March 5, 2015

A matter of priorities

There was a time when college football coaches considered themselves educators who also coached an athletic team.  Admittedly, most of them probably preferred to be called "Coach," acknowledging their role with the team, but most had prepared themselves to be teachers/coaches.

A Mississippi friend shared this map with us, and we found it to be quite interesting.  Not surprising, however, since most people these days realize that college sports is big business.  It's football coaches who are overwhelmingly the highest paid public employees in states across the country.  There are   only a few exceptions.

And it's not just in the biggest and most famous institutions of higher education.  It might be that small college across town, wherever you live.

Essentially, the data shared by Reuben Fischer-Baum and reflected in the above map identifies the jobs held by the highest paid public employees in each state. There's no date on the map, but it appears to be a couple of years old -- probably from about 201213.  You can click on the map to see a larger version.

Rather than my trying to make a case for re-prioritizing the role of college athletics within higher education, let me suggest you visit the website whence this map came.  It's called Deadspin.

See you at the game.

January 15, 2015

Fox to launch TV history series

We read a short AP news story in the Black Hills Pioneer today that caught our attention.

Fox News Channel has announced it's unveiling a new 10-episode television series entitled "Legends & Lies: Into the West," whose executive producer will be Bill O'Reilly, the high profile and often controversial host of his own series, "The Factor."  The new series is scheduled to debut on Sunday, April 12.

The Associated Press observes that cable networks like CNN and Fox "...have been moving aggressively into the non-fiction realm because they're not dependent on news events to succeed and can be repeated frequently."

O'Reilly has teamed up with Martin Dugard to author a series of best-selling books, including "Killing Jesus,"  "Killing Lincoln," "Killing Kennedy," and others.

Not everyone is enamored with the historical accuracy of O'Reilly's books, but few can dispute their enormous popularity with the public.

We found interesting contrasts in how this new series was unveiled by a few media outlets:

August 29, 2014

Never say "Can't"

Good friend Dan Contonis shared a link to this heartwarming story of a little girl who never learned the meaning of "can't." She and her remarkable parents share a story worth knowing!

October 5, 2013

Fox & MSNBC: Latecomers to the Blame Game

As one who grew up near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I’ve been in proximity of both the racism and victimization that seems to remain festering in the hearts of some Native Americans and Anglos even into the 21st Century.

Since these are hot button issues that can consume those who elect to enter in to dialogues about them, I’ve declined to offer any observations or opinions about them on Black Hills Monitor.

However, after just posting a story and photograph on another website about Joe American Horse, a superb athlete from yesteryear, something interesting happened.

Mount Rushmore - 1929
A Google “Alert” notification arrived in my Inbox for another “Black Hills history” story.   

It was a story about Mount Rushmore posted on a site named Indian Country Today Media Network.  I don’t recall having visited this website before.  However, rummaging through its many topics and pages was fascinating – if a bit disappointing – so I’ve decided to offer those long-delayed “observations” …..and an opinion or two.  Nonetheless, Indian Country Today is worth visiting.  There's lots of good stuff there.  But...

I’m a white guy.  My interest in things relating to American Indians, however, is more than just passing.  I’ve dabbled in genealogy for decades and remember vividly some of the stories my mother used to tell about her childhood – and her Indian playmates.  My great-grandfather’s homestead was “in the gumbo” about 14 miles northeast of Chadron, Nebraska, adjacent to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

If it hadn’t been for the Indian kids, I often wouldn’t have had anyone to play with,” I recall her telling me over the years.  And my grandfather did business with tribal members.

As a kid growing up in Chadron, I don’t think I ever stopped to consider the plight of the Indians.  Usually, their circumstances were perceived through a local prism of strong cultural snobbery.  You might call it racism  Like Gordon and Rushville, towns not far from Pine Ridge, Chadron was a favorite trade center for reservation residents.

That also meant it was a favorite watering hole not just for area farmers and ranchers – but Indians from Pine Ridge, too.  And while I’m not a scientist or sociologist, I do believe that there was/is a propensity for alcoholism among our neighbors from Pine Ridge. Coupled with a mutual lack of understanding about cultural differences and a widespread abuse of the U.S. government’s food commodity program, it seems that almost everything I learned about relationships between our races was tinged with abuse, indifference, and illegalities.

