WEEK 42 — TBT: Two Guys who are the Poster Children of my teaching career

boyles party Mike D Kevin B Me for charliesixty


(Photo:  Mike Dilley, Kevin Boyles, Charlie Sixty) In 34 years of teaching, I have had the opportunity to get to know some fantastic kids. Some I haven’t seen since they graduated, some I see quite regularly, some I hear from once in a while. This kind of contact is always so very special and rewarding… Someday I will write about that group, but there are two former students who I think of now as top-notch friends. I have been honored and so lucky to be included in their lives: I get invited to parties, to events – it’s really something. We’ve even performed together in some theatre and even with a Blues Brothers Tribute Band. Yes, these two boys serve as the poster children of my pool of former students.


This past weekend, I had the fine opportunity to take in Kevin’s 25th anniversary. In true Kevin style, it was a total surprise for his dear wife Kelly (who I never did have as a student)…. Kevin Boyles and Kelly have been good friends for a long time now. Kevin graduated in the mid-80s and left the area, so we lost touch for a while, but in the mid-90s, he and Kelly came back to the area and it has been a growing and consistent friendship ever since.

Kevin started playing sax in fifth grade back in the … well, I’ve already given a hint. He was a good student in so many ways – a strong personality, as he himself acknowledges. He earned some superior ratings at instrumental music contests (me on piano, he on his alto sax or baritone sax), played his part in my high school bands, and engaged easily in conversation. We also shared some time in the pit on various community college plays . . . and like I said, we got out of touch there for a while, as I said.

Kevin once wrote me a letter thanking me for being the teacher I was. You can bet I still have that letter, and will value it forever. Kevin has invited me (and Wilma) to his cooking parties – Cajun, Mexican, and so many others … We’ve shared discussions on music, movies, TV, sports, politics, and so much more. When Kevin’s mom died, I was so very honored to have Kevin seat me with the family.


Mike came to my school, if I remember right, as an eighth grader. His dad’s family came from the town, but he was not a native like his dad. Here came this guy from California, knowing nobody in town. One day he happened by the band room, and the next thing we knew, he was signed up for band as a drummer. His mother Sharon was a secretary in the high school, so I got to know her as well, along with dad Rod – and brother Shawn and little sister Melissa. The family had me over for supper a few times.

Mike found himself using that drumming in other ways over the years – he’s played with bands, in pit orchestras (even some in which both Kevin and I were members) and even in drum and bagpipe groups. Mike was also the drummer in that Blues Brothers Tribute Band I mentioned …

He is pursuing quite the career in computer technology out in California (hence, I don’t get to see him as often as I see Kevin). My family and I were out there once, and Mike gave us a tour of the APPLE campus in Cupertino .. So knowledgeable, so interesting.


Back in the 1980s, little did any of us know where things were going to lead. Mike and Kevin were only a year apart, so there was a good deal of common time between the three of us. We played silly word games in which we would take a word and re-define it – a good example would be LEOTARD, which according to Kevin, Mike and Charlie, would be a stupid lion. A Unicorn would be something played in Rome by a slave (well, okay – that one we stretched… EUNUCH-HORN). Back in those school days, we discussed all sorts of matters – and shared thoughts on current events, the arts, human relations … we pretty much hashed it all over.

Over the years, we have had the opportunity to get together over some amazing food (both of them are such fine cooks – they’re more than glad, I can assure you, that they don’t have to consume my culinary efforts)… over drinks, over holidays, over music….. How wonderful to continue to share time with these guys.

We could not have imagined that our paths would intertwine in such mutual admiration and respect . . . and yes, humor.

As a teacher, what a delight to see these two become adults with such successful lives. As a person, what a delight to consider them such good friends – the kind of friendship that reveals the presence of God in my life.

Thanks, guys… here’s to a good many more years.

Week 41 – Negative Ads

A Checklist for Watching Negative Political Ads

When it comes to those negative ads, there are certain things that give away the falsehood so often employed in such situations. Here are just a few.

If there are unflattering pictures of the candidate, you can bet someone sat with an editing machine and purposely found bad photos of the candidate. That applies to your least and best favorite candidate’s ads. It is especially true if the ad is in slow motion.

