"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)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Derek Anderson's laughter brings kerfuffle

Maybe laughter isn't always the best medicine. A mini-controversy erupted after the Monday night football game, a game in which losing quarterback Derek Anderson was seen laughing with a teammate after their team's fortunes had gone into the dumpster. It was a sideline scene, reminding everyone that the camera is always on.
Anderson plays for the Arizona Cardinals. They were in the Super Bowl last year but that was with Kurt Warner as quarterback. Anderson is no Kurt Warner. He is on the margin among quarterbacks in the NFL.
Anderson made the matter much worse by how he handled it in the post-game press conference. Actually that's an understatement. By then it was no laughing matter (ha, ha).
Getting defensive in a press conference is a sure prescription for humiliation. Doesn't Anderson know that comedians and beer commercials get fodder from these meltdowns? I began to imagine right away how clips from Anderson's appearance could be used.
Denny Green was the coach of the Cardinals when he had a similar meltdown. How can we forget the shouted retort of "the Bears are the team we thought they would be!" (The Cardinals had just spectacularly blown a lead.)
Arizona fans should have been laughing at Anderson's performance against the Minnesota Vikings. That debacle for them was on November 7 at the Metrodome. Anderson and his Cardinals failed to hold on to a 14-point lead over the last 3 1/2 minutes. Had the Cardinals won, the Vikings would have started their housecleaning sooner.
We're told the Vikings still have a "mathematical" chance to make the playoffs. But I wonder how realistic it is.
I thought it was classless for Brett Favre to make a big public display Sunday at the end of the Redskins game, when he presented the game ball to Leslie Frazier. I'm not a fan of Brad Childress but I'm rather impartial about him. I don't think he's incompetent.
I think the Zygi Wilf family had faith in him. Favre's behavior seems to be upstaging the Wilf family as if to vindicate his own judgment.
We should be surprised by Favre doing this? There's a lot for Vikings fans to be hanging their heads about now. The only remedy now would be for Favre and his mates to "run the table" and eke out a playoff berth.
But I suspect that at a certain point, Adrian Peterson, who now appears to be touching the ball more (following the wishes of the Childress critics), will fumble a game away. Perhaps Childress was delicately managing Peterson for this very reason.
Perhaps Childress knew you can't just give Favre a blank check because his self-discipline breaks down. Favre throws the ball as if he thinks good things will happen as if my magic.
It has been said of professional athletes that they have no fear of failure. It's in their DNA. Chicago's Jay Cutler certainly seems to be an example.
The best coaches know you have to look these guys in the eye once in a while and remind them they're mortal, that magic isn't in the equation.
Derek Anderson may end up more well-known for his press conference anger than anything he's done on the football field. When a reporter kept pressing him on the laughing incident, he should have pleaded "compartmentalization."
"Look, I give a hundred percent when I'm out there playing and I die a thousand deaths when we lose, but there are idle moments where a little levity can be helpful. I apologize if anyone was offended."
No need to bleep any words either.
Humility can go a long way.
It's ironic that laughter can be viewed as offensive. Because, the world needs so much more of it.
One of the most charming scenes of the Bill Clinton presidency was when Clinton broke down laughing, helplessly, when standing next to Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin. Clinton put his hand on Yeltsin's shoulder at one moment. It made us all wonder if international conflict would be minimized by such a spirit as this.
Clinton was dealing with grave international matters. Derek Anderson was just trying to win a football game.
In case you missed it, you'll probably see the prickly Anderson from the press conference on commercials or comedy sketches.
Anderson might get the same kind of notoriety as Jim Mora who had the famous meltdown where he said "playoffs? Don't talk to me about playoffs" (his voice cracking).
We all appreciate someone with a sense of humor. So I'm not upset about Anderson at all, especially with his Scandinavian name.

More from the football notebook:
ESPN is airing a riveting documentary these days, called "The Best that Never Was." It's about Marcus Dupree.
Dupree was a Superman type of athlete who came from very humble origins in Mississippi. He was an African-American young man from Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was a community with a troubled racial background.
Dupree was a symbol of a newly-integrated South (albeit still with warts) that could come together and feel joy about the athletic exploits of a uniquely gifted athlete.
Dupree was a football runningback. He had the speed of a receiver. In fact, he had everything.
The problem is that college recruiters descended on this modest family like predators. It was a bad omen.
Dupree was never really able to establish himself as a collegian. He seemed overwhelmed by his surroundings. At his best he turned in highlight reel plays for the University of Oklahoma. Dupree at his best is preserved in precious video footage. He left college and went where he probably belonged all along: the pros.
He helped launch the USFL, the springtime league. He got hurt and never fulfilled his full potential. He did get a brief fling with the Rams of the NFL, so for the record he did make it to that pinnacle. I'm glad for him.
I imagine we're supposed to feel sorry for Dupree coming out of this documentary. Today he's a part-time truck driver. After pondering, I decided I was happy for Mr. Dupree because he has his health. He seems basically contented.
Former Minnesota Viking Fred McNeill has been on CNN lately as an example of a former player nursing health effects of the game. McNeill appears to have some mental impairment. And, former Viking Wally Hilgenberg died from a degenerative brain condition that we now learn was most likely connected to football.
Thanks for the memories, Wally, but I'd rather see you hale and hearty.
I have read that former Viking Brent Boyd has problems.
Did Walter Payton die before his time because of all the blows that his body was dealt? Did O.J. Simpson develop his pathological traits as a result of the blows he took? Payton and Simpson were runningbacks like Dupree. Payton is dead and Simpson is in prison. McNeill is challenged.
Dupree by comparison can enjoy life even in his modest existence driving truck. His past fame might even bring some material rewards for him, like a baseball Hall of Famer who can live on his income attending card shows.
And Mr. Dupree didn't have to get his brains beat out to get to that point. Maybe he's football's answer to Greta Garbo.
Congratulations Marcus Dupree. You might be the greatest football player ever, and I don't care if you didn't bash heads with opponents over years and years.
"The Best that Never Was?"
I don't think so.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

Republicans and the code of self-protection

We now know that Tom DeLay is a crook. His smile for his mugshot photo didn't score him any points, I guess. It's nice that in America, still, a powerful wheeler-dealer like DeLay can get nailed if the evidence points that way.
It's interesting to see how Republicans behave when one of their own becomes totally cornered. When they can no longer parse and spin.
They become angry. They're like the dog in "Cujo."
When Michele Bachmann recently made some indefensible comments about Barack Obama's trip abroad, Andy Card became completely unhinged on TV with Anderson Cooper.
Cooper hosts "AC 360." It's an uphill battle over there at CNN where they still promote "objective journalism." I use quotes because today so many are skeptical about the "objectivity" ideal of journalism. Historically it has been synonymous with sound journalism. That's the model.
Many critics assert, however, that it's really only synonymous with "legacy" journalism.
Back when the media were so terribly exclusive - not that long ago - journalism had to be monetized in order to exist. Advertisers wanted calm waters. The people who wrote the news took pains to appear like they had no opinions. They found an imaginary midpoint between conflicting sides and wrote as if they were perched precisely at that midpoint.
Never mind that one side might be demonstrably nuts or ignorant, and the other side reasonable.
"Objectivity" seemed proper.
What the owners of media product didn't realize then, was that media consumers found this boring. One reason why newspaper websites are so boring today is that newspaper people are still locked into the old model.
The shackles have come off. We all want truth of course. The whole purpose of "talking points" is to use demonstrable facts to make a partisan point. But the phantom "referee" of reporter is no longer needed.
People resent "reporters" who feel it's part of their mission to not disclose their opinions. People would rather know a writer's opinions, or at least his basic perspective, than not know it.
The old model was condescending. It succeeded because the legacy media had almost no competition. It was adhered to because advertisers didn't want controversy detracting from their own message of "come spend!"
The sheer scarcity of media encouraged that bland tone too. There were limited avenues for rebuttal, a la "Floyd R. Turbo" of the Johnny Carson Show.
Ol' Floyd was a real tea partier.
Newspaper publishers are sticking with their old philosophy and acting bewildered about why their readers are turning away. Packing a website with Pablum-like stories won't get you anywhere.
And CNN is having to accept being a lower-tier news network because of its legacy philosophy.
Anderson Cooper does what he can to keep that network viable. It's the network that brought us the first Gulf War, remember? It's the network where you can catch Larry King interviewing the latest fallen celebrity seeking redemption. Larry is retiring.
When I saw Andy Card as a talking head next to Cooper on the screen - they were in different locations - I knew it wasn't going to go comfortably. The topic was Michele Bachmann's uninformed comments about the cost of Obama's trip. Card is a Republican like Bachmann. Card is the one who whispered to President George Bush that the 9/11 attacks were happening.
Republicans do not criticize other Republicans. (I think the apes had a similar code in "Planet of the Apes.")
When absolutely cornered, like Card was in this case, they become like that canine Cujo, all but foaming at the mouth (and maybe even some of that).
Of course they attack the messenger. Surely they could be more creative than that.
(. . ."And stop calling me Shirley." - Leslie Nielsen RIP)
Mr. Card became confrontational with Cooper. It got personal.
"Anderson, why are you flogging this story?" Card said.
I'm reminded of Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun" saying "there's nothing to see here, folks, nothing to see."
I hope that what Card meant was that Republicans should be left alone to clean up their own messes. That's tough when a jury reaches a guilty verdict as with Tom DeLay.
Cooper should not have even bothered getting defensive in trying to hold his ground with Mr. Card.
Cooper said "Bachmann used our air time to make these accusations (of overspending for the India trip)."
Therefore, Cooper reasoned, it's proper fodder for a follow-up discussion and critique.
Would anyone dispute this logic? "Cujo" would.
"Anderson, it's not your air time," Card said, his voice raised.
Only in our dreams would Card say something reasonable like "you know, Anderson, sometimes people with partisan motivations get a little carried away and Republicans can be as guilty of this as anyone."
Bachmann had bought into assertions from the far right that Obama's trip was costing $200 million a day. Rush Limbaugh pumped up that story. You'd pump it up too if you had a $400 million contract to perform this kind of shtick for a particular constituency: the Floyd R. Turbo's.
Cooper asked Card if the likes of Bachmann had sought verification of the facts. Card couldn't spin so he became Cujo-like. All of a sudden it was Cooper who was irrational. Let's make Cooper a symbol of the arrogant big-time media, with "Anderson, it's not your air time."
Sarah Palin would whine about "lamestream media."
With Republicans, the end justifies the means. The end is to get elected to keep taxes down on the rich. There's no intent to really govern.
Republicans don't want people to like government.
DeLay was part of a Republican surge that blew its chance to prove my assertions wrong. Conservatives can't govern because they have no interest in governing.
Am I just blowing them off? No, because as I have written before, conservatives are a valued voice of restraint, to remind us of the limits of effective governing.
But Republicans absolutely cannot drive the train themselves.
Republicans use the language of austerity to get elected. Once in Washington D.C. though, they become members of the country club. We've already seen Rand Paul begin to back off from his zealousness about earmarks. Congressional earmarks are a drop in the bucket. If Republicans get feet of clay on this, we'll have nothing but "business as usual" in Washington just like I suggested all along.
Will the likes of Paul actually vote against raising the debt limit?
Government will only fundamentally change if this nation has a real crisis, something like a 1929 stock market crash. Government will then adjust just to keep the ship of state together.
And Democrats would do it along with Republicans. Because it's really just one big racket.
Don't fight it, Mr. Cooper.
Maybe Wikileaks can succeed in pulling the masks off all the charlatan politicians. But I don't think the lamestream media will.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Vets club photo portraits: pure Americana

