Week 16 – Yay! I got a letter from a political party!

The letter came in the mail early last week.  Business size, sufficient postage, postmarked on April 16 out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The return address was that of the local county office of the XXX political party, using a particular box number right here in town.

The contents? Four pieces;

An addressed envelope to send back a donation in…. but no stamp.

A form to complete, including your vital info and how much money you’re sending.

A document explaining how Minnesota can refund political donations and how to get yours back once you’ve donated.

Now let us take the piece featuring the picture of a fine local family: Mom, Dad, and five kids, in full color, all of them dressed casually, smiling at the camera but squinting at the sun a little bit … (inexperienced photographer?  Maybe.)

There’s text below the picture, which is a short note from the mom and dad, introducing themselves as the county chair and secretary of the local XXX party, and how they are doing ‘everything we can to stop (I choose to delete the name) and (I choose to delete the name) from stealing our children’s freedoms.’  The words go on to say that the other party (which I will call the YYY Party) are out of touch.  It doesn’t say out of touch with what.  Then comes the solicitation for money.  At the very bottom, the name of the family in the picture above… no first names, just “The Smiths” (not their real name….)

My point?  Both major parties in our county are guilty of the same ‘non-informational information’.   They both disparage the other with vague and/or baseless comment like I’ve quoted (‘stealing from our children’s freedoms)… What exactly are those? Can you be a bit more specific?  At all?  Even a little?

And while you’re at it, how about telling us what YOU stand for?  IF the other party is so wrong, how come you’re so right? But no, there’s absolutely nothing here to convince me that (now pat attention, those of you who mail out such stuff) THAT YOUR PARTY IS ANY BETTER!

I can’t wait to get the similar letter from the YYY party with the exact same info about donating, with the same tax deduction info, an unstamped envelope, and a barely adequate picture of some local person in charge…. and with the same non-informational information.

My dear political parties, if you want my vote, you have to convince me that YOU are the right person for the job.  Pointing out the other party is wrong does not automatically make your party the right one…. In the meantime, this voter (and many like me) are tired of this kind of tactic, and it will indeed come and bite you in the posterior sooner or later.


Week 15 – Friends, A Concert, and stupid reaction to sporting events

Wilma and I planned a few months ago to take in the Michael Johnson concert – and things ended up so much better than we thought.

You see, I have a friend who is a former student … in fact, it has occurred to me that he was my student for 7 years at the most, when I taught him to play the sax.  After he graduated, our paths didn’t cross much at first, but he and I reconnected a good 20 years or more ago, and we have become good friends.  We share many interests – especially humor and good movies … and good conversation.  His wife, too, has become a good friend.  If you had told me when I first started teaching that I would develop such a friendship with a ‘student’, I wouldn’t know what you meant — but I do now!  Kevin and Kelly are now that kind of friends – and I so much value them…. and, I might add, there are several other former students who fit this category – a truly unexpected benefit of having been a teacher.  Thank you all for your friendship…..

So to make a long story longer, Kevin and Kelly gave us their tickets for last week’s performance of ONCE, down in the cities … no charge, just take them and enjoy … (which is so typical of their generosity) so Wilma and I decided we needed to get even for all those wonderful generous gestures … the four of us, therefore, headed north for supper at Billy’s – an eating establishment east of Pequot Lakes … and enjoyed a good meal and good conversation … very casual, no time pressures at all… and we dined well.  Then it was back to Pequot Lakes for a concert my Michael Johnson, guitarist and singer of excellent talent and skill.  He presented a fine show – sad songs, funny songs, some good audience patter – a wonderfully entertaining gig….. a night of good music, good food, and good friends!


Let’s wax a bit about the stupidity of what happened this weekend in Dinkytown, the small neighborhood community that borders on the University of Minnesota.  It seems the U of M hockey team earned its way into the finals of the National Hockey tournament with an amazing last second win… which resulted in kids and cops tussling a little bit out in the streets.  The next game would be for the championship….


