Saturday, January 24, 2015

Geekdom Disabled

We're not very high-tech folks, so when computer glitches or complex updates baffle us it's nice to be able to let experts deal with the problems. We buy a Geek Squad service package for that purpose, and it has served us well.

The Geek Squad has an outpost about 20 miles from our home in a Best Buy store.  We journeyed there yesterday with a desk-top puter that had developed several small, but irritating, problems. We also wanted professional installation of a new program similar to one that had been difficult to get running properly in the past.

Help available electronically only.
The resident geek eyeballed us, the tower I had carried in, and a brief want list we handed to him. "Sorry," he said, "our system is down and we can't log in any work. Looks like you have a virus, for one thing. You can call our 800 number and someone will talk you through fixing that."

"But we come here for service because we don't like doing walk-through fixes on the phone. Can't we just leave it here as usual?"

"You can't leave it, we can't sign in any new work until our system is up."

Amazed, I asked if I was failing to understand something. The geek assured me I was not.

Apparently geeks are now so high-tech they are unable to write on a piece of (oh, horrors) paper, the name of a customer, the date puter hardware was left for service, and what was needed. In our case, we even provided the piece of paper with the "what's needed" part already written. A duplicating machine nearby was working perfectly, so an old-fashioned  writer would have been able to hand a copy of a note to us in a matter of seconds.

I've noticed some young clerks have great difficulty doing basic arithmetic when no machine is available to make calculations for them. But this was my first encounter with an apparently fully functional adult who couldn't or wouldn't create a simple hand-written note. How ridiculous is our supposedly sophisticated cyber world becoming?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Failed Hope

Sometimes it's interesting to look back at statements of our hopes to see if dreams came true. A small commentary and remembrance about journalism appeared nearly seven years ago in a book I authored, "Days With The Dads." Obviously, my wish that the "yellow journalism" experiencing a resurgence in the electronic media would turn out to be only a temporary phase did not come to pass.

News reporting in the U.S. has become steadily worse, and there are no indications it will get better. With only minor changes, my 2008 item follows.

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Yellowish Journalism

By the time I became public relations coordinator at the McCoy Job Corps Center in 1967, "yellow journalism" was almost a thing of the past in the U.S. The practice flourished in the 1890s and early 1900s, when powerful publishers emphasized sensationalism, bias, and phony images in their newspapers to boost circulation. 

Although yellow journalism gradually yielded to objectivity in news reporting, some of the bias in images and presentation stayed around a long time.  At the extremes in my lifetime were the Capitol Times in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Manchester Union-Leader in New Hampshire.  The Cap Times stood ready to flail any available Republican; the Union-Leader displayed similar antagonism toward Democrats.

The McCoy Job Corps Center was about an equal distance between the communities of Sparta and Tomah in Wisconsin.  News media in Sparta treated us with respect, and often gave welcome support.  Not so in Tomah.  The radio station, especially, seemed to delight in whacking us below the belt at every opportunity.

Sparta businessmen and other community leaders hosted a farewell luncheon for our staff members in 1968 shortly after the announcement that the McCoy Center was being closed. (It was one of 16 centers closed by the federal government for "economy reasons").  My boss, the manager of public and community relations, was away job hunting, so I inherited the task of speaking on behalf of our organization.

I spent several hours preparing my remarks.  Three sentences that brought considerable applause were: "I came here after working for the biggest corporation in this State.  Our center managers sometimes grappled with more problems in the first few hours of a day than the corporate executives had to deal with in a typical week.  But our people faced the challenges, solved every one of the problems, and made the McCoy center a success."

A reporter from the Tomah radio station was taping the proceedings.  Starting that afternoon and lasting throughout the next day, the station played my comments as part of its news reports.  However, the last of the three sentences was omitted.

