"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Our $ gift to UMM is now perpetually endowed

Martha and Ralph Williams by the piano at home
Dad at his alma mater, U of M-Twin Cities, in 1946. War is done!
Mom in her well-known "gait" across campus, on behalf of campus P.O.
Our family does not celebrate Christmas like it used to. We're down to two: Mom and I. The relatives with whom we were close are nearly all gone. We used to celebrate primarily with my uncle Howard (Dad's brother) and his wife Vi of Glenwood. They had no children. They were wealthy but lived in a frugal way, almost as if we'd never come out of the Depression. None of that hindered their happiness.
Gifts of material things are no longer important to us. Our dining room table is adorned with two little Christmas-themed figurines that cost me a dollar at the recent Senior Bazaar. The figurines promote an atmosphere that is fully satisfying to us both. A few years ago we began attending the Christmas Eve service at our church, something we should have done all along. Church is in lieu of the many traditional things we once did for Christmas: the tree, the gifts etc. Our family does not need more "stuff."
As far as giving is concerned, we accomplished this most thoroughly with our financial gift to UMM music. We have actually improved on that gift since I first announced this on my blogs. It started out as a "quasi-endowed fund." I never really felt comfortable with the word "quasi." I was made aware of the perpetually endowed fund option. This would require more money of course. But we went ahead and did it.
So our fund will now be endowed in perpetuity, lasting until our sun turns into a red giant. By then maybe we'll be ready to have UMM transferred to a planet in another galaxy. The perpetual option seemed necessary to me. My father graduated from the U of M-Twin Cities. He taught for a long time at the U's St. Paul School of Agriculture in St. Paul. I was in my preschool years when Dad taught in St. Paul. I have warm memories from that phase in my life.
Then we came to Morris and UMM. I remember vividly UMM's "circle drive" in our first days here. Music concerts were at Edson Auditorium. They seemed to be well-received there. My father's biggest claim to fame turned out to be his men's chorus. He had creds in all areas of music. He led a jazz type of dance band when in college: "The Campus Nighthawks." He arrived at the name when purchasing some music stands that already had the "CN" initials. How about that? Jazz and big band music was pretty male-dominated then, but they had a female singer.
My father directed the original UMM orchestra which put out a vinyl record. As the only music faculty member in year one, he of course did everything, so he directed the band.
Our gift to UMM specifies choir as a priority - Dad was a prolific choral composer. He ended up in a long and well-enjoyed retirement, while Mom ended up working at UMM further. My mom was a bookstore employee for a time and then became supervisor of the campus post office. She was known for having wonderful rapport with the student workers there. She got the Martelle Award one year. I was poised on the grass with my camera for that (at graduation).
We are delighted to make our perpetually endowed gift to UMM, which means we're up to $25,000. My dad would say: "You can't take it with you."
I'm really not sure what kind of future UMM has. Music is a nice little refuge in academia because it is non-political. We hear a lot about political strife at UMM, the righties vs. the lefties, gay vs. homophobes, atheists vs. Bible thumpers etc. I have written in the past that the institution should work to tamp down all the political venting. I have suggested "that's not what the students are here for." Maybe it just can't be avoided.
Can UMM continue to thrive as it puts liberal arts on the traditional pedestal? We hear about colleges across the USA having to trim their liberal arts priority.
Maybe UMM can overcome through sheer superior reputation of its offerings. We want to root for this if practical. But let's keep in mind that our revered local campus has gone in and out of phases before.  It was once an ag school. It's hard to predict the future with certainty.
But we hope for leadership that is infused with wisdom. Close your eyes and hear the old "UMM Hymn" in your heads.

Addendum: Mom and I attended the 4 p.m. concert Friday at the recital hall. It was a wonderful concert but it did not go well for us. Mom is not always sharp mentally and she began talking at too great a volume as the concert ended. I was not expecting this. We will not be able to attend any more, and I'm sad about that. I'm glad she got to shake Simon's hand through the course of the evening. The concert was a terrific blending of media promoting the best type of Christmas air. I especially liked the locally produced video.

- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Malory Anderson scores 20 in MACA win

MACA girls basketball notched its third win in as many games Saturday night at Benson. The Tigers took the championship in the Case IH Tournament. We put finishing touches on that with a 62-34 win over the Knights of West Central Area.
Click on the link below to read about the Tigers' first two wins of the season, over ACGC and Benson. This post is on my companion website, "Morris of Course." Thanks for reading. - B.W.
Tigers 62, WC Area 34
Maddie Carrington continued making an impression with her three-point shooting. Carrington made three long-rangers. The other MACA "3" was made by Liz Dietz.
Malory Anderson had the team-best point total of 20. Carrington put in 13 points and Carly Wohlers had eleven. Dietz added five points to the mix and Jenna Howden had four. Several Tigers each scored two points: Jordann Baier, Riley Decker, Jen Solvie and Jaden Ross. The list wraps up with Kendra Wevley and her one point.
The Tigers had totally asserted themselves by halftime as they owned a 34-10 lead.
Anderson was the pacesetter in rebounds with eleven while Riley Decker collected six. Decker produced four assists and Carrington had three. Howden and Carrington each had two steals. The orange and black cruised in the second half with a 28-24 scoring advantage. Anderson's contributions in scoring and rebounds suggest she'll be a key contributor as the 2017-18 schedule proceeds. And don't overlook Carrington's sharp long-range shooting eye! All in all, the team has lots of nice attributes to put a smile on coach Dale Henrich's face with Christmas nearing.
 
Now it's Garrison Keillor
I recently wrote a headline for a post recalling how Al Franken came to UMM in a triumphant way to speak at graduation. It now appears that Franken has engaged in some unacceptable behavior toward women. In the current climate, such untoward behavior can bring the equivalent of the death penalty as far as your career is concerned.
No one should get a pass regarding such behavior. Unless you're Donald Trump, I guess.
More recently we've seen iconic Minnesotan Garrison Keillor get dragged into the dubious spotlight. I wonder if these men will have their entire careers wiped out as if they accomplished nothing, as if their eventual obituaries will berate them with the untoward stuff and overlook everything else. What will Charlie Rose's obit look like? That journalist is having past awards taken away. These people did work that actually had a positive impact, that reflected considerable talent. Can't we acknowledge that, and still see to it these men will have consequences for their untoward behavior?
Our culture really has undergone a change. We're somewhat in denial now but there really was a time when the Dean Martin Variety Hour on TV projected our values. Lecherous men were given a pass much of the time. I guess that was a reflection of the "cocktail culture."
A scantily clad woman would come up to Dean and say "I'm having my whole body tatooed with a map of the United States." Then Dean would sing something like "California Here I Come." The audience laughed uproariously. That really was our culture. We tolerated cigarette smoke everywhere. Seat belt use was not mandatory.
Of course it was a cockeyed world because the public mostly sat quiet and acquiescent as the government escalated the Vietnam War. I suppose we have created a better world today. Vietnam couldn't happen again because the media have expanded exponentially from what it was in the 1960s, those days of the Big 3 TV networks.
On the dark side, the new media have been harnessed so effectively by the regressive voices of the extreme right wing of politics. So maybe we won't end up with a better world after all. Maybe the U.S. is sliding toward something like 1930s Germany. It's not far-fetched to think this way. Get prepared. We may be seeing a pedophile going to Washington D.C. as a senator. Is this a bad dream?
We remember both Franken and Keillor coming to our University of Minnesota-Morris. I covered one of Keillor's appearances for the local commercial media. The UMM choir performed my father's "UMM Hymn" for a Keillor appearance at the P.E. Center. I have warm thoughts about Keillor and about Franken. I remember Keillor stepping forward and starting his applause before the choir even let go of its last note of the "Hymn." That song was tailor-made for his show, given its sentimentality.
I guess Keillor and Franken both wear a scarlet letter of sorts now. Let's be careful how harsh we are in our judgments. Man is an inherently sinful creature.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwillyh73@yahoo.com

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Understand the nature of Republicans

