May, 2013 browsing by month


#726 – Dick Bernard: A Most UNholy Trinity

Friday, May 31st, 2013

NOTE to regular readers at this space: there are some interesting responses at the end of the post on 42, here.

Last Sunday was the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity in the Catholic Church.

I’m lifelong Catholic, and as usual I was at Mass at Basilica last Sunday. (For those interested, the readings were: 1 PRV 8:22-31, 2 ROM 5:1-5 and JN 16:12-15)

Explaining the doctrine of the Trinity seems always to be a difficult task: how do you take a doctrinal belief – “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” as we learned it – and make into something understandable.

Our Priest, retired, a regular celebrant for us, did a pretty decent job simplifying the belief into a series of human relationships: parent-child; sibling-sibling; general relationship to all that surrounds us – Father, Son, Spirit. At least, that is how I heard his message, and I listen pretty carefully to sermons, good, bad or indifferent.

I have no beef with beliefs. We all have them, about any number of things.

But there are limits, and from time to time I run into abuses.

And shortly before I knew last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, I was thinking about another very unholy Trinity: “Truth”, Belief, and Power.

Perhaps this started a week or two earlier when I stopped by the ND Church where I had been confirmed in 1955.

Outside was a well kept sign announcing facts about the Church. Here’s the church and the sign.

(click to enlarge)

North Dakota Catholic Church April 16, 2013

North Dakota Catholic Church April 16, 2013

In the display area of the sign – you can just make it out at the bottom – was this phrase:
Have you read my bestseller?
There will be a test.

I wondered who authorized this “quote”. I presume the “bestseller” is the Bible, and I wondered what questions the writer would have on the “test”, and what the correct answers might be.

But mostly, I wondered, what presumptions did the writer make about what “God” believed, or even was. Everything about God is, after all, a belief, too.

I went on my way and reached my destination and the next day went to daily Mass with a valued relative in the nearby Catholic Church. The Priest, who is a person I like a lot, gave an earnest sermon very heavy on what he felt was “truth”.

By itself, that would have passed over, but a couple hours earlier I’d read a rather strange comment in the May 17, 2013 Fargo Forum: the headline read “[ND Congressman] Rep. Cramer links abortion, school shootings in speech“.

Now, that grabbed my attention. Turned out it was at commencement exercises at a Catholic College in Bismarck ND and “in an interview…Cramer said he was trying to convey a message centered on speaking the truth about today’s culture.”

What the Representative was really speaking about was his belief about what truth might be (or, more cynically, what he hoped his listeners would translate into votes for him next election). Worse, he was speaking from a position of temporal power: the single Congressperson for an entire state, professing to act for 700,000 or so citizens.

Visit over, I came home, mulling this whole topic over in my mind. Belief, Truth, Power is a horrible combination, including for the ones temporarily holding temporal (or religious) power.

At least, mostly, as reflected by the fine Priest at Mass last Sunday, on matters like the “Most Holy Trinity”, even my very fallible Church accepts that beliefs are just that: beliefs beyond clear and certain understanding.

But there are no end to the examples of this Unholy Trinity in our contemporary society, including within the powerful in my Church’s hierarchy.

To the person who put up that sign suggesting God’s command to the reader; to the folks obsessed with exercising temporal power to impose their beliefs, and declare what absolute “objective” “truth” is; I wish all of them would be dismissed for what they are. Charlatans and frauds.

Oh, how I wish.

#725 – Dick Bernard: Sheroes

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

May 20 a massive tornado devastated Moore OK. Two elementary schools were in the path of the tornado, and in the wake of the storm the heroism of school employees in shielding their children was deservedly high-lited. The same thing occurred in the wake of the horrific Newtown CT carnage in December, 2012. There, too, teachers who were killed by the assailant gave their lives protecting their charges.

“Weren’t nuthin”, they might all say in unison. In times of crisis one of the natural human emotions – to protect the more vulnerable – kicked in. Oh, they could have fled, too, but they didn’t. Because these were elementary schools, and elementary school teachers are ordinarily mostly female, the heroes were women. And they were deservedly celebrated for their heroism.

A few days prior to the Moore tragedy I had been to Coon Rapids for the annual Recognition Dinner of the Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, the union representing the teachers in Minnesota’s largest school district. I had been part of Anoka-Hennepin from 1965-82, both as teacher and as union staff; and since 1999 the union has always had its annual event, which I try to attend every year.

The dinner is a brief interlude in a long year to celebrate the good people who stand up and stand out in their commitment to their colleagues and to public education generally. It is always uplifting.

This May 15, one of the first people I ran into was Joan Gamble, a lady I had first met in the mid-1960s when we both taught Junior High School in Blaine.

Joan and I didn’t know each other well; she taught 7th grade Life Science, and I, 8th grade geography.

But schools are their own communities and in assorted ways people become familiar.

Joan hadn’t been to many of these annual Union gatherings, so it was a good chance to catch up, and we sat together at the same table.

Dinner over, the program began and President Julie Blaha announced that there were, this year, three recipients for the “Lifetime Achievement Award”, an annual award given to people who have made a difference. The names were not on the program.

The first Award was granted, then the Second.

The third Award was, the President announced, to Joan Gamble, the lady seated to my right.

(click to enlarge)

Joan Gamble, May 15, 2013

Joan Gamble, May 15, 2013

Joan, Julie announced, was the first woman to be President of the Anoka-Hennepin Education Association back in 1975-76, and it was during her active time in the Association that women everywhere were standing up for their rights: little things like maternity leave, etc., etc., etc. It was not a kind and gentle time. To change the status quo is never easy. The task to fell to quiet, powerful witnesses, like Joan, who did the work of making a difference.

Gentle, quiet Joan Gamble, who I knew both as classroom teacher, and as Association President and active Association member back in the 60s and 70s, was finally being recognized for being the “shero” that she was – blazing a trail for other females, including Julie Blaha.

