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#937 – Dick Bernard: A Look Back at the History of the State of North Dakota as it approaches its 125th birthday.

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Today, September 17, is Constitution Day in the United States. This year the U.S. is 227 years young.

Happy Birthday!

Some serendipity happenings cause me to give focus, this day, to the original Constitution of the State of North Dakota.

North Dakota is my home state.

This year, November 2, is the 125th birthday of North Dakota – the 32nd state of the U.S. (South Dakota is 33rd). Elwyn Robinson, author of the definitive history of North Dakota, gives this description of the beginnings of the ND Constitution Convention in 1889: ND Constit – Robinson001.

Most of the text and illustrations which follow come from the 1911 Blue Book of North Dakota, which I found this summer amongst the belongings at the LaMoure County farm where my mother grew up. Her parents came to that farm from extreme southwest Wisconsin (near Dubuque IA) in March of 1905. Her Dad, my Grandpa Fred Busch, seems always to have been interested in politics, and it is probably thanks to him that I now have this old book. In the books illustrations (below) you see evidence of pencil scrigglings. Most likely, they were made by my then-two year old mother, Esther: she was born in 1909, and by the time this book was at the farm home, she was probably at the age where a pencil and paper had some relationship together. (The final picture, at the end of this post, is of the first page of the book. Likely an Esther Busch original!)

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The cover of the "red, white and blue" Blue Book of North Dakota, 1911

The cover of the “red, white and blue” Blue Book of North Dakota, 1911

North Dakota’s history, like all places, then to now,is a very complicated one. For anyone interested there are a great many sources and observations interpreting North Dakota’s early history and the torturous course of its Constitution pre and post 1911. Between statehood in 1889 and 1911, when this book was published, there had been great changes in ND, with extremely rapid growth. It was doubtless an exciting time on the prairie; a time of transition. The history as recorded in the book is as known and accepted as fact in 1911.

Here is the 1889 Constitution of North Dakota as reprinted in the 1911 Blue Book: ND Constitution 1889001

Dr. Jerome Tweton much later wrote an interesting commentary on a later effort to redo the oft amended original Constitution.

Here is the summary history of the state and Dakota Territory, its predecessor, as written in the same book: ND TerrHist writ 1911 002 [See note at end of this blog].

Dad’s side of my family preceded ND statehood.

My grandmother Bernard, then Josephine Collette, was born eight years before statehood at St. Andrews, where the Park and Red Rivers come together in Walsh County ND. Her parents came to ND in 1878; several uncles and Aunts came west about the same time.

Her uncle, Samuel Collette, who migrated to the St. Paul MN area from Quebec in 1857, was the first family member to see North Dakota. He was part of the Minnesota Mounted Rangers in 1862-63, a soldier in the so-called Indian War, and likely was with that unit in 1863 when it reached what later became Bismarck. This was a bit before Interstate 94.

Every state has its symbols.

Here are the 1911 descriptors of the Wild Prairie Rose, the State Flower, and the North Dakota Flag: ND Flower Flag 1911 002. These are the only state symbols within the book.

There is no descriptor of the North Dakota Seal in the 1911 book. Here is a more current interpretation of that Seal.

I found most interesting, in the reverential description of the ND flag, the many references to the Spanish-American War in the Philippines 1898-99. My Grandpa Busch, Mom’s Dad, would not, in 1911, have had any idea that his future brother-in-law, my Grandpa Bernard, Dad’s Dad, who came to Grafton from Quebec about 1894, was in that war, spending that entire year in the Philippines, part of Co C, Grafton. Where that ND flag was, there was Grandpa Bernard. I have visited Manila, Pagsanjan and Paete, all mentioned in that description.

Without knowing it, the two ND families were already “tied” together. (Another book found at the Busch farm is one about the Spanish-American War written at the time of the war in the grandiose style of the time.)

North Dakota was one of the earliest enrollees in Theodore Roosevelt’s Spanish-American War, spring of 1898. Of course, the “Roughrider”, Teddy Roosevelt, had spent two important years in ND in the mid 1880s, living in the Badlands not far from todays Medora. In a way, by 1898, Theodore Roosevelt had become a North Dakotan.

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ND Flag, as presented in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.  Scribbles likely compliments of then 2-year old Esther Busch.

ND Flag, as presented in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book. Scribbles likely compliments of then 2-year old Esther Busch.

ND State Flower, the prairie Wild Rose, as presented in 1911 ND Blue Book

ND State Flower, the prairie Wild Rose, as presented in 1911 ND Blue Book

Great Seal of North Dakota in 1911 ND Blue Book.  Scribbles likely contributed by then 2-year old Esther Busch of Henrietta Township, rural Berlin ND.

Great Seal of North Dakota in 1911 ND Blue Book. Scribbles likely contributed by then 2-year old Esther Busch of Henrietta Township, rural Berlin ND.

Likely artiste, Esther Busch, in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.

Likely artiste, Esther Busch, in the 1911 North Dakota Blue Book.

Esther Busch went on to Henrietta Township School #1 near Berlin ND, thence to St. John’s Academy in Jamestown, thence Valley City State Normal School. She became a North Dakota Public School elementary school teacher in the late 1920s, met her future husband Henry Bernard at Valley City State Normal School, and together they taught a total of 71 years in North Dakota Public Schools.

Happy Birthday, North Dakota!

re ND TerrHist link above: At page four of the link you’ll find the population of ND by decades until 1910. Succinctly, the population grew by 75% from 1890 to 1900, thence 80% from 1900 to 1910 to a 1910 population of 577,000.

That more or less remained the population of North Dakota until the recent oil boom.