And the U of M hockey team got beat.  It was a loss – no national championship this year….

What was the response?  You guessed it … kids and cops tussling a little bit ou tin the streets of Dinkytown.

Give me a real big break, willya?  THe exact same reaction to two opposite motivations?  Both a win and a loss elicit the same behavior?  Something’s not right about that… and let’s not get into the media fanning the incident by the tone it used to cover it – you would think we were back in Selma in 1964….


I am an average sports fan… I’ll be aware of some of the local teams – some more than others (GO TWINS!)… but it is the behavior of the fans of U of M Hockey during this past week that have me wondering about how some folks view the role of sports in their lives… and of how the media will buy into it as well.


I wish folks would be as passionate about such issues as education and health care and voting and life in general as they are about some sports and related events…. however, I also wish that that kind of passion would be tempered with thoughtful minds and hearts that produce positive effects as those passions are expressed.

Week 14 – Taking a Walk

April Seventh — a beautiful day for a walk – and I can’t say that enough.  Fully blue sky and temperatures in the 60′s for the first time since what seems like the Reagan administration.  There’s still a good amount of snow; all the roofs are clear, but most yards are still quite clogged with piles of graying, melting, wet, cold, snow, none of it at all appealing to jump into to make snow angels.


Wilma and I head out – I have set my cell phone to my RUNKEEPER app.  In its own cute feminine voice, it tells me “Activity Started” with academic indifference.  We head south, conversing as we go.

I hear birds!  I hear birds!  There are the usual crows, of course, but I hear robins — and as I look around, several of them are flitting around in the trees, doing in the branches what I wish I could be doing myself since about mid January.  I want to hop from branch to branch, ignore the ground, and curse out loud, “Damn you Winter!  You are OUTA HERE!”  MY glee would be light and wingy and … well, Robiny.


A bit down the road, we hear dogs add their two cents to the afternoon.  In particular, there’s this pitbull-looking dog chained up in a front yard.  We’ve seen him before, and he’s barked at us before, and he’s been held back by a chain that looks too big even for this fellow.  But, pit bull or not, his bark was as friendly as his wagging tail…. the message as far as he was concerned was, “Oh, Thank God this winter finally losing its grip on the world!  Bring me my kibble!  Come rub behind my ears!  Come and get me off this chain and let’s chase those goofy rabbits!”


And another odd scene; no, wait, the odd scene a couple or maybe three times on our walking route… Here it is, early April, early spring, and in three yards, almost right in a row…. Christmas decorations in the snow!


Now I love Christmas as much as anyone.  The traditional trees and food and drink and decorations and all that – and the carols and the Bible story and being with family and friends and celebrating and watching “HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS” … but come on, dear neighbors.  Flip that calendar next to the refrigerator and see if you can’t notice the silliness of still having your yard Christmas decorations out.  In one yard, there was a complete nativity and some Christmas presents.  In another yard, there were 3 or 4 of those wire-frame reindeer, two of them having fallen over because the snow that supported them has dwindled into smaller piles of less than sufficient weight to keep them up.  In another yard, a plastic version of Santa and all his reindeer are lined up along the driveway.  They clearly are also having trouble remaining erect – and not only that, they’ve been out so long that the sun has faded their colors, so that’s a little awkward to have to look at.

Christmas was over 100 days ago now.  Heck , this is like still having Halloween decorations up in January.  Let’s get with the program, folks…. it is Spring!  It is almost Easter.  I am almost sure that if Jesus himself walked down the street, he’d walk up to your door and knock, with just one comment to say to you.  He’d look you in the eye, point to your yard, and then, as sardonically as he could, you’d hear, “Really?”


We finish our walk and I take out my phone to halt the progress on RUNKEEPER.  1.24 miles, some birds, some dogs, some silly yard stuff…


And it is spring!!!




