Minnesota politics: Say no to negativity

Leave a comment

I had planned this post a few weeks ago when I started the Minnesota theme, but I must admit it was a bit of a gamble. I had no idea whether I would be proud of what Minnesotans would vote for on election day or not. And there was a lot at stake.

Now, you might be scratching your head a bit. Minnesota has been in recent political news primarily from Republican presidential candidates Michele “Queen of Rage” Bachmann and Tim “Blandington J. Vanillaman” Pawlenty (and while we’re speaking of nicknames, we also had Jesse “The Body” Ventura as Governor from 1999-2003…oops). But Minnesota also has had the longest blue streak voting for president, due to the distinction of being the only state to vote for homeboy Walter Mondale in 1984. Even though Minnesota was mentioned as a swing state in this election, it never really seemed possible that Romney would win here.

Because in my state, 10 years after the tragic death of our beloved progressive senator, neighbors still put out their green Wellstone signs year after year. Paul Wellstone was elected to the senate in 1990 after being outspent at a 7-1 margin by incumbent Rudy Boschwitz. I was 4 years old then; it was over my high school PA system that his death was announced just 11 days before he would have been reelected to his 3rd term in the senate. So, for most of my childhood, I thought that the job of a politician was to do what Wellstone did: work for peace, healthcare, and the environment. He was an activist for anyone not in a position to otherwise have their voice heard–immigrants, the poor, those with mental illnesses. In short, Wellstone made me naive about politicians.

However amazing Wellstone was, he did have his faults. For instance, by 2001, he admitted he’d made a mistake by voting in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. If Wellstone were alive today, I can only imagine he would have ultimately championed gay rights, recognizing that as the next important battle for equality.

Though Wellstone is gone, the ideals of equality and fairness are just as strong with the citizens of Minnesota. This past Tuesday we had two constitutional amendments on the ballot: one to limit marriage to man+woman and one to require ID to vote. That’s not Minnesota nice. So we voted no. Nothing makes me prouder of my state.

 

Unfortunately, Michele Bachmann was reelected by outspending opponent Jim Graves 20-1, but the race was much tighter than anyone would have predicted. The good news is that the Governor, state house of representatives, and state senate are all democratic, so it’s quite possible that gay marriage actually will pass in the next two years here. That would be even more exciting than just shooting down a bigoted amendment.

Yeah, I’m pretty proud of Minnesota–there’s a lot to love here. Even Slate says you should move to Minneapolis. Not convinced by my past few posts? Watch Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak and his mom crowd surfing upon the news that Obama was reelected: Checkmate.

 

Minnesota music: Hot cheetos and kidneys

Leave a comment

Earlier this week, Minnesota had the rare distinction of having some of the best weather in the country. Those who are not from Minnesota seem to have only one concept of the state: that it is in a perpetual state of winter. And this, I’ll admit, makes me a little sad for my state. Because, in truth, we have gorgeous seasons, and in summertime it gets hot. Like seriously hot.

The hottest anthem of this past summer, already feeling like a distance memory, is yet another source of Minnesota pride. (Nice transition, right?) If you haven’t heard Hot Cheetos and Takis yet, you’re welcome:

These North Minneapolis kids created this song and video as part of a YMCA camp. And their whole album is amazing. It just makes your heart smile, no?

You might be surprised to learn that kids in the Twin Cities have plenty of local hip-hop idols to turn to, from Brother Ali to master beat-boxer Carnage to my favorites, Doomtree, a seven-piece group (I’ve written about Dessa before, the sole–amazing–female in the group):

The guy who raps first in that video, POS, released a new album just last week. Sadly, the release was somewhat overshadowed by POS’s announcement that he would be canceling the release tour on account of needing a kidney transplant ASAP. Immediately, support came rolling in. His friends set up a donation site, pointing out that he’ll have lifelong prescription costs and “rappers don’t have robust benefit packages.” They asked for $25,000 to pay for the transplant and follow-up costs, and gave themselves 120 days to raise it.

