Friday, July 30, 2004

Southwest Missouri's Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt received a bit of unwanted national attention this week from the investigative reporting magazine Mother Jones.
In its annual awards for legislators who misuse or abuse their positions, Blunt was a nominee in the category of "The Heidi Fleiss Medal for Congressional Pandering."
Quoting from the magazine, "Rep. Roy Blunt became House majority whip in November 2002; hours later he secretly slipped into the 475-page bill creating the Homeland Security Department a provision benefiting Phillip Morris USA. Blunt's language would have restricted low-cost cigarette sales on the Internet and prosecuted contraband sales. The congressman receives massive donations from Phillip Morris; his son works for Phillip Morris; and he recently married the Washington lobbyist for Phillip Morris. After the outrage was discovered (so outrageous that ethics purist Tom DeLay had the measure stripped), Blunt wailed that cigarette sales are connected to homeland security because Hezbollah has made money by selling discount smokes."
Knowing that Mother Jones has a liberal bent (and there is nothing wrong with that) I decided to research this a bit more. Apparently, this all came out due to a Washington Post investigation in June 2003. After that, I understood why I hadn't heard anything about it. I normally try to keep up on the news, but that was during a time when I was more worried about if I was going to keep my job and if I didn't (which I didn't) was I going to be able to find another job.
Apparently, Blunt's connections with these powerful Washington interests are being used extensively in the state of benefit the blossoming political career of Blunt's son, Secretary of State Matt Blunt, who is running for governor.
"The Hill," a Washington-based newspaper, used Missouri state records to show just how the senior Blunt has been using his position to benefit his son. According to The Hill, "Missouri state records show contributions to Matt Blunt's campaign (for secretary of state in 2002) came from firms and individuals with business pending before Roy Blunt's subcommittees. Although some of the companies have significant interests in the state, others do not.
"Top executives at Freddie Mac, for example, contributed $4,000 to his campaign. On Nov. 6, 2000, Vice President Gary Lanzara and Vice President Leland Brendsel gave $1,000 each. Two weeks later, Freddie Mac lobbyist David Glenn and his wife, Cherie, also contributed $1,000 apiece. (Note: It should be pointed out that $1,000 is the most individuals can contribute under Missouri state law.) Cherie is listed as a homemaker; the couple reside in Great Falls, VA.
"Contributions from telecommunications-related entities accounted for over $10,000. Railway transportation companies also contributed more than $6,000 to Matt Blunt's campaign. John Scruggs, a top lobbyist for Altria, formerly Phillip Morris, contributed $1,000. Other contributions came from companies and executives in- or representatives for- such heavily regulated industries as healthcare, insurance, chemicals and defense technology."
The article continued, "By far, the biggest outside contributors to Matt Blunt's campaign, however, were colleagues of Roy Blunt. Campaign finance documents show 84 House lawmakers made 95 contributions to the secretary of state campaign, totaling more than $65,000.
In the article, Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics, suggests logically that the donations were made, not by a desire to help Matt Blunt, but by a desire to curry favor with his father.
Political experts cited in the article said the out-of-state money that poured into Matt Blunt's campaign coffers was the deciding point in a close race. Without it, the younger Blunt would have lost.
It also appears that Blunt has helped his son, Andy, by helping him land an important post at Phillip Morris.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch carried stories about this. I don't know about the Kansas City Star. Why didn't we read about any of this in The Joplin Globe?
I'll do a little research into the contributors to Matt Blunt in his campaign for governor and I will post the information when I have it.

Monday, July 26, 2004

   Newspapers are doomed.
   I hate to be that blunt about it. I hate even more to say it...and mean it. I spent most of my adult life working for newspapers. I watch them do everything they can to squeeze a few more dollars out of their customers, everything that is except improve their products.
   Edgar Simpson's column in the Sunday Joplin Globe pointed out one of the biggest problems facing newspapers today. How can you get young people to read them? Simpson, the Globe's top editor, spoke to a class at an area university (he didn't specify which one). His task, he said, was to find out how to turn more of the students into regular readers of his newspaper. "The latest generation consumes information differently from any who have gone before," Simpson wrote. "As a class, they are skimmers, not ponderers. They want their information short, to the point and with a bottom line."
   That's a copout.
   Yes, young people have much more to do than they did in the past. Yes, they devote less time to newspapers. The day when newspapers were the only game in town has long since vanished. Newspapers need to adjust to the times and most of them haven't. That's why many of them are no longer in business. When USA Today first came out two decades ago it spawned a legion of imitators who believed they had to serve out newspaper stories in bite-sized chunks so they wouldn't risk boring the readers, all of whom if you believed their mantra, have short attention spans.
   It didn't work. What newspapers ended up doing is sacrificing the biggest advantage they have over television. They were no longer providing the depth to help readers understand the issues that confront them. Television offers 30 second to 90 second stories with not much time to explore issues or occurrences. Newspapers have to be able to answer the questions that TV cannot.
   The USA Today imitators failed to realize that making stories shorter wasn't why USA Today was successful. USA Today had short WELL-WRITTEN stories. And during the past few years USA Today has seen the light and features a lot more longer storiers than it used to.
   Young readers aren't going to waste their time reading long, boring stories. That part the newspaper eidtors got right. What they failed to realize is young readers are not going to read short, boring stories either. They will read interesting short articles and, contrary to popular opinion, they will read long, interesting articles.
   One of the major problems with today's newspapers, not just in this area but across the country is that they are poorly written and the articles are about things the publishers and editors want to have in the paper, not what the readers want.
   When I was editor at The Carthage Press (and how many times have the readers of this blog seen that phrase), we took several steps to get younger readers interested in reading the paper and developing that newspaper habit that is so vital to keeping the medium alive.
   -We emphasized strong, in-depth writing and photographic coverage of events. The first step to success with readers young and old is to make sure there is something interesting in the paper everyday.
   -School coverage is important. Reporters need to cover every aspect of education, not just what takes place in the board of education meetings. How do changes affect students, teachers, taxpayers, etc. Write features about education, ranging from people who make great accomplishments (win National History Day, a national essay contest or something of the like) to kindergarteners just getting an idea of what school is all about. Get reporters who actually don't think it is beneath them to interview kids.
   -Hire young reporters and give them a big say in what they write about. At The Press, we won the Missouri Press Association's Community Service Award in 1998 for Teen Tuesday, a two-page spread we had in each Tuesday's paper written, edited, and photographed by teens. That section, spearheaded by a talented high school senior named Stacy Rector (who now works as a reporter for a newspaper in the Dallas area) covered everything from school events to pop culture to features on subjects such as teen pregnancy. Stacy's long, extremely well-written feature on a teen mother not only read by young and old alike in Carthage and the surrounding area but it won Stacy first place honors in the feature category in the MPA's annual Better Newspaper Contest. Any newspaper could do this, but I doubt if any of the local ones could do it successfully. You have to be willing to work with these kids, train them, and steer them in the right direction those times they get off course. As far as I can tell, there aren't any editors around who have that teaching ability that can turn young reporters into successful reporters. Most newspapers that use young writers try to shove them in a corner where all they write are school and sports stories.
   -Young readers should be treated with respect. Editors are insulting them if they try to dumb down a page or fill it up with stories and photos about people like Britney Spears or whoever the hot new sensation is. They can get that stuff on the Internet. And the people on the Internet can do it better and cheaper than they can. The newspaper's job is to interest young readers in that newspaper.
   -Don't assume that young readers are only interested in pop culture or teen-oriented stories. They will read about Iraq. They will read about politics. They will read stories about Alzheimer's Disease. But they are not going to read them if they are poorly written and in this area, poor writing seems to be the norm.
   I could go on and on (and for the most part, I already have). Give young people something to read that is worth reading and they will read. Bore them to tears and the newspaper will go the way of the dinosaur.
   Today's issue of The Carthage Press is another example of how to turn off readers. Page one has one local story "Renovations on track at Over 60 Center) It has two local photos, both linked with that story. When people can get all the national and international news they need on TV and the Internet, a local newspaper has to provide the one thing it can offer that the others cannot...local news. Monday is a tough day since for the most part news events don't take place over the weekend (at least not scheduled ones). That is one reason the Globe runs its police blotter material on that day.
   A small town newspaper, in order to survive and to serve its community, has to have a strong, local page one every day. It also needs to have a localized opinion page with strong, local columnists, local editorials, and letters to the editor. The newspapers that serve this area, The Press, The Neosho Daily News, the Lamar Democrat, and others do not make the investment in strong local reporting, and strong local opinions. Those are what make newspapers viable in the 21st Century.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

