Eric's Daily Weblog

Get ready for lutefisk season...

According to the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists have isolated the gene which causes people to eat lutefisk.

   The news was greeted with jubilation in the lutefisk-eating community, which hopes the discovery that the desire for lutefisk is genetic will lead to greater acceptance of their eating habits.

   “This study strikes a great blow to the forces of lute phobia,” said lutefisk activist Elmer Bjorgland. “No longer can they say we eat lutefisk by choice.”

Bjorgland, who first became aware of his love for lutefisk at age 9, said the discovery should provide encouragement to young people coming to terms with their emerging feelings for the glutinous delicacy.

   “If eating lutefisk is not our choice, we can no longer be discriminated against.  We are only doing what is natural to us,” Bjorgland said at a press conference Tuesday.  Ivan Stern, chairman of the Coalition Against Lye-Laced Food, disagrees. “Our efforts to show that lutefisk eating is wrong will continue,” he said in a prepared statement issued to the press.

   “This is just the beginning. Soon, radical lutefisk activists will want lutefisk on the menus of our public school lunch programs,” Stern said, adding that if that happens, he would educate his children at home.

   Bjorgland claims that the anti-lutefisk forces are overreacting, and points to a recent report by the National Association of Lutheran Theologians which goes so far as to condone the consumption of lutefisk “in moderation.”

   Stern replies that Lutherans have been soft on the lutefisk issue from the very beginning.


   “The Lutheran church was strangely silent on this reprehensible habit,” Stern said, until the recent convocation confirmed that the church would give its blessing to those who openly eat the lye-soaked cod dish.


This essay is taken from Down on the Farm, now available for Kindle


Protecting the elderly

IMG_5439 (1).jpg 

As I was leaving the nursing home a few years back, I shook hands with an old man who pulled me towards him and pleaded, “Please, please, take me to Rollag!” Since it was Labor Day weekend, and the Steam Thresher’s Reunion was in full swing, I was tempted to load him up and go.

   But the old man’s son intervened, winked at me as if the old guy was a little daft, and scolded, “No, Dad, you know your heart can’t take a trip like that,” and dragged the old man back to his room.

   About six weeks later, I ran across the old man’s obituary. He died quietly between the stainless steel restraining bars of the bed. Of a heart attack. With his son nowhere near.  

   How much better for the old man if he would have been allowed the chance to drop dead next to a steamer at Rollag six weeks earlier!

   People who are protective of the old and say “they can’t take the trip,” aren’t doing the elderly any favors. What they fear is a scene. They don’t want to have to be around when somebody dies. They would rather have the death happen in a sterile room in a nursing home with professional medical personnel in attendance, preferably when they are out of town.

   What is ignored in all of this is the desire of most older people to die with their boots on, or as Winston Churchill would put it, “in harness.”  What is life worth if to preserve it you give up all that you love to do?

   Most would push forward with farming, golfing, walking, gardening, cooking, and life in general, despite the risks.

   It is the younger generations who wish to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible. They baby their elders out of what they see to be concern, but which may actually be a selfish desire to avoid either the trauma of death, or worse yet, the unpleasantness of being there when it happens.

   I’ll bet many older folks would appreciate it if we younger ones swallowed hard and let them wind things up however they wish, even if it might mean risking a scene at Rollag. 


Learn about Eric's latest book A Treasury of Old Souls. 


The above photo was taken by Eric overlooking the harbor in Napier, New Zealand. 


Golfing with Grandpa



Late each summer while he was able, my Grandpa would take me on our annual golf outing. It was always an odd experience. Grandpa considered himself to be exempt from green fees. In lieu of payment, he would bring along his clippers and trim the trees on the fairways as we golfed. This slowed us down quite a bit. It also made quite a mess since Grandpa considered picking up the branches to be beneath us.

   Before we teed off, we each selected one club and left the rest in the trunk. Grandpa usually took an eight-iron.  Later on, my cousin Tom gave him a nine-wood for Christmas. I didn’t know there was such a club, but Grandpa thought it was great. It was the only club he used for the rest of his life.

