I Killed A Newspaper

Back in the mid-1980s, I read an article by Alex Heard in the Sunday magazine supplement of Washington Post that introduced me to the concept of “hathos,” that icky, creepy, combo of hatred and pathos that compels us to consume popular culture that horrifies us in vaguely embarrassing, borderline nauseating ways. Marcia and I use the word all the time, and I’m somewhat surprised that it has not come into wider usage, since it seems the perfect way to describe how most readers consume pathetic contemporary idiot celebrity culture of the Kardashian-Miley-Bieber-Snooky variety.

I avoid that crap like the plague, but I will admit to one hathotic obsession: since being driven off of the Albany Times Union blog portal back in the Fall of 2010, I have regularly returned there like a dog to vomit, feeling pity for friends who still play in that cat turd-infested sandbox, but also relishing its steady collapse into a black hole of bilious reader comments, irritatingly invasive advertisements, extreme religio-political screeds, and vapid pop-fashion-style commentary. It’s so bad, but I just can’t look away, lest I miss the point when it goes supernova, destroying an entire region’s news management system in the process.

I was reminded today, though, that the target of my hathos does exact a human toll, when I read a post at the Times Union by an online friend and fine human being, Roger Green, entitled Seven Years Since Times Union Employees Last Had a Raise. As an unpaid community blogger, Roger ponders his complicity in this unfortunate situation — which, I think, is actually even worse that he notes, because many Times Union employees have not only missed raises, but have instead been laid off, during that seven-year period. It would certainly seem that professional journalists are viewed as less valuable to the newspaper on a return-on-investment basis than the infrastructure that supports these free blogs, which have expanded apace for the past seven years.

I had pondered these points, too, in some articles I wrote at the Times Union back in 2009 and 2010, so I commented on Roger’s post, while also noting that in my own experience, community bloggers can be treated just as badly as paid staff, if management was poked hard enough. Here’s my comment (lightly edited), with links to related older articles:

I don’t believe in regret, conceptually, since all that we are is all that we were . . . but if I was prone to wishing the past were different, then my participation in the Times Union (TU) blog portal is definitely one of the things that I would undo, since I think we all have unequivocally played a role in the diminution and ultimately destruction of daily newspapers, at the expense of the trained journalists who work for them.

At one of the very first TU Community Blogger gatherings, the one at St. Rose, I expressed my concern to the panel that we were all engaged in the act of killing newspapers, and got a brush off from the TU representative on the panel. I wrote two pieces about this phenomenon while still actively contributing to the TU, one in 2009, and one in 2010. Links to them follow:

The Newspaper Junkie Speaks (March 2009)

The Newspaper Junkie Speaks (Again) (April 2010)

I left when I realized just how mercenary and mercantile supposed former friends and members of this “community” were after political advertising popped up on my page. I asked that it be removed (perhaps unreasonably), then I deleted my blog when my request was not accommodated . . . only to watch the TU staff put most of it back, just deleting the anti-TU posts that explained why I left. It’s all still on their website, held hostage, because I apparently signed away all rights to everything when I agreed to blog there. All of you have done that, too. Here’s my thoughts on that:

Good Riddance to the Times Union (September 21, 2010)

I generally don’t talk about this any more, because it’s easy for people to point at me and say, “Well, yeah, sour grapes” . . . but the treatment of in-house career journalists and volunteer bloggers is truly loathsome at the TU.

So, yes, I believe 100% that you and me and all of the other bloggers here, past and present, bear some responsibility for the maltreatment of the TU staff, because we undercut the value of their work as writers, and we continue to provide advertising revenue to the paper’s management every time we arrive at the portal and click on a link.

I’m doing it right now, yes, I know. I accept that responsibility and feel bad about it. I’m glad to see at least one current blogger here considering the issue, too, and hope others reflect on this as well.

Of course, when you leave, all of your words and pictures will be held hostage, too, and will continue to feed the advertising monster . . . so it may be too late for any of it to matter, honestly.