  A touch of mad dog disease has struck the electoral process in Missouri.
   Aptly named Martin "Mad Dog" Lindstedt filed a lawsuit in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri against Secretary of State Matt Blunt, who he claims refused to allow him to be on the ballot with his nickname.
   Lindstedt, a Granby resident, is running against Blunt in next month's Republican gubernatorial primary. The lawsuit is titled "Martin 'Mad Dog" Lindstedt, Republican Candidate for Governor of Missouri" vs. Matt 'Runt' Blunt, Secretary of State and Chief Election Official of Missouri, and Rival Republican Candidate for Governor of Missouri."
   Lindstedt claims his problems with Blunt date back to Lindstedt's previous candidacy for U.; S. Senate two years ago. Blunt did not permit him to use his nickname on the ballot that time either. Blunt has also refused both times to list Lindstedt's website on the list of official candidates, according to the lawsuit. which was filed July 21.
   Lindstedt acknowledges that it is too late to get the ballots changed or to get his website listed, so he has asked the court to "punish" Blunt by "having his nickname of Matt 'Runt' Blunt placed on the general election ballot if defendant wins the Republican primary" and that a link leading to this lawsuit be placed on the secretary of state's website.
   In his complaint, Lindstedt says he has not tried to hire a lawyer for this case. "(I) barely have $150 to pay for filing this case. That wouldn't buy an hour of lawyer time. Plus, this is an unusual case and (I haven't) heard of the like so why have a lawyer screw it up?"
   Anyone who would like to have a copy of the lawsuit sent to you, e-mail me at
   More developments in the Donald Peckham case, according to this morning's Joplin Globe. It appears that the Sarcoxie minister, who is in the Jasper County Jail in lieu of bond on statutory sodomy charges, has a decades-long history of such behavior with young boys during the times he was a pastor for the United Methodist Church at various Kansas posts.
   :It appears also that his wife has been very aware of his behavior and has been enabling him. This reminds me of an investigative series I worked on 10 years ago at The Carthage Press.
   I don't remember now why I was at the Lamar Country Club that afternoon, though I am absolutely sure it wasn't to attend any ritzy party, since that isn't exactly my scene. I was approached by a woman who worked at Barton County Memorial Hospital. She told me that the women who worked at the hospital were continually harassed by the hospital administrator, Dewey Smith, She said the harassment involved about two dozen female employees, but most of them were afraid they would lose their jobs if they complained. She said some of them were considering taking legal action against Smith. I told her to let me know if they did.
   I received word a few weeks after that. A woman called me, she wouldn't give me her name, but she said the lawsuit had been filed in U.S. District Court. At that time, court cases were not on the Internet, so I called Paul Stevens, then as now head of the Associated Press Bureau in Kansas City, and asked if one of his people could pick up a copy of the lawsuit and fax it to me. I received it about 90 minutes later.
   My first story came strictly from the lawsuit. Eight women were suing Smith and the hospital's board of trustees.Smith was accused of propositioning the women, making lewd remarks to them, telling "disgusting sexual jokes" and constantly using sexual innuendo. When I called him to ask him about the suit, he said, "I don't know anything about it."
   The lawsuit was filled with specific complaints against the administrator. He asked one employee what she would be willing to do for $100. He pinned another woman up against a full view of other employees. One woman said that he told her in detail about a pornographic movie that had "accidentally" come on his television the previous evening. Another woman said Smith pinched her breast and rubbed against her breasts on several occasions.
   One woman claimed he made obscene phone calls and had exposed himself to her.
   The initial story was bad enough. What happened after that was unbelievable.
   I am sure the Globe is going through the same thing right now. It is amazing how people can be blinded sometimes. "Oh, why won't they leave that poor man alone." And, of course, there are other people who feel sorry for the family. That was always my biggest problem. I never failed to go through with an investigative piece, but I never stopped thinking about the families, the people who didn't deserve what was happening to them.
   That was what I heard about Dewey Smith and his family. The Board of Trustees took an approach that was also typical and it exactly what Peckham's church members are doing now in Sarcoxie. It's not the pedophile minister's fault or the lecherous hospital administrator, it's the media's fault.
   I checked into Dewey Smith's background, calling people at the various hospitals where he had served as administrator. Two nurses confirmed to me that he had problems while he was at Ottawa, KS and one of them sent me a signed affidavit from a third female employee whom he had harassed. I also received confirmation from two former hospital board members.
    Then I discovered that Smith had been fired at Aurora Community Hospital in 1981 for sexual harassment. "He tried to make all the girls," a hospital board member told me. Smith's tenure at Aurora lasted only four months.  
   The Barton County Hospital Board President told me that the board had done a thorough  check on Smith's time at Ottawa and Aurora and I should be ashamed for causing problems for "such a good man."
   Eventually, the "good man" resigned and the hospital settled with the eight women for $369,000.
   I don't know if Dewey Smith ever found another hospital position. He died a few years back.
   I remember how the local newspaper in Lamar, the Lamar Democrat, never wrote anything about the case, except a couple of brief statements from the hospital, until Smith was finally fired. The Democrat had a chance to do what a local newspaper should do...investigate problems within the community. Instead, the publisher and editor decided to follow the good-old-boy network. Any bad news reflects badly on the whole town.
   All I know is, after that time, women were treated as human beings and not sex objects at Barton County Memorial Hospital.
   Another Lamar note- According to the Monett Times, John Jungmann, who wrote sports for me during the year that The Lamar Press was in business, has been named Monett Middle School principal.
   The Carthage square livened up for a couple of minutes this afternoon when a small parade featuring members of the 203rd (back from Iraq) make one quick jaunt around it before attending a rally at Memorial Hall. Some people were out waving small flags and all of the flags were flying proudly.
   On a personal note, I am expecting to hear sometime in the next few days about an apartment in Joplin. Hopefully, I can be moved before teachers go back to work on Aug. 12. The worst part of the job is the driving. When I first rented my apartment on the Carthage square, I was only a couple of blocks from The Carthage Press office. It's not quite as convenient any more.
   I'm a little behind on my movie reviews, so here goes:
   Tonight's movie was a 1953 western, "Garden of Evil" with Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, and Richard Widmark. It was okay, but nothing special. The plot featured Miss Hayward's character asking three men, played by Cooper, Widmark and Cameron Mitchell to accompany her to a gold mine to rescue her trapped husband. It takes them a while to get there, it takes them a while to get back, and they don't all make it. I've seen it before, and except for Widmark, nobody really comes out very well.
   Other movies I have watched the past few days include:
   KID FROM LEFT FIELD- This 1953 movie, actually expects us to believe that a nine-year-old boy could be hired to manage a major league baseball team. The managing is actually being done behind the scenes by the boy's father, the stadium peanut vendor and a former big leaguer, played by Dan Dailey. I never cared much for Dan Dailey. The talented Anne Bancroft is wasted. The actor who played the little boy (and I'm not going to look it up) did a good job, and so did Lloyd Bridges, playing a washed up third baseman.
   THE RAINMAKER- This 1956 movie (not the 90s one based on a John Grisham novel) was the only one pairing two great actors, Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn. Lancaster plays Bill Starbuck, a con man who claims he can bring rain to a drought-ridden Midwestern town. He greatly affects the life of the Curry family, especially the daughter, Lizzie, played by Miss Hepburn, and the youngest son, played by Earl Holliman. Those two have had their dreams dashed by their brother Noah, played by Lloyd Bridges.It looked as if the cast had a ball and I did, too, I haven't seen this movie in a long time and it was well worth watching.
   JERRY MAGUIRE- Yes, I do watch recent movies, just not very often.This is not a great movie, but it's a darned good one. Tom Cruise can act and he does so extremely well in this movie as the title character, a sports agent who is fired by his company and tries to make do with just one client, an eccentric Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., who won the Academy Award for this performance. Renee Zellweiger made her film debut as Cruise's love interest and it was a spectacular one.
   THIS GUN FOR HIRE- This 1942 classic was Alan Ladd's first major role (his first actual role was in Citizen Kane the year before as a reporter) Ladd plays a cold-blooded hired killer whose only redeeming virtue is his love for cats. He murders a man and a woman at the beginning of the movie, then is paid off by a sinister businessman, played by Laird Cregar (actor Raymond Burr's real-life brother). What Ladd doesn't know is that Cregar has paid him off in bills stolen in a recent robbery. When Ladd finds out he has been doublecrossed, all hell breaks loose. He teams with a nightclub entertainer, played by Veronica Lake, to get Cregar and whoever the big boss is. The nominal leads of the movie are Miss Lake and Robert Preston, who plays her boyfriend a police. Never has a leading man done so little for a movie. Watch this one and you'll why Ladd was a star for more than two decades and would have been even bigger if he had done more movies like this one and "Shane."
   HOMBRE- In this 1967 movie, Paul Newman plays a white man who was raised by Indians. Somehow, he winds up on a stagecoach with a Mexican driver, a government official, played by Fredric March, who has been stealing from the Indians, a bad man played by Richard Boone, a young married couple, the government official's wife, and a woman who has been around (but, of course, she has a heart of gold). This was a good character study and as always, Newman is great.

