History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Watergate gave media damaging delusions

Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford played heroes of their time: newspaper reporters!

Watergate didn't last that long in the scheme of things. One legacy is the word "gate" as a suffix. When we sense something is untoward on the national stage, we attach "gate."
It can be subjective as when climate change deniers say "climategate." The real alleged "climategate" has been debunked. We heard during the recent Rush Limbaugh controversy that the rotund source of sheep dip was keeping it alive. Heaven knows I don't actually listen to the show.
How would the conservative media, at least the behemoth type of conservative media we have today, have behaved during Watergate? Richard Nixon was arguably not a conservative.
Nixon pulled strings in the most cynical way imaginable, becoming a shadowy and seemingly dangerous figure looming over the unraveling Watergate mess. We all knew something untoward had happened. Peeling away the cover-up was a drawn-out and irritating procedure.
Much irritation was from the empowerment the news media increasingly felt. The old media were quite in their prime.
How was civilization possible without all the new media tools? We really did get by, you young folks. We deferred to newspapers. If we wanted a voice we might write a letter to the editor. It was up to the newspaper gods if it got published.
By the time Watergate was done, having been dragged out ad nauseum, the Fourth Estate was self-righteous indeed. Lest there be any doubt, we got a "major motion picture." I don't think Robert Redford really cared if newspapers were a beacon of whatever. He just knew a good story. Americans might have been weary of Watergate but there was movie drama to be mined from this.
We got "All the President's Men," inspired by the book written by the (purported) true beacons of truth and purity, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Woodward and Bernstein were journalistic practitioners in the manual typewriter days. We have forgotten how exclusive the writing craft was in those days. The average person considered typing a chore. It was considered a feminine skill. Many people never bothered learning keyboard skills.
I just happened to be interested in writing and typing. Thus I was allowed past that velvet rope into "journalism" for a long time, until that building earthquake of self-empowerment caused by the tech revolution made me realize my skills and interests were plain-jane. Poking around and wanting to do "interviews" for stories in the "press" made me feel rather like an odd intrusion. A throwback.
Woodward and Bernstein were in the right place at the right time. Such can be said of many figures in history. Watergate served them well just like the O.J. Simpson trial launched Greta Van Susteren into media prominence.
Bernstein was quoted a couple years ago saying "the system worked" in Watergate. I would like to argue the exact opposite. The fact that press people became anointed as heroes reflected dysfunction. I think the legal profession was aghast. Lawyers were essentially upstaged by "journalists" who don't even require a special education and degrees to do what they do.
Wrongdoing was committed. Such matters should be adjudicated in reliable channels of law and politics. It appears these channels by themselves would never have resolved Watergate.
In the wreckage of Watergate, I think the legal and political professions resolved "never again." Press people could do their thing but not be true movers and shakers.
This is all for the better because the press is so fallible and hit-and-miss.
It is a pretentious bit of bluster that the press exists to extinguish corruption and promote all that's good. Are press people more inherently good or virtuous? Lawyers would gag on that one. The legal field which pretty well seeps into politics wants to have its own checks and balances.
The law exists by definition to promote what's good, i.e. the Judeo-Christian set of ethics. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Woodward and Bernstein wrote in the Washington Post which was not your typical newspaper any more than Washington D.C. was your typical big city. Washington and its "Beltway" are a company town. It's the hub of government and its byzantine arms.
The Washington Post unleashed its reporters not because there was a direct commercial benefit for the Post, but to ensure the community at large could keep its credibility. It sure worked.
There wasn't as much genius behind what Woodward and Bernstein did as we may have thought at the time. The "sleuths" with their notepads were really just "stenographers," the term used by Pat Buchanan in a recent critique.
I'm not sure I'm really comfortable with how the name of Mark Felt came out. The man whose moniker was inspired by a porn movie ("Deep Throat") was a typical disgruntled insider, which all institutions have. He greased the wheels of Watergate, his identity only to be known decades later. Oh, the Nixon people had their suspicions about him, but it was felt that if they moved on him, he'd simply call a press conference and reveal everything he knew.
Woodward visited Felt many years later when Felt was definitely showing the kind of disintegration caused by old age. I felt all of that was unnecessary. I did check out the new book by Woodward from our Morris Public Library. Yes, Woodward was not above exploiting this.
The time had come for us to get to know "Deep Throat," I guess. What would Felt, an FBI man, have thought of this in his prime? Well, he didn't shy away from revealing in a highly surreptitious way his knowledge of things that would literally crush a presidency.
Again, the legal profession was gnashing its teeth. The lawyers (and by extension politicians) were being upstaged by newspaper writers. You could argue this perversion did nothing for newspapers in the broadest sense. This is exactly the argument made by contemporary media writer Paul Gillin.
Gillin created the Newspaper Death Watch website. He argues that Watergate is the worst thing to ever happen to newspapers because it made reporters feel like they should be celebrities. A lot of crazy things happened in the 1970s - see Comet Kohoutek - and I guess this was just one of them.
We are coming up on a Watergate anniversary. On June 17 it will have been 40 years since the mess first became public. We even have a new book about Watergate, a historical novel. I am very much a fan of the historical novel genre.
"Watergate: A Novel" is written by Thomas Mallon. George Will wrote a column helping introduce us to the work. Will writes that "the festering mess of 1972-74 becomes almost fun, actually funny, and instructive about how history can be knocked sideways by small mediocrities."
Indeed, many people danced across the national stage who didn't deserve to be there. Do we even know 40 years later who ordered the break-in and why? Do we know the extent of Nixon's real culpability? Can we be certain he was "sick" the way his sympathizers have pleaded?
Mallon believes that John Mitchell, the former attorney general who was running Nixon's re-election campaign, was distracted by family problems - OK it was his alcoholic wife Martha - and allowed things to become untidy.
Columnist Will informs us that the new book - could we get another movie? - is "a tale of floundering, frightened people unsure of what had happened or what others were telling investigators."
Or the press, I might add. The prominence of the press was a defining feature of Watergate. There were no blogs, no Facebook, no "tweets," no ipads etc.
The media were a distant and aloof entity that we consumed and feared, feared because we seemed at the mercy of their judgments. My, what a top-down system that was.
The recent transformation has been especially fascinating in that the new model is bottom-up - yes, the complete opposite - and upsets the applecart in a traumatic way for the old and now largely irrelevant practitioners.
George Will is a survivor because he does great work. Dan Rather is exhibit "A" of a casualty. One is reminded of the change from silent movies to "talkies" and about how some actors couldn't cut it. Same with radio entertainment getting transplanted to television.
The new meritocracy of journalism ensures that the very best work gets rewarded, not the individuals who partly through luck would get past that "velvet rope."
Would the media of today have simply shot down Watergate, nipping it in the bud essentially? The culture of today is so different, people wouldn't even be inclined to have the same temptations, I would suggest.
Watergate was an episode of fools. George Will tells us that author Mallon "uses his literary sensibility and mordant wit to give humanity to characters who in their confusions and delusions staggered across the national stage, utterly unqualified for the prominence they enjoyed until it devoured them."
All this was on the heels of the Viet Nam War debacle. Then we got inflation and "stagflation." And disco. What a time to be young and impressionable.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wadsworth Trail drew intrepid (& eccentric) folks

