Monday, December 31, 2007

Looks better at 0 mph

We drove back to Dubuque last night, after a brief visit with family in West Central Illinois, negotiating conditions that, in a matter of 50 yards or less, ranged from dense and dangerous fog to perfectly clear. Somewhat surreal, especially at the posted speed limit.

Today, with no miles to drive, weather conditions were more interesting, with the horefrost extending to prickly proportions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Never too late for Christmas spirit

In previous holiday seasons, I’ve written about a particular scene toward the end of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Today – Christmas 2007 -- it seems appropriate to repeat the point.

In Dickens’ classic story, Ebenezer Scrooge has awakened from his life-changing dream. Confused but realizing he is receiving another chance to mend his “humbug” ways, opens his window and calls out to a boy in the street below.

"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.
"Today?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it.”

In the rush of activities and events in the run-up to Christmas, many folks set By Christmas” as a single point in time -- the instant when the Christmas Clock clicks down to all zeroes. “I have to ship that gift by X for it to arrive by Christmas.” Or, “I need to finish making that item by Christmas.”

You get the idea.

On occasion, that list includes helping out the less-fortunate. An additional handful of change for the Salvation Army kettle. A gift to drop off at the community center or your church. A check to a charity or church group that helps the needy.

How many of us ever get everything done by Christmas? Chances are, today arrived with something still on your “To Do” list. Sometimes that creates a sense of regret or even guilt.

Certainly, there is good reason to have certain tasks completed by today. It is hard to explain to a child why Santa might get around to delivering a present next week. Or the week after.

However, if helping the less fortunate is not checked off your list today, there is great news. The organizations and agencies helping the needy – including the Telegraph Herald's Santa’s Helper partners -- aren’t closing up shop today. They will be there tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and the days and years ahead.

There is always an opportunity to help the needy – here in the tri-states and around the world. So, if doing something to help the less-fortunate remains on your To Do list this Christmas morning, don’t put it aside. Christmas is a season, not just one day. There is still time to help.

I hope you’ll consider it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thoughts of summertime

For most folks, their attention is entirely on Christmas. But I sneaked a peek ahead -- beyond Christmas to Summer 2008.

This week, I confirmed a reservation for a week's rental of a small house (pictured) for next summer. The exact date and location is a Family Secret -- do burglars read blogs? -- but I will reveal that a relative who has seen it reports that the house features the best view in a town located in a picturesque region.

When I'm out chopping ice or trying to get the snowthrower to start, I'll think about this place .

Friday, December 14, 2007

Feature and felony, all on the same page

Here's a tip for wanna-be felons. Before or after you steal somebody's wallet, change clothes. Or at least don't have your photo taken by a newspaper.

In Clarkston, Wash., a convenience store surveillance camera captured a man lifting a woman's wallet. Authorities provided the photo to the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune.

Meanwhile, Tribune photographers, out "enterprising" (as the Telegraph Herald photogs call it), saw a nice, seasonal scene of a man painting a holiday greeting on a storefront window. The painter gave his name to the photographer for caption information.

The two images came together on the front page of the Tribune. Copy editors assembling the page noticed the similarities -- including identical attire -- and contacted police. After the paper came out, Tribune readers and authorities made the connection, too.

Michael Millhouse faces a felony theft charge.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Brunch with a beat

The past weekend was our getaway to Chicago. Michigan Avenue -- the Magnificent Mile -- was jammed with shoppers on Saturday (less so on Sunday). I dare say no one traveled so far to purchase so little.

But shopping was not a top priority. Seeing the sights, enjoying a few restaurants and experiencing in the city at Christmastime were.

A highlight -- or at least the most unusual event of the trip (besides nearly slipping on icy sidewalks Saturday night) -- was dining at Dick's Last Resort. It's a bar most of the time but serves a good brunch on Sundays.

The attraction was a Beatles Brunch featuring The Cavern Beat, a Beatles tribute band. The guy playing Paul's part even plays guitar left-handed! The drummer sang Ringo's numbers.

I failed to bring my camera this trip, but I found videos of the group posted by a band member. For the heck of it, compare The Cavern Beat's rendition of "Some Other Guy" with the real thing, captured in Liverpool, 1962.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Library research made easy -- from your home computer!

I've always been a fan of libraries, but my appreciation has only increased the last five years, since I started researching my first non-fiction book, the Red Faber biography. Much of my work on that book -- and my other baseball work -- involves review of old newspaper articles.

As recently as a decade ago -- and even today, depending on the publications -- research of old newspapers involved parking yourself in a library, strapping the microfilm reels on the viewer and searching for articles that might be helpful. (Avoid watching the images whirring by on the screen, lest you become "seasick.") Precious few newspapers are indexed, so it's time-consuming to search this way. And you need to be physically present at the library (during business hours), to content with microfilm readers and printers that are balky and to pay for each copy you make. (Except at the Chicago Public Library!)

In addition to nausea, someone using this microfilm-reader system risks missing an important or interesting item, perhaps due to inattention, oversight or an editing error (bad headline, etc.) made a century ago.

Anyway, my research has been infinitely easier these days when the newspaper microfilm has been digitized and made searchable on the Internet. Now, I can type in my criteria (date ranges, names or words, words to exclude, etc.) and "search" multiple newspapers at once. Depending on the quality of the software and microfilm, these search engines can find a name or address in a garage sale ad.

My favorite service is ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Another is Paper of Record, whose premier publication (at least for a baseball reasearcher) is The Sporting News. (This service recently went free!) There are other services, including NewsBank, which offer searchable digitized images of newspaper pages.