If the candidate is heard speaking, you can bet that same editor sat with sound clips and took all kinds of things out of context. This one is especially true if the same sound bite is repeated often within thirty seconds.

If a candidate is blamed for some failed law or program, you can bet there are many others involved. It takes a legislature and executive branch to bring about all laws, successful and otherwise. To blame or give credit to one person just doesn’t follow in our system. No one person has that much command…. Have you ever met anyone who did? Same thing goes if the candidate is characterized as being blindly selfish.

If a candidate is connected with another candidate or well-known politician, you can pretty much bet there’s a whole more to it than is being said. This is similar to the last paragraph. No one or two people have that much influence that gets followed blindly. Again, do you know anyone who does have such pull?

I would be willing to be that you can see all four examples above in one single ad about one single candidate – and I don’t care what party they represent. Negative ads are manipulative. We should ignore them. We have lost too many good candidates because we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into such baloney.

Bottom line: Check out what the candidates have to offer, what their positions are. Read their literature. Watch their own TV ads, if you can find them among the negativity out there.

Week 40 — Biting off our leg to spite the whole body?

On the Fourth of July, we celebrate our county’s birth. We celebrate that one fact. We still acknowledge the unfortunate deaths in the revolutionary war, with its Valley Forge and so many people killed – new Americans died, as did British, the French and some German Hessians, among others. It was a war on our soil, but it was full of international death.

On Labor Day, we celebrate our working men and women. WE celebrate them and what they have accomplished. We still acknowledge the labor riots, the poor meat factory conditions that we learned about in Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE, black lung disease that came out of the horrible conditions of working in the Pennsylvania coal mines, the need for child labor laws, and so many more similar instances like those.

On Memorial Day, we honor our military men and women who have served in both peacetime and war. We celebrate their service and their sacrifice. We still acknowledge that some of those military folks didn’t exactly behave so very well in other countries. Sometimes that was taking advantage of the ladies in those lands, fathering and abandoning children. Sometimes they took drugs and smoked pot on the front lines of Viet Nam.

Which brings up Columbus Day. On this day, we celebrate the opening of the New World – the discovery of an entirely new land mass that opened a whole new era of history to the entire world. We acknowledge that Mr. Columbus chose to abuse/mistreat/enslave the natives of the islands, and that he did not indeed hit the mainland – and other matters that have been attributed to his time on the seas.

If we are going to dissolve Columbus Day because of the conditions I mention, should we also be doing the same to the other commemorations I mention? Should we rechristen these events because of those less than stellar matters attached to them?

Of course not, don’t be silly! Of course I am being ridiculous in my comparisons.

There is no such thing as a perfect event or celebration. There are ways to deride any holiday – care to label Christmas as anti-Semitic? How about Thanksgiving? Perhaps PETA should consider it as discrimination against turkeys. I’m sure someone could even turn the moon landing of Armstrong and Aldrin (for which there is no national holiday – and should be) into a cause against interplanetary pollution.

We have recently watched some of our public schools try to rewrite their history textbooks because of certain things that are viewed as anti-American or non-patriotic. Aren’t we doing the same when we take our holidays and forget that the intent was to celebrate something in spite of the shadows that came with it? All that stuff about Columbus – unfortunate, ugly, distasteful – but do we take down the whole event because of it?

Such behavior to me sounds like the story about the stupid animal with his leg caught in a trap. He chewed off three legs and found himself still stuck.

Let us not imitate that beast by forgetting WHY we celebrate the things we celebrate …. And let us be smart enough to recognize the difference.

Week 39 – A Dedication of my playing with the Heartland Symphony

I have revived my career as a trombone player in the Heartland Symphony here in Brainerd. I played in many concerts through the eighties, but more or less haven’t been part of the group for like twenty years now. However, the opportunity arose for this fall, so I got signed up.

Our first concert of the year is music by the Russian Masters – some Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Rachmaninoff, for example. We played Friday in Pequot Lakes. Saturday night we’ll repeat the concert in Little Falls, and then Sunday in Brainerd.

