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).

Friday, April 29, 2016

"Outer Limits" episode re. Gettysburg very moving

Alex Diakun plays the photographer
As a kid I collected the "Outer Limits" series of trading cards. We'd scamper downhill to Stark's Grocery, the classic neighborhood grocery store from the days before "convenience stores," and get cards of various kinds. The store was downhill from our old East Elementary, now razed of course. Us hyper kids would fill that store at times.
I couldn't watch the actual "Outer Limits" TV show because it was on a network other than the (only) one we got. The "Outer Limits" series had an eerie quality. I developed a fascination just from the cards. The Outer Limits became a brand that would be revived in later years.
The "Comet" TV network has presented an episode of special interest to me. It was filmed back in 2000. It was remarkably prescient because it showed a venerated African-American president of the future. He speaks at a ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg. Most significantly, he "retires" the Confederate battle flag from any constructive use it might ever have. A man costumed as Abe Lincoln is beside him.
But this is a time travel episode. We go back to the actual days of the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle was so bloody and tragic, young people of today would have a hard time believing it happened. Well, it's hard to relate to the violence and scale of World War II also. Mankind was once willing to sacrifice so many of its own kind. What the heck was the Confederacy anyway, that it would attract loyalty to the extent that so much blood had to be spilled?
The North was never eager to wipe out the South. General McClellan never really wanted to deploy his magnificent army. I suppose the best army is one that is so strong, it intimidates potential adversaries, therefore it needn't get in harm's way. This is the way Donald Trump is talking now. In theory this approach hits all the right notes. In theory the isolationist cause of the 1930s, "America First," hit all the right notes. Who wants to sacrifice the lives of young men?
Lincoln eventually hired U.S. Grant to mount "total war" in order to make no concessions to the South. Non-Civil War scholars might think Grant was present at Gettysburg. But oh, no, he wasn't. General Lee of the South sure was, and his health was problematic there: diarrhea. In the Outer Limits special called "Gettysburg," we see Lee who is hearty enough to ride his horse with elan just before Pickett's charge.
 
Parallels with an earlier movie
This episode reminds me a lot of the 1990s movie called "Gettysburg." Remember that? Jeff Daniels played the hero character. It was an extra-long movie that did pretty well at theaters before landing on cable TV as a much-ballyhooed show. Roger Ebert liked the movie. As a Civil War buff I was rather mesmerized by it. Civil War re-enactors populated the movie.
In real life I think the soldiers were more young and more thin - make that scrawny - especially the Confederates.
I compliment the makers of the "Outer Limits" version because the Pickett's charge soldiers were scrawny, unkempt and with bleak expressions in their eyes. I'm quite certain that's on the mark for realism. I sensed in short order that the makers of this episode had true affinity with their subject matter. I can see where the budget was a little lower than for the 1990s movie. That doesn't bother me. We see Pickett's charge forming and proceeding in a way that is really quite moving.
First the cannons fire at the Union line. I have read that this barrage could be heard as far away as Philadelphia. The power of the cannons was illusory: the Union position was firm and destined to prevail. The Confederates should have used "triangulation" more, but that's a subject for another blog post.
I was fascinated seeing the time traveling soldier desperately trying to implore the troops about how they were doomed. The troops merely kept their blank looks. A Confederate officer comes along and dispatches the desperate soul from the future.
However, the Confederate officer played by Meat Loaf has been inadvertently transported to the future where he's armed and dangerous. Meat Loaf takes care of the assassination. The time travel has been orchestrated by a mysterious man working as a 19th Century photographer. The actor: Alex Diakun. His motive is to try to prevent the assassination. He transports a pair of Civil War re-enactors, Andy and Vince, into the past because he knows if he doesn't, Andy will carry out the assassination.
Andy is a Southern loyalist. He is profoundly offended by the "retiring" of the flag by none other than an African-American president. The time travel meme in the story is a familiar one: you cannot alter history. Let's call it fate: in this case an assassination.
An online review says of this Outer Limits episode that it is "uneven and strange" and with "lots of weird implications." We'll take that as a compliment, right? Such are the precise qualities we want from our science fiction. They are in fact the trademark of the whole "Outer Limits" concept for storytelling.
 
Hollywood shying away from Civil War?
We don't see much of the Civil War in movies today. I wonder if it's because the nature of warfare back then strains credulity. Young people cannot believe that virtual waves of men would be sent to their death this way. Perhaps a new movie should begin with the proclamation: "This actually happened."
Tony Horwitz has written that the Civil War was "the last war fought by human beings." Thus a level of romance has grown about it all. We just try to keep it in a vicarious world. We have achieved emotional distance from the casualties of the Civil War. Horwitz observed that the feelings associated with that war are alive in the South, pretty much exclusively.
Could it be that Hollywood shies away from Civil War movies out of fear of offending the South? The movie "Gettysburg" was pretty straightforward in how it presented the Union as the "winner." Hollywood for years had a meme suggesting that although the South lost, the southern soldier should still be presented with an air of gallantry. These young men were simply products of the antebellum South culture. Destiny was working against them, despite their obvious heroism.
The photographer character in the Outer Limits episode had a secondary motive, of showing Andy that "there is no glory in this or any other war." Maybe Andy would back off from his parochial, bigoted sentiment.
 
If I could turn back time. . .
Michael Crichton said of time travel that it really wasn't practical to try to go back in time and change the course of major events. The reason is that the power behind these events is too great for a single individual to alter. The Outer Limits theory is that fate is simply immutable.
Either way I like time travel movies. I was mesmerized by the original "Time Machine" movie from around 1960. I also had to have the light on in my bedroom for a few nights afterward, such was the menacing look of those "Morlocks." How can we forget Yvette Mimieux?
We all like to speculate on what we might do, if transported to a different year. The movie "Gettysburg" showed us a pep rally type of atmosphere just before Picket's charge. It seemed outright choreographed. It seems to me the chants would have had to be rehearsed. I'm not saying this didn't happen, but I've always been skeptical about the elaborateness of it. The pre-charge scene in the 2000 "Outer Limits" struck me as more believable. The chants seemed more spontaneous and reasonable. And then, with the smoke of the cannon barrage evaporating away, the beleaguered-looking men trudge forward. There was a Confederate charge at Franklin TN that was identical. But the Gettysburg battle ended up capturing our imagination. That's where so many units of the North and South put up their monuments, including our First Minnesota with its "running rifleman" pose. (Maybe there's an "Eastern bias" at work too!)
 
