Monthly Archives: July 2013

Listen & Learn – Voices and views from MPR’s audio archive

Recent legislation and rulings related to LGBT rights, particularly the Supreme Court vote on marriage equity sent me poking around my own memory to reflect on what has been a long struggle.  For whatever reasons the voices of individual leaders, some not well known, echoed in my aural memory.   Knowing I had never met the speakers I realized the source of those memories be radio – more specifically public radio.  And that led me to explore the voluminous audio archives of Minnesota Public Radio.  Poking around this rich reservoir of oral history rekindled images and voices that, in turn, open up huge mental archives of dormant memories.

My quest was very specific – to track the evolving story of LGBT rights in Minnesota so I forced myself to focus – not easy because the audio chapter on “Civil Rights in Minneapolis” offered far too many tempting side roads – 152 to be on that one topic to be exact.

My first reminder was that it wasn’t until 2001 that the State of Minnesota officially decriminalized homosexuality.   The first bit of recorded oral history in the MPR archives dates from a poignant interview from the June 12, 1972 DFL Convention in which Jack Baker talks about the parallel goals of the women’s caucus and the gay rights caucus.   Baker’s prescient observations span four decades of history.

Later in 1972 St. Paul native author and activist Kate Millett is recorded speaking at Macalester not specifically about gay right but about discrimination evidenced by the failure to pass the ERA.

State Senator Allan Spear, prominent equality advocate, is recorded in 1974 talking about the formation of the Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights, a step to move the issue into the mainstream.

In a 1976 interview Senator Spear talks about the need to distinguish between moral and non-moral issues in making legislative decisions.  A legislator must represent independent judgment, Spear contends, particular in the case of human rights issues.

There is an interview with Senator Dean Johnson reflecting on the gay rights bill vote in 1993.  The bill prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing and other areas passed the Senate by a vote of 37-30.

And there’s a March 2004 report by Tom Scheck on the massive anti-gay rights rally at the State Capitol.

The list goes on – and I tracked just one of scores of issues covered in the archives.  As with any quest to understand the history of ideas, the visitor is the explorer and the fun is in the find.

This unique digital resource offers the searcher some serious plus features:  most important, the spoken word has special power to evoke both memories and emotions.  Another serious plus lies in the fact that armchair access eliminates a host of hurdles.

On the down side, the link lacks the olfactory stimulus of that special archival aroma of crumbling paper, drying leather and time.  Though somebody has probably invented an archive scented spray capturing the essence of smells lacks the authenticity of audio preservation.   Maybe you could light an old wax candle to set the mood…..

We ALL Dream of Ice Cream – The Scoop on National Ice Cream Month

It’s National Ice Cream Month!  That momentous fact might have slipped my addled mind had I not been an interloper at the Hennessy-Beech Families’ Fourth of July 2013 picnic in Lewiston, Minnesota yesterday.  The legendary piece de resistance of that grand occasion is overflowing bowls of HOMEMADE ice cream topped with fresh picked strawberries.   Words fail….

President Ronald Reagan, who did have his finer features, must be lauded for inaugurating National Ice Cream Month in 1984.  This year the nation will celebrate National Ice Cream DAY on Sunday, July 21 – just one of the 31 days set aside for exultation of ice cream as one of the basic food groups.

As everyone knows, consuming ice cream with finesse is an art.  What we may not know is that the origins of the frozen treat of the gods goes back as far as the second century B.C.  Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar.  And there are even Biblical referencs to King Solomon’s  fondness for iced drinks during the harvest season.  Nero Claudius Caesar (A.D. 54-86) sent runners into the mountains for snow which was flavored with fruits and juices fit for an Emperor.

Historians of ice cream tell us that Marco Polo returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe akin to 21st Century sherbet, adding that the recipe probably evolved into ice cream sometime in the 16th Century.   Charles I during the 17th Century scooped up “cream ice” and Catherine de Medici encountered the treat when she married Henry II, King of France.

The masses learned about ice cream when Sicilian Procopia introduced a recipe at Café Procope, the first café in Paris.

The first account of ice cream this side of the pond comes in a letter written in 1744 by a guest of Maryland Governor William Bladen; sometime later the first ice cream ad appeared in the New York Gazette in 1777.  The Father of Our Country George Washington spent approximately $200 of his personal fortune for ice cream during the summer of 1700 while President Jefferson was purported to have an 18-step recipe that anticipates today’s Baked Alaska.  Dolly Madison, always the perfect hostess, served strawberry ice cream at her husband’s second inaugural banquet.

