Biewen’s audio documentary: “Little War on the Prairie” – worth a listen.

Minnesota State Seal

I sometimes download podcasts of radio programs to listen to on the drive to and from Longwood.   This American Life: Little War on the Prairie was one I listened to this past week.  This one was a WOW!

John Biewen, who directs the audio program at The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, produced the program.   It ran on This American Life on Nov 23, 2012 – Thanksgiving weekend.  Didn’t hear it then – aren’t podcasts great!

The description from This American Life:
Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen says, nobody ever talked about the most important historical event ever to happen there: in 1862, it was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Thirty-eight Dakota Indians were hanged after a war with white settlers. John went back to Minnesota to figure out what really happened 150 years ago, and why Minnesotans didn’t talk about it much after.

Besides making me sad, once again, at the way white Americans treated the indigenous peoples of this continent – it also made me rethink my Eastern Shore Stories project – what am I missing in the recounting of recent Eastern Shore history?   What questions have I allowed to go unasked?

And could this be a model for how to put Eastern Shore Stories together as an audio documentary?

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What doesn’t come up in the political debates: “let them eat cake?”

This is the real story – told in Chrystia Freeland’s book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  

In this video clip, Bill Moyers talks to the author, Chrystia Freeland, and Rolling Stone magazine’s Matt Taibbi. I’m going to vote for Obama – no question – I don’t want anyone as wealthy as Romney entrusted with my democracy. Can you say “let them eat cake” ?

This video was posted on Alternet – an independent source of news that I’m going to return to again.

“AlterNet’s Mission: AlterNet is an award-winning news magazine and online community that creates original journalism and amplifies the best of hundreds of other independent media sources. AlterNet’s aim is to inspire action and advocacy on the environment, human rights and civil liberties, social justice, media, health care issues, and more.”

on the US military “going green”

I had no idea that the U.S. military was leading the way on “going green” … there might be some hope for us yet.

The Real Reason the Military is Going Green by Natalie Pompilio — YES! Magazine.

Here’s a snippet from the article:
    …  Climate change simply brings the question of alternative fuel development into sharper focus.   “[Climate change is] a threat multiplier, increasing instability in some of the most volatile regions in the world,” said Lt. Gen. Norman Seif, a retired U.S. Air Force commander who is now active in promoting clean energy. “That can be a threat to us and our own national security.”  …

The military’s initiatives are much broader in scope than simply developing alternative fuels to end dependence on foreign oil.  By 2020, the Army will have 17 bases using “only as much energy and water as they can produce” – part of their “net zero initiative.”

The Marines like solar power for a number of reasons.  There’s more room in their packs for food and supplies if they’re not hauling in batteries.  And solar-power generators are quiet … “Marines start using this, and they believe it scares the bad guys because they can’t hear where we’re at because there’s no generator running” (Marine Col. Bob Charette, director of Expeditionary Energy for the Marine Corps as qtd in the article).

I guess it’s a lucky thing for the planet that the military doesn’t have time for the rhetoric and doublespeak that’s preventing the rest of us from doing what we need to do about climate change.  But I do wish some of that military funding for innovation would be diverted into the private sector.  It’s not good for our democracy if only the military is “green”.

a rant and unsilent night

I’m not going to rant about people who choose to live in wealthy counties, counties that thwart efforts at regional cooperation especially if it means avoiding any economic support for their urban center.  People who support leaving concentrated poor neighborhoods to fester with typical urban blight problems while they enjoy their sanitized, gated communities … these same people then bash the same city they refuse to support when basic services like plowing the streets clear of snow or fixing potholes are a problem for them on their daily commute.    


A pox on them … may their SUV tires pop in a city pothole and their Lexus slide slowly sideways on slushy ice into a tree on Monument Avenue.  I’m tired of the grousing.  Either accept the consequences of a lack of regional cooperation or do something about it.  Everything would be better if we stopped acting like so many separate communities and worked together as one.  Streets would get plowed and poor kids might get a decent education. 

There – I wasn’t going to rant, but I did.  


grab a mop

Just got home from seeing the new Michael Moore flick “Capitalism: A Love Story” – it’s definitely worth seeing, regardless of your politics. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I were a CEO from AIG and sat through this movie. I think I’d feel ashamed of myself, but most of the folks who made out like, yes, like “bandits” … they’re probably not watching Michael Moore movies. And I don’t they feel ashamed … do they just feel lucky? Or unfairly portrayed by Moore? Who knows. I do think someone has made a mess of things public-policy-wise from about Ronald Reagan on. Time to get a mop and help clean up, I suppose. I say it’s time to share the wealth and create a more stable and fair America.

