Going to bed with Peppa

Last night for the second time I risked my cell phone’s melatonin messing blue light to watch little snatches of the cartoon Peppa the Pig in French. Between the cartoon’s pictures, its elementary vocabulary and my fifteen months of study it almost seems like I could understand the language if I could only squint my brain enough.

A year ago I wrote a column about my intent to learn a second language in the Reader in a column titled “Pardon Mon French.” That was after three months of studying. Now I’ve got a year and three months under my belt…..except for the month of September last year. That’s when I was actually traveling through France and didn’t have time to keep practicing if I wanted to see the countryside. I had nine months of French practice under my belt and I was hopeless.

To my surprise I resumed my study within days of returning and have added another six months of study. I don’t have any expectation of spending a lot of time with French speaking people but that could change if I actually begin to find myself understanding and speaking it. The US State Department lists French as one of the three easiest languages to learn. The State Department says it takes about 480 hours to become conversant.I presume their preferred teaching methods are a lot more intensive than my home study without other speakers to guide me personally. I am probably beyond that level of time spent but comprehension still eludes me. I take heart in the experience of a polyglot who gave a TED talk type presentation before other polyglots. Polyglot = multi-lingual.

This young lady spoke about six languages. Her presentation followed a year of visiting other polyglots and asking them about their method of learning. She found, as I would have expected, that no two multi-lingual speakers study in exactly the same way. I found their stories very hopeful. All were in their twenties when they began throwing themselves into languages. The speaker had a very useful motivational quote. “The best time to learn a language” she explained “is when you are young.” She added, “The second best time is now.”

This speaker claimed to have spent roughly an hour a day learning new languages. She explained that polyglots generally had a little corner with all their teaching/learning tools, books dictionaries, etc that they cuddled up with. Here’s mine: Continue reading

Into my mental Expanse

Up and out of bed for four hours. Until a few moments ago when I took a ten minute break to clear my mind I was busy nonstop with mental activity skimming the News Tribune, the NY Times and other news filters on my cellphone. Twenty of those past minutes were used solving some Time’s puzzlers and fifteen minutes were on my French practice. I still have another half an hour of French practice today to do in order to keep to a half year streak of putting about an hour in daily. Will I ever get to use French if I become fumblingly conversant. Maybe. So am I learning it for vanity, practicality or just to keep my brain cells from slipping into dementia? Don’t know. Probably all three.

That’s what I pondered in my nap while trying to keep my mind clear. That and the dozens of things I’d like to write about now. But I have a Reader column to turn in today and like last week when I missed the deadline I have some rough draft work ready to operate on. But I’m operating at the moment in the “meantime” with some time to kill and ideas to spill. As I fritter away precious minutes I’m listening to the Birmingham Symphony’s recording of the Mendelssohn that I will be singing in two weeks at the DECC with the Symphony Chorus. At last week’s practice a native of Texas from the French bayous caught me working on French. My mind froze up and I got no French out but I was hoping I’d see him again last night but he wasn’t sitting behind me to give my French a spin.

But I’ve learned a couple things about the composer. He taught Queen Victoria piano lessons. That’s added to my enjoyment of the current PBS series on young Queen Victoria. I also learned that he was a polyglot speaking a half dozen languages. He was easily conversant in English which makes his assures that his English lyrics …..“All that has life and Breath”……its playing now…Heavenly…. are not at all stilted.

So with Mendelssohn playing in the background let me mention one of the dozen items I’ve watched with Claudia over the past few weeks. Not Brooklyn 99 which tickles my funny bone and which is proof that racism in the US doesn’t stand a chance in the long run. Instead I’ll mention The Expanse three seasons of which we’ve live-streamed over the past couple weeks. I read a note about its being saved after by two seasons by none other than Mr. Bezos of Amazon fame. He put a good word in for them when it was about to be canceled.

Its about a future Earth at a time when Earthlings are divided into three groups. Those living on Earth. A militarized Mars and everyone else called “Belters.” They have colonized the Asteroid belt and all the other moons beyond Earth of the Solar system. In the first three seasons war is about to break out between all three subdivisions of the Solar System bound Earthlings. The Mormons have commissioned a massive Space ship to be sent to other suns and that project is being constructed in space by the belters. Bezos reportedly fell in love with the series because it works hard to show how the real life environment of space would have to be negotiated by humans. (No bathrooms have shown up yet. Probably just as well. What a distraction they would be)

There was one things that caught my attention. While there are vague hints that the Earth of a few hundred years from now is radically different one Martian warrior who finds herself at the United Nations in New York wants only to see the Earth’s ocean which is so foreign to her having grown up on desiccated Mars. When she escapes her confines and is directed to what is clearly New York’s battery overlooking the Statute of Liberty I had a quick reaction. I’ve been there and in a couple hundred years barring some industrial miracle that little bit of beach will be covered by 20 or more feet of water. I suspect the makers of The Expanse knew this but chose not to ignore this far more likely future. The idea that we will be zipping around the solar system mining its asteroids and moons in a mere two hundred years seems pretty fanciful to me. Will it happen? Oh I fully expect this but I think it would take a lot more time than this although like with Startrek I’m not entirely clear on the dates projected by The Expanse. And I haven’t even mentioned the “proto molecule.”

