Archive - 2013

December 16th


Here is a fun article on a young Minneapolis entrepreneur. He has a great idea for using leather scraps which are discarded by the larger companies to make unique handbags. 

What's fun to me as well is Lance took the portrait used in the article! Scott is formerly from Grand Forks, and is a friend. 

December 12th

Nativity scene

Oh my, I came home for a few days and we have a nativity scene controversy in town. It is really no longer a controversy. It has been resolved. The Fertile-Beltrami school board voted 4-3 to reinstate the scene. The wording of the measure allows for religious symbols if they are accompanied by other holiday decorations. 

That should be the end of it. 

I would hope that the kerfluffle could be used in class to explain the reasons behind separation of church and state. Students should understand that not everywhere are they going to be in the majority. Out west, for example, many public schools have a Mormon majority. Out east, there are public schools with a substantial Jewish population, and Muslim population as well. 

Ha! I realize I said the incident should be used in class. That excludes the adults, many of whom are pretty eager to get their own religious symbols included in public areas. Think about what it would be like to have the shoe on the other foot.

I remember some incidents in high school where the line was crossed, and it made me uncomfortable. There was the expectation that you would take part in a student led prayer before the school play, for example. I thought it was bizarre, but took part out of peer pressure. When my brother came along, he just left the room. 

I was uncomfortable because it wasn't the type of prayer I was used to, and then we all had to hold hands, which was a bit much. Enforced intimacy annoys me. "Well, you could just leave!" comes the response from people who don't remember what it was like to be a kid and want acceptance. 

We were the only Baptists in school, so Mom and Dad held me out of religious release time for a couple of my elementary years. While everybody else went to their church, I sat back in the classroom with the Jehovah's Witness and Seventh Day Adventist children. We were inconvenient to the teachers, and we knew it. 

I am not about to claim the mantle of descrimination, but one friend did announce to me that his mother thought he had better keep his distance because I wasn't Lutheran! Another asked if we believed in the same God. He was doing research for his comparitive religions class at Sunday School. 

Far from feeling persecuted, by high school, I was so confident that I was right that I enjoyed my feeling of superiority over everybody else for having the correct religious beliefs. I was probably obnoxious. 

Then we had TEC retreats, where students went for a weekend, plus Monday, which they were given off from school, only to return Tuesday in a state of revival which doggone near made it impossible to concentrate upon school. Hugs, tears, secrecy, clubbiness. "You have to go on TEC! Then you can know why it is so great!" 

So, I did. Lots of crisis and emotion, which these days are, perversely, seen as evidence of God. Lots of mind games. Emotional ups and downs. No watches. Long, long sessions. We came back Tuesday and hugged everybody and generally were the in group for a day, and then it faded. 

In comparison, having a nativity scene in the lunchroom is small peanuts, I think. 







December 9th

Rios Montt

Efrian Rios Montt is a name most Americans don't know, but should. He was a Pentecostal minister, a friend to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and a Guatemalan politician who had the support of President Reagan, who called him a "man of integrity and commitment."

Rios Montt became dictator of Guatemala in 1982. The CIA supported his rise. When he became dictator, he set about supressing the indigenous Mayan population. In the seventeen months before he was overthrown, his forces killed about 200,000 Mayan people--men, women and children. The ditches in the highlands of Guatemala filled with bodies. It was a horrific time. 

Maya Quetzal is my favorite restaurant here in Tucson. It is run by a Mayan woman who escaped to Tucson through an underground railroad run by some Roman Catholic clerics, who Rios Montt also considered enemies worth killing. 

Today, I was at Maya Quetzal. I was the only one in the restaurant. I am there frequently, so we laugh and have a good time. But I have never asked their story. A new man was there today. He was friends with the owner. He was eating a breakfast of Mexican sausages. I wanted them, too, they smelled so good, but they weren't on the menu. 

They were teasing in Spanish as I checked out. Turns out the man, whose name is Carlos, had just told some Morman missionaries to leave. 

"I believe in God," he told me, "just not religion!" 

I had just read about Rios Montt, so I decided to chance it. "What about Rios Montt?" I asked. 

His eyes got wide. He was surprised an American would know the name. 

The woman translated as the man told me he had been imprisoned for six months under Rios Montt. He was tortured daily. He showed me his scars. He was forced to drink all of his own urine for those six months. His hands were handcuffed behind him the whole time. 

His crime? He was a trade union representative. And Mayan. 

When Rios Montt was finally convicted of genocide this past year, his old friend Pat Robertson had nothing to say about his former guest on the 700 Club. No apologies from him, or from Falwell before he finally croaked. Of course not. They're never wrong! And those types actually prefer righteous tyrants to democratically elected secularists. 


December 6th


Was introduced to a new game today at the Indian restaurant where I eat the noon buffet on a regular basis: Kabaddi. The host at the restaurant did his best to explain the sport, which was on television. I told him he should write up a brochure, as he had to explain to several patrons what was going on.

I didn't get it all, but it seems like a combination of football, wrestling and tag. Here is a sample. 

"The winning team gets huge prizes!" the host said.

What, money? I asked.

"No, each member of the winning team gets a new tractor!"

Well! Sounds like something we should have at the Polk County Fair.


In 1983, a college history teacher told me that in his view, the next major conflagration would happen in South Africa, where the black majority was agitating to throw off the oppressive rule of the white South African minority.

Due to Nelson Mandela, the conflagration never happened. 

"Blessed are the peacemakers." Mandela was a peacemaker. He presided over the transition in power in South Africa without exacting revenge for the horrific offenses of apartheid. It is one of the great achievements in statecraft of the last 100 years. 

Wars which don't happen don't get the headlines of those which do. 

But avoiding war is a supreme achievement, always to be honored. 

Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time" was a phony achievement. Mandela's avoidance of war in South Africa was real, and lasting.

(Avoiding war with Iran is also a great achievement, by the way.)

The rush to war is an evil thing. Mandela knew it. He knew the radical forgiveness needed to avoid such a war, and he exercised it. Only one who suffered as he had possessed the moral authority to convince others to forgive as well. 




December 5th

Cold spell

Of course, a cold spell in Tucson is a different animal than a cold spell back home. Frost warnings last night. Some rain. Clouds. A chilly day, only in the 50s. This will continue for a few days.

I am always in touch with those back home. Lance is ensconced in the house preparing his museum show for the Rourke Gallery in Moorhead. Dad took Uncle Orv in for outpatient surgery this morning. Joe is working to get his step-daughter out of Thailand, which at present is in a state of political unrest, which is complicating matters.

Sister Tracie decided to cancel a haircut she had scheduled for Aunt Olla. Aunt Olla, meanwhile, is back in the saddle. "I couldn't have it any better," she insisted when I called her last.

Meanwhile, back here in Tucson, I have moved on to editing the material I wrote in a rush last month. I went at a fast pace, so the quality needs improvement. You'd think after years of writing that I would get better at first drafts. Perhaps I have, but I also have developed a more critical eye towards editing, which means there is always plenty of work to do to improve the text.

You can't start worrying if people are going to read the stuff, although it is tempting to doubt. So, I had a couple of days of doubt. Then the futility of a bad outlook became obvious and I waded back in to what I had written, only to find it wasn't that awful. 

Mind games. They're the same now as they were in college when it was impossible to finish papers before the deadline. However, now, there is no due date, nobody will issue a grade, and you have nobody to please but yourself. 

I am comforted by reading about the tremendous work established writers put into their writing. Revision after revision. I just read a book about how F. Scott Fitzgerald editied The Great Gatsby into its final form. His earlier versions survive, so the author of the more recent book plowed through them to see what changes Fitzgerald put in, often at the urging of a friendly editor. The changes were large. Fitzgerald sorted through his entire text and changed the way he presented characters, changed the way they spoke, changed their level of prominence. The edits included debates over single words, too. Without the editing, the book would probably have fallen on its face. 

An old rule reasserts itself: That which is easy to read has been difficult to write. 

December 1st

BWV 543

This is one of the great pieces Bach wrote for organ, played on an organ from Bach's time. The numbering system of Bach's music runs from zero to a thousand or so, and it is convenient for those like me who get confused between one A minor Prelude and Fugue and the other. 

This piece is in A minor. It is an impish, even demonic work. Modern fundamentalists would be right to be scared of its power, something the faithful in Bach's time savored rather than feared. 

Bach's music is really rhetoric. It makes an argument, an argument more eloquent than any possible in English. The closing chords are the final, irrefutable statements of the arguement. The performer, John Scott Whitely understands that, and finally shows a little emotion at the end. 

Like most of Bach's pieces, BWV 543 is best understood if listened to many times by many interpreters. This recording is a good start, however. 




Twins news in December?


The Twins have signed two pitchers, Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. This is unusual behavior for them. 

Just as importantly, they are working on a deal to bring A. J. Pierzynski back to catch. With Joe Mauer moving to first base, the 37-year-old Pierzynski would fill a big hole. 

The catcher is the most important defensive player on the diamond. An experienced catcher can squeeze a little extra out of a shaky pitching staff. 

Pierzynski is a pest. He has a bad-boy attitude. He is one of the most hated players in baseball today. That might make him an ideal addition to the sleepy Twins. Joe Mauer is a great hitter, but he's not exactly a ball of fire as a team leader. Morneau was of the same mold. A little sleepy. But Pierzynski chews nails for breakfast. 

At bat, Pierzynski fouls off pitch after pitch before dumping a looper to left field, sometimes for a double. Makes you mad, unless he's on your team. 

Gardenhire has experience working with Pierzynski. They may be able to work together like two grown men, who knows. 

As for the pitching staff, the latest additions aren't exactly going to set the world on fire. Nolasco and Hughes have spotty records. But adding arms can at least increase the odds that the Twins will find a starting staff that gets the job done. They still need an ace, and the best hope now comes from within the Twins system: Alex Meyer has the potential to become a #1 starter. You can never count on that, though. A great arm, which Meyer has, is no guarantee that one has major league mettle. 

In any case, it is good to see the Twins make a little news in December.


November 30th

ND oil

A little math reveals that North Dakota produces about 10 barrels of oil per second.  Within three or four years, that will double. That is a river of oil! 

Each train of oil that rolls through Fargo represents about 60,000 barrels of oil. North Dakota produces a trainload every two hours. Some of that goes through pipelines, of course, but it is helpful to visualize what is going on out there. 

To continue the flow, there has to be continual drilling, as wells decline quickly before leveling off for the long-term. To double the flow, which is in the cards, there must be more than double the drilling. That means there will be ever more people, ever more money, ever more problems of growth. 

Right now, the Bakken formation provides the bulk of the oil. There are other formations above and below the Bakken. The only one formation exploited so far other than the Bakken is the Three Forks. It is in its infancy. It is probable that the Three Forks has more oil than the Bakken. There are other formations which are completely untapped, perhaps as many as four. 

Each month, the technology for getting oil out of the Bakken formation improves. Wells become cheaper to drill, and they produce more. When the Bakken dries up, which is not going to happen soon, they will move on to figure out other formations. A ten-year Bakken well might be reworked to get oil out of other formations. 

If anybody thinks the North Dakota oil boom is going to be short-lived, they are mistaken. It is going to grow and grow and grow. 

You can debate the effects of the boom, but it is here to stay. 


November 29th

Francis, via Robinson

Well, I'll be jiggered. A Christian leader who takes Christianity's message seriously....