Friday, October 30, 2009 By Aaron Brown
"Between You and Me" airs from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The program features the voices of northern Minnesotans and explores the unique culture of the people in KAXE country. KAXE will wrap up its Fall Fundraiser on Saturday and, if you're not a member of this truly special independent public media organization, you should join now (either online or by calling 218-326-1234). They have all sorts of premiums and incentives and they treat members well.
Sunday, October 25, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Do it yourself
By Aaron J. Brown
We live in a “Do It Yourself” nation, supposedly. If you ever get tired of working on your house you can crack open a Keystone Light, eat some pretzels and watch fancy folks from geographically indistinct suburbs fix their house on one of a thousand cable home improvement networks. Sometimes these shows are focused on redecoration, where a designer with a one-word name like “Fantanta” turns a house that looks like your house into a house that is owned by someone much, much fancier. Other times these shows simply document a young couple attempting to buy a home – usually in places where starter properties sell for a half million dollars. For the prices these people pay for a middle class house they could buy a whole city block in most towns on the Iron Range. And also a spec building for manufacturing rubber goods. And you’re welcome!
At one time these shows were on all the time in my house, but not so much since our twin boys were born. Now we avoid these programs because we do enough chores that we don’t need to watch people do additional chores on the teevee.
As a couple, my wife and I have a checkered home improvement past. During the construction of a roof rake in 2002 we encountered a major marital crossroads. We learned that our respective temperaments limit our team jobs to painting and child care. Anything else must be done by me or her alone.
Certain tasks are worth doing yourself. Mowing lawn is my favorite. The task takes some time, especially out in the country, but the lawn machinery is simple enough for a panda bear to operate and the end result smells and looks fresh. But when my septic tank needs pumping I’m willing to pay.
Frankly, that’s the problem with being a guy like me in northern Minnesota. It’s not like I don’t know what hard work and MacGyver-like ingenuity are. I was raised in an environment where my dad rigged a fix for a cracked axle on the family station wagon and then drove us home on his rusty handiwork, all the time saying that if the axle broke we would die. I get the implications. But I always liked writing and media stuff, see. I went to college, see. And I don’t know what I’m doing insofar as cars, engines, machines, appliance repair or electrical wiring is concerned. I could learn, but doing so would distract me from updating my blog.
I know lots of people who swear by the do-it-yourself lifestyle. Many of these people have construction skills and hand-eye coordination, two things I lack. Still, my philosophy is this: Why spend three days trying to do something yourself when your time, even at minimum wage, is worth more? Also, I like the feeling that my house won’t cave in and my electrical wiring won’t shoot lighting bolts at my family. That’s the kind of security that experienced trades people can provide, well worth the investment.
I suppose if our economy collapsed, if our nation rattled apart in civil unrest, if half our population died from disease while the other half was forced to serve warlords in an endless battle for resources I might do my own sheet rock. May as well not bother, though. Few homes will escape the nightly air raids unscathed and I think Home Depot will be one of the first places looted when the government falls. Really, it’s all highly theoretical.
Maybe I would become a D-I-Yer under other circumstances. Until I’m given a good reason, though, I remain a P-F-I-A-K-I-T-W-D-Ter. Pay For It And Keep It Together With Duct Tape. Our people don’t have our own cable network yet, unless you count ESPN, but that’s fine with us.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His recent book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” won this year’s Northeastern Minnesota Book Award.
Friday, October 23, 2009 By Aaron Brown
We all know the DIY phenomenon. It even has its own cable channel(s). I explore this concept and my own lack of DIY skills. This deficiency is particularly dangerous for me here on the Iron Range, where Do It Yourself is assumed for most any project. The writing of this particular essay was an amusing exercise as I realized halfway through the draft that I was writing nearly the same essay I had once written in 2007. The result is an entertaining combination of the two items. It's been that kind of month, I think.
"Between You and Me" airs from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday. You can listen at 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota or streaming live online anywhere in the world at www.kaxe.org. A version of the piece will also run as my Sunday column in the Hibbing Daily Tribune.