Why do we tolerate the so-called Beltway as such an atypical place? It's 1 a.m. as I write this and we're seeing the Republicans do their thing in the U.S. Senate. The bill relating to taxes, whether you call it "tax cut" or "tax reform," has just passed. We see a group of men in their 70s and 80s with white hair, wearing suits and ties, celebrating.
The Senate will not have the last word. There is still time for resistance to build up against the Republican donor class. It is the phantom-like donor class that is pulling all the strings. The elected people just try to weave populist rhetoric to justify these actions. Are people going to wake up? Will my generation of the boomers wake up belatedly to realize what the GOP really does when it has power? Thomas Frank has written a book about this, called "The Wrecking Crew."
Republicans cannot handle the real responsibility of government. They don't believe in government. The boomers are this huge wave of people entering the non-productive (or post-productive), senior phase of their lives. Tucker Carlson of Fox News has described AARP as a far-left political organization. What AARP is, of course, is an advocacy group for people who are going to need government assistance to get through their twilight years, like it or not.
European-style socialism has it right. In America, the problem is that the well-funded right wing uses rhetoric that appeals to so many people. As the impact of this GOP tax measure slowly sinks in, I feel there will be an awakening process. My boomer generation had better realize that as the deficit balloons, Republicans will use that as justification for attacking and cutting Social Security and Medicare. Republicans would love to virtually dismantle those programs. Jeb Bush has said he'd like to see Medicare "abolished."
Republicans push for this stuff and they don't even care what people think of them. The check on Republicans would be for the electorate to wake up and produce what has been called a "blue wave." Simply elect Democrats. Let's push for younger people and more women to be sent to D.C. as our representatives. Let's make that bizarre "Beltway" a place that more genuinely reflects America. John Conyers is 88 years old? Why have we allowed this to happen? Dianne Feinstein is 84 and seeking re-election? Why has it come to this? I'm pointing my fingers at Democrats here. What is it about our system that allows some of these representatives to hold these positions in apparent perpetuity?
Let's push for younger and more vigorous people to assume those roles while the elder folks can go into retirement.
Heaven help us, the boomers and the public at large, if we don't get that "blue wave." Just vote for anyone with a "D" next to his/her name. "Conservatives" with their deep pockets will use their media arms like Fox News to go on the attack vs. progressives. They will use "oppo research" which can make anyone look bad, because we're all human beings who have made various missteps. It is common to hear attacks on progressives in terms of "embellishing his/her resume." The problem is that anyone trying to report on a life story covering many years might misremember some little detail. Look at that guy from St. Cloud who tried challenging Michelle Bachmann. A nit-picking misrepresentation of his background with the United Way was used as fodder for attacking him as a "liar."
I am waiting for the worm to turn. I am waiting for the "blue folks" to be the ones getting the benefit of the doubt on matters like this. Democrats have to learn to be more assertive and to start intimidating the other side, just as the Tucker Carlson crowd has assaulted their adversaries. More people need to recognize the right wing media for what it is. Go ahead, Project Veritas: try to get some video footage that embarrasses the pro-blue crowd. Go ahead because I don't even care - we simply must elect representatives who really advocate for "people" causes and not just cater to the Republican donor class.
Are we awakening too late? I expect to see Star Tribune coverage that deconstructs what the Republicans are doing with their tax bill. I expect to see Star Tribune coverage that reveals what the Republican Party is really trying to accomplish at the expense of the American people. Thank God for the likes of the Star Tribune and the "mainstream media" (so derided by the conservatives).
The mainstream media have actually gone too far in trying to be courteous to the political right wing. When I see Chuck Todd bending over backward this way, I wonder what's really going on in his mind. We are at the point where Republicans won't even allow Democrats to argue in official proceedings that Republicans "only care about tax cuts for the rich," because, Republicans argue, such statements "attack the character" of Republicans. Elizabeth Warren was told to sit down and be quiet when she tried to present an argument against Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
Democrats need to fight back more and not worry so much about courtesy. Is Donald Trump courteous?
Leon Panetta says the current doings in Washington D.C. indicate we may be in decline as a nation, that we are losing our ability to govern ourselves. We could have Hillary Clinton as president governing from the middle. Of course there are aspects of Hillary Clinton that I'm not terribly fond of. But she would have kept alive the basic decorum and dignity of the presidency. She did beat Trump in the popular vote. I resent that she was the supportive wife of a man who coaxed an intern in the White House to perform oral sex on him, in the White House. Bill Clinton could have resigned and allowed Al Gore to take over. Wouldn't Democrats have been relieved for that to happen?
Didn't James Carville chafe at you by constantly talking about how it was "just sex." We seem more enlightened now. Kirstin Gillibrand makes that clear.
My fellow boomers, you had better wake up and smell the coffee soon. Republicans always try to dismantle the New Deal. And now they have all the power.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Remember when Al Franken came to UMM?

