FOCUS/midwest

Founded in 1962 by Charles L. Klotzer

Archive for January 2009

Kazooziphone: How Howard the Milkman made $10

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milnerhowardHoward Milner glances at his watch; it’s almost 8 o’clock. He turns his truck from his milk route and drives downtown. He parks before the Beloit Daily News building, pours coffee from his thermos and plucks a newspaper from behind his seat. It’s last night’s paper. He studies the classified page. There is an item hidden on the page, put there once a week to encourage people to read the advertisements. It’s always different, and it offers $10 to the first person the next day who arrives at the Daily News office, fulfilling a certain requirement. “First person to arrive in a pink bathing suit.” “First person to arrive with a home-baked pumpkin pie.” “First person to arrive with half a beard.” Howard has never competed in these contests, but the box this time reads, “$10 prize to the first person who arrives at the Daily News office and plays a musical instrument.

Howard finishes his coffee. He then opens his glove compartment and takes out a battered kazoo, left there by one of his children. He takes the piece of hose and the funnel he keeps in his truck for any gas emergency. He jams the funnel into one end of the hose and the kazoo into the other. He loops the hose so that the contraption resembles a French horn with the funnel as the bell. He practices a few minutes, then hops out of his truck and enters the building. He stands by the information desk and plays “Yankee Doodle.” By the time he’s finished, he’s the center of a small crowd.

“There,” Howard says. “I’ve played a musical instrument in your office and it’s only 8:03. Am I the first?” Read the rest of this entry »

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January 28, 2009 at 8:46 pm

John Knoepfle: “Poems do have a way of creeping around”

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knoepflejJohn Knoepfle, the celebrated Midwestern poet and author of more than a dozen books, is unusual in that he’s been the beneficiary of at least two notable features in FOCUS/Midwest. In “What is poetry?” (1973) Knoepfle discussed his work with St. Louis author Harry Cargas; “Midwestern master” (1980) marked Knoepfle’s quarter-century as a poet by examining his major works, Rivers into Islands and The Intricate Land.
Knoepfle, professor emeritus of literature at the University of Illinois at Springfield, remains an active and important voice. His latest collection, Walking in Snow, was released in 2008 by Indian Paintbrush Poets. His autobiography, I Look Around for My Life, also was released in 2008 by Burning Daylight.

Here’s an except from the 1973 interview: Read the rest of this entry »

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January 23, 2009 at 6:18 pm

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Imagination at work at Appliance Park in the 1970s

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608px-generalelectricsignFor two summers in the late ’70s, I helped assemble dishwashers and refrigerators at GE’s Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky. Each day, I’d come home smelly, aching, caked with filth. I didn’t complain: There’s something to be said for a job that lets a guy wear sturdy boots, jeans, a T-shirt, and — most important — an attitude. And I was being paid more than any fry cook, grocery bagger or clerk.

Back then, GE employed about 25,000 people at the sprawling, 1,000-acre complex. I was summer help -– one of several college students who were sons and daughters of GE employees. During production, we filled in gaps on the line; during shutdown, we cleaned up the factories.

Cleaning an industrial plant was no simple bucket and mop job. Some of us in the dishwasher plant, for example, had to climb inside the idled ovens to sweep out empty liquor bottles. During my first summer shutdown, when I was assigned to the graveyard shift, we filled several 55-gallon drums with the evidence of a year’s worth of hard, on-the-job drinking. Read the rest of this entry »

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January 23, 2009 at 5:50 am

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For a more equitable society

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fmoct19791“Public policies to create greater social and economic equality have had limited success. The source of inequality is a basic tension between the democratic and capitalist strands of our heritage. Efforts to resolve that tension have failed.

“Over the long haul, it is theoretically possible to change the economic contours of our society primarily through a redistribution of employment opportunities. A series of incremental steps can be taken towards the following objectives that would achieve the goal of a more equitable society:

“1) Full employment, including a gradual build-up of the capacity of local and state governments to provide meaningful, if low-paying, public service jobs so that anyone willing and able to work is guaranteed the opportunity to participate in the productive processes of society.

“2) Economic development of distressed areas, to create private, sustaining jobs for individuals, especially those who live in some rural areas, where depression never ends. Read the rest of this entry »

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January 17, 2009 at 9:47 pm

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Did Ameren pay a whistleblower to shut up and go away?

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An engineer who raised safety concerns at AmerenUE’s Callaway nuclear power station received a six-figure settlement after accusing the company of retaliation.

According to correspondence sent to public officials, the Missouri-based subsidiary of Ameren Corp. paid at least $500,000 to induce Lawrence Criscione to resign in late 2007 — effectively stopping an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

AmerenUE has recently applied for a license to build a second reactor at the Callaway site, approximately 10 miles southeast of Fulton, Mo. Concerns about operations at its current — and only — nuclear plant may weigh in the approval process. Read the rest of this entry »

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January 4, 2009 at 10:59 pm

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Chicago politics and the limits of reform

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“Because of the Machine’s enormous power, the main reform goal has not always been to overthrow the Democratic organization but to ‘open it up’ to push for nominating ‘good men’ to party posts. To some, however, ‘opening up’ government, efficiency and civil service have clogged rather than opened government. Says Washington University political scientist Dennis Judd: ‘Reform politics absolutely closes the system. True, the intention of reformers was not to make the system less open. But reformers want a centralized, professionalized politics with civil service. What kind of people can work within a centralized, bureaucratic politics based on efficiency defined as the centralization of authority? People who can talk, read, know their rights, browbeat and intimidate.’ The modern corporation and the Pentagon, he says, are the ultimate in bureaucratic government. Both are incredibly corrupt. ‘Take your pick,’ Judd says, ‘but don’t be so damned righteous about it.’ Read the rest of this entry »

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January 1, 2009 at 7:16 pm

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