They say ND is now about 700,000; In the 1960 census, when I was a junior in college, ND population was about 630,000. When I did the Busch family history some years ago I looked up the population of Berlin, which was platted in 1903 and incorporated in 1906. Berlins highest population ever was in 1910, 137 people. It was all downhill from there. The current population of Berlin, ND is about 35. Here’s how it looked about 1910: Berlin ND early pre-1910001

The present ND population boomlet is in the Bakken oil west (Williston, Minot, Bismarck, Dickinson areas) and in the cities, particularly Fargo and Grand Forks.

#934 – Dick Bernard: Eight weeks (56 days) to November 4, Election Day 2014.

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Yesterdays post, here, relates to this one.

August, 2013.  Who every election is about....

August, 2013. Who every election is about….

Recently, in an e-mail, came a very interesting short test on current events* from the highly respected Pew Research Center. It asks 13 questions: “What do you know about the news?”.

You can take the test privately. Here it is. Elsewhere in this post I will tell you how I did, compared with the national sample who were surveyed August 7-14, 2014.

Re the next eight weeks, there is really nothing to add to what will incessantly be irritatingly obvious: there is a major election in a few weeks.

As usual, in a non-presidential year, most people won’t vote at all (it’s mid-term, after all); a distressing percentage of those who’ll vote really don’t know the issues, much less where the candidates stand on the issues, much less even knowing who the candidates are.

The bottom line for me remains: We like to complain about “government”; but we’re actually complaining about ourselves.

If we were a dictatorship, or if there wasn’t a reasonably solid statutory base for “one person, one vote”, we might have more of a right to complain. But the vast majority of us CAN vote.

We each have as much power, through an informed vote, as the richest person in the country: one vote. True, big money can influence votes through these incessant and vacuous media ads and mailers we will see, without end. But ads don’t vote, either, except through us.

A good place to start, today, is to find out who your candidates will be on November 4. For Minnesotans (my state), here’s the entry point. All you need to know is your where you live. All the other rules are to be found at the same website. Other states doubtless have similar resources.

Once you know your candidates, find out what they stand for, really (not just the ads), and let the people who you know, know where you stand, and why.

And if you’re not sure about someone who’s a candidate ask someone you trust about them.

In the end, I hope we elect more folks who truly care about the entire country, than simply about their own particular ideology. We used to have a tradition, Republican and Democrat, which was more like that, than it is today.

Again, if we want change, we’ll be the ones to demand it through our vote on November 4, and in future elections.

* – Did you take the test referred to at the beginning?

The person who passed the test along to me said this: “Try this test! It is very interesting. It will test your knowledge of current events. It is interesting that 11 people of the original survey conducted by Pew Research did not get a single question correct.

This is an excellent test and it shows results in a number of ways. National results indicate that the majority of Americans don’t know what is going on in their country. Are these the “low information voters” we have been hearing about?

It is astonishing that so many people got less than half of the questions right. The results say that 80% of the voting public are basically clueless about current events. That’s pretty scary but not at all surprising.

There are no trick questions in this test — Either you know the answer or you don’t. It will give you an idea whether or not you are current on your information data base.”

My score? I got 12 of 13.

#933 – Dick Bernard: Working for Change

Monday, September 8th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago a waitress at a local restaurant I frequent asked me a question.

She knows I’m interested in politics, and her son-in-law, now in law school, had developed a strong interest in the Constitution. Could I give her some ideas?

There’s loads of materials on the U.S. Constitution, of course. I knew this young man was from my home state of North Dakota and I suggested that I’d try to find out something about the ND Constitution. Maybe he’d be interested. She thought that was a great idea and I embarked on my quest. It was more difficult than I had thought but as of today the young man has (I’m pretty sure) information he hasn’t seen before, and this is the 125th year of North Dakota becoming a state (1889).

As often happens with such quests, one question leads to another, and yesterday found me looking at the 2013-14 Minnesota Legislative Handbook (they used to be called the “Blue Book”) to see what information it might have about the Minnesota Constitution (Statehood, 1858, right before the Civil War.)

I found a fascinating page and a half description of what it was like to enact the Minnesota Constitution back then. You can read it here: MN Constitution Hist001.

It doesn’t take long to discover that it was not an easy process to enact a new Minnesota Constitution. In fact…well, you can read the short article. Of course, back in that day, all the players were men, didn’t make a difference which party they were, and they were accustomed to being in power, and (I suppose) the primacy of their own ideas. Compromise was not their strong suit, shall I say.

By the time of the North Dakota Convention in 1889 the process was considerably more cut and dried, but still it wasn’t without discord. The final document is, I’m told, 220 handwritten sheets, and here are the first two pages of what Prof. Elwyn Robinson in his 1966 History of North Dakota had to say in introduction to the proceedings: ND Constit – Robinson001.

Of course, again, all of the delegates were men of prominence in their communities.

Long after each convention, in 1920, Women’s Suffrage helped to begin level the playing field. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 began to deal with the residue of slavery, which was supposed to have been taken care of as a result of the Civil War 1861-65.

Nothing is easy.

Yesterday evening, winding down, I happened across a PBS program entitled Secrets of Westminster, about power in English history. You can watch it here.

There were many fascinating tidbits, but the one that will stick with me longest will be the segments about the long struggle for women’s suffrage in England, finally won in 1918, two years before the rights were granted in the U.S. There is an interesting timeline of the quest by British women to receive the right to vote here. Note especially the three entries about 1909, and 4 June 1913. Both were featured in the PBS program.

Change is a continuing struggle. Where there are people, there are differences, and there is power. Change cannot be made by pretending someone else will do it; or that it is impossible to do anything about “it” (whatever “it” is). But it is possible.

At a recent meeting, I was noting a sign I had recently seen on a Holiday Inn Express motel in Bemidji Minnesota. It is pictured here:

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At hotel entrance Bemidji MN August 8, 2014

At hotel entrance Bemidji MN August 8, 2014

I commented on how inconceivable a sign like this would have been not too many years ago.

Jim remembered how it all began. He was a college student 50 years ago, and it was the time when the first warnings were publicized on cigarettes, which “may” be hazardous to ones health.