Sitting at the table I looked at the list of other retirees like myself who were in attendance May 15. There were numerous other women who in various ways had “stepped up to the plate” when hard things needed doing, and they did them: People like Darlene Aragon, Dee Buth, Linda Den Bleyker, Sue Evert, Betty Funk, Kathy Garvey, Julie Jagusch, Vick Klaers, Sandy Longfellow, Kathryn Pierce, Linda Riihiluoma, Laura Schommer, Kathleen Sekhon, Sandy Skaar, and Kathy Tveit.

There were men on the list too, of course, slightly less than half.

But this was a day to celebrate the positive accomplishment of women, following in the difficult footsteps of many other women in history who said “it’s time for a change”.

It was great seeing you Joan, and all.

Again, Congratulations.

Mark McNab, Vicki Klaers, and Joan Gamble, lifetime achievement awards May 15, 2013

Mark McNab, Vicki Klaers, and Joan Gamble, lifetime achievement awards May 15, 2013

#724 – Dick Bernard: Memorial Day

Monday, May 27th, 2013
U.S. flag at Hennepin County Government Center, May 7, 2013

U.S. flag at Hennepin County Government Center, May 7, 2013

“I decided to ask about the flag. The first person, a receptionist answering the phone, had no idea why the flag was there; the person to which I was first referred had no idea either. The third person I talked to said the flag had been there for years, and had been put up in the wake of 9-11-01: “they had to do something“, she said.”

Memorial Day is an important day for me. I almost always participate in some way. For the last ten years or so, you can find me at the grassy area adjacent to the Vietnam Memorial on the State Capitol grounds in St. Paul (9:30 this morning). Normally there will be about 50-100 there; the original organizer and many of the participants are Vietnam War vets (I’m a Vietnam era Army vet – I didn’t realize that at the time, 1962-63, but I was). The sponsoring organization is Veterans for Peace, a group I’ve long belonged to for many years.

This morning will be a somber, gentle time. There’s “open mike”, and almost certainly someone will pop up to defend war, and we’ll listen respectfully.

It’s that kind of bunch.

Almost certainly, a few feet away from our site, right after we adjourn, the more military remembrance of Memorial Day will take place, uniforms, martial music and the like. This is also a tradition.

The observances are the same, but very separate, marking unity and disunity….

Over 100 miles north of here at Big Sandy Lake, today, my 92-year old friend, Lynn Elling. and his family will dedicate a place for the ashes of his beloved spouse of 68 years, Donna. Donna died last June, and it was a family decision to bury her ashes on this weekend, near their lake cabin.

Lynn, a Naval officer in the Pacific in both WWII and the Korean War, became and remains a lion for Peace, becoming a regular protestor during the Vietnam War and a very large presence for alternatives to War, especially related to Law Day May 1, and Peace Sites. Perhaps a culminating event for him was two weeks in Vietnam last month, with the Vietnamese orphan he and Donna adopted from My Tho Orphanage in 1973. Tod, now 43, went on this grueling excursion with his Dad, April 15-30. It was something Lynn seemed compelled to do, this year. Some of his words about the trip are written at the end of this post.

My memories of war past are quite vivid also. Quite often I remember one or another.

Most recently May 4, 2013, the first Memorial Day I remember came to mind. It was on the grounds of Sykeston ND High School, and it was Memorial Day, 1946. I remember it as a six year old. Others there would remember it differently, including my Dad, whose brother was killed on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941; or my Uncle George, my Mom’s brother, who had just months earlier returned from three years as a Naval officer in the Pacific, and taught in the high school.

There were the wooden crosses on the ground, and the traditional rifle salute. It was a never-to-be forgotten memory.

And another memory, 36 years later, November, 1982, when by chance I happened to be at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington on the weekend it was dedicated: Bernard card 1982001

That, too, is never to be forgotten.

So it goes. I could add more memories. So could you.

But the conversation needs to go on about what it is we are considering or remembering or celebrating or whatever we are doing this Memorial Day.

This is a prime time to enter, and not leave, an essential conversation of what we are about as a nation: are we a place permanently gripped by fear of possible “terror”; or are we a nation working together towards a time of peace.

If you’ve got some time, here’s a long post I read just this morning which may help bring the debate into focus. It is long, but sometimes long items are useful.

Terror, and it’s first cousins Fear and Loathing, are useful emotional hooks on which to hang the argument for perpetual war.

I think there’s a better way. Indeed, there has to be a better way, otherwise we cease to exist.

Make this Memorial Day a Memorable Day.


Some of Lynn Elling’s memories of the trip of he and his son, Tod, to Vietnam, April 15-30, 2013:

The trip that Tod and I took to Vietnam April 15-30 was an incredibly wonderful experience for both of us. The local hardware store owner, Jim Logan, lo and behold, made all of the arrangements including round trip tickets, hotel reservations, etc etc, once we knew what our basic plans were.

We took off from the Minneapolis airport on the 15th and landed in Chicago. There we had a 2 1/2 hour layover and when it was time to head for the gate the captain of our plane identified me and escorted us right ahead of everyone so we were the first to board the plane. The reason for this was that I had written to the CEO of United Airlines and told him our story, which was referred to one of his lieutenants. We were treated royally by UA during more of the flights with them.

We had a 5 hour layover in Hong Kong and got into Vietnam in the middle of the night on the 16th. The hotel was modest but very nice. Very few people, even at the hotel, could speak English but we got along okay.

We ate most of our breakfasts and some of the dinners across the street at the hotel over there–great food and more people who could speak English.