It took about 5 days. As of today, just a week after the site launched, 767 people have donated for a total of $33,116. Several have told POS seriously that if they’re a match, they will donate a kidney of their own as well. And if that doesn’t make your heart smile, I don’t know what would.

Minnesota sports: get a Kluwe

Leave a comment

Wild-Vikings-Wolves-Twins-Gophers

I have always been proud that Minnesota has a team for just about every major sport: the basketballing Timberwolves, the hockey-pucking Wild, the home-run-hitting Twins, the minor-league-home-run-hitting Saints, even the lacrossing Swarm (what verb is associated with lacrosse?). Arguably our best team, the lady Lynxes, just narrowly lost the WNBA championship two days ago.

The one team I follow closely, though, is our football team, the Minnesota Vikings. There’s much to be proud of this season, a year that was supposed to be dedicated to “rebuilding” (read: sucking). Everyone but the players themselves is completely surprised that the Vikings are now 5-2, and I would guess even a few of the players are surprised.

But it’s not just successes on the field that have brought the Vikings extra attention or made me proud to be a fan recently. About two months ago, Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. wrote to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens to discourage the Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo from his open support of gay marriage. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe published a letter in response that is more than just strongly-worded in its takedown of Mr. Burns. It is so colorful, in fact, that it immediately went viral, and prompted many who know nothing about football to proclaim themselves fans of whatever side Chris plays for (no pun intended…or was it?)

Chris Kluwe: activist, punter, Guitar Hero

Kluwe puts his money–and his time–where his mouth is. This year in Minnesota we will be voting on a shameful proposed amendment to the state constitution that would declare marriage to be solely between a man and a woman. Kluwe has become the celebrity face of Minnesotans United for All Families, the chief opponents of the amendment. He has written to several legislators in the state who support the amendment to request a debate; none have responded.

He hopes ultimately to change the culture of professional sports, so that an active player may someday soon be able to come out as gay and still find a place for himself in the traditionally homophobic arena of the locker room. Kluwe explains as much in his recent profiles in the New York Times, Out Magazine, and our own local paper, City Pages.

But Chris Kluwe is not defined himself by any one label; just read his weekly blog at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. His latest post is about the meaningless of currency. He also quotes scripture to disagree with a Catholic Archbishop, supplies campaign reform solutions, and talks about the psychology of losing. Oh, and he’s hilarious.

So even though Chris Kluwe is originally from California, I’m gonna claim him as a shining beacon of Minnesota awesomeness. Go sports!

How to be Minnesotan

Leave a comment

What you’ll need: flannel, hair binders (NOT hair ties)

Songlist: Duluth by Mason Jennings, Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Alive (and It Lives In Minneapolis) by Prince

Further reading: Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor, The St. Paul Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Proud Minnesotan Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox, Babe

It’s been a long 8 weeks since I last posted. I wanted to write about Paris. I failed. There were too many things to say. And then, like that poor duck Ping who gets off the duck boat and decides it’s better to stay in the scary world than be the last one back on the boat, thereby getting whacked on the bum, I didn’t get back to posting (seriously, that childhood story has had a serious impact on my psyche). But you know what? Ping was wrong, and so was I. It’s better to get on the duck boat where everything makes sense and you’re warm and fed even if it hurts a little to admit that you failed.

There’s only one problem: I’ve pretty much run out of topics. Almost every Monday I think of a job that somehow relates to my current situation and realize I’ve already written about it. Everything except pirates (which, for the record, I did once think would be pretty cool). And so, though I thought I’d coast through to the end of 2012 with careers galore, I’m announcing the premature end of this blog. But don’t despair! I’ve got one topic left, and it’s a doozy.

Okay, so being Minnesotan isn’t exactly a job, but it is pretty awesome. I’ve been exceedingly proud of my home state recently, and over the next week or so I’ll tell you a few reasons why. With the state and the Twin Cities consistently ranking in the top 10 for whatever top-10 poll you could think of (literacy, hipsterism, livability, prettiness), I won’t be able to cover all the ways in which Minnesota totally rocks, but I’ll do my best.

