God Bless America

I just witnessed the storied peaceful changing of power in our nation’s capitol. There were several th9oughtful speeches before Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” reprised his victory tour speech “I won, You lost.”

Commentators, somewhat taken aback, don’t quite know what to make of it but there is no doubt that his loyalist 30 percent will be thrilled by his plain fourth grade speaking. For me, and a lot of other people, our new President’s speech was little more than a forest of middle fingers.

God bless America.

Taking a drink under Niagara Falls

Every now and then I’ll write a post with references to the multiple issues and activities that consume me often to the point of keeping me from sleeping. The previous post was a riff on grappling with too much.

In keeping with the “priority” I mentioned in a previous post rather than filling in the last post’s outline I spent hours writing a farewell letter to my Uncle. I hope he will last long enough to read it. That may depend on the alacrity of the US Postal Service, (these days mailing it from Duluth adds an extra day to the delivery time. I may have to fax it to Denver.)

The act of creation takes time and yesterday I was paralyzed in the teeth of half a dozen subjects. That morning it was easier to go out and chop December’s ice off my sidewalks. I devoted the afternoon to family concerns but the other half dozen matters, mulch, the recent School Board Conference, School District attorneys, the presidential inauguration, appeals for snow sculpting etc. will not go away.

If you are keen read about matters related to the School Board and impatient for me to return to that subject let me suggest last Friday’s column, First Among Equals, by Loren Martell. He describes a School Board meeting that was a little more fraught than this Tuesday’s interminably long affair.

And as to this week’s meeting – since it has been explained (incorrectly) that we have approved rubber mulch replacement this summer despite a study saying rubber mulch poses no health risk (still debatable) you might watch some of the ninety minutes we spent at the last meeting deciding how to approach the turf replacement. Hint – its still not a done deal!


The Trib has covered one of what should be two of my top priorities today. That would be playground mulch. I’ve gotten a couple dozen emails on the subject and at tonight’s meeting we will make some sort of decision on how to proceed.

The other issue is our Budget and a comparrison of how it is distributed among our dozen schools. I’ve just printed out thirty sheets of PDF’s sent to me in advance of a 5PM meeting to be held in room 318 of Old Central. Feel free to drop by.

I’ve not gotten around to posting any more about the recent MSBA conference. Too bad.

What’s most on my mind is my ornery Uncle Frank who has made a few appearances in the blog and in my old Duluth Reader column.

Thirty years ago Uncle Frank came to Mankato to be with my Dad, his older brother, when my Dad was dying of cancer. Today its my Uncle Frank’s turn. His cancer has spread suddenly and he plans to take advantage of a new law in Colorado permitting sick Coloradans to die. He plans to pull the plug very soon and he’s not interested in taking calls. Damn! I just sent him a hundred pages of family docs and news stories so I could pry some good family stories out of him. (Was that stampede of horses that almost ran him over while he sat on his tricycle from a circus or the slaughter house?) I never got the chance to do that with my Dad. Now I’ve let Uncle Frank slip through my fingers.

I’d sure like to give him one last phone call for old time’s sake. Hell, I’d drive out to Colorado in a heartbeat. I could give a damn whether he can move his arms or has to be spoon fed. But I agree. Its his call.

And Uncle Frank. If you ever connect to the infernal Internet after you get to heaven……Yeah, I’m shedding a few tears right now.

My first march since 1973

I don’t do marches. My last two were during Vietnam. As a Freshman in 1969 I was one of many students who blocked the main intersection in Mankato, Minnesota, on Front and Main. I concluded afterward that inconveniencing so many people was a counterproductive way to make a statement.

I did participate in another march during which a thousand students and townspeople peacefully marched against the Vietnam War in 1972. It followed an impromptu march the day before during which students blocked State Highway 169. I had already made up my mind in 69 about counter-productivity so I stayed away. That decision was reinforced when I saw the drugged up kid who tried to kick me where it counts in junior high heading to the highway to enjoy some mayhem.

A lot of the hangers on at the highway left wine bottle and beer cans behind which were noted in press accounts that night as well as the holding up of an ambulance with a sick occupant.

As I noted I did participate in the next day’s peaceful march which terminated at the campus. Afterwards a couple thousand marchers seated themselves in the middle of the campus to hear speakers talk about the war. One group of protesters who were burned about the news coverage from the previous day stood up and began demanding that a Twin City reporter come to the stage and explain his embarrassing coverage of the beer bottles which offended the protesters dignity. A little shakily the reporter moved to the microphone and haltingly started to explain that he simply reported what he had seen. At this the howling band of idealists began screaming and shouting him down.

