Veterans Day chance to examine records & information re Vets

This note is not quite, but almost, too late. Still, I want to salute staff of the Gale Family Library at the Minnesota Historical Society for a great idea. By way of celebrating Veterans Day 2015 the Library has announced its first-ever “sale” on Research Services (as if one could ever put a price on research services!)

The idea is that the Library will reduce by 15% the regular price on all military-related Research Service orders placed through Veterans Day. This includes WWI searches of:

  • World War I Bonus and Disallowed Bonus Records
  • World War I Gold Star Roll Records
  • World War I Service Questionnaires
  • Military Records (other than WWI)
  • Veterans’ Grave Registration records.

Orders must be placed through the MHS online system using discount code MILITARY 15.  MHHS members will receive their regular 10% discount in addition to the short-term Veterans’ Day savings.  Staff notes that turnaround may be as long as 30 business days, though they do their best to respond to requests for information as soon as possible.  Online payment by credit card is the best plan, though checks may be payable to the MN Historical society.

It’s this creative approach to expanding access to essential public records that caught my eye. The possibilities not just for this library but for countless information/research treasure troves is intriguing. Though the information itself is free and open to the public, the process of probing the possibilities is often overwhelming for family members and history buffs for whom the information is critical.

Thanks, Gale Family Library for celebrating Veterans’ Day by expanding access to your resources and unique expertise.


All Hallow’s Eve 2015 – Global perspectives on a common theme

It may be that my mini-obsession with Halloween speaks to a need to explore the real roots of what has become a bit of a farce, coupled with franchisee costumes and the race to fill the biggest pillowcase with sugary loot. I think I miss the mystery, maybe even the tricks (like the cow deposited on the second floor of the high school.) In any event, I always repeat a 2011 blog that explores my fascination with the lore.

Two years later I plumbed the depths again:

This year I thought to take a more global perspective to explore the many of faces of All Hallows Eve in other cultures: One modern story I had not realized is that some Irish-Americans continue to preserve the custom of hiding a coin in a fruitcake. The one who receives the piece with the coin is rewarded with good luck for the rest of the year.

Today the Irish, originators of the custom, still decorate their houses with turnips, candles and jack-o-lanterns, a temptation of hooligans who hold true to the bonfire tradition.

Because my grandson is a first grader in Yinghua Academy, the nearby Chinese immersion school, I checked to learn about Chinese customs.   I learned that in Hong Kong the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts was a feast on which the people gave gifts to the evil spirits so that they would be safe and comforted in their travels. The Hungry Ghost Festival was celebrated during the seventh month of the Chinese year. (

The story of Japan’s efforts to adopt Halloween customs is an unfortunate tale. Modern Japanese will continue to honor their forebears in less destructive ways. (

In Germany people hide their knives so the evil spirits are not armed for violence.

My google search led me to a range of references, several of them that described a mix of customs. Lacking the knowledge to question the various authorities, I settled on this one project called “Pumpkin Patches and More” which seems a good overview of today’s Halloween options. It’s a good starting point to a broad range of options representing a mix of ethnic mores:

These are just some of the myriad ways that people honor our ancestors, mixed with a bit of scaring away the evil spirits with a flourish of spookiness. I still hold to my niece’s theory that “the Irish thought it up,” though I do love to add to the luster of Halloween by exploring others’ traditions.

Bottom line: The roots of All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls Day are planted deep in the human psyche. The customs reflect but do not shape what must be an innately human response to the change of seasons.

Fun to ponder as I examine bags of wrapped candy to assure the absence of peanuts and forbidden flavor enhancers – not an easy task for one untrained in contemporary food chemistry.



World Food Day – Global Challenge, Local Perspective

The Right to Food is a basic human right, affirmed by countless civic and faith organizations. The challenge is to affirm that right for the millions of our fellow humans who are unable to exercise their right. Today, October 16, is World Food Day, an unrecognized occasion to explore the reality and the possibilities.

In fact, the reality is that the world produces enough food to feed every person on the planet.

The theme for World Food Day 2015 is “Social protection and agriculture”, a call to underscore the role that social protection plays in reducing chronic food insecurity and poverty by ensuring direct access to food or the means to buy food. Social protection is a viable theme to stimulating agriculture production and local economic activity.

On the one hand, this highlights the essential role of farmers. As any thoughtful person knows, farmers are the key players in the challenge to fight hunger. Farmers are at the center of meeting the challenge to craft concrete remedies that address issues affecting food security and nutrition.

Still, the challenge is to all of us to take a systemic approach to addressing this complex issue. Though absolutely necessary, food shelves are a stop-gap measure, created by good people and caring organizations to deal with the immediate. Though essential, they are pro tem solutions to a greater challenge that must engage a broader network of concern.

We need to look to the complexity of today’s agriculture infrastructure. We need to see where ag funds are going, what research is initiated, who is calling the shots related to research, support for overall development of the agriculture sector. The possibilities for the financial growth of the ag industry must be matched with the reality of hungry people.

At the same time, at the local level, we need to link essential interim life services with comprehensive approaches to meeting human needs. Families in need of food need a mix of support, not always integrated at the delivery level.