There were many exceptions, of course.  One American Indian classmate was an exceptional artist.  He later served in the Army and then worked with computers for many years.  I had looked forward to seeing him at our 50th high school class reunion a few years ago, but he didn’t make it.  I later saw his obituary.  Another Indian friend was a fine athlete and is a good friend.  He went on to graduate from the University of Nebraska and years later would return to the Pine Ridge area and work to improve the health of reservation residents.   

Having lived eight years in Mississippi later in life, I learned much about southern racism – although I think Mississippi often gets a bum wrap, when one considers rampant racism that has afflicted Detroit, Los Angeles and other areas of the country.  Author Shelby Foote put it well when he once talked about confronting racism in Mississippi:  “We aren’t where we want to be……we’re not where we should be…..but we sure aren’t where we used to be!

Newspaperman Bob Gordon
Many of my best friends in Mississippi grew up around the racism that seemed to inundate Mississippi back in the 1950s and '60s.   One of them was a man named Bob Gordon, one of the finest men I’ve ever known.  I’ll not recount his story, but if you want to know more, visit Saying Goodbye to a Friend.  And another good friend, a Jackson attorney, grew up in the thick of racism.  He and I visited about that occasionally, and I often wondered why he -- a very liberal and caring fellow -- wasn’t even more outspoken in his position against racism. 

Then, at some point, I stopped to reflect on my own upbringing, remembering the things I experienced as a youth.   As children, I suspect all of us grow up adapting to the culture we’re dealt.  As a teenager, I couldn’t understand how “whites in the south could be so racist against negroes.”  I never seriously reflected on  the plight of Indians and their relationship with whites in my own community.  Partly, as a teen, I was too involved with sports, girls, and my own circumstances.  In Mississippi, I finally confronted that inconsistency.

All of this to offer up this:

As thought-provoking and well done as it is, Indian Country Today provides for its readers much the same fodder as Fox News offers its viewers.  And as MSNBC feeds its audience.  Especially, it seems, during these confrontational days inside the Washington, D.C. beltway:  "I’m right.  You’re wrong.  Now I'm going to tell you who's to blame."  

That seems to be the mantra.  Whatever our plight; whatever our woes; we’ve got to blame someone, so let’s focus on the other guy!

Indian Country News is well done, but there is, not surprisingly -- but disappointingly, an undercurrent that seems to focus more on blaming whites rather than seeking solutions to the problems that face Native Americans – and our country.

All of us, at one time or another, have viewed ourselves as victims.  And few in our society have as much justification for that posture as Native Americans.  But until the crutch of justification and blame is put in the closet, it’s difficult to see meaningful improvements in the lives of our Native American brethren.

But the purveyors of blame at Fox, MSNBC, and others, know that controversy can lure more eyeballs and, thus, more advertising revenue.   And the good folks at Indian Country News probably believe, too, that a little invective and controversy can't help but strengthen readership.

And all of society is the worse for it.

April 6, 2013

Being able to choose your channels...

I have long believed that unbundling of cable and satellite channels would be a good thing.

The model for years has been for subscribers to pay a flat fee for a cable lineup that originally might have included a couple of dozen channels or so. As technology advanced, the cable industry was able to expand the number of channel offerings with a modest increase in cost.

When my wife and I were parents of young children, we would gladly have paid an additional fee to have the cable system filter out the burgeoning number of channels that contained content promoting violence, sex, and morbidity. While each of us has slightly different standards with regard to what's objectionable, there were ways that concerned parents and cable companies might have compromised.

Campbell Brown in action:
(see video below)
"Unworkable" was the basic response from the cable systems to proposals to unbundle channels, suggesting that the technology simply wasn't available to create a viable business model. That was back in the 1970's and '80's. Fast forward to 2013. Not only is the technology available to allow subscribers to pick and choose individual channels and pay only for those channels -- the need for doing so was never greater. It's often called "cherry picking."  The social cost of not offering subscribers this choice is potentially devastating. It's already left a mark on our society.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the current debate over gun control. Alas, the culpability of the media and entertainment businesses has been marginalized in the the national debate. Stepping up to focus on the issue is former NBC and CNN correspondent Campbell Brown. She was interviewed on MSNBC earlier this month (April 2013); while she didn't push hard on the "unbundling" of cable channels as a way to help parents -- and society -- she did have some cogent observations about the entertainment industry and some strategies that might work for reigning in an industry that displays little concern over the consequences of its product -- except the box office receipts.

November 1, 2012

You've come a long way, baby...