Change happened, there, because some people, individually and then united, worked for it, and worked, and worked, and worked….

We must do the same.

#932 – Dick Bernard: International Day of Peace, September 21, 2014

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

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International Peace Day at Loring Park, Minneapolis, September 21, 2003

International Peace Day at Loring Park, Minneapolis, September 21, 2003

Eleven years ago, sometime in August, 2003, a group of peace and justice folks at Minneapolis’ First Unitarian Society had an idea: let’s do a Peace Day at Loring Park on the International Day of Peace, September 21. Their plan involved enlisting churches in the downtown Minneapolis neighborhood.

I volunteered.

“Peace Day”? September 21?

It wasn’t until later that I learned of Jeremy Gilley, a young Englishman, who had done the inconceivable: an ordinary citizen convincing the United Nations to fix a specific date for its annual International Day of Peace as September 21 each year, rather than the third Tuesday in September, or even other dates, which had been the practice since the day was established at the United Nations in 1981.

The first Peace Day observed on September 21 had been the previous year, 2002. Somebody in the Twin Cities had heard about it, and here we were: planning one for the Twin Cities in its second year, 2003.

(NOTE: Sunday, September 21, 2014, is this years International Day of Peace. The complex and fascinating story of Peace Day is told in a free 80 minute on-line movie, “The Day After Peace”, accessible here.)

By September, 2003, I had become active in the peace and justice committee at Basilica of St. Mary, one of the downtown churches, and I agreed to help out with the Peace Day event, which came to be called “Peace on the Hill” (First Unitarian is, in fact on Lowry hill, a couple of blocks up from Loring Park).

As I recall, the committee was having trouble finding somebody to be a speaker.

On the day itself, Sep. 21, 2003, the weather was uncertain, and maybe a couple of hundred of us gathered in a circle, some local musicians inspired us (photo above), and then-Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak came at the last minute and gave a very good speech. He had made a special trip to the event as this was his wedding anniversary weekend, and they had made other plans.

Peace on the Hill was a very good event, and my friend Madeline Simon, and her colleagues at First Unitarian, deserve the credit for a very good idea. (My personal thoughts, written a few days after the event, are at the end of this post.) I still have the t-shirt from the day: Peace Day 9-21-03001

Events like Peace on the Hill are difficult to put together, and it is even more difficult to sustain interest. So, to my knowledge, the first day was also the last. There were other efforts, but they were only sporadic and scattered.

Assorted “bugaboos” known to anyone who has ever organized anything interfere with long term success.

There were plenty of reasons for Jeremy Gilley to give up on his noble idea of a specific day set aside for peace.

By tragic irony, the United Nations adopted September 21 as the International Day of Peace on September 7, 2001, effective in 2002.

Four days later, on September 11, 2001, as the UN was celebrating the 2001 International Day of Peace, outside, on a pleasant day, the Twin Towers just down the street from the UN were hit.

It all could have ended, then and there. But it didn’t.

From all indications, in 2014, Jeremy Gilley has the focus and the momentum. His goal now, and it’s an attainable one, is that 3 billion people, half of the worlds population, will be aware of September 21 as the International Day of Peace.

Simple awareness is a large step towards victory.

Watch the movie, and commit to do something this International Day of Peace, and every day following.


POSTNOTE: Thoughts written after International Peace Day September 21, 2003.
Dick Bernard, September 29, 2003, P&J #460 “Who’ll be speaking?”
Note especially the bold-faced section beginning at #4.

A suggestion: I am reading a little book, and near the beginning was a paragraph which caught my eye:
“…if we so choose, we can always postpone the jump from thought to action. We really need to acquire more information, read another book, attend one more conference, hold further conversations, in order to “clarify the issues.” Then we’ll act. So if the action looks risky, there is always a good reason to postpone it: we don’t know enough yet.

“We are fooling ourselves: we never actually “postpone” the jump from thought to action. For, paradoxical as it sounds, not to act is to act. It is to act by default for whoever is in charge. People who did not oppose the Nazi gassing of Jews were supporting the Nazis: “See,” Hitler could say, “nobody is objecting.”….”
(From Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes, by Robert McAfee Brown. Check it out.)

What to do?

Some Actions among many we all can easily take:

1. Actually write a real letter to your Congressperson and Senators and editor, etc., about the $87,000,000,000 and the additional immense deficits. Make it brief and to the point. It will be read by somebody, and they will pay attention.

2. Do something for Peace and Justice YOU consider to be a bit outrageous – outside of your comfort zone, even if only a little. That is the only real way to get into action…to be at least a little uncomfortable. For sure don’t be stymied by a need to know everything (see the book quote above). As we are becoming more and more aware, the “big deals” probably know less than we do – yes, they may have more information, but their “blind spots” are huge – their ego causes them to miss the obvious…and then deny its existence long after it is obvious to others.

3. Pay much more attention to today’s quiet masses than to the loudmouths. I think the quiet multitude among us – the vast majority – is starting to wonder if Iraq, the economy, etc makes any sense. In a sense, they might be like the ordinary passengers on the Titanic who might have been on deck and wondering about those icebergs out there, but said to themselves “they must know what they’re doing”, and expressed concern to nobody. Of course, “they” up on the bridge of the unsinkable Titanic apparently didn’t have a clue, and the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. We are, collectively, on our own Titanic…. There is a temptation – I feel it myself – to say “see, I told you so”. Avoid the temptation. The nature of humans is to not want to admit they’ve been wrong.

4. Make a commitment to SUPPORT activities in your area that SOMEBODY like you is investing a lot of time, personal effort and even money in to make a success. Attend those demonstrations, and programs, etc., etc., and by so doing you show your support of somebody’s hard effort for peace and justice. Thank the people who made the event happen even if it might not have been perfect. Ditto for requests people make of you. (Personally, I will be giving you a couple of invitations in the near future: it will be a good opportunity to practice your skills of acknowledging/accepting/declining! Stay tuned.)