And if you are not a member of KAXE, the jewel of northern Minnesota's unique culture and media, you should join now. They do amazing work and are building for the big picture of changing media.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Unemployment continues to decline on the Iron Range, but the ups and downs of KeeTac show that the road back will be complicated.
Sunday, October 18, 2009 By Aaron Brown
This series has now lasted more than a year. When it's finished I'll have some deeper analysis of the entire field. I'll republish them with added material for an e-book I hope to write and market for DFL delegates and the scads of political operatives who will one day rule the earth. And by "rule" I mean make persuasion calls and canvass.
Steve Kelley will officially announced his run for governor on Monday. I received the e-mail alert from his campaign about the “special announcement” to take place at Mahtomedi High School Oct. 19 while I was actually talking to Kelley last Friday, Oct. 16, by phone. As with many other campaigns this cycle, I remain impressed with the amount of message and media work that goes on even while the candidate is set on some other task.
Like other DFL candidates, Kelley struck on some familiar themes.
“Minnesota faces great challenges,” he said. “My work as a legislator would allow me to act on a range of issues. Health care, economic development, education; I was successful with these issues in the legislature and I can do more as governor.”
Kelley served in the Minnesota Legislature from 1992 to 2006, chaired the Senate Education Committee, and nearly earned the DFL endorsement for Governor in 2006, falling short to eventual nominee Mike Hatch. Kelley was then endorsed by the state central committee in the kerfuffle that followed Matt Entenza’s departure of the Attorney General’s race that year, falling to Hatch ally Lori Swanson after a hastily conducted primary campaign. Kelley is currently a teacher and senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute and the director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy.
“Our campaign and my work as governor will focus on some core values,” said Kelley. “One, opportunity for everyone. There are too many who aren’t employed. We haven’t been helping all the kids in our schools be successful. We need to be a fair state, with justice for everyone, health care for everyone.”
Also on Kelley’s list are environmental protection and the end of “stigmatizing” of gays through unfair marriage laws. Through these myriad familiar issues, Kelley says he offers a record of innovation, providing new solutions to old policy debates.
Practically speaking, Kelley also offers something geographic and demographic to the race. It’s all about the suburbs, where population and political influence are growing. The DFL field contains three candidates with a Minneapolis address, two with a St. Paul address, two from the Iron Range – all places that have been part of the traditional DFL base. Only Dayton, to some extent Marty, and Kelley can claim suburban addresses, and Kelley in particular found a successful political message through the right-leaning ‘90s and early 2000s in his Hopkins district.
“We’ve got to run the kind of campaign that turns out Democrats but persuades independents that we’ve got a governor that will work for everyone, not just Democrats.”
This blog represents the Iron Range, an area hit particularly hard during this recession and that faces unique economic, political and governmental challenges during the next few decades. Kelley laid out the basics of his potential approach to the region, where high DFL turnout often tips close races.
First, we need to recognize that mining will continue to be important in the economy of the future,” Kelley said. “But (steel and iron ore) prices will continue to go up and down as part of the global economy, and the Iron Range is now truly part of a global economy. The state needs to continue supporting mining on the Range and at the same time pay attention to the environment, because much of the population growth in Iron Range counties comes from people who move there because it is a beautiful place to live.
“Secondly,” Kelley continued. “I’ve always supported that we have a telecommunication network that allows high tech work to go on anywhere in the state, including the Iron Range. To a certain extent Iron Range Resources and local cities have been exploring this and as governor I would support local leadership in that direction.
“Third, there’s a significant overlap in the Iron Range economy and the forestry economy. Sustainable forestry can take advantage of high value markets for our timber markets.”
Kelley mentioned a project that he’s been exploring in his work at the Humphrey Institute, sustainable polymers, or plastics made from plants.
“The potential isn’t just in agriculture products but also in pine trees and other forestry products,” said Kelley, who vowed to support the continuation of that research as governor, along with exploration of other biofuels.
Central to this battle, Kelley said, are the state’s and region’s colleges and universities. Northeastern Minnesota is home to five community and technical colleges that serve several remote communities.