From the back of the audience I felt rage welling up inside me and I shouted at the top of my lungs “SHUT UP YOU SON OF A BITCHES AND LET THE MAN SPEAK.” Startled, they shut up. It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

Yesterday I participated in my second march in 45 years. It was for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.

I hadn’t planned on attending. Instead I was going to meet with a District employee to talk about matters affecting minority students, among other things. While I would be doing this Claudia had planned to take our older grandson with her to march in the MLK Jr. proceedings. I got to my meeting and discovered it had been canceled. A message had been left on my land line which I’ve gotten into the habit of ignoring in these cell phone days. So, I called Claudia and told her I’d meet her and my grandson at Washington Junior where the march was set to begin. Anxiety about Donald Trump and mild weather brought out a huge crowd. I’d guess there was about 700 or 800 people.

A lady next to me complimented me on my voice as we sang We Shall Overcome. I’m not sure what my grandson made of his grandparents shouting PEACE NOW! in cadence.

After a typically disorganized series of local NAACP speakers I was afraid of losing my Grandson’s interest. I leaned over to give him some sense of the importance of the event by telling him that when I was in second grade I was sent to the playground while black children were marched into our new integrated school holding their chairs and books from the Old segregated Buchanan Elementary School.

There was one very fine thing at the Auditorium. The Chief of the Superior Police was asked to speak and he was generous, helpful and reasonable. He mentioned that he had been hired in part by the NAACP’s local president three years earlier. In fact, the area police who helped lead the way for the march were out in very helpful force. I nodded to retired officer and retired Human Rights Officer Bob Grytdahl who was sitting a few seats from mine.

One of the nice ironies of the march was that there were more white marchers than minority marchers. Another nice irony was that we passed many minority marchers who were probably surprised to see us having not planned to march themselves. As a once-in-a-great-while marcher myself I have to say feeling obligated to protest isn’t my strong suite either.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

or is it?

I stopped reading my email a couple days ago when I got this subject heading:


It was followed by a couple additional emails from the same author who I warned I would stop reading emails from all together if I didn’t stop seeing the “n” word spelled out in full in them. I won’t be reading the others and it will end a very long cordial line of letters going back five or six years.

Here’s what my old corespondent wrote with my asterisk laden alterations inserted:

“I see from your blog that your 2 digit IQ mind just can’t allow you to treat our respectable President-elect with the same modicum of reverence you keep according your “n*****” Obama. Sorry your parents didn’t raise you right… respect all people. Why don’t you post on your website how much you want to see the poor normal people of northeastern Minnesota to suffer as the result of your “n*****’s” vicious attacks against us. What would your Mom and Dad say?”

In answer to the-last-question – my parents would have told me what I told my daughter when she was being taunted by a boy on the playground in second grade – “ignore him.”

I can ignore my old corespondent’s email but I can’t ignore a man who has insulted critics and innocents alike weekly since he began running for the Republican nomination. If my corespondent thinks insulting a Republican candidate’s wife’s looks, is respectable then I’ll reciprocate by saying it would be a pretty picture to see Donald Trump on his knees before Vladimir Putin. I doubt that the KBG, or its modern equivalent, got that photo but I call on the Russian Prime Minister to release the video of the “golden shower” if indeed he’s got a copy of it locked in the Kremlin’s vaults.

Its funny but I was probably the last person in America to hear the allegation about the “golden shower”. An hour before last Saturday’s SNL began I called my brother to talk about the deteriorating health of our uncle. Over the course of our conversation my Brother mentioned a shower and I had to ask him what he was referring to. I was taken aback but thanked him because, had I not been told, I would have been utterly mystified by the opening of Saturday Night Live. My critique? SNL’s opening wasn’t that funny. Too obvious. To easy.

Since my old corespondent tunes in to my blog despite my recommendation I’ll address a second and more important issue he raised: “the poor people of Northeastern Minnesota.”

This is a reference to Obama’s last minute attempts to prevent mining developments in Northeastern Minnesota. Its a fair point that doesn’t need the word “n” to disparage Obama. It was a last minute means of keeping the environmentalists on the Democrat’s side after Trump takes over. I have my own reservations about sulfide mining but I’ve seen the Twin Cities trample Northeastern Minnesota before so I appreciate the resentment of those in the mining community.

Then again, when I get to China I might have a couple days inhaling the infamous coal burning smog when I get to Beijing. Let’s hope our future billionaires can start mining Psyche once we learn to make robots and cheaply ferry the asteroid to Earth in bits and pieces. It will take hundreds of thousands of workers to manage that high tech operation. Maybe the grandchildren of coal miners can get in on that.