The importance of Active Support came close to home for me at an event I was helping coordinate in Loring Park in Minneapolis on September 21, Peace on the Hill. The event turned out to be a real success, but before it began one of my fellow volunteers was talking about a party he’d been to the previous evening. A number of peace and justice activists were at the party, and he invited them to come to the get-together. “Who’ll be speaking”, they asked in a variety of ways, suggesting that they’d consider coming if the program would be sufficiently “interesting”. At the time, we couldn’t guarantee any speakers – in fact, our focus was not speakers, rather music, and my presumption is that the activists my colleague was talking about were not in evidence at the Park during our program.

“Who’ll be speaking?”. In a real sense, the speakers that cool and overcast Sunday afternoon were the several hundred people who actually came with no expectations. (Ultimately, the Mayor of Minneapolis, R.T.Rybak did come to our Peace on the Hill event, and spent a lot of time with us, and gave a great speech as well. It developed that he couldn’t absolutely commit to coming beforehand because of a family commitment, and he had to drive home early to be with us. Rather than passing the duty off to an aide, he felt it was important enough to attend in person. He deserves gratitude.)

Some of you came to Peace on the Hill, and I was grateful to see you. It was acknowledgement that the event was important, even though there were many other things you could have been doing. Event organizers notice things like that, even if they’re too busy to chat at the time. The musicians noticed that the audience was an appreciative one, engaged. That was important to the musicians – who performed for nothing.

“Who’ll be speaking?”

How about you, in any of sundry ways?

Have a great week..

#929 – Dick Bernard: Aiming at the Moon (and hitting ourselves); a thought on redefining how we see relationships with our world, and about the matter of changing attitudes..

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Early Wednesday morning, August 21, I was heading out for coffee from my motel in LaMoure ND, and a sight begging to be photographed appeared a few steps to my left, and I couldn’t pass on it. Here’s the snapshot. The waning moon appeared to be in the “bullseye”.

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August 21, 2014, 6:15 a.m., LaMoure ND

August 21, 2014, 6:15 a.m., LaMoure ND

I’m very familiar with the sight: I stay often at this motel. August 10, on a previous trip, I’d taken a photo of the permanently on display Minuteman Missile you see in the photo. But this one, with the moon as the bullseye, was unique. I just looked up the Phase of the Moon I photographed that day: here.

More about this missile at the end of this post.

My trips to LaMoure, these past months especially, have always been work, both physical and emotional. I go into a “news blackout”, basically, too busy to read a newspaper; too tired to even watch TV news. So it wasn’t until I arrived home late on the 21st that I learned of the decapitation of the American journalist in Syria by an ISIS person with a distinctly British accent; and I saw the image of some ISIS hotshots showing off with some American tank, either purchased or captured in Iraq and now part of the ISIS arsenal.

Suddenly our omnipotence does not seem so potent. The radicals in ISIS seem far more dangerous and ominous than al Qaeda a few years ago, essentially thumbing their collective noses at us, using our own weapons and tactics, and we can’t do a thing about it. So we debate around the edges of the true reality, which is we can no longer control the world, and our past actions have consequences. We now debate on whether or not we should pay ransom to rescue captured journalists or others, and we face the prospect of dealing with shadowy enemies who look and talk just exactly like us. (“American” are very diverse, should anyone not have noticed. The traditional order has irreversibly changed.)

This is a very complex situation in which we find ourselves, even worse than our no-win Iraq adventure which began in 2003 with bragging that we had won that war less than two months into that awful and deadly and endless conflict (which still continues).

We now have to live within the world which we have made.

When I got home this week, I decided to review the history of the Minuteman Missile, which was a creature of my time in North Dakota.

August 10, 2014, LaMoure ND

August 10, 2014, LaMoure ND


We Americans love our weaponry: the Biblical “Ploughshares” doesn’t seem to have a chance against “Swords”. We’re so strong, armed so well, peace runs a far distant second to the advantage of overwhelming military superiority – or so goes the conversation. Look for Monuments to Peace in your circuits. And to War. And see who wins. (One organization I support whose sole mission is a Peace Memorial is here. Check it out.)

Googling “Minuteman North Dakota” just now brought forth a North Dakota Historical Society site which for some odd reason is dedicated to President Ronald Reagan.

The Minutemen were children of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson during the Cold War, and were planted between 1961-67 in the heat of the Cold War (Reagan was in office much later, 1981-89).

When you’re talking man-up, whose name is attached to manning-up matters, I guess.

I see lowly ploughshares memorialized from time to time, but they’re seldom named for a person, compared with war memorials, they are minuscule in number.

FDR was President when the Nuclear Age was born; and Truman was President when the Atomic Bombs were first used, and Eisenhower was at the helm when other weapons of mutually assured destruction were developed and tested.

Actually, all the military toys ought to be dedicated to “we, the people” who fund, and indeed have insisted on their development through our Congress, which by action (or inaction) authorizes endless war and military investment.

(Changing this reality is not simple: for instance, my Grandmother on the ND farm* 10 miles from that Missile in the photos, was joyful when the A-Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945(Atomic Bomb 1945001). Her bias was her son, an officer on a Destroyer in the Pacific. She wanted him home safe. The U.S. War Department, then, rhapsodized in public relations releases that this deadly bomb might be the key to ending war forever.

And Saturday night I was at a Minnesota Twins baseball game with a family group which included my granddaughters father-in-law. He’s a great guy. Much of his career as an Air Force enlisted man was making sure those ND Minuteman sites were secure….)

As a country we have supported these symbols of our supposed omnipotence, without regard to partisan designation. It is dangerous for a politician to speak against War.

Now a few countries, especially the U.S. and Russia, are awash in nuclear weapons which, if ever used, even one, by some lawless renegade leader or thief, will take a long step towards mutually assured destruction of everyone downwind.

