Friday, December 30, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Top traffic posts for 2011
- DFLer Carly Melin will vie for 5B House seat -- When former Rep. Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) stepped down to become Commissioner of the IRRRB last January, this blog lit up as a special election in the heart of the Iron Range took place. Carly Melin started the race as a political unknown and became the Range's fastest-rising political star. This post is No. 1 because the question of the year was "Who is Carly Melin?" Answer: the best thing that happened to this blog in 2011 (Google).
- Georgia chopsticks factory conjures failed Range experiment -- When I heard a small town in Georgia invested in a factory producing American-made chopsticks for the Asian market, I compared it to the Iron Range's attempt to do the same back in the 1980s. I learned some things about the history of that deal. The fact that this placed so high on the traffic list indicates that a lot of people in Georgia found this an interesting comparison.
- Iron Range Fourth of July 2011 -- I compiled the parade and street dance schedule for the Iron Range's busiest summer holiday. The growing success of doing this has me thinking of ways to do more reference material about the Iron Range to serve my strong Google rank in the area. Do you care about this? No, you do not.
- Minnesota redistricting to create "Great Northern" seat? -- I spent a lot of time talking about James J. Hill's railroad this year, in a variety of contexts. This one was about Congressional redistricting in northern Minnesota. Oh, how a small number of people care so very, very much about redistricting. They have the internet, though. Those ones.
- MN-8: Rick Nolan comeback bid shakes up race -- The only part of my MN-8 election preview series to make the top ten was the item about former Congressman Rick Nolan. He might be here because he's a strong contender (and I think he is) but also because of all the candidates he was probably least known to the under-40 campaign rabble that frequents this site. I've been holding on to this Nolan campaign photo of Rick pretending to fight "Chippy" the Chipmunk, a metaphor for the policies of Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8), for just such an occasion.
- MN-GOP redistricting plan offers Iron Range a Trojan horse -- Boy, people love this redistricting crap. In all seriousness, the GOP plan for the Range will probably be regarded as a big wet kiss compared to what the court will do this February. Look for that in my "top posts" this time next year.
- Tony Sertich and the seachange on the Iron Range -- This was a favorite post of mine about Tony Sertich's appointment as Commissioner of the IRRRB. It's about that, but also about the House seat he left open, his exit from the list of MN-8 candidates he had occupied since his first election, and the need for reform at the agency, something he's still working on.
- "Iron in the Sky" air show slated July 22-23 at Range airport -- This post is a verbatim press release about an air show at the Hibbing airport. My only original contribution to this post was the following dialogue:
To quote one airplane, "BBBBWWWWEEEEWSSSSSCCHHHHH!"This is the stupidest thing I've ever written.
"RRRRUUUUUUSSSSSSCCCHHHHWWWAAA," added its friend, another airplane in the sky.
- Babbitt fire destroys Zup's grocery, other businesses -- The hierarchy on my blog goes like this "Stuff about MN-8," then "Summer activities," then "Beloved Range places on fire."
- Bob Dylan at 70 -- This is the only of my newspaper columns to break the Top 10, a nice little piece about Duluth native and Hibbing-raised Bob Dylan turning 70 with some generational commentary.
The MinnesotaBrown 2011 Digest
As I mentioned this week, I am the host, producer and co-writer of a public radio variety program called the Great Northern Radio Show. Our first episode debuted Oct. 15 in Hibbing and did very well. Listen to Hour 1 and Hour 2 if you missed it and look for our podcast and 2012 season down the line.
I was honored to be invited to speak at the TEDx 1,000 Lakes Conference Sept. 19 in Grand Rapids. I've been writing about many of the same themes for about five years and it was very satisfying to condense them into a 15-minute presentation that connects Iron Range past, present and future. Fans of my book "Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range" will enjoy this, I think.
Minnesota Public Radio featured several guest commentary pieces on MPR.org this year, each among my better attempts:
- "Iron Range needs answers more nuanced than "jobs, jobs, jobs" (which prompted an amusing not-so-coincidental comment in a Mesabi Daily News editorial)
- "Iron Range youth are damned if they leave, damned if they come back"
- "Lagging connections in rural areas are a drag on Minnesota's prosperity"
- "Northern Minnesota's politics is about to get ugly"
- "When your high school is torn down, progress seems like a mixed blessing"
- "Grandpa Taconite keeps the Range family together, for now..."
- "When everyone else was springing ahead and falling back, he found a way to beat the system"
- MPR reporter Marc Sanchez featured me in a "sounds of mining" story he did for MPR News. Sanchez had a story picked up in "This American Life" this year, so I'm glad I could meet him when he was on a hot streak.
I wrote last winter's clues for the Hibbing Winter Frolic medallion hunt. This was my last year writing the Sal Winter mystery theme with "Love Reads Rough," as the committee has since informed me that I am to return to traditional high school English teacher poetry this year. I think my 2011 tale of a corrupt mayor and petty small town politics probably influenced that decision. Well, that and my use of complex metaphor confused the small children actually searching for the medallion in large snowy fields amid below-freezing temperatures.
My February trip to St. Paul to appear on "Almanac" prompted this amusing tale of big city public TV and high class suburban child habitats. Cathy Wurzer was very nice to me this year, inviting me on Almanac after I appeared on her Morning Edition show about the 5B race and then calling on me to close the show at the MPR/Northland's NewsCenter economic forum in Duluth last spring.
Wouldn't be a year if I wasn't condemning political cronyism on the Iron Range. And again.
I am proud of many (perhaps not all) of the Sunday columns I wrote this year, but I especially enjoyed this one in which I got to speak with former Rep. Lona (Minne) Schrieber (DFL-Hibbing), the first woman elected to serve in the legislature from the Iron Range.
