"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)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Should MN Independence Party dissolve?

What's in a name? The suggested answer to this old line is "not much."
I remember visiting Minneapolis and seeing a series of restaurants called The Best Steak House. Not that one couldn't have a quite fine experience there, but this wasn't deluxe. It had its niche as all dining establishments do. This particular chain had the common touch and probably had prices to match. Does it still exist? I don't know.
The Independence Party (IP) of Minnesota brings to mind that question of "what's in a name?" Third parties are like the red-haired stepchild of American politics. America was built on the foundation of our vaunted two-party system. It's better than the alternatives, even though there's an inclination to hold your nose sometimes.
That hold-your-nose impulse opened the door for the campaign of Jesse Ventura in Minnesota. It was a hugely significant chapter in Minnesota history. It wasn't hyperbole when Ventura bellowed "We shocked the world" in front of his supporters when celebrating (at Canterbury Park, I recall, consistent with his tastes).
My recollection is that few people thought the former professional wrestler was actually going to win, right up until election day. As the reality set in, with the numbers pointing to Ventura's impending triumph over his (seemingly) business-as-usual rivals, the NBC newsman with the same name as yours truly advised viewers that "you'd better sit down for this one."
Brian Williams of NBC sharpened his skills on that company's cable network, MSNBC. Then he climbed a rung and took over the 5:30 p.m. newscast for the flagship. Williams has the role once owned by "Huntley and Brinkley" who joined Walter Cronkite in reciting the daily news to the young boomers from that glowing screen. It was an exclusive club back then.
The much-older boomers sat transfixed in front of their TVs when the realization of Ventura's success set in. I suspect we all remember vividly.
I also suspect that many of us felt a guilty pleasure over seeing a total character - the epitome of pro wrestling's hyperbole - become governor and rivet the nation's attention.
Dan Rather had special fun with "The Body" nickname the next day. Rather's career would end up tumbling down because of his failure to grasp the subtleties of typed words (the notorious "superscript"). Brian Williams the anchorman (and not yours truly) is flourishing journalistically. Yours truly is wandering in the frontier of the new media. Oh, and thanks for reading.
We all wanted to see Governor Ventura do well. There is something very likable about this energized lug. He has the unflappable poise of a professional entertainer. He is a thinker and philosopher but with a reputation of not always doing his homework to get the true breadth of knowledge he needs.
He has had some sympathy for the 9/11 Truth Movement.
Again, "What's in a name?" Are the "Truthers" more interested in the truth than anyone else? Are the Democrats more loyal to the principle of democracy? Does a used car dealer really deserve the nickname "Honest?"
None of us has ever known a dealer with that nickname, in all likelihood, but it's part of our popular lore. It suggests that names are drummed up to sell or exaggerate, which is human nature. And Minnesota's Independence Party fits into that mold.
The name suggests there is some special virtue attached to its adherents. They have independent qualities that set them apart from their parochial and scheming rivals (it is suggested).
It's horse hockey really, because politicians have constituencies that buttress them financially. The Independence Party of 2010 is a vestige of the Ventura heyday. That heyday has no more chance of being repeated than the 1991 World Series.
The IP gave us boring wonk Peter Hutchinson in the '06 governor's race, and all that did was split the progressive vote.
Minnesotans wanted a left-of-center governor. It was time. Instead a monkeywrench got thrown into the works, because third parties aren't part of the normal scheme of things.
The most generous thing that can be said about third parties is that they send a protest message by their mere existence - a "shot across the bow" as it were.
Ventura rode that wave. He beat Norm Coleman, he of the eastern U.S. accent, who has now lost to a professional wrestler and a comedian (Al Franken). Ventura also toppled the iconic name of Humphrey as in "Skip Humphrey." Humphrey has stepped into obscurity.
Ventura was signed to host an MSNBC show but it never got off the ground. I suspect that his failure to always do his homework hurt him there. He's too much of a one-trick pony to have a daily show.
Although, I would much prefer him as a daily host over the crazed gold shill Glenn Beck.
The cable news jungle can be perplexing.
Ventura is at his best as a guest on the cable shows like Larry King Live. He and Bill Maher are probably Larry's favorite guests.
I think we all see something fundamentally admirable about Jesse "The Body." There is a very human quality about him, even when he leans toward sympathy to the 9/11 "Truthers." He continually says there are unanswered questions about 9/11. Healthy skepticism is a virtue.
It was sad to see Ventura wear down under the pressure of being Minnesota's governor. He seemed like the kind of person who would have a thick skin. But he wore down in this regard.
Jesse failed to shield his family well enough. Nothing about the behavior of the "media jackals," as he called them, should have surprised him. Today the media is so much more diversified, it probably wouldn't have had such an abrasive effect on him.
I think he was an empathetic and committed person as governor but he lacked some of the defense mechanisms that hardened professional politicians have learned to cultivate. Sad.
But the Independence Party? It might as well pack it in. Our Democrats and Republicans need to learn to reach out to the people better, away from those State Capitol blinders.
Thanks to the IP and Forum Communications, the Fargo-based media conglomerate that strives to coax Republicans to victory, we have "TPaw" as governor, who feels at home sitting next to Newt Gingrich on a typical Fox News cesspool talk panel. He knows all the lines.
Minnesotans don't want another Republican governor. But can we get a "real deal" Democratic candidate who doesn't wear the parochial party blinders? Margaret Anderson-Kelliher? She's a lightweight. Matt Entenza? He's damaged goods because of his TV commercial that signals he might might have intimacy with the teachers union.
"We can't cut our way to greatness," Entenza proclaims.
But we are sure as heck going to have to cut something. His commercials show kids in a science classroom with an over-acting teacher, all ebullient, surrounded by some steaming chemical flasks that look as though they're about to explode. It looks like a scene from Fred MacMurray's "The Absent-Minded Professor."
But Minnesotans don't want to keep feeding the money pit of our state's public schools. We need sober, hard-nosed analysis and a sense there will be austerity, though not the kind of austerity that could loom with the likes of "TPaw" or Gingrich in charge.
We need truly innovative minds and not just a tax-cut mantra pledge.
Does Minnesota need 87 defined counties? Very good question. Does Stevens County need such ambitious county government? Could county government in its essence be restructured?
Locally there appears to have been a revelation that we really don't need a full-time "coordinator." The departing individual, the loquacious Jim Thoreen, is not being replaced. But that "retiree" is running for state office. How likely is he to suggest cutting?
Could dramatic new efficiencies be applied to our public schools, and could our public system through competition be forced to streamline and at the same time become more effective?
The Independence Party may not fade away soon. They have put forward a candidate for governor who is no more independent or unfettered by narrow interests than anyone else. He's Tom Horner.
Horner is a former Republican Party strategist. By profession he's in public relations. Public relations? It's a euphemism for being a mouthpiece, like Glenn Beck for gold. I'd sooner trust a car salesman with the "Honest" nickname.
Horner has a long background of working with Dave Durenberger, a former U.S. Senator known as a moderate Republican who can take off the blinders sometimes. That past association is heartening.
But really, how objective and truth-seeking might Mr. Horner be? If you believe he really possesses these attributes, you might believe a sign that says "The Best Steak House."
I hate to be this skeptical but take a look at the facts: By his own admission, Horner's PR firm has represented high-profile players at the state capitol like the Minnesota Vikings football team and health insurance companies like Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
I have to agree with Tony Sutton, Minnesota Republican chairman, who said of Horner that he has a 30-year background as a political insider. He's an opportunist with stripes typical of pols.
No way would his win (unlikely) "shock the world." We might get a new Vikings stadium but there are more pressing priorities now. Maybe those kids around the chemical flasks would have some answers.
Or maybe Mark Dayton, who I think might put on his cape and become the next governor.
Dayton I think could overcome the siphoning effect of the IP. Should the IP just dissolve? Can it claim a special niche anymore or has it faded into a back-door type of vehicle for ego-tripping would-be officeholders to get in front of the public - people who fall short of getting endorsed the two-party way?
Maybe the Independence Party has simply run its course and should be given a decent burial.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, May 28, 2010