Unfortunately, the yellow journalism practiced by the Tomah radio station made a comeback in  21st century electronic news media.  Fox News obviously slanted its television presentations and images to support archconservative political views.  MSNBC was accused of doing the same thing on the liberal side. Various talk show hosts were even worse.  Let us hope this is a passing fad and not a trend back to what would be an undesirable norm once again.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Don't Read for the New Year

If  you react a bit slowly to the New York Times' Bestseller List, be of good cheer.
A November entry, "The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America's Grasp," by Marin Katusa, may go down in publishing infamy as one of the most-wrong analyses of the international situation ever issued.
Skip this one.
Katusa, a self-proclaimed energy expert, tells us that Russia has wrested control of the energy trade from Saudi Arabia and that Putin's rule has his country in the midst of a rapid economic renaissance. 

How are those statements looking a scant two months after the book was published? Russia's currency is in free-fall. So much oil has flooded world markets that Putin's economy, which depends almost entirely on energy exports, is tanking. The Saudis demonstrated their powerful influence on world energy markets at the most recent OPEC meeting when they refused to cut production to shore up falling crude oil prices.

If you missed  "The Colder War," rejoice. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

De Pere Journal  R.I.P.

An old friend died this year--a very aged old friend. The De Pere Journal's last edition rolled off the press back in February, ending a 143-year run as the community newspaper for the Wisconsin city near Green Bay.

Traditionally, current and some former employees hold a wake when a newspaper folds, as many papers have in the past few years. The mourners gather to guzzle a lot of  liquid refreshment and tell tales of their adventures large and small in and out of the newsroom.

But traditions change with the times. Now when an old friend dies, we are more likely to participate in a "celebration of life" than a wake.  Because I wasn't aware of the paper's death until a few days ago, I missed any opportunity for old-style mourning. So I'll shed a few tears in my martini and say my farewell here with a celebration, including a bit of history and a retelling of one of my favorite holiday stories.

The newspaper started in 1871 as the De Pere News. After several consolidations and name changes, it was the De Pere Journal-Democrat in 1957 when Paul and Marie Creviere hired me as city editor. They interviewed me in Madison shortly before I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism.

Paul was the general manager of Journal Publishing. Marie carried the title of managing editor of the newspaper. She had been serving as editor in all areas. When I arrived, she continued to handle society news and correspondence from several reporters who gathered news in small rural communities near De Pere. I wrote general news and sports stories, did most of the photography, and wrote a personal column and all editorials.

Paul and Marie were Republicans, as I was at the time. Paul's dad, John A. Creviere, was a dedicated Democrat. Thus the newspaper was the Journal-Democrat while John was in control. After he died, Paul and Marie waited a respectful several years and then dropped the "Democrat" from the title.

Some records show John as editor from 1944 to 1964, but when I signed on the elder Creviere was the publisher, but did almost no writing or editing. At age 75, he still came to work in the office six days a week (regular office hours included Saturday mornings).  Every Thursday morning, John and I and Vivian Dahnke, John's daughter who was a linotype operator, started our day at about 6 a.m.  I phoned the police and sheriff departments to gather any overnight news. Vivian set type for whatever I produced. John donned a printer's apron, inserted the new type, and locked up the page forms to be ready for the press run not later than 8 a.m.

That operation may have been unique among weekly newspapers. We did it because we were attempting the impossible task of competing with a daily paper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette. De Pere is only about five miles from Green Bay, so almost all our readers also were Press-Gazette subscribers. The Press-Gazette maintained a full-time correspondent in De Pere, who obviously could "scoop" us with important local stories. For the more routine items, the Press-Gazette ran a De Pere special section on Thursdays. The Press-Gazette was an afternoon paper.

We tried our best to beat the competing daily one time a week. Paul, Marie, and I worked late Wednesday nights to get as much news processed as we could. Then John, I, and Vivian did our early Thursday stint so we could publish as a morning paper, available several hours before the Press-Gazette came out. It was tough going. We were defeated most of the time. But we did score firsts with some minor stories, and beat the Press-Gazette once during my time with a major story.

Our big scoop was due to good fortune, not reporting enterprise. Three convicts had escaped from the prison between Green Bay and De Pere.  They were at large for several days and caused a lot of serious concerns because of reports they were seen in a residential area. The Press-Gazette ran a story about the situation every day.