Can you spot the theme? On mining and the future in northern Minnesota. The steel hauled 'round the world and what it means. Got them post-industrial small town blues. Today's Range pioneers must break the circle. 100 years young, a new Iron Range century. Iron Range 2011: everything is wonderful, nothing is safe. Range future debate enters crucial phase. The sound and the fury over Range taconite revenue. Big Range ore shipments signal big opportunity for diversification. Bad 'economojo' plagues Iron Range and beyond. Good times roll on the Range, in theory.
Future. Future. Mining. Future. Jobs. Uncertainty. In short, you can see that mining jobs are real, good and will be around in historically small numbers for some time. But in the long run we need a more diverse economy and mining, particularly mining politics, can get in the way of the necessary innovation. On a side note, I now must stop using "The Sound and the Fury" as a headline concept, along with "and what it means." I presented some non-mining ideas in "Range towns should look inward for future possibilities," "Entrepreneurship and the future of places like the Range," and "One vision for Range economic diversification."
Of course there was plenty more on broadband expansion in rural Minnesota as a way to diversify the economy. Blazing new trails for Minnesota's future. Don't hate me because I'm elite with the tubes. Some progress, more work ahead for rural Minn. broadband. Turning leaves, reading the signs. Tech infrastructure only the first half of the battle. The internet freedom fight for the future. For Range broadband, entrepreneurs may be the key. Naturally, having Google pass over Duluth for its Google Fiber project was a setback.
I like to write about place. In these lost places we find the holes in our economy. When a mining town disappears. This blasted husk of a building is our coliseum. The places of the Range, bypassed, bygone, but not forgotten. This last post about an evening in Marble prompted a mini-outrage and a response in "Leave Marble Alone."
There was a fire in the Soudan underground mine last March. No one was hurt and repairs continue. The episode inspired a sketch in our first Great Northern Radio Show.
Burned a lot of ink on the Minnesota state shutdown and the political attack on a local Iron Range economic development fund. These now seem like ancient history but none of the core problems were addressed and we'll be fighting this all over again next year and especially in 2013.
My friend Tom Anzelc took a run at undoing legislation that covers up information about Range economic development projects. He'll take another run this winter.
Planes, trains and automobiles.
Sometimes the classified ads tell a story in just a few words. Even a sprawling epic.
We said goodbye to former Rep. John Spanish, Lew Latto, Geno Paulucci and Keewatin's own Ron Ciochetto. It occurs to me now that I failed to mention Renee Tomatz in Hibbing, whose passing leaves a huge hole in the humanity of the central Range that we all must endeavor to fill.
My goal of reading more books in 2011 was mostly a failure, though I read some good ones like "Let the Great World Spin" and "The Rise of American Democracy." I won't get a damn step closer to writing my novel until I get off this infernal internet and read some real books.
I commemorated the 83rd anniversary of President Calvin Coolidge's visit to the Hull Rust Mine in Hibbing with the story of his time on the Iron Range. This prompted some follow-up discussion as well.
Hey, you like the copper mining? You don't like the copper mining? Either way, I wrote some on the nonferrous mining issues in northern Minnesota. The mighty din of the mining meeting. The copper sirens call. The sound and the fury of Range mining politics. Tepid St. Louis County mining resolution reflects need for new perspective. Professor Jeff Manuel has written some great history-based guest posts for me. His 2011 contribution was "History shows copper mining has always been tricky business."
Another of my favorite columns was this look at the 2010 census numbers and what they say about northern Minnesota. Also, try "Up north it's more change than migration."
A flying squirrel visited our home last spring. I continued to offer sarcastic commentary about Asian carp. Also, cougars.
Finally, I was featured in a book about famous Minnesota lunches. There are only a few ways to get into a book like that and I think I've done all of them.
There are many, many more posts that were fun to write. I'm sure I missed some. The broad themes, however, seem apparent. Feel free to talk about the posts that mattered to you in the comments or offer suggestions for 2012. I'm glad you come back to read this blog every so often and wish you the very happiest new year.
Photos: (Top) The sunrise over Itasca County Highway 8 on my way to work, Rick Nolan fighting a chipmunk (Nolan campaign), my top notch House 5B Special Election graphic, a Hibbing Taconite haul truck, and smoke emerging from the Soudan underground mine shaft last spring (DNR).
Wednesday, December 28, 2011 By Aaron Brown
The Great Northern Radio Show is a live music, comedy and storytelling variety program, a modern interpretation of a format steeped in nostalgia.
Our successful debut in Hibbing this past October emboldened us to build regional support with a 2012 tour. I'm happy to accept any suggestions for musicians, performers or interviews for these shows as we seek to represent and honor the communities we visit. When we're all done, we hope to have a larger new audience and the mandate to expand our show even further in years to come. The Great Northern Radio Show is very much a living thing right now, developing themes and a unique style right before your ears. Join us!
You can still hear our Hibbing show in two parts, Hour 1 and Hour 2, on KAXE.org. We'll be unveiling a new podcast channel at some point this spring and will be re-releasing that show before the four new ones.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Last summer I wrote a series on the topic, which largely holds up to this day. I've stepped back a bit from this race in recent months, letting the mild churn of press releases and speculation turn over unimpeded. In truth, not much has changed. Four DFLers are vying to challenge Republican incumbent Chip Cravaack in a district whose makeup might well slightly favor the Democrats this year. Cravaack will not go easily, however, and if he wins he could stay a while. This race will be a major target for both parties. I've characterized it as a toss-up with a slight lean to the DFL.
There are other factors, of course. A weak GOP presidential nominee would probably doom Cravaack while a stronger one would make this more competitive. Redistricting could completely alter the political terrain, possibly putting Cravaack in a new, solidly GOP central Minnesota district and his challengers in an DFL-leaning northern district with incumbent Rep. Collin Peterson (DFL-MN7). Who knows?
I mean that quite literally. Who among us knows? Please speak up if you do.