   But this Donald Peckham case definitely reminds me  

Sunday, July 18, 2004

   The news about the Diamond R-4 School District's lawsuit against Edison Schools finally reached a media outlet other than Wildcat Central. The Sunday Neosho Daily News featured an article on the back page of section one detailing the lawsuit, including Superintendent Mark Mayo's convoluted reasoning for filing it.
   I can't understand why this lawsuit was filed. Mayo and the school board insist that Edison is trying to screw the school out of $76,000 by charging the district more than it should have for operating summer school in 2002.
   What I would like to know is where all of this money went. According to a Joplin Globe article, board members admitted during a recent meeting that the district had a profit of more than $200,000 from Edison operating the school and not that's including all of the supplies that were presented to the district, free of charge, and which the district was allowed to keep. In another Globe article, Mayo said the district actually lost $4,500 from that 2002 summer school session.
   It would be nice if The Globe jumped in and did a little investigative reporting, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting.
   The Eighth District Court of Appeals recently affirmed a state appeals court decision not to grant a new trial to Charles Jeremiah. Jeremiah and his girlfriend both got drunk one night in Cedar County a few year back and Jeremiah killed her by beating her over the head with a baseball bat. During the trial, which was held in Barton County Circuit Court in Lamar on a change of venue, a jury found Jeremiah guilty. He appealed, claiming that the judge should not have allowed the prosecuting attorney to say that intoxication was not an excuse for clubbing your girlfriend to death. The state courts and the federal appeals court didn't buy that argument.
   My first big break on "Small Town News" ended today as another door was slammed in my face. Diana Finch, owner of the cleverly named Diana Finch Literary Agency rejected the novel and also said the writing was poor. That one is going to take a while to get over, but I am not going to give up.
   Natural Disaster was back in action, sort of, Saturday at the Sane Mule Motorcycle Shop near Boulder City. Our drummer, John Scott, was visiting his sons in California and our bass guitarist Tim Brazelton didn't show up. We still did a set with Richard Taylor playing drums for the first time in his life (and doing pretty well even though John had only been able to give him one two-hour lesson), Mark McClintock on lead guitar (and only guitar) and Richard and I did vocals. There weren't many people outside listening. Most of them listened from inside the motorcycle shop or were out riding their motorcycles, but considering our shortage of manpower, we didn't do badly at all.
   My favorite song was that old rock and roll shouter Little Latin Lupe Lu, an old garage band hit from the mid-60s. Hopefully, someday we will be able to do that number (and the rest of them) in front of a little larger audience.
   Tonight's movie was the 1987 thriller "Black Widow" with Debra Winger and Theresa Russell. The movie was implausible, but who cares? After all, it starred Debra Winger and Theresa Russell and that's good enough for me.
   Theresa Russell is a serial killer (the Black Widow of the title) who marries rich men, then kills them. Debra Winger plays the FBI agent who figures out there is a connection between the deaths of these men, all of which were ruled death by natural causes.
   The game of cat and mouse between the two men is fun. The attraction between the two of them is disturbing, but after all, you have to remember this is a movie about a woman who has murdered at least three husbands and is on the prowl for more. That's a little disturbing, too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Add the Webb City R-7 School District to the list of those who want to begin drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities.
While I have no doubt that the board members are considering the step because they have the best interests of the students at heart, that still doesn't make drug testing right.
Superintendent Ron Lankford noted that a 2002 Supreme Court decision allows schools to conduct drug tests of students who participate in extracurricular activities. Thank God our court didn't decide to further violate the 4th and 5th amendments by allowing school officials to conduct random or mandatory drug tests of everyone.
One of the most appalling things about the Joplin Globe article was the support the students showed for the tests. It is this same kind of mindset...protect us from evil no matter how many civil liberties we lose...that has allowed John Ashcroft to prosper.
Some of the reasons given in support of drug testing:
-If kids know they are going to be tested, they won't do drugs. "It will help them in the decision making process," one parent said. Hey, whatever happened to parents helping them with the decision making process. It would sure make it a lot easier on parents if the school would take care of the drug problem for them, just like it takes care of telling the kids about sex.
-"We've got the same problems other communities have and we need to start dealing with it," Football Coach John Roderique said. Besides the obvious grammatical error, this is assuming that people who participate in extracurricular activities are the ones who are abusing drugs. Of course, that group is not immune, but students who participate in extracurricular activites are less likely to do drugs because they have found constructive ways to use their time. Remember, we are not just talking about football and basketball players here. We are also talking about academic team, cheerleaders, band, choir, science club...everything is on the table. One effect may be to drive some kids away from the very activities that could save them.
-The school district can afford it because the tests will be paid for out of a federal Drug Free School and Community grant. If they have the money for it, well then they might as well do it. Now that is sound reasoning. Even worse, district officials plan to shift money from elementary drug prevention programs to pay for testing. Shouldn't good elementary drug prevention programs do more to limit drug use than testing students who are mostly drug-free anyway?
It doesn't matter. It appears that it will happen in Webb City, the same way it happened in Carthage, Carl Junction, and Baxter Springs. What a shame.
A page one story in The Carthage Press tonight dealt with The Press' purchase of the building that used to house Honey's Restaurant on Central Avenue. The article saddened me.
It's not that I'm that connected with the present Press building, though I have plenty of good memories of my nearly 10 years there, the final five and a half as the managing editor. The reason behind that move is what is depressing.
The Press is currently located in a three-story building at 527 S. Main. The building is far too large for the newspaper's needs...primarily because it has been gutted by Liberty Group Publishing, the company that owns The Press, the Neosho Daily News and The Big Nickel.
About six years ago, after Liberty bought the newspaper from Thomson, the company decided it could save money by pulling out the press, selling it, and sending the paper 25 miles to Neosho to be printed. Sure, it improved the company's bottom line, and it improved the Neosho Daily's bottom line, but it cost The Press plenty. The Press was printing nearly every high school newspaper in the area at that time, as well as a few small-town weeklies. Also, the sense of ownership a town has about a newspaper is diminished when it is printed somewhere else. Those things were sacrificed for the bottom line. Also sacrificed were the jobs of the three people who ran the press, including one who had been there for nearly three decades. Chalk another one up to progress.
I didn't know until early last month that there is no longer a composing room at Carthage. That, too, is also done at Neosho now. These steps have saved the company money and improved the bottom line, but they have forced artificially early deadlines on The Press, which can no longer deal with any kind of breaking news in the morning. That doesn't appear to be a problem that bothers anyone connected with Liberty.
Whatever happened to a newspaper being in the business of providing a public service?
I'll talk a little bit more about the old Press building and my memories of it as times draws closer for the big move.
Tonight's movie was the 1956 John Wayne classic, "The Searchers," directed by John Ford. Many movie critics rate this among the top 10 movies of all time and I can understand why.
I hadn't watched this movie in about 20 years and I had forgotten how powerful it was. Wayne said the role of Ethan Edwards was his favorite role. Edwards' brother's family,his only kin, is massacred by renegade Comanches, except for his two nieces. He sets out in pursuit with a young man that his brother had raised as his own, and the older daughter's boyfriend.
This is not a typical hero role for Wayne. Ethan Edwards is a deeply troubled man and a racist with an intense dislike of Indians. The trio discover the older niece has been murdered. Her boyfriend rccklessly seeks vengeance and is killed. The question the viewer has as Edwards' search goes on for more than five years is...what will he do when he finally finds the other girl? Will he rescue her and take her home or will he kill her because she has been contaminated by the Comanches?
Jeffrey Hunter plays the role of Edwards' companion on his search, Morgan Pauley. Vera Miles, one of the loveliest women ever to appear in movies and a favorite of director John Ford's plays the girl who waits and waits for Pauley to return and marry her.
This is truly a great movie and once again shows just how much Wayne's political leanings, which were ultraconservative, got in the way of critics' judgment of his acting skills. Few actors played as many roles as well as John Wayne did.
Interesting note: Wayne's catchphrase in the movie, "That'll be the day" was the inspiration for the hit song of the same name recorded by Buddy Holly and the Crickets in 1957.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Natural Disaster will perform at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sane Mule Motorcycle Shop near Boulder City. It should be an interesting gig.
Our leader, Richard Taylor, who normally is the lead guitarist, will be the drummer. This comes after his stint playing bass at the Johnson Family Show last month. Our regular drummer, John Scott, is in California visting relatives. With Richard on drums, Mark McClintock plays lead guitar, Tim Brazelton is on bass, and I play the shaker and chip in with vocals. Richard sings lead on about half of the songs and I do the other half.
