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#1041 – Dick Bernard: “God Bless America”

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

“God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her,
Thru the night, with a light from above….”

Thus Irving Berlin wrote, in 1918, the song that has become an anthem of the United States.

“…From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.
God bless America,
My home sweet home.”

Today is the 4th of July, the day of celebrating culminated by “bombs bursting in air”, as we will be reminded this evening by formal fireworks displays, and have already been reminded by early informal fireworks displays in neighborhoods.

“The Fourth” has a very long tradition. Here’s a photo of a baseball game from the 4th of July, 1924, at the Grand Rapids ND Veterans Memorial Park; one of the hundreds of photos found at the North Dakota farm I’ve so often written about in this space.

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Grand Rapids ND July 4, 1924

Grand Rapids ND July 4, 1924

I wasn’t around in 1924, but I’ve been to several July 4ths since 1940 at that very Grand Rapids park, and my memories are of similar rituals each time we went: the baseball game, fishing in the James River, adult games like horseshoes for the old guys (probably about in their 50s – time changes perceptions!), picnic lunches, lots of visiting…. A simple and nostalgic time, for sure. Elements of the old tradition remain, of course. But celebrating July 4 has changed in a great many ways as we’ve become a mobile and very prosperous society.

For me, the title of this blog comes from a particular use of the phrase “God Bless America” which I saw last Monday afternoon as I checked into a motel in Bismarck ND.

Bismarck ND June 30, 2015

Bismarck ND June 30, 2015

When I saw this truck last Monday, emblazoned also with “Support our Troops” on the back panel, I didn’t pick up gentle vibes.

There was less a “stand beside her and guide her” request, as there was a martial aspect to all of this, a demand: as it were, “God, bless us, as we command a subordinate world”. This ever more a dicey proposition; a fantasy. We still like to think we’re superior, among less than equals….

My perception on Monday was helped along by a large picture I’d seen two days earlier, of an American military man, one of those surreal “Transformer characters”, a less than human appearing being, a collection of technology and weaponry we see every time our contemporary GI’s are shown in a combat setting somewhere. Not really human appearing, as faced by a known enemy human in World War I or World War II, though similarly vulnerable.

Intimidating, but not.

We look tougher than we are.

But we like the omnipotence message conveyed by that truck in Bismarck earlier this week. The day before, a gigantic black Hummer vehicle passed me by, doubtless driven by some prosperous local citizen, perhaps even a lady. I remember when the Hummers became popular for those who could afford them, during the Iraq war. They’re seen less often now than they were then, there never were very many. But to me they always conveyed an in-your-face-message of omnipotence: “Look at me. Don’t mess with me….” A martial, war, message.

1924 was part of a rare interval between wars for the United States. We even tried to outlaw war with the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The time since WWII began for us in 1941 has seen only a single year without some war or another (see America at War001.

Our 4th will be a quiet one today, after a tiring week on the road. Tonights fireworks may wake me up, though usually they don’t.

But I’ll mostly think of that 4th of July I attended once in awhile at the Grand Rapids Memorial Park: catching a bullhead or two, probably some ice cream, some kid games….

A time of enjoyment and rest.

Have a great day.

God bless us all, everywhere.

An in-your-face "American" wears his patriotic jacket in rural Finland, June, 2003, weeks after the Iraq War began, and George W. Busch had just visited St. Petersburg.  Photograph by Dick Bernard

An in-your-face “American” wears his patriotic jacket in rural Finland, June, 2003, weeks after the Iraq War began, and George W. Busch had just visited St. Petersburg. Photograph by Dick Bernard

#1039 – Dick Bernard: The South Carolina Confederate Flag Debate

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

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The Clansman001

Last night I saw on television much of the remarks of South Carolina State Senator Paul Thurmond, son of Strom Thurmond, making a strong argument for removal of the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds. He seemed somewhat nervous, but sincere and impassioned.

A distillation of his remarks was in three paragraphs in the midst of a news report on Page A5 of todays Minneapolis Star Tribune. I hope the entire speech gets more publicity. If anyone was putting himself out there, personally, it is Strom Thurmond’s son, arguing against what was his father’s mantra for his entire career.

It is a good sign.

This is an issue – race – that will not go away, and it lives within all of us in this country in one form or another. It is part of our national tradition, our personal DNA.

We are steeped in the notion of superiority of the White Race and the inferiority of those whose complexion suggests Black.

A good briefing on the history of this issue was sent to me by my friend, Joyce, yesterday. You can read it here: In her note, she says “this was published almost a year ago, but it is well worth rereading”. I agree.

Indeed, it is helpful to look back.

Two years ago someone with whom I had common ties many years ago in small town North Dakota, stuck me on a list which turned out to be your basic rant-site against anything related to President Obama.

At an early point, I asked a pointed question about one particularly racist rant. Who would pass along such a thing. The writer, from Washington State, took the bait Nov. 7, 2013:

“Mr. Bernard, you want to know who [I am]. I don’t know about your back ground. But I can give you a little bit about mine. My real name is ________. My back ground is that I served this country for over 53 years. 23 as a Soldier, and 30 as a Civilian. I spent most of that time in Foreign Countries. I’m a Vietnam Vet. I am a Republican, although I have voted for a Democrat in the pass, (President Kennedy). By the was [sic] my Brother In law is a disabled (retired) Federal Park Police. So I know a little about the Park Police through him. As for this President. In my opinion The only reason he was elected, was the fact that he is half black. You never hear him talk about being half white. [emphasis added] One more opinion, I think that all US Citizens should fire both the Democrat and Republican Congressional leader and start over, including the President and his cabinet. Our Government Leaders should live under the same laws and regulation that the American Citizens live under. I think you would see a big difference in our laws that we would have to live with.

