Wednesday, June 30, 2004

One of the best books I have read in recent years was "Of Us the Living," by Myrlie Evers, the widow of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was murdered by a white supremacist in 1963.
I watched the movie version of the book tonight. The Oscar-winning actor Howard Rollins Jr. played Evers, while actress/singer Irene Cara played Mrs. Evers.
The movie was nothing special, even though Medgar Evers was. Unfortunately, the many accomplishments he made during his decade as the head of the NAACP in Mississippi were forgotten due to the circumstances surrounding his death.
The movie was made in 1983. At that time, no one knew who had killed Evers. The man was finally brought to trial in the early 1990s, 30 years after the murder. A courageous assistant district attorney named Bobby DeLaughter filed charges against Byron DeLaBeckwith and he was convicted in 1992 and later died in prison. The best account of that story was in DeLaughter's book, "Never Too Late." It was also the basis for the movie "Ghosts of Mississippi" in 1996 with Alec Baldwin playing DeLaughter and Whoopi Goldberg playing Myrlie Evers.
I wouldn't mind rereading "Of Us the Living" and "Never Too Late," but those are two of the books I donated to the Diamond Middle School Library, and I don't believe they ever made the shelves.
As for the movie version of "Of Us the Living," I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. The acting was just okay with Ms. Cara "running the gamut of emotions from A to B" as the humorist Dorothy Parker once said about a Katharine Hepburn performance, and Rollins not picking up steam until the movie was half over. The best performance was by Lawrence Fishburne playing a rebellious young black man.
It is still hard to believe the inhumanity of man toward man. It is important for schools to emphasize the accomplishments of the people in the civil rights movement so we will never allow members of this society to be treated as second class citizens again.
The good news was on page 6B of The Joplin Globe today. "The (Joplin R-8) board also approved a teacher salary increase of about 3.45 percent for all schedules. For most teachers, this will result in a total salary increase for the year of between $1,000 and $1,300," said Paul Barr, financial director."
The raise is nice. The information was included in an article about the board's approval of a $55.5 million budget. You would think that would be a page 1A story and not buried in the back of section B. That's not the way the Globe editors think.
They did have a page one story about the board headlined "New policy requires advance notice for R-8 information." The editors thought that the Globe's difficulty in getting papers from the school was more important than how $55 million worth of taxpayers' money was being spent.
I will be the first to say, based on 22 years of journalism experience, that the board did not make a wise move. Why antagonize the press when you don't have to. On the other hand, the Globe is trying to make it look as if the board is perpetrating a crime against the public when that is clearly not the case.
I am betting a compromise will be reached and that no one outside the board and the Globe will care. The board needs to remember that the Globe, despite its many shortcomings is the representative of the people when its reporters attend board meetings. The Globe also needs to remembers that it is the representative of the people.
School deaths are up in the United States.
That's according to a page-one article in Tuesday's USA Today. Forty-eight students died either at school, on the way to or from school or at a school activity.
The article notes that this number includes homicides and suicides.
Why the increase? Gangs and budget problems were cited. The war on terrorism has drained money that had been going to anti-drug programs and to programs that were designed to improve school safety.
A quote from Sanford Newman, president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, sums it up. "At a time when gang violence is rising, it's penny-wise and pound-foolish to be cutting juvenile crime prevention funding at all."
Newman is right on the money, though he has an obvious prejudice.
Sept. 11 and budget problems have been cited for a lot of difficulties. I doubt if anyone questions the money that was used to increase security in the United States after 9-11, or even the money that was used when coalition forces attacked Afghanistan.
But there is a big problem with the money that was spent on the war with Iraq and with the current rebuilding process. No one has shown that the war was related to the war on terrorism. That is money that could be used for the school-related programs and to help lessen a huge number of society's problems.
Another problem is the incredible shortsightedness of officials when it comes to dealing with budgetary problems. As usual, it is easy to cite the Diamond R-4 School District. How in the world can a superintendent leave a school of 800 students with only one counselor? Yes, Rob Lundien was technically a middle school counselor last year, but he was teaching a full class load.
Consider what happened in the school last year. A sixth grader died early in the first semester. Though a "crisis team' was put in place, that lasted for one day. The problems caused by the death of someone you know last longer than 24 hours, even for adults, but for young people, the effects can last a long time.
At virtually the same time, an eighth grader tried to kill herself. Middle school is a trying time, even for the most well-adjusted students. It is a time when boys and girls are not sure where they belong, or if they belong, and there is no time when it is more essential to have a counselor available to help them through these difficulties.
At the same time that the school was cutting the hours that Rob Lundien was counseling middle schoolers and putting the elementary counselor on an unpaid leave of absence because "she affected the least number of students on an everyday basis" (words of wisdom courtesy of Superintendent Mark Mayo), the school was fully funding a high school wrestling program, fully funding a high school golf team, paying the golf team coach $3,000 for that job,and paying two people during one of the years to operate a copy center.
The time to reach young people, to help them get through their problems and to achieve their goals, is when they are in their elementary and middle school years. If you wait until high school, it is too late.
When programs that can help them are eliminated, and counselors and teachers who perhaps can reach them when no one else can, are placed on the budgetary chopping block across the United States, it will eventually become a major problem for society.
If that comes to pass, we may end up looking on a year when only 48 people died in our schools as the good old days.
According to the Associated Press and reports on the local TV stations, Secretary of State Matt Blunt is promising some big changes for education if he is elected governor in November.
Blunt noted that pay for Missouri teachers ranked 44th out of the 50 states in 2003. Obviously, I appreciate anyone who wants to increase teacher salaries, but Blunt is also promising to cut bureaucracy so that more money can be put into education.
Easier said than done.
