Tag Archives: Minnesota Public Radio

Reflections and Resources for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2014

First I was aggravated at Oliver Stone for throwing in the towel on the much-touted film on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday.  He knew the announcement would grab the headlines and further sully the great man’s name.

Then I turned my anger to the keepers of the MLK legacy, the King family and their advisers.  Why not just admit that MLK had feet of clay that are far less relevant than his leadership of a movement that has forever restructured the political, social and cultural contours of this nation.

When I turned on the radio for my Sunday morning ritual listen to On Being I was delighted to realize that the gurus at MPR had wisely chosen to air a conversation that Krista Tippett shared some weeks ago with Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and Lucas Johnson.  Listening to that thoughtful discussion relieved my angst and inspired reflections far more appropriate to the occasion.  Though my original intent was to share the podcast and transcript, a click on the website disclosed that the interview was actually videotaped in December in front of a live audience at National Public Radio in Washington, DC.

Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, an early black power feminist, is the older of the two guests.  She well remembers blatant racism, picketing and marching, the subtleties of the leaders’ philosophies and the distortion of the facts over time.  She has written about her experience as a SNCC activist in Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC.  Today Dr. Simmons is assistant professor of religion at the University of Florida.  She is also a member of the National Council of Elders (about which I want to learn more.)

Dr. Lucas Johnson, a younger man, speaks more of the impact of the civil rights movement on him personally and on his generation.  He is Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.  His conversation revolves around the impact of the civil rights movement on current issues of peace, non-violence and reconciliation.

  • MPR has posted a short video discussion starter based on MLK’s I Have a Dream speech. View the video here:  http://vimeo.com/64079741

Do/Should Minnesota Farms and Agribusiness REALLY “feed the world?”

Last Saturday was “Celebrate Ag & Food Day” at the Gophers game.  It was a day to laud the U of M research resources and the benefits thereof to the economic health of the state’s agribusiness sector.  The celebratory pitch should also give pause for Minnesotans who support that symbiotic relationship to think about the businesses themselves as well as the food products they create, produce, promote and profit from, the hype and the reality.

As recently as yesterday, September 17, National Public Radio carried a major piece on the much touted “Feed the World” promotion favored by corporate farmers and agribusiness.  The “we’re feeding the world” mantra, according to NPR reporter Dan Charles, is ”high-tech agriculture’s claim to the moral high ground.”  Charles Arnot, a one-time PR executive for food and farming companies, now CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, observes that  “U.S. farmers have a tremendous sense of pride in the fact that they’ve been able to help feed the world.”

The problem is not everyone agrees that large-scale, technology-based agriculture is an unmitigated good.  They hold that the cost to the environment and to the nutritional needs of this nation and the world needs to be factored in.  Some, including Margaret Mellon of Concerned Scientists, hold that use of the term itself is waning.

Mellon welcomes the disenchantment with the term.  The problem with ‘feeding the world,’ she says is that “the phrase conflates the important issues of food production and hunger alleviation.  It implies that producing corn and soybeans is the equivalent of putting food into the mouths of hungry people.  But there is no direct connection between U.S. corn and soy production and ending hunger elsewhere (or for that matter in the US).  In fact, the truth is that high production in the U.S. can depress world grain prices and throw developing country farmers off the land.”

It seems reasonable to me that, just because we have such a huge stake in farming and agribusiness, Minnesotans bear some responsibility to be informed about and involved in thinking about the complexities of food production and distribution.

On the one hand, we Minnesotans are a compassionate people for whom feeding the world seems such a worthy cause; access to food is a basic human right.  Moreover, as Mellon writes, the efforts to feed the world conjure “comfortable memories of preparing, serving and enjoying meals.  To satisfy this basic need for the whole world is a noble endeavor.  And, of course, there are grams of truth here. US farmers can feel good that they are helping to meet the food needs of those who can afford to buy their products.” Minnesotans have good reason to be proud of the education system and the political and economic environment that supports the cause.

As compassionate people Minnesotans also care about our neighbors who are hungry and kids who are reared on junk food at the same time we feed the world.  Complex as the issues are, we even pay attention to trade agreements, GMO’s, distribution and the actual consumption of the massive soybean and corn products our rich farmlands yield.  Lots of us, from University researchers to truck drivers, nutritionists to grocery shopper are active links along the food chain

The more I listen and read, the less I understand the complexities of food production, distribution and consumption.  The only thing of which I am certain is that, for the most part, we are not thinking systemically about food policy at the state, national or global level.