Those who are passionate about the immediate needs of families must be more attuned to and concerned with the political factors that ultimately influence the lives of the individuals and families about whom they care.

These are the voices that must be heard in the ongoing political debates. Candidates need to hear that there are personal ramifications of their high level decisions re. agriculture and food policy. So far I have heard none of these questions surface in the presidential debates.

With recognition of the irony, I think what we need is “grounding” in the basics of the several faces of farming/agriculture at the hyper local level. As one grounding resource I would suggest the series of recent interviews conducted by Peter Shea who talked at the kitchen table level with a mix of individuals and families in Southwest Minnesota who are backbone producers and purveyors of the world’s food. ( Herein lies many of the  answers to the global and local challenges of food security.





Voices of Northeast Minneapolis Captured and Shared on Video

Kudos to Allie Shah for a fun piece in the Strib about day tripping in Northeast Minneapolis. (

Though some of us worry that NE is becoming just too trendy we are pleased that the writer included the neighborhood’s bookish gems among the treasures. In fact, bibliophiles and their ken can actually take a virtual trip to a growing number of Northeast’s gems literary via a video project with which I am engaged. The project-sine-nomine aims to shine a light on the breadth and depth, and invisibility, of Northeast’s broadly defined “community of the book” and the diverse voices of the community.  Find the existing tapes here – more to come on a regular basis   (

The initiative is based on the long-time work of Peter Shea who for several years has produced videotaped conversations with people who have much to say; tapes of his series, enigmatically entitled Bat of Minerva, are cablecast on the Metro Cable Network and archived at the University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Studies. I wrote about Peter in an earlier post ( Together we are now producing a series of video conversations with bookish individuals who live or work in Northeast Minneapolis and who give voice to that vibrant community.

We started this project several months ago when Peter taped video interviews with Chris Fischbach, 20-year veteran and now CEO of Coffeehouse Press, noted writer Sarah Stonich, and publisher Michelle Filkins. During the time Peter also had a conversation with storyteller and librarian Jerry Blue whose untimely death shook the storyteller community as well as patrons Jerry served as librarian at Bottineau and St Anthony Village libraries. We took a break when Peter received a grant to study and travel in Austria and Germany – and I was full-time outreaching to further the cause of open government.

We have reconnected, re-focused and re-located this effort to give voice to the literary arts in Northeast. Best of all, we have made arrangements with the library at the American Craft Council, another Northeast treasure, to videotape the conversations from that elegant site. In fact, our first conversation was with our hosts who speak with experience and vision of the ACC. The ACC and the library are gems of Northeast – and the people with whom we have worked are committed to this community. The first conversation from the ACC was with ACC Education Director Perry Price and Jessica Shaykett who is the librarian at the ACC Council, a unique global resource.

Every Friday afternoon we share the joy of learning with folks who give voice to those who have deep thoughts and much to say about the literary life that lies somewhat beneath – sometimes inspired by – the breweries and pubs that are the draw of today’s Northeast.

Among those hour-long conversations are recent chats with Scott Vom Korghnett of Eat My Words bookstore, storyteller Larry Johnson, Key of See Storytellers and Veterans for Peace, who spearheaded a recent gathering of public access pioneers, local author John Jodzio, video animator/producer John Akre and Carolyn Halliday whose studio is in NE and whose beautiful fabric art is on display in the ACC Library.

Fun forthcoming tapings include conversations with local celeb “Mary at Maeve’s” the congenial proprietor who provides both a platform and a hangout for local and emerging writers and bibliophiles.   We will also be talking with Holly Day and Sherman Wick, authors of Walking Twin Cities and a helpful digital guide to walking tours of Northeast, as well as Jaime Gjerdingen of LitKnit, all of whom have Northeast and bookish connections.

As we continue to learn more and to connect with the expanding breadth and depth of the reading/writing community in artsy/trendy Northeast Minneapolis we welcome ideas. So many stories to tell, so little time;  we are inspired by viewer interest, technology and thoughts of how to build the Northeast Minneapolis community.

Right to know meets the right to ask

Within an eye’s blink of my posting the piece about International Right to Know Day I received a note from my ever-inquisitive son Stephen asking about my celebration of Ask a Stupid Question Day which is most appropriately observed on the same day. Though I doubt the two events are organizationally related, the harmonic convergence of their intersection offers countless creative and complex possibilities.

Exercising my Right to Know privileges I turned to google, an occasionally useful, if sketchy, resource. There I learned that Ask a Stupid Question Day is a holiday created by teachers in the 1980’s to encourage students to be more boldly inquisitive. The implication is that young learners thought their questions were stupid, inappropriately posed to teachers and librarians who are no doubt chomping at the bit to grapple with tough inquiries.

What’s evolved since the 1980’s are the tools – and the challenge — to understand the potential and the dark side of those tools. The challenge is to young people, to teachers and librarians, to parents, and to the public writ large to build a quiver of tools not just to find (that’s easy), but to assess, to place in context, to interpret, to weigh, to understand that information is today’s tool of power, and ultimately to put good information to work to cope with not only the financial but the societal challenges of the day.

