"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, August 30, 2011

Whither John Hoff in cutting-edge case?

(Image from City Pages)
 
The John Hoff trial and resulting legal quandary could be described, in Minnesota parlance, as "a heckuva deal."
The purpose of this expression is to be noncommittal (though knowledgeable), but it's hard to be noncommittal about matters involving John Hoff. He's a new media practitioner. For that I admire him.
Outside of that I'm clueless as to his actual journalistic talent, acumen or overall character.
I don't wish to take sides regarding Hoff and the skirmish in court. But the bedrock principle of free expression demands attention.
Some of Hoff's detractors have said they're tired of the sanctimonious intoning of "free expression, the First Amendment" etc.
I grew tired of this too when it came from the self-important pillars of the old media (e.g. Daniel Schorr). But I sense nothing sanctimonious about the pleading for an unfettered new media.
Isn't this totally populist?
Hoff has his platform but others can avail themselves of same. I am.
We don't want legal minds getting tangled and clouded assessing the online world of communications. For that reason I'm taken aback at the Hoff verdict.
He lost. I don't want the public to lose. The judgment of Judge Denise Reilly's court may not be the last word though. We're still in a standoff. The clock ticks and legal minds get absorbed.
People with special interest in the media read the coverage and wonder "Is this all there is (to the facts in the case)?"
Putting aside whether Hoff is saint or sinner, isn't the free expression angle pretty easy to ascertain here? Does a legal mind really need to get "absorbed?"
The case wouldn't have raised eyebrows had it followed the standard libel or defamation lines. It appears instead to have been some kind of legal "end run."
If someone lied or defamed, fine, I can frame that in my thoughts, but when terms like "tortious interference" come into play, I get a headache.
We don't need esoteric terms to deal with First Amendment issues. Judge Reilly, could you maybe step aside for Judge Mathis?
I have no interest in north Minneapolis politics. There are personalities and antagonisms there that are foreign to my world, a world awash in the clean and fresh air of western Minnesota.
All I am is a new media advocate.
I want the pertinent issues to get sorted out fairly and logically.
The Hoff verdict came down in mid-March of 2011. It's like a gremlin scrambling around in our heads now - us media writers.
An appeal setback was reported on August 30.
Even though the court affirmed that Hoff wrote things that were true, the judgment came down against him. It was a jury decision.
Surely we can expect a reversal eventually.
(". . .and don't call me Shirley.")
Let's be lucid: The jurors determined that Hoff did not defame the aggrieved party.
Hoff's transgression in the eyes of the court was "tortious interference" - tortuous for me to consider.
The judgment is a nuisance that will command valuable attention that could be directed elsewhere. Lawyers will just make more money. Journalists are trying to keep this gremlin from getting wet.
John Hoff is a journalist. He is a 100 percent contemporary journalist because no ink or paper are involved. He has a neighborhood blog which is a cutting edge form of the craft.
I concede he may be a bit of a "bear with boxing gloves."
The door should be wide open for this type of journalism to thrive. Partly this is because the economics of ink-on-paper media is turning ever more grim. There is constant doomsaying about newspapers and printed communications in general.
Update: We've just learned of drastic measures with four major papers in the Deep South - downsizing to three print editions a week only. Let's not live in yesterday.
This is an important point to weigh in reflecting on the Hoff verdict, but not the primary one. The primary one is simple free expression.
The medium isn't the point. The point is communications.
Electronic communications have brought about a rapid and fascinating transformation in the media. The rapid nature of this might be the most striking - so rapid it might be leaving legal minds behind.
Legal professionals stand out because of their ability to put passion, emotions and "street judgment" aside. When someone says bloggers aren't journalists, I expect that to be coming from a guy sitting at the next table at McDonald's, not someone who spent a couple of years studying at William Mitchell.
And yet the seat of the pants style of thinking I'd associate with a casual conversation seems to have bubbled up here.
Hoff has a blog. Let me assert that the term "blog" maybe should be given a decent burial. Like the term "slob," it doesn't have a very good ring to it.
The term has no place. It sprouted in the early chapters of the Internet's history when everything done there seemed like a novelty.
The mechanics were more difficult to deal with then. Many "geeks" presided who seemed a breed apart from journalists.
The Internet in its early days seemed to be a stewing swamp of snake oil salesmen and conspiracy theorists. Of course they have rights anyway.
The rules of defamation and libel can always be trotted out. But defamation and libel weren't at the crux of the judgment in the Hoff matter.
It's not unusual that someone would try to use the legal system against Hoff. What's unusual is not only did this case see the light of day, i.e. not getting thrown out, but the party vs. Hoff won.
Pinch me to see if I'm dreaming.
I can't really say if Hoff is in the footsteps of Woodward and Bernstein, or not. He has gotten the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) in his corner.
Because if the judgment vs. Hoff is going to stand as any sort of legal precedent, there are clouds over our whole media universe.
If the Westboro Baptist Church can be allowed to continue doing their thing, most certainly we have to keep the door open for the John Hoffs of the world.
I assume the judge had the power to stop this case in its tracks. Instead she seemed to allow the kind of logic I cited earlier, i.e. that seat of the pants judgment where some everyman on the street intones "bloggers aren't journalists."
I hate to even waste any time taking apart this statement, but I guess I have to. A lot of people are going to waste their time now, time better spent on other matters, dismantling what the judge, with whom I'm respectfully disagreeing, seems to have wrought.
(When writing on a legal matter I'm going to try to respect everyone.)
The term "blog" (slob?) was born when the print media still ruled. Bloggers were those little mammals scurrying around the rocks when the dinosaurs still reigned.
But the dinosaurs "got big and fat," according to the character "Johnny" from the movie "Airplane." They sure were.
And what are we to make of that, besides "a hat, a brooch or a pterodactyl?"
Bloggers are simply writers who choose an online platform to report, opine and illuminate. It is steadily becoming the norm as the dinosaurs die out.
"But bloggers are amateurs."
Does getting paid to write confer some special wisdom? I would argue that when money gets involved, good judgment gets clouded.
I have read that the newsrooms of today have become meek and scared places. The trend of layoffs and downsizing has left them far less enabled to crusade journalistically.
Chain newspapers have become one big smiley face.
Selling advertising doesn't make a media venture any more virtuous. To the extent they ever were virtuous, it was in the days before online competition.
Online isn't encumbered by any of the fixed expenses that print must confront. Print is in steady retreat.
If the message from the Hoff case is that online is some sort of second class citizen, not with the standing of print, we're in a world of hurt.
Great Britain with its issues vs. the Murdochs (Newscorp) can tell you print has no special virtues.
What if print keeps fading to the point where it's merely vestigial? (It won't disappear completely.)
We had better ensure that the First Amendment is fully implemented with online, i.e. to no lesser extent than it has prevailed in other areas.
You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. But you can do what the Westboro Baptist Church does. The Supreme Court has ruled on that.
It's possible there has already been a chilling effect. But maybe not, because so many observers have considered the Hoff case an aberration, they aren't really scared of it.
What if Bod Woodward had said post-Watergate that "yes, the work of Carl Bernstein and myself brought down the Nixon administration," and "in the long view of things, it was for the better."
This likely didn't happen but it's not wild speculation. By the yardstick of the Hoff case, there's a legal imbroglio there.
Except that we're not to the finish line yet.
It's possible Hoff was just out-lawyered. That shouldn't be allowed to screw up our legal system. But the aberration is there and will need to be swatted aside. Lawyers will keep making money. Judge Mathis, where are you?
The Hoff case has already covered over two years. The people of north Minneapolis, where Hoff writes as an unattached (non-corporate) journalist, watched closely.
When I first read about the case I was jealous of Hoff because of the most appealing title of his website (blog). It's "The adventures of Johnny Northside."
Sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon from my childhood.
Surely Hoff will come out of this the victor.
(". . .and stop calling me Shirley.")
Maybe Randy Quaid could play him if a movie is ever made. The title of the movie is ready-made: the blog's title.
The whole protracted legal mess - a redundancy? - should have been nipped in the bud.
But then lawyers couldn't make money.
The mid-March (2011) ruling was for $60,000 against Hoff. There's $35,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress.
Do you suppose the Westboro Baptist Church causes emotional distress?
The aggrieved party in the Hoff matter, Jerry Moore, was fired by the U of M in June of 2009, the day after an investigative Hoff post.
The jury found that statements made by Hoff in his blog were not false. The case had to penetrate through a legal thicket. It has been called a "trash tort."
The judge eventually allowed the perverse (in my view) judgment that Hoff "tortiously interfered with (the aggrieved party's) employment at the University."
"The award left media lawyers flabbergasted," David Brauer at Minnpost wrote.
Brauer quoted media lawyer John Borger: "If the statement was true, there should be no recovery."
The truth shall set you free?
Hoff's lawyer - get with it, guy - filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law.
The SPJ filed a motion to participate as amicus curiae.
Professional journalists advocating for a blogger?
Here's a question I haven't seen addressed: Why is Hoff being treated as if he had actual control over Moore's employment? It's the U that takes responsibility for this action. Was the U negligent in researching the background?
But the media and free expression questions are paramount.
Journalists of all kinds are waking up and smelling the coffee. Those who disparage "bloggers," having subscribed to a vague stereotype of those writers, have been scared into seeing reality.
Let's let Hoff himself shed light on this, hero or not: "I think they (the SPJ) realize bloggers and mainstream journalists all are part of the same media ecosystem, and an injury to one is an injury to all."
Here's a closing point from yours truly: The lines have all been blurring. That's why I argue so strongly that it's not even helpful having a term like "bloggers."
I have read that the term "computer" is fading due to all the new devices coming into the picture. "Blogging" is no longer some narrow niche from where conspiracy theorists can take jabs.
This should all be so clear to sharp legal minds, we shouldn't be getting dragged through the likes of the Johnny Hoff case.
Let's return to that guy sitting at the next table at McDonald's (i.e. the typical man on the street) who might say "newspaper reporters have standards, bloggers don't. Reporters have training, bloggers don't."
Let me assert strongly here that the only way to designate a protected class of "journalists" legally, is to have licensing.
Licensing of journalists will only happen, I suggest, when it can be conclusively proven that hell has frozen over. No sooner.
Licensing wouldn't confer job security. Those papers in the Deep South are going to be laying off lots of people. Is a laid-off journalist less able to show good judgment?
Blogging is merely a vehicle. An eminent scientist with a specialty might well establish a blog for the sharing of his/her expertise. Meanwhile a so-called professional reporter might write on this scientific topic once in a lifetime.
That's a problem with reporters. They write about subjects where they have no special background. It's just a job to them. Often they face an onerous deadline.
If I'm interested in that scientific topic, I'll go to that scientist's blog rather than read what a "reporter" regurgitates as part of his workday.
We can readily discard the stereotypes of irresponsible bloggers and responsible print writers. We all have defamation law to protect us anyway.
Online makes strides with each passing day. Print is shriveling.
Frederic Filloux cites the "melting iceberg syndrome" in connection to newspapers: "As an iceberg melts, the resulting change of shape can cause it to list gradually or to become unstable and topple over suddenly."
We have all become so liberated by online communications, we take it for granted. To remain liberated we need the same First Amendment protection as always.
I think it's amazing the Hoff case even made it this far, not having melted like an iceberg under the Kleig lights of sharp legal minds.
Personally I would be happier writing for money than not for money. But the ranks of those getting paid to write are thinning. They are running scared. They won't step on toes.
Chain newspapers take zero risks. They are the Pablum of the media menu. We have an example here in Morris, Minnesota.
"Professional" writing means you're fortunate enough to get a paycheck for generating material that gets wrapped around advertisements. The ads are the main mission.
What's the inherent value there?
It's the new media aficionados who are taking the lead for an informed citizenry. Hoff is just part of the pack. He'll succeed or fail based on the unrelenting "meritocracy" that guides such work.
Heaven help us if the verdict and subsequent appeal ruling stand up.
That would be a heckuva deal.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, August 29, 2011

