Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bribe, Anyone?

Stories about the activities of “spin doctors” usually nowadays involve clever pronouncements by politicians that leave out key facts. The speakers obviously evade direct questions while launching the rehearsed speech they want to present to the public. The actors in these mini-dramas usually are coached by public relations practitioners.

Before television and the internet came to dominate the media world, public relations activities used some of the same techniques but were oriented much more to press agentry. Savvy newspaper people understood the game. The better ones took some delight in frustrating the “flacks.”

The only time I was called on the carpet during my days in public relations work for Allis-Chalmers was because I wasn't trying to bribe anybody.

Department Manager Al Leech chastised me.  Each of us could spend up to $200 a month buying drinks, dinners, and event tickets for news media personnel (at the time, dinner for one in a fairly good restaurant ran about $10, so $200 was a decent amount of spending money).  Leech pointed out that I had spent nothing after several months on the staff.  He said I was neglecting an important part of my duties.

Not being a shirker, I cast about for opportunities to use the special expense account.  I found one in our General Products Division.  Allis-Chalmers had bought a company in Appleton, Wisconsin, that manufactured equipment for the papermaking industry.  The plant manager wanted publicity, but he didn't really know about what.  He had contacted the A-C photography section, and they responded by sending out one of their people to shoot scenes inside the plant.  They had a batch of nice color prints, and no idea what to do with them.

The Milwaukee Journal had a young correspondent in Appleton.  I phoned him and said we had some good photos of our Appleton operation, and thought he might be able to do a feature article about the work there for the Journal's business page, using one of more of the shots.  We made a lunch date in Appleton to talk about it.

I took the photographer along in case different scenes were requested.  We got to the restaurant early.  To my surprise, a veteran reporter who worked at the business desk in the Journal office in Milwaukee walked in just minutes after we did.  Apparently, the neophyte correspondent thought he needed big-time help dealing with a high-powered PR man.

We had a couple of drinks while waiting for the correspondent.  When he appeared, we had another round.  We ate, and I showed our photos and suggested several story ideas.  The Journal men made no commitments.

When the waiter showed up to see if it was time for the check the young guy said it was going to be Dutch treat.  I said, "Oh no, I'm taking care of it."

The correspondent turned to his more experienced colleague.  "He can't do that!" he said.

"Oh yes he can," the veteran newsman replied.

I did, but to their credit, the Journal guys never pursued a story.  Their newspaper had a reputation as one of the best in the country, and part of that was based on strict adherence to journalism ethics.  You could have treated Journal reporters and editors to a full-scale Roman orgy, and I doubt it would have influenced their news decisions one iota.

Nevertheless, I learned that several of my colleagues routinely took Journal people and their wives (and their own wives) out to dinner at fancy Milwaukee restaurants and charged the outings to the company.  Did that benefit Allis-Chalmers?  It may have had the opposite effect.

About a month after my failed bribery attempt in Appleton, Leech stormed out of his office and barked, "I've got the biggest PR staff in the State of Wisconsin, and we can't get a paragraph in the Milwaukee Journal."

When I moved on to Job Corps public relations work as an RCA employee, I was authorized to use expense money to buy meals for reporters.  Many came to the center.  When lunchtimes rolled around, I told every one of them that they were welcome to eat with me in a dining hall operated by Corpsmen training for food service jobs.  They would have to pay for their own meal, just as I and every other staff member who ate there did.

The media people seemed to respect that approach. None ever turned the dining hall suggestion down.  I never spent a dime of RCA money wooing a reporter.  A lot of them wrote favorable stories about activities at our center.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

In Grateful Memory

Sgt. Mark H. Schoonhoven (U.S. Army), 38, Plainwell, Michigan. Died Jan. 20 from wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised bomb on Dec. 15 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

This is the second neighbor from the small city nearest our rural home to be killed in the senseless conflict in Afghanistan. The Mayor said, “Unfortunately, we know how to deal with this. Two years ago, one of our own died. That was tragic, and so is this.”

Knowing how to deal with it doesn’t make it any less painful.  

                                                       * * * * * * *

Unfortunately, the Geezer doesn’t have the time or resources to honor all Americans and  NATO allies who are being killed in Afghanistan, so memorials are limited to service members from my home state of Michigan. You can find a record of all American deaths at

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A True Role Model

My admiration for anyone resembling a sports idol dropped to near zero when Lance Armstrong, that “clean-cut American boy” with the heroic sounding name, admitted his international cycling victories were aided by more than tailwinds. He told the world on national TV that he depended on numerous infusions of performance-enhancing drugs. And he didn’t seem especially contrite when he confessed.