I killed a newspaper in Albany, I’m sorry to say, as part of a self-aggrandizing gang of online egotists who effectively destroyed a centuries-old professional sector in our home community in a matter of months. I originally set up Indie Albany (the predecessor to this website), as a reaction to this sin, a place to “do no harm” for creative folks who just wanted to share their writing online, free from advertising pressures and without rendering our journalistic friends irrelevant. It was nice, in theory, but of course it really didn’t make a difference, and I let that sort of ideological bent go when I replaced Indie Albany with Indie Moines in 2011.

Since moving to Iowa, I’ve watched our once-esteemed daily Register rapidly go down a similar path to the Times Union, once the 2012 Iowa Caucuses were over and the political staff were scattered to the winds. Huge swaths of the paper now are just reprints of USA Today articles, providing nice economies for corporate parent Gannett, I suppose. I cancelled my subscription there in late 2012, which means I’m playing a part in killing a newspaper in Iowa, just as I did in New York.

It’s sad, I hate it, and I’m grateful to Alex Heard for giving me the word “hathos” to describe the obsessive revulsion that daily newspapers’ desperate need to please the lowest common denominator (“Were You SEEN In Body Paint Darting A Bear in a Tree at Coachella?!?) have inspired in me over recent years. I also am saddened by and hate the fact that a journalism degree seems like such a bad career choice for young people at this point, when people of all ages are willing to write for free for commercial media companies, all for the promise of exposure. But you can die from exposure, right?

Oh well, not sure what to do about it all, except to go back over to Roger’s post and click “refresh” a few times to see if anybody has responded to my comment. I prefer my hathos with a side of hypocrisy and slice of irony, you know . . .

I’m So Albany

albanydoge

Hidden in Suburbia (Salvage)

Indie Moines was launched in December 2011, and Marcia and I have published about 220 new posts since that time. (Some of these articles have since been moved to our professional websites: J. Eric Smith and Marcia Brom Smith). After we established this domain, I decided to shut down and/or reorganize a variety of earlier websites, so I have also populated Indie Moines with about 800 additional posts — dating back to 1995 — that originally appeared on a variety of other commercial and noncommercial websites.

There are two downsides to this sort of consolidation. First, pages that had long been Google search favorites now have new addresses, so they’re a little harder to find, and generate a little less traffic than they once did. Second, internal links get hashed up as articles move from one domain to another, while their images or related pages either no longer exist, or remain on other servers with other addresses. These are both annoyances, but I decided that they were acceptable inconveniences, given the content density that comes from having twenty years’ worth of the best bits from a dozen websites in a single (virtual) location.

For most articles, especially standalone pieces, these structural inconveniences really don’t have any lasting impact. But for long-form, multiple chapter entries, or pieces with significant inline imagery, they can be catastrophic to understanding or appreciating what I originally intended to communicate.

Unfortunately, one of my most popular online pieces, the “Hidden in Suburbia” series, was particularly hard hit by changes in hosting locations and addresses. I ran multi-entry “Hidden in Suburbia” series in 2005, 2008 and 2011, and they were widely read, and still generate significant search interest. Alas, much of the incoming traffic generated by that interest now results in “404 Page Not Found” entries.

Here’s the original premise of the series:

I live in a nice area called Latham, New York, middle to upper-middle class for the most part, well-kept homes in properly manicured and landscaped settings, good schools, good investment value in property, all the things one generally expects in the nicer bits of suburbia. If you draw a circle with a radius of about two and half miles around my house, you will also see that there are lots of woods. This makes the neighborhoods look nice, with backdrops of green and nice, tidy (from a distance) wild areas separating one neighborhood from another.

This is good, because I have a deep fascination with woods. Not forests, mind you, but woods. Forests are the untamed, wild places where nature is still, for the most part, in charge, and where urban, exurban and suburban development are still ages, years and/or miles and miles away. Woods, on the other hand, are the bits of forest that are left when development occurs, stands of trees immediately adjacent to suburban civilization, the dark places where all the things that suburban civilization doesn’t want to think about go to die. Or to thrive, depending on what flavor they are.