Will re-branding elevate St. Cloud State?

I'm old enough that I was a student at St. Cloud State before it was a "university."
The name change from college to university seemed less than earth-shaking.
"Earth shaking" would describe what University of North Dakota is going through with its nickname change. After years of an outright siege with a Native American nickname, which I don't wish to type here, UND moves on.
Education reflects society's wishes. It's a jungle where funding is firmly at the focus.
St. Cloud State is in a new transition.
I had an instructor at St. Cloud State who came up with a mock name for a Minnesota university for the purpose of a class assignment. He coined "Dead Center University."
We laughed because we could see the connection to SCSU.
"Dead Center" reflected the fact SCSU is at the geographical center of Minnesota. That's nothing to sneeze at. SCSU has had some problems through the years but location is a real plus.
Problems? SCSU has often been perceived as big and sprawling with a mission that was perhaps not fine-tuned enough. Maybe SCSU wasn't selective enough. Maybe it wasn't vigilant enough in weeding out non-serious students.
There was something to be said for the "open door" that allowed many boomer age youth to at least test the water in higher education. It was transformative for many of them.
SCSU was known as a place where many students from less than blueblood backgrounds were the first in their family to attend college.
I live in Morris where we tout the selective University of Minnesota-Morris. Maybe I was intimidated by the "airs" of our UMM. I went to SCSU and that's history. If I had my life to live over again, I probably wouldn't attend college.
Today the temptations are much greater to skip college. The communications tech revolution has democratized knowledge. You can pursue all your dreams, whether vocational or avocational, with the new tools.
Academia seems not so rarefied now.
School entails great cost and we hear all the time about the futility of recent grads in job-seeking. This can't last long without some fundamental changes.
SCSU's old, cumbersome, sweeping model is giving way to fine-tuning.
President Earl H. Potter III sent a letter to "alumni and friends" last week. He announced "academic reorganization."
The curtain will open on what he called "smaller and more nimble" academic units. (I'm glad he didn't say "lean and mean.")
He pushes an interdisciplinary perspective. He sees the new model as in step with demands of the times.
I once warranted a one-to-one email from Mr. (or Dr.) Potter. I did a double-take as I scanned the inbox ready to instantly delete the usual marginal stuff. I was humbled to hear from the university president.
I could almost smell the meat-rendering odor of Landy Packing again (LOL).
I had written a blog post about SCSU that alluded to a dubious (but some might say innocuous) side to that institution.
We all know college students can be fun-loving to excess. We as a society are trying to discourage such non-productive habits.
We have become such a down-to-business society. It's both good and bad. It's bad in the sense we seem to be losing some sense of moderation. We need to "stop and small the roses."
SCSU students had no problem "kicking back" but this was too often done with insufficient discretion, so the legend holds. I say "legend" because President Potter would argue that much of the reputation is undeserved.
A few incidents built up a reputation which became like a magnet. Outsiders exacerbated the situation, so the school apologists argue. The media sniffed around more.
I accept Potter's stance on how the reputation was misleading. Incidents in 1991 greased the skids for the PR nightmare. I have read it referred to as "the year of the riots."
Administration was going to have to roll up its sleeves and declare war on the image. So firm has the resolve been, Homecoming is now cancelled. Is that a triumph or surrender? Good question.
I wrote a post on that decision when it was announced several months ago.
Potter doesn't appreciate any reference to SCSU's more frivolous side. Even if it's made with a smile and in a non-denigrating spirit, it's taboo.
At UND it will take years to wipe out the vestiges of the offending sports nickname. That's a more daunting challenge than trying to tweak SCSU's image.
I think we also should keep in mind SCSU's inherent advantages like location (within Minnesota). "Dead Center University" can be inviting for students all around.
It's in a city with a booming reputation. But the city is not as big and possibly foreboding as the Twin Cities. It's not as small as Morris where we literally worry about surviving.
Morris is having to resort to "co-ops" to keep certain institutions going, institutions that we feel are essential for being a college town. They can't hold their own on a private sector basis. St. Cloud-ites would laugh at that.
So ingrained are my memories of SCSU, I can close my eyes and remember the differences in pizza between House of Pizza, Tomlyano's and the Newman Center. (Now there's a rock-ribbed alum!)
I had a biology professor who asked what profession I might be considering. I mentioned journalism. He responded "Oh, you mean opinion modification?"
Yes, opinion modification.
Seriously, his remark wasn't so oddball because it was the mid-1970s and journalists were sort of crusaders then. Writing was more of an exclusive craft. We used manual typewriters. We had "white out" handy.
You'd see little notes on bulletin boards: "Will do typing."
I learned to type young and it was a most wise move. "Mr. Roberts" at Morris High School guided me.
In college I was influenced much by Dr. Amde Habte, my advisor. He had a real liberal arts outlook. He was former director of Ethiopian National Radio.
My affinity with journalism grew when I covered a visit to campus by two luminaries: Max Lerner, pundit of renown; and Kenneth Boulding, scholar/author. My coverage was for the campus Chronicle.
I had the privilege of joining these two for lunch along with the mass communications department chair, John DeSanto. I saw this kind of hob-nobbing was a "perk." I didn't pay for my own lunch either!
Lerner told me about an upcoming column he was planning on "the reading habits of presidents."
"I'm not sure anyone has done this before," the iconic writer, quite up in years but lucid, said.
I wonder what he'd think of the Internet.
Today you can't find anything that hasn't been written about.
I have mixed thoughts about SCSU's current "re-branding" push. Let's do a better job with fewer priorities, they would say.
It's an easy argument to make but it can have a downside. Trimming down means cutting.
A year ago I wrote about Potter's flirtation with cutting the Husky football program, a flirtation I cynically viewed as posturing. Cynicism is well ingrained in us journalists.
I began writing that post within hours after seeing the sensational headline.
Why is it that when college presidents - and I include the U of M's former head Robert Bruininks here - are asked about the impact of proposed budget cuts, they always talk in terms of cutting whole programs?
In Bruininks' case he tossed out the hypothetical of cutting all outstate Minnesota campuses. (Talk about inducing an immediate bowel movement among Morris community leaders.)
In reality, when college presidents have to cut, they "spread it around."
Administrators walk a tightrope.
A friend of mine who is retired from the old West Central Experiment Station here had insights on this. He said: "It's always easy to say 'let's cut this' or 'let's cut that' (with the idea of doing better at what's left). But, you have to realize that any time you cut anything, you lose a constituency that can help you get funding etc."
A sage view to be sure.
Robert Wick was St. Cloud State president when the school opened its doors to the baby boom generation and bulged. Wick was president during a transitional and in many ways painful time. He endured the war protest period.
I rolled up my sleeves and arranged for an interview with this distinguished gentleman, for a class and not the campus paper. This was another experience in career discovery.
Wick had an office on campus but seemed to be out of much of the day-to-day loop. At first I sensed he wasn't real enthused about the interview. It went better as I forged on.
He kept answers short when asked about campus unrest of the 1960s - obviously still a festering subject with him (as it was a no-win proposition for all college administrators).
I researched and found there were "Time Out Days" at St. Cloud State - events to give voice to the protesters. What was Wick to do? Join them? Not likely, but he had to listen, moderate and (try to) keep decorum I'm sure.
The tumult was a distraction from the educational mission, however necessary such a push might have been across the USA..
"It was a hard time for all of us," Colonel Trautman told Rambo in "First Blood."
Wick was the featured graduation speaker in 1978 when I got my SCSU diploma. Wick's name adorns the science building today.
Charles Graham was SCSU president when I was there.
My major of mass communications has survived the "re-branding.".
Chairman DeSanto from my college days was known as a Laurel and Hardy fan and taught a class on the comedy. I took it. It's at the opposite end of the spectrum from the kind of academic rigors Potter is instituting.
And truly there seems to be a scorched earth strategy against the party school image.
The letter that President Potter sent us included an "academic organizational churt" that shows what has "survived the cut" as it were.
I see where sociology and anthropology survived and that disappoints me. Maybe these studies have straightened out but they once were colored with political bias.
We'll see if all the changes at "Dead Center University" are dead on.
Football has survived. I'm sure the pizza is still good around town.
I won't question any part of Potter's new direction, even though I honed my craftsmanship in "opinion modification."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, August 26, 2011

Marriage of business interests, school OK?