At the same time, either Blunt or State Auditor Claire McCaskill would have to be better than the current governor, Bob Holden. Holden has to be the weakest governor Missouri has had since Joe Teasdale in the late '70s. If he doesn't lose to Ms. McCaskill in the Democratic primary in August, it would be almost a shock if he beat Blunt in November.
Another Associated Press article on page three of the Tuesday Carthage Press relates that the jury ruled against four employees of the Jasper Popcorn Company in their lawsuit against the companies that were responsible for the popcorn flavoring. The four alleged that the companies were responsible for the lung injuries that had left them disabled.
I'm not going to comment on the case, only on the way it was covered. The Associated Press is a wonderful tool for small town newspapers. It can take you everywhere from Jefferson City to New York to Washington to Afghanistan. This particular article took The Carthage Press Carthage.
During the days when I was the managing editor at The Press, if there was a major criminal or civil trial in Carthage, I would never have considered covering it by pulling copy off the wire. That would be a major embarrassment.
I don't blame the present managing editor, Ron Graber. His hands are undoubtedly tied by shortsighted corporate bosses who have put profit and reaching all kinds of demographics ahead of actually doing what makes newspapers a success...covering the news.
The local newspaper has one area in which it has a big advantage. The Carthage Press can't beat TV or the internet on covering state, national, or international news, but it can beat them 10 ways from Sunday on covering local news.
The Press isn't the only local newspaper that has cut its own throat through the misguided pursuit of the almighty dollar. It's the norm for small-town daily newspapers everyday.
I still remember what Doug Davis, the publisher of The Lamar Democrat, did about 16 years ago. The Democrat was losing money. Instead of cutting the news hole (the amount of space used for news), Doug gambled, raised the newsstand price of the paper from 25 to 50 cents, increased subscription rates and poured money into the news product.
No, he didn't allow me to go out and get high-priced reporters. But he did allow me to begin a paid internship program for high school and college-age students. Using three of the kids at a time, plus a hard-working 60-year-old named Judy Probert, we blanketed Barton County with coverage and we did not lose any subscribers because of the price hike. In fact, we gained a few.
And that program, which started thanks to the courage of Doug Davis, and which I later successfully took to Carthage, has been responsible for introducing a number of students to journalism, including reporters who have worked at The Kansas City Star, the Topeka Capital-Journal, The Joplin Globe, KODE-TV, and papers in Kansas and Texas. It also produced the current journalism instructor at Lamar High School, the person in charge of publications for Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters, and reporters for Focus on the Family and Country Music Weekly.
And it all started because Doug Davis knew something that most of the small-town publishers seem to have can't expect people to buy your newspaper just because it is the hometown newspaper. You have to give them something of value. And the most valuable franchise newspapers have is local news.
Back to the personal stuff, I have finished reading civil rights lawyer Constance Baker Motley's autobiography. After a slow beginning, it became interesting as she related working with Thurgood Marshall on the Brown vs. Board of Education case, and her lead work on getting James Meredith admitted as the first black student at the University of Mississippi.
The most fascinating part of the book was how she dealt not only with prejudice against blacks, but also prejudice against women.
Tonight's movie was "Idiot's Delight," a 1939 anti-war movie starring Clark Gable. Gable was great and for those who only know him from movies like "Gone with the Wind," it might come as a surprise that he is a pretty good song-and-dance man and is very entertaining in a production number of "Puttin' on the Ritz." (Though not anywhere near as entertaining as Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder were doing the same number in "Young Frankenstein.")
The movie dealt with the outbreak of world war in Europe and a group of entertainers, led by Gable, who are stranded a hotel in an unspecified country which is about to come under attack.
Robert E. Sherwood wrote the screenplay, based on his own successful play, and like so many filmed plays, especially in the early days of movies, it comes across rather stagy.
Gable always knew that when it came to movie acting less is more. Unfortunately, his leading lady, Norma Shearer, didn't learn that same lesson. She overacts horribly as does Burgess Meredith in a supporting role as a pacifist.
I liked the movie. It held my interest throughout, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone who isn't a Clark Gable fan.

Monday, June 28, 2004

MAP Tests may be on the way out for high schoolers. I haven't seen anything written about it in The Globe, The Star or the Post-Dispatch, but a Missourinet report Friday said state education officials were considering replacing the tests with a slightly different version of the ACT. Though the article did not differentiate between high school MAP tests and those for lower grades, it is probably safe to assume that ACT tests could not be used for elementary students.
The Neosho Daily News Sunday featured another report on the MAP tests. Senator Gary Nodler's bill which was designed to improve state testing, was signed into law by Governor Holden.
This bill will bring the MAP tests more in line with No Child Left Behind. Right now, Missouri students have a higher difficulty level on their assessment tests than do students in other states.
I have no idea what will this mean for students or teachers. I, like many other teachers, have concerns about this constant emphasis on preparing for MAP tests. At the same time, my class has always been one that works well with MAP tests because of my emphasis on opinion/essay papers.
I have had to deal with MAP tests quite a bit during these past few years. Like all of the other teachers at South and at Diamond, I had to attend numerous workshops and in-service sessions centering around better ways to prepare students for the tests.
During my last year at Diamond Middle School, I was placed in charge of preparation for the tests. I notice that Diamond Middle School placed in the top 10 percent in the state and received an award at a banquet in Jefferson City honoring that accomplishment. Since I was the one in charge, it would have been nice if someone had at least sent me a thank-you letter. Oh, well.
I haven't been doing very well at keeping up with my nightly movies. I'll give capsule reviews of a few.