That’s just a little about me.”

Which leads back to “our personal DNA”.

I have been going through the endless task of sorting stuff at the North Dakota farm, and one day came across the book, whose cover photograph leads this post. “The Clansman” was published in 1905, the same year my grandparents came to that farm. But this book (see end photo) included many photos from the film Birth of the Nation, based on the book, from 1915, and also indicated that the book had once belonged to the Moorhead MN Public Library.

When did they get this book? Who got it? Why? Why was it kept for over 100 years? Why did it fascinate me sufficiently so that I now have it?

We didn’t talk about Black people out there. In my growing up, there were hardly any around to talk about.

There were, however, Indians. Different story.

All this and more part of the necessary conversation.

The Clansman002

from Jeff:
I am not sure what to make about the sudden GOP conversion. I suspect after 2 or three days of saying it was “up to South Carolina”, or
It was an attack on Christians… both of which were universally derided … someone who was doing polling figured out that stonewalling
Wasn’t going to help this time.

Although I think the smoke of removing flags… covers the issue of gun violence and right wing terrorism.

from Carol: Great job. I’d like to see that book!

from Peter: The “stars and bars” was a battle flag, not a national flag, and was only resurrected in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement. It symbolizes anti-integration, racist sentiment, and nothing more, recent interpretations notwithstanding.

from Alberder: Thanks for this honest and candid post.

from Bruce: At some level, Dick, America is dealing with race. That’s good, but there is double standard going on, not the one you might initially think.

Remember Anwar Al-Waki. The Muslim American that without due process according to his & our civil rights was designated as a terrorist, sentenced to death & was murdered by the president.

Now, from what I’ve been reading these white supremacy groups are an international conspiracy to control, if not eliminate, people of color. For me, these are far more dangerous to the Homeland than the groups designated as terrorist organizations, which are called Islamic extremists.

If the these white suprematist organizations are labeled “terrorist”, will the president hunt down and kill their leaders without due process. I hope not. But the precedent has been set.

#1037 – Dick Bernard: Compassion and Flags and a call to action.

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

POSTNOTE: Sunday, June 21: This morning at Basilica of St. Mary, a two page handout gave q&a’s about the recent happenings in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis regarding the resignation of the Archbishop and one of the Auxiliary Bishops. The Priest, Ft. Greg Welch, gave his homily on today’s gospel, and as I told him afterward, he “hit a home run”. His message ended with spontaneous applause from the large congregation, and applause is very unusual at Church. Essentially, as I interpret the Priest’s message today, (and likely the reason for the applause), “The Church is the People in it. Each of us.” Here, in three pages, are the Gospel passage, and the flier distributed: Church Archbishop Change001 For those interested in the Pope’s encylical that is receiving so much attention these days, you can access it here.


Quite routinely, when I have a thought for a blog; I let it germinate a bit; do a draft; and if fits I complete it in my own always imperfect way.

So it was with the following three paragraphs and photo, which began June 15, 2015, with an e-mail comment from my good friend…and fellow Catholic, Jeff: “waiting for the Bernard report/comment” on the resignation of the Archbishop and one Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis; the latest chapter in alleged mishandling of sex abuse of a Priest by Archdiocesan officials. But no words came to fill the space till Thursday, and then I wrote the following, and closed the file again, till today:


June 18, 2015

A few days ago a good friend asked me if I had a comment about the latest turn in the scandal-plagued Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis where, that very day, the Archbishop and one of the Auxiliary Bishops had resigned.

Of course, I have thoughts and feelings, but not until today’s headlines did I find a peg on which to hang my feelings. It comes from neighbors on the front page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: a new interim Bishop arrives in Minnesota; nine people are gunned down by a lone gunman in a church in South Carolina. Those who watch the news probably know about both of these happenings.

Page One Minneapolis Star Tribune June 18, 2015

Page One Minneapolis Star Tribune June 18, 2015

These “twins” in an odd sort of way speak to our society at large in a way we likely don’t like to consider.


June 20, 2015

As a lifelong Catholic, and a career long representative of teachers, including during the days when allegations of sex abuse by people in power against subordinates (i.e. teacher/student, etc) became a white hot issue (ca mid 1980s forward), I have a reasonably well informed base from which to comment, thus Jeff’s query.

But that, like the scandals, is old news, still eagerly flogged back to life when opportunities present themselves. Short story: humans are imperfect beings.

But what happened in that Church in Charleston a couple of days ago, and subsequent events there, are potentially more significant in the very long term, not only for South Carolina but for our country. But only if people get actively engaged in the essential conversations, everywhere. Without those engagements, nothing will change.

What most struck me, post massacre in the Church, was the expression of compassion and forgiveness from family and friends to the perpetrator: “I forgive you”, rather than “string him up” in lynch mob parlance.

These were people walking the talk of the real message of Christianity in their moment of great grieving.

Certainly as news of Charleston goes forward there will be calls for the death penalty, and other “eye for an eye” responses, but those folks who were at the prayer service are for me the spokespeople for living lives together; to rebuild from tragedy.

There’s also the matter of that Confederate flag, unbowed even after this horrific tragedy because it is apparently against South Carolina law to lower it.