General Longstreet is a principal
The movie "Gettysburg" focused not so much on General Lee as on General Longstreet. The movie was based on the book "The Killer Angels" which also had a fascination with Longstreet, a totally professional military man whose mind seems to have been more intact than Lee's in July of 1863.
Longstreet was not wholly enthusiastic about the move into Pennsylvania in the first place. He instead wanted concentration to the West. Once the plunge north was made, General Longstreet firmly believed a defensive campaign was to be waged. The Civil War was a time of much-advanced weaponry. A fact of war is that technological advances give the advantage, at least temporarily, to the "tactical defensive." Also, the advanced weapons made it hard for either side to "win" a large-scale engagement. Stonewall Jackson could be as confused as anyone when it came to the typical Civil War mass battle. Jackson's stock got elevated post-war because of the Myth of the Lost Cause.
General Lee insisted on attacking the numerically superior Army of the Potomac. Longstreet had wanted to flank the Federal army. In the movie "Gettysburg" we see Longstreet in a resigned sort of way, sullen, saying Lee's orders had to be followed in the strictest sense. It was akin to pouting.
Finally we arrive at Day 3, the climactic day, the day that broke the Confederates' back. Lee comes across as rather eccentric in the 1990s movie, behaving as if he knows victory won't come, but he orders the charge anyway. "We do our duty," Martin Sheen said to Tom Berenger, the latter playing Longstreet. In other words, "we have to do what we have to do."
Southerners didn't like Sheen's portrayal, and they much preferred Robert Duvall as Lee in the sequel (or prequel) movie: "Gods and Generals." That movie was so bad, plans for a third movie in this "trilogy" had to be scrapped.
I was fascinated by "Gods and Generals" (though I didn't like it) in that Hollywood departed from its traditional framework with Civil War movies. As I said, Hollywood historically has shown the South as the clear "loser" with defeat always in the cards for them, even as it had adherents who were admirable as individuals. "Gods and Generals" tried making the Southern cause the moral equal of the North's cause. That just doesn't work. We all know morality was in the North's favor.
Going back in time to try to stop the bloodshed was admirable. There is no glory in any war, as the photographer (named "Nicholas Prentice") tried to impress on everyone. But the Civil War with its limitless gore did indeed happen.
I compliment the makers of the "Outer Limits" episode for making us think so deeply about it all. I'd love to see it again.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, April 25, 2016

Remembering the old St. Cloud "Rox" of baseball

Lou Brock with the "Rox"
Imagine going to the local ballpark and seeing a future Hall of Famer. This chance always exists when you're a fan of a minor league team with major league affiliation. St. Cloud MN used to be in this circle. I remember hearing about the St. Cloud "Rox" when I was a kid.
It was a plum for that Central Minnesota city to have a tie with big league baseball. Orlando Cepeda played with the Rox. Lou Brock graced the basepaths for that club. Gaylord Perry showed his pitching prowess there.
The Rox in their original incarnation, the only incarnation I care about, existed from 1946 to 1971. They played in the Northern League. It's a fascinating story that can get overlooked. Stearns County was known for having a passion for baseball. World War II was ending when a group of St. Cloud businesspeople formed the St. Cloud Baseball Association. The leader was Frank Murphy, president of the Coca-Cola Bottling Works in St. Cloud. Ah, the power of soft drink money!
I'm sure at that time, St. Cloud lived up to its reputation as a haven for German Catholics, to the extent you might feel like an outsider if you had different stripes. St. Cloud slowly took steps to being a more diverse place. The stereotype lives today although I'd argue it's mostly retro image.
Germans were never placed in internment camps like the poor Japanese. If they had been, St. Cloud would have shriveled considerably. Anyway, we beat the Germans in World War II, and in the wave of prosperity following that - the creation of the great U.S. middle class - baseball bloomed in St. Cloud. Imagine, a major league affiliate team in St. Cloud where you might see stars of the future.
Today there is a team called the Rox in St. Cloud but it doesn't have the same distinction. It rides the coattails of those old fabled Rox, using the name but not having the same prestigious major league connection. Today's Rox belong to the Northwoods summer wooden bat college league. Other teams of this type are in Alexandria and Willmar.
I don't know why the old Rox had to reach the end of the road.
Frank Murphy was quite the civic activist in St. Cloud. The St. Cloud Baseball Association sold stock. The St. Cloud Daily Times held a naming competition: "Rox" won the day, inspired by St. Cloud's reputation for granite.
Murphy tackled the logistics such as uniforms and equipment. All that was needed now was players! This was accomplished through a working agreement with the Minneapolis Millers, the high-tier Minneapolis minor league team. The Millers were good enough to be competitive with major league teams on many days. They provided a fine service to baseball fans in the Twin Cities. We might forget that the Millers were the home team at our old Metropolitan Stadium for five years, before we got the Twins! It's rather sad the Millers were so quickly forgotten after the Twins came.
This reflects a peculiar trait of minor league baseball: It's a much lower rung on the baseball ladder, by a wide difference, from the major league teams we follow each day. What's interesting is that people who make their living in baseball don't hesitate to reinforce this whole dichotomy, i.e. the majors are everything, it's the only place to be, and the minors are obscure - you want to escape it if you can. It seems rather sad.
Minor league baseball is an extensive business that ought to be promoted by the whole baseball establishment, and yet it's treated like the red-haired stepchild. I would like to think the likes of Brock, Cepeda and Perry would have fond memories of their St. Cloud stint, as it evidently was an essential step on the ladder for them. But major leaguers seem never to share inspiring words about their minor league experience. Why not? They should be more glass-half-full. You only live once.
The Millers sent players to the Rox for development and training. The first Rox team won the 1946 Northern League title. This was a Class 'C' league with teams from the Upper Midwest and Canada. Major league "parent" clubs sent young players to these teams for seasoning.
The Rox became a minor league affiliate of the Giants in 1947. Over the years, the Rox showcased players from the Cubs and Twins in addition to the Giants. The Rox won eight Northern League titles and two playoff titles in their 25-year history. Of special distinction: 61 Rox members reaching the majors after playing in St. Cloud. I don't think today's Rox can boast that kind of connection.
St. Cloud residents supported the old Rox by providing housing and of course attending games. The high water mark with attendance was in 1948, when 66,389 came through the turnstiles. The home ballpark was Municipal Stadium, located between 25th and 27th Avenues on St. Cloud's famous (or infamous) Division Street, a most busy artery.
The St. Cloud Baseball Association began each season with a parade and banquet, welcoming the new players, Catholics or not (LOL). Business-sponsored fan clubs sprouted like the Knot-hole Gang.
The Northern League faded to where just four teams were playing at the end. Finally the end came in 1971.
In 1997 a revival in baseball came to St. Cloud in the form of the "River Bats." It was a Northwoods League team. College and amateur players vie. In 2012 the River Bats changed their name to the Rox, helping keep alive memories of that original, exciting team. I'm not sure why the name "Rox" wasn't coined immediately. Maybe the original Rox were viewed in somewhat sacred terms. That wouldn't surprise me. Imagine being able to attend a baseball game in St. Cloud and seeing the likes of Lou Brock. Or Orlando Cepeda. Or Gaylord Perry. What a trip. Years later those guys would be household names in the baseball firmament.
St. Cloud would seem quite obscure in this background. But it was an essential stepping stone, the kind of stepping stone that no big leaguers should ever diss. But they do. It's just reality. I remember when Cal Ermer was interviewed at the end of his baseball career. He had gotten a shot managing the Twins in the late '60s. I think he was managing Toledo at the end. I was amused because the interviewer tried rather painstakingly to coax some positive words from Ermer about working in the minors. No dice. Ermer put his foot down saying "the majors are the only place to be."
I remember a Twins player once, last name of Becker, who slid in his fortunes and ended up playing in Fargo. There was a bit of controversy there as Becker publicly gave the "party line" about being in the minors: basically it sucks. Fargo people took it personally and I cannot blame them. I wonder if PR minds have gotten involved in baseball to discourage this kind of talk. Be positive even if you aren't feeling it. There are some worse things in life than being made to live in Fargo.
As for St. Cloud, I lived there myself in the mid-1970s, those grand disco years. I found St. Cloud to be quite the fine environment. I wasn't German and I wasn't Catholic. But I found it to be quite fine. I loved my landlords the Lommels. Here's a toast to them and to the old St. Cloud "Rox" of the Northern League. Play ball!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Brooke Gillespie hits 4 home runs in doubleheader