There are many folks in the group that I know for one reason or another. Some fellow music teachers, some good friends, acquaintances from other areas of my life – we’re not the New York Philharmonic, but we do put out a pretty nice product for our size and skills.

And then a few memories crossed my mind – and these memories were people.

So there I was, sitting in the trombone section, playing 3rd trombone. My mind jumped to those who taught me about trombone – Jim Trotto in high school and Mark Lammers at Gustavus Adolphus college…. Both strongly influenced my career as a music teacher. Mr. T has been gone many years now, and Dr. Lammers still plays his trombone down in the Cities.

My mind also brought forth some former students – notably Dawn, who played the clarinet for me. She is no longer with us, having died at a young age and a mother of two. Nonetheless, I thought about her and her love for classical music.

And then there were those who used to play in Heartland Symphony over the years – There were two blond hot dog trumpet players – John E, who moved away, and Dwight N, who retired from his teaching career about the same time I did. There was another former student (trumpet player) who did some work with the symphony, but Brad doesn’t necessarily belong with these other two guys because he wasn’t blond, nor was he a hot dog. (Brad moved to Florida a long time ago and has made a successful life for himself….)

But I really wanted to mention a few who have passed out of this world, having played in the Heartland Symphony with me at one time or another.

Dave Nelson was a big bear of a guy with a brash sense of humor and a style all his own. I mean, who else do you know that would call the bar waitress over with the term “Hey, Wet Nurse!” He was a flute player (if you can imagine a man of his size playing the flute) who not only graced the Heartland Symphony flute section, but also played with the Minneapolis Police Band many times. I never did learn what took his life.

And there was Roger Lauve, trumpeter. He was a tall, balding gentleman – reminded me somewhat of Bud Abbott (the tall one of Abbott and Costello) and had a biting wit and wry sense of humor. He could play his trumpet well – classical, big band, and so much more. I considered him one of my first mentors as a music teacher – he taught up in Pine River and had some good bands. He died unexpectedly from what I had heard (and never knew for sure) from complications of an epileptic seizure.

And then Dale… D D D Dale Mittelstaedt. He played the French Horn in the symphony, as well as in some other groups. I type his name that way because he endured a rather severe stammer – and as politically incorrect it may be of me to mention it, he used it himself in so many other ways that showed his humanity, his great big huge sense of humor, and his great big heart. He, too, served as a mentor for me as a music teacher in the Little Falls middle school. He and his wife Shirley were as great a couple as I have ever met – so hilarious, so gracious as hosts, so wonderful as parents to their two girls…. Dale retired, lived a long life, and died, I assume, from smoking too many cigarettes.

I dedicate my playing in the fall concerts of the Heartland Symphony orchestra to these last three: guys who made so much of the music in their life – they meant a good deal to me and I thank God for the blessings they brought.

WEEK 38 – My call for the new Twins Manager . . . Terry Steinbach

And so the Minnesota Twins Baseball Club has stepped into the next era of managers. The Twins have been through twelve men in that position. Can you name them all? I will list them at the end of this article…. But until then, some thoughts on the Twins of 2014.

Ron Gardenhire did an admirable job. I am sorry to see him go, but it was a necessary step. His coaching staff has also been released, which is pretty much standard operating procedure.

I will not miss the pitching coach, Mr. Anderson, in particular. It sure seems he missed the boat on some good pitchers – or else the Twins gave up some good arms, so maybe it was former general manager Billy Smith – those pitchers who ‘got away’ are Kyle Losch, Pat Neschek, Johan Liriano, Francisco Liriano and Matt Garza in particular. I have to wonder what it would be like if the Twins had managed to hang on to a couple of these guys. Rick Anderson has performed quite well, but I still didn’t see what I had hoped from him.

Batting coaches? Vavra was one that I didn’t understand. He needed to be moved out of the batting coach slot. I wouldn’t mind the Twins giving Tom Brunansky another year to see what he can do there. Ullger should be able to catch on with other teams. Of Cuellar and Damman I have no opinion. That leaves Paul Molitor and Terry Steinbach – both of whom may be a couple of good candidates for the Twins manager of 2015.