Anyway, for the last year, Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque (pictured) has offered -- as part of its regular service, meaning free to library card holders -- several leading newspapers in the ProQuest suite. They include:
  • New York Times
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Boston Globe
  • Washington Post
Considering that all four papers had American League baseball teams in their cities, this service has been great for me, especially since I'm currently researching and writing about American Leaguers.

The library also has the Heritage Quest online service, which, among other features, allows you to search census enumerators' log books. I found some of my Cooper relatives from downstate Illinois in there.

Carnegie-Stout has other databases, including subjects in which I have no interest or aptitude (such as auto repair manuals). Something for everyone? Likely.

One doesn't have to be a researcher or writer to enjoy this service. What was going on in the sports world or the rest of the world on the day you were born? How did various papers handle major news events, be it Pearl Harbor or Christmas or the JFK assassination?

If you have a Dubuque library card -- by the way, most non-Dubuque residents may purchase one for $104 a year -- get it (you need the numbers on the back). Then check out this service. It's powerful, fast and free.

If you have questions about getting a Dubuque library card (resident or non-resident) fill out the form (qualifying non-residents, mail in the fee separately) contact the library. 563-589-4225.

I didn't intend to make this post so darn long, but I am a big proponent of this great research tool. You don't need to visit Carnegie-Stout, 11th and Locust, to take advantage of its service.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Farewell, Augie

One of the first -- and finest -- journalists I met when I moved to Iowa 25 years ago was Mike Augspurger.

It was soon after I joined The Ottumwa Courier as editor. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but if I recall he started as a free-lance writer and eventually became an integral part of The Courier staff. After I moved on to Dubuque, and then-city editor Mary Sharp became editor, Augie stepped in as city editor.

Augie was blue-collar, opinionated, fun-loving. He even got himself elected mayor of Bloomfield, a county seat community south of Ottumwa, in the mid-1980s.

It's cliche, and overused, I know. But in Augie's case, it fits: He worked hard and played hard.

There wasn't a story he wouldn't tackle, a question he wouldn't ask. Sometimes that got him into trouble. But he kept driving.

In those days, we had a newsroom full of twenty-something journalists, and there wasn't a clock-watcher in the bunch. That included the newsroom clock as well as the clock at our favorite hangout, the Tom-Tom Tap, where Augie would often hold court.

Augie was found dead on Tuesday. He had experienced some health setbacks over the years, and his family had a history of heart trouble. He was just 52.

His final newspaper, the Burlington Hawk Eye, had the unfortunate duty to report on the death of its business editor. The Hawk Eye gave him a nice write-up, as did The Courier.

Farewell, Augie.

Monday, November 26, 2007

'Online' offline

Late Monday night our crew finally found the culprit that crashed the system. I'm probably not at liberty to divulge much about the details -- some of which I don't understand anyway -- but it had to do with a database handling our classified advertising. Ouch.


Time was -- and it was not that long ago -- that when there were news developments, the best we at the Telegraph Herald could do was write about it and print it in the next edition. And if your next edition was 12 or 18 or 23 hours away -- oh well, that's too bad.

Then Al Gore invented the Internet, and things started to change. News could be posted to the Web, without regard to press schedules or the availability of carriers to deliver a print product.

We've had the Telegraph Herald Web site, for nearly 12 years. But only in the past couple of years have we used it much for posting breaking news alerts, ongoing story updates, new stories, evening sports scores and video clips.

Time was we didn't know what to do with the site. Now, we don't know what we'd do without it.

We were reminded of that today, when THonline experienced a major meltdown. For most of the day, the site was unavailable. Even this evening, nearly 12 hours after the crash, the regular site is down -- though we have placed our "mobile" (text only) version on the site.

The last I heard, our technical crew was trying to sort out the problem.

Meanwhile, breaking news continued. Authorities confirmed the identity of a Dubuquer killed in a highway accident. Former President Bill Clinton set a campaign stop for Tuesday in Peosta. But for hours we had no way to get the word out. It was not as critical or disruptive as a printing-press breakdown or major snowstorm -- the timing and coordination of physically moving and delivering tens of thousands of newspapers each day is a challenge even on a good day -- but it has been frustrating nonetheless.

A newspaper is more than ink on paper. It is news gathering and dissemination -- on more than one delivery platform. Today, one of those platforms failed us, but the experience has reminded us of our increased capabilities of delivering the news more than just once a day.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

New buzz on the Black Sox

While researching my biography on Ray Schalk, I learned that the Chicago Tribune today carried a blockbuster story -- at least for people interested in baseball and Chicago sports history -- reporting that a box full of letters, memos and documents related to the Black Sox scandal, heretofore thought lost forever, have resurfaced.

Scanning the few samples posted on the Tribune's web site, I saw Schalk's name mentioned once -- where apparently he was to come in to White Sox offices for an interview about what he know of the affair.

It was Schalk, perhaps before any other of the honest players, who smelled a rat during the team's 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. After all, if a pitcher isn't hitting his spots, showing his stuff or following signs, the catcher would be the first to know.

This is a fascinating event for folks interested in what went on in October 1919. But it doesn't necessarily help the cause trying to clear the names of two of the eight banned players, Buck Weaver and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Beating the drum for the Tigers

Over the 30-plus years since I departed the place with a journalism degree, I have not closely followed the football foibles and fortunes at the University of Missouri.

Sure, the Tigers have had some seasons of excitement, including an occasional bowl appearance (10 since I graduated, but none a major).

These days, there has not been this much excitement about Missouri football since the 1960s, when Dan Devine's squads made five major bowl appearances -- remember, that was when there were only a handful of bowl games, not a contest every day of the week -- and in 1960 finished undefeated* with a Top Five ranking.

But could that excitement compare with Tiger Football 2007? Considering the national TV exposure these days, it's not likely.

