A Sort Of Homecoming

Today’s Columbus Day.  Which, to me, is the 30th anniversary of the day I set out to move from my hometown of Jamestown, North Dakota to the Twin Cities…

…and failed.  Long story, which I told here about ten years ago.

It was October of 1985.  I’d graduated from college almost six months earlier – and, as they say, “failed to launch”, at least immediately. I’d worked on a roofing and siding job, and at a bookstore, and put some money away as I’d tried to figure out what I was going to do after college – until I made the decision in a bout of drunken whimsy two weeks earlier.

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So after decades of ignoring the place, Hollywood has apparently set some sort of television show in “North Dakota”.

“Blood and Oil”, starring Don Johnson (who some of you may remember from, ahem, thirty years ago) airs on ABC – which is one of those “TV Networks” your parents used to talk about before even they switched to Netflix.   It gives off the appearance of being a Dallas-style soaper.

How do you think it turned out?

That was the question no doubt going through the minds of many people in the state when ABC’s new drama “Blood & Oil” premiered last week to modest ratings. The show is ostensibly set in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, though it’s hard to tell, given the snowcapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains looming in the background of exterior shots.
The Rockies, in case you needed an update on your geography, reside hundreds of miles to the west of North Dakota.
There were other guffaw-worthy moments for North Dakotans in the show’s first episode. A character killed a white moose at one point — moose aren’t at all common on the prairies of North Dakota — and a scene depicting two characters wrestling in jet black oil was downright incongruous.

But it could have been changed – with the help of subsidies, naturally.  North Dakota doesn’t offer them; Utah does:

Turns out it’s all about money. Utah offers filmmakers a 25 percent tax rebate. For filming “Blood & Oil” in that state, the Utah Film Commission gave the show’s creators an $8.34 million tax credit.

North Dakota, on the other hand, offers filmmakers exactly nothing. Which is why some in the state think subsidies could fix “Blood & Oil’s” scenery problem.

It’s the same reason Gran Torino, whose screenplay was set in Saint Paul, was filmed in Detroit; because Michigan has a program to transfer wealth from Detroit to Hollywood.

Which is something North Dakota’s legislature turned down by a 2-1 margin.

Which is roughly the ratio of Republicans to Democrats in the North Dakota legislature.

The Wheel Of Justice Turns Slowly, But It Turns Toward Freedom

North Dakota finally recognizes Minnesota carry permits.

They didn’t, of course, because Minnesota didn’t grant reciprocity to North Dakota permits, because of a decade of pissy DFL and bureaucratic (but I repeat myself) stonewalling on carry permit reciprocity.  The GOP-controlled legislature changed that, finally, in the past session.

This is, of course, of hypothetical importance to people utterly unknown to me, who now have no reason whatsoever to stop in Moorhead anymore.

Thanks For Nothing, Idiots

For decades – like, four or five of them – the old municipal shooting range in Jamestown North Dakota was where people went to plink, to practice their skeet, or to polish their aim or, in my case thirty years ago this summer, learn how to shoot.

Now, when we say “Municipal Range”, that may conjure up images of grandeur.  Or civilizaation.  Not so with the Jamestown range, located by the Pipestem Reservoir, about seven miles north of town on US 281.  There was a firing line with a couple of rough wooden stands and a log hot line.  There were some target stands downrange, and, 300 or so yards out, a big berm that someone had bulldozed into place.

And for decades, it sufficed; most people followed the rules, because someone would teach them.  One of my friends from the neighborhood, an Air Force veteran of sorts, hauled me out there when I was 22, lugging my Remington Nylon 66 that I’d just bought with my returned dorm key deposit ($50 at Gun and Reel Sports), and showed me the unbreakable rules, and started me plinking.

Some didn’t have the same benefit, or just lacked common sense; when we were downrange setting our targets once, a couple of moron kids with a 20-gauge shotgun started popping off at clay pigeons.  They were off on the right side of the range, away from the rest of us (me and a couple of other guys who were off to my left, and also downrange with me).   Yes, I remember what birdshot sounds like passing by 20 yards away from me.  I also remember the sound of the guy who’d been to my left, apparently a service veteran, barreling across the field yelling like all the hounds of hell turned loose on the kid with the shotgun, who I’m going to bet has never made that mistake again.

And there the range sat, decade after decade, without any problems – until now:

Shooting sports enthusiasts will be without a range to shoot here after July 1. Bob Martin, manager of Pipestem Dam for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the rifle range located west of the dam will close on that date due to safety issues.
“The safety concerns started popping up eight years ago,” he said. “There have been additional buildings adjacent to the down-range area. Outbuildings there have three or four (bullet) holes in them”

Larry Kukla, secretary of the Jamestown United Sportsmen, said it was unfortunate the range had to close.