The MACA softball team has blazed through its early-season games. Two games were on the slate for Thursday, April 14. This is despite the fact the school calendar had no games on the slate that day. The calendar also had no game set for Friday. But the Tigers played three games over those two days!
I know, I know, spring is a time for postponed and rescheduled games. Still, it seemed awfully early in the schedule for the official schedule to be tossed aside. But tossed aside it should be. Just ask your friends when the next game is. Such is the nature of spring sports. I personally will check on a day-by-day basis from now on. Check at the barber shop.
Everything has been coming up roses for Tiger softball at the outset of 2016 play. The Tuesday rain should push up all vegetation too. Get your mower equipment ready.
Thursday, April 14, was a day for a doubleheader sweep by coach Mary Holmberg's Tigers. The orange and black took care of business vs. the Streeters of Sauk Centre. Our offense was explosive. We plated eleven runs in game 1 and 16 runs in game 2. Wow!
 
Tigers 11, Sauk Centre 8
The sixth inning really made the difference. MACA pushed across five runs in the sixth to dispose of the Streeters. We scored eleven total runs on 15 hits and overcame sloppy fielding, as our error total was seven. Sauk Centre committed just one error.
Brooke Gillespie and Ashley Solvie split the pitching duties with Solvie getting the win. Gillespie worked her pitching arm for 5 1/3 innings and struck out six batters. She gave up three hits and walked one. Three of the five runs she gave up were unearned. Yes, those fielding lapses were a factor. Ashley Solvie picked up the win with her stint of 1 1/3 innings. Ashley gave up three hits, struck out one and walked two.
Gillespie with her bat helped overcome her team's seven errors. She drove in four runs. Gillespie's bat made noise with two home runs. Ashley Solvie's bat also powered a homer, one of two hits this Tiger produced. Nicole Solvie was a perfect three-for-three. Lindsey Dierks had three hits in four at-bats. Becca Holland and Lexi Mahoney each had a hit. Add up the hits among these Tigers and you get 12. The line score as reported by the Willmar paper had MACA with 15 hits. Way to go, Willmar paper.
Mikayla Olson made noise with her bat for Sauk Centre, as she homered as part of going two-for-five. Samantha Wessel hit a homer too. Other Streeters with hits were Amanda Lahr, Emily Mensen and Jill Klaphake.
Lahr was the losing pitcher, working all seven innings and striking out four batters. The Tigers honed in on her pitches pretty well.
The Tigers led 3-0 after one inning. Finally in the sixth we broke through with the rally we needed. On to game 2.
 