Anyway, though I am a fair-weather fan or Johnny Come Lately or whatever, I am excited about the Tigers' prospects after an exciting 36-28 victory over previously unbeaten Kansas on national TV Saturday night.

Now, Missouri needs another big win this coming weekend in the Big 12 title game -- a rematch with Oklahoma (10-2), the only team to beat Missouri (11-1) this year.

Go Tigers!

* = On the field, Kansas beat No. 1 Missouri in the 1960 game, 23-7, but officially forfeited because it used an ineligible player.

Photo: Greg Bracey of the Missouri Tigers celebrates with fans. (AP).

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shameless plug: Signing off

It's holiday shopping season, and two Dubuque bookstores have invited me to sign copies of my Red Faber biography at sales events in December.

The schedule:

  • Noon-3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2 -- River Lights Second Edition, 11th and Main streets.
  • 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 -- Borders Books, Kennedy Mall.

Even if you have the Faber book already -- or couldn't care less about it -- stop by anyway. The bookstores have invited several other local authors for the same timeframes.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nine years after

During a rare domestic endeavor -- house cleaning prior to welcoming Thanksgiving guests -- I found myself sorting through dozens of VHS tapes stored in and around the TV stand.

Near our family's cherished copy of What About Bob?, were several tapes of sports contests I taped.

Matches from soccer's 2002 World Cup? I've got 'em. Game 7 of the 1991 World Series? Yep. Clinching games from the Chicago Bulls' National Basketball Association championships? MJ, if you need a copy, give me a call.

I'll just tape these games, I told myself, and watch them on those winter evenings when I have nothing else to do.

Yeah, right. My batting average of watching those tapes is -- if my math is correct -- right around .000.

That streak was broken today. While dusting, vacuuming and taking a break for lunch, I popped one of those tapes in the VCR. It was from Monday, September 28, 1998.

The occasion was a one-game playoff between baseball's San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs, to determine which team would face the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the National League playoffs. The Cubs and Giants tied for the Wild Card berth in the playoffs with identical 89-73 records, so a 163rd game was played at Wrigley Field.

I knew that the Cubs won this one -- I still had the tape, didn't I? -- but after nine years I had forgotten the particulars about the 1998 Cubs, including manager Jim Riggleman. I was surprised how many of the Cubs personnel I had forgotten.

OK, a quick summary:

  • Cubs 5, San Francisco 3.
  • Gary Gaetti, released by the Cardinals and picked up by the Cubs for their final six weeks of the 1998 season, put the Cubs on the scoreboard with a two-run homer in the fifth inning.
  • The Giants scored three times in the top of the ninth, to make everyone in Wrigley more than a little nervous. But a tired reliever Rod Beck, aka The Shooter (pictured), gutted it out for the save.
  • Today it was somewhat sad seeing Beck close out the game, knowing that less than nine years afterward he would be dead. The Shooter died this summer, just a few weeks short of his 39th birthday.
  • It was the final game for Joe Carter, a former Cub and Toronto's 1993 World Series hero. Carter had already announced his intention to retire at the end of the 1998 season. As it happened, Carter made the final out in his final game -- a weak pop-up to first baseman Mark Grace.
  • Also appearing were sluggers Barry Bonds (who hit 37 homers in 1998) and Sammy Sosa (career-high 66). In this game, they went a combined 2-for-8, with Sosa collecting two singles. Of course, today we know that Bonds and Sosa have had their own "issues" regarding performance-enhancing drugs -- and, in Bonds' case, whether he will go to prison for lying about it.
All in all, it was not the most exciting game ever contested, but it was the Cubs' last win of the season. They went on to be swept from the playoffs by the Braves.

Interested in this game -- or virtually any game, player, umpire or manager associated with the major leagues? The best web sites to look up anything are Retrosheet. and

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dancing to 15 minutes of fame

You know those halftime contests at basketball games, where a spectator takes a half-court (ie, nearly impossible) shot for the chance at a nice prize (like a new vehicle)?

At Sunday's LA Clippers game, before the contestant stepped to the line, a member of the team's dance squad gave a demonstration. She even attempted it backwards.

Watch what happens. And don't miss the contestant's attempt.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dreading the holidays? Why?

More and more, year after year, I hear people discuss the period from Thanksgiving through New Year's -- and other observances in between -- with emotions ranging from sad resignation to utter dread.

On Sunday, a TV talking head said something along the line of, "The holidays will be here too soon ..." We've all heard folks lament the hectic pace of planning events, shopping or double-booking social calendars. Does anyone enjoy the holiday season anymore? Time was, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, etc., were events to anticipate positively. Something to enjoy.

Whatever happened to that?

Now, when conversation turns to the holidays, folks commiserate and compare their levels of stress and frustration. The holidays should be a time for celebrating, for relaxing with friends and family, for reflecting on the blessings that have come our way.

Sure, some of those things can require effort and preparation. I'm not calling for the abolition of gift exchanges, holiday cards or parties. I'm not suggesting that folks stay away from the mall or shops.

But do we have to try to do it all? And do it all by a particular date?

If a greeting card arrives Dec. 28 or Jan. 4, is that a big deal? A nice gift certificate instead of scouring the stores for the "perfect" present? Do all holiday parties have to be jammed into the December calendar? As best I know, my columns and posts have an unblemished record of never changing anyone's mind on anything. Yet, who knows?

What if we gave ourselves permission to relax and not sweat the details? The holidays might again be something to look forward to, not just something to endure.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New trick

It's been said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

What about teaching an old rabbit?

Our house rabbit Maddie, who is about 4 and recently marked the second anniversary of joining the Cooper household, this week demonstrated a new trick: Jumping on top of the drop-leaf table in our family room.