Tonight's movie was "Bend of the River" a 1954 western with Jimmy Stewart. I can't say it was a classic, but anything with Jimmy Stewart is going to be solid entertainment and that's exactly what it was. It was interesting to see the late Rock Hudson in one of his first roles. Also, the veteran character actor Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter on M.A.S.H.) was one of the bad guys.
The movie was about a reformed outlaw (Stewart) taking a wagon train of farmers into the Oregon Territory.
A movie that should have been much more than it ended up being was "Tough Guys," the last movie pairing Kirk Douglas and the late Burt Lancaster. The movie was released in 1986. Those two were great as aging bank robbers released from prison after 30 years and trying to adjust to modern society. Dana Carvey of Saturday Night Live fame was less effective as their parole officer. The writing was disappointing, but Lancaster and Douglas are always a joy to watch. After a solid first half, the movie went out of control and the twosome's return to crime was a little far-fetched.
"The Ox-Bow Incident" a 1942 western starring Henry Fonda is definitely worth watching for those of you who don't mind a film in stark black and white. Though the setting is the old west, the theme is universal, as a man is murdered and a bloodthirsty mob takes after his killers, captures three men who have no alibi and prepares to hang them at a place called Ox Bow. The subject of vigilante justice is still relevant. The film is based on a novel by Walter VanTilburg Clark, and both of them are suspenseful as you wonder if the three men are going to be executed without a trial. The major difference between the book and the film version is in the character played by Fonda. In the book, the lead character is a full-fledged member of the lynch mob, while in the movie, Fonda's character reluctantly goes along and tries to stop the hanging. Playing Fonda's sidekick, it's Harry Morgan again. That guy was in a lot of good movies.
The "Ox-Bow Incident" has probably been my favorite of the movies I have watched in the last several days, but the best was probably an obscure movie from 1975 called "Smile." This one has virtually disappeared, but it was probably one of the best films of the decade, a savage satire on beauty pageants.
The movie was the one of the first efforts at placing that great character actor Bruce Dern in a lead role. Dern had always played the bad guy in TV and movie westerns, most notably in the John Wayne movie "The Young Cowboys," in which his character murdered Wayne's character midway through the movie (that didn't happen very often). Dern is great and so is Barbara Feldon as the woman who is in charge of the contest. The contestants included Melanie Griffith and Annette O'Toole before they hit the big time and Denise Nickerson, who is better known as the snotty girl in "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
The movie has some brief nudity and some bad language, but it is consistently funny and hits its targets right on. This is one that deserves a revival. Anyone who takes beauty pageants seriously (and there are still a few who do) won't after they watch this movie.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Life is all about change, but I have never been very good at it.
I would probably still be living in a little apartment above the Newton County News office if Richard Bush hadn't fired me 22 years ago for not selling enough advertising.
I really was hoping there would not be too much change at South next year, at least among the faculty, since it generally takes awhile for people to warm up to me anyway.
It appears I will be the senior person among the eighth grade communication arts staff next year. Robin Chew, who had been around for a few years, will be teaching Spanish at Memorial Middle School. Angela Porter has taken a job in the North Kansas City School District. I don't know who the other eighth grade CA teachers will be.
Of course, this isn't about me. Life goes on and I don't have any say about it. At least it won't be like last year. I entered the 2003-2004 school year not knowing anyone at South except the principal, Mr. Mitchell, who had been the principal who hired me for my first teaching job at Diamond. I was still trying to deal emotionally with being let go at Diamond and being told that the reason I was chosen to be put on an unpaid leave of absence was because I affected fewer students than the other teachers. Combine that with the fact that I have never made friends very quickly and that I was slowly losing nearly all of my red blood cells and getting sicker and sicker with each passing day, and needless to say, I was a mess.
Things got better in the second semester. I was healthy. I had established a rapport with the students and I was gradually getting to know the rest of the staff. Now all of those students are gone, most of them to Joplin High School and some of the teachers are gone.
Fortunately, some of the teachers who gave me the most help are still there. I was reminded of that today when I ran into Rocky Biggers at the Joplin Public Library. (That makes two of us who really know how to live it up on vacation.) Rocky has the room next to mine on the second floor at South and teaches eighth grade social studies. He will be back (he's one of the veterans at the school) and, as far as I know, so will Michelle McDaniel, the science teacher, who was also very kind and helpful to me during my inaugural year at South. And I know there will be a host of other familiar faces when the school year starts, but losing the other two eighth grade CA teachers is going to be tough. Angela and Robin were both very helpful to me and both listened to my jokes without reaching for the Pepto-Bismol.
Rocky is going to be going to Australia with a group of students this summer. I, too, have travel plans. I will be on a one-city tour of Sane, Missouri. If you have never been there, trust me, you are not alone. The Sane Mule Motorcycle Shop is a located a couple of miles from Boulder City. It is becoming something of a tourist attraction, especially with people who get the t-shirts proclaiming that they are "In Sane." Natural Disaster will perform at the motorcycle shop sometime in July. No money will change hands, at least not as far as the band is concerned, but there is free ice cream and that is enough to get us to perform. I'm not sure of the exact date, but I will print it on this blog when I find out.
I finally got out of the apartment for a while today. In addition to the little trip to the library, I stopped by a number of book stores and did a little grocery shopping.
I broke down and bought Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack" when I was at Books-A-Million. Even with the 30 percent off, followed by an additional 10 percent (last I heard that makes 40 percent) I received from my Millionaire Discount Card (man, have I got them fooled), it still was more money than I like to pay out for one book. I also bought a few books at some used book shops, including a biography of Edward R. Murrow, an investigation into CBS correspondent George Polk's murder by Communist forces in Greece in the late 1940s, a novel, "The Shipping News,", a true-life story of a woman who taught in inner-city schools in Chicago, and a biography of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
I also bought an old favorite of mine, "Look Homeward Angel," a 1929 novel by Thomas Wolfe. It has been more than two decades since I've read Wolfe. His four novels (he died at age 39), "Look Homeward Angel," "Time and the River," "The Web and the Rock," and "You Can't Go Home Again," were once considered classics and I believe they will be rediscovered at some point by literary historians.