Veterans clubs are an absolute bulwark of middle America. They are like a rock through good times and bad. They maintain a continuum in American life in quiet but reassuring fashion.
We've all been at a vets club and been attracted to those rows of photo portraits on the wall. Past commanders. Past Auxiliary presidents. Individuals who have been in the mainstream of the community. Individuals whose service background is as important to them as any other aspect of their lives.
It's actually a cross-section too. Yes there are a few of the upper-crust types, people whose financial fortunes have sailed well above the norm. There are working class individuals who may have lived a very modest existence. Service organizations unite them all.
They give you a sense of the community's history because they represented such an array of callings.
They are the kind of people who members of my generation didn't necessarily take seriously when we were young. So many of those past commanders represented "the other side" of the generation gap. We were brazen back then and looking for "relevance."
We saw those service organizations as being much too willing to facilitate the government's misguided military aims. Those people weren't willing to "give peace a chance," it seemed.
Realistically there was lots of blame to go around. Young people could be derided for not being willing enough to work within the system. And the older people were too willing to slide into that "silent majority."
The silent ones didn't want to deal with issues that might bring discomfort in their lives. Protesting the apparent will of government just wasn't in their DNA. Any attempt at serious discussion of the Viet Nam War might cause their eyes to glaze over. The cliched rebuttal from that mostly silent crowd was "America, love it or leave it."
Young people could have just pushed the protest message but it went beyond that.
"It was a hard time for all of us," the colonel character said to Rambo in the first of those movies.
Young people made it hard by departing from so many of society's conventions. It made it so much harder to win the respect and attentive ear of our elders. We were infected with the hippie ethos.
I have long argued that this ethos had far more impact than the actual hippies. This year's Driggs lecturer at UMM argued that the hippie movement was completely separate from political activism. I sensed that members of the audience couldn't quite buy that.
But the lecturer asserted that the hippie movement was worldwide, spawned in countries that enjoyed post-World War II prosperity. It was seen in countries that had no involvement in Viet Nam.
The baby boom created teeming numbers among the young. No matter what we stood for, we were bound to be heard. Maybe the numbers meant that it was harder for us as individuals to get attention.
Might this in some small way explain why we rejected conformity? Why we proclaimed "do your own thing?"
Can you imagine this expression getting any sort of traction in today's society? Kids today follow the rules like privates in the army.
The rules are set down by aging boomers who are trying hard to forget the ragged edges of their past. If reminded of it, their eyes might glaze over. They rationalize it by saying that the world needed a little shaking up back then.
Once certain values, like interracial brotherhood, gained proper currency, it was fine to go back to business as usual.
The basic principles of environmentalism got established. I think.
The backlash to global climate change warnings has me worried. In fact the whole "tea party" has me worried. I suspect there are generational dynamics at work again.
Recently I heard an interpretation of the tea party that caught my attention: The movement represents a crying out of the aging population which is saying, in effect: "I'm (basically) done living my life so just let me keep my money."
America is aging. A member of the Driggs lecture audience made a striking point about the diminished number of the young. This individual pointed out that all the small towns out here once proudly fielded an assortment of athletic teams. We sort of took it for granted. The teams would carry a town's banner.
A steady process of decline set in. Towns went through spasms as they came to realize they couldn't support their own athletic teams (without pairing) or even their own schools eventually. The emotions could be back-breaking.
I remember a story about a state legislator who had his car damaged when he attended a meeting on proposed consolidation. I won't say where but it was to the south of here.
I recall seeing emotions of this kind firsthand. But I also learned that these emotions fade quickly.
One minute, there is an element in Starbuck that insists that the new Minnewaska Area school not be located one foot closer to Glenwood than to Starbuck. And they're prepared to get out rulers. The next minute, everyone calms down.
We have learned that it was never necessary to build these "cornfield" schools just to appease community emotions.
Those emotions flowed from people who were the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
I learned that the "Valley" of "Lac qui Parle Valley" was inserted as a political sop. Something to do with wrestling already being called "Lac qui Parle" and being associated with a particular town.
In hindsight, all of those emotions should have been pushed aside. The "agitators" were willing to "move on" much more quickly than we might have expected. Does anyone in Cyrus today really care that the town doesn't have its own high school?
Is it time for Chokio to take the same pill? The C-A system has been through a little incident recently. Now the leadership there seems to be saying "we have it under control so let's all just move on."
It's only money.
A new "baby boom" would solve everything. But don't bet on it. Parents aren't given enough slack in raising their kids nowadays. The risk is more than the reward. The cost is becoming prohibitive.
Many people have a hard enough time supporting themselves. We can become truly nostalgic looking back at that post-WWII time when the values were so unquestionably good. We can wonder "why not again?"
And we could be inspired by those rows of photo portraits at local veterans clubs - pure Americana.
Those people moved forward without sweating the small stuff.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