They had one thing right. The spaceship slated to be flown (is that what you would call it) by the Mormons is expected to take many generations to reach a habitable star beyond the sun. Alpha Centuri is the closest at 4.3 light years. NASA is contemplating sending out a space kite powered by lasers shot at it from Earth which might be able to reach one fifth the speed of light. That would make for a 30 year journey. What it would take to power a spacecraft with a 1,000 people on it at that speed is not yet within the grasp our our engineering. And Alpha Centuri may be the wrong place to send humans let alone a whole colony of them surviving the loneliness of space for generations. In a million years? Sure some new generation of hybridized bionically and computationally augmented humans will quite likely make the journey. At a fifth the speed of light their successors might make it to the far edge of the Milky Way in half a million years – a period of time 50 times as far away in the future as agriculture’s beginnings were in the past.

So for me and the immediate generations following me the question will be whether Earth and Mars or simply China Russia and the USA can avoid turning the Earth into another Venus before this endless future Era of exploration begins. To that end I’ll mention my pleasure at seeing a letter-to-the-editor in the Reader mentioning my last column about plastics. I don’t get a lot of feedback. The letter suggested a book for me about plastic waste. I won’t read it. I haven’t read the Sixth Extinction yet and that just about sums up what Donald Trump inspired politics all but guarantees will come to pass.

I give. Time for French.
I’ll save any proof reading of this for later. Maybe

I owe Nora, Sally and Josh an apology – Here it is…

I don’t have it in me to watch Duluth School Board meetings so I relied on the story in the Duluth News Tribune to pontificate about the recent decision to keep $777,000 from the General Fund out of payments to Red Plan building bonds and keep it in the classroom:

Here is the pertinent part that I wrote in the Fulcrum post:

This [DNT] story explains how three school board members (who were playing Republicans) voted to turn their back on $700,000 annually for Duluth’s public school classrooms (7 teachers worth) to show off their fiscal conservatism. They didn’t want to raise taxes by a half million over the next fifteen years to put $700,000 a year into the classrooms.”

Because this was a DNT story and because the DNT’s coverage of the School Board is threadbare I didn’t want to mention the three school board members name in my blog piece. I left it to readers to find them in the Trib story I linked to. I would have been better off reading Loren Martell’s always longish reportage of this school board meeting. Martell makes clear that the cost to taxpayers is not a half million dollars but four point three million dollars.

I’ve also learned a couple other tidbits. The Administrators and the Finance experts, who are going to make a mint on the modest savings that their refinancing will produce, made it very hard to tell what the financial consequences of their refinancing was. It was Nora Sandstad and Sally Trnka who doggedly pulled this information out of the Board’s guests. Good for them. It is so typical of Superintendent Gronseth to withold any information that might damage his reputation. Check out this story in the Zenith News. Gronseth’s opacity cost the District to fork over $55,000 to Art Johnston to avoid a much worse fate in a court of law.

Perhaps it was because of the Superintendent’s sneakiness that he lost three votes to preserve that $700,000 per year for our classrooms. As I made clear in the Fulcrum post I understand how the Red Plan drained the classroom budget. I’d have been hard pressed not to accept the financing to let it go through even at a $4 plus million pricetag. BUT, it would have been easy me for to vote against it knowing I would lose the vote. Voting against is was a way to slap the Superintendent’s hand.

My post Red Plan mantra is: Punish the lunkheads who put the District behind the fiscal eight ball but not the children.

Club for Growth, Club against Donald

I like a little schadenfreude as much as the next fellow and I’m particularly enjoying Mr. Kellyanne Conway‘s dead on deflation of President Trump. Obiously the President and Kellyanne hold no terrors for the terror from the Club for Growth.

Conway’s organization has been steadily making the Republican Party ripe for a Trump takeover for a decade or more by removing moderate Republicans leaving only a rump party with a lot of gas blowing out of it. For instance one of the grand old moderate Republicans was Indiana’s Senator Dick Luger. The Club for Growth blew him out of the water in 2010 in one of the internecine primary battles wit its deep corporate pockets. And as animated as Mr. Kellyanne is now it took him a while to grasp the obvious – that Donald Trump cares only about himself not the nation.

