Friday, December 30, 2005

Hot Stove memories

While doing some research for a baseball article, I looked up the first Major League game I attended. It was 41 years ago, when I was going on 10 and living in the Chicago suburbs. My parents loaded my two brothers and me into the car and started driving. They kept the destination secret until we got within sight of Wrigley Field. I didn’t remember too many details of the game – except for one exciting play. However, thanks to my recollection of that play and the amazing resources of RETROSHEET, today I looked up the details. It was Friday, June 12, 1964. The Cubs hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates. That game, on a sun-drenched Friday afternoon, attracted only 7,525 spectators – only a fraction of what the Cubs are attracting these days. No fewer than five future Hall of Famers played: For Pittsburgh, Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski. For the Cubs, Lou Brock, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks. (Also playing was someone who I hope will enter the Hall of Fame soon – Ron Santo.) Anyway, the memorable play occurred in the sixth inning. The Cubs had broken a 0-0 tie with two runs, and their rally continued. With two outs, the Pirates walked Banks intentionally to load the bases and bring the light-hitting Joey Amalfitano to the plate. Amalfitano proceed to line an Elroy Face pitch into the bleachers for a grand slam home run. I was one excited 9 year old! (Fortunately, it was the only grand slam of Amalfitano's nine-homer career, so a few clicks on the Retrosheet site immediately brought the game details to my computer screen.) The Cubs cruised from there for a 7-1 victory, despite getting only four hits all afternoon. Do you remember your first big league baseball game? Share your recollections here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Is this March?

After cautiously padding along on icy sidewalks during my recently holiday-season runs, I enjoyed a great change of pace Tuesday, for two reasons. I was in a rural setting -- no stoplights or motorists rolling past stopsigns and through crosswalks, oblivious to pedestrians -- and the temperature was in the 50s. I was able to forego the sweat pants and run in shorts. The day had a late-March feel to it. I'm sure winter will be "back" soon enough, but a preview of spring gives hope that this will not be an endless winter.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Peace (and quiet)

Christmas 2005 was pretty uneventful. Not like the year when the furnace broke down, and we wore winter jackets and gloves while opening presents and waiting for the repairman (at holiday premium) to arrive. The closest we came to a malfunction today was when, due to a mis-labeling of a gift, Ellen opened a nice package of men's boxer shorts. It was a great day to relax with family, go out for our traditional Christmas run and then gather around the TV to watch the Bears hold off the feisty Packers on the gridiron. A few of us also found time for naps, Sudoku and digging into some long-neglected paperwork. The pace will pick up around here soon enough. For today, it was a chance to enjoy each other's company.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Wide range of opinions

The letters section in the Telegraph Herald, like most newspapers, is one of the best-read parts of the paper. The letters can be controversial -- and so can be the decision whether to print them.

I just finished a phone conversation with a 40-year subscriber who said he might cancel his subscription if I ever print a letter like the one published Thursday. To review, Wayne Bainbridge of Bellevue, Iowa, wrote:

The cartoon in the Dec. 19 Telegraph Herald ("Purple Power") showing the Iraqis voting and holding their purple stained index fingers up for all the world too see was awe-inspiring. The only change I would make would be the middle finger stained with red ink and stuck under a blue state Democratic politician's nose.

My caller (who, by the way, identified himself and was polite) said I should have discarded the letter because of the middle finger reference.

He did not accept my explanation that we print a wide range of opinions in the letters section. Some letters are more eloquent and persuasive than others. However, I would rather defend printing an opinion on an important public issue -- such as Iraq -- than reject a letter simply because it was strongly worded or made reference to a vulgar gesture.

The letters section exists as a forum for opinions -- often forcefully worded, and quite opinionated. Let's be thankful that we live in a country where this type of debate occurs freely.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Father Bill, call home

UPDATE: Father Bill was located in University City, Mo. Unfortunately, Davenport Diocese officials are tight-lipped about details about his address or place of employment, according to an Associated Press Report.

Day in and day out, I deal with the news. We print hundreds -- make that thousands -- of names in the paper. Most of those articles are "good news" items that people ask us to print, such as anniversaries, promotions and announcements. Some are items that provide "publicity" the subject does not welcome or desire.

Overall, very few of those articles involve people I know personally.

Thus, it always catches my attention when I see or hear a story about Father William Wiebler, a former priest from the Davenport diocese who is accused of molesting children in incidents dating to the 1970s and 1980s. Diocesan officials are searching for him after he disappeared from a treatment program and his bakery job in St. Louis.

