It’s the wind, you know

Yesterday, some of you jeered at the small amount of snow we were getting. It’s a fair cop; here in Western Minnesota, we’re a little dryer than the eastern part of the state, and we get measurably less snow. Where we make up for that is that we’re also colder and much, much windier. We get a small amount of powdery snow and then the wind keeps picking it up and blowing it around. Yesterday, our driveway was completely clear. This is how it looks this morning.

There is a car under the snow on the left side of the top picture.

We don’t go anywhere anymore, but there have been a few occasions when we were unable to travel on Highway 28, the main connecting route from Morris to I94, because drifting snow has completely covered the road to a depth of 8′-10′ in some spots.

I do find the swooping curves of our snow dunes quite pretty, though.

Hey, how about some local good news for a change?

Incremental progress exists, and I should acknowledge that now and then.

  • Morris is implementing organics pick-up! The county is collecting food waste from local grocery stores and restaurants for composting. It’s a drop in the bucket, but a good step.
  • This is impressive: Alexandria (a city about 45 minutes north of me) is partnering the police with mental health professionals to put the right people in charge of handling citizens having mental health crises. Imagine: someone having a breakdown and the city response is not to send an unqualified thug with a gun charging in to do battle.

We’re taking baby steps in the right direction, let’s keep it up.

The view from my office window

I don’t think we got a lot of snow last night, but I can’t tell, because these fierce winter winds scour everything bare. Most of the snow that might have fallen in my front yard is probably in the next county.

It might still be snowing, or the wind could just be pushing it around in the air, I don’t know. I’ve been entertained by watching the birds pumping their wings frantically to try and reach this birdfeeder and essentially hovering in place until they tire and the wind whisks them away. Poor birds.

Welcome to the apostolic cult

I’ve been watching the smart people at the top of the university hierarchy slowly realize that there’s still a pandemic going on, and that they should have sane policies in place to protect the students and staff — you know, the people who do the actual work of the university and interact with students, which they, fortunately for them, don’t have to do. So we have restored mask requirements in university buildings and will be imposing a vaccination requirement, all sensible, practical actions that I’m surprised took them so long to do. I’d applaud, except that it could only be interpreted as mockery because it would be a bit like giving the rich kid in the class an “A” because he drove to class in his Maserati one day. You don’t get prizes for doing the bare minimum.

Well, maybe I should praise them a little bit more because jesus fucking christ, look at Morris Area Schools, our public school district, has established as the rules for the coming school year. The school board thinks the pandemic is over!

So, no face masks, social distancing is treated with ambiguity (there isn’t going to be any social distancing), there will be no distance learning option, and oh hell no they aren’t going to require vaccinations for anyone. You may notice that there is a jarring difference in one aspect of the public school experience: the kids have to wear masks on the bus, and they have to be fairly thorough in cleaning them. That’s because the buses are regulated by state and federal laws, while once the kids are released into the schools, local control is imposed.

Here’s what you need to know to understand the basis for this lack of sense: Morris public schools are under the control of an apostolic religious cult. They pack the school board — they can do that, because they all vote as a bloc under the influence of their religious leaders — and they have undue influence because they threaten to pull all their kids out of the Morris high school and send them to another small town district, and enrollment affects state funding. It goes without saying that of course they are profoundly conservative wankers who voted for Donald Trump. They’ve also been expanding their business holdings in Morris, which is worrisome. Stevens County is darned close to becoming a theocracy, where the women are all required to wear dresses and grow their hair long and pin it up into a bun. It’s just weird and rather disturbing.

I guess we can hope they all die off thanks to COVID-19, except…why did they have to start with infecting the kids? The children don’t deserve this.


Here’s one strong response from a mother responding to the similar ineffectuality of the Chattanooga school district:

Although it won’t help to be able to opt out of an irrational pandemic response, because the threat requires communal cooperation.

What are you going to do for me, Mark J. Lindquist?

We’re in trouble. Now is the time for people to begin running for office in the little places, like the 7th congressional district where I live, and where a dud of a Republican placeholder is our current representative. And we have a new, fresh face! Mark J. Lindquist is gearing up to run for that office, and he’s certainly enthusiastic and outgoing, which is a good start.

But I think he’s doomed.

Nice website, but it’s all about Mark. It’s like a vanity page for Mark Lindquist: I learn that he’s served in the Air Force as an analyst for the NSA, and when he got out he’s been working as a motivational speaker for Fortune 500 companies, and he aspires to sing the National Anthem at the Superbowl. I could find nothing about policy. For instance, this is is a largely rural district, with a lot of farmers who tend to vote Republican — where does he stand on agricultural policies? Personally, I’m a university professor, and I want to know what he’s going to do for education. I can’t find it! At the top of his web page, it says he is “reinventing American politics”…how? What’s he doing differently?

His big plan is to sell books to fund his campaign, thereby getting big money interests out and changing American politics. It’s not very revolutionary.

If he’s the Democratic nominee, he’d probably get my vote simply because I’ll vote against Republicans automatically, but he’s going to have to work harder at presenting some deeper policy vision if he wants to sway my Republican neighbors, who consistently outnumber me around here.

I did something normal last night!

