's dangerous entertainment.
Palin with Michele Bachmann is a circus of idiots. Bachmann is a very attractive woman and when she's with Palin, she makes Palin look less attractive. And older. There, now if someone in Palin's camp reads this, maybe they won't appear together again.
Maybe what we need is that old "Johnsons" gang from the East Elementary playground to chase the Tea Partiers away.
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Confederate History Month" in retreat

(Image from "deadspin")
A Civil War flap erupted a day after I wrote an extensive post on the subject. Somewhere Tony Horwitz is smiling like yours truly. Not that we'd smile about the Civil War itself because it was horrible and should have been avoided (as long as the Union's objectives were not compromised).
Compromise? The Civil War is still being fought in non-military ways. Horwitz documented this in sometimes-sobering, sometimes-amusing ways. He traveled the south, specifically in areas where the Civil War was fought (because it was fought almost completely in the south). He took notes exhaustively and wrote "Confederates in the Attic," a must-read tome for history enthusiasts.
Horwitz is the quintessential journalist, author also of "Baghdad Without a Map."
The current flap has to do with Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell's attempt to proclaim April Confederate History Month. How he could do this without foreseeing controversy is beyond me. It's like the politicians who make analogies with the Nazis and World War Two and then have to apologize. Usually these analogies trivialize those earlier tragedies. These politicians repeatedly make the mistake. Southerners trying to commemorate the Civil War by honoring the Confederacy are making the same kind of mistake.
The Confederacy, which could more accurately be described as a rebellion, ceased being real a long time ago. The real Confederacy was nothing but ugly. It had far from universal support in the South. It was a pathetic resistance to change and progress. Since it is no longer real, it must represent different things today. Indeed it does.
Commemoration is usually framed in the issues of today, mostly on a subconscious level. Since the Confederacy never reached fruition or became real, it never had to meet any expectations. Thus it sort of exists in the ether of our collective imagination. There is a feeling tugging at all of us that we ought to admire the gallantry of those outnumbered southern troops and their beloved "battle flag" (the Stars and Bars, not the official flag of the Confederacy, contrary to the belief of many).
We all liked seeing the Butler men's basketball team in the Final 4 of the men's hoops tourney, so we all admire the grit and competitiveness of the underdog.
But the northern states had a huge challenge before them. While the South had only to defend a vast geographic area, the North had to invade and suppress a rebellion that had strong legs. The Union paid a horrible price in the process. The expenditure of blood and treasure was staggering. The point I'm primarily trying to make is that Civil War "nostalgia" is not based on reality. The Myth of the Lost Cause grew up in the ashes of the war, and it too had little to do with reality.
The South obsessed on its war heroes and constantly pondered how a different turn in the war here and there could have led to a different outcome. Their No. 1 question: What if Stonewall Jackson had lived? Losers always talk about "what ifs." General Jackson was killed by friendly fire in the aftermath of the battle of Chancellorsville. What if the military leadership had shown better judgment than to have Jackson out there in a vulnerable position?
What if the Confederates had been better supplied with artillery ordnance for the Gettysburg campaign? What if their artillery had used "triangulation" better for the barrage that preceded Pickett's Charge?
The fact is, the Confederates lacked the resources to win that war. When you lack resources you commit lapses. The Union had redundancies to cover for their mistakes. There is that tempting inclination to admire the valor of the Confederates, men whom we can view as products of their culture and not necessarily bad human beings.
Nearly all Civil War movies show the Confederates as great, deeply feeling human beings whom destiny had placed on the losing side. The movie "Gods and Generals," in which Ted Turner had a guiding hand, was a departure in that it tried to suggest that the South's cause was morally superior. The overblown movie has been judged a failure. It was made as a "prequel" to the movie "Gettysburg," which was a success and made along the traditional lines - no political tweaking of history.
Eventually there was supposed to be a third movie called "The Last Full Measure" to complete a "trilogy" of flicks. No. The failure of "Gods" has doomed those plans. But there would be nothing wrong in seeing some more Civil War movies because the topic is worthy of continuing attention, reminding us of our troubled and conflicted past.