And then there is the charge that I am a racist. Maybe I am. I have heard lots of black folks – years back – claim that only white people can be racists. I never bought that but maybe its true …….or maybe my corespondent thinks that I am a self hating white person and I hate white people. I don’t buy that either. I could never snuggle under the covers with my grandsons if I found them that repellent.

Finally there is the title to this blog piece: imitation as flattery. If its not obvious I’m simply doing what millions of others are doing after the President Elect has flipped his middle twitter at them and followed the President Elect’s lead. Hell! Being aggressively rude got Trump elected President so maybe it can do something for the majority of voters who didn’t get their way due to the Constitutional mechanics of our presidential election system…….just maybe the majority can titter Trump to do sensible things.

I heard a remarkable debate on NPR today which suggested that Trump may push the Republican Party to support its worst nightmare since I was in grade school sixty years ago – “socialized medicine.” That would astound even Obama’s critics who wanted the “single payer” system and it would eviscerate the private insurance system.

Already lots of Trump fans have been shattered to hear him back off his great Mexican wall which the Mexicans think is a joke.

It turns out that Donald Trump wants to be loved. I guess it never occurred to him that he might end up being hated. I’m quite prepared to be impressed if he pulls off solving what have become seemingly intractable problems. If he does I’ll even offer my grudging respect. Reagan got that too despite my reservations about him. However, I never detested the ever sunny and humble Ronald Reagan. If Trump pulls that off I’ll be amazed. Until then, when he flips my side the bird I’ll join the chorus of his imitators.

A change of subject-

If I was going to squander my Saturday afternoon blogging it was to be on the MSBA conference but that may end up being a very short post mentioning a few highlights.

One of the things which I intended to report was unrelated. It was my drawing close to finishing the Old Testament which I began to read a few pages at a time over a year ago after my return from Israel/Palestine.

I woke up in the middle of Thursday night and couldn’t sleep so I waded through about thirty pages of the Minor Prophets. I have two of the twelve left or about 12 pages of Old Testament. I think about Trump and the GOP a lot when I read the Bible.

I’ve decided to postpone digging into the New Testament for a little while. I think it would be worthwhile to start from the beginning but I want to start writing that book on my Grandfather so I need to pack up a few distractions. That includes a devilishly hard jigsaw puzzle that no one wanted to help me with during Christmas. I carefully put it away about one fourth done to resume at Thanksgiving.

I have also added a distraction and a fairly big one at that. Claudia and I decided to travel to China this summer. We’ve already paid for it so I hope Trump doesn’t provoke a war. I chose a date to travel that will allow me to file and run for the School Board. Once again we intend to do some reading to prepare and even some study of the Chinese language – online mostly.

I read a short contemporary novel out-loud to Claudia already and she is plowing through Chinese novels. We didn’t get very far on a book by Simon Winchester who has written some great histories.

Coincidentally, I read today’s obituary of a remarkable Chinese economist who lived to age 111 and who simplified the Chinese language so that China could challenge the rest of the world. He got no thanks for it, of course. As is all too common in China no good turn goes unpunished.

The “counter puncher”

More chitter chatter on that “N” word between me and another friend. This one includes a link to a Fred Barne’s rationalization for Trump’s corrosive tweets.

To: “Harry Welty”
Sent: 13-Jan-2017 21:08:37 +0000
Subject: The Counterpuncher – WeeklyStandard.com


Harry: Trump may not be perfect or conventional, but he represents the best chance for the poor rural people in northeastern Minnesota and rural America to get their way of life, homes and jobs back and bring life back to normal. Hill would have continued to f*** us and f*** us hard, so I can’t blame people for having hope now. And Harry, if you want me to quit calling Obama the n***** that he acts like , then you quit lambasting Trump on your website. Fair enough? Jim

Black people are good people. N*****s are not…there is a difference.

In case its not obvious this friend didn’t put in the asterisks. I did.

My Reply:


Your word usage just barely passes the “academic” test so I’ll bite one last time.

I used to listen to Fred Barnes on the McLaughlin Report. He struck me as a conservative suck up then. I don’t see much different from him here.

Praising the “counter-punching” skills of Trump is at best a thin rationalization. For a man who brags that he is so smart Trump has an amazingly limited set of communication skills. They fit hand in glove with his astonishing ignorance. His school yard taunts are those of a Johnny one note.