   Grandpa was impatient with putting and considered a shot within three yards of the hole to be as good as in. He would pick up his ball and go trim trees while I chased my ball back and forth across the green.

   The most dramatic moment of our golf outings came when Grandpa parred hole number two in Fosston using his nine-wood. He must have been near eighty at the time. When the long putt went in, Grandpa threw back his head and laughed until he was red in the face.

   Grandpa usually tired out by hole number six and would stretch out under a tree while I golfed six and seven. Many golfers would stop to see if he needed medical attention. By the time I picked him up again, however, he was usually awake and delivering a lecture on trees complete with scripture references to a group of golfers, some interested, some not.

   After we finished, we always stopped at the Flapjack restaurant in McIntosh for pie, even if it was six o’clock in the evening. The pie made Grandpa feel even better, and he would start singing hymns out loud. This behavior puzzled other restaurant patrons, but nobody ever asked him to stop.

   As a teenager, these outings were an ordeal of embarrassment. Now, however, they are fun to look back upon. 

   For whatever reason, I haven’t golfed since.


Eric's new book A Treasury of Old Souls available here. 




Goering's Guard


Today at the Fertile Library, Author Jack El-Hai spoke about his recent book, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist, which focused on the relationship between psychiatrist Douglas Kelly and Nazi Hermann Goering formed at Nuremberg. In the audience was Art Olson of Mentor, above, age 90, who was Georing's guard at the prison in 1946 and spoke often to the gregarious warlord. 


"Want to trade places?" Goering had said to Olson as the American GI brought the Nazi to his chair in the Nuremberg courtroom. 

Olson was quiet during the lecture until one slide: a picture of the prison atrium with guards stationed outside of each cell to prevent suicides of the 22 Nazis on trial. 

"That's where we were!" he exclaimed. 

To the left of Olson in the picture above is Byron Ness. He and his wife Marilyn have been studying the war to find out more of what Byron's father Victor went through in Italy. Victor only recently began to talk about his war experiences, and Byron and Marilyn have been faithfully recording his stories, and reading aloud to Victor other accounts of the Italian campaign. 

Victor passed away early this morning at Fair Meadow Nursing Home at age 98. Even so, Byron and Marilyn followed through on their promise to bring old Art Olson to hear the lecture on his former prisoner. 

Goering knew he was going to be sentenced to death. He was convinced that if Germany had won the war, it would have been Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Churchill on trial, not him. "Luck of the draw," he shrugged. 

Goering did not want to die by hanging, however. That was the way to kill common criminals. He was a head of state. 

So the night before, he popped a cyanide tablet he had smuggled into the prison and died within minutes. 

The author of the book, El-Hai, noted that his subject, psychiatrist Kelly, viewed Goering's suicide as a small triumph for the Nazi. He had foiled the Allies by taking things into his own hands and not allowing himself to be hung. 

"Oh, we hung him all right!" Olson exclaimed. 

"Really!" the author replied. 

Yes, the Americans on guard who found Goering's body apparently made sure he got his final humiliation. After the symbolic hanging, the Nazi leader's body was cremated in a concentration camp oven. 

Psychiatrist Kelly was altered by the experience of interviewing the Nazi war criminals. Contrary to his expectations, Kelly's work revealed that the monsters responsible for the deaths of millions were no less mentally healthy than anybody off the street. The discovery caused him to despair and leave the psychiatric field. Furthermore, he felt a kinship with Goering. He may have expressed that kinship when, with his life in shambles, he killed himself in 1958. 

Dark stuff, true. But it was fascinating to see an academic historian interact with a person who lived the history, a GI who had walked the very halls the author studied. 

Olson mentioned the films of the concentration camps shown at the trial. He had seem some of the gruesome clips, and he described them. El-Hai said that nobody had seen those films until the trial, and that, in contrast with our violence de-sensitized culture today, they were completely shocking to people back then. 

"What effect did they have on you?" the author asked Olson. 

Oh oh, I thought. Here you have an old Scandinavian being asked to describe his emotions. Olson paused. The author waited. Television producers would hope for tears at this point. 


"Well! It wasn't very pleasant!" Olson finally snapped, with the attitude of, "what kind of a stupid question is that?" 