“My goals is to have it so that birth through higher education, there is opportunity for every student, so that everywhere in Minnesota we can boast an effective workforce with citizens literate in a range of things,” said Kelley.
That may sound like some of the sound bites that have come from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but Kelley said his philosophy differs in some key ways.
“One part is that first you need a governor who believes that higher education is a public good not just a private good,” said Kelley. “Ventura and Pawlenty have acted as though higher education is only good for the students getting the degrees, that there isn’t a value to society in these institutions. I’m of the opposite view. Yes, there’s a real value to students – life improvement, career enhancement – but there is also a greater value. We all do better where there are more educated students. We will not be able to compete globally if we don’t have more of our kids graduating from some kind of postsecondary education, whether that’s two-year programs, four year degrees or more."
How to change the downward momentum in education?
“We need to raise revenue,” said Kelley. “I have a whole range of options on the table and haven’t picked one yet, but we need a more progressive tax system than we have today.
It’s not just revenue, however, Kelley highlights the imperative to close the achievement gap for students in poverty, often students of color.
“There are a lot of theories, but it’s time for a governor who recognizes that the achievement gap has to do with the income gap. If we’re going to close the achievement gap schools can’t do it by them selves, we’ve got to line up community help and make sure that kids are getting the right care from zero to high school to college, that their families are healthy and that they have stable housing. He compares his concept to a similar idea that’s been used with success in Harlem.
“I’m the only one who is talking about how to see all these pieces working together and the only one with an announced plan on this,” said Kelley.
Relating to the state’s budget crisis – both for citizens and state government – Kelley laments the rising cost of health care.
“A national plan would help the state with its fiscal problems,” said Kelley. “We take on more of a burden in paying health care costs that other states, so we have to control inflation in costs. For instance, higher education cost increases often have to with rising health care costs in higher education budgets. We need to reverse those trends to bring money back into higher education and other places where it’s needed.”
Kelley said that if he were governor now he’d be working with Minnesota’s congressional delegation to ensure that the federal health insurance reform benefited Minnesota.
“The assumption is that (the federal bill) will be a net positive but that it won’t cover everybody,” said Kelley. “We need to consider the moral imperative that everyone should have health coverage that is affordable.”
On the governor’s role in the economic crisis, including job creation, Kelley argues that the first priority is infrastructure, creating the environment in which jobs can grow naturally. Central to that is Kelley’s aforementioned commitment to a high speed internet network that serves the whole state, something that he has been championing in some form since 1993, long before the existence of this or any other political blog. Included in his infrastructure push would be electrical grid improvements and transportation initiatives.
Kelley’s higher education focus shows in his second economic priority, the support of the University of Minnesota and other research institutions to develop new technologies and train the next generation of high level innovators.
Kelley’s final economic priority is what he describes as “a set of tools that encourages the economic growth of companies in the state.” This would include tax credits and other incentives to both attract and also keep Minnesota companies located in Minnesota.
“This governor (Pawlenty) goes around Minnesota’s economic climate when we need to talk about Minnesota’s positives,” said Kelley.
Fundamentally, it’s Kelley’s record that sets him apart, he said.
“These ideas are not newly formed convictions that I developed because all of a sudden I’m running for governor,” said Kelley. “I’ve developed these convictions on my own over the course of a career. Leadership is a term that gets thrown around but leadership is not just a privilege, it’s a responsibility. It comes from not giving up, coming up with new ideas and trying again and again to implement them. DFLers and Minnesotans in general know that what I say I want to do matches what I’ve done the last 16 years.”
And on strategy?
“We’re working hard to accomplish a break-out moment, but there is a shortage of concrete benchmarks that people can use to determine how campaigns are doing,” said Kelley. “My game plan is to be at the top of the list, but I recognize that there are several candidates who will be players at the convention.”
Kelley, who went down to the final ballot in 2006’s three-way endorsement battle, said his goal right now is to become the strong second or third choice for delegates committed to other candidates in what will be a much larger, more unpredictable convention.
“At this point I’m really pleased that many of my supporters from last time, previous delegates, are with me again. That gives me a huge advantage and they are people from all over the state. And the past delegates I’m picking up aren’t just my supporters from last time. They include Hatch and Lourey delegates, too.”