Wintermute Lake seems a pretty ordinary Minnesota lake but it has significance, as it's next to the earliest pioneering path out here. (B.W. photo)

"The prairie, in all its expressions, is a massive, subtle place with a long history of contradiction and misunderstanding. But it is worth the effort at comprehension. It is, after all, at the center of our national identity."
- Wayne Fields, "Lost Horizon"

The people and adventures of the Wadsworth Trail could appear in a Louis L'Amour novel. People wound their way out west with risk but it must have been the kind of risk they felt could be rewarded. It's a testament to the indomitable human spirit.
It's a spirit that brimmed never more vigorously than when facing the opportunities of a free and expanding America.
"No man has to bow," Joshua Chamberlain told his Maine troops, propping up morale just before the battle of Gettysburg. "America should be free soil, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Here we judge you for what you do, not for who your father was."
Chamberlain's speech, to a group of demoralized (actually mutinous) troops, was re-created in the movie "Gettysburg" (given the full four stars by critic Roger Ebert). Jeff Daniels played the heroic role.
Sam Smith might have heard such a speech. Sam was a war hero who settled in Morris. He was a significant early resident and he has descendants here today. His monument at Summit Cemetery is the most distinctive one there.
Smith fought for the kind of ideals that were the underpinning of the push west. The issues of the Civil War weren't felt here - further south like in Kansas of course, but not here.
The Civil War seemed almost to rip America's heart out. It was business that had to be accomplished. That it took so many lives is the tragedy.
European civilization was beginning to probe out here as the ashes were still smoldering from the war in the east. The Wadsworth Trail was established in 1864. Any study of Morris history begins with this. The travel was primitive and dangerous. But the western frontier was tantalizing.
The prairie seemed like a vast sea where you saw a flat horizon in the distance.
The first known settlement here was in Framnas Township in 1866. The trail was in its prime from 1864 to 1871. The U.S. government planned the Wadsworth Trail for transporting supplies from St. Cloud to Fort Wadsworth.
The fort, named for a Civil War general, was located near Sisseton, South Dakota. The government planned for security out here in light of the feared alliance of Native American factions who would pursue hostile intentions. Memories were fresh, needless to say, of the Sioux's hostile actions two years previous.
Henry Gager built a stopping point in Stevens County. Gager's Station might well be Chapter 1 in any history of the county. It thrived and then flamed out as transportation methods were sharpened. It was the railroad that truly laid the foundation for Morris.
Gager had a good reputation. He was very civilized with his values. I would guess that anyone out here back then had a gun at the ready, though.
The wide spectrum of people who made their way here included those of dubious reputation or intentions. I'm reminded of the Clint Eastwood westerns that were set in territories as they worked to become full-fledged states of the U.S.
Statehood didn't come until law could be asserted without resistance.
Granted, Minnesota had become a state in 1858. But the western prairie was desolate compared to where Europeans first settled in large numbers. For all practical purposes we still seemed like a territory. Fort Snelling with its assertion of Manifest Destiny was a long ways away.
Here we had the humble outpost of Gager's where such shady folks as horse thieves and cattle rustlers were known to circulate. Weren't these hanging offenses in some places?
Henry Gager was known to trade with horse thieves from Horse Shoe Lake. Doesn't sound to me like there was much active law enforcement.
Travel was so primitive and hazardous, a simple creek could spell nightmares, even death. We learn of the Big Muddy Creek. It flowed in Pepperton Township. It was notorious. It was tame in dry times, but the heavy rains spelled a much different picture.
Remember, the land was not yet tilled. The land was less able to soak up rain, so rain collected in the creek and rivers, spelling "torrent" at times.
The unrestrained muddy water was an obstacle that could be fatal for horses if not people. If you survived the creek you headed west toward Toqua Station near Graceville. A park commemorates that place today. I believe Graceville has an annual celebration with the "Toqua" name.
Beyond Toqua there were further destinations for the intrepid folks: Browns Valley, the Indian Agency, the Buffalo Lakes Station and finally Fort Wadsworth.
Government teams were run by teamsters. Large wagons were pulled by 12-mule teams. The loads could weigh 3-4 tons.
A man on horseback was out front. A driver with a whip was positioned on one of the rear mules. The sound of a whip could resonate over a wide area. Two soldiers and a brake operator were on the wagon. Oh, and there were cavalry at the ready, escorting dutifully.
Again, memories of the Sioux uprising (or massacre) were fresh.
At least one soldier lost his life in such treks. Children playing in Morris Township in the 1920s found a sword stuck into the ground. This identified a burial.
Think mosquitoes are bad today? You might want to put aside any romantic notions of the early frontier. In the Wadsworth Trail days, mosquitoes could be so thick you might have difficulty lighting a match (so the legend goes).
Hot weather made it hard to keep animals properly hydrated. Wagons could tip over in mud.
The Pomme de Terre River flooded in 1867, causing delays. It also took the life of a mail carrier who tried to make a crossing at Johnson's Mill.
The Wadsworth Stage was an institution that would belong on the pages of a L'Amour novel. It was a two-horse stage that ventured from Sauk Centre to Fort Wadsworth once a week. A heavy load would necessitate mules. The stage's schedule often seemed to exist in theory only. It proceeded as best it could.
The stage was famous as a vehicle for relaying news from other places. George Lee was a well-known stage driver.
One noteworthy incident had the stage getting upset in the Pomme de Terre River. Mrs. Gager, Mary, was on board. She was later quite chagrined that Lee saw fit to retrieve the mail dispatch before he attended to Mary!
Ethelyn Pearson once wrote about "the dude of Wadsworth trail." That was the name of a chapter in her 2000 book "It Really Happened Here - Amazing Tales of Minnesota and the Dakotas."
Ethelyn is the mother of long-time (now retired) Morris Area industrial arts teacher Larry Pearson. I knew Larry well even though I wasn't a "shoppie" (shop class devotee). Actually I got to know him best after my high school years. He's very pleasant and capable, and worked for a time at Morris Lumber and Millwork.
I never met Ethelyn but I feel kindred with her given her journalistic inclinations and historical curiosity.
"Refinement and elegance arrived at Gager's Station," Ethelyn wrote, beginning her chapter about the "dude" whose name was Albert Hawkes.
Hawkes drove no ordinary team of oxen. The oxen understood a different "language" from the usual oxen. Hawkes saw to that. He had a musical background from back east, Ethelyn informs us. He turned west seeking adventure. He had a pleasant demeanor and clean lifestyle. He promoted levity wherever he went.
But he was eccentric. He examined oxen in planning for his travels and found them to be too lacking or too, well, pedestrian. He didn't want the usual oxen that responded to the standard commands ("hish," "gee," "haw"). He obtained a young pair of oxen and instilled in them a grasp of a different language. It was the language from square dancing, a pastime that had fulfilled Mr. Hawkes much.
He wanted his team to be a reminder. So they became well-versed in commands like "forward all" and "promenade." The oxen might even understand "swing your partners." Observers might laugh when hearing "allemande left."
The behavior was derided by frontier journalist "Shanghai" Chandler, a notable early Morris area personality. Chandler felt Hawkes to be worthy of arrest, so irregular was his behavior.
Hawkes certainly didn't stick around here. He ventured way over the horizon to Bismarck and the Black Hills, driving a stage over a newly-laid route. His story has a tragic end, as he was shot by Indians.
Ethelyn reports that traveling from Gager's to Bismarck could be a "teamster's nightmare." At the same time it was "an Indian's paradise," the author noted. Mud and sinkholes were hazards. Crossing tops of hills put you in eyesight of Indians who might be predatory.
Ethelyn wrote about the "young Indian bucks" who might hide in ambush awaiting a supply train with its guns, ammo, whiskey etc.
"The blood of Albert Hawkes and his companions kept open a trail that had to be traveled if the West was to be won," Ethelyn wrote.
It's important we remember the hardships, sacrifices and indomitable spirit of those souls who saw the possibilities out here way back in the mid-19th Century. Manifest Destiny arrived with the Wadsworth Trail.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring has sprung? It might be "false"