Further, she does it in the dark. We turn on the lights after returning from dinner or first thing in the morning, and there she is, quietly gazing at us from her new perch. (Well, she always is quiet, but you get the idea.)

Our suspicion is that she is attracted to the aromatic plant recently placed on the table after being brought inside from the cold. She apparently uses nearby chairs as her launching pad. Though she has knocked items off the table in the process, so far nothing has been broken.

So, after rearranging the furniture slightly, we hope that we've put an end to her new adventure. Sorry, Maddie!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dubuque soccer loses leading booster

My e-mail "in" box contained sad news from the local American Youth Soccer Organization.

Dave Maiers, Dubuque's "Mister Soccer," died Thursday after a sudden illness.

Dave oversaw operations at the Dubuque Soccer Complex and was its charter concessionaire. In addition, he was vice president of the Dubuque Soccer Alliance and long-time co-sponsor of the America's River Soccer Classic and Campbell Cup adult tournaments. Years ago, when Dubuque soccer was in its infancy, he coached and supported the sport in other ways.

As the AYSO notice put it, "Dave had a big heart; unfortunately it gave out on him.

As a referee (now retired), I always appreciated Dave's support of the game officials and his insight into events and personalities on the pitch. After a rough match, it seemed, Dave was the officials' only friend out there.

Visitation will be 1-8 p.m. Sunday, November 11, at Egelhof, Siegert and Casper Westview Funeral Home, 2659 Kennedy Road.

Funeral will be 10 a.m. Monday, November 12, St. Columbkille Catholic Church, 1240 Rush St., Dubuque.

Letters of condolence and memorials may be sent to: The Maiers Family, 280 Quince St., Dubuque, IA 52003.

Rest in peace, Mister Soccer.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Happy birthday, Claire!

Our granddaughter Claire turned 1 over the weekend, and Grandma and Grandpa C were on hand for the celebration. Also present were Aunt Ellen, Uncle Andy, Grandma Julie and, oh yes, Claire's parents.

Claire's deep interest in dogs -- those in pictures and residing in her neighborhood -- was reflected in her array of gifts, including a DOG picture book from Grandma C.

From this grandfather's perspective, it has been quite a year!

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Virtually all my leisure reading comes from the non-fiction shelves, and my newest recommendation is Thunderstruck, a best-seller by Erik Larson.

As he did with his best-seller Devil in the White City, Larson weaves two concurrent events into one book, recounting episodes in alternate chapters.

In Devil in the White City, it was the story of men's obsessions -- in one saga, Dan Burnham, to create the spectacular Chicago World's Fair of 1893, alternating with the gruesome tale of H.H. Holmes, a man obsessed with killing whose victims came to Chicago to see what Burnham had built.

In Thunderstruck, Larson tells the stories of Guglielmo Marconi's tireless efforts to transmit and receive wireless communication signals across the Atlantic Ocean and the concurrent saga of Harvey Hawley Crippen and the North London Cellar Murder. It's the story of marital frustration, infidelity and, finally, murder.

It's a gripping book. As I read into the last half of the Thunderstruck, and both plots were reaching critical points, I found myself still reading past 2 a.m. one night last week, just to get to the ending. (Good thing I didn't have to start work until later that morning!)

Friday, November 02, 2007

On a bookshelf near you ...

Thanks to a new e-mail newsletter service from Carnegie-Stout Public Library, I was able to learn which Iowa libraries have copies of my Red Faber biography.

There are 10 of them. Some, such as Dubuque and Cascade, where Faber once lived, are naturals. So too for Loras College, which houses the Center for Dubuque History and which named one of its athletic fields after Faber.

I'm proud that both libraries of the State Historical Society of Iowa (in Des Moines and Iowa City) also have the book.

Regarding some of the remaining libraries, I don't see a Faber connection -- but apparently they have an appreciation for Iowa history, and I commend them for their remarkably good judgment.

Anyway, here are the Iowa libraries with the biography in their collections:

  • Iowa State University, Ames
  • Cascade Public Library
  • Cresco Public Library
  • Des Moines Public Library
  • State Historical Society of Iowa Library, Des Moines
  • Carnegie-Stout Public Library, Dubuque
  • Loras College Library, Dubuque
  • State Historical Society of Iowa Library , Iowa City
  • Manchester Public Library
  • Pleasant Hill Public Library

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween 2007

Halloween just isn't quite the same for parents when they become empty-nesters.

Gone is the drama and tribulation of acquiring (or making!) costumes. The debate about how many houses may be visited. Excited conversation about how many pieces of candy may be consumed before bedtime. The sugar-influenced "crashes."

Ah, I miss those days. But really, it is fun nonetheless.

Our Halloween highlight was the arrival of some young visitors, children of a friend and colleague, pay us a visit Halloween night. (Because they are in costume, we won't identify them.)

We even received a performance for our donation of candy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Beautiful contrasts

Photo: New York University Medical School Asian Students Union.

I ran two mornings out of three this week (Sunday and Tuesday), and the two sites were extreme -- and beautiful -- contrasts.

Sunday morning, running partner Dennis and I strode on the frost-covered flats of Swiss Valley Park, southwest of Dubuque. We were only two of a handful of people occupying the majestic , largely wooded 62 acres.

Tuesday morning, I ran along Chicago's famed Lake Shore Drive, starting north at 800 North and turning around near Lincoln Park. On my way back, the sun emerged from the horizon of Lake Michigan. Even though I was in one of the world's largest cities, with rush-hour traffic buzzing past nearby, the bike-pedestrian path along the shoreline does provide a sense of peace and quiet.

Photo: Dubuque County Conservation Board

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dubuque native home for book-signing

Saturday's activities for yours truly included a visit to River Lights Second Edition bookstore to have Dubuque native Tom Jones -- er, Tom LaMarr -- autograph a copy of his second novel, "Hallelujah City."