I knew "Father Bill" when he was our pastor in Ottumwa, Iowa. He was a colorful, controversial and innovative priest who tried to build community. Some liked him; some did not. But even his supporters were puzzled when he left abruptly, and apparently without the bishop's permission, in 1985-86. I was president of the parish council at the time -- and that made my term all the more challenging. Years later, when the allegations from the Quad Cities surfaced, I realized that I did not know the half of it. I wonder to this day whether there were "signs" I missed at the time.

Anyway, I hope officials locate Father Bill and that he gets the help he needs. I also hope he is held accountable for his actions. He is named in at least four civil suits involving molestation allegations; he was a no-show for a recent hearing on one of the lawsuits.

Aware of many cities' trend toward making most (even all) of their communities off-limits to registered sex offenders, I note that William Wiebler's name does not appear on any offender registry. He has not been convicted of anything, so he is free to live wherever he chooses. These get-tough residency laws would not impact him at all.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Run with the eagles

It had been a week since I had last gone for a run. So, though the temperature was barely above zero this morning, Ann and I kept our appointment with our friend Dennis to run a few miles and discuss our solutions to the world's problems. Dennis made an excellent choice for a site: The paved trail that winds near Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino and Riverview Park. The trail been snowplowed (I believe the thanks go to the city of Dubuque) and relatively ice-free -- a major safety consideration this time of year. Best of all, the route provided some "up close and personal" views of dozens of bald eagles. For some reason, the eagles today stayed in nearby perches, seemingly undisturbed by our presence. On other occasions, the eagles have not stayed so close. I'd love to say that the bright sunshine and calm winds made me forget about the temperature -- but that was not exactly the case. It was still cold, but I'm glad that I went out to experience the natural beauty of winter in the Dubuque area.
(Photo courtesy of the Telegraph Herald. Dave Kettering photographer)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A blog about glogg

On Dec. 6, I posted a comment about the Telegraph Herald showing on Now, the TH is part of Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day web feature. Why? A year ago, we used the word glogg in two news briefs about refreshments at an art gallery event. Glogg, by the way, is defined as "hot spiced wine and liquor punch served in Scandinavian countries as a Christmas drink." Thanks to ex-Dubuquer David Klavitter , who was closely followed by my daughter Ellen, for calling my attention to the TH's fame in "Word of the Day."

Sudoku seminar?

A highlight of my weekend -- besides enjoying TH reporter Matt Kittle's performance as the narrator in the Grand's production of "A Christmas Story" -- was solving two five-star Sudoku puzzles (Friday and Sunday's). How that happened, I'm not sure. Until now, I have struggled complete three-star puzzles. Perhaps some of those Sudoku tips I reviewed last week lodged in my brain. Or maybe the puzzle was mis-labeled and it was only a two-star.

Anyway, based on reader Ed Babka's suggestion, I am looking into the Telegraph Herald hosting a Sudoku seminar. The paper in Fort Myers, Fla., scheduled such a session -- and was shocked when about 300 readers showed up. Dubuque area Sudoku players: If the TH set up a seminar, would you show up? (And does anyone know anyone qualified to teach such a class?)

Ed also suggested that we print the Sudoku answers the same day the puzzle appears. Good idea or not? Too much temptation to peek?

Meanwhile, feeling confident, on Sunday evening I pulled out Saturday's TH and started working that edition's five-star puzzle. After 45 minutes or so, I realized that I had made an error. Checking the solution, I saw that the mistake was one of the first "answers" I had entered.

Added to my Christmas list: A large eraser.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A shocking development!

If you read my post of Saturday, you know that today was the day I intended to go in and quit my job because I had received notification that I had won ONE MILLION DOLLARS in Netherlands lottery that I hadn't even entered. Well, I didn't quit. Seems that this lottery operation was not exactly all it was advertised to be. Before I can get my prize, I need to give the sponsors just a few bits of personal information (bank and credit card account numbers). No big deal, right? But here's the bad part: They deduct a processing fee from my prize money. You'd think that an outfit giving away a million bucks could afford to absorb those costs! Anyway, I thought I'd better hang onto my job -- at least long enough to find out how much I will clear.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We've adopted!