I made my routine visit to the De Pere police department on a Wednesday afternoon. While I was checking the blotter, the officer on duty was listening to the radio. "Hey, I've got a good story for you," he said. "They just caught those escaped prisoners."

I got the address, and headed for the scene.  Luckily, our camera was in my car from a previous job. When I arrived, a crowd had gathered in front of a home. The three cons were handcuffed to posts on the porch, and the Brown County sheriff  was standing beside them. I raised the camera as high as I could to improvise a shot over the spectators just before the detainees were taken away.

Our film processor, Gus Aschert, provided emergency service and worked a little darkroom magic to bring out the best in my "thin" negative. Paul Creviere and I drove 17 miles with a print to Seymour, where the publisher of that community's weekly paper made photo engravings for us. He stayed late to process our print, and we drove back to De Pere in the dark to remake our front page.

We came out bright and early on Thursday morning with a big headline and the photo announcing the capture of the desperados. Somehow, the Press-Gazette reporters missed the story. The P-G came out in the afternoon with a routine article saying the convicts remained at large!

Press-Gazette reporter Jerry Van Ryzen started his career as a Journal-Democrat editor and remained a friend of the Crevieres. He dropped into our office on Friday afternoon sporting a big grin. "We had a staff meeting this morning," he said. "The managing editor threw a copy of your paper on the table and yelled 'Scooped by a god-damn weekly!'"

The main headline of the last issue of the De Pere Journal on Feb. 27, 2014 read, "That's All We Wrote." During my tenure, my weekly column was titled "The Last Word," and at Paul Creviere's suggestion it ran as the final item on the last page of each edition. I'll make my last words in celebration of the Journal's life a story that has appeared on this blog in holiday seasons past.

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Ho, Ho, Ho. . . .No, No, No

It has been hard to escape Santa since merchants succeeded in advancing the holiday season to start right around Thanksgiving time. You now can visit a Santa just about everywhere serious shopping is happening, rent one for the kids’ party, or be one after you buy an outfit complete with beard for $39.95.

Santas weren’t nearly so ubiquitous in 1957, but they did make plenty of appearances and I was among those on duty. No chimneys were involved in my appearance. It was a bigger deal than that. I arrived on Broadway Avenue in De Pere, Wisconsin, in a giant motorized sleigh pulled by plastic reindeer, courtesy of the  Chamber of Commerce.

In a discussion of how we at the  De Pere Journal-Democrat were going to participate in Santa’s annual visit, a burning question was who would play the rotund one since publisher John Creviere was getting a bit old for the job. As the youngest, chubbiest, and most naive person around, I was volunteered.

This Santa looks authentic, but for the real photo of a youthful Geezer charming kids in 1957 you now must visit the newspaper archives of the  De Pere Historical Society or the Wisconsin State Historical Society where the Journal-Democrat rests.

The elder Creviere’s lengthy resume included work with amateur acting groups. He had a professional makeup kit and knew how to use it. He made 21-year-old me into a truly authentic-looking Claus, complete with rosy cheeks and a beard the little ones couldn’t pull off.

The children of De Pere certainly believed I was the real thing. Santa and a couple of helpers handed out 2,000 popcorn balls during the event. It was a very long day.

A photo, taken by Paul Creviere, of one handout to a cute little tyke appeared on the front page of our paper that week. That was pretty easy to pull off, since John owned the printing press, Paul was the general manager, and I was the editor.

It was the only time a photo of me ever graced the front page of a newspaper, and I couldn’t even identify myself in the caption!

Santa was totally pooped after passing out all the goodies and muttering nice things to the multitude of kiddies. When John started removing my greasepaint after handing me a shot of brandy, he asked how I was feeling about the whole thing. I was feeling like I never wanted to play Santa again.

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I never again had the opportunity to play Santa, but I really would have done it in a heartbeat just to see the expressions of awe and joy on the little ones’ faces.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!                                                   

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Hooray! The Smokeout is Winning Out

With violence at home and abroad dominating the news lately, the 38th Great American Smokeout on Nov. 20 passed with little notice. That was too bad, because news on the anti-smoking front is good.

