November 20, 2004
Here is a picture of my favorite summer phenomenon: A thundercloud
heading to the east late in the evening after passing overhead. This picture was taken at Lakeview Resort on Maple Lake last July.
A few minutes later, as Lance and I drove around the lake and faced the other direction, we came across this sunset scene
along Eastside park. The sunset was gorgeous, but the play of the sun on the water
was beautiful as well. This was one day after I got my new Canon Rebel, so I was clicking away like there was no tomorrow. Every now and then, the elements provide some grand theater.
Yesterday was a fun day in the classroom. Odd, you just can't predict when lectures will go well and when they will flop. I felt blase going into the day, and then things just worked out. The students were in a pretty peppy mood, for the most part.
We started the Civil War in American History with the first shots at Ft. Sumter. It helped that I pulled some books off the shelf and read up on some of the more interesting details. The textbooks, with their one-paragraph-per-major-event approach miss all the interesting stories.
In World Civilization, we talked about the aftermath of the reign of Genghis Khan. He split his empire amongst his four sons, and they immediately started fighting each other and everybody else.
In American Government, I assigned them to write a letter to somebody--anybody--who could do something about a problem of their choosing. This struck a chord. One girl is angry about the 30 mile-per-hour speed limit on a long stretch of abandoned highway near her home. Another wants to legalize marijuana. Another is angry over cops who stop kids with tinted windows on their car. Another got arrested and was humiliated that his name was in the paper before he was convicted of the crime.
There are several students who are trying to wake up. They realize that they are flunking, and suddenly they are coming to class and reading and working hard. I like to see that. Others, who got good grades early on, are fading. A few have been steady throughout.
AT LUNCH, I normally hide in a back room of the cafeteria, but that back room was in use for a meeting, so I sat in the student section and was immediately joined by two students from Africa. We had a great conversation.
One student was here on political asylum from Liberia, where there has been civil war for the past several years. Another, from Uganda, joined his father here after being apart for 15 years--his father had fled from Idi Amin in the 1980s.
They talked about how much they love to watch American politics. "That Constitution of 1787, man, that thing is a-MAZ-ing," said the one. I have been trying to tell my students the same thing.
They talked, with a tinge of despair, about the problems in Africa. Various countries try democracy and they try written constitutions, but because the leaders get greedy and power hungry--when it comes time for them to leave office, they junk the constitution so they can stay on and keep enjoying the luxurious life.
The one student talked about how difficult it would be to get a car into Liberia--you'd have to pay as much money in bribes as you would have to pay for the car. The officials almost have to take bribes because in all likelihood, they haven't gotten a paycheck from the government in two years.
November 18, 2004
The last day in paradise?
The weather is threatening to turn tomorrow--but today was perfection. I went to town about sunset and snapped some pictures, including this one of the drugstore building's brick facade
I don't know if this building was built with Fertile bricks or not. For those of you not familiar with the history of Fertile, the town used to have a brickyard. In fact, the great-grandfather of my carpenters, the Kronschnabels, founded it.
We finished filling the trays for next year's greenhouse crop today. Boy, were we lucky that the weather held out this long. It is frustrating to get the plastics companies to ship us the trays in the fall, as most greenhouses don't fill their trays until spring. Thus the delay. We were waiting for the truck to come in.
It took us one-and-a-half days of work to fill some 6,000 trays. That isn't bad. The yard is full of neat pallets of filled pacs--and boy do they look pretty. Once the pacs are filled and the trees are dug, we can have winter.
The Kronschnabels have started shingling the house. By the weekend, the loft should have a solid roof--which means the floor of the loft won't get rained on again. Things are moving along, and it is all fun.
This isn't really fall. It is pre-winter. The leaves fell off long ago. Every day of nice weather we have right now is a day subtracted from winter. So far, this November has been absolutely grand.
DAD is going in for hernia repair surgery in the morning. He likely popped a sidewall while pulling trees. I have had the same thing, so I know how much fun that is. Back when I had the surgery, they actually let you stay overnight in the hospital. Dad will be home in time for supper, although I am sure he won't be feeling too chipper. I hope the surgery is as routine as they make it sound.
November 16, 2004
Here is today's photo: A picture of the Golden Gate Bridge
taken last January. Greg, a buddy from the baseball trip a summer ago, spent a day giving me a tour of the Bay area. This picture was taken from Golden Gate Park, a former military outpost.
In World Civilization class, we are studying Ghenghis Khan tomorrow. He perfected a nasty form of warfare which killed millions in the territories he conquered from the Black Sea to Korea.
The Khans captured China. During the time of Mongol rule, China's population was cut in half. Entire ethnic groups were completely wiped out by the Khans. The Mongols built enormous pyramids out of their victim's heads.
I had not known the extent of their butchery.
For all the reading I have done about the Civil War in the past few years, when it comes time now to teach it to my American History class, I am somewhat at a loss. The first chapter on the Civil War--which I just read in 25 minutes--covers material which takes 300 pages in most books on the topic.
I have a flood of details in my head about the Civil War--but they aren't organized. I have no one theory about the War around which I could organize my thoughts. In fact, my view of history is that it is influenced by great personalities; I would prefer just to make a study of the virtues and faults of the participants.
U. S. Grant: A drunk who saw the brutal truth. The other side will run out of men. A battle in which both sides lose 10,000 men is more a victory than a battle which kills 5,000 men on each side, if only because the South can ill afford to lose 10,000 men and the north can replace them in a hurry.