“It is a sad day, but for safety reasons we have to close the range,” he said.

Kukla – father of a classmate and a former teaching colleague of my dad’s – and his group did all the caretaking on the range for years and years.  Which is how a lot of stuff got done back there; local groups taking care of things of local interest, without much need for governement.

But always, always, there’s gotta be idiots; even though they adjusted the range, nearby buildings and even the range’s safety signs kept turning up with bullet holes:

“Between careless, inexperienced and just being stupid,” Martin said, referring to the source or sources of the stray bullets. “If you are shooting at the proper targets, it’s impossible to shoot off the range. But you know they’re not just shooting at the targets by looking at the (damaged) signs.”

And so America’s real one percent – the one percent of people who can’t be trusted to use a public toilet without smearing something on the wall – as ruined everything for everyone else, yet again.

Surplus Of Stupid

SCENE:  Mitch BERG is ordering a Banh Mi sandwich at iPho on University.  Avery LIBRELLE enters the store.

LIBRELLE:  Hey, Merg!   After four years, Minnesota’s economy is rocking under Mark Dayton, while Wisconsin is sucking pond water!

BERG:  How do you figure?

LIBRELLE:  Minnesota has a $2 Billion surplus

BERG:  Right.  After raising taxes by…$2 Billion.  Now, if the economy is humming along, you’d think that the surplus would be bigger than the tax increase, now, wouldn’t you?

LIBRELLE:  At least Minnesota has a surplus!

BERG:  Right – apparetly, entirely due to the tax hikes.  In the meantime, Wisconsin is headed toward a surplus without the need for tax hikes – or, as we call it, a sustainable surplus.

LIBRELLE:  Yeah, but our economy is still better!

BERG:   Most of Minnesota’s growth is in metro-area medical, medical device, insurance and financial services companies – the ones that benefitted from Obamacare and “Too Big to Fail” stimuli.  Things aren’t nearly as rosy in Greater Minnesota.  In the meantime, Wisconsin’s growth is being held back by the slow manufacturing sector – which is a much bigger share of Wisconsin’s economy than Minnesota’s, and isn’t doing all that well here, either.

LIBRELLE:  If Minnesota had elected Tom Emmer governor in 2010, we’d be in the same boat!

BERG:  Right.  We’d have two economies being dragged down by Democrat policies.


BERG:  The parts of Wisconsin that are dragging the state’s economy are the ones that have been run by Democrats for generations.  The decay of Milwaukee’s manufacturing base is the state’s biggest economic problem.

LIBRELLE:  Hah!  But in Minnesota, it’s the Democrat-run cities that are winning…

BERG:  …as a result of national Democrat probrams to transfer wealth from consumers to banks and health insurance companies.

LIBRELLE:  You should issue a rape trigger warning.

BERG:  Clearly.


Stampeding The Herd

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin – who currently resides atop my short list for 2016 – paid a visit to the Minnesota state capitol yesterday.

He spent some time visiting with lawmakers.

GOP ones, anyway.  A DFL linked Twitter account noted that Democrat lawmakers stayed away from the Governor.

I can see why.  Every Democrat who crosses his path gets defeated.

We need to bring him to Minnesota in 2016.


I get to catch Rush Limbaugh maybe once a month, usually for about five or ten minutes as I’m going to some noon-time appointment or another. 

Yesterday, I tuned in to the sound of Limbaugh citing a story from the Jamestown Sun, the daily newspaper in my hometown, about a North Dakota legislative proposal to require high school kids to pass the same test new immigrants must pass to become Americans


The bill is part of the national Civics Education Initiative, an affiliate of the Joe Foss Institute. Foss, a former South Dakota governor and Marine Corps pilot who received the Congressional Medal of Honor, started the nonprofit to enlist veterans to teach young people about the value of their freedoms. He died in 2003.

The effort counts among its supporters former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day Sandra Day O’Connor, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein and actor Joe Mantegna.

A similar legislative effort was announced in September in South Dakota with support from former U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, former Citibank president Ron Williamson and former Sioux Falls mayor Dave Munson, among others.

[NoDak governor Jack] Dalrymple said the goal nationally is to have all 50 states adopt the civics test requirement by Sept. 17, 2017, the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

The state’s education commissioner notes that students can retake the test as many times as they need to get to 60% – which, I think, is the right idea; the point is that they learn the stuff. 

So – how would you do if you took the test?

Film Review: “The Overnighters”

I went to the Saint Anthony Main theatre on Friday night for a showing of The Overnighters.

