"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)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Morris Legion boys knock cover off ball

Morris 15, Wheaton 6
The Morris Legion baseball team showed it could be explosive again when it disposed of Wheaton Monday on the road. The Post #29 boys crossed home plate often beginning right in the first inning (a three-run rally). Morris duplicated that rally with three more runs in inning No. 2.
The momentum continued with two runs in the third, one in the fifth, four in the sixth and two in the seventh. When the dust cleared after this offensive showcase, it was Post #29 in the winning position in the 15-6 final. It was the eighth triumph this summer for the Morris boys, many of whom were key players in the Morris Area High prep spring campaign.
There was a memorable home run barrage in the Wheaton game. Dusty Sauter knocked the cover off the ball with round-trippers in the first and second innings. Each of these blasts was good for two runs. Eric Riley found a pitch to his liking in the first inning and turned it into a gopher ball. Riley's round-tripper was a solo job.
Tyler Hansen touched 'em all in the fifth inning with a solo blast. Brady Valnes followed that up with a solo home run in the sixth, and Morris had truly demonstrated that it's a team to be feared in the power department.
Hansen and Sauter were the main cogs in Post #29's offense, each with four hits, and they drove in nine runs between them.
Eric Riley was a resilient pitcher as he had to deal with some control issues in his seven innings of work. He walked seven batters but he also set down 12 on strikes. One of Wheaton's runs was unearned, and Riley gave up seven hits.
Tanner Kirkeide was the losing pitcher, and Will Budtke also pitched for Wheaton.
The line scores showed Morris with 15 runs on 16 hits and two errors, while Wheaton put up 6-7-1 numbers.
On to the boxscore numbers, where Alex Erickson had a one-for-four day with his hit a double. Alex crossed home plate twice and he drove in two runs. Tyler Hansen attacked Wheaton pitching for four-for-six numbers, plus this Post #29 star scored three runs and drove in three, lifted by his power bat. Dusty Sauter was nothing short of a terror as he doubled and had the two over-the-fence jobs, all part of his four-for-five day with two runs scored and six ribbies.
Eric Riley's solo home run was his day's highlight. Brady Valnes enjoyed his solo round-tripper as part of his two-for-four showing. Nate Gades doubled and scored two runs. Ethan Bruer had a hit in his only at-bat.
Cole Riley socked a double. Travis Rinkenberger had a hit in his two at-bats. Riley Wilson was Wheaton's top offensive producer.
Morris Legion baseball is savoring more opportunities to send the ball rocketing, to left, center, right, whichever direction, just a long ways!
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Afghanistan and our puzzlement about war

Isn't Afghanistan turning into something like a bad dream? Weren't the old Soviets painted as evil for "invading" and fighting there? Shouldn't we fear that there's truth behind the saying that "Afghanistan is where empires go to die?"
Just because there's historical precedent, does that mean we have to follow it? Don't Americans in their 50s and 60s know full well how a military venture like this can turn into a tragic sinkhole (like Viet Nam)?
Why is it that the American war narrative has never really seemed the same since the end of World War Two? The Second World War has come to be known as "the good war." That war was of course horrific and deadly for countless people.
Americans saw the need to rise up and assert their inherent goodness, cultivated through the opening of a virgin continent, and stomp out naked evil. The narrative seemed so clear and non-nuanced. And the atomic bomb was developed just in time to apply a decisive exclamation point.
It has never been the same since. How we would like to see the American military engage and prevail in story lines like in WWII movies of the mid 20th Century. Robert Mitchum might be the leading actor. Mitchum gained fame and presumably great riches telling the story of U.S. trial and triumph in "the good war."
We were supposed to feel moved at the end of "The Longest Day" when the Mitchum character briefly took his attention off all that was going on around him to sniff a cigar up and down before lighting it up. A who's who of stars was in that movie. It seemed ironic to be entertained by such an historical episode out of hell. Tom Hanks insisted on a less sanitized version for "Saving Private Ryan."
What kind of soldier would Robert Mitchum have been, or Hanks? Hollywood is known as "the dream factory" for a reason. I wrote a couple months ago how Hollywood can take dangerous wild animals and make them seem charming and innocent on screen. The prime example was the chimpanzee. My writing at that time was inspired by the mysterious black bear that wandered into Morris. I don't think we've ever been told the whole story about that bear - where it came from or its fate.
In that sense our local corporate media may have become a "dream factory." Pure citizen journalism could have pulled down any curtain.
Hollywood has taken an event that was straight out of hell - the D-Day invasion - and crafted well-known movies from it. The violence is offset by our impulse to cheer for "the good guys."
The impulse is never so strong as when we view Pacific Theater movies that show our revenge objective in the wake of the barbarous Pearl Harbor "ambush." The definitive movie here is "Tora Tora Tora." Again we see entertainment crafted from an unspeakably horrible event.
But the narrative of our inherent goodness and inevitability of triumph was impressed on us further. In this sense we were entertained in the same way as with the older cowboys-and-Indians movies. There are parallels in these narratives, not perfect but detectable.
A less civilized, non-white force would commit a barbarous act only to be overwhelmed by "the cavalry" at the pivotal moment. Cowboys vs. Indians was a long-lasting genre in our "dream factory."
Was this a whole lot different from Pearl Harbor and how America subsequently rolled over the enemy? The narrative was satisfying on screen and in reminiscences, fitting comfortable American (and Anglo-Saxon) parameters. The ultimate triumph was something we could count on. The mysterious enemy would fade.
Then along came Korea and the parameters started getting a little muddied. Any doubt was removed by Viet Nam.
In dribs and drabs we have tried, desperately really, to rationalize that current events can fit the old narrative. Exhibit 'A' would be the first Gulf War in which our media and pop culture obsessed as if to re-create WWII itself. All this was embodied in how Whitney Houston sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.
But I think we all had subconscious doubts about that interpretation. We were fighting soldiers who couldn't surrender fast enough. Much of it was like a turkey shoot. And we basically left Iraq intact. That bothered the son of the president, who eventually became president himself - he had learned the racket - and pursued his grudge.
The jury is still out on the Iraq War. The sheer cost of that war is weighing on us now. Saddam Hussein was probably nothing more than a regional nuisance. The media made him larger than life and created a portrait of the quintessential villain - yes, non-white - which I would argue would do Hollywood proud.
Once this "badness" was identified we had to eradicate it just like our cavalry once did. But real life is messy and can be tragic. America's enemies have learned how to not just be bowled over. We cannot engage in nation-building, or if we do, lots of humility awaits. Our economy cannot sustain it. Even columnist George Will feels this way.
The old narrative of America spreading good as if by whim isn't practical anymore. We must be vigilant but we can't just swarm the beaches with landing craft. We must strive to understand cultures different than ours and to make compromises in a complicated world.
We have a non-white president which I think is profoundly troubling to a lot of people. They won't say it, and the media shies away from this theory. But there's an undertone of racism in the incessant drumbeat of criticism from the right wing in America. It's dangerous, maybe just as dangerous as the shadowy enemies outside our borders.
It stands in the way of consensus-building that is such an important ingredient in our stability. I might even suggest that God might punish us for this.
There was consensus after Pearl Harbor and the Nazi conquests in Europe. Nothing could have stopped us. I'm reminded of John Wayne in "The Longest Day" bellowing "send 'em to hell!" - a line that at the time pushed the envelope a bit.
I remember seeing "The Longest Day" at our Morris Theater. Movies like this spawned war toys and backyard war games that in retrospect seem weird and troubling. Faux hand grenades that worked with cap gun caps?
Did our parents just blot it out or were they being indulgent with their precious "baby boomers?" They knew full well the hell of war.
World War Two is now receding further into the past. Clinging to that narrative as something meaningful for the present is getting harder, perhaps impossible.
Defeating the bad guys doesn't seem to work like it used to. Conflicts are more nuanced and with enemies that are shadowy and difficult to understand. The enemy that we are fighting in Afghanistan has largely re-deployed into Pakistan.
Author Tom Engelhardt would argue that Afghanistan is continuing the "triumphalist despair" that has befallen us ever since the Hiroshima bomb. Engelhardt wrote a book, copyrighted in 1995, called "The End of Victory Culture - Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation."
I read nearly the whole book but I'll quote from the jacket where we can cut to the chase. This book is "an autopsy of a once vital American myth: the cherished belief that triumph over a less-than-human enemy was in the American grain, a birthright and a national destiny."
Engelhardt provides "a compelling account of how a national narrative of triumph through which Americans had always sustained themselves as a people underwent a vertiginous decomposition from Hiroshima to Viet Nam."
That was a span of just 20 years - Hiroshima to Viet Nam.
Now it's Afghanistan. And the end doesn't look pretty.
Why don't we just leave? But I would have said that in 1965 regarding Viet Nam.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Morris Legion team scores often in wins

Runs weren't scarce for the Morris American Legion baseball team (Post #29) in triumphs this past week.

Morris 18, Brandon-Evansville 5
The high water mark was on Thursday when the Post #29 boys won with ease over Brandon-Evansville. Morris took control in a big second inning in which eight runs came home for them. The squad batted around as twelve batters total brought their sticks to the batters box.
The 8-0 advantage that Morris owned when the dust cleared might have been enough. The boys stayed focused and accomplished a repeat of that rally in the third frame. This time a total of 15 Morris batters came up to bat in a rally that generated nine runs.
The score stood 17-0 and when the game was completed (abbreviated by the ten-run rule), the score was 18-5. Morris upped its record to 6-3 with this road success.
Dustin Sauter was in the groove with four runs-batted-in. Dustin came at Brandon-Evansville with three hits as did mates Brady Valnes and Mitch Kill. The Morris line score showed 18 runs on 13 hits and three errors.
Eric Riley made a big statement with his bat, connecting for a triple that drove in three runs. This offensive clinic also included a two-RBI double by Nate Gades in the third frame.
A lot of familiar names from the spring MAHS baseball campaign are surfacing in the Morris Legion baseball summer. Like Tyler Hansen, who scored two runs and connected for a hit. Nate Gades finished with two-for-three numbers including a double, plus he crossed home plate twice and drove in three runs.
Mitch Kill was a sizzling three-for-four including a double, plus he scored three runs. Brady Valnes went three-for-four with one of his hits a double, and he drove in two runs. Dustin Sauter led the charge in the boxscore at three-for-five, two runs and four ribbies. Eric Riley stole two bases to go with his triple, three runs scored and three RBIs.
Phil Krueger had two hits for the host Brandon-Evansville squad.
Three pitchers worked for Morris and it was Nate Gades getting the win with a stint of three innings. Nate struck out two batters, walked none and allowed two hits and zero runs.
Brady Valnes and Dustin Sauter each had his pitching arm called on for one inning. Brady gave up five runs but none were earned. He gave up three hits. Dustin set down two batters on strikes, walked one and gave up one hit and zero runs.