The conventional wisdom back then, that our strength was in military superiority, was not only wrong, but stupid.

We’re in a hole of our own making, and best that we figure out it’s worth our while to not only stop digging, but try other means of co-existing.

We’re part of, not apart from, a much bigger world than just within our borders.

Change can happen, but it always happens slowly. Be the one person who is, as Gandhi said, “the change you wish to see.”

* POSTNOTE: On that same farm, in the yard in November, 1957, I and others watched Sputnik as it blinked on and off in the black night ski. In those days, newspapers carried maps of where you could see Sputnik. In my memory (I was 17 then, and a senior in high school), the trajectory was from SSE to NNW, but I could be wrong. Sputnik was a big, big deal. Earlier, in early teen years, Grandpa would rail on about the Communists, who were sort of abstract to me, then, but it fits, now, with my knowledge of the great Red Scare, Sen. Joe McCarthy, HUAC, etc. And earlier still, would be the Flash Gordon novel which somebody had bought sometime, and was pretty ragged, but featured the Ray Gun (early Laser fantasy?), and Flash Gordon’s conflict with the evil ones. I have recently been going through all of the belongings of that old house, and I keep looking for that ragged old Flash Gordon book, but my guess is I won’t find it….

long-time good friend Bruce F responded to my post as follows:

I wonder,Dick, how these rag-tag radical groups in SW Asia can out gun and defeat government armies that we train and supply.

My guess is that in one form or another we supply and train them. In order to be the world’s largest arms dealer, the military industrial machine needs to work both sides to continue to expand profits.

The key word in Bruce’s comment (to me, at least) is the word “we”. Who is “we”? And when?

Otherwise I’d agree with what seems to be the general thrust of Bruce’s comment: the unwieldy entity called the “United States” (primarily we citizens, collectively), have allowed this to evolve.

I doubt ISIS (or ISIL) or the “Caliphate” will have a long life. It will not become a new North Korea.

The regional situation is extraordinarily messy. It is difficult to identify who is “friend” or “enemy” at any particular time. The latest ISIS casualty publicized in this area was a graduate of a local Minneapolis suburban high school in 1990 who embraced a radical philosophy about 10 years ago.

The President of the United States is stuck in a quandary, which delights his enemies. There is nothing he can do which will not be legitimately criticized by someone. The U.S. Congress, which should be making the key decisions per its Constitutional obligation to make policy on War, generally, will continue to escape and evade its responsibility.

But it remains we Americans who through our own lack of engagement have helped create the monster which we now can scarcely understand, and hardly know how to turn around.

#928 – Dick Bernard: Greg H on Ferguson MO

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

UPDATE: Overnight, August 22, “Policing the Masses”, some thoughts on the down side of crowd control.

Grace Kelly’s proposal, presented in the August 7 post (written back in May, before Ferguson; it is at the end of the post), is the basis for conversation and action anywhere. If you haven’t read it yet, consider doing so now. It is simply an idea, to be developed in different ways in different places.

Don Thimmesch (undated).  See note at end of post.

Don Thimmesch (undated). See note at end of post.

A good friend of mine, Greg, is an attorney and retired prosecutor in this major metropolitan area. He’s sent three comments during the times of the incident in Ferguson, and I present them below as received. His is a perspective flowing from experience. Below his comments are a couple of my own flowing from the three previous posts on the topic of police and violence, which can be accessed here, here and here.

Greg H, Aug 15, 2014: A year ago or so [ago] I caught the testimony of a local police chief before a Congressional committee. In part, he chronicled the increase in fire power of the weapons issued to his patrol officers, in a small community.

The latest upgrade was to a weapon similar to that used in the Sandy Hook school shootings.

The police chief explained to the Congressional committee members that the reason for his community spending money to equip patrol officers with more lethal weapons was simply to prevent his officers from being out gunned by the bad people.

Just today we learned the suspect in the murder of the local police officer [Mendota Heights MN, August 7 post] during a traffic stop had told a woman friend days earlier that he planned to kill a cop. He also told her he had been smoking meth for several days.

As to Ferguson, I prefer to wait for the facts of the confrontation between Mr. Brown and the officer before reaching any conclusions.

Greg, Aug 18: A letter to the editor published in the August 16th Star Tribune…pointed out that the population of Ferguson is about 67 percent African American, yet four of the six elected city council members and the mayor are Caucasian. I do not mean to imply that electing more African American individuals to city government will solve all problems. However, as we well know elections do have consequences.

Also, whether that police officer did or did not know Mr. Brown was a suspect in a recently-committed robbery, Mr. Brown knew what he had done and of course he did not know whether the police officer was also aware of what he had done.

This does not appear to me to be an easy-to-understand situation. I am still wanting to know more about what happened.

Greg, Aug 20: A Mike Meyers op ed piece was published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today, introducing us to that city as it was in the 1950s- and 1960s as he grew up there. [Meyers is a former reporter for Minneapolis Star Tribune]. Pretty much confirmed my opinion. Reminds me of Studs Terkel. I do not mean Meyers’ column justifies 2014 life in Ferguson, but it does, I think, help us understand how we got to 2014.

Chris Matthews in his sign off opinion comment on Hardball last night [MSNBC] was to the same point. He suggested the root cause of the problems between the races in Ferguson is more about economic disparity than racism. As is playing out across our country, there just are no longer well-paying jobs for people who have only a high school diploma. Actually that is true also for many people with only a bachelor college degree.

Students from Ferguson attend Normandy High School located in a nearby community. Students come from 24 communities to attend that school, whose enrollment is 98 percent Black. Michael Brown was a member of the Class of 2014. Here is a link to a story from NBC News. Grim picture.

How many graduates are ready to face the challenges of the 21st Century? How many Normandy graduates attend college or any other post secondary education schools? In 2012 the school lost its accreditation. The state has taken over operation of the school. All teachers were required to reapply for their jobs, 40 percent of whom were not hired back.