If you want some sore spots:

The Twins have a history, it seems, of hanging on to young kids that don’t amount to much – and then give up on players who end up rocking the baseball world. I’m not sure how many more chances should be given for Arcia and the likes of him…. And I mourn over those who got away … Gomez in Milwaukee a little bit (only a little bit because he was a bit of a head case…) and can you imagine if David Ortiz had fit into the Twins plans in some way? As For Cuddyer, I wish we had held onto him. Justin Morneau is a very interesting case of moving the salary along, but then I have to ask if he was one we gave up on too quickly. Oh, and look. He just won the batting title in this year’s National League.

I have said it before: I am a Twins fan. Have been since they came to Minnesota from Washington DC in 1961. Their first few years were just the fantasy that a young kid (I was pre-teen then at the oldest) and then on into the late 1960s when they had a good level of success but got beat by the Orioles in the playoffs. When I think of the Twins and the 1970s, I have a few words: both of them are ROD and CAREW. Some minor names were Butch Wynegar and Lyman Bostock. On into the 80s, and the Twins were at their worst in 1982 when there were so very many rookies on the team; guys who later made it pretty good: Brunansky, Laudner, Hrbek …. And a little guy from the Chicago projects called Pucket.

1987 was so very much fun – the first time the Twins made it to the World Series and took St. Louis to task in seven games. Wilma and I hosted friends Tammy and Rick for the broadcast of one of the games. It was during the games that our daughter regaled us happily every time Kirby Puckett did something great …of course, she was two years old at the time, so her cheering came out “KIR PUCKEE! KIR PUCKEE!! How cute is that?

And some more years of competitive baseball and then 1991 – one of the best world series of all time – Twins vs. the Atlanta (CHOP) Braves, seven games, so very exciting…. The rest of the 90s – not so good, and the loss of Kirby to Glaucoma. On into the new century and the Twins gained some time in the playoffs – and there was the year I managed to get in the lottery for playoff tickets and won, so I could get to some of the games against the Angels. I was glad to take each kid to a game – pretty dang exciting…. Later that decade, more playoffs with tickets courtesy of a fine man and brother-in-law.

But then, since 2010, the Twins have dropped off the face of competition – but I do not waver in my loyalty to the Twins. They are and will be who I follow. And they are where my baseball hopes dwell. I wish the new manager, whoever he may be, a good first year, and that the Twins can indeed turn it around.

By the way, here’s the answer to the question. How many did you get? I had ten, and had to look up two of them: I had missed Goryl and Gardner. Have you noticed how many of them were utility players who could barely hit their hat size? The only pitcher in the bunch was Ray Miller, so it is ironic that the scary closer during his day was the famous Ron Davis, he of the blown saves fame who makes this year’s closer Perkins look like a hall of famer….

Cookie Lavagetto
Sam Mele
Cal Ermer
Billy Martin
Bill Rigney
Frank Quilici
Gene Mauch
John Goryl
Billy Gardner
Ray Miller
Tom Kelly
Ron Gardenhire

And the new manager for 2015? My prediction is Terry Steinbach.

WEEK 37: Teddy Roosevelt’s “Trust Busting” and Today’s Election Laws: A Comparison

Just over a century ago, trusts were the big economic news of the day.  They have become described as unscrupulous business practices with the purpose of controlling certain aspects of the country’s economic workings.  In many ways, this is happening again; not in industry, but in our very own election laws and campaign practices.


First, some history . . .


Back then, there were a handful of people who worked to manipulate conditions in order to gain control over a large aspect of the American landscape.  These people were Rockefeller, Morgan and Vanderbilt.  (There were others, but these three have become synonymous with that manipulation).  Their goal:  control industries in such a way that they benefitted not only in corporate profits, but also in their own financial gain.  Those industries were the railroads, steel manufacturing and oil production, among others.  They did this out in the open, and even with the government’s blessings in some ways. The Supreme Court, despite the purpose of the Sherman anti-trust act to control pricing, applied that law to making decisions against unions.