After visiting several key areas in Ho Chi Minh City, which were very impressive, we checked out after 5 days and headed south to My Tho with a cab driver that could speak English. The trip lasted about 2 1/2 hours. Again the hotel was nice and the food was good. After two days of exploring we found the Catholic Church, school and former orphanage that Tod stayed in for his first three years. The Mother Superior and two other nuns provided great hospitality and we had the opportunity to visit several classrooms. The kids went wild over Tod, sang songs and we very friendly though they only spoke Vietnamese.

In most of the areas that we visited they have very few stop signs and the traffic involved motor scooters and bikes going quite fast and carrying a number of people–even small children and babies. In order to cross the street I would hold Tod’s arm and we would start walking very slowly. We never had any problems or witnessed and accidents because they were all very careful not to come too close to us. It was a fantastic experience.

One day we went by boat out to an island in the bay and there went ashore, had refreshments and walked about 2 blocks through the jungle in the rain. We finally came to another boat landing with long, narrow canoes that had seats only about 7 inches from the hull. Can you imagine me trying to get down the stairs and finally sitting down in this boat without falling in the river? I was ready to call it off but Tod said, “Dad, you’re okay. I will help you along.” So I started down the slippery slope, wondering if that might be the end of our trip, but I made it. We took off with 3 other passengers and a female paddler in the front and a male paddler in the back. We went through the jungle and expected to see crocodiles and other wildlife. This is where the Americans fought the Vietnamese during the war and the Vietnamese had a substantial edge. Again, this was a great experience.

UPDATE 11:30 a.m. May 27
Veterans for Peace at Minnesota Vietnam Memorial

(click to enlarge)

Barry Riesch at 2013 Veterans for Peace gathering at MN Vietnam Memorial.

Barry Riesch at 2013 Veterans for Peace gathering at MN Vietnam Memorial.

Memorial organizer Barry Riesch set out to lower our expectations this morning. This and that hadn’t worked out: no musicians, guy who was going to set up the sound system hadn’t showed, etc.

I’ve been to a lot of these gatherings. Each year they’ve been better, and this year was the most outstanding one yet. Sometimes that’s how failures go….

Perhaps, tonight on Twin Cities KARE-11 news, you’ll see a snippet from the event. A cameraman spent a lot of time with us today.

Becky Lourey, whose son Matthew died in Iraq eight years ago yesterday, spoke incredibly movingly about her son and survival. During her talk she mentioned going through his duffle bags, sent home to his widow, and finding his poncho, which she took out of a ruck-sack and wore during much of her talk. She shared with all of us a recent e-mail regarding her son, sent to another of her sons. It speaks for itself: Lourey Mem Day 2013001 The website is here.

Becky Lourey May 27, 2013

Becky Lourey May 27, 2013

The event closed, as it always has, with a solitary bagpiper walking into the distance playing “Amazing Grace”.

I thought, how appropriate a time to start changing the conversation. But how difficult that will be.

In our culture, to change conversation has come to mean to win, which means someone else has to lose.

You don’t change a conversation by planting feet righteously in cement, but actually listening.

Are we up to the task?

Close of todays Memorial

Close of todays Memorial

Postnote: There was no dissenting voice today, had there been he/she would have been welcome to speak. The usual event which followed Vets for Peace didn’t happen this year. Likely it was at some other place.

#723 – Dick Bernard: 42

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Yesterday we went to the film “42“, based on the true story of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color-line in major league baseball in 1947. Eighth grade grandson, Ryan, who enjoys baseball went along, and approved.

We’d highly recommend the film to anyone. Twin Cities showtimes are readily accessible here. If not from this area, simply enter 42 in your search engine, and similar information will come up for your area.

Imperfect as race relationships remain to this day, it is difficult to imagine the hostile environment that faced Jackie Robinson when he decided to accept Branch Rickey’s offer to break through the color barrier for “America’s game” in 1946.

I was six years old at the time, and WWII had just ended, and there were black units who served with the distinction in the military. But they were segregated, and in other areas the racial division was clear and dangerous to cross.

In 1947, I lived in the middle of North Dakota, and there was no television, and as best as I can recall, no newsreels calling attention to Robinson in the very rare movies we saw. In the 40s, the closest I would come to experiencing blackness was Little Black Sambo, a popular kids book, which really related more to India than Africa, but nonetheless stereotyped black people.

So, Jackie Robinson’s story on film, as it reflected 1947, was important for me to see in person.

Robinson deserves iconic status, including the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

While I watched, I became most interested in the numerous subparts of his story: how, for just one instance, Pee Wee Reese, a well known baseball name to me as a kid, came to play a significant part in the drama of 1947; or how the non-business side of Dodgers owner Branch Rickey had a strong impact on Rickey’s crucial decision to bring up a “Negro” player to the Major Leagues.

But more than the movie story itself, I found myself thinking of vignettes from my own life that put into context the whole business of integration in this country.

Seventy-four years had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation when Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball in April, 1947.

Ten years later, in central North Dakota Sep 16, 1957, I saw Louis Armstrong and his band play a concert in person. I didn’t know till many years later that the previous night, Armstrong and ensemble were the first blacks ever to stay in Grand Forks ND’s hotel. When I saw Armstrong, the national news was concentrating on the integration of Little Rock Central High School. In fact, in Grand Forks, on television, Louis Armstrong spoke out his outrage about what was happening to those little children in Arkansas.

A few years late, in 1963, in the Army in South Carolina, I saw for the first time “colored” entrances and drinking fountains, and all sorts of machinations to make sure that the races stayed separate and unequal, even in the face of mandated movement towards equality. The story goes on and on….

My 8th grade grandson, watching yesterday, is likely only vaguely aware of the long struggle towards some semblance of equality of opportunity in this country. His generation is less likely to be taught to hate than mine.

It will probably require the death of most of my generation to create some semblance of color-blindness in our country.