If you looked at Page 9 of your latest edition of the Wisconsin House Rabbit News, you mght have seen our news: We've adopted. Her name is Maddie, a litter-box-trained house rabbit. We adopted her at the urging of our daughter and son-in-law, who have been "parents" of Teaser for more than three years. Maddie doesn't do tricks -- unless you count leaping up into the living room chair in which we're sitting -- but she doesn't bark or require a "walk," either. The Wisconsin House Rabbit Society, based in Madison, works hard to adopt out rabbits -- but also screens its prospective owners. (Somehow, we got through -- thanks to Kate's referral, I imagine.) For more information about the program, visit the web site. Anyway, when things get really slow at NewsConference, I might post an update on Life with Maddie.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Advance notice of my resignation

I might as well announce it here and now. On Monday, I’m going into the office to quit my job. I don’t need a paycheck anymore. That’s because I received an e-mail from EINDHOVEN LOTTO in The Netherlands informing me that “a fortnight ago” my lucky number (778) was drawn and I have been “approved for payment” of ONE MILLION DOLLARS. At first, I was suspicious. After all, I buy a lottery ticket about annually -- and that's in Iowa, not The Netherlands. However, apparently anticipating my question, the good folks at the lottery explained: “All participants were selected through a random computer ballot system drawn from 91,000 names of e-mail users around the world.” OK, but why? Turns out that by giving away millions of dollars, the sponsors believe they will “promote the use of internet thereby increasing the market share of computer soft wears.” Brilliant! Just when use of the Internet was tapering off, they came up with a way to reverse the trend. Anyway, all I have to do now is send them an e-mail – another way to promote the Internet. I'm sure all the information they will want will be my mailing address, so they can send my money right away. And who says you can’t get something for nothing? Now, my only dilemma is whether I should I give the full two weeks' notice.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Next semester, Computer Virus Design 101?

More than one-third of the corrections in the Telegraph Herald are just to straighten out information that was incorrect from the source. The news release or e-mail notice has an incorrect date or time for an event, or omits some names, or something along that line. You'd think -- at least I'd think -- that they'd have everything letter-perfect when they turn in information about their own organization. But it happens, and when it happens, they are honest mistakes.
Or are they?
Now we learn that a California college is offering a course where students fabricate news releases and attempt other pranks.
Beldner teaches a St. Mary's College class called "Pranks: Culture jamming as social activism." The class sent out a news release announcing a nonexistent bar to The Associated Press and several San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, including the Contra Costa Times. Apparently the students took additional actions to try to perpetuate the hoax. No media outlet published the information as news, but a Times reporter spent several hours checking out the fictional bar.
The Times quoted Beldner as saying he wanted to teach how to bring issues to the public eye using creative methods. His course syllabus defines "culture jamming" as "a resistance movement to the perceived hegemony of popular culture."
"These are serious-minded pranks," he said. "It's not just about people goofing around."
Austin Long-Scott, who teaches journalism ethics at San Francisco State University, points out that journalists already have their work cut out for them separating fact from fiction. Amen to that.
Beldner and, apparently, the college don't necessarily see it that way.
SF State's Long-Scott compared the hoax to a computer virus. That might be a little extreme, but you get the idea.
I wonder what prospective employers will think about a job applicant whose resume or transcript shows "Pranks: Culture jamming as social activism."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Historical perspective

It's human nature (or just American nature?) to magnify events that are more recent and more immediate to our own experiences. CBS News got caught up in that the other night, when a reporter referred to Hurricane Katrina as the "deadliest" hurricane ever. With their critics and media reviews hanging on every word, CBS soon was tagged with getting it wrong. One organization, called the Free Market Project, issued a report pointing out that other hurricanes, many years ago, claimed more lives than did Katrina. In 1900, for example, the Galveston hurricane killed at least 8,000 and is blamed for up to 12,000 deaths. Katrina was monumental and devastating, but it was not the deadliest. Fair enough. CBS got a little carried away with the adjectives and missed the call. This one they can't blame on Dan Rather.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dubious distinction for the TH?

The Telegraph Herald receives mentions in the national media from time to time. The New York Times, USA Today and the TV networks occasionally cite something in or about the TH. That most often occurs during the run-up to the Iowa Caucuses in presidential election years. However, I believe that for the first time we have been cited in the Mideast news agency The occasion was Aljazeera's story, "U.S. media hides evidence of torture." The TH was cited as one of the "few" new organizations that carried a story on the American Civil Liberties Union on prisoner abuse and torture in the Mideast. All we did was publish the story provided by The Associated Press about the report. It ran March 26 on Page 5D. According to Aljazeera, we were one of the "5 percent" to do so. Somehow, I doubt that. (Caution: If you choose to go to, be advised that it does display photos some folks will find disturbing.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Can you dig a little deeper?

Sunday’s Telegraph Herald carried a report on how charities are suffering due to donor “fatigue,” where people are running short of money (or compassion?) for the needy. With all the appeals the past year and a half — hurricanes, tsunami, hurricanes, earthquakes — even those agencies short of donations are understanding. However, can we take another look — into our pocketbooks and our hearts — to help those who help the needy?
Of course, close to our hearts is the Santa’s Helper program, which essentially “cuts out the middleman” to help people who live right here in Dubuque and the tri-state area. Whether it’s Santa’s Helper or some other worthwhile program, we hope you will consider digging a little deeper this holiday season.