The trusts controlled rates and costs so much that they drove smaller businesses out of existence.  They employed tactics that included: (Source: http://www.linfo.org/standardoil.html)

(1) Temporarily undercutting the prices of competitors until they either went out of business or sold out to Standard Oil.

(2) Buying up the components needed to make oil barrels in order to prevent competitors from getting their oil to customers.

(3) Using its large and growing volume of oil shipments to negotiate an alliance with the railroads that gave it secret rebates and thereby reduced its effective shipping costs to a level far below the rates charged to its competitors.

(4) Secretly buying up competitors and then having officials from those companies spy on and give advance warning of deals being planned by other competitors.

(5) Secretly buying up or creating new oil-related companies, such as pipeline and engineering firms, that appeared be independent operators but which gave Standard Oil hidden rebates.

(6) Dispatching thugs who used threats and physical violence to break up the operations of competitors who could not otherwise be persuaded.


These trusts indeed brought the economic benefits of lower prices and higher quality, but only in the short-term.  Once the competition of the small companies was eliminated, there was no motivation to continue such work.  As well, any new innovation and invention was quashed, discouraging any further research and development.  This is from the same source as above.


Now, as for the comparison between the trusts of a century ago and today’s election system, let me continue . . .



We are hearing more and more about very influential people funding the campaigns of candidates for elective office, and at all levels.  These people are using similar tactics used during the time period of the trusts of a century ago.  Their goal:  to control the government by electing people who agree with them so they can benefit in business and in their own personal gain.  One difference:  they are doing so as quietly as possible; their names hidden in the fine print of those PACS (political action committees) we see so much in the media.  These PACS are funded in such a way that they air those negative ads that are misleading and unfruitful.

You know the names as well as I do.  They are the Koch brothers, Adelson of Las Vegas, and George Soros.  Both the Republicans and the Democrats benefit from such people in one way or another.  They, like the trusts of Rockefeller, Morgan and Vanderbilt, have some government blessings to do so:  the Supreme Court has defined corporations as people, and that money can be a matter of free speech.  Many find these decisions as disturbing as the courts of a century ago regarding the trusts.

Look at the points listed about the trusts.  Ask yourself if they are at all comparable to what’s happening in our election system today.  I think some of them do.

Do they undercut and disparage their opponents?  Do they secretly spy on each other?  Do they manipulate the market?  Do they try to limit voting practices one way or another?

In all cases, I say that they do.

Back in the day of the trusts, President Teddy Roosevelt took on those trusts.  He took them to court and broke up the trusts that were so out of control that he deemed them ‘bad’.  His goal was not to ‘trust bust’ as is so popularly held, but to regulate the doings of such business.  He did not to wish to destroy the benefits of those industries, but to make sure they benefited the good of the country.

It is time for some similar action in our election campaign laws and practices.  The undue influence of big money needs to be regulated.  Included in the list of the three men I mention I also include special interest groups that may have a single issue (like the NRA or the pro- and anti-abortion people) or larger issues (unions and entities like AARP who speak for larger groups of people).  These changes must be even-handed, addressing as many fair voting practices as possible.

It is time for our leadership, if there is any out there, to get these changes made.  (I am skeptical that such leadership is there: we have had nothing but managers for a good 20 years or more). It’s too late for the 2014 election season, but it is reasonable to expect such matters to be in place well before 2016.

It is time to reclaim the vote as belonging to the people and not the money.

Other sources: http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/gilded-age/resources/theodore-roosevelt-and-trustshttp://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/antitrust, http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h951.html





Book Review: DANCE WITH THE DEVIL by JD March

Dance with the Devil
By JD March

dance devil cover

A book review by Charles Johnson Western Genre
Published by FIVE STAR, A part of Gale Cengage Learning 353 pages
DANCE WITH THE DEVIL offers a firm example of writing in the western genre. We meet all the required elements of such a tale; men of varying moral standing, the life of the ranch hand, the hot weather of a summer in near-desert conditions, and some good action scenes and adventure. The plot moves along with two lines of conflict that keep the reader involved and interested.