Kelley is hoping that support, and the support of other delegates, is the winning combination for what is probably his last chance at the governor’s office.
Steve Kelley is the only candidate in the field for whom I can say the following: One tiny twist of fate in the previous election process and we’d be talking about a tough but winnable re-election fight for Governor Steve Kelley. If Steve Kelley had been the endorsed candidate in 2006 he could have won a tough primary and avoided the gaffes the caused Mike Hatch to lose the general to Gov. Tim Pawlenty in a strong DFL year.
There are arguments against this theory. One, Steve Kelley would not have been a sure bet in the 2006 primary against candidates that likely would have included then Attorney General Hatch and liberal stalwart Sen. Becky Lourey. After all, the endorsed Kelley would later lose the hurriedly realigned 2006 Attorney General nomination to Lori Swanson (all of this occurring when AG endorsee Matt Entenza, a 2010 top tier gubernatorial candidate, dropped out of the race).
Possibly, but also consider the possibility that Kelley would have been more organized for a gubernatorial run, including post-convention momentum, than he was for the stutter-start AG campaign in which the party offered fewer resources. Furthermore, an endorsed Kelley might have been able to talk Becky Lourey into dropping out of the primary, which might have led to a favorable one-on-one against Hatch. In the general election, a friendly suburban technocrat like Kelley would have fared much better against Pawlenty in what was a national DFL wave election. I’m almost certain he would have won. And I say all of this even though I was a Hatch delegate in 2006 who wouldn’t have agreed with the future me at the time. Fundamentally, I was impressed with Kelley’s nomination speech and his concession speech. I wasn’t alone.
That said Kelley faces serious problems in breaking out of this huge pack of DFL candidates in this field. He’s been out of the State Senate now for four years and while it’s encouraging that he’s spent his subsequent time working in higher education, instead of the more lucrative lobbying or private sector fields, his outsider status is a hurdle.
There are two often divergent instincts that hit convention delegates as the deadlock of a multi-ballot convention sets in. Assuming their first choice is out or in trouble these delegates might feel the urge to back “the electable one.” The other urge would be to go with “the likable one,” the one they hated telling “no” during the 8,157 persuasion calls they received leading up to the convention. These two candidates are usually different people. This year, Steve Kelley is banking on the hope that he might represent the best of both options to many uncommitted, disillusioned and worried delegates wandering the floor after the sun goes down. Kelley might be the only candidate who can rally hard in late ballots. With suburban bonafieds he can speak confidently about rural and urban issues. He knows policy and politics.
For Kelley, the challenge will be to place in the top half of the field on the first ballot and then increase it by small amounts through the second or third, which will be very dramatic, indeed, traumatic as the field thins. Once one or more of the Range candidates, three or more of the city candidates and/or one of the frontrunners is forced out, up to a third of the floor will be shopping candidates at the same time. If Kelley wins half of them, he suddenly gets a new look from everyone else. If Steve Kelley were to last until the final two against anyone in the field, it’d be hard for a hardened DFL insider (the kind who will likely dominate this convention) to avoid asking the question: “Did we miss an opportunity in 2006?”
Sunday, October 18, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Public speaking is no ‘bear’
By Aaron J. Brown
As the old cliché goes people fear public speaking more than they fear death. As I recall, the original poll that yielded this truism involved people randomly naming their biggest fears, rather than a specific choice between death and public speaking. I do a lot of public speaking (I teach it for a living) so I’d much rather give a five minute talk than die horribly before my time. Death is a pretty heavy subject to fear on an everyday basis. Conversely, public speaking is something that could hit us at any time, from the time we go to kindergarten until our aforementioned death.
Public speaking is like a bear that never kills, but instead just bats you around for 15 or 20 minutes every time it sees you. Every time. No exceptions. You’re dressed up to give a wedding toast? Bear’s gonna maul you. Going to school? Bear’s gonna maul you. Work presentation? Bear. Join the Rotary Club? Bear. And then another bear next month when it’s your turn to introduce the guest speaker. Then you retire and they throw you a big party and there in the back of the party, way back by the punch bowl next to the amusing youthful picture of you is the bear – punching a fist against his open paw. He’s not done yet. Or is he?