In the meantime, later pace-setters who take big risks like Jackie Robinson took, depend on each one of us to be their Pee Wee Reese’s, to do some of the heavy lifting to bring meaning to the phrase “created equal”. (The original Constitution and Declaration of Independence, of course, reserve that right to White Men of Privilege and there has been over 200 years of struggle to get us to where we are today.)

I don’t think we’ll go backwards, but it will take continuing effort on our parts to help continue the move forwards to “liberty and justice for all” (from our Pledge of Allegiance).

UPDATE from Bruce, May 26: 42 is the only # in Major League Baseball that has been retired by all teams. For my money, Jackie Robinson is right next to MLK, Jr.

from Bob, May 26: I was 10 years old in 1947 and my Dad was the town team manager where I grew up in Iowa, just off the old Lincoln Highway. We had about two black families in Carroll who worked for the railroad – so I had the advantage of looking up to one of their sons who excelled in high school sports, and academically. So when I became aware of the resistance to Jackie Robinson, I was upset. In 1948 the Cleveland Indians brought up Larry Doby in center field, the first black in the American League. I could recite the entire lineup of the 1948 Indians, my favorite team because they had Bobby Feller, the heater from Van Meter, Iowa. A few years latter I traveled with a friend to visit his relatives from Cleveland, and was appalled to hear his brother-in-law spill out all kinds of racist venom with regard to the Blacks now on Indians, and also those Mexicans on the team. They had Doby in center, big Luke Easter on first and Bobby Avila at 2nd. I remain so grateful to my parents who were not racist and Dad applauded the arrival of Black players in the majors. I never heard them use the N word. There were always some traveling Black teams from the south that would come through and play local town teams. Dad was a pitcher and remembered throwing against a team who called themselves the Tennessee Rats.

I found the movie to be very moving.

From Will, May 27: I know you have an open mind on most issues so I invite you to and your readers to check a long but compelling book, “The Angela Davis Reader.”

Frome Jermitt, May 27: Dick: I believe personal experiences greatly impact most attitudes toward race, gender, religion and other values. I also saw the movie “42” with my grandson who is 13. It provided me with a wonderful opportunity to share many of my personal experiences relating to race relations with him and explain how these experiences help to mold my attitudes. Some of my experiences I shared with my grandson following the movie that had a great impact on my life included:

1. My first personal exposure to the discriminatory practices relating to race occurred in 1954 while in the Army and stationed at Camp Pickett, Virginia. Growing up in a rural community in South Dakota, I had no contact with any other race other than my own German heritage. Visiting several Virginia communities, I not only observed separate bathrooms, water fountains, barber shops, for white and black people, but intolerable behaviors of white people toward black people.

2. Teacher in an all-black intercity school in Milwaukee in the 1960’s was an exceptional learning experience for me. The learning environment for students was demoralizing at best. In my own teacher conditions, I had to teach six of seven class periods per day. My class size ranged from a low of 35 to a high of 38 students per day. The teaching materials (text and library books, science equipment and materials, etc.) , as meager as they were, were also in very bad condition. But this was all overshadowed with wonderful relationships with my students that were grounded in respect, high expectations, tolerance and humor. It created my appreciation of human dignity demonstrated by my students against odds that are not tolerated by most white cultures in the United States.

3. While teaching at this school, I had the privilege of developing a friendship with Henry Aaron. This provided me with a deeper appreciation for the challenges faced by black baseball players in the culture of baseball in the 1960’s. When Mr. Aaron was breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record, he and many family members were threatened with personal harm, creating also a psychological challenge that he had to overcome.

Even though these stories were shared with my grandson prior to this evening, he had a much better understanding of the challenges of relationships; race, religion, social status and other following our common experience of watching the movie, 42. I have often used movie scenes in working with groups to further their organizational development, because a well-crafted movie has the capacity to engage the viewer on an emotional level, and connect more readily to a concept. The power of a well-told story to advance social change is incalculable.

From Will, May 31: I may be one of the few of you who saw Robinson play, v. Cubs in Wrigley Field.

#722 – Dick Bernard: President Obama’s May 23 Speech on National Security, a day later

Friday, May 24th, 2013

I wrote before the speech yesterday. That story is accessible here.

The video and transcript of President Obama’s speech are both now accessible here. In my opinion, his speech, yesterday, was of far more than normal importance, and how the body politic deals with the abundant messages, long term, is of great importance to our country.

Two aspects of yesterdays speech were of greatest interest to me.

1. The encouragement to look forward, not backward: to truly put 9-11-01 in the past, where it belongs.

9-11-01 has been drilled into our individual and collective psyche, whether left or right or in-between or having no specific opinion at all.

Reminders of our rear-view-mirror view are not hard to find.

For just a single example: not long ago I was in the Hennepin (MN) Government Center, Minneapolis, the seat of Minnesota’s largest county. In the atrium area was an immense American flag with no signage about why the flag was there.

(click to enlarge)

U.S. Flag at Hennepin County Government Center April 12, 2013

U.S. Flag at Hennepin County Government Center April 12, 2013

I decided to ask about the flag. The first person, a receptionist answering the phone, had no idea why the flag was there; the person to which I was first referred had no idea either. The third person I talked to said the flag had been there for years, and had been put up in the wake of 9-11-01: “they had to do something“, she said.

I’m still trying to flesh out the entire story of that flag; but my point is, that the reason that flag exists has nothing to do with anything other than the shock of an event that happened almost a dozen years ago…and most likely the vast majority of people who see it have no notion whatsoever about its personal story. It may as well be hanging at half-staff….

I witnessed essentially the same backward looking devotion to 9-11-01 four years ago at the International Peace Garden in the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota-Manitoba. That story is here.

When do we let go, and move on from 9-11-01? That was, I think, one of the Presidents prime messages to everyone, yesterday.