It’s shocking to find a piece of trash in a pristine forest. In suburban woods, though, you expect to find trash. People dump in there late at night, so they don’t have to drive all the way to the landfill. Kids steal stuff and take it out there to hide it, then forget about it. Teenagers smoke, drink, make out, break bottles and blow things up in the woods, leaving a variety of interesting detritus. The woods are the places where suburbia’s darkness lurks in wait, like something from a David Lynch movie.

But it’s not the specters and spirits of the woods that interest me, really, as much as it the stuff you find back there, and how the community sort of turns its collective consciousness away from it all. It may be right behind your house, but if it’s in the woods, then it’s okay, as long as it stays there and you don’t have to think about it if you don’t want to. But I like thinking about it . . . and so I ride and walk through muck, mud, weeds and woods looking for the things that no one else wants to.

All of the photos and all of the stories in this series are taken and told from within a circle with a five mile circumference, my house smack in the center. It doesn’t seem like a lot of space . . . until you really start exploring the spaces between the space . . .

While working to clean up some archives for another project, I decided to see what I could do to salvage the original three Hidden in Suburbia essays. The 2011 one was pretty easy to clean up and recover, since it was posted to WordPress on the defunct Indie Albany page, which was formatted very much like Indie Moines, and so could be exported and imported with most links and references intact, and because the images were hosted on a Flickr account that I still have. Clicking the link below will bring the series up — plus a related piece called “Academia (After the Apocalypse)” — with both words and images available as they originally appeared, with the last post first, and first post last, per normal blog convention. This post will appear on top, since it shares a coding category, but you can then scroll down and work back up to read them in proper chronological order, if you want; note that you will need to hit the “older posts” link at the bottom of the page to see the first two pieces:

J. Eric Smith’s Hidden in Suburbia 2011: Complete

The 2008 and 2005 articles, on the other hand, are damaged beyond viable repair in terms of re-knitting narrative and images together again, so the best I can do for the two of those series is to delete the damaged pages and upload the imagery into its own Flickr set, so if you’re interested, you can see it, and I can answer any questions about it, but that’s about it. Interestingly enough, though, I have found that going through these images as a slideshow is actually oddly fascinating . . . the lack of context, and the unrelenting oddness of the spaces where woods and civilization meet, creates quite an evocative experience. Click the link below to see the whole set:

J. Eric Smith’s Hidden in Suburbia 2005 and 2008: Photo Archive

I hope that these pieces will inspire you to explore your own woods and share what you’ve found. While these images were captured in and around Latham, New York, they truly could be just about anywhere in North America where stands of old trees menace suburban and exurban development, and the universal nature of these images is what has given them their appeal over the years.

Something terrible happened here . . .

Something terrible happened here . . .

That’s My Team: In Praise of the Beloved Royals (And Others)

Despite the fact that it feels nothing like springtime in Iowa, I’m pleased to note that the Major League Baseball Season is underway, as I am cautiously optimistic that I might actually have something to root for this year.

Let me come clean up front about why that’s the case, since I am that rarest and most pathological of all baseball followers: a Kansas City Royals fan. Stop smirking, I’m serious. No, really. Stop it. Now. Last season, the Beloved Royals actually finished above .500 for the first time since 2004. Can they build on that this year? Perhaps even making the playoffs for the first time since they won the I-70 World Series in 1985, and invoked the Curse of Joaquin Andujar? Or is that just crazy talk?

Joaquin Andujar has a psychotic fugue on the mound as Beloved Royals win the sole World Series title.

Joaquin Andujar has a psychotic fugue on the mound as my Beloved Royals win their  sole World Series title.

It’s probably just crazy talk, but a deranged fan can dream, can’t he?

I do feel like I should note that my devotion to the Royals is not an affectation picked up since I moved to the Midwest, nor is it some sort of weird bandwagon jumping just as sportswriters seem to notice that there is actually a second major league baseball team playing in Missouri. No, my delusional fandom has far deeper roots than that.

As a kid in the Carolinas, I followed my Dad’s lead and was a devoted Washington sports fan. I diligently followed the Redskins, then the Bullets when they came over from Baltimore (and before they became the Wizards), then the Capitals when they came along. But in the early ’70s, after Washington lost its second baseball franchise, I was without a team to root for. Then we moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for a year, where the new-ish Royals were doing whizbang good for an expansion franchise, making the postseason for the first time in 1976.