Back when the cave people ruled the world, humans operated off a much simpler if somewhat more dangerous system. A cave person, upon encountering a saber tooth tiger out in an open field, faced two simple choices: kill the animal using brute strength or run away at a speed faster than the tiger. The implied alternative is to become a pleasing meal for a saber tooth tiger. The implications are clear and evolution responded with the development of adrenaline.
You know what I’m talking about. ADRENALINE! This force can help us lift up a car to save a life or teach that car a lesson for not starting when we’re late for work. Adrenaline serves us well when we’re fighting saber tooth tigers, opening jars or winning high school sporting events that will later seem less relevant. But adrenaline often works against us in the modern world. When your boss tells you he needs you to brief the clients on the Jenkins account, society doesn’t allow you to crush your boss’s skull with a nearby stone. Nor are you allowed to scurry out the window, across the parking lot of the office complex to live the rest of your days foraging in the grove of trees by the adjacent drainage pond. No, today one must solve problems that require pinpoint accuracy with a brain built for clubbing things with tree trunks.
The secret in all this is knowing that public speaking is much more than a bear waiting to slap you around. Public speaking is a skill, not unlike being a ninja. Dare I say it: a bear-fighting ninja?
The fear that hits you before you have to stand up and present yourself and your ideas in front of others never goes away. Rather, you must learn ways to use that sensation to your advantage. Through practice and perspective, you can teach yourself to turn fear into power.
If you can walk up in front of strangers, peers, friends and neighbors and speak with confidence – not perfection, just confidence – you will own something that most people never know. To turn the primordial fear of rejection and humiliation into what Quintilian described as “a good man speaking well” is to build the future. And the glory is that anyone can do it.
Just be sure to mind the bear.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His recent book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now.
Friday, October 16, 2009 By Aaron Brown
The show airs from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday morning on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota or streaming online all over the world at www.kaxe.org. "Between You and Me" is a call-in program that features great music and highlights the culture and characters of northern Minnesota.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Wednesday, October 14, 2009 By Aaron Brown
"Superior Publishing owner faces technical default" (Business North, Oct. 13, 2009)
In another sign of distress in region’s newspaper industry, the owner of 11 dailies and weeklies in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin confirmed it expects to be in technical default on loan covenants related to their 2007 purchase.
[Australia-based] American Consolidated Media’s properties include Minnesota newspapers in Virginia, Hibbing, and Grand Rapids; and Wisconsin newspapers in Ashland, Hayward, Spooner, Park Falls and Phillips.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009 By Aaron Brown
A disclaimer, I worked on Sertich's first campaign in 2000 and consider him a friend. Nevertheless, it's remarkable to see how Tony entered the House at age 24 and methodically worked his way up the ranks so quickly and relatively quietly. It goes with a theory I have. The Iron Range may be known for its brute force in DFL elections, but if we're going to survive we need a whole lot more soft power and stealthiness. Yelling and seniority won't cut it after the 2010 Census.
We'll see how the next session plays out, however, before Tony or anyone else gets to pop the champagne. And I shouldn't be overly dismissive of the chances of Sen. Tom Bakk or Rep. Tom Rukavina to become governor. That ... That could happen. And there is the matter of Lt. Gov. That's a whole other thing. Stay tuned.
Sunday, October 11, 2009 By Aaron Brown
The great numbered days of the Dome
By Aaron J. Brown
Today the Minnesota Twins take on the New York Yankees in Game Three of the divisional playoffs. Whether you know or care anything about baseball, this is one of those ubiquitous moments for our state. Even those who wish to ignore the game must make a principled stand, a conscious decision to tell their neighbors, “No, do not discuss this game with me. I reject your notion of what matters.” And who wants to be that guy?
