Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Is the sky really falling?

It has been awhile, 79 years to be exact, since I've seen anything like it. I'm referring to the past couple of weeks when the wheeler-dealers on Wall Street and in Congress have been running here and there in a panic. It peaked yesterday when they began crying, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"
That earlier event in October 1929 came a few months after the photo at left was taken a couple of weeks before an auto accident put that 4-year-old kid in the hospital for 30 days. So when everyone was talking about the Wall Street Crash I thought they meant one on the highway. Was poor Wall Street going to have to spend a month in bed?
My dad, the eternal optimist, kept saying, "It won't affect us." Eight months or so later he was out of a job. Three months after that my mother was out of a job. Another few months and we were living in a Model-T Ford with a canvas top and no side curtains. And it was winter in the Midwest.
Yes, the Great Depression was rough, yet all but the weakest survived. People came out of it stronger and with a better sense of values. When it began, however, those same people were much like those you'll find today. Not quite as self-indulgent because there were no credit cards, no ATM machines, but a plethora of stores with "easy credit" signs in the window. A few years later the signs were still there but credit had become a dirty word.
I'm no economist but as I understand it we won't merely be bailing out Wall Street, that place where people make money without actually working for it, but also the institutions that give credit. Today's economy is based on people borrowing money so they can buy stuff from merchants who borrowed money to buy stock. We borrow huge sums to buy houses while full aware we can't afford the payments, the taxes or the upkeep. We are paid by employers who borrow money to meet a payroll.
So we're living in a house of cards. Sooner or later houses like that come tumbling down. One economist says it will be 2015 before things return to normal. By then people may have wised up the way they did in the 1930s when you bought something only when you had money in your pocket to pay for it.
If the sky really does fall, the country and the world may be better off for it. If it doesn't fall it will merely postpone the day when that house of cards collapses.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Be careful out there

Whenever my mother was giving my dad a rough time - and it happened frequently - he would listen for a while and then say, "I'm just a wrong guy."
So like father, like son. I was wrong in believing we had been warned off everything that might add a bit of joy and pleasure to our lives. Don't eat anything that tastes good, don't stop after work for a beer with the boys and for God's sake don't smoke the filthy weed. What was left that hadn't been covered? Nothing.
Oops! We hadn't been told about orange juice. Or any other natural fruit juice for that matter. An 18-year study of nurses in the USA has revealed that a cold glass of OJ with breakfast puts you at risk of diabetes. Now there's food - or drink - for thought.
Doctors have told me to down a glass of cranberry juice every day to fight off kidney infections. So now I have to choose between kidney infections and diabetes. Great choices.
Many of us have been around long enough to remember when we were blissfully ignorant of such things and didn't give a second thought to ordering a rasher of bacon with our fried eggs. Stopping for an after-work drink just came naturally. Choosing between Camels and Lucky Strikes was all the thought we gave to smoking. So maybe we weren't as well off as we thought, but life sure was a lot more fun.
There's great news out of Austria. For the first time since World War II the citizens of that beautiful country have elected a far-right government. I don't know what they call that party but the last time the far right took charge it was N.S.D.A.P. - Nazi for short. It was headed up by a man named Arthur Seyss-Inquart with the approval of his fellow Austrian, Adolf Hitler. So what goes around, comes around.
What does this prove? That there's a helluva lot worse things for your health and longevity than drinking orange juice.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Should we laugh or cry?

The situation in Washington, is it high drama or music hall comedy? Is it time to scrap this entire form of government and adopt a parliamentary system? Could it be any worse?
I can't help think back to the weeks leading up to the 1952 presidential election when all the talk was about "the mess in Washington." We were naive enough to believe there was one. Now we know better, having found out what a real, genuine, top-of-the-line mess truly is.
The amazing thing to me is that I almost - not quite, but almost - found myself feeling sorry for George W. Bush. He calls the presidential candidates to Washington, summons the top men and women of both parties and his administration and has them gather around a huge table so that together they can announce a bi-partisan agreement to do something, almost anything at all, about the financial crisis that has doomed us all to abject poverty.
Harmony reigns throughout the inevitable photo op and even for a few minutes after that. Then all hell breaks loose. They begin shouting at each other, calling each other vile names, hurling spitballs and crying, "My dad can beat up your dad!"
Poor George. One more chapter to add to his cherished legacy.
Then, just to put a capper on it all, the McCain campaign announces that it is all Obama's fault. He was the guy sitting at the far end of the table, the one who opened his mouth a single time.
Even David Letterman has gotten in on the act. McCain cancelled an appearance on his show at the last minute, creating havoc. Letterman was willing to forgive and forget until McCain immediately showed up on another program. Letterman will never let him forget this betrayal. Keith Olberman is having the time of his life. Wolf Blitzer is wetting his pants from the sheer excitement of it all.
The truly mind-boggling thing about all of this is that there actually are numerous intelligent men and women in Congress. Will they ever start acting like it? Of course they will, when those notorious pigs with lipsticks begin flying around the capitol dome.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Maybe We Need Another Great Depression