KCMT TV brought the glowing tube here

Billy Graham once said "where there is no vision, the people perish."
Mad Magazine modified this to: "Where there is no television, the people perish."
People managed to survive here on the western Minnesota prairie before television.
Finally along came KCMT TV of Alexandria. It was quite adequate for opening up a new world of entertainment. It was affiliated with NBC which meant we watched Huntley and Brinkley for our evening news, not Walter Cronkite.
And we turned into The Virginian for our western fare, not Gunsmoke.
We heard and read about a lot of shows and personalities we couldn't see. We heard about Cronkite being "the most trusted man in America" but we had to take everyone's word for it - to trust them as it were.
We heard Huntley and Brinkley ending each night's news show with their trademark "good night Chet. . .good night David."
Chet Huntley seemed to fade as the years went by, while David Brinkley's celebrity (or "brand,"as the word is used today) remained strong. Impersonators came to like Brinkley.
I have to have a soft spot for Brinkley because of the way he got the giggles on the air once, quite hopelessly too. He was paired with John Chancellor at the time. Chancellor had just read a story about how some bad weather had damaged the Maraschino cherry crop. Chancellor gave some numbers on the Maraschino cherry industry.
We're less of an alcohol-oriented culture now so maybe you need a primer: Maraschino cherries adorn some mixed drinks in a frivolous way.
Anyway, the camera returned to Brinkley. Brinkley read the first few words of the next story, then he started breaking up. He composed himself but only for a couple seconds. He broke up again and this time he gave up trying to compose himself. They had to go to a commercial break.
It's fun sometimes so see an adult show the impulsiveness of a fifth grader.
Cronkite could have been living on Mount Olympus as far as most of us were concerned here in West Central Minnesota. We never saw him but we were supposed to revere him.
Cronkite eventually spoke out against the Viet Nam War. How quaint. Because looking back, it seemed like a pretty mild statement. It even seemed a little offensive in the eyes of my generation, because he talked of the need to leave "with honor."
We needed the impulsive judgment of a fifth grader. We simply needed to get out of Viet Nam.
President Lyndon Johnson reacted to the Cronkite comments by saying "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America." It became a famous quote.
You certainly lost America, LBJ, because your name isn't even invoked in Democratic national campaigns anymore. You did so much to push America forward like with civil rights, but it's all negated by that war in our collective memory.
Maybe we're a warrior culture. Even with the boomers in power today, we acquiesce too easily in these things.
The "CMT" in KCMT TV stood for "Central Minnesota Television." The main studio was in Alexandria and there was a northern outlet in Walker.
The on-air personalities became like members of our families. It was always kind of a jolt when one of them left and was replaced by a "stranger."
The locally produced stuff could be a little primitive, certainly when observed through the prism of today.
There was a late-afternoon talk show called "Welcome Inn." This was the type of show that Martin Mull would later parody in "Fernwood 2nite."
It's mean to think of mocking those early local TV shows because those people were troopers, doing the best they could under a conservative code (i.e. nothing smacking of being edgy) in a fledgling medium.
The first "Welcome Inn" hosts were "Bud and Natalie." I can even remember that when it first aired, it had no name and in fact was called "The Show Without a Name." Viewers were invited to submit name suggestions.
I recall "Bud" (Gorham) being quite the snowmobile enthusiast in the early days of that sport. "Natalie" (Johnson) went on to become a tireless promoter of Alex Tech.
There was a church show called "Echoes from Calvary."
"Photo News" was a show that zeroed in on photos in newspapers.
There was a lively weekend music show called "Country Jubilee" that was pretty good. I'm biased on that because I played on a couple of shows myself. I played with the Tempo Kings out of Fairmount, North Dakota. Our host for those appearances was a guy named Archie who sang "Ain't She Sweet?" with us.
A talent often featured on that show was Jimmy Jensen. Who can forget Jimmy singing "Walking in my Winter Underwear?"
Some of the syndicated stuff on KCMT seemed pretty low-budget. There was a meager amount of football compared to today. You took what you got. We are so spoiled today, words really cannot describe.
Country kids out here had no real alternative to KCMT for a long time. Sometimes you could pick up the Garden City, SD, channel under "snow" (on the screen). It was always a thrill to get barely-adequate reception of that channel, so you could maybe catch a fleeting glimpse of "Gilligan's Island."
I remember being at the Minnesota State Fair one year, seeing a poster-size picture of Carol Burnett and asking "who's that?"
We out here in the hinterlands knew little about "Gunsmoke." But "Trampas" of the NBC western "The Virginian" was like a lovable older brother. He ended up upstaging the main character. Doug McClure played "Trampas."
"The Virginian" (satirized in Mad Magazine as "The Virginia Ham") had distinction as a 90-minute western. All the westerns of that time seemed to have a "moral of the story." It didn't seem to guide us boomers very well.
Slowly our narrow entertainment universe began to change as cable TV was born. It was called "Able Cable" in its early days in Morris. It was something that only the town kids could enjoy. I believe it had an erratic reputation in its very earliest days.
But it was definitely here to stay.
All the tech evolution eventually made KCMT obsolete. I'm not sure anyone has written a retrospective on the earliest days of KCMT. But it's something that should be done.
They had a real "character" weatherman whose name I can pronounce but I'm not sure I could spell it right. I can say that his first name was Jim.
"Bud" did the sports. I associate Jon Haaven with the earliest news segments. Haaven became a newspaper mogul. His Alexandria newspaper was eventually gobbled up by the Forum Communications chain.
Big, distant companies have come to blanket everything.
Cable TV has gone from being a blessing to being oddly unfulfilling. Every channel has to do what it must to get a maximum number of eyeballs, all the time. There's no time for anything really thoughtful to develop. Nothing incremental except for that glorious exception: C-Span. Nothing for us to really take time to appreciate.
We turn to our computers. In fact, TV itself seems to be migrating to online. It's a zoo.
Just think back to when there was one TV channel available to many of us, and it moved along at a lazy pace with lots of imperfections. We thought it was just dandy.
KCMT owner Glenn Flint made rare appearances on the screen to give commentary. I understand this fulfilled the FCC requirement for "public service." I recall the commentary as conservative but not hard-edged. Flint was known as a trumpet player in the area. (That was my "ax" too.)
No late-night TV in those early days. You knew you were at the end of the "broadcast day" when you heard the Sousa-type band rendition of the National Anthem. And saw stock footage of U.S. Navy jets taking off from aircraft carriers etc.
After that you were into the dark abyss of no TV. No infomercials at 3 a.m. Or "Girls Gone Wild" promos.
Just listen for the coyotes outside, I guess. Maybe we all slept better.
If you rose early in the morning you'd see that "test pattern" with that signature Indian headdress - perhaps politically incorrect.
Perhaps the headdress was a good way of testing the colors. But we just had black and white in the early 1960s.
Color TV fascinated us when it first became available. Sometimes if you were browsing at Morris Radio and TV, they'd let you into the "back room" where you could watch "color TV" for a few minutes. Maybe you'd get your enthusiasm whetted for buying a color set.
We "adjusted" the TV set for color in those days. A certain hue might not be quite right.
There were knobs also for the "horizontal" and "vertical." The picture would "flip" if the "vertical" ("vert" for short) was out of whack.
TV helped make the boomers what we are. I'll leave it at that.
Blame "Captain Kangaroo," not Dr. Spock.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Sissies" like "nerds" are coming out well

Michael Smerconish used the word "sissification" on MSNBC last Tuesday. He used it in connection with the tempest over head injuries in football.
I should inject here that Smerconish is quite the "good guy" in cable TV news, a guy fundamentally from the right politically but who can engage in civilized, respectful conversation with those on the left. He won't get into the foxhole with the ultra righties.
I'll also inject here that Smerconish was the first guy to go on the air as a replacement for Don Imus when Imus created that firestorm. Imus couldn't escape the volley of criticism.
Imus is a satirist and that's an art form that can push the envelope pretty far. At the time of his downfall he was often called a "shock jock." No, a satirist he was. In came Smerconish to calm the early-morning waters on MSNBC.
Smerconish may have calmed the waters but he apparently didn't get good ratings. Neither did another "experiment" in that time slot, with Stephanie Miller. I rather liked Stephanie but sometimes she talked too fast.
We ended up with Joe Scarborough whose associates are the lovely Mika Brzezinski, the affable Willie Geist and the sage Mike Barnicle. These have been my early-morning companions ever since falling into unemployment.
"Sissification" is a variant on "sissy."
I doubt seriously that "sissy" is still an acceptable putdown among adolescent males. It belongs on "Leave it to Beaver" reruns.
Over a short ime this word has gone from adolescent/mainstream to a total museum relic. Like "dunce," a word that still has descriptive value even though such a thing is long dead. (Why am I thinking about George W. Bush?)
"Nerd" has gone from a putdown word to sort of a compliment to the point where it has pretty much disappeared. The "nerds" prevailed. They're normal, upstanding people.
The other part of the old dichotomy was the "jocks." The jocks were the cool partiers who, as they used to say, "could end up with a girl on each arm." That seems quite the revolting sexist observation today.
But there is a more serious trend to look at here.
How are these cultural changes, which seem so refreshing and enlightened, going to affect the future sports universe for kids?
We have gone from a culture where sports, especially football, were "manly" to a world in which women have equal footing. But women seem blessed: They are under no pressure to play a sport (football) that in many ways destroys the body and now we learn, the brain.
Michael Smerconish was suggesting that one way to discourage helmet-to-helmet contact in the NFL was to have one pre-season game in which facemasks aren't used. Players would be more likely to refrain from the dangerous kind of contact.
There is a bigger trend hovering over all this talk. We may be seeing a cultural drift away from football. People won't come right out and admit it. No one wants to be that drastic.
But in their behavior we'll slowly see that drift: People will say they still enjoy watching football on TV, which is really just kind of a dream world anyway.
But they'll discourage their own kids from playing it.
Participation numbers will droop. Boys will decide it's better to come home after school, relax and perhaps go on Facebook, than to bash heads and risk limbs and joints playing an old "manly" sport.
On Sunday night there was another sickening scene in the NFL where a lengthy pause was necessitated while a dazed player lay supine until he was carted off. The players gather around and look so concerned. And then they go back to their business of launching themselves like missiles.
Being unemployed I watch more cable TV than I should, and of late there has been a Toyota commercial that should give football promoters pause. It's not a commercial promoting car sales. It's a promo spot where Toyota's research into head injuries is lauded. So, this mother/actor in the commercial can "worry less."
This actress is so relieved about Toyota's research, "I can enjoy my son playing football more."
Really? Is it so essential for your son to play a sport that might have him become a borderline dementia case when he's close to 60?
Wouldn't it be more worry-free to just skip this male rite of passage?
Well, it would be, and in terms of their behavior I think we'll see parents and their sons begin to depart.
Maybe a lessen here is that it's odd to have a sport in the year 2010 that is so confined to one gender. Couldn't boys play volleyball in the fall? You wouldn't even need to worry about the weather.
But what would become of Big Cat Stadium here in Morris? It might end up like the Donnelly school building. (Let's invite one of those ghost-search TV crews.)
I remember when Dick Siebert came to Morris in the mid 1960s to put on a baseball clinic for boys. Siebert was the famous U of M Gopher baseball coach. He was also a product of his generation.
Siebert was speaking to us on technique and had reason to illustrate a point by making reference to softball. He couldn't stop at the mere comparison though. He referred to "softball, which is a sissy game."
I was just a kid but I could realize this was kind of a disturbing comment.
Try running this past Mark Ekren of Morris.
Siebert had us all start running across the baseball field - it was called Eagles rather than Chizek then - and he'd yell "slide!" Whereupon we could all ruin a perfectly good pair of pants.
It was a fun day but the "sissy" comment stayed lodged in my mind.
Here was this pillar of a coach associated with the august U and he went around using the word "sissy."
If he thought us little boomers would let this word go in one ear and out the other, he was mistaken.
"Sissies" would end up like the "nerds" i.e. with the last laugh.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwily73@yahoo.com