Since I didn’t have a Washington-based baseball team to claim as my own, I quickly jumped on the Royals bandwagon that fall, becoming a dogged, diligent fan of great players like George Brett, Frank White, Cookie Rojas, Larry Gura, Freddie Patek, Amos Otis, Bret Saberhagen, Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, Dennis Leonard, Paul Splittorff, Dan Quisenberry and so many others on the classic ’70s and ’80s rosters. Times were good then: the Royals made the postseason in 1976, 1977 and 1978, then made their first World Series appearance in 1980, losing 4-2 to the Phillies.

After a pair of quick postseason eliminations in 1981 and 1984, the Royals finally ascended to baseball’s highest pinacle in 1985, when they beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 in the American League Championship Series, and then beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in the World Series. Of course, the East Coast Sporting Elites wanted to sully my celebration even then, noting that the Royals were the beneficiaries of a series of ridiculously bad umpiring calls, not to mention Cardinal pitcher Joaquin Andujar‘s monumental on-mound psycho meltdown in Game Seven. But I didn’t (and don’t) care. The Royals were the champs in 1985, and I gloated like a champ, as the only known Royals fan within a 500 mile radius of Annapolis, where I lived at the time.

It’s a good thing I gloated so much then, because the Royals have never returned to the post-season, and I haven’t been able to do so again since. I don’t believe in the Curse of the Bambino any more, but I do believe in the Curse of Joaquin Andujar, who most certainly directed so much antipathy towards the Royals and Umps who shamed him that they have never been able to get out from beneath the lingering cloud of bad karma that he tagged them with in that ominous, potentious seventh game. They won the battle that year, but clearly the war turned against the Royals and their fans.

Until this year? Maybe? One day into the season, despite an opening day loss, I’m still optimistic. Give me a few weeks, and I’ll let you know whether reality has set in or not.

While the Royals are certainly my most beloved major league team, and the one to which I’ve been unequivocally faithful over the years (no Yankees bandwagon jumping for me during the 24 total years I lived in New York, thank you very much), they’re not my only sports passion, so while I’m putting my heart out on a sleeve here, I’m going to go ahead and tell you all the teams I follow, so you can mock me pretty much anytime of the year, as the spirit moves you. I offer some explanatory words about each of these passions, since my nomadic upbringing results in something of a weird combo platter of cities and states.

Major League Baseball (MLB):

  • Kansas City Royals (American League): Duh. See everything above.
  • Washington Nationals (National League): As noted above and below, as a kid in the Carolinas in the ’60s and ’70s, Washington teams made regional sense, until we lost our baseball team. I followed the Mets for many years (picked up that habit while living on Long Island, 1976-1980), but once Washington got its third franchise, I reverted to classic Southern form. I should note that I actually prefer National League, no-designated hitter, baseball to American League baseball, so wish that the Beloved Royals had made the intra-league leap instead of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1998. Oh well, just another disappointment, nothing to see here, moving right along.

National Basketball Association (NBA):

Wes Unseld and The Big E guiding the Bullets to their sole NBA Championship.

Wes Unseld and The Big E guiding the Bullets to their sole NBA Championship.

  • Washington Wizards: I started following them in 1973 (we lived in the D.C. suburbs at the time) when the Baltimore Bullets moved to Landover, Maryland and became the Capital Bullets, then later the Washington Bullets, then later the Washington Wizards. As is the case with the Royals, I have one great and glowing memory of this team, when they won the 1978 NBA Championship (their only title) with Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes leading the charge. They’re poised to make the playoffs again this year after a drought, so maybe something to excited about here, too? We’ll see.
  • Brooklyn Nets: When I first moved to Long Island in 1976, the New York Nets were playing their first, epically bad season in the NBA at Nassau Coliseum, mere minutes from our house at Mitchel Field. I always love a loser (can’t you tell?), so I’ve monitored the Nets as my secondary team through their decades in the swamps of New Jersey and on to their delightful renaissance in Brooklyn. They’re looking to make the playoffs this year, too, so with my luck, they will end up playing the Wizards in the first round, just because.