I had to cover a laugh, because I knew Olson wasn't going to give in and show emotion. He was just to old school for that. It was just a matter of how he was going to find a way to keep his Norske dignity in the face of invitation to at least quiver a bit.

He pulled it off perfectly. 

Purchase Eric's new book A Treasury of Old Souls here.



The #2

The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 is one of the chestnuts of classical music, so much so that pop musicians have been stealing melodies from it for decades. Eric Carmen, Celine Dion, on and on. The Concerto is so popular that many classical music fans tire of its constant repetition in concert halls across the country. 

Well, it is tiring to hear mediocre pianos and orchestras attempt to milk the popular piece for claps. I have heard this piece played so badly I almost walked out in disgust. The piano player actually skipped about a dozen measures the last attempt I heard. But oh, the crowd loved it. After all, all the masses require is a few strains of familiar melody before they erupt in rapture. 

In addition to the many mediocre performances are many recordings which are adequate, but uninspiring performances of the piece--no doubt by pianists and conductors who are sick and tired of doing this most popular piece over and over just so the orchestra can raise funds to continue. The piano is usually overrun by the orchestra, or is so blurry in the recordings that you have to feel sorry for the pianist for learning so many notes which are never appreciated. 

Here, however, is a recording which is as perfect as I have ever heard. Every note is clear. I don't even know for sure who did this. But it is a brilliant recording, as much a tribute to the producers who placed the microphones in the right spots as to the performers who responded to knowing their efforts would be accurately (and completely) reflected in the recording--a frightening prospect!

Remember, if you hear a melody in this concerto which you recognize and say, "Oh! They did that on Saturday Night Live!!" or something, forget it. Every melody in this famous and revered piece is Rachmaninoff's alone; if you have heard it elsewhere, it is because somebody later stole it--including Saturday Night Live, which hilariously adapted dozens of pop songs to the third movement's famous melody. 













A slam-dunk funeral

When my grandmother Olga Bergeson passed away in 1995, her funeral was held on a perfect September day at the little country church where she had been comfirmed nearly eighty years before.

After the graveside service, neighbor Paul Ofstedal pulled my aunt aside and said, "Now, that was a slam-dunk funeral." 

Yesterday came Paul's turn for a slam-dunk funeral. 

Paul was a citizen of Rindal, a neighborhood centered around the tiny town by that name. Faaberg Lutheran church remains active, but the Rindal's general store closed in the 1980s and the creamery closed soon thereafter. The town of perhaps a dozen inhabitants survives as a sleepy shadow of its former self. 

Until a funeral. 

Then, Rindal's only street fills with cars and the tightly-knit Rindal bunch, those raised when the town and its surrounding small farms brimmed with children and chickens and cows, gather from near and far to send off one of their own. They come from neighboring towns, from Fargo, from the Twin Cities, from California, from wherever--but they share a lasting tie: memories of a youth spend in idyllic Rindal. 

The rare chance to get together with the old neighbors turns most Rindal funerals festive reunions. You would never suspect the area was populated with sullen Norwegians--just as you would never suspect you were at a funeral--when you open the door to the narthex of Faaberg to be overwhelmed by loud coversation and big laughs. 

Although he would give the spectacle his full endorsement, Paul would have been on the edge of the crowd, hands in pockets, mumbling a carefully constructed statement into a listener's ear in his muffled bass voice. 

Paul was a farmer-philosopher. There are more of them in Rindal than you might imagine. A voracious reader and a brooding thinker, when Paul saw you about town, he usually had a thought ready just for you, and you got the impression that he had been polishing that thought since he saw you months before. 

Sometimes I responded to Paul's thought. He would lean in to absorb my half-baked instant analysis, eyes squeezed shut, wrinkled face scrunched, deep in thought. And then he would walk away, as if to say he needed another month or two to digest the new information. 

After he retired from farming, Paul surprised everybody by getting a job as a physical therapy aide at Fair Meadow Nursing home in Fertile. It was a surprise at first, but about a second after absorbing the news, most people who knew Paul said, "that's perfect!" And it was. Paul drew out those he served, hearing stories from the old-timers I suspect nobody ever heard before. His tenure at Fair Meadow was more a ministry than a job. 

