Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thanks to Those Who Make Things Work

With thanks to a host of good people whose names I don’t even know, I share the thoughts of Marge Piercy who wrote:

The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who stand in the line and haul in their places,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

                                                 To Be of Use, by Marge Piercy

This season my special thanks go to the unsung techies who are the WD40 of the information age –

  • the workers who get down on their hands and knees, crawl through ceilings and stuff themselves in closets to magically create order out of a maze of multi-colored cables with prongs more functional than sexy.
  • the energetic crew at the Apple store who struggle endlessly with the psychological and technological foibles of struggling surfers.
  • the staff at Central Library who lend a compassion ear and helping hand to the steady stream of job-seeking searchers
  • the hackers at Open Twin Cities who manipulate raw data until it makes sense to community organizers working to make their streets safe
  • the linemen/women who lay the broadband that links people, ideas and commerce
  • the coders and taggers and catalogers who organize the stuff until it’s actually accessible on request
  • the folks who evaluate, update and share the latest software
  • the enlightened ones who use the task bar,
  • Those who claim the rare ability to reverse polarity

In this digital age the fact remains that “the work of the world is common as mud.”  A Thanksgiving shout-out to those who don’t shrink from “work that is real” – those who “move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out” or the new app installed.




Poker On the Move – A Personal Note

The practice of “poking around” places few restrictions on one with a propensity to poke and tell.  Every story, neighborhood, artifice or artifact is grist for one who pokes for sport.  Readers of this blog will not be surprised, then, to learn that this poker’s poking purview is expanding.

As of November 15 I have taken a position of “outreach coordinator” at, a vibrant coalition of nonprofit organizations who hold to the principle of “constant vigilance” as the price paid to preserve a democratic  people’s right to know.  The coalition includes a broad range of organizations, each with a different slant on the common challenge.  Specifically, OTG partners join forces to hold government accountable, ensure and improve access to Information, reform national security secrecy, protect civil liberties, and open state and local government.  Just the sort of messages for which I am proud to “outreach” –particularly now, when all of the open government balls seem to be hovering in mid air!

So, I will be reaching out from the G Street offices of OTG for several days each month, NE Minneapolis for much of the time, and commuting between the two with iPad in lap and phone in hand.

Though there is some adjustment underway just now, I’ll  will continue to poke around, henceforth with energy that comes from the sure knowledge that poking around is the true path to learning – and that sharing the pokes with intrepid readers makes the facts and stories come alive for all concerned.


Veterans Day 2013 – Making It Real!

Veterans Day 2013 deserves special observance – for many reasons.  For those who see the day to remember the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served this country, the day has historic and political significance.  For others the fact that November 11 falls on Monday means another long weekend.

Like the story of every veteran, the evolution from Armistice Day to Veterans Day is a story in itself.

The commemoration of Armistice Day on November 11 actually dates from November 1919 when President Wilson proclaimed the day Armistice Day in recognition of the agreement between the Allied Nations and Germany.  Interesting to note, it was not until June 4, 1926, that the US. Congress officially recognized the end of World War I.  And it was not until 1938 that the Congress officially designated November 11, “Armistice Day”, a legal holiday to honor those who served in World War I.

After World War II and Korea,  Armistice Day took on new meaning.   In 1954, Congress responding to public opinion and pressure from veterans groups by changing the name to “Veterans Day”, a day to honor American veterans of all wars.   On October 8, 1954 President Eisenhower issued the Veterans Day Proclamation that made that change.

In 1968 the Uniform Holiday Bill made major changes in the nation’s holidays.  The change was intended to ensure three-day weekends, originally for federal employees, by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays:  Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day.  The idea was that the extended weekends would stimulate travel and greater industrial commercial production.  The fact that not all of the states agreed with the plan continues to cause confusion.

No surprise, the first Veterans Day under the new law, celebrated on Monday, October 25, 1971, caused consideration confusion.  The three-day weekend eclipsed the historic and patriotic significance of the occasion.  As a result, in 1975 President Ford signed the law that returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original November 11 date, beginning in 1978.

So this year is rare in that the official Veterans Day does happen to fall on a three-day weekend.   The harmonic convergence ought to give us time to deal with some of our own conflicting thoughts.  As a people we are confused about war, and thus about  how to honor those who have served in the military.  Many of us have no experience on which to base our thoughts; some of us who have served are quiet about their experience.  Veterans of earlier wars are no longer with us to share their stories.

On Monday, November 11, thousands of Americans will gather in town squares and veterans cemeteries to honor the war dead.    Still, many of us may let the day pass with scant thought of its historic, patriotic or human significance.   We mean well, but we are easily distracted by the cares of the day.

One possibility is to pause at some point over the weekend to explore the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  It is truly mesmerizing to read, view, and listen to the stories of veterans who have served in war and conflicts beginning with World War I and continuing through accounts of the Gulf War, the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.    The resource offers a unique way to recreate, to learn and to generate discussion and understanding of veterans’ stories.  And it’s all online at

Photos, letters from the battlefield, memorabilia and, most important, the recorded and transcribed stories of veterans  “put a face” on the experience of men and women who have generously shared their memories.    There are stories of young men and women facing boot camp, combat, boredom, loneliness and loss.  Some stories are whimsical, some tragic, all reflective of a time of stress and learning in the life of a young person away from home.  Each is recorded with the care of someone who took the time to capture the story for posterity.

The Veterans History Project collection includes combat veterans as well as the stories of civilians who were actively involved in support of war efforts – USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers and war industry workers.  The collection is easily searchable by the veteran’s name, his or her field of battle, hometown, branch of service or multiple other characteristics.

The Veterans History Project is an open source initiative.  The Folklife Center collection is a living resource;  anyone who has a story or who knows a vet or support person who has a story to share is encouraged to learn how easy it is to participate.    The website offers clear and easily followed guidelines for anyone who is willing to share his or her experience or to assist a vet to remember and record.

Trust me, you will find yourself absorbed in the stories of veterans you may never know – from these wise men and women we can all better understand why we set aside November 11 to honor them and their nameless colleagues.