"The Shootist" portrayed changing times and how an aging vestige of the past said goodbye. The denouement was in early spring. (Image from Yahoo movies)

I learned the term "false spring" from the movie "The Shootist." It was the very touching movie starring John Wayne, Lauren Bacall and Jimmy Stewart. Actually it has a who's who of notable actors at the time. If I attempted an extended list I might leave someone out.
Ron Howard was the young and restless guy.
The Wayne and Bacall characters discussed the "false spring." I'm not sure if it's an official term or more of an urban dictionary one. It has a definition you might guess. It's a term that might occur to you now as you look outside at the unusual weather behavior.
Such unseasonable warmth spells "false spring." Look at the calendar and it's shocking. We should be in the final throes of winter. We ought to still feel a chill on many days.
The crisp snow of mid-winter starts giving way to "snirt" this time of year. That is, if it were a typical year.
Del Sarlette once joked that Morris should have a "snirt festival" complete with a queen. The term is of course a combination of "snow" and "dirt."
Normally we see receding snowdrifts with black blotches and streaks. Of course it's nothing to celebrate in and of itself, rather it signals a time of year when the long bleak winter is phasing out.
I wrote a year ago at this time that spring is truly signaled when the biking/walking trails are completely open. My family has a friend who lived for a time at Skyview where his window overlooked the trail. It was fun in spring to start seeing people pass by, people of all ages using a variety of speeds and styles to get around. The common thread was the desire to get out and celebrate spring with aerobics.
So mild was this past winter, I'm sure the trails stayed open throughout.
We wish our friend was still at Skyview. His health reached the point where he needed greater attention.
St. Patrick's Day felt very unnatural - too mild and summer-like. I always lump in St. Urho's Day with St. Patrick's. The former is of course a faux holiday. Saving the grape crop in Finland might seem a grand and glorious thing but it's fiction. Are there even grapes in Finland?
In the 1980s I made two or three trips to St. Paul for a five-mile footrace in connection with St. Patrick's. It was considered an important run on the Twin Cities calendar, a kickoff of sorts. The five-mile distance was unusual as usually these events are measured in kilometers.
I remember doing the "Goose Gallop" in Fergus Falls which was ten miles. The Gallop T-shirt had artwork showing a flying goose. I wonder if it's a collectible. Back then the entry fee for such an event was six or seven bucks. Times have changed in that regard. If you're paying through the nose and it's a fundraiser, fine. Otherwise I think it's foolish.
The inflation has certainly pushed me out of the picture. At least that's a good excuse.
I went out the other day clad in jogging attire and did an old four-mile route of mine. A good power walker could well have passed me. Heck, an ordinary walker might have done it.
I don't want to slight power walkers such as Jeanette Drown who once demonstrated for me just how fleet a pace they can manage. I accompanied her just for the purpose of chatting once. I departed thinking "holy cow!"
The St. Patrick's race in St. Paul was unique because it was point-to-point rather than out-and-back. The final stretch was downhill toward the state capitol. Upon finishing, hopefully with no desire to heave, you'd browse around fruit and refreshment stations, then get on a typical orange school bus and be taken back to the starting area which was at University of St. Thomas.
We got to appreciate historic Summit Avenue, the old hangout of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The distances of many of these races have gotten shorter since I did them. My generation got a little overzealous with these runs back when the pastime was becoming fashionable. Us boomers are always deciding what's fashionable, but can we be as influential as we keep aging? We have always taken for granted our influence.
I get the impression the runners of today don't think so much about speed. The idea is to complete the course sensibly. Congratulations. No need to heave.
John Wayne and Lauren Bacall talked about "false spring" as a time when nature was prematurely awakened. Nature got fooled by the too-early arrival of mild weather. Some types of plants can be hurt by this.
I think we should temper some of our ecstasy about these conditions. It's not natural and could spell very bad news from the standpoint of global climate change. Climate change doesn't just spell warmer weather, it spells more extreme weather. These tornado outbreaks might be a wakeup call.
I jogged my four miles with tempered thoughts. It might be a relief actually to see those snirt-streaked drifts.
John Wayne played J.B. Books, a gunfighter at the turn of the century when his way of life was quickly being extinguished. I can relate. I was once a newspaper journalist. There are headlines pretty regularly about the fading nature of the U.S. newspaper industry.
A subhead from the (London) Financial Times just the other day read: "Press is said to be America's fastest shrinking industry." A headline from the Allan Mutter "Newsosaur" blog reads: "Newspaper sales slid to 1984 level in 2011."
We learn from Mr. Mutter that "the combined ad sales for all the papers in the U.S. last year were equal to only two-thirds of the sales of a single digital competitor, Google, whose annual revenues were $37.9 billion."
Also: "For the sixth year in a row, sales tumbled in every print category in 2011."
I have written before that when print finally dies, it won't even be news. That's because we will have moved on to something else - the assortment of electronic communications tools that are so liberating. Newspapers will only hang on for a while like snowdrifts full of snirt. Some clueless business people will keep advertising in them because it's habit. I think we're seeing that now.
A friend tells me the Morris newspaper has a press run of just 2800 copies now. That's according to a late-September report, I was told, so we've had a few months to see a further erosion. For years the Morris newspaper press run was approximately 4000.
In terms of paid circulation, I'm told the figure is 2340. The past figure (i.e. from the newspaper's heyday) was about 3500. The "good old days" with Brian Williams were pretty good, I would say. It appears the Morris newspaper even throws away about 380 copies. You expect some waste but probably not that much.
It's a chain paper now with the strings pulled out of Fargo and Detroit lakes. Who wants to support an operation like that? The company reportedly puts great pressure on its local managers to "turn out the numbers." It's a classic dehumanizing business in that regard, I would opine.
We are surrounded by too many such businesses. I hope this isn't considered "progress."
The John Wayne character ("J.B. Books") couldn't fight change. Maybe we can resist the change of the vicious corporate culture that seems to consume so many of us.
Newspapers won't be able to resist the forces of "creative destruction." That's for the better. Here's what Paul Gillin wrote recently about my old profession: "The newspaper industry is standing on a railroad trestle 100 feet above a rushing river while a locomotive bears down on it. The only thing worse than getting hit by the train is jumping out of the way."
Happy (false) spring.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, March 12, 2012

New Vikings stadium revives allure of gambling

Welcome to the future? Is such a structure inevitable?