My late friend Art Ealy sometimes said, "What this country needs is another Depression." He meant that everything from top to bottom is out of whack. The latest developments must have him thrashing about in his grave.
In Ohio, the payday lenders are trying to get a recent law repealed that limits them to collecting 28 per cent interest. They want to go back to 39.1 per cent. Payday lenders are fairly new on the scene. They came along to satisfy the "I want it all and I want it now" mentality that has become so prevalent. Too many people max out their credit cards but want to go right on spending. Either that or the credit card bills, the huge mortgages on the houses they knew they couldn't afford and a variety of other factors leave them broke long before the next payday.
Then there is the mess at the top, if Wall Street can be called that with a straight face. Bush and his cronies want the average men and women to pony up $700 billion to bail out the fat cats. No strings attached is the way they want it. That way the cats can go right on doing the things that created the mess.
So from Wall Street to Main Street we suddenly have a crisis. They didn't see it coming during all the years Bush insisted the economy was strong. Now they say it has to be fixed in one week, meaning hand over the money or else. In Ireland they call them pin-stripe bandits.
Maybe it's time again for people to realize they should forget credit and buy only what they can pay for and time for the fat cats to come down to earth. But no, the big boys will be bailed out, credit will flow like water and some of it will trickle down to the poor suckers who need payday advances. That means we will merely be postponing the day of reckoning. Why not just get it over with now, take the consequences of our own actions and start building again on a solid foundation? Fat chance when the lobbyists and the government lackeys are working overtime to get their grubby hands on that $700 billion.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Let's Show a Little Enthusiasm

My favorite Knute Rockne story doesn't concern the legendary Notre Dame football coach's favorite sport. Instead on a fine spring day he was coaching third base during a ball game. In a nearby chapel a priest asked the assembly, "How do you enter the Kingdom of Heaven?"
The next voice, Rockne's, cried, "Slide, damn you, slide!"
When Vince Lombardi, one of history's great disciplinarians, was coaching the Green Bay Packers some players lived in constant fear of his wrath. His leading running back was Paul Hornung, a Notre Dame grad and somewhat of a jokester. To amuse his teammates he concocted a story in which Lombardi came home late one night and crawled into bed beside his wife. She yelled, "God, your feet are cold!"
Lombardi - in Hornung's tale - replied, "In bed, my dear, you may call me Vinnie."
During my brief stay in high school the football coach was Earl Loucks, a rough man from the hard-bitten country around Wheeling and Martins Ferry. At that time a substitute couldn't speak until he had been in the game for one play. Before a game Loucks told the players in the locker room that to get around this rule he would write the number of the play he wanted called on adhesive tape on a leg of the sub's pants. To see if he had gotten the point across, Loucks put on his glasses and looked around. Only then did he see the referee listening intently while changing into his uniform at the rear of the room.
Louck's good friend from college, Jimmie Aiken, coached the Akron U team. His system of breaking the rule was to number the plays to coincide with the numbers on substitutes' uniforms. If he wanted play 14 called he would yell, "Joe, warm up!" Joe, number 14, would leap from the bench and run back and forth along the sidelines, occasionally dropping down to a three-point stance.
Aiken's son, Jimmie Jr., played on the Oak Park softball team while I, 11 at the time, was on another. The day we were to play Oak Park I had barely started the twelve-block walk to the park when a black coupe pulled to the curb and in his raspy voice Aiken called, "Hey, kid, want a ride to the game?"
Not a word was said during the trip but Aiken sang In a Little Red Barn on a Farm Down in Indiana. After arriving at the field he was outraged to find only eight players on his son's team had showed up and they had to forfeit the game. Aiken, the only adult there, had all of us from both teams sit in a semi-circle on the ground while he delivered a twenty-minute speech on responsibility. We hung on every word, spellbound by the fiery pep talk. Only later did it occur to me that his listeners were the ones who had shown responsibility by showing up.
During the thirteen years I coached baseball teams for boys I was irritated at a practice session. It seemed to me our play had been listless during the previous game so I had the players sit while I lectured them on enthusiasm. I must have used the word enthusiasm thirty times during the lengthy harangue. Satisfied I had made them aware of its importance, I finally shut up and looked from one to another of them. A 10-year-old raised his hand so I said, "Yes, Mike?"
"Dick, what's enthusiasm?"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Does Art Follow Life or Vice Versa?