Conway’s anti-tax club shares the same attitude as its clone Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform to wit: “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”

What Mr. Kellyanne and his ilk have done is turn their back on the Republican Party’s founding which brought us our first income tax to finance the Civil War and Teddy Roosevelt to organize the Federal Reserve System. When I was a kid Republicans could be counted on countering the worst excesses of Democrats to bleed dollars for every worthy cause. But they didn’t deny that those causes existed. Obamacare was largely the work of long gone Republicans like Minnesota Senator Dave Durrenberger. Now Conway is doing his best after the fact to curb Donald Trump’s self dealing. That’s commendable. I wonder if that explains Trumps recent nomination of Sherman Moore to the Federal Reserve. Moore co-founded Conway’s Club for Growth. Since Kellyanne and the President seem impotent to curb Conway perhaps Sherman might be useful to Trump in chastising Conway.

Politics without a fulcrum

Here’s a video of American politics at its current best.

levers are engineering at their most elementary and all school children of my generation experienced the significance of a lever’s fulcrum when they played on teeter totters. Without equal weights on the ends a teeter will not totter. One side will sink below the other elevating the lighter side. By sliding from an end to the center, where the fulcrum is, a heavier weight can lift its side. I loved being in the middle of a teeter totter when kids were hanging all over them so that I could sway one way or the other and determine which end would rise or fall. This was also my politics. I didn’t like the radicals or reactionaries on the end of politics (Teddy Roosevelt’s “lunatic fringe”) to have too much influence.

Today the Republican party has used the courts, laws, some lucky elections and Fox News’s to imbalance America toward what they hope will be decades of a “conservative” agenda that will confound the coming liberal majority. In other words they want to eviscerate democratic principals to stay in power.

Here are three news stories that remind me of how a minority can enforce its will and how pragmatic politics can be torn asunder.

First here’s a story from the Duluth Schools. The Red Plan that I opposed looted classrooms of teachers and resources for pretty new buildings. It did this by denying a vote to the public rather like the Republicans making it hard for likely democrats to vote. The result, a decade after the Red Plan’s completion, is a frantic search for classroom funds. This story explains how three school board members (who were playing Republicans) voted to turn their back on $700,000 annually for Duluth’s public school classrooms (7 teachers worth) to show off their fiscal conservatism. They didn’t want to raise taxes by a half million over the next fifteen years to put $700,000 a year into the classrooms.

When I fought the Red Plan I warned that this kind its financing would drain the classrooms but that fight was lost long ago. Now our children need more teachers and this half million is paltry compared to the seven teachers we could annually add to our teaching roster. That’s me the pragmatist talking:


In 2016 a lot of Americans came up with a simpleminded excuse to let a demagogue become President. They claimed, and still believe, that both candidates were equally bad. I disagreed with them then and still disagree with them. The pragmatist in me fears that four years of seeing how awful Donald Trump is will not result in his defeat. I know that his critics have a hard time imagining him winning but this eye opening article in Politico is a warning. Defeating Donald Trump could prove as difficult as trying to kill Rasputin.


And one of the key issues that will determine whether Trump can be defeated is one that may very well keep Trump’s voters in his pocket. Immigration. David Frum has written a thoughtful piece in the Atlantic and this NPR story today is a much shorter summation. I fear that there are no longer enough pragmatists sitting on the fulcrum to ground Donald Trump.


An amendment to the Constitution I would like to propose

Since the adoption of the Constituion’s Bill of Rights this is how the Second Amendment has read:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

If I were in Congress today I would put forward an amendment that altered this verbiage to wit:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, the same as or the equivalent of those available at the adoption of the Constitution, shall not be infringed.

I think this would dramatically change the debate over the Second Amendment. It wouldn’t get 3/4ths of the State’s approval today but perhaps it, or something along the same lines, would pass in the next generation.

For another sample of my thoughts about the Second Amendment read: The Wayning of America.

OR check out any of my posts linked under the category “gun control.”

The tortured writer

I might also have titled this “the tortured reader.” (there are a ton of news stories I haven’t yet gotten to today)

Most creative people have a bigger audience than themselves and I am no exception. While I write for myself I can’t help but look over my shoulder whether its making snow sculptures, news or posting on my blog. We are social creatures and we do not operate in a vacuum. We differ in how much we let our audience sway us. Some people pander to the masses. Others confound the masses for a smaller slice of audience. But even this smaller slice may tempt us to pander to their particular interests. At its most isolated a creative person may begin to pander to his/her own peculiarities.