Minnesotans have a huge stake, as consumers, taxpayers, as a body politic.  We all care that our families and neighbors, the environment, the economy and people around the world are economically and physically healthy.  We just don’t think about it a lot and we don’t often exchange opinions with individuals or groups that approach the complexity from different perspectives.

As we take pride in our University research capability and community contributions of those who prosper in our agribusinesses, Minnesotans with different points of view and perspectives need to learn together about the results of the investment and the benefits gained as measured in human as well as financial terms.


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…..

Beltrami – explorer, county, neighborhood and now a soup

Giacomo Constantino Beltrami has entered my consciousness and thus my life.  Over the years I’ve wondered why my nearby neighborhood is called Beltrami, a name shared with a county in Northern Minnesota.  My curiosity was piqued, mostly because I’m generally curious about neighborhood names.  So I was at the ready when I heard Cathy Wurzer on MPR this morning interviewing  Kay Mack, Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer.  Describing how her county is preparing for a possible gubernatorial recount Mack indicated she would be pulling out her “2008 Recount Soup”, an Italian delicacy popularly known as Count Beltrami Recount Soup.  Ms Mack not only manages the recount but supplies the soup – and the recipe. (below)

The Count would be so pleased, I thought, as I dug for my modest research on the 19th Century author and explorer, best known in these parts for his claim to have discovered the source of the Mississippi in 1823.

Though it’s a mere glimpse of the story of this fascinating man, my surface research has divulged a good deal about Beltrami: Born in 1779 in Bergamo, Italy, Beltrami spent his early professional life in the Napoleonic judicial system where he established both a sizeable fortune and a liberal world view.  With the downfall of Napoleon Beltrami retreated to his farm where his liberal thoughts soon put him at odds with the paper government.  Tired of the scrutiny and accusations, Beltrami, basically in exile, embraced a life of adventure on the Continent and in the new world.

Beltrami hit his adventuresome stride as an intrepid explorer of foreign lands, their botanical and literary treasures.  He visited most if not all of the European nations as well as Mexico, Haiti, and of most interest of Minnesotans, the headwaters of the Mississippi.  As curious as he was fearless, Beltrami took time to study the locales he explored and to chronicle his findings for posterity.  His voluminous writings, banned in Italy, are readily accessible in libraries and archives today.  Among other chronicles Beltrami collected botanical and geological samples and is responsible for the discovery of the only existing texts to provide Latinate translations from the Aztec language.”

As the story goes, Beltrami landed in Philadelphia on December 20, 1822, after what must have been a treacherous Atlantic crossing.  From there he set out for Louisville and St. Louis where he encountered American Indians for the first time.  In April 1823 he set out for Fort St. Anthony.  Spurred by a vivid imagination and a vision of making history by discovering the source of the Mississippi Beltrami ventured solo up river, slowed but not discouraged by the fact that he was unable to balance himself in a birch bark canoe which he eventually decided to tow.  His quest led him to a small lake which he called Lake Julia and which Beltrami was convinced was the source of both the Mississippi and the Red rivers.  Though he wasn’t quite accurate in claiming the discovery, he deserves credit for a mighty effort.

In time Beltrami retired to his farm in Italy where he died in 1855, just five years short of the creation of the Italian nation.  Though he never saw any of his works published in Italy modern scholars continue to pore over the volumes.  Of particular interest to today’s scholars are Beltrami’s writings about American Indians he encountered in his travels.

Count Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, like his name, is bigger than life, an untapped reservoir of imagination, scholarship and energy.  He is the only adventurer of record for whom a staple of Minnesota’s electoral process is named.  The recipe for Count Beltrami Recount Soup, as supplied by Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack, is irresistible on this or any wintry day.  It would seem just right if the residents of Beltrami neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis stirred up a pot of soup in solidarity with the voters of Beltrami County.

Count Beltrami Recount Soup

1 lb. ground Italian sausage – hot, mild or a mix.

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

3 leaves fresh basil

1 15 can butter beans

1 15 oz can black beans

1 15 oz can diced tomatoes

2 cups beef broth

Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cook sausage until done, add garlic and basil. Saute 4 minutes

Add beans, tomato, broth. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese.

Serve with Italian or garlic bread or Panini.



I Love Podcasts!

Sometimes a Poke evolves into a Probe.  Such is the case with this Probe into one of my favorite pokes, i.e. podcasts.

I love podcasts!  I love to poke around and learn about new pockets of podcasts.  I love audio and video podcasts, but mostly I love audios, audios that capture lectures, interviews, posts by journalists, scholars, and thinkers who ask good questions and elicit ideas and information from unexpected sources.