Trial makes 'U' look like Sisyphus again

University of Minnesota athletics has been a pretty tough sell ever since the Minnesota Vikings came into being. Most of us boomers have to read retrospectives in the media (with those glorious black and white photos) to realize what it might have been like when Gophers sports, especially football, were big-time.
The boomers became drawn to the Vikings.
There have been spurts when "our beloved rodents" (as scribe Patrick Reusse is known to call them) have burst into the forefront. The problem is that these surges seem almost to require an oddball, obsessed and/or ethically challenged coach to be handed the reins. These individuals end up departing with a mess to be cleaned up.
We were all certainly reminded of those damaged goods this past week. Gopher athletics made the news in a way that pushed the booze-at-TCF Stadium topic out of the picture. In a huge distraction, which U of M President Robert Bruininks needed like a hole in the head, the Tubby-vs.-Jimmy trial reached its conclusion.
The loser: our venerable U of M. The winner: the common working folks of America.
Let's write a country music song about this one. The U fired all its Howitzers and activated the massive brains of its 'A' list attorneys, but our legal system meted out justice fairly anyway. And the guy who won, who shares the same last name as this writer, carries the banner of common folk who feel they've been dumped on by the powers that be in their lives.
The University should back off now, pay Mr. Williams the designated amount (really small change in the scheme of things), fire its athletic director, take a deep breath and begin another one of those "new chapters."
Bring in a new athletic director who will immediately be hyped. And maybe there will be a short-term sugar rush among the state's sports fans - we've been through this so many times - that will put a few more fannies in the seats for a while.
But Division I athletics has been such a rough go for our U as it competes in a thicket of highly-energized programs all over. Many of those rival programs may feel more incentive to succeed.
In many cases the incentive might come from having closer geographic rivals.
I have written before that it would be wonderful if St. Cloud State University could get its program elevated to where NDSU is. The awareness and enthusiasm about Division I football would permeate our state a little more.
Our Gopher football team actually lost to NDSU two years ago. It's bad enough that there's a newspaper empire based in Fargo - Forum Communications - telling Minnesotans who they should vote for in Minnesota elections. (It has a company-wide endorsement policy.) Now we might have to accept back-seat status to North Dakota football. It's really not acceptable.
So I agree fully with the tenor of Jim Souhan's comments in the Thursday Star Tribune. Souhan finally started to state the obvious about the U's sports shortcomings.
The catalyst was the Smith-Williams trial and its totally non-nuanced outcome. The U lost. In the rubble of that, the U maybe, just maybe, can begin to chart a more constructive course, grooming its revenue sports in a more methodical way. Souhan described Joel Maturi as "an athletic director who doubles as a naive bystander." Souhan further observed that "Maturi is overmatched, (and) he exercises little control where control is most needed."
It's hard to have eyebrows raised over this because the U seems to have been like Sisyphus for a long time now.
There's a nonstop tug of war in the rhetoric. The U of course has a fundamental mission that is wholly separate from sports. But when you choose to be part of the Division I jungle, there is a framework of demands and expectations.
Jimmy Williams was a reminder of the storied Bill Musselman era. The U made a commendable effort to win by hitching its wagon to the driven but eccentric Musselman, who seemed to have way too much caffeine in the morning.
Williams was down on the totem pole of course. As in all organizations, a person at his subordinate level comes to reflect the traits of the person he answers to. It's among the most understandable human traits. People reflect the philosophy, attitude and ethics of the person who steers the ship.
The people immediately under Richard Nixon seemed to all turn into miserable scoundrels because. . .
Well, that matter certainly got disposed. Jimmy Williams under Musselman worked hard but may not have respected the rulebook in an optimal way because. . .
Again you can fill in the rest of the sentence. That was so long ago. Is it fair for Williams to be tarred by that episode so long after the fact?
I think most Minnesotans were puzzled at the bombshell announcement of the end of the Williams lawsuit - "stunning," according to the front page Star Tribune article. The U was dealt a $1.25 million loss. All because Maturi thought there might be some public relations issues in connection with Jimmy coming back.
In my view, there was public relations value in bringing back a vestige of the Musselman era - an era prompting feelings of nostalgia among boomers like me (as long as we exclude those images of the fight with Ohio State in basketball). Why do you think Musselman - RIP - was tapped to be the first-ever Minnesota Timberwolves coach?
Many of us discovered modern Division I basketball thanks to the likes of Clyde Turner and Ron Behagen. No, we aren't proud of any NCAA violations that might have occurred, but the U had no monopoly on such indiscretions. And the indiscretions of that bygone time ought to be buried back then.
A guy like Williams should be allowed to continue his career. The most logical stance would have been to say "it's Tubby's (Smith) program, he'll hire who he wants and he'll take full responsibility for the ethical performance of the program."
But that would have made too much sense.
People with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, employing bureaucratic logic, threw a monkeywrench into the process. We got dragged through a pointless legal process in which attorneys made money, and the U's athletic programs gained no dividends. Tubby Smith has a bad taste in his mouth. How could he not? We once again had to open our Star Tribune and see a sports columnist excoriate the U's athletics.
Sportswriters actually like an excuse to do this once in a while. But it's an all-too-common refrain.
What would it take for St. Cloud State to make that jump to the top rung (or close to it)? Competition can solve a lot of things. An in-state football rivalry would be so refreshing. We would wonder why we couldn't have had this all along.
Competition might force the U of M to realize that its teams should be more available for TV viewing around the state. Our family watches Mediacom so we don't get the Big Ten Network. We have to settle for an occasional Gophers game on ESPN or ESPN2.
But because those ESPN games are so spotty, we have slowly lost interest in Gopher sports; that's the worst part.
If the best the University can do is to offer booze to certain elite customers at TCF Bank Stadium, that's sad.
Tim Brewster is now recruiting for a team that has to sell recruits on playing in some cold-temperature games. We all thought the Dome would solve that. But then, the Dome because passe. That's called marketing.
And I'm not sure marketing can solve all the U's athletic woes now.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Birds give color, sound to our prairie life