Anderson earned some attention last week when he was the only Congressional candidate to speak at the St. Louis County Board meeting in which commissioners ultimately opted to pass a resolution loosely supporting nonferrous mineral mining in the region. He encouraged commissioners to back the resolution and offered his support to nonferrous mining. This won't help him much with progressives in the DFL endorsement and primary battles, but will help him greatly on the Iron Range. All the candidates offer tentative wording around their positions, usually supporting mining generally with varying degrees of conditions in case of environmental impact. But Anderson's presence at this meeting seemed to be taking a more specific position in the debate that could help him in the battle for Range votes.
Tarryl Clark, the former St. Cloud-area state senator who moved to Duluth last year, is running strong with some big endorsements, including Emily's List and the Steelworkers. On one had it's amazing to see those two groups endorse the same candidate in a primary. On the other, Clark has been cultivating those two endorsements for a long time. She's a previous Emily's List endorsee in her MN-6 2010 campaign and she's been working for the Blue-Green Alliance, a close ally of the Steelworkers.
Clark's situation is really a tale of two narratives. Last quarter she raised more money than any other candidate, including Cravaack. Clark is competent and has a good political resume. On the other hand her greatest weakness, which her opponents will exploit at every opportunity, is her residency situation. Until 2010 she represented an area that is not currently in MN-8 and purchased a condo in Duluth only last year. Her campaign materials include DFL boilerplate issues and topical references to national controversies. But little in her materials suggests a personal connection to this unique area represented for more than 60 years by the children of first generation Iron Range immigrants.
Attacks on Clark have ranged from mild to wild, and while she seems to bristle at the notion that she's not from the district she hasn't done much to counter the criticism. Like other candidates she's earned some notable local endorsements, which help some. Should she win the DFL nomination, which could happen particularly in a four-way primary, she'll face a difficult line of attacks on this front. This would certainly distract from or diffuse a similar line of "residency" attacks Democrats have been preparing for Cravaack after his family moved to New Hampshire. Every indication seems to be that Clark's strategy will be to flood the field with a traditional "nationalized" campaign and heavy outside spending. Cravaack may well end up using a similar strategy.
Daniel Fanning, the Iraq war vet, DFL organizer and former staffer for Sen. Al Franken, was the latest entrant into the DFL field and remains the hardest to figure. He's working hard and his role with Franken's 8th CD office gave him a lot of direct experience with specific MN-8 issues. He seems to have a small but dedicated group of supporters in DFL circles, especially among progressives. If Anderson has come out the most in favor mining projects, Fanning has voiced the most concern.
Fanning, from Duluth, seems to be on the outside of the fray looking for an opportunity to break in. He and Nolan are probably splitting the progressive, activist-centered coalition the two would like to have to themselves. Fanning still needs a break to overcome Nolan and compete with the better funded Clark and Anderson. It's possible that Fanning's compelling personal story would win some votes in a primary, if he has the chance to get his message out.
Rick Nolan is the former U.S. Congressman from Crosby who left politics in disguist back in 1980 and spent the years since running businesses. He's a progressive who remains the only candidate planning to abide by the party endorsement, and as a result probably a strong contender to win that endorsement. Nolan was elected to Congress in 1974, the same year as former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, the DFL scion who held this seat by commanding margins until his 2010 loss to Cravaack. So criticisms of Nolan tend to focus on his age and the amount of time since his last elected office. To his credit, Nolan has been skillful in deflecting these concerns.
Nolan represented a different district back in the 1970s, but hasn't moved. Rather the 8th District grew in geographical size and eventually absorbed Nolan's home near the Cuyuna Iron Range in the Brainerd Lakes area. Nolan competes with Fanning for the progressive votes and Anderson for the Range votes. It'd seem his toughest area would be in Duluth.
I could not, nor could anyone else, offer anything close to an accurate guess on who's going to win at this point. The precinct caucuses in February will give us more quantifiable estimates of candidate support, so I'll wait until then. It would not surprise me to see the field winnowed at that point, or after the new district lines are released Feb. 21.
In coming weeks I'll be scheduling interviews with Cravaack and the DFL candidates, proper sit-downs with objective questioning. I'll be mixing this in with my radio show, day job and family life, so wish me well. Thanks for reading.
Saturday, December 24, 2011 By Aaron Brown
By Aaron J. Brown
Merry Christmas to all those celebrating! So many American Christmas traditions date back to the 1800s, an era quite different from our live-streaming times. I hope you’ll enjoy this classic holiday story retold in a fictional prose poem.
Twas an electronic ding on my smart phone one eve,
Like, the night before Christmas I do believe,
This dong was in earnest and bonging its stuff
It woke me to say someone was on my roof.
A security feature I installed with my apps,
Just like Facebook, Foursquare and Google Maps.
And, hold it.
We could do this, but it would cut into what happened that night. So I’m in the house and I get the buzz that there’s someone up on the roof. Now, that’s happened before. The neighbor, G-Bo, is on pills and this happens from time to time, usually don’t even have to call the cops unless his girlfriend is in the yard yelling at him. That never works. I don’t know why she does that. I don’t know why she stays.
But this was freaking Christmas Eve, nothing going on. I even turned off my white noise machine. Kids got their stockings hanging off the TV stand. Santa was supposed to come any minute but, man, we had a bad year and I had my doubts.
The kids were zonked in their room. My lady was there, sleeping in her headgear. She was out, man. I was pretty beat, too, but I had my phone volume set to high so my alarm would work. And, WHOOP WHOOP, there’s a dude on my roof. I ran over and opened up the window, which is lame because you’ve gotta open up this wood thing like from a Colin Firth movie or something – my lady loves that friggin’ guy. Anyway, old house, man.
Well, I’m looking up there for G-Bo on the pills but it’s a friggin’ sleigh and, yeah, you guessed it, eight reindeer. I seen deer before but these are way different. They got hair on their antlers and they’re big, like Jet-Skis with feet.
Now I’m used to mall Santas or the guys they bring in to the hardware stores, the Santas who just figure they’ve got to sit and smile for the pictures. The picture’s all the mom wants and the kids are scared because, come on, even the two-year-olds know this guy works at this store in the summer. They’ve seen him. White beard ain’t gonna cover it.
