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!