Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

June 16, 2007

Cluster of clusters and foot-in-mouth

In the past year, I have spoken to several Lutheran woman's groups. They are called "clusters." Today, I spoke to an entire synod of clusters, which means it was a cluster of clusters.

I usually play one piano number, and then go on a monologue about Lutheran church basements and such. Before I started today, however, an older lady came up to me and asked if I would sing some Willie Nelson. I promised her I would, although I usually don't sing country in church sanctuaries. Not that I have any scruples about such a thing, but perhaps somebody present would.

So, I got to thinking, how can I explain this breach of sanctuarial etiquette? On the spur of the moment, I remembered that this Lutheran synod elected a new bishop last week, so I cracked that I'll sing this country song while the Lutherans are sort of between bishops so maybe I would get by with it.

The comment elicited a different response than I anticipated, sort of a general "Whoa!" as in, be careful young man. I thought nothing of it and plowed forward with the performance without blinking.

Until afterwards in the parking lot when I overheard one woman say to another, "Boy, I'll bet it is a tough time for the bishop." Suddenly, I realized that the distinguished man in clerical garb with a large cross around his neck sitting in the third pew was probably the recently ousted bishop, and that my crack about the church being "between bishops" wasn't a real kind thing to say with him in the audience.

Foot in mouth. Oh well. A few years ago, I would have been mortified for a day or two, but in this instance, I was mortified for a minute or so and then decided to get over it since there was nothing I could do to repair the damage, and the performance had gone well otherwise. In fact, the bishop, who I didn't realize was the bishop, had shaken my hand at the end, although thinking back, he was quite grim.


Cabin on stilts



Had the pleasure of staying in this cute cabin in the woods near Nisswa at the Grand View Resort. Inside was leather furniture and a huge jacuzzi, which I wouldn't have needed, but enjoyed nonetheless. The difference between the lakes near Brainerd and the lakes nearer to home is the tall pine canopy and the elegant understory maples, Pagoda dogwoods and ironwood.


Taguba

I am sure there will be a concerted attempt to discredit this man, despite his impeccable credentials.


June 15, 2007

Coffee

Everybody I talk to asks me right away: "Are you still off coffee?"

Yes I am. I haven't had a cup of caffienated coffee in over a month. I did have a cup of decaf this morning, and I thought it tasted awful.

I haven't completely given up caffiene, as I still like chocolate and I drink some root beer. But when I had a Coke at noon the other day, then followed it up with a root beer float at 3 p.m., and a dab of chocolate ice cream at six p.m., I was up until two in the morning, wide awake, full of ideas.

There is still that feeling of disappointment when you have to drive past a Starbuck's, as I did today in Brainerd, and you don't get to stop and spend $4 on a white chocolate mocha.


Cell phones

I have gotten some interesting responses on the column I wrote earlier this week on cell phones.

One wrote that he had spent some time in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Although it was rough, and he sent some bleak pictures of the place, he said the punishment of sending rude cell phone users there wasn't nearly harsh enough.

Another wrote that a relative of his has found a way of retaliating against people who talk loudly on cell phones about their personal matters in coffee shops. She just sits a little ways from them and starts reading out loud from her book. They usually get the point.

Although most people shut their cell phones off at the retreat this week, there were a few interruptions during the speaker. And at every break, people went out on the porch and fired up there cell phones, much as people used to go out on the porch and smoke a cigarette.


Retreat

Spent the past two days at a retreat for the board members of all six of the Minnesota Initiative Funds. The retreat was held at Grand View Resort in Nisswa.

The main speaker was a futurist named Ed Barlow. He spoke for two-and-a-half hours on the future and what the trends are. He gives over 120 speeches a year. Somebody said that he charges $8000 per appearance.

Unlike most motivational speakers, Barlow is a little, scholarly-looking man with thick glasses. He talks a blue streak. Some of his observations:


•Economic indicators are not accurate. Actual middle-class income is dropping fast.

•We are going to be very, very short of workers soon, partly because high schools and colleges aren't training students for the jobs that exist.

•Every child should have a laptop computer.

•If rural Minnesota towns don't come up with a reason to exist pretty soon, we'd just as well plow everything up and plant corn.

•Retirees who come back to rural areas aren't much of an asset because they aren't working, so they aren't engaged in productive activity, and they tend to vote against all tax increases, which forestalls improvement in education and infrastructure. (Barlow's plenty old, so he got by with saying this.)

