Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Time Catch-Up

Since last posting, a pair of episodes aired on KUAF, both based around the political season we find ourselves in.

The November episode discussed the "unique" Chris Christie and how his pledge to not run reminded Bill of the great Sherman-esque proclamation of William Sherman in the late 19th century that he indeed would not run for President and if nominated would not serve.

Flip-Flop Politicians

The December episode looked at acrimonious political factions, and the modern belief that the Tea Party might cost the Republicans a "good" candidate unwilling to meet the splinter group's test. Well, Sherman set the WABAC machine for 1800 -- once again, nothing is new in American history.

Grouchy Politicians

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Coming to an Athletic Department Near You

Nate Allen of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette puts hit take on the increasing secrecy in college sports with Sometimes Lockdown Leads to Lock Up. The column is behind the ADG pay wall, but you can likely find it cut and paste elsewhere.

What is the significance? Because Allen joins a chorus around the country - Arkansas isn't special in this - of sports writers asking for more transparency. And regular political writers as Max Brantley joins in with his Arkansas Blog entry today. (Check the commentary and a link to another story from New York Times).

Again, what is the big deal? Remember how no one was interested in cell phone records until bloggers started to go after coaches (Arkansas one of the first, North Carolina one of the latest)?

Once upon a time, I was told by a colleague "what right do THEY have to see our cell phone records or read out emails."

My answer - because we are state employees, and if he didn't like that, maybe he should move into the private sector.

Am I implying I know something about UA because I worked there for over 20 years? That is not my point. I know the media there, and they can be quite indicative of trends. Watch and see if all sports media begin to probe deeper and not accept the answers of limited access - which if you can't find Allen's full column is the heart of his point. Quoting from Allen:

As coaches’ salaries and power increasingly escalate, so does the remoteness of athletic departments to the universities of which they are supposed to be a part and not apart.

The University of Arkansas’ Broyles Center was once as open as since retired Athletic Director Frank Broyles’ always open door, but now it is routinely described in comparative “lockdown” by alumni and others who were once accustomed to visiting it.

Just imagine when the UA’s football operations center is completed. The football fortress might be more forbidding than Fort Knox.

It took the political shock of Watergate to inspire a generation of reporters to ask harder questions, not accept answers and begin to go after raw data like budgets or committee reports.

Get ready, fellow PR and information professionals, for a wave of same in sports.

And I highly recommend not reacting with a closed door attitude - especially for those of us working for public institutions.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Four Refections on the Penn State Crisis

There is no time in the present, and the speed and scope of what has transpired in the last 72 hours at Penn State reinforce that statement. In a week, the organization went from celebrating one of it's most anticipated hisotorical moments, the ascension of it's iconic coaching legend into the record books as the all-time winningest, to the unquestionably lowest possible incident for an education institution, the violation of youth whom it is entrusted to protect and teach.

We must remember that as bad as this appears, we have had these kind of events in our American and human past. What separates us in the 21st century from those great tragedies is the network and the speed at which it moves. We can all become a part, if we choose, not only in reading distant news or passive viewing of the live events as they happen, we can participate in the event through our social media tools.

Maria Sciullo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides a succinct article on the impact of the internet on the story. Scuillo gets to the heart of the matter quickly:

Maybe, some harrumphed, this was just a case of overreaction? But the detailed report accessible to anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone told a different story.

The indictment tells all. You can read it yourself. And as Sciullo or Pittsburgh native Dennis Miller said on his radio show, when you read it the doubt disappears.

We will now stare at the car wreck for the next days, months, years. There are some immediate lessons that will not change:

- If you think you have time to gather yourself in a major crisis, you are already doomed. It took the administration at Virginia Tech 48 hours to understand their crisis did not end when the shooter went down. It took the governor threatening to immediately relieve the president of the school to get the message through to open the school's emergency operations center and invoke their crisis plans.

The truth is very few of us have worked for an educational institution that believed these things could happen, much less would happen. And precious few of them will look at what happened elsewhere and become motivated to begin to prepare for the inevitable. Unless you are touched by these type events, you can sleep at night without drills, detailed plans or hierarchies for response.

- If your excuse for the first point is "it won't happen here", let me refer you back to the events of the first decade of the 21st century. Did anyone think airplanes could crash and bring down a 110 story building? Twice? In the same day?

Be honest - who among you could have ever imagined Penn State and Jo Paterno in this type of crisis?

- If you have discovered something so destructive, so heinous, so damaging that your only solution to protect the institution is to at best slow walk the process and more likely just cover it up, the net will get you. Eventually, people will know, and if it really is that big a problem, time will not heal the wounds and allow it to be swept away. The truth will out.

- Last of all, I was reminded by a former student of one of the prime directives I taught and lived by: the Watergate principal. No matter how bad the crime, the coverup is worse.

Arguments will be made - not this week or even this year because the nerves are too raw - that in Happy Valley they were moving through a process, that they intended to do things in good time, that this would be brought to prosecution. To outsiders, it will all look like what it is perceived to be today - a cover up at best, a perverse inverted German soldier defense (I was doing my duty by passing the information up the chain of command; I was not responsible) at worst.

Once again, the axiom is true: even a crime as reprehensible as this - especially in an education setting - the only thing worse than being the perp is being seen as someone who knew and did nothing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On the Heels of Protest

We have an episode on the occupy movement in perspective, but here's some more.