Indicting, convicting the involved police officer will do nothing to address these root causes.

Parting Thoughts as I leave this topic:

My instincts tend strongly to supporting police. While I’ve never owned a weapon, guns for hunting have been a regular part of my surroundings since I was a little kid.

I am long past the illusion that because I grew up in rural North Dakota, before African-Americans were part of my surroundings, that I am race-neutral. We all grew up with messages…. Native-Americans (“Indians”) seem to have been our race of choice.

As demonstrated by events in recent weeks, guns, especially ever more sophisticated weaponry, and the uncertainties of human behavior are not a good combination; and racial tensions are never far below the surface. Guns are not good mediators, and those who “win” at the point of a gun, are the ultimate losers, almost always. The guy who shot the policeman here a few weeks ago may as well be dead; the policeman who shot the man in Ferguson will never recover either, even if totally vindicated.

I agree with Greg that the entire picture is not yet clear in Ferguson. At the same time, what happened there has rippled out, everywhere, not soon to be forgotten. And proximity to a deadly weapon was not good for the officer, whether he ultimately is exonerated or not.

These issues: weapons, race, and police-community relationships generally, are important topics. Ongoing.

NOTE about photo: Don Thimmesch was the husband of my mothers first cousin, and next-ND-farm-over neighbor, Cecilia Berning. He was one of the first 50 uniformed Iowa State Highway Patrol officers in the mid-1930s.

#927 – Dick Bernard: Guns and Relationships

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Shortly I leave on yet another trip to the North Dakota farm, continuing the long summer of preparing the place for new occupants. It has been a lot of work, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe this trip, to deal with the last of the scrap metal, and some other miscellany, might take care of at least the physical side of the effort. There remains the emotional: I’ve had far more of an investment in that place than I ever realized, and I knew that farm was important to me, though I never actually lived there. Just occasional visits from childhood on; then a week or so each year helping my Uncle with harvest. It was my hub: the house, the barn, the surrounding fields, the wheat golden when last I left about a week ago, the apple trees (this year very heavy with apples)….

And back home, each box of “junk” from that farm yields some treasure. This Oliver Writer Nr. 3 for instance, one of the first typewriters produced in quantity circa 1902.

(click to enlarge photos)

Oliver Typewriter Model Nr. 3 circa 1902, as it appears August, 2014

Oliver Typewriter Model Nr. 3 circa 1902, as it appears August, 2014

But as I leave this computer screen shortly for the now very familiar trip 310 miles west, my thoughts will be on other things. Past will be prelude: I do not “keep up” with the news on-the-road. What I know now, is what I will know when I resume life back home in a couple of days.

Ferguson MO, and what that all means, will likely be much on my mind. Here’s the last post I received about that terrible situation, 1:43 a.m.

How do I fit in with all that is Ferguson MO right now?

Two weeks ago I stood for near three hours at Somerset School on Dodd Road in nearby Mendota Heights watching hundreds of police cars pass in honor of their fallen comrade, Scott Patrick, who was gunned down by a career criminal, a white guy, who, he said himself, hated cops. That day seems so long ago now.

There are so many thoughts. Here, one guy with a gun, by all appearances an ordinary motorist who’d done something dumb, killed another guy, the policeman, who had no reason to feel he’d have to use his own gun.

The policeman is dead, no worries for him; the killer may have felt some temporary euphoria, but not for long.

What benefit did the gun give the one who used it?

None at all.

Still, we are absolutely awash in weapons in this country. It is our right to be armed and dangerous.

At the farm I’ll visit in a few hours, one of my first acts, when it was clear my uncle wouldn’t be coming back there, was to remove six weapons from the house for safekeeping. These were all routine kinds of hunting weapons, granted, but weapons nonetheless. Attractive targets for thieves.

Nov. 2013, at the farm.  Two other guns, "heritage" types, were elsewhere in the house.  Later I found another gun in the metal shed, and a pistol as well.  All now in safekeeping.

Nov. 2013, at the farm. Two other guns, “heritage” types, were elsewhere in the house. Later I found another gun in the metal shed, and a pistol as well. All now in safekeeping.

Best I can tell, just from the news, guns don’t even benefit those who own and use them for protection, whether “bad” or “good”. The one having the temporary advantage with the gun, isn’t at all advantaged in the longer term.

And then there’s the matter of race in this country of ours. That’s the larger message in Ferguson, just beginning to be discussed, again.

We are, every single one of us, captives of an ancient narrative about race in this country.

At this bucolic farm I’ll visit in a few hours, they once had a favorite horse, a black horse, “Nigger”. This was long before I was born. But long after I was born a favorite Christmas nut was “nigger toes”, brazil nuts.

There was no drama in the use of this term, nigger. But the greater message was the very fact that it was used at all.

And it isn’t about “them”, it’s about every single one of us.

Aunt Edith's flower at the farm, August 10, 2014.  Edith died February 12, 2014, some of her flowers live on.

Aunt Edith’s flower at the farm, August 10, 2014. Edith died February 12, 2014, some of her flowers live on.

#926 – Dick Bernard: The Sea Wing Disaster of July 13, 1890

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 11.37.07 AM

For a number of months, occasional coffee-time conversation with friends David Thofern and Frederick Johnson usually got around to talk about progress on Mr. Johnson’s latest book, “The Sea Wing Disaster. Tragedy on Lake Pepin” (available through Goodhue County Historical Society here with event schedule about the book here). When the book came out, I bought a couple of copies (well worth the cost), and when I learned that the author would be talking about the volume at the Le Duc House in Hastings MN, I put it on the calendar, and last night my spouse and I went for a most fascinating hour presentation.

(click on photos to enlarge; to further enlarge poster beside Johnson, put cursor over the poster and click again.)

