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Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook by Bill Blauvelt A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
After being in Grand Island Friday and Saturday attending the annual Nebraska Press Association meeting and working with the tax accountant to finalize the 2013 income tax reports which were due Tuesday, my brain is scrambled.
I can't seem to focus on a thought. I'm just jumping from one to another. So I expect this week's notebook entries will be a jumble of fleeting thoughts.
After attending two days of press association workshops, a number of ideas are swirling. Some may be useful and some not so much.
One topic was "How to carry your camera gear." I expected to receive tips on the best kind of straps, cases and bags to use. Instead, a former West Coast press photographer suggested how to keep thieves from making off with our gear.
He said it was important to carry the equipment out of sight in the trunks of our vehicles. That is contrary to my college professor's instruction that the heat in a closed trunk would bake the equipment's lubrication and to never leave a camera in a closed vehicle or trunk. That professor suggested insulated, aluminum cases to reflect the sun and slow the entry of either extreme heat or cold.
This week we were not only told to carry the equipment in our trunks but speaker suggested we secure the most valued equipment in locked safe stashed in the trunk and to chain and lock all cases to structural members of the car. He said this wouldn't keep a theif from stealing the equipment but would make it more difficult.
When en route to an assignment, we were told to stop a few blocks away from the location and take out the equipment we would need. "Never," we were told, "open the trunk and let people see what it contains near where you will park the vehicle."
He may have offered good advice for a photographer working in a big city, but I'm not sure the advice is practical for a photographer at, let's say, Oak. I know many people in this newspaper's circulation area recognize the vehicles associated with this newspaper.
Which reminds me of illustrations. After the tornado struck the Lawrence community, The Express sent two reporter-photographers, As Rita approached a damaged farm in the two-tone Ford Fairmont we used as a news vehicle, one of the farm's residents was heard to say, "Here comes that car, we are going to be in the newspaper."
Another time I was at an accident scene longer than normal and Rita asked a returning firemen, "Is Bill still out there?" The firemen replied, "I didn't see him but I saw his old stationwagon."
Another time that stationwagon stalled east of Deshler with an Express employee who called the newspaper office for help. I called a Deshler garage and asked the proprietor if he could respond to a call for service. When I started to tell him about the vehicle, he cut me off and said, "I can handle it. I suspect he's driving your black Plymouth wagon."
After having driven that black wagon since 1978 and the Ford van since 1970, it is pretty hard to hide while out and about.
At what hopefully will be a more beneficial workshop, I learned about the University of Nebraska journalism school's work with drone aircraft. The drones are easy to fly and would be the perfect way to take aerial photos of floods and tornados, something I have previously legally done with manned aircraft. But thus far the federal regulators are not allowing commercial use of the drones. Even a professional ball team was ordered to stop using a drone to film the team's practice session. If the rules are relaxed UNL is ready. Until then the drones can only legally be used inside and I don't see much application for a drone flying inside The Express office.
I also learned about a new internet based news distribution system being developed at the university. I signed The Express up and this newspaper expects to be one of the early testers. Though still in the development stage, the new process holds great promise. We will keep you informed as it develops. The address is ourchive.com.
More than one of the convention speakers touted the advantages of using the raw feature on our digital cameras. What they were able to do with the raw file format was impressive but they warned the format might tax our electronic file storage capacity. It isn't unusual for one picture stored in the raw format to require more than double the amount of electronic storage we once shared between the computers in our typesetting department.
On the way home from the workshops, Rita and I discussed the advantages of raw shooting. Didn't expect we would be confronted with one of the negatives on Monday.
Much of Monday our internet connection was not operating correctly. We received several warning messages from our internet service provide that we were using more than our share of capacity along with threats to shut the service off. Many of the email messages with pictures attached were being received multiple times. Our computer's memory allocated to email kept filling up. Some regular contributors were complaining they couldn't reach us.
When we began to process pictures, we discovered one regular contributor had tried to send us pictures in the raw format. Those pictures were requiring 10 times the space we normally allocate to a digital picture.
It was like a terrorist had tried and successfully brought down our digital connection with the world.
Perhaps I needed to refer to the business card full of important telephone numbers I had received at the press meeting and call in help.
Along with the number for Allen Beermann, the executive director of the press association, the card has numbers for Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Elizabeth II, Pope Francis, Angela Merkel and Bejamin Netanyahu. Mr. Beermann assured me each number would reach the respective person's office, if not the actual person.
Before leaving for the press association meeting, I saw a video of a former Superior resident, Barbara Hale, taking the Plunge for Landon. Since returning I've watched videos of several others with ties to this area including Kara Wenske, Janelle Bohling and Katelyn Giger take the Plunge for Landon. Apparently the idea has been promoted as a fund raiser for a young cancer victim. Friday and Saturday's weather may have made taking the plunge tolerable but the return of winter on Sunday put the kabosh on the plan for a few days.
Apparently the Plunge for Landon works something like this. When agreeing to jump or run into a freezing body of water, the participants challenge friends and relatives to the do same within 72 hours. And for each one that accepts the challenge, the challenger agrees to donate to the Landon benefit fund. I understand several Superior residents have been challenged.
I enjoyed watching via the internet several videos of people who took the Plunge for Landon but Katelyn's son, Wyatt, stole the show. The youngster apparently didn't fully understand the plan and thought his family was going for a summertime swim. He reported for duty dressed in swimming attire and his swimming goggles. While the adults in the party quickly ran into and out of the cold water, a shivering Wyatt went into the water multiple times. This caused his mother to wade in a second time to bring him out. Does her challenger have to pay double?
