Friday, October 30, 2009

Rivalry Takes Two

As we approach the “second coming of Favre” game between the Packers and Vikings, one pundit observed that the “bitter rivalry” between the teams perhaps deserved as much attention as the homecoming of the prodigal quarterback. Phooey. Last time I looked, it took two to create a rivalry. This “rivalry” is mostly wishful thinking by Minnesotans.

It is difficult for a long-time backer of a 12-time world champion team to get excited about playing a team that never has captured the title. And I have trouble working up animosity for an expansion club that plays its home games on a tennis court. The Vikings are more of an aggravation than a rival.

There is talk of moving the Minnesota franchise to Los Angeles. If that happens, descendants of Leif Ericson can start circulating tales about their ancestor discovering the West Coast. Those stories will be about as credible as descriptions of a Packers-Vikings "rivalry" currently emanating from the Twin Cities.

Favre’s return to Green Bay is exciting. Bringing the Vikings along is not.

When we play da Bears, that’s a rivalry.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Town, Small Town

I like small towns. For one thing, business people have to maintain a reputation for honesty in small communities, or they’re soon out of business. This is not nearly as true in bigger cities. There, service people, customers, and the businesses themselves all can be transients who never really get to know each other.

When we moved to Michigan, our Pontiac’s mileage indicated the need for a transaxle fluid change. One day, we stopped at an auto service chain place in Kalamazoo, the biggest city near our home, to deliver our son who was picking up his truck. While waiting in the office, I asked the bright young man whose nametag said “Manager” about fluid changes. He said they did transaxle fluid changes, filter changes, and flushes on three levels, ranging from about $100 to nearly $200. He strongly recommended the upper level.

A little later I took the Pontiac in for an oil change to Jim Koestner, Inc., the GM dealer in Plainwell (population about 4,000). I asked the bright older man whose family owns the place when I could get an appointment for the best transaxle fluid service they offered.

“You don’t need all that,” Mr. Koestner said, after checking the data for our car. He took me to the service manager to confirm his opinion. He called a mechanic out of the shop and put the question of what was needed to him. Same answer. They did the necessary service for just under $100.

A few months later, General Motors sent Koestner a letter canceling their dealership contract. The Plainwell dealership was among hundreds that got termination notices as part of GM’s bankruptcy settlement.

Over the years we’ve owned a German car, a Japanese car, and American cars built by Ford, GM, Chrysler, and American Motors. Our current Pontiac is far and away the highest-quality vehicle of the bunch, except perhaps for the 1929 Model A Ford that was running well at age 20 when I bought it.

We intend to drive our Pontiac until the wheels fall off, and that may be quite a while. Unfortunately, we won't be able to buy another. Shortly before it terminated Koestner’s dealership agreement, GM announced it would stop producing Pontiacs.

No doubt many factors entered into the GM decisions. Honesty is a big factor for me in any decision. I’ll keep buying whatever services Koestner continues to offer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

True Green

You had to be a True Green Packer Fan to buy a share of stock in the football club in 1998. As an investment, it rates a big, fat zero.

I and 106,000 other Packer backers plunked down $200 to help cover the multi-million dollar cost of modernizing Lambeau Field. In return we got no dividend, no possibility that the stock will appreciate in value, no preference for tickets, and not even a lottery chance at winning a parking space or a bratwurst. All we got was an annual opportunity to vote for some of the 25-person board of directors and a ticket into the annual meeting in Green Bay to cast the ballot. No other votes are taken at annual meetings.

We shareholders are very distant from the center of team operations. The 25 directors, most of whom we never heard of, appoint an executive committee from among their ranks. The executive committee appoints a club president. The president hires a general manager. The general manager hires the coach. We could write a letter stating how we think the gridiron ship should be steered, but it would be about as effective as sending off a political diatribe to the New York Times.

Packers’ administrators tried to extract the last drop of blood from the faithful during the stock sale. As soon as they got my $200, a follow-up letter offered to supply me with a frame for the certificate at an exorbitant price. I didn’t go for that one. If I had, I fantasized that the next letter would solicit several thousand dollars to build a green and gold wall to hang the frame on. That, I envisioned, might be followed by another letter offering to build me a new house around the wall for a mere three or four hundred thousand.

After congratulating myself on not falling into any follow-up traps, I encased the stock certificate in a frame we bought locally for a quarter of what the Green Bay people wanted for the job. After showing it to anyone who was willing to take a peek and bragging about it whenever possible, I decided my audience was dwindling and getting tired of my bragging and it was time to pass the certificate along for posterity.