I agree with you that a lot of hard luck folks have put a great deal of faith in him. I expect that they will be greatly disappointed because his general philosophy could have sprung from PT Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

For the sake of the folks counting on him I hope you are right and I hope I am wrong but the Bible offers sound advice to counter punchers, to wit: “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” That’s how Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn, ended up. http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/celebrity/blaze-destroyed-trump-testimony-for-roy-cohn-632890

It also says to beat swords into plowshares. That line comes straight from Jesus himself. But Trump is more of a prosperity gospel type – Being a billionaire shows that God favors him.

If President Trump is unashamed to lie then I’m unashamed to tell the truth…..as I see it.

As for your distinction between “n*****s” and “good” black people I shouldn’t need to remind you that some good white people of the South hung the former up on trees right through our school years.

I’ll amend my previous warning on the acceptance of your email. If you put quotation marks around the “N” word I’ll keep reading them no matter how much you hate “bad” black people. Otherwise this is the last reply you will get from me. If that’s too PC for you, tough. My Mom washed my mouth out with soap and the closest I can come to that with your email is to push the delete button.

And, as I keep telling “my Buddy,” you don’t have to keep reading my damn blog. Its likely to drive you insane for the next four years.


Trump is squandering his honeymoon. One noteworthy poll finds a remarkable plunge in his popularity just before his swearing in.

I’m not sure it helps that his first nominees for appointments are almost unanimously disavowing Trump’s campaign platform planks in their Senate interviews.

MY most enjoyable MSBA convention ends

The image below helps cleanse Lincolndemocrat after the previous post.

I jotted down titles for about ten posts I wanted to write through the School Board conference which ended at noon on Friday. It remains to be seen if I will get around to any of them. I snapped this pic of our key note speaker, retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Alan Page.

Thirty years ago he also spoke to the MSBA Conference. That was 1987 which was a pivotal year for me. I was sacked from my last teaching job. We moved to our current address. I made my first “public” snow sculpture. I began thinking seriously about running for the school board. I told my Father this in his last few days of life just after telling him I’d lost my third teaching job then “softening” this with the preposterous notion that I was thinking about running for the school board. It was a futile attempt to cheer up a dying man whose oldest son had just been fired for the third time in a short, disastrous teaching career. He told me solemly that he wondered if I had “will to fail” which broke my heart and caused me many years of deep self reflection. Then my Dad died during one of the most beautiful autumns I’ve ever experienced. My Dad used to pile us into the car to visit Hiawatha and Olathe, Kansas, to marvel at the sugar maples turning red.

I used to watch Alan Page with my Dad but only in the playoffs where the “Purple People Eaters” couldn’t quite lift the Vike’s to a Superbowl victory in four attempts. As a college kid I was aware that Alan Page and the other Vikes drank at Mankato’s downtown bars where my future mother-in-law met and dated one of the coach’s who were using the state college’s facilities to train in the pre-season. Page was famous for carrying a huge purse like bag over his shoulders to the bars. Trust me, no one made fun of a people eater wearing a purse. Besides it was the “Age of Aquarius.”

I love to tell people that I threw a glass of water on Page. Then I explain:

The first time I ran across Page was at one of the earliest Grandma Marathons while Page was still a Viking. Claudia and were out near the Northshore mostly oblivious of the tiny new Marathon’s progress when we drove past a table on Hwy 61 just out of Duluth. We had already noticed other such tables on London Road loaded with water-filled cups for the Marathoners. No one was manning the table as a couple of runners were jogging up in the distance. For the heck of it we pulled over to hand the cups to the stragglers. One of them was Page who was running against the wishes of the coaches who didn’t want him running off any of his massive tackling poundage. As I lifted a cup to him he said, “throw it on me.” I didn’t argue.

Page read a thoughtful, sober-minded speech about his growing up in the shadow of the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, with no childhood thoughts of a football career. Instead, Page, a 70-year-old like Donald Trump, recalled the impact of Brown vs. Board of Education on him as a black kid. (a frequent subject of this blog) Page told anyone who asked him that he intended to be a lawyer. (He probably has pre-law books in the handbag he took into Mankato’s bars)

During training camps his coaches did their best to “educate” their rookies by requiring them to the NFL playbook together. Justice Page told us that the hardest words in these book were “tackle,” “defense,” and “offense.” He recalled how six of the ten recent college graduates on the team struggled. It left Page to ponder their betrayal by an educational system that insured them a poor future after their star turn in the NFL.

Page also mentioned his thirty year old educational foundation which has spent $13 million to get struggling kids to and through college. In thirty years its helped 6000 kids.

He said he was distressed by America’s turn to Trump and alluded to the Trump Empire’s long legal fight to keep its apartments segregated in the good old days. Page is building bridges while Trump is building walls.

About the “N” word. I mean it!