Week 13 – ‘AMERICAN ENCORE’ – A site practicing freedom of speech, but ignoring the responsibility of speech

They (and others like them) want us to give them all OUR identity, but they bury their identity – or for that matter, don’t reveal it at all.  THAT IS A SCARY THOUGHT.


If I accuse someone of being a liar, but don’t identify myself, I’m being pretty yellow.

If I wish to make an opinion known to the public, I can’t – nor should I … keep my name out of it.


But now, we’re getting too much of that.  Be as free as you want with your speech, but also have the balls to put your name to it.



A few years ago, I watched many posts show up on my Facebook page that originated from some group that called themselves ‘Americans for Justice” or “The People Who Stand” or some other similar nebulous name that would then engage in slamming whoever and whatever their opponent is was.  In most cases, it was difficult to find names of who were the folks behind these types of posts, and the organizations that wrote them.  It didn’t matter how slanted the writing was.  It didn’t matter how accurate or inaccurate the post was – names were hard to find – people who wrote them made it difficult to connect the words to a face and place.


Through the last presidential campaign, we heard names of those who were big donors – and quiet silent ones at that – behind the candidates.  Romney had Sheldon Adelson from Las Vegas, who gave millions to the cause.  Obama had George Soros, the very rich Greek immigrant, filling the coffers of the Obama campaign.  Now, they may have been silent, but they were nonetheless identifiable for who they supported, and for who they were.  And there are more out there that we hear about …. The KOCH brothers come to mind for me.


But then, all those sites that I saw – Did you ever try to hunt down the board of directors of some of them?  Did you seek out names to see who was behind it?  I did – and unfortunately didn’t keep records of who showed up on the various sites – I checked out those who had a conservative and liberal agenda as much as I was drawn to their site – the more vehement their message, the more I doubted them.


So, I ended up discounting these kinds of sites – for their attempts at hiding their forces, for their ability to hide behind their messages without taking the responsibility of what they said.


And now, it has started this year for the races of the 2014 elections.


Of late, I have seen a postings from a group called AMERICAN ENCORE.  (http://americanencore.org)  They have posted items that are distinctly conservative – which is fine.  They oppose certain candidates (particularly Senator Al Franken in Minnesota) and are advancing their own causes… again, that is as fine as you can hope for.


But here’s my problem.  I have gone through the various menus on the AMERICAN ENCORE site.  I can find no board of directors.  I can find no officers no list of donors, no notice of who is making the decisions …or writers, or editors….


Interestingly enough, if you choose to donate to this site – if you make any connection with this site in any way, YOU are to be identified in some very specific ways:  here’s a clip from their privacy policy:


Certain actions and areas of the site may require you to provide personal information.  The personal information we collect may consist of your name, address, phone number, mobile phone number, e-mail address, username, birth year, t-shirt size, hat size, and personal statement or similar information. By submitting personal information to us, you agree that we may use the information in accordance with this privacy policy.


Now, you tell me.  Is it not fair to expect THEM to be as forthcoming with THEIR identity as they expect me to be?



I must say this… I DO INDEED find a name.  A man named SEAN NOBLE shows up in the MEDIA section of the menu… and from what I can tell, he is the mouthpiece of AMERICAN ENCORE … and it also seems he’s of similar thought – again, that’s fine…..


But I must also protest that those funding and supporting this site need to identify themselves clearly.   There is a freedom of speech, and with it comes the responsibility of that speech.  If you say it, claim it.


That’s all I want – and I said it at the beginning of this article. .  Be as free as you want with your speech, but also have the balls to put your name to it.


By the way, my name is Charles Johnson.






Week 12 – Rich Couple on Welfare Scam, Death on THE GOOD WIFE, Minnesota TWINS




Here’s a story about a couple named Chisholm who live on a yacht in Florida and have been collecting welfare from Minnesota and a couple other states.  They are ABLE to be on their own, they have their own holdings, they are lying deep and wide about almost all their living quarters and their financial holdings.  What I want to know is how do we find yokels like this and bring them to justice?  We see so many postings online about how those on welfare legitimately are caught scamming the system, and how those folks are so deeply vilified for such crimes ….  As a teacher, I have had many students who were part of the welfare system… and maybe some of them were part of families that scammed it some… but they at least were doing so to get along a little better, not like this dang YACHT FAMILY that is doing so out of raw greed.  Let’s toast these grubbers.