Our rehearsal Monday night at Tim's house went well. We started with our usual opening number, "Kansas City," and went right through the list to "Blue Suede Shoes," which we have been using to close our shows right from the beginning.I am really liking the new songs we have added to our repertoire, including Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman," and the Chancellors' "Little Latin Lupe Lu," which I sing, and "Made in Japan" and "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," which Richard sings.
We're not expecting too many people to be there to listen to the music. Most of them spend the day on their motorcycles zipping around the country. When they return to the shop, it's usually to get something to eat and drink.
Fortunately, we will get paid for this gig. Not with money, but with something even better, especially concerning the cream.
Speaking of ice cream, our practice Monday night prevented me from going to an event I have attended each presidential election year since 1992, the Lincoln Ladies Ice Cream Social at Memorial Hall in Carthage. As you might be able to tell from the name, the Lincoln Ladies are Republican. I am not. However, ice cream is a universal language so I have always made it a point to attend.
Also, despite the bad name it gets from 24-hour cable news networks and late night comedians, politics is a great spectator sport.
My first political experience came when I was a junior at East Newton High School and convinced a senior, Wayne Johnson, to run for the East Newton R-6 Board of Education. Wayne received three write-in votes,if I remember correctly, and we both were captivated by politics.
The following December (1973), I convinced Wayne that he should run as a write-in candidate for Newton County Court (what is today known as the Newton County Commission). We didn't believe that an 18-year-old could get his name on the ballot. We started the write-in campaign with me writing a letter to the editor to the Neosho Daily News and Wayne signing his name to it. In the letter, I complained about the condition of the county roads and claimed the County Court had done nothing about it, so I would have to run for county court from the Eastern District as a write-in candidate. The incumbent was a Republican named Bill O'Neal. Wayne was a Democrat.
Neosho Daily reporter Bill Ball did something that Wayne and I should have done...he actually checked the state law to see if Wayne had to run as a write-in. He discovered that an 18-year-old could legally run for county court. All of this was revealed on page one. It was priceless publicity.
I served as Wayne's campaign manager and a lot of things fell into place. Wayne by this time was a freshman at Missouri Southern State College. He was taking a basic political science course taught by Annetta St. Clair, a mover and shaker in Jasper County Democratic politics. (She is still big in area politics 30 years later) Mrs. St. Clair required her students to participate in a political campaign. It didn't matter if it were Democrat or Republican, she said, thought it seemed the students who worked for Democratic candidates received higher grades. Many of the students volunteered to work for Wayne.
That helped us do something that had not been done in Newton County politics up to that time...a door-to-door campaign of the entire Eastern District. Up until that time, candidates usually did a small amount of door-to-door, worked the party dinners, and left their cards at stores and laundromats.
We made it our goal to visit every house in the district, including the Joplin area of Newton County. Though we initially had some help from the MSSC students, most of the door-to-door campaigning was done by Wayne, his girlfriend (now his wife) Rhonda Trammell,an EN graduate and MSSC student from Granby named Gary Judd, and me.
We were shocked to discover that Wayne was the first Newton County candidate anyone could remember campaigning in the Joplin area.
We campaigned in Joplin, Granby, Diamond, Newtonia, Ritchey, Stark City, Fairview, and Stella, where I received my first speeding ticket.
In the Democratic primary we faced the mayor of Fairview, Richard Harter. He didn't do any campaigning, as far as we could ascertain, and we rolled over him in August. The Republican incumbent,Bill O'Neal, decided not to run for reelection, another break for us, so we were up against a man from Joplin whose name escapes me (ah, the perils of old age). I remember his first name was Larry and that's about it. The general election wasn't even close, and at 18, Wayne Johnson was the youngest county court judge ever elected in this state.
He served one two-year term. By this time, he was married to Rhonda and needed more money so he decided to run for county clerk in 1976. Unfortunately for Wayne, he no longer had me working for him, and even if he had, he was not going to beat former county collector Bob Bridges, a popular Republican who had decided to make a political comeback.
Last I heard of Wayne he was selling used cars in Broken Arrow, Okla. As far as I know, he has never made any effort to get back into politics.
That was the last time I served as campaign manager for a local candidate. I served in an advisory capacity on a couple of Newton County races over the next few years, but my next foray into politics didn't come until 1984.
I debated whether to do it, because I always believed that newspaper reporter should steer away from participating in politics, but the lure of presidential politics was too great, so I became Barton County campaign manager for Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who was running for president.
This was in the days before Missouri went to a presidential primary. Instead, delegates to the Seventh District Democratic Convention were selected through the caucus process.
We met on a Tuesday night in the Lamar Trust Company community room. It was an experience I will never forget. The Barton County Democratic party was split into two factions, the older group, which was supporting former Vice President Walter Mondale and the younger group, which included the county's Democratic officeholders, Presiding Commissioner Doug Haile, County Clerk Bonda Rawlings (who is still serving in that position) and County Assessor Doug Sprouls. Others who were on the Gary Hart side were my fiancee, Penny Culp, a recent high school graduate named Edith Epple, who coincidentally now works at Lamar Bank and Trust Company, and the town pharmacist, Ron Wrestler. If Ron's wife had been involved, I could have said it was a coalition of the young and the wrestlers, but she wasn't there.
The head of the county Democrats, Dr. Tom Carroll, went through his usual procedure as he prepared to call for the first vote or caucus. He asked if anyone wanted to say a few words for either of the candidates. In the past, no one had. This time, I had written a speech supporting the Hart candidacy. It went pretty well, but no one had one prepared for Mondale.One elderly lady tried and it was almost laughable.
Though my speech was easily better, there were still several more Mondale supporters at the caucus, so when the first vote was taken, Mondale won by about 10 votes. Since Barton County could send two delegates to the district convention, Dr. Carroll said both delegates would support Mondale.
I had read the rules carefully before the caucus and knew that was not the way it should be. Hart was close enough that he should have one delegate. I argued the point, but Dr. Carroll wasn't going to budge. Finally, he said he would call the State Democratic Committee. He tried numerous times, but was unable to get through.
Finally, he said, "We'll just take one more vote and that should settle it." I started to protest, but Doug Haile, who was a far wiser man than I, said, "Don't worry about it, Randy. It's going to turn out all right."
I didn't understand how he could think this. Gary Hart was getting robbed of a delegate. But when the vote was taken, Hart won by four votes. I asked Doug how he knew. "People don't feel that strongly about Mondale or Hart, Randy, but they feel very strongly about cheaters."
Dr. Carroll was conciliatory. "Well, I guess each candidate will get one delegate," he said. I was tempted to argue the point, but wisely decided not to.
I would have been Gary Hart's campaign manager again in 1988, except for his bad reaction to the press trying to hunt down rumors that he was a womanizer. He challenged the press to prove it. They staked out his hotel and discovered that a sexy young blonde named Donna Rice was meeting secretly with him. Later, the National Enquirer came up with a photo of Miss Rice, wearing a micro-mini skirt sitting on Hart's lap on a friend's yacht, which had the unfortunate name of "Monkey Business." Hart's candidacy was over before it really even started. He dropped out of the race, dropped back in later, but by that time it was too late. (Ironically, Miss Rice has been back in the news recently as head of an organization that battles pornography.)
That was my last venture into presidential politics.
And that brings me to my first visit to the Lincoln Ladies Ice Cream Social.
By this time, I was a general assignment reporter for The Carthage Press. The 1992 gubernatorial race (I threw that word in there for Alicia Bradley's benefit) was the most interesting state race I can remember. Three state officeholders, Secretary of State Roy Blunt, Treasurer Wendell Bailey, and Attorney General Bill Webster were running on the Republican ticket, while Lieutenant Governor Mel Carnahan was the only viable Democratic candidate. I had a chance to interview all four men. Carnahan's last visit to Carthage came on March 30, since Democrats traditionally have not done well in southwest Missouri. All three Republican candidates were invited to the Lincoln Ladies Social held only one week before the August primary. No one really wanted Roy Blunt or Wendell Bailey there. The event was designed as a coronation for Carthage's native son, Bill Webster.
I was never a big fan of Bill Webster. To me, he has a lot in common with the current president, George W. Bush. Both are Republicans who were elected to office because they had powerful fathers. Neither of them ever showed me anything that would indicate they deserved their high offices. Richard Webster, at one time had been Speaker of the House in Missouri, then later served three decades until his death in 1989 as the top Republican in the State Senate.