I miss the meadowlark and its call.
When I was a kid my "alarm clock" most mornings was a WCCO Radio commercial that featured a meadowlark call. It was penetrating. The commercial was for Land O' Lakes.
I remember meadowlarks around Morris when I was young. Not in town but out in the countryside, as the name implies.
But the name is also a little misleading. It's not a member of the lark family - actually it belongs to the blackbird family and is related to grackles and orioles.
Meadowlarks were a very pleasant avian companion around Morris, but I can't remember the last time I saw (or heard) one. Something unfortunate has happened with their habitat, I presume.
My bird reference manual has a map showing the Eastern Meadowlark residing in the eastern half of Minnesota, not making it over here. But it's hard to understand why they wouldn't, because on the surface at least, we seem perfectly suited to their lifestyle. It's a bird of open grassy country. It loves the meadows and probably got the "lark" syllable tacked on because it sings like the larks of Europe.
My manual describes their song as "a flute-like, clear whistle."
That radio commercial was as effective as any alarm and far more aesthetically pleasing. It's a shame this bird apparently doesn't populate this neck of the woods (or prairie) anymore. We can get a bear in Morris but the meadowlarks seem gone.
Bird territory maps are not gospel. A woman who is probably the No. 1 local bird guru, Margaret Kuchenreuther - don't confuse her with Krattenmaker - told me this once. I called her excitedly one day to inform her that a gray jay had passed through our back yard. I was able to zero in with binoculars and there was absolutely no doubt: it was a "gray jay" or "Whisky Jack" or "Canada Jay."
Our family has an ambitious bird feeding station in the back yard, so a variety can be expected. I couldn't have made the gray jay identification on first sight. I had to flip through the manual. Upon finding the right page, there was no doubt. But the territory map shows this bird restricted to the northeast one-third of the state.
Margaret said it isn't unusual at all for birds to stray beyond their expected boundaries, because after all "they can fly," for one thing.
"Camp robber" is another of the gray jay's names. It rummages through camps looking for food scraps. It's also easily tamed and might fly to your hand if you offer it raisins or nuts. Our backyard visitor didn't stay long enough for me to try the food offering.
I've read that chickadees might do the same thing. Chickadees are a very resilient bird that will always be the first to find a new feeding apparatus. They are a reassuring winter companion just like the dark-eyed junco.
We feel special affinity with the junco which seems so unfazed and indifferent about winter. The bird is gregarious as you'll note when you see them always in groups. They hop about on the ground looking for sustenance, "double-scratching" with both feet simultaneously to expose seeds and insects. They consume many weed seeds.
I always put out black-oil sunflower seeds which I have found to be the best all-purpose back yard wildlife food. The squirrels love it. It's common for people to discourage squirrels but we don't. At the time I gave up hunting many years ago, I adopted the philosophy "live and let live."
Margaret gave me a heads-up about the wondrous bird-watching opportunities at Niemackl Park. The park is an expansive, tree-filled place south of Herman that breaks up the predominance of our prairie atmosphere.
For years I associated Niemackl with the annual "iron pour" art event held there. I covered that in my corporate media career. I confess I can't describe what the "iron pour" process really is. But I say "hats off" because it seems very unique and inviting, and of course it attracts some very interesting people. It's a nice contrast to the other "festival" type events in the area that can be predictable (with their parades with waving queens, candy-throwing etc.).
I made one springtime excursion to Niemackl for bird-watching and found myself completely alone (in terms of humans). Yes it was peaceful. An unemployed person like yours truly can get a little too much peace sometimes. But it was neat to get onto the trails of Niemackl, under no pressure to get anything done, and soak in the nature.
My, there were sounds of birds everywhere - a veritable cacophony. I found it difficult to locate specific birds for identification and analysis.
But there was some success, like observing an American redstart and a yellow-rumped warbler. The male American redstart is a small, striking black bird with contrasting patches of orange on sides, wings and tail, and a white belly. Sorry, the female is not as attention-getting with appearance. My manual says this bird prefers large unbroken tracts of forest. So you might not find many, or any, outside this park in our area.
Everyone in our area should visit Niemackl once and stroll along the organized trail system. There can be one drawback: woodticks. I hate to bring this up but I wouldn't want anyone to be surprised. Take away this black mark and it's a totally wonderful place.
The yellow-rumped warbler is one of the first warblers to return to Minnesota, arriving in April. It builds a cup nest in coniferous and aspen forests. I find its most striking feature to be yellow patches on the rump, flanks and head. Again the female is duller, but she does have the same yellow patches.
There are lots of yellow-headed blackbirds around Niemackl Park. Niemackl has deep-water marshes of the type this bird finds ideal for nesting.
The red-winged blackbird, which can be ubiquitous around the bike trail east of Morris (and by the Pomme de Terre River), prefers shallow water.
The yellow-headed blackbird with its lemon yellow head has a call quite different from other blackbirds: a low, hoarse and raspy call.
Margaret told me some scarlet tanagers could be seen at Niemackl at the time I made my trip. I struck out on that one. Again, there were birds to be heard everywhere but it was often difficult pinpointing them.
Our backyard birdfeeding station has had many distinctive visitors although not as many this past spring. Two years ago we had rose-breasted grosbeaks. I excitedly called Margaret upon seeing these and asked if this might be a significant (rare) sighting. She said no, that there were pockets of these birds locally.
I also came home one night to find an indigo bunting hopping around in the back yard.
Nobody considers the grackle to be an interesting bird but our family relishes the sight of the first grackles of spring. We also relish later on the sight of the "little grackles" flapping their wings to get their parents' attention in order to get fed.
The nuthatch is a fascinating bird because it's upside down so much on the sides of trees or on a suet cake. Two years ago I noticed two different varieties of nuthatches visiting us through winter. One was a little smaller and red-breasted. I consulted my manual and learned that the red or orange-breasted ones were outside of their expected territory - another example of what Margaret was talking about (the tendency not to be confined).
A couple months later there was an article in the Star Tribune about how the red-breasted (really more like orange) nuthatch was settling outside of its normal range that winter. It's a friendly and tame little bird, often not "spooking" when I go out to tend to the station.
The manual describes the color as "rust red." I should probably consult my old color aficionado friend, Lynn Klyve (now Lynn Clark). Lynn was a co-worker of mine in the print media, an absolutely vivacious and attractive individual. I miss Lynn just like I miss the meadowlark.
I have learned that women don't appreciate it when you seek to describe their hair color after first consulting the Sherwin Williams website.
Back to birds: The nuthatch will wedge a seed into a crevice and pound it open with several sharp blows.
All of these birds are wondrous companions here on the prairie, enhancing the backdrop in a way we might take for granted. But I would be even more invigorated to find our old companion the Eastern Meadowlark giving its distinctive call from fenceposts in the open prairie ground. Just like in the old days.
As for waking up in the morning, that radio commercial was quite effective but this was in the days before I discovered caffeine. The myth back then was that coffee-drinking as an adolescent might stunt your growth. It seems like that stunting business was used by adults in bygone times to discourage youth from engaging in several undesirable behaviors, all of which I wouldn't list here for reasons of taste.
Kids might also be warned they'd go blind. Looking back, I wish I had consumed coffee in the morning because it's a superb jump-start.
As for listening to the radio in the morning, I don't anymore because TV is available 24 hours a day in all its multi-channel glory. We of course take it for granted. It's not like in the days when many of us had but one TV station available: KCMT of Alexandria.
Would a meadowlark call send me subconsciously into my youthful frame of mind? That wouldn't be necessary. I would just like to feel the joy that comes with realizing this colorful and appealing bird is in our area, again
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Beautiful to the east, "spooky" to west?