But this Santa up there with the reindeer is fast. The only way I can put this is that it’s like watching old zombie movies where the zombies are slow versus watching the new zombie movies where the zombies are running at you and climbing up walls and stuff. This guy is new-zombie fast and he’s wearing this red vest. I swear it looked like velvet. The pants were definitely velvet. Puffy white shirt underneath and this big furry Russian hat. He walks every step like he just scored a touchdown.
Dude’s like four and half feet tall, big hands, big belly, but just cut in the shoulders like the guys at the loading dock. He’s yelling some stuff at the reindeer, pretty sure it’s in Chinese but he mixed in some other languages too. He says, like, “Chong fow, Donder.” And Donder was like talking back in Russian or something. “Bleisnevidev.” I wasn't expecting any of this but there’s no way this dude wasn’t Santa Claus.
Then like in oh-point-eight he’s all BOOM down the chimney like mad, which is amazing because we have natural gas. I’m watching from behind the flat screen. He’s got this sack and then all of a sudden these two other business casual kind of people, a dude and some lady, are like right there, like an entourage. They’re feeding Santa this info off of these iPads and he’s popping stuff out of the sack, just laughing. Happy dude, this one.
I was gonna play it cool but I just had to laugh when he put a box of Legos in my boy’s stocking with this fade-away shot. He looked over, pointed at me, did two fist-pounds on his chest and winked. Awesome.
And so I realize that this guy knows he’s Santa. He’s seen all the movies, heard all the songs. He knows that everyone’s arguing about the meaning of Christmas, whether he’s real or not. People are spending money and arguing but Santa’s just out there doggin’ it anyway. Giving, laughing, moving on. Non-stop. He doesn’t have to. He just does.
BOOM, he’s up the chimney and peeling hoof. And know what he said on his way out? Not Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas, either. He says “Happy Christmas,” but in a warm, friendly way that doesn’t presume that people gotta agree to be decent.
There’s a message there. Think I’ll get one of those red velvet vests with the gift card Santa gave me.
Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He is the author of the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on 91.7 KAXE.
Friday, December 23, 2011 By Aaron Brown
My contribution is a retelling of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" in modern vernacular. Lots of fun; I'll be sharing it here this weekend as my Sunday column if you prefer full text to radio theatrics. "Between You and Me" airs 10 a.m. to noon Saturday on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota or streaming live and archived at www.kaxe.org.
I can't think of a better way to celebrate the special music of Christmas than what happened on the KAXE Morning Show today. Every Friday hosts Heidi Holtan and John Bauer do a casual interview of a random member of KAXE. This particular morning they interviewed Iris Jensen, among the more adorable and well-spoken 5-year-olds in the history of the universe. The 14-minute interview accomplishes many things: It gives a glimpse into some unique aspects of northern Minnesota culture, introduces you to the lovely Iris, and causes the hosts to weep like children upon Iris's closing rendition of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."
Thursday, December 22, 2011 By Aaron Brown
It’s impossible to create a new future by repeating history over and over again. During this season of both tradition and hope, we need to truly discover ourselves apart from a story that holds us in bondage. We need to discover how we can make a land that is full of holes and lost dreams whole again. This season, we need to rediscover Minnesota, to find our true roots and a new vision to carry forth, in the name of our ancestors.Read her complete work for an interesting perspective on the history and people of this often misunderstood little corner of the world.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Wednesday, December 21, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Five hours of testimony and deliberation produced the following resolution:
“Be it resolved that the St. Louis County Board declares its support for the existing open, transparent and comprehensive environmental review and permitting process in place for various non-ferrous mining initiatives currently planned for development in St. Louis County, Minnesota, and supports the success of these projects, contingent upon the approval of all federal and state environmental permits necessary for these projects to move forward.”
So, in addition to the St. Louis County board having no jurisdiction over this portion of the debate, they pass a resolution that endorses the processes already underway, mandated by existing law.
This time several area chambers of commerce and the mining companies bussed in more people to counter mining opponents who
I had to roll my eyes a bit at the resolution's passive wording, but I will say that this resolution seems to me a fair reflection of what most people who live on the Iron Range believe about the issue. In essence, "That sounds great, as long as you don't screw up the Boundary Waters."
Now, the question is can we ever really know about the environmental impact before the fact? Secondly, is there any concession that could be made by mining companies that project opponents would accept?
I think this leads us to a more worthwhile endeavor. Let's address the following:
Mining opponents: Demonstrate real economic opportunity outside mining, including the prospect of actual jobs within five years. Reconcile your opposition with the current demand for minerals used in modern construction and electronics. Establish measurable parameters within which your grievances could be addressed.
Mining supporters: Demonstrate your commitment to environmental safeguards by negotiating a permanent, binding fund to mitigate unforeseen environmental problems. If all goes as promised you'll never need to spend it. Be clear with local communities about how much hiring you'll do and where the hires will come from. Commit to financial support of local communities and schools. Demonstrate your financing and your ability to keep these mines open beyond the inevitable temporary downturns in the commodities markets.
Some of these "tasks" are underway; some are discussed, but not delivered; some are damn near (but not!) impossible. Both sides are reluctant to complete these lists because both involve very difficult and/or unprofitable and/or innovative solutions. But if you want to mine new minerals responsibly in northern Minnesota (or not) we've got to have an economy that supports the thousands of people who don't have time for meetings like the one yesterday, and especially their kids.
I would resolve that both sides fail to win the argument as it now stands.
UPDATE: After an online discussion I've revised one word in the original post. Instead of saying that mining opponents "stacked" the county board meeting in Duluth a couple weeks ago I now say they "dominanted" it. At that meeting more mining opponents spoke than supporters. At this meeting in Morse mining supporters did provide bussing to supporters throughout the region to attend and testify in favor of the mining resolution. "Stacked" is a loaded word and I've thuse decided to remove it from the post and let people make their own assessment of the situation.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Why the hell not? Charlie Chaplin movies promised us a future with machines of uncertain purpose. Let us collect on our destiny. The study was funded indirectly by Great River Energy and Minnesota Power, so we presume capital might be found for such endeavors.