It’s a good movie.  It’s worth seeing.

But it’s more complicated than that.

The Punched Social Ticket:  In reporting on life and the people in the Square States (aka “Flyover Land”), our culture’s self-appointed elites have a fairly consistent three-part narrative:

  • Prosperity in the square states is at least a bad thing:  at worst, it’s an unmitigated tragedy.
  • People in Flyover Land are conservative in all the wrong ways:  Whether it be a staid, stolid “that’s not how we do it here” to a cripping setness in one’s ways to a harsh, unforgiving bigotry, the Square States are like Deliverance Lite in the eyes of our coastal cultural elites.
  • Faith in general, but especially Christianity, is always a veneer over boundless depravity: Christians, in the narrative, are deluded and usually bigoted dullards at best; hypocritical unto evil at worst.  The notion of redemption is always exposed as a toxic lie in the end.

Keep those narrative points in mind through this review.

We’ll come back to that.

Baggage:  Before I get to reviewing anything, let me be up front; I have a chip on my shoulder.

I grew up in a place that barely qualified as a cultural punchline for most of its history; a place famous for durum wheat and George Armstrong Custer and scary fringe characters and Minuteman missiles and the nastiest blizzards in America, and not much else.  A place that some don’t believe exists, that some have tried to abolish and cede back to nature (before all that oil), that still provokes a lot of ignorant babble from “cultural elites” and newbies alike.

And when I was getting established in the big city, almost thirty years ago, it wasn’t a long trip for a lot of people from “you’re from a punch line” to “you are a punch line”.

And pushing against that turned into a hot ball of rage that kept me warm on many a cold night in my twenties.

That, like the narrative, will return to this review.

Hopeless Opportunity:   The film is set in Willison, North Dakota.  It’s the epicenter of the oil boom.  Ten years ago, Williston had maybe 8,000 residents; today, it’s probably pushing 30,000, and nobody’s sure about that. 

The movie’s protagonist – and for the first 90 minutes or so, hero – is Pastor Jay Reinke, minister at Concordia Lutheran Church in Willison.  We see at the beginning of the movie that Reinke is busy running an ad hoc program – the eponymous “Overnighters” – to provide shelter for people who are new to Williston and have noplace to stay.

It’s frequently a tough battle.  While North Dakota’s job market is smoking hot, it’s also more expensive to rent an apartment in Williston than in New York or San Francisco.   Property values and rents have risen to the point where some locals, especially people on fixed incomes, can’t afford to live there anymore.

And the job market’s not great for everyone; Reinke sadly informs an older black man who just got off the train that the oil fields are a young man’s trade, with brutal work and long hours and very difficult physical conditions.  For others – truck drivers – background checks trip them up.

In fact, if you didn’t look carefully, you would miss the parts where the filmmakers acknowledge the fact that the oilfields, overall, have a crippling labor shortage and that the unemployment rate is half the national average, and that Williston is a place where people with high school diplomas and (as one new arrival, a black man with a Chicago accent, notes on a cell phone) people with multiple felonies can make six-figure salaries.  

It’s an acknowledgement, of sorts – a drive-by, if you will.  But beyond that? 

The movie’s website says (emphasis added):

In the tiny town of Williston, North Dakota, tens of thousands of unemployed hopefuls show up with dreams of honest work and a big paycheck under the lure of the oil boom. However, busloads of newcomers chasing a broken American Dream step into the stark reality of slim work prospects and nowhere to sleep. The town lacks the infrastructure to house the overflow of migrants, even for those who do find gainful employment.

Grapes of what?

You’d think they were moving to Detroit or Camden.

To assert otherwise would be to break the narrative; there is no real prosperity.  There’s just bitter, broken people serving the monstrous, otherworldly oil rigs that loom on every horizon.

The movie follows several of Reverend Reinke’s “overnighters” – men who had spent time camping out at Concordia; a young guy from Wisconsin who starts at the bottom and soon moves his way up to a supervising position and an RV; a black truck driver from parts unknown; a hopeless electrician from Georgia; a former meth addict from somewhere down South; an enigmatic and very intense New Yorker who leaves thematic elements dangling like ripped-out telephone wires.

And all of them, every last one, leaves Williston a broken man; the young Wisconsinite, driving while exhausted, rolls his truck and ends up with a broken vertebra; the electrician’s wife, lonely and overworked with the kids, demands he return home or else; the truck driver flunks a background check and walks away, embittered with Reverend Reinke.  And the latter two?

That gets into spoiler territory.

