Archive - 2013

December 29th

Miami to Mayville

Here is a great story from the Miami Herald on four Miami football players who came to Mayville State to play football. 

When I taught some college classes at Crookston, I had in class several players from the inner city who were recruited to play sports at the college. I have always wondered about the ethics of bringing young players to the forlorn prairie where they are an obvious minority and as such, will generate interest, plus stares at the grocery store. I tried to emphasize that the stares weren't hostile, just curious! And the weather...the bleakness...the quiet. Wow. We may love our prairie, but it is an acquired taste. 

In the case in this article, the guys had a coach who had undergone the exact transition and could serve as a mentor. 

In my history class, I'll never forget the effervescent personality of Antione, who was from Los Angeles. He sat in the front row, called me Mr. B. and was full of conversation every day. One day he was silent. I asked what was the matter. He had just gotten a call before class that one of his buddies back in LA had been shot to death on the street. 

Different worlds. 

I had a similar "the worlds collide" experience last night. I made my weekly visit to the Guatemalan restaurant downtown Maya Quatzal. Last time I was there, the ladies gave me a care package of Guatemalan tamales (with raisins and green olives!) which served as two complete meals. But last night, the waitress (I am ashamed I haven't learned their names yet), was quiet.

The older woman, the owner and cook came out and sat down to talk. She asked what I did for Christmas. I told her about the Nelson Mandela movie. I asked what she did for Christmas. 

"Slept!" she said. She looked a little grayer than usual. 

The two work their tales off. They are the only workers unless somebody else stops by to help. 

When I got up to leave, I told the younger woman she needed to go home and rest. 

"Oh, I do," she said. She explained that she had major surgery last Monday. Removal of an ovarian cyst, and treatment of a pelvic infection. The incision was all across her abdomen. And here she was on Saturday night, waiting tables. 

"I need to be tough!" she said. "But I think it was a mistake."

However, they have no replacements. 

In the car on the way back to the house, I thought, good grief, I could wait tables in that tiny place for a day. However, I don't know all the dishes and there would be a bit of a language barrier. I looked online and to my relief, they are closed Sundays, so the woman will get a rest. 

But I might stop by there tomorrow. 

What different realities exist right under our privileged noses!


December 26th

Mandatory sentencing

Conservative columnist George Will nails it on the head: Mandatory life sentences for non-violent drug offenders are filling our prisons and creating thousands of needless individual tragedies. "Sledgehammer justice," Will calls it, and he is right. It is wrong. 

Long Walk to Freedom

Had a good Christmas yesterday. Drove to Scottsdale, where Cousin Tina had a good breakfast waiting. We then went to the movie "Long Walk to Freedom," the story of Nelson Mandela. It came out yesterday. 

The movie was very well done. It was factual rather than preachy. I highly recommend it. Afterwards, we had a nice Christmas meal at Tina's. While she was puttering in the kitchen, I looked through a photo book about Mandela and was struck by how incredibly much effort the film makers put in to finding actors which were doppelgangers of even the most minor characters, and creating scenes which were accurate is the smallest detail. I appreciate that kind of effort. 

As a backdrop to the sometimes painful action, the beautiful scenery of South Africa. 

Unlike some movies about overcoming oppressive regimes, the oppressors in Long Walk were presented as human beings. Eventually, Mandela's guards at the prison came to admire the man. In a dramatic move, Mandela hired his former guards as his bodyguards when he was elected president. 

The film firmly made obvious the damage done by the decades of Mandela's imprisonment. Mandela's teen son died in a car crash, and Mandela was not allowed to go to the funeral. He was allowed to write two letters per year and receive two letters per year. Those letters seldom arrived, and when they did, they were in shreds. The censors got to them first. 

Mandela had nothing to do with raising his family, obviously, and that haunted him. 

When he got out of prison, his wife Winnie, who he had been with for five years before being apart for twenty-five, was a different person. She had been thrown into solitary confinement for 17 months and was embittered by the experience. She wanted revenge, and she wanted a violent uprising. They parted ways soon after Mandela's release for reasons as political as personal, it seems. 

If you want to understand Mandela and South Africa in a nuanced way which includes his imperfections and mistakes presented without apology, this film is a must. 

If it weren't for Cousin Tina, I would never see the inside of a movie theater. The last movie I saw was last Christmas Day when we went to Les Miserables. I have a tough time sitting still that long.  

UPDATE: Cousin Tina reminds me that Lance and I saw "The Great Gatsby" last fall. She remembers which movies I have attended better than I do. 