We have revised how we view commercialism.
We used to feel that such an urge would taint things a little. It used to reflect our darker side, our desire to "beat the other guy" in the aim of making money.
We used to associate minor league baseball with billboards making up the outfield fences. Major league baseball was a more rarefied place.
In the majors you'd see the ivy-covered walls at Wrigley Field. Maybe the ivy is still there because Wrigley has always been a unique place. The standard ballparks of today are built with no aversion to advertising.
Advertising is no longer viewed as "tacky."
So it might be fruitless for me to make any mention, in a skeptical way, of the Valu Ford and Chrysler school promotion here. It's called "Drive One 4UR School."
"Every test drive of a new Ford vehicle earns Morris Area High School $20, up to a total of $6000."
It's held at the school parking lot.
"No obligation, no purchase necessary - just a great chance for your local school to earn some extra cash."
Maybe young people would read that and say "so what?" They grew up when everyone took for granted the state lottery and gambling all around us. The source of money isn't to be dissected.
In an earlier time there were mores frowning on this. Maybe those mores were a little misguided and regressive. But there was a moral basis that wasn't completely irrational.
Blatantly promoting one's commercial interests didn't represent the best in us. Such an inclination wasn't to be flaunted in front of kids.
We wanted to keep kids in a more pure world where they could appreciate each other's inherent worth and not come to see dollar signs attached to everything.
Today the retort might be "how prudish, how stupid."
Schools need money, we hear. As if schools were ever awash in money.
Something has changed and I'm not entirely sure what.
Will Valu Ford's competitors have to dream up something similar? Maybe we'll see an ultra-light buzzing over Big Cat Stadium for the home opener, pulling a banner reading "Heartland Motor Company."
Maybe in exchange for a certain size contribution, "Morris Auto Plaza" could be printed on the side of the Tigers' helmets.
These ideas aren't a reach when compared to "Drive One 4UR School."
Just to make sure I wasn't a total aberration with my thoughts about this, I got some feedback. A well-known Morris couple nodded with understanding at a morning dining place.
They knew full well that in an earlier era, perceptions were different. It was legitimate to make an issue of such things. We might think "tacky."
Another friend asked in an email "Do you think it is illegal?"
Interesting that such a thought would flicker. I'm quite sure the answer is "no," though.
"It seemed very weird to me as well," this person continued. "And my main concern is how Ford justifies this way of giving donations to a school, and how do they have that kind of money to just give away?"
Yours truly isn't surprised they have it ($). I'm just kind of surprised the school has to grovel to get it, essentially allowing a car dealer to set up shop on school property. That's the questionable part.
"Quite bizarre" chirped the friend I just cited.
Beyond the issue of commercialism at schools, there's the question of why so many businesses feel the need to plaster their names here and there.
Morgan Spurlock made a movie called "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." It was about "product placement" in the entertainment industry.
The first time I saw "Happy Gilmore," I wasn't aware that product placement was such a calculated part. I must have just thought it was charming for Happy to like Subway restaurant food so much. Why not?
It was in fact product placement and this was one of the reasons Roger Ebert graded the movie lower than he might have.
It didn't bother me. I consider Happy Gilmore to be one of the greatest sports movies. If only Adam Sandler could keep making funny movies. (I thought it was almost sacrilege for him to try to re-make "The Longest Yard.")
There's a company that helps grocery stores put advertising on their floors. This company was in the news recently because the whole mess with the Murdochs (Rupert etc.) overseas had a tie-in.
Apparently the Murdoch empire tried muscling its way into this business in an untoward way.
I'm not all that concerned about the Murdochs in regard to this. I'm concerned that maybe the private sector has bought into promotion and exposure in an excessive way.
Remember, there are people selling this stuff: advertising and promotion.
Our local newspaper showers us with advertising circulars. These have nothing to do with reporting the news or creating a real sense of community. It's about putting dollars in the pocket of the media company.
I have wondered before on this site why Willie's Super Valu here even needs to have a weekly printed circular. To Willie's credit, this store is now doing all it can to harness the online world.
I'm guessing the parent company has a guiding hand.
Willie's is now vigorously promoting its weekly "online ad." It's a snap to sign up and get email links. You can even do it from my site. Look along the right-hand column!
It's a snap to sign up. It's convenient and environmentally friendly.
You can make a case for online to replace all printed products. In the past, you'd encounter skeptics who'd say "a lot of people aren't online." Or maybe "older people wouldn't use this."
Or "people might be confused where to find it (on the Internet)."
These arguments are losing ground all the time.
Wouldn't Willie's be delighted if it could go online-only? No cost and no paper pollution.
The idea of Willie's advertising, itself, has come into question. It's the only true grocery store in Stevens County. If the paper circulars disappeared, would there really be a migration elsewhere?
And maybe Willie's could lower prices if it cut out this expense. Just keep promoting the weekly online ad doggedly. It will take over as the preferred method.
Or maybe instead of lowering prices, give your employees a raise.
The parent company, Super Valu, must be aware there's still a paper circular here even though the store has essentially no local competition. Paper must still be seen as prudent. Too bad.
I wonder if we'll still see the name of a Morris business, "Riley Brothers Construction," on the football field scoreboard this fall. I would guess yes.
I suppose the Riley brothers themselves won't be able to see it again for a while.
In my previous post I expressed annoyance at the name of a company superimposed on the football field as we watched the Vikings play Seattle. The company was Menards, a company whose name I at first spelled with an apostrophe: "Menard's."
I didn't correct this for several hours. I feel embarrassed about it. Do some of you also feel an impulse to stick an apostrophe in there? I believe "Lowe's" is spelled with an apostrophe.
Beyond Riley Brothers, hopefully we won't see any more commercial intrusions at Big Cat or other venues. But don't rule it out.
As my friend Glen Helberg and I always proclaim: "Money talks and bulls--t walks."
We can't even count on school being a haven from that - not anymore.
Neither can residents of the St. Paul School District. This was in the news Sunday. The St. Paul school board has agreed to let businesses advertise at school sporting events.
"And it plans to review a long-held policy that bans advertisements on school property," the Star Tribune article reported.
Today there's a company in Minnesota that actually pushes this sort of thing. Creative entrepreneurship can fill all gaps, I guess.
"The (St. Paul school) administration has proposed entering into a contract with School Space Media that would place digital ads at sports events," the Strib article read.
There was an hour-long debate over the "ethics and legalities" of the proposal. So you see, yours truly and my email acquaintance aren't the only ones with questions about the propriety or even legality.
A quote from St. Paul: "Is this a commercialization of our children's education?"
But then she added: "I have a comfort level with that."
The board gave the go-ahead to work with School Space Media. The company is based in St. Paul and got started last year.
Will they reach out here?
I'm sure I'll arrive at Big Cat Stadium on home opener night with that vision of the ultra-light (with the banner). I'll be scanning the skies.
Maybe Atlantic Auto Sales could parade some of their finest used (excuse me, pre-owned) vehicles at halftime. (Oh knock it off.)
There's a further-reaching question here. It's about advertising saturation. Wouldn't it be neat for all businesses to just back off on this and let people "free graze" with their shopping?
Morris is a small community. It's not complicated at all to make shopping decisions. At least that's how I see it.
But maybe I have a little too much hippie in me. Most likely I'm just a little too old-fashioned. Heh heh.
Perhaps you could test me by offering to sponsor this website!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Hut. . .hut. . .hut (and shop at Menards)"