Thanksgiving weekend 2017 will be remembered as a time when we were deluged by reports of sexual misconduct by powerful men.
I remember when Al Franken came to our U of M-Morris to deliver the commencement address. His stature seemed so high then. It seemed like a triumphant time for all here in Morris. Now Franken is on his heels.
We have Ivanka Trump, daughter of the president, saying that not only will pedophiles go to hell, "there is a special place in hell" for such offenders. As if there might be a preferable place in hell. I once talked with Neil Thielke about whether we ought to categorize sins, some being worse than others. Neil was skeptical. It's not for us as mortals to make such a judgment - we all just need to acknowledge our sinful nature.
Ivanka's father has spoken as if he wants to see Roy Moore win in Alabama. A Moore victory would spell lots of complications for the Republican Party. Would Moore require special security if he goes to Washington D.C.? I remember when our community of Morris had a problem with a misbehaving priest, and we learned through media coverage that he was being handled in a certain way "for his own safety."
Child molesters present a problem for our conscience - they really do. Is there really a "moral" dimension here, or is this a condition related to one's mental state? I would assert that people like Moore have a problem with their brain chemistry. They have compulsions that they cannot control. They know that society disapproves. Moore "denies" the accusations like crazy. He knows full well what he has done. He is a profoundly conflicted human being.
In Jerry Sandusky's case, his background with football might explain his brain problems. I'm not sure there's really a moral element there. I would discourage any talk of "the depths of hell." The well-known atheist Ron Reagan Jr. talks about how he's not afraid of "burning in hell." I quite agree with his stance on this.
It's good that Sandusky is in prison because the innocent victims of his disposition need protection. The taint of criminality is not necessary.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to view C-Span coverage of a Congressional hearing on football's health dangers. We learned there is a new element to worry about: a whole generation of men in their late 50s and early 60s who played football at a time when the risks accelerated. I invite you to read this blog post of mine by clicking below. It's on my "Morris of Course" site. Thanks for reading. - B.W.
The late Glen Helberg and I used to talk about how holidays are depressing for unemployed or inactive people. My family (of my mom and I) essentially have no relatives to share with any more. We celebrated Thanksgiving for most of my life with my uncle Howard and his wife Vi of Glenwood. They are gone now.
We used to enjoy the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at Assumption Church. I still remember the big spread of pies to choose from. That's gone with the wind now, perhaps a reflection of how the Morris community in general is declining. It doesn't mean that Morris isn't still a nice place to live. Holy cow, the Morris paper slid back down to 16 pages again. It's startling to see this now that the run-up to Christmas is on, normally the most robust time of year for papers.
The Morris paper scratches and crawls to keep its "sig ads" a.k.a. "sucker ads" going. We saw an example with a full page that said nothing more than "Happy Thanksgiving." And then we saw the list of businesses willing to get our their checkbooks and throw their money away on something like this. Some of these businesses are doing this with non-local people making the decisions. I think the guy acting on behalf of Riverwood Bank has his office in Baxter. It's just a budget item to them. "Happy Thanksgiving." Yawn.
 