December 22nd


Found this delicious version of Bach's Chaconne tonight. Although this piece was written for solo violin, believe it or not, it stands up well when transcribed for piano. This is probably the best piano version I have ever heard. Simply beautiful. 

The great violinist Jascha Heifetz said of this piece, "I have played it for 50 years and I still don't understand it." That's Bach. You can listen to his music over and over, played by different people on different instruments, and you still won't reach the bottom of the well. 

Here is Heifetz, in total command, as usual. 

December 20th

Duck Dynasty flap

 Facebook allows people to stay connected, but every now and then it can tear at the community fabric. People post opinions which aren’t thought out, others get offended, then a battle begins which seldom ends well. 

The recent Duck Dynasty flap, where the star of the hit cable show (which I have never seen) Phil Robertson, was suspended for an interview he gave in Esquire magazine, is an example. 

Of course, Robertson is guaranteed free speech and he can say what he wants. 

At the same time, the network, which is a private organization, can suspend him if it wants. We live in a free enterprise system. Wal-mart cans people who threaten their profits, so can A&E. 

Most likely, it is all staged. Robertson will be called back after the publicity dies down. His first show back will win record ratings, earning the network mega dollars. 

In the mean-time, Robertson, who is apparently a born-again Christian, has become a celebrated cause for right-wing Christians. We’re being persecuted again! they holler. 


The most offensive statement Robertson made was that blacks were happier under segregation. 

Folks, that is not a supportable opinion. Study your history. Segregation was ugly. In the early 1960s in Mississippi, you could be shot by a state-supported organization (The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission) for trying to vote if you were black. Fewer than 2% voted simply out of fear for their lives.

During the long battle to end segregation and to promote voting rights, many died. It is a dark period in our history, and we can never forget it. Those who flippantly assert that civil rights have “gone too far” need to study the actual ugly events of the 1950s and 1960s. 

The only people with a right to speak for blacks about the joys of segregation would be somebody black, somebody who remembers the struggle. It is a supremely racist act to suggest that segregation was positive, and it is doubly offensive coming from a white Southerner. 

Secondly, Robertson said that accepting gays will lead to, amongst other things, bestiality. I don’t have to tell you how ugly that assertion is. It is almost like the early European Christians who alleged that Jews drank the blood of infants. 

So, yes, it is fine to defend Robertson’s right to say these things. 

But it is another thing to actually agree with what he said!

So, when somebody posted “Phil Robertson for President,” and a bunch of people immediately registered their support, I was shocked. 

In the follow up, somebody said that Robertson “speaks the truth,” unlike our president.

Really? Do people really believe blacks were better off under segregation? Do you really truly believe that gays will cause bestiality? Where is your evidence for these very serious and provocative charges? 

Of course, no evidence is needed for these people. None. They operate from fear, not fact. 

What was troubling is that most of these people are nice on the face of it. They smile at you on the street. But behind the back of gay people they smile at so nicely, they are convinced that gay people are a sign of the decline of America. They believe our lives are a fraud. Who knows what they would want a President Robertson to do to clamp down. Perhaps something like they are trying to do in Uganda? 

One gay friend responded with outrage. He was greeted with the usual, “we love you but we don’t approve of the lifestyle you have chosen.”

More loaded, deeply unkind words. This “lifestyle” notion is the most offensive. My lifestyle is to work, pay my bills, contribute what I can, watch baseball, try to be nice to people, blah, blah, blah. Oh yeah, I also love Lance. Calling it an alternative “lifestyle” is to suggest something exotic is going on. It is not. It is actually pleasantly boring. 

It is part of their unkind agenda to insist that gay people have “chosen” this evil “lifestyle.” They’ll throw the word “chosen” at you whenever possible. It is part of their unkind system of dogma. You’d think the phrase was in the Bible. 

I don’t know one gay person who agrees that they chose to be gay. An actual gay person would know better than the haters whether they chose to be gay or not. As human beings, gay people deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt about what goes on in their own mind. Just as Phil Robertson has no right to speak for blacks about how happy they were under segregation, nobody is entitled to tell a gay person they chose their orientation. Others do not know. 

There are so many ways people can express their Christianity. They can be kind. They can help the poor. They can try to convert others if they want. They can make salads for Ladies Aid, for gosh sakes. 

I kind of liked that era better. 

Well, they say, you can always convert, kick the partner out of the house and join our secret salvation club—then you’ll be somebody we won’t treat like a token black friend we keep around just for evidence that we aren’t discriminatory. Since your relationships are a fraud anyway, it should be no trouble at all just to end them. 