2. The significance of the protestor at the speech:

My spouse had told me someone was protesting at the Presidents speech, and later I saw the entire incident involving the protestor, Medea Benjamin. I’ve met Medea Benjamin, in September, 2008. She wouldn’t remember me. But she would if she looked up her name at the Registry of the United States Peace Foundation website where the entries are listed alphabetically, and checked Dick Bernard here (my entry is right after hers).

Memo to self: I need to gussy my bio up a bit! She and I approach the business of changing opinions a bit differently, but we’re in the same trade.

Consider becoming a Founding Member of the Peace Foundation yourself. I’ve been a Founding Member since 2006. Very few people I know who should be supporting this Foundation have taken the time to join.

But I digress: Medea is a career protestor; her reputation is built on protesting. That is what she does, her job, her role. I’ve known others like her.

The odds that the Secret Service and the President were unaware of her presence yesterday, or of what she would probably do during the speech, are infinitesimally small.

She may not have known, but I feel the Secret Service certainly did. She’s hardly a stranger in protests.

I’m pretty sure I saw one of her colleagues with her in a TV cut yesterday; she’s another activist who used to be in the Foreign Service.

Obviously I don’t know, and no one likely will ever know for certain, but my guess is that Medea was a useful part of the Presidents speech yesterday. Indeed, rather than ignoring or criticizing her, or even looking annoyed, he acknowledged her argument.

The anti-war left should be grateful. The President didn’t have to either allow or (in effect) participate in her performance. He’s made the same point she has before yesterday.

(Back in the 1990s, I recall being in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House, and witnessing one of those ‘made for TV’ demonstrations, where everyone in the ‘performance’ knew the rules, and the objective – to get on the evening news. The police were there, and the protestors, and the coordinator/spokespeople for the protest, and the paddy wagon, and a few media, and everyone was calm and well behaved. But at a certain appointed time, the demonstration took place and the protestors were arrested and hauled away.

Succintly, in my opinion, what people saw on television an hour or so later that day was simply street theatre, made for television.

And that time it was an important issue, too.)

And finally: one of my e-list noted that Ms Benjamin has a new book out, on Drone Warfare. Here’s the link if you’re interested.

But the issues raised by President Obama are very important. Do watch the speech or print out the transcript, and go to work.

#721 – Dick Bernard: Drones, etc. Todays President Obama speech on U.S. Security Policy

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

UPDATE 4 p.m. CDT: Here are the printed remarks given by President Obama today. Apparently there was no live video.
On occasion – this is one of those occasions – I deliberately do a post before some kind of major action which can be anticipated.

This morning, perhaps even as I write (9:40 a.m. CDT), the President is already speaking about Drones and other things related to National Security.

But, at this writing, I have no idea what President Obama is going to say on the issue of Drones, Terrorism, etc., except that I believe it will be important, and I will watch it in its entirety today. The White House website will likely carry the address live, and it will be archived, uncluttered by chatter by pundits or news media interpretation.

I’ve written a few times about Drones. All of the links which mention the word “Drones” are here. The December 13 & 20, 2011, postings drew particular “fire” from people who I’d usually consider allies: folks in the Peace Community. The post and the comments say what they say.

I’ve noticed that President Obama has, in past months, challenged the U.S. Congress to establish policy on use of Drones.

My guess is that he will again do so today.

But it is not in the best political interest of Congress to take unto itself its Constitutional responsibility of Declaring War, or acting on such policies as when, whether or how to use such weapons as Drones. (Constitution of U.S.001, see Article I Sec 8)

Easier it is to blame the President at the time; or to use the President as cover (it depends on whether the President at the time is my party, or yours).

Personally, I would eliminate War. But since eliminating War is not a reasonable possibility, perhaps I’d agree with changing the rules of engagement to fighting war like they did in the good old days: down and dirty, hand-to-hand and very, very personal combat.

In my bookshelf is a volume I found in a box at my ND Grandparents home some years ago. It is ambitiously entitled “Famous and Decisive Battles of the World. The Essence of History for 2500 Years” by Brig Gen Charles King copyright J. C. McCurdy 1899. I wrote about this book June 5, 2012, including a list of the 52 battles, culminating, naturally, with the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Of course, we’re no longer in those good old days when people trudged around with primitive cannons and did not have airplanes or huge megaton bombs…or drones, or cellphones, or computer technology.

We take for granted high-tech in our own daily lives.

Why should warfare be any different?

The rules of engagement have changed.

Listen to the Presidents speech, but most important, make your voice be heard with policy makers you elect.

#720 – Dick Bernard: “ah one and ah two…”

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

THE TORNADO IN OKLAHOMA: While preparing this blogpost, word came of the tragic tornado most affecting Moore, OK. It caused me to recall another tornado which for some reason I’ve always remembered, the Fargo Tornado June 20, 1957003. See photo at the end of this post. In times like these thoughts always go to a heightened sense of community, and the importance of the public infrastructure and planning for the long term possibilities. Sometimes we do this well; often we do this poorly.


Lawrence Welk remembered

August 10, 1994, I was at the ancestral farm near LaMoure ND, trying to do a small part to help my Uncle Vince and Aunt Edithe during harvest time.

This particular day, a Wednesday, for some unremembered reason, the suggestion was made that we make the 110 mile drive west on Highway 13 to see the small farm near Strasburg where Lawrence Welk grew up.

I took a photo of Vince and Edithe, my Mom’s brother and sister, that day:

(click to enlarge)

Vince and Edithe at the Lawrence Welk boyhood home near Strasburg ND August 10, 1994.

Vince and Edithe at the Lawrence Welk boyhood home near Strasburg ND August 10, 1994.

For anyone over a certain age, the Lawrence Welk story doesn’t need repeating; and his long popular show lives on, larger than life, on TV week after week. He is a part of Americana.

He was the first recipient of the North Dakota Roughrider Award in 1961.