We do things a little differently in Minnesota. We play Duck, Duck, Gray Duck here. We wear hair binders. Some people think we talk funny. Dang it if we don’t make the meanest hot-dishes and jello salads this side of the Mississippi. (Trick statement: since the Mississippi starts in the smack-dab center of Minnesota, we’re every side of the Mississippi! Boom!) And we’ve got the nicest state motto around. No, seriously. It’s “Minnesota Nice.”

So, just because I’m so nice, I’ll end today’s post with a little joke. A yoke, if you will:

Ole died. So Lena went to the local paper to put a notice in the obituaries. The gentleman at the counter, after offering his condolences, asked Lena what she would like to say about Ole.

Lena replied, “You yust put ‘Ole died.’”

The gentleman, somewhat perplexed, said, “That’s it? Just ‘Ole died?’ Surely, there must be something more you’d like to say about Ole. If its money you’re concerned about, the first five words are free. We must say something more.”

So Lena pondered for a few minutes and finally said, “O.K. You put ‘Ole died. Boat for sale.’”

Good ol’ Ole

1968

Leave a comment

A few months ago I went to a show called the 1968 Exhibit at the Minnesota History Museum. It was devoted to the events of that singular year, of which there were many: the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and MLK Jr., the election of Nixon. The exhibit was also filled with music posters, toys, magazine advertisements, clips of movies and TV shows, and plenty of avocado green and harvest gold.

I had not been particularly interested in attending, but was extremely impressed with the amount of material displayed and its presentation. In the January room was a full-size helicopter from the Vietnam War and in the December room was a space capsule next to a broadcast of the Apollo 8 mission that orbited the moon. You could make your own album cover and vote for one of the presidential candidates who ran for office in 1968. (Tangential story: the results of the vote were shown realtime on a monitor above the voting booth and were heavily skewed toward Robert F. Kennedy. There were also plenty of votes for candidate Ronald Reagan, while Nixon and Humphrey lagged way behind. After I “cast my vote” I stepped outside the blue curtain to see a high school kid wearing a Romney button–Santorum had won Minnesota’s primary the day before–who was watching the results closely. And then I saw him beckon over one of his classmates and give him $5 to vote for Reagan. Voter intimidation, buying elections? Start ‘em young).

One potential implication of the exhibit was that 1968 was more important than neighboring years. Certainly it was a year of great change, politically and culturally. But while the significance of some events is immediately apparent, others can be understood better only in retrospect. It makes me wonder what 2012 will look like, what shape it will take, when it matters only to historians.

Garden of Love, my 1968 retrospective

Curation of laughter and mustard

Leave a comment

Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum

I wanted to do a post about the most beautiful museums in the world…but you already know about the Louvre. And Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. And maybe even the Milwaukee Art Museum, the incredible bird-wing/ship-mast addition designed by Santiago Calatrava. (No? Well, I’ll put in a photo just in case you haven’t heard of it. And so my architect dad will be happy).

But then I realized I’d be doing the theme of curation a disfavor. After all, art museums aren’t the only museums in the world. With just a quick google search, you can find a museum for just about anything.

The macabre is well-represented in the world of museums. For instance, Guanajuato has an entire museum devoted to mummies. You can walk through halls of mummified bodies, 111 in all, in various states of decay. I’m sure the curator had fun with this one (“should we arrange by date exhumed or by state of decay?”). And there’s the Museum of Death in Hollywood that features artwork done by serial killers and videos of autopsies, among other things. What better place for a museum of death than a place obsessed with eternal youth? Amsterdam has a Torture Museum, but it’s not the only place. There are torture museums in Prague, Italy, Germany, and even friendly ol’ Wisconsin Dells, a place better known for its water park.

Just go to Wisconsin, lady!

But if you’re only in Wisconsin for one day and have to choose which museum to visit, why not skip the torture and the art housed under Calatrava’s wings and head to the National Mustard Museum, formerly known as Mount Horeb Mustard Museum. My Wisconsinite boyfriend tells me there was much controversy when the world’s only mustard museum relocated from one tiny Wisconsin town to another. What does Mount Horeb have to offer the world now? Perhaps just find another beloved and questionable food group…don’t pick Spam though, because we Minnesotans have the market cornered on Spam museums.

