Category Archives: meaning of life

An old friend’s daughter does good

An old high school buddy, who I haven’t seen since he got married thirty years ago, and I found each other on the Internet and began emailing each other in recent years. We keep talking about getting together again. He’s the fellow I reminisced about last January who sent me an erudite article on opium cultivation in Afghanistan. He’s retired to the D.C. area and I told him a month ago that Claudia and I were thinking of passing through this summer. I’m not so sure now. The damned School District has gone wacko and I don’t know if I dare leave Duluth this summer or fail to attend any School Board meetings. I may have to stay Duluth bound.

Anyway my buddy sent me this video and told me his daughter helped produce it for the New York Times. Its only eleven minutes long but it dampened my eyes.

Civility < Honesty

School Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp informed the Board that she would be bringing the Civility Pledge to the Board for us to renew our commitment to it. This follows some tense interactions between Board members in recent weeks. I apparently missed one such exchange last week when I had to leave a Business Committee meeting early. I first saw the pledge when I served on the Board in 2001. These are the nine points it asks of its signers:

Pay Attention. Be aware and attend to the world and the people around you.

Listen. Focus on others in order to better understand their points of view.

Be Inclusive. Welcome all groups of citizens working for the greater good of the community.

Don’t Gossip. And don’t accept when others choose to do so.

Show Respect. Honor other people and their opinions, especially in the midst of disagreement.

Be Agreeable. Look for opportunities to agree; don’t contradict just to do so.

Apologize. Be sincere and repair damaged relationships.

Give Constructive Criticism. When disagreeing, stick to the issues and don’t make a personal attack.

Take Responsibility. Don’t shift responsibility and blame onto others; share disagreements publicly.

Nothing on this list is in anyway disagreeable to me. I like to think that I model this behavior. But I do find it incomplete. It has been used repeatedly in Duluth by the winners of power struggles to shame or attempt to shame the losers. In this it is hardly civil.

Civility is in many ways the least of the virtues. In fact some of the items on the pledge do go further than mere civility. For instance “agreeableness” goes beyond the mere formality of civility which demands the avoidance of unpleasantness. Perhaps these nine points add up to something beyond mere civility.

I was told this morning that in past years critics of the Red Plan asked that the School Board add “truthfullness” to this list before signing the pledge. Apparently Member Camerons demured saying that there are many shades of truthfullness. I agree with Mary on this point. Truth can be disputed. On the other hand Honesty, which might even fall short of the truth, is a reflection of it.

All these points can be faked and someone can put on the masquerade of civility. Sometimes, honesty, can be a bitter pill. For instance it was Jesus of Nazareth who called some of his critics “you brood of vipers!” That wouldn’t pass the “Speak Your Mind” civility test.

As long as there is a suspicion that duplicity is masquerading as civility the pledge will be very hard to enforce.

Last night at the School Board meeting there was a proposal to raise the requirement to call a special meeting from two people to three people. We were told that this was to abide by state statutory language. Yet when asked for time to confirm that this was what state statute demanded there was a rush to put limits on what a minority of two on our School Board could without waiting for an advisory opinion from experts. As I pointed out this violated the spirit of Parliamentary procedure which attempts to insure the freedom of a minority to express its viewpoints. Its hard to see any civility in this tyranny of the majority.

For me civility is all well and good but honesty beats it hands down. If there’s no room for honesty in civility…….who cares about it? Not me!

Zealots, Ethics, Buying Clubs, Snowdays and…

…stepping away from the precipice.

Since last Tuesday’s closed door school board meeting about negotiations I’ve spent the week stepping back from the precipice. The first verse of AA’s serenity prayer has been my mantra,

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

As my old colleague, George Balach, once observed to quiet nervous observers when I beat him to get elected Chair of the School Board, Harry still has just one vote. So much is beyond my control that jumping off a cliff won’t improve things. I have to work for the future with that one vote and my good cheer. My Mom always told me that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

So, to the old readers who are beginning to come back to the blog I’ll explain that this post will be a little catch all and catch up on the stuff I usually categorize under Harry’s Diary.