Flags through history have rarely been benign creatures, rather they symbolize unity, usually against someone else. “Battle Flags”. “Us versus them”.

I’ve learned this lesson over time, most recently in a very unexpected way over two years ago when I learned that the United Nations flag had been taken down, almost covertly, from Hennepin County Plaza, after flying there for 44 years, in quiet company with the U.S. and Minnesota flags.

There is a story* there, a very long and continuing story, which you can read here if you wish.

For certain, watch the Confederate Flag debate as it evolves in South Carolina.

And watch the narrative as it evolves about punishment, “us” v “them” and the like.

We all can learn something from Charleston.

Will we?

THE UN FLAG: The essential narrative: the flag had to come down because it violated the U.S. Flag Code. It came down. It did not violate the Code, but nonetheless it stayed down. The people who took down the flag (the County Commissioners) had a code of silence, and wouldn’t say who, why or whatever about the real circumstances of why the flag came down. At this writing, they think they have given up. Not so.

#1030 – Dick Bernard: Memorial Day 2015 Thoughts about the War About War

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

We’re out of state on Memorial Day so this year, for the first time in many years, I won’t be at the annual Vets for Peace gathering on the Minnesota State Capitol Grounds. Of course, the event doesn’t need me to go on. Here’s the info about Monday in St. Paul. This is always a meaningful event, of, by and for veterans.

Memorial Day with the Veterans for Peace
Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Minnesota State Capitol grounds)
Monday, 9:30 AM
Music, poetry, speeches,
solemn ringing of bells,
and the reading of the names
of the Minnesota casualties
of Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

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Entasham (at left) interviewing Native American author and Vietnam War vet Jim Northrup at the MN Vietnam Memorial Vets for Peace event, Memorial Day, 2014.  Cameraman fellow Pakistani, Suhail.  See Postnote

Entasham (at left) interviewing Native American author and Vietnam War vet Jim Northrup at the MN Vietnam Memorial Vets for Peace event, Memorial Day, 2014. Cameraman fellow Pakistani, Suhail. See Postnote

There are many thoughts this Memorial Day, particularly when politicians are attempting to justify war and blame someone else for it.

I’m going to propose taking some time to watch and read the items which follow. They will take some of your time, but you might find them both interesting and instructive.

Personally, I am a military veteran, from a family of veterans. I’m a long time member of the American Legion and Veterans for Peace. I have a grandson who’s in Air Force ROTC in high school, and I consider it a positive experience for him in many ways. This does not make me, or him, pro-war. It is helping him grow up. And he, too, is proud of his service.

My focus this weekend will be on a person I never met, the brother of my good friend, Jim, who died this year from the lingering and severe effects of exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam. His suffering is over. Our national confusion continues.

All this makes me a complicated individual when it comes to a conversation about this annual Memorial Day which is interpreted in so many ways (the Legion post in the town we’re visiting this weekend will be having a fish fry on Saturday night). Not all is somber on this day remembering death (though many victims of war are very much alive, though suffering PTSD or other long-term effects of war).

Here’s my recommendations:
1. March 20 I and many others listened to seven persons tell seven stories of the Vietnam War from their perspective. The film is excellent and runs for about 90 minutes. You can watch it here. I was there. It is a somber and thought-provoking presentation.

2. In recent months, out at the family farm in North Dakota, I have come across some very interesting and historical documents about World War II BEFORE Pearl Harbor. The American Legion has helpfully provided its summary history of American Wars. You can read these in the first section “POSTNOTE” here.

3. This year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. On June 1 will be what appears to be a very interesting webcast of talks by many experts which at minimum I’d like you to be aware of. You can access the information here. Another perspective, by my friend and UN expert Dr. Joe Schwartzberg can be read at the end of this post from Jan. 1, 2015.

My friend, Lynn Elling, is fond of the mantra that we are in “an open moment in history” to change course.

I agree with his assessment, but even more so.

We will, collectively, decide on global progress towards peace; or continuing on a death-spiral for our entire planet through war, lack of attention to crises like man-induced climate change, etc.

We cannot pretend that the past is present; that simple belief about this or that suffices; or that there is a rosy future without deep and painful changes in our behaviors.

The mantra of the energy industry, for instance, pronounced over and over on TV ads, that we are energy independent and will be (it is suggested) okay for the next 100 years is very dangerous.

My grandparents were married 110 years ago, long ago, but a blip in human history. Who will be around 110 years from today who will remember us fondly?

It is long past time to wake up.

POSTNOTE: A year ago, this time of year, it was my privilege to meet Ehtasham Anwar, a Pakistani civil official in one of Pakistan’s largest city – as big as the Twin Cities. Ehtasham was completing a year as a Humphrey/Fulbright Fellow at the Human Rights Center of the University of Minnesota Law School.

We talked about many things in the month we worked together on his year-end project, on the issue of peace. And one memory is vivid in my mind, since he mentioned it to me more than once.

Paraphrasing what I remember, he said this: “Throughout this year in Minnesota I have been so impressed with how friendly and peace-loving American people are. Why is it that American foreign policy towards others in other parts of the world is so negative and dominating?”

Difficult question.

I gave him my answer, what I thought was our national problem. Hint: it is every one of us, our disinterest and lack of engagement in the greater questions of who we are with the rest of the world, even with our fellow Americans. We are individualists. Too many of us have had it far too well, for far too long. We feel we are entitled to what some call our “exceptionalism”.

What is yours?, I ask you.