Minnesota does have its own share of odd museums. We even made a blogger’s list of “7 crazy-ass museums” with the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, aka the Quackery Hall of Fame (on every list of ridiculous museums was New Delhi’s International Museum of Toilets). I visited this museum with friends when I was in junior high school, researching for a project on Freud. We tried on the phrenology device, wrapped ourselves in the conveyor belt that you were suppose to wear as a real belt to eliminate fat, stepped into the x-ray machine to measure foot size that was all the rage with cobblers right after x-rays were discovered. Apparently, even Marie Curie’s death from radiation hadn’t raised red flags with the Adrian X-ray Company, based in Milwaukee (it always comes back to Wisconsin). The last x-ray machine found in operation in a shoe department was in 1981 in West Virginia. 1981.

My favorite museums, at least in theory, are museums of intangibles. I wrote about the Museum of Lost Smells last March, and just found about about the Laughter Museum in Wiesbaden, Germany. Although I’m sure the real museum is nothing like this, I imagine a large white room where people just go in and start laughing. And after having a good laugh yourself, you can tour white hallways listening to a vast library of laughter. Napoleon’s laugh, Gandhi’s laugh, Salvador Dalí’s laugh. The price of admission would be a guffaw. Excuse me, I have to go start designing my laughter museum.

Say my name, say my name

Leave a comment

London=Unfordable River Town; Wales=Land of Strangers

When I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude, I was struck by a sentence at the very beginning: “the world was so recent that many things lacked names.” How could that be? I wondered. Didn’t things always have names?

Many of the world’s origin stories include the naming of objects, such as the Bible’s Genesis, in which Adam names all the animals presented to him. And many stories were passed from generation to generation simply to remember these names. When the Vikings decided to make the unpopulated Iceland their new home, they quickly had to create legends that characterized the landscape–the Hill of Blood, the Coast of Betrayal. By following the linguistic map of the Norse sagas, a Viking could find his way around the entire island.

Can we move to Pit Dweller's Town? Or what about Curlyhead?

I started thinking about toponymy, the study of the origins of place names, after posting a map on Wednesday of the meanings of Native American names that have become standard in the United States–Chicago, Manhattan, and my very own Minnesota. While I have associations with each of these places, the associations are, of course, not based at all on the literal meanings. It’s interesting for me–an American with no correspondence between my ancestors and my birthplace–to think of those places in the world where names are still meaningful to the people who live in them.

A pair of Germans decided to create an Atlas of True Names, for which they tracked down meanings that had been previously lost to posterity. The English version is certainly interesting to look over, even comical in many places, but how do we agree upon a “true” name? Yes, the idea of the project was to find the translations of place names from their original languages. But conquerors change the names of their acquired lands, people decide to rename their own lands for political or religious purposes, stories and the names held therein are forgotten. I remember a stubborn friend asking why we couldn’t call countries by the names they call themselves–why must we English speakers say Germany instead of Deutschland, Spain instead of España? I agreed that he had a point, but would it be fair to use the Castilian España instead of the Basque Espainia or Catalan Espanya? And Spain has relatively few languages–for those countries with hundreds of languages, or a division between native language and colonizers’ language, how would we know which name to honor as “true”? Names may start out as descriptive, but they quickly become political.

A few interesting toponymic lists, all courtesy of Wikipedia: the origins of all country namesplace names in English with counterintuitive pronunciations (like the American towns with the name of Berlin that changed their pronunciations during WWI to BUR-lin so as to differentiate themselves from the Germans), and tautological place names in which the native language already describes a geographical landmark that is then repeated in another language. For instance, Tahoe means “lake” in Washo, so Lake Tahoe means Lake Lake.

I studied abroad in Navel of the Moon. Nice country, that.

Heat waves and CSAs

Leave a comment

It’s going to be a sad Thanksgiving. I read today in Minneapolis’s newspaper, The Star Tribune, that the recent heat wave boiling over the United States has led to the deaths of over 100,000 turkeys in Minnesota alone.