Not Invented Here:  Reinke starts out as a fairly unadorned hero; a plainspoken, very Lutheran-looking man who seems to be doing a superhuman job serving as minister, homeless shelter operator, counselor and rescuer.  At the beginning of the film, it appears his biggest enemy is Willison’s status quo; a city council that’s maneuvering to curb the Overnighter program; neighbors that are alarmed at all the new people coming to the church and working their way up the hierarchy (they usually start out sleeping in cars in the parking lot, at least in the mild summer weather at the beginning of the film; then they move up to floor space in the hall; then, finally, a cot in the fellowship hall).

The other glimpses we see of the locals are straight out of central casting; city councilpeople intoning their reservations, locals outraged about their status quo being upset; I was almost surprised John Lithgow didn’t come to the City Council and demand a ban on dancing. 

Truth be told, outside the congregation and City Hall and the central casting Small Town Regulars, we see very little of Willison; neighbors that Reinke canvasses to try to reassure them about his charges; a newspaper publisher and his greasy, slimy reporter; one farm woman who, burned by a man who’d rented RV space before relapsing into methamphetamine, greeted Reinke and his film crew with a hunting rifle and a broomstick.

And then comes the word that some of the men have “sex offender” on their background checks.  And the movie’s third act begins.

Faith No More:   I’m going to try to walk the thin line between spoiling and reviewing, here.

Reverend Reinke, it turns out, falls short of his Christian ideals, as a believer and a minister.

On the way there, of course, we find that nobody was saved.  The unemployable are still unemployed.  The homeless end up with noplace to live.  The unredeemed, aren’t. 

I say “of course” because that is the cultural elites’ narrative these days; faith is beyond futility; it is absurdity.  A few of the plucky heroes whom Reverend Reinke “saved” earlier in the film turned out to be pretty spectacularly un-saved.

All that is good in the movie turns out to be “good” – in sarcastic scare quotes. 

Including – no spoilers, here – Reverend Reinke himself.

Every single person in the movie ends up, on one level or another, destroyed. 

Expectations: Now, I don’t mean to say The Overnighters isn’t an excellent bit of storytelling.  It is.

And I’m not saying it’s not worth seeing, if you get the chance; it is.  The cinematography is absolutely glorious.  The editing and pacing and the storytelling itself is enthralling.  If I had to give it a rating, I’d say “Four stars, and I didn’t like it”. 

Because truth be told, I walked into the movie fully expecting:

  1. Prosperity to be shown as a curse (or a mirage),
  2. North Dakotans to be depicted as clenched, bigoted caricatures, and
  3. Faith, the Church and its people to be shown up as frauds, hypocrites and hollow shells of sanctimony (or, at best, people whose flaws overwhelm and overshadow all good about them).

And I expected it because – the guy for whom the little ball of rage still burns deep down inside tells me – that’s the way it’s always been.  From the intelligentsia’s chortling about “Buffalo Commons” a decade ago, to MPR’s tut-tutting about all that unseemly prosperity on the Plains, to the NYTimes’ Gail Collins giggling her idiot giggle about having no place to shop and waiting in line at the Williston McDonalds, The Overnighters is an excellent story that fits squarely, unsurprisingly and predictably within the narrative.

It’s exactly what I expected.

And I wasn’t disappointed – or, put another way, I was deeply disappointed.

North Dakota’s Greatest Sailor

Today’s story ties together a bunch of my favorite themes; Epic Historical Events that happen as a series of happenstances and blunders; second-chance redemption stories; untold stories of great significance.

But most of all, it’s the story a maritime people sweeping the seas of their foes.

The maritime people, in this case, is North Dakotans.

We Come From The Land Of The Ice And Snow:  Joseph Enright was born in 1910 in Minot, North Dakota.

Enright, near his retirement in 1963, as a Captain.

He graduated from Annapolis, spent three years on the battleship USS Maryland, and then transferred to submarines, qualifying as a sub officer in 1936.  As the Navy, and especially the submarine service, grew frenetically before World War II – part of FDR’s version of “shovel ready jobs”, as well as getting ready for the war everyone on both sides of the Pacific knew was inevitable – Enright moved up fast, serving on the crews of the World War I-vintage subs S-35 and S-22; not long after the war started in 1942, with a new promotion to Lieutenant Commander, Enright was given command of an even older boat, the USS O-10, a predecessor of the S-boats, used as a training ship.

USS O-10

The early years of the war were tumultuous ones in the submarine service; equipment problems dogged American submariners’ efforts for the first 18 months.  It didn’t take long for a combat command billet to open up for Lt. Commander Enright; he assumed command of the brand-new USS Dace.