Phil Robertson said as much. 

How very compassionate and empathetic. 

Are these people satisfied to live out their faith in their daily life? No, they are not content unless they are doing battle, meeting in secret confabs, gossiping unkindly about the very people they smile at on the street. They love to have a big, bad enemy. The liberals. Those evil people who tear down Nativity scenes. Public health nurses who put condoms on bananas. Nothing interests them but a tangible enemy. 

I will leave it to others to opine whether they are Christian at all. I believe they have become ensnared by a cult-like form of evangelicalism which has, over the past decade, increasingly sanctified hatred of The Other. They hate Obama. They hate the Muslims. They hate the homos. They hate the immigrants. They hate the educated.  

Their energies could be spent somewhere positive, but instead they rage and revel in their apparent victimhood.  

Meanwhile, the eerie contrast between the hypocritical smiles on the street and the obviously dismissive and unkind thoughts they share behind closed doors makes me feel like I have confronted a deep evil. 

I still like these people, but their actions make me ever more grateful for the deeply and truly kind people I know, people who thankfully are in much greater abundance. 


December 18th

Christmas card


Merry Christmas, everybody! From Eric and Lance.  

December 17th

The anti-Christian network

 A force for evil is identified and rightfully condemned



The windows from the glass cottage cast a rainbow on a barrel cactus. Those of you who get the Fertile Journal can read Bruce Flaig's article this week about the science behind the prism effect.  

December 16th

Nativity in our schools, cont.

Some more thoughts on the local school board's vote to reinstate a Nativity scene in the lunchroom which had been removed due to concerns about separation of church and state: 

•The writers of the US Constitution and the Federalist Papers are clear that government cannot be used to compel or favor one religion over another. This is an venerable freedom, and one well worth preserving and defending. 

•The constitutional protection of freedom of religion is meant to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority in matters of private conscience. When it comes to taxation for roads, or wars, the majority rules. However, when it comes to private beliefs, whatever they may be, the majority is to have no say whatsoever. 

•Religious groups often argue for lax enforcement of the separation of church and state––until they end up in the minority. One of the ironies about the whole debate is that the majority is so easily able to present itself as a persecuted minority, when in fact they hold sway. 

•Religious groups often try to have it both ways: They assume they are in the majority. "We know what religion we are," said one person in favor of the measure to allow the scene. "Thank you for standing up for our beliefs!" said another on Facebook, assuming that everybody they know is in the "we."

At the same time, they claim victimhood for their beliefs. The liberals are making war on Christmas!

In the local case, the popular vote was to reinstate the nativity scene. It took no electoral courage whatsoever to cast a vote that way, since probably 85% of the local population has no problem with displays of Christian religious scenes in school. 

What took courage was to stand up for the long established principle unique to this country that the minority not only has a right to believe as they wish, but is guaranteed that the power of the state will not be used to convince them otherwise. 

So, school board members Garth Kaste, Matt Erickson and Dean Rasmussen should be lauded for their unpopular, yet principled stand. 

Now, Cook Jodi wasn't trying to convert the Jehovah's Witnesses by putting up a picture. Superintendent Brian did what his position required. Neither did anything wrong. I would be truly offended if the school had called a general assembly (mandatory or not) for a religious group disguised as an anti-drug crusade, or something similar--which has happened in our area. But a nativity scene is minor, and as I pointed out below, is in my mind dwarfed by some past impositions of the religion of "we" on "them." 

Besides the constitutional issue, there is also the matter of sheer manners

When I was on a summer program once, I was eating with some friends and used the term, "I Jewed them down." Well, one of my friends at the table was an observant Jew. I felt like a fool!

Was it political correctness for me to apologize for my slur? No, just manners. And justified shame!

Let's take the example of team prayers before games, a practice I think should not happen in public school settings. (If the Oakland Raiders want to do it, fine, they are a private organization). A player is agnostic. "Well," people shrug, "he can just go somewhere else during the prayer." Not without feeling less, he can't. 

I really get torqued when people in a religious majority think it is okay to make people in the minority feel less for their private beliefs by forcing them to acknowledge their beliefs in order to adhere to them, i.e. by making them sit alone in a classroom during religious release time. Some people live to humiliate those in the minority. They think it is part of the deal. Get over it. We're in charge here. We know what religion we are. 

That's bad manners. It is wrong. And in a publicly funded setting, it is rightly prohibited. 

And it is a faith without any depth which insists upon public symbols to validate itself. I can't for the life of me imagine a diety worth his or her salt who would give a rip. 




A successful small town

And it isn't as far away as you think....