Wolfe was a giant of a man, standing over six feet, eight inches tall and he wrote his novels standing upright and placing his paper on the top of his refrigerator. When he turned in his first drafts to his editor, the legendary Maxwell Perkins, they were thousands and thousands of pages long. When Perkins was done, they were still long, but they were a little more manageable.
Wolfe just opened his heart and let the words flow and he had little control over how they came out. He was a master of vivid description (some would say overdescription). His novels are still well worth reading and I am looking forward to reacquainting myself with his work.
When I finish with the book, I plan to pass it on to Lindsey Hamm, who was one of my top students in the advanced communication arts class last year. When I read one of Lindsey's early works in my class, I discussed her tendency to overdescribe. I pointed out that the writers who were most popular these days were no longer the ones who poured layer upon layer of description. After that talk, I kept thinking about Lindsey's writing. She was far and away the most talented writer of fiction in my classes. Who was I to say that she might not be the one who would make rich, descriptive language popular once more. So a couple of days later, I apologized to her. I told her she still needed to be careful that she didn't obscure her plot by burying it in description, but that she needed to follow her heart and her mind and be her own writer not the kind of writer Randy Turner thinks she should be.
When we had the short story contest during the second semester, Lindsey had cut down on her description, but not enough to change her writing style. Her work was wonderful. The judges thought so, too, and Lindsey won first place in the short story contest.
I told her that the way she wrote reminded me of Thomas Wolfe. Hopefully, by the time Lindsey becomes a published writer, Thomas Wolfe will be well on the way to having his reputation as a literary giant restored.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

It's time to get out of the apartment for more than a few minutes. It has been too easy for me to just stay here and read, work on the computer, and watch my videos.
So tomorrow (actually today since it is past midnight), I will head to Joplin and make the grand tour of the all book stores. I know that the last thing I need is more books. I keep collecting so many of them that I have to give them away, but somehow just having books around makes me feel good.
I can remember the first used book shop I went to. It was right off the northeast corner of the square in Neosho. I was a teenager then and when I discovered that I could buy books cheaply I began to stock up on them. I bought classics, I bought old Perry Mason mysteries and Louis L'Amour westerns. I bought a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen and after that, I found myself compelled to buy the rest of her books. It took me a few years, but I have read them all and enjoyed them all.
It was a sad day when that little book shop closed its doors about 25 years ago, but by that time Taylor's Used Books had opened on the boulevard (it has since moved to the square) and there are several used book stores in Joplin. Another great used book shop in the area is "Mostly Books' in Pittsburg. The actor-comedian Steve Martin actually orders books from there. The store has several rare old hardback volumes.
The place is a mess and is probably a fire hazard, but there are books everywhere you look, upstairs and downstairs, newer books, older books, everything from trash novels to first edition classics. I bought a copy of Archibald McLeish's Pulitzer Prize winning play, "J. B." at Mostly Books.
"J. B," for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a modernized version of the Biblical book of Job. When I was a junior at East Newton High School, I watched Susan Warren and John Styron, two seniors, perform a selection from it at a speech contest.
I was primarily known for my work in comedy and when my senior year came around, I started the year doing a humorous duet with Rhonda Trammell from Woody Allen's "Play It Again, Sam." The selection wasn't working and I was having a hard time getting along with Rhonda so one night on the way back from a terrible showing at a speech tournament at Lamar, I impulsively did something that helped make my senior year an enjoyable one and a memorable one.
I saw Becky Hildebrand, a junior, sitting alone a couple of seats away from me. Becky, then as now, was probably the best friend I ever had and I knew it was time we did a duet act together. I stood and moved to where she was sitting, asked if she would mind some company. She told me to have a seat.
Within a few moments, I broached the topic of doing a dramatic duet act with her. "What would we do" she asked. I told her about "J. B." She thought it sounded great and we started to work on it the next day in drama class.
We worked and worked on the selection and when we did it at the district speech tournament at SMSU, we qualified for state. It was a great feeling and to be able to share it with Becky made it even better.
The state competition was held at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Becky and I went up with her mother and a lady named Mae Robbins. I remember how time flew just sitting in the back seat, talking with Becky all the way to Columbia.
We didn't do that well at state. In fact, our judge gave us an inferior rating. Judging from his written comments, he didn't believe that anything that smacked of the Bible had any place in a public school speech competition. He thought we should have done something with more substance.
Apparently, the Pulitzer Prize Committee of 1959 didn't agree, but I didn't get a chance to tell him that. It really didn't matter. It was a wonderful experience, spending a special day at a special place with a special person.
I later bought a copy of "J. B." at Taylor's House of Books and it became one of my most cherished possessions. When I reread the play, the old memories would come rushing back. Despite the grim subject matter, I couldn't help but smile as I pored over the words.
I lost touch with Becky for a long time, one of the stupidest things I have ever done. When you have a good friend, you should never let that person go. You should find some way to stay in touch.
I ran into her a few years back at the reunion that is always held during the Old Mining Town Days in Granby. It was if 20 years had not passed. We talked for over an hour about old times and the things that had happened to us in the intervening years. I had the feeling that neither of us really wanted to end the conversation, but unfortunately, the organizers of the reunion were getting ready to close things down and she had a family waiting for her.
We weren't in touch for a few years, then I finally looked up her address and wrote her about a six-page letter. I received a longer one about a week and a half later. We have stayed in touch ever since.