Ironically, overnight came a personal commentary remembered from a fifteen years ago conversation in Paris by my favorite blogger, Just Above Sunset. You can read it here. Remember, this is from near 15 YEARS ago. While at this blog space, the previous several posts have summarized the last couple of weeks of posturing by presumptive U.S. presidential candidates for 2016 on the issue of war. The other columns are very well worth your time.

#1010 – Dick Bernard: Death and Resurrection. Perhaps a real time for real hope for our future.

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

Regardless of your faith tradition, or your particular beliefs, you know that tomorrow is Easter, and the basics of the Easter story.

Have a good day, tomorrow, today, and every day.

Happy Easter.

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BUSCH Postcards early 1900s - 123 - Easter (undated)128

Tuesday I wrote with a prediction about the negotiations involving the U.S., Iran, and several other countries: Russia, Britain, France, European Union.

Twice in that post,in slightly different ways, I predicted that: “there will be a deal, imperfect as such deals always are, which will look better and better as time goes on“.

By weeks end, the “resurrection” had come to pass. No one can deny that there has been a major and positive change in relationship, regardless of what happens going forward.

My prediction was informed by experience. Once parties – any parties – agree to negotiate (which begins simply by willing to even be seen in public together just to talk, on anything at all), relationships are bound to change, most certainly for the better. This applies to every such negotiations, from the most minor interpersonal dispute, to, as in this case, a very high stakes international effort to defuse and begin to reconfigure a long time history which goes back to at least 1953.

So, for me at least, the beginning of the end of the dispute went back to the first time there was an unofficial, but very public, meeting of a high Iranian official with a high United States official in New York at the time of a United Nations meeting. I don’t recall the exact date or people or circumstances, but at the time I knew it was more than a casual accidental brush in an elevator or such.

It was a beginning.

So, events this Easter week in the Iran negotiations were a beginning to something which, I feel, can be very good long-term. There is a very long way to go to a complete comprehensive deal (which makes the apostles of doom hopeful), but the change is permanent. There has been a breakthrough.

Of a multitude of opinions I have seen about the Iran negotiations, these two stand out thus far: here and here.

There was another similar “resurrection”, not long ago, with an official change in the U.S. position towards Cuba, a relationship broken almost as long as with Iran, going back to 1959.

The day after I posted about Iran, I took my grandson to an open rehearsal of the world-class Minnesota Orchestra. Ted loves music, and I thought this a good opportunity.

Some time ago, it was announced that the Minnesota Orchestra had been selected as the U.S. Orchestra who will perform in Cuba May 12 and 13.

As the preview for the next season of the Orchestra was being described, one announcement, the coming trip to Cuba, brought enthusiastic applause from the hundreds of us in the seats of Orchestra Hall.

There, too, people know that “times, they are a changin’ “, and with our individual efforts going forward, the positive changes can become permanent. (If you’re interested in Bob Dylan, let this tape roll on. Fascinating.)

Nothing will be perfect – it never is.

But it is certainly appearing that it can be made better, for all of us in the entire world.

Happy Easter.

MN Orch Cuba 2015001

Now, how about those nuclear powers (the U.S., Russia, Israel and all the rest) getting rid of those nuclear bombs…which we, after all, invented and perfected and still stockpile by the thousands.

#1008 – Dick Bernard: The Negotiations With Iran: “Eve of Destruction” or “Dawn of Correction”?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Last nights news had a rather dismal looking visual image: a rectangular table in Switzerland, around which were sitting many very serious and not at all confident looking men and women, attempting to come to some agreement about the general issue of nuclear and relationships between their own countries and Iran. The general story was that they weren’t at all sure they could come to a bargained agreement.

Of course, outside the room, were endless talking heads and written opinions about what was being done wrong, or should be done this way…or that…or whose fault it would be if things wouldn’t work out…. As is always true with unilateral arguments, these arguments always were airtight: there was no “other side of the story” to deal with.

Overnight, on another topic, came an interesting sentence from a friend to another discussion group about another much more mundane issue in the city of Minneapolis: “Compromise – something Americans are not very good at.” Indeed.

My predictions: there will be a deal, imperfect as such deals always are, which will look better and better as time goes on. Surrounding the deal will be those on all sides with vested interests to protect, but no “skin in the game” at the bargaining table, who will talk about “sellout”, and all the like. In the longer term, President Obama’s negotiations ability will be seen as a great strength, rather than a perceived weakness.

Many who know me, know I spent most of my working career involved in one sort of negotiations or another, from interpersonal disputes, to fairly large contracts between labor and management, to occasional labor strikes.

I’ve been there, done that.

There were quite frequent “deaths door” bargains where, near the end, the “sides” looked much like the parties mentioned earlier around the table in the Iran negotiations.

By the time this “deaths door” stage of negotiations was reached, everyone knew that their cherished non-negotiables most certainly had to be negotiated; that walking away was no longer a viable option.

They also knew that they would have to face their own particular “public”, who would complain vigorously about the results, and make assorted threats; and that the negotiators would have to say, “folks, this is the best we can do”.

The seasoned negotiators – the ones who’d done this thing two or three times or more – would know that, long term, the imperfect deal would look better and better; a building block for a better bargain next time, where both sides would actually win. That “win-lose”, which is actually “lose-lose”, was an undesirable option.

It is no particular secret that the Middle East is a jumbled up geopolitical mess at the moment, and has been for years. You don’t have to read far beyond the headlines to get that sense. There is a great plenty of blame to go around, abundantly including our own country and others past policies in the region. We like being in control. As stated earlier: “Compromise – something Americans are not very good at.”