Here's the "old Alberta road" heading west out of Morris. (B.W. photo)
Morris has probably expanded to the west as far as it can. The ground gets wet out there, and aesthetically there aren't a lot of redeeming qualities. West Wind Village - it still seems more natural and easier to call it the Villa - seems to represent the western edge of the community.
In the late 1970s I jogged to Alberta on the old Alberta road a few times, and found the surroundings to be rough-hewn. I joked with a friend once that I found it "spooky."
The eastern edge of Morris and beyond give quite a different impression. The Pomme de Terre River and Lake Crissy make for an aesthetic bonanza. No wonder so many of the newer opulent homes have sprouted out that way on both sides of the bypass.
I can't imagine why anyone would want to build a new home on the old school property, when there are so many inviting locations out there.
The addition on the east side of the bypass, next to the mill dam road, seems almost to be a community in itself. I marvel at the RV garage that one can see when walking by, using the bike trail. One feels Lilliputian when observing it.
The two huge Skyview buildings (assisted living) couldn't have been imagined when I was in high school and the bypass didn't even exist. The land on the west side of the river was pretty wild back then.
Today the wild atmosphere has survived even though the area has become much more accessible. Many superb homes have sprouted out there along with the bike/walking trail.
The trail has become a very attractive asset of Morris. It affords optimal relaxation and a feeling of escape for people who might be dragged down by the rat race (or the stock market).
For me it provides therapy for my PTSD, helping wipe aside memories of storming a hill in Viet Nam and wiping out a Viet Cong pillbox using hand grenades. Oh, wait a minute, I never served in Viet Nam. I misspoke. I'm sorry.
About the worst thing that can happen to you out there is getting dive-bombed by a red-wing blackbird whose nest is probably close by. But it's certainly not "spooky," not even during dusk. Could our friend "the bear" be out there? You know, the black bear that caused such a ruckus in town when it climbed a tree?
I haven't heard anyone ask what the bear might be thinking of all of us.
Whatever, I don't think we need to worry about being accosted by that bear or any other bear down by the river. I think our city's leaders made sure that bear wasn't going to stick around to scare or hurt anybody.
I still think the bear was shot and that the anointed ones who govern the direction of the community chose to tell a fairy tale. The local corporate media acquiesced.
When you understand small community politics, you know that whenever this kind of scenario occurs, it's expected that you stay quiet and just "move on." It's part of the survival instinct of small communities. Anyone who dissents can get pilloried from any direction, from those saying "you're wrong" to those saying "just shut up" to those saying "it's just no big deal (so forget about it)."
Friend Glen Helberg has joked about putting on a bear suit and having some fun around town. I'd be careful about that, Glen.
One of the reasons Morris seemed torn asunder in about 1988 was an issue that a network of community leaders felt it had resolved, only to find there was a splinter group of leader-types - you know, respectable and obviously non-eccentric people - who opted to dissent and keep pushing.
The book "Raising Roger's Cross" about a 1950s murder in Foley did an excellent job describing small community politics which at the time of the murder had more onerous qualities than one finds today. The typical greater Minnesota small town of that previous era had a circle of well-to-do leaders - everyone knew who they were - who guided the direction of the town and established standards. The book author noted that the poor people of the community were so out of the loop, they weren't really aware of this.
But middle class people resented it. It was a shadowy type of governance class, although there was nothing criminal or even really immoral about it. It just seemed rather deceptive in the eyes of some. And there was the obvious human jealousy that comes from being less well off financially than others.
The fabric is different today as more and more business activity is governed by non-local corporate interests with long tentacles. Doing your business today is less likely to involve a visit to an office in "the business district" than to go online or talk on the phone to someone in Indianapolis, Indiana (as I did recently in connection to an insurance matter).
There are advantages and disadvantages to both models that I've just described. The older, quaint model seemed benevolent and benign but it oozed an authoritarian air too. The new model oozes fairness, as you realize when perusing a typical "employee manual" of the large, non-local companies. But on the down side, these companies are ruled by the gospel of maximum profit and they will apply their cutting scythe to lift the bottom line.
The bean-counting moves can be a great detriment to a small community.
The grassroots entrepreneurial spirit seems to be fading in America. Mostly we're becoming mid-level corporate suck ups.
All these thoughts might filter through my mind when taking a stroll along the bike trail. It's a meditative time. Always keep an eye out for those red-wing blackbirds. But the black bear? You can imagine that in the same way I imagine my Viet Nam experience. Just close your eyes.
But the deer out in that area are most real. They'll stop and be rigid as a statue for a few moments when they see you. Then, with great suddenness, they'll glide away through the tall grass.
Thanks to Myron Syverson for working hard to find out how far a complete "lap" on the bike trail is (the circle that includes both sides of the Pomme de Terre River). Myron determined that it's four and a half miles.
Gazebos and benches are most inviting. Although as a quibble, I could point out that the standard gazebo, unlike ours here, has steps that lead up to an aloft platform. A state of the art gazebo also includes a bench that is far more comfortable than what our gazebos (one at the library too) provide.
At least some of these gazebos were built by prisoners at the now-dormant (defunct?) Appleton prison. I'm sure saws were required in the construction of these wooden structues. I have to laugh at the old cliche of prison inmates receiving a cake with a saw inside (so to saw through prison bars). I wonder if that sign along the road is still there in Appleton advising "do not pick up hitchhikers." Reminds me of the George Clooney movie "O Brother Where Art Thou."
The bike trail has a spur that goes into town and another spur that goes right down to the riverbank. You might see a raccoon crossing the latter spur sometimes. I've never seen a coyote or fox there. I saw a bald eagle, unmistakable with its white head, perched toward the top of a tall tree across from the Pomme de Terre dam a year or so ago.
Kingfishers can often be seen close to the water. I'm fascinated how the blue kingfisher will get a fish and then kill it by whacking it on the side of a tree.
There's a paved path going uphill from the bike trail to the WCROC "overlook." That little uphill spur seems way too steep to actually pedal up. So the idea is to walk your bike up there or to just park your bike at the base and walk up. There is no paved trail, yet, going east through the Horticulture Garden and beyond.
The overlook doesn't particularly thrill me. It's not high enough to really present a breathtaking view of the area. A better view is probably available at a "lover's lane" type of spot immediately to the north of Pomme de Terre Park at the top of the hill.
As for the WCROC Horticulture Garden, I think it might have been sufficient to just have some benches available at the west end. The interpretive plaques are fine. But that "roof," like what might be found over gas station pumps, well, I think it's purely decorative and probably superfluous.
The Horticulture Garden has become a widely known asset of Morris. The heralded wind turbine is close by. Wildlife in all its glory is readily seen as you bike or walk through the area..
But the west end of Morris and beyond? Sadly it seems desolate, not that the farmland can't be productive.
Maybe the old Alberta road seemed "spooky" because of some menacing dogs, perhaps acquired for guarding purposes. I'm not sure whether to fear the dogs or a black bear more.
Or ghosts.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eagles baseball rolls through weekend

The above photo shows Eagle Kirby Marquart hitting safely as the Eagles' first batter Saturday. The Eagles beat Ortonville 6-1 at Chizek Field. Photo by Brian Williams

The weather was quite fine for mid-May baseball involving the Morris Eagles this past weekend (May 15-16). The Morris town team proudly donned its blue colors to vie at Chizek Field. The weather actually couldn't have been better. It was the weekend of the UMM graduation.
There was no need to have the lights turned on for the start of the 7:30 p.m. Saturday game. The sun was out in all its glory as the Eagles and Rox began the contest. The fans who were seated in the permanent stands, along with those bringing their own collapsible chairs (a popular approach for game viewing), watched the Eagles host Ortonville. The Eagles defeated the Ortonville Rox 6-1.
It took a while for the Eagles to build a comfortable margin. A five-run rally in the seventh finally seemed to put this game away. The Eagles batted around in that rally, a rally that included four hits. A couple of walks stoked the cause too.
Leadoff batter Kirby Marquart had two hits and an RBI on the night. He connected solidly for a hit in the first inning and scored the Eagles' first run. They led 1-0 until the fifth when the Rox got the score tied. The Eagles finally got wind in their sails with that seventh inning rally.
Ortonville's bats were kept cool by the reliable pitching of Adam Torkelson. Torkelson got the win with his seven innings of work in which he struck out two batters, walked three and gave up four hits. Craig Knochenmus earned the save. Knochenmus allowed no hits and fanned one in his one inning. One inning was also pitched by Jamie Van Kempen.
Dusty Sauter and Chase Rambow contributed RBI hits. The line scores showed Morris with six runs on six hits and no errors, while Ortonville had 1-6-1 numbers.
The sun was out in its shimmering glory again Sunday when the Eagles' assignment was to play Madison. Ross Haugen's bat was sizzling with four hits in five trips. Eric Asche had a sharp eye at the plate too: a solo home run and a double. The boxscore showed Tony Schultz and Chase Rambow with multiple-hit games. All these offensive heroics were instrumental in the Eagles shooting the Mallards out of the sky. The home fans were treated to an 11-1 win.
The solid-as-a-rock veteran Matthew Carrington showed savvy with six strong pitching innings. He gained his first pitching win of the season. Chase Rambow came on to pitch the last two innings in this game which was shortened by the ten-run rule.
An Eagles spokesman said "It was good to see Chase on the mound after a year removed from shoulder surgery."
A four-game homestand is coming up soon. The Eagles will host the Rosen Express at 7:30 p.m. on May 28 (Friday). Then comes a June 2 home contest against the Benson Chiefs which will have a 7:30 p.m. start.
The June 5 assignment will be to host the Canby Knights (1 p.m.). And on June 9, the Eagles will take to the field at Chizek to vie with the Raymond Rockets at 7:30 p.m.
Bring your collapsible chairs or just park your derriere on the permanent bleacher seats. Morris Eagles baseball will add spice to the summer.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, May 17, 2010

Happy UMM graduation - the way it should be

The photo above shows University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks addressing the 2010 University of Minnesota-Morris graduation, held Saturday. Photo by Brian Williams - morris mn