What got me started on this poke and probe path is the forthcoming meeting of the 35th Annual Community Radio Conference, the gathering of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, set to meet in St. Paul, June 9-12, 2010.  These folks are major players in the world of podcasting – because what they produce is creative, unique and now accessible.

Podcasts are intellectual recycling, an ergonomically correct alternative  with great potential to simplify life, share ideas and wrest the viewer/listener from the rigors of commercial-saturated audio and video media.  Though the name “podcast” suggests iPod plus broadcasting, the fact is that podcasting predates the iPod invasion and actually grew out of the RSS feed format.

If you don’t have hours to probe, don’t get started with podcasts!  I’ve tried to focus on podcasts that are Minnesota-specific, audio, and spoken word (as opposed to the inestimable mountains of music about which everyone seems to know anyway).  My goal is to whet the listener’s audio appetite – no effort to plumb the depths that are both endless and shifting.

Note #1 about what follows:  Virtually all of these podcasts can be streamed on your PC.  They can also be downloaded and stored for replay on whatever audio device you have stuck in your ears.

Note #2 is about access: While traditional media are organized by topic, podcasts are organized by series or distributor. The user just needs to know where to look.

Note #3:  These are by or about Minnesota and Minnesota agencies.  In the interests of open government I tried to focus on publicly supported sources, though that’s a broad category that encompasses sports, public radio, the U of M and other key players in the world of podcasting.  I did not include state agencies per se.  Watch for a future blog.

Basic introduction to podcasting as a resource:

Try the University of Minnesota Digital Media Center for a great introduction/  They even support an ongoing Podcasting Discussion Mailing List.

Public Radio Player from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting focuses specifically on public programming in their excellent Q&A introduction to podcasting and related technology.

Christina Lopez at the University of Minnesota has written a superb piece about the potential of podcasting well worth more poking around.

Ready to listen?

Following is a totally random sampling of Minnesota audio podcast options – there are scores of other possibilities if you have but the time and a smattering of intellectual curiosity:

The University of Minnesota offers an incredible portal to podcasts of every stripe – lectures, interviews, backgrounders, opinion pieces and more.  Some samples:

  • Missed the Great Conversations series?  Check out the podcasts– everyone from Seymour Hersh to Ken Starr to Rafael Yglesias – fabulous!
  • Culture Queue from Radio K offers a pot pouri of information, ideas and opinions on current issues ranging from eating local to slam poetry and Tea Baggers..
  • The Civil Engineering department produces regular audio and video podcasts to which you can subscribe.

UMD is a podcasting mecca.  Check the Designer Network or, for the latest on research on The Lake (Superior, that is) try the Minnesota Sea Grant Feeds Library which offers audio programs and updated news and events on water quality, coastal communities and aquaculture.

The U of M is but one of many of Minnesota’s academic institutions floating through the airways to students and the general public. Check out St. Cloud State’s great website or what’s happening at Alexandria Technical college or Austin Community College for samples – virtually every publicly supported academic institution is in the podcasting game,

Access Minnesota is self-defined as a “weekly public affairs radio show featuring noted academics, authors, politicians and business leaders engaging in common sense conversations about compelling and relevant issues in the state of Minnesota, across the national and around the globe.”  It’s a joint project of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association and the U of M.

Some Assembly Required is a superb series of weekly podcasts based on music and audio art, an exploration of the world of sound collage.  Produced locally by MnArtists the series is now nationally syndicated.

Want to know more about Minnesota architecture – broadly defined? Check Minnesota Builds for stories, interviews and heaps of photos on the complementary website.

Truth to Tell, heard first on KFAI’s, features interviews with a wide range of Minnesota decision and opinion makers.   Northern Sun News, another KFAI product, features interviews about current issues particularly ecology, peace and justice

And then there’s Minnesota Public Radio the ubiquitous audio giant that podcasts just about everything.  Start here to explore the library of podcasts from MPR.

Or check out KYMN in Northfield where you’ll find nearly a score of locally produced programming ranging from the Law Review to an After School Special to Art Zany and Tech Talk’

No surprise, the Vikes are in the game, so to speak. So do the Wild.  And the Lynx.  And the Twins.  You get the picture….

But you might not know about The Icebox Radio Theater, an independent, nonprofit arts organization in International Falls.  They’re dedicated to using the “old art of radio drama to tell new stories about their corner of the world, i.e. Northern Minnesota and Northwest Ontario. Or then there’s the MN Standup Comedy podcast series or La Casa Rojas, Spanish language podcasts beamed and streamed from St. Paul.

The list and the listening go on!  Dip for now, then drink deep of the audio stream….