The Smokeout for a time was a date when users were urged to quit for a single day, hoping that would lead them to stay tobacco-free thereafter. Lately, more emphasis is given to helping smokers develop a plan for quitting, drawing on many resources.

It's working. According to the most recent reports from the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is continuing to decrease. For middle grade and high school students, the rate has declined from 28 percent in 2001 to 12.7 percent last year. The rate for adults 18 and older dropped from 23 percent to about 18 percent. Back in 1965, smoking was very popular and acceptable; about 42 percent of adults smoked. I was one of them.

I smoked for 50 years. My daily consumption of cigarettes ran between one and two packs. I also
puffed on cigars sometimes, and tried pipes of various types. I am an addict. If there were places for ex-smokers to meet regularly for support, I would be one of those to rise and state: "My name is Dick Klade. I am a tobaccoholic. I've been clean for 13 years."

How do I know I'm an addict? In 1963, I made a strong attempt to end my cigarette habit. I went completely to pipe smoking, and didn't inhale the fumes. That lasted three years. One evening, after a stressful day at work, I stopped at a drug store on the way home, bought a pack of cigarettes and resumed puffing as though I'd never stopped. I wasn't able to kick the cigarette habit again for 38 years.

Quitting all tobacco use for good was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Beautiful wife Sandy and I, after consulting our family doctor, formed a detailed plan that included an exercise program. We set a firm stop date. Sandy curtailed her usual activities and provided strong support for the two weeks it took to get beyond my most urgent needs to puff. Progress was complicated by the complete failure of medication intended to help me with stress. It produced a violent reaction, raising a red rash over most of my body.

One of the surprising things about tobacco addiction is how differently it affects different people. One of our closest friends was able to smoke a pack a day for weeks and suddenly stop for days, weeks, or months without apparent effort. One of my golfing buddies said he didn't believe how hard it was for me to quit. He had smoked for 20 years. "When I quit, I just tossed my last pack in the trash and stopped," he said. "What's the big deal?"

Another pal had been clean for 10 years after 25 years of puffing. He said in his dreams he still saw himself smoking a cigarette in every scene he could remember upon waking. Strangely, some of the public service ads on TV encouraging quitting give me a strong urge to resume smoking. While other quitters came to dislike the smell of second-hand smoke, I enjoyed it, and I do to this day.

And I know if a pleasant whiff of smoke led me to light up just one cigarette, I would be right back into a two-pack a day habit. I hope the Smokeout sponsors and others promoting quitting succeed in helping us reach the day when no tobacco products (or e-cigarettes) are around to tempt me or anyone else to do one of the worst things possible to themselves.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks, Once Again

Thanks are always worth repeating, so today's post is a rerun of 2011's Thanksgiving message. For reasons unknown, this little item has attracted a very large number of viewers from  outside the United States. Thus, it seems appropriate to again send it out into the electronic world.

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A Great Day, Indeed 

Today is America’s best celebration.  Thanksgiving truly is for everyone.  It is not part of any specific religious tradition; it is for all to enjoy.  For this one day, we can cast aside worries about the future and focus only on the good things that have happened in our past.

I am thankful that I was born in a prosperous nation and have lived a long and generally pleasant life with the freedom to chart my own course. Through good and bad times, many people have supported and guided me. I appreciate all of them, especially Sandy, my beautiful wife.

I am thankful that my family does not want for food, shelter, or love.  Today we will be together. That is the best thing of all.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Santa Takes Back Seat to Vets

Santa Claus arrived in Kalamazoo on Saturday (much too early to suit me and many others) as thousands attended the annual Holiday Parade. The jolly one got lots of appreciative oohs and aahs as he was escorted by 11 marching bands and a variety of floats, but he was not the star of the show in southwestern Michigan last week.