Morris 9, Clinton 1
The Monday story had the Post #29 crew excelling at home, disposing of Clinton 9-1 at Chizek Field. They spread out their run-scoring more than in the B-E game.
They scored in every inning but one, taking advantage of frequent Clinton lapses in the field.
Fielding was indeed a huge factor in the outcome, as Morris committed zero errors compared to Clinton's seven.
Morris was able to score its nine runs without knocking the cover off the ball. Morris finished with six hits compared to Clinton's five. Seven walks buoyed the Post #29 cause further.
Alex Erickson had a hit in his only at-bat. Tyler Hansen socked a double, drove in a run and score three. Dustin Sauter turned on the jets to steal two bases, plus he doubled and scored two runs. Ryan Beyer stroked a double.
Cole Riley had an RBI as part of going one-for-three, and Nate Gades finished one-for-two.
Logan Nordley had two hits for Clinton.
Three pitchers got work for Morris and it was Nate Gades getting the win with his stint of two innings. Nate fanned three batters. Alex Erickson also hurled for two innings and he racked up four strikeouts. Travis Rinkenberger fanned two batters and walked one in his two-inning assignment.
Jesse Weick was the losing pitcher.
Morris got going in the first inning with three runs scored and followed that up with one each in the second through fourth innings and three in the sixth.
Fans are anticipating a lot more offense-colored games as Post #29 strives for more victories in the 2010 summer.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Let's find common ground for the Fourth

There is a timeless quality about July 4 celebrations, although I wonder about the quality of patriotism in the year 2010. The incisive quality of political arguments today makes me wonder how bonded we truly can feel as Americans.
Most of us have no trouble exhibiting the proper spirit. July 4 should be a time to put aside divisions and feel thankful for our united, bountiful nation. The vast majority of Americans will take a break from political bickering and assert pride in the USA.
The reactionary political right threatens that ability to come together. The "tea party" along with charismatic personalities like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin threaten to pull the rug out. There is nothing new about abrasive voices like these. The John Birch Society had a notorious but short history. One of the reasons for its demise was the rejection it received from more temperate and reasonable political conservatives, led by William F. Buckley.
There is always an element out there inclined toward Bircher-type rhetoric. These people have learned how to seize the media. The likes of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity try tripping up our democratically elected administration on a daily basis.
The problem is that the criticism isn't in the spirit of a loyal opposition. In the case of Hannity it's a nit-picking and relentless partisan assault. Sean, why not do a cooking show sometime just to take a break?
In the case of Beck, the tone is mocking, maniacal and sensational.
Why should we care so much about Hannity and Beck? Because they have a platform on Fox News. Fox puts progressives (or liberals, or whatever you want to call them) on the defensive in ways they don't deserve. It makes one wax nostalgic for the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, when the fur could definitely fly politically (at the proper times) but there was no prevailing air of all-out combat.
Political differences could be compartmentalized. Call it civility. Today you have to wonder if the far right wants to pull the rug out from under America itself.
We have here in Minnesota a Republican-endorsed candidate for governor, Tom Emmer, who appears to be a "Tenther" - a movement asserting the 10th Amendment as grounds for states to not follow Federal legislation. States rights has historically been a movement associated with the Deep South. But the far right is percolating everywhere now.
The state that produced Paul Wellstone and the "Minnesota Miracle" has also produced Bachmann and Governor Tim Pawlenty. The "Miracle" brought little controversy and actually much praise, even though it was redistributionist in nature. The likes of Bachmann and Emmer would pillory such ideas now. And that's really the problem - the tone of the rhetoric and the us-against-them attitude.
"Caribou Barbie" Palin drones on about the "lamestream media" but I'm thankful for a media that doesn't wear ideological blinders from the right.
As July 4 approaches I wonder if patriotism can really be transcendent again, for one day anyway. It's a cliche that "America has always pulled through." How wonderful if we could make that assumption. But there is a first time for everything, like America losing a war (Viet Nam). And there's an old saying: "Afghanistan is where empires go to die."
Should we not be concerned about the potential for truth in that saying? Should we maybe heed it? Shouldn't we maybe just put aside our weapons of war and try to improve the well-being of people in that ravaged part of the world, so they aren't so inclined toward hatred and conflict - traits that are so often borne of ignorance?
My thoughts reflect the "Code Pink" organization.
Wasn't this approach a big part of attacking racism in the Deep South? Isn't this readily grasped when watching the movie "Mississippi Burning?" We worked to lift people up primarily with education and then broadened economic opportunity. We saw tragedy and bumps in the road, but inroads have been significant.
Surely we cannot create a perfect world. We cannot even create a perfect America. Progressives at least realize that government must be an active instrument helping people at the margins of society have some stability.
Progressives also realize we cannot just stomp out all our enemies, that we live in a messy world where harmony is often elusive. The U.S. couldn't "rub out" Communism in the Viet Nam War. In its aftermath we found that the sky didn't fall. Communism began imploding on its own.
Mikhail Gorbachev once expressed puzzlement at the term Communism itself. Perhaps it was a term largely manufactured in the West. "Gorby" shrugged and said the term, in his mind, was little more than the equivalent of organized crime.
All the fear mongering that the Birchers once peddled seemed so shallow and ignorant.
A glance at the calendar shows that July 4 is nearly here. I can't ponder the holiday without having these political thoughts. How nice if the old Reagan/O'Neill model for civil disagreement could prevail again.
Few among us, even progressives, look back with any regret over the election of Reagan in 1980. I remember attending the Glenwood Waterama parade one year and seeing a character with a Reagan mask step out of a limousine and wave. Everyone smiled and applauded. He was conservative but he was fundamentally gentle and caring. Those attributes always came through. He would never pounce on Barack Obama, only express polite (but articulate) disagreement.
I think Reagan would feel befuddled watching someone like Sean Hannity every night on Fox News, as Hannity labors to portray every twitch by the president as something profoundly wrong.
And Glenn Beck? Reagan would want to switch to the Weather Channel.
July 4 in Stevens County means going to Hancock. I miss greatly the media role I once played in sharing the day with that community. I miss the hamburger and soft drink I'd get at the 4-H tent at the tractor pull. By then I'd feel dehydrated after taking in the parade under the midday July sun.
I was always greatly impressed by how well the Hancock band marched and played, considering this was their only "gig" of the summer.
Often I would tell people that it would be great if the Hancock band could perform for Morris' Prairie Pioneer Days. I was told that too many of the kids would be gone. It might also be embarrassing if Hancock had a marching band in the Morris parade and the Morris school couldn't produce one. (Well, here's my little violin.)
There was a time when Morris High had a thriving marching band program. There was a director named Schaefer and then a guy named Woell who I played under. We traveled pretty far and wide like to Winnipeg, Canada.
Musically I don't think the experience enriched us that much. We would just play one tune (or "chart"). But the discipline of performing as a unit on the move was the real benefit along with the sheer camaraderie.
Eventually marching band became a tougher "sell" because kids developed other interests. Athletes (or their coaches) decided that sports camps were a must.
The sudden growth of girls sports put girls in the same position of using summer for that purpose. I recall summer marching band having a brief comeback for Morris (Area) in the mid or late 1980s, when a guy named Schmidt directed. But it seemed uphill, as if the school and parents were doing this just to prove it could still be done.
It's back to being dormant now. Is that a good thing? Well, there are other learning experiences in summer that have more substance than blaring out the same marching band tune over and over.
So we can live without the brass.
A few schools have fought to survive with marching band, like Litchfield. Nothing wrong with that. The parades where they appear surely appreciate it.
The Hancock band greatly enhances July 4 there.
Hancock July 4 has all the elements for a successful celebration. Beyond the band, parade floats and baseball, though, is the togetherness among families as they gather in backyards on lawn chairs. I fondly remember walking across town and seeing so much of this, and exuberantly exchanging waves with some of the people as they spotted me.
Through all those years I never stuck around for the fireworks.
Once July 4 is done, we can contemplate the home stretch of summer and how the county fair isn't far off. And after the fair the new school year beckons.
Hopefully we can feel harmony as a nation as "the routine" plods forward. Hopefully the more strident political voices can recede and we can embrace more of a Reaganesque, temperate conversation on our national issues.
Maybe 20 years from now we can look in the rear view mirror and say "remember Glenn Beck? That guy was nuts. Whatever became of him?"
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 21, 2010

