What Now? Can We Find Peace Amid Rising Waters, Rising Gorge?

God willing and the creek don’t rise…  I wrote earlier this week about the likely election of Hillary Clinton.

The creek rose. And now so will the seas. And now what do those of us, more than half the country, who think Trump is horrendous do to find some equilibrium? Anger shock and griping isn’t a healthy plan for living.

Donald Trump’s first act as president elect will ensure that his son Baron and Baron’s children will live in a world of horror. You think there are refugee problems now, Mr. Trump? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wait until your know-nothing policy on global warming has its effects and tens of millions of poor people who don’t look like your voters flee the rising seas. Trump named Myron Ebel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. The fox has entered the henhouse. “Mr. Ebel has asserted that whatever warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution is modest and could be beneficial,” The New York Times writes today. Bye Bye Paris climate accord. Bye Bye livable earth.

Every day there will be another outrage like this. But these won’t be like Trump’s campaign outrages. Those could have still been addressed by the voters. Too late now. Too many of these new daily outrages will become policy.

Can I stand to be outraged every day? Angry? Depressed? Clinton in her concession speech said we owe the president elect an open mind. I’ll try. I’ll have to or I’ll go crazy. Or I’ll have to go up in the hills and live alone and become a helmet, as Maynard G. Krebs said.

Perhaps this man will grow in the office. He seems not to have fixed convictions, and he’s certainly not an orthodox Republican. So I suspect he’ll sometimes pleasantly surprise us. He may push for government-supported work repairing infrastructure that was the first thing the Republicans blocked President Obama from doing eight years ago. Clips and pictures of him meeting with Obama yesterday showed Trump looking as if he’s realized what deep water he’s in. That, or he was already bored.

I can’t live in anger for four years. People who thought Obama was an abomination and that his policies were ruining the country felt every day for eight years what I’ll feel now for four. Their representatives in Congress did little but bitch and say no. That wasn’t very satisfying or useful. I don’t want to do that.

So I’ll watch and read less news. Try not to wallow in the daily transgressions. Read more books. Write more books. Watch more movies. Talk with Lisa more instead of sitting next to each other watching MSNBC. Bowl. Do something. Actively try to stop some of the worst things Trump and his backers will do. Are already doing. But I can’t be sad or angry every day or the cats will hide under the bed and Lisa will make me live on the screen porch where my black cloud won’t foul the air.

Half the country is crawling out of their cellars these last three days and looking around at what the tornado rearranged. It’s an apt cliche to say we’re in shock. Moving slow. Staring off in the distance. Wishing it weren’t so.

The dark parts of me want to say to Trump voters, “You picked him, you got him, don’t come to us when you realize he’s screwing you.” And the nasty parts of me want to say to Democratic primary voters, “You picked her, a terrible candidate, and look where that got us.” The late great Molly Ivins wrote a book about George W. Bush’s years as governor of Texas to show voters what Bush would be like as president. And he was (sort of) elected anyway and he acted just like Ivins warned he would. She wrote a second book before Bush’s reelection and said in the introduction “If y’all hadda read my first book I wouldn’t have had to write the second one.” If we’d paid attention to Carl Bernstein’s study of Hillary Clinton’s actions and character “A Woman in Charge” we would have put up someone this year who wasn’t so reviled and could have won.

But that didn’t happen. And I have to stop moaning about it all. For my own peace, and so people and small animals don’t flee from me on sight. Pick a few important causes to back and then back away from the daily deluge. Find quiet corners.

We survived eight years of Reagan (the poor didn’t survive very well as income disparity started to skyrocket under this earlier actor who played a president). We survived eight years under Bush (the soldiers and civilians killed and maimed in Bush’s endless wars didn’t survive very well under this earlier front man who didn’t know much). We can probably survive four years of Trump. But the planet and our progeny?

Get thee to a hammock, Bruce. Squeeze a cat pet a dog love the kids. Turn down the temp inside yourself. And send Elizabeth Warren flowers.


— Bruce Benidt


American Exceptionalism Defined

The PeripheralLast summer I read an extraordinary book – The Peripheral by William Gibson (@greatdismal) – that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to look 20 – and 100 – years into the future. It’s such a good book, in fact, that I’ve re-read it (something I almost never do). Twice.

At one point in the book, the primary character is explaining why she refuses to do something terrible to people who are actively trying to hurt her and her family even though her refusal put her and her loved ones in danger. In three simple sentences, she explained American exceptionalism in words even Donald Trump can understand:

“They’re assholes. We’re not. But we’re only not assholes if we won’t do shit like that.”

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, appears to believe that American exceptionalism means we have to one-up the assholes. If you’ve ever caught one of his rallies, he loves to tell the (apparently pants-on-fire false) story of how Gen. John Pershing “took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood,” and shot 49 Muslim rebels. “The 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.”

In Mr. Trump’s worldview, ISIS’ burning captives to death or conducting mass drownings isn’t a sign of its illegitimacy, it’s the nation-state equivalent of a “your momma” diss that has to be outdone.