Tigers 16, Sauk Centre 6
This is the kind of game where the scorebook with all its penciled-in symbols can look pretty complicated. All those filled-in diamonds. There were eight of those filled-in diamonds for MACA in the first inning in this second game of the doubleheader. We led 8-0 after one inning and could cruise.
We scored our 16 runs on 12 hits and committed four errors. Sauk Centre's line score was 6-7-2. A big highlight for the MACA offense was Nicole Solvie's first inning grand slam home run.
Remember, Gillespie showed that power bat in game 1, and it was ditto in game 2 for this multi-talented Tiger. Again Gillespie powered two home runs. She had a three-for-four boxscore line and drove in four runs. Ashley Solvie had three hits in four at-bats. Madison Wevley went two-for-five. Becca Holland and Lindsey Dierks each added a hit to the mix. Add up these hits and you get eleven, but the line score in the Willmar paper had 12. At least they're close.
Amanda Lahr went two-for-four for the Streeters. Morgan Gamradt had a hit for the loser too.
Ashley Solvie pitched the whole way for the orange and black. Three of the six runs she allowed were unearned. She struck out one batter, walked one and allowed seven hits.
The losing pitcher was Kallie Kampsen. Lahr also pitched.
 
Tigers 11, Redwood Valley 0
MACA got its fourth win with a rout over Redwood Valley. Brooke Gillespie was at centerstage in this April 15 action. Gillespie stood out with the bat and on the pitching rubber in this 11-0 win. Offensively she spun a three-for-four line with two of her hits doubles. She elevated her batting average to .688 on the season, on eleven hits in 16 at-bats.
Gillespie pitched the whole way which turned out to be six innings. She allowed just one hit and walked none. She set down four Redwood Valley batters on strikes. The losing pitcher was Nicole Bunting. Three of the eleven runs that Bunting allowed were unearned.
Becca Holland fueled the Morris Area Chokio Alberta offense with a two-run home run. It was an inside-the-park job in the second inning, an inning that saw MACA push four runs across. We also scored four runs in the sixth. We scored single runs in the first, third and fourth.
Lindsey Dierks and Ashley Solvie both went one-for-three, and Callie Hottovy added a hit to the mix.
Redwood Valley's lone hit was off the bat of Samantha Lydick. It was a single in the third. MACA had a nifty zero in the errors column. We scored our eleven runs on seven hits. Redwood Valley committed four errors.
Morris Area Chokio Alberta entered the weekend with a 4-0 record.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Movie "Trumbo" (2015) drags, is Hollywood-centric

My generation, the boomers, was never much interested in fighting communism. The biggest tragedy for my generation was military conscription. We rose up in ever-increasing numbers to protest it. It's amazing the process got so dragged out. We were supposed to fear the "domino effect" in Southeast Asia.
Communism may not have been our style. However, communism developed into this huge boogeyman that fueled paranoia.
What was "communism," actually? Mikhail Gorbachev pondered the term once as if it was somewhat alien to him, shrugged, and explained the term in the context of legitimized organized crime. In other words, there were unelected leaders. Any time political leaders aren't accountable to the broad public, it's analogous to organized crime. "Communism" seemed a term rather pulled out of the ether.
Which brings me to the focus for this post I'm writing: a review of the movie "Trumbo." The movie is a vehicle for that actor from "Breaking Bad." Bryan Cranston gives a quite fine performance. "Trumbo" is all about the Hollywood blacklisting scandal. I checked out this DVD from our Morris Public Library, with confidence I would like it greatly. I requested it, in fact. A movie about artists being repressed, and triumphing in the end, would certainly be appealing, right?
The subject matter is not new. Years ago I checked out "Good Night, and Good Luck," about the whole Edward P. Murrow episode. An element in our country was surely chasing shadows all over the place. The political dichotomy in these movies - the good vs. evil aspect - seems to make critics bend over backwards to like them. "Evil" is represented by stuffed-shirt politicians who deserve no megaphone. They persecute the erudite class of people who tend to have sharply progressive political attitudes. The critics are clearly in the fraternity of the latter.
My problem with "Good Night, and Good Luck" was that it seemed too much an unimaginative documentary. It plods through a story with elements I was already well familiar with.
 
"Trumbo" begins to drag
I was fine with "Trumbo" until about a third of the way through. I began to sense it was dragging. The movie tried to cover too much ground. It should have stuck with its essence more: the unjustifiable persecution of a creative person. Of course, I was already well familiar with this whole story too. We had the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The title of this entity in itself invites suspicion. It shouts "reactionary." The committee sought to investigate actors and filmmakers who were accused of using the medium to push their communist views on the community.
The ultra progressives of today, the Bernie Sanders supporters, would be highly reluctant to get close to the term "communists." The term seems rather an anachronism, a creation of the Cold War, that time of ugly suspicion that gave the backdrop for us boomers growing up.
I attended a pro wrestling exhibition that had "the Russian" offering to shake hands at one point. It was a ruse, of course, and he used it to apply some punishment. "You can't trust the Russians!"
My generation never bought into the idea that we had to be fixated on the boogeyman communists. In a sense we might have been isolationists, figuring our country was strong enough to prevail with our historical framework, a framework built on those hallowed democratic principles. As for the rest of the world, it's too bad that bad things can happen. But we didn't want to give up tens of thousands of our own - the boomers - to fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Those "dominoes" were imaginary.
This nation never came close to a communist overthrow. Those Hollywood screenwriters were just eccentric curiosities, a trait we can expect from such people who weave a fantasy world for us.
Dalton Trumbo was an acclaimed screenwriter in Hollywood. He punched away on a manual typewriter. He and his friends smoked. Initially in the wake of World War II, communism seemed like a good counterbalance to fascism. I might clarify here that the Nazis weren't rally fascists, they were a death cult.
 
