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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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January 8, 2009
Some advice for my fellow Nebraska Cornhusker football fans:
By all means, let’s rejoice in a 9-4 season capped by a come-from-behind Gator Bowl victory that wasn’t decided until that Clemson pass was broken up about one second short of success in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
But, for Bo Pelini’s sake—and ours, too—let’s be realistic.
We lose a splendid passer—quarterback Joe Ganz—and two superb receivers—Nate Swift and Todd Peterson—who have been the heart of an offense which, combined with a late-season revival of the Blackshirt tough-defense tradition—was the primary reason for that 9-4 season. And two-thirds of that Blackshirt defensive line which came on so strong late in the last half of the season—Ty Steinkuhler and Zach Potter—were seniors.
The key for 2009 here may be whether the superb Ndamukong Suh—surely one of the best defensive linemen in the country—decides to play his senior year with the Huskers or makes himself available in this year’s pro draft. (Suh has said he will play his senior year.)
And I’d rather not talk about—or think about—the question of who will replace the indomitable Joe Ganz at quarterback.
There are some fine football players who will be returning next fall and some promising younger prospects. But there are some size 12 (13? 14? 15?) shoes to be filled, and in fairness to Pelini and our own sensitive egos, let’s remember the wisdom in an adage which goes like this: “One swallow does not a summer make.” Nor does one successful season assure another to follow.
But for now, let the emphasis be upbeat and hopeful that the future will justify the reactions from some national sports commentators, who saw the 9-4 season and Gator Bowl victory as indications that “the Huskers are back” or at least well on the way to being back to their former status as a perennial national power. In a televised commentary, former Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz took a positive tone in noting that the “Blackshirt” tradition—recognizing outstanding defensive players by allowing them to wear blackshirt practice jerseys—was re-established toward the end of the season.
Former Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer said a sign of the Huskers’ return to national prominence is the fact that “Nebraska recruiters are showing up everywhere.” And the Associated Press said the 9-4 season capped by of the Gator Bowl victory over Clemson gave “the storied program plenty of optimism after Coach Bo Pelini’s first season.”
A panel discussion among ESPN commentators turned to the question of relative strength of regional football conferences. Veteran commentator Brent Musburger spoke up strongly for the Big 12 Conference.
“The Big 12 quarterbacks, top to bottom, are the best in the country, maybe the best we’ve ever seen,” Musburger declared. Need I point out that Nebraska’s Joe Ganz is one of that “best in the country” group of Big 12 conference quarterbacks
* * *
Some Omahans’ continuing obsession with the Von Maur murder spree a year ago has resulted in yet another review of the case of mass murderer Robert Hawkins (I see we have stopped calling him “Robbie” or “Mr. Hawkins”).
Two reviewers described as experts have come to the same conclusion as was crystal clear in the days and weeks following the murder spree in which Hawkins killed eight people and himself.
The conclusion of the “experts” who restudied the case: The state government system designed to deal with such troubled youths failed by releasing Hawkins while he was still in need of psychiatric care and supervision.
You didn’t have to be an expert to reach this same conclusion within days after the killings. I make no claim to expert status, but a week after the killing spree, my column included criticism of Sarpy County Juvenile Court Judge Robert O’Neal for ending state custody of Hawkins. I also criticized a spokesman for the state agency responsible for supervising “children and family services.” The spokesman had said: “The most appropriate thing for this youth was the closure of his case.”
I wrote then: “What about the most appropriate thing for the eight people Hawkins killed and the four he wounded?
My column quoted Dennis McCarville, director of Cooper Village, in whose custody Hawkins had been placed: “The state could have ordered him to continue treatment. Instead, the state made the decision to terminate. Even for a youth who received over $265,000 worth of treatment, you can’t say, ‘Well, that’s enough.’”
Twice more in December of 2007 and twice in the first two months of 2008, my column included similar comments and questions, including approval of a suggestion that the state should consider “a new facility where young people who represent a threat to themselves and others can be—may I actually say it?—locked up.”
On February 20, I said again that Hawkins “should not have been released from the supervision of the state juvenile court system.”