My reply to a friend who ignored my request not to use of the “N word in the emails sent to me:


I don’t blame you for being pissed off. I don’t care if you call Obama a s__ of a _______, a b______, a m_____-______, a c____-____ an a_________, the anti-christ or just about anything else. But I made it plain before that I won’t accept that last word used the way you used it. Please don’t do it a third time. If you do I’ll stop reading your emails and I don’t want to do that because you have a lot of useful information I like looking over.


duluth east’s acapella choir wows the School Board Convention

I slipped into the Minneapolis Convention Hall early and saw the Duluth East Acappela Choir at the ready before a thousand plus Minnesota School Board members filed in for the opening of their January Conference. They bravely sang despite the milling board members wandering in to take seats and chatting with their fellow board members from around the state. There were a raft of wonderful soloicists who sang with the choir that I could hear clearly while sitting directly below. Sadly the crowd was too busy to pay them the attention they deserved. That changed abruptly with the presentation of the colors and their rousing chorus of the National Anthem.

Then the announcer asked for the Board members attention as the Choir sang one last song. I pulled out my cell phone missing the first few notes but I caught it with my shaky hand as they kicked the song Jerusalem into high gear. Its a wonderful old war horse and they held the audience in rapt attention until the last note.

I’d heard my daughter sing it in the same choir almost twenty years before.


…at the Minnesota School Board Association Conference.

They will probably be passing out chocolates to school board members at the exhibition hall tomorrow. My Mother warned me not to take candy from such people.


Ah, but they had the political will to try to remove the one Board member who did want to pursue justice.

This will be a great conference. Most of our Board members were present in the labor contract negotiations session tonight when I asked the presenter if there was any reason any citizen could be kept out of caucus of Management after a negotiations session. They were all there to hear the presenter tell me exactly what he told me at a similar presentation three years ago – “NO!” This included the one Board member who was permitted to attend such a caucus as a member of our staff barred the door and told me I couldn’t attend.

More on Mulch to “M”

Over the past few weeks I’ve received dozens of letters imploring me to proceed with the replacement of the tire mulch. One of those letters came directly to my personal email inbox from a person I’ve previously identified as “M.”

Before I head to that MSBA conference this afternoon I plan on writing M a response and copying it too all the other parents concerned about mulch. I’ve got three hours to do this before I get on the road. Stay tuned for my reply:


Can you tell me the status of replacing the recycled tires in the school playgrounds? It is my understanding that , despite a LOT of opposition from parents, it was decided to replace the recycled tires with…recycled tires? I heard a rumor that it was subsequently decided by someone (The chair and superintendent?) to replace it only at Stowe school as a test? Is this going to be a one year test? Five years? Ten? What are the criteria of this test? Are the lab work and other scientific tests that are necessary to make an informed decision going to be done by an objective third party? Who will pay for these tests? There are, of course, many other questions related to this that I and others would like answered.

Why has the district decided to replace a dangerous product with a product containing the same problems. There is a lot that is not known about recycled tire mulch. It seems premature to make a decision until the governments research is complete. This is what they know so far:

My Reply:


I’ll confess I didn’t look too closely at the enclosure you sent me. As I’ve explained to many parents I am an agnostic about the dangers of recycled tire mulch. As I’ve also explained my vote to replace it is intended to demonstrate that I’m sensitive to their fears and want to show that our District will act rather than stonewall parents. This is not an absolute guarantee that I won’t change my mind. That depends on whether the replacement cost we were talking about remains constant. That figure originally seemed to be no more than, and possibly less than, half a million dollars. Since then we’ve been given a new price but it is tied to a different material than we originally considered. Originally, we were looking at engineered wood mulch. Now the recommended surface seems to be a “poured in place” rubber compound with a flat surface. As you say it has similar ingredients but it would not be composed of zillions of shredded pieces of old tire that increase the surface area and greatly speed up the diffusion of tire dust into the atmosphere (and into our children’s lungs).

In the short term this would be far more expensive – possibly several millions. Its most attractive feature is that it needs very little maintenance after installation but I’m having a hard time with that initial high cost. I don’t think we can consider it with so much of our general fund already going to pay off Red Plan bonding costs.

At our Monday Business meeting I suggested that instead of taking a hit in one year we introduce the replacement over several years (at a couple hundred grand a year) Our administration was going to check to see if this met statutory requirements concerning multi-year construction contracts.

To finance this expense, we can only draw on the portion of our budget dedicated to capital (building) costs. A small portion of this money comes from the Long-Range Building Plan which is as yet unspent. However, this portion can only be spent under state law on projects that are considered to be ready for replacement. Since most of our new school playgrounds are new they don’t qualify for these funds. Only the Stowe school playground qualifies. Because of the expense, I would prefer wood mulch for Stowe now rather than the poured surface.