Boomers: a lifetime of being marketed to

The term "baby boomer" seems overly broad in order to apply really meaningful analysis. Definitions can be vague and confusing. In a strict sense these people (including me) were born between 1946 and 1964.
Nebulous though the definition might be, the term has gained widespread usage. We must have recognizable spots, those of us born during that rather wide swath of time.
I have mentioned previously here that U.S. Senator James Webb has no time for the term. This politician who benefited from a Republican opponent's racial comment gaffe, would shrug and say the term is essentially meaningless. Sen. Webb says the boomers are bonded only by the coincidence of when they were born. That seems like irresistible logic.
But the boomers were subjected to stimuli that brought out distinctive, and in some limited ways counterproductive, behavior and attitudes. Having done some reading on the topic, I found a passage that jumped out at me - something that was somewhat buried in the item I was reading.
This quote was attributed to someone named Steve Gillon (no credentials cited) and it reads: "From the time they were conceived, boomers were dissected, analyzed and pitched to by modern marketers, who reinforced a sense of generational distinctiveness."
Television really bloomed in the mid-1950s and it was an aggressive tool for marketing. Saturday morning cartoons were not immune (hardly). Many boomers, even when very young, were fully aware of what was going on. In other words, they knew what all the marketing was about and how it manifested itself in otherwise innocuous entertainment.
This is what led to the popularity of Mad Magazine. The title of the magazine is short for "Madison Avenue" (the advertising/marketing hotbed of that time).
The mass entertainment so vigorously parodied in the magazine was revealed as a sort of lowest-common-denominator opiate that would attract eyeballs for marketers. Why do you think the satires were so funny? (I remember "The Virginia Ham" as a takeoff on the NBC western "The Virginian.")
Another item that struck me in my reading was the liberation brought by the transistor radio. With this tool the boomers could make their own music choices free of parental influence or censorship. What a difference this made! The Beatles and the Motown sound could be appreciated unfiltered.
I remember that in my neighborhood, the radio station of choice was KDWB, "Channel 63," with deejay "Tac" Hammer spinning the vinyl 45s of groups like The Association (with their "Windy," "Cherish" and "Along Comes Mary").
The sound was so alien to any musical fare that our parents might have appreciated. The difference was so profound, it's almost disturbing to reflect on it. The new music was raw.
Boomers have been allowed to define themselves. They grew up during a time of relative affluence which gave them the luxury of evaluating the world around them in broad and altruistic terms, as in their push with the environmental movement. "Iron Eyes" Cody was iconic with his crying face in that "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcement, remember?
"Iron Eyes," who was actually Italian and not Native American, surfaced in my memory last week as I was following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. "Iron Eyes" is no longer with us but his tears would never be more appropriate than now, what with the oil spill reaching such tragic proportions. His original tears were brought about by some mere litter tossed from a passing motor vehicle.
Litter can be cleaned up pretty routinely. The oil spill? Boomers were supposed to lead the way preventing this sort of thing. We are associated with idealism. We surely grew up trumpeting grand causes and inclusiveness. But I wonder if we're really so vigilant now.
Once associated with left wing politics (as in "the new left"), the boomers have decidedly drifted away from that posture so that politically at least, we seem not really different from other generations. The Wikipedia entry for "baby boomers" suggests that these people "are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values." But then is added: "But this is disputed."
I would suggest that boomers didn't so much throw off the yoke of authority or orthodoxy, rather they tweaked it so open discussion and dissent were more palatable or even encouraged. I remember Bill Walton on an ESPN talk show going on at length about this. The basketball great who went through a "hippie" phase said the young people of today don't realize how unpalatable the idea once was, of basically questioning authority.
While the same authority channels are well established today, there is a prevailing understanding that it is not tyrannical and that we can discuss different opinions or interpretations without being tossed aside.
The "hippies" (a loose term that applies to a lot of superficial traits many of which were hardly more than silly) were an in-your-face gesture to an older population that didn't want to discuss nuances in our societal institutions or issues of the day. Older people felt that if the U.S. deemed it necessary to have a Selective Service system and to conscript boys to fight abroad, we had to respect it. This was the most contentious issue of the formative years of many boomers.
By sheer force of numbers, the boomers were able to move some mountains with those societal institutions. Cultural and racial boundaries evaporated as we sought to move forward as a harmonious, enlightened society.
Today the demographic bulge known as the boomers has retreated from any new battles and is dealing with simple issues of age and survival. We are not immune to the inroads of age and the simple survival challenges it brings.
Our commitment to diet and exercise, so far beyond what our predecessors would have embraced, do not make us immortal. We will grow old and die.
We have long resisted the image of nursing home care, choosing instead to think in terms of "assisted care" if we need it.
It's just a case of the boomers being smart-alecks again (smarter than our elders, but not really). Because: we need to realize that when the time comes for us to seriously consider "assisted care," we will have some very serious problems, likely beyond what "assisted care" can address. A book on the new non-fiction rack at our Morris Public Library informed me that "assisted care is more a philosophy than an established body of practice." It seems less foreboding but it may not be as practical or within reach as we think.
The spectre of old age unpleasantness is out there. We need to approach it with the same courage as our elders, for whom we seem to feel more affection as time goes on (as in "The Greatest Generation" moniker).
We can only hope that the kind of social safety nets we were famous for promoting when young (when flirting with the "new left") are strong enough for us and that the young folks like us enough to make sure we can age with minimal adversity.
Let's see, we were always nice to you youngsters, weren't we?
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 18, 2010

Eagles baseball wins 7-2, ups record to 7-5

The above photo shows Kirby Marquart scoring a run for the Eagles during early-season action at Chizek Field.

The Morris Eagles shook off the bad feeling of two straight losses by defeating the Starbuck Stars 7-2 on Wednesday, June 18, at the Minnewaska Area field. The win lifted the Morris town team two games over .500 in season record, to 7-5.
In league play they sport a better win percentage at 6-2.
Mark down Friday, June 25, for when the squad resumes its summer of 2010 play; they'll play at Wheaton against the Walleyes (8 p.m.).
Against the rival Stars on 6/18, Morris pitchers dealt with a strike zone that seemed small. They worked hard to keep the Stars from building a sustained rally.
The Stars were thwarted as they left 14 runners stranded on the basepaths.
Andy Lembcke pitched six innings and picked up the win. Andy dealt with his share of adversity as he walked six batters and gave up four hits. But he only allowed one run which was earned. Lembcke's strikeout total was five.
Matthew Carrington strode out to the pitching mound to work the last three innings. Matthew gained the save and he like Lembcke had to bear down with runners on base. He issued four walks and gave up two hits, while striking out three batters and allowing one run (earned).
The Eagles scored two runs in the third inning, two again in the fourth, one in the fifth and two in the ninth. Starbuck scored one run each in the fourth and seventh.
Ross Haugen delivered offensively as expected of the No. 3 batter in the order. Haugen pounded out three hits in five at-bats and scored two runs. Bobby Culbertson, formerly a U of M-Morris Cougar and now in his rookie Eagle season, stole a base while going two-for-four and scoring a run.
Other offensive contributors were Jamie Van Kempen (two-for-five), Kirby Marquart (one-for-four, two RBIs and one run), Cory Marquart (one-for-three and an RBI), Chase Rambow (one-for-four and an RBI), Dusty Sauter (one-for-four, one RBI, one run), Matthew Carrington (an RBI and a run scored) and Andy Lembcke (one-for-three and a run).
Cory Marquart and Andy Lembcke each drew a walk. Flawless fielding was an important factor leading the Eagles to victory. Their line score had a zero under errors. Starbuck, by contrast, committed four errors.
The Eagles outhit the Stars 12-6.

Prior to the win: setbacks
The Friday, June 11, story was bleak by comparison. Morris Eagles baseball was dealt a humbling shutout 4-0 by the Chokio Coyotes at Chokio.
Kirby Marquart accounted for two of the Eagles' (meager) five hits, and he finished two-for-four. The other hits came off the bats of Ross Haugen, Eric Asche and Andy Lembcke. Walk recipients were Adam Torkelson and Matthew Carrington.
The Chokio pitchers looked very comfortable working at their home field. The Eagles went down on strikes ten times vs. a tandem of three Coyote hurlers. Adam Torkelson pitched gamely for Morris in the losing cause. Adam was tagged with his first pitching loss of the season, after having gained three wins. He came out of the day having logged 32 2/3 innings on the season and with a still-solid 2.48 ERA.
The day was significant for the Beyer name as Ryan entered the Eagles' fold, playing his first game in the bold blue color. He follows a tradition that includes brother Adam Beyer. Ryan got a rather non-hospitable welcome as he came up hitless in three at-bats.
Andrew Loher stole a base.
Chokio scored one run each in the second and fifth innings, and two in the eighth. Chokio played errorless ball while the Eagles had one fielding miscue.
Morris Eagles baseball made a strong bid to win its Wednesday, June 8, game against Raymond at the home Chizek Field. The Eagles trailed 3-1 before summoning some offensive "mo" in the seventh to take the lead with a three-run rally. A key blow was Dusty Sauter's two-run single. That tied the score at three-all. Sauter is an Eagle rookie and came out of this day with a team-best nine RBIs along with a .326 average.
Ross Haugen pushed the Eagles into the lead with a run-scoring single.
Raymond was blessed by some special good fortune in the ninth. The night sky spelled some trouble for Eagles in the field trying to spot fly balls. You might say it was just as challenging as a Teflon roof (what the Twins used to deal with at the Metrodome).
This bugaboo painfully surfaced twice with two outs. There were detrimental consequences. Raymond coupled this good fortune with a double and single that began that rally. It was a surge that spelled their eventual 6-4 win.
Chase Rambow took the loss on the mound with his stint of two innings. Chase gave up five hits and three runs (all earned) while striking out one and walking none. Andy Lembcke hurled for four innings and this Eagle's numbers were: two hits allowed, two runs (one earned), five walks and two strikeouts.
Jamie Van Kempen put his pitching arm to work for three innings and this Eagle gave up three hits and one run (earned) while walking no batters and fanning one.
The offensive contributors for Morris were Kirby Marquart (two-for-five and a run scored), Dusty Sauter (three-for-five and two RBIs), Ross Haugen (one-for-five and an RBI), Craig Knochenmus (three-for-five), Jamie Van Kempen (one-for-three), Matthew Carrington (two-for-three including a double, plus a run scored) and Bobby Culbertson (one-for-three and two runs).
Haugen and Van Kempen turned on the jets to steal bases.
Maybe if I stop making wisecracks about Matthew Carrington's age, I can actually get some stuff linked on the Morris Eagles baseball website. And as Jim Bouton once wrote, "add dreams of glory."
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Surely the boomers can agree on this