More than thirty years ago a school bus filled with children set out from one small town to another. One side of the road was lined with precipitous hills and cliffs. On the other side was a long lake so a guard rail ran the length of the road. There were no side roads or any spots where a vehicle could pull over.
And yet the bus disappeared along the way. The obvious thing was checked first and there were no breaks in the guard rail. Local, state and federal police were totally mystified.
Then one newspaper reporter covering the event told of reading a book many years earlier. That book, The Day the Children Vanished, was written by then well-known mystery writer Hugh Pentecost. The story featured the exact same scenario down to the last detail.
Everyone rushed to find a copy of the book, but it was long out of print. The publisher hurried it back to the presses and in little more than a week it was in every bookstore in the country. It quickly zoomed to the top of the bestseller lists.
So here was a case in which life definitely imitated art.
The reverse is often true, which is way some particularly grisly crime will inspire several writers to crank out nearly identical stories. There have even been cases where two different publishers released books with the same title at the very same time. The Watcher comes to mind.
Not only did the plot of Hugh Pentecost's book fit the story of the children in every detail, the solution to the enigma proved to be identical to that in the book. When a writer sits down and begins hitting the keys he/she can never be certain where his brainchild may eventually lead. I would imagine in this case it led to some suspicious cops knocking on Pentecost's door. It also led to his bank account growing considerably fatter.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama's Chances

Can a black man be elected president of the United States? The politically correct answer is "yes." The honest answer is "unlikely." The cynical answer is "when pig's fly." Even pigs with lipstick.
Just talking about it is considered taboo. That doesn't change the fact that racial discrimination hovers like a dark cloud over this election.
We hear that all men are created equal, Americans are tolerant and colorblind and other noble talk like that. Unfortunately a "but" comes after many such statements. In Bible Belt and Redneck country (they frequently overlap), tolerance is a word frequently heard but seldom practiced.
No matter what they may express in words, deep down most W.A.S.P.s (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and NASCAR Dads (a pseudonym for Rednecks) vote for someone who looks like them, talks like them, thinks like them, likes the things they like, attends the churches they attend and fits the "he's just like us" image. They tend to call any well-educated person an elitist. They are prone to believing untrue rumors spread by email or talk radio. They have only a rudimentary idea of the issues and aren't really concerned about them.
It wasn't all that long ago that I had to get up and move forward in the bus so that a black woman and her two young children could climb aboard. In places where that and other acts of segregation were an accepted way of life, attitudes approving it as fair and just still prevail although many won't admit it publicly and others don't agree with it.
In flat Midwestern farm country and its countless small towns it isn't mandatory that a person be a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant to be accepted as an equal but it certainly is important. People will deny this, of course, often by beginning a statement with, "I'm not prejudiced, but . . ."
Large industrial cities are home to numerous people lacking even a basic education, people who have trouble making a sentence using proper English, yet harbor a false sense of superiority to anyone whose skin is any color other than white.
A visitor will find intelligent, open-minded men and women in any of these places. Unfortunately, they are still in the minority.
Barack Obama has a chance of winning only if young people turn out in record number. Some members of younger generations have been indoctrinated by their parents to hate. Far more make up their own minds. In thirty years, a black or a Hispanic or an oriental or a mid-easterner or even an American Indian will have a far better chance of being elected president. That doesn't mean Obama can't win, only that doing so is far more difficult for him because he is only half white. Many will deny this, but it's true.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Shallow American