About six hours before the ice cream social, I had the opportunity to interview Roy Blunt at the radio station in Lamar. After the interview I was talking to the woman he was married to at that time and asked her if her husband was going to brave the lion's den that night. She said he had an engagement at Aurora and probably would not be able to make it.
At that moment, Roy Blunt, who had been talking to another reporter, showed that he had been following our conversation. "You know," he said, "I might just brave the lion's den after all."
It was probably the greatest act of political courage I have seen in this area. No one wanted Roy Blunt in Carthage that night.
When I arrived at Memorial Hall, the place was decorated in red, white and blue. Of course, I went straight to the ice cream before I examined the decor very much more. Candidate posters lined the wall. Cute young women in red, white and blue outfits wore their Webster for Governor buttons proudly.
Candidates for county office and state representative and senator worked the crowd, shaking hands, kissing babies, doing whatever they could to persuade people to support their candidacies.
Bill Webster, who was also at that dinner in Aurora, had not yet arrived. Shortly before the candidate speeches began, as I watched the parking lot to see when Webster would arrived, a small car pulled in. Roy Blunt had arrived.
I stationed myself by the door. I wanted to capture the reaction the Carthage faithful would have when this infidel crossed into sacred territory.
The secretary of state walked through the door as if it were just another political event. A few gasps were audible. I heard one older woman say, "What's he doing here?" making it seem as if an ex-con had just entered the church.
Other similar sentiments were expressed everywhere I went. One man said, "I'm not going to vote for him, but I'll give him credit. He's got guts."
After shaking a few hands, Blunt made his way to the stage and sat down on a folding chair to await his turn to speak.
Still near the door, I heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Bill Webster had arrived.
The chopper landed in the parking lot by Memorial Hall and Webster climbed out. He made no move to enter the building.
Since the big story was Webster and Blunt, I left Memorial Hall and tried to get a brief interview with Webster. I was successful, but as usual he didn't say much and what he did say was not very impressive.
Inside, the speeches continued through the candidates for county office, then state office, until finally it was time for the governor's race. Since Wendell Bailey was a no-show, Roy Blunt went first. He made a joke about Webster offering him a ride on his helicopter, but he decided to take his car instead of being strapped to a blade. It didn't even receive polite laughter, though I have to admit I was amused.
After that, Blunt gave his stump speech. It was a good one and the Jasper County audience gave him a polite, though definitely reserved response. They gave the secretary of state time to leave the building, then the big show began.
The lights were turned off except for one big spotlight trained toward the back of Memorial Hall. A tape player began playing Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." The applause began and everyone stood as Bill Webster finally entered the building. As far as I was concerned, all he had shown was that he (and his supporters) thought he was too good to sit with the rest of the candidates. Besides, that would have spoiled the coronation.
Red, white and blue balloons were released from the balcony. As Webster strode down the aisle, he removed his dark blue jacket and for a moment, I really thought he was going to toss it into the crowd. It was like he was some kind of a god, or even worse, a rock star.
It was the same speech I had heard him give elsewhere and Bill Webster was not a particularly good public speaker, but his fans ate it up. This is what they had come to see.
A week later, I was at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City on the night of the primary election. I had talked Carthage Press Managing Editor Neil Campbell into sending me to cover it since this would be the first time a Carthage native had ever received a party's nomination for governor...if he received it.
The outcome was in doubt because Blunt had run a series of devastating ads pointing out Webster's crooked dealings with the state's second injury fund. It would take quite a while to explain what the fund was, but what Webster did was plain and simple, he took bribes and he rewarded the people who gave them to him.
That was one of my best evenings as a reporter. I spent the evening with two gorgeous women. Unfortunately, the first part of the evening was spent having dinner with one of the women and her husband. Then that woman, her teenage daughter and I went to the Webster party. (That has always been the way my luck has run.)
The liquor was flowing freely at the Webster bash. (I'll quickly point out that I didn't drink any since I haven't had any alcohol since I was 14 years old.) A small combo was playing a combination of jazz and big band tunes and a number of people were dancing. They were dressed to the nines.
Tony Feather, a Sarcoxie native and Webster's press secretary, told me I could have a 10-minute interview with Webster. I waited patiently. Later, he returned and told me it would have to be a five-minute interview. I said that would be fine.
As usual, I had my clipboard with my yellow legal pad out, jotting down notes, getting description of everything, adding atmosphere to my story. Tony Feather returned and told me I wouldn't be able to get a one-on-one interview with the attorney general. I would have to do it as a group interview with other print reporters.
After the election returns were in and it was obvious that Webster was the party's choice to face Mel Carnahan in the general election, Webster emerged and immediately went to the bank of television cameras situated at a side of the room.
The other print reporters stood and watched as Webster ran the gauntlet. He walked from one television reporter to the next, letting each TV station interview him for as long as it needed. A female reporter from a Columbia station removed her black pumps (then she took her shoes off, just kidding) climbed on top of a chair and asked Webster if he would mind standing on the chair next to her. The man who was being described as "our next governor" was happy to oblige.
The print reporters stood around, complaining to each other. How were they going to get their stories. I was busy getting mine. I walked around behind the bank of television cameras where Mrs. Webster was standing with Tony Feather. "Mrs. Webster, do you have time for a few questions?" She said she did. I asked about how she was feeling at this historic moment, then I asked her about how she felt about the Roy Blunt ads. Believe me, I had my story.
I never got my Webster interview, but I hung around close. I wrote about what happened. I wrote the story on my interview with Mrs. Webster. It was a great experience for me as a reporter. It was a disaster for the state of Missouri.
I drove home that night, reaching Carthage a little after 5 a.m. I wrote my stories and went home a little after 7.
Bill Webster's decision to continue his candidacy for governor set in motion a chain of events that has had ramifications to this day.
The charges against him were the centerpiece of the November election, which Carnahan won easily. Bill Webster was later convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. A man who was at one time the state's top crimefighter, was nothing but a criminal. The state's top attorney had his law license stripped from him. (In the one-page retrospective I wrote for The Press about Webster's career, I found some interesting photos to accompany it, including some I took that night in Jefferson City, and believe it or not a photo of Webster when he was Carthage Senior High School Prom king.)
If Webster had done the right thing and dropped out of the race, it is possible the following things would have happened.
-Roy Blunt, not Mel Carnahan, would have been elected governor. The Republican party was well ahead in the polls for other offices, but the Webster scandal dragged it down.
-If Blunt had been elected governor, Carnahan would not have been killed in the 2000 plane crash that occurred as he was running for the U. S. Senate after spending two terms as governor.
-Because of the sympathy factor after Carnahan's death, he was elected to the U. S. Senate posthumously over John Ashcroft. In other words, if Webster had dropped out of the governor's race, we would never have had to have John Ashcroft as U. S. attorney general.
It's fascinating to think about, but ultimately it is an exercise in futility.
The sad thing is, there are still many people in Carthage who think that Bill Webster was railroaded. How many times did I hear people say, "He wasn't doing anything that everyone else isn't doing."
Well, he was. Bill Webster was a crook. He got what he deserved.
Tonight's movie was "Knock on Any Door," a 1949 message movie by director Nicholas Ray, starring Humphrey Bogart and introducing a young actor named John Derek.
Bogart plays an attorney who defends Derek's character, Nick Romano, who is accused of murdering a policeman following a botched robbery. Though the movie is watchable because anything with Bogart in it is watchable, the plot is a joke.
This was the beginning of the thinking that environment is what turns people into criminals. Nick Romano's father died,he grew up in the slums, he spent time in reform school, where he saw his best friend die from abuse. So, naturally who can blame him when he turns to a life of crime. It's society's fault. Whatever happened to personal responsibility?
Derek never became the big film star everyone thought he would be, but men should be grateful to him. He discovered, wooed, then later promoted three much younger women later in his career. It was he who brought the first Bond girl, Swedish actress Ursula Andress to prominence, followed by Linda Evans of "The Big Valley" and "Dynasty" and his three-decades younger wife Bo Derek, who starred in the movie "10" with Dudley Moore and later made several movies which were just barely above soft-core porn.
This is not one I would recommend, though as I said before, anything with Bogart in it is watchable.
Two last notes on the movie:
The director, Nicholas Ray, didn't do well with the juvenile delinquency theme in this movie, but six years later, he hit the jackpot with a movie about the same topic, "Rebel Without a Cause" starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. Also, this movie is where the phrase, "Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse," originated. It was spoken twice by Derek's character.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