– Austin



No Thank You, Hillary, I’ll Pass

Am I really the only liberal in the country who hasn’t already thanked, raised money for, supported, door-knocked for, voted for and attended the 2016 inauguration of Hillary Clinton as President?

I love these conventional wisdom commentators who are all saying the Democratic nod for president is Hillary’s if she wants it. Why? How come? Really?

Hillary for blogI’ve gotten emails every day for the last month saying “please sign this card for Hillary thanking her for her amazing superlative selfless saintlike damngood service to the country, the species and the universe.” It’s as if we’re all so greatly indebted to this masterwoman who lowered herself from her corporate board seats to serve poor drooling humanity one more time.

The latest is an email story from The Washington Post announcing a contest —  Help Hillary name her upcoming memoir. I’ve got a name for Hillary’s book that’s fitting — “ME!”

Let me step firmly off this bandwagon.

Carl Bernstein’s excellent and revealing 2007 biography of Clinton showed her to be soulless, a person driven by whatever is best for her. Measured, focus-grouped, a person whose core principles are all about advancing herself.

Has she done a good job a secretary of state? Yes. Has this been good service to the United States and world? Yes. Does she believe in and advocate for important causes, such as the empowerment of women worldwide? Yes. She, like all of us, is a complicated woman, a blend of selfish and selfless.

But what’s at her core? Watching her last week testifying before the Senate, reading — READING — her remarks about how she stood at Andrews Air Base and watched the coffins return from Benghazi and how she put her arms around the daughters and spouses showed her to be — hollow. Reading these remarks? Did she have margin notes — “Choke up just a little here…”?

This is the person who, in the 2008 campaign, when Republicans were attacking Barack Obama for not being American and for being Muslim, responded when asked about his religion — “As far as I know he’s a Christian.” What a profile in courage. The ugly sewer-level whispering about Obama was benefiting Hillary, so she was going to do the least required of her to deal with it. Compare this to what I’ve posted on this blog several times — Colin Powell excoriating his fellow Republicans for not stamping out this disgraceful canard.

Even my oldest brother, who can cherish a grudge like fine wine, says I have to let go and get over this. But I don’t think I will. Character, or its lack, shows through in key places in a person’s life, and I think with Hillary we’ve seen what we’ll get.

I don’t find her a compelling political leader nor a mind with great vision, as I’ve found Obama. She has a good shot at becoming the first female president — but should she be elected because she’s female? What’s the bumper sticker — “Not just any woman”? There are many women leaders in the country who would make better presidents, even if they would have a harder time getting elected.

But could Clinton get elected? I think her lack of character would show, as it did in the 2008 campaign. Against a genuine and passionate and younger Republican — she’d have great trouble.

But apparently I’m the only one who’s not waving a Hillary 2016 flag. I’m not ready for the restoration — I think it’s time to keep moving in the direction Obama is heading us.

— Bruce Benidt



(Image from NBC News

William Souder’s “On a Farther Shore” Scores NYTimes Nod

Congratulations to our very Rowdy William Souder whose biography of Rachel Carson, On a Farther Shore, has been named to the “100 Notable Books of 2012” by the New York Times.

What a nice acknowledgment for our friend of a job well done.

Author and reviewer Elizabeth Royte calls Williams’s writing “absorbing.” Here’s part of her summary:

In Souder’s telling, almost every aspect of Carson’s life and times becomes captivating: her difficult personal circumstances (she grew up in rural poverty, was the sole breadwinner in her family and battled breast cancer while writing and then defending “Silent Spring”); the publishing milieu; and the continuing friction between those who would preserve nature versus those who would bend it to provide utility for man.

Sources also tell me Bill will be on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” this Saturday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m. our time. (And, no, I am not his press agent.)

How cool is this all? Way cool. Nicely played, Master Souder.

One of Our Own…

Kudos to our blogmate Souder for birthing another book, On a Farther Shore, The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Carson’s Silent Spring and it is a fitting time for a top-flight author like Bill to look back on what that book did – and didn’t – mean for the environmental movement and how it came along just as the American people (and others) were first awakening to the idea that “Better Living Through Chemicals” might not be true in every instance.

Mr. Souder gave a nice interview on the book to MinnPost that’s available here and you can – I’m sure – expect to see other interviews pop up on whatever passes for a press tour today.

Well done, Mr. Souder, except for the collateral damage of making the rest of your blogmates look like slackers.  We’d welcome any posting you’d care to make about the book, Ms. Carson or the research and writing process.

– Austin



Oprah A Lauder of Rowdy Crowder Souder

News Flash:  Rowdy Crowder William Souder’s book about environmental pioneer Rachel Carson, On a Further Shore:  The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, will be available at a book store near you on September 4, 2012.

And here’s the really big news.  Her Oprahness has recommended William’s book to her adoring book-buying throngs, via O Magazine’s list of books you should buy in September.  Congratulations, William!