So, even though Paul retired from Fair Meadow job ten years ago, several of Faaberg's pews filled with his co-workers.

Faaberg Lutheran Church is a thing of beauty. It's spire can be seen for miles. The interior, recently given a new coat of paint, is just as it was and has been for decades. The 110-year-old organ's pipes, ornately painted, glow in the sunlight. The newly polished wood floor doesn't even squeak, as most country church's floors do. Faaberg is solid. 

Good singing, a moving flag ceremony by two uniformed soldiers honoring Paul's time as a Marine in Vietnam, taps, a great solo by Paul's brother--the funeral was dignified, but warm. 

And then, "lunch" downstairs, prepared by the ladies in Faaberg's spacious kitchen. Open-faced cheese sandwiches, cold noodle dishes, marshmellow salads, pickles, coffee--the traditional Lutheran fare. And more loud conversation amongst old neighbors happy to have an excuse to get together, even if it is a funeral. 

An outside visitor from the suburbs might find the cacophany disconcerting. Where's the grief? Where's the solemnity? The answer is that the grief is underlying and ongoing and there was more than enough solemnity in the service. When the people are gathered, it is time to reacquaint and catch up on new hips and new knees and grandkids and trips. The unspoken assumption is that Paul would be happy he at least provided a chance for the neighborhood's offspring to renew old ties. 

That's what makes for a slam-dunk funeral. 










Larry Drummer

For many, many years, some of our best customers have been Larry and Bridget Drummer, who live near Maple Lake. Always quiet, kind and cheerful, Larry clearly loved plants and gardening and his wife Bridget. I finally put together that he owned the big diesel repair shop on the East Side. We never had a conversation, but you didn't need to. It was just fun to watch them in their own world picking out plants. 

The last time I saw them, they had picked out a big ornamental drum from the gift shop. I teased him that Drummer was buying a drum, and they walked up the driveway with him carrying the drum on his shoulder. 

Larry passed away at age 63 last week. His obituary tells his story. 

Trump the Vulgarian

Can Trump keep it up? When will he implode? What explains his rise in the polls? How do we stop him? 

The pundits wring their hands. Josh Marshall thinks Trump is a doofus who uses sophisticated military strategy. Peggy Noonan, who penned the phrase "1000 points of light" for George H. W. Bush, declares Trump to be a sign of molecules in motion. Statistician-pundit Nate Silver assures us Trump will meet his doom. Charles Blow has had enough and will no longer mention Trump's name. George Will was moved to pen a glorious sentence which begins, "Every sulphurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon..."

Pity Ted Cruz, Todd Walker, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal--if you can. As they fight to out-evangelical each other, a heathen bursts through the back doors of the church and steals their "market segment," to use Cruz's phrase. Yes, Trump, despite his pro-choice recent past, despite his obvious lack of a personal faith, leads amongst evangelical voters, the most coveted alleged "bloc" of voters in the Republican primaries.  

FOX News pollster Frank Luntz, a dark genius who assembles focus groups to test out phrases designed to pull the wool over the eyes of voters (it was Luntz who proposed that the super-rich should be called "job creators," and that the estate tax should be renamed the "death tax"), tested a group of 29 Trump supporters, assuming he would find their support to be shallow. He was wrong. "My legs are shaking," Luntz said after the session, so impervious were Trump's supporters to negative truths about their favorite. 

Through it all, Trump blusters on, obscuring his last outrageous statement with the next, dominating the news each day. The country has several months to grow tired of him, but signs that the Trump phenomenon will be short-lived are scarce. 

Too all the theories explaining his rise, I will add mine:

Donald Trump has siezed the moment because he addresses one of the most powerful and prevalent human emotions: shame

A story: In 1986, I spent a summer at Cambridge, England studying history. Most of my fellow students were from the East Coast, a more diverse set than I had been exposed before. 

At dinner one night, I said with pride that I had "jewed down" a clerk who sold me a sweater. The table fell silent. On the opposite side sat Louis Cohen, as Jewish as can be, a gentle soul who was too kind to point out my use of a phrase which had long ago fell into disuse amongst educated folk due to its obvious anti-semitism. 

