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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

The Associated PressMay 28, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. May 28, 2019.

The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission A segment of the National World War I Memorial sculpture.

More than 100 years after hostilities ended, the work to build a meaningful national monument in memory of Americans who fought in World War I marches on.

Beyond the shared desire to honor that war’s valiant fighters, Northwest Arkansas and people connected to the University of Arkansas have had a special interest in that work since 2015, when Fayetteville native and UA alum Joseph Weishaar’s design for the Washington, D.C., memorial came out on top of 350 entries to the United States World War I Centennial Commission.

Ever since, the 2013 graduate of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design has been getting schooled in the challenges of navigating a federal project. Anytime a creative work has to earn the approval of a committee, it’s bound to be stressful. Creativity can die in the hands of a committee.

Hopefully, the vision of Weishaar and his team, including sculptor Sabin Howard, can be realized in its passionate retelling of the experiences of the Doughboys and other Americans involved in the War to End All Wars, which unfortunately wasn’t.

These days, it seems some people have little patience for creating monumental significance in public structures, to our society’s detriment. We have always appreciated the magnificence of architectural grandeur, particularly when it comes to buildings that represent the components of our democratic republic. Our state Capitol, or the larger one in Washington, D.C., for examples. In recent months prior to the public vote in Benton County, some complained a proposed courts facility was a “Taj Mahal” design, and that wasn’t meant as a compliment. While a publicly funded building has to be approached with a need to avoiding wasteful spending, we still prefer public buildings that reflect the significance of our institutions, whether executive, legislative or judicial. The judicial system shouldn’t be in the same type of building that might house a hardware store or a gas station.

That’s certainly not true of the World War I memorial, so forgive the aside. But Weishaar and Co. has had to wrestle with different ideas of what a monument should be, and how it should fit into an existing park designed as its own tribute. Plans to substantially change Pershing Park in D.C. (named for World War I leader John J. Pershing, who rose to become general of the Armies) met powerful resistance among the park’s admirers, despite the park’s local reputation as a bit of an dump. Still, opposition led to a radical scale-back of Weishaar’s original vision.

It appears, though, with recent approval of the monument’s “interpretive elements” by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the memorial’s bureaucratic woes might be mostly in the past. It was the 12th time the memorial has gone before the commission, and another round is slated for July. The work to memorialize the war has required more time than American contributions to victory in the war itself required.

That approval came with one member in opposition. Justin Shubow, head of the National Civic Art Society and one of President Trump’s recent nominees, balked at the elements of the memorial that give visitors the option to use their powerful smartphone technology to access educational materials that will deliver context about the memorial and the park.

Commissioner Libby O’Connell, described the ways that technology could enhance the experience. In recent Democrat-Gazette coverage, O’Connell said park visitors would be able to dial up Pershing on their smart-phones and hear a recording of the commander addressing members of the American Expeditionary Forces. Or they’d be able to access an audio tour guide similar to those used in museums. Visitors might even watch an “augmented reality” dogfight overhead between two World War I-era biplanes, she said.

Even with the majesty of the monument’s physical features, these smartphone- and internet -delivered components promise outstanding educational elements.

Shubow, however, couldn’t envision intermixing the two. “A memorial should be a site for commemoration, not information,” he told the panel. “I don’t want to visit a memorial where I see everyone on their phone walking around making phone calls. It detracts from the solemnity of the site.”

The clear intention of the artwork is to educate the public about the circumstances and sacrifices of the first World War. It is short-sighted to suggest the memorial is only about commemorating. A visit to a significant memorial will often be the spark that starts one’s search for knowledge about the subject matter involved.

A visit to the memorial’s website today features a video of Dan Dayton, executive director of the World War I Centennial Commission, who explains:

“World War I was the war that changed the world. It changed everything about the interrelationship between countries. It helped to advance our technology. It helped to advance the rights of women. It helped to advance the rights of African Americans. It helped bring America out of its shell for the first time. There is an importance to the American dream. There is an importance to the defense of the democracy of the United States. That’s just as important today as it was 100 years ago, as it was 200-plus years ago. We’re charged with trying to help Americans understand that.”