Santa clearly lost the appreciation contest to the U.S. military. Active G.I.s and veterans were showered with gifts starting the weekend before Veterans Day (Tuesday).  Free meals and discounts on all sorts of goods and services continued in some cases right up until Santa grabbed the next weekend spotlight.

November 11 observances have undergone a transformation during my lifetime. Originally,  "Armistice Day'" marked the end of World War I. It was a day of reflection and a time to honor those who gave their lives or were crippled in the conflict.

When I was a youngster, people observed a moment of silence at 11 a.m., when the treaty ending the war was signed. Everyone was encouraged to make a donation to the American Legion Auxiliary in return for a red "remembrance poppy," a paper creation we wore all day in honor of the dead soldiers buried in France. The Legion ladies used poppy donations to benefit disabled veterans or other vets or their families known to be in need. I remember my Dad encouraging me to drop a nickel or dime in the collection can as he explained the significance of the poppies.

Armistice day was important in my family. Dad, his two brothers, and my Mom's brother all served in WWI. One of my uncles came home from France permanently disabled from effects of a gas attack. Another returned with a Croix de Guerre medal awarded by the French government for bravery.

As fewer World War II vets remain alive, they get lots of love. (Associated Press photo)
All died years ago. There are no veterans of World War I  alive today in the U.S. The old Armistice Day customs, however, continue to some extent. Church bells still ring at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 in a small town near us. Veteran firing squads still launch volleys marking the time. Although I've not seen a remembrance poppy worn for several years, there may be places where they are available.

Wikipedia tells us that remembrance poppies remain common in other nations, especially the UK, and there the day to honor those who gave their lives in battle is titled Remembrance Day. That seems appropriate because the U.S. played a relatively small role in World War I, where trench warfare produced wholesale slaughter.

The U.S. didn't enter the five-year conflict until almost the final year. Casualties totaled 320,000. That seems like a lot, but consider that British Empire dead and wounded totaled more than 3 million and French casualties topped 6 million. Some 37 million people from all participating countries were killed or wounded in the horrific struggle. The U.S. military casualty total was much higher in World War II--more than a million.

During World War II, Armistice Day began to morph into Veterans Day. Informal observances using the new name started in 1947. In 1954, Congress officially recognized Veterans Day, declaring it a national holiday and a time to honor all veterans.

I was discharged from the Army in 1960, and don't recall any wholesale changes in observances until fairly recently. The old Armistice Day traditions simply continued under a new name. Veterans usually were respected, but not always. Many Vietnam War vets complained about shabby treatment when they came home from the killing fields in Indochina.

If anything, recognition and tangible rewards for veterans declined. My brother-in-law and other Korean War vets pointed out that monuments in city squares omitted them. Supposedly, that was because Korea officially was a "police action," not a war. The nation's biggest veterans' organization, the American Legion, refused membership to thousands of veterans of my era, a practice continuing today. An ungrateful government reduced or eliminated some veterans' benefits for us as well. On Veterans Day, a vet might be thanked for service with a fee doughnut or cup of coffee in a few places, but those were about the only tangible gifts from private people that I remember.

Everything seemed to start changing after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, those cups of coffee became free meals.  A huge variety of businesses began to offer 10 percent or more price reductions to veterans. Because some hotels and motels gave room discounts, the proverbial "three hots and a cot" provided to active duty G.I.s could once again be enjoyed by veterans. Offering gifts to vets seemed to take on a snowball effect, and it hasn't stopped yet.

I think this Denny's ad deserves an award for salute creativity.

This year lists of free or cut-rate offerings on Nov. 11, and sometimes throughout the week, were easy to find. It was a "take your pick" situation.

I was right there picking. With our continuing home remodeling project far from completion, it was a great time to get needed items available at leading big box stores for 10 percent off. While on the track of some special items, my son and I were near a Denny's restaurant, so I claimed one of my favorite things--a free "build your own breakfast." In the evening after more discount shopping, beautiful wife Sandy and I visited Applebee's where I enjoyed a free steak dinner.