I thought soap operas were fading away. Some of the well-remembered soap operas of my youth have gotten the ax. But we have a genuine soap opera in Minnesota now.
On and on the Vikings stadium issue drifts. On any given morning at McDonald's in Morris, I glance through the Star Tribune headlines - the house paper of course - and expect on any given day to find something on the topic.
Governor Mark Dayton has been dogged by this issue since taking office. He has been dogged the same way the "undead" character dogged the hero in the movie "An American Werewolf in London." Remember how that undead character was rotting, literally - skin peeling away? Oh but he wasn't scary. He'd keep saying "hello David" in a most appealing way.
As far as I'm concerned, the skin is peeling away on the Vikings stadium issue. It's starting to reek.
It's bad enough this issue hovers at the state capitol where the duties to the citizens are supposed to be more fundamental.
If politicians decide we need to take responsibility for a new stadium, so be it. If they do, they're reflecting the views of their constituents. But the way this issue is headed, we're not really taking responsibility for it. That's because we're sadly falling back on gambling.
Let's just keep going to the well with this vice, eh? It's like we're not really paying for something.
The Federal government just borrows or prints money, and we enact gambling. Isn't it all starting to seem like Sodom and Gomorrah?
I bash Republicans a lot but there are times when I see merit in their stance. Republicans have been the most reserved on the stadium. They seem to be more readily coming forward with principle. They'll say "our constituents just don't see a stadium as a high priority now."
They're stating the obvious.
The other side of the coin is the unspeakable fear we have about the Vikings leaving. We're more scared of this than an "undead" character stalking us.
I'm scared of the expansion of gambling. Governor Dayton is touting electronic bingo and pulltabs in Minnesota's bars and restaurants. He cited some astronomical sum such a system (taxing it, actually) would generate.
I don't doubt gambling rakes in tons of money. I can think of many other things it can be used for. I suppose electronic gambling is more efficient than other forms. It extracts money from people faster. Welcome to Pottersville.
Who steered us this way? Democrats need to look in the mirror. Just like Dayton seems clueless now, it was another Democrat, Rudy Perpich, who allowed the doors to swing wide open.
There was a time when gambling was taboo, a time when people were so cautious and prudent, they even avoided the stock market. People shook their heads about "risk investments." And gambling? It was immoral.
About as "edgy" as you could get would be to go to a church basement and play low-stakes bingo. I had Catholic friends as a kid who took me to that. When I later learned non-Catholics weren't allowed to take communion in a Catholic church, I asked about the discrepancy. Why could I play bingo? "We'll always take your money," was the joking response.
Governor Luther Youngdahl in 1947 drove out slot machines that had crept into the state, like at resorts. We patted ourselves on the back over that. I remember seeing a slot machine in a "back room" at the Elks Club in Fargo in the early 1970s. It looked to exotic to me.
I remember on one of my trips to Wisconsin in the 1980s, I stopped at a filling station just on the Wisconsin side of the border and thought it would be neat to buy "lottery tickets." Wow! These turned out to be just the plain scratch-off kind, not the kind where you might win a windfall. But I thought it was cool to buy "lottery tickets."
A lot of us thought it was cool when the drinking age was lowered.
We grow older and wiser about such things. A vice is a vice.
And now we're leaning on vices to pay for things that the state apparently sees as essential. All of this is hung out to dry in the daily Star Tribune headlines. It drones on like a soap opera. They say you can miss a week or two of a soap opera and it really doesn't matter. By the same token, you can refresh yourself pretty quickly on the stadium.
It's so irritating because we sense there is such an inexorable pull. There's a pull not only with the inevitability of the stadium itself, but with gambling expanding its specter in Minnesota ever so hideously. And we have a DFL governor putting his imprimatur on it. Is he being stalked by one of the "undead?"
Who says we need to be consumed by this issue? A headline springs up: "New stadium proposal comes forth." It's passive-voice. Who made the proposal and why does it immediately get traction? Who decides this?
The people I hang around with aren't waiting with baited breath to see if a new stadium gets approved. Us knaves look at the Metrodome and think it's quite acceptable - quite nice actually. It's clean, dependable and definitely has a "big league" feel about it, even without any real frills.