(". . .and stop calling me Shirley.")
I knew it was risky wading into the Israeli-Palestinian issue in a recent post here. Even my bold declaration at the start that I'm not a racist wasn't sufficient protection from some vitriol, as it turned out.
One of my fundamental assumptions was questioned. A critic stated that the Jewish people are not a "race," rather they represent a religion. I was also told that I shouldn't try to speak for my generation - the boomers - on the subject.
Inspired by Dave Barry, I asserted that boomers have gotten weary of the drumbeat of conflict-ridden news from the Middle East. I suggested that almost any resolution to the conflict would be welcomed by the boomers if it would make the conflict go away.
We grew up with the Viet Nam War and it went away. We grew up with inflation and it went away. Richard Nixon went away. Those were festering, irritating and even tragic matters but ultimately they faded.
Now that the boomers are pushing down the door of retirement, we're wondering if the Middle East could ever become a relatively placid place without such stifling conflict - so stifling it's nigh impossible sometimes to have a reasonable discussion about it.
I don't care what the Bible says. Unspeakable suffering has been caused by religion down through the ages. Those who say the Jews are fulfilling some sort of divinely-crafted grand plan are in a world I cannot relate to. It's not a world of reason and logic. It's the kind of thinking that can throw gasoline on a fire.
Many evangelical Christians embrace that thinking. It's a supreme irony because in the very long run, they would argue that Jews aren't saved anyway. They only seem to serve some sort of short-term purpose.
This perspective is so alien to me, I have a hard time describing it. Jews join hands with that evangelical element (typified by John Hagee) because they like the short-term advantages. They disregard the bad news - damnation - at the end. I don't blame them for seizing the pragmatic angle.
Preacher Hagee emerged as a curiosity in the 2008 presidential election campaign after he endorsed Republican John McCain. McCain made the mistake of accepting it. Hagee was on the record making some comments very offensive to Jews even though he was an ardent crusader for their current Israel aims.
Reading about Hagee's taped comments that "Hitler and the Nazis were sent by God to chase Europe's Jews to Isreal" is enough to make me want to embrace famous Morris atheist PZ Myers.
I haven't gathered extensive background on Myers' beliefs but I think it's safe to say he asserts that much suffering in the world has been inflicted in the name of religion. Hagee's comment should put up a red flag and be shunned. But a man like this commands so much attention from the pulpit.
The campaign controversy was a good lesson for many Americans. McCain had to reject the endorsement.
Vince Bugliosi has written that one of the reasons for the horrific 9/11 attack was America's historic strong support for Israel. It wasn't as George W. Bush explained it so condescendingly: "The terrorists hate our freedom."
If the U.S. support of Israel were based on empirical-based aims and diplomatic logic, fine. But religion had better not be the buttressing element. My point when writing previously was that if the Jews "going home" could end the headlines about suicide bombings and the like, it would be a good thing.
The "going home" suggestion was put out there by journalist Helen Thomas. The fact that she was destroyed within hours as a professional proves my whole point. The intensity of this conflict is disturbing and has given an unfortunate backdrop to the boomers' life experience.
Consciousness of race or religion has never helped people get along better. The opposite has been quite true.
I'm no theologian nor social scientist. But I have the impression that Jewish people are highly motivated, setting high standards and valuing education. It would be nice if they could find their place in the big scheme of things without the need for a refuge nation like Israel.
Was Thomas saying, in effect, "it's safe to go home now?"
Is the strife of the 1930s and 1940s, which afflicted so many others in addition to Jews, distant enough in time now? Are the causes of World War Two, including profound economic strife (leading to despotism), no long relevant - not to be repeated?
Has our world civilization advanced beyond such unspeakable misery and conflict?
One would hope "yes."
Maybe neither I nor Dave Barry speak for all boomers, but one can hardly relish a continuing drumbeat of intense conflict in the Middle East. The suffering of the Palestinians is sad. One of the reasons that George W. Bush could portray Saddam Hussein as a terrorist was Hussein's apparent sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers. No one can defend those bombings. But I don't think Americans wanted to launch a war on the basis of this.
Mark Dayton is now campaigning for Minnesota governor proudly claiming that he voted against the Iraq war.
Israel should fight its own battles for as long as it can. And if in the end they have to "go home," it might be a resolution in the best interests of everyone - religion be damned.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 14, 2010

Maybe baseball doesn't want "perfection"

I don't know what is more embarrassing: 1) an umpire blowing a call that would have sealed a pitcher's perfect game, or 2) major league baseball being on the threshold of its third perfect game within the first three months of the season.
When I was a kid, the perfect game was a most elusive gem. You might expect it as often as a rare comet.
No-hitters are special but not nearly so rare. A no-hitter simply means allowing zero hits, so batters can reach by other means and no blemish is applied. A pitcher could even lose the game.
There's one very clear criterion for pitching the unicorn-like perfect game: facing the minimum number of batters. For a nine-inning game, that would be 27. An error by a teammate would spoil everything.
Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was a hair's breadth from the feat recently when an umpire's call intervened. A harmless ground ball seemed to be handled just fine by the Tigers. It wasn't a wholly routine play, though, because the pitcher had to scramble to cover first base. The camera angle from behind first base seemed to suggest the throw beat the runner. This has truly become the consensus.
From the pitcher's side it's really not all that clear. I painstakingly studied the play from that angle and found this play not to be so cut and dried, when you consider all the elements that go into declaring an out.
I sort of wish umpire Jim Joyce hadn't capitulated so readily in the firestorm that developed in the aftermath. It seems so depressing to have the veteran umpire (just one year younger than yours truly) so unabashedly saying "I blew it."
Joyce was standing just a few feet from the first base bag. I'm puzzled why he wouldn't at least give the benefit of the doubt to the defensive team given what was at stake.
"Just punch him out," Willie Geist of MSNBC TV's "Morning Joe" said the next morning.
If it seems puzzling, maybe we should peel through the surface and speculate. Maybe major league baseball isn't so thrilled at the idea of a succession of unicorn-like perfect games, which could turn that animal into a more pedestrian type. There's also the issue of whether fans really want to see that much defense.
Maybe Joyce and his crew wanted to make sure there wasn't a scintilla of doubt about a particular play in order to have the third perfect game of the season. It's conspiratorial, yes, but it's an explanation for why Joyce would "go against the grain" as it were. (Conspiracy theories have always been permitted on "I Love Morris.")
For the short term, fans wanted to see history. The question is whether this would become a watered-down type of history, making one wonder how the powers-that-be tinker with the game. It's a fact they do tinker with it, as when they lowered the pitching mound for the 1969 season.
These pitching perfectos would be remindful of the frequent home runs of the McGwire-Sosa era - too much of a good thing as the repetitiveness set in. McGwire-Sosa (and throw in Barry Bonds) did have the short-term effect of bringing baseball back after the catastrophic 1994 strike.
The '94 strike taught me to live a normal life in summertime without stats and standings to peruse all the time. The home run derby of McGwire-Sosa injected enough of a thrill to pull enough fans back into the fold to where they'd at least pay attention again.
I can live without it. And I'd be scared to again invest emotionally in the game when the rug could get pulled out from under me (a la '94).
The home run derby of the steroid era is dimming in our collective memory. Home runs seem much more earned now. So now we see pitchers like Galarraga in control, having honed their craft through years when the steroid threats were still looming at the plate. In other words, pitchers became that much sharper. They are still showing that sheen, while hitters seem to have become more mortal.
We see this vividly with Galarraga having nearly tossed the third perfect game of the season. Prior to this year, never in the modern era had two perfect games been thrown in the same season!
Is this the new "rush" that fans are expecting now? Dominant pitching instead of the ball flying out of the park? If yes, they're getting their wish with the new phenom pitcher with the Washington Nationals. They can also expect to see games that don't last nearly as long.
The movie "Bobby" about the assassination of Robert Kennedy included a character who had a coveted ticket for a game that would have Don Drysdale pitching. Drysdale was striving to continue a miraculous unscored-upon streak. He and Sandy Koufax were formidable pitchers for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Drysdale's streak came during what came to be called "The Year of the Pitcher."
Fans got bored with all that pitching success. To this day I'm mystified why adjustments couldn't have been made during 1968 to inject a little more offense. It was a tumultuous and tragic year for America. But that guy with the ticket in "Bobby" just wanted to enjoy baseball and baseball history. He was a humble kitchen worker, probably Hispanic. Legal or illegal? Nobody talked about that much back then.
The fans at the recent Galarraga showcase wanted to share in the same thrill as sought by that kitchen guy.
The news Monday morning had umpire Joyce receiving some sort of umpiring excellence honor. That's OK. He's a "middle boomer" like me so I root for him. But he can't hold a candle to the umpire character played by Leslie Nielsen in the movie "Naked Gun." Maybe what we needed on that close play at first was the Nielsen character's rapier-like eye and flamboyant gesture declaring the batter "out!"
Does anyone else find it amusing to see Nielsen in a non-comedic role from his heyday of serious acting (like in "The Poseidon Adventure")? Don't you instantly want to imagine him reciting lines like in the movie "Airplane?" Isn't this now a big distraction in those older movies? It's a testament to Nielsen's talent that he could be so effective both in serious and pure comedic roles. As an umpire he was not to be topped.
The Galarraga-Joyce controversy surely elevates the replay proposal again for reversing calls that seem errant. This is never as easy to apply as it might seem. Why do you think the NFL took so long and then carefully put one toe in the water at a time, as it were? There's a gap between theory and practice.
Tags applied on runners as the runners' feet arrive at a base could never be clearly adjudicated by replay. You'd need about three different angles on some of these. It could become a Pandora's box.
As long as there's no strike or work stoppage in big league ball, I'd be satisfied with the basic product, even though my emotional attachment was permanently severed due to the 1994 strike. It's all for the better anyhow because emotionally rooting for sports teams sows seeds of letdown, and it's fundamentally immature.
I don't shed tears about the "Drew Pearson push-off" anymore. And I sat there sober and contained when Brett Favre made one of his "Bad Brett" plays (the devastating interception) against the New Orleans Saints in last year's NFC title game.
Life goes on. If only the same could have been said for Robert Kennedy.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 11, 2010

That's Kevin Hansen getting stage kudos!