But "Confederate History Month" is a laughable throwback to the "Myth of the Lost Cause." Governor McDonnell, a Republican, had to apologize and amend his proclamation to include the topic of slavery. Southerners always end up on their heels, backpedaling when these topics emerge from the murky depths.
Ironically, part of the push to honor the valor of Confederate warriors came from the North in the wake of the Civil War. This was for the sake of national morale during the very challenging time of Reconstruction and henceforth. The North was happy to put General Robert E. Lee on a pedestal. Why should the North care? The North had in fact prevailed in the only showdown that mattered.
The North allowed its Southern brethren to cling to the pride associated with the scrappy but futile battle with the industrialized North, a foe that represented the irresistible forces of progress. The North allowed the South to embrace some consolation prizes. But they're empty, as empty as "Confederate History Month."
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mr. Dowd might like our "green community"

What's to become of this? It's our old school property in Morris. (B.W. photo)

Elwood P. Dowd had an imaginary giant rabbit friend in the 1950 movie "Harvey." Having an imaginary friend is something we usually associate with children. It can happen with adults too as we are apparently seeing with at least some adults in Morris now.
Their imaginary friend is the "green community" which occupies the old school property.
Think you just see a big grassy expanse of land with some vestigial evidence of school life? If you do, you're like me. The "green community" of enlightened souls in their happy homes of low consumption is so real to some, it's winning awards.
The local print media informed us Saturday that the landscaping feature is in the award spotlight. Specifically this award went to an entity called "The Morris Affordable Green Neighborhood Master Plan."
Jimmy Stewart played the character Elwood P. Dowd, and I can just see our local equivalent accepting this award at the annual banquet of the Minnesota chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. This fete is set for April 23 in Minneapolis.
I can't predict the future, but I just can't believe there is a substantial need for new housing in this community! As for the people who really do want to build new, would they really choose this location?
In the last few years, haven't most people chosen to build on the eastern fringes of the community, out near the bypass and the bike path that skirts the Pomme de Terre River in such an aesthetically pleasing way?
What are the aesthetics of the old school property? I don't see any redeeming features, so correct me if I'm wrong. The Summit Cemetery chime music would waft over your home. To the west you'll be treated to the site of the big, totally abandoned old school complex, unless the city can suddenly find the funds to tear it down.
Local government isn't swimming in money these days, is it?
But won't this decaying hulk of a building complex have to be dealt with sometime? Don't people shake their heads as they drive past it?
Friend Glen Helberg has repeatedly told me, while we share breakfast at McDonald's, that the funds for demolishing the old school should have been included in the package for building the new school. I agree, and absent that, there should have been some guarantee of re-use of the old building and property (at least part of it).
It's a tragedy for the art deco auditorium to be crumbling away. That auditorium is attached to the anchor structure of the complex, ironically the oldest part, built in 1914. And certainly this anchor building could have had its interior refurbished for some type of meaningful new use.
I've always suggested it's a shame the Stevens County Museum couldn't have relocated there.
The museum stayed at the old Carnegie building which by itself was worthless in terms of interior space. The Carnegie building was a striking landmark only on the outside. And that wasn't reason enough to preserve it. Much money was poured into constructing an "addition" which for all practical purposes constitutes (or could have constituted) the whole museum.
The museum is in residential west Morris which is an out-of-the-way place. It has no parking provisions so cars are lined up along residential curbs whenever there's a special event.
The old school property in east Morris is one of those open spaces that city planners actually like. Isn't it true that in most cities, parks are mandated at certain intervals in order to promote a healthy overall environment? Eastside Park is a short jog from the old school property and it's less of an open space than when I was a kid, due to that hulk of a bandshell (the Killoran music stage) which sits cold and silent for the vast majority of the year.
It appears that our city leaders aren't comfortable with the old school property as one of those open spaces. The city manager has stated that he wants to see this land "back on the tax rolls." This would seem to require some sort of net increase in population or business activity in Morris. Does that appear to be on the horizon?
Again, no one can predict the future, but one might argue for prudence based on the current realities. One of those realities might be that we were misguided in approving of the new school and football field in the first place.