Just for fun, I added up the total value of my Nov. 11 discounts and freebies. The gifts were worth $111.30. And I didn't even have time to get the free haircut or car wash offered by businesses near my home.

By coincidence, my biggest paycheck in the U.S. Army was $111.00 a month. It usually lasted about two weeks. Maybe payback time finally has arrived? Thanks to all the "thankers" who back up their words of gratitude with material gifts. You, too, deserve a salute.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Picture of Contentment

Who is she? A satisfied Republican following last week's route of the electoral opposition? A smug Packers fan after last night's gridiron trashing of their arch rivals, da Chicago Bears?

Neither of the above. It's beautiful wife Sandy taking a break during a retreat titled "Your Life Unplugged" at Yarrow Golf and Conference Center. Yarrow is one of Michigan's most scenic and elegant spots, a great place to spend a few days gaining inspiration and developing a feeling of satisfaction.

Son Lee's fiancée, Karen Vogelmann, made most of the arrangements for the retreat. It was a major task, but it paid off . Some 25 ladies loved it, judging from post-meeting comments. The event was so successful that plans immediately went into effect for a repeat next year.

This photo by one of her new-found friends suggests Sandy will return to Yarrow in 2015.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Democrat Voted with Democrats. Duh.

I intended to comment on the proliferation of lies and misrepresentations in television ads leading up to Tuesday's election. However, so many unsupportable statements were advanced  that I simply couldn't muster the energy to do the topic justice.

Although selecting the biggest lie, or biggest liars, would have been a daunting task, picking the dumbest statement is no problem at all.

Early in Michigan's seemingly endless campaign for governor, an ad blared over and over, "Schauer voted with Obama and Democrats 95 percent of the time."

Mark Schauer is a Democrat. Which party might we expect him to vote with? The Libertarians?

Perhaps recognizing that at least a few Michigan voters have an iota of intelligence, someone in the Republican campaign finally realized how stupid this message is. The ad disappeared from the airways. That was perhaps the most positive thing that has happened during the campaign.

But to prove stupidity dies hard, the same message just arrived in my mailbox. Only the pamphlet says the Democrat voted with Democrats 96 percent of the time. Wonder who came up with that added 1 percent? I was thinking about voting for the Republican. Now I wonder.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Real Great Satan

The fundamental reason for nonstop violence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world is not United States meddling, the existence of Israel, or clerics fanning the fires of ancient tribal rivalries. It is simply an over-supply of young men in over-populated countries.

Many admirable practices are included in the principles followed by most of the 1.6 billion Muslims, including sharing wealth with the poor, striving to reduce economic inequality, and refraining from violence. A minority of fanatics and those who exploit their zeal continue to give the religion a bad name in other cultures. Islam, generally, is not "the mother lode of bad ideas" as neuroscientist Sam Harris recently labeled it on national television.

But Islam includes one very bad idea. With a few exceptions, all forms of contraception and birth control are forbidden. That is the real "Great Satan."

It's a short step for dissatisfied young men from peaceful protest to violence.

Far too many people compete for scarce resources in lands where Muslims predominate. The great source of wealth in several of them, oil, is not labor intensive in its extraction or processing. In what once were rich farming lands, constant warfare has so disrupted the landscape that jobs in agriculture have declined. Some areas that once exported food now are forced to import it.

Arid lands do not support vast populations anywhere in the world, but in Muslim desert and semi-desert areas excess human reproduction continues despite the lack of suitable environments to sustain more people.

The result of all this in the Middle East, plus a shortage of advanced educational facilities in a world where technical jobs are becoming more important, is an entire region with the highest unemployment rates in the world. A dramatic component of that is in the youngest segment of the population up to the age of 25, where unemployment is estimated to be 40 percent.

What happens when idle young men see no hope for their futures through peaceful endeavors? They become eager to sign up to fight for any leaders who provide a pay check and promise fame and glory.

Until rank and file Muslims in great numbers ignore medieval bans on birth control, as many Roman Catholics now do in Christian cultures, we can expect warfare and devastation in Islamic lands. Peace may be a very long time coming.