My face burned red with shame. In the next few moments, I felt several emotions, emotions which I think are key to understanding the Trump phenomenon. After the initial shame, I felt rage. Rage at being shamed. Rage at those educated enough not to make my mistake, rage at the sophisticated, rage at the elite, rage at the restrictions "political correctness" placed upon my free expression, my use of homey phrases, my expression of myself.

Finally, and briefly, my mind tried to feel pride. Pride that I spoke the unvarnished truth. I mean, aren't Jewish people known for being frugal? Pride that I wasn't one of those constipated souls afraid of offending anybody. 

Eventually, I just ate crow and apologized to Louis privately. But my shame lived on to the point where I still blush, 29 years later, at the thought of offending such a nice person, and for acting like such a boor. 

Fast forward to Trump.

Trump shows no shame. He follows each new boorish statement, not with a tortured, contrived apology, but with another even more boorish statement. He is boldly himself, political correctness be damned. He gleefully offends this grievance group, that grievance group--all those educated puff heads who shame people for what amounts to, at the very worst, a mere lack of manners. 

I mean, who doesn't occasionally imitate Asian immigrants? Is it really that bad to indulge in stereotypes? Aren't stereotypes the source of much of or humor, either at the bar or on late night television? Don't stereotypes contain a hint of truth? Am I really a bad person for hating rap music, for preferring hamburgers to beans and rice, for fearing the inner city due to all the black people there, or for using the term "gyp?"

To those who feel shame for being made to feel less because they aren't up on all the things they aren't supposed to say in polite company, Donald Trump's vulgar public persona is pure meth. As he bulldozes forward, they vicariously bask in a sense of deliverance from their shame. Justification of one's base, unfiltered impulses is a powerful drug. Those who enjoy its effects won't give it up easily. 

So, why does Trump lead amongst the white evangelical right? Because he shamelessly proclaims what they see as truth but which they have been made to feel ashamed to say out loud.

Successful evangelical ministers play the same game. "He preaches the truth," admirers say of their popular new minister. But now more now than ever before, "preaching the truth" doesn't mean that the minister bravely preaches a proper theology, or the need to convert, or the need to act decently. No, what they relish is when the ministers bash groups that the pew-sitters deeply despise and fear, people who make them feel shame. Liberals. Gay people. People with many degrees. People of exotic origin who won't give up their traditional food to eat hamburgers. People who talk in different languages so we can't know when they are making fun of us. 

The above is as kind a twist as I care to put on the Trump phenomenon. He is many other things besides shameless. He appeals in other ways. People who feel powerless crave a strong man to cut through the political mess. The frustrated gravitate towards simple explanations and simple solutions to complex problems.

Evangelicals, in particular, often drift towards solutions as efficient as their own conversion. "It changed my life," they say of the latest herbal supplement or multi-level marketing scheme, attributing to it the same powers they often attribute to the Lord.

In Trump, they see a quick fixer. I mean, the guy's a billionaire!

But the real root of Trump's surprising ascendance is his shamelessness. 

It is not to his credit. In a civilized society, we should be polite. We should seek to understand others. We should see things from different perspective. We should learn Spanish. We should eat other foods and not view love for hamburgers as a sign of righteousness. 

But it is work. And you always run the risk of offending somebody along the way--and feeling your face burn with shame. 

Those moments of revelation when you realize that what you were yesterday isn't what you want to be tomorrow have another name: 


True education hurts. That is why we avoid it and seek refuge in proud ignorance. 



The Twins secret weapon

The Twins salvaged their season by sweeping the Orioles. Their offense is still stagnant, but their pitching seems to be gaining steam.

On September 1, the rosters expand from 25 to 40. In the past, the Twins have been conservative about bringing up prospects for the month of September. This year should be different.

With one of the richest farm systems in baseball, the Twins could make a September push by filling their bench with some very strong players, many of whom already have some major league experience. A pinch hit here and there could make the difference in a few games, as could an extra couple of arms in the bullpen. 

No team stands to benefit more from September call-ups than the Twins. 

