Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

August 27, 2004

The best time of year

Everybody is complaining about the early fall, but I love it. It feels like football weather outside. Don't like the game much, but the weather is great. Allergies have been minimal this year--too cold for the pollen, apparently.

The Twins are in the lead. The weather is cooling. School is starting, and I get to teach some of it this fall. (We'll see if my attitude is the same in one week after I have actually started.)

There is no better time of year in Minnesota. I love the freshness of the fall. It is a time in our annual cycle at the nursery when we work and when we don't deal with so many people. Spring is beautiful, but a blur of activity. Fall, on the other hand, is contemplative yet vigorous.

I went for a run tonight at sunset. Perfect evening. Cool air washes over you like water in this weather. The sunset was bright. When I turned around to come home, the clouds to the east were pink.

During the day today it was cloudy. I felt like sleeping, so I did. Two naps! And not short ones, either. Good thing because the Twins are playing in Anaheim tonight. The game started at 9 pm. and will go until midnight at least.

THE BROADCAST tonight is improved by Rod Carew's presence. He was one of the greatest hitters of all time, and he is a pretty good broadcaster as well. He couples well with Bert Blyleven. Without Carew, Blyleven tends to just read off the stat sheet. He doesn't get too serious about strategy or history.

Carew, however, reminisces about some of the Twins teams I remember from the 1970s. He just mentioned Larry Hisle, Lyman Bostock, Roy Smalley and Dan Ford, players on the excellent 1977 Twins team. Once the topic is raised, Blyleven can tell good stories.

Carew is also a good baseball strategist. He was a brilliant hitter--the most cerebral of his time. Makes sense that he would be a great baseball analyst.

CAUGHT some flak from you on the Democratic side that I would question John Kerry's account of his military service. Well, he did volunteer, and he did serve, and he did follow his conscience after he got home--his career as a whole makes George Bush's look pretty pitiful. There is no doubt about that. I just wish he would clean up this matter of Cambodia--he claimed for 20 years to have been there on Christmas Day of 1968, and he was not.

It could turn in his favor if he handled it right, and I am a little disturbed that he doesn't just turn it around in his favor by saying--what are you picking at me for? I was there! Bush was not! I have been under fire before! I know what it is like. I might not have been in Cambodia--sorry about that one, folks--but I sure wasn't snorting coke in Texas!

Instead, he sent lawyers after the stations broadcasting the Swift Boat Veterans ads. Not a good idea. Let them do their thing, wait for the right moment and turn it on them.

Bush opponents make a mistake when they say he's stupid. He's not. He's handled this thing pretty well--praising Kerry's military service while letting the Swift Boat people do his dirty work.

The title of their book: "Unfit for Duty," is way over the top. Politicians have been using their military careers to burnish their political credentials for centuries. Teddy Roosevelt rigged up a battle for himself in Cuba so he could use it for political purposes--there is no doubt about it. Winston Churchill did the very same thing in Africa. In fact, Churchill was disappointed that more men in his unit weren't injured in an assault he directed. He wanted the story for the folks back home to be good.

Of course, that doesn't mean Kerry shouldn't come clean. Tests like this, however fair or unfair they may be, give voters an idea how a candidate responds to crisis. Forthrightness is respected. Evasion is not.



August 26, 2004

Politics

It is apparent that John Kerry spun some tales about his Vietnam experience. It is also apparent that he didn't deal with the problem real effectively when it arose in the campaign. He is being hung out to dry right now, and it really is his fault.

Kerry doesn't realize what Bush knows: The American people are very forgiving if you just say, hey, I screwed up. Bush screwed up: He didn't show up very often, if at all, for his National Guard stint, which was arranged for him as a shelter from the draft by his influential daddy. In fact, according to some records, the only time he showed up was to get two free fillings at the base.

Unfit for command? What makes Bush more fit than Kerry? Is it merely the fact that he is frank about his past sins?

There is a religious subtext to all of this: People in this country, particularly those with an evangelical bent, are comfortable with people who have converted from a dissolute past. In fact, they are more comfortable with converts than with non-converts. Beyond that, they are willing to completely forgive and forget the sordid past of those who have undergone a conversion experience.

Bush understands this, and he uses it. When he mentions his drunken past with a little more humor and pride than seems appropriate, it offends me in exactly the same way the bad kids at Bible camp offended me when they would get converted--when that seemed like the thing to do--and yet still would brag about their sordid past ("I am not proud of it, but...whoa, did we have a good time at that party!").

And Kerry? This guy doesn't know who he is. He's arrogant. He thinks he's entitled. And his conversion experience from anti-war activist to a saluting legionnaire reporting for duty was a little much.

Well, the Constitution has survived worse than these two.




August 25, 2004

New job

Attended a faculty meeting today, my first ever. It wasn't necessary for me to go; I am merely a adjunct lecturer, not a full time faculty member, so I have none of the responsibilities which fall on the full-timers. However, the meeting involved a free steak lunch, so I thought I might go and meet some of my fellow teachers.