Lawrence was of the group called German-Russians who make up much of the population of South Central North Dakota. He and his brothers lived in the upstairs and unheated attic of the tiny farmhouse, and Welk practiced his music skills in the barn, entertaining the cows and the chickens when not doing the hard work required of farmers.

Lawrence Welk came unexpectedly back into my life last Thursday, on a visit to my still-surviving Uncle and Aunt, now living in Assisted Living and Nursing Home respectively in LaMoure; now 88 and 92.

We were about finished with “dinner” (the noon meal will always be “dinner” out on the prairie!) and in walked a lady and her husband who had come to do a show for the residents that very afternoon.

It was then I met Loretta (Welk) Jung and her husband Oliver.

Loretta (Welk) Jung at St. Rose Care Center in LaMoure ND May 16, 2013

Loretta (Welk) Jung at St. Rose Care Center in LaMoure ND May 16, 2013

Loretta, a retired First Grade teacher in Jamestown, is related to Lawrence: their Dads were first cousins, living in nearby communities. Loretta knew her much older cousin Lawrence as a person and at some point in time decided to carry on the Welk tradition by doing a road show at Nursing Homes and the like on her cousin, Lawrence Welk.

I can attest, she gave a fascinating program that enthralled the attentive audience at St. Rose Care Center last Thursday. If you look carefully, you can see Uncle Vince and Aunt Edith seated in the second row.


The following day I went out to the farm with Vince to help with the mundane things that needed doing.

Mowing the grass beside the house, I found a verdant reminder of Edith’s love of flowers…she hasn’t been out to the farm for a long while, so these tulips had just decided to take things into their own hands and just get about the business of blooming.

May 17, 2013, beside the house

May 17, 2013, beside the house

We picked a bunch of the flowers and delivered them to Edith in her room at the Care Center.

The next day we picked some more, and brought them in as a more-or-less floral arrangement for the dining room.

May 18, 2013

May 18, 2013

And so the seasons go on.

In earth terms, it is spring, and the rhubard (“pie plant” to Edith) begins to grow as it always does in the patch in the garden; and the apple trees by the house begin leafing out for another season – maybe there’ll be lots of apples by fall, maybe few. We shall see.

"Pie Plant" (Rhubarb) May 17, 2013

“Pie Plant” (Rhubarb) May 17, 2013

April Tree leafing out at the farm May 17, 2013.

April Tree leafing out at the farm May 17, 2013.

For the rest of us, we’re in our own “season” in our lives.

May this season be a good one for you.

Cherish each day. Here’s a ten minute video on gratitude and living each day that helps put this into focus.

Dr. Elwyn Robinson on Lawrence Welk in History of North Dakota, c 1966, page 555: “While he was an individual, not a type, Lawrence Welk, the orchestra leader, gave all Americans an image of the North Dakota character. Of Alsatian stock, he grew up on a far near Strasburg, North Dakota, learned the accordion from his father, and in the 1920s began to play at churches, country dances, and then on the radio station at Yankton. After the Second World War, he and his orchestra, playing his famous “Champagne Music,” attained success with long engagements at hotels, many recordings, and a weekly television show. The honest, friendly, and unsophisticated Welk and his wholesome show gave millions of viewers some understanding of North Dakotans. During his rise he had met ridicule and contempt, and so courage and energy played a part in his success. His loyalty to North Dakota was obvious to those who watched his program.”

Thursday, June 20, 1957, Fargo ND

Fargo Tornado Jun 1957002

#719 – Dick Bernard: A Right long denied, finally granted.

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Back in 2000, my college, Valley City State University, endeavored to publish an Alumni Directory. To my knowledge, this was a first time venture for our institution, and when the opportunity to participate came, I, and a lot of other folks took the risk of spending a few dollars, and revealing a little bit about ourselves.

I had been nearly 40 years out of college when the Directory came, and I had rarely been back. I looked through the index for names I recognized, and one of them was my college roommate for three years at “STC”. His was a terse descriptor: he was a Media Specialist (librarian) in a large urban high school. His listing did not include spouse or children (a common addition), but did include an e-mail address.

We made contact, and at some point along the way, we met for lunch.

Our single meeting was one of those “long ago and far away” kinds of conversations…yes, we had shared a college dorm room for three years those long years earlier, but we had come to the college as strangers, and while we got along well (I think), and participated in some of the same kinds of things, after college we went our separate ways.

I don’t recall that we got into the nitty gritty of personal lives at that lunch, but at some point along the way, my roomie mentioned his “partner”. It was not till then that I had an inkling that my roomie was gay. That made no difference to me. He was then, and obviously now as well, a good guy and I was simply glad to have become reacquainted.

Fast forward to 2012, and the second edition of the VCSU Alumni Directory. Another risk, taken.

Presently the volume came, and this one included more personal information IF one so elected. Quite a number of us went into quite a bit of detail in the 2012 volume, including my college room-mate from 1958-61.

In relevant part this retiree said this about his personal life: “… I’m in a 29 year old relationship with my partner, Sam. When Sam retires, we are moving to the farm. No, actually a real farm…you know, chickens, ducks, geese, cows and stuff. Don’t ask what it too to talk me into this. My best wishes to all….”

I’ve not seen Dick since that one meeting some years ago, and I’ve never met Sam, but hope to. Dick and I are in touch on occasion by e-mail.

There are many other thoughts about others I’ve known which I might share, but I’m making this Dick and Sam’s day.

My thoughts are with my college roommate and his partner today, more so than most, since the Minnesota Governor has signed into law new legislation that appears to give gay couples the rights that straight couples have always had.

Something that seemed impossible a year ago has now come to fruition.

I don’t know enough about the details of the new law to comment on it, but I am absolutely delighted that it passed and was signed.

What made the difference between ten years ago, last year and now?

In my opinion, it was the gay population “coming out”, everywhere.

It had to be a horribly difficult first step for most, but it was the absolutely essential first step.