William didn’t ask us to plug this, but it needed to be noted.  Buy the book, gang, or Oprah will not be pleased.

– The Management

The Presidents Club — Presidents are Actually Humans

My cousin Robert handed me The Presidents Club the other day, a book about the years after office of every president since Hoover. It’s a delightful book; I’ve barely put it down.

If our Rowdy Book Club book brings you down — it’s worse than you think — The Presidents Club will give you some hope — politicians can act like human beings, although maybe only when they’re no longer running for anything.

This book did something amazing — made me feel some compassion for George W. Bush. It couldn’t make me feel the same for Richard Nixon, but that’s asking too much. What the book does show is former presidents still wanting to serve their country, still wanting, in George H.W. Bush’s words, to do something “bigger than your own political lives, or bigger than your own self.”

What do you do after you’ve been president? You get a life back, but some of the cool stuff, like the plane, is gone. Most shocking, you arent as important anymore. Nixon and LBJ had trouble being off center stage, Truman and George W. seem to have quite liked it.

The best part of this book — and one of the best things I’ve read in years — is the chapter on George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The two worked together, at W’s request, to raise and distribute funds after the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. And they became true friends. The Odd Couple, the brash one beating the reserved one in 1992, but joined after office by that desire to do something that matters. Their friendship, Clinton said, demonstrates something the country longs for — people from opposing sides coming together to do good.

At the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library in 2004, W and his father were there, and W noticed his dad and Clinton, enjoying animated conversation, were lagging behind the main tour. Bush asked an aide to retrieve the two former presidents so they could all get started on lunch: “Tell 41 and 42 that 43 is hungry.” The elder Bush and Clinton became so close that Bush called Clinton immediately after Clinton had surgery, checking up on him. Later W, at the Gridiron Dinner in D.C., joked that Clinton, after surgery, “woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea…my Dad.”

The book shows Jimmy Carter’s huge ego and huge energy for good causes, shows once again Gerald Ford’s decency (and skips over the fact that he charged people money to play golf with him — his version of giving lucrative speeches), LBJ’s demons, Eisenhower’s straightforwardness, and Nixon’s incessant drive to pretend his Watergate lies didn’t disqualify him from the international stage. Amazingly, Clinton talked often to Nixon, getting advice on issues and on living as the president. A major theme of the book is that former presidents are loyal to the office and the country and try not to damage their successors.

This book, published in April, written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, is the best book on governing and politics I’ve read since Robert Caro’s fourth volume of LBJ’s biography, The Passage of Power. Both show how hard being president is, and how character faults will crack under the office’s pressures. The Presidents Club shows there can be second chances.

— Bruce Benidt
(Photo from time.com)

Book Club Reminder

Hello Crowdies.  Just a reminder that our Same Rowdy Crowd Book Club is scheduled to meet a week from today to discuss Thomas Mann’s and Norm Ornstein’s book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

I’ve extended an invitation to the authors to participate but haven’t heard anything in response.  Not surprising given their schedules, but I figured it was worth an e-mail.

My plan is to post an initial take on the book, pose a couple of questions and then step back to watch the fur fly.  I’ll try to be close to the computer that day so as to facilitate as needed.

The book is an easy read so it’s not too late to get in on the fun.

– Austin

“In Order to Form a More Rowdy Book Club…”

Crowdies –

I have an experiment I’d like to propose.  Let’s read the new book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein and have a virtual book club discussion around it next month.

The book talks about the dysfunction afflicting the Congress and the confluence of forces that have contributed to – and perpetuate – that dysfunction. Mann and Ornstein are serious and longstanding Congressional and political observers, are not bomb-throwers from the left or the right and have some cred: Mann is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution and Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

What I have in mind is something similar to what we did in 2010 with gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner: I’ll put up a post on a certain date that kicks off the discussion and then let the discussing – and cussing – begin.  I’ll extend an invite to both authors to join us (you never know) but even in their absence, we could have an interesting conversation and – who knows – we might learn something.

Book clubs seem to meet on Wednesdays for some reason so how does Wednesday, August 8 sound?  That gives us a month to get the book and read it.

No need for a show of hands!  Go forth and read!

– Austin

Brainstorm or Braindrain?

All wet?
Those of you in the PR, advertising and marketing business are probably very familiar with the brainstorm model of idea generation, but I know it is also used in many other industries.

For those of you who have been left out of the brain rain, here is a crash course: During brainstorms, a group of colleagues closes themselves into a room and spontaneously blurts out ideas on the given topic. The ideas are excitedly written on giant Post-it notes adhered to the walls by a perky brain storm facilitator.

“There is no such thing as a bad idea,” the facilitator, pacing around the room frenetically, continually reminds us, usually after someone offers a particularly bad idea. “The wilder the idea, the better!”