I’ve been reading a new book out loud to Claudia. This one is her recommendation from her book club. Its Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus Christ by Reza Aslan. I’m about six chapters in and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. That’s probably why a quick Google Search comes up with so many links debunking and dismissing it. Its very readable and makes for a good history, so far, of the situation on the Ground in the Holy Land in the time of Roman occupation. It accords well with a dozen or more books I’ve read on the subject since the great wave of the Moral Majority swept into and carried away the Republican Party.


Our men’s church group had the nephew of one of our elder statesmen come to speak to us about business ethics this morning. I had to write up the intro in our church bulletin for the meeting and talked to Ikonic’s Marketing guy Parnell Phill. He gave us a thoughtful wide ranging discussion that I particularly appreciated in my renewed capacity as a Duluth School Board member. I guess I should remind readers, especially after mentioning my new current read aloud book, that I’m an Agnostic who has sung for twenty years in our church choir.

Ethics isn’t tied to religion but allied with it. I won’t rehash the points he discussed in detail but just say that among the things it had me thinking about are:

Is an organization no better ethically than its least ethical employee? That’s taken from the chain metaphor about the weakest link. Just remember that in an organization some links are bigger than others.

Is there a reset button for a link that has failed or do we consign that link (person) to purgatory for all time? In Christian theology this would be the redemption button.

The reset button set off our elder statesman, Richard Pearson. A former Hermantown School Superintendent and liberator of nazi concentration camps Pearson mentioned his vehement opposition to “zero tolerance” laws. I concurred and mentioned that at one time in America the reset button was moving out west where your youthful trespasses could be forgotten. That’s not so easy today in the age of Social Security numbers and dozens of other ways to track a person for a lifetime. Is it even possible for a reset button today? Well, the voters just gave me one and I’m fully prepared to offer reset buttons at others.

Buying Clubs:

This is a reference to the movie we live streamed last night that just won two best actor Oscars, The Dallas Buyer’s Club. If you can look past the R rating which it surely must have (not a problem for me) it was a movie about a reset button. Claudia and I both thought it an excellent movie. The Oscars were well deserved.

and oh yeah, the School District and Snowdays:

We seem, with the help of our teachers, to have come up with a satisfactory resolution to this issue, providing that the snow stops…….Don’t look outside!

BTW. I’m the Board member who asked if the twelve minute addition to the school day would mean an extra two minutes for secondary classes. When told that this would be the case I raised my arms above my head and shouted “Halelujah.” If only the snow was the only thing beyond my control.

Stuff happens and then you die AND moon dust

Other than substituting a saltier four letter word with the soft gauzy nothing “Stuff” there is truth to this unexceptional saying. (Moon dust will show up later in this post)

I lead today’s posts with this saying because I have half a dozen things – “stuff” – to do today, most of no great consequence. I know that sounds fatalistic but I am hardly a fatalist. Had I been I would not have run for political office 15 times. Neither would I have helped lead the charge against a dim witted school building boondoggle. I know that in four billion or so years our sun will wink out and I know that that leaves Earth 16 future stretches of a quarter billion years (about the length of time that dinosaurs “ruled” the planet) for other genera of animals to rise and fall after man should he succumb to his stupidities and extinct him/herself.

If you presume that extinction is immediate as Christian fundamentalists do then the Earth still has roughly 400 five-million-year stretches (5 mill being the length of time modern humans have existed) to follow our imminent demise – Praise the Lord!

So here is a short list of the “stuff” I hope to accomplish today: Continue reading

Semper Fi

This post was prompted by the event last week at my Mother’s care facility. That will be the brief subject of the succeeding post with was prompted by this posts preceding post. One of the challenges of a blog is putting information in an order which make sense as a reader goes backward in time reading older posts.

In 1968 I was on the Mankato High School Swim team. I’d started swimming with the team the last couple of weeks of the previous year at the behest of my friend Steve Skelly.

