Monthly Archives: September 2008

Cemetery visits: I guess it’s a personal decision

Kistenmacher Cemetery in Scott County, Iowa, in May 2008.

Kistenmacher Cemetery in Scott County, Iowa, in May 2008.

My wife Sherry and I visited some cemeteries on Memorial Day.

We placed wreaths on the gravesites of some dear departed relatives, and we held hands as we took turns praying aloud over each of their graves. I guess visiting cemeteries now and then is the right thing to do. And I accompany my wife because going to the cemetery at special times of the year, like Memorial Day and Christmas, is important to her.

But I’m not sure I’d visit the cemetery on my own if it were left up to me, even if it is the right thing to do.

Cemeteries are peaceful places with breezes blowing and birds singing where one can contemplate without distraction. But that’s the problem. The contemplation makes me sad.

I remember how much I cared about the person whose grave I’m standing over and how much I miss him or her. I guess I also feel guilty for the times I could have and should have spent time with that individual but didn’t because I was too busy living my own life.

But I deal with the sadness and the guilt and, ultimately, feel good about having visited the gravesites with Sherry on those special days of the year. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Some folks, though, don’t see it that way.

Andy Rooney, one of my favorite essayists, is one of them. His decision not to visit cemeteries is not based, however, only on the sadness one might feel there. In a piece called “Ashes to Ashes” from his book “Common Nonsense” (published by PublicAffairs, 2002) Rooney admits he has never returned to the cemetery where his parents are buried, and he explains why.

“It is not out of disrespect,” he writes. “I loved them and think of them frequently, but placing a wreath on their grave strikes me as a waste of flowers. It doesn’t make them feel good, and it doesn?t do anything for my psyche, so who besides the florist benefits?”He says being constantly aware of friends and relatives who are gone is too depressing to live with. “We have to move on.”Rooney concludes: “The best thing we could all do for relatives and friends we loved who die is make certain there is some written record of who they were and what they did.”

He says he doesn’t know much about his ancestors beyond his grandparents. “I would much prefer to have something on paper about them and about their parents and grandparents than a headstone in a cemetery.”You may or not you agree with Rooney about the value of cemetery visits, but his point about recording family history is a good one.

((Brian’s Note: Phil Roberts is a dear friend and a fantastic broadcaster. I respect him very much and I am glad to call him my friend.))

Copyright May 29, 2008. All rights reserved. This guest blog appeared on Brian Allen’s blogspace, “Brian’s Blog,” at KSFY-TV ( in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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Posted by on September 26, 2008 in Uncategorized


Journalists shouldn’t contribute to candidates

Should media people support candidates financially or display their signs?

Should media people support candidates financially or display their signs?

I found a recent story by MSNBC investigative reporter Bill Dedman troubling. Dedman researched the public records of the Federal Election Commission from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign and found that 143 journalists across the United States have made donations to political campaigns.

Wrote Dedman: “Whether you sample your news feed from ABC or CBS (or, yes, even NBC and MSNBC), whether you prefer Fox News Channel or National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker, some of the journalists feeding you are also feeding cash to politicians, parties or political action committees.”

It’s not just mainstream news outlets that made the list. A correspondent for MTV News is on it. And it’s not just national media outlets, either. Dedman lists journalists at TV stations in places like Minneapolis, Wichita, Omaha and Memphis and at scores of newspapers from Daytona Beach to Des Moines to Lincoln, Neb.

Dedman’s research showed that 125 of the 143 journalists donated to Democrats and liberal causes, 16 to Republicans and two to both parties.

I think it was in a media ethics class when I was studying journalism that I heard an instructor say that journalists don’t sign petitions, and they don’t get involved in politics. That means they don’t make donations to candidates or parties. They don’t help with campaigns. And they don’t put candidates’ bumper stickers on their cars or signs in their yards.

Writes Dedman: “There’s a longstanding tradition that journalists don’t cheer in the press box. They have opinions, like anyone else, but they are expected to keep those opinions out of their work. Because appearing to be fair is part of being fair, most mainstream news organizations discourage marching for causes, displaying political bumper stickers or giving cash to candidates.”