There were about four hours of meetings. Various administrators came in to talk and give updates on strategic missions statements, etc. It made me very relieved that I am not teaching for a living and that I get to do it for fun. The full-timers have so much red tape to tend to. There were two presentations about things which made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever--processes and procedures and acronyms by the bundle describing who knows what. What's an HCL? I didn't ask. How about an ARC? I am clueless.

The one thing I thought might need my attention was the speaker who said we had to submit our WebCT forms by 4 o'clock today. I wrote down on my notebook, "submit WebCT form." I had no idea what it was.

At lunch, I approached the chair and asked her what the hell a WebCT was. She was with faculty, and they laughed--nobody had thought to bring that up, and it was apparent that I was quite out of it.

Well, a WebCT is some sort of program which allows you to teach over the internet. The quizzes and tests are given on the web, as are many of the readings. The newest WebCT program, I found out, even prevents students from writing emails and chatting online while they are in class.

I guess I won't be using the WebCT for one semester of classes. I'll just do it the old fashioned way for now, although I do see how it will be convenient.

However, I asked the group--may I force the students to shut their laptops during class? Oh yes! they replied, and they immediately gave me a rundown of what students these days try to get by with. Some of the problems: People who sit towards the front who have pornographic images on the screen of their laptop. One professor said he includes in his syllabus a prohibition of images on laptops which might offend others, and that includes, but is not limited to, pornography.

He added that he has the following rules: Cell phones must be shut off in class. Laptops must not make noises or sing songs during class. Students may not email or instant message in class. Students who talk to each other during class will be moved. He reminded me that many of the students at UMC these days are high school students taking post-secondary classes.

Plaigarism is also a problem. Students don't realize that they can get kicked out of school for copying the work of others word for word. You have to go through the trouble of putting it into your own words. If you do that, you are off scott free: Ideas can't be copyrighted. Actual sentences can.

Never mind, students don't like to do even that much work. One even argued that the original words of the writer were so unique that only they could express the ideas. He could have solved that problem by merely footnoting the work he copied, but he wasn't about to go through that trouble.

Well, this should be interesting. We'll see if any of these problems crop up. You can be sure I will report them here!


August 24, 2004

Silva Succeeds

The Twins lead the Rangers 3-2 in the eighth inning. Carlos Silva did well, although he had to leave with a cramp in his shoulder. Juan Rincon came in and got out of the inning without giving up the lead. It's a good game.

A LOUD THUNDERSTORM came through about 3:30 this morning. Crash and boom. The power blinked, which always turns on my sound system full blast. ESPN was on. Sports, sports, sports. I couldn't muster the energy to get out of bed and shut it off. The storm raged on. So did the sports.

You know, I woke up in a much better mood than usual after listening to the sports in my sleep for an hour. However, it was still a bit early--5 a.m. So, I got on the internet and wrote a long, long diatribe in this weblog. When it came time to post it, it disappeared. Server problems, it said. All of those immortal words, gone in a poof.

That's okay--I was delving into politics more deeply than I am used to here, and it was kind of a relief when it disappeared. I was commenting on the latest sleaze in the election campaign. Perhaps I will wake up tomorrow and feel similarly stirred, but I doubt it.

Not much going on at the nursery today. A few visitors. It was damp in the morning, beautiful in the afternoon, and warm. Too warm, but everybody's complaining about the cold, so I'll just tolerate it. We have to have some summer, I suppose.

Visitors from Utah--readers of this weblog, Harold and Elaine. Harold is a grandson of an old neighbor of Aunt Olla's. They had a big family reunion in Montana recently. In preparation for the reunion, somebody from the family asked Olla, the only one living with early memories of their grandparents, to write down some stories.

Well, Olla did. Fourteen handwritten pages worth. They read it all aloud at the reunion it was a big hit.

But the literary effort nearly finished Olla off. I asked her why she didn't make a copy of the epistle before she mailed it. She said it was all she could do to crawl to the mailbox and put it in before she dropped dead.

Anyway, Harold and Elaine were delightful. I had heard a lot about his Grandpa Gust from Olla. Harold's Aunt Esther married my great-uncle Roy Bergeson, so there is a family connection.

Harold remembers old Grandpa Gust taking him to visit the nursery in the mid-1940s. "Let's go see what Melvin is up to," he said of my Grandpa. Grandpa had moved from Twin Valley to Fertile with Grandma in 1937 to start the nursery on her homeplace, and I think people back on his old stomping ground thought he was a little nuts.

He was, but it worked.


August 23, 2004

Santana makes it look easy

For once, things worked out as planned: I looked forward all day to watching Johan Santana pitch tonight, and that is what I have done tonight--watch him mow down the Texas Rangers. For you non-baseball fans, Santana's recent streak of good pitching has been favorably compared to any streak ever, including the best streaks put together by the great Sandy Koufax.