Once family members, and co-workers, and friends, and fellow parishioners and others in our many “circles” found out that that the fine person they knew was gay, they could accept him or her as no different than they were – another human being with feelings and rights to express those feelings, and not to be discriminated against because of sexual preference.

We all can learn a powerful lesson from seeing what happened when people got their voices and spoke up.

My guess is this change is a permanent one, and it won’t be long before people wonder why we waited so long….

#718 – Dick Bernard: Flowers at the Ramsey County Workhouse

Friday, May 10th, 2013

A couple of years ago, Kellee, who is one of my favorite (tongue firmly in cheek) “bloodletters” at the Woodbury branch of Memorial Blood Centers, told me about the spring time flower sale at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility at Lower Afton and Century Ave in nearby Maplewood, a couple of miles south of 3M world headquarters. We went over the next day and bought Mother’s Day flowers for our gang.

It was a great decision, and each year it’s becoming a tradition. Today we went over again, and if you’re still looking for some nice posies at a very affordable (and partially tax-deductible) cost, check them out.

(click to enlarge)
Flower sale001

There’s nothing dramatic to this story.

Yes, the helpers are inmates, as polite and respectful as any you’d find in your usual retail outlet. Yes, they’re doing time for something or other. But no matter, they’re somebodies child and this is mothers day weekend. They made some mistake, and maybe the sentence will change their life….

And the flowers are, well, flowers, nicely put together, as in any greenhouse.

I haven’t inquired about the story behind this small treasure in our midst. There’s time to do that.

We’ve not regretted making purchases there…and now we notice that they’re going to do a fall season as well.

To our mind, it’s win all-around.

If you’re in the area, stop over, if for no other reason than to look around.

May 10, 2013

May 10, 2013


May 10, 2013, Greenhouses at Ramsey County Correctional facility

May 10, 2013, Greenhouses at Ramsey County Correctional facility

We give the big commercial establishments plenty of business. Once or twice a year at the Workhouse is very much worthwhile.

#717 – Dick Bernard: A 1957 Social Studies Test; and a look back to the future in North Dakota

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

UPDATE MAY 23, 2013: In the third paragraph, below, is a 100 question test I took in 1957. Scroll down to the UPDATE continuation following the original post, and you will find the Answer Key which I prepared, to the best of my limited ability. If interested, first take the test, then compare your answers with mine in the key. Challenges are solicited.

This is part of a series of posts about Sykeston North Dakota.
Feb 11, 2013: “Sykes High, oh Sykes High School”
May 4 (the main article): Thoughts on Sykeston High School at its Centennial
June 12 Remembering Sykeston in late 1940s
June 28 Snapshots in History of Sykeston
June 29 Sports in 1950s small towns in North Dakota
July 3: Remembering Don Koller and the Lone Ranger


A few days ago I did a long post about Sykeston High School, a tiny place near the center of North Dakota from which I graduated in 1958.

Curt Ghylin, now a Minnesotan but back in the early 1960s a student at the same college as I, Valley City State Teachers College, visited the blog, and noticed a state-wide test given to high school Juniors and Seniors that I had taken in November, 1957, on North Dakota History, Government and Citizenship.

For those interested, the 100 question test is here: ND Hist Govt Ctzn 1957001.

Curt asked a perfectly reasonable question: “I want to show our kids the test on North Dakota history that your referenced. Do you know if the key is available somewhere? I don’t know all the answers.”

Well, I was a kid taking the test in 1957, and I did well on it, but it was statewide, probably scored by the University of North Dakota (UND), 150 miles or so from where I was marking my sheet….

No, I don’t have an answer key, Curt.

And relooking at the test, yesterday, I wouldn’t give even odds that I’d get 50% right today, without lots of cheating!

But Curt’s was a perfectly reasonable question, and I knew I had placed second (or such) in the state that year, and there must be something…. In my bookshelf was a book I had been given at the state “Know Your State” contest at UND in December, 1957. It was an autographed copy of “North Dakota A Human and Economic Geography” by Melvin E. Kazeck of the Department of Geography of the University of North Dakota, published 1956 by the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU) in Fargo.

Mostly, all of the answers will be somewhere in that 264 page book. Best I know I’m the only person in the world who has a copy (I google’d it), so if it’s going to get done, I’m going to have to be the one to do it.

And I will, Curt. Yes I will. Take the test yourself, and check back to this space by early June, 2013 for the “key” (which should be pretty close to accurate).

In his e-mail, Curt articulated a problem with such old documents: “I had to point out to my sister-in-law as she read the test that the date of the test was 1957 when she questioned why Interstate 94 wasn’t a possible answer for question 2—‘The highway running across ND from Fargo to Beach’ “

Here, from Kazeck’s book, is a map with the answer to THAT question, from page 181! (The first stretch of ND Interstate wasn’t constructed until 1958, between Valley City and Jamestown, and that was among the first stretches of Interstate Highway in the U.S.)

(click to enlarge)

North Dakota Highways 1956 from Melvin E. Kazeck's North Dakota, A Human and Economic Geography

North Dakota Highways 1956 from Melvin E. Kazeck’s North Dakota, A Human and Economic Geography

But what about the title of this post, “A look back to the future in North Dakota”?

As I was leafing through Kazeck’s volume, I came across the last chapter “The Future of the State” of North Dakota.

That chapter was written 57 years ago, by someone very well versed in his topic and published by a respected institution.

This morning I pdf’ed that 35 or so page chapter, and for anyone with an interest, here’s how a North Dakota geographer saw the future of North Dakota in the year 1956: ND Geog 1956 Kazeck001

I find the chapter quite interesting.

I hope you do, as well.

UPDATE May 23, 2013:

Here is the Answer Key for the 1957 test: ANSWER KEY for ND Test 1957.