Every so often something happens that demonstrates the shallowness of the average American. Not that proof is needed beyond the daily listing of television shows. Half a century ago when TV was referred to as a "vast wasteland" it offered programs that were classic drama and comedy compared to much of what we are urged to view today. Drama has been reduced to car chases, explosions and shootouts while most of what passes for comedy is based on fart jokes and the utter stupidity of men.
In fairness to the tube, shootings and grisly slayings play a large role in the American way of life and far too many men would rather watch overpaid professional athletes play games intended for youths than tune into a program based on current events of importance. Both men and women spend hours watching game shows intended to demonstrate stupidity rather than intelligence (something looked upon with suspicion by the vast majority) or "reality" shows that are so far removed from reality that words can't begin to tell the story.
But now the campaign to see which unfortunate man will take charge of the mess unlike anything seen since the Great Depression has brought forth a display of sheer, mind-numbing shallowness that . . . well, words fail me. The manufacturer of the eyeglasses worn by Sarah Palin can't keep up with filling orders placed by people who want to look just like her. Now that's getting right to the heart of what is important in choosing someone to run the country.
Palin, remember, is the woman who believes that if Georgia, the tiny country that gave the world Joseph Stalin, is admitted to NATO and has further trouble with Russia then we should confront Russia militarily. Apparently the woman hasn't spent much time studying history and isn't concerned that Russia has a huge number of nuclear-armed missiles aimed at American cities.
But why should she when what is important to so many people is her choice in eyewear.
As NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, why has the United States played the leading role in rushing to add countries far removed from the Atlantic? I think it's called playing Russian Roulette. When the possibility of blowing up the world is at stake, are five to one odds good enough to play that game?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Writer's block isn't permissable

I've never suffered from what some people call writer's block. That may be because for much of my life I wasn't allowed that luxury. You couldn't walk into the newsroom a few minutes before seven, stop at the city editor's desk and say, "I just don't feel like writing today." Actually you could, but your next stop would be the unemployment office.
One of the joys of working for a newspaper with a rival paper in town was doing the morning rewrites. Finding half a dozen or more obituaries among the clippings waiting to be rewritten was especially disheartening. That was the time when you would raise a hand and yell, "Boy!" When a copy boy hurried over you'd say, "Coffee. Hot, black and fast."
Most of those obits would begin: "John Doe, 59, died Monday at Merciless Hospital."
The easy rewrite would be: "Calling hours for John Doe, 59, will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday at Plantum Mortuary."
But you wanted to be more creative than that. Surely John Doe did something a bit different in his life and you'd search that original obit to find it. Amazingly, many people had not done one thing of interest to others. This was particularly true of women. Although it was tempting, you couldn't write, "Jane Doe's major accomplishment in life was lying on her back in bed and as a result producing six children." As their obit is the only time many people have their name in the paper, that would be unkind. So would the city editor's reaction.
When not one noteworthy thing could be found there was little choice other than falling back on, "Calling hours for . . ."
The worst obits, the kind that make you want to gag, are dictated by family members and appear in papers that charge for running them. Therefore they will print anything. "The angels descended from heaven Monday to take Jane Doe home to . . ." Pass the barf bag please.
The most interesting obit I ever read was written by the entertainment writer at a Cleveland paper when the city had three competing newspapers. It began: "John Doe, well-known local hoodlum, did his family, friends and the city a favor Tuesday night by being shot dead on an east side street."
So rewriting those morning obituaries didn't allow for writer's block. It taught me that the best cure for not feeling like writing is to sit down and write something.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Free Enterprise?

I don't get it. This is supposed to be a free enterprise system, yet it seems that if you are big enough and get into trouble the government will bail you out. Doesn't free enterprise mean you go into business and take your chances?
In taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - who coined such childish names? - one of the things mentioned is that otherwise stockholders might lose everything. Isn't that what investing in stocks is supposed to be all about? When things go up you profit, when they go down you lose, or so I thought. If I buy a lottery ticket and it isn't the winning number, will the government step in to see I don't lose my money? Fat chance.
The entire mortgage loan business is a fiasco. That's OK, the taxpayers will fix things up. Otherwise they couldn't continue business as usual.
Now the auto manufacturers want $50 billion in loans from the feds. Only the American companies because the foreign ones won't need it. They've been doing things the right way all along. So who bailed out Packard and Studebaker and Auburn and Stutz and all the other fine car makers that went under? Nobody - but Ford and General Motors and Chrysler, the ones now asking for $50 billion, did everything they could to hurry them into the grave.
The economists would say I just don't understand. They're right, I don't.
Or maybe I do get it. If you're a little guy, you're out there on your own. If you're big enough, Uncle Sam is always standing by to take care of you. Is that what they mean by a free enterprise system? Maybe someone should explain to me the difference between capitalism, socialism, communism and all the other isms. When things get tough they seem to be remarkably similar.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Fabulous Waterloo Wonders