USS Dace, which went on to a stellar war career.  In one notable episode in 1944, after participating in sinking two Japanese cruisers and damaging a third, it rescued the entire crew of the USS Darter, which had run aground in an area crawling with Japanese ships.  It ended up in the post-war Italian fleet from 1955 to 1975.

Take Me Out, Coach:  He took command of the boat in July of 1943.  By November, he had the boat worked up and ready for action.  The boat’s first war patrol took it into Japanese home waters.

Enright, aboard Dace.

On November 15, a few weeks into the patrol, directed by an intercept from the US Navy’s “Ultra” cryptography unit, Enright and Dace were directly in the path of the Japanese aircraft carrier IJN Shokaku, one of two surviving carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor.  Enright made contact with the carrier’s task group – a powerfully-escorted force, dangerous to attack – but couldn’t quite maneuver into position by daybreak; in his own report, he described having made a “timid approach, breaking off as daylight approached”.  Later in the patrol, an attempt on a Japanese tanker ended with a sound depth-charging at the hands of Japanese escort ships.

The seven week patrol ended with no sinkings.  Disappointed in his own performance, Enright asked to be relieved of command.  Admiral Lockwood, the crusty submariner who commanded all US subs in the Pacific, obliged, as he had not a few earlier officers who’d decided they didn’t pack the gear.  Enright was assigned to administrative duties at the Midway Island submarine station.

And with most officers relieved of a combat command, that’s where it would have ended.

Redemption:  After six months of administrative penance, Enright asked Lockwood for another shot.

Incredibly, Lockwood said yes, assigning him to command the USS Archerfish.

USS Archerfish

Archerfish had had almost as disappointing a war as Enright so far.  In four war patrols, they had attempted three attacks, for zero kills.  They hadn’t even seen a ship on two patrols, and had spent one patrol on “lifeguard” duty off Iwo Jima, rescuing one shot-down naval aviator from the water.

Crew of the Archerfish on Guam, Christmas 1945, on their way home from their fateful fifth war patrol.  I’m not positive, but I think that’s Enright, in the baseball cap, on the far left of Row 2.

And so in October, Enright took Archerfish out on its fifth war patrol.  From November 11 to November 28, the boat cruised off the Japanese coast not far from Tokyo, on “lifeguard” station again – cruising in a small, fixed area that damaged American B-29 bombers could get to if they were too badly damaged to make it back to their airbase on Saipan.

With the cancellation of the day’s strikes on November 28, Archerfish was cut free from lifeboat duty, and was free to patrol.

And there, toward dark, his lookouts spotted what they originally thought to be a Japanese tanker, with an unusually heavy escort of three first-line destroyers, leaving Tokyo Bay.

Enright and his officers soon figured out it was actually an aircraft carrier; the ship was moving at a good clip, zig-zagging toward the south.  The officers worked out the math, and moved Archerfish as fast as its 20-knot surface speed could manage, to get it into position for a shot at the one point in the zig-zag they could intercept.

After six hours of maneuvering – much on the surface, but the last stretch underwater to avoid detection – the ship zagged into Archerfish’s path.  Enright ordered all six of the boat’s forward torpedo tubes fired, and watched as the first torpedoes hit and the ship began to list, before ordering the boat deep to avoid a depth-charging.

Four of Enright’s torpedoes hit the ship.  Although Enright never did see the final outcome, his sonarmen could hear the sound of internal compartments rupturing, the unmistakeable sound of steel ripping and crumpling. They knew they’d drawn blood.

They returned to Pearl Harbor, claiming an aircraft carrier.  The Navy staff was certain it had to have been a cruiser; they were pretty sure there were no surviving Japanese aircraft carriers in the area.  They grudgingly credited Enright and Archerfish with a light carrier after Enright sketched what he’d seen through the periscope in great detail.

The Big Kahuna:  They were both wrong.

The ship was the IJN Shinano, at 70,000 tons the largest aircraft carrier ever built.

The only known photo ever taken of Shinano (other than one taken from an Air Force reconaissance plane), on its very brief sea trials in Tokyo Bay, days before its sinking, taken by a civilian photographer on a harbor tug, who had no idea that he was committing a capital offense (for which he was thankfully never discovered).

The ship had started life as a sister ship to the Japanese battleships Yamato and Musashi, the biggest battleships ever built to this very day.  As it became clear that the age of the superbattleship had ended and the aircraft carrier was here to stay, the Shinano was converted into a large aircraft carrier.  It retained much of its battleship structure, including armor.

It had been built under complete secrecy, so paranoid that most of the Japanese fleet knew nothing about it; built in a covered drydock, by workers sworn to secrecy on pain of death by beheading, with no mention of it ever made on the radio or any other medium that the Allies could monitor.  It was the only major warship of the 20th century never to have an official construction photograph.  Shinano was in fact a complete surprise to the Allies – so complete, in fact, that they didn’t believe what Enright had sunk until they looked at records after the war.