This is a lot of preface to say I check my blog stats almost every day to see what’s cooking. I’ve been a very spotty blogger since a little before 2019 began. Its not my first drier spell but it is a sign that I’m keen to do something more than reach the smallish audience I’ve pontificated before for the past 13 years. My eight loyal readers know I’ve agonized about writing a book for ages. In fact, my first serious foray into writing was self publishing a 200 plus page adventure novel for young readers. It was a great test of my perseverance but a creative disappointment.

Yesterday I attempted unsuccessfully to write a third weekly column for the Duluth Reader. I had a subject I was eager to write about. So eager was I that I went to the Duluth Public Library at noon and spent a couple hours researching old newspapers on microfilm. Rather than print out the stories that caught my eye I simply took a cell phone picture of them. This is the picture that would have graced my column had I finished it.

Finding this was almost a confirmation that God or the fates wanted me to write the column. Here’s the story. Continue reading

Piss n’ Vinegar Politics

There is an asinine level of outrage on the American right over some female Congresswomen who have dared to tweak cherished tropes. For years Republicans have accused anyone of faulting Israel over the abandoned peace talks of being an anti-Semite. Or, to be fair, maybe this began with the cheerleaders of AIPAC. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, following the President down the Twitter hole recently tweeted. “Its all about the Benjamins, baby.” I guess that since Benjamin (like about 40 percent of all American names) has a Jewish origin it was said by her critics that she was using a Jewish trope. Really, Ben Franklin was about as far as you can get from Jewish. Of course, suggesting that Republicans craved Jewish money may have had more resonance and I’ll be the first to admit that Jewish bankers have been pilloried in Europe all the way back to the middle ages as occupations involving usury (charging interest for borrowing money) were shunned by Christians. Often this was a wonderful charge to bring when a King decided he didn’t want to pay the bankers back. But back to Ilhan…

If this was part of her charge the only part that was correct is that politicians fund raise mindlessly. In recent decades the political machines expect them (the non-multimillionaires) to prove their worth by spending 30 hours a week like pimpled high school drop outs grubbing for money on the phone. But if suggesting that the money that funds American politics is driven by the 1 percent of Americans who are Jewish Ilhan was dead wrong. AIPAC, Soros and Bloomberg wield lots of money but not enough to overcome the PACs that fund Congressional campaigns.

The real complaint against AOC and Ilhan is that they are full of piss and vinegar. That line from Ilhan about the ” …Benjamins Baby.” That is so sassy and hip. It could have come from Donald Trump who has gone deeper into the gutter than Ilhan by saying the Nazi imitating torch bearers of Charlottesville were full of “fine people.”

I like a little piss and vinegar in my candidates. Piss and vinegar is a reaction to stuff shirts who often seemed to be above the average person’s travails. As much a I detest Donald Trump you have to give him credit for finding the P and V that a lot of Republican voters were desperately looking for. Of course, the original Republican full of Piss and Vinegar was the man Donald Trump called a loser for getting shot down over Vietnam and getting caught. What Trump was really saying was that McCain was a sucker for being a patriot when he could have claimed to have a bone spur and gotten out of the war.

The problem with Trump is that he is also full of shit which reminds me of the crass joke I thought was really funny when I was 13.

There were three scientists who wanted to see how long a pig could go without pooping. So, they put a cork in the pig’s butt and waited. The pig swelled up and swelled up until he almost didn’t fit in the laboratory any more. Being prudent scientists they trained a monkey to remove corks from various objects and when it was sufficiently adept they stood back as far as they could from the pig and set the monkey loose.

Weeks later the three scientists woke in the hospital and began comparing notes. “The last thing I remember is buckets and buckets of poop,” said the first. The last thing I remember said the second one was oceans and oceans of piss,” said the second. “All I can remember,” said the third, “is that poor monkey trying to put the cork back in.”

I’m no longer in junior high and as proof I’ll note something that I missed when I heard that joke 57 years ago. How the heck did piss get past that particular cork into the punch line?

More books one purchased one read and another reviewed

I had Claudia order this book five or six months ago. As she’s been stuck at home recuperating from her heart surgery she suggested I read it to her. Its quite slim. By Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon, was completed in about 1931 but only recently published. A Barracoon was a place where African prisoners were held before being put aboard the ships of Scottish and Yankee slave traders. Hurston learned of the last living slave from the last shipment of slaves to the United States (the ship “Cudjo” was transported on ran a Civil War blockade) and went to interview him about his life.