Though the moment is already fading into lore, the Twins 12-inning victory over the Detroit Tigers in last Tuesday’s division championship tie-breaker game was widely praised as one of the greatest baseball games ever played in the Metrodome. Taut with pressure and drama, human failures and triumphs, most people I know had to stand up to bear watching the last three innings. Across the state, both physically and in the ether of the Internet, people gushed with emotion. I vowed in a Facebook status update to defy the normal standards of wardrobe at my workplace and wear Twins gear. The next day, I made good and drove into town wearing the pinstriped white home jersey and my typical khakis. I regret that decision.
What I had hoped for was to wear the jersey and have that just stand alone as my statement of solidarity and team pride. “Look at this jersey” I wanted my jersey to imply. “Now you know where I stand.” That’s not what I got. I basically lost a whole day to the same conversation.
“How about that game?” “I couldn’t believe it!” “Now the Yankees, hoo boy, that’s gonna be tough.” “Did you see it? Did you see the game? Did you watch it? Because I watched it.”
What more could I say to these comments? “Oh, ya!” I said. Again and again, each time more like dialogue from the movie “Fargo.” “OHHHH, YAAAAA!” By the end of the work day I was starting to wear down. I would have removed the jersey, but the t-shirt underneath also displayed a Twins logo. (Genius). The whole thing began to affect how I talked to people. I presumed that if anyone said anything to me it would probably have to do with the Twins. The result was that when people approached me about anything else – you know, work and stuff – I probably came across like a shell-shocked refugee trying to pretend that he’s not wearing a baseball jersey, defying my own plan for the day.
The Twins have rallied from behind, won the division, and made the playoffs other times in recent years. In fact, over the past eight seasons this seems to happen all the time. So why was last week so different? Why were so many people, myself included, so eager to wear their Twins gear around town, stopping each other to repeat the same words like a religious chant?
The answer for me is simple. The tiebreaker game against Detroit pulsed raw excitement out of the Dome like it had when I was a kid watching the storied games of 1987 and 1991. The grass was fake and greener than it should have been, but back then we didn’t know that baseball grass was supposed to be actual grass. Back then we didn’t know that the Twins weren’t supposed to win the World Series. Was it innocence or ignorance? Maybe it was just another time. A time before the steroids. A time before money changed the game. A time before Kirby Puckett got hurt, got sick and died. And those great times were back for one night.
This time we knew it would be over, though, because the Twins are moving to a nice new stadium they had to build to become more modern and competitive. The Metrodome will never see another baseball game and its days are numbered. So are ours. No one wants to talk about these things in the hallways at work so we wore our jerseys and made inane small talk. I guess that’s all you can do, now that I think about it.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now.
Friday, October 09, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Matt Entenza won. Iron Range legislators Tom Rukavina and Tom Bakk finished second and third, respectively. Other candidates there included Susan Gaertner, Steve Kelley, Mark Dayton and Paul Thissen (though I don't know how the rest finished in the poll). Now this result is fascinating to me, but should also include an asterisk. The candidates who weren't there: Margaret Anderson Kelliher, John Marty and R.T. Rybak are all people I predict will carry some level of support in Itasca County and greater Minnesota in general (particularly Kelliher, with her farm roots, and Marty, with his support from progressive groups). Their absence affected the outcome.
Nevertheless, Matt Entenza should be pretty pleased with this result as I would have expected the Range candidates to do much better against him in a county that includes Range towns.
Friday, October 09, 2009 By Aaron Brown
"Between You and Me" airs between 10 a.m. and noon on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota and streaming live all over the world at www.kaxe.org. My essay often runs in the first half hour, depending on calls.
Thursday, October 08, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Wednesday, October 07, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Wednesday, October 07, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Tuesday, October 06, 2009 By Aaron Brown
You might ask why I'm hooked up with a lecture series about snowmobiling. "Aaron, you don't own a snowmobile. You don't ride snowmobiles. You don't consciously recall ever riding a snowmobile. This is preposterous." And this would be a natural human reaction. My reaction is HA! I'm not the only one in this boat, and yet snowmobiling, like hunting, drinking and throwing rocks at city folk, is one of the cultural mainstays around which everyone on the Iron Range must navigate.