I got to be a fair swimmer that year and one of the reasons why was that a girl was given permission to swim with our boy’s team. This was before Title Nine required schools to offer girl sports and Jan C. was not satisfied to swim with the YMCA girls team in town. I didn’t give my coach the credit he deserved at the time for his forward thinking although I’m sure it raised plenty of eyebrows at the time. Having Jan in the pool swimming laps with us boys made me determined not to let her lap me. I’m sure she had a similar affect on the other guys.

One of the other people in the pool was Randy a kid from California whose family had some Minnesota connection which allowed him to stay for his senior year in Mankato. Like Jan and me he was new to the team. He was also a year older than me and we got to know each other well enough so that when he asked Jan to go to some dance, maybe the Spring Prom, we joined forces and drove together.

He graduated that Spring and would be heading back to California but before he did he invited me to go up to a lake in Northern Minnesota with his family when they came to pick him up. We went to a Green Lake although just which one it was I have no idea as there must be dozens of them. Randy’s was a family with boys and I got along with them all pretty well. The following year after I graduated from High School my Dad took us on one of a half dozen cross country camping trips of my youth through the west coast and a few miles from Randy’s home. I prevailed on my Dad to let me call Randy and lucked into dropping by his family’s home for a short visit. I can’t recall whether Randy was present or not and if I just met briefly with his younger brothers. I have only one indelible recollection from that visit. On the wall of the living room was a large Marine Corps emblem. It might have included at screaming eagle bearing Semper Fi or USMC in a banner clutched in its talons. Randy’s Dad was a marine and probably a WW II warrior. I think I got the impression that Randy felt he owed it to his Dad to follow in his footsteps.

A year or two later Randy was a newly minted marine and came for one last visit to Duluth. Like most college campuses Mankato had a strong whif of anti-Vietnam War attitude about it. There were already a few Veterans at the school and many of them were unsympathetic to the war. I too was anti-war but I kept my attitude about the war separate from the soldiers sent to fight it. As I recall Randy was in uniform when I invited him up to lunch in the Student Union. I know he felt conspicuous in a college setting although no one said or did anything to make Randy feel unwelcome. I was curious to know what he thought of being a marine. He didn’t seem to think of the experience as highly as his Dad had. Randy joked about being called repeatedly by his Drill Instructors whatever it was they were yelling at recruits in that Era’s bootcamps. Puke’s maybe or worse.

We may have exchanged a Christmas card after that visit but my association with Randy pretty much ended there. We were headed into different paths of life. I have the feeling he escaped Vietnam just as I escaped being drafted but I can’t be sure.


Confession is good for the soul

After my Buddy set me to questioning the police he sent me this questioning doctors.

I suspect that what drew my buddy’s attention to this is the fact that its the story of a Doctor being injured by other doctors. I also took note that the story suggested that new procedures being demanded by Obamacare might reduce some of the tens of thousands of medical mistakes that happen every year in our hospitals.

This post and the one on police preceeding it and the many posts about the mistakes of the Duluth School Board and the Duluth News Tribune to honestly admit Red Plan errors all remind me of something my Dad strongly believed. It happened to be about the efficacy of a Catholic Church practice. This is ironic because despite having two children-in-laws that were Catholic my Dad was no fan of the Roman Catholic Church. Nonetheless he thought that confession was one of the most salutory things that Catholics practiced.

I long ago concluded that one of the worst things about life is the unwillingness to admit mistakes. The police, doctors, teachers, journalists, clergy are all among the worst offenders. I think it helps explain why children are very reluctant to raise their hands to answer a question. The stigma they feel for being wrong even over a trivial question is such that no one is willing to admit ignorance or mistake.

And yet learning can not take place without risking mistakes. Trial and Error have led to much human cultural evolution. Suppressing this in school is not healthy. To my Father the Catholic confession was good for the soul by freeing it to honestly face unpleasant truths. Someday humankind may live in a world less troubled by human frailty. If that happens it will be a much stronger world.