National Hockey League (NHL):

  • Washington Capitals: Been following them since their inception in 1974 (also lived in the D.C. suburbs that year), and they are really the team that I love to hate, or hate to love, more than any other. They are truly maddening, year after year, losing series after taking 3-0 or 3-1 leads, capturing individual honors by the score while the team wallows in mediocrity, doing well in the playoffs when they barely squeak in as #8 seeds, and tanking when they roll in strong with the #1 conference ranking. They’re right on the cusp of missing the playoffs again this year, so will likely get in, win two series, then belly flop just as I get excited about them again.
  • New York Islanders: As noted above, I was lucky enough to live on Long Island, five minutes from Nassau Coliseum by bicycle, during the glory days of the great Trottier, Bossy, Gillies, Potvin, Smith and Goring fortified Islanders. So I still follow them faithfully, because their subsequent pitiability fits in nicely with my sports worldview.

National Football League (NFL):

I got Herb Mul-Key's autograph in '73, during his breakout year as a kick returner.

I got Herb Mul-Key’s autograph in ’73, during his breakout year as a kick returner.

  • VACANT: My dad was a devoted Washington Redskins fan, and when we lived in the D.C. area during the early ’70s, I had the chance to see the team live a few times, and also have vivid memories of watching their first Super Bowl appearance in 1973, with the sole score coming on the infamous Mike Bass touchdown return of Garo Yepremian’s misguided pass attempt. I even got Herb Mul-Key‘s autograph that year! But after years and years of Dan Snyder and Mike Shanahan and Jeff George and all sorts of other annoyances and irritants, some time ago, I found myself realizing that my feelings for the ‘Skins had shifted from my usual love-hate type relationship to a more active hate-hate mode. So until Dan Snyder sells the team, and until it has a new franchise name, I’m going to have to remain a Man Without a Team. It’s the right thing to do. Boo!

Major League Soccer (MLS):

  • I’m sorry. I don’t know the name of any of the teams, or if this league still exists. So can I claim the New York Cosmos of the original NASL or the New York Arrows of the original MISL as nostalgia, picks, since I saw them play in the late ’70s, when I actually cared, just a tiny bit, about soccer at something below the World Cup level?

College Basketball:

  • University at Albany Great Danes: I worked here and got a degree here, and watched their first NCAA Tournament appearance when they put a scare into mighty UConn back in 2006. They’re an exciting, rising program, and it was great to see them win their first NCAA tournament game this year in their fifth Big Dance, even if it was a 16 vs 16 seed play-in game.
  • Navy Midshipmen: My undergraduate alma mater. David Robinson was in my Navy company his freshman year, so it was exciting to be there for the greatest moments in Navy men’s basketball history. I regret that Navy left the Colonial Athletic Conference some years after I graduated, downsizing into the Patriot League. I think that has hurt the program in the long run, as there was a day when they had the potential to be an ongoing Mid-Major powerhouse.
  • North Carolina State Wolfpack: My grandfather, father, brother-in-law and many other friends and family members went to State, so I grew up rooting for them, though as a kid, I referred to them as “The Wolf Patch,” so
    Lorenzo Charles wins the Wolf Patch their second NCAA Championship, while I stand at attention in a hallway.

    Lorenzo Charles wins the Wolf Patch their second NCAA Championship, while I stand at attention in a hallway.

    that’s still a source of mirth for the family. I watched their first National Championship (David Thompson era) with my Dad, then listened to their second National Championship (Lorenzo Charles era) while standing at attention outside of my Naval Academy Company Wardroom, since I was a plebe at the time, and plebes were not allowed to watch television. I don’t think I saw the famous Lorenzo Charles winning shot nor Jim Valvano’s run in search of hug in their entirety until the Youtube era. Sadly, both Coach V and Lorenzo are no longer with us, but I remember them fondly.

