The Day I Almost Met Bart Starr

It was sometime in the spring of 1977. I was a recent college drop-out just settling in to what became a year of blue-collar work making candles at a factory in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and I had gone up the road to Appleton to visit my friend Steve, a recent graduate applying his education to work in a paper mill.

On this weekend visit, we were hanging out with couple of Steve’s friends, tooling around in an old topless jeep. One of them had been invited to a wedding reception in Green Bay (another half-hour up the road). Having nothing better to do, we all tagged along.

We found ourselves arriving at a place called (something like) the Green Bay Golf and Polo Club. We drove into a parking lot full of large and shiny cars with an open space right by the door. The surreal nature of the evening was just beginning with the hippies in the jeep getting the best parking space in this swanky lot. We hopped out and went in.

I should note that Steve and I were dressed for a Saturday of drinking and partying with the guys… our t-shirts and jeans stood out in the sea of fine suits and dresses. We found ourselves crashing a party of one-percenters and discreetly helped ourselves to the open bar and tasty finger-food (I remember the breaded mushrooms, a treat that I had not yet experienced).

In the midst of this posh swankiness, I turned to Steve in amazement at the kind of crowd we had found ourselves in. Trying to come up with an example of the pinnacle of the elite, I said, “I’ll bet the mayor of Green Bay is here.”

A few minutes later, I noticed an excited conversation among the other three guys in my group, and Steve turned to me and said, “Bart Starr is here.” This was less than ten years after the Ice Bowl, and the fond memories of his playing days were fresh in everyone’s minds. In fact, this was at the dawn of his time as Packers coach. So forget about the “mayor of Green Bay” being there. There was no bigger name in Green Bay (and arguably in the entire state of Wisconsin) than Bart Starr.

We slithered out of our discreet corner to see if we could spot him. While wandering about, we saw the bride and groom in another room. They looked over and noticed us before the bride turned to her new husband (Steve later said, “I could read her lips”) and asked, “Who ARE those two guys?” We retreated to our corner.

It didn’t take long for a bouncer to show up. He could’ve been one of Bart’s linemen. He was an “older” guy who towered over both of us as he politely explained that this was a private party and that we would have to leave. We huddled with our other friends (who WERE invited) to arrange to meet up later.

We ended up spending the rest of the night nursing beers in a nearby working-class bar, processing our glimpse into a world that had been unknown to us, and the lost opportunity to stand close to one of our heroes.

Jesus Wept for Notre Dame

I cannot begin to express the anxiety and heartbreak we are feeling over the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Tears have been shed. I feel a way that I haven’t felt since 9/11.

Notre Dame is THE iconic structure of Paris. When the Eiffel Tower was completed, Notre Dame had already been standing for over half a millennium. It is central to the city’s identity.

The only “good” news is that there was no loss of life (at least none known so far) and that this tragedy is not the result of an act of terrorism or war. It was an accident with horrible results.

But any other good news will be hard to come by. Medieval builders didn’t have access to strong fire-resistant building materials. In other words, there is a lot of old, large wood in that building that will joyfully burn until it is consumed. As I type, the roof is gone, and the stained glass is probably melted by now.

When we were in Europe in 2001, we saw many old churches and cathedrals that were burned by Henry VIII or bombed in the second world war, and all that remains are the stone walls and steeples. My worst fear is that this is what will be left of Notre Dame, and so far I haven’t seen any news to deny that.

If I Had a Time Machine…

…I’d go to Palm Beach, Florida in the late summer of 2000. Somewhere in the county government complex will be a public hearing (or comment period) on the ballot design for the upcoming national election.

It’s probably one of those low-level meetings held in a small windowless meeting room with hard plastic chairs, hosted by a sub-committee or a board with jurisdiction over this tiny niche of government. The committee sits at a table in the front of the room facing the handful of citizens in attendance… a reporter or two, maybe some government geeks with nothing better to do.

When the ballot design comes up, I would politely approach the committee and address the flaws in the ballot design. I’d work with them to find an improvement on the design that would make the ballot much easier to read, and much harder for a voter to make a mistake.

Let’s assume the committee worked in good faith and made the change. We now know that Gore had a net loss of over 6600 votes in Palm Beach County due to bad ballot design. If the redesigned ballot recovers only 1000 of those votes for Gore, then he wins Florida and with it the presidency.

Let your mind run wild for a minute about how different the world would be with Al Gore in the White House in the early ’00’s instead of George W Bush. Would 9-11 have happened? What would the Supreme Court look like today? Would this insane series of wars have ever started? Would we have seriously responded to the climate crisis long ago?

All because somebody showed up and spoke up at an obscure county meeting.

I have no reason to believe that this hypothetical meeting ever really happened (it could have and should have). What’s important is what this story says about civic engagement.

Political and community activism can be tedious. It involves sitting thru hours of mundane meetings in the dusty back rooms of government buildings. It requires a high tolerance for boredom, and an ability to comprehend dense bureaucratic documents.

But once in a while you can make a difference. You never know which meeting you go to – or which issue you comment on, or which action you take – will change the course of history.

So pay attention, show up, speak up and help out, ’cause you never know when you might save the world.

Don’t Go To the Mall, Go To the Attic

After seeing one too many ads for “Black Friday sales”, I feel compelled to say something about wasteful consumerism and what we can do about it.

Go to any dumpster, and you will find lots of stuff purchased as holiday gifts in years gone by. In many cases, this stuff never got used.. it sat dormant in a closet, basement, garage or attic until it was moved out to make room for the next round of new stuff. And then the new stuff sits unused until its time comes to get cleared out.

