Monday, August 28, 2006

Honest, Abe's museum worth a look

On our way back to Dubuque on Sunday, Madame X and I stopped in Springfield, Ill., to check out the new (April 2005) Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

We're Illinois natives, and while I am no expert on Lincoln, I have read a few biographies and several other articles about our 16th president. He is a fascinating and tragic figure in U.S. history -- someone who would be virtually unelectable in today's era of television-driven campaigns.

The museum is in downtown Springfield -- and it's easy to find by simply following the road signs from I-55. There is a dollar-an-hour parking ramp a half-block from the museum entrance.

We took in both of the multimedia programs -- the high-tech Holavision show "Ghosts of the Library" as well as "Lincoln's Eyes" -- looked at the Gettysburg Address manuscript, dawdled through the First Ladies' dress exhibit and generally took in all there was to see.

And if people think the editorial cartoonists today are tough on George W. Bush, they should see the display of the vicious anti-Lincoln cartoons published by Confederate-state newspapers and journals.

We stayed three hours, and that was comfortable. We easily could have stayed longer, and read more of the descriptions at displays. But a visitor with only two hours would not feel terribly shortchanged.

I would list only two "negatives" -- and one is probably unavoidable. It was difficult -- nearly impossible -- for visitors to read most of the rare documents on display because the rooms were so dark, apparently to prevent damaging them through exposure to the light. The other issue, however, was avoidable: The thermostat was set too darn low! Brrrrr! The next time we visit, we'll take a jacket or sweatshirt -- yes, even in August.

This visitor's evaluation: The Lincoln Museum is worth the price of admission ($7.50, by the way).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thousand miles of music

The past three days, I drove more than 1,000 miles: Dubuque to Des Moines and back on Friday for some newspaper-related meetings (400 miles) and Dubuque to St. Louis and back Saturday-Sunday (600 miles). We delivered our youngest child for another year of college, caught up with some friends and relatives and visited the new Lincoln museum (Springfield, Ill.).

All this driving came a couple weeks after completing our driving trip to Colorado -- which added more than 2,000 miles on the odometer.

Anyway, with more than 3,000 miles behind the wheel in August, I carefully packed my CD case. Some were old favorites (lots of Beatles), but most were "greatest hits" and compilations.

I also packed several CDs that, for whatever reason, I hadn't played in a while.
At the top of that list was the Jason White's "Tonight's Top Story." White is a singer-songwriter working out of Nashville who was part of the Freedom Sings troupe that played Dubuque in the Spring of 2004. (White wrote "Red Rag Top," which Tim McGraw recorded four years ago.)

Other CDs that received play time in the Cooper van this month were various "greatest hits" compilations, including those by ZZ Top, The Guess Who, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Creedence Clearwater Revival.

In the Jazz genre, I had CDs by Tierney Sutton (who played Dubuque's Winter Jazz Fest earlier this year), Dave Brubeck Quartet, Eddie Daniels and a duo effort by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

A forgotten gem was the two-disc set of The Alligator Records 25th Anniversary Collection.

Then, there were other CDs that I packed but never played this trip. Those will be up first when I am on the road between Dubuque and Des Moines for a couple of trips in September.

Audience participation time: What CDs have helped you pass the miles this summer?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Prescott party

On Tuesday morning, I watched the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Prescott School.

I emphasize that I watched, because I heard precious little of it. Organizers had no public address system, and virtually every word was drowned out by the traffic on White Street. Veteran school board member Donna Bauerly engaged in a hip-hip-hooray exercise of some sort, but, as someone standing in the back of the assemblage, I can only speculate as to whom the hips and hoorays were intended. In any case I'm sure they were most deserving.)

In any case, the best part of the morning was the opportunity to roam through the new facility. As a former volunteer -- I helped out in Bev Sheldon's classroom an hour or so a week for seven or eight years -- I was familiar with the old Prescott School. (Bev, who retired a half-dozen years ago, attended today's ceremony.) And the old Prescott, try as the staff did to make it a pleasant and effective place for learning, fell embarrassingly short of the mark.

All that has changed. The new facility looks great, and I can't help but believe that it will help students become better learners.