When I called my son and offered to transfer the stock to him, he astounded me with the news that he also had bought a share, and didn’t really need another one. So I willed my share to a young man in the neighborhood who, although not a Packer fan, was a sports fanatic. At least, I thought, that would assure my stock of a good home after I departed.

While looking for a contact to change my address so I would continue to get the never-used invitation to vote for the board, I found the ownership rules included with the stock offering. I can’t transfer my share to anyone who is not an immediate family member, defined as a spouse, brother or sister, and son or daughter. I don’t have a whole flock of those, and the ones available don’t want or need my share of stock.

I remain a true green fan. Maybe I should change my will to specify that the stock certificate shall be placed in my right hand when it’s time for that final journey. I could use it to swat any Bears fans that get in my way as they head in the opposite direction.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Grappling with Gremlins

Some researcher desperate for a new problem to ponder might shed light on this question: Why do more typos and other obvious errors appear in compositions produced solely on computer screens than in those appearing in ink on paper? It baffles me, but I know the difference is real.

I can proofread and correct even brief e-mail messages several times and miss a boo boo or two. It’s frustrating, it’s irritating, and it isn’t all due to advancing age. For some time, I’ve noticed the tendency of writers of all ages to produce more than a normal amount of typos and bloopers when they do all their work electronically.

Mal Furniss, retired research entomologist, caught a dandy when he read the July 16 post to this blog. He noted my statement: “Their family has operated the farm where we stayed for about 200 years.” He commented, “No wonder your blog is named Oldgeezer.” Furniss should have proofread the blog name, but, oh well, his version conveyed the message.

I’m not a day over 150, and we really only stayed at the farm for three weeks. I went back and fixed the goof. Thankfully for me, this can be done in internet “publishing.” In paper publishing, your errors stay on the record forever. Perhaps the ability to go back and correct stories is one reason much “breaking news” reporting on the internet is so inaccurate and sloppy.

Before computers became the tools of the trade, when Furniss was a project leader and I was an editor at the Intermountain Research Station, perfection was the goal in scientific publishing. Authors, reviewers, editors, and proofreaders worked hard (at least most of them were dedicated) to ferret out and correct any mistake of any kind. In retrospect, it may have been overkill. With humans doing the work perfection was elusive, but excellence was achieved often. Errata seldom could be found in scientific journal articles or reports issued by research institutions.

This no longer was true when I briefly returned to work at the Intermountain Station in 2004. While compiling a history, I read hundreds of publications written by scientists. Typos were much more prevalent in works produced in the previous ten years than those issued earlier. This quality change seemed to coincide with abandonment of “perfect proofreading” by scientific organizations and publishers. They had started to rely on computer spelling checks and editing programs. Both miss quite a bit.

The highest quality proofreading requires two people. One reads the proofs aloud. The other compares the narration to the manuscript. The reader spells every word that is even a bit unusual and tells the manuscript holder whenever he or she encounters a punctuation mark, capitalized or italicized word, or the start of a new paragraph. If the work is long, readers tire and begin to miss things, so assignments are traded at intervals. The workers exchange the manuscript and the proofs when they change roles.

At the Intermountain Station, our proofreaders used some interesting abbreviations to speed their work. In proofreaderese, parenthesis was “paren.” Quotation mark was “wrap.” Hyphen was “hi.”

Newspapers, at least the ones I worked for, didn’t have the time or staff for the kind of meticulous work research organizations did. One person quickly read proofs and marked corrections, consulting the typed copy only when something seemed questionable.

Because I was a small-time “independent editor” in both my newspaper jobs, no one but me edited my writing before it went to typesetters. Without a sharp-eyed editor checking on my work, quite a few literary atrocities found their way from my typewriter into print. Huge amounts of word processing must be done very quickly in the newspaper world, so bloopers and typos are not hard to find in even the best products.

Several weeks ago, I ordered new business cards from the publisher of the local shoppers guide. I carefully went over every word with the lady who took my order, and left an error-free typed version. The proof I received for approval had four typos. The lady was embarrassed. She admitted they had been exceptionally busy, and skipped proofreading for my little job except for looking at the words on a computer screen. Normally, she said, everything going through their shop was printed out and proofread by two people.

That didn’t surprise me. I had been scanning the shoppers guide for six months, and commented several times on the minimal number of errors in the weekly issues. When I got home, I told Sandy I had discovered why the quality of the guide was so high.