Sleepless in Seattle? It seemed a little harder staying awake here for week #2 of the Minnesota Vikings' pre-season.
The Vikings played on the west coast, specifically in the Pacific Northwest. This meant a late starting time for those of us in the CDT zone.
The starting time was 9 p.m. for another one of these "Night of the Living Dead" pre-season games. (There, two movie references already.)
We put up with these games because we love NFL football. The NFL takes advantage of that love.
The games are getting longer and the commercial intrusions a little more grating. There are lots of interests that want to seize these eyeballs.
We all understand that but we want the game to stay in a relatively pure sanctuary. I don't want to see "Menards" superimposed on the field. I cussed under my breath when seeing that Saturday.
A lot can be done with these tech tricks. Like, making the field red inside the 20 and having a "sponsor" for the red zone.
At some point the NFL will cross the line with this kind of stuff. And assuredly they will come right up to that line, not holding back one bit. It will take blowback from fans to get moderation.
The many video replays are starting to grate. Coach Leslie Frazier challenged an obvious catch Saturday, prompting a groan from yours truly.
The media report that all scoring plays will now get a review. What are we supposed to do in all those breaks? I guess the NFL assumes we're captive.
I couldn't stick with the Vikings game after halftime Saturday. Part of that was feeling sleepy. Another part was the "Night of the Living Dead" factor.
The pre-season games are so ho-hum. But Menards must feel fans are sufficiently dedicated.
I'll leave it to the younger fans to stay up until the end of a west coast game.
The Minnesota media were in a glass-half-full mood after Saturday. They'll point to the outcome: a 20-7 win.
They reported that QB Donovan McNabb was at the helm for one good drive, but even this drive didn't end in a touchdown. It ended meekly with a field goal.
The media are eager to talk up any pluses. And in the background are all those sponsors who want that positive spin.
We'll see how much spin the media can produce when the shaky Vikings are dismantled by the likes of Green Bay.
I refuse to be convinced that McNabb is a totally new man after his disastrous season in Washington, D.C.
The media overreacted to that one good drive that McNabb commanded Saturday. It started at the one yard line. It ended up including 13 plays.
Not bad, but this drive good for three points hardly assured us that graybeard McNabb is all set to go for an upbeat new season. That spin won't fly.
Ryan Longwell won't be able to keep up with the points put on the board by Aaron Rodgers.
Our NFC North has quarterbacks who are in their prime. Coach Lovie Smith in Chicago will be trying to get Jay Cutler to not throw the ball around with such abandon.
Can Chicago fans forget Cutler's behavior at the end of last season? He got hurt in the NFC championship game and acted disinterested after that. There will be one cure for this perception problem: winning.
Matt Stafford has an injury problem in Detroit. Rodgers in Green Bay looks like Superman.
McNabb in Minnesota still looks to me like one big question mark.
When Tristan Davis carried the ball 35 yards for a score late in the game, it was the Vikings' first offensive TD of the pre-season. It's still our only offensive TD.
So the encouraging spin from the media should be tempered.
Actually I think the NFL is getting better all the time at steering the media toward positive spin. The marketing and promotional minds are powerful.
We need to keep those eyeballs to see that "Menards" imprint, created through tech magic.
The red zone sponsorship makes me want to look away.
With all scoring plays under review, it will mean more breaks for us to reach into that bowl of Doritos. Or to crack open another liter of Pepsi.
Unless a lot of us just start drifting away from this entertainment. Don't rule it out.
The NFL knows there's a limit but will test that limit. They will let commercial interests pile on 'til hell won't have it.
We live in a time when people really don't complain about "commercialization" anymore. We know everything is for sale.
But the tech revolution does give us choices. The NFL knows this and I'm sure is proceeding a little nervously. Can it kill the goose that laid the golden egg? There's little sign of that now.
But proceed cautiously, NFL.
Saturday night was disappointing for our old QB Tarvaris Jackson. I was rooting for him. He got the quick hook when he was in Minnesota.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll pledges that Jackson will start Seattle's opener. But fans might have a different idea. Charlie Whitehurst connected on his first seven passes and finished 14 of 19 for a hundred yards. Fans began chanting his name.
I frowned as Jackson kept having to bend down to take snaps from center from in the shotgun. It disrupted his rhythm.
Maybe Jackson is just destined to be snakebit. I'll be crossing my fingers that he can impress once the "real" season starts.
Jackson had a mediocre offensive line in front of him Saturday. The interception he threw came on a tipped ball and was returned for a touchdown.
I hear there is a new statistical formula for evaluating quarterbacks this season. ESPN seems to be talking it up. The NFL would love to see their game become more like baseball this way. Statistics are part of the lifeblood of baseball.
The problem in football is that football is just not a statistical game.
Marcus Sherels, a reserve cornerback, was the lucky Viking in the right place to make the interception. He returned it 64 yards for a TD. The Vikings led 13-0 at halftime.
We couldn't be sure Seattle fans were sleepless at that point. I sure wasn't. I consumed the game's details the next day.
McNabb completed six of eight passes for 81 yards and was sacked once.
Off the top of my head I can't tell you who the Vikings' season opener opponent will be. But I'll predict a loss right here and now.
Mike Shanahan had a sinking ship with McNabb last year. And now this esteemed mentor is apparently happier going with Rex Grossman at quarterback. Or some guy last name of Beck.
McNabb put the D.C. fans to sleep last year and I see no magical turnaround for what lies ahead. Now he's playing under a former defensive coordinator, Frazier.
Thank goodness our Metrodome is refurbished, even though we're all supposed to want a new stadium.
We'll be relieved seeing our good ol' Metrodome in good shape again.
The Vikings likely won't provide such satisfaction.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Art needn't be battleground of values

Most of us probably remember an art teacher from way back when who was a little oddball.
Many such teachers set standards that are hard to understand. They seem to be such judgmental creatures too.
The discipline of art would be just fine if its main purpose was to just teach the tools of art. This in itself is very challenging.
But once we get into standards for judging art, hoo boy. . .
"But is it art?" is a gag line.
People with advanced art credentials can judge art from the whole gamut of angles. Often they'll put forward their standards with an iron fist. They belittle those who disagree.
Art is fascinating but it needn't be such a battleground.
These thoughts are prompted by some research I did on an art teacher from my college days. Unfortunately he's no longer with us.
He fit right in with the prevailing ethos on campuses in the 1970s.
We were supposed to dismiss everything we thought we knew. Everyone seemed to want to "break through to the other side," inspired by Jim Morrison of the Doors, but we were just dreaming.
We were coming of age in the rubble of the Viet Nam War. Somehow we got by even without smartphones.
Heaven forbid that anyone try to make money in art. This was an attitude encouraged by the teacher who is flickering in my memory.
He mentioned Leroy Neiman with a snicker. The students were all too willing to join in with disparagement toward an artist who "went commercial."
The teacher opined one day that the best artist around might be some "bank teller, just in the way he uses space."
It was an oddly pejorative comment, as if we should be surprised that a "bank teller" would have an artistic eye.
Today's young people probably don't get familiar with the term "teller." We used to see a series of such windows at the downtown bank, each with a line. You'd pick the shortest line. Waiting was expected.
Today bank employees are diversified in their duties and they don't just stand as automatons at "teller windows."
My art teacher of days gone by hated cliches. He scoffed at the expression "all the tea in China."
"What does that mean?" he asked.
Well, I could have answered him.
Oh, and he decried "visual shorthand." This was a putdown of the ways an artist using pencil or pen and ink might present the human mouth, for example. Generally you do it with two wavy lines, as we see in comic strips.
But how else would you do it? Of course comics are commercial. Let's belittle it?
We use these methods and speak cliches because they are practical, not because they are crass.
One day this old mentor said he was planning an informal gathering at his residence and invited us. But he was quick to add "You won't get a higher grade."
Oh c'mon, stop being such a Caesar in your palace. It's just a college art class.
I remember one of his colleagues, teaching art history, who said "The prevalence of right angles in western architecture might be a reflection of fascist leanings."
No kidding.
Once again, this was in the rubble of the Viet Nam War debacle. We were all inspecting our naval.
Whoever designed the science auditorium on our University of Minnesota-Morris campus was averse to right angles. I wonder if that was political.
Today's young people would have their jaw drop when realizing that people once thought like this. Right wingers were afraid of fluoridation. Left wingers were afraid of right angles.
What a time to grow up.
"Middle boomers" - I am one - are known to have had much cynicism instilled in them.
It didn't help to take art classes in which it was impossible to really know what the standards were.
I took two classes from the the mentor I'm skewering here just a little. One was a drawing class. He had a female nude come in for that.
He projected a lot of the hippie ethos. Throw in a little of the New Left.
History has judged that the counterculture won but the New Left lost. That's why it's just fine to hear rock-sounding music as a theme with the Rush Limbaugh program.
The teacher looked scruffy. He addressed the class not by standing next to his desk but sitting on his rear end on a countertop.
He played the role for his time nicely. Let's laugh at the idea of selling art. Let's laugh at "visual shorthand" which we know is just a way of portraying things accurately.
So what is art supposed to accomplish? Apparently it isn't supposed to follow any rigid system of rules or orthodoxy, because rules and orthodoxy were causing bad things in America. Or so it seemed.
As if a college art class could solve such a situation.
The design of the UMM science auditorium reaches no new vistas. It just makes us wonder what the architect was smoking.
"Oh, that must've been designed in the 1970s."
The backlash to the heavy-handed highbrow elite was those "Smokey and the Bandit" movies. Let's consider "Laverne and Shirley" on TV.
There has always been a drift toward anti-intellectualism. Look at Sarah Palin. It does serve a purpose, sometimes.
We're not experiencing a repeat of the 1960s or 1970s. Analogies are dangerous. (I think that's a famous quote.)
We know not what kind of world we're entering now. The nature of any crises lying ahead will likely be unique.
I'm not sure what art is going to say about it.
The artist I'm remembering died in 2007 at age 74. His body was found in his crumbling barrio house in Tucson, Arizona.
He was a neighbor of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The two were friends, and "Gabby" helped the artist get Social Security. The artist said his ID papers had been burned in some sort of mishap.
Knowing more about his background, I'm more inclined to feel sympathetic. He was born in Latvia in 1933. He was a WWII refugee who suffered with his family in a displaced persons camp. He came to the U.S. in 1949.
He followed society's rules for a time, joining the U.S. Army and taking steps to be an art professor. Even in that iconoclastic field, there is an established regimen to become a teacher.
He landed at St. Cloud State University where he was a tenured professor. He taught at the Kiehle building which overlooks the Mississippi River. It's a pleasant building.
"But he gave up that secure berth in 1978 for a free-form life," an archived article reads.
The artist said "There's very little art in university art departments."
His convictions and 50 cents might buy him a cup of coffee.
"Plus, everybody tends to buy into the mainstream," he continued.
"The mainstream" was anathema to the prevailing ethos on campus in the 1970s.
Personally, I began seeing that ethos crumble at about the time this professor left SCSU. I graduated that year. But I still kept my finger on the pulse.
America was "moving on" at the end of the 1970s. Finally we elected Ronald Reagan and it was "morning in America" which I suppose is the kind of cliche the artist would abhor.
I suspect art teachers today are pretty much just expected to "do the job."
That was a pretty good gig that teacher left. Did he really know what he was doing? Was it even all his idea?
Yes, I know he had tenure but don't think it's a completely impenetrable barrier. If the teacher remained sullen about conventional values, the need for logical standards etc., he might have touched rough waters.
Maybe he was encouraged to mosey on down the road.
He may have said he found contentment later, but I wonder. In my research I learned he "lived in abject poverty the last three decades of his life."
He moved into his adobe home in 1988. It was a condemned building. It had minimal electricity - just one 20-amp fuse outlet. He showed his art but "his art hardly ever sold," it was reported.
"A lot of his work was political and blasphemous," a friend of his said.
He apparently wasn't kind to the Catholic Church. So, St. Cloud really wasn't the best place for him!
"Even progressives balked at his unapologetic sexual imagery," the archived material reported.
An art dealer who was a friend said "We knew the work was not saleable."
But in 2003 the artist won the $25,000 Arizona Arts Award.
A strange field, art.
"He needed it," someone said of the monetary award.
Another quote: "He was a contrarian and complicated."
By now I think I've presented a pretty clear picture. He was the type of person I'd find fascinating to know. But as a teacher? Where he wears the mantle of power vs. me?
I don't know. My feelings are mixed.
He frustrated me in many ways and I got only a "B" grade in the two classes. I showed up all the time and completed assignments enthusiastically.
Maybe he viewed me as a white boy from outstate Minnesota with a background, probably, of upper middle class affluence. We were the most disdained class of students back then.
Professors respected everything that happened in the Third World. But growing up in outstate Minnesota and coming from a typical Lutheran or Catholic church? Not so impressive.
I suspect my teacher was riding the zeitgeist to a degree. He can be forgiven for that.
In the end he softened toward me. As one of those classes wound down, some of my classmates and I were feeling him out on what kind of grade we'd get. I got my chance.
"I'm giving you a 'B'," he said. There was a slight pause, and then with a little twinkle in his eye, he said "Is that OK?" with his voice rising at the end.
I'll never forget that. He saw there was hope in me. Even if I didn't attend his party.
I was going to type his name here at the end, with a dramatic flourish (LOL). I'll refrain.
I wouldn't have written this post if I didn't feel some affection for him. But the tone of much of this has been skeptical, though I do try to present it in historical context.
I'll just conclude by saying "rest in peace."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pondering our weight-challenged times