A long-time Colorado resident, the brother of Dubuque City Council Member Ric Jones was back in his hometown for the signing and, no doubt, catching up with friends and family.

The novel received a positive review from Tom's home-state Denver Post. Further, a voroacious reader with whom I am acquainted sped through the first four chapters in an hour and is anxious to finish it. That's high praise!

Another assist

Ray Schalk recorded 1,811 assists in his major league baseball career (1912-29). Recently, I received an assist on his behalf.

The directors of the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum (Nokomis, Ill.) have agreed to allow me to publish the Ray Schalk photos in their collection in my Schalk biography.

The only hitch is working out the details of acquiring digital files of the images without the actual prints leaving the museum premises. However, that can be arranged, I'm sure.

Part of the collection is this shot of a young Ray Schalk.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Making a Difference

Several years ago, USA WEEKEND, the magazine supplement carried in the Telegraph Herald and hundreds of other papers, created Make a Difference Day.

Described as "the most encompassing national day of helping others -- a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors," the event is locked into the fourth Saturday of October.

The Telegraph Herald's program this year was a Fall Festival -- games, face-painting and, of course, food -- at the Boys and Girls Club. Some 50-60 kids and a few parents turned out.

Taking the lead in volunteering for the event were students in the Dubuque Area Youth Leadership Council.

Cooperating business sponsors were Carlos O'Kelly's, Kwik Stop, Younkers, Factory Card Party Outlet, Rockford Industrial Welding Supply. And, of course, thanks to the Boys and Girls Club for staff and facilities support.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Young reader gets into the newspaper

A proud mother sent me this fun photo of one of the Telegraph Herald's youngest fans. I can't quite tell if he's turned to the Opinion page or the baby notices.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Where there's a Will there's a crowd

Washington Post columnist George F. Will delivered a lecture Wednesday night before several hundred people on the campus of his host, the University of Dubuque.

His themes included personal responsibility and government-sponsored entitlements, which are diametrically opposed. Conservative themes.

I suspect that Will has delivered this talk -- or something quite similar -- on many occasions, his delivery was so smooth and his recall of specific details so certain. Then again, he was no less so during the question-and-answer segment, fielding disparate questions from the gold standard to terrorism to social issues.

As a member of the audience, I felt that his hour-plus went quickly.

Sorry about the fuzzy nature of the video clip; I was working from the cheap seats!

In any case, it was an informative and thought-provoking program, and certainly worth missing the opening innings of the opening game of the World Series.

Mini-endorsement season

Considering the parade of presidential candidates visiting the tri-state area (at least the Iowa portion), it could be easy to overlook the fact that there will be an election even before the Iowa caucuses — whenever those are finally scheduled — and the major votes of 2008.

On Nov. 6, Iowans will elect city council members.

While the 2007 general election doesn’t attract the media attention or voter interest of campaigns for the White House, Congress or governor’s mansion, local representation is important nonetheless.

In advance of the Dubuque City Council election, the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board is publishing endorsement editorials on the three races, 2nd Ward, 4th Ward and at-large.

The endorsements are based on our evaluation of the candidates’ qualifications, track record and positions on (and articulation of) the issues. This review usually includes interviews with candidates; this year, editorial board subcommittees met with each person running in the Dubuque general election.

Endorsement editorials usually spark some protest — usually from those who disagree with the opinion expressed. The complaint is along the lines of, “A newspaper has no business telling people how to vote.”

Throughout their history, newspapers have published editorials, which reflect the institutional opinion of ownership or its designee (in our case, the TH Editorial Board). The editorials’ purpose is not so much to cause people to take a particular action or hold a certain opinion (though we do hope the editorials do have some influence), but primarily to stimulate debate, discussion and personal evaluation on issues of community importance.

We hope that voters will consider what we have to say about the candidates, just as they might weigh endorsements from their civic groups, labor organization or next-door neighbor. But ultimately we hope that they do their own research on the candidates and cast an informed vote on election day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fall frolic

A sure way to increase traffic on one's blog is to run pictures of one's grandchild. Here's Claire hard at work in an autumn activity. (Photo courtesy of her parents.)

"Border to Border" exhibit not to be missed

The highlight of my Monday was my appointment with Clarke College professor and friend Abdul Sinno and his son Rafic to see their photography exhibit on campus.

"Border to Border: A Journey of the Mississippi," featuring more than five dozen photographs captured along the fantastic length of America's River, is an exhibit not to be missed.

Seeing the photos was one thing; to receive personal commentary from the photographers themselves added to the experience.

Over the last few years, Abdul and Rafic have traveled the length of the Mississippi, from its origin at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico near Pilottown, La. Last year they published a book of images, "Treasures of the Mississippi: Panoramas & Poetic Reflections," from the Upper Mississippi (between St. Paul and St. Louis).

In this exhibit, 10 states touching the Mississippi are represented, but their show includes plenty of scenes from this area -- some from common angles and other from perspectives that are less familiar.

As someone who was born in a Mississippi River city and who has lived in three other communities on its shore (Quincy, Ill.; Winona, Minn.; and now Dubuque), I am partial to these river scenes. However, I don't think I'm being unreasonably partisan when I say that I was most impressed with the images.

The exhibit is scheduled to end Oct. 31, but it's possible it might close a couple of days early due to construction schedules on campus. Don't take a chance: Take time now to stop in the Atrium Conference Room at Clarke and enjoy this exhibit.

(The video clips cuts off early -- sorry, Rafic! -- but you get the idea.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Coffee with Miles

As mentioned in previous posts, one of the unanticipated benefits of having a baseball biography on the market is meeting some fascinating people. From time to time I receive phone calls, letters and e-mails from folks who have read my Red Faber biography.