Friday, November 19, 2010

Awaiting the snowmobiles' scream

The 1968 Polaris "Mustang"
We have arrived at the time of year when the owners of snowmobiles look skyward in anticipation of the white stuff. We haven't had any real accumulation of snow yet. If you look skyward you'll see plenty of geese. Which means that snow may not come down but something else will. Look out.
The forecast calls for some snow this weekend (November 20-21).
When I was a kid geese were a rather rare sight here. If a flock appeared you'd gaze in a sort of mesmerized way.
The subsequent explosion in goose population caused the late writer/raconteur Doug Rasmusson to observe that geese had become "sky carp." Rasmusson self-published his work. Today he would have an absolute field day using the Internet.
Rasmusson and the late cartoonist Del Holdgrafer are examples of people who, if they had grown up in New York City, might have become household names with their talent. Just like we have all known young people with the looks, personality and talent to make it in Hollywood if they'd just go there and try the system.
I mean, if Ashton Kutcher can do it. . .
I don't blame anyone for not doing it because the odds are stacked against you.
I used to have breakfast with a co-worker on weekends, and we noticed a waitress at Don's Cafe whom we swore would look just as good on the cover of a grocery store magazine as anyone. This was years ago so don't speculate on who this might be. Actually I wouldn't even know her name.
What kind of a winter will this be for snowmobilers? It is a sport so at the mercy of the elements. We've had good years and some quite bad ones
I did some snowmobiling when young but none as an adult. As with everything else, technology has taken it a long way.
As a kid I never heard of such a thing as "grooming" trails. Without grooming, any well-worn snowmobile path becomes bumpy, like a washboard. I noticed this "bumpy' effect on snowmobile trails in the Brainerd area when young. It diminished enjoyment of the sport.
Snowmobiles burst into our consciousness in the early and mid 1960s. Middle class prosperity, relative to earlier times, was one reason. As with all new things, there was a small circle of people in town who exhibited it for the rest of us. A couple of these people brought their snow sleds up north with Morris boy scouts to a camp. The boys had fun testing the pastime.
The advent of snowmobiling was inevitable. That's because the ground is covered with snow here for much of the year, so why not fix up contraptions with engines for riding over it?
I suspect that many enthusiasts were just mechanically inclined people who wanted to see how the system could work. So, people snowmobiled "because it was there" - like mountain climbing.
But how much intrinsic enjoyment do we really find in snowmobiling? It's cold and dangerous. Inevitably we're tempted to go out on bodies of water. It's especially tempting out here when the alternative so often is a plowed field.
But frozen and snow-covered bodies of water have serious risks. We all know how young people especially don't fully appreciate risks. They're invulnerable, right?
Looking back, my snowmobiling was more hazardous than I realized at the time. As we get older I think we look back and wonder "how did I get through all that?"
Snowmobilers were a scourge for law enforcement. I don't know if they still are, because the enthusiasts might have developed their own "space" in which they can operate without irritating others. I know snowmobilers were once a scourge because the police chief of Morris told me. This chief was the late Henry Hull.
I remember Hull sitting with a rather contemplative look at the counter of Country Kitchen Restaurant, lamenting snowmobiles.
"We get more complaints about snowmobiles than anything," he said.
Country Kitchen was the first name of that restaurant. It was a chain. It has distinction in Morris history because for a long time it was 24 hours a day. I think UMM appreciated that. It made Morris seem like a bigger town than it is.
A 24-hour restaurant may have been more practical in those days because there was a "bar rush." Social drinking was far more popular, whereas today it's really being stomped down. The idiotic behavior of intoxicated people is no longer cool.
Country Kitchen attracted more than its share of alcohol-laced Neanderthals during late hours. It seemed hypocritical to accept or tolerate this behavior while decrying the pot-smoking kids who found they just needed "munchies."
"Reefer Madness" indeed!
Falling-down drunk at the VFW was no more admirable.
Country Kitchen Restaurant later became Atlantic Avenue Family Restaurant and today it's DeToy's (a mom and pop chain). Not only is the "bar rush" unthinkable there now, there's no smoking. Minnesota law probably should have slammed the door on smoking years earlier. I think restaurants attract far more business now that they're smoke-free.
Chief Hull would sit on one of those "fixed chairs" (not stools) at Country Kitchen. And then along would come Lester Podtburg to amiably order his "Dr. Pepper." And then Tib Kirwin who would order a "donut with a small hole."
I used to sit at the counter until I realized I was as entitled to a booth as anyone. The restaurant has plenty of seating space if you include the side room.
I'm sure the Morris police had headaches dealing with snowmobilers, but their whole job is to deal with headaches. Smowmobiling in the 1960s was pretty unfettered. We tore around hither and yon. I drove a fast Polaris sled that screamed across Lake Crystal.
It's fascinating to remember the array of snowmobile companies when the sport was young. There wasn't a whole lot of difference between them but they had different shapes and colors.
Scorpions were black. Moto-Ski was red. Sno-Jet was blue. The Rupp Sno-Sport was red and this line had a catchy commercial jingle: "Wake up your winter with fun." The Kussatz boys of Morris drove one of those.
Arctic Cat was black and promoted its "torsion bar suspension - patented."
I couldn't have explained what "torsion bar" was, but it must have been good. Because Arctic Cat with its black image seemed to emerge as the premier brand. These were made in Thief River Falls.
I was always defensive about the Arctic Cat's prominence because I drove a Polaris. Polaris snowmobiles were made in Roseau. I can't speak on where any of these snowmobiles are made today.
The Polaris company always made a concerted effort to do well in the "Winnipeg to St. Paul" 500-mile race. But in the races I attended out here, like at the Pope County fairgrounds (Glenwood), Polaris was very much back-seat to the Arctic Cats.
The Sno-Pony was a novelty - the Yugo of the snowmobile world. The AMF Ski-Daddler was gray. The Eul family of Morris had a Skiroule which was green.
The most powerful engine offered by most of these brands was the 634cc Hirth.
The most common brand might have been the Ski-Doo. It was so popular when the sport first bloomed, the name almost because a default name for snowmobiles, like "Kleenex" for facial tissues.
Ski-Doos didn't necessarily tear up the race circuit, although they had a model that could hold its own. But it was an everyman's snowmobile, fun for basically just tooling around. It was yellow.
(My vivid recollection of all these colors would impress a former co-worker and friend, Lynn Klyve.)
My beloved Polaris had the American red, white and blue colors.
I appreciate the families who brought their powered sleds up north for Boy Scout camp. It was quite the sharing spirit. I suppose today you'd need tons of insurance to do this.
Parents of the boomers shared in a pretty uninhibited way. Kids were the most important thing in the world to them.
The Boy Scout troop of First Lutheran Church wasn't just a small, tight group, it was more like an army. It had sub-groups, squads or whatever you wanted to call them. The scoutmaster was a gregarious sort, Sandy Munson; and the top pastor was Cliff Grindland. Kudos to these guys (and RIP).
The pastors of Firth Lutheran Church today - Ali Boomershine and Art Montgomery - would probably be shocked to learn that we played aggressive scatterball in the fellowship hall (downstairs). My, how could this be allowed?
To answer, let me cite a story from the childhood of Harmon Killebrew. Harmon and his brothers were pretty hard on the family's lawn (out in Idaho). A neighbor expressed some concern. Harmon's father then said "I'm raising sons here, not grass."
What an exemplary attitude.
I think the property concerns would trump that today.
So maybe it's no coincidence that people are having kids less. They're getting married less. There is no bigger indication that we could be paralleling the decline of the Roman Empire. A friend of mine from high school would joke about "dogs and cats sleeping together."
Well, it's not that bad yet.
Let 'er rip for the snowmobile season of 2010-2011.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving dims some as a holiday

The very mild fall that we've had might make it seem surprising that Thanksgiving is near. Thanksgiving seems less and less a holiday unto itself, rather it seems more like a signal that the Christmas shopping season is on.
Best Buy has already had a Christmas-themed commercial on the air.
Thanksgiving has taken on a rather vague purpose which calls for us to simply be thankful. There's no point in being more specific than that, because this could get risky. Boomers grew up seeing pictures of the "Pilgrims" and Indians. It was part of an innocuous tapestry that also included Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag.
The stories were oversimplifications - I wouldn't call them outright mythology - with kernels of truth. They were fun. They were uplifting.
The Santa Claus story is fun.
Today it would be risky to assume that a child would be charmed by banter about Santa.
The image of "Pilgrims" - men with the black attire and women with long dresses - and Indians (native Americans) getting together for a feast of togetherness is no longer considered harmless.
Aren't we aware that the natives were displaced, abused and literally wiped out in some places as time went on? Let's not pretend that the arrival of Europeans was benevolent (so the argument goes). They spread diseases.
Well yes, all of that is true. Fort Snelling was an institution that harshly oppressed the Native Americans, we are reminded. No doubt. But what exactly is the point? The reality is that history is a messy story of the strong exploiting the weak.
The Pilgrims/Indians imagery was an attempt to bring out the best in us - to instill in young people a desire to get along and be peaceful.
But it was hard to commercialize the holiday of Thanksgiving in its original form. In America today, something that cannot be commercialized might just as well not exist.
No point in putting the name of some stupid politician on a sports stadium when you could put the name of a big company on it and get some money out of them. Besides, Hubert Humphrey was a Democrat and aren't Democrats menacing? When I was a kid, a gesture like this was reasonable. Not today, when a stadium might be called Enron Field. Wait a minute, that name has been erased. Well, we all make mistakes.
Thanksgiving by itself didn't have enough of a commercial purpose. It was idle time when your aunt and uncle might motor over, you'd eat to excess and then sit and visit. No productivity there. No "ka-ching" of the cash register except at the grocery story for purchase of a turkey.
Many in the media have chosen to call the day "Turkey Day" rather than Thanksgiving. It seems safer although there is the risk of alienating traditionalists.
Media people prepare each year for those stories about turkey fryers that lead to fires destroying homes. The sports media always ask the question of why we have to watch the Detroit Lions each year.
As a society we politely acknowledge Thanksgiving while getting more foggy about its purpose. Then it's on to a "holiday" the very next day that didn't even exist when us boomers were kids. It's on to "Black Friday."
Now we're cookin'. Here's a holiday that's all about American consumerism. It arguably gets more attention in the media now than the trite old Thanksgiving.
Indeed the media truly push "Black Friday," imploring all of us to get out there and shop. Then we wait breathlessly for reports in the following days about just how all the retailers did.
Were the door-buster specials really eye-popping? Were any people trampled and killed by the urgency of the mob to get at some new "goodie?" Isn't America grand?
Good reports about Black Friday might even make the stock market go up the next week. And this is so essential because our lives truly turn on the stock market. Except that they didn't when I was a kid. If our parents even made enough money to save, they put it in the bank. Prudence and thrift were promoted. Stocks were risk investments that were best kept at a distance if you were "middle class."
When I was a kid, it seemed like everyone was "middle class."
We accepted the borderline mythology of Pilgrims/Indians, Betsy Ross' sewing, Paul Revere's ride and the like; and the commons area of Longfellow Elementary School in west Morris included that famous portrait of "George Washington in the clouds." You couldn't miss it every time you went to the "milk machine."
A lot of that mythology came crumbling down when America became mired in the Viet Nam War and we had to re-think our whole national story. There has since been a backlash as we have come to see Viet Nam as an aberration. Boomers who once talked about burning draft cards - there was an absolute defiance of authority - have come to see U.S. conventions and traditions as basically sound, and that the Viet Nam War was just an episode of profound mistakes that for some reason couldn't be checked by the people.
As I have written before, Billy Graham should have called an abrupt press conference in about 1967 to announce that the U.S. should get the h--- out of Viet Nam. Close your eyes and think about that happening. There would be a firestorm at first. But we might have then seen enlightenment spreading like the ripples from throwing a pebble into a pond.
We can only imagine what might have happened. But it didn't. To this day I'm disturbed to remember a war casualty whose funeral I attended in Brainerd, whose skin was purple in the casket.
Why this tragedy? Was it because America had won "the good war" (WWII) and we were destined to continue our warrior culture?
The draft card-burning boomers seemed to have straightened things out for a while. But now we seem to be engaged in military adventurism again, and the consumer culture has grown to be almost dehumanizing.
To the point where we marginalize Thanksgiving in favor of "Black Friday."
The good news is that the Detroit Lions seem a little more competitive this year.
Happy Thanksgiving.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, November 15, 2010