  • Iowa State Cyclones: College sports is a very serious business out here in Iowa, and one of the defining characteristics of households hereabouts is whether they are Iowa State Cyclone or University of Iowa Hawkeye fans. I very quickly decide that I would ally myself with the Cyclones. They are closer geographically, for starters, and our next door neighbors who are avid sports buffs are both alums. I also don’t like the Big Ten (the Hawkeyes’ home conference), since I hold them and their greed responsible for a host of ills in college athletics, so that pushed me toward the Cyclones, too. Finally, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffrey used to coach at Siena, and they’re a rival to UAlbany, so that was the clincher. We watched a ton of Cyclone games this year, and they had a great run to the Sweet Sixteen. They’re the one Iowa team that’s captured my heart so far,

College Football:

  • Navy Midshipmen: No question about my number one football loyalty here. The Army-Navy Game is America’s
    navynd

    You can’t spell “Notre Dame” without a “NO.”

    best annual sporting event, and one of my greatest sports memories of all was watching Navy beat Notre Dame in triple overtime to end a drought that went back to Roger Staubach’s playing days. Outside of the Army-Navy game, I always root for the Black Knights, since they share so many traditions, experiences and commitments with the Midshipmen. But I always, always, always root against Notre Dame, in every sport, all the time, world without end, amen.

  • North Carolina State Wolfpack: Again, as noted above, I grew up rooting for the Wolf Patch with my Dad. He died in fall of 2002 after an auto accident; one of the last things he did, and the last lucid conversation we had, was about his beloved ‘Pack beating Navy soundly in football, preserving what was then an unblemished record. I didn’t mind my Midshipmen getting whacked since it made him so happy. And I still root for the Wolf Patch in his honor.

College Hockey:

  • Union College Skating Dutchmen: We moved to the Albany area in 1993, and I worked in downtown Schenectady, which wasn’t really a very nice place to be at that time. For lunch, when the weather was nice, I would get some bread and cheese from little Italian bakery called Perrecca’s and take it over the nearby Union College campus, which was an oasis of shade and green in an otherwise bombed out urban cityscape. (Things have changed for the better for Schenectady since then, I am happy to note). That was the end of Union’s second season as a Division I hockey program (they are D-III for all other sports), and I started following the then-hapless Dutchmen at the time, and have done so zealously since. I had to suppress this enthusiasm a little bit during the five years that I worked at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, since RPI and Union are fierce rivals within the ECAC Hockey League, but the passion remained, nonetheless. As I type this, the Dutchmen are ranked Number One in the USCHO College Hockey Poll, and are preparing for their second trip to the Frozen Four. It’s great to see such a tiny engineering college holding its own against huge schools like Minnesota, Boston College and the like. I’ll be watching eagerly April 11 and 12 to see if the Dutchmen can bring a national championship back to Schenectady. I think they can do it.

And in closing . . . . a reminder as the NHL season winds down:

Capitals+Hockey

 

Part II: And Why Iowans Should Be Rooting for UAlbany on Sunday Too

Thank you, Iowan friends, for warmly embracing UAlbany’s cause yesterday, as we happily watched the Great Dane Men’s Basketball Team take down Mount Saint Mary’s and earn a spot against overall #1 seed, Florida, in Orlando on Thursday night.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the UAlbany Men gave #1 Connecticut fits in 2006, so I’m optimistic that they’ll also put on a strong and credible performance tomorrow night. The 2006 Team’s motto was “Why Not Us?” I think that’s just as germane for this season: some day, some #16 seed is going to knock off some #1 seed, and until the final buzzer Thursday night, UAlbany is still alive on the list of team’s that have a chance to do it.

So I hope you’ll continue to watch and to pull for this scrappiest of underdogs, given all of those strong Iowa connections I mentioned yesterday. UA! You Know! Go Danes!

But, dearest Iowan friends, your work on behalf of the Great Danes is not yet done, because the UAlbany Women’s Basketball Team will be playing the Big 12’s West Virginia on Sunday on a neutral court in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a #2 vs #15 match up. While the Men’s presence in the Big Dance this year was something of a surprise, since they finished the regular season in fourth place in the America East Conference, the Great Dane Women have been Bracketology locks pretty much all season. This is their third straight visit to the NCAA Championships, and they go in this year with a 28-5 (15-1 Conference) record, and a #4 ranking in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25.