Does anyone question that we have more wide-girth people among us than in previous times?
TV accents the problem by showing those "headless" people walking around - people with huge middles whose anonymity is deemed important to protect.
But the wide girth has become such the norm, it seems no shame is associated with it at all.
That's good to an extent. We don't want to stigmatize large people. But we don't want people to feel too comfortable carrying too big a load around.
A lot of the blame goes to "fast food." Politician Howard Dean disputes that. He at least feels this factor is overrated, and suggests other environmental factors are at work.
Clothing manufacturers naturally make adjustments. There was a time when young and middle age males tried to look like Starsky and Hutch. Or those dudes on "Dukes of Hazzard."
Pants had to be form-fitting. Many trousers were labeled "slim cut." It was the desired ideal even though many males back then didn't look anything like Starsky and Hutch.
I recall the term "chubby" for heavier individuals back then. There were clothes labeled as such. Today we have a new word for "chubby." It's "normal."
We think nothing of wearing a shirt and not tucking it in. As the years went by we began seeing male trousers labeled "relaxed fit."
It's a euphemism. Translated it means "yes, all you male slobs are adding the pounds for whatever reasons, so since we're in the business of selling clothes, we'll market to you."
And then I had to laugh because I noticed some trousers labeled "loose fit." This was an additional tier.
It's like those sweatshirts that might be labeled "XXXXL" or whatever. I remember Bud Grant walking around with "XL" boldly emblazoned on his sweatshirt. And Bud was/is a slim man.
I'm not sure Bud would have let go of O-lineman Bryant McKinnie so quickly. McKinnie fits right in with my topic today because he's a glacier. He looks like he crammed down way too many frosted rice crispie bars in the offseason.
But Bud was never all that excited about pre-season. He opened "training camp" at the latest possible date, didn't he? He seemed to believe you didn't create great players by putting them through brutal workouts, in August or whenever.
You simply went out and tried to acquire great players.
Bud was the real deal and knew what it took. Spartan practice regimens might be for coaches who were putting on airs.
Bud might have had patience with Mr. McKinnie. The two might be a good fit with each other.
Bud would simply recognize the tackle as a blue chip player. Bud might let him get in shape through the inevitable rigors of getting into a pro football season.
Someone once asked the venerable Grant, father figure to the young generation of male Vikings fans of the 1970s, why he didn't have his players drill by running through tires. We'd see those tire scenes on TV.
Bud's response: "Look out there on the field. You don't see tires out there, do you?"
Bud didn't believe in electric heaters on the sidelines. All of this was fine as long as he won.
The "purple people" indeed won a lot. But to this day we are haunted by those four Super Bowl losses.
Was McKinnie pouting about something? I can't believe he would just walk away from the game.
Grant might have coaxed him along. The coach had rapport with players who were blessed with special talent.
I have become resigned about my own weight. People joke about how you have to "push away from the table." But our food consumption seems to happen everywhere, not just at the dinner table.
If we restricted our consumption to "dinner time," we'd be in good shape. You can't even pay for gas without seeing those wrapped, frosted rice crispie bars. Oh, and grab a soft drink while you're at it.
When I was a kid, when you paid for gas you paid the attendant who came out to the car to wait on you. Back then, "pumping gas" was a flunky job. Today there's no such thing as a flunky job.
There's a line in "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" about "washing cars and pumping gas."
I think about losing weight but it seems immensely difficult. Food temptations float around us. It's amazing high school wrestlers can still lose weight. Hats off to them.
I once lost weight using a real "wrestler's diet" as prescribed by coach Spencer Yohe. I used it 3-4 times mostly with success. The last time it didn't go so well. It felt more like a chore and I didn't shed that much.
Was age the problem or those "environmental factors" (like peptides) cited by Howard Dean?
I still have a copy of that wrestler's diet. It was photocopied (or "Xeroxed" as we used to say) from the original that was obviously typed on a manual typewriter. That's how far back yours truly and Mr. Yohe go.
If my biggest problem now is weight, I'm blessed. Mr. Yohe has been through a cancer crisis.
That diet was loaded with things like scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, spinach, dry toast and grapefruit. You could also have a nice T-bone steak once in a while. You washed it all down with coffee.
But you started having dreams about Hershey bars.
It's ironic we have the Regional Fitness Center (RFC) in Morris in this time of expanding girths.
Maybe the RFC just gives us an excuse to abuse ourselves with excessive calories. We can pig out and then salve our guilt by going out to the RFC and pretending to take care of our body.
I have written before that the path to fitness is pretty simple. It starts with a simple balanced diet and self-discipline in that regard. The latter is difficult, I realize.
But we can't overcome our dietary shortcomings by simply buying an RFC membership.
Stop the snacking. Resist the between-meals food temptations that are often thrust on us out of the blue.
It's fine to go to McDonald's once in a while but don't go for that soft drink refill. I would have been aghast in my youth if someone told me that someday you could re-fill your soft drink cup at will.
Our Courage Cottage in Morris has scheduled a 10K walk-run for September 10. It strikes me as unusual because the 5K distance has taken over as far more popular.
The 10K is 6.2 miles. It's really quite a long way to run if you're running hard.
Maybe the upcoming event will attract mainly walkers.
The Courage Cottage was originally called a hospice but today I think hospice is just one of its services. It's a health care facility.
It's a great asset but I get weary of seeing the manner in which such facilities gather money. There are so many fundraising drives or events.
Maybe a simple little tax paid by us all would be more practical.
Would I consider doing the 10K run? I doubt they'd have the timekeeper stick around for two hours.
How the mighty have fallen. I did the Twin Cities Marathon three times in the 1980s.
I need to dust off Mr. Yohe's diet again.
Maybe next month. Or next year.
In the meantime, I'm having a Hershey bar. Have one too, Mr. McKinnie.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vikings begin pre-season (yawn) in Nashville

Our Minnesota Vikings played in Nashville, TN, Saturday. It's a testament to the popularity of the NFL that there's enough interest to justify the televising.
The games don't count. We watch many players scurry around whose names we aren't familiar with. The execution is rough.
Nashville was a minor league city when I was a kid. We'd get familiar with the names of these cities thanks to baseball cards. A player might have had a hitch in Des Moines on the way up.
Or Charlotte. Or Winston-Salem. (No, I don't think their team was called the "Filters.")
Educators might have decried baseball cards and comic books but this fare supplied building blocks. I remember a college teacher who decried Hardy Boys books for kids. I suppose she'd rather have us reading "Bartleby the Scrivener" by Herman Melville.
I read years ago that Nashville's minor league baseball team was the "Sounds." What an absolutely perfect name for a Nashville sports team. Tennessee's NFL team is the "Titans."
Sometimes when a new big league sports team is created, the best nickname can't be considered. It's already taken by a lower-echelon team or might have been used in the past.
For example, we here in Minnesota once had an American Basketball Association (ABA) franchise called the "Muskies." Actually the ABA had more than one incarnation in Minnesota. I remember the "Pipers" too.
The ABA was a fascinating league that used the multi-colored ball, remember? Many black athletes liked the "afro" hair style at that time, and basketball uniforms were tight-fitting.
Loose-fitting clothes might have made you a "sissy" in those days. And in a later era, a "nerd."
If someone had told me low-riding baggy shorts would become fashionable, I would've said "you're nuts."
I would rather see the afro come back than to continue seeing all those tattoos. The tattoos are reason enough to switch off the NBA.
I'm assuming that because "Muskies" had already been used in Minnesota sports history, it couldn't be offered again as a nickname candidate. "Muskies" conjures up our north country nicely and it rolls off the tongue better than "Timberwolves."
I remember when our NBA team was forming and local government bodies were asked for opinions on team nickname. I think there were three candidates, one of them "Polars."
"Polars" wouldn't have been good PR because it suggests we live in igloos here.
I remember the late public servant Steven "Skip" Sherstad saying of this name polling: "I think this is ridiculous."
I'm not sure to what extent the polling influenced the choice but we ended up with "Timberwolves."
Right away we all knew it would be shortened. It's common to hear "Wolves" or "T-Wolves."
Even "Vikings" isn't snappy enough for some people, who opt for "Vikes."
"Muskies" wouldn't have been subject to this sort of thing. Although, I suppose some people would do like with the Miami Dolphins and say "Fish."
"Titans" (for Tennessee) bothers me a wee bit because you cannot, as a practical matter, pronounce the second "t."
"Twins" is a nice crisp one syllable but oddly, some people lengthen it to "Twinkies."
I wonder what the new University of North Dakota sports nickname will be. I'm sure that will be a mess there as people keep showing up for games wearing "Fighting Sioux" sweatshirts and with like fan paraphernalia, either as a habit or to make a protest statement.
UND presidents have turned gray dealing with this, surely.
I have had the pleasure of visiting Nashville three times. There's a main street called Broadway that has a small-city feel.
Nashville has expanded way out I'm sure, but there still is good ol' Broadway with its Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. I posed for a photo next to Webb Pierce's 1962 Cadillac.
I'm sure Nashville's economy has diversified quite a bit. Country music will be a legacy image.
The Tennessee Titans handed our Minnesota Vikings a 14-3 defeat Saturday (8/13). Some of the sheen is already gone from the Leslie Frazier coaching regime. The offense needs to get juiced up a little.
QB Donovan McNabb didn't give us any proof that he has found new life after his disastrous year in Washington, D.C.
I continue to feel that McNabb coming here is the equivalent of Dave Winfield coming to the Twins. It's maybe not quite as bad as Steve Carlton coming to the Twins.
Bill Madlock said after facing Carlton in Carlton's twilight: "I faced Lefty back when Lefty was Lefty, and Lefty isn't Lefty anymore."
Time will tell but we can't rule out McNabb falling into that category. A grisled veteran signs a one-year contract loaded with incentives. It's a long shot.
The athlete still looks good in a uniform. But nobody wins because of the uniform.
McNabb was benched last year because as his coach put it, he "wasn't in good enough shape" to run the two-minute offense.
No coach's comment could be more embarrassing. And this is the quarterback we brought in because our rookie might be too raw? It could be a bumpy ride.
And we'll have to start scoring more than three points.
Charlie Johnson hasn't looked real sharp as Bryant McKinnie's replacement.
One thing about having Joe Webb at quarterback: he can always improvise (run) to gain yards. Didn't he beat Michael Vick last season?
Maybe in the contest between the graybeard and rookie, we'll see neither prevail. It might be Webb.
The Vikings will play at Seattle Saturday. Bill Musgrave had better find a way to prod the offense.
(Sorry, you people who found this post because you Googled "Bartleby the Scrivener.")
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Those green and red arrows rule our psyche