The open house for Prescott is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 24. I you don't have the opportunity to go inside the school before that, plan to attend. After all, this public school came from the public's tax dollars.

Monday, August 21, 2006

‘Fauxtography’ another ethical crisis

Media credibility suffered yet another direct hit this month when Reuters, the London-based global news agency, distributed from war-torn Lebanon two photos that the free-lance photographer had altered.

In one image, an Israeli F-16 firing off one missile was changed to show three flares. In the other, the photographer added and darkened the smoke apparently enveloping a Lebanese city, ostensibly the result of an Israeli airstrike.

Suddenly, these unethical images have a name: Fauxtography.

These faux, or false, photographs are relatively easy to produce. Adobe’s Photoshop software allows users to manipulate digital images on the computer screen. Users may copy (clone) selected elements of an image. Or delete elements appearing in a photo. Or reposition elements.

Credit for being the first person to notice the faux photos goes not to a journalist or government official or military officer. Half a world away, artist and businessman Mike Thorson, of Janesville, Wis., saw the images while scanning Internet news sites. Something didn’t look right to Thorson, who is familiar with Photoshop, and he contacted Charles Johnson, whose blog is named Little Green Footballs.

As questions about the images’ authenticity hit the Web, Reuters investigated. The agency later acknowledged that Adnan Hajj, a free-lance photographer familiar to Western news organizations, had doctored the photos. It issued a "kill" order on use of the images.

Most magazines and newspapers, including the Telegraph Herald, use Photoshop. It is the industry standard – so much so that the product name is used as a verb (“Let’s Photoshop that background”). Like those other publications, we use Photoshop for cropping, toning, color balancing and removing minor imperfections such as the electronic “dust” from the camera’s data card.

Not too many years ago, back in the “wet darkroom” days, photographers and retouch artists would dodge (lighten), burn (darken) and airbrush away imperfections in a photo. [Note: Earlier in the day, and in the published column, I mistakenly transposed the descriptions of dodge and burn. Ugh! Sorry.]

Today, the professional standard for news photos is that technology may be used for these techniques – but the content integrity of the photo must be retained.

There have been many breaches. Nearly a quarter-century ago, National Geographic “moved” Egyptian pyramids to get them in better alignment for a cover image. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch removed a Coke can from a tabletop in a conference room setting. Newsweek magazine straightened the teeth of Bobbi McCaughey, the Iowan who gave birth to sextuplets in 1997.

The TH had its own incident. Ten or 15 years ago, in the first months of electronic editing, a young photographer shot a hockey game and, during electronic editing, “moved” the puck a couple of inches beside the goalie. The intention was to make the puck more visible (as opposed to trying to show the puck had or had not crossed the all-important goal line). Nonetheless, that action resulted in a reprimand and stepped-up training and internal communication about what is and is not permitted during editing.

Cosmetics is not behind those doctored photos from Lebanon. It is politics. And business: The more dramatic the “news” photo, the more likely a free-lancer will be able to sell it to a news agency.

The manipulation of news images using software is a serious matter. However, a bigger threat to media credibility might be manipulation of news scenes. Accounts from the Mideast tell of photographers and people on site (bombing survivors and rescue workers, for example) staging scenes or incidents. That can be tougher to ferret out than funny business with software. Is it coincidence that Hajj’s name is emerging in this discussion, too?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dubuque ... And (not) All That Rain

The incredible string of good luck for organizers of "Dubuque ... And All That Jazz" continues. Over the 15 summers of monthly events -- right around 60 dates -- precious few have been adversely affected by the weather. (The worst was the cancellation due to the Hail Storm of August 1994.) Nearly every time, the weather cooperates for "Jazz."

That was the case yesterday, when it rained virtually all day. At our 4 o'clock Page One meeting, I even suggested that the headline for our photo, to be taken within an hour or two, might have to read "Dubuque ... And All That Rain."

Wrong again.

The rain stopped and the show went on under only cloudy skies. Thousands of people converged on the Town Clock. The performer was C.J. Chenier, my personal favorite among the "Jazz " regulars. (Very few of the acts actually play jazz -- Chenier's specialty is zydeco -- but that's another story.)