Such was the case Thursday, when I had coffee with Miles Conway, who phoned me and asked to get together.

Conway could be a book subject himself. A lifelong baseball devotee and Chicago White Sox booster -- his father was a fan of Red Faber -- Conway attended Loras College in Dubuque. For a couple of seasons in the early 1950s, he played for one of the barnstorming teams of the House of David, affiliated with a religious sect based in Benton Harbor, Mich. These teams were distinctive not only for their baseball talent but for the players' long beards (think ZZ Top).

Conway lived most of his life in Chicago but resided for several years in the Twin Cities. Long retired, he now spends his time attending ball games (he prefers club and minor-league contests) and taking long-distance bicycle rides.

Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune published a feature story about him.

My only regret was that we didn't have more time for our conversation. Duties in the newsroom called, and Miles had, well, some miles to ride.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It was 90 years ago today (well, Monday)

The timing was coincidental, but it was fitting that I presented my Red Faber slideshow to the Cascade Lions Club on Monday.

Monday, Oct. 15, 2007, marked exactly the 90th anniversary of the Chicago White Sox' clinching victory the 1917 World Series.

The winning pitcher in that final game -- Game 6 -- was Urban "Red" Faber, native of Cascade. In fact, Faber was the pitching hero of the series, winning three games (a record for a six-game series).

Facing the New York Giants, Faber won Game 2, lost Game 4, won Game 5 in relief and then, after a travel day, turned around and won Game 6 in a complete-game clincher.

Things were quiet in Cascade on Monday, when the Lions heard my presentation, based on my biography, and then toured the newly reopened Faber wing of the Tri-County Historical Museum. The community was much livelier 90 years ago that evening, after news of the Cascade boy's accomplishments arrived at the telegraph office.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Link to history

I gave my slideshow program on Red Faber to the Galena (Ill.) Rotary Club on Friday, and afterward received a pleasant surprise.

A member of the audience, Bud Austin, once witnessed Faber pitching to the legendary Babe Ruth!

Mr. Austin, now nearly 95 years old, did not recall much about the baseball confrontation, except that it was in 1927 in Chicago's Comiskey Park. That season, the Yankees, powered by Ruth's steroid-free 60 homers and Lou Gehrig's 175 RBI, went 110-44 to win the American League and sweep Pittsburgh in the World Series.

The occasion pictured shows Ruth congratulating Faber on Red Faber Day, in August 1929. A decade earlier, Ruth described Faber as "the nicest guy in the world."

The Fabe and The Babe entered the majors the same season -- 1914. Though Ruth, then a pitcher, returned to minors briefly, Faber remained in the majors until his retirement after the 1933 season.

Though in those days Mr. Austin was one of only hundreds of thousands to have seen Ruth and Faber square off over 20 seasons, he is a rare man today.

Photo: Chicago Daily News Collection

Dubuque makes quotation mark "blog"

A few months ago, I wrote a TH column and NewsConference entry about a fun blog, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. The blogger is graduate student Bethany Keeley.

Now, a Dubuque enterprise has made Bethany's blog. Check it out.

The sign would also qualify for a Blog of Misspelled Signs.

Monday, October 08, 2007

99 years!

It's not so much that the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 that frustrates me. It's not that they failed to make the World Series once since 1945 (when most of the good players were in the military). It's that they looked so bad doing it.

The Cubs rebounded from early- to mid-season disasters, rallied into first place and survived a sweep by the Florida Marlins in the final week of the regular season (while Milwaukee folded) to win their division. They earned a playoff berth for the first time since their 2003, when they faded just a handful of outs from the World Series.

They worked that hard just for the right to look that bad in the playoffs?

Granted, the Cubs barely won more than they lost in the regular season. They were in a weak division. They were not favored going into the post-season. But that didn't stop the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, when they stumbled into the playoffs but then won the whole thing. Lots of wild card teams have won the whole thing.

Some teams have rebuilding years. For the Cubs, it's a rebuilding century. Since their 1908 win, the Cubs are 0-7 in World Series appearances (1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945).

Now, going into the 2008 season, Cub fans can look forward to countless references to the fact that this will be the 100th season since their last World Series victory. I can't wait.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sharp-dressed men

Folks in Dubuque who prefer variety in their entertainment choices should be pleased with their options this month.

On Tuesday, Oct. 23, the rock band ZZ Top performs in the Five Flags Civic Center. The band's hits include such titles as "La Grange," "Sharp Dressed Man," "Tush," "Tube Snake Boogie," "Legs" and "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide."
The very next night, Dubuque hosts someone who might not be "bad," but he is "nationwide" and a sharp-dressed man. On Wednesday, Oct. 24, conservative columnist George Will. The Pulitzer Prize-winner will give the keynote address at the University of Dubuque's Wendt Character Initiative Fall Conference.

Who says there is nothing to do in Dubuque?

Photo credits: ZZ and Washington Post Writers Group.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Chamberlin event at Iowa State University

Sandy Johnson, Washington bureau chief of The Associated Press.
Chuck Raasch, national political correspondent and columnist, Gannett News Service.

I spent part of Tuesday and all Wednesday on the campus of Iowa State University, where the Greenlee School of Journalism hosted its inaugural Chamberlin Lecture.

In addition to visiting with students individually and in classes, I had the honor of introducing the guest speakers, Sandy Johnson and Chuck Raasch, a Washington-based husband-wife team.

Sandy Johnson is Associated Press bureau chief in Washington, and Chuck Raasch is national political correspondent and columnist for Gannett News Service, serving the nation’s top-circulation newspaper chain.