As I observed so often in those smaller negotiations in which I was involved, it is necessary to go through the messiness to get to the brighter world existing from a negotiated settlement. But to get there you need to let go of many of your own cherished absolutes, and that is very hard to do. Better that the other side concede.

My prediction: there will be a negotiated agreement, and soon. It will be imperfect, but it will be a beginning.

Yesterday, when I was thinking of this post, after watching Charlie Rose’s interview of President Assad of Syria, and reading about places like Yemen, etc., I thought about Barry McGuire’s old song “The Eve of Destruction”. It’s pretty powerful.

I went to find out more about the song: about Barry McGuire, when it was written, etc., and stopped by the Wikipedia entry which revealed the song was a hit in 1965.

It was there, in the “people’s encyclopedia”, that I learned about another 1965 song, an answer to Eve of Destruction, called “Dawn of Correction” by a group called the Spokesmen.

I’d never heard of Dawn of Correction before, and listened to it, carefully. Very, very interesting point of view, also from 1965. Take a listen.

Directly related, from yesterday, here.

#1005 – Dick Bernard: Photos of Positive People, and a Call to Act.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

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Park Rapids MN Mar 14, 2015

Park Rapids MN Mar 14, 2015

There are lots of good things going on in the world, every day, every where.

This fact is easy to miss in a contemporary media environment that incessantly emphasizes bad news. But all one needs to do is to look around, listen, and get engaged.

Here’s a little photo gallery, with small captions, from just one recent week, taken at a League of Women Voters Saturday afternoon workshop in Park Rapids MN, and at a meeting about overpopulation of the planet in Minneapolis. Most of the speakers were ordinary folks, just like the rest of us. But this gave particular power to their presentations, in my opinion.

And at the end, a recent article I spied in last Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune about Climate Change, and something I wrote about the same topic 10 ten years ago.

The March 14 workshop in Park Rapids was about Sustainable Agriculture, and the citizen speakers well informed, and interesting. (In the end, my opinion, it is always ordinary citizens who will make the difference…and time and time again, I hear the “expert” speakers affirm that the essential folks towards positive change are the folks we’ve never heard of.


Sally Shearer, Park Rapids MN, Mar 14, 2015

Sally Shearer, Park Rapids MN, Mar 14, 2015

Sally Shearer talked about the history of Minnesota agriculture, beginning, of course, with the indigenous people. She especially referenced a particularly interesting older book, Helping People Help Themselves, by Roland H. Abraham, about the history of agricultural extension,

Ed Poitras, Mar 14, 2015

Ed Poitras, Mar 14, 2015

Ed Poitras talked about this experience, as a boy in WWII, with Victory Gardens in his home state of Massachusetts. For those of us of a certain age, we remember gardening, cooking, canning, raising chickens, and the like. These are lost arts which may well again become essentials.

Anne Morgan, Mar. 14, 2015

Anne Morgan, Mar. 14, 2015

Anne Morgan gave us a primer on garden seeds.

Les Hiltz, Mar 14, 2015

Les Hiltz, Mar 14, 2015

Les Hiltz talked about bees and beekeeping. Bees are crucial to sustinability.

Winona Laduke, Mar 14, 2015

Winona Laduke, Mar 14, 2015

Winona Laduke was the most high profile speaker, and she spoke with feeling and intelligence and intensity about the land and the traditional ways.

March 19 in Minneapolis, David Paxson gave a jam-packed session on the issue of global overpopulation. His website is worth a visit.


David Paxson, Mar 19, 2015

David Paxson, Mar 19, 2015

Finally, in the March 22, Minneapolis Star Tribune, in the Science section, I found an article about Al Gore and the issue of Climate. The article (pp 4&5), and some of my “history” with Mr. Gore (pp 1, 2 & 3), can be read here: Al Gore, 2005, 06, 2015002

In my opinion, Mr. Gore is a visionary, well worth paying attention to.

For me, personally, the solution ends up with those who are in the seats, listening.

Others better informed and in one way or another more “important” than us, may, in fact, know more than we do. But in the end it is every individual setting out to make a little difference, who will make the big and essential long term difference.

It is what we – not they – do that will make the difference.

Mar 19, 2014, Minneapolis

Mar 19, 2014, Minneapolis

#1004 – Kathy McKay: Going to Selma, 2015; Remembering 1965

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

The Selma, Alabama, march was actually two marches. The first, March 7, 1965, was the confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma; the second began March 21, 1965, and ended four days later at the capitol in Montgomery.

My friend, Kathy McKay, decided to go to Selma March 6-7 to remember 50 years ago. Following are her notes as she experienced Selma, and Alabama, in 2015.

Kathy McKay

Why go to Selma?

When I read a short note in January that President Obama was scheduled to go to Selma for the fiftieth anniversary march I knew I wanted to go too.

I remember the first marches in Selma with the really frightening pictures. Selma has become an iconic event of many occurring during the intensity of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and 70’s. It seemed like a way to remember these efforts, to underline their importance, and to participate in a public display of democracy given the challenges to civil rights still so with us. As Obama said in his speech at the foot of the bridge the US is still a work in progress. Democracy is still perhaps more of an ideal than a reality.