Friday, December 02, 2005

They needed a study for THAT?

James Elfers, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research, called our attention to the December issue of Wired magazine. He writes: "Page 56 includes has an interesting summation of a study from the journal Academic Emergency Medicine. In short, there was a significant DECREASE in attendance at emergency rooms and psychiatric clinics for men in New York City during the 2000 World Series. (In case you don't remember or don't care, that World Series was an all-New York affair: Yankees vs. Mets.) "However, there was a significant INCREASE in the number of emergency room and psychiatric clinic visits by women during the same time. Apparently the World Series is healthy for guys but unhealthy for women." The researchers saw similar patterns during other major sporting events. If you can understand all the statistical analysis -- I followed some of it -- check out the abstract of the article. Guys, are you surprised by that?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thanks for the column!

A free-lancer who writes a column for the Telegraph Herald recently told me about another writer's column in a regional daily paper. Half of that column quoted (with attribution, but not permission) the TH article. Is it any wonder why my local correspondent feels violated?

I'm reminded of the old tale of the small-town editorial writer, strapped for subject matter, who clipped out a NY Times editorial and sent it to his composing room for typesetting. (This was in the Linotype days.) Before he gave it to the typesetter, however, he made one change. He jotted at the top of the copy, "What does the NY Times mean by this?!"

In the early days of newspapers, reprinting news clipped from other papers was a common and cooperative practice. (That's why they referred to them as "exchange papers." They exchanged subscriptions and exchanged news.) In a way, the practice continues today -- just without permission: You hear it virtually every morning on radio newscasts in Dubuque. But that's another blog.

Anyway, the columnist and I are discussing appropriate response to the liberal use of the column that originally appeared in the TH. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Santa's Helper under way

The Telegraph Herald this week is marking a milestone of sorts. But we wish it weren’t necessary.

It would not be necessary if every child were sure to have a gift under the tree or a decent coat or gloves to wear to school.

It would not be necessary if all families had a roof over their heads.

It would not be necessary if folks had the money to cover their heating bills this winter.

Indeed, if there were no needy people in the community, there would be no need for the Santa’s Helper program. This is the 20th holiday season for Santa’s Helper, which is presented by the TH in cooperation with nine tri-state social service agencies.

Our program is simple: The TH shares the real-life stories of some our neighbors who could use a little help, details what that help might involve – payment of a utility bill, or food, or clothing, for example – and encourages you to contact the sponsoring agency, which has verified the needs as genuine.

Santa’s Helper is not intended to compete with the several other charitable agencies and programs that also operate in the area. Unlike most other programs, however, Santa’s Helper does not necessarily involve direct financial donations. In most cases, assistance may come in the form of merchandise, clothing or food – or gift certificates earmarked for those items. Donors might choose to cover one month’s utility bill for a family, or to help with a month’s bill for prescription medication. It is entirely up to the donor and the sponsoring agencies.

At the TH, reporter Erik Hogstrom does double-duty. Not only does he serve as our liaison with the Santa’s Helper agencies, he also takes the lead in coordinating the newsroom’s “sponsorship” of a Santa’s Helper family.

Erik says that delivering those gifts, on behalf of his newsroom colleagues, is a personal highlight of his year. If your family or office is looking for a new twist on the traditional gift exchange, here is a suggestion: Instead of trading gifts among yourselves, consider changing things up and putting those gifts toward a local family that could use a boost this time of year.

Santa’s Helper won’t eliminate poverty in our time. There will always be needs. But it is a small step toward bringing some smiles to the faces of children – and their parents – this holiday season.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Last call for First Citizen nominations

For just a few more days, the Telegraph Herald is accepting nominations for its annual First Citizen Award. Deadline to submit a nomination is 5 p.m. Thursday. This award goes to a Dubuque or tri-state resident who, generally outside the duties of his or her regular occupation, has helped make this community a better place in which to work and live. Working from nominations received from TH readers, newspaper executives select the award recipient. No petition drives are necessary. Some years, the recipient has been selected based on one, persuasive nominaton form. Each year, as I receive and read the nominations, I am struck by just how many great people there are in our community. There are many deserving citizens. The next First Citizen will be introduced on the front page of the TH on New Year's Day.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

You say it's your birthday ...

Not only did Thanksgiving weekend afford the Cooper family (minus future daughter-in-law Josie, who had job obligations) the opportunity to get together to observe the holiday, it also was an occasion to celebrate Ellen's 21st birthday. Adults occasionally share opinions on what, from a parenting standpoint, is the "best age" for kids. Each stage of childhood is important, fun and challenging, but there is something to be said for young adulthood. Parents get to observe (and enjoy?) how their kids "turn out." So far so good. As the third of our four children reaches 21, we indeed have another reason to give thanks.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Frozen turkeys?