Communists become prime enemy
We all know the script changed, as it were, and communists came to be seen as a devil in the world. Popular culture has them philosophizing all over the place. The reality is more like what Gorbachev suggested: it was simply "crime," i.e. people seeking political power who were not elected or accountable. I have found that people in real life aren't much interested in philosophizing.
Hollywood has portrayed communism in the rather stereotypical way - my, would Hollywood do that? - and I recall a William Holden movie, set in China, as being the epitome of this. People focus on their own interests and not a "philosophy."
Hollywood is the famed "dream factory." Dalton Trumbo was of course not disposed to cooperate with the House committee, not even to answer innocuous and preliminary questions from this legally-established entity. Trumbo went to prison for about a year.
The movie weaves in a lot of characters, and branches off into the man's family life. It got too involved and ponderous. I began to wonder if the movie was self-important and preachy, justifying its length and complexity on the premise that this persecution of a man was almost Biblical. The guy was just a screenwriter, immersed in the fluff of life, the "dream factory."
It is highly unfortunate that the committee and the Hollywood industry itself came down like a sledgehammer on so many people. People can indeed be crude and harsh in their behavior toward one another. The blacklisting episode should never have happened. However, far more woeful things were on this country's plate, or should have been. So many lives were cut down as with a scythe due to our involvement in Korea and Viet Nam.
Are these conflicts, with such mass scale really necessary for mankind to stabilize itself? Look how black people were treated in the Deep South of our nation, at the same time the blacklisting episode happened. Black people were denied their basic humanity. And yet we get an extended-length movie like "Trumbo" that has a preachy effect about how creative people ought not be treated.
The biggest sin, probably, was that political opportunism was seized upon by people who saw the powerful effect of fear. We had to be vigilant vs. those communists, we were told. By 1960 the facade broke down and everyone did what they should have done all along: relax. John F. Kennedy helped prick the bubble of the fear mongers.
My favorite character in the movie was played by John Goodman. This guy unabashedly and presumably profitably, gives the world low-budget movies. A movie was once made about Ed Wood. I read a negative review of the Ed Wood movie based on how it just pilloried him for the supposed lack of quality in his films, when in fact Wood, and the Goodman character, must have gotten into the film industry because of their love of film. We needed to learn more about that angle. Nobody takes an artistic job with the intent of crudely putting out swill. Some people just choose to live within budget parameters. We can still love the low-grade stuff. Admit it, you have.
 
The Hollywood-centric aspect
"Trumbo" has been described as "catnip for fans of old Hollywood," and that's part of my problem with it. It's Hollywood celebrating itself with an element of chutzpah. I can't blame them really. This is their world. They invite us to be guests. But we should never feel the world revolves around them.
Hollywood seeks to simplify things. "Trumbo" encourages us to think Hedda Hopper and John Wayne were the consummate bad guys greasing the skids for the whole episode. No actor can really play John Wayne, of course. Any attempt comes off as camp.
The movie "Trumbo" is simplified and made easy-to-consume for all the rubes like me who just want to see a good guys vs. bad guys template.
Dalton Trumbo was convicted of contempt of Congress, not just for refusing to address ethically questionable lines of inquiry, but to give any basic factual testimony in response to this lawful (if ethically challenged) investigation.
The House Un-American Committee did not blacklist anyone. The Hollywood studios did that. For a decade the blacklist was standard practice.
Yes, "Trumbo" gives us a degree of mythology. What about the two years this man spent in Mexico? We see nothing of that.
You would think the likes of Dalton Trumbo would feel kin with the Bernie Sanders types of the time. But, not at all. A successful liberal regime (like we got with LBJ's "Great Society?") would stand in the way of the true revolution that the communists sought. "Trumbo" gives us the gallant blacklist martyrs along with the cartoonish Hollywood villains like Hedda Hopper and John Wayne. But that's Hollywood.
 
Here's what I really think
So, let's boil down my review: "Trumbo" begins in a promising way, celebrating the buoyant life of a superbly talented person, but it begins to drag. And then it drags worse. I begin to sense it's one of those self-important movies from Hollywood, about Hollywood. I smell parochialism. Our country's fate is not tied up in how a few brilliant but superfluous movie writers are treated. It's sad but outweighed by so many other injustices in America and around the world.
I finally took a bathroom break, certain I wasn't going to make it to the end of the movie without relieving myself. Then I returned, thinking "sheesh, will this movie ever end?" I wasn't interested in Trumbo's family life. All families have issues and stresses. About half an hour could have been cut out of this movie. Distill it down to the defining elements: conflict and persecution by fear-mongers directed at the gadfly of supposed "communists" in Hollywood's creative community - the "dream factory."
Unfortunately I can not recommend this 2015 cinematic offering.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"The Poppy Seed Cakes" had entrancing quality