But what do we know? Apparently the Metrodome doesn't maximize the revenue that can be sucked out. We need to follow the lead of Jerry Jones in Dallas, we're told. The Jones facility is opulent to the extent one really can think of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Do we really want to put pro football on such a pedestal? Are we just one of those states played for suckers? Are we more scared of the "cold Omaha" label than we are of an undead guy?
Los Angeles CA of all places has been without the NFL for some time now. Is this really perceived as a grave deficiency there? No one wants the Vikings to leave Minnesota. But this desire can't be allowed to open the door for virtually any means of money extraction from our citizens.
Maybe history will judge the Jones stadium in Dallas as a step too far. Maybe history will judge Youngdahl as the wiser governor than Dayton.
There is an issue bubbling down underneath too. What if all these revelations about head injuries in football, and the physical punishment in general, cause a new generation of parents to steer their sons away from this sport? What if the boys themselves make this decision? What if they decide it's better to come home from school and go on social media (or digest knowledge) than to bash your head in trying to assert your masculinity in an anachronistic sport?
The girls are so much wiser, engaging in volleyball in the fall.
For the time being we're stuck in the established mindset of revering football, so we're under the gun about financing a new Vikings stadium.
This is what we elect our state lawmakers for? They're busy as bees this very week poring over the details. Why can't the Vikings and Gophers play in a nice shared facility? Are there no restrictions we can impose on sports?
It is true that the current proposed stadium package isn't a slam dunk. Maybe we can thank the Republicans for that. Republicans at least don't have the deer-in-the-headlights look on the subject, where the prospect of the Vikings leaving would equate to the end of the world, or maybe a bridge falling into a river.
So why is a Democratic governor so mesmerized by comparison? Democrats represent the working class (according to the rough theory) and maybe they feel pro football is sort of an opiate for such folks. Balderdash.
I want the Vikings to stay but I absolutely don't want the New Jersey real estate mogul and his minions to extort us. We don't want to pay a price of expanded gambling that steadily bleeds us, not only of our money - it's a regressive tax - but of our traditional spine about such things (as Governor Youngdahl asserted).
The Vikings can go to Los Angeles. Autumn will still be glorious in Minnesota.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hancock girls finish 21-5 but all's not peachy

The Hancock girls added another chapter to the glittering history of the program. They recently closed out the 2011-12 season with a 21-5 record.
It's a little bittersweet because they couldn't retrace the path to state they took last year. The big obstacle was Parkers Prairie. It turns out this is Parkers' year in sub-section, just like last year belonged to the Owls.
Last year's Owls finished fourth in state. A high place finish can be elusive of course. If you think it's hard now, think back to when we had a two-class system. As for the days of the one-class system (a la "Hoosiers"), there was no girls basketball then.
So we should all be happy, right? Hancock fans should be quite content.
Unfortunately I had a downbeat exchange of emails with coach Jodi Holleman Thursday (3/8). I contacted Jodi, a long-time acquaintance, to remind her she should share game details in her usual way with the Pheasant Country Sports website. The fact she didn't gave a hint, in my mind, that something was amiss.
I spent 27 years in the print media and I can sense when something might be amiss. High school sports can be a very delicate and precarious thing to be part of.
Jodi answered me and said she resigned after the Parkers game. It was clear it wasn't a happy decision. She said her ten conference titles, 300 wins and three trips to state were apparently "not enough." She expressed exasperation. She suggested support wasn't forthcoming from where it was needed.
None of this should come as a shocker. It can happen anywhere. I'm disappointed to see this. Holleman had a predecessor who left amid great turbulence. That predecessor's shortcomings landed him in prison.
So, can any of the current issues really be that concerning?
I would love having a daughter play under coach Holleman. Her "day" job is at the UMM P.E. Center office. I guess she's relieved of the coaching headaches now. If a vacancy should in fact happen in Morris, I'd love to see ol' Motown go after her. She is the type of individual who goes "the extra mile."
Good luck, coach Holleman.
On the upbeat side, she'll have more time to follow her daughter Bree playing at Southwest State.
Again, congrats to the 21-5 Owls.