A Cooper Family tradition (at least since 1997) is to start each Thanksgiving with the Turkey Trot at Wahlert High School. Parents, children, in-laws and even a grandparent have entered the 2.5- or 7.5-mile events. (One Thanksgiving, my father-in-law -- in his late 60s and a several years removed from heart bypass surgery -- ran and walked the 2.5-mile course. He survived.) On Thursday, the family recorded a couple of second places, a couple of thirds and a couple out of the money. (My son-in-law would have improved on his third place had there be a course marshal present at a criticial intersection; he missed the turn and wound up running an extra half-mile or mile.) Anyway, what will make Turkey Trot 2005 memorable for us was the weather. The temperature was 17, and a strong and steady wind put wind chills into the below-zero range. The icy crosswind, which fought us all but a one mile of the 7.5-mile course, cut right through us. About the only positive aspects were that it was sunny and there was no preciptation during the race. I've run hundreds of races over the years now, and I don't recall competing in conditions as brutal as those of yesterday. (At the other extreme, there was the Moonlight Chase near the Quad Cities in July 2001, when at 9 p.m. the temperature lingered in the 90s.) If you are a runner, what were the toughest conditions in whch you competed? Photo (c) 2005 Telegraph Herald. Posted with permission.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Tuesday's front page of the Telegraph Herald showed people camped outside Dubuque's Best Best store -- prepared to wait hours and hours -- just for the opportunity to buy the newest version of Microsoft's video gaming system Xbox. I'm confident that it was happening outside stores all across the U.S. It reminded me of what I observed in Russia 15 years ago. Only, then and there, the people lining up outside the stores were hoping to buy bread. And we wonder why people in certain parts of the world resent Americans? (Photo (c) Telegraph Herald, 2005. Republication or posting without permission prohibited.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Maria House

My weekend included attending "Attitude of Gratitude," the annual dinner and auction to benefit Maria House, Dubuque's homeless shelter for women and their children, operated by Opening Doors, which was formed six years ago by a half-dozen congregations of women religious. Between the dinner and live auction, the program included testimonials from two Maria House residents and a third woman's story read by Executive Director Michelle Brown. The courage demonstrated by the two who stood before hundreds of people to tell their stories was remarkable. If anyone had any doubts about the need for such a facility in Dubuque, I wish they could have heard those testimonials. So too for anyone who doubts that drug abuse, alcoholism and physical abuse exist in our community. There are so many women in need of its services that Maria House has a waiting list. All this makes me wonder how the community got along before Maria House. (Not well, most likely.)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Interview tips

On Friday, I was a guest at Amanda Troy's journalism class at Dubuque Senior High. The topic was interviewing. I enjoy interviewing. (That's one reason why I started doing the Newsmakers series in 2002.) It beats the heck out of budgeting. The best question I fielded from the class was the last one of the morning. A young man in the back row: "What would you be doing if you weren't an editor?" On a bad day at the office, I think about that. (Some people wish I thought about it more!) Left-handed reliever for the Chicago Cubs? Not likely. Something still connected to media and communications? Probably. Newspapering has been my career choice since I was 16 years old, so I haven't spent much time thinking about alternatives. But perhaps I should see if I can still throw a curveball.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Envision this

The Envision program -- or Envis10n, if you follow the logo -- is in the home stretch. This community visioning process, which started in July, has as its goal to identify (based on citizen suggestions) 10 "great ideas" for the future of the Dubuque area. On Thursday, I was among the 300-some volunteers who in various sessions voted on which of the 100 top ideas (initially, there were more than 2,000) should be kept among the final 30 suggestions. We convened in Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino's meeting room, where Vernon Research Group conducted a series of meetings. Each participant had a hand-held device -- like an oversized TV remote -- to record his or her choices. Our 1 p.m. group had 60 participants. The 100 ideas were divided randomly into 20 groups. For each group of five, volunteers got to vote for one idea. To make the process statistically valid, the ideas were reshuffled and we did it again. The ideas ranged from the relatively modest (24-hour child care facility, for example) to the grandiose (monorail service between Dubuque and Chicago or Quad Cities). After the volunteers' 30 favorite ideas are identified early next week, the selection committee will go back and pick the final 10. When the list is release, the Telegraph Herald will report it. Even if none of the 10 ever comes to pass -- not likely, given this city's reputation for getting things done -- I believe that this process has encouraged more of us to keep looking ahead and "thinking big."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sorry, that's not the question

My recent mention of comics, in connection with the upcoming depature of Calvin and Hobbes, has prompted some readers to send me e-mails along the line of, "Yes, we vote for the TH to continue Calvin and Hobbes." I would agree 100% -- IF that were the question. Unfortunately, C&H is running in the TH on a limited-run basis. We have 17 weeks of Calvin "classics." That is the decision of creator Bill Watterson and Universal Press Syndicate. Like it or not -- and I say "not" -- Calvin repeats will end the last day of 2005.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Another Saturday night ...