It appears I will be insane next Saturday. Or to be more exact, I will be in Sane. At least, that's the joke that my classmate from the EN Class of 1974 Paul Richardson uses for his Sane Mule Motorcycle shop near Boulder City. This will be the third time that our band, Natural Disaster, has played for one of his gatherings. The first time was the final appearance of the three girls in the group. That was in July 2003.
We also performed there in April. There was virtually no audience except for group leader/lead guitarist Richard Taylor's wife. The cyclists were usually out riding. You can clearly hear them pulling in and out of the parking lot on the audiocassette tape I have of that performance.
Hopefully, there will be a few people there to listen to the music. I am not sure exactly what time we are scheduled to start, but we practice tomorrow night at bass player Tim Brazelton's home, so I will find out then.
As I was surfing the web, I checked out, a website featuring information about Lamar, a town in which I lived in 1978 and again from 1982 to 1990. After that, I still covered Lamar for The Carthage Press until May 1999. In fact, the last story I wrote for The Press was about the Lamar High School graduation ceremony. features a message board and I was surprised to find that I was a topic. Actually, the posters were talking about The Lamar Democrat, and the lack of news and information in it. A poster who called himself Oldtimer recalled the brief time in 1996 and 1997 when the Democrat had competition from a startup weekly called The Lamar Press. I was the editor of that newspaper, which lasted for 49 weeks. I still believe it is the best weekly newspaper I have seen in southwest Missouri. Oldtimer apparently believes that, too.
He recalled the dirty tactics used by The Democrat which kept our fledgling effort from getting off the ground. I had almost forgotten what Democrat Publisher Doug Davis did, or at least what I believe he did. The first issue of The Lamar Press was dated July 15, 1996, if memory serves me correctly. It was jam-packed with more news, more photos, more features, and more local columnists than The Democrat would have in six months, much less one newspaper.
We had our Carthage Press carrier for the Lamar area and another person throw the papers in the city. What we didn't know at the time, and did not find out until later, was that word had gone out about what we were going to do. Doug Davis or someone had our carriers followed and hundreds of people including many of the city's top officials and business people had the newspapers swiped right out of their yards. That happened for the first three weeks or so. The newspaper never recovered. That, combined with a lack of effort on our part to really try to hit hard on advertising sales, crippled The Press before it could ever get off the ground.
The newspaper was probably the only weekly in the area that ever featured any investigative reporting. Cait Purinton, an 18-year-old freshman from Kansas State, who graduated from Lamar High School, was a top reporter for The Press. She wrote a hard-hitting series on abuses in a Lamar residential care center called The Guest House, which eventually ended up getting that facility closed.
Our investigative series on a Lamar man who was bilking people who invested money in his non-existent AIDS cure, ran circles around The Joplin Globe's coverage of the same story. We were the only ones who found out that Pat Graham's investors included singer Pat Boone and the Hershend and Braschler families, who operate Silver Dollar City and other entertainment establishments in Branson.
We ran extensive coverage not only of hard-news stories like those, but also of events like The Lamar Fair and the high school graduation.
At the same time, I was serving as editor of The Carthage Press so I was putting in 80 to 90 hour weeks. I firmly believe I probably would have cut 10 to 15 years off my life if I had continued at that pace for much longer. I still have every copy of that newspaper. For 49 weeks, we put out the best weekly newspaper in southwest Missouri. It was an exciting time.
Tonight's movie was the 1948 classic "Portrait of Jennie," starring Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones. The movie was adapted from Robert Nathan's 1940 novel of the same name. That book has always been one of my favorites and I have always recommended it to students.
The plot for this fantasy revolves around a starving artist named Eban Adams, whose work has always been uninspired. One day, Eban, played by Cotten, meets a young girl named Jennie Appleton in the park. Something about this girl fascinates him. She has a timeless quality and seems like someone who would have been at home in some bygone era.
After they part, Eban sells a drawing he did of her to an art gallery, where the owners remark about the increased amount of feeling in his work. The next time Eban meets the girl is only a few days later, but she appears to be a few years older. Each time Jennie meets with him, she tells him she is hurrying to grow up for him.
Curiously, though, she talks of places and people that no longer exist as if they did.
The plot, which you will enjoy if you are a hopeless romantic and abhor if you are a cynic, revolves around the theme that love is timeless.
It's odd that when Marlon Brando died last week, I couldn't think of a single film he had been in that I had enjoyed, except perhaps "Guys and Dolls" and he was terrible in that movie.
Joseph Cotten, on the other hand, is one of the most underrated actors of all time has been in many movies that I could watch over and over. He made his movie debut in "Citizen Kane," which some critics consider to be the best film of all time. He was also in "The Third Man" and was a wonderfully convincing, charming villian in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, "Shadow of a Doubt." That's not even to mention his parts in movies such as "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Since You Went Away." Whoops, I just did mention them.When you watched Brando in a movie, you could always tell he was acting. Cotten, like Spencer Tracy, who is my all-time favorite actor, was just natural. With him, you believed in the character, you didn't have someone trying to impress you with accents and acting tricks.
"Portrait of Jennie" also features solid supporting performances from Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, and David Wayne.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Finally, a glimmer of hope.
After a summer of one rejection after another (we're talking about my fledgling writing career here, not my love life), I at last have something positive to write about.
Today, I received an e-mail from Diana Finch, head of the Diana Finch Literary Agency in New York. I sent her agency and a number of others, a one-page query trying to interest them in representing my novel, "Small Town News."
I believe I sent out about 15 e-mail queries. So far, I have received seven rejections. It is hard to convince agents that they should represent your novel when they have not even read the manuscript. Unfortunately, that's the way the game is played. You have to get the agent to read the manuscript, then hope the agent is interested, will take you on as a client, then sell your work to a publisher. Most publishers these days do not deal with anyone who does not have an agent.
Ms. Finch wrote, "Thank you for your query. I like the themes of your novel, though it is so hard to tell from a query letter alone as so much depends on the actual writing. Would you send me the first five to 10 pages of the manuscript then, as a Word.doc attachment, as an e-mail text message or by snailmail? Please note "Requested material" in the e-mail subject heading or cover letter. I look forward to receiving the sample pages. Sincerely, Diana Fitch"
The first thing I have to do is not get my hopes up. Naturally, there was a brief rousing cheer when I read the message. Then I brought myself down to earth.
I just have my foot in the door. That depended on an agent liking a one-page proposal that had already been rejected by seven other agents. So far, so good.
Now my success (with Diana Finch, at least) depends on how well she likes the 10 pages I will e-mail to her as an attachment later today. If she likes that, then I will send her the entire manuscript. If she likes that, she still has to sell it to a publishing company. A large number of hurdles remain in front of me.
But at least I have a shot.
Tonight's movie was from 2001 (all right, all right, don't collapse from shock. I do watch newer movies every once in a while.)
"The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" was one of actor/director Woody Allen's returns to the form of his early movies from 1969 to about 1975, before he decided he wanted to become Ingmar Bergman and make all kinds of message movies. I still enjoy most of Woody Allen's movies, but this one was him at the top of his game.
It's my kind of movie when the lead actress, Helen Hunt, playing an efficiency expert at the insurance agency where Allen's character, C. W. Briggs, works, says, "You're too old for me, you're too short, and you're too ugly." Of course, C. W. responds, "You left out the best part. I'm losing my hair." Of course, he ends up with the girl. (Hmm, could there be some deep psychological reason why I like this film?)
The basic plot is silly, of course. The movie takes place in 1940. C. W. Briggs is a top-notch insurance investigator who may be phased out of his job if the new efficiency expert, who is having an affair with his boss, played by Dan Aykroyd, has his way.
One evening they go to a nightclub where a birthday party is being held for one of their colleagues. The floor show is a hypnotist, who puts both C. W. and Miss Fizgerald (Miss Hunt's character) under a trance and has them fall madly in love with each other in front of an audience. He brings them out of the trance after they have thorougly embarrassed themselves, but he does not remove the trigger words, "Constantinople" for Briggs and "Madagascar" for Miss Fitzgerald.
The hypnotist later phones Briggs, says "Constantinople" and has him commit two daring jewel thefts...both of places where he had set up the security for the insurance agency.
The one-liners are fast and furious and the characters are likable and have you rooting for them. Allen has been playing the same character, with different names, for almost 40 years, and it hasn't grown old a bit.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The advent of blogs has been a wonderful thing for writing teachers (such as the one who writes this blog).
As some of my students and former students take up writing blogs, it gives me an opportunity to see them grow as writers and as human beings.
Two of my favorite former students, Alicia Bradley and Michelle Nickolaisen of Diamond, have been blogging since spring of 2003. Their blogs have often been witty and insightful. You can find Alicia's blog at and Michelle's at (At some point, I am going to set up links from this page and I will put them on there.)
I have had other students set up blogs from time to time but none of them have done them with as much dedication and Michelle and Alicia. Hopefully, the new one that just started this week will also be updated on a regular basis.
Brittany Harmon's blog, "My Thrilling Life" has rapidly become must reading for me. Brittany was one of the students in my advanced communication arts class at South last year. In fact, she was the winner of my Top Writer Award that I have given every year since my first year teaching. She is probably one of the two or three best opinion paper writers I have had and she has an equal flair for writing fiction...and for blogging.
Brittany has a wickedly sharp sense of humor and I will miss having her in class this fall. I know she is going to do well at Joplin High School. You can find her blog at