The only downside is that this system requires everyone to agree in perpetuity about the existence and value of "money."
In closing, jobs.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 By Aaron Brown
James H. Healy, of this city, and Charles Winter, of Columbus, Kansas, were blown to pieces Thursday morning at 10-17 o'clock, when the glazing mill of the DuPont Powder company's new plant at Wilpin, six miles east of here, exploded. The cause is not now, and will never be known. (Mesabi Ore, Jan. 13, 1912, emphasis mine)
I enjoy this wordplay. Indeed, the cause could have been known. But it was not then known and, indeed, never was. Truly a golden age for industrial apologists.
On Feb. 7, 1918 the Hibbing Tribune reported another explosion at the Dupont facility. Oscar Leti and Palle Jarvinen lost their lives in a blast felt as far away as Chisholm, blowing the windows out of a hotel on Pine Street in old north Hibbing. Another example of the writing style of the times:
The two men were at work in the press-mill when the black powder stored there, "let go." The two victims were blown into atoms. A flash of flame in the sky followed by an explosion was a signal to the other employes that an accident had occurred. Adjoining powder buildings, all heavily protected, were not damaged.Blown to Atoms. And again the company's sure-footed safety practices prevented a worse occurrence.
Despite the two big explosions, the real reason Dupont pulled out of the Wilpen/Carey Lake location was the phasing out of black powder in mining practices. Left behind were the footings for many of the company buildings and, of course, the hulking remains of the old power house. When the entirety of Carey Lake was turned into a city park the ruins became a part of the landscape.
These Dupont ruins outlasted the Monkeys and Vanilla Ice and I don't see any reason they shouldn't outlast Justin Bieber. I don't know the true depth of the threat the building might pose or the seriousness of the call to demolish it, but I would fight to keep the ruin there in at least some form and here's why.
Years since the explosions, many myths built up around the ruins. Kids hung out there, smoked, drank and necked. I took a date out there in high school once (no necking, only historical discussion). Lots of graffiti. I was out there most recently with some friends geocaching, the game where you track down "caches" of loot on your GPS. Nevertheless, the unspoken truth of the ages endured: this place was the site of a mighty, deadly and forever world-changing industrial upheaval.
The Range has a reputation as an old place, a place with an almost pathological fixation on its history. But the modern history of the place only goes back 120 years or so. Before that you're talking about thousands of years of Native American history and before that pure geology.
I have often argued that we need economic diversification and a new fixation on the future around here. But a place like this will never escape its past, either. This Dupont ruins tell a story of our past, offer a warning about the risks our ancestors took, and - framed by overburden piles in the distance - remind us of the mighty progress and fierce impermanence of our human existence in this unique place.
At minimum, the facade of the building should be preserved for future generations to wonder about the past while dreaming for the future, two activities that are deeply related.
As always, fine work by Jack Lynch in bringing this to our attention.
Monday, December 19, 2011 By Aaron Brown
The tiny northern Minnesota border town of Ranier is now the nation's busiest rail port, according to the mayor of the adjacent "big" city of International Falls.
Situated along the Rainy River across from a part of Ontario that even Canadians don't talk about much, Rainer has long been a busy rail location. While it appears to be in the middle of nowhere it is in actuality in the middle of the North American continent, and in a globalized economy that makes it a convenient handler of railed goods.
A friend of the blog sent me this item after I lamented the changes and reductions in air service to northern Minnesota. If the planes are struggling the trains are running strong, even if those beautiful Great Northern mountain goats have been painted BNSF green and the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range iron-red and unrelated-yellow has fallen to the block-lettered CN of Canadian National.
Trains are more than just a big employer in this region. For 120 years, the railroads have been central to the economic health of the quarter-million people who have lived in the Arrowhead region at any given point. The start of the Range is marked not in the discovery of ore, but in the ability to get vast amounts of ore to Duluth. That's why the robber barons like Hill, Rockefeller and Carnegie are regarded with wary appreciation here even today. They built the rails.
hot new radio show after a railroad.
PHOTOS: Top, a Canadian National train bearing international freight passes south of Eveleth, Minnesota, in 2010, probably on its way from Ranier. Middle, a DM&IR train travels next to St. Louis Co. Highway 7 in 1998.
Sunday, December 18, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Making ice, walking on water
By Aaron J. Brown
Water turns dark, swirls thick, moves slow before hardening into ice.
In the novel "Eagle in the Snow" by Wallace Breem we meet a hardened Roman general trying to stave off a sprawling winter army along the Rhine River. Maximus has but one legion, about 6,000 troops against half a million hungry tribesmen from what is now Germany, all clamoring for needed farmland and to lash back at their oppressors.
If the Germans cross the Rhine they have a clear path to a crumbling, disorganized Rome. It is only because the invaders can't cross the river, can't counter the Roman boats, that they don't pour over the tiny legion which disguises its size to discourage attack.
But Maximus knows that when the river freezes, and it will, he is doomed. So he waits out the ice, hoping for reinforcements that never come. In the end the Rhine freezes solid; the barbarians obliterate the legion and storm their way to Rome, signaling the fall of an empire.
All this really puts in perspective the sight of brave December ice fishermen here in northern Minnesota. They too waited for cold nights, congealing water, thickening ice. They too braved the early ice, stepping cautiously at first but becoming emboldened by the frigid overnight temperatures. And, at once, they stormed the ice.
I saw such an angler on my way to work a week ago, an ice house and ATV out in the middle of the O'Brien Reservoir near Nashwauk. I said to myself, "Well, if this guy makes it we should have good ice all the way through April."
On my way home I looked to see if the gear was still out there. All that remained was a roughed up patch of ice and a series of holes. So, maybe he fell through or else the fishing was no good. Either way, that ice ought to be OK by now.