There was no suspense Saturday as to whether the UMM graduation could be held outside. Contrary to some other years, everyone could look forward to the most pleasant type of late-spring, early-summer day. It really felt more like summer than spring. People massed on the UMM campus mall to celebrate the milestone that each of UMM's graduates was marking.
Parking can be a little problematic on a day like this, so I bypassed motorized transportation. I used two-wheel transportation and could pedal right up to the periphery of the mall.
I used to joke with a friend about how it was clear that spring was here when you'd see hippies flying kites on the campus mall. That seems like eons ago. So long ago, the mall was level, sans any special landscaping, and the level topography would be quite essential when building up speed to get a kite aloft.
Today if you look around the campus you will see a few students who have the outward, cosmetic traits of hippies. I don't intend that as a denigrating label. Hippies were a cog in a significant cultural transformation, the blessings of which seem taken for granted by today's youth.
Today's hippie-appearing kids are a testament though they probably aren't terribly aware of that.
In the wake of all that generational tumult, no longer would "authority" have the tyrannical, oftentimes irrational kind of hold over us. The tumult of the 1960s opened the door for a freer discussion of issues. The issue with the greatest immediacy was the military draft. The draft fed into a war machine that plunged us into sheer hell for what seemed like an eternity - a period of time that just happened to coincide with my most formative years.
As a news media aficionado, I soaked in the rebellion of the times that permeated our culture and fundamentally influenced the news media which at the time were a somewhat monolithic enterprise - no Internet, social networking or other "democratizing" tools. "Social networking" might mean visiting the local coffeehouse.
When TV anchorman Walter Cronkite came out and proclaimed, in a somewhat reserved way really, that the U.S. venture in Viet Nam was ill-fated, it was considered a seminal moment. Cronkite like so many others felt "honor" had to be weighed as we made our exit from bloody Indochina.
Those hippies flying kites saw things more clearly. Viet Nam was something to forget. It was something to learn from. The draft was a miserable anachronism. "Make love not war."
These thoughts began drifting through my mind Saturday when a news report appeared on HLN about a belated commencement out east: Would you believe a ceremony for the 1970 graduates? The original ceremony had to be cancelled. Can you believe that the tumult in our nation was so serious that a commencement ceremony had to be cancelled? Kent State had just happened. Youth were killed by National Guardsmen. It was a scary time beyond anything that today's youth could imagine.
Discontent among youth was reaching a boil. Would the nation simply come apart at the seams?
This nation with its dependably resilient air clawed through the debacle of that era. Most of the principles promoted by the youth of that time pushed through the storm clouds and came to be respected.
Civil rights and the environment became embraced in meaningful ways. We need a generous reminder of that in light of the current debacle of the oil spill.
The military draft ended. Not that the pacifists won completely, mind you. Boomers have been tested sharply through the years in terms of adhering to their principles. We have a sort of "back door" draft system today in which a very disproportionate number of military volunteers come from a socioeconomic background in which options are limited. Military service all through time, everywhere, has been marked by this trait.
The idea of our National Guardsmen going overseas to risk life and limb is a back-door maneuver as well. And the venture in Afghanistan could boil up into a domestic imbroglio. But there are quite few signs of that now.
It's nothing like when UMM was the site for Viet Nam War "moratoriums" that drew impassioned crowds to Edson Hall. I was there for a couple of those, actually by accident. I was junior high-age at the time but had been recruited to fill out the french horn section in the UMM concert band. The regular band director was on some sort of leave. The high school director filled his shoes for a time and I was plucked from the public school.
Band rehearsal was cancelled a couple times to allow for the moratoriums. I didn't get the word and so I showed up on campus. Upon discovering the moratorium, I was gripped and couldn't leave. Those images remain fixed in my consciousness.
The emotions were raw. I remember a professor sitting in front who was either a "hawk" or said the kind of things that hawks approved of. "Hawks" and "doves" were the war debate dichotomy of the time. I wouldn't dare type the name of the professor, who is now deceased, because I'm plucking these observations from my memory through the mists of time. I was just a junior high kid. I would guess the year was 1968 or '69.
All this tumult would continue for another three years or so. So today, as I pass by the UMM campus on a beautiful May afternoon and observe all the festive trappings and ebullient mood among graduates, family and well-wishers, I'm struck by the contrast. I hope everyone realized how blessed they were, living in a time when college is an uplifting vehicle for enhancement and not a way to get a military deferment.
Today's commencement is a multi-cultural celebration. A rainbow of backgrounds are represented.
As I pedaled onto the campus periphery, I heard "Pomp and Circumstance" played by UMM musicians. I should mention that in my junior high adventure with the UMM band, I too played for graduation.
"Pomp and Circumstance" has been a matter of some controversy for Morris Area High School because it has not always been played for graduation. Some parents feel it's essential. School board members have been known to get angry emails when it's not played.
Is the problem that it's too traditional? If UMM deems it fully appropriate to play this chestnut, I think it's quite fine to have for the high school graduation too. There should be no question asked.
Over the many years that I covered the Hancock High School graduation, the band there had a percussion section intro to "Pomp and Circumstance" that scared me, such was its volume and suddenness. I got teased about that.
It's heartwarming beyond words to have been invited to the reception for a Hancock High graduate this year. I got to know this family through my work with the old "dead tree" media.
Graduations and receptions were always uniquely heartwarming because, as the cliche goes, they represent "an end and a beginning" with emphasis on the latter. The arduous challenges of classroom work were completed. Everyone could bask in the satisfaction of that and just take a deep breath. Relatives come from long distances. It's a uniquely satisfying time.
The sun-drenched UMM graduation included a speech from University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks. The student speaker was Bennett Smith of Donnelly. UMM hasn't exactly been a magnet for Morris area youth, so Smith's appearance at the podium had distinction, plus his speech had merit.
Smith was brought to the podium by UMM Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson. Regent Clyde Allen (chair) appeared at the microphone.
The Northern Wind Singers performed "Honor Song" in recognition of the campus's origin as an American Indian boarding school. The lead singer was almunus Gabriel Derosiers.
Jim Mahoney delivered a greeting on behalf of the UMM Alumni Association. The UMM band, 42 years after my adventure in its ranks, was under the baton of Martin Seggelke, and the choir directing was done by UMM's fixture in that department, Ken Hodgson. All that seemed missing was the "UMM Hymn" by composer Ralph E. Williams. But I'm biased on that.
An air of celebration pervaded the reception at Oyate Hall following the formal ceremony.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is The Forum intrusive in MN politics?