Sports, sports, sports
Now that the Morris paper has gotten so terribly small, I think the excessive size of the sports section has become more of an issue. There is a "sports" heading at the top of the second section of the paper. I'm sure we all think it's terrific that our school has a variety of sports offerings for our kids. That's not the issue at hand. The issue is whether we need to see all the minutiae of details in print all the time. If you were to do a poll on this, I'm sure the answer would be overwhelmingly "no."
Ever wonder why "Senior Perspective" is so appealing? There are several reasons, but one is that there's no sports. Hallelujah. We love the large type size of "Senior Perspective" along with its very appealing feature-oriented content - something interesting on every page! Our community papers seem to ignore the wisdom inherent in those advantages.
The Morris paper claims it has "combined" with the Hancock paper. This is literally impossible because if anything, the Morris-based paper has gotten smaller since the claimed "combo." I assume all the obits that used to appear in the Hancock paper must now be squeezed into the Morris paper. Most people just go online for obit news.
The people who are interested in UMM Cougar sports are served totally by the online world too. The Morris paper includes all this stuff because of old habits and old expectations. Sports started becoming a problem for papers when participation in sports began growing markedly. We saw girls get totally equal opportunities. Then came the addition of various sports to join the old mainstream ones. The sports section became a political football as it were. All the teams had advocates screaming at the paper about the need for serious attention. There was a problem of just keeping up with the demands.
Another problem was that the many readers out there weren't interested in consuming all this stuff. Papers felt they had to "cave" to demands from sports parents, which while understandable, wasn't realistic from the standpoint of the paper's interests.
Most people see this the way I do, and many just shrug and continue to consume the paper anyway. But keep in mind that Hancock has lost its paper and the Morris paper is steadily deteriorating. It showers us with advertising circulars for Alexandria businesses every week. Well fine, maybe within a few years there will be an area-wide newspaper centered on Alex, mailed to people on the old Morris/Hancock subscriber list. Don't the old Hancock Record subscribers now just get the Morris paper? Oh, I think this scenario is quite likely, probably within the next five years.
It wasn't necessary. The Morris paper could have stayed stronger longer. But the opportunity for that is past. It will be up to the Fargo-based management to make the ultimate determination.
Should Al Franken resign? He just has a little sex demon in his head like we all do. Let's not start categorizing sins. Bill O'Reilly has said he's "mad at God." This was after the news came out that he paid $32 million to a woman over a harassment issue. Yes, it was God who made us this way with such peccadilloes. Or maybe we're all just descended from space aliens and Earth primates, and our very existence is a mystery. "Ancient Aliens" is a fascinating show on the History Channel. (Remember the early days of the History Channel when many of us poked fun at it, as the "Hitler Channel?")
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Don Ellis' "Final Analysis" made UMM history

Don Ellis seemed way ahead of his time when he was in his music heyday. Examining his music today, he would still seem ahead of his time. His approach drifted away from convention. You might think it was dry or incapable of being appreciated by the "masses" (like me). So wrong! Ellis' innovative music could be intoxicating to listen to.
This was impressed on us at our U of M-Morris in the days before Jim Carlson came on the scene to lead jazz. While many UMM jazz concerts have blurred together in my mind, one stands out from the pre-Jim Carlson era. The UMM jazz ensemble performed a Don Ellis tune called "Final Analysis." I was already familiar with the tune from an Ellis album.
The subject came up recently when I reminisced with Del Sarlette. Del was in the jazz band back in that developmental time for college jazz. So was Tom Garberick, the well-known Morris drummer who mastered the "skins" (drums). Mentioning Tom as drummer should prompt lots of nostalgia.
I was in the audience for the performance I'm alluding to. I reminded Del that he "nailed" a trumpet solo early in "Final analysis." I teased him about how the solo might have been the most distinctive in UMM music history. Hyperbole, yes, but I truly remember "Final Analysis" as if I had been to the concert just recently. Clyde Johnson was the director at the HFA Recital Hall. I'm certain Clyde remembered that performance for a long time too, likely because of the way his band righted itself after the kind of disoriented state that could easily happen with an unconventional Ellis tune. Del reminisces:
 
Ah, Don Ellis' "Final Analysis." Fun tune, but the only time we ever got that Beethoven-style ending right was at the concert. Clyde had a look of immense relief on his face when we finished. If you remember, Tom Garberick was our drummer that evening. He couldn't read music, so had taken the album ("Live at the Fillmore") home and memorized the song. Quite an accomplishment given all of the weird time signatures (17/8 etc.). That one also had the strange electric guitar/synthesizer "duet" in the middle. Nobody but the band knew it, but those two guys (Chris Santillo on guitar, Omar Metawah on synth) got lost in the middle of it. They sort-of got back on track, but the band was looking at each other not knowing exactly how we were going to get out of it. Then, Tom just started playing a familiar riff and everybody jumped on board. Mr. Santillo died of cancer a couple of years ago.
 