I gave you a bunch of reasons to root for the Men yesterday, and they all apply to the Women too. But there are even deeper connections between Iowa and the UAlbany women, designed to appeal to both Cyclones and Hawkeyes alike. Continuing our numbering from yesterday’s column, consider this:

7. Head Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she was a Parade Magazine and USA Today High School All American.

8. She played for legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer at the University of Iowa, making two NCAA Tournament appearances (including and Elite Eight and a Sweet Sixteen finish) with the Hawkeyes.

9. From 1994-2000, Coach Abe (as she’s know about UAlbany) was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for Bill Fennelly’s Iowa State Cyclones. During her time on staff, the Cyclone Women earned a Big 12 Championship and four NCAA Tournament appearance, also earning and Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen finish, as she did as a player.

10. From 2002-2007, Abrahamson-Henderson was head coach at Missouri State University of the Missouri Valley Conference — no strangers in these parts, as they played home and home series with Drake regularly — earning three conference championships during her tenure.

11. Coach Abe’s husband, Michael Henderson, played with the Harlem Globetrotters. That doesn’t have anything to do with Iowa, mind you, but it’s just way cool.

While UAlbany doesn’t feature any Iowa-bred players on the current Women’s roster, their team is exciting to watch, and represents the true globalization of modern college sports, with players from Nigeria, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, Jamaica and New Zealand on the roster. They took the formidable University of North Carolina women to the wire in last year’s Big Dance, and I guarantee you they will not be intimidated by the West Virginia.

Yesterday, the Great Dane Men beat the Mountaineers of Mount Saint Mary’s. On Sunday, I want to see the Great Dane Women beat the Mountaineers of West Virginia. Doesn’t that just have fate, or kismet, or whatever, written all over it? I think it does.

So rifle your closets, Iowans, and pull out whatever purple and gold you can find, and join me Sunday in celebrating the UAlbany Women as they make us all proud.

Once again: UA! You Know! Go Danes!

Watch out, West Virginia. The are Great Danes in the house . . .

Watch out, West Virginia. The are Great Danes in the house . . .

Why Iowans Should Be Rooting for UAlbany Tonight

Following a late-season stumble, the University of Iowa men’s basketball team will be participating in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio tomorrow night against the University of Tennessee. The Hawkeyes’ travails (especially when contrasted with the ascendency of the Big 12 Conference Champion Iowa State Cyclones) have a lot of folks grumbling and out of sorts around here. And it could get worse, as it’s no gimme that the Hawkeyes are going to be able to beat Tennessee, who hung tough against overall #1 seed Florida last week in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

So to mitigate a potential week of disappointment and wounded pride, I’d like to invite all of my Iowa neighbors, of both Cyclone and Hawkeye persuasions, to adopt the University of Albany Great Danes tonight — as they are also in Dayton with the Hawkeyes, playing for a berth in the final field of 64.

Yeah, I’m partisan, sure. I got my masters’ degree from UAlbany’s Rockefeller College, and I later worked there as Executive Director of University Auxiliary Services at Albany, responsible for quality of living services (e.g. dining, book store, laundry, banking, vending, etc.) for the 20,000+ person campus community.

UAlbany earned its spot in the play-in game by winning the America East Conference Championship for the second year in a row as a #4 seed, beating Vermont and Stony Brook (who swapped places as the #1 and #2 seeds) both years to get there. They are facing the Mount Saint Mary Mountaineers, champions of the Northeast Conference — in which UAlbany was once a perennial powerhouse in football, before jumping to the Colonial Athletic Association.

So why should you, my fellow Iowans, root for the Great Danes of UAlbany? Because they have some seriously strong credentials that you’ll appreciate, as follows:

1. When the UAlbany men made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2006, they took #1 overall seed Connecticut down to the wire as a #16 seed, leading by 11 points halfway through the second half. They also hung in there with Duke last year as a #15 seed, so they will at least make it exciting when they play #1 overall seed Florida later this week.

2. The Great Danes’ star players in 2006 and in the following year (when they returned to the NCAA Tournament) were Brian Lillis — who grew up in Urbandale and went to Dowling Catholic — and Brent Wilson, who is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

3. Their current starting center, senior John Puk, is from Waterloo, Iowa. Freshman Dallas Ennema is from Sheldon, Iowa, and looks to be a star in the making in years ahead.