•We're kicking out talented immigrants who want to stay. (People from Rochester confirmed this: Many great doctors and researchers there have such visa troubles that they eventually end up going home.)

•We're going to need the undocumented workers to keep the economy going. Take away the so-called illegals, and many ag industries simply collapse.

•The Iraq War is off the budget books, so the deficit apparently doesn't reflect those billions. (I would like to check into this one.) And the present deficit numbers are arrived at by a hopelessly optimistic system of accounting.

•The most successful region of the country right now is the Southeast. Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Kentucky. They are at the forefront of education reform and economic development.

•The Southwest of the US is going to be the new Appalachia--extremely impoverished.

•Twenty-year-olds don't go to the cities because they have a job there--they go because they want to live there. Cities are cooler. They are more diverse. Once there, they find a job. Small communities have to find a way to create cooler communities. (This observation was cute coming from the mouth of the very nerdy Barlow.)


Afterwards, we had discussions about Barlow's ideas. The discussions were good. Our board decided that it is probably our job to read up on trends and discuss them at each meeting. We'll see if we can pull that off.

One example of why we need to stay abreast: Our foundation is helping to fund a new ethanol plant. It is corn-based. There is talk now that cellulose is going to be much more efficient than corn. Cellulose comes from crops such as switch grass. We may be jumping on the bandwagon just when it is losing steam, who knows.

Generally, most of the statistics and trends we act upon are several years old. If anything, I think Barlow is going to get us to keep up on what is going on in the world on a more regular basis.

AFTER THE RETREAT today, I drove on a four-lane highway from Nisswa to Brainerd. It was very busy. It is evident that the economy around Brainerd revolves around the lakes and is booming.

The Grand View Resort is festooned with flowers, in the ground, in baskets, and in planters. Somebody said that they have a truck which comes each week and drops off new flowers to replace ones that have died, or that the deer have eaten.

They replace the flowers in the planters and get all new hanging baskets three times per season. (I am seeing dollar signs.) The resort has a total of six hundred workers, at least some of them foreign.


June 14, 2007

Kids

Yesterday, I performed in front of 180 kids between the ages of 5 and 11 years old at the Crookston Library. The occasion was the kick-off of a summer reading program run by my dear first grade teacher, Mrs. Wick.

I get more nervous before speaking to kids than anything. They are in a different world, one that I am not used to. Sometimes I can get on their level and have fun, other times it just goes clunk.

Before it began, I was talking to a couple of boys in the front. I asked them, what is the name of this group?

One little boy said, "It is Kid's Club!"

But his buddy corrected him: "It is actually day care," he said very seriously. "But if they called it that, nobody would sign up, so they called it Kid's Club."

Afterwards, a beautiful little girl came up to me and asked me about where I went to school and if I had gone to many different schools. Well, she had gone to this school, that school, then another school, now with Mom, then with Dad, and she stopped and then sneered as if she hated every syllable of the words: "visitation rights!"

She paused and said, "I just wish they were together."

AFTER THE LIBRARY I drove three hours to Nisswa for a retreat for all of the Initiative Funds in Minnesota. I am housed in a beautiful cabin in the woods, on stilts in a ravine. Pretty palatial. Leather furniture. Four-seat jacuzzi which I won't use.

We are at the Grand View Lodge, one of the Brainerd area's historic resorts. It is quite amazing. I will take some photos and post them when I get home. They must have an entire greenhouse is which to raise all of the hanging baskets and planters that are placed around the grounds.

OF COURSE, you can be at a resort in the northwoods getting away from it all and still get 150 cable channels, including Fox North, so I did get to see Carlos Silva complete his shutout last night. And I do have wireless internet, so I can post on my weblog and get email.

You wouldn't really want to get away from it all.


June 12, 2007

More Torii

Here's more on Torii Hunter's loquaciousness. I do think his efforts to increase the number of black baseball players are noble. I do not think he needed to wade into the Joe Mauer situation.

I guess I think that you just shouldn't feed the media hounds any red meat. I'll never forget when the Twins were going good in Tom Kelly's last year. All of a sudden, LaTroy Hawkins makes a snotty comment about his contract to the press. It gets blown up. He's making millions already so complaining wasn't very becoming. And the cancer of discontent spread throughout the clubhouse, either with management for their tight-fistedness, or with Hawkins for going to the press.