At least, one could argue that the new school reflected an overly grandiose vision. It was sold to the voters on the basis of "we need a new elementary school." But what we got was so much more than that.
We now have a school that before long might appear dated - one of the generation of schools that in appearance can be likened to a big prison on the outskirts of town. I'm not the one who coined the "prison" comparison. Credit for that goes to a current school board member who was describing the new schools in general, not ours specifically (although he/she might have been).
Meanwhile our old, abandoned school, big enough by itself, just sits there as a suggestion of blight overlooking that expansive empty space which once was a playground, and where the Tiger football team would practice and play its games.
In a conversation I had with a different school board member, he/she told me - I'm keeping them anonymous - we will probably never again see the "town square" atmosphere that marked football games at Coombe Field. That atmosphere cannot be duplicated at Big Cat Field.
Attendance at Big Cat for Tiger football has appeared to drop since its opening. We're supposed to be happy about this? Is this progress?
We were told during the "vote yes" drive that these new facilities were so important for attracting new residents to Morris. Has there been any growth in the population or economy? The prevailing signs have in fact seemed negative.
The residents of a new "green community" would probably just be transplants from other parts of town and not newcomers. Would that add to the tax rolls?
Will our monstrous new school complex end up being an asset at all? We have been through a period in which bigger has been equated with better, and "build new" has been like a mantra with a stigmatizing effect on more conservative people who might like to just renovate what we have.
The advocates of "vote no" were put on the defensive. But time might vindicate them. Saturday's Star Tribune (actually called "Early Sunday") reported "state educators and policymakers say the financial outlook for schools in Minnesota is as bleak as it's been in at least a generation, as a host of budget-busting factors converge."
This might not be just one of those cyclical revenue issues either. Demographics are involved in a big way.
"Voters whose children are grown and whose incomes have shriveled will be less likely to approve requests to hike their property taxes," the article asserted.
It was added that the recession isn't the cause. There is a firm trend of diminishing funds and smaller enrollment. We've seen four-day school weeks in some places.
Some say this move and others like it are nothing more than Band-Aids. Truly innovative thinking is going to have to come into play. The problem might be compounded in Morris because we have two monstrosities: the sprawling new school with its aspects of opulence (e.g. the concert hall) and the haunted old one.
Unless some big new industries start up here, we could be in a world of hurt. Experts are saying that the excrement won't really start hitting the fan until the 2011-12 school year. Federal stimulus dollars will dry up.
"It's scary," says Scott Croonquist, head of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, quoted in the Star Tribune article.
Look for more headlines about school closings, increased class sizes and tense issues to be resolved with teachers' professional associations. Sports will have to go under a microscope.
Many people are skeptical about shoveling more money at schools. "Money pits" is how they are seen by many, according to the Star Tribune.
That reminds me of a quote attributed (not publicly) to a former Morris Area school board member, someone imbued with that healthy skepticism. Reacting to a plea for more funds, he/she (anonymity again) told someone in an informal conversation that "if you give us the money, we'll just spend it."
That's priceless.
My top suggestion has been to creatively move away from the old education model and have kids learn more online. This continues a primary theme of this website. We've barely seen the start of how the Internet will change our world. Education might actually be enhanced and with a significant cost savings.
But will our old "prison" type schools be rendered as costly dinosaurs? I feel they might be.
The Star Tribune cited a popular suggestion of having "more but smaller schools, which might realize significant savings by partnering with other organizations to offer arts and sports."
The article then took some words right out of my mouth, stating that "smaller schools create a strong sense of community and accountability, which in turn minimizes discipline and learning problems."
The term I have often used in sharing this thought is "neighborhood schools."
Our old school in Morris was nestled in a cozy, friendly neighborhood setting. I think there is much to be said for this as opposed to the "prison" model.
But our old school and old "town square" football field are apparently gone with the wind. Subconsciously a lot of people may share my interpretation of all this, but in their denial they have come up with their "imaginary friend" of the "green community," a la "Harvey" in the Jimmy Stewart movie.
I fear this movie might not have a happy ending.
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com