This will be the last installment of my Nashville "travelogue" (I promise!) The second (and final) night of our weekend in Music City included a stop at B.B. King's club, which Saturday night hosted a Sam Cooke tribute to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame. Among the performers were Bobby Hebb, who in 1966 took "Sunny" to the top of the charts. Also on the card was Billy Swan, whose "I Can Help" reached No. 1 in 1974 ( "It would sure do me good to do you good ..."). However, neither performed his pop hit. The show was all about Sam Cooke (pictured), and they performed only Cooke compositions. Nearly 41 years after his death, he is still celebrated. They had plenty of great songs to perform. What is your favorite Sam Cooke composition?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Neighborhood news

The Telegraph Herald's first editorial priority is to be the leading source of local news and information -- from Dubuque and the tri-state area. We carry state, national and international news, certainly, but our priority is news from your community and your neighborhood. And my neighborhood, apparently. Today's TH carries a front-page photo and story about a huge, old oak tree that blew over late Saturday night or early Sunday. It happened just three doors down the street from our house. However, I confess that I didn't know anything about it until Monday afternoon, when photographer Deana Mitchell showed me her photo from the scene. My explanation: I was out of town all weekend. It was dark when we got home Sunday evening. And on Monday morning, I had no inclination to step out my back door to look around. Good thing the TH is keeping me aware of what is happening in (or at least near) my own back yard. If you see news in your community, your neighborhood or even your back yard, give us a call at 563-588-5671.

Monday, November 14, 2005

All originals, all night long

There is something special about hearing a hit song performed by the composer (rather than the performer on the single). At The Bluebird CafĂ© near Nashville on Friday night, I had the experience of hearing P.F. Sloan, (pictured) one of the great songwriters of the 1960s, perform his protest song, “Eve of Destruction,” which Barry McGuire took to No. 1 on the charts. Sloan also wrote several hits for The Grass Roots and The Turtles. Now 60 years old, Sloan played acoustic guitar and harmonica and gave an emotional vocal rendition of “Eve of Destruction.” Actually, the entire event was a night of original compositions. As it regularly does, The Bluebird brought together four singer-songwriters to perform “in the round.” Joining Sloan were Don Henry, who was part of the Freedom Sings troupe that performed in Dubuque in April 2004; Gary Nicholson; and Russell Smith, of the The Amazing Rhythm Aces (”Third Rate Romance, Low Rent Rendezvous”). A great and memorable evening!

Sunday, November 13, 2005


How often have you found yourself at a bar or coffee shop, hoping to enjoy some live music, only to encounter other patrons whose mission, it seems, is to be heard above the musician(s). They keep talking LOUDER! That frustration made my recent visit to The Bluebird Cafe near Nashvhille all the more enjoyable. For more than 20 years, The Bluebird has hosted country and acoustic musicians, some of them established and most of them hoping to earn their Big Break. It is a small place – it seats only about 75 – and when musicians perform “in the round,” the audience is within an arm’s length. We sat right next to Don Henry, who came to Dubuque in April 2004 with the “Freedom Sings” troupe. (More about the show later.) The Bluebird emphasizes that it exists for the music. The Bluebird's slogan is “Shhhh!” Ownership explains it this way: “As a listening room, quiet is requested at all times during a performance … if you are looking for an evening of conversation, there are more appropriate places in Nashville.” Amen!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"Could you be more specific?"

In my job, I review many resumes, cover letters and employment applications. Some are better than others. I realize that applicants want to hedge their bets, and not close the door to any possibilities, but there is a point where they need to commit to something. I recently saw a resume:
Objective:To find a position within a company in my particular field.
Thanks. That narrows it down. But could you be more specific?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Rubber Soul -- 40 years later

Yes, I remember 1965. It was the year The Beatles released their "Rubber Soul" album. I've listened to Rubber Soul off and on for four decades, so I was intrigued to hear that contemporary artists -- people who weren't yet born in 1965 -- had re-recorded "Rubber Soul" with their own interpretation of the songs. It's called "This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to The Beatles' Rubber Soul." I had never heard of the Cowboy Junkies or any of the three Bens on the disc -- Lee, Harper and Kweller. I'm no music critic, but I will say that this 50-something Beatles fan loved the concept and liked most of the tracks. Some songs were faithful to the original -- which sort of seemed contrary to the idea -- and other tracks were barely recognizable as the cover of a Beatles song. My favorites: Ben Harper's reggae twist to "Michelle," Rhett Miller's "Girl" and "I'm Looking Through You" by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Least favorite: "What Goes On" by Sufjan Stevens, who -- let's face it -- was stuck with the worst song on the album. This CD won't go platinum, but for a Beatles fan interested in a change of pace, it's worth the purchase.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Comics questions (again)