It was the largest aircraft carrier ever built (until the American supercarriers of the 1950s through today).  It was the largest ship ever sunk by a submarine – and one of the largest ever sunk in combat, period (only its half-sisters, Yamato and Musashi, were bigger).

The moral of the story?

Forget F. Scott Fitzgerald; America is all about second acts.  Enright came back from palookaville to score one of the biggest notches in the history of naval warfare.

And watch out for North Dakotans.  We’re a maritime people.

And we know how to break things.

More Jobs!

…Inver Grove Heights-based CHS corporation is building a new fertilizer plant:

CHS, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, said its board of directors gave final approval of the project on Thursday.

“With this decision, CHS is taking an important, strategic step on behalf of its membership owners by ensuring them reliable domestic supply of nitrogen fertilizers essential to help farmers raise healthy, profitable crops,” Casale said in a statement.

Casale said plant construction could begin this fall, and operating in 2018. It would employ between 160 and 180 workers, the company said.

And oh, yeah – it’s going to be in the Berg ancestral home of Jamestown, ND. 

Another Minnesota company, sending jobs to a neighboring state.

Swirling About The Drain

I hate to indulge in schadenfreud. 

But I’m only human.

Arbitron numbers are in for the Fargo-Moorhead area – and the two big lib-talk hosts at KFGO (which is sort of the WCCO of the Fargo metro area) are sucking fumes.

Joel Heitkamp is off sharply, according to Rob Port

But even more sweet?  Mike McFeely – the sportscaster turned incompetent liberal talking head – is sucking pond water. 

Conservative talk thrives in liberal bastions like the Twin Cities, Chicago and LA – as a contrarian Jeremiah, and a rallying point for the areas beleaguered conservatives.  You’d think, orthagonally, that liberal talk would work for the same reasons in relatively conservative places like Fargo (although Fargo is the most liberal major city in North Dakota). 

I guess not.

An Anniversary

It was ten years ago today that a roadside bomb in Anbar province killed two soldiers from the North Dakota Army National Guard’s 141st Engineer Battalion.

One of them, Specialist Brown, was the nephew of two of my high school classmates and of my seventh-grade history teacher. I remember him as a little kid, back in North Dakota in the eighties. His grandfather, as I recall, is a friend of my father’s.

Different people get different things out of remembering.  If nothing else, I hope it prompts you to send a prayer to the Brown and Holmes families, and all the families who’ve lost loved ones in this past decade and a half.

Front Runner?

Scott Walker.

He’s conservative.

He’s got a killer track record.

He’s got killer approval ratings, and has them in a state perhaps even more purple than Minnesota, notwithstanding (or – ahem – because of) his tough, conservative stances on vital issues. 

He’s withstood four years of the most scabrous liberal and media (ptr) campaigns in the history of American politics (not directed at a woman or minority conservative, anyway), and come out stronger than ever

Revealingly, Walker fares well in an electorate that does not seem particularly conservative and that, if anything, appears to be slightly to the left of American voters in general. Among those surveyed in the WPR/St. Norbert’s poll, 48 percent had a favorable view of President Obama; 50 percent had an unfavorable view. Obama generally fares worse than that in national polling. In addition, Wisconsin’s liberal Senator Tammy Baldwin had a positive rating — 44 percent approve; 33 percent disapprove.

In this context, Walker’s popularity is particularly striking. 59 percent approve of his performance, while only 39 percent disapprove.

And despite the left and media’s (ptr) attempt to sand-bag his accomplishments (for instance, the left’s meme claiming Minnesota is “doing better” than Wisconsin, which depends entirely on ignoring the structural differences between manufacturing-heavy Wisconsin and service-heavy Minnesota, or Wisconsin’s commanding lead over MN in climate for new businesses), he’s got his own constituents basically on board – especially amazing considering the manufactured rancor of his first 18 months in office:

 Walker’s approval numbers basically track the right direction/wrong direction numbers for his State. 57 percent said that Wisconsin is moving in the right direction, while 38 percent said its moving in the wrong direction. By contrast only 32 percent believe the United States is moving in the right direction. 63 percent think we’re moving the other way.

If the GOP has a brain…

…well, Jeb who?


Scott Walker is revolutionizing midwestern politics in Wisconsin.  And it’s driving Wisconsin Democrats crazy.  They are pulling out all the stops – and all the dirty tricks that decades of Democrat rulers accreted to help them try to keep their power – to try to depose him. 