Hopefully the day when we can comfortably swim is not far away.
However, it may not arrive in time for my shivering fruit trees that were starting to bloom before the arrival of this week's winter weather. With the drought and late freeze, prospects for a fruit crop this year are not good.

A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan
I've now seen eight of the nine films nominated for this year's "best picture" Oscar, and the one I haven't seen is on the way to my house right now in the mail from Netflix. By the time you read this, I will almost certainly have watched it. Sometimes I agree wholeheartedly with the decisions made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, often times I don't. I find myself at odds with their decisions more in recent years, however. And I don't think they've changed any in the type of films they honor; I think the older I get, the more convinced I am that I'm right all the time.
This year, I agreed completely with all four of their selections for acting Oscars ­­ Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club," Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine" and Lupita Nyong-o for "12 Years a Slave."
I almost always think there are great films that should be nominated for best picture, but I know there is only so much room in each category and all the great films can't get in. This year, I think there would have been more room if two that I found completely unwatchable had not been there, "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "American Hustle." A film I just saw, "The Book Thief," is better than at least half the films nominated for best picture.
I also took exception to Leonardo DiCaprio's nomination for best actor for "The Wolf of Wall Street." I can't tell you how many times I've heard the words "genius" or "brilliant" used to describe his performance. People are under the mistaken impression that it's difficult to growl, drool, spit and shriek at the outer limits of your emotional range for three hours. It isn't. It's exhausting, but not artistically challenging. Perhaps a nomination for stamina might have been appropriate. And I'm not saying he's not immensely talented. He proved he is with his work in "J Edgar."
More subtle and nuanced performances employing a wide emotional range are difficult, like Bruce Dern's work in "Nebraska." If not for Matthew McConaughey's amazing performance in "Dallas Buyers Club," Bruce Dern would most likely have won.
And while we're talking about omissions, if they were willing to nominate Dern for his thoughtful and understated role in "Nebraska," his co-star, Will Forte, could have easily been nominated for best supporting actor. His performance was no less great. I also think Geoffrey Rush should have received a best supporting actor nomination for "The Book Thief," Matthew McConaughey could have earned a best supporting actor nomination for "Mud" and Tom Hanks should have been nominated for "Captain Phillips."
Nearly everyone in the cast of "American Hustle" was nominated. None of them deserved it for their work in that film.

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli
There is a children's song that contains the words, "And the walls came a tumbling down." In the past several years, there have been some historical buildings along the rural towns' main streets that have fallen down because of lack of maintenance, or have been torn down for safety reasons.
It is a sad sight to see ­­ these once strong, tall buildings, built by early business owners, unused and empty. Some in this area were constructed using mostly man and horse power. They used materials that were available locally blocks of native limestone quarried nearby or timber cut down and milled along the local creeks and rivers. Some of the materials were shipped in by rail to the nearest depot, then hauled to the building site by horse drawn wagons.
These early settlers had dreams of starting their businesses in a new town that was exploding in population in the the late 1880s and early 1900s. Houses were being built for these dreamers and each one seemed to want to out-do the previously built one. Rural towns needed banks, cafes, mercantile stores, grocery stores, clothing stores, lumber yards, stock yards,hardware stores, grain elevators, implement dealers, livery barns, barber shops, doctors, lawyers, hotels and drug stores, as well as buildings to house the Masons and other organizations. They built churches, schools and opera houses, anxious to see their towns grow and proposper. Parks were planned, ballfields were made to support the town's baseball team. Every town had a band that performed, usually in the band stand in a park or on the main street. Upper stories of these buildings were used for dances, apartments, meeting places and offices. Basements were used as warehouses. No part of the buildings went to waste.
Currently, a neighboring town is having three buildings on its main street torn down. These large, two story buildings once housed the town's drug store and soda fountain. One can only imagine the popularity of these drug stores where people came to shop, get prescriptions filled and enjoy a favorite flavor of ice cream or soda. Another of the stores going down was once a clothing store where women shopped for Easter dresses or a stylish hat. The third was the grocery store where everyone came on Saturday night to do their trading. The buildings have been empty for many years and because of lack of care, the roofs are falling in and the walls unstable. So the city decided to tear them down. Several years ago, buildings on the other side of the main street were taken down.
I remember when my hometown had all the buildings on the east side of main street torn down. It was hard to see the brick and limestone buildings gone ­­ Zetta's cafe, Canfield's shoe store, Nettie's general store and Jenny's drug store. But it was also hard to see the buildings empty and decaying.
Today, the old brick hardware store in my hometown is shouting for attention. It was built in the early 1900s and was famous for its products, wagons, hardware of any kind and windmills. It still has the elevator that would take wagons upstairs to the main level. People came from miles around to shop and make their purchases there. What is going to become of that building that once was the pride of main street?
Not too long ago, a building on the main street of another neighboring town was torn down amid differing opinions. Nothing has been done to replace it and it looks like a missing tooth among the other buildings.
A third town in the area had several older buildings torn down, but they were replaced by a new, large community center that continues to serve its public in other ways.
I guess we thought the buildings would and should last forever, but when neglected, they begin to deteriorate, slowly but surely. They were built with pride and have lasted more than 100 years; some have gone without maintenance for more than 50 years. They did their duty. It makes me wonder if modern buildings will last as long.
Some say it's the sign of the times that these old buildings along main streets are coming down. Others say the old needs to make way for the new. As rural towns continue to shrink, what can be done? That is the question that needs an answer.