I'm giving away my lowbrow orientation here by immediately thinking of Milton Berle. Kevin Hansen may have little familiarity with the irreverent pioneering TV icon. But if he does, congratulations.
Kevin's name is prominent on the front page of the Variety section of today's Star Tribune. He like the late "Uncle Miltie" has no inhibition about crossing the gender line to make a dramatic impression.
What is it that makes Kevin the center of attention here? I was informed this afternoon that Kevin once had a very lively presence on the U of M-Morris campus. I have to believe that I crossed paths with him at least once, but I can't immediately place him. It probably doesn't help that he has such a common name.
I'm very happy to see that this UMM graduate contributes to Twin Cities theatre in a dynamic way. The Star Tribune headline reads "Putting the man in Mame," and in the subhead we learn of the "Uncle Miltie" parallel (if not inspiration), as "Kevin Hansen dons the wig again for a turn as the iconic dame in Minneapolis Musical Theatre's (MMT) production."
My tipster informed me that Kevin came to UMM from a quite small town in South Dakota. Kevin immediately impressed peers and professors here with an air that seemed beyond his background, not that a diligent young person can't find the tools to become refined anywhere (especially today in the age of the communications revolution).
I'm told Kevin was a 1980s mainstay in UMM theatre, long before all the tech inroads gained traction. How could young people even get by then? My, they did just fine.
Perhaps the young Hansen was a bookworm. (Is that becoming an antiquated term?) Perhaps library resources filled the bill as he groomed his credentials for maturing at our local campus. He went on to enrich theatre and campus life here in a way that my source says ought to be easily remembered.
And if his name were to be more distinctive than "Kevin Hansen," I might perk up and say, "oh, yes, I remember." Because I frequently took play rehearsal photos at UMM's HFA through the years. There are many memorable characters, not to mention the "Chairman Mao" warm-up routine that I was warned several times might not be suitable for reporting in the community media.
Today Kevin is a pillar with the Minneapolis Musical Theatre. The troupe is polishing the classic "Mame" for performances at the Illusion Theater. Hansen has refined the Uncle Miltie approach of donning women's clothes, as "Mame" represents his third foray into that cross-gender challenge.
MMT is a "small troupe that specializes in cheeky, irreverent staging of musicals," according to the Star Tribune article by Graydon Royce. Kevin, whose looks as a faux woman make him superior to some former dates Royce can recall, once played Miss Bible Belt - a character in "Pageant." On the heels of that success, Kevin reprised the drag look for the role of Albin in "La Cage Aux Folles."
Milton Berle sought nothing but laughs in his drag escapades. But for "Mame," the portrayal takes on a serious sheen, more than Kevin's previous drag roles. Kevin says the MMT is approaching "Mame" as "an honest character" and not a caricature. But writer Royce feels that's a little tough to pull off.
"Mame" is the heroine in a mid-1950s novel and she immerses herself in the Bohemian life. The role has a long background of noted artists taking a shot at it. First was Rosalind Russell in the late 1950s. The best was yet to come, thanks to the infusion of the musical talents of Jerry Herman. Herman crafted the very familiar musical version that put Angela Lansbury in the spotlight at a time when her career needed a boost.
This 1966 version took off like a rocket and lasted for over 1500 performances. Alas the road hasn't been without a pothole, as in 1974 there was a version with Lucille Ball that added nothing new to the interpretation.
Looking back, the Lansbury interpretation with the attitude it projected seemed to provide the healthiest inspiration and platform for Hansen's new portrayal.
Lansbury's "Mame," according to Royce, "exuded outrageous optimism and an avid lust for adventure."
MMT artistic director Steven Meerdink likes the "elan" projected by the images Lansbury left behind, and Hansen will strive to re-kindle that intangible appeal in his well-schooled way, employing tools and perspectives instilled in him at UMM way back in those 1980s.
Meerdink is avoiding the angle of mining humor from the sheer novelty of "man playing woman." That would be too much Berle-like (Berle-esque?) But Meerdink isn't shying away from an outrageous sort of imagery either.
You get the impression that Hansen is the straw the stirs the drink with this project. He left such a strong impression from "La Cage" that his current flourishes onstage are inviting great anticipation. His sheer talent is just as important as the script.
Hansen himself knows the role isn't a simple cake-walk and he has to be careful lest it become simply camp (or drag camp).
"It's up to him as an actor," Royce wrote.
Surely he has the tools because of the enrichment gained at UMM and beyond.
Hansen was quoted saying "this is about the character of Mame."
Royce added "and himself."
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Was Helen Thomas so far off base?

I suspect that boomers can't find it in themselves to feel much anger or outrage toward Helen Thomas. We grew up with her. She went toe-to-toe with the ogre of our young and formative days, Richard Nixon, in press conferences.
She was the quintessential hard news reporter, often given the privilege of asking the first question at press conferences.
Thomas became persona non grata overnight because of what certainly came off as a harrowing transgression. But was it? She expressed an opinion. Did she say "I hate the Jews?" No. There was nothing racist per se in her comments. One had to infer any such odious intent, but I made no such inference.
Before I proceed further, let me emphasize that I don't have a racist bone in my body, and if I happen to write something that seems outrageous, you might chalk it up to naivete.
When Thomas talked about how the Jews of Israel should "go home," it seemed to me ironically laced with warmth, as if Thomas were suggesting a gushy, happy ending to a period of adversity. Like Dorothy talking about going "home" in "The Wizard of Oz." And E.T.? What could be better than to go home.
The horrific wheels that turned to persecute Jews in the mid-20th Century would appear gone now. Moreover, if Jews were to follow Thomas' suggestion, wouldn't it relieve the world of the horrific strife known as the Israelis vs. Palestinians?
Baby boomers have lived their whole lives with the drumbeat of that uniquely hate-filled conflict giving a backdrop on the evening news.
Who speaks for the boomers? Well, Dave Barry comes close, and I remember this scribe venting once about the repetitive nature of distressing news reports out of the Middle East. His complaint was about their very repetitiveness. It's a news story and it has its place, but there was such a cacophony of depressing reports on violence over there - incidents with the same features.
Do we want our children consuming the evening news with this supplying such a drumbeat? As time went on, Jewish advocates decided they didn't even like the term "suicide bomber." They protested outside of the Star Tribune building in Minneapolis.
First of all, this is a nitpick. "Suicide bomber" was a term created to be descriptive. The willingness of a bomber to take his or her own life would seem to be the distinguishing feature of this type of act. Journalists seek precision and clarity, so the term seemed helpful and illuminating.
It was totally innocent, but the Israel advocates saw things differently, of course. They felt the term might engender some sympathy toward the bombers. They preferred the term "homicide bomber" even though it seems ridiculous on its face. It's redundant for one thing. Any "bomber" is probably going to be striving to kill people. I'm sure journalists were irritated terribly just having to deal with the matter. I remember the Star Trib's ombudsman writing on the subject and following my line of reasoning.
I have read that journalists get nervous any time there's a new flareup of conflict involving Israelis and Palestinians. Because no matter how they craft words to try to simply report, there will be critics (mostly Israel advocates) who scream bloody murder about some nuance being not quite right. This seems just as irritating and unnecessary as the phenomenon that Dave Barry was talking about.
I really think the boomer generation is fed up with it. And if the Jews "going home" could just relieve us of that - wipe it off the radar screen - we would be oh so happy. We'd have to pinch ourselves to see if we're dreaming.
When I was a kid there was the term "melting pot" that was put forward as an ideal. America was a "melting pot" in which we could disregard our ethnic or racial differences and come together as one society.
Academia eventually put the brakes on that and thought it better to emphasize "diversity." Diversity became one of those buzzwords on college campuses for a few years. It asserted that we indeed should be aware of ethnic and racial backgrounds but we should all treat each other nice anyway. But isn't that "the long way around the barn?"
Isn't it more practical and uplifting to just encourage everyone to accept each other?
Maybe the "melting pot" ethos was too simple to be swallowed in academia. It made too much sense.
Has the diversity fad passed on, now, like so many of the trendy things in academia?
I suspect that the No. 1 thing pervading academia today is fear - fear about its very existence as our society gets rocked by tech-fueled progress and communications inroads. The only "trend" on campuses now might be doing or saying anything to make happy the people who manage their purse strings.
Anyone who truly embraces the melting pot isn't going to be aghast at what Helen Thomas said. She said the Jews should get out of Palestine and go home. And that finishes her off, as if she really needed to keep working anyway (at age 90).
I think it says something about the decline of the legacy media that people like Helen Thomas, Sid Hartman, Barbara Flanagan and Andy Rooney hang on. For goodness' sake, why?
And it's sad they hold on to their plum media positions when obviously there are so many young, energetic journalists eager to ply their trade.
The young ones can always find a niche online. But the ancient icons of the legacy media move along like Old Man River. They are at an age when they could have been retired 30-40 years and enjoying it. Journalism seems almost like a drug to these people and I don't mean this in a charming way. They get addicted to the sense of power and entitlement that they think they have. Obviously they don't have near the power they used to.
One reason they're allowed to hang on so long is that the legacy media owners know that their industry is in a passive retreat. There's no need to aggressively groom a new, younger generation for those roles.
Helen Thomas was the quintessential female pioneer.
"She came to the White House to cover President John F. Kennedy at a time when female reporters were largely expected to write about the First Lady's social calendar," a Star Tribune article reported.
The National Press Club didn't even vote to admit women until 1971.
1971! Can you believe that?
And now we're supposed to be aghast over Thomas merely expressing an opinion, an opinion that doesn't seem racist on the face of it? I'm more aghast at the 1971 milestone for women to be acknowledged as legitimate reporters. Thomas deserves nothing but admiration.
I grew up as a naive boomer in the Upper Midwest who would have a hard time describing what a Jew really is. We knew the Jews of Israel had this general named Moshe Dayan who wore a really cool eyepatch, just like a pirate. And that Mel Brooks could make some really funny movies. He was proud to assert his Jewish heritage.
The Isreali-Palestinian conflict seemed distant, mysterious and really irrelevant to us. We knew something terrible had happened to the Jews at the time of World War Two but we had a hard time understanding why.
Since WWII was long over, maybe it was time to just move forward with the melting pot ethos. Maybe the Jews could in fact "go home."
Dave Barry speaks for all of us in wanting to be relieved of the drumbeat of depressing and violence-filled news stories from the Middle East.
When I was a kid I thought the Viet Nam War would never end. And then I felt inflation would never end. But both did. So why can't we expect a similar end or fading of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Let's move this along for the benefit of future generations. It could be another part of Helen Thomas' legacy. Maybe it's "Somewhere over the Rainbow" but it's within reach, really.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, June 7, 2010

Eagles put together 3-game win skein

The above photo shows the Morris Eagles making a defensive play at second base during early-season action at Chizek Field.