Of the 1,500 daily newspapers in the United States, precious few – these days, make it none -- have the resources to place their own reporters in Washington, New York and key places around the nation and the world.

Instead, our newspapers subscribe to wire services. That’s where the speakers come in.

Their news decisions and their reports go out hundreds of newspapers, and thus hundreds of thousands of readers. They have tremendous influence over what information Americans receive and thus, to a degree, the shape of public opinion.

As an editor, working in the Heartland, I have to trust The AP. I’m sure that the Gannett editors feel likewise about The AP and Gannett News Service. Are they reporting the news fairly and objectively? Are they pursuing the right stories? Are they missing anything? We are effectively powerless, from hundreds of miles away, to fact-check and verify their work.

Chuck and Sandy are graduates of South Dakota State University.

They are married – to each other – and have been so for 28 years. That’s a remarkable achievement, especially considering they are not at liberty to always share what they are doing or planning. They have two college-age sons, both outstanding students, who are not on track to follow their parents’ career choice.

Chuck Raasch has filed bylines from 49 states – every state but Hawaii. Chuck has also filed from four continents.

If the Guiness Book of Records keeps track of these things, Chuck might claim the one-day record for experiencing widest temperature variance. While reporting for USA Today, he moved from one assignment -- Yuma, Ariz., at 85 degrees -- to International Falls, Minn., where it was 35 below zero. He wasn’t anticipating the Minnesota trip, as his expense report for $350 in warm clothing would attest.

A native of South Dakota, Raasch has covered political campaigns since 1978. He is a former Knight Fellow at Stanford University.

Let’s hit the "back" button. It’s the year 2000, and it’s a tense and crazy and historic election night. It appears that George Bush has pulled out a close decision over Al Gore for the U.S. presidency. The projection is based on the projections from Florida, where the vote differences in some precincts are incredibly small.

So, the TV networks, which earlier that evening had to rescind some of their “calls,” are declaring Bush the winner. Newspaper editors across the country, bumping against their deadlines, are watching that on TV, but there is a problem. The AP is not calling the election for Bush. Where is the AP story declaring Bush the winner? What’s the problem?

The problem is Sandy Johnson, whose duties as bureau chief for The Associated Press in Washington include deciding how the major election story is written.

Against great pressure from editors and news directors all over the country, she refuses to call the Bush-Gore race. Based on what she knows about Florida voting trends, she is not convinced that Bush has won the state – and thus the presidency.

It would have been easy for her to follow and pack and figure, hey, if we’re wrong, at least we ALL were wrong.

Though she confuses and angers many of her member editors – including me – she sticks to what she thought was right. And she was right. The election was not decided that night. It took a Supreme Court decision to settle the matter.

Her members got over it. The Associated Press Managing Editors subsequently presented her with the group’s presidential award for her courage and judgment.

It was a pleasure for me to meet and introduce Sandy and Chuck during our time at ISU. Sandy had to return to Washington for an editors convention immediately after her remarks, but Chuck stayed Wednesday and spoke to journalism classes and individual students.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Freedom of Information -- past, present and future

The annual meeting of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council was held Sept. 28 in Des Moines. (As a past president, I'm a member of the organization's executive committee.)

The program included a special award for citizens of Riverdale, Iowa (above), who -- at great personal expense, anguish and time -- who have taken their city government to court (and won) over the illegal withholding of public documents. Pictured are, from left, Allen Diercks, Marie Randol and Tammie Picton. (Their lawyer, from the Quad Cities, is Dubuque native Michael Meloy.)

Also featured was a panel discussion focused on the legislative task force looking at revisions of the Iowa open meetings and open records laws. Among the panelists were Keith Luchtel, lobbyist for the Iowa Newspaper Association (at left in the videos), and state Sen. Mike Connolly, D-Dubuque, co-chair of the task force.

Also shown in one video shot are panelists Herb Strentz (far end of table), founding executive secretary of the Iowa FoI Council, and Lee Rood, Des Moines Register reporter.

In the videos, Luchtell and Connolly discuss the task force's task -- which is formidable.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

When is an air not an air?

OK, I know that the Telegraph Herald occasionally has spelling, grammar or editing errors. More than I would like, even when one considers the volume of copy that is written and edited in a short time period. Even when I don't spot the errors myself, TH readers (usually with great indignation and condescension) call them to my attention.

Which brings me to this message sitting in my e-mail "in" box this morning. This message was unusual because it is so polite:

Brian, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but the footnote at end of Rebecca Christian's article caught my eye Saturday. She is a Des Moines (?) based "righter" ---OUCH!!! Also she may be "preached" at --- OUCH!!! I realize the preached is a legitimate word and could easily get through spell check but not sure about the righter??? Takes some imagination for this one but what type of background does the person have that wrote this?

I DO sympathize with you for the job and headaches you have but just couldn't let this one go by without a mention.

It is also unusual because my correspondent was wrong about our being wrong. She was caught in Christian's snare. Her column topic was mistaken use of words. So, in that spirit, she changed her biographical paragraph to slip in a couple of oopsies.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Few Americans now 50 and older didn't watch The Beatles when they appeared three consecutive Sunday nights on television's Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. The band's appearances put the British Invasion into high gear and changed popular music.

Appropriately, it was Sunday night when we hosted another 50-something couple to watch a DVD of the four Ed Sullivan shows on which The Beatles appeared live (one show was taped before a studio audience).

After only seeing the briefest of clips from those performances, it was interesting to see the band go through their entire sets. Just as entertaining was the rest of the show, including commercials for Lipton Tea, Aeowax, Anacin and Cold Water All.