The return of Sarcoxie minister Don Peckham, safe and sound, has been one of the top local stories today. Peckham vanished several days ago. leaving his car behind the Book Barn in Joplin.
Regular readers of this blog (both of you) know that I enjoy critiquing local news coverage and that's what I'm going to do on this one.
The way the newspapers and the area stations covered this story was fascinating and revealed a lot about each of the news outlets. The Globe thought the story was big enough to add it to their website at 10 a.m. today. I agree with them. The Globe should do that with a lot of stories. Why let the local TV stations have the advantage when it comes to breaking news and scheduled events. The Internet makes it possible to update immediately when you have news. You don't have to wait until the next morning.
The Carthage Press was able to put a bulletin about Peckham in their briefs column on the left hand side of page one. In the old days, The Press would have been able to have a big page-one writeup, but once the presses were sold and the paper was taken to Neosho, the early deadlines have almost totally eliminated comprehensive breaking news in The Press.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the TV stations' take on Peckham's discovery. Both Channel 12 and Channel 16 went with the Carthage Police Department news conference and did absolutely no digging on their own. (Investigative reporting is non-existent at the local TV stations and is pretty rare at the area newspapers.)
Channel 7 was the only one that had something that did not come out of the press conference. Channel 7 reported that Peckham recently had a judgment against him in a local court for $10,000. Apparently, the minister had ran up a large credit card bill. The Channel 7 anchor, Dowe Quick, said, "Channel 7 has learned that..." and then continued with that tidbit of information. What Dowe Quick didn't mention was that Channel 7 learned reading it in The Joplin Globe a few days earlier.
It reminds me of what happened several years ago when I was managing editor at The Carthage Press. At the time, we were breaking one big story after another. I believed then (and I still believe) that breaking big stories, featuring excellent writing, and providing in-depth coverage of local news is the only way an afternoon newspaper can survive in this day and age.
It occurred to me that we could get more mileage, and more readers, from our scoops if we could get them promoted on local television. I can't remember now what the story was that I decided to try my theory on, but one afternoon, I faxed our story to each of the three television stations, pointing out they were free to use the story, but they needed to note that it was copyrighted by The Carthage Press. Now if they had been able to independently verify the information, there would have been no ethical problem with them leaving The Press out of it, but I didn't leave them enough time to independently verify the story.
Channel 16 didn't use it all.
Channel 7 used it and credited The Carthage Press.
Channel 12 used it and acted as if was a Channel 12 story. It was the last time I tried that experiment.
Double feature night at the old Turner Apartment. The first movie was an obscure 1964 movie, "The World of Henry Orient." This is about the fourth time I have watched the film, which stars Peter Sellers and Angela Lansbury.
The main characters in the film, though, were played by two unknown teenage actresses, Tippie Walker and Merrie Spaeth. Miss Walker played a 14-year-old gifted student, Valerie Boyd, whose parents are never around. She creates an elaborate fantasy world, into which she drags Marian Gilbert, played by Miss Walker. Marian has a more stable home life, living with her divorced mother.
Valerie develops a crush on a terrible concert pianist named Henry Orient, played by Sellers. She and Marian begin researching him and following him around as if he were a rock star, and often wind up causing him problems as he unsuccessfully tries to seduce a married woman.
The most unsuccessful parts of the movie are when Sellers uses his trademark slapstick humor. What works in his Pink Panther movies just gets in the way here. This movie is at its best when it sticks to getting its humor (and drama) from the characterizations. The girls are naturals, while Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley are great as Val's parents.
Anyone who thinks Angela Lansbury is only good at nice roles like Jessica Fletcher in her long-running "Murder She Wrote" series should know that she made her mark as an actress playing a series of wicked women. She's at the top of her game in this movie.
The director, George Roy Hill, went on to direct two Oscar winners, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting", both starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, but I prefer this one and a movie he made in the late 1970s called "A Little Romance," which starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Diane Lane.
I heartily recommend "The World of Henry Orient." The novel it is based on, which has the same title, is excellent. I hope it is not one of those I donated to the Diamond Middle School Library, since it probably never made the shelves. I need to read it again this summer.
The second movie was the rousing 1951 John Wayne western, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," the second of director John Ford's trilogy of movies about the U. S. Cavalry, which started with "Fort Apache" and concluded with "Rio Grande."
This movie is considered one of the all-time great Westerns and featured one of Wayne's best performances. (And though later generations derided Wayne for his hawkish views on Vietnam, he was an incredible film actor.) In "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," Wayne plays Captain Nathan Brittles, who is only six days away from retirement when he has to deal with an Indian uprising. The movie takes place shortly after General Custer and his troops were massacred at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Wayne is solid and so are the rest of the actors, many of whom were featured in several John Ford films. I have never been big on westerns that feature Indian battles, but Wayne can make any movie worthwhile and this one is much more than that.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Sometimes, a change of scenery can improve one's outlook. At least, that's what they say, whoever they are.
I tried that remedy last week. I knew I had been spending way too much in my apartment and not accomplishing anything, other than blogging, reading, and watching my nightly video.
No, I didn't go to the lake (I've never been much for that, I'm afraid), or take off for casinos (I don't gamble) or bars (I haven't had a drop to drink since I was 14). Man, I just read that back over. How boring can one person be?
I just tried to go somewhere every day for a while and keep myself amused. On Tuesday of last week, I drove to Neosho and had my oil changed. It worked so well for me, that I decided to have the same thing done to my car. (I haven't used that line in years.) After that, I hit the antique shops on the square. I like to go through old books, records, and videos. I didn't find anything at the first two places I went, but I hit the jackpot at the third one, finding a box full of 45s. I bought seven of them for a quarter apiece. My discoveries among the stacks of wax were: "Wolverton Mountain," by Claude King, "Dream Lover" by Bobby Darin, "Harbor Lights," by the Platters, the original "Twist and Shout," by the Isley Brothers, "A Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine," by Paul Anka, and the two-sided hit "Charlie Brown" and "Three Cool Cats," by the Coasters.
It is very rare that I find any good 45s these days, mainly because my collection is so extensive. I probably have over 1,000 45s and a little over 400 albums, as well as a few hundred cassettes, and a handful of CDS (I'm still slowly working my way into the 21st Century.) So when I am able to come up with some music that I don't have, it is a great day.
On Wednesday, I went to Joplin to make the rounds of the used book stores. I didn't buy anything, but it was an anjoyable way to spend time.
On Thursday, I drove over to Sarcoxie and Monett to check out some antique shops and flea markets I had seen advertisd in The Big Nickel. One of the shops in Sarcoxie had hundreds of 45s, but I didn't see anything I wanted that I didn't already have. The only things I bought were copies of USA Today, The Sarcoxie Record, and The Monett Times.
A booming thunderclap knocked me out of a sound sleep Sunday morning. I quickly unplugged all of the electrical appliances in my apartment and didn't think anything of it. It wasn't until I reached Diamond on the way to visit my parents in Newtonia that I noticed that tree limbs were strewn across the shoulder of the road. I assume road crews had already cleared them off the highway. When I reached Newtonia, there were side roads that were impassable with downed trees blocking the way. My parents didn't have any electricity (their electricity wasn't turned on until late Monday night). I spent the afternoon helping them by picking up the hundreds of walnuts that the wind had knocked off their trees. If someone hadn't picked them up, they would have wreaked havoc on Dad's lawnmower.
As I returned home, the first place I saw that had electricity was the convenience store by County Line Road. Apparently, everyone from Newton County had gone there to get gas or ice since they couldn't get it at home. I ran into one of my former students, Kacie Cooper, now a sophomore at Carthage Senior High School, and her mother, there. Kacie told me that she was in a weightlifting picture on page one of the Sunday Joplin Globe.
I stayed in the apartment most of the day today except for a brief trip to Joplin this evening. I bought some magazines (Novel Writing, The Sporting News, and The Washington Times) for me and a genealogy magazine for my mom at Books-a-Million, then went to Hastings, where I discovered a number of good books on sale for 25 cents apiece. I bought six, all non-fiction, mostly biographies.
I know people love the movie "Forrest Gump," and other big ones that Tom Hanks has been in. I really liked him in "You've Got Mail," and "Sleepless in Seattle," but my favorite Tom Hanks movie was the video I watched tonight.
Hanks did not have the starring role in "That Thing You Do," though he did produced it. The movie took place in the 1960s and the plot concerned a rock band that hits it big, how it came together, and how it falls apart. Tom Everett Scott and Jonathan Schaech play the leaders of the band, but the movie was stolen right from under them by Liv Tyler. If anyone didn't know she was going to be a major star before this movie came out, she erased any doubt. I have a hard time understanding young people who watch every movie that comes out over and over again, but this is one I love to watch on a regular basis.
The movie has a wonderful happy ending (not always required, but in this case perfect).
Last night's movie was "The Far Country," another Jimmy Stewart western, this one from 1955. For once, Stewart played a role that was not quite his usual Everyman with the good, kind heart who always tries to do the right thing. His character was hard and jaded and believed in keeping to himself and not helping anyone. Of course, he changed by the end of the movie.
For the fourth time this summer, I found myself watching a movie with Harry Morgan in the supporting cast. If you only know him from his role as Colonel Potter on the MASH television series (and he was superb in that role) you have no idea of his versatility.
I just finished reading Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack." I'm not a big fan of John Kerry, but after reading this book about how we came to attack Iraq, Kerry is looking better and better all the time.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