My favorite movie – Pt 2 (another unedited late night mental ramble)

Author Harold Holzter makes a strong case for the Cooper’s Union speech being the event that made him President. You could read Doris Kearn’s Goodwin’s book and not come to that conclusion. You would be right to say that had it not been for the Lincoln Douglass Debates, Cooper’s Union would not have happened. You could go back further and say that had Lincoln not seen the slave markets of New Orleans on his one visit to the City in his youth he would never have become President either. But he did become President and he had to grapple with ideas that were foreign to all but a very few Americans and reshape America’s beliefs in the process. What was at the core of this change is what makes me love Groundhog’s Day. Not reinvention, for America was not reinvented by the Civil War. It was redemption. Thomas Jefferson felicitous claim for human rights was hoisted upon Abe Lincoln’s shoulders and given new life. And that is what Harold Holtzer’s book begins to explain. It is a story in part of Abraham Lincoln the historian. Continue reading

My favorite movie – Pt 1 (another late night unedited mental ramble)

I’ve been watching and rewatching some marvelous British Television series lately. Tonight I watched two more hours of “The Hour” on Amazon’s live stream for $1.99 an episode. Its a steal. Last week I finished watching the first season of “Island at War” almost as good. Last night I rewatched the sixth episode of “Call the Midwife” with my daughter who is seeing it for the first time. Like all the other episodes, both first and second time, I teared up. I also got the first season of a good American series finished the other day at about two episodes a night. Its Netflix’s American take on the British political thriller “House of Cards.” The American version stars Kevin Spacey who I saw as an extra in the Disney movie “Iron Will.”

(Will is a so-so movie but it was filmed in Duluth and Two Harbors and it will be at the Zinema some Saturday soon.)

This little post, is an introduction of sorts to a few more to follow. Continue reading

Reading vs. fund raising

I’m in the midst of a fascinating chapter in the book “Black Sea” which is explaining much to me about the sorry history of Poland-Lithuania.

I’m so pleased that I’m not in Congress and expected by my party handlers to spend five hours on the phone each day selling my soul to rich people begging them for 2014’s political donations.

Because I get to read I get to grow my brain instead of see it atrophy like the brains of Congressmen.

The author writes of one of his historical characters Adam Mickiewicz perhaps the most loved Polish poet:

“He never saw either Warsaw or Krakow, the two capital citys of historic Poland. It is as if Shakespeare had never visited Poland.”

He goes on to say that the poet spent long hours visiting at the home of an admitted spy for Poland’s occupier, Russia: “It was still and age in which a fine fellow was a fine fellow, and his politics came second.”

God forbid that any of our Congressmen would do the same. It would cut into their time at the phone bank or intellectual growth. Since they have no idea what’s going on in the world thank goodness the Party gives them talking points so that their ignorance doesn’t become too apparent when voters ask them questions.

Dr. Whoa! The secret life of Prof. James Fezter

I’m periodically subjected to stories about ex UMD professor Jim Fetzer. Today the DNT told us that Fetzer’s latest research strongly suggests that the Sandy Hook Massacre was caused by Israel’s MOSSAD their equivalent to the CIA.

I once wrote about Jim in my old Reader Weekly column. That was before he endorsed the claim that the CIA knocked down the World Trade Towers in addition to killing off President Kennedy. I had to follow this up with a second column.

Its all science, the former Philosopher of Science assures us, adding that: “… I can’t imagine why any university would want to discourage its faculty from exercising their independent thought and critical reasoning ability.”

As one of my columns makes clear Jim was a former neighbor of mine and when I prepped him for a big debate on evolution in town I found out a little about him which I too have subjected to some independent thought and critical reasoning.

Jim told me he was raised in a home with an unhealthy and slavish adherence to Biblical fundamentalism and he rebelled against this.

This along with the subsequent bouts of publicity make it quite clear that Jim Fetzer is in the employ of domestic subversives and/or foreign agents. These agents are intent on discrediting liberals who are a threat to the conservative agenda. Hence Jim has dedicated the majority of his adult life making liberals look unhinged. The more JFK assassination groupies he enrolls in his fanciful theories and the more ink he generates for his scientific analysis the more the public as a whole will regard liberals as wackos.