I must confess that Women’s Equality Day in August escaped me this year.  It celebrated passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote.  No matter, perhaps it’s better celebrated next Tuesday, November 6, when men and women march to the polls in the 2012 general election.

You’ve come a long way, baby” was an advertising slogan developed by the Leo Burnett advertising agency for Virginia Slims cigarettes back in the 1960’s.  It was designed to encourage women to further break away from traditional female roles -- and, of course, smoke their brand of cigarettes.

It’s interesting that we’ve seen a resurgence of gender issues in this political season.   Probably an indication that while much has been accomplished – much needs yet to be done.

There are, indeed, still challenges for women in “breaking through those glass ceilings,” but there have been some successes over the years. 

Dean Finley Herbst
I was reminded of one such lady this week when I learned that Dean Herbst had died in Austin, Texas.  The wife of my boss at the University of Texas–Austin Communications Center back in the 1970’s, Dean was a lady who “broke out of the mold” many years earlier.  She had a remarkable professional career – and yet managed to also embrace the importance of rearing children and focusing on family.  Dean Herbst died earlier this year at the age of 88.

First, a disclaimer.  While I did not know Dean well, her husband and I worked closely at KLRN-TV/KUT Radio in Austin, where he was Station Manager and General Manager for many years.  Much of what I recount here was shared in her obituary.

Dean Finley was born in Houston, the daughter of Frank and Lila Finley.  Frank worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and spent most of his career in the federal building in Austin.  Dean graduated from Austin High School in 1940 and then went to the University of Texas, majoring in Journalism and serving as the first female night editor for the Daily Texan newspaper.

With her bachelor’s degree in hand, she headed for New York City, where she worked as a publicist for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).  She later moved in to the top floor of Washington Irving’s old home and became associate editor and production manger for Tide magazine.

She returned to Austin in 1946 and became a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and later was promoted to Women’s Editor.

But in 1951, Dean was offered the job “of her dreams.”  She was off to Kabul, Afghanistan to become Assistant Information Officer at the U.S. Embassy.  She would become the Head of Public Affairs at the embassy and the “only ranking woman” in the Kabul diplomatic corps.

Dean Herbst’s obituary noted “At the request of the Queen of Afghanistan, she offered an informal seminar for wives of Afghan diplomats who were going to serve in foreign embassies.  When Dean left Afghanistan, she was presented parting gifts of jewels and needlework form the Queen and the Prime Minister in appreciation for her contributions to Afghan culture.”

In a story reminiscent of the many adventures of Julia Childs, young Dean Finley made friends with the King of Nepal during the sea voyage home from the Middle East.  It occurred only after she apparently “ordered him out of her assigned deck chair, causing great consternation among his attendants.  The only person laughing was the King himself.  After the incident, Dean joined the King and his entourage and became his dancing partner for the evening.  It was an experience we might have more likely expected of Julia McWilliams Childs during her O.S. S. adventures during World War II!

Flight to Afghanistan
When she got home, Dean went to work again for the Austin American-Statesman.  In 1955 she married Harvey Herbst, another “media type” who worked for an Austin television station.  They would have two children:  Frederick Lawrence and Marian Alice. 

While raising her children, Dean wrote Flight to Afghanistan, a novel of mid-air adventures for a high school girl on her way to Afghanistan to visit her parents.  The book apparently received good reviews and was honored at the “Writer’s Round-Up” of best Texas writers of that year.

Tapped to conduct research for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board regarding medical education in the state, Dean accepted the three-year challenge, which resulted in her later being offered the job as Assistant Commissioner for Health Affairs at the Board.  She remained there until her retirement.

Dean's many achievements were impressive, but one particular event seemed to reflect her priorities at the time.

With children still in school in the 1960’s, Dean agreed to take a leadership role with Theta Sigma Phi, the woman’s national honorary journalism society that was based in Austin.  She presented the board with a plan to reorganize the society, which resulted in relocating its headquarters to Washington, D.C. in 1972 – and changing its name to Women in Communications (WIC).  The organization pushed hard for the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Not surprisingly, WIC also chose to allow men to become active members of the organization.

Dean’s obituary notes that she was offered the position of national director of the organization, which she declined, saying, “I’m first a mother and a wife, and both those jobs are in Austin, Texas.

Lorraine Collins
Good friend Lorraine Collins, whose book Gathering My Wits reflected her sound judgment, clear thinking, and crisp writing, is another woman who comes to mind during the election discussion about gender equality.  Her achievements, too, have been quite remarkable. 