I had the opportunity to play musically with Clyde a few times. We were together in the Donnelly Threshing Bee parade once. We also played some gigs with the Tempo Kings orchestra, a Sammy Kaye style orchestra that could travel far for its engagements. As a young person I thought the extensive travel to be exciting. I wouldn't view it that way today. We in the band joked that if it was our plan to pick up Clyde at, say, 6 p.m., we should tell him we're coming at 5:30. Get the point? But we all had fun together.
Del and I were in a generation that loved a certain set of touring big bands. Many of us got attracted to Maynard Ferguson. That enthusiasm got extended to the likes of Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie and Stan Kenton. We also became quite aware of Don Ellis. I'm not sure Ellis ever went on a national tour with his music, but we never had the opportunity to see/hear him in person. We all learned he was in a precarious health state, specifically with his heart. Alas, we lost Ellis before the '70s ended.
Going on YouTube today to hear "Final Analysis" plus other Ellis numbers, I get misty.
Ellis' trademark was truly innovation. I'll repeat that this trait did not contradict crowd-pleasing potential. It helped greatly that Ellis had a sense of humor and readily incorporated this, as with "false endings." He developed as a trumpet player. He even played with Ferguson's band. Playing with the great Maynard Ferguson gave him the pedigree to wow my generation. He was one of the trumpeters joining Maynard in his popular "Three More Foxes" improvisation tune.
Ellis formed his own orchestra in 1965 and opened eyes (and ears). His bands were distinguished by unusual instrumentation - would you believe, up to three bassists and three drummers? - and most markedly by unusual time changes, e.g. 7/8, 9/8 and even 15/16. Boy, all of that is sure over my head. He got into rock rhythms and electronics. He invented the four-valve trumpet and used a "ring modulator" and all types of wild electronic devices.
By 1971 the Ellis band included an eight-piece brass section including French horn and tuba! This reminds of some things Stan Kenton did that were not as crowd-pleasing. Kenton talked about the sophistication of his band in a defensive way - Ellis had no need for that.
Ellis employed a four-piece woodwind section and string quartet. Appreciation of his work has increased since his death.
Ellis' own trumpet playing combined dazzling technique with a hot jazz feeling. He scored the music for ten films including "The French Connection" (1971) for which he got a Grammy. His "eastern" music was rendered with great flair. What a dazzling resume and bio he compiled before he left us too soon. I'm sure he would have been delighted hearing that UMM jazz performance at the Recital Hall way back when, as pieces were getting put together for Jim Carlson's triumphant arrival to lead UMM jazz in a legendary way!
RIP Chris Santillo. RIP Don Ellis. Maybe UMM jazz of today should tackle "Final Analysis" as a historical tribute.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving: an innocent story w/ hopeful air

We're approaching Thanksgiving once again. I remember that at Longfellow Elementary School, we made a big deal out of the Pilgrims and Indians story. We probably did some appropriate artwork. Of course, the happy story of the Pilgrims and Indians interacting would not be a prelude. Indians would be displaced in an unpleasant way. The European culture would run roughshod.
We still impress upon our kids the promise represented in that original story.
I wonder why we still have Columbus Day. For years I had to be reminded early in the day that it was in fact a "holiday." I had to know because of the nature of the work I did for the Morris newspaper: the Post Office would be closed.
The P.O. is closed for every imaginable holiday. I remember in a chat I once had with a post office employee, he recalled a phone call where he was asked if they would be open for "Easter Monday." He said he was stunned for a moment before he answered. He had never thought about "Easter Monday" before.
Easter Monday does in fact have significance as a quasi holiday, at least among certain Catholics: it's "Dyngus Day." I'd like to see that celebration get a little more traction. It's a day of feasting and celebration in contrast with the self-restraint imposed by Lent.
Dyngus Day sure seems preferable to Good Friday and its story of Christ's torture and ultimate death. Is it just me, or does the Christian faith give more attention to the torture/misery aspect than in a previous time? I get so discouraged by this, I have written 3-4 springtime blog posts where you might get the impression I'm an atheist. Don't take those posts at face value - I just resent the gore in the story of Good Friday.
I think that by comparison, "Dyngus Day" is wonderful. Dyngus Day got a little extra attention a few years ago when Anderson Cooper of CNN got the giggles when reporting about it. He had a hard time composing himself. I guess the term "pussywillow princess" set it off. He was invited to be the "pussywillow prince" at a major Dyngus Day celebration the next year. I'm not sure if he accepted.