Frederick Johnson speaks on the Sea Wing disaster at Le Duc House, Hastings MN, Aug. 17, 2014

Frederick Johnson speaks on the Sea Wing disaster at Le Duc House, Hastings MN, Aug. 17, 2014

Frederick, David, myself, and others of we “regulars” are into bantering, about this and that, and this project was no different.

But the Sea Wing Disaster was no laughing matter. It happened July 13, 1890, in Lake Pepin, the shallow and large wide spot in the Mississippi River below Red Wing MN.

In the early evening of that day, the overloaded small steamer capsized in very strong winds, and 98 of the 215 passengers died. Most were from Red Wing.

It was and remains one of the largest domestic maritime disasters in U.S. History, and one of the very few in which weather was the major causative factor. (Many of the Sea Wing passengers were aboard a barge, lashed to the Sea Wing. All but one of the passengers on the barge survived. The Sea Wing, only 14′ wide and about 100 feet long, was overloaded and no match for the wind induced massive waves. The passengers had hardly a chance.)

The Sea Wing and Barge in tow before the catastrophe...

The Sea Wing and Barge in tow before the catastrophe…

...and after.  Photos courtesy of Goodhue Co. Hist. Soc.

…and after. Photos courtesy of Goodhue Co. Hist. Soc.

In these days of AccuWeather and instantaneous forecasting it is perhaps hard to imagine being surprised by bad weather. People back then, and until very recently, relied on the usual visual signs of bad weather, and they knew what bad weather meant, in general. But this storm was different. Not long before the Sea Wing was struck down, a huge tornado from the same system had hit the Lake Gervais area just north of St. Paul. But this was 1890, and there was no easy way to spread the word about what was lurking not far away. The boat, the captain (who survived) and the passengers had hardly a chance.

Johnson first wrote about the Sea Wing in 1986. At the time he started planning to do an article, but there was so much material that he expanded his work into a book. Fast forward to 2014, and major additions provided by newly discovered material, including from the descendants of the casualties and survivors, gave rise to a much expanded new work. Indeed, even at the August 17 program, members of the audience showed photos of their ancestors who were with that boat the ill-fated day.

In this new edition, Mr. Johnson painstakingly researched both those who died and who survived. Judging from the audience on Sunday night, the new volume will bring forward still more new information retained in family collections for near 125 years.

Take in the presentation if you can (schedule above), and/or buy the book. It is a very interesting look at history.


#919 – Dick Bernard: The Downside of Playing Nasty.

Friday, August 1st, 2014
5th graders rendition of American flag Oct, 2001

5th graders rendition of American flag Oct, 2001

For the first three days of this week I was again away from the “news”. As I suggested in the “hermit” commentary a shortwhile ago, there are benefits to being ignorant about what is going on. But sooner than later, reality slaps one in the face. It is not pleasant.

Late this week, the U.S. House of Representatives, voted to authorize the Speaker to sue President Obama. It didn’t make front page news here; it was at the top of page three, even though it’s the first time in American history that a President has been sued by Congress. The key word: “authorize”.

My prediction: even if filed, the suit will go nowhere. In fact, I don’t believe there is any intention within the lawsuit for other than temporary political theatre. It is one thing to threaten a law suit; another entirely to actually file such a lawsuit; then difficult, time-consuming and expensive to go to court and actually prove a case when there are other than your own “facts” to contend with.

Since President Obama took office in 2009, the Radical Right Wing (which is now the official Republican Party in this country) has sworn to obstruct him at every turn. This posture is very public, easily found anywhere. Check Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rush Limbaugh among others.

The sole Republican objective: to make President Obama fail.

The gambit itself is what has failed, with the lawsuit only the latest move. It won’t be the last. President Obama has accomplished a lot, against incredible odds.

There are “Downsides” for every one of us in the obstruction in Congress, including those who dislike Obama and Democrats.

First, there is little apparent recognition of the fact that President Obama and the Democrats have a constituency – a very large one – citizens like myself.

It may be fun to kick Obama; it is good to keep in mind that he has lots of friends, like me, for instance.

And the silent majority of others who are only looking for a reasonable and responsible attitude towards governing and government in this complex society of ours.

Of course, Obama isn’t running for anything in November; the suit against Obama, and all of the other pieces of theatre, are to be used in local campaigns against Democrats.

So, what if the anti-Obama strategy “works”: the Republicans keep their safe majority in the House of Representatives, and pick up enough seats to take control in the U.S. Senate?

Will it be “game over”?


American politics has always been rough and tumble. I don’t like that, but it is part of the tradition of making decisions on important issues in our increasingly diverse society.

1864 Campaign Poster

1864 Campaign Poster

Until recent years, when de facto leaders of what I would call the Radical Right Wing took control, this public rough and tumble was accompanied by private recognition by all sides that compromise was a crucial component of reaching agreement.

Legislating was bargaining, a recognition of diverse interests.

In recent years one party, the current version of the Republican party, has been taken over by individuals who believe that winning is all that matters; that compromise is unnecessary. Their gameplan can be aptly summarized by an organizing slogan I experienced personally 40 years ago: a competing organizations mantra was “disrupt, confuse, display anger”. It worked for them, for a while….

I would venture that anyone who has ever been in a relationship with another human being soon comes to understand that some variation of bargaining is a constant, if the relationship is to have any chance of success.

Translate this into a society of over 300,000,000 people, and try to feature one party – one constituency – “winning” – and staying in control very long.

For near six years, the leadership of one party, the Republicans, has hooked its program to the failure of the other party.

Can it, if it wins in November, suddenly become the party of inclusion, of compromise?

I doubt it.

There is a choice in November, and all of we American voters will have to decide whose philosophy best represents us all.

Study the issues and the candidates where you live. Vote, and urge others to vote for more positive, traditional, government. There is a choice.

POSTNOTE: After writing the above came this very long summary of yesterday in Washington. It is worth the read, if you don’t do long pieces, read the last few paragraphs.