This has certainly been a depressing summer.
How depressing has it been? Let me count the ways.
1. During the past 24 hours, my novel, "Small Town News" has been rejected five times by five literary agents. The way they do it is fascinating.
"Dear Mr. Turner:
Thank you for your query. As interesting as your novel sounds, I don't believe I would be the best agent to represent your work. Best of luck to you though, and thank you for thinking of me."

"Thank you so much for submitting your query to BookEnds. While your work sounds intriguing, I'm afraid I just don't think it's for me. I wish you the best of luck."

"Thanks for your query. Unfortunately, I do not feel that I could be the best advocate for your work. Please keep in mind that mine is a subjective business, and an idea or story one agent does not respond to may well be met with great enthusiasm by another, and I encourage you to continue writing to agents. Hopefully you will find someone who will get behind you and your work with the conviction necessary in this very tight market."

"Thank you for thinking of Jellinek & Murray for your novel, SMALL TOWN NEWS. The topic is certainly timely and relevant.We have, however, recently refocused our Agency, sharply curtailing our work with fiction, and must therefore pass, wishing you best of luck elsewhere."

"Not for me--thanks anyway."

Of course, I still have queries out to 11 other literary agents, plus I sent the entire manuscript to a publishing company and I am going to be sending out more queries to publishing companies and literary agents in the next few days. I have heard all the stories about people who strike it rich on their 40th or 50th try. I wonder how many stories are out there about people who never hit the jackpot.

2. I hate moving and sometime in the next couple of weeks, I am going to be making the move to Joplin, at least I will be if I can find a nice, furnished apartment. Already, I know the last few days in my apartment in Carthage are going to be miserable. The landlord rented out the storefront below me. Each of the last three nights, I have had to listen to a group of teenagers practicing their music, complete with amplification and drums until late in the night. In fact, today it was 1 a.m. before they quit. The band is set up right below my bedroom, making it impossible to sleep due to the noise and the vibrations. When they are not playing music, they are busy hammering until all hours.

3. (Three has been removed from this blog.)

4. Oh, enough of this depressing, self-indulgent blog, let's get off this subject and move on to biting social commentary.
I caught part of President Bush's speech on education the other day. I am not a big fan of the president's anyway, but when he talks about teaching young people skills they can use in the job market, he is not talking about any kind of education that will be of use to them by the time they are adults.
We cannot continue to let big business run education. It is not the job of educators to supply ready-made employees for our businesses and industries. We teach them these supposedly necessary skills and by the time they are able to enter the workplace, the skills are either outdated or have been outsourced to foreign countries.
Education cannot be in the business of supplying ready-made employees, but it can be, and should be, in the business of teaching the skills that will enable our young men and women to adapt to whatever challenges they meet in the workplace.
If they have the ability to read, write, express themselves in both written and spoken language, do math, science, and know how to handle the basics of using computers, then they will be able to adapt to the challenges that await them. Just as importantly, they need to know how to participate in this society, how the government works, the importance of voting, and how each person can make his or her mark on society.
The important challenge of educators is to turn out young adults who have the ability to think and respond to whatever life throws at them. The type of paint-by-the-numbers automatons our politicians seem to want is the total antithesis of what this country stands for.
It is also interesting to note that many of the politicians who are making the decisions on how public schools should be operated, would never dream of sending their children to public schools.