All I can say is that I’ve tried to give answers that seem consistent with what the test authors would have said were correct in 1957. With some luck, most of my choices are accurate. I was a geography major in college in North Dakota, but over 50 years away has taken its toll. I avoided the traditional student response to multiple choice – “multiple guess” – but at times it was very tempting.

I was very fortunate to have in my bookshelf two books which were source works about North Dakota geography written during the general time period of the test. Melvin Kazeck’s volume is described above; and Bernt Lloyd Wills book, North Dakota, The Northern Prairie State, was a text for North Dakota students. This book included a pleasant surprise (see below).

Neither book appears to be currently available.

A third book in my bookshelf is Dr. Elwyn B. Robinson’s History of North Dakota. I didn’t use this book when searching answers, but it appears to remain the definitive history of North Dakota, and it is still available for purchase.

Each author was, at the time they wrote their book, professors at the University of North Dakota. Kazeck and Wills were geographers; Robinson an historian.

Robinson’s Preface is very interesting to read, and in a few words gives context to North Dakota, and (probably) reveals the reason for the 1957 statewide test for young students like myself:Dr. Elwyn Robinson001

Bernt Lloyd Wills was apparently a graduate of Valley City State Teachers College (VCSTC), my own alma mater.

His Social Studies book appears, in retrospect, to have been a cooperative venture involving college geography teachers across North Dakota. George Kennedy, who expertly taught me all the classes towards my major at VCSTC, contributed a number of the graphs incorporated into the book. Among many VCSTC teachers who stood out, Mr. Kennedy and Mary Hagen Canine (journalism) stand out for me.

On page 262 of Wills book are ND school statistics for 1960 and earlier years. In 1960, in North Dakota, there were 135,548 students in North Dakota Public Schools, of which 35,600 were high school students (most likely grades 9-12). Thus, perhaps 15-20,000 ND students took that Social Studies test in November, 1957.

Wills book includes a chapter on his future vision for North Dakota: “Retrospect and Prospect” is a very interesting read, joining Kazeck’s future view (see above): ND Bernt Wills 1963002

Wills also includes a significant number of poems by Dr. Soren Kolstoe, born in 1888, who was a long time professor at Valley City State Teachers College, and apparently retired in 1958, right before I enrolled at VCSTC. The Kolstoe poems included in the book reverence the land we all know as North Dakota: Soren Kolstoe poems001

And since it can still be purchased, I’d suggest Dr. Elwyn Robinson’s History of North Dakota as a Legacy Book for your descendants. His last chapter, “The Character of a People” catches the essence of the state in which I grew up.

Thank you, North Dakota

From NDakotan Rick, May 9, 2013:

I enjoyed the read. I picked out a few plums.
1. Population has been fairly stable since 1920 or so. Low 600,000 number
until recently with the oil boom. Now projected to go over 1 million.

2. Back in 1950, some analysis suggested that if ND developed all of its
natural resources: Oil, Coal and Water. We would add 1 million in
population. ND has developed the coal and most recently the oil. And, it
appears we will add population accordingly. Pretty good insights by those
economists back then. The water never got developed. It was a major project
called the Garrison diversion project that would bring Missouri river water
east for irrigation through-out central and eastern ND. Depended heavily on
federal dollars. Garrison diversion did start in the 60’s and was on and off
again through-out the 60’s,70’s and 80’s depending on which administration
and which congress was in power to dole out public monies. Finally, in the
80’s, it died a final death (Reagan’s terms I believe). Now sits half
finished. I think they brought it as far east as about north of Jamestown.

3. Population was only 2400 (non-native) people in 1870 when statehood was
in the works. Wow, can you imagine. I think ND is desolate now, that’s just
over the population of Hankinson scattered across the entire state.

4. It only cost a total of $70,000.00 in 1950 to own the land and equipment
to operate profitably an average farm of 650 acres. Sounds like simpler
times to me. That total bill today for 650 acres including equipment is 3.2

5. Here’s a real gem for you Jeff. Page #32. If you have a hard time
figuring out the politics of ND. It’s in our DNA. Back in the 1950’s, the
legislation was considering a progressive property tax to keep a level
playing field with farmers. Not let the large farms get bigger at the
expense of smaller farmers. The more land you owned, the higher the property
tax until at some point, the property tax was so high on large farms that it
became unprofitable to be a large farmer. I like it. Never got enacted
though. Sounds like a true progressive liberal policy to me.

From NDakotan Carl May 9, 2013:
After reading the ND forecast article, it reminded me of the uncompleted McClusky Canal. I was teaching in McClusky when they were surveying. (1960-63) My wife is from McClusky so we went out there and checked on the progress of the digging when we went home to the grandparents. It is a shame they didn’t finish the less than six miles to connect to the Lonetree Reservoir. I got the information below by Googling the McClusky Canal. There are some good fishing lakes created by the canal be lower than the surrounding area. In fact one lake was drained an another created. Enjoyed your recent blogs. Carl

Lonetree Wildlife Management Area
The original Garrison Diversion Unit plan utilized the McClusky Canal to transport water resources to the Lonetree Reservoir. The reservoir was intended to be a regulating reservoir connecting the McClusky Canal and the New Rockford Canal. It was deauthorized by the Dakota Water Resources Act of 2000 and, instead, developed into a wildlife conservation area. The Lonetree Wildlife Management Area is operated by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

The McClusky Canal is a 73.6-mile-long canal designed to transport Missouri River water to the Sheyenne River, which flows into Lake Ashtabula reservoir above Valley City and, eventually, the Red River, and to the New Rockford Canal, another part of the GDU. The McClusky Canal crosses the continental divide between the Gulf of Mexico drainage basin and the Hudson Bay (Canada) drainage basin. The McClusky Canal has not been completed and currently (2006) does not connect to the Sheyenne River or the New Rockford Canal.

From Bismarck Tribune May 2, 2012, here.