Syttende Mai run was a rite of spring

I first heard about the Syttende Mai run (or race) from Steven "Skip" Sherstad. That was logical because Skip was the nephew of the man behind the Syttende Mai. This run was held for many years in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, home of Skip's uncle Carlyle Sherstad. Skip's father (and Carlyle's brother) was Emmett Sherstad.
Unfortunately none of the principals whom I have cited are still with us. Skip was only a year older than me and when he died he had no obvious pressing health issues. He was a long-time public servant.
Carlyle gave us the Syttende Mai run which coincided with the height of the distance running boom. The event drew a flood of people annually to the little western Wisconsin town.
Running had taken off in popularity partly because of Frank Shorter's marathon win in the Olympics. We also had the best-selling book by James Fixx promoting the pastime. Remember its red cover and how it sold like hotcakes?
Fixx would later die of a heart attack. Many saw irony in his death but since then we've gained a more informed perspective. Running gives no guarantee of sound health. No guarantee, yes, but if one's weight can be kept at an optimal healthy level through the pastime, it's something to be recommended.
Maurice Hobbs, who wrote a Star Tribune running column during that heyday, wrote of Carlyle's Syttende Mai that it was one of those runs that could be "hard to get into."
After learning of the event from Skip and reading Hobbs' column, I of course had to do it!
My first year running the Syttende Mai was 1985. It became a spring ritual for me. It's an especially terrific feeling getting into top shape in the spring, a time of year when many people discover flab as residue from our sedentary lifestyle over winter.
The Syttende Mai was held in mid-May to coincide with the Norwegian Independence Day: "Syttende Mai." Here in Morris the Sons of Norway (Norskfodt Lodge) puts on a special breakfast.
Today I'd rather just enjoy the breakfast than run 16.2 miles. Yes, it was quite the demanding distance imposed on us by Carlyle who had the most intrepid spirit about running. He called the distance "16.2 Norwegian miles."
How did he arrive at this distance? It's a combination of ten miles and ten kilometers with the latter equating to 6.2 miles.
I thought it was an ideal running challenge because you had to approach the event as if it were a marathon, yet it spared you those final few miles of a marathon which can tear down your body in an unhealthy way.
Like most runs it started in the morning. So, many of the runners spent overnight in Grantsburg and it's not as if there were a high rise hotel available.
Many host families stepped forward in the community. Mine had the last name of Johnson, an elderly couple, and we renewed our acquaintance every year for eight years. Exchanged Christmas cards too.
They drove me out to the Crex Meadows which is the biggest natural attraction of that area. I consider it like Wisconsin's answer to the Florida Everglades.
These experiences were the only personal contact I ever had with the state of Wisconsin. But they won't get me to root for the Green Bay Packers.
Which reminds me of an interesting contrast between Minnesota and Wisconsin pro sports. Minnesota's teams (Twins, Vikings and Wild) are named after Minnesota; they aren't named after Minneapolis or the Twin Cities. In Wisconsin we have the Green Bay Packers, the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks.
I'm not sure what explains this contrast in naming approach. Doesn't Wisconsin engender a sense of statewide identity like Minnesota?
Grantsburg WI, being in western Wisconsin, attracted lots of Twin Cities runners. It felt almost like a Minnesota event. People from the Twin Cities could savor the true small-town atmosphere of Grantsburg. It's smaller than Morris.
The Rainbow diner on main street had a spaghetti special on the eve of the Syttende Mai race each year. Spaghetti is the desired fare for runners just before a long distance challenge.
There is a body of water just off main street where I'd see geese every year. I'd go over there after supper and sit at the base of a tree, the same tree every year, and ponder the adventures of the year just past and think about what might be ahead.
I never dreamt my profession of newspapering was headed for turmoil and severe retrenchment. The biggest trends in society leap up and surprise you.
My last year at the Syttende Mai was 1992, which was maybe a year before we all started hearing about such things as email. A new universe awaited us all, and we never could have guessed at the onset of the '90s all the ramifications of the changes coming.
Quaint. It seemed to be a quieter and slower-paced world back then, in which we all trusted each other a little more. "Friends" were something we tended to make face-to-face. The term "identity theft" hadn't been coined.
Full of spaghetti, I'd retire to the Johnsons' residence where we'd chat in a front porch manner that was right out of Mayberry. I was troubled toward the end because Mr. Johnson had symptoms of Parkinson's that were worsening. Fortunately this couple had family in the immediate community to watch over them.
Maybe in the hereafter we'll meet again to chat on that "porch."
Carlyle himself was cut down by a stroke that greatly limited his ability to communicate. It was charming how he could count up to the number six and say certain words like "wow." The look on his face showed he continued taking everything in and appreciating the enthusisam. But how sad that such an ebullient soul was slowed.
Saturday morning brought the serious business of running the Syttende Mai race. At its height it attracted some well-known runners like Dick Beardsley. Beardsley was a hero to the boomer generation runners of the Upper Midwest who were entranced with the sport in the '70s.
Beardsley helped establish Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, giving it stature with a superlative performance. Beardsley, from Rush City, had gotten famous with his duel with Alberto Salazar in the Boston Marathon. He wore a painter's cap.
My only chance to see Beardsley in the Syttende Mai was in photos afterwards. He'd get out ahead of runners of my level pretty fast, not that I was any slouch as a runner.
My time for nearly all of the years was around one hour and 48 minutes. If you do some math to compute the time per mile, it's pretty good for a recreational runner. It's especially good for a runner of my fairly large physique, as it was all I could do to get my weight in the 170 range. Heck, today I'm about 220. Good lord!
Damn those complimentary soft drink refills at McDonald's.
In my dreams I see myself running with the very best runners. But those are wispy people whose weight is in a completely different, more economical range than mine.
We sometimes don't realize how small and wispy those runners are because they are so often photographed with each other. It's just like NFL football players being so often photographed with each other, we don't realize how truly big they are!
The Syttende Mai eventually reached the end of its storied run. The boomer generation decided to diversify its training and not fixate on running so much.
Today it's my understanding that there is a June run in Grantsburg, much shorter, that memorializes Carlyle Sherstad. He was an all-around civic model, a distinguished WWII veteran and booster of the American Legion.
The Grantsburg Legion was always open to serve pancakes to runners after their Syttende Mai.
Should I go back? I suppose it would be like an old war veteran re-visiting a battlefield.
I'd enjoy seeing the geese, meditating and engaging in some front porch chatter, and of course filling my plate buffet-style with spaghetti or whatever's offered at the Rainbow.
But running 16.2 miles? I think maybe that's gone with the wind. But the memories are sterling.
Carlyle Sherstad, RIP.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Coaching football and guiding the boomers