Including an anonymous, unaccountable “John Doe” investigation that is essentially an extended prosecutorial fishing trip…

…that has found nothing against Governor Walker.  And, arguably, was never intended to – so much as it was to create a long, extended smear of Walker in the compliant press. 

It doesn’t seem to be working.  Walker’s approval is at 52%, and…:

The latest Marquette Law School poll, released Wednesday, shows Walker’s lead on presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke in the run-up to Wisconsin gubernatorial race in November has crept up a percentage point, to 48 percent to 41 percent. Walker led Burke, a wealthy Madison liberal and Commerce Secretary under former Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle, 47 percent to 41 percent in the law school’s last poll in January.

The poll of 801 Wisconsin registered voters was conducted by cell phone and landline March 20-23, a month after the release of Rindfleisch’s emails, which proved somewhat embarrassing for Walker and his associates but showed no evidence of illegal activity by Walker.

Wisconsin Democrats may wind up “attacking” Walker all the way to the White House at this rate.

Once They’ve Seen Paree?

I was reading a neighborhood Facebook group the other day.  A woman started spouting off about the “homelessness” in the Bakken oil fields, by way of hinting “maybe those people out there need much less of all that oil and exploration and stuff”.

And I thought – “Wow.  All those well-meaning Twin Citians – the media, the political establishment and just regular Metro-area folks – sure are concerned about the corrupting effects of jobs, prosperity, economic diversification and even a little wealth out there in the Badlands, aren’t they?

Like they should all go back to being season-to-season ranchers and farmers out in the middle of nowhere.  And speak when spoken to.

And then it occurred to me – that’s what it’s always like up in the Iron Range – only they never actually get to dig their mines, unlike North Dakota.  My native state actually managed to get something done – probably before the Strib and MPR knew what “Bakken” meant – before the suffocating hand of “benevolent, patronizing good will from their betters” descended upon them.

Lucky ND!

When Grownups Run Things

On the one hand: Minnesota hikes taxes two billion dollars.  The “surplus” rises about $200 million over what the Republican majority in 2011-2012 left.  The DFL majority is currently arguing not so much over how to spend the “surplus’, but how many times over it shall be spent. 

On the not-stupid hand:  Wisconsin under Scott Walker cut taxes.  Wisconsin’s surplus is pushing a billion dollars.  And the only argument in Wisconsin today is “how are the taxpayers going to get the overbilling back?”

“The additional revenue should be returned to taxpayers because it’s their money, and my administration will work with the Legislature to determine the most prudent course of action,” Walker said in a statement.

Walker has been talking with Republican leaders about tax cut proposals he plans to release in his State of the State speech next Wednesday. Walker’s spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said the governor wants to adjust income tax withholding tables to put more money in taxpayers’ pockets immediately and is also eyeing income and property tax reductions.

It’d sure be nice to have grownups in charge in Minnesota again.

(VIa regular commenter Chuck)

Now Be Thankful

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

You know that moment when the house is totally silent?  The TV is off, the refrigerator stops humming, the kids are asleep and the furnace fan isn’t blowing?  Haven’t had that for the last day or two.  Furnace fan just keeps blowing.  And that’s a good thing.

Thank you, Xcel Energy, for keeping the natural gas and electricity flowing so my house is warm.  Thank you, oil field workers, pipeline maintenance engineers, electricity linemen . . . all the burly men who work in unimaginably bad conditions to provide me with the luxury of sitting in my recliner reading Sci Fi on the Kindle.

Joe Doakes

Goodbye, Animal Dorm

I went to a little college in the middle of nowhere. I’ve written about it a time or two; it nearly followed a hundred other small rural colleges to extinction in the eighties, but bounced back in a huge way (and, in this environment where people are starting to take the higher ed bubble seriously, provides an excellent value for the educational dollar, especially for science majors, nursing majors, pre-meds (!), teachers and a fewer other areas.  Don’t say I’ve never done anything for you, alumni office!).  Back then, it was known for a top-flight nursing program, athletic programs that fought waaaay above their weight, and a concert choir that was pretty internationally famous

But I come today not so much to praise Jamestown college The University of Jamestown, but to razz it.

(And not for changing its name to University of Jamestown, although I could).

Among Jamestown’s salient virtues – it never had fraternities. No vapid insipid Greek blar-di-blar ever poked its nose onto the campus. We used frat boys for firewood at Jamestown College.

What the college had were dorms. Three of them

Up on the far north end of campus (at that time – the campus has grown as the student population has doubled), New Hall dated from the seventies; it was basically an apartment building for married students (and, sometimes, groups of 3-4 upperclassmen who got along really well). 