The group is urged to generate a large quantity of ideas, and rapidly build off ideas with supplements or variations. Toys and treats are often offered, to foster creativity. A few people usually sit quietly looking at their watches, and looking idealess, while a relative few dominate the airwaves. The session ends with the chirpy facilitator congratulating the participants, pointing to all of the giant Post-it Notes on the walls as evidence of the world changing ideas that the brainstorm precipitated.

Brainstorming, which was particularly promoted by legendary BBDO ad man Alex Osborn, is the operational and cultural building block of many creatively oriented businesses. The brainstorm session is to PR and agencies as the assembly line is to a manufacturer. It’s the place where the company’s talent synergistically comes together to create MAGIC.

Or does it?

In the book “Quiet: The Power of Intoverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain examines the heavy workplace emphasis on consensus and teamwork generally, and the brainstorming work model specifically. Cain cites research done by University of Minnesota psychology professor Marvin Dunnette in 1963. Dunnette asked ad executives and 3M executives to do a set of tasks. Some worked alone, and some in groups. Cain writes:

The results were unambiguous. The men in 23 of the 24 groups produced more ideas when they worked on their own than when they worked as a group. They also produced ideas of equal or higher quality when working individually. And the advertising executives were no better at group work than the presumably introverted research scientists.

Since then, some forty years of research has reached the same startling conclusions. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases…

‘The “evidence from science suggests that businesspeople must be insane to use brainstorming groups,’ writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. ‘If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.’

…Psychologists usually offer three explanations for the failure of group brainstorming. The first is social loafing: in a group some individuals tend to sit back and let others do the work. The second is production blocking: only person can talk or produce an idea at once while the other group members are forced to sit passively. And the third is evaluation apprehehsion: meaning the fear of looking studid in front of one’s peers.”

So, why is brainstorming still such a big part of business operations?

Because we’re all afraid to protest, for fear we will look like killjoys who can’t appreciate all the giddy merriment and free Snickers bars?

Because all of those Post-it notes on the wall feel more like tangible evidence of productivity than the evidence offered by peer reviewed scientific research?

Because the extraverted leaders that tend to lead organizations personally are attracted to the energy such sessions gives them?

Quick, someone get some giant Post-it Notes, colored markers, beanbag chairs and Cheetos. We’ll get to the bottom of this in no time!

– Loveland

A Song At Twilight

I didn’t want to read this goddam book. It’s a Minnesota poet telling the story of her parents, in love for half a century, falling apart with Alzheimer’s. Drying up. Blowing away. Husks.

My mom died of Alzheimer’s. Dad died of ALS. Wasting diseases, stealing little bits of ability, little bits of dignity, day by day. Once strong, vibrant. Sinking fading falling. I don’t need to go there again.

But it’s my friend John Gaterud, the best editor and writer I know. The small press — Blue Road Press — that he’s created with his daughter Abbey. He tells me about the book as he edits, as they design, typeset, proof, birth it.

He sends me a copy. No. Thanks. It somehow makes it into my suitcase on a road trip. I pick it up. I don’t want to go back there.

It’s a good book, dammit. A Song At Twilight, of Alzheimer’s and Love, by Nancy Paddock. It’s horrifying. Honest. And it’s hard to stop reading it.

And it’s been nominated for a Minnesota Book Award in the Memoir and Creative Nonfiction category. Deservedly so.

Paddock dissects with brutal clarity the rending issues that twist the souls of children as they watch their parents fall apart. Shouldn’t I take my mom or my dad into our home and take care of her or him? Turn my life upside down and give them the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute care they need? They turned their lives upside down, taking care of me when I was a baby, whenever I was sick. But you don’t. They go into a nursing home. And you don’t visit as often as you should. Guilt. Metastasizing guilt.

And then, as the tragic disintegration drags on and on, you say, but god not out loud — if only this would end. And — disagreements among siblings about what to do next, when to take away more freedom and dignity from your parents. When to move them from the home they love, when to get rid of the furniture and mementos that can remind them of the glory of their lives. And is your brother or sister doing as much as you are? When you’re not doing enough yourself? And money — care for the elderly, for the dying, is expensive, and money is always a bind.

There were moments of astounding heart-filling joy as I was with my parents as they dissolved. A sweet smile, a thank-you, shared laughter at the absurdity of it all. Enduring love. But so often those moments were overwhelmed by the horror.

Paddock shows it all. As a poet does, she evokes the humor and love, and the deep deep pain. Her dad, a lifelong reader, still reads as his brain frays. “He laughed and said, ‘I only need one book.’ Then, with a quick gesture — as if wiping words from his brain — added, ‘It just goes shoooop!'” And her mother, in the nursing home: “‘I stand by the window and want to go out,’ Mama announces. ‘But we’re old so we can’t.’ She says ‘out’ with such fervor.”

Paddock’s father, aware that he’s slipping down a one-way vortex, observes, “Humans ought to come with an off switch.”

I’d like to say this book in inspirational, uplifting. But it isn’t. It’s grim and it’s harrowing and it’s funny and it’s warm like blood and it’s so damn real. It would be a good scouting report for anyone whose parents are starting to fail, because it shows, with compassion, the truth of what’s ahead. The book does what great books do — grabs life and sets it loose pulsing in front of you, whole and ugly and sublime.