While Lorraine no longer pens her thoughtful essays for the Black Hills Pioneer or our Black Hills Monitor website, her commentaries on South Dakota and the “outside world” are always fun to revisit.  You can read many of Lorraine's essays here. 

Her years as a journalist  -- including stints at Time magazine and as a free-lance journalist  – were achieved during those years when women were seldom found amongst the throngs of men who dominated journalism.

Alas, she recently moved from the Black Hills to Billings, Montana to be closer to family as she cares for her ailing husband, Keith.  Keith and Lorraine were good neighbors, and they are good friends.  We miss them both.

Like Dean Herbst, Julia Childs, and many other women of 20th century journalism, Lorraine broke that “glass ceiling.”   We’ll soon be telling you about Lee Hall, another lady who left her mark on journalism in an era when it was unusual for women to be in the newsroom – let alone leading the way.

Perhaps all of these ladies were ahead of their time.  See you at the polls!

October 4, 2012

Charles E. "Eddie" Clay (1922-2012)

South Dakota has lost one of its outstanding citizens.

Charles "Eddie" Clay of Hot Springs passed away this morning (10/4/12) at the Rapid City Regional Hospital after suffering a stroke yesterday.  He was 90 years old.

And most of those 90 years were dedicated to his family, his country, and his community.

It's sad to see the passing of such a remarkable person, and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his wife, Clara, his daughter, Bobbi, and the entire Clay family.

Born in Missouri and raised in Iowa, Eddie served with the 8th Air Force in the Pacific during World War II.  Another assignment to Ellsworth Air Force Base allowed him to meet and later marry Clara May Hagen.  Eddie was also called up and served during the Korean War.

Eddie and Clara owned and operated Fall River Abstract in Hot Springs for more than 43 years.  He was devoted to Clara and Bobbi and his grandchildren.

Our sorrow at Eddie's passing  should be quickly tempered by celebration of his numerous and enormous accomplishments during his time on this earth. He was a champion for a wide array of community activities.  The list of his many causes is far too long to enumerate here -- and so we mention only a few.   They each elicited deep passion and commitment from Eddie.  He was not a half-way kind of fellow.  

We wrote the following when Eddie was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2007:

"A tireless worker in civic affairs, Eddie has provided vision and leadership to the Mount Rushmore Society, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs, and numerous other organizations.

His service in the legislature and on Boards of Directors for many educational, tourism and arts organizations has been remarkable. A Mason for 50 years, Eddie Clay has been a role model for me and many South Dakotans. In addition to daughter Bobbi, the Clays have four grandchildren and four great children."

Eddie also served on the powerful Appropriations Committee in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 1967 to 1974.

Funeral services for Charles "Eddie" Clay will be at 10:00 a.m., Monday, at the Mueller Center in Hot Springs.  A viewing is scheduled for Sunday evening.  

You'll find additional information in this news story broadcast earlier today (10/4/12) by KOTA-TV, in which they appropriately acknowledged Eddie as a "visionary."   You'll also find a few photos and narratives that we posted in 2007 in this Hall of Fame gallery.

June 23, 2012

Juvenile justice in America: a Florida case

by Larry Miller

I remember once starting to read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and asking myself, “Why am I reading this?  It’s as depressing as sitting through a screening of Rosemary’s Baby."  Not a fun thing to do.

But fun sometimes has to take a back seat to the necessity of examining the human condition and what it is that causes humans to sometimes become so misguided.

“Misguided” may be a bit euphemistic when describing juveniles who commit heinous crimes.  What are those things that make some youngsters stray from “normal” teen years and end up spending life in prison?  The answers are not simple.  And the U.S. legal system struggles for a path to true juvenile justice.   

Good friend Bill Kunerth recently shared excerpts of a book written by his son, Jeff, who is a writer for the Orlando (FL) Sentinel.  I was intrigued by what I started to read -- but had those flashbacks to In Cold Blood.

Then, a few weeks ago, I received a copy of the book from Jeff.  It’s entitled Trout, and it’s a true story of “murder, teens, and the death penalty.”  

I started the book late one evening, read the first chapter, and was lured into the story by Jeff’s riveting style.  It reads like a novel.  It’s anything but.

I’ll not provide details about Trout, other than to share that it’s a revealing story about high school-age boys in Pensacola who become wrapped up in an horrific event that ends tragically for almost all the families involved. 