Some of these "Jazz" evenings turn into such social events that I rarely get time (or take time) to watch and listen to the bands. I contend that organizers could just play recorded music down there and experience only a marginal drop in attendance. Most people seem to go down to talk with friends and acquaintances, fairly oblivious to what is occurring on stage.

Anyway, Chenier was in good form Friday night, though I didn't hear him perform my favorite, "Man Smart, Woman Smarter." Perhaps he did play that one -- and I was visiting with folks farther up Main Street.

Next "Jazz" is right around the corner: Friday, Sept. 1.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Music from under the Town Clock

I don't usually buy my music from a barber shop, but it happened on Wednesday.

Fred's Barber Shop on Main Street (just north of Ninth Street) had a stack of the new CD celebrating the 15th anniversary of "Dubuque ... And All That Jazz," the special summertime music event at the Town Clock. After my shearing, I bought a copy.

The CD features a dozen original songs performed by seven acts that have performed at the monthly (June-September) "Jazz" events in Dubuque, including tomorrow evening's headliner, zydeco star C.J. Chenier.

The CD, a fundraiser for event sponsor Main Street Limited, is sponsored by American Trust and Savings Bank. There are sound clips of the CD available.

For 10 bucks, you can't go wrong with the "Jazz" CD.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

How I Spent My Summer Vacation -- Chapter 4

Granted, it was no Pike’s Peak Marathon, but the Boom Days 5K in Leadville, Colo., provided plenty of challenge for my wife and me.

Leadville, which each August celebrates its history as a former mining “boom town,” boasts that it is the highest city in North America. At 10,152 feet above sea level, Leadville is nearly a mile above the Mile High City, Denver. Yes, in Leadville, the air is thin and the sun is intense.

After having five days to acclimate to the altitude during our camping vacation (a minimal period), we entered the Boom Days 5K on the sunny Saturday morning of August 5. After being assured by organizers that the course was “relatively flat,” we paid our $15 each and received a Boom Days 5K key ring (I was hoping for a high-altitude T-shirt, but I got over it).

This was a small, low-key event – 40-50 runners and walkers – starting on Leadville’s main drag. The last instruction from the starter (who did his duty by whistling) was, “Remember, take it easy. We are at over 10,000 feet!”

The course was essentially out and back, using streets on the edge of town in the first half before cutting over to the Mineral Belt, an asphalt trail on a former railroad right-of-way. The scenery was beautiful. Runners could easily glance over to Mount Elbert, the tallest peak of the Colorado Rockies (14,433 feet), and neighboring “Fourteeners.” And the first half of the race, the course was mostly downhill or flat. I felt pretty good, despite the altitude.

However, then there was the matter of getting back.

With the exception of the last 300 meters, the last half of the race was ALL uphill. Not up the side of a mountain, mind you, but just a steady rise, following the railroad grade.

I walked. For the first time ever – at least since freshman cross country nearly 40 years ago – I walked. Three times, I walked. In a 5K, no less! My wife walked, too -- coincidentally, also three times. We just had to let our heart rates go back down before again running. Ironically, neither of us gave up a place to the field – only pride and finishing time were bruised.

Despite running a full FOUR MINUTES slower for 5K than we did three months earlier in the Heritage Trail Run on a flat course in low-altitude Iowa, my wife (pictured) won her age group. I was second in my group and eighth overall. We survived and, after we recovered, were glad we entered.

If you happen to find yourself in Leadville the first Saturday of August, go ahead and run the Boom Days 5K. But be sure to allow yourself several days to acclimate to the conditions. Remember: High altitude means low expectations.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Stumping in Dubuque

Though I was still officially "on vacation" Friday, I came to the office for an Editorial Board interview with U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat who is seeking the presidency.

The Iowa caucuses kick off the campaign season and thus they have great influence on the nomination process. A good showing in Iowa builds momentum (and money) for the primaries that follow. Conversely, fall short of expectations in Iowa and your campaign is in trouble. Recall, after failing to convert his early lead in the polls into a strong showing in the 2004 Iowa Caucuses, Democrat Howard Dean made it worse that night with his fanatical, shouting speech (followed by some sort of unidentifiable scream) and soon was out of the race.