Traditionally, according to Dedman, many news organizations have applied the political involvement rules only to political reporters and editors. He contends that was “summed up by Abe Rosenthal, the former New York Times editor, who is reported to have said, ‘I don’t care if you sleep with elephants as long as you don’t cover the circus.'”

More and more, though, media outlets that prohibit political involvement are applying the prohibition to all journalists, not just those who cover politics. Dedman notes that it will be the movie critic who covers Al Gore’s documentary on global warming.

Surprisingly though, some media outlets, according to Dedman, have no policy at all on political involvement. And even more surprising is the fact that some media outlets think there’s nothing wrong with journalists donating to candidates, political parties or political organizations.

Ultimately, I guess, it will be the consumers of news who will decide which media outlets they trust to supply them with impartial political news coverage. And journalists’ political involvement — or lack of it — may be one of the deciding factors.

Copyright July 16, 2008. All rights reserved.

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Posted by on September 26, 2008 in Uncategorized


Let’s hear it for Spam (no, not that kind)

How does that song go? Heaven, I'm in heaven... I sure was during a 2008 visit to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minn.

How does that song go? "Heaven, I'm in heaven...." I sure was during a 2008 visit to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minn. It was Spamtastic!

For a long time people have been making fun of and/or laughing at Spam. I’m talking about the processed luncheon meat made from pork and chicken, not junk e-mail, which is no laughing matter. The makers of Spam, Hormel Foods, have taken the ribbing nicely. But now they are doing some guffawing of their own. All the way to the bank.

The Austin, Minn.-based company reported a 14 percent increase in quarterly profit in May, aided among other things by more sales of Spam. I’m not afraid to admit that I like Spam, and I eat it now and then. But before my cattle- and hog-producing friends grab their chests and pass out, let me reassure them that as much as I enjoy Spam, it will never replace a thick steak or a juicy hunk of ham on my favorite meals list.

Spam comes in a can and doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it’s opened. It’s easy to prepare, too. It’s pre-cooked, so you just take it out of the can and eat it cold. Or you can fry, grill, bake, broil or microwave it. It’s relatively inexpensive and, in my opinion, tasty.

That’s why I was thrilled earlier this year when my wife allowed me to stray a bit from our trip to Minneapolis to visit the Spam Museum in Austin. There’s way too much to see and do in the free, 16,500-square-foot museum for me to describe here in detail. But highlights include a fun video about Spam and the people who love it. There’s a wall of Spam made up of 3,500 Spam cans. (For trivia buffs, at a can a day that would feed you for nearly 10 years.)

The museum has displays regarding Spam’s proud history, like when it fed GIs in World War II. You can see how Spam advertising has changed over the years — even though the product hasn’t. And you can try to package a can of Spam in a race against the factory. Sorry, you’ll lose.

Perhaps predictably, you’ll end up in the Spam Shop, where you can see (and buy) every Spam item imaginable, including the many varieties of Spam that your grocer may not stock.

So why are Spam sales on the increase? Analysts say it’s because people are turning to lunch meat to stretch their food budgets. And Spam can be used in a variety of ways, such as diced in an omelet or sliced in a sandwich. The Agriculture Department reports that food prices went up 4 percent — some individual items have risen much more than that — in the United States last year. That’s the fastest increase since 1990. And the USDA says the Consumer Price Index for food is expected to increase 4.5 to 5.5 percent this year as retailers pass higher commodity and energy costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Spam is up in price, too — nearly 7 percent over a year ago. But a 12-ounce can runs only about $2.62, and shoppers who apparently think that’s a good value have been buying more of it. So laugh at Spam if you will. Hormel is chuckling, too, and waiting for your visit to the grocery store and the Spam Museum.

Copyright June 25, 2008. All rights reserved. This “Everyday People” column appeared in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on September 22, 2008 in Uncategorized