The Morris Eagles stayed on a roll Saturday at home, downing Canby 6-0 to up their win skein to three. Fans at the home Chizek Field enjoyed this win by a shutout flourish.
Matthew Carrington, at the top of his game at a time in life when many players might at least be thinking about senior ball, pitched seven innings. "Skip" set down five Canby batters on strikes, walked only one and gave up four hits.
Chase Rambow and Craig Knochenmus each pitched an inning and kept the shutout intact.
Cory Marquart was the Eagles' leadoff batter and he was in the groove, nailing three hits in four at-bats, driving in a run and scoring two.
It's also ideal to have the No. 3 batter in the order producing, and this individual was Ross Haugen. Ross went three-for-five with one RBI and one run scored. Others joining in the ten-hit attack were Adam Torkelson (two-for-four, one RBI and one run), Dusty Sauter (one-for-four and a run scored) and Eric Asche (one-for-three).
The Morris line score had zero in the errors category, so all in all it was a most encouraging performance, continuing a stretch of upbeat play. The squad scored one run in the first inning, two in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh.
They came out of Saturday owner of a 6-3 overall record and 6-1 showing in the Land O' Ducks League.
The June 2 story had the Eagles building up their momentum with a 5-1 home win over the Benson chiefs. Doubles resounded off the bats of Adam Torkelson and Matthew Carrington, and a triple resonated off Chase Rambow's bat.
Rambow and Carrington each had two hits as did Jamie Van Kempen. RBIs were contributed by Kirby Marquart, Craig Knochenmus, Dusty Sauter and Matthew Carrington (with two).
Adam Torkelson put his reliable pitching arm to work and gained the win, going seven innings. Adam gave up one run which was unearned. He struck out four Chiefs, walked two and allowed two hits. Andy Lembcke pitched the other two innings and this Eagle gave up no hits and no runs, walked two and struck out three. The Eagles scored three runs in the fourth and one each in the fifth and sixth.
The Morris town team began its three-game streak with a resounding 19-6 win over Rosen on Friday, May 28, also here. The big innings were the fifth and eighth in which Morris scored five runs each.
Carrington hit a home run and racked up five RBIs along with four runs scored. "Skip" was also the winning pitcher with a stint of five innings. (I'd like to know what kind of nutritional supplements this guy might be using.)
Also pitching were Jamie Van Kempen and Eric Asche.
Ross Haugen had a sizzling bat with three-for-four numbers, three RBIs and one run. Dusty Sauter had a keen hitting eye and this Eagle finished three-for-five with one RBI and three runs. Cory Marquart had a hit in his only at-bat and he drove in two runs while scoring two.
Eric Asche's numbers were two-for-three, one RBI and four runs. Adam Torkelson joined the onslaught socking two hits in three at-bats, driving in three runs and scoring one. Bobby Culbertson scored two runs as part of his two-for-four day. Jamie Van Kempen had a hit in two at-bats and crossed home plate twice.
Andy Lembcke went one-for-three with an RBI. Josh Griffith had an RBI and a stolen base.

Prior to the streak, some frustration
The news wasn't so rosy from the Eagles' world in the games leading up to the recent stretch, as they were dealt defeat by New London-Spicer and Dumont. The Eagles visited Spicer to face New London-Spicer on May 26 and came out on the short end, 11-6.
NL-Spicer struck early with a three-run first inning rally but the Eagles evened things up with one run each in the first through third. But the rest of this game saw the host pull away as NL-S plated two runs in the fourth inning, one in the sixth, three in the seventh and one in the eighth. The Eagles had a "garbage time" rally in the top of the ninth (three runs).
The Eagles played sharp defense (no errors) but couldn't contain the NL-S bats. As for their own hitting, no one on the Eagles had a multiple-hit game. The Eagles who did hit safely were Adam Torkelson, Josh Griffith, Jamie Van Kempen and Andy Lembcke. Torkelson and Lembcke each drove in two runs.
Lembcke, Van Kempen and Kirby Marquart pitched and it was Lembcke getting tagged with the loss.
The loss that the Eagles were dealt on May 21 was heartbreaking. Playing at Wheaton, the Eagle crew owned a three-run lead over the Dumont Saints going into the bottom of the ninth.
But "The Saints Came Marching In" in their half of the ninth, rallying for four runs to get the win. The final score was 9-8, but the most glaring number from the Eagles' standpoint was errors: seven by them (ouch).
Dusty Sauter and Ross Haugen each had two hits. Craig Knochenmus was stung with the pitching loss in the ninth. Knochenmus was preceded on the hill by Adam Torkelson, Matthew Carrington and Chase Rambow.
Fans are anticipating upcoming games that they hope will be blessed by the best of summer's weather, not to mention some more winning fortunes on the diamond.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Let's suppress euphoria over graduation

Is it OK to deconstruct an institution that seems to bring universal reverence?
Can anyone say anything negative about the ritual of honoring our nation's young people at the time of their graduation from halls of academe?
Well, we have the institution of the graduation reception, which seems to be a bigger deal now than when the boomers finished high school. They seem more public, for one thing.
Drive around any community at the end of May and you'll see balloons and signs pointing out a graduation celebration at someone's home. Years ago I think these gatherings were geared more toward close family friends and relatives.
The intent behind this is wholly good. The socializing is fun. However, these host families seem to assume that visitors want to shovel a substantial amount of food down their mouths.
There is a high awareness of this nation's obesity epidemic, but we make exceptions all the time where food diversions are thrust on us in an obligatory way. You'll notice this if you ever go on a strict diet in which your food intake is strictly specified, or you count calories in a very strict way. You'll find yourself having to decline consumption opportunities in ways that can make you feel socially awkward.
Graduation receptions have become quite the productions. It's a worrisome trend in a way, because many families might feel an unreasonable pressure to "put on a show" like some of the trend-setting families. Medals, trophies and photos are nice, but what about the young people whose school experiences were humble, low-profile and relatively uneventful?
What about kids who aren't really sure what they'll do now that school is done? Do they feel awkward at graduation receptions where a common, conversation-starting question is "What are your future plans?"
Hey, there is nothing wrong with being totally indecisive at this point in your life.
The Star Tribune recently had an article about how some colleges feel it essential to get younger students better equipped with life skills. A lot of 18-year-olds don't realize how important a good diet is. They got adequate nutrition through meals their parents insisted on them consuming. But most of the meals they relished were at McDonald's and the like.
What they may not realize is that you can't sustain yourself sufficiently with the fast food family of choices. If a college freshman has a cafeteria contract, fine, although many of these individuals probably choose to sleep as long as possible in the morning and not eat breakfast. That would be a terrible shortcoming.
College freshmen can have a number of other adjustment problems. An expert appearing on one of the C-Span channels a while back was talking about generational shifts - a favorite topic of mine which you'll notice if you visit here periodically. This writer asserted that the traditional structure of your college dormitory is outdated.
Kids today don't want that motif. It has kind of a mass production atmosphere about it: youth are crammed as if into a sardine can into a big, nondescript building, two to a room which is terribly problematic if lifestyles clash, with common bathrooms and showers on each floor and common areas for other purposes.
If today's youth reject this, though, what are the consequences? I assume whole campuses can't be rebuilt. As usual I will have a drastic thing or two to say. But on closer analysis maybe you'll conclude my points aren't really so drastic. Maybe those fresh high school graduates who down deep feel indecisive should not commit to anything right away - certainly not college.
We as a society should remove the stigma from young people who might want to be tentative and patient and just stay at home for a while.
This isn't to say they would be lazy and just lounge around. They would be contributing family members, find some basic labor in the community or volunteer work and use the Internet to explore and develop long-term career plans.
Given our fluid economy, with creative destruction, layoffs, restructuring, downsizing and outsourcing happening all over the place, what is a "long-term career" anymore?
Go into teaching? Florida nearly passed a law recently that would have eliminated teacher tenure. Only Charlie Crist, that free spirit politician who refused to take marching orders from the GOP's right wing, stood in the way of that measure with his veto. So the notion of job security is steadily fading. Young people need to be nimble.
The Internet with its unlimited horizons is their best friend. I'll be blunt and say it: Our bricks and mortar educational institutions are going to fade into obsolescence. It's already ridiculous for hundreds of squirelly college freshmen to be packed into a single dormitory building. Many of these youth engage in foolishness that will cause then profound embarrassment when they reflect as adults. So why do we subject kids to this? Tradition?
The Internet is assailing our assumptions about everything. I read a major op-ed piece that asserted that the Internet and the whole realm of new communications tech are like a ticking time bomb toward our colleges. This op-ed suggested that colleges should brace for the same effects as what the newspaper industry has felt. The writer stated that colleges and newspapers have close parallels, that both are engaged in "the collection and reporting of information."
A theme much like this is presented in the Charles Murray book "Real Education." Murray asserts that way too many young people seek a B.A. degree. A fundamental assertion of his book is that we as a society have made the B.A. degree into an "artificial job requirement." This is a tremendous disservice to youth who may not quite have the aptitude or desire to climb those tedious steps.
And it also has the very unfortunate effect of stigmatizing kids who simply choose to bypass those steps.
A recent letter writer in the Star Tribune scolded a school board member who was quoted saying that all graduates of a particular high school should be "college ready." This letter writer would be in unison with Charles Murray in stating emphatically that college isn't for everyone. And we must value people who become competent and polished in professions that don't require a college education.
Murray says our emphasis as a society on college grew out of egalitarian leanings that probably date back to the 1960s. We felt that the barriers to our society's "elite" should come down. All should have a shot at it. Unfortunately it's rose-colored-glasses thinking. What Murray says is that "like it or not, our society will continue to be ruled by an elite - people who grew up with privileges." (This is a close paraphrase.)
Our presidents will come from Ivy League colleges and not St. Cloud State University.
Here's my conclusion: Maybe the elaborate graduation receptions that I focused on in the early portion of this post are part of the undue pressure we put on kids to declare a new chapter in their lives.
Perhaps these young people are really at a juncture where they ought to just slow down and be a little more restrained, thoughtful and deliberate. And yes, realistic.
Maybe the bombastic euphoria that seems to project from a typical graduation is just part of that institution's process of selling itself. Try to peel through the pretense.
It's a cliche that graduation represents "an end and a beginning." Maybe we ought to soft-pedal our reaction a little more and just view it as a night when 17 and 18-year-olds don hot, stuffy robes and pretend to look interested during pompous, predictable and cliche-ridden presentations. Beyond that "piece of paper" diploma, they'll have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
The reception? Have a few close friends and relatives over to socialize. Skip the balloons on the street corners. The pile of ham buns isn't essential either.
Attention grads: You needn't expect to feel fundamentally different when you get out of bed the next morning. Life is a marathon, so cool it and show reasoned judgment. Find your most practical path and you'll be happy.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, June 4, 2010