I think we owe it to families to offer a uniform playground surface. Congdon families sought and got a wood chip surface for their playground. They are the only school to have this. That is a point of friction I’d like to get rid of.


A day late?

After several years of heating and maintenance costs the Nettleton School suddenly has a couple of interested buyers. At our recent closed meeting to consider one offer I was sternly warned, by a board member who often sternly warns me, not to broadcast the potential buyer nibbling at Nettleton. Since then a second buyer, the Many Rivers Montesorri School, has come in with a much larger offer, $500,000, than they originally proffered for the school.

One question a fellow board member and I have been texting each other about is whether our Board will consider selling the building to whichever buyer has the biggest offer.


I just received an email from the Superintendent informing us that a letter-of-intent has been signed with another buyer apparently rendering the Many River’s offer null. It was also suggested that not accepting it would mean that we were not negotiating with the first party in good faith. (Gosh, WWTD What would Trump do?) As for bad faith —– Imagine a teacher accepting a job at one school only to decline the job after being offered a better contract at another school district. That’s something that happens all the time.

I’m not sure about the ethics of this. It also raises the question of whether the second offer by Many Rivers was made before the letter of intent was signed. If the second offer came in before the signing I rather think that the School Board should have been notified before any signing took place…….but I’ve not asked that question yet.

At our last closed meeting to consider a Nettleton sale all we had was a price and the name of a (still confidential) potential buyer. The Administration was improving on past practice by bringing a potential offer to us before they began negotiations with the potential purchaser. I suggested to my fellow board member that since it is the School Board that will OK the deal the letter of intent might be unenforceable until such time as we vote on going through with the sale.

This will give me something to research over the next couple days while I attend the Minnesota State School Board Conference in Minneapolis.

Disgrace under Pressure

Does Trump lie to America or only to himself?


My Buddy sent me a link to Powerline’s Blog which faulted Meryl Streep and Hollywood for honoring the movie Director Roman Polanski who escaped the US after raping a thirteen year old girl. Its an interesting point and those who try to gloss it over shouldn’t escape criticism. But let’s not mince words. That doesn’t excuse Trump.

I hope I can escape the label “hypocrite” on this one. I haven’t forgotten what a dastardly thing Polanski did. I even referred to him once on this blog by way of condemnation:

I’m sorry to say that the principle writer/director/actor of the movie has a Woody Allen-Roman Polanski-Bill Cosby type past. I doubt that his riposte to Griffith will leave anything like the original Birth of a Nation’s mark on the world. I can only hope that it doesn’t inspire legions of black audience members to immitate the white audiences who watched its namesake – forget the Ku Klux Klan’s sordid reputation, give it a rebirth and spread it to the North

Robert Rowe Gilruth – Duluth Central Grad 1931

Kevin Costner plays a “composite” of the technicians in charge of America’s Space Race in his portrayal of the mythical “Al Harrison” in the Movie Hidden Figures. The principal he was playing was Duluth’s Robert Gilruth who led the American Space Race the same way that Robert Openheimer supervised the design and building of the Atom Bomb. Gilruth’s work was aided by a great many women just like the British women mathematicians, who broke Nazi Germany’s Enigma Codes during World War II. Gilruth’s “computers” were black women who like Britain’s Bletchley Circle women (in one of the best PBS Mystery series) who got John Glen into orbit and brought him back without burning up on reentry.

From the Duluth News Tribune:

First flight to the moon started here
Duluth News Tribune (MN) – July 19, 2008
Author/Byline: Chuck Frederick Duluth News Tribune

While taking in the spectacle of the Blue Angels and the high-flying thrills and roars of this weekend’s airshow, a group dedicated to preserving and celebrating Duluth’s aviation history wants you to remember a name: Robert Gilruth.

Why Robert Gilruth? Because the 1931 Duluth Central graduate ” the “father of human spaceflight” and the “godfather to the astronauts,” as he came to be known ” led our nation’s race to the moon. And because this weekend marks the 39th anniversary of the first lunar landing under his leadership.

Let me put that another way: The man responsible for Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” on July 20, 1969, grew up in Duluth.

In a frame and stucco corner house in Chester Park, to be precise.

“He made a tremendous contribution to our nation, and it’s amazing to think that we here in Duluth nurtured that young man,” said Sandra Ettestad, president of the nonprofit Duluth Aviation Institute. “He changed the world’s vision of the Earth and the possibilities of mankind. [He] achieved his youthful dreams.”