I suspect that the CIA could be the ultimate paymaster behind Fetzer’s work but unlike Jim I’m a little more circumspect. I could easily see Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch or the Koch Brothers underwriting his efforts. Heck, its probably a whole cabal of folks allied with Dick Cheney, Halliburton and Exxon. He was probably recruited for this Manchurian Candidate style when he was a young marine.

Trust me on this, You can take comfort in all the scientific reasoning I’ve applied to this conclusion.

Four good hours of sleep

To my long time fans (all eight of you) and the few snakes who couldn’t take their eyes off my snake charming during the days of the Red Plan Saga you will not be surprised by this post about my sleeping. When I get my dander up I work like a fiend. (My wife confirmed this last night) I had many posts over the course of the most intense two years of my fight against the depredations of the Duluth School Board (upon which I once served) that commented on my state of sleeplessness and fatigue. If you were to put “sleep” in this blog’s search engine you would probably find dozens of posts especially from 2009 in which the word is embedded.

This may be a repeat of that phenomenon. This post is related to a possible new mania – an improbable run for the Congress. After the previous post at about 10:30 pm I put in an hour setting up an incipient website before going to bed at half past eleven.

The new site not up yet. Continue reading

A blogger dies with his boots on – so what?

Andrew Brietbart died in large part because he couldn’t stop mattering in the news, in his blog, in the culture war.

This is how Andrew Sullivan describes his demise.

I’ll be quite happy to disappoint my eight loyal readers if I have grandchildren show up unexpectedly or take the trip of a lifetime or if there is a blizzard followed by a day with sticky snow with which to make a snow sculpture.

I think I’d be a useful Congressmen in large part because I still understand and try to live by goals that really are worthwhile and enriching.

Being elected is important and Minnesota’s Senator McCarthy was being a little too cynical when he looked at Hubert Humphrey and proclaimed that politics was no more important than an athletic competition. What ex-seminarian McCarthy probably really meant was that we all die and in the end our lives aren’t that big a deal to the cosmos. It sounds like a libel against God especially coming from a theologian.

I’d say that a life is precious precisely because it is so fleeting. I rather pity people who do not wish to make anything of their life between the dust to dust episodes. By making something of a life I sure don’t mean ginning up lies about someone with a different political point of view. If that’s why Andrew Breitbart died it really is a shame.

A brave person just died bringing us the truth.

Anthony Shadid was one of the world’s most predictable murder victims. An honest reporter.

Anthony never let the plaudits get to his head. He could have had his choice of cushy assignments in Europe or the United States. He could have become a successful commentator or analyst. But his heart was in the Middle East — and in the story. He kept going out to report — to talk to people, to observe, to understand. Sometimes it indeed involved great personal peril — he stayed in Baghdad through the shock-and-awe bombing campaign, he traveled through southern Lebanon during the 2006 Israeli invasion, and he was kidnapped in Libya with three other New York Times journalists — but he was no adrenaline junkie. He did it because he wanted to know what was really happening. And that couldn’t be gleaned from a distance. During the U.S. invasion of Baghdad, when other journalists tried to figure out what was going on from their hotel rooms, Anthony sneaked onto the streets and talked to Iraqis. His dispatches were an order of magnitude more illuminating.

2nd thoughts about the my comments two posts ago

I almost wish I hadn’t put this post in the blog. I didn’t really know what I thought about it at posting time. I just knew that Vanderbilt parties were a heckuvalot bigger and more numerous than UMD’s Labor Day bashes. I still don’t know quite what to say but these thoughts have crossed my mind, in no particular order.

1. If I was a Vanderbilt student I would have thought nothing about attending one.

2. They were big but orderly. (as of the filming)

3. There was no attempt to make it easy to contain cans, bottles and cups. Sure they would have picked up later but it was such a slothful sight.

4. This Fraternity row has no doubt existed for half a century or more and the residential neighbors no doubt knew that before moving in.