I grew up near water. Well, OK, it was a swamp, specifically the Sax-Zim peat bog. You only saw a small percentage of the water that actually bubbled under the grass there. The most obvious sign that the winter had come was the hardening of the swamp, mouse prints where mice used to get snatched by snakes. In winter they got snatched by owls.
The winters I remember in the swamp were marked by silence. The water froze like a vice tightening.
But I live near a lake now: a childhood dream, navigable water. These last two winters we've waited until late in the season to imbibe in our tradition of walking across the frozen surface of the lake over to the uninhabited forest on the other side, a product of boredom. Not so this year.
Without snow the ice froze smooth, a sort of natural skating rink you hear comes every decade, give or take.
So the boys and I been on the water most weekends, sledding down (inadvisably) through a half-mud, half-slush combination onto a marble lake. This is not silent, swamp ice. This glacial lake sloshes, cracks, whoomps and squeals. The water hisses in the night. The sun turns the ice to fire, a sunrise like a nuclear blast and sunset like the mushroom cloud retreating back into the earth.
This ice, as in ancient times, reminds us that we of the north can walk on water without the aid of a miracle. Then again, maybe it is a miracle.
Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on 91.7 KAXE.
Friday, December 16, 2011 By Aaron Brown
The call-in and music program will be detailing the topic of ice with stories, songs and more. I'll skate on for my usual commentary, which invokes ice fishing and the Fall of the Roman Empire. Oh boy, are you in for a icy treat!
I can neither confirm nor deny that "Ice, Ice, Baby" will be a part of this show. I have argued for its inclusion at the highest levels.
You can hear "Between You and Me" from 10 a.m. to noon on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota or streaming live and archived at www.kaxe.org.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Even though we knew the tools and techniques that helped make entrepreneurs successful, there was another intangible (but very real) factor keeping local economies from improving. For the lack of a better word, I initially called it the "culture" of a community. By this, I meant the way that entrepreneurial activity and risk and innovation and even diversity and newness are viewed by local people....
In communities that lived with these twin pressures of commodity pricing and natural disasters, evolutionary selection favored people who did not take risks. Those who took risks failed or moved or died in poverty because of the unrelenting and unforgiving nature of commodity businesses. Thus the very characteristic that ensured their survival in a harsh economic environment was the same characteristic that prevented them from fostering entrepreneurial activity....
We by no means have solved the economic development riddle. We cannot patent it, put it in a jar and take it to any community and guarantee results. But we do think we are closing in on the answer. We think it involves slow, painstaking community development with an eye on the innovators....
After over a decade of very intensive experimentation, investigation and observation, we have come to a sobering conclusion: economies are massive biological organisms and not very amenable to control by anyone. Neither economic gardeners, nor economic recruiters nor politicians nor anyone else is running them. At best, we are adapting to everyone else's adaptations.
That's why saying "Jobs, jobs, jobs!" is a little like going on a hunting expedition chanting "Food, food, food!" You can say it if it makes you feel better, but it won't get you the food. Read the whole thing for some of the ideas inherent to the "economic gardener" model.
(h/t Jennifer Armstrong)
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 By Aaron Brown
The "Between You and Me" topic on 91.7 KAXE this Saturday 10-noon is "Ice." I'll be on with a few thoughts about this unusual ice. It might seem like a small thing to some of you but this is becoming a big deal among the people who live here -- if only because the same conditions that create this ice also freeze septic systems.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 By Aaron Brown
This is what I was talking about in my column last Sunday.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Spanish is one of the most interesting people I've met covering and practicing politics on the Iron Range, and that's saying something. A WWII vet, Spanish ran for office in at least six different decades, served four non-consecutive terms in the House, and was the most recent Range lawmaker elected straight out of the mines.
His final and longest stretch in the legislature ended with a loss to Rep. Lona Minne (DFL-Hibbing), the first Iron Range woman elected to the legislature, in the 1978 DFL primary. Spanish continued to run for office intermittently for the rest of his life, losing at one time or another to all successive House 5B representatives.
He garnered additional headlines in the spring when he pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges related to numerous cats on his property in Hibbing. A lifelong bachelor, his home was in disarray. It was around this time he entered the nursing home. I don't mention this to make light or diminish his service, but rather as a sort of tragic detail in the profile of a very complicated Iron Range figure.
Spanish was a sort of socially awkward savant who could memorize facts and figures on sight and, indeed, cited them for the rest of his life. Forever known for his ill-fated bill to extend hunting rights to the blind, which cost him his seat, he never entirely understood why he couldn't get back in the legislature.
Nevertheless, there was a sort of dogged earnestness to him that was remarkable. There is no modern parallel to him currently serving in the legislature and I doubt there ever will be again. He was a kind-hearted man who never stopped trying.
UPDATE: John Lundy at the Duluth News Tribune has an obituary in the Dec. 14 edition that shares more about Spanish.
Monday, December 12, 2011 By Aaron Brown
The morning flights roughly coincide with my son's very early morning and late afternoon bus ride. The plane passes over our house some 25 miles from the airport as it enters its descent from Thief River Falls.
The prop planes always reminded me of Casablanca. You'd look up and see the silver belly. You'd imagine the single row of seats on the left side of the plane, the chopping of air. You could imagine the pilot or passengers looking down to see the yellow bus pick up my son on our dirt road in the country.
Now these jets seem to fly higher. If you see them they are moving faster. The sound is just a big, loud hum.
Again, it is progress. Delta's commitment to Iron Range air service is encouraging. But in these modern times we must work harder and harder to find things to inspire imagination. It is no easy task, and certainly an important one.
Sunday, December 11, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Reasons be mindful about mining’s future
By Aaron J. Brown
All fate is geology. The rocks tell us who we are and what we will become. Here in northern Minnesota we are the sons and daughters of iron mining. We came here for the rocks and when our hands clawed the rock we changed ourselves. Sure, today we might wait tables, sell smart phones or blog, but our people are here for the rocks. If we flee, we flee from the rocks. Geology knows how this turns out, even if we don't.