History not so cut and dried
Ah, Thanksgiving. It was an event marking the opening of a new continent, at least for the Europeans, right? That's not really true. By the time the first English people settled, other Europeans had already reached half of the (eventual) 48 states.
Giovanni da Verrazzano is not remembered nearly well enough. He was an Italian in command of a French ship. In 1524 he toured the Eastern seaboard. At one point he directed a crewman to swim ashore where natives were seen. The natives took the crewman to a fire, not to roast him but to warm him!
Sailing north, Verrazzano observed a wide bay which is today New York Harbor. Alas, in 1528 this intrepid man went to a Caribbean Island where he was seized by cannibals and eaten. Verrazzano was famous in his own time. He has since fallen into obscurity. He is remembered with a bridge named for him in New York City. Years ago this bridge became high-profile as the masses of runners in the New York City Marathon crossed it. National Lampoon did a satire where the bridge collapsed under the weight of the runners!
Spanish conquistadors examined the interior of the continent in 1542. They rafted the Mississippi River! In Kansas they showed horses to Indians who had never seen them. I read that Columbus Day has actually been replaced in some places by "Indigenous People Appreciation Day." What a wonderful idea. Wonderful for here in Morris?
In 1602 a band of English explorers built a fort on the island of Cuttyhunk. Religious freedom was not their passion. They came to seek riches from digging sassafras, considered a cure for the clap in Europe. The commodity was valuable. This would not be acceptable for artwork at the old Longfellow School.
Longfellow is where I heard about the assassination of JFK. Lillian Peterson (later to be Ehlers, living over 100 years old) was called into the commons area for a couple minutes, and when she returned she grimly informed us third graders of the shooting of JFK. I can't remember if we were let out of school early, but I think we were. At home we watched the continuous TV coverage of the assassination and its aftermath. It was the first big TV news spectacle.
Let's hail the Norse people for their settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in 1000 A.D. As a Norwegian, I say let's raise a toast. The Sagas gave us spoken accounts of the Viking age (A.D. 800 to 1050). They are fascinating because of their blending of reality with the paranormal. Leave it to my forebears. We get the story of the person who was unable to use the latrine during the night because "the path was blocked by ghosts." That ever happen to you?
Did the Vikings get to Kensington? Who knows?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cauldron of far right stuff reaches sex