Another reason I wanted to go is that Lee and I own property in Alabama. Though I wholeheartedly embrace the unspeakable beauty of the island coast with its birds and quiet beaches I had not yet found a way to feel as though I politically belonged. I winched at statistics of poverty rates, anti immigration sentiment, disproportionate rates of incarceration and a general suspicion of pick up trucks with gun racks.

Perhaps traveling to Selma would expand my orientation to Alabama…give me a better feel…help me see if there is a way I can “fit” better into an Alabaman identity.

Montgomery, March 6th, night before Selma

Here I am at a Waffle House in a town I have never been to before. Montgomery, the capital city of Alabama is about 50 miles east of Selma and the closest place that I could find a room three weeks ago when I started calling.

This week end Montgomery has the Patti LaBelle celebration concert and the Grammy nominated Imani Winds doing a world premiere of a piece memorializing both Langston Hughes and negro spirituals in a nod to the 50th anniversary.

Montgomery has the Southern Poverty Law Center which was started by Morris Dees during the 60’s and is premiering a film highlighting several of the original local marchers.

There is a lot going on in central Alabama celebrating this civil rights event.

In March of 1965 I was living in a college dormitory of 600 women in Winona, Mn. Not only was there no internet but only one television in the whole building. We got our news and commentary from TIME and Newsweek sometime after the events happened.

I was stunned when I viewed the news reports and video on that TV of policeman attacking the citizens they were hired to protect, and the now infamous footage of rage and brutality against the non violent marchers. It is the deep disrespect and de-humanization this event represents that draws me Montgomery


President Obama was scheduled to speak at 1:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, March 7. I was 48 miles away in Montgomery. The news was saying security checks for the up close area would begin at 8:30 in the morning. I made a decision that I did not want to wait in an enclosed area with no water or seats for 5 hours so didn’t try for that deadline.

Wonderfully the Museum of Alabama opened at 8:30 on Saturday morning and had an exhibit of some of the Spider Martin black and white photographs from the first March. I headed to downtown Montgomery and entered the atrium of the museum a few minutes after 8:30am. Walking past busts of Alabama heroes I saw a military general that fought against the Spanish and one from the revolutionary war. I saw a proud bust of Booker T. Washington and one of George Washington Carver There may have been the expected Confederate generals but I did not see them.

Photo: Kathy McKay, March 7, 2015

Photo: Kathy McKay, March 7, 2015

The Spider Martin exhibit was on the first floor. A friendly docent welcomed me and directed me to the Milo Howard room where the large copies of pictures were hung.
Following this visit I headed for the highway to Selma figuring I would get there early and look around. Spring begins in late February in Alabama. The rolling hills had some green and the four lane highway with a broad grassy median was a pleasant drive.

As I reached the peak of one of the many undulating hills I noticed in my rear view mirror flashing blue lights. “Oh oh someone is getting a ticket” I thought. The blue lights persisted and then I notice motorcycle police leading a trail of vehicles. “Oh, a funeral procession.”I slowed slightly. As there were two lanes going in my direction no need to pull over.

Pulling up beside me going, perhaps 55 mph or maybe 60 mph, were eight large motorcycles with leathered drivers and blue lights flashing. Immediately behind them a long black limousine, and then one after another of black SUV’s with license plates 001, 003, etc. As I was counting the SUV’s and got to about seven or eight i was stunned to realize this is the president and his entourage…family, secret service, etc. I was overwhelmed with the impact of driving along side of the president to get to the Edmund Pettus bridge and the city of Selma. The symbolism of a black president coming to the sacred ground of Selma to honor the marchers, the people of Selma and to proclaim to America and the world “what happened here was so important”. I was in tears.
Later came a train of seven tour buses, the congressional delegates, with staff, I believe. About 12 miles from Selma the traffic slowed and for the next three hours we crawled toward the truck route into Selma. The main highway goes across the bridge onto Broad street, the main street in Selma.

The president’s entourage went into town over the bridge, the rest of us through the back door truck route. Along the highway at the equivalent of about every three blocks were municipal police or sheriffs or state police guiding traffic and answering questions. We were all patient. Some stopped at empty lots a mile or so out and walked in to the town. South High school, about a mile and a half out of town was charging a modest fee to park in their lot, a fund raiser. I stayed on the road and went into the heart of Selma arriving about 12:30. Magically I found the last perking space on Clark street in the residential area. I hopped out and headed for the center of town. Needless to say I had missed the opportunity to get up close to the bridge in the secured area. The town was packed with people, tour buses from Atlanta, New Orleans, South Carolina and places unnamed and thousands of pedestrians.

Broad street was solid people so I made my way up the next street over. I could get within a block of the river and there met barriers and secret service. This would be my place for the next couple of hours. Although the sound system was loud enough to reach our area the “noise” was not decipherable. We didn’t care. The music still worked. The cadence of John Lewis was unmistakeable and the instructive and insistent President Obama spoke clearly without the specific words. (we all said we’d catch the actual speech later on tv).

At Edmund Pettus bridge at time President Obama spoke, March 7, 2015

At Edmund Pettus bridge at time President Obama spoke, March 7, 2015

The crowds included lots of children, young people and old people. People dressed up and those more casual. No one seemed in a hurry to get anyplace. Everyone seemed happy just to be there…that was the point, to be there. The weather was friendly, bright sun and about 70 degrees.

After the speeches music played over the several blocks of milling people. There were booths selling food, I bought a roasted corn and then barbecued ribs from these ladies who were running a busy booth but consented to have their picture taken.