5. The people filming were being self righteous and accusatory. Very Old Testament. I’m not big on the old testament!

6. From what I saw (and I quit half way through) the partiers were reasonable to their harassers. No doubt most considered them harmless and amusing.

7. I don’t personally object to alcohol being served to young people if I can be sure of their self restraint. That would be harder to find in America with its Blue Laws but not that unusual in Europe where wine and beer are regular beverages at family dinners.

8. I think that open activities are more easily monitored and theoretically safer for participants than those hidden away.

9. That was just once slice of time on one campus on one day. I have no idea what its like over the course of a full school year at all hours of the day.

10. I’d be interested to know at what point local police drop by to pay a call on these parties.

11. I’m glad I don’t live next to one of these fraternities and I belonged to one myself. Our parties were more likely in the basement, the backyard or the first floor not out front on the street. See point 8 above.

Welcome to college

On Thursday, just ahead of the Labor Day weekend when the college students stream up 21st Ave. in their lemming like return to academe the new crowd of young fellows across the avenue were beginning to set up a pirate ship. That was not apparent to me yet in the morning before I headed out to interview a subject for a book I’m in the process of writing.

Because these fellows had stayed up late and talked on their front porch several nights running keeping my wife and I up it was time for me to introduce myself. I have done this regularly for twenty-seven years to stay on the good side of the ever growing nearby neighborhood residences crammed with college kids. Most of these college kids have appreciated my appeals to their better nature and my need to let my children and now grand children get a good night’s sleep. I have never called the cops and God willing never will.

Fortunately, that has proven unnecessary in recent years as the corridor along 21st and Woodland have been visited at crucial intervals by our local police in ever increasing numbers.

The young gentlemen were grateful for my good-natured request to keep their voices lower in the evening because of us doddering old folks across the street who needed to go to bed early. Thinking my mission had been accomplished I left. When I returned some hours later I found the prow of a ship built onto the front porch. The nice young fellows in their tri-cornered hats; “Cap’n Morgan” I called one after of them as I’d waved them goodbye were ad-midst an obstreperous crew pulling a mutiny on the front lawn. Horns honked, beer containers littered, Youngster’s cheered. One student mooned the world and then threaded his way drunkenly across the avenue under a hail of water balloons traffic be damned.

Perhaps my request for late night calm was to blame for not encompassing the midday as well. Perhaps my daughter with a toddler on her hips who had succeeded me in asking for a little restraint had been too abrupt. Perhaps my neighbor, another doddering oldster had failed by merely staring daggers at the group rather than invade their territory with a request for a little more order. She might have been a little more assertive when they pointedly refused to return her gaze for returning it would have broken the illusion that no one minded their theatrics.

Hearing all this I went to my office and printed out a column I’d written and had published in our local tabloid the Reader Weekly five years ago. I printed out two copies because a second smaller party was under way next door to the animal house. I crossed the avenue and ducked under the 2 by 4 prow and tucked the column under the mail box with a short and not so sweet note jotted in the margin. I then walked to the second house and genially introduced myself to the next group of students quaffing beer and whiskey. I then handed the column to the second group as well for them to ponder before their party descended into unthinking abandon. Back at my house I peeked out the window and was pleased to see them reading my work. Their more restrained party broke up shortly thereafter but perhaps not because of my actions or written word.

A short time later four police cars moved in and surrounded the more obstreperous party. The police were in no hurry. Over the course of half an hour tickets were handed out to the students many of whom lifted them high and waved them to their fellow revelers like winning lottery tickets. Ah, the bravado of youth. (My son suggested such tickets cost each recipient $180.)

I’d heard a thoughtful young man recently describe today’s college drinking binges as a kind of extreme sport. I pictured soul-patched young men exhorting each other to “Do the brew!”

I have done my level best to help the alcoholics industry since my own college days. One of the ways I’ve done this is by not being an ass when drinking. Oh there were a couple times when I was in college that I may have pushed the envelope but one instance is a pretty good indicator of me under the influence… Continue reading