In the second letter she wrote me, she mentioned that she wished she had a copy of "J. B." She said she would love to read the play again and relive the memories. Within 24 hours of my reading that wish, my copy of the play was headed to her home in Broken Arrow, OK. Of course, that left me without a copy, but that was all right. I was just happy to know that experience had meant that much to Becky, too.
I've seen Becky two times in the past year. Last summer when Natural Disaster performed at the Old Mining Town Days, she came up to me after the performance. Unfortunately, the last time I saw her was at the visitation after her father died earlier this year.
A few months ago, I went to Mostly Books in Pittsburg and as I was browsing through the stacks and stacks of musty old volumes, I found a copy of "J. B." Eight dollars might seem a little overpriced for a paperback copy of a 45-year-old play, but I would have paid a lot more.
That one thin volume is priceless to me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Tonight's movie was "Gregory's Girl," a movie made in Scotland in 1980. I hadn't watched it in about 20 years, but I found the video a few months back in a bargain bin for a couple of bucks.
It was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. The movie involves a high schooler named Gregory who loses his position on the football (soccer) team to a girl named Dorothy. That doesn't bother him because by this time he is head over heels in love with Dorothy.
In any movie by director Bill Forsyth, the plot is secondary to the characterization and just like he did in his movie "Local Hero," Forsyth relies on quirky characters to make the movie entertaining.
Despite the title, Gregory doesn't get the girl, but he does get a happy ending. I have yet to figure out what the man in the penguin suit was doing in the school, but I suppose some mysteries just aren't meant to be solved.
What a way to spend a summer!
I had fully intended to have the original post here removed a few years ago and thought I had done so. I apologize for any hard feelings that might have been caused.

As for the comment, your memory is faulty. I coached high school girls teams ouf of Stella for a couple of years when my sister was playing, then worked for a year helping M. C. Throop with the high school girls team at Granby. After that, I coached that team for a year, then coached women's fast pitch softball teams for three years, with my sister playing on those teams. Though they were based in Granby and practiced there, the teams played in a league at Pierce City.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The movie for tonight was "Thirteen Days," Kevin Costner's version of what happened during those momentous two weeks in October 1962 when the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba and our countries were on the brink of nuclear war.
All in all, it was a fascinating movie. Bruce Greenwood played President Kennedy and even though he doesn't look like President Kennedy and he did not attempt a Boston accent, he was great. Steven Culp also captured the essence of Bobby Kennedy.
The only problems came when Costner, who was executive producer of the movie, came into play. Anyone familiar with the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis knows that Kenneth O'Donnell,the presidential advisor played by Costner, was not a key player. In the movie, it almost seemed as if the Kennedys couldn't make a simple decision without O'Donnell's okay. Another problem was Costner's horrific attempt at a New England accent. You would think he would have learned his lesson after his terrible attempts to do accents in "Robin Hood" and "JFK."
None of the accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis I have read have tried to make it look as if American military officers were pulling dirty tricks to force us into a war with the Soviet Union. Fortunately, most of the movie was dedicated to actual, confirmable events and in this case, history did not need to be embellished. It was truly a dramatic story.
The best version of the event for anyone who is interested is Robert F. Kennedy's book, also titled "Thirteen Days." He truly brings out the suspense of that two-week period in American history.
I was only six years old when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred so it really didn't register with me at the time. Prior to that time, there was a developing consensus in the country that John F. Kennedy was a weak president and did not have enough experience to handle the job. When he went eyeball to eyeball with Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev and Khruschev blinked (as someone once described the confrontation)it suddenly became apparent that looks were deceiving and this young man did have substance. Unfortunately, he also had only a little over a year left in his life.
The day of President Kennedy's death is one I will always remember. I was in second grade at Midway School (it was called that because it was midway between Newtonia and Stark City) The teacher, Mrs. Minnie Weems, came out on the playground and told us that school was going to be dismissed because President Kennedy had been shot. It was all any of us could talk about, though of course, none of us knew what we were talking about.
My eyes were glued to the TV once I got home. That was probably the first time we had really seen the power of television to bring an event home to our nation. We happened to have the TV on CBS when the accused presidential assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was murdered on live television by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. It is hard to imagine what it was like in those days. It had been nearly seven decades since President McKinley had been assassinated. None of us thought things like that could happen any more.
Of course, the conspiracy theories immediately began to surface and we wondered if there might not be more assassinations.
The subject of John F. Kennedy's death was treated in the movie, "JFK" directed by Oliver Stone a while back, starring Costner as New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison. In the movie, Garrison is portrayed as a sane, sensible man who uncovered the conspiracy that led to a president's death. In real life, Garrison was a glory-seeking lunatic who smeared innocent people's reputations. History had cast its judgment on Garrison...he was a lunatic. Then his reputation was rehabilitated by the movie "JFK."
The sad thing is that movies like "JFK" and "Thirteen Days," as thought-provoking as they are, are being accepted as history by an entire generation.
With all of the wonderful books written about the Kennedys, some loving, some critical, there is no reason why our society should be lazy enough to rely on the distortions of filmmakers for our understanding of critical events in this nation's history.
Unfortunately, I have talked to some young social studies teachers...the very people who shape our youth's understanding of these historical events, and many of them are willing to accept some of these films as gospel.
Enough preaching for one day.
"Thirteen Days" is a great movie, but read the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's even more exciting.

Monday, June 21, 2004

I'm taking one more stab at jumping into the world of published novelists. I shipped "Small Town News' to another publisher last week.
It's not as if it has been turned down by a bunch of publishers. The entire manuscript has been rejected two times, while a host of publishers have rejected my queries and wouldn't even let me send the manuscript.