Then maybe we need to apply some of this anger to businesses and companies that use government funding above and beyond what they really need.  I have no trouble having our government helping companies get up and running, but when those companies and their leaders overstep and misuse such funding should also be reviewed and taken to task… and to say there aren’t companies out there like that is like saying there aren’t families out there like the Chisholms in the news story that prompted this particular item in the first place.




On a less political plane, last night’s episode of THE GOOD WIFE sure caught the attention of Wilma, me and the whole watching public.  No one suspected the death of Will was in the works… apparently actor Josh Charles (who we also saw in his young years as a student in DEAD POET’S SOCIETY and of that good TV show SPORTS NIGHT) had chosen to leave the show, so they had to find a way to write him out…


Well, write him out they did – and rather successfully.  I applaud the writers for having the guts to employ such a shocking story line – and they did it well.  The main characters – with the exception of Alicia (Julianna Margulies) – responded so very well … gasps of disbelief from Diane and Kalina… and so on… It is good to see some true dramatic writing and acting instead of the pile of baloney we see on the reality shows that draw our country’s attention as if THAT stuff matters.




Let’s end today’s blog with a personal preference.  I am a baseball fan – always have been.  I will choke down a winter menu of football, basketball, bowling and maybe some golf, but once baseball is here, I am all set and ready for a full 162 game season and the playoffs and World Series to follow.


I am a TWINS fan…always have been.  I don’t care a ripadeedodah if they do well or if they flop like a carp.  I will be pulling for Maurer to make it at first base.  I will root for the starting pitchers to have at least 3 of them get to 12 wins.  I look for a Cinderella story of some player to have a stellar season that non one predicts.


If they make the playoffs, well  then, all the better.  I plan to take in some games this summer – so I may just be calling some of you (Casey, Dave, Jon, another Jon, Thor) to get out and get to some games.


Bring on baseball.  Please!








Week 11 News Thoughts for this Week…..

First, I will echo what I just read on Facebook, where a man named Seamus explained why he doesn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  He talked about how the day has been diluted and trivialized over time.  He spoke of how we’ve seen the original practices and traditions of the day, how they had meaning, how they were revered.


Like I said, I echo this thought.  I am so very tired of seeing absolutely every TV news team adorn themselves in green, make comments about green beer, and sell themselves as being so Irish — even if their name may be Sven or Bjorn or Holly or Mumbasa.


And let us extend the thought to other holidays…. Religious and secular alike.


When is the last time you were stirred to tears by the flag or the playing of TAPS on Memorial Day?  Heck, when’s the last time you WENT to a Memorial Day event?


When is the last time you enjoyed the events on a Fourth of July – the parade, the fireworks, a nice family picnic… instead of the folderol of politicians on foot, of cardboard Yankee Doodle hats….


When did you really enjoy the kids who came to your door on Halloween, and realized that it is JUST a fall holiday, something that is just for fun.   Aren’t you tired of the stories of the mischief – even the anticipated news stories about such tomfoolery?


When did you last review the history of our Thanksgiving?  Or laid off slamming Christopher Columbus?  Or honored the workers that had a big part in building this country – whether you support the ideas of unions or not?


Have you had it up to here with Easter Egg rolls and bunnies and clucking animals looking to sell Cadbury chocolates?  Whether you adhere to Christianity or not, have you allowed the respect that Easter represents?  For that matter, how about leaving the wassail bowl and the shopping WAAAAAYY before Christmas – and again, whether you adhere or not, giving Christmas Day its due?


