Archive - 2014

December 8th

In the bleak midwinter...


Christmas concert

 NOTE: The website crashed last week. Now it is back. I am reposting the Christmas concert photos, as some of you wanted to see them again. 


Above: Last Thursday evening, niece Champoo took part in the elementary Christmas program. She had a speaking role, which she executed perfectly. 


Afterwards, Champoo spotted her favorite person in the audience, nursery gift shop manager Dot. She blew past all of us to get to Dot right away. 


Last summer, I asked Champoo, who had not yet attended school in this country, if she missed having friends her age. 

"No," she replied. "I have Dot." 


December 2nd

Walaker, cont.

Here is a pretty good summation of why Dennis Walaker was a hero. Links to other articles in the Forum are on the upper right. Von Pinnon includes an incident I had forgotten: when a teen driver hit a pothole which pulled her van into oncoming traffic, causing an accident which killed her sister, there was some immediate speculation that there would be a big lawsuit against the city. The expectation was the city would deny all wrong-doing to protect its legal case. 

Enter Walaker, only a few hours after the accident. The mayor called a news conference and said the accident was completely the city's fault and that the sixteen year old girl bore no blame whatsoever. I suspect the city attorney had no input into Walaker's statement.

We all know that's what should happen, but how many times does it? 


One of my heroes, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, passed away today. Very sad. He came to the nursery this spring and looked very wan. I actually think he visited just before he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. We were too busy for any conversation, but Dad and I agreed later something looked amiss. For those of you from out of the area, I will post his obituary later.

Because he was involved in present politics, he was still part of the every day push and pull of events and subject to the inevitable sniping. Now that he has died, the media will be free accord him deserved accolades without fear they are improperly influencing an election.

Of the few contemporary politicians I have met, or seen up close, Walaker and Bernie Lieder are the two I would follow into a hail of bullets without asking questions.  

UPDATE: Here is a link to some past articles and features. 

November 30th

Thanksgiving, etc.

After completing the move back to the Swamp Castle, I have been enjoying the house and keeping it warm by cutting wood for the outdoor stove. Cold temperatures have kept the stove (and me) busy. The birds have returned to the feeder. I enjoy them more than ever. I particularly like that a pair of blue jays has appeared to eat the stale bird food I dumped on the ground. 

Thanksgiving: Brother Joe and Dad Paul were gone, so five of us had a meal here at the house--Lance, Mom, Kae, Champoo and I. 

Champoo is doing well in school. Her English improves by the day. She is so driven. She is also artistic. She draws, sews, paints, whatever. Some days she goes out to the shop after school and builds things using the drill press. She does not use the table saw, which is a relief, but in general, Thai kids have no problem with dangerous situations because they aren't protected from them by over-doting parents. Kae has no problem with Champoo using power tools by herself over in the shop.

Does that sound careless? Well, that was the exact leeway my parents gave me. I had free run of almost everything on the nursery save for over-the-road vehicles. 

When I decided in fifth grade I needed to weld something, Dad showed me then basics, the disappeared while I figured out the rest on my own! My freedom was nothing compared to that given my peers, who were driving thirty to forty miles from home on their motorcycles and snowmobiles in junior high with no cell phones. 

So, times have changed. 

Champoo also thinks American kids are wimps. They cry at the slightest injury, while she shrugs off flesh wounds and keeps on playing. A kid pushed Champoo on the playground. Without blinking, Champoo decked the kid. Such a response isn't standard playground protocol here, as she found out, but in Thailand, apparently, it is expected if you are to survive. 

I was worried Champoo would be teased by the kids for her accent, her name, whatever. 

Kae waved off my concerns. "I not worry about Champoo. I worry about other kids!" she said. 

Early on, Champoo sheepishly raised her hand when she didn't understand the teacher and was thrilled when she wasn't scolded for needing help, as she would have been in Thailand. Instead the teacher was very nice and helped her understand. That won over Champoo completely. 

Champoo has no notion of cold weather and played outside the other day until her fingers were blue. We talked about it at the Thanksgiving table and asked her to show us her fingers, which were by now bright red. 