As a child of the Sixties, to me every message from the universe is received as “live now, live fully, there may be no future.” And part of living fully and now is, sometimes, rolling up your sleeves and holding life as it dies.

“Loss breaks the heart,” Paddock writes, “but opens the soul.”

Winners of the 24th Minnesota Book Awards will be announced April 14. Good luck, Nancy and John. Dammit.

— Bruce Benidt
(Book cover image from Blue Road Press website)

Anoka Anti-Bullying Effort is Economic Development?

The War on Differentness
Today’s news reminds us that many parents, kids, and teachers in the Anoka County schools continue to oppose policies designed to prevent bullying of LGBT kids, and others. To them, such policies represent “politically correct (PC)” frivolity, or “promoting the gay agenda.”

But this isn’t just about politics or PC gotchas. There are a lot of other pretty solid reasons for supporting such initiatives. Common decency. Constitutional equality. The Golden Rule.

But since those arguments haven’t swayed opponents of anti-gay bullying initiatives yet, here’s another reason that might resonate on the right.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

In the book “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth,” author Alexandra Robbins makes the case for Quirk Theory.

Many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the same traits or real-world skills that others will value, love, respect, or find compelling about that person in adulthood and outside of the school setting.

Quirk theory suggests that popularity in school is not a key to success and satisfaction in adulthood. Conventional notions of popularity are wrong. What if popularity is not the same thing as social success? What if students who are considered outsiders aren’t really socially inadequate at all? Being an outsider doesn’t necessarily indicate any sort of social failing. We do not view a tuba player as musically challenged if he cannot play the violin. He’s just a different kind of musician. A sprinter is still considered an athlete even if she can’t play basketball. She’s a different kind of athlete. Rather than view the cafeteria fringe as less socially successful than the popular crowd, we could simply accept that they are a different kind of social.

To support her theory, Robbins cites many examples of people who were “cafeteria fringe” in high school – “geeks, loners, punks, floaters, nerds, freaks, dorks, gamers, bandies, art kids, theater geeks, choir kids, Goths, weirdos, indies, scenes, emos, skaters, and various types of racial and other minorities” — but later were a resounding success in the adult world. J.K. Rowling. Bruce Springsteen. Steve Jobs. Tim Gunn. Bill Gates.

How many jobs and exports do you suppose those marginalized cafeteria fringers have created for the cafeteria core dwellers?

As for LGBT students, George Mason University Professor George Florida employs a “Bohemian-Gay Index” to find that the more “gay friendly” a city is, the more economically successful it tends to be.

So, maybe this anti-bullying business is about more than just fluffy PC-ness?

Schools can’t eliminate bullying, but they can do more. Robbins finds that teachers and administratrators aren’t nearly as neutral as they claim to be in the War on Differentness. They enforce social hierarchies by creating institutional mechanisms for celebrating athletics, cheerleading and a few select activities over all others. Teachers and administrators set the social cues by who they choose to befriend, praise or spend time with. And they too often turn blind eyes toward subtle and not-so-subtle cruelty.

So, Anoka anti-bullying champions, keep fighting the good fight. It’s the right thing to do. Besides, the jocks could use some more jobs right now.

– Loveland

LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign

Rowdy friend and regular visitor Kelly Groehler’s new guidebook to using social media in political campaigns, LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign (in Politics, Business or Otherwise), is hot off the digital presses. Available now in paperback but later this month as an e-book, it’s dedicated to the premise that any candidate, cause or organization that ignores social media today does so at his/hers/its own peril.

And, P.S., relying on your son or daughter to run your social media campaign just ain’t gonna’ cut it.

So Groehler, while a 2010-2011 Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, joined three other researchers in studying the use of social media in the state’s 2010 gubernatorial race. Their conclusions drive a set of seven rules and 10 basic steps in how to begin using social media in your own campaign.

Independent candidate Tom Horner and campaign staffers for Republican candidate Tom Emmer and Democratic governor Mark Dayton provided candid background information to Groehler and her fellow researchers: Dave Ladd, president of RDL & Associates strategic consulting firm; Greg Swanholm, senior constituent advocate for U. S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Bass Zanjani, deputy district director for U. S. Congressman Keith Ellison.

The key word in the work’s title, LIKE, reminds us that today’s internet stars user-generated content; positive response to that content can be your best campaign message precisely because it is not seen as political propaganda or one-way messaging. However, the flip of this proposition is equally as powerful: unflattering tweets, Facebook messages or YouTube videos can drive a negative force from which a candidate never recovers (think of the aptly-named Anthony Wiener).

LIKE is designed for the novice user of social media and thus, can begin the discussion of why social media matter, what investment of time and resources they will take (no, they’re not “free”) and where to begin in planning an effective template that incorporates social media with traditional media channels.