The book faithfully records his simple dialect for the sake of authenticity. It reminded me of something I have been thinking about recently. Black Americans sound different today than they did when I was a kid fifty years ago. Although a few blacks have sounded “white” since the days of house slaves; the vast majority, deprived of educations and sequestered in slave quarters, developed a distinctive patois. In the 1960’s Julian Bond was an exception with his then distinctive Middle American voice. (Here he is in 1982 making some sound observations about Socialism that would echo in the face of today’s Republican hysteria on the same subject.) Today the acting world is re pleat with black actors whose voices betray only the slightest hint of growing up in an inner city or south.

Here’s Cudjo talking about the Barracoon: Continue reading

More on Ilhan

I am pleased that the new Congress members have stuck up for Ilhan Omar and added Islam to Judaism in a resolution opposing unfair criticism. My initial defense of Congresswoman Omar could similarly be amended. So today when an old friend “M” emailed me out of the blue and asked for my Minnesota perspective on the subject I replied by sending him my colunm as well as an even more nuanced critique from Minnesotan and New York Times reporter, Tom Friedman.

Here’s M’s Query:

——– Original message ——–
From: M
Date: 3/7/19 6:42 AM (GMT-06:00)
To: Harry Welty
Subject: Ilhan

What’s your perspective on Ilhan Omar?

“Omar sparked a new firestorm one week ago for criticizing what she called “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” again comparing organized political support for Israel to lobbying efforts for “the NRA, or fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma.””


I sent this reply to my old friend:

On Thu, Mar 7, 2019 at 9:03 AM harrywelty wrote:

M _ _ _ _,

This is a column I sent in to our local tabloid immediately after the firestorm.


Tom Friedman had a more nuanced critique at the Times.

Bloviatingly, H

Hollywood Influence and Juan Percent

Although I disabled the comment function on my blog from the beginning in 2006 I did so with some reluctance. I like intelligent argument. Lately I’ve been playing devil’s advocate with some folks on Facebook that some would call trolls. Sometimes they surprise me and offer up genuinely useful information.

“Juan Percent” has been weighing in on my content for several months on the Reader webpage. Usually its been snarky or smart ass stuff. But while I’m not averse to snappish comebacks they really don’t accomplish much. I’ve found that Juan is willing to engage in give and take. He recently played devil’s advocate with me on my column about the private conversation that Billy Graham had with Dick Nixon. I’ve copied it below but you can also find it on the Reader’s Webpage.

Here’s Juan’s challenge:

“Eight year’s later his cover was blown when the infamous Nixon tapes were made public. They were damning. ”They’re [the Jews] the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,” Graham told Nixon. ”The Jews stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain,” he continued.”

Harry, this is heady stuffy. I ask you – If the Jews HAD a stranglehold on this country, (through the media: movies, and news) would that be good or bad?

Here’s my Reply to Juan:


If they did it would be troubling. They did have a significant presence in Hollywood. Still do. I would argue that this presence has been very positive. That would take another column just to skim the surface of my argument.

I could make the same argument over the control of Fox by confederates of Roger Ailes considering the reliance of so many baby boomers on its “fair and balanced” news.” But rather than call it a “stranglehold” I would say the same thing I said about the possibility that Jews had a stranglehold on “pornagraphic” Hollywood in the early part of the 20th century. It would be troubling.

That’s the price we pay for the 1st Amendment.

By the way, should you like to send me an email I’ve finally posted it on this page of Lincolndemocrat.

Deferring to print

Yesterday I seem to have decided to put more emphasis on print over pixels. I took the “Glaciers?” post and turned it into a Not Eudora column for Duluth’s local tabloid The Reader. I told the Reader I would be trying to write weekly columns for them instead of every other week. I added that if that was too much they could publish the column I sent them the following week when they expected my contribution. I don’t know what they will decide to do with it but my head is full of ideas I’d like to see in print.

I work much harder to tighten up printed materials than most of my blog posts which are frequently short and therefor easier to edit. I haven’t attempted to average them but, other some long reveries of several thousand words, most of my posts are probably closer to letter-to-the-editor length 250 to 400 words. In Reader columns I strive for 800 words although my Sympathy for Ilhan column with its prologue was probably closer to 1,300 words. You could tell from the full version they crammed on a single page the week before last. They had failed to include seven paragraphs in their initial publication. You almost needed a magnifying glass to read it in the full version.

Anyway, the column I’ve just written is titled “Glaciers and Galaxies.” I took it from the local to the cosmic.

I may attempt to write a short blog post daily in the future with a similar intent to expanded for Reader columns or other print projects. I can’t predict if my blog output will stutter. Stay tuned.