Owls 50, Henning 33
The HHS girls took a routine step in round #1 of post-season play on Thursday, March 1.
The highly-touted Owls weren't likely to be challenged to a great extent by a round #1 foe. Henning took to the court to try to challenge the Owls. Fans filled the bleachers in the Hancock High gym. The Owls notched their 20th win.
It was actually a close game at halftime when the HHS lead was a modest four, at 21-17. But in the second half it became clear who the higher seed was.
Coach Holleman's Owls revved up to score 29 points in the second half, to 16 by Henning. So the final score was 50-33.
HHS won the right to advance and play at UMM's "big floor" on Saturday.
The Henning Hornets ended their season with a 15-11 record.
Serandon Bigalke made both of Hancock's successful three-point shots. The Owls were two of nine in 3's, and made 20 of 50 in total field goals. In freethrows their stats were eight of 15.
Kendra Schmidgall was an offensive force with 22 points scored. Courtney Greiner scored nine, and Bigalke and Olivia Koehl contributed eight each. Sami Schmidgall added to the mix with three points.
Greiner led in rebounds with 12 followed by Sami Schmidgall with nine and Koehl with seven. Greiner set the pace in assists with seven.
Greiner had four steals to edge out two of her teammates each of whom had three: Sami Schmidgall and Kendra Schmidgall.
Kendra came to the fore in blocked shots, swatting aside five shots.
The top Henning scorer was Megan Richter who put in ten points including a three-pointer. Britta Torgerson and Gretchen Freed each made a "3" for the Hornets.

Owls 59, Brandon-Evansville 39
Hancock took step #2 in the post-season on Saturday, 3/3, overcoming the Brandon-Evansville Chargers.
The second-seeded Owls had a relatively easy time of it, playing at their "second home" of sorts: the University of Minnesota-Morris.
The Owls displayed their talents on the "big floor" of the P.E. Center. They assumed a 24-15 lead at halftime and went on to win 59-39. Thus they earned the right for a re-match with (apparent) sub-section kingpin Parkers Prairie (the Panthers). The Panthers are having one of those peak kind of seasons.
Hancock came out of the weekend with a 21-4 season record. Parkers Prairie climbed through the Section 6A South semis with a 65-38 triumph over Wheaton-Herman-Norcross. Parkers took a 26-2 record into sub-section finals night.
The 6A North picture had Ada-Borup and Waubun in the finals.
Hancock's key players made contributions typical of them against Brandon-Evansville. Coach Holleman had to feel pleased with her team's long-range shooting. The Owls would need that weapon going into the Parkers game. Against B-E the Owls succeeded on eight of 18 shots from 3-point range - quite fine.
Kendra Schmidgall's shooting eye and poise were sharp as she connected for five of these. Serandon Bigalke made two 3-pointers and Olivia Koehl had the other.
In total field goals the Owls were 22 of 48. The Owls were an efficient seven of nine in freethrows.
Greiner hustled for nine rebounds and she was followed by three of her mates each with five: Kendra Schmidgall, Koehl and Sami Schmidgall.
Greiner was a masterful passer as she produced ten assists. Bigalke had four. Greiner also had three steals among her stats.
Here's the scoring list: Kendra Schmidgall 22, Koehl 12, Greiner 12, Bigalke 10 and Karol Algarate 3.
The top B-E scorer was Heather Strese with 25 points.

Parkers Prairie 63, Owls 39
The end came for Hancock GBB sooner than everyone wanted, on Tuesday night (3/6) at our P.E. Center in Morris. The Owls took the Jim Gremmels court knowing a huge challenge awaited.
Coach Holleman had her team focused to try to blunt the strengths of the Parkers Prairie Panthers. Parkers owned the No. 1 seed and had a nemesis reputation in the eyes of the Owls (and many others).
Alas, there was no overcoming those Panthers and their top-seeded status. Parkers was the 63-39 winner, thus moves on in the post-season. It was the Section 6A South championship game.
The next step is the section championship game. (It gets complicated for people who don't follow this closely.)
The Owls and their fans can look back on a truly highlight-filled season even though there was some sting at the end.
The final HHS record: 21-5. HHS took the Pheasant Conference crown with a 6-0 mark.
Parkers is now striving to get past Ada-Borup.
Congrats to Hancock girls basketball and their outgoing coach, on another winter made shorter than it might otherwise be, thanks to all the hoops excitement and success.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Regents kerfuffle, loose purse strings cloud 'U'

Linda Cohen is chairwoman of the University of Minnesota board of regents. She has kept a steady hand through the recent turbulence.