“…I thought I was writing about a case of mistaken identity murder-for-hire by three Pensacola teens in 1991,” said Kunerth, who acknowledges that the book evolves into scrutinizing juvenile justice within the U.S. adult court system.

Jeff Kunerth - Orlando Sentinel
The writing style is called “creative nonfiction,” and it’s well suited for journalist Kunerth, who has sourced the story extensively.  He assembles just the right tools to tell the story of a gruesome murder of a clerk at Trout Auto Parts in Pensacola, Florida.

I don’t fancy myself a literary critic, but Jeff Kunerth’s style reminded me of Barbara Tuchman's work.

Like Tuchman, Kunerth may not consider himself an historian, but his detailed recounting of this event, accompanied by nagging questions about the implications for juvenile justice, are every bit as compelling as Tuchman’s “Guns of August” dissection of the events leading up to World War One.  And like it or not, juvenile violence is as much a part of our history as war -- and its impact is just as devastating.

The topics for both books were meticulously researched, thoughtfully written, and both authors spared no ink in assembling and listing their sources.  At just 195 pages, Trout is a fast read.  Twenty-two of those pages are source notes.

Like any good book, it leaves you wanting to know more.  And more is to be found online at where visitors can ask questions, make comments, and get additional information, including links to the PBS Frontline documentary, When Kids Get Life.

June 21, 2012

We should listen to Kenny Rogers

by Lorraine Collins

I've never been a great fan of what we call country and western music because I thought it all seemed to be about broken hearts and broken promises, loneliness, trains missed and dogs that died. But sometimes it does reflect common human experiences and things that are true and important. One good example is a song made famous by Kenny Rogers---"The Gambler."

It's been running through my mind quite a bit lately because of the advice the gambler offers to the narrator: "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." Apparently the gambler didn't learn that too well himself because, after he's bummed a cigarette and a drink of whisky from a fellow he met on a "train to nowhere", he dies.

Yet,  his advice is still good: know when to hold and when to fold, not just in poker, but in life. I've been trying to figure that out myself lately, and I know if we could all learn that, everything might be easier for us. For instance, in the last year we've witnessed events in Egypt and Libya when dictators just refused to give up their power and ended up dooming themselves and their countries to a long ordeal. Still, the boss of Syria hasn't seemed to get the message that there's a time to fold.

In the recent Republican presidential nomination contest, one fellow might have bailed out a bit early, but others hung on way past the bitter end. So sometimes we do give up too soon, maybe because of a lack of grit, or because of a sudden realization that the goal is most likely unattainable, so we cut our losses. But in most cases we don't fold too soon but just hang on too long because we hate to give up whatever we have enjoyed doing.

There are a lot of examples. Many of us can name a famous professional quarterback who didn't know when to retire, and in music and the arts we've seen performers who would have been better off leaving their reputations intact with a graceful exit. Great literary works have been written about faded geniuses or warriors trying to regain former glory. It's not that we lack examples. It's just hard to recognize those same tendencies in ourselves.

I remember when I was a kid not wanting to come home from playing kick the can even though it was getting pretty dark. When my mother called me to come in, I protested that I was still having fun. She said, "Always quit when you're having fun." That's pretty good advice, too, though many of us wait until everything isn't quite as much fun as it used to be.

Of course I'm leading up to something here. It's been hard to decide to leave the Black Hills after enjoying 26 years living in Spearfish Canyon and Spearfish, but the time has come for my husband Keith and me to do so, as we've recognized it's time to fold. We've had a lot of fun here, flying airplanes, driving Model Ts, riding bikes, hunting deer, playing golf, attending plays, concerts, and even opera here in the Black Hills. But to tell the truth, as time has gone on the years have accumulated in our bones. It's just about too late to quit while we're still having fun.

One thing that has been fun for me is writing this column for the last six years. For the first several months I wrote a column once a week, then faded to twice a month and I eventually  realized that writing a column once a month is the best I can do if I'm going to do anything else, like laundry. There certainly has been a lot to write about. When I put together a collection of my columns last year there were 90 commentaries in seven different categories and it's really hard to think of something I haven't written about. I've enjoyed it and I really appreciated the response from readers over the years. Thanks.
Now it's time to start cleaning out the house and the garage and to pay attention to another line in "The Gambler." It's about "knowing what to throw away and what to keep." Good luck with that one. 

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at