Think of all the material resources consumed to make all this stuff. Think of the human energy exerted to turn these raw materials into new things. Think of the fuel burned by the boats bringing that stuff from China and the trucks bringing it from the West Coast. All this energy is spent to produce and move stuff that may never get used before ending up in a landfill in a few years.

We don’t need more stuff. This country already has plenty of stuff. The stuff just needs to be relocated to where it can best be used and appreciated.

So at holiday time, rather than going to the malls or their electronic equivalent, we should find gifts in our attics and store rooms. Those toys your kids weren’t interested in.. maybe a friend’s kids would enjoy them. That dress that you hated might look good on your mother.. or your daughter. The stuffed animal you no longer have room for could delight the new toddler in your family.

I will briefly acknowledge the push-back that are sure to come. Some of it is related to kids’ obsession with the latest electronic gadget (let’s set that aside for another day); some of it is related to Americans’ prejudice against any gift that’s not new and shiny (get over it).

At the very least, my hope is that you consider a trip to the store room as one of your holiday shopping “stops”. So much has been consumed already, it helps when we don’t need to consume more.

 

Send the GOP to Time-Out

When discussing the lack of comity and collegiality in the halls of government, there’s usually someone who says, “both sides are responsible.” This is a myth.

We Democrats always try to “get along.” After all, that’s the kind of people we are – we want to make everybody happy.

Republicans used to be the home of reasonable civic-minded businessmen; but they’ve become a mob of mean-spirited bullies representing the wealthy elite and trans-national corporations.

Consider the corrupt lying blowhard now in the White House. He shares national security secrets with our enemies, kidnaps children and puts them in cages, incites violence against his critics… the list of atrocities goes on and on.

The Republican Congress is derelict in its duty to hold this president accountable. Their silence equates to complicity.

Something is gravely wrong with the Republican party. It has become the party of anger, cruelty, racism, hatred and ignorance.

We need parties that work together to solve problems, negotiating their differences in good faith to find solutions that work for everybody.

Steve Schmidt (John McCain’s campaign manager) believes that the only hope for the Republican party is to “burn it to the ground” by electing Democrats across the board. Eventually a more responsible party would grow from the ashes.

In this case, I agree with Schmidt. The Democrats are the only party who can defend America from the authoritarian impulses of the rich and powerful. For the sake of our country, please vote for every Democrat on your ballot.

Happy First Nations Day

A question for my friends whose ancestors have been in North America for thousands of years:
 
How do you feel about the designation “First Nations”?
 
My problem with “Native Americans” is that term presumes that this continent was ALWAYS “America”, even when it was populated by communities (and nations) that called themselves something else. For that reason, I find the label “Native Americans” somewhat white-centric and inaccurate.
 
“Indigenous people” is accurate, but it’s a mouthful for a lot of people, and I had to lean on my spell-checker to get the spelling right. While traveling in Canada I noticed references to “First Nations” communities, and it rang true with me. After all, these communities were never “Americans” before the 16th century or so… they were nations in their own right, the nations that were here first… therefore, “First Nations.”
 
Since then, I’ve used “First Nations” as a label for these communities. I’d be happy if the rest of white North Americans would adopt this label, but then I’m just another white guy, so it’s not really my choice. So I’m really curious to know how my Indigenous friends feel about this.
 
And by the way, Happy First Nations Day!

Make America Decent Again

That was part of the message delivered by a crowd of 300-500 people who came out in searing 95° heat in La Crosse today (Sat June 30, 2018). The march started at City Hall just before noon, and followed 7th Street to Burns Park at 7th and Main.

I forgot to bring a real camera, so images from my pocket computer will have to do (click on any image to embiggen)

Winter in the Spring

On the morning of Wednesday April 18, I rode my bike downtown on clean dry streets. By 7pm, the world around purplearth world headquarters looked like this:

Who’s On Your Side?

In a recent news report on the 2016 election, impoverished West Virginia coal miners were asked why they voted for Trump. They said “he seems to be on our side”. I believe they were gravely mistaken.

Trump and the Republican Party are not on the side of working people and they never will be. Republicans like Trump are manipulative con artists who fool people into believing empty promises that are instantly broken on inauguration day.

Whose side are Republicans on? Meet Don Blankenship, who owned a big coal mining company in West Virginia. He played fast and loose with safety regulations until his criminal negligence led to a massive explosion, killing 29 miners. Don briefly went to prison for this, but he’s back in West Virginia running for the US Senate as a Republican.

Republicans are on the side of mine owners like Blankenship. Democrats are on the side of the miners themselves, looking out for their safety and fair treatment.

If you work in a factory, it’s the Democrats who are on your side. Republicans are on the side of the corporate bosses who treat their workforce as a commodity to be overworked, underpaid and discarded.

Democrats are on the side of farmers – people who work the fields, tend livestock, and harvest and process our food. Republicans are on the side of the corporate food processors who underpay the farmers, overcharge their customers, and overpay themselves.

Republicans are on the side of those who poison our air and water, crush our wages, degrade our quality of life, and muffle our voices thru voter suppression and union busting.

So unless you’re a rich and greedy sociopath, it’s the Democrats who are on your side. Please remember that in November.

The Sun As a Dark Star: Eclipse 2017

On the morning of August 21, RoZ and I were in Service Creek, Oregon for the total solar eclipse. We were with our friend Sage, his 8-year-old son Cosmo and their greyhound Serendipity.

We had driven 300+ miles from Seattle the day before and camped on the roadside near an old back-country stage stop. After marveling at the high-desert skyscape, we got a good night’s sleep and had breakfast at the stage stop in time for the big event. Read on