The fortunes of the hit a cool high in the early 1800’s with the invention of ice houses.  Steam power, mechanical refrigeration, homogenization, electric power and motors, packing machines and new freezing processes created an ice cream boom – a utopian world in which production of frozen dairy items in the U.S. tops 1.6 billion gallons.  The ice cream industry reports total revenues of $10 billion in 2010 with take home sales representing the largest section of the market generating revenues of $6.8 billion.  Nine percent of all the milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream.

Enough history – too many stats.  Where’s the closest ice cream parlor!

Whether it’s a malt, a shake, a sundae or a delectably portable sugar cone,  you want it near and you want it now!   Options abound and parlors pop up in the most unlikely places.  Thanks to sound research and this state’s commitment to open access to government information you can find a robust roster of ice cream parlors on the Explore Minnesota website.   From Afton to Winona (alphabetically) the annotated list will inspire delectable road trips that lead to ice cream haunts best known by the locals but open to all.

Fear not – You can venture out even without a GPS system – the industry provides a handy map that guides you straight to the frozen splendors that cool these humid days and remind us all of just how great summer evenings really are!




Librarians Face Digital Dilemmas with Principles, Experience & Concern for Patrons’ Rights

As the nation grapples with the Faustian choice between the right to know and the right to privacy, librarians should have a place at the table.  From time immemorial they have struggled to balance the rights.  Librarians have staunchly fought for open government and gone to jail to protect their patrons’ privacy against over-zealous government snooping.  The fact is that librarians think a lot about information; as one observer writes, they are “information connoisseurs.”

Thousands of librarians are gathered this week in Chicago where they will find grounding in traditional principles honed in a print environment to face the challenges of a digital world.   Though the ramifications are incalculable, none is more center stage than those that juxtapose the dilemma between access and privacy now challenging the nation.

Unreconstructed advocate for open government that I am, I am proud of the library profession for its staunch commitment to privacy.  Wise professionals have anticipated the threats to patrons’ privacy.  Towards this end the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom maintains a robust library of digital resources devoted to the principle that the preserving “the freedom to read and receive ideas anonymously is at the heart of individual liberty in a democracy.”

In a recent position paper the Office of Intellectual Freedom directly faces the tension between the right to access and the right to privacy.  The report makes the clear distinction between personal and public information.  At the same time OIF anticipates the confusion facing Americans in the wake of leaks of government and attendant charges and challenges:

When the right to privacy is eroded or stripped away, people are more likely to abandon or curtail their exploration of unpopular and unorthodox points of view.  This chilling effect puts the intellectual development of our citizenry at risk.  The very character of the American mind, which is premised on open inquiry, is thereby robbed of the free flow of ideas that makes innovation possible.

In the past, closing a curtain, sealing a record, or simply choosing not to share one’s information could protect privacy.   But emerging technologies are compromising privacy rights and changing social norms.  Computers, online networks and databases collect and store personal information, which may then be freely traded among government offices, corporations, and law enforcement agencies without an individual’s knowledge or consent.  Few people protest when they are required to give away their personal information Identity theft and data breaches are occurring more frequently – confirmation that individuals can no longer feel confident that the institutions holding their information are treating it with due care and consideration.

Other privacy rights are equally at risk.  Concerns about national security and crime have spurred political interest groups and law enforcements agencies to question traditional expectations of privacy.  These groups are now advocating changes in the law that diminish stator privacy protections and permit the government to peer into personal lives.

 Librarians who have their professional fingers on the pulse of the public and of the technology know that in a digital age Americans must be responsible for their own information privacy.   As usual, they know that ultimate responsibility for protection of individual rights an informed public.  The concern is that many people who routinely use public access facilities are unaware of the potential intrusion on their right to privacy. As part of Choose Privacy Week 2013 the ALA posted a useful tip sheet for patrons entitled Protect Your Privacy While Using Public Computers & Wi-Fi appropriate for libraries or any other public setting.

The usual suspects – politicians, propagandists and pundits – would do well to update their stereotypes and pull up some chairs for the librarians who have spent their professional lives cogitating digital age dichotomies long before they went viral.


Call for submissions: Modern interpretations of historic needlework designs

Crafters everywhere know the story of the Hastings Needle Work Company, an industry started in 1888 by Alice and Florence LeDuc, a family name well known to to 21st Century Dakota County Minnesota residents.  From its origin until the mid 1920’s the Hastings Needle Work Company produced unique embroidery pieces for their hundreds of clients.