Of course, many pitchers put together streaks only to fade away forever. I remember Jim Hughes--but nobody else does. He had a big streak of good games in 1976, only to fade away forever. Roger Erickson--came up in 1978 or so and had some good games, enough to be viewed as a potential great. He faded away quickly and lingered for the next few years.

Santana looks like he'll last.

Dick Bremer just mentioned on the television that the Twins have never before had four consecutive winning seasons. Unless they utterly collapse, they will have their fourth straight winning season this year. These are good times to be a Twins fan.

GOT A CALL from the log home company today delaying the second shipment of lumber for two weeks. That's fine. There's enough here to get things started on the house if things get rolling. Seems that they are having a tough time getting ahold of three 10x12" 30' long beams for my living room. I mentioned in the last entry that I looked at those big beams and decided I was nuts. Turns out the biggest ones are yet to arrive--if they can find them.

SPENT the entire day writing the course syllabi for my classes this fall. Included on each syllabus is supposed to be a statement defining the mission of the course. Ha. "Students will be expected to memorize meaningless facts about long dead people and regurgitate said facts on an inane multiple choice exam."

Nah, I didn't say that. I am still struggling with ways to avoid having the classes end up that way. But that is what history courses can turn into if you aren't careful.







Cool Sunday in August

I do love this weather. I am not one for heat. I get allergies about August 20 each year, and they happen all of a sudden. The tickling and sneezing kicked in last Thursday evening. However, the cool weather makes things a lot more bearable. If it were hot, I would be too drugged on antihistamines to write.

I am getting restless to start on the house--the cool weather makes me think that fall is coming fast. Of course, we are still right on schedule. No worries yet. The slab should be poured in the next couple of weeks, and then we're good to go.

I look at the beams and such laying in the Morton building and realize that I am probably crazy. Everybody takes such an interest in the project. I am providing entertainment for an entire neighborhood, apparently. I am sure that there are some snickers at my swamp castle.

My only qualms at building relate to money. The thing is going to cost more than I thought. Much more. And I probably could have cut some costs if I had been more circumspect about the design instead of just saying I want this, I want that, I want another window here, another window there, I want a beam here, I want posts here, I want a cathedral ceiling, and so on. And none of those ugly electric poles!

But money aside, it is fun, fun, fun. I love to dream and build. It is an exquisitely satisfying form of misery.





August 22, 2004

Shopkeeping

Spent the day yesterday manning the store. Several dozen people came to view the gardens. Some bought a few plants of the few remaining for sale. Others simply had questions. In between customers, I worked on my classes. It was a good way to pass a cool, fall-like day.

Talked to a farmer whose soybeans got burnt by frost two nights ago. He figures they are a total loss. He gave numbers: Crop insurance will pay $100 per acre. However, seed costs about $30 per acre (if you use Round-up ready seed), cash rent $50 per acre, and they put about $35 per acre of spray on this year--so they're still going to be underwater even with the insurance payment. That's neglecting the cost of the insurance premium. I don't know how much that is per acre.

Bad news, since the whole area is relying inordinately on soybeans this year. The price was good last year, so there are soybeans everywhere.

The gardens somehow escaped frost. Just a few plants got touched out of the thousands out there.

The Fertile Hill, where F-E-R-T-I-L-E is spelled out in pink impatiens, lost all the blooms to frost. It looked better than it had in 15-20 years this year--Dad took over the project and juiced the plants with ammonium sulphate and superphosphate. We'll see if they come back. At least we know what to do next year to make them look good.

Grandpa started the Fertile Hill project over 50 years ago. The hill on the south end of town was quite sunny all day at the time, and Cherokee Rose Petunias flourished there. As the trees grew larger around the beds, the sunshine diminished and the petunias didn't do as well. Since then, we have been experimenting to find something else which would work. We tried fibrous begonias, geraniums, even salvia. Finally, we settled on impatiens. They have done okay, but didn't really flourish until this year when Dad did his thing with the fertilizer.

TWINS 8, CLEVELAND 1: I looked forward all day yesterday to sitting in my recliner and watching the Twins. When I got home, I discovered that they had played in the afternoon. Well, they won, anyway--upping their lead over Cleveland to six games. Old Terry Mulholland (41 years old, one year older than I) pitched well again. It is always heartening to see the old guys do well.

WEBLOG READER Elaine stopped by the nursery yesterday--good to see you, Elaine! Elaine has had some health problems and gets around with a cane and talks about how she should cut down on her gardening--and then saw some roses in pots that she had to have.

One of the joys of the nursery business is seeing people who are suffering from the effects of age, or who have merely had a bad winter of health problems, get that firm all-business look on their face again as they see some plants that they just have to have and start picking them out.