The Twins lost steadily for a month and ended up way out of it. Some people with the Twins at the end of the season pointed to the Hawkins incident as the moment which cracked the team's morale.

So, I think Hunter should just shut up during the season. If he wants to write a tell-all book after the season, fine. But he's getting $10 million per year to play ball. He can well afford to be a good soldier as well.

I feel a bit odd writing that, since I have usually been a bit outspoken.

In fact, I got burned once doing just what Hunter does repeatedly. I was working as an associate editor of the Dakota Student newspaper at the University of North Dakota. I was hired by the editor based on a single letter-to-the editor I had written, and the fact that he wanted a non-journalism major on staff.

We were like oil and water. He liked to stay at the office until 7 a.m. the night paper was due; I wanted to tie things up by ten p.m. I liked to write subtle, sarcastic editorials, and he liked to club people over the head.

However, I didn't say anything at all. Until it came to a head.

The editor asked me to write an editorial about the editor of the Bismarck Tribune, a hapless man named George Moore who was crusading to end what he called "taxpayer-financed sex" on campus. In other words, he was upset that men could visit women's dorms at any time day or night.

His daughter went to UND at the time, and I suspect those family issues had something to do with his using page after page of his newspaper to rail against the open dorm policy.

I saw a fat target and went after him with both barrels. I finished my editorial at about 10 p.m. I went home.

The next day, when the paper came out, I was appalled to see that underneath my article the editor had put in a suggestive and tasteless reader's poll in which people were to send in ideas which sex toys we should send Mr. Moore as a gift. It looked for all the world as if I had invented the poll. In fact, my name was on the whole thing.

I was furious. The Grand Forks Herald called right away the next morning, before I had a chance to talk to the editor. The reporter really pinned me down. Is this appropriate? Do you really think this is constructive?

I made a mistake. Instead of saying "no comment at this time," I said, wait a minute lady, I had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with that stupid poll. I would not have agreed to it had I known it was going to be published, and I would have withdrawn my name from the editorial.

Naturally, she wrote up a big article headlined "Dissension at the Dakota Student; assistant editor disavows editor's decision." The editor was furious with me, as he should have been.

I resigned. What else could I do? And I didn't regret it. The hours were too long, anyway.


Hunter does it again

Blogger Howard Sinker, a former sportswriter for the Star Tribune, writes that he wants to hear what ballplayers, in particular, Torii Hunter, have to say about various issues.

Hunter has recently publicly criticized Joe Mauer's pain threshold. He also questioned baseball's decision to let a bunch of ballplayers--and not just one special ballplayer from each team (read: Torii)--wear Jackie Robinson's number on the anniversary of the day Robinson broke the color barrier. Hunter has also openly speculated on where he might want to play next year.

Torii runs at the mouth. I hope his teammates can take him with a sense of humor. I somehow suspect that his "team leader" persona makes Morneau and Mauer quietly gag, particularly when Hunter says things to the press which could do nothing but sow discord.

Hunter has always made me wince. Yes, he can play centerfield (much better this year than last year), and yes, he has turned into quite a hitter, and yes he steals a base every now and then, but couldn't he just resist the urge to feed reporters like Sinker the psychobabble-drivel they so love to hear?


Pileated



June 11, 2007

Heat

It took until June 11 to get the first real heat of the season. And boy, did it hit today.

Nothing ends the planting season more quickly than heat. Today, we have had just a handful of customers at the nursery. You can feel things turning the corner into summer. Our hours shorten today to a more reasonable 8:30-5:00, although I am sure some stragglers will come in after closing.

What I really feel like doing is sitting semi-comatose in the crow's nest and watching birds. Despite the wind and the heat, the Baltimore orioles, the goldfinches, the red-winged black birds and several shorebirds have been active today. The swans are back on their nest. Mama merganser flies in and out of the swamp, although I seldom see her enter the hole in the tree where I suspect she was trying to nest.

It is difficult to find much enjoyment in the Twins when they are losing to losing teams like the Washington Nationals. Santana lost again. Silva lost again. I don't think I'll watch until they show signs of turning things around.


June 10, 2007

Babies!



This picture at dusk from the crow's nest is of low quality, but it records a happy event: The first processional of the baby swans across the swamp! Until this evening, I didn't know if there was a hatch. I was following Mama and Papa's heads with the binoculars as they cruised through the grass towards the open water, and what a great surprise when three little ones appeared with them. Not as good a hatch as the past two years, but lots of fun nonetheless.