4. They came to Des Moines two nights before last Christmas to play (and lose to) Drake at the Knapp Center. And, really, you know that was no treat for them, right? We owe ‘em a solid for that trip, for sure. John Puk had a great Waterloo contingent rooting for him behind the UAlbany bench, which was cool to experience.

There’s also two bonus reasons for the Cyclone fans out there to root for UAlbany:

5. Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffrey’s prior job was at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, a northern suburb of Albany. Siena and UAlbany are fierce rivals in their local market accordingly, so rooting against Fran comes naturally for UAlbany people, including me, who are likely to be receptive to Hilton Magic accordingly.

6. The UAlbany Women are also in the big dance this year, as a #15 seed going up against #2 seed West Virginia. And I don’t need to remind you what West Virginia did to the Cyclones this year, do I?

So are you with me, Iowans? If so, clear your throats and repeat after me . . . . UA! You Know! Go Danes!

UAlbany Great Danes. John Puk (#44) of Waterloo, Iowa at center of frame.

UAlbany Great Danes. Senior John Puk (#44) of Waterloo, Iowa at top center of frame.

The Ballad of Austin G

For most of the time that we lived in Latham, New York, we were hard-wired for both television and internet purposes to Time Warner Cable of Albany. They were not cheap, and we had occasional service problems, of course, but they were generally resolved quickly. Having entertainment being pumped to us over that fat, underground wire seemed a good system, and having actually worked for Time Warner Cable of Albany for several years, I was favorably disposed toward them, even when they weren’t performing at the top of their game.

When we moved to Des Moines, I assumed that we’d find a similar “all services on one wire” situation with whoever Central Iowa’s leading cable provider might be. I was wrong: cable service in our neighborhood is patchy, low quality and expensive, so we were forced to enter into split contracts with an internet provider who pipes our bytes in via a DSL telephone line, and a television provider whose signal comes into the house via an antenna on the roof. Since the prior owners of our house had used Dish Network, it was an easy transition for us to take that contract on ourselves.

There are some things we like about Dish, but their pay-per-view service is not one of them: they have limited offerings, and since our television is not connected to the internet, we have to order movies online in advance, then make sure that we are in the TV room at the right moment to tape or watch the movies in real time. The last time we tried to do this, we pre-ordered the very marginal The Rum Diaries, and when we went to watch it, almost 25% of the movie did not successfully load, due to some communications glitch.

While Marcia fumed in her recliner, I retired to the home office to contact Dish Network, hoping that we could salvage our movie night. I used their online technical assistance service, and was connected to a technician who identified himself as Austin G. Within the first few lines of online communication, it became very clear that Austin G was a chosen (or assigned?) name of convenience for an individual who (a) was not a native English speaker, and (b) had been trained to offer replies to customers culled from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

To his (her?) immense credit, Austin G did a great job resolving the customer support issue that I brought to him/her. But as the clearly canned responses that he/she was trained to offer crossed my computer screen, the creative writer in me decided that I needed to create a character myself, one just as eager to please, but language impaired, as Austin G him/herself.

I recorded the text of the conversation and share at with you at this link:

Austin G Provides JES a Customer Service Championship Performance

I found the whole exchange very amusing, though I admit to feeling marginally guilty about it, seeing as how my amusement sort of came at someone’s expense, when they were just trying to do their job and bring home the bacon. Or the saag paneer, as appropriate. When all was said and done, Austin G took care of the problem I brought to him/her. That’s what customer service people are supposed to do, and Austin G did it well. So when I received an e-mail from Dish Network asking me about the quality of my customer support interaction, I was delighted to respond their request, even if I was not quite ready to give up the creative writing character I had embraced during my correspondence with Austin G. Here’s what I told them:

Austing G RatingI have no idea what Austin G’s real name is, nor what his or her future holds . . . but I sure hope that Austin G finds great personal and financial success in whatever city and country he or she resides in. Their assistantage was really great. And the gratitudinous was sincere. Thanks, Austin G!

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