It's Sunday (8/14) so I don't need to pay attention to those little green arrows or red arrows. But even on Sundays, the media are beginning to pay attention to when the Asian markets open.
Early risers can check right away how the "futures" are doing. If the S&P futures are up, say, 4.20, we can feel good that the Dow will have a decent day.
There's an irony here. Even the people who tout stocks will say "don't pay attention to day-to-day fluctuations in the stock market."
The knee-jerk wisdom is to stay in for the long haul. People who sell this stuff always talk about the long-term upward trend in stocks.
But the behavior of the media suggests that the day-to-day movements are important or at least ought to be of interest for most people.
I find the interest in these "arrows" to be perverse.
People who might be cynical in many things don't seem to extend this distrust to stocks. Even though, American history suggests that people can be hurt mightily by woes in the stock market or so-called free market.
People love to talk about freedom and the ownership society.
I'm writing this after listening to days of Republican rhetoric leading up to the Republican straw poll in Iowa.
We can still laugh at Stephen Colbert's parodies. That's because the storm clouds hovering over our economy haven't really scared us yet. The stock market goes down like a bungee jumper and then comes back.
We always depend on the Federal Reserve to make some sort of statement talking the market back up. It happened last week, even though it was previously reported that the Fed was "out of bullets." The Fed has a trace of magic left.
The Fed can apply a Band-Aid to our economy here and there but it was never meant to be some sort of fountain of prosperity. I don't want my financial future resting on Ben Bernanke sitting at a microphone, slightly bent forward.
Who would want their prosperity resting on anything that is shaky and unpredictable? Americans have seemed content being mesmerized by those daily green arrows and red arrows.
The market could have crashed in 2008 but the government patched things over. The government can always apply patches but it comes with a cost. The government can apply stability as it apparently did with TARP, yet so many politicians tell us the government must simply get out of the way.
We should be so lucky as to have the Republicans' core principles be a good guide. It would be nice if a totally unfettered economy served us all. It would be nice if, as Mitt Romney said, "corporations are people too."
History is full of fractures in the stock market that left people suffering. How can people put faith in the markets when no one is completely sure why they fluctuate the way they do?
The media cover them in a disingenuous way. The experts line up to go on TV, people whose careers benefit from the exposure, and they talk as if they really know.
The media want to cover all this stuff because Americans have bought into 401Ks and the market in general. So the self-interested experts give us analysis.
I know all the jargon so I could go on TV and sound as credible.
The market was in total manic-depressive mode last week. The Fed gave us a little rescue net. What will the futures say Monday morning? Or what will the Asian markets tell us later today (Sunday)?
If we want this information, the media will make sure we get it. There is no real moral or principled component to what the media does.
Much of the stock market coverage comes from media properties supported by advertising from companies that seek to tout the market. I can see this but apparently many others, who should know better, cannot.
Republicans are riding this big wave of sentiment toward having the government get out of our lives. Wipe out regulations.
"Reform entitlements" which might mean having people work to a more advanced age.
The fundamental problem with putting faith in the stock market is that profits absolutely rule. They come ahead of virtually all human considerations. If you're 65 you might not be allowed to "limp" to retirement at 70. If the numbers dictate, you'll be gone.
A prominent Republican was recently asked about jobs that might be too demanding for people who are getting up in years. The answer was "there might be waivers."
This was a huge admission but the moderator of the discussion just moved on. A system for granting waivers might be a bureaucratic monstrosity unto itself. Lawyers will be busy.
The vast majority of jobs nowadays might be classified as high-stress. Technology has eliminated a lot of the tedious or "boring" work. What's left is stuff that requires analysis and sharpness. A lot of people aren't going to be able to cut it.
But the empowered Republicans are pushing us toward their Utopian, free market-centered universe. Their hatred of the whole concept of taxes makes me wonder if they'll just criminalize any system that imposes them.
They are empowered right now because the public seems to like this talk.
Will the Democrats be frozen as a permanent minority party? Will Americans buy into the rhetoric of the impulsive far right politicians of the Deep South, like Jim DeMint, Newt Gingrich or even Rick Perry, people whose dislike for Barack Obama might be motivated by considerations outside standard political issues?
How clueless can the mass citizenry be? Well, how can our Minnesota, which put the likes of Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone on the national stage, now be the home base of Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty? If either got elected president, would they even shake hands with Obama at the time of transition?
Update: Pawlenty dropped out of the race today.
The level of animosity is worrisome.
I remember when there was worry that the Republican party might get frozen as a permanent minority at the end of Watergate. So these things can change.
Republicans try, when given the chance, to put up barriers to voting. Their approach these days is scorched earth.
This recent status quo will continue if the stock market can find its legs again.
If the stock market crashes this coming week, which no one can rule out, a new paradigm might set in. Maybe we'll decide that people are important again. Maybe we'll decide to start judging things again by criteria that don't involve how much has been "invested" in it.
Maybe a bare bones church will be seen as having just as much to offer as an opulent megachurch. Maybe a plain-jane school with a gym built in the mid-20th Century will be seen as just as practical and attractive as our amenity-drenched Morris Area School.
Maybe it would be healthy for us in the long run, to have an economic calamity on a scale that causes us not to want to follow those "green arrows" and "red arrows" all the live-long day.
And when will the Republicans become isolationists again?
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, August 12, 2011