Anyway, Iowans enjoy special access to those who aspire to the White House. It is relatively easy for a citizen to shake hands with candidates, hear them speak and, occasionally, ask them questions.

When the TH hasn't scheduled the candidates for editorial board interviews -- some don't come in because the TH does not endorse in the caucuses -- I haven't taken advantage of enough of those opportunities by going to hear them speak. Both Republican and Democratic candidates will be stumping for the 2008 nomination, and I have resolved to attend and observe more of those appearances.

Which brings us to Biden, who is making an extremely early start to the process. After all, the presidential election is 27 months away. Nonetheless, we gladly honored his staff's request for him to visit with the editorial board and our political reporter (Mary Rae Bragg).

Biden has something to say -- lots to say -- about the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq and anti-terrorism efforts. Mary Rae will have the details in Saturday's TH.

Going into the interview, I had read that Biden had a reputation for being long-winded. Well. By our calculations, we asked four questions in the 80 minutes he spent with us (that might have been the longest we've been able to spend with a candidate in one sitting). In the future, we might have to be less polite and interrupt more often to introduce questions on more topics.

All in all, though, I'm glad to have had (another) chance to meet Sen. Biden. (I don't recall meeting him 19 years ago, the last time he campaigned in Iowa.) It was worth a little vacation time.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How I Spent My Summer Vacation -- Chapter 3


That's the only way to explain the two-man Jack Hand Steeling competition at Boom Days in Leadville, Colo.

One man hits the bit that is held by his teammate to drive the steel into a block of Colorado blue granite. Each two-man team has 10 minutes -- plenty of time to get tired and miss the target -- to see how deep into the granite it drive a steel bit. When one miner becomes fatigued at the hammer, he switches places and holds the steel while his partner hammers.

The winners -- including Grady Colby, who won the one-man competition (five-minute round) the previous day (picture below) -- went more than 16 inches into the granite on Sunday. It is remarkable that I saw so few "misses" -- even when the man at the hammer was obviously tiring. It is a test of strength, stamina, concentration -- and trust.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation -- Chapter 2

As mentioned in the previous post, Madame X and I planned our trip to Leadville, Colo., to coincide with the city's major summer festival, Boom Days. In the late 19th century, Leadville was a mining "boom town" -- with a population larger than Denver's at the same time.

The state of Colorado selected Boom Days for documentation and preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress as a Local Legacy of national interest.

At its peak, in the late 19th century, Leadville was home to 20,000 to 40,000 residents. Today, its population is less than 3,000, but with its healthy tourist trade and county seat status it "feels" larger than that. Many of the tiny wood-frame homes once occupied by miners -- many of them in rough shape -- are commanding high prices on the real estate market (compared to Dubuque), with many priced over $100,000). By the way, the 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one bath home pictured lists for $148,000.

The festival included a parade -- it lasted about 90 minutes -- mining competitions, short- and long-distance burro races (runners pull, or be pulled by, burros), food and craft booths and various other competitions (pie-eating, road race, "moseying" in Old West garb, etc.) The long-distance burro race starts in Leadville (already above 10,000 feet) and goes UP into the rough roads of the Mosquito Pass. The race is 22 miles -- 15 miles for the ladies -- and it is grueling enough without having to remain tethered to a burro!

How I Spent My Summer Vacation -- 1

If you're a regular visitor to NewsConference (both of you), you have noticed that I haven't posted for a couple of weeks.

The reason was simple: Summer vacation!

Madame X and I are back in Dubuque, after a week and a half away, during which we camped in Leadville, Colorado, North America's highest incorporated city (10,200 feet). We scheduled the trip -- our fifth or sixth visit, but the first without kids -- to take in the city's annual Boom Days celebration. We camped at Turquoise Lake (pictured) in the San Isabel National Forest, just three miles from Leadville. I now have several items (and many pictures) to post.

Over the next few days, as time permits, I'll have some interesting (and not so interesting) posts about our experiences -- including a tire blowout on I-80 and another nearly close encounter involving a tire.