Meaning any of us can, right?

Duluth’s nurturing of Gilruth started in 1923 when he was 9 years old and his family moved here from Hancock, Mich. They had moved there from Nashwauk. His father was a superintendent of schools in both cities. In Duluth, his father landed a job teaching chemistry, physics and math at Morgan Park High School, where he later was principal. His mother taught math and home economics.

Gilruth, the second of two children, grew up at 701 N. 20th Ave. E. surrounded by family. His grandfather, a mining captain, grandmother, aunt and uncle lived two blocks away. He spent boyhood days playing with crystal-set radios and building intricate model airplanes. He and his father were very close.

“I started building model airplanes before the age of balsa wood and piano wire,” he recalled in a 1986 interview with NASA. “When the American Boy magazine came out with those things, that was a revolution, but I learned about that technology from the Duluth News Tribune. [The newspaper] had imported a man from Chicago who was a model airplane builder [and] champion. [He taught] a class of Duluth boys who might want to attend. This is how I got sort of a giant step into that business.”

Gilruth breezed through Duluth’s East Junior High School and Central High School. He earned straight As in aeronautics, chemistry and math at Duluth Junior College, which was on the top floor of Denfeld High School. He graduated in 1933. Three years after that, he added a masters degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota to his rapidly growing resume.

While at the university, he married Jean Barnhill, a fellow aeronautical engineering student and a pilot who flew cross-country races, who was a friend to Amelia Earhart and who founded a women’s pilots association.

Before he even finished graduate school, Gilruth was recruited to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, the predecessor of NASA. The job took him to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia where he and his wife had a daughter, Barbara. He was a flying quality expert at Langley and in 1945 was placed in charge of developing a guided-missile research station. In 1952, he was named assistant base director.

But he was dreaming bigger. “There are a lot of things you can do with men up in orbit,” he recalled thinking to himself in the interview with NASA.

On Aug. 1, 1958, Gilruth pitched to Congress the idea of creating a manned space program. The politicians were impressed, and Gilruth was pegged to lead the Space Task Group. In short order, NASA was formed and Project Mercury, the nation’s first human spaceflight program, was created. Gilruth handpicked the first astronauts and hired the nation’s brightest engineers. Capsules were designed and rockets tested.

But not quite fast enough. On April 12, 1961, the Soviets beat the U.S. into space. President John F. Kennedy took it as a challenge.

“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth,” the president announced. “In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon ” it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

Gilruth was chosen to lead the human spaceflight program, known as the Apollo Program. Its goal was landing a man on the moon. And Gilruth promised just that in the fall of 1962 when he returned to Duluth and was welcomed back as a hero. Mayor George D. Johnson proclaimed it Bob Gilruth Day, and the auditorium at Central High School filled to the rafters with Duluthians eager to hear him speak. A giant banner hung from the balcony, declaring Gilruth the “pride of Central.”

Moved by his hometown’s tribute and welcome, Gilruth paused for a long moment. Then, in a soft voice brimming with emotion, he urged young Duluthians to prepare so they, too, could help their nation as it moved into the space age.

“I have received many honors, but I have never felt quite as humble as I do at this moment,” he said. “I feel quite confident that we will make manned landings on the moon within this decade. In fact, I am not only confident of this, I firmly believe we’ll be on the moon in less than 10 years.”

Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon less than seven years later. In Houston, Gilruth cheered with a nation.

“He was not an easy boy to get to know,” the News Tribune wrote of Gilruth, days before his triumphant return in October 1962. (He died Aug. 17, 2000, at age 87.) “He was neither a hellion nor an introvert. He was neither average nor did he display to those of his own age signs of unusual brilliance. … He was a boy of hobbies and strong purpose, yet beset by deep self doubts.”

In other words, he was a typical Duluth kid. Who achieved greatness. Meaning any of us can, right? Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune’s deputy editorial page editor. He can be reached at 723-5316 or cfrederick@duluth news.com.

“That’s a word I don’t like one damned bit.”

Yesterday a friend sent me a pointed message about an issue completely unrelated to the subject of this post. He then put in a gratuitous word that pisses me off and one which even the southern politicians of my youth intentionally mispronounced, “nigra,”
to hide what they really called black folks when they weren’t on camera.

The times I’ve heard the word used are few and far between because people know better. The first time I was shocked to hear it it was spit out by a preschooler.

Here’s what I saw in my inbox:

“It’s not the Russians doing this, it’s that goddamn nigger Obama.”