Today, over 1200 patterns from the company have survived; the patterns show a broad variety of design styles and subjects – florals, dragons, birds, American Indian designs, geometrical combinations and more.  The original patterns are archived at the Minnesota Historical Society, the City of Hastings’ Pioneer Room, and the Dakota County Historical Society.

To showcase the company and its craftsmanship the Dakota County Historical Society has initiated a unique national competition.  Sixteen of the patterns have been chosen as the focus of a unique challenge to create modern interpretations of the historic designs.

Though the designs were originally intended for embroidery the competition invites applicants to create interpretations using their own choice of artistic medium.  Media may include, but are not limited to hand or machine embroidery, wool felting, rug hooking, quilting, wood carving, painting or mixed media.

Beautiful renditions of the selected patterns are posted on the Dakota County Historical Society website where artists and crafters will also find competition guidelines.  Deadline for entries is March 31, 2014; artwork selected for display must be received by June 13, 2014 at the LeDuc Historic Estate, 1629 Vermillion Street, Hastings, MN 55033.  Accepted artwork will be displayed in the LeDuc House, a working museum open for public tours.

Politics by the Numbers: Stats Tell the Tale of the 1% of 1%

Political junkies, more attuned to counting votes than comparing and contrasting statistics, are furrowing their frazzled brows these days as they parse the implications of the 1% of the 1%.   Sunlight Foundation started it all with their ambitious study and reports on the elite political donors, the .01% of the U.S. population who call the electoral shots.

Basically, that’s 31, 385 individuals who forked over a whole lot of money to influence the 2012 presidential election. The heavy hitters are 1% of 1% in a nation of 313.85 million people, nearly 66,000,000 of whom voted in the 2012 presidential election.  In sum, total political giving by the 1% of the 1% in 2012 was $1.7 billion.

It may surprise some Minnesotans to learn that Wayzata is #5 among the nation’s cities with the highest percentage of 1% of 1% donors.  Fifty Wayzata donors scraped up a total of $3.7 million in campaign contributions.

This is but one local stat extrapolated from a mountain of figures aggregated and interpreted by the Sunlight Foundation.  To wit:  Nearly 72% of the donors were male; the top five employers were Goldman Sachs (85 donors, $4.6 million), Blackstone (49 donors, $2.2 million), Kirkland & Ellis (40 donors, $1.5 million), Morgan Stanley (38 donors) and Comcast (37 donors) tied for fifth place with a measly $1.2 million each.  The median contribution from the 1% is $25,484 which researchers note is “a little more than half the median family income in the United States.”

Of these major contributions approximately 85% of the donors contributed 90% of their money to one or the other party only.  Lobbyists, it seems, are the most egalitarian in their distribution of political wealth and access.

Researchers caution “the 1% of 1% dominated campaign giving even in a year when President Barack Obama reached new small donor frontiers.  In 2014, without a presidential race to attract small donors, all indicators are that the 1% of the 1% will occupy an even more central role in the money chase.”

The Sunlight Foundation reports are replete with graphs and charts, infographics, even a video describing the process and findings.  For the mathematically gifted, opportunities to drill down – and rant – abound.

Learn more on the Sunlight Foundation blog:





Even Better than the 2013 ALA Conference

Buried deep in the heart of every recovering librarian lies the certain knowledge that the faithful are gathered this week in Chicago, mecca of American librarianship, for the annual conference of the American Library Association.  Not to worry, Josh Hanagame, author of The World’s Strongest Librarian, offers literary solace.  USA Today asked Hanagame to comb the genre to suggest his five favorite books about libraries.

Though most library types would disagree with the or any list of books, Hanagame’s selections offer fodder for discussion for the bereft who are not joining the much-touted pilgrimage to the Windy City.

Here’s Hanagame’s list with comments, prime material for explication, analysis, review and comment, even reading….

  • The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.  “I’ve always wanted to visit the labyrinthine library in The Name of the Rose, if only to see if I could find my way out.  I’d probably forget I was in a maze and just sit down and start reading.”
  • A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, by Nicholas Basbanes.  “My favorite book about books, the people who collect them, and libraries of all kinds.”
  • The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.  “The scenes where Kvothe is poking around the Archives are some of my favorites in the series to date.”
  • Matilda, by Roald Dahl.  “’Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea.  These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message.  You are not alone.’ Enough said.”
  • The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova.  “I’m a sucker for anyone chasing forbidden knowledge around the stacks of old library, and if it means you get chased by vampires, so be it.”

That’s Hanagame’s list.  Every bibliophile will have a personalized variation on the theme.  Try asking the question at the next book club gathering.  Come up with your own short list.  Any matches?  Assure yourself that they’re probably not talking about this stuff at ALA anyway.