Two days later, Sandy handed me the newest edition of the shoppers guide. She had circled a blatant mistake in a large heading in a big ad. Nobody’s perfect.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Changing Expectations

Thirty years ago, Sandy and I attended a special University of Wisconsin alumni club meeting in Salt Lake City. A big crowd gathered because the UW chancellor flew out from Madison to speak to the group (and also because bratwursts were flown out from Sheboygan for dinner).

Coed dorms were a fairly new concept at the time. Many in the alumni club were skeptical about liberalized student living arrangements. Sex was on their minds, and they put some hard questions to the guest speaker. The chancellor assured us that the university president considered it his most important duty to provide student housing where high standards of morality were observed.

My, how things change. Tufts University recently announced a new policy on dorm living. Having sex in the rooms is OK, just not when the roommate is present. For some time, a few universities have allowed boys and girls to be roommates, not just to live in the same building.

Bill Tishler, a fraternity brother and retired UW professor of landscape architecture, recently sent a note agreeing with my belief that administrators have allowed college athletics to get out of control. Tishler was philosophical about the situation, however. He cited a campus saying defining what today’s successful university presidents provide:

“Football for the alumni, parking for the faculty, and sex for the students.”

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Unintended Consequences

I recently met Cal Samra, editor of the Joyful Noiseletter and, with his wife Rose, cofounder of the Fellowship of Merry Christians. That caused me to do some reading in two of the Samras’ several publications. They are truly ecumenical, featuring humor that applies to leaders and followers of all religious faiths.

In one comical yarn, various types of people pass a man who is trapped in the bottom of a pit until Jesus arrives to rescue him. A sampling: A mathematician calculates how the man fell into the pit. A reporter wants exclusive rights to the pit. A fire-and-brimstone preacher says, “You deserve your pit.” An IRS agent asks if the man was paying taxes on the pit. A Christian Scientist observes, “The pit is just in your mind.”

The last observation caused me to reflect on what I believe about Christian Science teachings. My mother served as first reader for our little congregation in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, for many years. I sat through hundreds of Sunday services and Wednesday evening testimonials by those who claimed to be healthy or even healed through prayer and a proper attitude toward illnesses (basically, sickness is not real if you don’t let it be).

My mother, who believed that help from “skilled hands” was acceptable for Christian Scientists, had her two children at home with Dr. William McCormick attending. She never saw a doctor again until she was about 85 years old.

Although I did not join the church as an adult, I believe the fundamental philosophy has a lot of merit. I was employed almost continuously for 48 years and took so few sick days in all that time that Sandy and I can remember each one. There were four and one-half. One was to recover from a minor operation; three were spent dealing with severe flu attacks. The half-day absence was to nurse a terrific hangover.

Throughout all those years of sickness-free work my health habits were less than exemplary. I smoked cigarettes—a pack a day or more—for 41 of the 48 years. I was overweight most of the time, and some of that was due to a love affair with such health foods as ice cream, french fries, and sweet rolls. I didn’t exercise whenever I didn’t have to. So I think my good luck with health matters mostly is because of my early training.

Whenever I feel less than tip top, I consider it just a temporary condition that will soon pass, not the start of an illness. Sickness is not in my plans. I just don’t think about it much, certainly not as much as many of my acquaintances do.

I am grateful for the general part of Christian Science philosophy that stuck with me, even though I do not believe at all in some practices by members. The consequences of choosing faith over science can be costly, as for those who refuse blood transfusions or vaccinations. Nothing extremely serious happened to me, but one practice had lasting bad effects.

I was not permitted to get any type of painkiller while in the dentist’s chair. That would have been introducing a foreign substance into my body, an action true Christian Scientists disdain. Gad, how I hated visits to Archie Houns, DDS. He didn’t like seeing me, either. When the drill hit home, I screeched and squirmed and loudly begged for mercy. In my pre-teen years, Mom helped by holding my hand.

Because of those horribly painful early experiences, I avoided visits to dentists whenever I could in later years. The result is a mouth full of a whole lot of vacant spaces bordered by expensive plastic teeth of various types.

My son seldom seeks my advice, perhaps because I usually offer much more of it than he wants or needs well before he has any opportunity to formulate questions. Once, however, he asked what single thing I would change if I could do it all over again. I surprised him by saying I would visit dentists regularly, requesting every painkiller available.