I finished writing "Small Town News' at about the end of July of 2002. I send out several letters and e-mails to a number of publishers at that time. With everything I was involved in when school started, I didn't push it much, though I did send out a letter or two during the 2002-2003 school year.
I had fully intended to go on a marketing blitz in the summer of 2003, but most of that summer was spent trying to hold on to my teaching position in the Diamond R-4 School District, then landing another teaching position in the Joplin R-8 School District.
"Small Town News" was the first novel I had attempted since 1979. A quarter of a century wasted, or at least I thought it least as far as my writing was concerned. When you're spending your time writing more than 20,000 articles for a number of southwest Missouri newspapers, you don't have much time for writing novels.
I wrote my first novel when I was 14 years old. I was a freshman at East Newton High School. The novel was 289 pages and it was terrible. I sent "A Song For Susan" out to a number of publishers, but it came nowhere near to being publishable or even salvageable. Unfortunately, I can only find one page from that novel. I don't believe it exists any more. It was terrible, but I sure wish I still had it.
I tried my hand at two or three other novels during my high school years. I still have all of them, but none of them were very good. I wrote a decent one when I was in college, a murder mystery called "Stranglehold," which I keep thinking about rewriting. Maybe I will someday.
The last time I wrote a novel before "Small Town News" was when I was the editor of the Lockwood Luminary-Golden City Herald, a weekly newspaper with its main office in Lockwood.
The 10 months I lived in Lockwood was one of the most enjoyable times of my life. Not only did I enjoy the newspaper work, but I loved the small-town atmosphere of Lockwood. I loved the barbecued beef sandwiches and the foot-long hot dogs at the C&J Drive-In. After the paper was published on Wednesday, I would stay up until 1:45 a.m. on Thursday mornings every week and watch reruns of Mission Impossible on Channel 27.
After I finished working every night, I would sit in front of the Luminary-Herald office and pound out the novel, "Sudden Death," another murder mystery, on an old Underwood manual typewriter. During the summer, I umpired several games for the Lockwood Little League, so I would head back to the office when I was finished and type until eleven or midnight.
Probably the worst night of my young life to that point came in early October when the paper's publisher, Tommy Wilson, came to Lockwood from the home office in Lamar and told us that the edition of the Luminary-Herald we were working on would be the last one. He turned to our advertising saleswoman, Donna Shaw, and said, "Donna, we're going to take you to Lamar with us." Then he turned to me and said, "Randy...we're not taking you." That turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me since I went back to college and earned my teaching degree, but it sure didn't seem like a good thing at the time. I loved making $180 a week as the editor of the Lockwood Luminary-Golden City Herald.
I had finished writing "Sudden Death" just a few days before the demise of the Luminary-Herald. I reworked it over the next several months. It is another work I would like to rewrite sometime in the future.
Natural Disaster's return Saturday night was something less than triumphant. The audience liked us, but it was probably the worst performance we have ever given. Our bass player, Tim Brazelton, was in Kansas City attending his girlfriend's daughter's wedding, so our lead guitarist, Richard Taylor, was playing bass, and our rhythm guitarist, Mark McClintock, was playing lead. We were totally confused.
My singing was okay, except on "Suspicion," a song I have been singing since it first came out 40 years ago. I actually forgot a line in the second verse and mumbled my way through it.
Still, the audience seemed to like it. It was good to see some familiar faces in the audience. And it was mainly good to be performing again.
I was the last member of the group to show up for a concert at a motorcycle shop near Boulder City earlier in the day Saturday. However, despite being the last one, I was still a month early. Richard got the date wrong so we all showed up quite a bit ahead of time. Our old classmate, Paul Richardson, who owns the motorcycle shop, found it quite amusing.
I finished up my last Joplin R-8 work of the summer on Thursday, when I attended the final day of the Joplin R-8 Technology Leadership Academy. We finished our I-movies and gave an overall evaluation of the academy. Each academy member will receive a laptop computer sometime in July. That will be nice. Plus, we each received $350 ($17.50 an hour) for attending. That was included on our paychecks Friday.
In addition to my writing and performing, I am trying to get caught up on my reading and catching a few movies on VCR. The last book I read was "The Last Editor" by James Bellows, who told about his times as editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the New York Herald-Tribune and the Washington Star. All of those papers went out of business, but Bellows was known for taking dying newspapers, livening them up, and making his competitors (such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post) more interesting. Among the writers he put on the map were Tom Wolfe, the late Dick Schaap, and Jimmy Breslin.
The next book I am going to read is the autobiography of Constance Baker Motley, a black lawyer who helped James Meredith get enrolled in the University of Mississippi as the first black student, and who also worked on Brown vs. Board of Education.
On the movie front, when I finish with this blog entry, I am going to watch one, though I haven't quite decided which one to watch.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Technology is a wonderful thing, but I don't suppose I have to tell that to anyone who is acquainted with it enough to be reading this blog.
I attended a technology leadership seminar Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at Joplin High School and I have picked up quite a bit of useful information from it.
The district's technology staff conducted the seminar, which was held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. each of the three days. It will conclude from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. this coming Thursday. The first day was spent learning about the Kidspiration and Inspiration software, which did turn out to be more useful than I had anticipated. We also were told about different methods to use while conducting internet research. That was probably the only area in which I could hold my own with the people who were putting on the seminar.
We worked on power-point presentations Wednesday, then learned about the use of I-tunes, digital photos, and digital movies on Thursday. I could see many ways in which those ideas and applications could be put to use.
The best part of the seminar, which I didn't learn until after I had already signed up, is that I will be paid $17.50 per hour, or a total of $350. As usual, I can use the money.