Other thoughts: 

•Sano needs to play defense. He has a presence on the field. Heck, put him at shortstop. He played first base for a while yesterday and even there showed some flair. At bat, Sano has been a force. In the past few games, his home runs have just so barely cleared the fence--he really didn't get ahold of any one of them. But his base hits! Scorched. And he walks. He seems to be in the middle of everything, even as a base runner. Sano is going to create a lot of joy in Mudville. The phrase "not since Killebrew" keeps rattling around my head. 

•Torii Hunter needs to sit on the bench until the end of this season, and then retire. He has no future, and the Twins are a team of the future. Kepler languishes down in the minors hitting .340. He could be getting major league at bats. But no, the Twins give starts to Hunter and Shane Robinson!

•Buxton is in over his head. He needs to quit being a mentoree of Torii Hunter and come into his own. I am sick and tired of Hunter's alleged mentoring. Hunter seems to enjoy his profound wisdom more than anybody. 

•Something's wrong with Mauer. Lingering concussion issues? 

•This kid Tyler Duffy throws a curve almost worthy of Blyleven. 

•Opposing pitchers finally figured out that you can't throw Dozier high fastballs. With that settled, Dozier's bat has cooled. 

•TV announcer Dick Bremer's constant tone of utter amazement is wearing me out. So is his prattle about mentoring. Or his tiresome questions about how one prepares differently if you are batting third as opposed to second. Apparently, adjusting to a new spot in the batting order requires that one run to Torii Hunter for some mentoring. I would turn on Prebus and Gladden on the radio, but as soon as I do, Prebus says "eye-ther" instead of "eee-ther" (for "either") and makes me want to run for the hills plugging my ears. 

•Is it really worth it to chase the wild-card spot when it only gains you a one-game do-or-die playoff, essentially a 50-50 crap shoot? So you lose the game due to one bad pitch and go home. Suddenly you realize that you hung on to Torii Hunter for his playoff experience for two months past his expiration date for no reason. 

•The one failure of Paul Molitor's in-game managing this year has been base stealing. Molitor wants to steal bases, but the players don't execute. Yet he keeps sending them. Inning over. 

•I really enjoy the defensive shifts used by Molitor. Some people hate the strategy and think there should be a rule against moving defensive players around in such a radical manner. Bosh! Shifts bring fan awareness to defensive placement, a facet of the game given short shrift by television. You don't realize until you get to an actual game just how far in the infielders play when they are "drawn in," for example. (Thought: any manager who draws his infield in with Sano at bat should be prosecuted for reckless endangerment of innocent infielders.)


Lance and I are still shaking off jet lag after a week-long trip to Norway. The excuse for the trip was a wedding of two of Lance's friends, one from Norway and the other from Russia. However, we added a few days to the trip to tour a bit.

Norway is utterly beautiful. We toured the Lysafjord on a boat. Spectacular. However, everything we saw in our short stay was wonderful.

Oslo is a quiet capital. In fact, the whole country was quiet. At breakfast each morning in the hotel people went about their business in utter quietude. Very calming Nordic music played on the sound system as we sipped Norwegoian coffee made to wake up the dead.

Norwegians are very tall. Norway is a land of gentle giants. Norwegians are also very good looking. Walking around Oslo was a bit like trapsing through a photo shoot for some fashion magazine.

The wedding was quite a party. It was good to have a chance to visit with some Norwegians. The proceedings were performed in English.

We then went to Stavanger, a city of 130,000 on the southwest coast. That is the area where the Bergesons came from. In fact, there are statues of people we Bergesons like to think of as relatives all over the city--and the cemetery. There is some doubt as to whether we are actually related to Sigval Bergesen, the billionaire ship builder, but we'll assume the best--and wait for a check. 

Norway is wealthy. However, the myth that they can only support their impressive health care system and transportation infrastructure due to oil is just that--a myth. Although the state does own the oil in the North Sea, only 2% of the annual budget is directly from oil profits. The rest comes from heavy taxation, which nobody seems to mind. They see the benefits. 


Vidor and Chopin

Here is the best version of this old chestnut for organ I have heard in a while.  

And my present favorite piece by Chopin.