But then along came news of the death of a sports star worthy of admiration. “Stan the Man” died at 92. He was nothing like “da man,” a title bestowed nowadays on all sorts of people. He was the real thing--Stan the Man Musial, one of the finest baseball players in the history of the game and probably one of the finest men in the history of anything.

The Man
As a boy, I had many baseball heroes. Before the Braves moved from Boston to win the hearts of Wisconsinites, the Chicago White Sox were “my” team. I cheered for Minnie Minoso, Billy Pierce, and Luke Appling while listening to radio broadcasts of Sox games. Like many other kids, however, I followed all aspects of Major League Baseball to some extent, and had multiple heroes.  When Dad gave me my first catcher’s mitt, a nearly worn out hand-me-down, I carefully wrote on the back of the glove the names of the first-string catchers playing for all teams in the big leagues.

I didn’t know a lot of details about Stan Musial at the time. I did know that he was a terrific hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards had a radio network in the Midwest. Several of my friends who were St. Louis fans listened to games whenever they could, and I often was present when they did. The Cardinals won a lot of games, and their zany announcer “Dizzy” Dean would break into a spirited rendition of “The Wabash Cannonball” when a St. Louis victory seemed assured.

The usually irrepressible Dean played it straight when Musial grabbed a bat in a crucial situation. He simply announced with a tinge of awe in his voice, “And Stan the Man is coming to the plate.” As I recall, Dean never offered up any funny stories involving Musial as he frequently did for other players.

Other baseball experts seemed to talk about Musial with a measure of respect that went a bit beyond what might usually be accorded a man with superior athletic ability. I didn't understand why, although I heard parts of those Cardinal game broadcasts and read the Chicago Tribune regularly for sports news. Now, reading a sampling of the many tributes issued after Musial’s death, I think I get it.

Unlike today’s “heroes,” some of whom have more penalties for bad behavior than awards for achievement, Musial played for 22 years without so much as berating an umpire. In all that time, he never was ejected from a game.  When The Man retired, the commissioner of baseball referred to him as “baseball’s perfect warrior, baseball’s perfect knight.”

Unlike some of today’s athletes who move in and out of “meaningful relationships” with the ease of Hollywood stars, Musial married his high school sweetheart and stayed with her for 71 years.

Unlike today’s prima donnas who refuse to give a helping hand to younger players, Musial was known to go to great lengths to make rookies feel comfortable in St. Louis. When it was unpopular to do so, he welcomed the first black player, Jackie Robinson, to the major leagues and pleaded with fellow white players to accept other blacks.

Musial’s good will apparently was returned. Willie Mays, a black super-star, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “I never heard anybody say a bad word about him.”

Unlike today’s jocks who seem intent on setting world records for being arrested after drunken brawls outside night clubs, Musial was a model of decorum off the field as well as on. Asked about keys to success, he advised walking a mile every day for exercise and getting eight hours of sleep every night.

Another super-star during Musial’s career, Ted Williams, refused to tip his cap to fans after hitting home runs, and had a reputation for other self-centered and arrogant behavior. Musial signed autographs for everyone, everywhere. When demands on his time became excessive in later years, he carried a supply of presigned baseball cards so he could give one to any admirer who approached him.

After Musial retired from baseball, the son of a steelworker built a business empire. That might have been enough activity for many, but The Man found time to chair the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for three years. He also contributed time and money to many causes, including the USO, the Senior Olympics, and the Boy Scouts.

Despite his successes, people who knew The Man well said he had a sort of “down home” manner about him. He carried a harmonica, and often played “The Wabash Cannonball,” perhaps inspired by the antics of Dizzy Dean. Musial also did harmonica performances of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at a number of baseball ceremonies, including opening day events in St. Louis, after his playing career had ended.

Musial was named to the league All-Star Team during every one of his 22 years as a player. If there is an All-Star team for role models, he should be on it as the Most Valuable Player.

R.I.P. Stan the Man Musial. If I ever grow up I want to be like you.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Loonies Emerge

Predictably, the lunatic fringe began to be heard from only moments after President Obama announced proposals for tighter gun controls that also reaffirm the constitutional right of responsible individuals to own firearms.  The loony who got the most media attention was a sheriff.

Why was Sheriff Tim Mueller of Linn County, Oregon, so newsworthy?  Well, for one thing sheriffs usually are referred to as “law enforcement officers.” When Mueller sent a letter to Vice-president Joe Biden saying he would not enforce laws or executive orders improving gun control if he deemed them unconstitutional, the sheriff moved from the realm of enforcing laws to deciding their merits. That would make him a novelty in modern America—a cop who also is the judge.