The essential message to me: we, the people, can make the difference, but we probably won’t, since it is easiest to be disengaged and complain than to do something affirmative, by hard work for an alternative vision.

#918 – Dick Bernard: The Night of the Big Wind, July 28, 1949

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Directly related post from July 25, here.

For some reason lost to history, on July 28, 1949, we Bernards took a midweek 100 mile trip from Sykeston ND to Grandma and Grandpa Busch’s farm near Berlin ND. While there seems no particular reason for the trip, mid-summer would have been a logical time to visit Mom’s parents, and brother Vince and sister Edithe at the farm. Dad was school superintendent in Sykeston, and at the farm, crops were not yet ready to harvest.

We stayed overnight, a fateful decision we all lived to tell about. (Such trips, to my recollection, were never more than one night. One overnight was complicated enough with five little kids.)

(click on all photos to enlarge them)

F. W. Busch farmstead, 1916.

F. W. Busch farmstead, 1916.

Fitting into the Busch’s small prairie house was no small task. By 1949, a two room addition had been added to the west (left) side of the house shown above.

As bedtime came that evening, best I can piece together, the 9 year old, me, slept with Uncle Vince, 24, in his tiny upstairs room; across the wall to the south, the window visible in the picture, was Edith’s room. Mary Ann, 6, and Florence, 5, slept with her.

Grandma and Grandpa were downstairs, and Mom and Dad, with Frank, 3, and John, who had turned 1 May 25, shared the other downstairs bedroom.

No one has ever recalled anything unusual about the day we were there. It was simply a summer visit.

Crops were maturing, but not yet ready for harvest. As usual, the dozen or so cows had been milked, back out to pasture. Horses would have been in the barn.

Sometime about midnight, best can be figured, a horrific wind seemed to come out of the south. My sister, Flo, described what happened next: “Oh, how I remember that storm! The thunder and lightning was impressive – scary! Then the window blew out and we tried to keep it covered with a blanket.”

We were all terrified, and to my knowledge none of the six adults did the common sense things you’re warned to do today, starting with taking everyone down into the cellar. Of course, back then, weather reports were basically what you saw in real time; no sirens or such. Storms were expected to happen now and again. But, as Uncle Vincent just recalled days ago, ordinary storms usually came in late afternoon, and this one came up suddenly, very late at night, and was a ‘hum-dinger’. Even at 9 years old, I recall sheets of water (it seemed) coming under the window and over the windowsill.

Being a strong Catholic family, there were plenty of “Hail Mary’s”.

The storm passed, no injuries, probably not even livestock, and Mary Ann recalls: “I remember going out at first light and seeing the [barn] roof missing.” That barn was less than a football field length from the house. We’d all had a very close call. Sometimes there’s talk that we experienced a tornado, but I don’t think so. It was just a horrific wind, and life changed for everyone, for a time.

I have found four photos taken of the barn shortly after the storm: Each are worth clicking on, to enlarge.

Busch barn 1949003

Busch barn 1949001

Busch Barn Jul 1949002

Busch Barn Jul 1949003

In the first photo, at left, you can see the damage. What appears to be the barn roof, misplaced, is actually a smaller barn-like structure that survived the storm. In the third, Grandpa Busch contemplates the next steps; in the fourth, the photographer, my Dad, is revealed by the unusually long legs in the shadow. (Click twice on this photo and you’ll see two horses who survived the storm.)

All around the area, there was devastation. The LaMoure Chronicle talked a lot more about the storm and the damage just in the LaMoure County vicinity: Berlin storm Jul 28 49001. The F. W. Busch damage is mentioned in the last column.

This being a working farm, with cows to be milked, there wasn’t time to be depressed. But rebuilding was daunting; there was lots of damage, most everywhere, on surrounding farms.

The adults worked like…farmers…and in fairly short order the task was looking manageable.

Busch barn 1949004

Grandpa was 69 when the storm hit; Vince, his son, was 24; my Dad was 41. The age references are important.

Grandpa knew of a farm on Hwy 13 just east of LaMoure whose barn roof design looked replicable. He built a form on the hayloft floor where the three men nailed four 1x4s together to make every new roof beam. Dad stayed at the farm for some time to help out, and Vince always says that without him, they couldn’t have done the project.

The roof beams were raised, and the local Priest, himself an expert carpenter, saw them, and said they wouldn’t last….

Vincent did the backbreaking work of shingling the barn. It must have been terribly hard, even at age 24, and frightening as well, but you do what you gotta do.

Shortly after the project was completed, within a few months, somebody took the below photo of the newly raised barn roof.

Unfortunately, either they or someone else had forgotten to advance the film, so what you see is a double exposure including other visitors to the farm. Both photos seem to be from the same day.

Front and center is Uncle Vince, in about 1949. (He’s also at left in the same picture. Click on this picture a second time for more enlargement.) The others in the photo are his sister Florence, and her husband Bernard Wieland, and their then young son Tom, all from Dazey ND. Tom is sitting on Busch’s then-new 1948 Plymouth.

Ironically, Tom Wieland died recently. Vincent and I went to his funeral in Valley City. Time passes by.

Busch barn 1949005

Last week, I took a photo of some of the roof beams in the still standing barn. Dad, Vince and Grandpa did damned good work back in 1949!


Lord willing, I’ll be back in that barn today, July 28, 2014, on the 65th anniversary of the big windstorm of 1949. There’ll be a bit of nostalgia, no doubt.

The old barn, July 23, 2014

The old barn, July 23, 2014

A firm base for each beam has helped the roof survive 65 years.  Photo July 28, 2014

A firm base for each beam has helped the roof survive 65 years. Photo July 28, 2014

Henry Bernard with his roof beams in the Busch barn, June 1991.  RIP Nov. 7, 1997

Henry Bernard with his roof beams in the Busch barn, June 1991. RIP Nov. 7, 1997