It would be a shame if the vision of Weishaar and others working on the monument was shortchanged by limited thinking about the use of modern technology. Why build a monument if it doesn’t help generations of today and tomorrow understand more clearly the circumstances and the sacrifices of the past? As impressive as Howard’s sculpture that’s part of the memorial will be, meeting people near the technological juncture to which they’ve grown accustomed is a fine idea.

— By the way, did you know Arkansas’ first memorial monument to World War I was erected in November 1917 at the Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren? Col. Sam Chew, a local attorney, placed a marker that commemorates the first three U.S. soldiers to die in combat: Merle D. Hay, Thomas Enwright and James B. Gresham, according to the Arkansas World War I Centennial committee. “They were the first members of the expeditionary Army of the United States in France to die, that we might live,” the marker reads.

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Texarkana Gazette. May 28, 2019.

These days, reality shows are all the rage.

Whether your tastes run to the wild competition of “Survivor,” the talents shows like “The Voice” or to more prurient fare such as “The Real Housewives” franchise and the exploits of the Kardashian family, reality TV has something for everyone.

But long before there were shows like the late (and we doubt very lamented) “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” the world was won over by five little girls born 85 years ago today in Canada.

These days, it’s hard to imagine the impact the birth of the Dionne quintuplets had on the globe when they came into the world on May 28, 1934. We live in a time of fertility drugs and the Octomom. Multiple births aren’t all that uncommon.

But in 1934, such births were incredibly rare. In fact, until the Dionne sisters, no set of quintuplets had ever survived infancy.

The odds were stacked against them from the start. Their mother thought she was carrying twins. They were born two months premature in a farmhouse outside Callander, Ontario, near the village of Corbeil.

The girls — Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie — were identical quints. The attending physician, Dr. Alan Dafoe, did not think they would live.

But they did. And word of their birth and survival quickly went around the world. The press came calling.

The Ontario government stepped in and made the quints wards of the provincial crown. They were taken from their parents to live in a special nursery constructed across the road from the family farm, complete with an observation platform so the public could see the girls at play.

Tourists came in droves, as many as 6,000 a day. Nearly 3 million people came to see the quints between 1936 and 1943. The girls rarely left the nursery as they grew up and had limited contact with outsiders. They were only allowed limited visits with their parents and siblings.

A whole industry grew up around the quints. The nursery became known as “Quintland,” and concession stands and souvenir shops popped up all over town selling a wide variety of merchandise emblazoned with the girls’ images, including postcards, dolls, plates, spoons, cups and more.

The Dionnes quickly became the top tourist attraction in Ontario, attracting $51 million in tourists’ dollars to the region in 1934 alone. The quints’ share was about $1 million.

Madison Avenue came calling and the quints’ faces ended up in an array of ads and product endorsements. Hollywood came calling, too, and the girls were featured in four movies.

A much bigger reality show — World War II — came along as the girls grew up and soon the public’s attention waned. In 1943, the quints’ parents regained custody of the girls. They used some of the girls’ money to build a grand mansion near the nursery, which was converted into a school for the girls. The girls later said their parents were resentful over the custody battle and of their fame. It was not a happy home — three of the girls later claimed to have been abused — and when the quints left at 18, they rarely saw their parents afterward.

Emilie died in 1954 at age 20. She had decided to become a nun. While a postulant at the convent, she began to have seizures. During one, she rolled over onto her stomach and suffocated against her pillow.

Marie died in 1970 of a blood clot to the brain.

In 1995, Yvonne, Annette and Cecile spoke out against those who use children of multiple births for profit, and in 1998, the three women won a settlement from the government of Ontario for its part in their exploitation.