Newspaper political endorsements seem quaint today. They are still done, of course, in the same way papers run old comic strips that seem to have no redeeming value. I've read that pulling strips like these cause the phone to ring off the hook from older readers, you know, the kind of people who were once big Boone and Erickson fans (WCCO Radio).
WCCO itself has been buying out most of its established "name" personnel as it continues the retrenchment going on in our legacy media. Eric Eskola was the most recent shocker.
"Dark Star" has moseyed down the road, meaning he'll have to find some other place where he can ask his guests if they sleep in the nude. I'm put off that no one has ever asked me that. The answer is yes. If I offered a discussion forum here, this would be a neat topic.
I would rather know if a newspaper publisher sleeps in the nude than who he recommends voting for in an upcoming election. Even though endorsements represent an old habit for newspapers - the word "old" is so key with newspapers - I'm surprised so many still do it.
There's an obvious risk in alienating some readers. In this age where readership rolls are shrinking steadily, why does the practice continue? My inquiring mind does have a theory. It's ego.
The main reason Rupert Murdoch has begun a price war with the New York Times, it is suggested, is power. The "old" media mogul whose Fox News has become such a stinking dead fish covets power. Power and ego are soul mates.
The topic of newspaper political endorsements came up in David Brauer's blog on the Minnpost site a few days ago. Brauer, a sage media writer, wrote that endorsements by themselves may have little influence. But candidates can use endorsements in TV ads. It builds their "cred."
Brauer noted that "in a close race, even little things can be crucial."
There may be nothing "little" about the endorsement Tim Pawlenty received in 2006 from Forum Communications. I got to thinking about this Tuesday when "TPaw" was one of the talking parrots on the Fox News propaganda network - that "sea of ignorance," as one critic has described it.
Many of the politicians who suck up to Fox News are from the southern U.S., a growing bastion for the Republican Party (a trend that began after LBJ got civil rights legislation pushed through in the 1960s). The deep south seems to bring out a certain impulsive reactionary tendency.
So why is our governor so prominent and able to be part of that gallery? It might, just might, be because of the endorsement nod he received from Forum Communications. This media behemoth, according to Brauer, "owns more Minnesota in-state and border dailies than any other company."
Four years ago it acquired the Duluth and Grand Forks papers. Soon thereafter it put its blessing on Tim Pawlenty's campaign which was engaged in a tight battle with the feisty DFLer Mike Hatch. Off in the periphery was Peter Hutchinson of the Independence Party - no trivial factor either.
But it was Pawlenty who got the nod from a sprawling newspaper chain that has its corporate roots in Fargo, North Dakota. Brauer described the company as "Fargo-based Forum Communications."
I believe the company has at least cosmetically crossed the border to associate itself with Moorhead, but that's a quibble. When you think of the Forum you think of Fargo, and that's not in Minnesota.
So, we may have our Fox News governor because of the Forum. That's no trivial matter, not with the kind of budget tremors and conflict we're seeing in St. Paul now.
Brauer wrote that when Hatch became ultra-feisty and used the term "Republican whore," he was using it vs. a Forum Communications writer, venting in the shadow of that pivotal endorsement that had gone to Hatch's chief foe.
Now, you could argue that this indiscretion was Hatch's own fault. Fair enough.
Hatch's runningmate had a costly indiscretion as well, not being aware of what E85 was. Although, I don't know why people can't freely choose to consume E85, or any other fuel or product, without the guiding hand of government. Poor Judi Dutcher. She'll be associated with that gaffe as much as Dan Quayle with putting an "e" on the end of "potato."
As much as I'm averse to Republicans, I really think the Quayle episode was overblown. If spelling were so routine, how come people turn to their spell-check so often?
The Hatch/Dutcher ticket should have won. Hutchinson siphoned off progressive votes. Our political system in America really wasn't designed to accommodate third parties. We got the sideshow of Jesse Ventura thanks to a third party. His Independence Party got legs because of that.
Ventura has libertarian inclinations many of which I find agreeable. He wasn't up to the grind of holding that high office, though. He took too many things personally. Today he's in his niche simply as a celebrity. It's heartwarming to see him on Larry King Live. He and Bill Maher handle that environment better than anyone. Maher is a political soul mate of mine.
Wasn't it heartwarming to get those "Jesse checks?"
Republicans are currently trying to just absorb the "tea party." That's why Sarah Palin is endorsing Carly Fiorina in California instead of the tea party guy. The tea party is just a novelty that is bringing attention to conservative causes. Republican leaders are humored by it. Cable news can chatter over it.
Because Mike Hatch bears some of the blame himself for the "whore" comment, it's not wise to say that Forum Communications decided the Minnesota governor's race - not in a black and white way anyway. But it's not totally unreasonable either. Here's how David Brauer put it: "In a sideways way, that endorsement likely did decide the '06 race."
Sideways. "Sideways" was a movie I saw at the Morris Theater about a couple of amoral guys, old college roommates, who traveled around wine country engaging in foolishness. Typical Hollywood ethos. Thumbs-down on that one.
When Minnesota votes again for governor, it will be a pivotal time given stark budget realities. So we all ought to watch with interest who gets the thumbs-up from Forum Communications.
The Forum endorsements actually reflect "the political preferences of one man," according to Paul Schmelzer of the Minnesota Independent.
That man is Bill Marcil, and his "leanings are decidedly Republican," Schmelzer wrote in a 2006 piece.
Schmelzer wrote about a spate of newspapers around Minnesota endorsing Republicans like Mary Kiffmeyer, and how one might get the impression that a "Republican groundswell" might be building. Of course it was just the phenomenon of a big newspaper chain, the Forum, putting its blessing on the same candidates everywhere.
2006 was four years ago and the newspaper industry has retreated significantly since. Unfortunately the decline hasn't happened fast enough. We are all getting liberated by the new media which loosen the shackles we have traditionally had with the paternalistic old media.
But just as those old, un-funny comic strips survive, and certain columnists keep sitting down at a typewriter when they should have retired 30 years ago - I won't name names - newspapers survive.
Our troubled economic waters might finally push them over the edge. Oh, and it has nothing to do with quality of journalism. The decline of newspapers has nothing more to do with journalism than the decline of Vaudeville had to do with quality of one-liners.
New communications technology is simply a game-changer. Web 2.0 was a breakthrough point. It has applied a dagger to the one-size-fits-all newspaper product.
We are seeing an unraveling process now with evidence even in West Central Minnesota.
In the meantime, think for yourself on political races please. Minnesota deserves better than having a Fox News governor.
Incidentally, the Forum owns the papers in Morris and Hancock. Think about that if you're a Democrat, please.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, May 10, 2010