Ironically, I would probably have been better able to use what I have learned from the seminar if I had taken it last year. During the fall semester, I taught two hours of multi-media and I taught one hour during the spring semester. I wasn't able to teach those kids what I should have simply because I didn't know enough. Of course, having the health problems during the fall semester didn't help. Unfortunately, I was hired nearly two months after last year's technology seminar was held.
I received a call from my principal, Ron Mitchell, last week telling me that I would be teaching six hours of communication arts. That is what I have wanted and I will still be able to use what I have learned with that class. Besides, part of the technology leadership idea is that I will be able to work with other people in the building to improve their technical knowledge.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but it appears that Natural Disaster will make its comeback next Saturday (June 17) with two performances.
I'll find out for sure when we practice Monday night, but it appears that we will play at the Sane Mule Motorcycle Shop near Boulder City at about 4 p.m. Saturday, then we will play for about 40 minutes at about 8:15 p.m. at Burney Johnson's hootenanny near Tipton Ford.
We performed there last year when we still had the girls in the group. It went well and we had a sizable, very appreciative audience. I'll put more information on this site when I find out for sure.
I haven't done the writing I had hoped to do (Other than this blog) this summer, but I have been keeping up with my reading and with my annual summer moviefest.
During the school year each year I tape old movies, then save them and watch them one or two at a time each day during vacation.
Among the movies I watched this week were "Mississippi Burning," the Gene Hackman movie based on the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. I hadn't watched the movie in more than 10 years and I noticed that in the background during two scenes, the radio was playing Jack Buck's broadcasts of 1964 St. Louis Cardinals' baseball games. I probably listened to those very games 40 years ago. That made me really feel old.
Last night, I watched a 1959 psychological western called "Warlock" starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, and Anthony Quinn. It was a passable way to spend time, but it definitely wasn't one of the all-time greats.
On the reading side, I am alternating between Arthur Schlesinger's 1946 biography of President Andrew Jackson, "The Age of Jackson," and Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War," which tells how U. S. officials reacted to Sept. 11.

Monday, June 07, 2004

I never voted for Ronald Reagan.
In the 1980 presidential election, I was the only person in Newtonia to cast a ballot for independent John Anderson. In 1984, I held my nose and voted for Walter Mondale.
The Democrats made a mistake that year by nominating Mondale instead of Colorado Senator Gary Hart. Of course, I am a bit prejudiced about that. I was Barton County coordinator for the Hart campaign. That was an interesting experience which I will write about at another time.
This blog entry is about President Reagan. Though I never voted for him, President Reagan had that intangible quality that politicians would almost kill for...he was a natural born leader.
In June 1993, I conducted an interview with former Congressman Gene Taylor at his museum on the square in Sarcoxie. It ran as a five-part series, "Presidents I Have Known." In each installment, Congressman Taylor spoke about one of the presidents who served while Taylor was representing Southwest Missouri in the U. S. Congress from 1973 to 1989. Part three featured President Reagan and was printed in the June 17, 1993, Carthage Press.

By Randy Turner
Some of the most important men in the nation's capital were in the White House dining room on a night midway through President Reagan's second term.
In addition to the president himself, guests included Senators Howell Heflin, Alabama, and Alan Simpson, Wyoming, House Republican leader Bob Michel, Illinois; and Congressman Gene Taylor, a former Sarcoxie auto dealer who now had been brought into the president's inner circle.
He and the other men in that room, another four or five in addition to those mentioned, were at the White House for one reason and one reason alone.
"We were all storytellers," Congressman Taylor said. We'd meet at the White House about 6:30, eight or 10 of us, eat, then when the waiters left, the president said, "All right, let's hear some stories."
Anyone who has read Charles Nodler's book, "Bracing the Cornerpost," a collection of stories told by and about Congressman Taylor, knows the man can spin a story.
He wasn't the only one.
"All of those men at those dinners were great storytellers," he said. "President Reagan is a great storyteller."
The former president's stories had an extra dash to them that his political friends' stories did not. "He could tell those Hollywood stories," Taylor said, referring to President Reagan's colorful career as a Hollywood leading man in the 1940s and 1950s.
"Now he was a great fan of John Wayne," Taylor recalled, but not of Errol Flynn. One of the stories the president told was about a photo shoot one time that involved Errol Flynn.
"Flynn was not a tall man, so he hunted a high piece of ground, then piled up dirt. He spent 15 minutes so he'd look taller
"President Reagan had a lot of Hollywood stories."
Ronald Reagan was saddled with that Hollywood image, but anyone saying he lacked substance was dead wrong, Congressman Taylor said.
"He is a brilliant man. He knew exactly what he was doing. The most important thing about him is he stood fast for national defense."
The breakup of the former Soviet Union came on President George Bush's watch, but that event and the fall of Communism around the world can be attributed to Bush's predecessor, Congressman Taylor said.
"Reagan's strength was that when he said something, people knew he meant it. He increased the strength of our nation by spending more on defense.
"Reagan's insistence on a strong defense ended the Cold War."
Eighteen years have passed since Ronald Reagan held a Southwest Missouri audience in the palm of his hand at a fund raising dinner for Gene Taylor at Howard Johnson's in Springfield.
The former California governor, less than six months out of office, was positioning himself for a run against the unelected incumbent, Gerald R. Ford, for the Republican presidential nomination.
A Carthage Press account of that speech indicates more than 1,000 attended and heard lines that the future president was to use to his advantage time and time again during the coming years.
"We can all have a bigger piece of pie if the government will get the hell out of the way and let the free enterprise system make a bigger pie."
He said America was becoming "increasingly alone in a hostile world while the Democrats in Congress continue to cut defense spending."