Here was my reply:

“That’s a word I don’t like one damned bit. You and I don’t see eye to eye on everything and that’s OK. If you read my blog you know I’m not looking forward to the new administration. I’ve got my own colorful language for its leader. He seems to have made that word a lot more popular than it used to be.


I detest Donald Trump. Unlike Pandora I see little hope coming out the box of crap he’s opened up. I’m prepared to stand corrected but so far our President Elect has given future Dylann Roof’s more ammunition.

I understand but don’t buy the justification my friend sent me after my rebuke for blaming Obama on worsening race relations:

You are right. Obama has set back race relations 50 years and has no remorse for doing so. He brought the whole thing on himself…nobody I know thought anything about the color of his skin. Then he started in on this black over white shit and never stopped. Respect is something you earn, you don’t just get it, my father taught me. ‘Bama has not earned respect, but gained [disdain] by his sharp tongue and attitudes. He is sticking a great big dagger in the people of my life-long homeland and that of my parents and grandparents by blocking the extension of mineral exploratory leases for Twin Metals. More teaching whitey a lesson. That’s why I feel the way I do about him.

I’ve got to get to church but before the day is out I’d like to mention one more local detail relating to the movie Claudia and I watched on Friday – Hidden Figures. I’m surprised I’ve not read about it in the DNT yet but its well worth telling. Its a little more uplifting.


A family member recently Facebooked a Fake news story about the 700 Club’s smarmy Pat Robertson. In it Pat was accused of disparaging a sleveless dress worn by Michelle Obama while heaping praise on a semi nude pic of Melania Trump. Didn’t happen!

I thought I might have referred to a similar story in a previous blog post although it might have been a reply to an email. There was a story about Trump’s wife starting her career in America as an escort. If I mentioned it on my blog a cursory search doesn’t seem to have revealed the allegation.

Melania was born in the old Yugoslavia of my youth. After I moved to Northeastern Minnesota I became aware of the various slavic peoples of that nation who settled in the Iron Mining regions. When, after Rudy Perpich’s term as Governor, Yugoslavia broke up the first area to secede was Slovenia the most prosperous part of the nation. The Range had is share of Slovenes.

I regard our new first Lady as an interesting, if nontraditional, addition to the roll-call of First Ladies. She came here to take advantage of the beauty industry and she married a rich man I’ve never respected. The latter point is irrelevant to this discussion although not to my blogging in general.

Because my Father inculcated a love of Geography in me early on I was aware of “Trieste” the major city of Slovenia which has been contested between the Italians and Slavs for a very long time. Before I set out for Duluth forty years ago one of my Mother’s best friends and a business partners was a woman whose Mother was an Italian woman born in the City. In fact, Daria’s Mother never learned English and spoke Italian in her inner city Italian neighborhood for the rest of her life.

Daria was not a supermodel and she wasn’t “Slovenian.” She was a wonderful person and, like Melania, I would never blame her for anything her husband might have done.

But Melania is on a ride she never planned for. After reading the Snope’s correction I got curious about the much talked about photo shoot in GQ. I wondered if the January 2000 Issue with Melania on the cover had raised in value since November. I checked Ebay out. No Kidding! I’ll bet they only get more expensive as the Trump year’s continue.

666 goes to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Jared Kushner, Prez Elect Trump’s son-in-law and chief campaign advisor, is trying to unload a beast at 666 5th Avenue on a huge Chinese conglomerate. The NY Time’s story of the deal is extensive as it covers the many opaque connections and entanglements between the titans. I, for one, have no idea what to make of Trump’s financial interests which seem at cross purposes with his rhetoric hinting at a Depression inducing Chinese/American trade war. I suspect the poobahs of the Chinese Communist Party are similarly confused.

It wasn’t long ago that New Jersy’s Governor was pushed off Trump Tower by Jared who objected because Christie had put old man Kushner in jail.

The young Kushner is good at giving pushes. His efforts to suppress Clinton voter’s during the Trump campaign was perfectly, if unintentionally, choreographed with the Russian crusade to suppress Clinton voters. Together they gave Hillary the old heave ho.

At least we won’t have to worry about corruption at the Clinton Foundation now. That may help my Buddy sleep better since he sent me link to the speculation that Hillary might try to give Mayor De Blasio a run for his money this year. The thought of her residing in Gracie Mansion mere blocks from Melania over in Trump Tower is almost as nightmarish a scenario as I can imagine……. just short of Donald Trump’s taking a power nap in the Lincoln Bedroom.

The official source for all the blather of the eccentric Harry Welty – Duluth School Board member, off and on, since 1995. He does his best to live up to Mark Twain's assessment: "First God created the idiot. That was for practice. Then he invented the School Board."