The immense importance of moderation

Here are two things people should not do: Climb Mount Everest and run a marathon. People seem to be wising up slowly on the need to avoid such extreme challenges, but it's puzzling why the challenges ever held such allure. Getting healthy is a fully laudable goal. Running nonstop for 26.2 miles is not.
Maybe the apparent financial challenges of our Regional Fitness Center are due to people increasingly seeing no need for such special measures to promote health.
Step 1, and this is a biggie, is to eat healthy. We are waking up after a period in our history when food indulgences went off the graph. It's nice to see people waking up. But paying a hefty fee to torture yourself running a marathon is quite unnecessary.
It's arguable that there is no need to belong to the RFC either. Once you establish a healthy diet, which is probably 80 per cent of the battle, taking a brisk, pleasant walk once in a while is probably all that's necessary. Or, put on some sweats and do a pleasant jog of two or three miles.
Bring a basketball to a public park in Morris that has hoops and backboards. It doesn't take much ingenuity. In the end we all may see the wisdom behind then-State Senator Charlie Berg's formal remarks when the RFC opened: "When I first heard about the idea for this, I wondered what they were smoking." (Berg has always shown a God-given talent for the quotable quote.)
I also remember Brad Pickle, the RFC's first manager, mistakenly saying "Stearns County" instead of "Stevens County."
Having expressed this skepticism, I should note that I contributed $1000 to getting it established. But I have had no interest in actually using it. In the old days there was the "UMM Sports Club" which gave you access to the P.E. Center for exercise purposes, for a fee that would now look absolutely token.
Fees for everything got jacked up during the go-go years of the U.S. economy (pretty much the 1990s). There was a time when speeding citations were accompanied by a token fine - nothing to make your eyes bug out. Today a ticket can cause a personal financial crisis, and simple negligence with not wearing your seat belt can bring on the same circumstances - ridiculous.
With a lot of people really hurting in the current economic travail, some of these standards might have to be loosened. By the same token, people will be less likely to pay a huge fee for having access to the RFC facilities, terrific those facilities may be.
Will the City of Morris even find the funds to tear down our old abandoned school, or start the much-ballyhooed "green community?" I'll make a wager with you on the latter. I don't think we'll ever see it.
How much damage to town morale results from the old school looming - empty, cold and haunted - in the middle of town with no immediate plans for anything to be done about it. As I've stated before, the funds for tearing down the school should have been included in the package that we voted on for building the palatial new one.
My inspiration for that came from Mr. Glen Helberg, a fountain of wisdom with whom I share breakfast on many mornings. Now we have to pray that the RFC doesn't end up just like the old school. I don't know to what extent the RFC might have patched up its financial chinks in the armor since its director went into a public passing-the-hat mode.
Helberg suggested that when all else fails, the University of Minnesota would just move in and completely take over the RFC. I have to wonder about that, because the state's financial challenges seem to ring of real genuineness this time. It's not the kind of "cry wolf" austerity that sometimes is projected. It seems we are nearing a time when government at all levels will have to start applying a machete.
I look at the courthouse remodeling project in Morris and just shake my head. What an incredible mess over there now. Just think if the new jail had gotten pushed through as well. It's scary to contemplate.
The courthouse was a perfectly good building without any wholesale remodeling. I feel sorry for First Lutheran Church which is right next to the current shambles of the remodeling process.
I had to visit the district court office in the construction zone - surprisingly it hadn't relocated to City Center Mall - and almost found it dangerous navigating through. I know now what Tarzan feels like swinging on vines through the jungle.
I didn't even find the people there very courteous. Instead of saying "can I help you?" they just attended to their work as if I wasn't there. I had to get their attention. I think I started out saying "excuse me" in a sarcastic way. Sorry. Maybe working in a "war zone" like this brings on a distant temperament.
The people who stopped the jail proposal here are saints. Think how close it came to going through.
If you follow the news, you'll know that the future model of government work will have less - much less - reliance on bricks-and-mortar assets, as many people can work off-site (like at home), using the amazing tools of our new communications technology. The private sector has been adjusting right along with these trends, of course. The government sector? That can be a little more pokey, but some shining examples have emerged through the news media.
Prudence will ultimately triumph, just as we have seen with people shying away from extreme exercise (e.g. the ten-kilometer run) and opting for more sensible pastimes. Marathons seem to be holding their own. But there is a trend here too: a greater emphasis on just finishing the route instead of pushing yourself to achieve a certain time.
I was told this by someone whom I interviewed toward the end of my career in the local "dead tree" media. It was someone I interviewed for a home improvement special section. He was proud of simply having run a marathon and wasn't particularly concerned with time. To that I give a hats-off.
But why 26.2 miles? It still seems to defy reason just like climbing Mount Everest. When it became known that Mount Everest was in fact the tallest point on earth, it was human nature that dictated people would want to climb it. Many have died doing so.
Whoever decided the marathon running distance was something magical did a great disservice.
Many small towns once had 10K and 5K running events, often in conjunction with summer festivals. There are fewer runs like these now, and many have eliminated the taxing 10K distance which is 6.2 miles.
The last organized run I did was the 5K offered by St. Cloud State University for its 2006 Homecoming. It's annual. Incidentally, Brad Pickle was the event manager. I hope he knows what county he's in now.
Running the 5K (3.1 miles) gave all the physical challenge I could possibly want. Assuming you push yourself reasonably hard, it's a fully adequate physical challenge.
I did notice price inflation in connection to these run events. It had been several years since my previous organized run, and I found the new pricetag to be totally unacceptable. I don't care if you get a computer chip thingie to put in your shoes. I can do a three-mile run on my own for no cost anytime.
It might even be more fun to watch a 5K.
But the price is remindful of the speeding and seat belt citation fines I cited earlier. The slumping economy is going to force an adjustment in all of this, and the Regional Fitness Center might have to be sacrificed at least temporarily. Because, I don't think the state can always be counted on to come along like some big Sugar Daddy.
And if Republicans get elected it's Katy bar the door.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, May 7, 2010

Not backing down on fate of "the bear"

It seemed we had everything but a helicopter hovering overhead when our bear friend settled in a tree in north Morris. It turns out all sorts of agencies were represented in attending to the scene.
The University of Minnesota police? They were there, according to the online writing of our city manager. I asked a friend with whom I had breakfast Friday why the University police would have to be involved.
"Maybe the bear was drunk," he said. Rimshot.
With all these law enforcement brains coming together, I'm sure there was no risk to be allowed in how this episode came to an end. The only way to prevent something bad happening was to dispose of the bear.
Sarah Palin might have suggested shooting the bear from a helicopter. Evidently she has been known to go after wolves that way, or to endorse the practice. Her endorsements these days don't have the imprimatur of the Alaska governor's office. I guess they're on Facebook.
Seriously, the Alaskan would no doubt be fully aware of the danger bears present.
Lest you think this is an unserious and rambling blog post, I would argue to the contrary, as I would eschew the kind of levity that has been evident in some official statements. The city manager wrote that "the bear did leave on his own, probably back to where he came from."
That's a pretty imprecise statement. Our manager, Mr. Hill, seems to just want us to think the bear is out of our hair now and went to somewhere where he can find contentment in an element where he poses no danger.
Again, all those law enforcement brains put together would never agree to such an assumption. Can you imagine their embarrassment, shame and fear of losing their jobs if that bear had made its way into town again and caused trouble? Or gone onto the highway and caused a motorist to swerve off the road and roll over his vehicle?
If we accept the official story, we might wonder: Did the officials coax the bear in a manner to leave town to the north as opposed to any other route? There are people living out there. Like me. Cimaroc Kennels are out there. And senior citizens.
At that late hour (essentially middle of the night), it's unlikely anyone would be outside, but you can never assume anything. I've been known to have the dog outside in the middle of the night so he can take care of his business. Everyone acknowledges this bear had been hurt through being struck by a car, the question was how badly.
No, I don't think the bear went "back to where he came from" (a curious existential type of statement). And I don't think we need to be concerned about what route he may have chosen on his way out of town.
I think the Sarah Palin solution was enacted sans helicopter.
The law enforcement people couldn't find it within themselves to tell the public (and especially the children) that. Why? It's partly because we don't understand the true reality of bears. They have been practically nonexistent here.
You might want to talk to people who live in the wild country around Duluth. I doubt that any of them would suggest you should approach a bear like it's a big, fluffy friend. The bear in Morris was given the name "Fluffy."
It got a Facebook page, although I confess I'm not into the Facebook culture so I'm not certain of what all is entailed by that. I only belatedly started this blog.
The final nudge for starting the blog came with the Morris newspaper becoming once a week instead of twice. The obvious retreat of the legacy media, to the point where its only mission seems to be to extract as many ad dollars as it can while it's still on its feet, has opened a void that online journalists such as myself can fill. Our city manager, perhaps unwittingly, is doing that himself through his blog.
Blaine Hill's blog, incidentally, is linked on the site you're reading now. Look on the right hand side.
Am I overreacting to the bear episode? In answering no, let me illustrate by pointing out that notorious incident where a chimpanzee pet chewed a person's face off. There has been more than one chimp incident like this.
Wildlife experts will say that chimpanzees (and the hippopotamus) are among the most dangerous animals to confront if they're in an ornery mood.
The animal handlers in Hollywood know all this, of course, but they shape a make-believe world in which animals are given human-like qualities and become the object of our affection. Aren't chimps charming? You might think so if you consume popular media. Didn't Ronald Reagan - RIP - star with a chimp in the movie "Bedtime for Bonzo?"
I have read that chimps in entertainment are young, neutered and drugged. I wouldn't doubt that Reagan as a precaution wore an athletic cup type of protector (for the genitals), based on what I've read about how chimps attack people.
Chimps are intelligent only by comparison to other animals, although sometimes I think they might be the ones running the political "tea party" movement. After writing that, Palin might direct her helicopter pilot to track me down.
Elephants are cute and fascinating in the circus, right? And then we have bears. . .
Oh my, the entertainment industry has made bears into the most charming creatures. When I was a kid I watched "Captain Kangaroo" which included "Dancing Bear." We had the Muppet Show with Fozzie Bear. Pooh Bear is a much-loved figure from children's literature.
Who can forget the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears?" The name "Goldilocks" was revived in the 1990s as, of all things, a term related to the U.S. economy. So often when the stock market shot upward (common then), we were told it was the result of the "Goldilocks effect." The economy was neither too hot nor too cold, it was "just right."
On Thursday of this past week, given the quake of sorts in the stock market, maybe we could coin the term "yo yo economy."
Maybe chimpanzees would do the best job picking stocks now. I'll have to ask my old boss Jim Morrison about that.
Wild bears are strangers to us out here on the prairie. Given our unfamiliarity, it's easy to think we might let our guard down and smile at the knowledge of our new "visitor." Our city manager reported daycare providers bringing their kids to the vicinity of the treed bear, hoping to get a glimpse.
At some point our very competent Police Chief Beauregard probably winced and said "why me? Why did this bear come into our lives here and create this predicament? Where on earth did he come from."
Officials who were on the scene know there is virtually no chance "Fluffy" will re-visit Morris. I'm quite certain the DNR made sure of that. The DNR took a cold, hard look at the situation here and knew there were no alternatives.
Perhaps they asked the other officials to leave the scene at the time the drastic action was taken. Jim Beauregard wouldn't have to be an eyewitness. This would make it easier for him later to spin that little tale of the bear "moving on," as if some bum who wasn't able to stay.
Was any damage done to the car that had the encounter with the bear? If so, the driver must have had an interesting subsequent conversation with her car insurance rep. I imagine that insurance companies wouldn't be too accepting of a bear making its rounds in the community.
Most of us were just plain amazed when we heard about this black bear. There are too many benign images of bears from entertainment in our head. The bear is stereotyped as a friendly, passive, dim-witted oaf. Just as chimps are "cute."
The person so horribly attacked by the chimp may have let her guard down because of the popular images. Professional wildlife managers (like at the DNR) and wildlife handlers in entertainment know the cold, hard truth. Remember the Sigfried and Roy incident in Las Vegas involving the tiger?
Animals follow their instincts and can be unpredictable. I once had to get medical attention because of a dog bite, applied by an animal that I treasured dearly (and still do). The doctor was perturbed at how long I waited to come in. I felt bad about the dog being in a position of having a finger pointed at him.
If this 40-pound animal can send someone to the clinic, I wonder what a big, wild and wounded bear might do.
So would all these committed public servants monitoring our bear visitor just allow him to mosey along? You don't believe fairy tales, do you? Well, apparently many people do.
There are skeptics in Morris about the official story but they seem to be the minority. On Friday morning at McDonald's I discovered some support for my position as we perused the house newspaper (Star Tribune) and came upon the headline about a bear that was shot at a Twin Cities area golf course.
It was a large headline: "DNR: Bear had to be killed." And the subhead: "The male black bear that wandered onto the Manitou Ridge Golf Course posed a threat because it was too close to too many people."
I doubt that our venerable DNR would want to put Morris area people at any more risk than in the Twin Cities.
"Police had no choice" but to kill the golf course bear, the article stated.
I feel that was the bottom line here too. I'm not sure why a cover story of the bear's escape was necessary. I would be infuriated if this was a wink-wink, nod-nod agreement between local officials and the local corporate news media. It would be very inconsiderate. But I wouldn't rule it out.
Media people are the self-appointed guardians of public morale. It's good for ad sales. No one wants to read about this supposedly lovable bear, "Fluffy," being shot. So let's have a happy, fairy tale type of ending.
"Fluffy went back to where he came from."
Maybe it would be more constructive to have a teachable moment for young people. It would be a good lesson on nature, mortality and danger.
And on the chance that the official story is actually true (the odds of which are the same as for the cow jumping over the moon, I feel), kids shouldn't be any more inclined to approach wild animals or judge them friendly.
Nature has its perils. We like being surrounded by plenty of it.
But we need to acknowledge all the realities.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The bear in Morris brings speculation