This is a mighty challenge for all of society.   We are on the cusp of the Information Age. Now that we have begun to create the tools, what will we do with them?  The task for now is to establish the framework – the technology, the communications systems, the institutions, the tools, to remove the barriers to accessibility.  Tending to the future is in our hands; fulfillment of the possibilities remains to those who come next.

This leads me to wonder about the ways in which we are preparing forthcoming generations to grapple, not so much to increase bandwidth or how to code or to search or even to get rich,  but how to understand the human context in which they will be creators and decision-makers.

It seems to me totally appropriate that Ask a Stupid Question and International Right to Know Day converge on the calendar.

My stupid question is: How do we create a more intelligent, functional, global framework in which valid, truthful, balanced and accessible information becomes not a weapon but a right and tool for thoughtful people who are empowered by knowledge to make good choices.

Some of the answers may come from heeding, and acting on, stupid questions, and by encouraging young people whose stupid questions reflect concern with societal, global and environmental concerns that transcend today’s market.

International Right to Know Day 2015 – Rights & Responsibilities

International Right to Know Day, September 28, is globally observed as a day to recognize the ways in which nations are addressing the challenge of transparent government in an age when technology is revolutionizing the tools and politics are transforming political institutions.   In truth, new nations and emerging governments are talking the talk of openness – time will tell the tale of how they walk the walk.

As Americans whose democracy rests on the premise of the people’s right to know, we are both leaders and learners

The right to know rests on an understanding of – and attention to – the information chain – everything from what questions are raised to what and how information is gathered to how that information is packaged, distributed and turned know knowledge. It is time to re-think the chain.

One challenge is to think about who sets, pays for and promotes the information agenda. Do we as information consumers make the effort to question the financial underpinnings of studies, including studies that are theoretically government-sponsored?   We need to realize the implications when interest groups lobby for the funding that sponsors studies of the environment, of health hazards, of genetic engineering, of pharmaceuticals, of campaign finances. This involves a deep dive into the politics of K Street and the Capitol

As information consumers we need to “put a face” on our collective and individual right to know. This is the only way that the information needs of real people will get on the political agendas of the agencies and organizations that represent us in the halls of Congress and the investigative journalists and editorialists who shape the message. We need information that we trust and that pertains to the questions that real life present; just as important, we need to make that message clear, focused and woven into the fabric of public understanding and discourse (preferably in that order.)

We must also be deeply concerned about the ways in which the information gets to us. It’s not limited to understanding who owns and thus controls the media in a general sense. We have long appreciated that ownership of the media is a good investment for those who have an agenda to promote on the editorial page. The very issue of a free press is threatened now by dwindling investment in investigative journalism and fact-checking and by the growing influence if corporate interests. What’s more reliable investigative reporting has been largely replaced by social media and other ubiquitous sources of information and interpretation.

The gathering of world leaders at the UN (is RTK on the agenda?) and the visit of Pope Francis should move global information sources and coverage to the front burner.  As Americans we have a right and a need to know and understand from a global perspective the history, the stories, the politics, the people, the reality of the world around us.

Finally, Right to Know Day reminds us to think of our legacy. How are young learners today instilled with the spirit of inquiry, the passion to dig into the sources, the facts, the complexities of what is presented as “fact”.   This is perhaps the greatest challenge. Though exploration and interpretation of the facts may reveal unpleasant truths that we are disinclined to acknowledge, awareness of the facts of history, of political processes, or the media gives us an opportunity – and challenge – to remedy, put in context, and learn from bad decisions and misdeeds, even as we celebrate the contributions of our forbearers.

Right to Know Day could be subtitled Responsibility to Know Day.

Pope knows public transit – Go-To Pass to environmental imperative

Though it’s not clear if Pope Francis has to stand at the bus stop and wait for the #25 bus, it is evident that the pontiff is familiar with the challenges of riding – not to mention managing – public transit. He even brought it up in his recent encyclical ( in which he urged cities to give priority to public transportation. He wasn’t just thinking of the overarching challenge of saving the environment but actually addressed the need to relieve the “undignified conditions” endured by public transit-dependent riders.

Only a veteran bus rider could speak to the reality of those “undignified conditions.”   It is legendary now that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a straphanger when he lived and worked in Buenos Aires.   In fact, when Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, the Rome transportation agency, ATAC, issued him a lifetime “pope pass”, appropriately packaged in a tasteful white leather pouch. ATAC also heralded his election by issuing 200,000 transit tickets bearing the Vatican coat of arms rather than the usual corporate logo.

There is even an unofficial Facebook page called “Riding the Bus with Pope Francis” that follows the words and walks of the Pope with a focus on his acts of humility and commitment to social justice.

Most important, Pope Francis gave specific attention to public transit as a priority in his encyclical on global warming in which he observed that “many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation.” More specifically, he wrote that “the quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas, which spoil the urban landscape.”

The pontiff’s words rang true for John Olivieri, the Transportation National Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) who wrote that “the Pope’s decision to elevate the importance of public transportation and the need to limit the growth of driving comes not a second too soon. A 21st century transportation system that reduces carbon emissions and urban sprawl is something we all should work for.”

Welcome aboard, Pope Francis!