I once interviewed a retiring Morris teacher who was head varsity football coach in the 1960s. He coached sub-varsity after his tenure as head coach. That's a little unusual - being willing to coach the younger grades after you've experienced the Klieg lights of having the varsity reins.
So this guy gets credit as a "trooper." He had the "privilege" of being a teacher and coach when the boomer youth made their way through our public educational system.
He told me he wasn't enthused about the post-season prep football playoffs which were new. Yes, there was a time not that long ago in the scheme of things, when the end of the regular season was the end of the season, period.
So what did the teams play for? Well, they played for their conference championship. The teacher/coach told me that in the era sans playoffs, "when you won your conference championship it really meant something."
One of the problems with the post-season is that all but a handful of teams end the season with a loss. Basketball has dealt with this reality for a long time. But not football.
Why was football a late comer? The biggest reason is probably that it is an outdoor sport, so extending the season can bring the predictable weather perils including snow and ground hardened by sub-freezing temperatures.
I'll toss out the name of the former Morris coach because I don't think I'm quoting him in any way that he would find objectionable. He's Stan Kent.
Hats off to Mr. Kent and his colleagues of that era for guiding the boomers along. We were coming of age at a turbulent time when our whole national culture was feeling shocks. Conventions were being challenged left and right. Justice on racial and gender issues was bubbling up.
By the early '70s we finally got girls sports established, awkwardly and with some pain at first, as the pioneering varsity teams didn't have the proper mastery of game fundamentals. But with time and the underpinning of (legally mandated) institutional support, it succeeded completely.
Mr. Kent happened to coach varsity football when the high school sports model was more along the lines of the movie "Hoosiers." Kent coached the Tigers at Coombe Field before it was called Coombe Field because Bill Coombe was still with us. I played a year of elementary basketball under "Mr. Coombe." Later I had him for seventh grade social studies.
I remember playing some elementary games at the old Morris armory, a memorable edifice that burned down in the mid-1960s. The public library is there today. I also remember playing an elementary game at the Donnelly town hall against the Donnelly boys who had their own cheerleaders.
"Get your men, get your men," Donnelly coach Dave Holman implored his boys as they went on defense.
We wore T-shirts instead of actual uniforms. The same was true of Little League baseball - T-shirts rather than major league facsimile uniforms of today.
I got to thinking about the high school football playoffs because of looking at the Star Tribune sports section Thursday. The section announced the slate of quarter-final state playoff games. I was sure I would find Big Cat Stadium of Morris in the listing of venues.
One of the biggest selling points of our still-new football stadium was that it could host these grand, high-level High School League playoff games. But I couldn't find Big Cat in there.
I don't know the reason but I find this unusual.
Fans everywhere have to hold their breath through these late-stage playoff affairs until everyone finally ends up indoors at the Metrodome. I don't think it's named for Hubert Humphrey anymore. Humphrey was a Democrat and that equates with some pretty bad things today. We don't want to alienate the tea party people. So today it's "Mall of America Field at Metrodome."
It could be worse, tea partiers, as there was a time in this state when we named a highway after socialist governor Floyd B. Olson. Of course, to properly view these decisions of putting the HHH and Olson names on things, you need a sense of historical perspective. And that's quite too much to expect of tea partiers and the right wing in general.
I recall covering three games at the "Humphrey" Metrodome for Prep Bowl. Working for the legacy media, I covered the Morris Area Tigers in one of those years and the Chokio-Alberta Spartans in the other two.
The nine-man game was always first in the morning and nobody seemed fully awake and ready for it. Both times covering the C-A Spartans, I asked for my press credentials at the appropriate window and was told "they haven't arrived yet."
But I was able to talk my way down to the field. Those were the days when "press" people commanded easy respect. Today I use the term "legacy media" but then it was just the "media." There were the standard outlets that everyone took for granted.
Today I can just imagine what a madhouse it has become with how diversified the media picture is. Associations like the Minnesota State High School League all across the country have had to go through contortions adjusting to it. Since I'm pretty much out of the picture now, I can only speculate on where they're at.
The most logical resolution, to me, would be for the League to arrange to have its own photos taken at state events and then have those photos available online for any media entity that wants them. Since anyone can claim to be "media" today, there has to be a sense of order.
Picture-taking doesn't really cost money today because we have digital cameras that only involve a one-time purchase. I should attach an asterisk here because with the rate of improvement in all this technology, realistically you need to purchase new stuff every 3-4 years. This past fall for Morris Area football, I used my old Canon 35mm SLR camera, probably dating to the mid-1980s, and had film developed (and CDs made) at Thrifty White Drug in Morris.
The system served me fine although those developing expenses can add up. I greatly appreciate everyone who became aware of my website and visited. But to be honest, I wish I could see more evidence of a growing audience.
Since I'm being honest, I also admit it would be great to sit in the auditorium for the Lions Fall Sports Program and have coach Witt recite my name in his acknowledgments. But that's shooting for the moon, I guess. At least for now.
Jerry Witt is an elementary teacher unlike Mr. Kent who taught high school history. Kent and his generation of teachers guided us through times that were transitional in our society, and these educators merited kudos. We saw that they could be a little ossified and unmotivated at times but we didn't care! We didn't have helicopter parents back then, and our parents were pretty laid-back and relaxed about how things went at school, relatively speaking.
I do remember Mr. Kent asserting some firm discipline in class once. There was an irreverent spirit in class one day during unstructured time - I suspect there was much more unstructured time then than now - and a class clown type of student was speculating on how "extra credit" might be arranged in sex education. (There was no sex education in this particular class so it was just idle chatter. Sex education was an edgy concept at the time, a part of all the societal tumult and evolution we were going through.)
This particular student, who I will not name, went on about this "extra credit" until suddenly, abruptly Mr. Kent said "that's very un-funny!"
The "un-funny" resonated in a way that shut us all up immediately. The law had clearly been laid down. Those may have been edgy times but the fist of proper order and decorum had to be shaken once in a while.
We were reminded of that quite adequately. This is the stuff of class reunion reminiscences.
We got a new head football coach when I was about a sophomore - no, I didn't play so you can't blame any grammatical or spelling errors on head injuries - and he was so ballyhooed in his arrival, as a real genius and disciplinarian. But as I recall it, he underachieved badly. Mr. Kent would have done just fine staying in the role - most likely better.
Finally we arrived at the Witt chapter which has gone on about 30 years now. Where has the time gone?
Many coaches with that long a tenure have developed a wide girth but Witt is totally the opposite. He looks like he could run a 10K tomorrow. Now we just have to get him and the Tigers back down to Minneapolis for Prep Bowl again at "Metrodome."
Hubert H. Humphrey, RIP.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Grocery shopping and our changing town

The ethanol plant is up and running again and there's talk that the Appleton prison will reopen. It's nice to see this pattern of the dead coming back to life. But I don't think we'll be seeing the Coborn's grocery store opening its doors again.
I think most of us were perplexed by the closing of Coborn's because it seemed like a place so buzzing with life. It might have been the most vital "people" place in Stevens County, and any tie (stalemate) with Willie's would have been broken by the fact it was open 24 hours a day.
It might have seemed odd to see people buying routine grocery items at some ungodly hour. But people did it. I had a co-worker who said you could feel comfortable going to Coborn's in your pajamas, the point being that the store was a haven for the "common" person.
The new Willie's store overwhelmed me when it opened its doors. A different co-worker at that time said the new Willie's was "too much for me."
The new Willie's Super Valu was built because of commercial pressures, of course. Just like certain commercial pressures came along and eliminated Coborn's.
Life goes on.
Writing a post about grocery shopping makes one feel quite Andy Rooney-ish.
"Have you ever noticed. . ." etc.
One can argue that grocery stores are the last real bastion of "people" activity in our rural small towns. Towns that not that long ago were buzzing with their own high schools, sports teams and the like have gotten hollowed out. I'm told there's a big "for sale" sign in front of the Alberta school building. I'm told the Donnelly restaurant has closed.
Our family used to visit the Cyrus restaurant for Sunday afternoon dining but that, too, went out of business.
Downtown Morris was such a popular place when I was a kid, you had to shove change into parking meters to park there. We're into quite different times now.
The "people" activity may have diminished but we all still have to eat. Willie's arguably has a monopoly now or a quasi-monopoly, so it's a place where you can still bump into your neighbors.
Grocery stores are still places that employ a number of people who meet the public. But that may change.
Grocery stores everywhere are taking a hard look at their carry-out services, according to a friend of mine who used to work at Coborn's. People can handle their own groceries with the use of carts if needed, and carry-out could be on an on-request basis. Isn't this the way Wal-Mart does it?
If you can't stay competitive with Wal-Mart in this day and age, you're in trouble.
Scanners have made the job of checkout clerks easier.
"You mean there was a time when scanners didn't exist?"
Well, yes.
As with all technology, initially the job is made easier for employees until eventually the employees aren't needed at all. This is the definite spectre that awaits grocery store checkout clerks.
Will they all be able to find something new to do? Good question.
How much further will small town erosion continue before society starts to feel some really bad effects?
When our society no longer celebrates "people" i.e. kids and families, what fate then awaits us?
Grocery stores are probably a barometer for seeing how our small towns are hanging in there, or not.
Does Willie's even need to spend money to advertise? Is there any other store like it in the immediate area? So is the closest real competition Alexandria?
Couldn't you argue that the people who are so determined to shop in Alexandria that they'd buy groceries there, wouldn't be influenced by advertising anyway?
I would like to tell Paul Martin of Willie's that instead of all that advertising and promotion, just push "everyday low prices" and skip sending out all that paper.
I have dabbled only a few times in following coupons, promotions and the like, and always come away resigned about it. My philosophy is to just go to the store and get what I need. Promotions just get me to buy things I don't need, an excess quantity of something I might want, or brands or varieties of something that I might not prefer.
I really think it's counterproductive. But it seems I'm quite in the minority on this.
Wal-Mart has pioneered lots of things, one of them being "everyday low prices." I subscribe wholeheartedly to this.
I have mixed thoughts about the sell-by dates on everything in a grocery store. (Here we go in the Rooney-ish tone.)
Obviously there needs to be a mechanism ensuring that stores don't sell stale or dangerously old items. But the sell-by system encourages, I think, too many people to paw through items to find the freshest. Thus I think a lot of product gets thrown away, which I think is unconscionable.
We all have to guard against impulse purchases in grocery stores but that's tough. I think we all resolve on occasion to simply compile a strict shopping list and resist all else. Until we see some snack we'd really like.
And we end up forgetting to get the milk anyway.
We used to be able to dash to Coborn's at 2 a.m. and get it.
I once read that grocery stores tend to put their most frivolous or non-necessary items by the entry because you're more likely to buy them at the start of your shopping trip, than when your cart is nearly full toward the end. I'm not sure Willie's subscribes to that model though.
I sometimes don't like those fund-raising tables at the entry of Willie's. I don't like it when the people at those tables accost you. They could just sit behind their signs, stay quiet and let me decide. Let me make one exception and that's Girl Scout Cookies!
I also don't like those stands with free samples. I feel as though my privacy is being intruded upon.
What size cart should you choose when entering a grocery store? You have full-size carts, mini-carts and baskets, plus those contraptions in which little kids can sit.
It shouldn't bother me, but I'm always scared of taking a full-size cart when I might not need one. So I often take a smaller one and fill it to capacity and then some. Or I'll take a basket and then have to carry some stuff with my other arm.
Sometimes I take a basket because I want to discipline myself to not buy too much. That often doesn't work.
I feel sorry for the store employees who have to ask "paper or plastic?" all day. There has got to be a better way. But hey, nowadays you're supposed to be thankful just to have a job, right? Isn't that the mantra?
Willie Martin might have been the first adult I became familiar with in this community. I think JFK was president at the time. Morris was brimming with kids and families and we needed more than one public elementary school in town.
Willie would tease me in a friendly way naturally about what cereal boxtops I was looking for. I might be after a boxtop that could be redeemed for a plastic submarine, for example.
I'm befuddled why it's necessary to have so many different kinds of breakfast cereal. Wouldn't three or four basic kinds suffice?
Willie was the consummate people person and small town patriarch who, while I'm sure he sought profit, wasn't some corporate automaton who knelt at the altar of some behemoth company begging for mercy.
I'm sure any grocery store employee will tell you that fender-bumper accidents in the parking lot are common. I once told a local insurance agent that grocery stores should be pressured to paint their parking spots further apart. But this would force people to park further away, and who wants to walk? Ah, humanity.
In the old days you'd get Green Stamps or Gold Bond stamps handed to you at the checkout. If people had redeemed virtually all of those stamps, those companies would have gone broke. They made money because of the stamps that got discarded, so you could say it was kind of an ethically-challenged system. It eventually died.
When I was a kid, Willie's was a Red Owl store and not Super Valu. There were two major stores in Morris then, Juergensen's Super Valu being the other, and they seemed equally viable. Juergensen's was where the Aaron Carlson business is today. It had "partial carry" service which meant you drove your car to the front and had your sacks put in the car there.
I believe the Juergensen bakery actually had an advantage over Willie's.
That was then, this is now. The Juergensen's store had two more incarnations after the Juergensen name departed, and Morris legend has it that a main street improvement project forced Mitch's Food Pride out of business at that location.
People my age have fond memories of the grocery experience there. Remember the snack counter and those terrific soft ice cream cones?
Neighborhood grocery stores were a big part of the town's fabric when I was a kid. I suppose the equivalent today is convenience stores although those are so sterile by comparison. They have clerks with ID cards hanging around their necks and there's a sign in front telling robbers that it isn't worth the trouble trying to rob the place.
In the old days you had some stern parental type welcoming kids as they streamed in, making sure they didn't get too squirrelly in their behavior as they sought out popsicles, baseball cards and the like.
Baseball cards were a nickel a pack.
At the Dairy Queen along East 7th Street, you could buy a nickel-size cone or the "large" size: a dime. The Stark's neighborhood grocery store (later Budig's) was along that street too, down the hill from our old, now-abandoned (and crumbling) elementary school. Of course, back then it wasn't just an elementary school, it was the high school, with "East Elementary" attached.
Longfellow Elementary, where I attended grades 1-3 (and was informed of the JFK assassination) was in west Morris.
I attended grades 4-9 at the east Morris building. Us boomer kids would literally run down the hill on Columbia Avenue during break time to visit Stark's Grocery to maybe get a candy bar or small sack of chips. You might say it was a little dangerous as we approached and crossed East 7th Street.
There was a time when East 7th was the main entry to Morris from the east, before the highway that is located in front of Pamida. Crossing at East 7th and Columbia, with momentum from going downhill, would prompt alarm bells today. But people didn't worry as much then.
It was a culture that celebrated kids and families with all the risks attendant.
Today we're so risk-averse we're not even having kids anymore.
I'm not sure this is the way God intended it.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, November 8, 2010