I had to feel sorry for an illusionist named Fred Kaps. On Feb. 9, 1964, poor Fred was saddled with being the act to immediately follow The Beatles. About the last thing the studio audience -- and millions of TV viewers -- was interested in seeing at that moment was a guy doing a card trick.

It seems curious now, but it made sense in the era of Top 40 radio, that The Beatles performed "I Want to Hold Your Hand" all three February 1964 shows. They sang "I Saw Her Standing There," "She Loves You" and "All My Loving" two of the three nights. Ringo got one solo ("Act Naturally") but George had none. (No wonder they called him The Quiet Beatle. He didn't get a chance!)

There was no doubt that this was live production. The microphone settings for their performance in Miami were off, with John on background vocals drowning out Paul's lead.

Forty-three years later, it was fun to see what all the fuss was about.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cubs pitch a shutout

I was on the computer anyway, so on Sunday morning I entered the Chicago Cubs' virtual waiting room for National League Divisional Series tickets.

Of course, this is contingent on the Cubs holding on in this final week of the regular season and winning the NL Central. Going into Sunday's games, the Cubs held a 2.5-game lead over the Brewers (2 games in the all-important loss column). The Cubs have lost more "certain" berths in the playoffs, so anything can happen.

Anyway, the virtual waiting room is a Web version of a ticket lottery. If you are lucky enough to have your computer connected to the ticket sellers, you are allowed to pay exorbitant amounts to be on hand to watch the Cubs make another bid for the World Series.

No doubt, there were thousands -- hundreds of thousands? -- of other fans in the waiting room with me. There I "sat" until the notice came up that tickets for both NLDS series games in Chicago were sold out.

I was shut out at the ticket window. I'll get over it.

Besides, I have been at Wrigley to see the Cubs in the post-season. It was in 1984, their first playoff appearance since the 1945 World Series. I saw Chicago defeat San Diego twice (before collapsing in California).

So I'll just have to watch the Cubs in the NLDS on TV.

But I wonder about tickets for the National League Championship Series ...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Editorial cartoons -- a historical perspective

When I field complaints about the editorial page at the Telegraph Herald, it is rarely about the words. Most complaints concern the editorial cartoons. Folks object to the cartoonists' opinions, or portrayals or a lack of objectivity. (Not that editorial cartoons are supposed to be objective ...)

Complaints increase during presidential campaign cycles (which seem to be perpetual anymore).

Anyway, not long ago I came across this quotation:

“Newspaper cartoons that ridicule and vilify rival presidential candidates have been seriously criticized in the present campaign, but they are nothing new in American politics.”

Those words were spoken not during this campaign. Not the previous campaign. Not even this century.

I found the quotation in an old Chicago Daily News. It came from L.H. Stattuck, director of the Chicago Historical Society. The year was 1936.

Thus, pointed cartoons were considered "nothing new" 71 years ago.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Setting baseball lore on its end

I have watched 2,500-3,000 (at least!) baseball games on TV over the past 40--plus years. But I've never seen or heard of this. I didn't see this major league game between the Braves and Mets, but I came across this video on a web site.

Even though many of today's bats have concave ends, that is one strange feat! I'm just surprised that it didn't involve the Cubs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Think a semicolon is a surgical procedure?

Jeff Rubin might be a modern-day Don Quixote. He imagines that he can slay the dragon of poor punctuation.

The former newspaperman tilts at windmills and hopes that through his promotion of National Punctuation Day, people -- from students to corporate executives -- will be aware of, learn and practice proper punctuation.

Just in case you don't have the date marked on your calendar already, National Punctuation Day is each Sept. 24, meaning that the 2007 observance -- the fourth annual -- falls on Monday next week

On his Web site, Rubin explained that he created the observance out of his "frustration with the lack of proper punctuation, spelling, and grammar in newspapers, magazines, and books."

The resident of Pinole, Calif., also stated, "Creating a cause on the calendar doesn't mean much unless you're willing to do something about it."

What Rubin and his wife, Norma, are doing about it is generating publicity and promoting their educational video, "Punctuation Playtime," which is designed to make punctuation easy and fun for elementary school students. The newsletter editor and consultant appears at school assemblies dressed as superhero Punctuation Man.

Rubin's firm also sells Punctuation Products, including posters,T-shirts and coffee mugs with such punctuation quips as:

"An ellipsis is not when the moon moves in front of the sun."

"A comma is not a state of being."

"A semicolon is not a surgical procedure."

"Is there a hyphen in anal-retentive?"

What good is an American "holiday" if no one tries to make a buck off of it?

Anyway, I hope that Rubin is wildly successful in his noble effort. If he is, that means that more folks -- especially the school kids -- will have a better handle on punctuation. After all, punctuation marks are not interchangeable parts. And it's art, not science. Though there are occasions where the choice of a mark -- the dash or the comma, for example -- can be left to the author's style and discretion, there are lots of examples where the author flat out missed the call on which mark to use.

Rubin does offer some help in that regard. His Web site features summaries on each punctuation mark. Maybe it will help some people understand certain marks. They might realize why a sentence should end with a period instead of the mark favored by many authors of letters to the editor, the comma.

What's the difference between the colon and semicolon? How about the semicolon and comma? Rubin's site could clear up the confusion.

Now, of course, I fully realize that by mentioning punctuation errors, I have invited tens of thousands of readers to comb through this column -- and the rest of the TH, for that matter -- intent upon spotting a punctuation error. Then, with great delight and an expression of indignation, they will call said error to my attention. People in glass houses throwing stones, or something like that.

If no one -- and that includes people who work at newspapers -- ever made punctuation errors, there would be no perceived "need" for National Punctuation Day.

Oh, one more thing: To properly observe National Punctuation Day, people are invited to send a greeting card -- with check enclosed, of course -- to their favorite newspaper editor.