Donald Trump is the best thing that ever happened to MSNBC. Ironic, of course, because that network is the most likely to have commentary skeptical toward the president. This is a president that lost the popular vote. He is trying to lead us in an extreme direction. He does and says things that are patently absurd all the time. MSNBC reveals that, often with the kind of smirk and incredulity that such behavior invites.
Trump binge-watches Fox News. He has special affinity with the morning "Fox and Friends" which is like a caricature of what Fox News stands for. Many people simply don't have the time to consume a whole lot of cable TV news. Or they might opt to watch other things on TV of which there are myriad. However, cable news has the power to throw out topics that leach into our main street discussions.
The media landscape of today has given the far right ideology the kind of footing it lacked before. There's a big audience out there that really applauds this stuff. It's one thing to be entertained by the rhetoric - who really wants "big government?" - but something else to truly turn the reins of power over to people who spew it.
Republicans are assaulting the Affordable Care Act over and over. They are striving to wipe out the individual mandate. Of course, if we are to have any kind of meaningful health care system, the cost must be shared. It must be shared with healthy people, and the reward for them is that they'll get help if they need it. These cheap catastrophic policies can seem real good until something bad actually happens to you.
The cost of health care can be spread by the insurance principle. The ACA props up insurance pretty well. The cost can also be shared through taxation which is a tried and true redistribution tool. I guess Republicans want neither. You all are learning, if you didn't know before, what makes Republicans tick.
There is a part of us that wants Republicans to be right, really. On the basis of pure principle, it's easy to find merit in a lot of what Republicans espouse. Who likes government? There is always waste to be found in government. Government simply does not operate like the private sector. But do you really want to place your own personal health and happiness in the hands of the private sector? "You're on your own."
The Republicans came within a hair's breadth of destroying the ACA earlier. Had Norm Coleman won our Senate seat instead of Al Franken, it likely would be done by now.
I am writing this at 2 a.m. when we are all quite consumed by the Roy Moore thing. Amazing. If I, Brian Williams, former writer for the Morris Sun Tribune newspaper, was known to be banned from Morris establishments because I was hitting on high school girls, I'd be shamed into leaving town. In Alabama a guy like this can run for the U.S. Senate. He is taken seriously even by those who ought to reject him outright.
What if I, Brian Williams, were to write that pedophilia is to be understood by the Mary, Joseph and Jesus story? People might insist that my blog be shut down. Yet this argument is seriously made by a person of high standing in Alabama. Let's remember we are talking about Alabama. It's too bad because the state has actually made inroads toward the 21st Century. The Moore episode is a big backslide supporting the ignorant stereotype of the past. Alabama was part of the Confederacy. "They lost." But the Alabama of today deserves better than to have this discussion about Roy Moore percolating.
Getting back to Mary, Joseph and Jesus, most people find the argument offensive on its face. The right wing evangelicals appear to be doing more damage to the foundation of responsible, non-political Christianity, the kind of Christianity presented by my own personal church which is ELCA Lutheran. We're plain vanilla and I'm so thankful for that.
People maintain that the virgin birth brought us the savior of humanity. But there is a credible argument that the virgin birth story was actually the product of a bad translation, sort of like when Saddam Hussein's translator gave us "mother of all land wars." The translator got carried away. Remember Jimmy Carter's Polish translator?
Well, I like the story of Christ's birth. It is a gentle, pleasant, uplifting story with the "Star" that now is the focus of a new movie. Christmas is a time of total joy in contrast to Good Friday and Easter - I guess I'm pinpointing Good Friday with its story of the absolute torture of Christ. Has the Mel Gibson movie made the torture story more high-profile? I resent it. Maybe this is why each spring, I write a post that suggests I'm an atheist. I would never write such a post at Christmas.
The Roy Moore story presents an avalanche of revelations about sexual assault and harassment. Bill O'Reilly pays $32 million to a woman who he certainly must have harassed. The Weinstein thing has brought on a ridiculous piling-on. We have conservatives who step forward to say, after some hesitation, they "believe" the women accusing Moore. But what should these people say about the accusers of Donald Trump?
Shall we all pile on this Weinstein fellow? At a certain point the whole effort becomes redundant. I have to ask: what kind of sex education did these offending males receive when growing up? Quite likely they got none because of the shame and embarrassment we all feel about approaching the subject, the old Victorian norms. If males grew up with nothing but shame and mystery surrounding sex, should we be surprised that some of them end up misbehaving?
We'll probably never be able to peel away the mystery around sex or its taboo nature. Bernard Goldberg in his signature book "Bias" addressed this. He was talking about a case where someone alleged she got AIDs from her dentist. Doubt grew when an insurance company began applying pressure to ensure the truth - this is one thing that insurance companies are really good at. Goldberg wrote: "People are notorious for lying about their sex lives." Amen and hallelujah.
Consider someone who counsels people on matters relating to sex. They'll prescribe acceptable norms of behavior, but then we must ask: How do these counselors behave re. sex in their own lives? Ahem. We lie about sex.
One of the current notorious cases in the news has to do with an entertainer who has masturbated in front of women. Is that really assault? Do we veer off into a sort of gray area? Again, what kind of sex education did that entertainer ever get? Any at all? Did he follow the old norm of "learning in the schoolyard?" That's how I learned.
We hear about that minor Star Trek actor now accused of assault, which he denies. I sure hope this doesn't eliminate all the Star Trek re-runs on cable TV. Will we never again see the movie "Beyond the Sea" because of the revelations about Kevin Spacey? If not, that's a shame.
We're still forced to see old cowboys and Indians movies that are unacceptable in the way they portray our indigenous people.
I suggest we have an "amnesty" program for offending males that calls for sensitivity training. They can hold off on running for the U.S. Senate.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com