Neighborhoods have their chapters in time

The above photo shows the new church which is joining the neighborhood just to the north of Morris. (Photo by B.W.)

Neighborhoods go through their transitions and we're in one now, out on the northern edge of Morris. Houses are changing hands. Ironically, the newest houses along our road are along the stretch that is not yet paved. There are times of the year when the unpaved section can get a little rough.
I think it's interesting that County Road 5 going north out of Morris got paved for several miles toward Donnelly, while our road, Northridge Drive, still has that substantial dirt stretch.
Dirt roads can become washboard-like at various times of the year. Oh, not that I personally care! More paving would certainly mean more traffic. No one really wants that from the vantage point of your residence.
I even talked to someone from that County Road 5 neighborhood once who didn't relish that road getting paved. Old-timers call that road "Yankee Ridge."
Some interesting people live along that road. When I was a kid it wasn't real inviting because, well, it was a dirt road. The stuff of country music songs. Dirt roads are an exhibit for rustic Americana, for the humble lifestyle that many see as representing our roots.
But progress rolls along and now County Road 5 ("Yankee Ridge") is a wonderful paved route for all kinds of travel including "Sunday driving." It's the No. 1 bicycling route that I recommend.
By using County Road 5 and then taking a right onto the (also newly paved) County Road 18, you can get all the way to the Pomme de Terre Lake access without using a state highway. The access isn't as well-known locally as it should be. It's a bona fide park with a shelter, swing set etc.
We have a new and significant neighbor out on the north edge of Morris. It's a church, located on County Road 5 close to the intersection of that road and Northridge. It was physically moved from its previous location.
Our family attended two lutefisk suppers there when it was at its former site several miles south of Alberta. It was a classic "country church," a charming little white building where you could just imagine people in an earlier era arriving by horse and buggy.
This new church in Morris makes us think of changing times. So does Northridge Drive. Let's compare: The church had its doors closed at its previous location because of the notorious population drain in the rural Upper Midwest.
The Agralite-News publication, in an article about the church in its September edition, reported that Good Shepherd Lutheran Church had a membership "near 150 families" in the 1960s.
Wow! It's almost scary to ponder what has happened since.
"With declining membership from the rural community, this church building had become a common symbol of the changing times of rural America," the article reported.
"Changing" or "declining."
One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was a book review for "Hollowing Out the Middle," which explored the depopulation of the rural Upper Midwest. I only read about a third of the book because I was repulsed by many of the condescending knee-jerk judgments and stereotypes by the two academic sociologists who wrote it. I didn't need to read the other two-thirds because I knew what they were going to say, just looking at the chapter headings.
I took college social science classes. College social science professors can be the most narrow and parochial people you'll ever meet, unless things have changed since the 1970s. I suspect these individuals have moderated a little. But I'm fairly certain those recognizable spots are still there.
They probably aren't the blatant leftists or elitists they once were (or at least they soft-pedal it). Someday courses like "Sociology 101" will be retired to the dustbin and everyone will say "what took so long?"
Good Shepherd Church and my Northridge Drive have both felt the effects of changing demographics. Northridge Drive in the 1960s (its first decade of existence) was throbbing with the sugar high of kids!
Every neighborhood in Morris had kids that would define that neighborhood. I remember being close to the South Street kids in my youth. "The South Street Kids" - nice name for a movie. Reminds me of "The Bowery Boys" (with Huntz Hall).
These were the unique years of the baby boomer youth. The World War II generation had found prosperity in the post-war years and celebrated with large, robust families. The kids showed lots of imperfections with their behavior but we learned to mesh, to grow and to get past most of the hazards that confronted us.
The institutional resources for youth were far less than today, which represents huge irony.
There were no girls sports in schools until the mid-1970s. There was no real special education. Kids with special needs (with terms/diagnoses that weren't even coined yet or weren't familiar to us) had to fight to get through in the mainstream.
Some might argue this was good. You couldn't fall back on the excuse of some "diagnosis" (like high-functioning autism). Many kids struggled because of this, I'm sure.
But there is no perfect system, is there? Because man, after all, is not perfectible.
There were no child car seats then. Many of our parents (not mine) drank to excess and it was considered fairly normal behavior. Driving while drunk wasn't stigmatized like today. Catholic priests - I'm not speaking locally - misbehaved but with little notice.
There was no indoor ice arena in Morris. Hockey was a sandlot sport and people my age can remember the handful of "rink rats" in each grade who enjoyed the sport as best they could with limited resources.
Girls were supposed to enjoy "home ec."
Today we micro-manage our kids' upbringing. Every conceivable weakness is addressed. Kids aren't trusted to police themselves, they are under a microscope. They aren't groomed to be self-starters.
Problem is, there are so many fewer kids today. It's a whole different world in this regard. Northridge Drive has been practically bereft of kids. I believe there are a couple of preschool ones now, but I can't remember the last time a school bus even rumbled by here.
My goodness, in the 1960s a clunky orange bus would make about four stops along our neighborhood. I'd wave to Steven "Skip" Sherstad, a year older than me, who was three houses down.
Those were the days of 150 families belonging to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church south of Alberta.
Today we live in a community where senior citizens seem almost to predominate. It's wonderful to have that element in our population and to see medical science prolonging the lives of our elders.
But don't you feel a little nostalgic for the days when every neighborhood in town had its gang of kids? Like the "South Street kids?"
Those kids had no inhibitions about playing unsupervised, out and about around town. A lot of dogs ran loose too.
Today the media can raise the fears of parents so much, kids are kept indoors where they play video games and become obese. The media sensationalize cases of child endangerment and abuse. Such behavior (like that of certain notorious Catholic priests) is nothing new.
An earlier generation of parents prayed that their children would stay safe but they didn't obsess about creating a "cocoon" for them. They realized the world around them was inherently risky. They had survived the Depression and World War II.
With that as a backdrop, they could live with some of the imperfections in the environment in which their kids grew up. Risk was part of the fabric that God wove around us.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church may find new life just to the north of our community (just to the north of Cimaroc Kennels, causing a friend of mine to refer to the church as "the dog kennel church").
Personally I think the church does a disservice. We have enough churches in town now. I think it's safe to say they aren't all virtually thriving.
Certainly there's an existing church that could meet your needs. The individuals who are pouring tens of thousands of dollars into starting the new church could apply that money in a more constructive way.
Is it so terrible that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is showing a touch of progressiveness?
The new church is a statement by traditionalists who will develop the church as a bulwark against that change, based on what I've heard from credible sources.
It isn't necessary.
Besides, County Road 5 doesn't need development. Its beauty has been in its pristine nature.
Good Shepherd may become viable but it probably will never duplicate what we saw in those years when the baby boom population created such a lively and unforgettable world around us. It was a culture that celebrated children. It was the kind of culture, even with its occasional cruelty and imperfections, that God would most certainly bless.
(A footnote: Google spell-check does not approve of "lutefisk!")
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Let's yawn about Olbermann suspension