Benson-Hancock softball finishes 17-6

Benson-Hancock softball can reflect on a season of rich memories even though a state tournament berth was just out of its grasp at the end. The Brave-Owls outdid their geographic rivals in the West Central-South Conference: Morris Area.
The Tigers of MAHS were stunned to be handed defeat in the very first round of play, whereas Benson-Hancock reached the elite circle of four teams in contention for the Section 3AA title. Some fans borrow the basketball term "Final Four" for this.
One of the traits of prep softball in Minnesota is that teams can get new life in the post-season thanks to a double-elimination format. Morris Area softball lost too early to be a beneficiary of this. The Brave-Owls did not.
So when Benson-Hancock was thumped 7-0 by Pipestone Saturday, the team could put this disappointment behind them and regroup for another challenge. That new challenge was against Jackson County.
Pipestone? Jackson County? Yes, these teams are from quite further to the south than our West Central Conference teams. Cross-bracketing can match teams from schools a considerable distance from each other. Teams get to see a lot of new faces in the opponent's dugout during this phase, which can be refreshing and interesting although a scouting challenge is undoubtedly presented.
The Brave-Owls' game against Jackson County ended up being their highlight of "Final Four" play. Things did look bleak for a time in that game. The Jackson County girls led 2-1 when two innings were done, and looked to be cruising with a 6-1 lead entering the bottom of the third.
The B-H bats looked to be slumbering but they woke up in an explosive way. The exploded in a come-from-behind flourish and propelled B-H to a winning outcome 11-7.
Remember, the Brave-Owls had been shut out in their previous game (vs. Pipestone). So there was concern among their fan following when the score became 6-1 and with B-H in a hole against Jackson County.
Undaunted, the Brave-Owls focused and began connecting to put runs on the board. Momentum started growing when Tasha Wiebold, Anna Jensen and Megan Jepma hit safely in the third. Jensen's hit was a double.
The momentum continued into the fourth when the Brave-Owls were able to get the score tied. The third and fourth inning rallies were marked by success when two outs had been recorded. Jackson County made an error in the fourth that greased the B-H "mo" a little, but hits were the main story. These were off the bats of Kendra Schmidgall, Tasha Wiebold, Datrianna Jensen and Brennan Hagen.
The Benson-Hancock surging continued into the fifth and again there was special poise with two outs. Taylor Semler, the Brave-Owls' ace pitcher, stoked the cause offensively with a single. Kendra Schmidgall likewise connected for a hit, and Mallory Jensen laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners.
The stage was set for Tasha Wiebold's hot bat. This time Wiebold's bat produced a two-RBI hit with two outs.
The B-H success began opening up some real breathing room on the scoreboard in the sixth. Four hits resounded off B-H bats in the sixth and now the squad looks truly in command with an 11-6 lead. Jackson County scored a meaningless run in the top of the seventh.
The B-H girls could feel good about their 11-7 triumph but there would be no more come-from-behind magic in the action to come.

The final game
Pitcher Semler matched her Redwood Valley rival pretty well in the Tuesday game at Marshall. Semler, always very stingy giving up hits, threw a four-hitter at Redwood Valley. But rival Samantha Felt also tossed a four-hitter, and it was Felt and her mates who had the winning satisfaction at the end.
The Cardinals were buoyed by a two-run single in the fifth which proved decisive. The Brave-Owls' stellar 2010 season came to an end in the 3-1 final score. This was an elimination-round final game.
Jessica Fischer of the Cardinals broke the hearts of the hearty B-H fans who wanted to see a repeat of their team's previous game. But Fischer hit a line drive to center field in a most timely way.
There were two outs. Semler was hoping to send Fischer back to the dugout.
The Brave-Owls even would have taken a mistaken umpire's call! But that topical angle never came into play. Alas, the Fischer liner drove in Kayla Pohlen and Megan Bunting. The wind was suddenly in the Cardinals' sails (or wings).
Pohlen had scored Redwood Valley's first run in the third. That run knotted the score, as B-H had initially taken the lead in the second inning with a lone run. Any and all runs are precious at this level of play. Julia Ahrndt doubled into the gap to bring home the walking Brennan Hagen.
Mallory Jensen and Tasha Wiebold built hopes for a third inning rally as they started things off with singles. But a goose egg ended up going on the scoreboard for B-H in the third.
The two pitchers were quite stellar although Semler wasn't overpowering; she had just one strikeout. But she walked only two and gave up just the four hits. Plus, one of the runs she allowed was unearned.
Felt set down eight batters on strikes and walked two, carrying the Redwood Valley softball banner with capability.
Mallory Jensen was the only Brave-Owl with a multiple-hit game (two-for-three). Tasha Wiebold and Julia Ahrndt had the other Benson-Hancock hits in the game's box.
The Cardinals hitting safely were Ashley Bunting, Callie Hansen, Jessica Fischer and Sam Felt.
Reaching the Final Four of 3AA play was an exciting final chapter to the win-filled Brave-Owls' season of 2010.
The underclassmen will begin focusing on how to sharpen their play when next spring arrives. It won't be easy to match or surpass the 2010 won-lost numbers of 17-6.
(Sorry this post is a little late.)
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Remembering Memorial Days in Morris

I will always associate certain images and sounds with Memorial Day in Morris. Number one would be Eleanor Killoran - RIP - playing "It's a Grand Old Flag" on a barely-tuned acoustic piano at the old elementary auditorium. I can hear that in my mind as if it were yesterday. She was especially invigorated when her son Skip was part of the morning.
There was such a calm air as people streamed to our old school for the annual program. It was a lazy holiday weekend when people who were committed to the true meaning of the holiday put aside other diversions.
A feeling of camaraderie was in the air coupled with patriotism. Ken Beseman with his bold voice led the audience in song. The Gold Star VIPs rose to get their acknowledgment from the Girls Staters. Every year there was a featured speaker and these individuals varied in their "stage presence," but of course that didn't matter. Even the most fumbling, nervous or disorganized speakers enhanced the day, perhaps even more than the polished ones.
I remember when there was a bona fide parade for Memorial Day. The public school would round up enough musicians for a band. I know because I was there, trumpet (or french horn) in hand. Director John Woell himself would don a uniform.
Declining enrollment probably made it harder for a band to be assembled. Eventually a community band did the job. I'm not sure that's even practical anymore. It's a nice enhancement but not essential. What is essential is the spirit of the day.
The Memorial Day parade was eventually scaled back to an informal procession to the Vets Memorial at Summit Cemetery. I found it exhilarating walking alongside the flag carriers along East 7th Street.
Incidentally the grass needs mowing along East 7th now, which I noticed on Monday - Memorial Day 2010. A lot of the grass on the old school property needs mowing. And there's a sign where the playground equipment used to be, saying "keep out." That's depressing to see in the midst of a residential part of town. It suggests "blight."
What would happen if I went over there? Would a snarling Doberman lunge out at me? That big old school and the expansive empty property next to it are progressively becoming an embarrassment to Morris. Open it up as a park or dog running area? Fine.
Clear away the vestiges of the old school and let's get on with it. How sad to see the old auditorium where those wonderful Memorial Day programs took place, unused and decaying. This is where I saw the all-school musical "Oliver" in about 1970. Today the edifice seems almost haunted with the image it projects. What a horrible lack of foresight on the part of this community.
Update: I noticed on Wednesday at 4 p.m. that lawnmowers had made some rounds in the areas I'm describing. But the underlying issues remain.
Memorial Day for me will never be the same because Willie Martin is no longer with us. Willie was the epitome of the Greatest Generation (a term popularized by Tom Brokaw). Willie's priorities were well aligned. He knew what to take seriously in life and what not. He understood human failings and knew that a sense of humor could overcome so much discomfort or hurdles.
Every year the people involved in the Memorial Day observance gathered at a veterans club - only the American Legion is left - for socializing. Willie was a fixture there and he probably consumed alcohol-enhanced beverages at the same rate as most of the men - a dubious habit of the Greatest Generation whose members weren't immune from human failings.
I probably imbibed myself some of the years there. I attended because I had a Memorial Day role with the media. I remember in my first year as a corporate media person here, it was Glendon Rose - RIP - who made sure I knew about the post-ceremony socializing. He did so with the words "there's beer at the Legion." I was touched by that because I wasn't well acquainted with him at the time and it was so ingratiating.
Willie, Glendon and the gang were the real deal.
I'm sure some of them had a rough go adjusting to society's new hard line on alcohol consumption - specifically the prohibition on operating a motor vehicle with any discernible alcohol in your system. The Greatest Generation is probably getting to an age now where the alcohol-fueled levity of their old free time isn't practical anymore.
They're not missing anything. When I dine at Morris' Pizza Hut and have a beer or two with my pizza, I make sure to ride my bicycle there and back - no automobile. It's charming how I've been "carded" there even though I'm a long-of-tooth boomer. This is always done apologetically. It's just that these establishments face the kiss of death if they serve anyone inappropriately. I'm flattered.
Pizza Hut is located along the Columbia Avenue extension which didn't exist when I was a kid. Can you imagine no Columbia Avenue extension? The Subway Restaurant has been attracted there too. I have patronized Subway exactly once. They ask you too many questions about how you want your sandwich made. I'm not a professional chef. I'm hiring them to make a good sandwich for me.
I remember Joe Tetrault - RIP - giving me a heads-up about one of Willie Martin's quirks when Willie spoke at the outdoor/cemetery portion of Memorial Day. People would ring the perimeter of the Veterans Memorial amidst the gentle atmosphere of the day, while Willie, resplendent in uniform and next to his Auxiliary (female) counterpart for the ceremony, got ready to speak into a microphone.
Willie did it dutifully but he always mispronounced a word.
"There the ground is hallowed" was the line in question, but Willie would say "hollowed."
Joe claimed that Willie had been briefed about this more than once, but I don't recall Willie ever rectifying it. Maybe Willie said what he did deliberately in the spirit of a sort of mischievous sense of humor. What, Willie?
Whatever, we wouldn't have wanted anyone else to be at the mike for that recitation. And when the crowd dispersed, many of us headed to a place like the Legion where not only beer was flowing, the smoke filled the air as if from a chimney - cigarette smoke. Most certainly that part of the tradition has faded. I think legally it had to.
Culturally we have turned a big corner with that, although our leaders don't want everyone to quit smoking because government gleans a lot of tax dollars from the sale of cigarettes. The price has soared into the stratosphere. I quit when the price was $1.10 a pack.
Remember the days when you could walk up to someone and say "got a cigarette?" I think this custom is gone with the wind.
On Memorial Day I always grab the TV remote and change channels when those inevitable trumpet "taps" are played during newscasts. I totally appreciate the reverence being shown to fallen soldiers, but the trumpet is an archaic instrument that can grate on me with its sound.
You realize, don't you, that all brass instrument players have to empty "spit" from their instruments regularly. Maybe you'll view this music differently now.
The sophisticated electronic sound systems of today should make obsolete the musical instruments we all know and grew up with. One exception would be the guitar, which ironically isn't even taught in our public schools.
How would Eleanor Killoran handle an electronic keyboard? I think just fine.
But in my mind there's no substitute for the sound of Eleanor pounding out "It's a Grand Old Flag" at our old elementary school auditorium (once the high school auditorium, remember).
I should be so lucky to hear that sound when (or if) I arrive at the gates of heaven.
But please, no trumpets. And I plan on looking up Willie right away.
"Love ya!"
-Brian Williams - morris mn - Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rachman novel tells story I once lived