On school, public facilities & changing times

Morris High School was grades 10-12 when I was there. Sophomores were the "young kids" and seniors were the settled, mature ones (relatively speaking).
Longfellow Elementary School in west Morris was still in existence.
Longfellow memories came back with the recent passing of Ruth Moerke. I remember the "milk machine" in the commons area and the "George Washington in the Clouds" wall hanging.
That was indoctrination, right? We might have been told that in the '70s as we went off to college. No, seriously.
Today everyone has their head on straight.
The Morris High School building seemed new in the 1970s. There seemed to be considerable difficulty getting the vote through to construct it. I'm not sure if that was due to the condition of the economy or if less non-local money was available.
It took more than one try. Many would lament years later that we voted down a proposal that included a swimming pool. Swimming pool proposals were bandied about for years until the RFC got built.
I have written before about the "earthen pool" chapter in Morris history. That flash in the pan was out at Pomme de Terre City Park. It had its merits when it was well-managed.
Costs may have taken it down. I probably swam there once or twice after it was officially closed.
I was in junior high when "split shifts" were implemented at our public school.
Student numbers were bulging in the mid-1960s. The community was divided on building a new school. "Split shifts" were a somewhat drastic means of dealing with the burgeoning numbers.
Were they a means of showing the community the folly of not building new, soon?
Up through most of the 1960s, the old, now abandoned school was the heart of our local educational efforts. Each year's high school yearbook proudly presented a photo of the exterior in the first few pages.
It doesn't seem that long ago in the scheme of things.
Grades 7 through 9 were the junior high and they stayed in the old building. The old building never really seemed the same after the high school left.
For years I felt like wincing when referring to the art deco auditorium as "the elementary auditorium." This is where the grand all-school musical "Oliver" was presented in 1970.
I remember watching a couple of varsity basketball games at the "elementary auditorium." It was substandard and certainly couldn't have been maintained much longer for that use.
It was the kind of gym you might see in the movie "Hoosiers." Today it's the home of pigeons.
Progress should concern itself not only with building the new, it should remove the old. It's painful for those who have memories in the old building.
I had Bill Coombe as a teacher in the seventh grade - the man for whom Coombe Field was named. Coombe Field had the same fate as the rest of that complex.
The only good thing about that mess is that the city - the proud owner - can't point fingers at anyone for having a "nuisance property." The city has the biggest nuisance property.
The high school auditorium was built after I graduated. It really seems kind of modest. Believe it or not there was controversy about it. The superintendent was known to tell people he "almost got fired" pushing it through.
A friend told me this who had come back to town to help judge a Miss Morris Pageant. He said the superintendent repeatedly mentioned the peril he was in, advocating for that.
The irony now is that the auditorium has been dwarfed by the concert hall. The concert hall is absolutely opulent. I continue to believe it goes beyond our needs.
That former superintendent might want to pinch himself looking at it, seeing if he's dreaming.
I also believe the gymnasium space has become way excessive. When the school expansion was on the drawing board a few years ago, one of my journalism compatriots wondered if Morris was trying to become "the gymnasium capital of western Minnesota."
All the rhetoric about needing expanded athletic facilities has always seemed to work here.
That compatriot of mine also suspected that "large commons areas" in new schools might be remembered as a transitory fad.
I have my own theory about this. Cavernous gyms, concert halls, cafeteria areas and the like are a means of "wowing" the public, to get the public's jaw to drop, as it were, and appreciate the money spent.
Schools without such amenities might seem humdrum. What do you think a school is, a place for students to sit at desks and learn?
If these gyms are such assets, why do we hear more and more about the "obesity epidemic" among our youth?
The new gyms here startled me a little because I remember the 1968 gym as being new and quite special. That was the gym that lifted us out of the supposed dark ages of the "elementary auditorium" gym.
I was always amused by how many schools used the words "gym" and "auditorium" interchangeably for their facilities.
I was in the Morris High School band when it gave concerts at the 1968 gym. Remember, the high school auditorium was not yet built.
Actually the gym seemed to work nice for concerts. I remember attending a concert there when Renee Schmidt played a dazzling flute solo.
Most of us probably thought the high school building would always house grades 10-12 only. We didn't see the demographic tremors coming. Maybe the administration did but I didn't.
It's amazing how in school, someone just one year older or one year younger seemed so separated from your world. Only your exact age peers really seemed to have affinity with you.
As you get older, you realize that a mere one year of age difference is nothing.
This thought occurred to me recently in church where I was greeted by someone who said "Hi, do you know who I am?"
I should have remembered but I didn't. She would have been a junior when I was a senior. She was a drummer in band.
It's ridiculous to think of her as being "younger" than me now.
Maybe it's unhealthy to have such rigid age divisions. Maybe it encourages too narrow a social orbit. Broadening our relationships would prepare us better for the big wide world.
The woman I saw in church asked "Do you still play the trumpet?"
It reminded me of that old joke where you're in the doctor's office and ask "Doctor, after this operation will I be able to play the trumpet?"
I suppose her question showed that we're all "known for something" when we're in school. You're a homemaker, an athlete, a musician or whatever.
The hockey players were sort of rebel kids because we didn't have school-sponsored hockey then.
On the trumpet question I answered "no."
I remember asking at a pawn shop in Alexandria whether musical instruments were a highly sought commodity at such stores. The worker said unfortunately, no.
The reason is that band directors impose requirements that mean you can't just use any type of instrument. The ones available at a pawn shop might be lacking for some reason.
Too bad, because they seem reasonably priced. So you end up going to Sarlettes Music in Morris and having to contribute to the Sarlettes' immense wealth. (Just kidding.)
So, I don't still play the trumpet, Tracy.
I have a theory that traditional musical instruments are becoming archaic. Who wants to listen to someone blowing air through a brass cylinder who has to "empty spit out" periodically?
There, you'll probably never listen to brass instruments the same way again. I'm reminded of how Don Klein said he could never watch basketball on TV again after someone mentioned how the "shoes were squeaking" all the time.
I would have preferred that Tracy ask "Brian, are you still driving that ol' Toronado?"
Unfortunately the answer is "no" to that question too.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eagles score well but come up shy

The end of baseball season is a signal we're coming down the home stretch of summer. The 2011 season ended too early in the eyes of Morris Eagles baseball fans.
The Morris town team had a forgettable Saturday, Aug. 6, as it was dealt two losses and had the curtain come down on its season.
Wheaton was the site for Region 9C play. The 9C affair was unfriendly for the Eagles, first against Rosen and then Montevideo.
Please click on the link below to see a set of Morris Eagles photos (on Flickr) taken by yours truly (B.W.) this past summer. Sorry, I only attended two games but I got enough shots for a decent album.
When the Flickr page comes up, you can either click on the individual thumbnail photos to see a larger version, or try the "slideshow" feature (neat).

Let's reflect: The Eagles plunged into 2011 with a new roster and a need to establish just the right chemistry. There were bumps in the road early in the summer. There were bumps at the very end too, but in between there was a stretch of quite special memories.
That desired chemistry came around, to be sure. The Eagles won nine of their last ten regular season games.
If only they could have parlayed that success into 9C play. But it wasn't to be on Saturday, Aug. 6, at the home of the world's largest mallard: Wheaton.
Morris fell to the Rosen Express 11-8.
Cole Riley did his part trying to lift the Eagles' fortunes in a winning direction. Cole came to bat in the sixth with the table set nicely for him by a couple of Rosen errors. Cole hit a majestic home run to left-center, plating three runs.
The blast was good for cutting Morris' scoreboard deficit to two runs (9-7). Unfortunately Morris had a problem with errors in this game, just like Rosen. The line scores show each team with four errors.
Rosen outhit the Eagles 12-8.
Rosen crept forward with an unearned run in the top of the ninth. Cole Riley went back to work for Morris, connecting for another homer. But there were no baserunners on.
Again the scoreboard deficit was two runs. There was promise after that as Morris got the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs.
Up to bat came lefty Craig Knochenmus. Knochenmus had no trouble making good contact but he hit the ball right at someone. He lined out to the shortstop and this game was over.
Had Morris won this game, it would have been remembered as a special showcase for the "young guys" on the Morris roster. The prep seniors and Legion athletes were standouts with power bats.
Eric Riley hit a solo home run to center in the second. Ryan Beyer connected for a solo round-tripper in the fourth.
The Eagles needed more runners on base for their power blasts. They also needed to put the lid on Rosen's offense a little better.
A draftee from Appleton, Kyle Sachs, was the Morris starting pitcher. It was a rough outing for Kyle as he allowed eight runs, seven earned, in four innings.
Nathan Gades pitched the other five innings and he had things more under control. Nathan gave up two runs, one earned, and fanned four batters.
Rosen struck with a huge seven-run fifth inning. The Express used bunts effectively. Seven of their game-total 12 hits came in the fifth.
The Eagles tried to regroup to face Monte in their second game of the day. They failed to regroup as they committed six errors in a disappointing 11-8 loss to the Montevideo Spartans.
Yes, the score was almost identical to the Rosen game.
It was a "sloppy loss," spokesman Matthew Carrington said.
There were hopes early-on as Morris led 3-1 at the end of the first inning. Ryan Beyer, Craig Knochenmus and Eric Riley picked up RBIs in the first, Beyer with a double that landed barely fair.
Monte just couldn't be held down. The Spartans rallied for two runs in the second, five in the fourth and three in the fifth. Ouch.
Monte led 8-3 going into the bottom of the fourth but Morris was determined not to be down for the count.
Specifically it was Ryan Beyer making a statement. Beyer tore into a Monte delivery and achieved a grand slam home run! So the score is now 8-7.
But alas, this just wasn't Morris' day. The Spartans' three runs in the top of the fifth were all unearned. That episode "sealed the Eagles' fate," Carrington bemoaned.
Carrington delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. The tying run was at the plate - the same situation as in the Rosen game - but the final batter struck out.
After all that offense, the Eagles just couldn't scratch out a win on this day.
Eric Riley took the pitching loss. He and Carrington each pitched four innings.
Craig Knochenmus pitched the ninth and he got all three outs via strikeout.
Looking at the boxscore, Beyer certainly delivered the way the No. 3 battter in the order is expected. He had three hits in five at-bats, scored two runs and drove in five.
Ross Haugen and Chris Boettcher were the other Eagles with multiple-hit games.
Morris outhit Monte 11-10. But Monte had just one error compared to that glaring total of six for Morris.
The final Morris won-lost record for 2011 is 12-10.
"See you next year!" Carrington enthusiastically says.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Does everyone realize Spartans are gone?