That hasn't prevented a bloated decade of political, economic and environmental debate over mining in this region, a bleating that will not end until the rocks render their opinion, perhaps centuries from now. The issue, of course, has expanded beyond iron mining into other minerals: copper, nickel, the kinds of minerals that most people forgot shortly after a high school science quiz but that appear in most everyday electronic devices.
And rightly centered in this debate is the question over whether environmentally-riskier methods to extract nonferrous minerals are worth the economic benefit actually received from mining. It's a good debate. I have friends on both sides. Civilization demands minerals like this. We have the ability to acquire them. Pursuing them changes our landscape, our workforce and diminishes our desire and ability to pursue other worthy goals. Don’t ask me, ask the rocks. Look at history.
You can look at some of the challenges facing Iron Range communities and conclude that the booms and busts of our iron mining history have taken their toll. You could also argue that the “mineral curse” wouldn’t be a factor if there was no mining, because there would be no towns. Nevertheless, towns that are doing well don’t cut funding for children’s programs at the library or curriculum in the schools – and that’s an ever-loving fact.
Up in Ely, the school board recently passed a resolution supporting nonferrous mining in the area, 4-2. The board debate wasn’t over mining; it was over whether the school board had any place making such resolutions. Jobs save schools, came the call. The vote was done.
Look to Iron County, Wisconsin, for hazy memories of a time when fathers and grandfathers worked in the mines many decades ago. Now citizens write letters to the paper, both Republicans and Democrats, calling for support of mining. One hopes that a small new taconite plant on the Gogebic Range provides them the comfort they seek. Will it be their children who work there? What of their currently unemployed?
A CBS news report recently gained attention for its full-throated declaration that mining jobs were on the rise in the Midwest. And they are, at rates that fail to make up for the manufacturing jobs lost in the same period.
I do not mean to sound too bearish, perhaps it is the cold. On the bright side taconite production on the Mesabi is up again this year. Shipments out of Duluth are at their highest since 2000, according to the Duluth News Tribune. Industry experts are confident that the production levels will remain steady for several years on account of demand for steel.
This is good news, as our geological condition … excuse me – our cultural condition (they are so similar!) requires northern Minnesota mining to lead the economic way. We must endure this way until the very end, unless we diversify the economy.
On the horizon we see taconite demand has been steady, but taconite prices have fluctuated greatly, according to the Duluth story.
A simple online stroll will show you that steel industries around the world are not universally merry. Demand in China continues to pace world steel consumption, but in Australia the steel industry struggles today. Australia is much closer to China than the U.S. and features a workforce very much like ours. Why aren’t they prospering?
Indeed, some reports show that Australian steel woes might be attached to the strong Australian dollar, causing the trade imbalance to favor imports over exports. In the U.S. our dollar is at an historic weak point. What happens when our dollar recovers? After all, that’s what needs to happen for the rest of our economy to return to glory.
Perhaps the facade of Iron Range economic stability will go on as we all hope, led by iron mining and followed by nonferrous. I say these are great jobs, specialized jobs, important jobs that exist in small numbers relative to what we need for recovery. Efforts to support mining must include sincere financial and political exertion to diversify the economy and educate our future workforce for innovation.
Anything less is but a blink in geological time, a flash in the pan. The rocks know how this turns out. They have all the time in the world. We don’t.
Aaron J. Brown is a writer from the Iron Range and instructor of communication at Hibbing Community College. He is the author of the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on 91.7 KAXE.
Saturday, December 10, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, professor of Peace and Justice Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, is coming to Grand Rapids for a talk regarding MN ASAP: Minnesota Arms Spending Alternative Project. A resolution process to build political support to shift federal spending priorities of war to meeting essential needs for Minnesotans.JNP, as he is known colloquially, continues to hold a great deal of attention among liberals in my neighborhood. I've not seen him speak but I'll share the news for those who are interested.
6:30 MONDAY at Davies Hall at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids.
Update: Ugh, I forgot to mention the date. It's today, Dec. 12.
Friday, December 09, 2011 By Aaron Brown
The mission of the program is to connect students on and off the Iron Range with the sort of specialized engineering jobs that will soon be opening as industrial technology becomes more sophisticated and efficient, and when many current engineers retire. The hope is to get more creative minds working on the Range, not only to fill jobs in the mines and other heavy industrial fields, but to bring ideas as well.
Friday, December 09, 2011 By Aaron Brown
My regular contribution explores notions about educational inspiration I had before I became a teacher myself, and how my perspective has evolved since. I do break the teacher's code and discuss the airtight, hygienic pod where all teachers sleep at night, just after finishing the previous day's grading. (Shhh!)
Tune in to Between You and Me 10 a.m. to noon on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota or streaming live and archived all over the world at www.kaxe.org.
Thursday, December 08, 2011 By Aaron Brown
I would theorize that my generation's lack of connection to this time is why so many of us become frustrated with the area and fail to enter the local leadership structure. Efforts to move past the reconstruction of the 1970s are met with resistance by a majority of Iron Range residents.
There probably isn't a better metaphor for the period's significance than the 1970s dominance of Iron Range high school hockey over the whole state. For a time, the metro schools lived in fear of the boys from the Range and college hockey scouts swarmed the region. To date, schools use hockey as a rally call, a program by which we can finally complete that time machine. And, every year, Range schools get throttled by the big metro programs. There are still many great local athletes -- just not enough of them.
Another wonderful post from Jayson Hron at Historically Inclined details the scene in the 1970s when the NCAA opened up freshman eligibility, putting a premium on the scads of Range hockey talents then graduating. The story even sprawls up into the labyrinth of back roads north of Nashwauk near where I now live. More great writing from Hron, who also recently shared a fine piece about a Soviet hockey team's visit to Hibbing in the 1950s.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011 By Aaron Brown
As more businesses populate the directory this could be a cool service. As it stands now it puts you just a few clicks away from potica on your doorstep.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Anyway, you'll note that Minnesota is a Pac-Man eating Wisconsin. I am from the part of Pac-Man that is pointing at Michigan as if to say, "You're next!"