Luckily, my neighbors’ chickens that I’ve been caring for this week have all survived. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for some of the vegetables left out on my neighbors’ porch by their CSA.

Fresh vegetables from a CSA

CSAs, farms that supply Community Supported Agriculture, are all the rage here in the Twin Cities, where we are both surrounded by farmland yet separated from it by snaking highways and suburban developments. With membership in a CSA, you are guaranteed local produce on a weekly basis that evolves with the season and is delivered by the farmers who grew it.

My neighbors’ house is a drop site for a local CSA, and I was pleased to see that one of the subscribing families hadn’t picked up their box yesterday, which meant the veggies were free for the taking. I dragged the heavy box home. I unpacked luscious green Swiss chard, hearty cucumbers and zucchinis, and brilliant purple onions. Then things took a turn for the worse. Underneath these lovely vegetables was a giant head of cauliflower that should’ve been white but was quickly turning brown and slimy from being left all day in the heat. Fennel fronds just below had wilted to inedibility. A bag of green beans at the bottom of the box had started to sprout fuzz.

It’s terrible to waste food, but even more difficult to throw out produce grown on a nearby farm by a man whose face you recognize. It feels sacrilegious, even. Yet there was nothing else to be done–onto the compost heap this food went.

The heat wave will have many negative consequences for people across the country, and especially for the farmers among us. Thus, it feels all the more important to support small farms as much as possible, and CSAs are the most delicious way to do it. It may be too late in the season to sign up, but see if you can find a farm near you for next year!

How to be a farmer

Leave a comment

What you’ll need: a pitchfork, a plot of land

Songlist: Maggie’s Farm by Bob Dylan, Sting’s Fields of Gold

Further reading: My Antonia by Willa Cather, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

The American dream...sort of

For anyone who thinks Minnesota is some arctic wasteland, let me tell you, it gets hot. Today the heat index was around 115 F, and is only supposed to be worse tomorrow. Experts at escaping the weather, many Minnesotans flocked yesterday to movie theaters, chilled-out coffee shops, air-conditioned malls. I went to the Walker Art Center for a screening of Sweet Land, a wonderful film set in Minnesota and directed by my mom’s friend, Ali Selim.

There is nothing quite so quintessentially American as a scene of a farmhouse behind rolling fields of wheat (throw in a bald eagle and a bison and you’ve got prime presidential campaign material). Yet the independent American farmer is a disappearing breed, in part because corporate farms are buying up the land, and because it’s too expensive for most people to start a farm from scratch, between buying acres of land and necessary equipment. Thus farming also has an air of romanticized nostalgia.

The two main characters of Sweet Land, falling in love with each other and the land

Sweet Land, which focuses on a small farming community in Minnesota just after WWI has ended, trades heavily on this nostalgia and romance. One slow-motion scene shows the two main characters separating the wheat from the chaff in golden light–no wonder these two characters fall in love.

Having grown up in the midwest, I visited farms on school field trips and devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder’s accounts of the prairie from which my cities rose. I suspect I am thus even more susceptible to the romance of farming, and, as a girl, often imagined myself waking early to milk cows and collect eggs and going to sleep with the setting of the sun. Besides literary references and field trips, my only real experience of farms was secondhand through the weary gazes of girls my age at the Minnesota State Fair. Though their hair was tied in french braids, just the way I imagined mine would be, their boots were covered in grime, their hands of the flanks of the animals they were showing. It was not quite the same romance as I pictured.

These next two weeks I have a chance to see if I’m cut out for the farming life. While my neighbors are away in France, I’m keeper of their urban menagerie: a cat, a parrot, and more than a dozen chickens (they also have three dogs and a lizard, all of which have found other temporary homes). The hens are lovely and chatty, but after spending a half-hour just figuring out how to change their water gives me the initial impression that I won’t be starting up a farm any time soon. Stay tuned, though…perhaps I’ll be whistling a different tune after bringing home the delicious eggs these girls lay.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 108 other followers