And the most important take-away of LIKE should be this: campaigns today really are conversations. They involve give and take, multiplied by 800 million members of Facebook.

Follow the LIKE effort on Twitter @LIKESEVEN10.

The New Year — Beginning of the End?

Living on a porous limestone peninsula that hangs off the continental United States makes me feel both sheltered and vulnerable. I can feel distanced down here from the craziness that sweeps across the mainland — political, climatic, cultural — but I also feel nakedly exposed to the consequences of the environmental ignorance most of us cling to. Our politics and behavior show no sign that we’ll turn away from the disaster we’re piggishly driving toward.

2012, a new year. Same as the old year?

Lisa and I moved to Florida 15 months ago to have a brighter life — more sun, more light, more days wearing shorts. Less moaning about the state of the world. Less consumption of news, more attention given to birds, lush foliage and sunsets. And we’ve done well. Yes, we’re bringing in potted palms and covering plants tonight as there’s a freeze warning here north of Tampa Bay, but on Christmas Day I hung in my hammock in shorts and a T-shirt, listening to fish jump ten feet away. Most days the beauty of this state rises above its commercial tawdriness and shattered speculative economy. And most days I focus on the present wonder and grace of life, not the ever-approaching abyss.

A thoughtful and provocative book from Minneapolis’s Milkweed Editions, The Tarball Chronicles by David Gessner, looks with poetry, compassion and horror at how we’re raiding our future to feed our energy addiction. He poses the question — are we really willing to ransack our and our childrens’ environment to frack and drill and mountain-rape the planet so we can pull out the last dregs of fossil fuels? It’s like we’ve been drinking a wonderfully tasty malt, and now with the last half-inch melting in the bottom of the glass, are we really willing to sell our grandchildren, our health, our economy and our national security to slurp up that last half inch? Nobody in public life is talking seriously about where our next malt might come from, our grandchildrens’ malt, and nobody is planning. We’re just devising new and more-disastrous ways to go after that last half inch.

We bought our house in Port Richey while the Deepwater Horizon well was still spewing raw oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Our house is embraced on two sides by a saltmarsh and a tidal pond and channel that connects through the mouth of a tidal river directly to the Gulf. A rising tide could bring spilled oil into the mangroves and grasses that nurture fish and birds and shellfish, killing generations of wildlife. The fish, crabs, rays, herons, ospreys and bald eagles that are our next-door neighbors would all perish from a spill. The BP oil did not come ashore here. This time. Wells are still leaking in the Gulf, our energy addiction will demand more wells, and more disasters are inevitable. They will happen. Gessner’s book shows that we won’t know for years the full damage done to the fisheries of Louisiana. And those oiled marshes are food and habitat for migrating birds — so the BP disaster reaches to the loons that grace Minnesota waters in the summer and depend upon healthy Louisiana marshes when they snowbird south.

And nothing — nothing nothing nothing — is being done to change the demand for oil that is the ultimate cause of the Deepwater spill. And nothing — nothing nothing nothing — is being done to change the way we drill and frack and dynamite our landscape to get at the last half-inch of fossil fuel. None of the candidates gassing away in Iowa tonight has a long-term solution to move beyond fossil fuels, and nobody in Congress or the White House has the balls to lead us into a sustainable energy future. And — we all keep driving, sucking up obscene amounts of groundwater, generating trash, and hoping for the best.

The popular political answer to all problems? No new taxes. The latest tally of the cost of not investing in the common weal? News stories of sex ed classes cut (more pregnant teenagers make for a great future), streetlights turned off (light deters crime, but hey), and a 14% increase over 2010 in police officers killed on duty (budget cuts mean there are fewer cops for backup — we’ve dropped from 250 police officers per 100,000 people in 2008 to 181 in 2010, according to a Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics report.)

Oh gloom. Lighten up, Bruce. I have a wonderful fortunate life, full of friends and joy and love and beauty. But the world my nieces and nephews will live in? I fear for them.

At high tide, our garage is just a couple of feet above sea level here. Melting ice caps mean if I still live here in my dotage this place will be like Venice — I’ll be able to kayak into the ground level of our house. Convenient, in some ways.

On New Year’s Day my dear Lisa (who has talked for years about 2012 being the end of the Mayan Calendar’s Long Count, which is the end of the Mayans’ longest cycle of time but is interpreted by some to mean the end of time) woke up, stretched, oriented herself, petted the cat, and said, “Oh yeah, I forgot, this is the year the world ends.”

Happy end of the world, all. Reduce, reuse, recycle. And I should add for myself — relax.

— Bruce Benidt
(Photo of our backyard channel, oyster bar and tidal pond)

Stompin’ at the Loft and the Dakota — Jazz and Poetry

My friend John Gaterud and his daughter Abbey have created Blueroad Press, and their newest offering, Stompin’ At The Grand Terrace, is being celebrated tonight at The Loft in Minneapolis and Sunday at the Dakota, also in Minneapolis.