A hard-working, honest man (Guthrie Sinclair) who owns a ranch in the 1870s in New Mexico, finds himself confronted with a competing rancher (Chavez) who wishes to take over a neighboring ranch, one way or another. If that means gunplay, then so be it. A son returns (Guy Sinclair) after more than a decade living in the east, where he has served in the military and learned the refinements of urban life of the time. A younger son (John Sinclair, aka Johnny Fiero) also returns, having been taken away at a very early age from the ranch by his wandering mother. He has survived life of living in shacks, being abused, and learning to deeply hate so very early on; that hatred motivates him to hone his gun fighting skills so that he becomes one of the most renowned gunfighters of the period. The Range War between Cortez and Sinclair is ostensibly over water and timber rights of another ranch on which the owner Steen Andersson has died. Other complications arise that make those water and timber rights seem immaterial, including the security and the future of Peggy Andersson, heir to the Andersson ranch. As the range war escalates, the two brothers accept their part in it, each with their own level of commitment and involvement. The honest father observes his sons, approves of one, disappointed in the other. As for the sons Guy and John, though they share the same father, their upbringing in different parts of the country gives them traits that just don’t blend well, despite the efforts of the elder brother to get along.

The Sinclair men are the main characters in the book, each of them with their own characteristics. The dad brings his western stoic, honest nature to the story, the older son brings his cultured training to the ranch, and gunfighter Johnny is clearly the angry young man so often seen is westerns. The local country doctor (Ben Greenlaw) is a good friend of the Sinclair family as well as a fine physician who takes little guff from his patients. Peggy Andersson is the only major female in the book; I wish there had been more of her in the story, and more to her character. The only other woman close to being a major character in the book is Johnny’s mother. We meet her just briefly, much in the same way we meet Johnny’s women of the brothels; and there’s not much a difference between the mother and those brothel dwellers. Several other ranch hands and cowboys appear, offering some more of that western flavor to the book.

JD March, the author, describes the scenery quite well, bringing the reader into the various locations. The descriptions found my mind’s eye, admittedly a product of the 1960s TV westerns, recalling scenes from those TV westerns as I read various sections of the book. The view of the ranch from the hills found me echoing the opening of HIGH CHAPARRAL, the night-time camps brought up notions of GUNSMOKE, with images of Marshall Dillon and a prisoner wait out the night, and the fist fights in the bar brought many more westerns to mind. This is a good thing – it means the author was accurate in describing the scenes.

There are few comical situations. These are mild, not quite enough to function as comic relief in the story. In a few cases where humor works quite well, the two brothers converse, and the Bostonian son Guy uses words that amaze and confuse the gunfighter Johnny to no end.

We learn that the elder son has left Boston, not only at his father’s request to return to the ranch, but to avoid some bad times caused by his own dalliances. What those bad times were are explained, but I felt they could have been detailed more than they were. The younger son’s motivation for his angry personality are better explained, helping the reader to understand him in ways not provided as well for the elder son.

The dialogue is quite well written. The voices of the various ranch hands, the patrons of the bars, and the ladies of the brothels are all authentic. Their language is indeed in the vernacular of the Wild West; with the exception of one word. Our gunfighter Johnny is the only character in the entire book that uses the ‘f bomb’…and uses it quite often; taking away some of the credibility of the dialogue. (One would think that the other rough and tumble cowboys would also use such profanity). In fact, as I researched the ‘f bomb’, it would be fair to say that it is out of place and anachronistic to the time period and setting of the American Wild West. American literature didn’t use the word until the 1920s, and then mostly on the east coast. My suggestion; either have the word appear in conversation of others, or, preferably, don’t use it at all since its use didn’t seem part of the talk of the time and place.

And so, as you ride off into the sunset…

DANCE WITH THE DEVIL carries a good amount of the western genre in some exciting action and clearly written settings. Male characters are quite solid – I wish the women were clearer and stronger – and there’s the language matter I mentioned that pulls this book out of the young adult audience to some degree and strains the credibility of the dialogue in some ways. The novel does, however, offer a good read for fans of westerns as they sit with this book in front of the fireplace and a cup of coffee on the side.


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