Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Common Good

(Warning: The following contains my observations on current events, which I promised myself I wouldn’t do any more.  I used to do this for a living, and with some level of success. It also left me a miserable, broken mess. I promise not to make it a habit.  It’s also a bit long, another habit I’m trying to break.  Hate the sin, love the sinner y’all.)

Its easy to get romantic about the past, especially when the subject is the state of Life in America. When reminiscing, we have a tendency to remember the good better than the bad. We long for “The Good Old Days when America was strong and free,” etc. However, politics, corruption and persecution have always fit together much like Larry, Moe and Curley. Every war has its profiteers. Every era has its staggering public corruption. Every generation has a new group of immigrants to look down on and blame for our ills. The goodness of the “Good Old Days” was certainly relative to which end of the rope you were holding. Or hanging from.

However, I know there was a time when there were leaders with genuine respect for The Common Good. It was the constitutionally ideal notion that even though people disagreed and were corrupt or disgusting, when the going got tough every faction could come together to make decisions with The Common Good in mind (“Promote the general welfare”). During WWII, even the Boss of Bosses of the New York Mob Lucky Luciano volunteered to keep the mob-controlled waterfront in New York open for shipping and closed to Nazi sabotage because while he may have been a criminal, he was a loyal AMERICAN criminal.

I believe there are still individuals who are genuine in their support of The Common Good , but some days you have to look pretty hard to find them. For the first time in my 56 years an election looms and I feel genuine fear for the future of the country. I mean really…which of our leading people and institutions can be counted on to at least try to pull our collective fannies out of the fire today?

Donald Trump? America’s Favorite Bully Con Man? In Mr Trump’s world, all that matters is Mr. Trump. Every sentence starts with “I”.  He’s used his amazing deftness with self-promotion and people’s short memories countless times to run away from his failures if it served his purposes. He’s left countless innocent people holding the bag, and before he’s done we might end up a nation of grocery packers. Trump supporters need to know that if he wins, and it serves his purposes, he won’t hesitate a second to throw you all under the Trump Bus (which burns Trump Gas and has Trump-o-matic transmission). And now the real possibility exists that he’s in cahoots with Putin, or wishes he was in cahoots, or wishes he had the dictatorial power of Putin so he could be in cahoots with somebody powerful. Cahooting with a foreign power, let alone the Ruskies, just to win an election? I wonder how that’s going down with Republican conservatives both living and dead?

Hillary Clinton? To my great surprise and begrudging admiration she put politics aside and made a remarkable turnaround as Secretary of State. She took the job seriously, worked her butt off in a time of worldwide chaos and terrorism and did not grandstand when she succeeded. She looked authentic and (god help me) Presidential. Now she speaks with all the authenticity of those Air Jordans you bought for $10 from the guy selling Chiclets on the street in Tijuana.   Writing thousands of emails on non-secure email accounts was careless and dumb.  Being evasive about any number of other scenarios rather than coming clean, admitting mistakes and moving on is dumber (see R. Nixon, 1972).  Anyone running against Mr. Trump should be mopping the floor with him.  Hill’s campaign seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Note:  Championing “The Common Good” is hard if you don’t first win the election.

Media? When I started in radio I looked at it as a sort of calling (and a way to meet girls). It was the best way I could to use my talents and skills to make my contribution to the community. Today? Before he was a lecherous sexual predator, the now resigned mastermind behind Fox News Roger Ailes demonstrated how you could totally abdicate public responsibility and the principles of fairness and balance, label propaganda as“The Truth”, yell at and demonize anyone who thinks differently, CALL it “fair and balanced” and make A LOT OF MONEY. Soon many followed suit. The liberals abdicated responsibility and TRIED playing the game from the other side, but mistakenly thought it was about changing minds rather than making money. They, of course, failed, and in the end sacrificed journalism for, well, nothing. Now we have entire generations of politicians, “journalists” and audiences for whom “The News” is nothing more than a  loud mosh pit in search of ratings.

Don’t get me wrong. I want a change from “business and usual” just as much as anyone. I’m just fearful that in a time when we all need to hang together more than ever ,we’ll all hang separately.  But those hangings will be televised, and the ratings will be GREAT!!!

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Saturday Morning Danish

My wife Joan (Petersen) is half-Danish.  Her father Norman was a first generation U.S.-born full blooded Dane, the son of Danish immigrants Rasmus and Sene Petersen who settled in Tyler, MN.  Tyler is THE Danish Minnesota town, as one trip through the town’s cemetery will attest, and on July 23 the town hosted its annual celebration of all things Danish at Aebelskiver Day.  The Aebelskiver (pronounced ABB-el-SKY-ver) is the Danish traditional spherical pancake.  It is reproduced by the hundreds and thousands this day, one at a time, each turned 3-4 times with wooden skewers as demonstrated by the enthusiastic youngster below (enthusiastic by Danish standards anyway).  “Skivers”, as the locals call them, are dee-lish by the way, especially when dipped in sugar (our favorite) or drowned in maple syrup. There were many other Danish goodies to sample and purchase, each containing the three most common ingredients of Danish baking:  Butter, butter and butter.