If you need a break from baseball or from the shock of cold weather — I could see my breath this morning — go and give a listen. It’s piano jazz and great poetry reading. The author, Philip S. Bryant, has written a memoir in verse about growing up and about his father and about his love for jazz. His book is a conversation between two old Jazz fans in Chicago arguing and talking about the history of jazz, and Phil’s reading makes you feel as if you’re sitting in a smoky bar or on a front stoop listening. Phil’s voice roams from booming to a whisper and he loves every word, and Carolyn Wilkins’ piano music will lift you.

Here’s a sample of Bryant’s verse:

Come on darlin’,
I can’t dance that well
and neither can you
and we aren’t those young’uns
we were a few years back
and we’re a few pounds more
but to hell with that.
I wanted to be an astronaut
or some such thing and you
a First Lady of a President
whose name was John or
Jack — and thinking like that
we probably screwed up our
lives, or at least part of the way.
It looks a whole
lot different than we
thought it was supposed to be.
And we look in a mirror and say
Shit! This isn’t what we
were supposed to be,
this isn’t it at all.

But hang it and dang it.
I want to kick up a fuss and
hold you tight for one last
whirl across the dark dance floor
’cause we ain’t getting any younger
and time’s flying out the side door
and the youngsters will laugh and say,
Look at those old codgers —
what do they think they’re doing?

But the hell with them.
Will you take this dance?
The clock is ticking
but it ain’t stopped yet
and there’s a few minutes left
before the big hand strikes twelve,
so what the hell
what do you say we get up
while the band’s still playing our song
just as a condemned man
would whistle along
with the nightingale
singing outside his cell
at dawn
just about when it’s time
to get up and face the music.

The book is available at most bookstores and at blueroadpress.com, and it’s a treat.

The Loft Literary Center, at Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave South, Minneapolis, at 7 p.m. today. And The Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, at 7 p.m. Sunday — $10 cover at the door for the Dakota. Come on down.

— Bruce Benidt
(Poem, titled Face The Music, stolen from John and Abbey, as is the pic.)

Ann Coulter Gets Roughed Up On the Right

Ann Coulter offends me on so many different levels it’s almost impossible to know where to begin.  Because of my feelings in this area, I have tried to ignore Ms. Coulter and in so doing deny her the one thing she absolutely needs to survive: attention. Like other forms of bacteria, Ms. Coulter can live without oxygen and light, but she gets her energy from the attention she gets from her limited number of supporters and from the much larger circle of people who instinctively look for the Lysol can whenever she turns up.

I continue to think shrouding is the right approach in dealing with Ms. Coulter but I’m making an exception to help spread a video that features her getting ripped by a series of pro-life talk show hosts on her support of Mitt Romney.

Couldn’t happen to a better target and the instrument of her discomfort couldn’t be better chosen.

And now back on with the shroud.

– Austin

John Updike’s Reputation, Overshadowing Better Writers

John Updike died this week, and his passing was marked by a front-page New York Times article and two full pages inside. That treatment is indicative of what is, in my humble opinion, his inflated reputation.

I loved reading the early Updike. His stories about a marriage breakup, the Maples stories, collected in a little volume called Too Far to Go, are as humane and insightful and harrowing as fiction gets. Rabbit Run, like Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, showed the agony of conformity in the 1950s, and was a lovely and frightening and compassionate book.

updikeBut Updike later in his career was writing unconscious self-parodies, like Hemingway’s Across the River and Under the Trees, where the old tricks seem just old and tired. Rabbit Redux tried to encompass the uproar and dissonance of the Sixties and early Seventies and was just clumsy and embarrassing, an aging white guy failing dismally at being hip. In the Beauty of the Lillies was Updike’s attempt to capture the turmoil of the end of the 20th Century, including the craziness of the FBI debacle at Waco, and again the writing was ham-handed and way too obvious.

I loved reading his books The Witches of Eastwick and Couples, and others. But the problem with Updike is that he got in the way of other great writers. His reputation was so huge, and he was so prolific, and he was so loved by the literary establishment — of which he was a full scratch-each-others’-backs participant as an essayist and so-dense reviewer (I could almost never finish one of his reviews, they were so pompously erudite) — that he overshadowed writers who continued to do what he had done in his early books but was no longer doing.

Updike was celebrated for “giving the mundane its beautiful due,” but too often he was just giving us the mundane. While hundreds of column inches were devoted to Updike, wonderful writers like Anita Shreve and Alice Hoffman were treated lightly, even though they work the same territory Updike did, and their books are far more fresh and vibrant and ring far more true. But they are considered “women’s writers” while Updike and Roth were Mount Rushmored as The Serious Writers. Read The Witches of Eastwick and then Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and tell me they aren’t equals. Read anything by Anita Shreve next to Updike’s earlier books and tell me Shreve doesn’t more than hold her own.

Not all writers become lighter and recycled with age. Kurt Vonnegut did, I’m afraid, but Reynolds Price has stayed as strong and lyrical and true through all his decades of writing. But he doesn’t have Updike’s reputation.

