Author John Steinbeck was disappointed with Fargo when he visited in 1960 -- he hoped to discover a great mysterious place, instead he found it rather ordinary. He drove out of town and camped near the Maple River to nurse “mythological wounds.” The experience was recounted in “Travels With Charley.” Fifty years later, a Washington Post writer retraced part of Steinbeck’s route ending her trip in Fargo. Rachel Dry wasn’t disappointed -- skipping West Acres, she found Fargo’s Broadway to be “picture-perfect.” The Forum was delighted with her report -- so much so, it reprinted the entire article.
Just 190 miles west in Bismarck, columnist Clay Jenkinson studied the same article, but had a different conclusion. He was rather grumpy and felt Dry had failed “to understand the spirit of Steinbeck.” He launched a literary criticism and also found the article “so patronizing.” Jenkinson continued punching the article, although in a lighter vein. Something bothered him. What was it? We aren’t sure, but he is very fond of a quote in which Steinbeck concludes the Missouri River at Bismarck-Mandan is where “the map should fold. Here is the boundary between east and west.” As a fan of western ND, Jenkinson seems to feel Fry missed the real story of the state by ending her trip in Fargo.
Check almost any newspaper on Thanksgiving and you will find an editorial about being thankful. The Bismarck Tribune was no exception, “Most North Dakotans have had it very good this year, indeed. We are riding high on the benefits of the land.” The Trib spelled out those benefits: crude oil and lignite coal, wheat and sugar beets, livestock and wild game, but reminded its readers the bounty was not shared by all. “Many of our sister states, however, are struggling economically, beaten down by unemployment and debt.” The editorial became a pep talk for the embattled sisters, urging them to focus on the blessings of living in America and be grateful they did not live in Haiti.
Gen. Wesley Clark spoke at the ND Farmers Union Convention in Minot. The decorated four-star general and former presidential candidate described the U.S. as a nation which spends $300 billion a year importing increasingly scarce foreign oil. He said this is a course which the U.S. economy can’t survive. Fortunately, the general came armed with a solution -- increase ethanol use and production. It should be noted that Clark is co-chair of Growth Energy, an organization which promotes ethanol.
A Tribune editorial discussed “dissatisfaction with an overreaching federal government.” The paper gave a recent example of such excess. The ND Dept. of Human Services is administering a $75,000 federal grant to plan alcohol-free New Year’s Eve parties. Yes, it’s small and by no means the worst example of federal spending, but the Tribune said “the idea of government is it can do those necessary things we can’t accomplish as individuals.” Putting on alcohol-free parties falls well outside that test.
“There are no federal programs for us. There are no buyouts. No major roadwork. If the lake is encroaching on you, shouldn’t there be some compensation?” Farmers in the Churchs Ferry area near Devils Lake see themselves as part of an overlooked, forgotten, slow-moving disaster. In recent years, rising waters have forced 27 rural Churchs Ferry families to move. Farmers there have recorded a DVD called “The Demise of a Community” which pictures the devastation and is accompanied by a medley of appropriately mournful country music. Their objective is to get the attention of state and federal officials.
TREASURE ISLAND - COINS AND PRECIOUS METALS
The Jamestown Sun published an exchange of letters between those lamenting the lack of shopping in Jamestown and those defending the city. Here’s something that may soothe residents: the Sun awarded a Bravo for the construction of new movie theaters in the Buffalo Mall . . . the new venues will feature “more snacks” than the old theaters. There you go!
The number of Democrats in the ND Legislature is somewhat diminished after the elections -- in the senate, Republicans outnumber Democrats about 3 to 1. The Democrats have elected new, young senate leaders. Ryan Taylor (40) will be senate minority leader -- he is a rancher from Towner who for many years has contributed folksy articles to the ND Horizons magazine. He will be assisted by Mac Schneider, a member of a Fargo family with deep political roots. Schneider, a former UND football player, served on ND’s Washington congressional staff. The senate Republican leaders are unchanged.
Columnist Lloyd Omdahl says the lopsided Republican majority in the ND Legislature is not an important change, because the Legislature operates largely on a nonpartisan basis -- less than 20 percent of the bills find Republicans voting against Democrats. In a state such as New Jersey, 75 percent of the bills are decided on a partisan basis.
BAD IDEA OF THE WEEK. If you’ve lived in ND, you are acquainted with sundogs -- the brilliant false suns that can appear on both sides of the real sun in very cold weather. Tom Dennis of the Herald discusses sundogs and literary references through history. He mentions that “Sundogs” has come up as a possible replacement name for “Fighting Sioux.” Nah! “Go Dogs” doesn’t make it.
The majority of ND high school seniors take the ACT test -- what do the 2010 scores tell us? ND students had a composite score of 21.5, placing them No. 30 in the nation. States bordering ND had higher scores, with Minnesota (No. 10) doing the best. The two largest racial groups in ND, whites (89%) and American Indians (5%), scored below their national counterparts. ND students were near the national average in math and science, but well below their national counterparts in English and reading. The myth that ND has superior students is slowly dissolving. The top five states were all in the northeast; the bottom five states were in the southeast, with the exception of Michigan.
In 2001, Dennis Gaede dismembered a man at Gaede's home in Gardner, north of Fargo. As you might expect, Gaede is serving a life sentence at the state prison in Bismarck. Now, his story has become even sadder. He cracked a tooth and claims he demanded a root canal, but the prison pulled the tooth instead. Gaede regards this as cruel and unusual punishment -- he has filed a federal lawsuit for violation of his constitutional rights.
DAKTOIDS: A record 400 million bushels of grain storage is licensed in ND -- 60 million of that amount is piled on the ground.