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While I research my family history on a granular level, Joan knows relatively little about her dad’s family.  Our goal this day was to dive into Danish culture AND see what we could learn about her family tree.  We started at Danebod, the Danish school/community in Tyler which survives as five nicely maintained museum-like buildings on the town’s south side.  We were detectives, going from person to person learning clue by clue about the Petersen Market, the family’s butcher shop/grocery (Norm’s nickname was “Butch”).  We finally hit pay dirt with Inis Nelsen (below) who not only knew Norm but worked in the store next door to the market back in the 40’s. The building housing both businesses is long gone, but she had stories to tell, both funny and warm.  Inis was a pistol by the way, and is the daily welcomer at Danebod.  Stop by and see her your next time through Tyler.

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Our final stop was at the Tyler Cemetery.  You’ve never seen so many “S-E-N”‘s in your life.  Dozens of gravestones labeled Petersen, Hansen, Jensen, Larsen, Olsen and on and on is dizzying, and thank Ooinn (look him up) for the cemetery map.  After some more sleuthing under a boiling sun we found  Rasmus and Sene, a humble stone marking their final resting place, not unlike so many granite monuments to hundreds of men and women who braved overseas travel from Denmark with dreams of both recreating home and finding opportunity in the new world.  They had a nice, shady spot, which both they and we were thankful for.

We came, we saw, we learned and we Skiver’ed.  Skoal!

 

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The Best

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls.  Feast your eyes on THE BEST SWEET CORN IN THE WORLD, grown on the sand prairies near the Mississippi River town of Kellogg, MN and purchased at a roadside stand in Plainview, MN one hour after being hand-picked.  The only thing which could make it any better is a drenching in Plainview Creamery Grade AA Sweet Cream Salted Butter.

The older I get, the fewer things I know for sure.  On this day I know four things to be undeniably true:

  1.  People hate change.
  2. It’s never too cold for ice cream.
  3. There’s always room for a piece of pie.
  4. To get the absolute BEST sweet corn on the Planet Earth, you must make the pilgrimage to Wabasha County, MN. Anything else is second-best.

 

Engineers Are The Smartest People

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I’ve said for years that engineers are the smartest people.  That’s not meant to minimize the intelligence and gifts given to the rest of us.  The genius of the world’s great musicians, artists, mathematicians, etc. are undeniable.  However, the best engineers combine many of these products of intelligence to solve problems and design and fabricate solutions which are both functional and beautiful.  The best engineers can diagnose problems and fix them with whatever he or she has at hand, exhibiting the ability to reimagine, repurpose and improvise.  The best engineers combine the skills of the artist, the craftsman, the mathematician and any other number of creative talents to not only solve problems but do it with style.

My opinion is biased by the fact that some of the best engineers I’ve ever met never set foot in an institution of higher learning.  More specifically, many of the best engineers I’ve ever met were farmers, or those who grew up in rural or isolated situations.  When you have a physical problem that needs repair and you’re 25-100 miles away from the nearest hardware store, the creative cream which rises to the top might be covered in Key Brand bib overalls.  And if you are lucky enough to get a farm kid who also has the benefit of a quality formal engineering education, you’re living life in the express lane.

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If you’re not following me, there’s no better exhibition of  engineering form and function than the output of the golden age of farm machinery.  I attended the 2016 Granite Iowa Threshing Bee on Friday, July 15 and took the following photos.  It isa in many of these machines, most 50-100 years old, where practical problem-solving, craftsmanship and physical beauty and style came together. I thing vintage farm machinery is every bit as beautiful as a great painting or sculpture while also performing back-breaking work which before invention left them less time for appreciation of the other artistic creations of human beings.

I am biased of course, and you could make solid arguments for those in other disciplines being smarter.  In any case , enjoy these works of both art and engineering from farming’s golden age.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           IMG_1575.JPGIMG_1582.JPGIMG_1586.JPGIMG_1589.JPGIMG_1598.JPGIMG_1600.JPG

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Loss, Honor and Rememberance

It’s been said we all reach a point where life takes away more than it gives.  I try not to think of things in those terms, but I admit it’s been tough of late to keep on the sunny side of life.  Technically I’m unemployed, but my job these days is taking bad news telephone calls, looking up obits online, traveling to funerals, consoling friends and  working to keep fond memories and the love of survivors above the pain.

If I’ve been reminded of anything over the last six weeks or so, it is to make every effort to get together with the friends you love while we’re all still alive.  While Death waits for no one, and getting together to comfort each other at a time of mutual loss is perhaps a friend’s greatest responsibility, let us not forget to also come together to enjoy each other’s company just for the hell of it and while we’re still here.