A salesman for comics and other syndicated features called on me yesterday. The date was Nov. 1 -- meaning that in less than two months, the temporary run of "Calvin & Hobbes" repeats will conclude. That means I'll have to make a decision about what comic to start or reinstate starting Jan. 1, 2006. Among newspaper readers, it seems, everyone has an opinion about the comics. The sales rep also presented a list of 75 papers that have dropped "Peanuts," which has not produced a new panel since Charles Schulz died more than five years ago. Because I must give our Sunday comics section printer four weeks' notice of any changes, I have less than a month to make a decision. I wonder if any readers have any opinions or suggestions.

Monday, October 31, 2005

When they're 64?

Sunday night, Paul McCartney rocked Omaha's arena. I was lucky enough to be there, in the 15th row on the main floor. From the opening ("Magical Mystery Tour") to the second encore ("Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" and "The End") three hours later, the former Beatle was on top of his game. (One possible exception was a muffed lyric in "Penny Lane." Nobody minded.) Paul McCartney is 63 years old but exudes the energy of a much younger man. He has been a hit with American audiences for more than 40 years. On the drive east this morning, I asked my nearly 21-year-old daughter, who also attended the show, "What singer or band of your generation do you think you'll be wanting to go see 30 or 40 years from now?" That she could not come up with an answer speaks to a) her sleep-deprived condition at the time, or b) the unparalled popularity and talent of The Beatles (especially McCartney). Anyone have any predictions as to who will be a star attraction in 2035 or 2040?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Disclaimers: Reading the fine print

The other day, a TV ad for a car flashed a half-screen of disclaimer. Even if a viewer taped the commercial and "paused" the screen, the type is still too small to make out.
Why do these corporations even bother? It's probably done upon the advice of the Legal Department or some government regulation. (I'd love to see the CEO of one of these outfits on the witness stand and challenged to read one of his/her disclaimers while it flashed on the TV screen.)
If these companies are doing it because the government says so, perhaps the same government could require that text be a certain size and that announcers must speak at a rate no faster than X words per minute.
In the newspaper industry -- in Iowa, at least -- the publication of "Legal Notices" specifies that the type must be a certain size.
Otherwise, how about just requiring this disclaimer, spoken slowly or in type large enough for human eyes to see: "Buyer, beware!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sox victory? I just couldn't see it

I tried. I tried really hard. But I could not stay awake for the conclusion of World Series Game 3 Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. The White Sox prevailed in 14 innings, 7-5, in the longest World Series contest ever. Somewhere around the 12th inning -- or was it the 13th? -- I moved in an out of consciousness. I remember the TV screen showing the ballpark's clock move to 1 a.m. I was asleep for Chicago's sixth run but awoke momentarily after the White Sox pushed ahead their seventh and final run. When I awoke again -- I have no idea what the time was -- the FOX station was showing an "infomercial." Sure, no one can predict when a baseball game is going to last five hours, but when the TV network pushes back the first pitch to nearly 8 p.m., with all its pre-game drivel, it's a virtual lock that it will be a late night. It could be a close call whether I'll even try to stay up for Game 4 tonight -- or simply fire up the VCR.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Foundation of our community

My Community Interaction opportunity of the day was the annual luncheon of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. The meeting room at the Diamond Jo was teeming with news sources and civic leaders. I observed five of our seven city council members; Mayor Duggan and Pat Cline might have been in attendance, but I didn't see them. I am pleased to note that no more than three council members sat at the same table, thus avoiding a quorom and an icky collision with Open Meetings law. Mayoral candidates Buol and Markham selected separate tables. Anyway, a good time was had by all -- especially the grant recipients and special honorees A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing, Leo McCarthy and Norma Denlinger. The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque is only three years old, but its achievements have been remarkable. Its assets have grown from Zero to $3.8 million. It's yet another Dubuque success story.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Name a star, or be a star?