How did a bear end up in a tree in Morris last week?
Yeah, I know, he got kicked out of the bar.
Actually I don't know if it was a he or a she, but this animal caused quite the flurry of commotion. Never mind that we're in the country and wildlife ought to be seen as the norm. We associate bears with the north woods and I gather they are relatively rare there. So how did Mr. Bear end up on our usually uneventful prairie?
Was it a wild animal at all or had it been raised in captivity? Did it get out of someone's possession by accident? If the answer is no, then is this animal a sign of things to come here? I can remember as a kid when Canada geese were rare and you'd look skyward with amazement if some came overhead. The cries of those geese seemed to resonate right from the bosom of nature.
As years went by the population of geese grew to where it was hardly a novelty to see them. The late local author Doug Rasmusson, whose wit and perspective are greatly missed, called them "sky carp." That really stuck with me because I remembered so well the days when geese were a novel and thrilling sight, just as with bald eagles today.
In the last few years a bald eagle nest has become established along the Lake Crystal shore. I saw a bald eagle by Lake Crystal when emptying leaves at the city compost pile. I also saw an eagle perched high in a tree across the water from the Pomme de Terre dam a couple of years ago.
Eagles are the national symbol (because Ben Franklin lost his argument on behalf of the turkey) but they are predatory - a status that usually does not win affection. If eagles multiply locally, be sure to keep an eye on your small dogs and cats.
How dangerous is a black bear? I don't really know, but I know they aren't as dangerous as grizzlies. Our friend who visited last week was reportedly hurt through an encounter with a motor vehicle. That could change things in terms of this animal being dangerous. It also makes plausible the suggestion that he was shot and killed at the end of this episode.
What? That isn't the official story, right? By week's end we were told that Mr. Bear, who had reportedly been nicknamed "Fluffy" (presumably by a young observer), had come down from the tree and moved on.
But what other story could the police have possibly told us? With the bear having become a sensation in the community, no scenario involving a shooting death could possibly have been reported.
Do I actually suspect the bear was shot? Yes. I heard this rather authoritatively, actually, when I arrived at the McDonald's restaurant Friday morning. I have a good sense feeling out street rumors and this talk seemed to have the stamp of legitimacy.
I took my seat there assuming that the bear had been dispatched. Cruel as it may seem it was understandable. If authorities were to allow an injured bear to continue making his rounds in Morris (whether he went back to the bar or not), there would be liability issues. I'm sure that the assigned officials were governed by liability issues every step of the way.
But wait, weren't there people who saw the bear leave? Here we might call in Jesse Ventura of the TruTV show "Conspiracy Theory." My theory even addresses the very long wait we all experienced as this saga lingered. Many people felt consternation about the sheer length of the wait.
Mr. Ventura might suggest that authorities knew the bear was going to have to be dispatched. But there would have to be a cover-up! No way could our police chief go on the local radio to say "Fluffy" had been shot.
Given this absolute fact, the authorities had to scramble. I think they had to arrange for a domesticated stand-in bear to be brought here. The stand-in would then amble along as if he were "Fluffy," bringing an agreeable end to this riveting episode in our Mayberry-like community.
Barney Fife could smile contentedly in the role of our Chief Beauregard. Gomer and Goober could get back to work changing oil. Otis would write off the sight of the bear as merely an image from his drunken stupor. Drunks are funny, right? Well, not any more.
Chief Beauregard seemed a little too glib telling the "official" story through the media. It reminded me of those TV newscasters on Christmas Eve who report that Santa Claus has left the North Pole.
Mayberry, I mean Morris, had its share of gawkers through his episode. And there are now people monumentally angry about the gawkers or "rubberneckers." Oh c'mon, I can't blame people at all for wanting to get a glimpse of this rare animal.
Willie's Super Valu reportedly got a spurt of extra business as it was right next door. Given that Willie's essentially has a monopoly in town now, I'm not exactly sure what could cause an uptick in business there.
Another theory to weigh is that the bear was a domesticated animal encouraged up that tree by the UMM sociology department in order to study the community's reaction.
What would "Ranger Smith" have done? Boomers grew up with the Yogi Bear cartoon in which Ranger Smith was the sober authority figure - the straight man as it were. I imagine he represented the kind of authority that kids were supposed to defer to as they grew older. But boomers ended up terrible at respecting authority, at least for a while.
Ranger Smith was always concerned about Yogi and the other bears stealing a "picnic basket." BooBoo was Yogi's likable but dimwitted companion.
"What about the Ranger?" BooBoo would always say.
Well, I think the Ranger may have had to get out his rifle Thursday night here in Morris, perhaps a rifle with a silencer - maybe that necessitated the wait - and end this little adventure in the only legally acceptable way.
Sorry, kids. And get Jesse Ventura on the phone.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com