Maybe Keith Olbermann was suspended because of the failure of the Democratic Party this past campaign season. The leaders in Democratic-oriented thinking are clearly on their heels now. Olbermann of MSNBC was a leading voice for those left of center. Now he's suspended for having given a relatively small sum of money to a couple of Democrats.
It really shouldn't matter that Olbermann is off the air. You can't argue that he did much to boost Democrats' fortunes. He and the likes of Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz made up an interesting cast at MSNBC. They may be interesting but they seem to wield no real influence.
We're atwitter about cable news because for the time being, cable news is an important media establishment. People watch the partisan channels mainly to have their own views reinforced.
MSNBC wasn't converting a whole lot of people to progressivism, as this past election showed. Minnesota appears to have lost whatever was left of its reputation as a Democratic stronghold. No one says "Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome" anymore. It's just "Metrodome" or "Mall of America Field."
Mentioning Humphrey would be an affront in today's climate wherein Republicans have so much momentum, they're almost viewed as non-political. John Wayne must be smiling from the grave.
Republicans are the good guys in today's CW (conventional wisdom). As an example, let me cite the company that owns Fox News which gave money to the Republican Governors Conference and then claimed that this wasn't even political. The company explained that the monetary gesture was made not because the Conference was political, but that it was "pro-business."
It's nice to know that Fox News is staying out of politics. It's just "pro-business."
Why can't Fox just admit that it's political and that it pushes Republicanism? It has to keep some fig leaf of journalistic integrity, I imagine.
But does Fox think we're children? Do they really think that most people would buy their company line on these matters?
If we're all really supposed to buy the line that Republicans are pro-business - who among us would really want to be anti-business? - should there even be a Democratic Party anymore?
Maybe Fox News endorses a two-party system but those two parties would be the Republicans and the Tea Party. Fox has already beat the drums for the Tea Party. If the Tea Party continues to grow as a separate entity, i.e. to not get absorbed by the Republicans, maybe Fox would evolve in its direction.
The Olbermann story is minor. There's a bigger story going on in cable news.
Cable TV is shrinking. More and more people are becoming disconnected from it. For a while, cable news was a huge example of how the media universe was expanding and fragmenting. Now, cable TV is becoming a victim of the very trend that put it in the forefront.
The trend rolls forward and spares no one, least of all the media bigshots who took for granted their mass audiences.
There's no need to lose sleep over whether Fox News is getting an advantage over MSNBC. Fox will always have an advantage with audience size because firm conservatives have always sought out media reinforcement for their paranoia and insecurity. Rush Limbaugh began demonstrating that a long time ago.
Progressives tend to be the kind of people who go about their lives without needing that kind of reinforcement. They might prefer watching a sitcom in the evening.
The people have spoken in the last election and it wasn't because anyone in the media was holding their hand.
If the Duluth area couldn't even keep Jim Oberstar, then clearly something is in the air.
On Fox News just this morning (Saturday) - and when I say "morning" I mean as early as 4 a.m. - a talking head cited two reasons why Oberstar's opponent, Chip Cravaack, won. One was a debate. Gee, I wonder how Fox News would score a debate between a "pro-business" Republican and a Democrat. The other reason cited was the endorsement Cravaack received from the Duluth newspaper.
The Duluth News-Tribune is owned by Forum Communications which also has its mitts on our Morris and Hancock papers.
There has been some controversy in the past over the Forum's apparent company-wide candidate endorsement policy. In this case there are vigorous denials that the Cravaack endorsement was dictated out of the Forum's Fargo headquarters. That may be true, but when you're a Forum employee I think you sleep better at night if you espouse Republican or "pro-business" thinking, because that's the track record of the company.
It's hard enough feeling secure in a media job now.
Increasingly the public doesn't need professional media people churning out product for them to consume. As for the "voice of God" candidate endorsements from the likes of the Duluth News-Tribune, or the Forum or whomever, they're a joke. The Forum and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune endorsed Tom Horner. How did that turn out?
We probably have Horner to thank for the (apparent) election of Mark Dayton as governor. Horner had been a long-time Republican before ego-tripping into the Independence Party. He wasn't likely to draw much Democratic-leaning support.
Four years ago it was the opposite, when wonkish Peter Hutchinson who had a liberal bent may have lifted Tim Pawlenty. Forum Communications endorsed Pawlenty that year.
The print media had more power in 2006 than today. Their claims about shifting to the web are ridiculous because anyone can get on the web. Good grief, I'm plying journalism on the web, and I encourage anyone to compare my coverage of Morris Area Tiger football to what our local legacy media did.
Four years from now, people will notice the declining stature of cable news. The media realities may not matter, if they ever did, much. The Republican wave has formed and may keep rolling forward. After all it's "pro-business." It's fiscally conservative. Not like those Democrats who are anti-business and fiscally reckless.
How could we have ever named a stadium after one of them? The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. It's an abomination. Or maybe we should just admit that times have changed. For the sake of "jobs and business" we need to strip the ordinary people of all their rights and ability to assert themselves.
Remember the days when Johnny Paycheck could climb the charts with the song lyrics "Take This Job and Shove It?" Working people had some leverage and expected some give and take with their superiors. The Paycheck song is an exaggeration but it's illustrative.
Imagine embracing the credo of "I am my brother's keeper." What an anachronistic attitude.
Maybe Olbermann deserves to be shoved into permanent oblivion. Maybe he could just recite those Paycheck lyrics.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, November 5, 2010

Moss redux: Curious chapter in Vikes' history

"Monumental" was the word I trotted out to describe the Vikings' acquisition of Randy Moss. "Monumental" can describe a lot of things of course. I intended it as a way of suggesting the Minnesota Vikings had acquired a valuable piece in the puzzle to charge forward.
The 33-year-old seemed to have fuel left in the tank. The Vikings are entertainment and there was nothing more entertaining than watching Moss streak down the field. All the Vikings had to do was make this acquisition work.
Instead the whole episode ended up being a monumental curiosity.
Was it a well-intended and admirable move to apply the jumper cables? Or was it regrettable from the get-go?
Should we just shake our heads and turn thumbs-down on Mr. Moss, he of the Mike Tice-coined "Randy Ratio?" (Remember ol' "Pencil Ear?")
It all depends on whether the mercurial receiver works out with Tennessee. If Jeff Fisher of the Titans can get the best out of Moss, all the more power to the Titans. Coach Fisher will have demonstrated superior people management skills.
Meanwhile, has "Chilly" here in Minnesota ever really developed a warm following? Coach Childress talks like it's hard for him to get each word out. His voice has a low, grinding and grating quality. His personality could bring to mind the jokes Johnny Carson used to tell about Tommy Newsom.
His comments after the release of Moss reminded me of a recently deceased NBC newsman who was also a book author. Edwin Newman wrote books about the English language. He felt its use was deteriorating in many ways.
And this was in the days before he would read blogs (or, heaven forbid, comment boards underneath online articles - the stuff of pure Neanderthals).
Newman wrote about how people not only misused the language, they manipulated it to obfuscate and create fog. Newman's books included "Strictly Speaking" and "A Civil Tongue." He was probably ahead of his time because of his fascination with communications.
He poked fun at someone who at a press conference said "I'll have to evaluate and make a judgment in terms of a response." In other words, this individual had to take some time and think about it.
Brad Childress commented on the Moss departure using a similar abuse of the language. He said Moss was "a programmatic non-fit." I suppose you could call this "groping to find sophisticated words to describe something pretty basic."
College professors can at least use a little finesse to do this. Childress meanwhile is a bull in a china closet with the English language.
Facing the media after Moss' departure (via waivers), the coach was on the defensive and with egg on his face.
The acquisition of Moss had such a bombshell effect when it happened. Childress initially seemed to be the architect of something monumental.
"How did the Vikings pull that off?" we might've asked.
Surely the Vikings were not only going to right their ship, they were going to start dominating people.
(. . ."And stop calling me Shirley.")
Instead the Vikings seem to be showing some programmatic miscalculation. Only Dallas might be more embarrassed at this stage of the season.
Newman wrote about someone who described some type of failure as "slippage."
"We had some slippage."
Maybe Chilly could have trotted out those words, or we could have heard them from owner Zygi Wilf. Because certainly the Vikings are on the verge of slipping out of contention. And Childress himself is on the verge of becoming a programmatic non-fit.
Was Moss judged unacceptable because he could be a locker room distraction? He complained about the catered food!
Oh, BFD. The most brilliant and talented people among us often have eccentricities. The mere eccentricities can be tolerated.
Did Moss actually "quit" on that play vs. the New England Patriots when he was interfered with, but still apparently had a chance to catch the pass? The ball was advanced with the penalty, but the play would have been a touchdown if Moss had gone forward and caught the ball.
But was it that easy? I would argue that it looks easier on TV than it might have been in reality. Moss knew he had been interfered with, and this probably disrupted his concentration or continuity. His judgment had to be made in a split second.
It's easy for us knaves in the sofas to second guess. I'll bet the players aren't convinced that Moss actually quit. I think the players were perfectly happy putting up with Moss, and Adrian Peterson seemed to say as much.
It's easy to disregard Moss' crazy uncle behavior. Or to just be humored by it.
An ESPN commentator sagely noted that the upside of Moss can never be overlooked. No one in the NFL is more gifted at suddenly turning a seven-point lead into a 14-point lead. That means a lot in some games.
Moss even showed this gift during his brief fling with the Vikings. It's like a starting pitcher in baseball who only works one game in five but who can win a pennant for you. Moss could carry a team on a few plays. He probably has to "pick his spots."
I'd rather risk the downside of Moss' irritating qualities than to just ship him off. Fisher of the Titans senses the upside too. He'll be walking a tightrope in how he manages the situation.
Chilly ended the grand experiment here with that typical low, chafing voice at the microphone, with the words seemingly just crawling out, making him seem quite the opposite of Bud Grant in the ingratiating department.
All that was missing was the word "slippage."
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com