Remember the song "Elvira?" It's the kind of song you could listen to and end up swearing you could write one just as good. Many of us would have trouble connecting the word "good" to that song. What you might learn the hard way, is that "simple" creative works aren't so simple to create. There is a sense of craftsmanship behind all this stuff.
Thus I bring up the topic of children's books. It's easy to look at them and think they could be created in a whim. Not so, I'm sure. I recently retrieved a favorite old children's book of mine from the basement. I can see why I never discarded it. It was a gift to me from neighbors/friends in St. Paul. That's where I spent the first five years of my life.
The book is actually an old classic in children's literature. It was first published in 1924. There are eight charming and humorous linked stories about characters whose names will stay etched in your mind. Central are little Andrewshek and his Auntie Katushka. Just say those names over and over in your mind! When reviewing this book recently, it seemed like yesterday when I first read it. "Andrewshek and his Auntie Katushka."
My book is signed by the gift givers: "To Brian on his fifth birthday, from his friends, Emerson and Aileen Woodward." Those first five years of my life were precious. I hadn't yet come in contact with all the sobering vicissitudes of life. That happened when I came to Morris.
I remember we had a primitive TV set with a maroon trim. I was already interested in the evening news. Dwight Eisenhower was president. I remember a constant theme of international tensions. Those were Cold War times.
The program I remember best outside of Saturday morning cartoons was the game show "Concentration" with host Hugh Downs. That show was valuable for kids in getting them to develop the power of. . .concentration. Kids who really focused on that show could get real good at it. I remember the great game player Ruth Horowitz. Not yet was I aware this was a classic Jewish name. I hadn't yet learned to pigeon-hole people (or worse yet, judge them) by name, ethnicity or religion. My family never steered me in the negative way regarding anyone.
When I became a fan of George Wallace in 1968, even advocating for him in a classroom debate, I was too naive to be aware of the racial stuff. I admired him as an eloquent and interesting political performer. As for his ideas, I was captivated by his populist sense. I became more aware of his underbelly later. Still I find it hard to completely condemn.
Upon researching Wallace a year or two ago, I gained the sense that his heart was never in racism. This isn't to forgive him for the segregationist pronouncements. I figure he went to his grave begging for forgiveness. Getting crippled humbled him. An African-American attorney once said of Wallace, from when Wallace was a judge: "He was the first judge who ever called me mister in a courtroom." Wallace had to go with the prevailing winds in Alabama - may God have mercy on his soul. As for his sheer performance qualities, we might admire Donald Trump in the same way today.
God bless Emerson and Aileen Woodward for their gift to me on my fifth birthday. I have never forgotten the Woodwards.
The name of this classic book is "The Poppy seed Cakes." We got introduced to young children like Andrewshek, who, typical of all young children, wanted to follow his own impulses and not follow directions from elders. We meet animals with anthropomorphic traits. I remember being scared of that big green goose that came to the front door when Auntie Katushka was away. The goose "wanted his feathers back" from Andrewshek's mattress!
Andrewshek loved to bounce up and down on his fine feather bed. Auntie Katushka made poppy seed cakes while Andrewshek was bouncing. Auntie Katushka - it doesn't seem right to ever abbreviate the name - asked Andrewshek to watch over the cakes while she went to market. Andrewshek said he would. Ah, there was no chance of that happening. He kept bouncing up and down on the bed.
Auntie Katushka left for the market and soon there was a hissing sound at the front door. Here I started getting scared. "There stood a great green goose as big as Andrewshek himself. The goose was very cross and was scolding as fast as he could." The anthropomorphic goose demanded all the goose feathers from the fine feather bed. Andrewshek responded "they are not yours. My Auntie Katushka brought them with her from the old country in a huge bag."
The goose continued combative. Andrewshek tried the strategy of offering the goose a poppy seed cake. The goose agreed to the deal but was not to be trusted. The goose demanded more than one. And then, another. Finally the cakes prepared by Auntie Katushka were gone! Auntie Katushka arrived back at the front door. She was incensed at the big green goose. The goose then tried making off with the feather mattress.
Was this an allegory? Was the big goose to be seen as similar in character to the Soviet Union? Such was the way we were inclined to think in the 1950s. Oh, but the book came out in 1924. Written as it was between the two major world wars of the 20th Century, people were legitimately wary of menacing nation-states. We could interpret that goose symbolically around times of conflict.
Auntie Katushka began pursuing the goose. "Just then there was a dreadful explosion." The goose had burst and his feathers flew all over the room. Auntie Katushka was pleased now, knowing "we soon shall have two fine feather pillows for your fine feather bed."
Surely there was a dark element to this story. But the sheer innocence counterbalances that. Thus is reflected the skill of a children's author. The scary elements are used to create tension and thus interest. Kids will turn the pages. But the overriding quality is charm.
The story moves on to include a white goat obtained by Auntie Katushka in her visit to town, and a mischievous swan that tries making off with a picnic basket. These creatures also talk.
The book then introduces us to a character named Erminka. I didn't find this portion of the book to be as interesting. Rather it was Andrewshek and his Auntie Katushka giving the book its defining quality. Erminka had her "red-topped boots."
Margery Clark is credited as author of "The Poppy Seed Cakes." However, the name represents a combination of two people: Margery Closey Quigley and Mary E. Clark. Both were librarians. Maud and Miska Petersham did the illustrating which is a defining feature. This husband/wife team made their biggest mark writing and illustrating "The Rooster Crows," a book of American songs, rhymes and games similar to Mother Goose.
Quigley also wrote "Portrait of a Library" which got adapted to a film.
As for the pseudonym of "Margery Clark," I don't wee why it was necessary. The real names of the two would have been just fine. Yes, librarians can write! I'm sure our Morris Public Library director, Melissa Yauk, would be quite capable writing something. Melissa's birthday is on the day I'm posting this: Tuesday, April 12. Happy birthday, Melissa!
I have never read literature more rewarding than "The Poppy Seed Cakes." It is irreplaceable in my memory.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Oren Budke and His Tempo Kings: sweet music

The photo shows the Tempo Kings at the Alexandria MN television studio in about 1971. We opened up with "Goosetown Polka." Leonard "Andy" Anderson is the trombone player. The three trumpets are, l-r: Oren Budke, Brian Williams (your blog host) and Del Sarlette. The drummer is Lorne Torkelson. Lorne always called me "Brian Donlevy." The pianist is Ray Donahue. The three sax players are, l-r: Walt Sarlette, Don Dynda and Ira Weber. The bass player is Steve Dynda. Host Archie Viering sang "Ain't She Sweet" with us.
 
Please remember re. my generation, the boomers, that we took our time getting into the real world. I heard a cultural observer say this once and it stuck in my mind. The generation gap was a real phenomenon. It wasn't just an ethereal, whimsical thing said of our generation based on some superficial traits.
I say this by way of introduction to how I spent a portion of my young adult years. At first I balked at being a member of the Tempo Kings dance orchestra. But I finally went ahead when I realized it would counter the boredom in my life. Boomers had to deal with boredom when young. We didn't have all the gadgets of today to stimulate us. I played in the Tempo Kings and I suppose I should be proud of it. We should try to be proud of all the chapters in our life. The idea is to be glass-half-full.
As a band we catered to the World War II generation of older people. We owed a debt to those people we could never repay. They saved the world in WWII and then created the great American middle class, something we took for granted at the time. Think of the "Wonder Years" TV show: a father with a job so boring he didn't much wish to talk about it.
And, how did they confront that boredom? How did they combat the mundane tone of their lives? No retreat to the Internet. How did the men try to erase the hell of their WWII memories? They flocked to bars and private clubs. They danced. They joined fraternal and veterans service organizations. The private clubs could boast of doing laudable things. No debate over that. But the "extracurricular activity" seemed a little pointless and destructive. They drank. Boy, did they ever drink. Did you ever observe a Shriners convention in the 1970s? Ray Stevens put out an album called "Shriners Convention." BTW Ray has a fine TV show today that airs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday nights on the RFD channel. It is preceded by the Marty Stuart show at 7 p.m. This is my favorite hour of TV viewing all week. Please tune in.
 