The Spartans are gone with the wind. I'm not sure the import of this has sunk in with lots of people.
There ought to be a wave of sadness passing through us all. Even if you never attended a game involving the red, white and blue Spartans, you should take a moment and feel regret as to their extinction.
The full weight of this should sink in soon. With the start of the new school year, all Chokio-Alberta sports will be paired with Morris. I jotted down this information from the kmrs-kkok website (the news page) a while back.
The item reported that the Morris Area school board OK'd a cooperative pairing agreement with Chokio-Alberta for football. The next sentence then reported that all C-A sports were now assimilated here.
I also jotted down how the Breckenridge school board had decided to donate services. Budget difficulties prodded that move obviously.
You can only imagine the pressures on the C-A district if there was no alternative there but to zip up the long, colorful history of C-A Spartan sports and say "that's it."
Again I'll quote a fellow who was in the audience for the Driggs lecture at UMM last year. In the Q&A, he asserted the changing demographics of western Minnesota, how, frankly, the decision to build UMM likely wouldn't even be made today.
Why? The drastically altered demographics.
This fellow in a loud, captivating voice talked about the time "when all the little towns out here had their own football and basketball teams."
I guess I'm getting to an age where I shouldn't assume everyone remembers that.
You could drive through these small towns on an autumn Friday night and see the flickering lights where the local football team was playing. It wasn't just a sports event, it was a social gathering.
I have to chuckle writing that because for many people, the social aspect ruled. Life was rich in those days when the day-to-day mindset seemed more relaxed.
I covered the C-A Spartans in the media for many years. To say that experience was rich is an understatement.
I covered graduations at the Alberta school building. I understand that building is now abandoned for school purposes.
I remember proms, spring arts festivals and basketball games there, in addition to graduations which were always held on Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. I gave up free-time stuff in order to make the commitment to be there most years.
A smile crosses my face as I remember Lyle Hettver proclaiming "Thank God for small schools!"
Small schools really need some divine support now.
In Breckenridge the leaders are apparently working gratis.
At C-A, not only is there sadness and humility over losing sports teams, an individual has been caught doing untoward things with money ($).
I don't think it's a coincidence that such a crime happened at a small school on the fringe for survival. When any institution begins to grope for survival, systems break down. The resources aren't there anymore.
The incident (teachable?) perhaps points to a need to have less of the human element in the directing of funds. Systems could be modified toward having this done electronically. We are so human an animal.
If the incident expedited the decline of Chokio-Alberta programs, it's oh so sad.
The extinction of C-A sports has a net negative effect for the Morris area (with a small "a").
Morris advocates would be happy that C-A paired here rather than with, for example, Clinton-Graceville.
This misses the point, because in an ideal world the Spartans would survive.
It's often futile to fight change. That fellow at the Driggs lecture made a point bluntly that a lot of us are hesitant to acknowledge.
Tom Brokaw has been known to make this point bluntly too. Brokaw talks about the "de-populating of the Great Plains states."
He talks about how you still find "courthouses 35 miles apart each with its own auditor - a system that might have made sense in horse and buggy times."
But the times have changed drastically.
We still have the Hancock Owls in Stevens County. I don't hear any panic rumors from over there, so the Owls would appear to be viable a while longer. Their girls basketball team reaches super heights.
Coach Jodi Holleman does as much as anyone keeping Hancock on the map. The Owl football team plays on a good old-fashioned small town football field.
Morris has moved on to the new age with its Big Cat Stadium. Take a look at Big Cat and you can't help but feel impressed.
But it's a far cry from the informal atmosphere of the old small town fields where people gathered, wandered and jabbered while the football seemed very often obscured. It was an excuse for a "town square."
A friend remembers "the junior high girls walking around the track" at our old football field here.
Football actually seemed more exciting at C-A because it was nine-man rather than eleven-man. The nature of nine-man football seemed to encourage more scoring. It was also the kind of football where a very talented individual could stand out more.
Yes, I know the Morris Area Tigers scored over 60 points in a game last fall. But I seem to recall some rule changes enacted through the years to help prep football offenses.
I remember a time when eleven-man high school football seemed boring much of the time. Too many of the plays just ended up as "a pile of guys out on the field." When it's cold out, this becomes humdrum quite fast.
Nine-man football seemed pretty fast and exciting even before those rule changes.
Coach Neal Hofland was a rock at Chokio-Alberta. I wonder if Neal saw the end coming through the years. Eventually C-A got paired with Herman-Norcross. But they were still the Spartans.
Who can forget those Friday nights in Chokio for home football? Who can forget the special atmosphere for Homecoming?
Such activities gave outstate Minnesota much of its personality. Now we're following the trend that iconic journalist Brokaw talked about. The "depopulating" leaves a discouraging silence in its wake.
I remember attending football games in Herman. And in Hoffman where Morris native Keith Swanson reigned as coach just like Hofland.
There will come a time when relatively few people have these memories. It's extremely important to preserve them.
Some museum space somewhere ought to be set aside, devoted to the rich memories of the C-A Spartans.
I attended many Homecoming pep rallies at the Alberta school. I found them refreshing in that they seemed 100 percent traditional. The Morris school by contrast, at least in a subtle way, seemed to exude more of what might be called a "deconstructionist" air.
Morris was eventually steered back in a more traditional way and that's good. If you're going to have Homecoming at all, there's a right and wrong way to do it.
The class-by-class Homecoming pep rally skits at C-A were priceless. I remember a skit inspired by a TV commercial starring Bob Uecker. It was complete with an actor proclaiming "I must be in the front row!"
Let's tuck away these memories and never let them die.
"Thank God for small schools."
It's early August now which means high school football workouts are about to start. No longer will we be able to drive past Chokio and see the Spartans being put through their pre-season paces.
No more festive air for the C-A football opener where everyone has adrenalin pumping for the new school year, feeling maybe a slight nip in the evening air because fall is near.
Again, tuck away those memories.
It's gone with the wind.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When time doesn't draw a misty curtain

I once visited a typical small-town VFW club to unwind with some soft drinks after an evening of playing tennis. The town had some nice well-lit tennis courts.
Tennis seemed popular among adults at the time, much more than seems the case today. Today we have thriving school-sponsored tennis programs. That's great but it might be nice to see a bump upward in unstructured tennis among older people who really could uses the exercise.
I'm not exactly setting the best example myself. Today the example I'm following is more like Bryant McKinnie, the just-released Minnesota Viking. He's big but doesn't that make him hard to run around if you're a defensive lineman?
Apparently the new Vikings coaching regime felt Mr. McKinnie needed to be more of an athlete. He could have used some rigorous sets of tennis on those lighted courts in Benson. This was in the early 1980s.
I remember they also had a lit basketball court where the light switch could be flipped by users - an honor system. I remember thinking this whole facility for tennis/hoops enthusiasts put forth a great example.
I played tennis there with a high school classmate. The classmate (initials A.C.) was an electronic media worker who started out in Benson and moved on (upward) to Willmar.
Benson is smack-dab in between Morris and Willmar. So Benson continued as an appropriate meeting point.
I'm sure we drank pop at the VFW even though the fear of God had not yet set in regarding DWIs. I'm not sure if it was a case of penalties not yet being real severe or of law enforcement not being real vigilant in enforcement.
Whatever, I think I was at an age where the novelty of alcohol consumption, at least for me, had worn off. So we probably sipped on Coca-Cola and listened to the kind of "juke box" music that gave the essential backdrop to these charming gathering places.
Of course we noticed those rows of framed photos of "past commanders" and "past auxiliary presidents" that provide terrific Americana at these purely American institutions.
Such people represented the heart and soul of these communities.
My tennis partner and I noticed some blank frames along the rows.
"Those are the ones who voted for McGovern," my friend chortled.
That was quite the quip. It also said a lot about the public mood of the time. It assigned George McGovern a place on the fringe for no good reason.
McGovern was the Barack Obama of his time without the baggage of being outside the Caucasian mainstream. Another difference is that he didn't get elected, at least not as president.
He was caricatured to a large extent. This is always a peril for Democrats who must defend government intervention as a way of assuring continuity and a safety net in our lives.
Richard Nixon sold himself as a conservative but was far more a centrist or pragmatist. Nixon had also deteriorated badly as a human being.
Gerald Ford would later say Nixon was a "sick man" at the end of his presidency.
Republicans really had no choice but to say this. Nixon's paranoia couldn't be defended on any political grounds.
And McGovern? He became a tragic hero in the eyes of a huge portion of the boomer generation.
He was the skeptic about our war-making. He connected with the less-well-off and wanted to be an advocate for them. This was a time when boomers were idealistic. Later they would become "yuppies" and finally worship at the altar of money as bad as any previous generation.
But in the '80s we still saw ourselves as different and as especially blessed with an altruistic disposition.
I was in Salzburg, Austria, when I saw the Time Magazine cover that had McGovern and Thomas Eagleton together. It was a star-crossed campaign. The two were coming out of the kind of tumultuous Democratic convention that marked those times.
National conventions in fact had much greater importance than they do today. The Democrats had a terrible time getting their act together in 1968 and '72.
McGovern gave his acceptance speech at an ungodly hour in '72. His choice of Eagleton as runningmate became doomed when it was learned Eagleton had a background of mental health treatment. Those were much less enlightened times when it came to such things.
Nixon put together a criminal enterprise to crush the Democrats. Odd, because Nixon was the overwhelming favorite vs. the "dove-ish" McGovern anyway.
Nixon drew people into his organization who should have known better. Most of them would have known better had they not been drawn into the human trap of deferring to authority figures.
Ford proclaimed Nixon "sick" but apparently Nixon wasn't too sick to write several books post-presidency.
Nixon did the David Frost interviews but at that point, who really cared anymore? Nixon was just part of a bad dream that us boomers had awakened from. Nixon seemed embittered.
No so McGovern. He came from the Dakotas which are hardly a hotbed of left wing thought.
McGovern entered the national picture when the U.S. was going through very turbulent times. The clash of generations was painful and unfortunate.
The boomers weren't just different, they were oh so plentiful.
"We didn't know what to do with all of them," was a quote I remember reading from an older person about the kids of the '70s.
At my church in Morris, the kids were arranged in rows for our confirmation photo. Today that church only has three or four confirmands in many years.
We rejected war and racial prejudice and felt government had more altruistic aims than to try to apply the hammer to Communism.
Somehow McGovern got enmeshed in our values and there was a schism where our elders shunned him. Thus my friend's quip "Those are the ones who voted for McGovern."
It seems tremendously silly now, how political figures were so caricatured as to reflect the culture clashes of the time. Someday when McGovern passes on to the next world - his next convention stage - I think we'll see a spasm of affection and nostalgia among people my age. It will take us back to a time when we did things we would never confess to our own children.
Those were peccadilloes, many of which became an odd sort of badge. We'll try to overlook those while embracing memories of crusading against war and for justice - yes, even "social justice" of the kind that the Glenn Becks of the world decry as being "socialism."
And look out, world, as we age further and become more conscious of the need for a social safety net, we'll be a force that you cannot stop. No one has ever been able to stop the boomers.
We've been lying in the weeds for a few years but you'll hear from us again. We are fickle and revisionist.
So when we start needing help, we'll be sure and get it. We'll revert back to the McGovern-ish style of thinking.
Yuppies? What's that? We'll re-kindle the values that went contrary to materialism.
We'll remember when McGovern was a beacon for the better way.
You see, time doesn't really draw a misty curtain.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com