Mueller says in his letter he has served as a law enforcer for 31 years, so it seems fair to assume he is an adult. He should know that convincing voters in Linn County to elect him sheriff did not confer the power to rule on the constitutionality of federal laws or executive actions. The Supreme Court has ruled several times that the federal government has all the authority it needs to establish reasonable gun controls. And what the president has proposed is reasonable.

It is not surprising that the National Rifle Association refused to participate in developing the current proposals. Even though many polls show a large number of NRA members support reasonable gun controls, its leadership prefers to pander to the fringe with scare tactics about the government confiscating all guns or “give an inch and they’ll take a mile” kinds of admonitions.

What is surprising is that thousands of people, at least some of whom probably are adults, have expressed support for Mueller. Perhaps we should adopt some mental health standards for individuals allowed to comment on important questions. Such action might be a nice complement to Mr. Obama’s proposals, which include strengthening programs that could help people with mental problems and also improve screening so those with serious mental health issues would be less likely to acquire firearms.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely we will get to work any time soon on devising controls that would prevent mental midgets like Mueller from wearing badges while defying the legal system that true American patriots understand and support.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Are We Being Lumped?

Posts and comments on a blog hosted by Ronni Bennett ( frequently bemoan thoughtless or derogatory attitudes and labels related to people in my age group. Ms. Bennett goes to war with those who would call us geezers, old folks, or seniors, or ignore us altogether. I agree that “elders” is a nicer term, and we do not deserve to be depicted as useless fools by those less experienced in the ways of the world.

Obviously, I don’t mind being called a “geezer.” And I think “fully mature adult” might be even more positive than “elder,” although that whimsical label suffers from a lack of brevity. Despite those minor differences, I agree with Ms. Bennett that we older people don’t get all the respect in the public arena that we deserve.

One of those annoying pop-ups perhaps is (or is not) an example. An unwanted e-ad lately has been interrupting my screen-viewing pleasure by saying people can make connections with single members of the opposite sex in the small town nearest my home. They can choose from four age categories: 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, and 50+.

“Fifty+” covers a lot of territory. Is there an insinuation that we elders all morph into the same social and sexual condition after 50?  Is there an assumption that single elders have little interest in new contacts with available members of the opposite sex? Or am I an old geezer over-reacting?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Dramatic Change

You can read a lot of dull statistics or listen to learned professors drone on about climate change, or you can literally have your eyes opened by a well-crafted movie that brings you face-to-face with dramatic changes taking place in our world.

The film is “Chasing Ice.” It currently is being shown at select theaters in the U.S., UK, and Canada.  You can find a list of theaters by going to Local blog readers can see “Chasing Ice” at 4:25 p.m. showings today through Thursday at the M-89 Theaters located between Plainwell and Otsego.

“Chasing Ice” is a documentary by acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog who, in the spring of 2005, headed to the Arctic “on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate.”

According to the film's website, “Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change.  But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.”

If you want your eyes opened wide about climate change, take a few minutes to find a showing near you. You won’t be disappointed.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Lighting the Way

Whether you think global warming is fact (97 percent of climate scientists world-wide do) or fantasy (a handful of scientists are skeptics) you most likely believe that air pollution is not a good thing.

As one who suffers from COPD (a fancy abbreviation that means my lungs don’t work all that well), I fully endorse any measures that reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The purer the air, the better I live. And that applies to every human on this planet.

The biggest amounts of carbon dioxide emissions come from our cherished gasoline-burning vehicles and from power plants burning coal that generate most of the electricity used in the U.S. Individuals can do things both large and small in both areas to help our lives be healthier. On the small side, one action looks like a winner right now.

LEDS--bright idea for 2013
After spending hours in the annual hassle trying to get strings of outdoor holiday lights working, beautiful wife Sandy took the initiative and replaced the whole nonfunctional tangle with new strings of LED lights.

LED lights are pricey. Our new complement cost slightly more than $100, and we have a fairly modest outdoor display. However, nary a bulb has burned out during the three weeks they’ve been twinkling outside in generally inhospitable Michigan weather. If claims prove true, few or none will burn out for many years. I fully expect to burn out before the lights do.

The really good news about replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is that LEDs use fully 80 percent less electricity. Most electricity in our state comes from coal-burning power plants.

So although my holiday pocketbook felt a bit light after the lighting switch, in the long run we’ll recoup the cost and can feel good about doing a small bit for the environment.

You can do better. Right now stores such as K-Mart are selling LED holiday lighting at huge discounts—as much as 50 percent. In many places, compact fluorescent bulbs also are on sale. They are not as energy efficient at LEDs, but they cost less and are as good or better for some purposes than incandescents.

Why not cash that check Uncle Moneybags sent for Christmas and get some new lighting to stash away until the holidays roll around again? You would be making a smart investment. The best time is now. It’s a positive way to start 2013.