Highway stretching north
I was with the Tempo Kings band when we played for a Shriners convention that I understood covered five states and two provinces of Canada. This was at the Grand Forks ND Auditorium. We played at that auditorium several times. I know what you're thinking: Sheesh, Grand Forks is a long ways away. Yes it was. We'd get on that ribbon of Interstate Highway between Moorhead and Grand Forks. Very serene and therapeutic to drive through - scant evidence of civilization in places. Topography flat as a board. No wonder the Red River floods all over the place. We'd look for certain billboards. I'm not sure why musicians from western Minnesota were enlisted to play for gigs so far away. But it sure as heck happened.
The late Oren Budke of Fairmount ND ran the Tempo Kings. It might seem exciting to have made those trips to play music. I suppose I should have it proudly on my resume. However, keep in mind the old expression about how "nothing good happens after (specify a certain late-night hour)." I saw no constructive behavior at the functions where we played. People consumed ever more alcohol as the evening progressed. Many got silly in a way that people back then would laugh about the next day.
 
Don't forget hot water bottle
Remember that old comic strip called "The Better Half?" Remember that middle-aged husband, living his most humdrum life, seated at the kitchen table in the morning in his white sleeveless T-shirt, unshaven - a water bottle on his head! - recovering from a night with the kind of activity I'm describing? This whole milieu of foolishness was the template for many of my elders. God bless them on how they survived the Depression and WWII. But their later adult years could devolve into pointless fun-seeking, lubricated by alcohol. They played the jukebox at the VFW Club on Friday or Saturday nights.
I had a classmate whose name I certainly won't type here, who said she and her sister got teased because their parents had such a notable reputation of hanging around the VFW Club and maybe the Legion too. Stumble home at around 1 a.m.
I'll say over and over: bless these people. But they weren't even the best parents. They let their kids run wild. Their kids developed drug use habits that went unchecked. They left their kids on their own with too much idle time - the devil's workshop. It truly was the devil's workshop to an extent the parents either didn't realize or were in denial about.
Us kids should have been self-starters.
Members of the Tempo Kings orchestra itself could abuse alcohol. I was associated with some high school band directors from western Minnesota who could abuse alcohol. No one worried about DWIs back then. Chris Matthews of MSNBC described a typical encounter between an apparently inebriated driver and a cop: The cop would peer into the window and say "are you sure you're in good enough shape to get home?"
Today we have elevated the bar so high, for proper and safe behavior. Today you can get a citation for simply not wearing your seat belt. We could not have imagined this back in the 1970s.
So, my generation took its time getting into the real world with all its obligations. We took too long getting through college. We might pick a college major with no apparent connection to doing anything constructive the rest of your life.
 
Would boomers confide?
Oh, we sought frivolity. If your parents are boomers, maybe you could ask them about this, and most likely they'll be in denial and not say much, if anything. Leave those memories in a dark closet.
The '70s were dysfunctional in many ways. We got disco music, which we consumed even while joking about how devoid of art it was. We really had to deal with boredom. One of the biggest accomplishments of the modern age is our absolute conquering of boredom. We have swung to the opposite extreme, actually, to where our safety can be endangered by distractions caused by all our devices. Remember the typical bad guy characters in the "Dirty Harry" movies? Those characters really needed social media. Social media can lift up your self-esteem. We can trumpet our presence in God's big world. We can't really get lost in anonymity. There's no excuse to be bored.
I used to go to the library to maybe read Time Magazine. Now I can get on a computer and really enjoy myself.
The Tempo Kings dance orchestra left its mark, to be sure. As a nit-pick, let me say that when our bass player Dave Nelson of Fargo ND passed away, I was discouraged by how he was not replaced. No bass player: that simply didn't work, IMHO.
I doubt that I ever benefited from my dance band experience. Really I should have had a lifestyle where I went to bed at 9:30 p.m. every night and went to church every Sunday. Hindsight is easy. Our cultural environment can change and certain behaviors get supported more. Today the responsible behaviors are supported so much more. In the '70s we dragged ourselves through pointless behavior.
I remember discussing all this with Jerry Jesness. Somehow we got to talking about obscure obligations of the adult world such as being township clerk or treasurer or whatever. Horrors, if we had been obligated to do this stuff when we were around 20 years old! But then we realized as we got older, as Jerry explained, that "someone has to do this stuff."
 
A style like Sammy Kaye
The Tempo Kings played dance music that was very much like the Sammy Kaye Orchestra. Remember them? It was a so-called "sweet band." Sammy's tag line was "swing and sway with Sammy Kaye." His signature tune was "Harbor Lights" which we in fact played. He was a hit on radio. He was known for an audience participation gimmick called "So you want to lead a band."
Shortly after the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, Sammy wrote the music and Don Reid the words to "Remember Pearl Harbor." Sammy had shows on network television when that medium was in its infancy. Just think of the movie "My Favorite Year" which is one of my favorite movies.
Sammy was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992. He left this world for that big ballroom in the sky in 1987. I found his music to be quite agreeable.
I remember playing with the Tempo Kings for the Glenwood Waterama Button Dance in the summer of 1973, my first summer after high school. I could definitely have spent my time in a more constructive fashion. But then, it is a chapter of my life. Let's raise a toast but not with alcohol. Close your eyes and hear the song "Harbor Lights."

- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, April 4, 2016

Our Les Nelson endured New Guinea campaign, WWII

New Guinea was significant in WWII.
It is great seeing Les Nelson and his wife at McDonald's from time to time. These are increasingly precious moments when we can be close to a World War II veteran, a guy who was very close to danger. He was blessed getting through all of that.
I remember in the 1980s when we had the realization that the WWI veterans were leaving us. I remember covering a recognition event at the Morris Legion. Those hardy, aged souls gathered for a memorable photo that I took. A gentleman in a wheelchair was in front. Today, we have heard the meme for a long time that the WWII generation of war veterans is leaving us. I remember interviewing the national commander of a veterans organization at the Legion Club who expressed this. That was a fair number of years ago. He certainly was not wrong. However, the staggering number of people who got enlisted in the war effort, means that many of them will be with us a while longer.
I was hoping that my father, a gunnery commander in the Pacific theater, would make it to 100. We lost him at age 96. Our family monument at Summit Cemetery includes a reference to his war service: "USN WWII." Each year I make sure an American flag is stuck in the ground next to his name. I'll go out there on Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend. I'll walk because I don't know the policy for parking out there, even though I've been trying to find out. It's a one-lane road. Strange.
Hollywood has taken a different approach with WWII movies, starting with "Saving Private Ryan." When you learn about Les Nelson's war record, and the general information about the New Guinea campaign, it makes you wince (or throw up) at the tragedy of war. For some reason in the mid-20th Century, the human race devolved to where nations threw masses of troops against each other, cutting human beings down as with a scythe. The numbers are staggering as to be practically meaningless. Numbers reach a certain level where they become just numbers.
Added to that is the sheer pain and anguish so many human beings felt. It's a warning that maybe it could happen again.
Mr. Leslie Nelson served in the #1129 Military Police. So, that's what the "MP" stands for on certain helmets I've seen in movies, like for Lee Marvin's sidekick in "The Dirty Dozen." Remember that guy? Marvin was the flamboyant one while the MP just did his job in steady and sober fashion. I could see Les Nelson being like that.
Les was drafted into the service and sworn in on March 13, 1942. Then it was off to Fort Snelling and then to basic training with the Fifth Armored Division at Camp Cook CA. Nelson's unit left from San Francisco en route to Port Moresby, New Guinea. It was June of 1943. Nelson got ashore on one of the many "old tubs," i.e. landing barges. They were spread out because of uncertainty over what kind of opposition might await. Nelson was a guard on the tub. He felt resentment toward a lieutenant from North Carolina, a man who Nelson said never held a job in his life. Yet this individual had commander responsibilities.
It is easy to see the basis for that resentment. The rash lieutenant gave orders to "shoot anything you see or hear." Nelson spotted an obvious island native swimming up to the barge. The native swam underwater and then came up beside the barge. I guess you could say he looked like a photo out of National Geographic: he had bones in his ears and nose. His intent was obvious: to welcome, Nelson could see.
The lieutenant hollered for Nelson to shoot. Thank God Nelson felt his humanity brimming up inside him. He said "no" and pointed out that the swimmer was in fact a friendly native. The SOB lieutenant threatened Nelson with court martial. The native, wearing sea shells and obviously unarmed, swam back to shore underwater. Nelson was amazed he could do that. The troops got to the shore where they saw that man again. He turned to the bushes and yelled something. Other natives came out holding arrows and machetes but it was clear they intended no hostility. Rather, Nelson said "they had seen our American boat and cleared the beach by driving the Japanese back."
Nelson's comrades worked on the lieutenant to get him calmed down. It was clear that it was in the troops' interests to make friends with these natives and not to have them as enemies with the Japanese.
On another occasion, Nelson's humanity asserted itself when he refused to be a hangman even when asked. He was escorting a prisoner to the scaffold for the hanging. Nelson was offered a promotion to Master Sergeant if he did the job. He learned there were a total of 27 prisoners to be hanged. What? My God, the absolute hell of war was showing itself. The 27 were American men who had violated the law, i.e. shot someone or some like offense. Supposedly it was not an option to refuse to be a hangman. Fortunately a friend of Nelson's who was well-versed on military laws said you could request to be relieved "if we didn't think we could stand it." Nelson went this route to get relief.
Nelson recalled his training for MP duties as being very tough. He noted that doctors intervened because the training was finally judged too tough. Too many men were getting hurt. It's true that hard training prepared you for combat and instilled discipline. Remember the drill sergeant in the movie "Glory?" Nelson said "it was too hard for most of the people." Lest there be any doubt, he said some had to be put in strait jackets.
Certainly these MPs needed thick skin, and Nelson recalled the times having to guard prisoners of war who had been liberated. That experience would be too difficult to put in print, he said.
On the lighter side, Nelson recalled the time when they had to clear the runway of a Brahma bull. It was difficult solving this, Nelson recalled, but they decided to get close to the bull with a jeep, which the bull would then chase. A signal was given for the plane to land. Ole!
Nelson served for three years, eight months and 21 days in WWII. He recalled constant fear and stress. There was no entertainment. The troops adapted as best they could, seeking entertainment with crap games, rummy and poker.
The U.S. campaign on New Guinea is not as well remembered as it might be. Operations there were actually essential to the Allies' drive across the Central Pacific and to the liberation of the Philippine Islands from Japanese occupation.
Ever wonder why it's so rare to see re-runs of "McHale's Navy" on TV? They used improper terminology for the Japanese. In actual wartime, such language was a way to de-humanize the enemy, making it easier to kill them.
The Allied advance along the northern New Guinea coastline toward the Philippines forced the Japanese to divert precious ships, planes and men who might otherwise have reinforced their crumbling Central Pacific front.
The terrain was a commander's nightmare because it fragmented the deployment of large formations. There were no roads or railways, and supply lines were often native tracks, usually a dirt trail a yard or so wide tramped out over the centuries through the jungle growth.
New Guinea was strategically important because it was a major landmass to the immediate north of Australia. Its large land area provided locations for large land, air and naval bases. The combat forces paid a dear price with lives lost.
God spared Les Nelson, so today he can bring his smile and pleasant countenance to our Morris McDonald's. While some people in this town might complain about an inferior taco salad at a restaurant, Les would be the first to realize this is small potatoes, based on all he has seen and been through. We owe a debt to him.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com