My post-Von Maur slaughter columns included endorsement of views of Dr. Michael J. Reznicek of Spokane, Washington, a psychiatrist, and an Omaha native and a 1985 graduate of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. On The World-Herald’s “More Commentary” page, an article by Dr. Reznicek said this might be a good time for Nebraska “to consider returning to an era when we had smartly-run institutions for children who had no parents—orphanages, I believe we call them.
“Designed correctly, these institutions would be highly structured, set high standards, punish bad behavior, reward good behavior and pay less attention to how children feel about it all.”
In another column, I suggested that after an appropriate period of mourning—it still hasn’t ended, of course—“we concentrate now on ways to prevent young people like ‘Robbie’ Hawkins from being free from state supervision and therefore free to kill eight people and himself in the shopping mall spree.”
We don’t need more studies of what went wrong in the Hawkins case. The answer was there to see in the days and weeks immediately following the murder spree. We continue to need fewer postmortems and more preventive action, including, in my opinion, a state policy which clearly puts protection of the public first and, if necessary, places potential killers in institutions where they can receive treatment but be released only after clear evidence—as clear as evidence can be in such cases—that they do not represent a threat to the public.
My post-slaughter columns reflected, I believe, the common sense, “enough is enough” prompt reaction of a good many people—people who felt that the state’s “children and family services” system placed too much emphasis on the child’s needs and too little on the public’s right to expect government to protect them from potential killers.
* * *
It was a long stretch—in fact, a ridiculously long stretch—to categorize impeachment of a Nebraska governor 137 years ago as somehow comparable to the kind of political corruption that has marked—and is currently marking—politics in Illinois and in Chicago in particular.
I’m referring to a column in the Sunday World-Herald written by “Everyday History” columnist David Harding, whose work I generally enjoy.
David is not the first columnist to overreach (I’ve been accused of it on occasion) in an effort to find an angle to give added appeal or relevance to a column.
But I suggest there is precious little basis for linking Illinois-style political corruption to impeachment of Nebraska’s first governor, David Butler, for a variety of irregularities in the handling of state funds. The state senate found Butler guilty of one of nine charges—misappropriation of education funds. He was removed from office.
Columnist Harding started his piece by saying that a lot of Nebraskans are rolling their eyes at the way Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich allegedly tried to sell an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Harding suggested that Nebraska might feel that this sort of “Chicago-style politics” would not be something that could ever occur “in our squeaky-clean state government.” Then he detailed the Nebraska Governor David Butler story.
I would suggest that impeaching and removing a governor in 1871 could hardly be fairly compared to Illinois’ history of political corruption that includes current criminal charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the fact that in the pat 40 years, three Illinois governor has gone to prison after being convicted of corruption.
If you read to the end of Harding’s column, you encountered these words in the second paragraph from the end: “While historians fault Butler for inappropriate handling of state funds, they point out that government ethics were not yet clearly defined, and scandals throughout the country were creating a new awareness of the need for accountability.”
So why suggest any relevant connection between a case 137 years old and a current case very much alive in a state which has sent three governors to the penitentiary?
So in David Harding’s column a touch of perspective and balance came in the next to last paragraph.
This fits a pattern on which I have commented before. Too often journalists, including columnists, leave the balance or perspective in their story or column—if there is any balance or perspective—until close to the end.
Another recent example:
A long story told of the amount of money lost by a Nebraska farmer because an ethanol plant company went bankrupt and could not pay him the price at which he had pledged to deliver his corn under what is called a “forward contract.” The story indicated that he thus collected some $60,000 less for his corn than he would have under the “forward contract.”
In the next to last paragraph of the story, readers learned—if they had read that far—that while the corn was not sold for the forward-contract, price, it was sold at prices higher than the farmer had ever received for corn in 36 years of farming—a fact which, in my judgment, should have been mentioned near the start of the story.
* * *
As I have observed in this space before—and as our many friends will attest—one of my roommate’s most outstanding characteristic is making friendships. Some, of course, more deep-seeded and long-lasting than others, but nearly all first-name acquaintances nonetheless.
So it was not entirely a facetious rejoinder which I offered when, at a recent dinner party, one of our dinner companions returned to the table and noticed Marian was missing. “Where’s Marian?” he asked. My reply: “She went to the lady’s room, where she probably encountered at least two friends and made another one.”
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