Post event hospitality in Selma, Kathy McKay March 7, 2015

Post event hospitality in Selma, Kathy McKay March 7, 2015

Chicken, grits and desserts were available. I bought a memory water bottle with Selma-50 Years written on the side. No one wanted to leave. People sat on the steps of all the churches, in the yards of the schools…everywhere they stayed around.

I, too, milled around feeling totally comfortable, not wanting to leave. I listened to an older gentleman singing tunes he was making up with recorded music background. I wandered back and forth down various streets, had a sweet tea and noticed the overflowing trash bins from all of the food that was being consumed.

As the sun’s light began to change I went looking for my car. Luckily I had written down the intersection and had my GPS with me. I walked by dozens of tour buses waiting for their travelers and got in line again to retrace my route out of town. The line was not as long leaving as it had been coming into Selma.

I left feeling proud, fulfilled, very American…we do create change, we have more to do, there are people willing to put their lives on the line to move the needle in the direction of justice, of fairness.

Alabama is different for me now. The people gathered at Selma both local and visitors enveloped me with assurance that there is room for me in Alabama…maybe, even, with my resist-the-status quo bent, a particular place for my perspective and my voice.

#1003 – Dick Bernard: A Remarkable Evening Remembering the Vietnam War

Friday, March 20th, 2015

UPDATE Mar 27, 2014: Bill Sorem filmed the entire event which is available on his vimeo site here. The entire program is about 90 minutes, featuring solely the seven speakers.
Tonight I was at a remarkable story-telling session in St. Paul. More later on that. There will be a continuation of the conversation on Thursday, April 9, at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Several pages of handouts from tonight, including the the agenda for tonight, and for April 9, can be read here: Vietnam War Recalled001

(click on drawing to enlarge it)

photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist.  See Postnote 4.

photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist. See Postnote 4.

Personal background:

In mid-November, 1982, I was in Washington D.C. for a meeting of a volunteer board of which I was a member.

On Saturday, Nov 13, a member reported to us that she’d seen many veterans of the Vietnam War the previous evening, and they were in town for the dedication of the just completed Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall. Emotions were intense, she reported.

Sunday, Nov 14, 1982, I had several hours between the end of our meeting, and my flight back to Minneapolis from D.C.’s National Airport, and I decided to stop by this new monument. The visit to the wall was an intense one for me as well. I described my experience a couple of weeks later: Vietnam Mem DC 1982001 (See Postnote 1)

I’m a Vietnam era Army Infantry veteran, 1962-63. None of us in Basic Training at Ft. Carson CO ever left stateside; we were simply folded into a newly reactivated Infantry Division which, it turned out, was being prepared for later deployment to Vietnam. At that time, I recall my platoon sergeant wanted an assignment to Saigon. It was considered “good duty”. Later my two younger brothers were Air Force officers who both served in Vietnam, circa 1968 and 1971, one as an F-105 pilot; the other, navigator on military transport planes, some in and out of Vietnam airstrips.

It occurred to me that day at the Memorial that I had never welcomed my brothers home after their tours ended, so I wrote both of them letters in the plane enroute home. Ten or so years earlier they just came back, that’s all.

In more recent years I learned my former Army Company had been decimated in a 1968 ambush in Vietnam. My source was a colleague from the same company, from Sauk Rapids MN, who’d learned this from another veteran who’d later been in the same Company. As I recall, the vet said to my Army friend: “I’ll tell you this story once; never ask me about it again”. (See Postnotes 2 and 3)

Tonights gathering (see page two here, and photo below: Vietnam War Recalled001)

My words are superfluous to the intensity of the messages conveyed by seven speakers in 90 minutes tonight. Below is a picture of the printed agenda. Click to enlarge. I noted someone filming the talks. Hopefully the evening will be translated into an on-line presentation for others to see. Every presentation was powerful.

(click to enlarge)

Agenda, March 20, 2015

Agenda, March 20, 2015

Postnote 1: As I was preparing this post, I thought it would be simple to find a link that described the history of the Memorial. In the end, I had to use this Wikipedia entry as a source. Scroll down to find the early history of the Memorial and the controversy surrounding it. At this 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War (April 30, 1975), active attempts are being made to re-invent the Vietnam War as being something other than the disaster that it was. History is never safe, which is why the stories told tonight are so important.

Postnote 2: Some years ago I learned that someone had placed online a website remembering the history of the Infantry Battalion of which my Infantry Company was part. You can access it here, including some photographs I took as a young GI at Ft. Carson CO.

Postnote 3: On Monday evening, March 16, 2015, I was checking into the motel in LaMoure ND. The clerk at the desk, a Mom who I’ve gotten to know in the course of many visits to the town, felt a need to talk this particular evening. Just a short while earlier her Dad had died, at 65. He’d had a very rough life, spending most of his recent years on 120% disability from the Veterans Administration for severe exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. It was falling to her to clean up final affairs for her Dad, and it was not easy.

When I got home I wrote a note of support and condolence to her.

It only occurred to me tonight, writing this piece, that she, and my friend from Army days, were from the same town, Sauk Rapids MN.

Postnote 4: Artist Ray (Padre) Johnson is a great friend, and was a medic in Vietnam during some of the deadliest combat in 1967-68. You can read more about the drawing he did here. The section about the drawing is below the photo of the hearse….

COMMENT Mar 27 from Dick Bernard to Chante Wolf’s presentation: I’ve known and respected Chante for years; heard her speak in person on March 20, and just watched her and the others just now.

I can only speak to my own experience in an Army Infantry Company 1962-63.