Tuesday, December 06, 2011 By Aaron Brown
OR IS IT?
The man from the future was attempting to disrupt deliveries of Mountain Dew to the facility, in hopes that a chain reaction of events would cause the collider to cease function. The story is pretty interesting and leads one to the conclusion that this is just a troubled young man.
OR IS IT?
The man was arrested, admitted to a mental hospital and then POOF, he DISAPPEARS one night. No one knows where he is. A friend sent this item to me and asked if the guy has showed up at the advanced physics laboratory located deep in the Soudan Underground Mine here on the Iron Range. I happen to think we should keep our eyes open.
Monday, December 05, 2011 By Aaron Brown
Monday, December 05, 2011 By Aaron Brown
"Don't ever get involved in politics if you require winning an election to pay your mortgage or if your kids are young -- you don't want money to shape your views, and you don't want your kids' heads turned by the attention politicians sometimes receive."
Romney shared this advice from his father, one-time Michigan Gov. and GOP presidential hopeful George Romney, in Parade magazine. I found the quote on Political Wire.
The flash criticism might be "easy for the rich guy to say." But I think there is a more important point. Politics, even if you do it for a long time, is not a "job." It is a means by which things get done in a society.
My assessment of any politician is always partially influenced by the question "What would they be doing if they weren't seeking or holding office?"If the answer is running a business, teaching school, writing screenplays, fine. Even "subsistence living in the woods" is OK by me. The most dangerous answer is "I have no idea," which is only slightly worse than "consultant or lobbyist," not because those vocations are inherently evil, but because mixed with elected office usually become so.
Running for office these days is like Spock going into the irradiated engine room in "Wrath of Khan." He knows that the radiation will probably kill him. He also knows he has a short time to do something very important. And it does kill him, but he saves others in the process.
Politics changes people, even good people. It certainly changes and sometimes destroys families. When people are motivated, even in a small way, by self-preservation and maintaining the status quo in the face of change, we have bad politics. You can apply this however you like to whomever you like. No party or level of government is beyond reproach.
Sunday, December 04, 2011 By Aaron Brown
By Aaron J. Brown
Early Thanksgiving 2011 Jeno Paulucci passed away just four days after the loss of his wife Lois.
At 93 the Iron Range and Duluth business icon’s impact on the modern food business generally and northern Minnesota specifically were already secure in the history books. Paulucci founded several successful businesses and a few failed ones. He lost some money, but made a whole lot more. He was a forceful personality in the region, his passionate advocacy and caustic stubbornness earning friends and foes in more or less equal amounts.
Paulucci would later describe himself as just "a peddler from the Iron Range." Growing up on the Range in the ‘80s and ‘90s, my earliest memories of him were simply that he was always on the news – his name like a city or body of water.
Our first apartment was on Third Avenue in Hibbing, the town that moved for mining in the '20s and so well personifies the people and history of the Iron Range region. Across the street from our place was a tiny house by today's standards. This little house would not have stuck out in my memory if someone hadn't later told me it was the site of one of Paulucci's first businesses, his family's grocery store.
At age 12, with a father unable to work after a mining accident, Paulucci hustled produce and product for the largely immigrant population of a booming company town that was becoming more independent. From those years forward Paulucci would make selling food and taking risks his life’s work, becoming a multi-millionaire by the 1960s. Paulucci built, sold and rebuilt companies like tinker toys, pausing along the way to help people out or render his political opinion, sometimes in the form of a blistering full page newspaper advertisement.
And by now it still seems odd to me that a man with so much influence, with such strong allies and enemies, could pass with so little notice.
There tend to be two kinds of native attitudes about the Iron Range in this modern era. Some hold deep pride in their Range upbringing, nostalgic for the endurance of economic ups and downs. Others burn with resentment over the lack of change and adaptability of the place, an idea that often manifests politically.
In both cases, growing up on the Range follows you around, in some ways defines the rest of your life even if you endeavor to forget it. Paulucci somehow found himself in both groups, ever proud but never satisfied with the Range, Duluth or, it sometimes seemed, anything.
Unlike another famous, influential former Hibbing resident, Paulucci always lived at least part-time in Minnesota. Bob Dylan left Hibbing, famously set out for the coast and achieved world fame, only to admit in recent years that the tumult he felt here on the Range would later define him. I mention Dylan only because when you mention his fame and accomplishments to some locals, one of the most common retorts is, well yeah, what about Jeno Paulucci?
Paulucci held tight to a characteristic we could use more of these days: drive. While Jeno could play humble, he was very sharp and opportunistic. He took flak for times he took a stab at economic development in Duluth or the Range, but unlike the Range or Duluth (at times) he moved on and tried new things, always and again.
I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Paulucci. My only contact was a mildly consternated letter from him over an editorial I wrote years ago – not even the full treatment. But with his passing I do believe we can add meaning to his legacy, indeed to the legacy of generations of immigrants who climbed the social ladder made possible in places like this. We can reestablish our drive toward something better for our kids.
The work wasn’t finished in Paulucci’s lifetime, nor will we be able to finish it ourselves. But that’s no reason to stop trying. Trying is the whole point.
Aaron J. Brown is a writer from northern Minnesota's Iron Range who teaches at Hibbing Community College. He is author of the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on 91.7 KAXE.
Friday, December 02, 2011 By Aaron Brown
"No, dry November, that's for sure."
"Not good for the septics."
"Making ice, though."
"Oh, ya, real good. Five inches already. Heard the lake a whumpin' yesterday."
"Good for skatin.' Ever skate on a lake?"
"Oh, ya, but it's been years."
"Bad for the septics, though. Gotta keep the dog off my drain field."