Eric Kaler can at least feel thankful we don't have a sports nickname/mascot tempest here in Minnesota. There are too many other things on his plate now. He has control over some but not others.
One contentious issue swirls over his head at the regents level. It's a normally placid level where cool and wise heads assert judgment to keep the seas calm. It's a troubling sign when things aren't working that way.
Kaler can only watch while those above him disagree in a less than restrained way.
The problem might be worse than personalities. It's Republicans.
A common criticism of today's GOP is "these aren't your father's Republicans."
Is it a sign of decline of the American model that the old model or example has faded? Part of being a "conservative" is wanting calm and continuity with our institutions. Conservatives aren't supposed to be big on conflict. The agitating lefties are supposed to be the ones without inhibitions.
A good conservative U.S. president, one would think, would be happy going weeks without even making the news. Or, months without having a news conference.
Today we have conservatives and their spokesmen who throw around words like "slut" and aren't immediately condemned and muzzled from within. My late uncle who was a Barry Goldwater conservative would turn over in his grave.
Conservative Republicans who have transformed as if into zombies are creating discomfort in Minnesota. Steve Sviggum isn't even a young Republican. He has been in Minnesota politics a long time. How he got on the U of M's board of regents I don't know, as I find the media still not refreshing me on this. Who has his fingerprints on that decision? Are there not a lot of brilliant people who could fill the role with calm wisdom and integrity? The regents should epitomize those qualities.
The board is "normally harmonious," according to a post on Minnpost.
Instead there is a contentious tone building over Sviggum's role as a regent even while he holds a very politically partisan separate role. He's executive assistant and communications director for the Senate Republican caucus. A person with his background ought to see the inherent difficulties here. If not, a few reminders from colleagues ought to nudge him in the right direction.
He should act before the matter becomes a counterproductive distraction. The issue has percolated for some time now. So, is the veteran politico slowly seeing the writing on the wall and quietly admitting some adjustments need to be made? Is he behaving like the temperate and thoughtful Republican he's supposed to be?
Or has he turned into the contemporary zombie-like Republican who likes to invite fights? Who likes to intone the language of junior high boys a la Rush Limbaugh, or at least stand idly by while such language appears to speak for their party?
The board has already had a "contentious" meeting on the conflict-of-interest matter, Minnpost reports. Sviggum "vigorously objected" to a three-regent panel that stated objections. He's using words like "victim" and "underdog" to describe himself. He should be above offering to take a lie detector test. But the tone of conflict has descended to that level, very un-regent-like.
The test would be over whether Sviggum actually got an OK from his U peers before taking the caucus position.
A huge thorn in this matter is that Sviggum apparently can't be compelled to do anything. We might eventually be depending on a gentleman's agreement, that is if Sviggum is a gentleman. Rush Limbaugh isn't, so maybe we can't assume much about any Republicans these days.
We learn that Sviggum and former GOP representative Laura Brod "liven debate often (on the board), and these two often cast the only dissenting votes" (item from Minnpost).
The ad hoc regents group of three called on Sviggum to choose and to not continue his dual roles. Sviggum has already been dragged down this road once. Last spring he was pressured into resigning a part-time teaching position at the U. There was an ad hoc panel then too. It's a nagging distraction.
At least it's not like the distraction of having the "Fighting Sioux" nickname. North Dakota is awash in embarrassment over that now. And if you North Dakota folks aren't aware it's embarrassing, perhaps you should take pills.
We're safe in Minnesota with nicknames from the animal world: Gophers (rodents) at the main U, Bulldogs in Duluth and Cougars out here in Morris, although "Cougars" is in the curious position of being potentially problematic due to our fluid language. The name has already been shot down by a new school out west because of "double entendre." I'm not a pop culture maven but apparently "cougars" denotes middle-age females in a certain way.
I haven't heard anyone raise the subject locally.
President Kaler, the man from Stony Brook, can be a spectator with the regents' food fight of sorts. But there are other matters where he's quite close to the pulse.
I don't blame the U for having a very cautious policy with newspaper reporters. A University acquaintance of mine told me once there's a policy: If a reporter calls you, refer that person to your superior.
The University of Minnesota is an institution that deals with public money. Even private donations can become relevant where expenditures might be called into question. Recent Star Tribune articles have been expose-like. It's Jan Gangelhoff redux. Or "deja vu all over again," to use a phrase many people have come to believe is serious (when in fact it was coined as humorous).
First we learned of the golden parachute for Joel Maturi, outgoing U athletic director, whose programs often have a hard time fighting their way out of a paper sack. Football has been humbled by the likes of Fargo ND and Vermillion SD, among others. There isn't much buzz these days about Gophers sports.
Maturi got an "employment extension" with rewards to the extent that some legislators spoke out about a lack of prudence. Are we seeing a reckless use of taxpayer subsidies? We're prompted to become cynical and talk about "sweetheart deals and golden handshakes."
Board Chair Linda Cohen isn't just sitting on her hands and accepting the status quo. She reports the board has been discussing creation of a committee focused on compensation, for greater oversight. We learn that North Carolina has enacted specific reforms in the wake of such issues coming before the public.
But holy cow, don't we have administrators, paid beyond my wildest dreams, who are supposed to vigorously oversee these matters? Aren't they first and foremost called upon to be vigilant caretakers of the public money? If not, then just what kind of "racket" is this?
We hear Robert Bruininks (Kaler's predecessor) using words like "I rounded up." This was in regard to a departing provost's retirement account. We hear bureaucratic language for explaining such decisions, words like "administrative transitional leave," "deposits to retirement funds" and "severance payments."
As much as a half-million bucks can land in someone's lap without much fanfare, were it not for the Star Tribune and other outlets. Keep showing the Woodward and Bernstein spirit, guys. Let them continue to refuse to talk to you (as at least one monetary recipient did, cloistered away presumably with some windfall).
It's only money, I guess. Actually it's O.P.M. (other people's money).
Would Mr. Bruininks manage his own finances the way he dispenses largesse within the U?
Again I'll cite Jesse Ventura, the eccentric but determined former governor, who said amidst his wrangling with Mark Yudof: "For the amount of money you're asking for the University, maybe I should run it."
The current University procedures have been described as a "caste system." Hearing of some of the payments, many within the U might well ask "where do I apply?"
How do certain people develop the instincts to secure such wealth? I certainly don't have them. We learn that Bruininks "signed many such compensation packages" like the one for Kathryn Martin, retired U-Duluth chancellor. Cohen reports that the board oversees the initial employment agreements for executives, but "from then on it's a management issue."
Cohen suggests a "committee." Hoo boy, how often is this a panacea? We in Morris had a "re-use committee" for our old school. Isn't the establishment of a committee more like buck-passing?
Anyway, as the world turns, the Gophers struggle, excuses are made and the regents tussle in a food-fight way, President Kaler might want to seek relief like Tooter Turtle, the old cartoon character. Tooter would visit his friend, Mr. Wizard the Lizard, and ask a favor, mainly to get his life changed to another destiny. It never worked out, so Tooter appealed to Mr. Wizard who intoned the well-remembered "twizzle, twazzle, twozzle, twome, time for this one to come home."
The moral was "be what you is (sic), not what you is not."
The moral ought to be heeded by Steve Sviggum, who must realize his innate nature is that of a political partisan, not a restrained, sober and realistic member of an august entity like the University of Minnesota board of regents.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Passing of Davy Jones jolts boomers