In those days, our units were 100% male. I really don’t recall even seeing women. I was engaged at the time, and never “went to town” (Colorado Springs) so never experienced the more raw side of life there.

We were young men, then, and doubtless thought the same as young men of any generation. In my particular units, anyway, I don’t recall the raw sexual commentary even in the drill cadences. We lived in barracks, perhaps 20 to a floor, with zero privacy, one bed next to the other with a bathroom down the hall.

Had there been females in the unit, I have no doubt that the behavior we would have witnessed would have been the same as Chante experienced. But I can speak only from my own personal experience.

I did a quick google search to see if there was more information on the topic. All I can do is add the page of links, fyi.

#1000 – Dick Bernard: Some Empty Chairs. Thoughts at 1000

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Related posts: March 6, 7, 8 and 9 .

(click to enlarge photos)

Was this an empty room about to become full; or a full room which had just become empty?  Answer at the end of this post.

Was this an empty room about to become full; or a full room which had just become empty? Answer at the end of this post.

This blog began March 25, 2009. You can read it here.

Expressing an opinion on-line wasn’t new to me: that went back to the time immediately after Sep 11, 2001. Perhaps the first was two letters to family and friends in September, 2001: Post 9-11-01001

A few friends now and again suggested that I blog, and here I am, 6 years and 1000 posts later.

Does this every other day exercise matter? (There have been about 2175 days between posts #1 and #1000.)

I can only speak for myself.

Doing this near-daily exercise causes me to think about why I’m saying what I’m saying on any particular topic to a largely unknown audience, talking to more than just myself.

Even the simple act of finding a link to something describing the country of Central African Republic (as I did, yesterday) helps me to broaden my own knowledge.

I feel a bit more alive than I felt 15 years ago.

Before 9-11-01 the world I inhabited seemed more simple than it was the day after. Fear and hatred have overtaken too many of us, with predictable consequences. But many more of us are pushing back, worldwide, albeit too quietly, to change the conversation to one of peace and hope. We may not notice this: the media on which we rely makes its money on bad news; good news is boring….

Shortly before I wrote my first blog 3-25-09 our nation’s first non-white President had been inaugurated. That singular election has changed the complexion of our country forever, and is perhaps the reason for the sometimes bizarre pushback that we are experiencing, including today: the pendulum has moved. Equilibrium will take time. The past some long for is, indeed, past. Thankfully.

All in all, I feel a bit more hopeful than I did after we as a nation freely chose war over reconciliation in the fall of 2001.

Since 2001 the mood of the body politic world-wide has changed in many ways, and our individual capability to make waves – positive waves for positive change – has increased in ways we couldn’t imagine even 14 years ago.

On Woman’s Day, Sunday, I think it was Samran Anderlini, Iranian, peacemaker, who said that for 2500 years the global conversation was dominated by the few who dominated political and military leadership. The conversation, always, was power through dominance in war.

It might well be said that the war “side” still dominates, but they’re running scared.

And people like ourselves, once we get over our timidity and stand for a better peaceful world, will make the difference.

In the caption at the beginning I ask was the room waiting to be filled, or had it just emptied?

It doesn’t make any difference, really.

What makes the difference is that the room, about the time I took the photo, contained one speaker and 75 listeners. The speaker reflected on her life; it was then up to the listeners to define her reflections in a way they could use to impact our world going forward.

A useful speech is always much more than just a speech.

It is we who fill those empty chairs, the listeners, who must make the difference when we leave the room.

During this years Peace Prize Forum the background for every single session was photographs like the one below, of men and women about the task of clearing away deadly weapons of war somewhere, sometime, in our world.

Their task is, we were told, both dangerous, and more and more successful. There is an opportunity to rid the world of chemical weapons.

Now to deal with the nuclear and other insane weapons of destruction.

Clearing chemical weapons from a battlefield.

Clearing chemical weapons from a battlefield.

Positive change is happening. Let’s be part of making it.

A Suggestion: Those who glance regularly at my meanderings on this page know that I frequently link to an Los Angeles blogger, a retired guy like myself, who publishes Just Above Sunset six days a week. Just Above Sunset works at distilling national and international politics through the thoughts of assorted writers. I always find it a useful, albeit lengthy, collection of opinions. Here and here are the offerings from the last two days. Subscribing is free, and the post comes into my inbox about 2 a.m. each day. Consider joining.

from Peter in New Hampshire:
Funny thing: when you started to blog, the Obama election, was when I stopped. Personally, I could not see myself making a difference that way, just being one of millions of bloggers in a blogosphere. That’s not to say blogging is the problem… But I applaud your insights about what the writing process is. It’s the same for me; I want another venue, though. I think it’s books, but books are different now, so “timely” with a colon and a subtitle, out of date in a week or so. Maybe books are becoming blogs. I know a lot of blogs become books. Anyway I hadn’t written you in a long time, and wanted to respond, stand in awe, be proud to know you.

from Norm in Boston: My sentiments also, what Peter said, “…and wanted to respond, stand in awe, be proud to know you.”

I attend a poetry workshop where everything I write has to be in rhyme and humorous.

eg: Obama advocates breathing,
Dems behind him ally,
Republicans, silently seething,
Each of asphyxia die.

Most everything read at the workshop seems to have abandoned rhyme. Your blog, today, sounded like wonderful free verse.

Thanks for encouraging subscription to Just Above Sunset. Something Alan said awhile back was the idea for the rhyme above.