"Do not talk about me," she said flatly, and hid her hands under the table.

We stopped talking about her. 



November 24th

Rural mid-term curse

Here is a good analysis of the carnage the DFL experienced in rural races for the Minnesota House of Representatives. The conclusion is correct: If the DFL (or some individual candidates such as myself) can't figure out how to get their voters to the polls in mid-term elections, they will be alternating power with House Republicans for years to come.

Believe me, the party did throw in the kitchen sink this year. I was one of only three DFL candidates in the state who was thought to have a chance to beat an incumbent Republican, so I was given extra help--and I still lost by a large margin. My race was targeted, that is the party spent a lot of money in addition to what I raised myself. Volunteers and paid staffers made thousands of phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors. 

I just assumed that a multiplication of efforts from previous elections would bring at least a close result; in fact, the results were statistically worse than 2010 when there was very little money spent by either the candidates or the state party. 

The DFL campaign strategies work well enough in the metro, but just aren't clicking in rural areas––at least in non-presidential elections. I questioned in my head throughout the campaign, but never came up with an alternative–so I went with a hybrid of what they told me to do from the state level (tactics which were very, very detailed, backed by mounds of data, computerized, analyzed and tested) and what the old hands up here suggested (which I preferred).  

However, it is now obvious that nobody has any bright ideas how to solve the basic problem of Democratic voters sitting out mid-term elections by a ration of 7-1 over Republicans. What we tried this year (phone calls, door knocking, a large number of glossy post-card mailings, most of it focused on a scientifically-selected group of likely voters) flopped. 

My gut feeling is that the kindly rationalists (I would like to include myself in this group) who tend towards DFL politics in our area need to get more visceral. Unfortunately, that means playing on emotions, exploiting fears and kindling rage. 

NYT, part 2

The second report from the New York Times, this one on the patently corrupt politics of oil in North Dakota. 

November 22nd

Good Bakken reportage

We need more of this sort of in-depth reporting. I am glad that the New York Times still does journalism, not boosterism. Unfortunately, the present opinion shapers tend to view mere digging for facts as evidence of "liberal bias." 

Aunt Olla

I realize that those of you who have been following this blog for a while, even during the recent campaign slowdown in posting, are probably wondering what is up with Aunt Olla. When I last visited two days ago, she was somewhat haggard, but sitting up in her chair and dressed. She has been having pain in her hips and legs, so much so that that the doctor has her on some pretty heavy painkillers, and recently upped the dose. She was x-rayed last week, and nothing is broken, which actually makes it a little more frustrating. We don't know what is wrong.

Of course, Olla's attitude is still positive. Although she says it is time for her to die, she looks out the window and says, "but not in November!" The narcotic painkillers make her pretty loopy and she imagines things. Unfortunately, the hallucinations are unpleasant, filled with paranoia––as is typical of the mind's reaction to narcotics. 

Welcome to our future. Advances in medical science, as wonderful as they are, have the unpleasant side effect of allowing some of us live to a Methusalan age. Not everybody wants to. Olive has made the best of it. But sometimes she waxes philosophical. 

I told 103-year-old Aunt Olla about a much younger relative's health problems, which are significant but manageable. She absorbed the news, rocked in her chair looking off into space, and finally turned to me and said, "Isn't it awful how they let them linger?"

I didn't ask her what alternative she had in mind, but understood her point. 




My heart goes out to Terina Parr, whom I do not know personally, who was accused of sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old she worked with as a paraprofessional at Fertile-Beltrami school. Her story is here. She has been through hell. In the story, she sounds so balanced and adjusted. Life is not fair.

I also read about the story of a man who was released from prison after 40 years when his accuser admitted to making up the story which led to his life sentence. Can you imagine moving on without hanging on to the injustice? 

Cases like his are why I am against the death penalty, and why I believe we should make our prisons humane. Cases like Terina remind me that we should never try locals in the court of gossip, and should in fact make sure to defend fairness and not join the accusatory mob.