Granted, I'm reading the Sunday Chicago Tribune for more details about the events and Penn State and the cover-up by administration (let pause and remind you all - in all circumstances, the crime is bad; the cover-up is much worse - and this one is, well, hard to even consider).

Big full page story on the start of the commentary section: 10 things you might no know about Chicago protests.

Oh, a history piece on the long and significant history of Chicago in labor and social unrest.

Um, no, a snarky and shallow look at the minor upsets in the city from the mid to late 20th century.

In other words, Haymarket Square is not mentioned. Not once. Even though it figures TWICE in the history of protest in Chicago.

Somewhat akin to saying, let's review the great Super Bowls, and leaving out III - I don't know, because it's OLD or a long time ago.

I just re-read the piece to make sure the authors, Mark Jacob and Stephan Benzkofer, didn't slip it in and I missed it. Nope. In their lead:

"Occupy Chicago protesters are writing another chapter in a long history of dissent in this city. Here are 10 demonstrated facts:"

Briefly, Haymarket is the original anarchist event in U.S. history, a seminal moment in the labor movement and known world-wide. Why guess what, there is even a Haymarket statue and a monument to the police killed at the late 19th century labor protest turned bombing.

But we did learn about protest #4 on their list - a person who wore a tuxedo to the Mercantile Exchange to protest new dress rules. And a protest against a mini mart in the suburbs.

Oh, yes, the 1968 Democratic Convention managed to make the list. And Martin Luther King's ill-fated march.

But the original - nope. The Days of Rage? Nah-ah. The attack of the Haymarket statute? Not quite top 10.

However, a 1958 high school banning the wearing of dog tags with Elvis' birthdate and name by girls? That's number 10.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

THE Most Important Election

We hear that a lot, but is 2012 going to be THE most important election of all time. How do we judge the validity of that claim every four years? Kyle and Bill toss it around in this edition of We're History. Link to the on-line audio.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In Honor of Daniel Meyer

So I'm taking in the Saturday morning road ritual - read the papers, have a Starbucks, wait for the bookstore across the street to open - and I come across the latest Medal of Honor recipient ceremony.

The President is placing that blue ribbon around the neck of a Marine - one of the few ever to earn the nation's highest military honor and live.

The cynical part of me, the trained historian, the PR flak, wants to pick at this story like the not so healed wound that obviously lives on this young man's soul. Yeah, the phone call part seems too staged. His selection somewhat defies the Corps' strictness for following orders.

But you know what?

As I sit here reading these stories, I don't care.

I don't care if he is some sort of central casting. And the more I look, the more I get the feeling he is not.

I want to believe in Dakota Meyer precisely for the reason he doesn't want me to. Because he is America. The one that works, and worries that taking a phone call might the boss on his ass.  The one that mourns for his brothers.  The one that might be a little Hollywood in "earning this" but still just goes out, punches the clock, moves the ball down the field.

The one that just can't see what all the fuss is about. That holds his pride and fears stoically inside. That just wants to do his job, sir.

And most of all, that knows sometimes you have to disobey orders. If you are right, you are rewarded. That believes in the right thing.

This above all is the part of Dakota Meyer's story that gives me the most hope.

He was not crushed by the system for disobeying, doing what had to be done and succeeding. Oh yes, he could easily be dead - read the news accounts - or could have caused that collateral damage his commanders correctly feared.

But he didn't.

That is also America.

It takes risks.  It is messy.  It fails sometimes.

More times than not, it rewards. Risk taking and reward seeking is America. Death or defeat is just around the corner, and it is crushing, devastating.

Fortune favors the bold is as old as Western civilization, and perhaps not coincidence that it is the motto of the 3rd Marine Division. That is Meyer's previous employer.

According the story coming from the White House, he was worried about his current one when this all started:

Obama said Meyer had initially refused to take his call about the award because he was working, saying, "If I don't work, I don't get paid."

Again, I don't care if that's stagecraft. It sounds like a serious young man who does not want the notoriety, that wants to just forget the worst day of his life, that, well, as he said:

I'd rather have all my guys here now than receive the medal," Meyer, now a construction worker back home in Kentucky, told CNN.

I was about to write, "I am unashamed to say that Dakota Meyer is my hero".  I got halfway through the sentence and realized that was wrong to say. I am guessing that is exactly what he doesn't want, in fact, does not deserve. 

He has given his pound of flesh to his country in the one physical wound he suffered in the fire-fight and the continuing one that I am betting rests in his heart and soul - for his lost brothers. He doesn't need the additional burden of being some kind of national talisman, or living up to some image we project upon him.

So instead, let me say I honor Dakota Meyer's service by two things. First, remembering him in my prayers and repeating his story so that maybe some of you that follow here can take some inspiration from him.

The second is more important - and for Dakota Meyer.

I'm going to work today. And I'm going to do the best possible job. And, thinking of the college football career he originally wanted instead of the Marines, I'm going to leave it all on the field.

Because Dakota Meyer, that horrible day, was a man, a Marine and an American.

Fortes fortuna juvate

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fun with Elections

The 18th and 19th centuries are filled with political characters, and Bill and Kyle go down that history memory lane on a Labor Day edition of the series.