The loss of Davy Jones hit boomers in the gut. The loss of Whitney Houston was sad but not surprising, given her lifestyle decisions. Houston was much more of a contemporary name. She had a longer prime as a singer.
Singers have a window of fame in which they had better take advantage of all their opportunities. They can become retro in short order.
The window for Jones was narrow and intense. He was part of the four-member group that was launched by television. Getting on a network TV show in those days meant fame. It was the kind of fame where you might have difficulty going out in public.
Jones and his Monkees were delicate young men who got their gig largely because of acting, stage presence and roles/personalities vs. each other. Even today, I think a lot of my generation don't fully realize the Monkees were the face of an entertainment machine that was the best of its time. But they were primarily actors.
This isn't to belittle them at all. I think it's sad they were sort of dragged along in a pretense like this. There was a controversy even at the time. The "rumor" spread that the Monkees "didn't play their own instruments."
I seem to recall a short segment on the show that even addressed this. Let's consider the old saying "the truth loves sunshine." Hindsight is easy in the year 2012.
At the time of their fame, the Monkees, with Michael Nesmith their spokesman as I recall, simply denied the rumor.
"Of course we play our own instruments," I remember the brooding Nesmith saying.
I don't doubt the Monkees had proficiency in music. To star in the show they had to look comfortable with music. But they were not the self-starters the Beatles were. I have to chuckle even asserting that. The Beatles were "the real deal" musically and paid their dues (like in Hamburg) in a well-documented way.
The Monkees were called the "pre-fab four." No one questions they were assembled for the purpose of a TV show. They were part of a music/entertainment machine that was elaborate and top-notch. The four young men were the public face.
It's interesting to ponder an alternate history. What if the Monkees had been more comfortable going along with this sort-of ruse? What if they had been more up-front about their role in the enterprise? They could have said "we love music, we play music but we get lots of help in the creation and recording of our songs."
The role of simply acting was not to be slighted. The Monkees needed all parts of the machine humming to become the phenomenon they were. The on-air personalities, image and acting skills were indispensable.
But, you might ask, wouldn't the Monkees be "outed" if they went on the road, where any talent deficiencies would be readily exposed? The four young men could have had some of that high-powered musical talent augment them onstage. Their audiences were largely obsessed teenage girls who wanted to see them onstage. The girls wanted to see Davy most of all.
Davy was a real singer. I don't doubt it was his voice in the studio for some of the group's big hits. As for all the other sounds, I'm not totally convinced the "real" Monkees generated them in the studio.
You think it's easy recording successful pop music? Just because the music seems "lowbrow" or explores base emotions and feelings, do you really think it's no sweat to "lay down the grooves" on records?
We were often told, or got the impression in high school band, that "pop" music was the candy of music with mere empty calories. I can think of no bigger fallacy. The kind of music created for the Monkees required the most disciplined and well-honed craftsmanship. It required songwriters who built their skills writing hundreds of songs until they finally gained proficiency. And even after paying those dues there's no guarantee of success.
It's ironic that pop songs that seem so simple with their melody and lyrics can require such intense craftsmanship, but they do. Music educators should have known better than to belittle the field. Ordinary human defensiveness, I would say.
Hearing of Davy Jones' sudden death causes boomers to feel affection about this group that burst to the forefront. I think a part of us feels a little disturbed too. The Monkees had the peak of their meteoric rise in 1967. It was at the peak of the tumult that consumed the U.S. at that time. The "generation gap" was a most unpleasant clash of values.
Remember when we associated Lawrence Welk with our narrow and "uptight" parents? But Welk and his old-school music did in fact have a grip on much of America. The Monkees were antithetical. The Monkees were ahead of their time, you might say. The show just seemed too uninhibited, loose and irrelevant to a lot of people. Of course, the show was all of those things, delighting a generation that wanted to shake off inhibitions.
Whatever lack of discipline the show had, actually got worse toward the end. The show seemed to deteriorate. In the delicate world of pop music entertainment, the Monkees faltered, flamed out and were headed for "retro" popularity. I think it's really a shame.
The Monkees were a gravy train that could have, and should have, continued. The Monkees seemed miffed they weren't appreciated as "true" artists. What misplaced pride and ego. They knew they were nothing like the Beatles. They knew they were the carefully chosen public face of a dynamic music and entertainment machine. There was absolutely nothing demeaning about accepting that role. They were an essential cog.
Being a public face is a big responsibility. They could have delicately navigated through that controversy about (not) being "the real deal" musically.
"We are musicians but we get lots of help," they could have said. "We are happy to perform on a television show that entertains so many people."
This is how the corporate minds of today would handle it. But those were different times. Young entertainers then weren't as carefully managed, groomed and protected from all the outside dangers that obviously come with fame. Today, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and others appear to have that protection, like from the abuse of drugs.
The artists were left more to themselves in the 1960s, artists like Jim Morrison whose behavior almost seemed to suggest mental illness. I would say Morrison was an extremely gifted artist who crashed and burned because of fame.
If only the Monkees would have been "kept in line," guided in their roles with no issues about self-esteem. If only they had better grasped their roles in this incredible gravy train. They became a little snotty and self-absorbed. They found that trying to assert their own talent caused them to fade from the top of the heap. They shouldn't have been surprised.
They could have had a longer "run" and then departed from the limelight more gracefully. But the '60s were turbulent and transitional times, times that had lots of sad endings, like for the families of the Viet Nam War casualties. The year 1967 was the peak of the Viet Nam tragedy. The young people of today can't possibly imagine what it was like growing up in such a time, when conscription was an awful specter hanging over young U.S. males.
The year 1967 saw countless young females fawn over Davy Jones and the Monkees. OK the males were fans too. I professed to be a fan of Peter Tork like a classmate of mine, LeRoy Vodden. Tork like Nesmith was more of a brooding artist, less of a simple heartthrob. I hope LeRoy and I can be complimented on our tastes.
A female classmate of mine with the initials N.H. was absolutely ga-ga about Davy. She's no doubt grieving now. We can all grieve about Davy who appeared to die a totally normal death due to the advancement of age.
The Monkees were performers, albeit not top-notch musicians, who are etched into our consciousness all these years later.
We reacted with a jolt hearing about Jones' death. It seemed more personal than hearing about Whitney Houston. The Monkees were "pre-fab" but we have no trouble accepting them as genuine now.
Davy Jones, RIP. You were a "daydream believer."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com