Lincoln: Mysterious, savvy, depressed, absolutely brilliant in his politics, always able to see the forest for the trees, intellectually complex yet fond of crude jokes, sometimes childlike, sometimes morose, inscrutable, capable of endless delay, able to weigh moral imperatives against political reality with a deftness never before seen.
Sherman: Brutal, brilliant, depressed. McClelland: A pompous ass. Robert E. Lee: Brilliant, courtly, loyal to Virginia but anti-slave. Phillip Sheridan: One of the best. If the war would have gone on, he might have risen to the top.
But my knowledge is reading knowledge--not lecturing knowledge. I am going to go dig in the books, but I am afraid I have a ways to go before I can make the Civil War interesting to undergraduates.
Christian Guzman signed with the Washington team, which is moving from Montreal and is thus still called the Expos. It was a pleasure to watch him play shortstop this year. He had a great year in 2001 as well. Somehow, though, he lacks the drive to use his tremendous physical talents. I wouldn't mind seeing him get it together and succeed--he could be an inspiring ballplayer--but I fully agree with the Twins' decision to let him go.
The Twins have a good shortstop in Nick Punto. He is a fireplug. He broke his collarbone last season, so wasn't heard from later on--but he would make a decent #2 hitter. He plays like he's obsessed. That sort of Pete Rose attitude can make up for lack of natural talent.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports today that shortstop Christian Guzman is prepared to sign with the Chicago White Sox.
Last year at this time, I would have said good riddance. Guzman seemed incapable of playing hard. He was moody. Just when he looked like he was getting it in gear, he would slack off, make a stupid error, fail to lay down a bunt.
This year, he seemed to grow up. He played a very steady shortstop. His range was very good. His arm was back in shape after an injury two years ago.
More importantly, it seemed that manager Ron Gardenhire had finally figured out how to motivate Guzman to improve. There was that look of a tamed but determined tiger on Guzzy's face this year, replacing the angry rebel look of the past two years.
Now Guzman is going to the White Sox--where they have an entire teamful of angry, surly, moody, pouty adolescents. This is the worst possible career move for Guzman. He will be surrounded by teammates even less mature than he.
Crafty Twins general manager Terry Ryan probably knows what he's doing. He is pretty good at letting players go who need to be gone--all while creating the appearance that he tried to keep them. Guzman, however much he's improved, is probably too expensive.
On the surface, Ryan might be expected not to let an important player go to a division rival like Chicago. However, knowing Guzman and knowing the White Sox, there is the possibility that they will bring out the worst in each other--making Ryan, once again, look like a genius.
November 15, 2004
Big thundercloud from July
Here is a picture I took last July just west of my house. I saw the enormous thunderhead
out my window on a Sunday evening and jumped in my pickup to take a picture. Warning: It a larger photo, so it will take a bit to download.
Read from my books and played a little piano at the Fosston Arts center this evening in a benefit for the Fosston Library. Nice crowd. It went quite well--and I sold over 40 books! That alone is enough to make one's day.
In other news, somebody forwarded the column I wrote last night around to their own email list and whoa, did I get told off! One person wrote that he wished that I would just shut up and choke myself on pork raised with his urban liberal tax dollars. He added that the uneducated rural folk like myself are probably feeling guilty for the disaster we have brought down on the country and are trying to deflect blame.
Angry urban liberals are going to alienate the 40% of rural people who DID vote for Kerry with their rantings about rural morons. I get the feeling they are finally feeling free to express an contempt they have held for a long time for those different from themselves.
I have sensed such contempt when I go to Minneapolis and talk to true urbanites. How can you live out there? What do you do for excitement? What is there to do for entertainment? How can you stand it? As I answer, they drift off into boredom. Or else their circuitry overloads and an error message comes across their forehead.
Yes, we've got some closed minded sorts out here in the country. But they aren't nearly as arrogant as the urban provincalites.
November 14, 2004
Spent some time shopping at Menard's today. I was looking forward to looking around to get ideas for the house, although the only thing I was planning to purchase was a wire brush.
Well, after I found the wire brush, it wasn't long before I got dizzy and sort of spacey from the flourescent lights. They drive me nuts!
Same thing at SuperTarget, Hope Depot and any other huge store with those blue lights--I get completely screwed up, even nauseated, after about 10 minutes.
I know I am not the only one who hates those lights. Sometimes wearing a baseball cap has helped. Today, I didn't have one along, so I tried sunglasses--but I couldn't see very well wearing them inside.
A store which had a friendly lighting system would have my business right away.
Well, the steel brush--a round one I attached to a hand-held grinder--worked wonders with the wood beams. It cleans the wood surface up good and at the same time makes it look very naturally aged. I spent a couple of hours grinding on one beam. Just about finished two sides of one of the 30-footers. That'll give me something to do this winter after classes finish.
Here we are, mid-November, no snow, and a beautiful warm day today. I took a couple of pictures for those of you who don't live around here. They were taken along Highway 102 between Fertile and Crookston.
The first is of what I thought was an old town hall. It is not, however. It may be an old general store. If any of you know what this building
was, please let me know. It is in Onstad township, but the actual Onstad Town Hall sits just a few hundred yards away.
I love lone trees. I spotted this one
this afternoon on Highway 102. These are the muted colors of a snowless November in northern Minnesota.