Who am I to criticize Updike? An avid reader, nothing more. But one who wants better writers to emerge from Updike’s inflated shadow. John Updike gave us some great books, and bless him for that. But others picked up his torch long ago.

–Bruce Benidt

(photo from Frank Capri/Archive Photos)


driftless1Apparently Christmas is coming up pretty soon. If you’re looking for a gift to give someone, or something to ask for, consider a wonderful novel from Minneapolis’s Milkweed Editions — Driftless, by David Rhodes.

Reading Driftless, I had a weird assemblage of writers come to mind — a little like the bar scene from Star Wars. How do you get Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the great Nebraska writer Jonis Agee,  Alice Hoffman, Larry Woiwode, Sherwood Anderson, Edgar Lee Masters and Lee Smith all in the same room? And then a hip Willa Cather walks in. And she’s reading W.P. Kinsella. Latin America, North Dakota, Appalachia — what’s going on here? It’s just good storytelling, with rich evocations of life in rural America. Rhodes looks small-town and farm life straight in the face, and sees the radiance and the darkness. He writes of the people who live in and around a small Wisconsin town: “Like people who refuse to update their wardrobes, they simply ignored all evidence that their manner of life had expired.” And, “The town stood in its own shadow of better times…” Of one character, whose dairy farm is on the edge, Rhodes writes, “His inner life felt like a theatrical production in which the major players did not even bother to show up and the minor players attempted to continue without them.” I have days like that.

This sounds dark, but it’s more than that. It’s a lark, in some ways, and gives the feel of spring wind blowing across new green. People’s fortunes rise and fall, and all those words you read in book reviews apply — resonant, redemptive, perseverance, enriching, poignant…

Rhodes wrote three previous books in the 1970s, then was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and didn’t publish again. If I recall the story correctly from my friend Jorg Pierach, who’s on Milkweed’s board, someone from Milkweed heard about Rhodes, or thought about him again, or ran into him, and asked if he’d been writing. Yes. Did he have any manuscripts? Yes. In the desk drawer. And the good people at Milkweed read Driftless and now it’s between covers. And would fit nicely into your hands. I saw copies at Barnes & Noble, and you can buy from the Milkweed link above.

Rhodes’s title refers to the part of southwestern Wisconsin that the glaciers missed. It’s a land not scraped flat and dull by the ice sheets, also not left drifted with the earth bulldozed down from Canada by the ice. It’s original territory. Worth a journey.

Three other books I’ve mentioned this year on this blog would also be good presents — Dave Mona’s lively local tales, Beyond the Sports Huddle, Mona on Minnesota; a collection of road stories published by my buddy John Gaterud with his daughter Abbey called Stardust and Fate, The Blueroad Reader; and City of Parks, the Story of Minneapolis Parks, by Dave Smith, insightful local history and a beautiful book.

Books. They’re what’s for dinner.

–Bruce Benidt marketing salary nice tax settlement nice

Do You Doodle Like A President?


The other night I was wandering the stacks of a discount bookstore when I spotted a book simply titled Presidential Doodles (text and introduction by David Greenberg. Basic Books, New York. 2006).

Presidential doodles. Somehow, I’d missed this. OK, I thought. I’ll bite.

Turns out, you can judge this book by its cover. It’s a collection of, as it says on the cover, “two centuries of scribbles, squiggles and scrawls from the Oval Office.” It was put out by the editors of the arts and culture quarterly Cabinet, and I’ll agree with back-cover blurb writer Michael Kinsley, who wrote, “If you read only one book on presidential doodles this year, make it this one.”

There appears to be some debate over whether doodle interpretation can offer any sort of portal into the psychology of the doodler. The book’s editors seem to dismiss the idea (or at least argue that it’s not really the point), writing:

Presidental doodles are intriguing, above all, because they provide us with a glimpse of the unscripted president … It renders the president human in ways that a staged family outing cannot.

These glimpses, strewn across agendas, speeches, White House stationery, margins of lined sheeets and all sorts of other papers, include:

  • Andrew Jackson’s crude drawing of what looks like a alligator.
  • Martin Van Buren’s take on clouds and rectangles.
  • Herbert Hoover (clearly a leading president in terms of sheer doodling output) favoring intricate systems of shapes.
  • Eisenhower’s delicate portraits of people and things (this guy was pretty good)
  • Kennedy’s repetitous doodling of dozens of squares and single words over and over (“Vietnam” eight times in one doodle, most of which he then contained in a box). A collection of his doodles was exhibited in 1964.
  • LBJ’s dual approach — either drawings of weird looking figures worthy of a third grader or orderly assortments of well-aligned lines and shapes.
  • Lots of presidential cubes, diamonds and boxes, subdivided and subdivided again (my general approach — identity politics by doodling type may be the next big thing).

And there’s my favorite: This charming fellow, rendered by President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893).


The book’s website, with a few of the doodles, is here. small business accounting nice