Ironically, one of the people at the head table with Governor Reagaan was Missouri Governor Kit Bond.In 1976, Bond allied himself with President Ford and alienated many Missouri Republicans who backed Reagan.
That decision is believed to have weighed heavily in Bond's upset loss to Democrat Joe Teasdale in November 1976.
President Reagan's two-pronged formula for building a better America, cutting taxes and increasing defense spending was referred to as "voodoo economics" by George Bush when Bush was running against Reagan in the 1980 presidential primaries.
When Bush was chosen as Reagan's running mate, voodoo economics disappeared from his choice of terms.
Whatever it was, Congressman Taylor says, it was what America needed at that time.
"You can't build a strong economy by taxing people to death. He put money in the hands of the people. That did more for the economy than anything."
Many of the things the future president spoke of during his fundraising stop for Gene Taylor in 1975 came to pass.
He accurately projected what turned out to be a major part of the electorate that put him into office, noting that a survey had shown that views of Republican leaders were closer to the views of the rank and file Democrats than their own party leaders.
He also noted that young voters were registering as independents because of the fear of increasing governmental interference in their lives.
"We have what the people are seeking," Reagan said to the applause of the partisan Republican audience. His foreign policy attitude was also one that Americans wanted to hear in 1980. He delivered the same messsage in 1975.
"We want peace. We will meet anyone genuinely interested in peace. But let us say that we will never again give away the freedom of other lands which is not ours to give. And let us resolve that never again will the young people of this nation be asked to fight and die in a foreign war without mobilization of our natural resources to support them."
The influence of Ronald Reagan's presidency continues to this day, Taylor said.
"When Desert Storm came, we had the power. That was because of Ronald Reagan." That lesson should not be lost on President Clinton, Taylor added. "The Cold War is over, but there may be a lot of little Cold Wars now. We can't let our guard down.
"A strong defense is the best protection we have."

Eleven years have passed since that article was written. It is interesting to ponder what might have happened if someone like Ronald Reagan (instead of someone who thinks he is like Ronald Reagan) were in the Oval Office. Though I begrudgingly credit Reagan as a great leader who did bring about the end of the Cold War, I would still prefer to have someone like Harry S Truman in charge.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

It has been an interesting week, to say the least. My principal, Ron Mitchell, called me Tuesday morning and let me know that I will be teaching six communication arts classes this fall. This was the news that I had been hoping for. Of the classes I taught during the 2003-2004 school year, the one with which I was most uncomfortable was multi-media, which I taught two hours a day during the fall semester and one hour a day during the spring semester.
I was ready to throw myself into multi-media this year and I have no doubt I would have greatly improved the class from the way I handled it last year, but I really love to teach writing so the opportunity to do that the whole day is exactly what I want.
Everyone seems to have confidence that I can teach writing, but I wonder if anyone believes I am actually capable of writing any more.
I had to stop by The Carthage Press Monday to pick up some furniture I left there five years ago. I happened to get there just as the managing editor, Ron Graber, was conducting a staff meeting. It really didn't bring back any memories, good or bad. I kept waiting to hear about wonderful feature ideas and investigative pieces and enterprise reporting, the kind that Ron, John Hacker, Cait, Amy, Randee Kaiser, and the rest of us did on a regular basis.
I don't guess anyone does that kind of work any more. At least not at any small daily newspaper in southwest Missouri. I did something I had promised myself I would never do a little while later as Ron and I were going through my stuff, which had ben left untouched for five years. I hinted that I might be willing to do some writing. Ron deftly avoided the topic. I felt like a dinosaur. I guess The Carthage Press has moved past my style of journalism. (And I don't hear a great outcry for the return of it.)
I wanted to ask why no one did a story at the time of the Carthage Senior High School graduation about Doug Ringler, the member of the class of 2004 who did not make it because he was brutally murdered when he was eight years old. The kids remembered Doug. Why didn't The Carthage Press or The Joplin Globe?
Next month will be the 70th anniversary of when King Carl Hubbell, the lefty screwballer of the New York Giants struck out five Hall-of-Famers in a row, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin and Al Simmons during the 1934 all-star game. Hubbell was born in Avilla and many baseball books list his hometown as Carthage.
With all of the talk about Al Queda, why has no one looked into the murder of the Lamar man at the Kenyan embassy six years ago at the hands of Al Queda. Government documents indicate that the U. S. embassies are not any safer for employees than they were six years ago.
There are so many stories, but everyone is satisfied with running the same boring day-to-day stories. Yes, those stories do need to be done, but they should not be the main course. Is it any wonder that the small town daily newspaper (and the metro newspaper, for that matter) is teetering on the brink of extinction.
A slightly embarrassing thing took place at Books-A-Million last night. As I was heading toward the checkout counter, I heard a young woman yelling, "Mister Turner, Mister Turner." It wasn't one of my students or one of my former students, but a former faculty member at the one of the schools at which I have taught. She said after calling me Mr. Turner for so long, she couldn't get used to calling me Randy, which is fine, I guess. We talked for a while. I was enjoying her company and found myself asking if she wanted to go over to Joe Muggs and have a drink. Now why wasn't I smart enough to figure that a young woman that good looking wasn't out at Books-A-Million on a Saturday night by herself? She thanked me for the invitation and pointed out politely that she wasn't there alone. Somehow, she handled it in such a way that I didn't feel as stupid as I normally do when I do something like that.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I feel pretty good that she didn't act repulsed, recoil in horror, or reach for the Pepto Bismol. She actually seemed to enjoy my company.
Maybe there's hope for me yet.
For some reason, that reminds me of a blind date I went on about 20 years ago. The girl and I got along great, but her seeing-eye dog bit me.