I'll also be drawing on some of the work and humorous fodder from my most recent book "Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range," which won a Northeastern Minnesota Book Award this year. If you've seen my talks on my book tour last year this will be different. Stay tuned as I announce my Holiday Book Tour in November and December. A copy of "Overburden" will make your semi-literate family member happy well into the second box of Christmas wine, after which the point is rendered moot.
UPDATE: Edited to show the correct time, 6 p.m.
Monday, October 05, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Interestingly, the Blandin Foundation will be sponsoring a conference about the future of broadband in Northern Minnesota this November in Duluth that might be worth checking out.
Sunday, October 04, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Why dogs? Why snow dogs? Why not?
By Aaron J. Brown
When encountering rare, exotic or expensive breeds of dogs, folks more accustomed to mutts often react confoundedly. “Why on earth would they make a dog like that?”
Why is this dog so long? Why is it so small? Why does the book say the dog’s legs shatter if they hop off the bed or that they need a heart transplant after their first breeding season because they’re only supposed to live to be 2 (14 in dog years). What are anal glands and why must I express them? (Don’t ask me why I’ve heard of this). Dog breeds are living examples of the power and folly of humankind.
So why do we consider machines any differently? Motorcycles, ATVs and snowmobiles are glorious creations – central to northern Minnesota’s tourism and enjoyment of the North Woods – but these devices are, in essence, as rational as the Pomeranian, the Great Dane or Shih Tzu. Lovely, but illogical. Vital, and yet dispensable with the right combination of job loss, car payment, mortgage or blown transmission.
Like many who grew up on the Iron Range, I was raised around improbable machines like the 3-wheeler (Ha!), 4-wheeler, motorcycle and snowmobile. I say “improbable” not because they are without value but because they exist within the limited parameters of people with time on their hands. One working overtime, one working nights, one with newborn twins and a day job, well, such a person is not riding the trails or tuning up the machine right now, unless one is truly dedicated and/or willing to risk personal relationships for the hobby. Many are willing to endure the risks, but mostly because of an ancient human truth: to go fast is to go awesome cool (I paraphrase).
Let me focus in on snowmobiles as they remain the machine of choice as we enter the winter months. I know a lot of people who like to ride snow machines (as they are properly called in knowledgeable circles). All of these people share a similar story. “Blah blah blah, something happened, and then we were stuck in the middle of nowhere and thought we were going to die.” Usually the story is told with bravado, combined with scorn for the first person in the group who broke down. This would be the person who admitted that, yes, we might die of exposure to the bitter winds of northern Minnesota, our snow suits powerless against the tidal wave of natural elements conspiring to break down our natural defenses and stop our hearts cold. Maybe there was weeping or uncomfortable male hugging. Maybe tender words of friendship might have been exchanged, letters to spouses written with pencils because pens had long since frozen. And maybe it was then that another friend, a more virile and masculine friend, determined that a simple adjustment to the spark plug might restart the machine, saving all and preserving the tradition of almost dying for fun for the next generation.
I wish I could say that I understood. Instead I choose to abide. I understand the appeal of going really fast on a thing that sounds like a cougar on amphetamines, I just don’t understand why one would want to do so in the cold – the worst of cold, when a face mask determines whether or not you’ll remain recognizable to your mother.
Then again, I think of my dog, Molly. She is an improbable hound, small and lovable, ultimately defensible. Her leg pops out of joint sometimes, owing to her breeding, but hey, you can’t dispute that she’s a lot of fun on the right kind of day. Why stress over a slipped tread? What more could you want from a dog, a machine, or anything under this increasingly distant sun.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His recent book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now. He will be speaking at 6 p.m. this upcoming Thursday, Oct. 8 at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm for “Iron Dogs: Snowmobiling in Minnesota.”
Friday, October 02, 2009 By Aaron Brown
I talk about the Iron Range (typical) but the program promises an interesting look at the unknown corners of Northern Minnesota. My piece shares how my elementary school is now a bar and that's a totally normal thing around here.
You can hear "Between You and Me" on 91.7 FM in Northern Minnesota or streaming online all over the world at www.kaxe.org.