A writer named Dick Burdette was skeptical. He had heard all the stories about the Waterloo Wonders and took them with a grain of salt. So he traveled to the village tucked deep in the hardscrabble Appalachian hills of Southern Ohio. The first of two original Wonders he found was wearing bib overalls and strumming a guitar. More skepticism.
They walked to the home of the second Wonder and then strolled down to the new consolidated high school where the basketball team was practicing. The two old Wonders, both in their late forties now, took on the young players in an impromptu game and made monkeys of them. Then the pair went to center court and each hit seven straight baskets. With each shot, Burdette's skepticism faded until it had vanished.

More sophisticated fans laughed when the Waterloo Wonders showed up in Columbus for the finals of the 1934 Class B state tournament. Even the name of their coach and the school's principal, Magellan Hairston, was the butt of a few jokes. The players did the unthinkable and passed the championship trophy from one to another before the opening tipoff.
Then the game began and the laughter ceased. A display of crisp behind-the-back passes, bullet-like throws to teammates, dribbling between and around their legs and brilliant shooting silenced the crowd.
But that was nothing compared to their usual antics. Basketball was supposed to be fun, wasn't it? So they had fun. When an opponent missed a shot, a Wonder often grabbed the rebound, made a courtly bow and handed the ball to the player for a second try. They hit baskets by bouncing the ball on the floor and through the hoop. During timeouts they munched hotdogs and, after building a lead, two of the players would sit in the grandstand and eat popcorn while the other three put on a dazzling display of passing. While a game was in progress they were even known to open a bag of marbles and play a game at center court.
These hijinks drove Magellan Hairston crazy because all he wanted to do was win. Which the Wonders did by taking the state championship two years in a row.
During the second year the Ohio High School Athletic Association relaxed the rules to allow the Waterloo Wonders to play as many games as they could schedule. They traveled throughout the state in Hairston's car and easily defeated the best of the large schools. One night the car broke down and they didn't arrive for the game until two-thirty in the morning. The entire crowd was still waiting to see them play.
After graduation they turned pro and beat the best of the professionals, including the Original Celtics and the Harlem Globetotters. Then World War II put an end to their playing days.
How did five kids from the backwoods (one came from a place called Greasy Ridge) do it? By learning to shoot baskets with a ball made of rags. By practicing in the hayloft of a barn. By working harder then anyone else and above all by having fun. The Waterloo Wonders, the world won't see their likes again.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Run Rabbit, Run Rabbit...

We watched an old British movie last night, one that could be called technically inferior by purists. In one respect, though, Millions Like Us was brilliant because it was filmed in 1943 at the height of World War II and that made it authentic. It captured the mood that prevailed in England at that time as few movies have been able to do.
Words cannot truly depict that time and place when lifetimes were compressed into nothing more than the immediate present. The past was hazy, the future doubtful, only today remained. No one, civilians or those in uniform, had even a modicum of control over their lives. When there was free time - and precious little of it was available - men and women would gather in pubs and dance halls where a desperate air of gaiety prevailed. You drank warm beer, danced wildly with arms locked or your hands on the hips of the person in front of you, and you sang silly music hall songs. Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run run. Here comes the man with the gun, gun, gun.
And you knew, every one of you, that you were the rabbit.
Death came from the skies and soon it would come on the day everyone talked about and wondered exactly when it would be: D-Day. And it would come in all the days that followed. So you laughed and you drank and you sang: Any evening, any day that you go down Lambeth way, you will find them all doing the Lambeth Walk.
Those who were not there can never understand, never have and never will understand. Moralists will say people shouldn't have behaved as they did and fools will say they wish they could have been there to join the fun. They will never comprehend what it was like when millions of people, both in uniform and civilan clothes, had no control whatsoever over their lives. A time when you went where you were told to go and did what you were told to do. All you really had was that particular moment so you had better make the most of it because there may not be another. And you listened to Vera Lynn sing We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, and you could only wonder if it were true.
Never before and never again would there be a time quite like it. In a pub or a dance hall or anywhere at all you would look at the men and women around you and wonder who would live, who would die and who among those that survived would never again be able to dance or sing or even smile. All of it was beyond your control. All of it, your life and their lives, were in the hands of men you would never see. That made it very simple. Go where you're told, do what you're told and run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run run...