Sometimes a book can be valuable because it serves as a kind of time capsule. "Gone With the Wind" reminded us of the planter aristocrat culture of the U.S. South before the Civil War. No dripping sentiment called for there. It was a culture that deserved to die.
But for historical purposes it's nice that books are available to preserve it in our collective consciousness and give us perspective.
The aristocrats themselves didn't leave a big body of written work about their lives or culture. They were too lazy. Slaves did the heavy lifting of that economy.
At present there's a book called "The Imperfectionists." It too is about an institution and its culture that are sliding into obsolescence and irrelevance. It's about the newspaper industry. In its heyday it was so much more than a mere business.
This industry almost had an unfair advantage because it had such limited - nonexistent in many respects - competition. An institution with that kind of power and entitlement develops systems that aren't always subjected to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
Thus it can afford the luxury of missions and agendas that aren't bottom-line motivated. The Washington Post's pursuit of the Watergate truth reflected the power, prestige and entitlement of the "Fourth Estate" more than it reflected the pragmatic goals of a pure business enterprise.
Newspaper people could afford to be arrogant. They could engender fear in their pursuit of the vaunted "public's right to know."
Many newspaper publishers talk like they still have these attributes. They do not. The new communications technology has assaulted traditional newspapering in a rapid and unrelenting way.
Papers have only been able to fight back by cutting. It has worked to a certain extent, but the big question is how the ink-on-paper media can survive many more body blows (which surely are coming).
As this process continues, we can relish a book like "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman. The fictional newspaper in the book is a kind of throwback; it hasn't made many of the austerity moves yet. So it's a little like a time capsule that shows us the cumbersome, yes "imperfect" system for news dissemination that was once deemed necessary but is now "gone with the wind" (or getting there).
"The Imperfectionists" is about an international newspaper based in Rome. But it could be any newspaper from the heyday of that institution. One of the traits is that it employs characters.
Even our little newspaper in Morris, Minnesota, had its share of people with quirky personalities in the days before the corporate scalpel moved in.
Today the processes are all so precise and efficient, not that this is guaranteeing survival of the industry. A war analogy might be extreme but let me cite the German submarine commander in the movie "The Enemy Below." He was a middle-aged man with anxiety about where technological progress was taking us. He was concerned that tech progress had made killing too easy.
It's ironic because war technology has always been geared toward killing. But there was a time when firing a torpedo was like throwing at a row of bottles at a carnival stand. You could hardly be sure of the outcome. Advancing tech made the process more surgical and certain.
There are many "imperfections" in the process of legacy newspapering - layers of work that seem redundant or unnecessary now. But all these layers required people who worked at least a 40-hour week, tried their best, developed a bonding culture and enriched our lives in an albeit "imperfect" way with their product.
Hence "The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman. It's a novel about "the quirky, maddening, endearing people who write and read" this fictional paper, according to a web account.
In a sense, I was dealing with those old-fashioned torpedoes when I managed the photography department of the Morris newspaper. That awkward and peril-filled process is truly "gone with the wind," replaced by no-risk digital cameras.
No time spent washing film or hanging it up to dry. No chemicals all of which have a shelf life and deteriorate faster in half-full bottles than in full ones. No more "bulk loading" film with the risk of it getting "fogged" (even in the best of hands).
Even the sharpest operations had photo disasters sometimes. I have read that much important film shot at the D-Day invasion in WWII was actually lost because of a common darkroom error. The primitive processes almost gave this field a special charm. You couldn't take good results for granted, so you felt exhilarated every time something turned out well.
Today people set high standards like they always should, but the tech hurdles are pretty much gone. The darkroom is "gone with the wind," so no more rubber gloves or work apron.
The obituary writer in Rachman's book seems hardly more alive than many of his subjects. Obit writing has faded as a specialty as funeral homes have taken it upon themselves to render a finished product in this regard. I was amazed while at the Morris paper to see funeral homes everywhere, within a short period of time, go from having conservative websites to quite dynamic and fluid ones, with polished obituaries posted in a timely way.
For a while this and other trends made newspaper work "easier." Ha! Yes, there's no more need for many of the tedious and "imperfect" layers of work in the system - layers that always presented the risk of getting things screwed up.
But the very technology that streamlined newspaper work enables the public to pretty much bypass newspapers themselves.
The story in Rachman's book "zooms in and out of the harried lives of newspaper employees who struggle to meet deadlines, break news and balance newsroom budgets as print circulation plummets and advertising dollars shrink," according to the web account.
The newspaper in the book doesn't have a website! How logical.
Newspaper employees historically embraced a certain fatalism in which they know their work is going to have some rough edges. You just rolled up your sleeves, focused, churned through a pile of raw material under deadline pressure and sat back and sighed, confident that you were a capable and efficient wordsmith but that you couldn't possibly bat a thousand.
You assumed the public would accept it. Their channels for feedback were limited too.
There was a "cool of the evening" satisfaction at the end, even with the realization that an "imperfection" or two were possible.
Where else could people find this stuff? Today information is ubiquitous. More of it comes from primary sources - people who can apply tender loving care, not with one eye on the clock. People write about their own specialties which is the way it should be. Why even talk to a newspaper writer who might be approaching a subject "cold?"
No one is under any obligation to talk to a newspaper writer. If you have information or background that would be of use to a broad audience, go online and write it up yourself. Interested people will find it.
Why trust a newspaper writer who may have a perspective or agenda different from yours? And he/she might have an uncomfortable deadline. That's not your problem.
Despite the numerous flaws and inefficiencies in the legacy newspaper model, it cultivated a work culture with unmistakable charm. The people definitely had passion for their work. At the same time they felt entitled. Writing seemed like an exclusive craft. Writers were supposed to hold our institutions accountable.
In many respects they did, but this was with the reinforcement by the paper's monopoly position.
Classified advertising? It's nearly "gone with the wind" due to Craigslist and the like. I read an article on the Poynter Institute website not long ago that talked about how the "swagger" we associated with newspaper writers was gone - "gone with the wind" I might suggest.
The article observed that newsrooms are now scared and meek places. The spectre of layoffs is always there.
Newspapers with no swagger are emasculated. Their talk about the "watchdog" role is empty now.
Community newspapers have strong incentive to kiss butt with local public officials, because they want to keep their legal notices business. Government is already in a position to bypass newspapers with this. And it has begun happening in a creeping sort of way. Eventually the severing will be complete. The biggest hurdle is to get past whining newspaper moguls, who cling to just enough power to intimidate. Time will solve this, plus austere local government budgets.
The slide will accelerate and there will be more newspaper layoffs - more consolidation.
No, newspapers aren't going to die tomorrow. They have become smaller and less relevant. They desperately try to shovel as much advertising (and those awful ad circulars) at us as they can. I wouldn't want to be a party to this.
I wait with anticipation for that weekly pile of ad circulars with our Morris paper to begin shriveling up, to ease the burden on our local waste disposal. Many of the circulars promote shopping outside of Morris. That seems counterproductive.
People who want to shop outside of Morris will do it anyway. It's not rocket science. You hop in the car and drive to Wal-Mart - interesting because Wal-Mart is actually one of the Alexandria businesses that doesn't have a circular with the Morris paper.
People can go online like to Yellowbook to find information they need in their day-to-day commerce. They don't need all this thrust at them one-way from the old, anachronistic newspaper business.
We all ought to be sick and tired of those "imperfectionists."
Can newspapers find the solutions to survive in some form?
Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com