Yvonne died in 2001 of cancer. Annette and Cecile still live in Canada.

The Dionne Quintuplets are largely forgotten these days. But there was a time when they were, indeed, the most popular reality show in the world.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. May 28, 2019.

“I want to say at the outset that pitching is a black art and those who practice it put at risk their immortal souls.” — Philip Martin

Finally, some journalism from this nation’s capital that isn’t silly or crude. The in-depth article appeared in The Washington Post last week, and as full of numbers as it was, it should be required reading. Baseballs are coming in faster.

That is, fastballs are getting faster. Major League pitchers are getting bigger (naturally, one hopes) and new exercises and offseason workouts are getting more technical. And 100-mile-an-hour fastballs are strangling baseball.

This fine piece of newspaper work by reporter Dave Sheinin goes deep into the weeds. But the gist is this: Faster pitches hurt the game.

The one constant through all the years, the man said, has been baseball. America has rolled over by an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. And since the mound was moved to 60 feet, 6 inches from home back in 1893, the game achieved balance, symmetry, democracy. Great hitters struck out, a lot. Great pitchers were taken downtown. You had to out-think your opponent. Which is why baseball has been called the Thinking Fan’s Sport. In a more barbaric sport, like football, being bigger and faster nearly always wins. In baseball, Greg Maddux can win 300 games and get 3,000 strikeouts practicing the dark arts.

But last year marked the first time that strikeouts came more frequently than hits in the majors. According to The Post: “The leaguewide batting average of .245 in 2019 is the lowest since 1972, and a drop of 26 points from 1999, at the height of the steroids era. The leaguewide strikeout rate of 8.78 per nine innings, also a record, is higher than the career rate of Roger Clemens.”

Since the hurlers have increased velocity in the last few years, several things have happened to the sport:

— Hitters have decided to swing for the fences in every at-bat. After all, a strikeout is likely. Might as well guess at where this 105-mph pitch will be over the plate, get in front of it a bit, and hope to get lucky. Fewer and fewer pro players have mastered the art of the seeing-eye single.

— There has been more and more reliance on relief pitchers, because a human elbow can’t keep throwing 105-mph again and again for two hours.

— Speaking of the human elbow, injuries to pitchers are way up.

— The game slows down, which is everybody’s complaint (it seems) about baseball. More pitching changes, longer at-bats equal three hours in the stands. Few people--modern Americans anyway--will devote that kind of time to anything but a Marvel movie.

So what to do? The majors can’t order pitchers to throw grapefruits up there.

There is talk of moving the mound back another two feet. Which is sacrilege. There is other talk that the majors will experiment with requiring relief pitchers to face at least three batters before being replaced. Except, one would think, when injuries occur. Which sounds like a recipe for having pitchers flopping around like soccer players.

Spare us that indignity.

Don Mattingly, former Yankee player and current Marlins manager, may have had the best idea on this subject: “You have to teach hitting better. Because to me, going for the home run and creating launch angle is great, but a lot of long swings are just asking for strikeouts ... . Better swings are shorter swings. Shorter swings make more contact. There’s a balance somewhere.” Yogi Berra might have put it differently, but no better.

There’s a balance somewhere. And batters will just have to find it. Without the pitchers throwing from 62 feet away. This whole debate could be a great lesson for the kids, and baseball is always a lesson: When the opposition gets better, you get better. Don’t try to change the rules.

Baseball has been like that over the years: the perfect teaching tool. For boys. And girls have softball.

Try figuring up an ERA or a slugging percentage. And there’s physics. And geometry. And reading, preferably the other team’s signs. And sportsmanship. And history. Civil rights, too. From Shoeless Joe and the 1919 World Series to Ted Williams’ taking leave to fly fighter planes in two wars. But baseball is more than history, it’s art and psychology and a kind of religion, with its own equivalents of orthodoxy and evangelism, doubt and mysticism. Like those black arts.

Leave the sport alone. It will find its balance again.

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