Michael Moore’s website

photography antidote

I’m grateful that my biggest problem today is how to expand my afterlife play into a full-length piece of theatre, that my daughter’s biggest problem is learning to ignore a few older kids who will probably tease her later at her Nana’s house, that my husband’s biggest problem is matching the paint we’re using in the living room when he goes to get another gallon, that my mother’s biggest problem is to rest and allow her body to respond to the antibiotics that are killing her infection. We really are fortunate.

Here are some links to pictures of world events from The Big Picture on Boston.com – the site that prompted my thoughts about gratitude and perspective this morning.


Israeli Settlements in the West Bank


Iran’s Disputed Election


Children in Pakistan

on appraisers and old houses

I thought I would spend the month of May working on my oral history project – but have instead spent the month taking care of household business. Our dining room is now a beautiful shade of green – with creme woodwork. We hired an acquaintance who is skilled with plaster work to repair some walls and ceilings in our vintage 1930’s house. The kitchen is now a joy.

The appraiser who came to determine the house’s market value repeated a couple of times “this house is in its original state – and that’s a matter of personal taste. I have friends who would come in here and gut it” … I translate that to mean that people with money who move into old houses want those houses to feel new?

Well – we’re not moving and we may decide against the refinance, so his opinion is largely irrelevant. He also has no idea of the house’s “original state.” I know because I hired someone to strip ugly wallpaper off the walls when I bought the house and had to undo some ugly 1970’s renovation projects to return this house to its “original state.” These pretty plaster walls are a testament to how beautiful the house can be.

My anger continues to simmer, however, at banks and markets and especially executives and loan officers and appraisers who make more in an hour than a teacher makes in a week. Foxes in the henhouse – that’s what Jim Hightower calls the finance executives who keep finding their way into “public service” to create the policies we’re living with. Hightower stokes my populist furor – gives it voice. Anger, unfortunately, makes me inarticulate.

Here’s a good Hightower piece called Death by Pie about the unsafety of food from corporate conglomerates. I don’t think I’ll be buying Banquet pot pies anytime soon.

does "let them eat cake" ring a bell?

Coming up for air from the semester tidal pool has meant looking at our household financial reality … and beyond our depressing microcosm economy to what’s going on in the US. I think corporate greed and the loss of a sense of civic responsibility are two big reasons why so many people in the US are in trouble.

Some actions and attitudes are just wrong. From a Buddhist perspective: they are karmically wrong – and, from a Christian perspective: sinful. Our grandparents knew better – they knew it was good for everyone to take care of one’s neighbors. They used to say “a rising tide lifts all boats” … did the Reagan and Bush disciples repeat that one while they laughed all the way to the bank? Let’s redistribute wealth to our wealthiest friends and who cares about the losers we leave behind?

Dante would say there’s a circle in hell for the folks who think it’s okay to make $30 million a year while 18 percent of US children grow up in poverty (according to the National Poverty Center at U Michigan). The numbers are actually worse than that. Children make up 25 percent of US population, but 35 percent of those kids are growing up poor. If you’re a Black or Latino child – the numbers get worse. With poverty comes hunger and lack of basic education or job training skills and possibly despair.

Here’s what Jim Hightower had to say today about corporate compensation packages: “Finding Ways to Perk Up CEO Pay”

This is funnier – but even darker – a mock reality TV show from The Onion: “Autoworkers Compete to Keep Jobs”

I can understand why CEOs feel they need bodyguards now … the gates in gated communities may not be high enough. History has lessons for this … does “let them eat cake” ring a bell?

varda’s gleaners and I

Just finished watching both the 2000 documentary by French filmmaker Agnes Varda called The Gleaners and I and her followup film The Gleaners and I Two Years Later. I’ve seen the first one before … it’s not just about gleaning in the fields, but about urban gleaning and about making art from found things. Mostly, though, her film loves the people in it. Even her filming of rotting potatoes has a compelling visual beauty.

It’s definitely a poetic film essay … exactly the sort of video essay we’d like to find to publish in Blackbird … which is why I needed to watch it again. It’s a film I may eventually have to own. Maybe it’s also the sort of film I should try making.

It’s got a social justice thread too – about consumerism and waste and poverty and respect. Reminds me of the new non-profit in Richmond called Stuff: a clearinghouse for creative resource reuse.

Here are two links with more re: Agnes Varda:
Senses of Cinema article on Agnes Varda
Harvard film archives on Varda