Also on the north side of campus, Kroeze Hall (pronounced “Cruise-y”) was from the sixties: it was full of modern amenities, like shower stalls, telephone jacks, water pressure.

And then there was Watson Hall.

Built in 1930 on the south side of the campus, on the edge of the hill overlooking Jamestown, it was old, and it showed. The rooms were…rooms. That’s it. 14 feet by 10 feet. Two beds – twin-size.  Two closets, big enough to hold just barely more than the pre-grunge wardrobe I had. Two desks. In-room phone not an option even if you DID want to pay for it (and I did not); there was one phone per floor. Two shower heads and three toilets per floor, housing 40 or so guys (or gals, after 1982 when the third, top floor was ceded to the women, not so much to cut down on the partying as make it less violent). And if you flushed while someone was in the shower, you yelled “SHOWER” at the top of your lungs, because with the cold water flushing the toilet, anyone in the shower had to get clear before getting scalded. It was all on the same run of pipes.

Rodents were not strangers. Hot and stuffy in warm weather, its ancient steam heat system was incapable of subtlety, either chilling the residents or clankily steaming them into sweaty indolence.

But there was a chummy esprit de dorm about the place. People either stayed in Kroeze (or tried Watson and moved across campus at the first opening), or stayed in Watson their whole time at JC. The resident assistants were generally low-key and laissez-faire about rules; if you had a few beers or a girl in your room after hours (it was a dry, nominally-Presbyterian campus – no alcohol allowed, and the genders were supposed to get off each other’s floors by 11pm, or 1am on weekends), as long as you didn’t make a ruckus, it wasn’t a federal case.

The inmates hated and loved the old building. It’s petty hardships gave the locals a crude cameraderie. It was Jamestown’s Animal Dorm.

I don’t miss much about college – but i do get a little nostalgic over that old dorm.

But as the man said, everything dies, that’s a fact:

Christmas break will see the demolition of the building’s west annex, and construction will begin on a 3,100-square foot addition to the west side of the building.”Our plan is to work on the addition while the University is in session and work in the main building over the summer,” says Tom Heck, Vice President for Planning and Administration [and my Econ teacher]

The addition will include the building’s new main entrance, an elevator, a Resident Director’s office, new restrooms and shower rooms for each floor, and expanded lounges with kitchenettes on the second and third floors.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Other work will include aesthetic improvements in the hallways, new electrical lines and upgraded lighting, and installation of air conditioning and a sprinkler system. Work will be completed in time for the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

Have these people no respect for tradition?

Hope all you epicurean punks learn to appreciate what you’re missing!

Today’s News, Seven Years Ago

When I left  North Dakota in the eighties, it seemed like rural America was on the verge of drying up and blowing away.

Of course, it was a historically lousy time for farmers and farming – and a time when there just wasn’t much more than that to draw people to a small town, unless one specifically sought out the small-town life.

Which I, for one, certainly did not.

Anyway – times have changed.  Not just in NoDak – perhaps you’ve heard, they found oil – but also in rural Minnesota:

Amid what has been described as a new “golden age” for farm profits and land wealth, the list of the 50 Minnesota counties with the fastest-growing incomes since 2005 includes only one big Twin Cities county. The state’s net farm income has nearly doubled, from $4.5 billion in 2010 to $8.2 billion in 2012.

The town of Jackson, in southwest Minnesota, was one of only four rural cities over 2,500 to suffer significant losses in numbers during this century’s first decade — then it landed a new employer from Europe offering 1,400 jobs.

Studying trends in retail, Craig and a colleague uncovered what they called “astounding” growth in consumer sales in regional centers such as Mankato and Brainerd, and “remarkable” increases in economic activity in many smaller communities — stiff reproofs to the “myth of rural decline and ghost towns.”

The spread of technology helps, of course. One of the worst things about small-town life, if you weren’t wired to appreciate it or didn’t live to spend your days in deer stands or on fishing boats, was the stultifying isolation. That’s much less a factor these days.

Oh, yeah – and I wrote about this almost seven years ago. Joel Kotkin’s been predicting this for a long time; as technology makes small towns, especially the exurbs, less isolated, growth will shift there.  Cities will become playgrounds of the wealthy and warehouses for the poor; everyone else will be living in Watertown.

This Hard Land

Note to all you folks thinking of moving to North Dakota to start cashing in on the oil boom:  North Dakota is cold.  

There aren’t a lot of trees.  And outside of the eight or nine significant-sized cities (Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Devil’s Lake, Bismark/Mandan, Minot, Williston, Dickinson, and maybe Valley City), there just aren’t a whole lot of people. 

More below the jump, so the rest of the page can load…

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