A local radio station is again carrying national commercials for International Star Registry. It's an Illinois-based outfit that accepts your money and writes into its books a name you have given to a star someplace in the heavens. And all for as little as $54! (Shipping and handling not included.) I'm sure that some people consider this a great gift option for that hard-to-buy-for person. The web site carries a couple of fine-print disclaimers: "International Star Registry star naming is not recognized by the scientific community," and "Your star’s name is reserved in Internatnal Star Registry records only." (The typo is theirs, not mine.) Bottom line: This star-naming bit doesn't mean a thing to anybody but you and the company keeping the record (and your money). What's next? Naming drops in the ocean? Anyway, here is my suggestion: Instead of naming a star, why not BE a star? If you have $54 to spend on a gift and would REALLY like to honor a friend or relative, send the money to the American Red Cross or other legitimate disaster relief agency. Do it in that person's name. Then send that someone a note letting him or her know about it. Your money will do much more good in disaster areas than in the star registry's bank account.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Can you spell 'plagiarism'?

More than ever, people have access to the Internet and e-mail. That, plus computers' "copy and paste" function, has made it easier than ever for people to plagiarize letters to the editor. The "author" goes to a special-interest web site or blog, copies and paste text with which they agree, slap on their own names, and send it into the local paper. It is some comfort to know that the same technology that makes it possible for authors to cheat makes it easier for us to catch cheaters. We intercepted two such letters this past week, and I let the "authors" know about it. One author replied indignantly and demanded to know why I would make such an accusation. I responded with the link showing the exact letter had appeared in another newspaper five days before I received "his" letter. For some reason, I didn't hear back from him. The other author claimed to not know that it was against the rules to take someone else's work and put his own name on it. However, he was apologetic -- especially when I provided a link showing that, not only was his letter plagiarized, it was inaccurate. I wonder if these guys got through school doing the same thing.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

How I won in the lottery

Yes, I was a winner in the Powerball lottery on Wednesday. The $340 million jackpot went to someone else, but what would I have done with $340 million anyway? I threw in with a couple of dozen other folks in the newsroom and, sure enough, we had a partial winner. My take comes to 26 cents. And that's before taxes.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Go Sox?

A younger man who, like me, is a Chicago Cubs fan, stopped me with a question the other evening. He was not born when the Cubs collapsed in 1969, and he was only in diapers in 1984 when the Cubs lost three straight to San Diego to kick away the National League pennant. Thus, 2003 is his only severely negative experience. He asked: "Is it OK for a Cubs fan to root for the White Sox?" Now that the Sox are the American League Champions, the question takes on greater importance. Does one betray his or her North Side allegiance by hoping the South Siders beat the Astros or Cardinals in the 2005 World Series? It seems to me that Sox fans have more animosity toward the Cubs than vice versa. It probably has to do with the fact -- borne out of attendance figures, paraphernalia sales, etc. -- that the Sox always trail the Cubs in popularity. Anyway, I don't think I am a turncoat, but I do hope that the White Sox go all the way. Then, maybe next year, 100 years after their one and only "Subway Series," the Cubs and White Sox will stage a renewal in the World Series -- and the Cubs will prevail. Until then, Go Sox!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

An hour on the run

It's mid-October, and the leaves are turning color in the Dubuque area. The best fall colors are yet to come, most likely, but there could be no improvement upon Saturday's weather if you were in the mood for a long run. A cool, clear, calm morning provided perfect conditions and Dubuque County's Heritage Trail ( provided a picturesque setting. I managed eight miles along the converted railroad right-of-way -- four miles from Heritage Pond to Durango and four miles back in a steady 63 minutes. That's a long run for me -- and my back is reminding me of that -- but it goes quickly. There won't be many weekend mornings like this before the snow flies.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Biographical subject: Red Faber

Red Faber pitched for the Chicago White Sox for 20 years (1914-33) and earned a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A career highlight was winning a record three World Series games in 1917 -- the last time the White Sox won it all. Faber was born in Cascade, Iowa, and lived in Cascade and Dubuque, Iowa. For the past three years, in my "spare time," I've been writing the first full biography of Faber; the project is under contract with McFarland Publishers of Jefferson, N.C., one of the leading publishers of baseball titles. (Photo courtesy Tri-County Historical Society, Cascade, Iowa.)

Let the interviews begin

Two opponents for Dubuque City Council -- at-large candidates Dan Nicholson and Ric Jones -- stopped in for a conversation with the TH Editorial Board this afternoon. (There were separate meetings -- not a debate.) I've participated in these interviews -- for offices ranging from school board to the White House -- for nearly a quarter-century now. There are always candidates some seeking their 15 minutes of fame, and the voters usually dispatch them decisively. Yet I continue to be impressed by -- and thankful for -- the men and women who offer themselves for public service. That's especially the case with school board (no pay) and city council (little pay) service in Dubuque. It takes a special person to carry out the responsibilities -- including the public scrutiny and criticism. Think it's easy being an elected official? Try running for office sometime.