‘Nuff said about all of that – next:


The guy who started the Westwood Church down in Kansas is apparently on death’s door…. And I have to take up and agree with my niece who wishes we leave him pass in peace – no counter protests or demonstrations – no ‘we’ll show him now that he’s gone’ kind of thing … He may have been a source of a great deal of hate, of misdirected theological thought, of some very uncomfortable actions – but you know, let us allow all that to die with him.  Despite all the controversy he stirred up, love will be stronger force than anything he may have perpetrated.


And now ….


I feel so sorry for the passengers on Malaysian flight 370.  I don’t know what I would do if a loved one were on that flight.  How astonishing it is that in this day of such wonderful achievements in technology that we can lose so many people and such a large aircraft – let’s hope for a quick answer to the disappearance of flight 370.

Week 10 – 12 Years a Slave – Good, not Great.

Wilma and I took in 12 YEARS A SLAVE yesterday – and as good as it may be, it was not up to the caliber of winning the Academy Award for Best Film of 2014.  (What should have won is another story….)


12 YEARS is the story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man living in Saratoga, New York, who was kidnapped into slavery in 1841.  He is offered a job as a musician (a temporary job, that is, like so many musician jobs).  While in Washington DC as he is executing his duties as the hired musician, he is drugged and sold into slavery, ending up under the very nasty hand of one Mr. Epps.  We meet several characters – we see several instances of how the white owners abused their slaves – we see all the usual scenes depicting slaves at work in the cotton fields – a good deal of it quite graphic.  Once Solomon (who is forced to use the slave name of “Platte”) gets the ear of a sympathetic Canadian, he is freed and returned to his family.  WE find in the credits at the end of the movie that Solomon went on to be a speaker for abolition and participated in helping slaves escape via the Underground Railroad.


Moving story, yes.  But as a movie, there’s this:


There seemed to be no outstanding technical feats in the movie.  No amazing camera work – I had expected to see some shots of huge cotton fields, spreading plantations – but there was nothing like that.  Sound – nothing spectacular, maybe even a bit trite – it seemed that the sounds of the whip being used over the heads of the cotton pickers didn’t quite match the rest of the sounds in the scene… so hey, dubbed in, were they?


The acting was solid.  Solid casting all around: kudos for putting together a solid ‘no-name’ cast, and for finding some names to add some meat to the cast:  Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti,  and Alfre Woodward, to name three ….  and I would be hard pressed to contend that members of the cast should or should not have been nominated for Oscars.


I found myself with some questions as to the story line:


Mr. Northrup was conned into taking this musician job.  Here’s an African-American man who, we are told, is well-educated, married with 2 children, and a home owner.  We are asked to believe that he naively accepts a job from two strangers in a country that is well-known for its slavery.  It seems to me in all his education and experiences (we find through the story that he is rather quite well-traveled as a free man….) that he should have seen huge red flags flying when he is offered such a job from such strangers in such a country with the atmosphere it had regarding free black men.  It was hard to buy that precept that Mr. Northrup was indeed that clueless about the situation afoot in his own country.  He KNEW about slavery.  He KNEW. … I have to assume such a lack of story telling it is not the fault of the original book of Mr. Northrup’s (12 Years a Slave, written in the 1850s) but in the fault of the screenwriters.


I also found myself wanting to know if, over those 12 years, his family had been searching for him.  He disappeared from his home while his wife and kids were away on a visit elsewhere – they returned to find no Solomon anywhere – gone, vanished, with no trace whatsoever.  It would make sense to me to have included scenes in which  his wife would be shown consulting with the authorities, pleading with the officials – but we see nothing of this potential story line at all.  Again, screenwriter’s choice, and hence screenwriter’s error.

So, 12 Years a Slave is a good movie.  It recounts well the specific story of a specific man, complete with all the vagaries of our country’s history of the use of slaves.  It is not great because it contains nothing that sets it apart technically, and has some holes in the story that left me hungry to know more.


12 Years a Slave




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