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Friday, March 16, 2012


A few years ago, I visited Dickinson and Williston. In each city, I discovered Applebee’s was easily the best restaurant. Let that sink in. So, in ensuing years it didn’t surprise me that most restaurant reviews in ND were about chain restaurants. As Olive Garden began to run the bases in ND, first Fargo, then Bismarck, next Minot and recently Grand Forks, the attention was astounding. First, gleeful letters of anticipation, then delight about the real thing. That’s the way it is and I hope it does not appear snobbish to note that chain restaurants do not earn reviews in most parts of the country.

Marilyn Hagerty is a crusty, veteran reporter and columnist for the GF Herald. It’s relevant to what follows to note she is 85 years old. Marilyn writes restaurant reviews and most recently her subject was the new Olive Garden. She liked it and said so -- “the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.” What followed was unexpected: her review caught the attention of the Internet, then serious papers such as the Wall Street Journal and LA Times, and national TV. The Herald website almost broke down under nearly one million hits to Marilyn's "Eatbeat." Reviews of her review split two ways: Some thought it charming, sincere and a refreshing switch from the world of pretentious food critics. Others thought it was hilarious parody and a few were condescending, even mean.

The WSJ is starting to like ND. On March 10, they had a glowing article, “What North Dakota Could Teach California.” ND just passed California to become the No. 3 state in oil production. The gist of the article: Well-governed and lightly regulated ND is up, California is down. The WSJ could have added that ND is very fortunate to be a small state that found lots of oil.

Does the bitterness remain? Ellen Chaffee had a seemingly successful 30-year career in ND higher education, retiring in 2008 as the president of Valley City State. But, her career ended in a burst of bitterness. Chaffee said throughout her career she experienced discrimination, was underpaid and had to work twice as hard because she was a woman. She felt disrespected and isolated by the state board of higher education, which questioned her leadership. ND Democratic governor candidate Ryan Taylor has chosen Chaffee as his running mate.

Who is the true fool? Three years ago I noted that the president of the ND Newspaper Association had a name appropriate to the rural area where he worked. His name was Jon Flatland and he won first place in the humor category that year in a NDNA writing contest. His entry turned out to be plagiarized from the “Jason the Fool” website. At the time he was publisher of the Steele County Press. It has now been determined that as much as 99 percent of his writings were plagiarism. He reached as far away as the Honolulu Star Bulletin for material. Note: Flatland is now unemployed.

Our government makes huge blunders, and now and then we learn about one of them. It was hard to miss the $5.5 billion anti-missile facility constructed in Nekoma (75 miles northwest of GF) in the 1970s. The facility closed after just four months of operation -- a huge pyramid was one of its most endearing features. A use was never found for the white elephant and Cavalier County hopes to buy it from the federal government with, guess what, a $600,000 grant from the federal government and another from the state.

Housing, traffic and crime. These are problems that drive folks out of grimy cities to areas with lower costs, less congestion and greater safety. The Traill County Economic Development Commission in Hillsboro aggressively advertises those advantages, not to people from Detroit, but to residents of ND’s Oil Patch. The Hillsboro folks are quick to say they are not “adversarial” or out to steal other Nodaks. Innocently, they say they just want people to be comfortable -- isn’t that a sweet thought?

You’ve seen the cartoons -- a little fish is swallowed by a bigger fish which in turn falls prey to one bigger yet, and so on. In 2010, Carrington’s Dakota Growers pasta business was sold to Viterra, a large Canadian grain handler. Now, $12 billion Viterra is itself the target of a takeover by international giants Cargill and Glencore. An aside, Gov. Jack Dalrymple was a founder and one of the largest shareholders of Dakota Growers.

They called it the Oil Patch Crime Summit. Federal and state officials met with western ND law enforcement to develop strategies against potential organized crime in the oil patch. Too bad only a limited number of police and sheriffs were able to attend -- the meetings were held in Denver. U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon says it was held there due to lack of meeting space in western ND. Not everyone thinks that explanation sounds reasonable.

A Bismarck Tribune article stated, “A hearing will be held to determine whether Standing Rock Tribal Council Chairman Charles Murphy should be removed from office for misconduct and neglect of office.” That is almost not news -- attempts to remove chairmen at ND reservations are as regular as the seasons and are part of the inherent political instability of the tribes. Removals of chairmen, either by election or for cause, are often followed by wholesale turnover of top tribal positions as the new chair appoints his supporters.

The Standing Rock Sioux will be closely watched in the upcoming statewide vote on the Fighting Sioux nickname. The Tribal Council at Standing Rock did not permit a member vote about the name, although the reservation’s support was an NCAA requirement for UND to keep the name. The Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation near Devils Lake had such a vote and a majority of those voting supported the name.

Lloyd Omdahl’s weekly column blandly proceeded like many before, discussing the structure of ND government and a struggle now taking place between the Legislature and the state Board of Higher Education. He mentioned the Fighting Sioux nickname was a trigger. Then Omdahl hit the accelerator asserting “North Dakota is already the laughing stock of the sports world.” He offered no evidence for the remark, but we did learn where Lloyd stands.

ND has 32,000 farms and ranches averaging about 1,200 acres in size, yet only 58% of the owners consider farming to be their primary occupation. Ten years ago it was 70%. ND Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said, “You either have to grow in size and become more efficient or take an off farm job.” This from a Tribune article describing the lives of part-time farmers.

DAKTOIDS: No big deal, a semi carrying a wide ag sprayer clipped (as the driver adjusted his review mirror) an auto transport on the road shoulder of I-94 just west of Valley City. Think again, damage to the sprayer and the parked semi and its load of cars totaled $650,000 . . . Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Reservation was always a rough place. In separate incidents, federal officers attempted to arrest Bruce Flying Horse and Gary Two Horses for disorderly behavior. Bruce and Gary both responded by severely punching and kicking the officers . . . Average weekly wages in Stark County (Dickinson) are $2,000 a week. I’ll help with the math -- that’s around $100,000 a year. Dickinson sizzles with oil and gas growth.

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