It felt good. The Morris Theater has re-opened after a long pandemic hiatus, so I actually went to a movie! I love just going to a movie theater, and I’ve missed it.

In case you are concerned because the pandemic is not over yet, I was sensible about it. I’m vaccinated, I wore my mask while interacting with the box office clerk, and, well, this is Morris. I was the only person in the theater! I would like to complain to the management that they could have stayed open all through the past year if they had only allowed one person, me, to attend each showing.

Oh, the movie? Cruella. If I’d had a lot of choices, it’s not one I would have picked, but well, this is Morris. You take what is offered. It was an OK bit of fluff, it’s main virtue is that it gave two Emmas (Stone and Thompson) an opportunity to chew the scenery as over-the-top villains. I like them both as actors, so I’m not going to complain that they got paid to have some indulgent fun.

I also have low expectations for summer movies. The previews were a blur of car chases, superheroes, and random explosions.

Local is global

That’s kind of how I picture my great-grandparents’ farm. I should look it up someday.

It certainly is strange to read an article in the Guardian which mentions all these little towns in my region of Minnesota. Who has ever heard of Greenwald, or Dumont, or Chokio, or Kerkhoven? These are tiny little towns that I know of because they’re within 50 miles of me, but why is an English paper writing about them? Also, the article talks about a lot of things I was thoroughly ignorant of, despite living here.

The issue is the ongoing consolidation of dairy farms in Minnesota. My great-grandparents were dairy farmers in another teeny-tiny town north of here, Fertile, Minnesota, but they gave up on their small farm around about the time of WWII, when one of their sons invited them to live by a real fjord out in Washington state, but that loss was part of an ongoing process. Small dairy farms can’t make it anymore. Now you have to run a mega-factory farm. These are huge operations.

Dairy conglomerate Riverview LLP is​ by far the largest mega-dairy operation in the state. ​​​At the company’s flagship dairy in Morris, Minnesota, ​10​​​​,000 cows wait expectantly for the feed truck. In the “nursery”, a still-wet calf, its umbilical cord dangling, struggles against a worker who tilts back the small head and inserts a tube of colostrum all the way to its stomach.

At one day old, calves are strapped into vests, machine-lifted into a truck and transported 10 miles away to the company’s calf facility. A few days later, they are trucked more than 1,000 miles, ​either to New Mexico (if bound for the beef market) or Arizona (if destined for dairy) – a move that Riverview says is for the warmer weather.

I had no idea. I guess I need to get out more, because as a non-farmer I didn’t have a clue about what’s going on right under my nose.

Despite a ​55% nationwide decrease in dairy farms between​​ 200​2​ and 2019, cow numbers have held steady and fluid milk volume has increased – a fact that illustrates a trend toward fewer farms operating on much ​larger scales.

Between 2012 and 2017, ​Minnesota lost 1,100 dairy farms.​ In contrast, those years marked enormous growth for Riverview as it built ​three​​​ new Minnesota ​mega-​dairies, a feedlot in South Dakota ​and expanded ​its calf and dairy operations ​to New Mexico and Arizona.

Are these mega-farms better for the environment or for the people who work the land than numerous smaller farms distributed over a wider area? Probably not.

One of those potential neighbours, a ​crop farmer in Dumont, Minnesota, says a Riverview official visited him in April 2019 and shared a plan to build a 24,000-cow dairy ​​​a​ mile away. The official offered to buy the farmer’s corn for feed, and to sell manure to him as fertiliser. The offer was declined. “I said, I’m not very interested in that because you’re not paying enough for the product, and you’re charging too much for the manure.”

​​The farmer – who asked to remain anonymous – was also horrified by the idea of so many cows so close to his home. He worried about odour and air quality, wear and tear on the roads, manure leaching into streams and rivers, and the demand on the groundwater supply. “I’m telling you, it’s scary they’re going to come in here and suck that much water from the ground,” he says.​​

The 24,000-cow dairy has not ​​been built but, ​according to state records, the company has applied for a permit to build a 10,500-cow dairy approximately ​130 miles north in Waukon Township.​ Additionally, an application for another 10,500-cow dairy, in Grace Township, is under review.

I’ve been to Grace, but had to look up Waukon — it’s up north, near Fertile. These towns are tiny, between 100 and 200 people, and they’re planning on farms that hold a hundred times that many cows.

But that’s capitalism!

Gneiss news for UMM

Thanks to generous donors, we are about to launch a new named professorship.

The University of Minnesota Morris announced a new privately funded named professorship to assist in recruitment and retention of faculty at the University. The Morton Gneiss Professorship for Environmental Sciences will provide funding support for U of M Morris in recruiting, supporting, and retaining outstanding faculty members in the area of environmental sciences. With the help of private donors, this is the first named professorship at the U of M Morris.

I love the title. Morton Gneiss is not the name of the donor.

Morton Gneiss, the name selected for the professorship by the donors, refers to the 4 billion-year-old [more like 3.5 billion, I think] bedrock below western Minnesota — a symbol of permanence. The Morton Gneiss Professorship starts in the fall of 2023.

You’ve got a little time to tune up your CV if you want to apply. That timing means we’ll probably start advertising the position in the fall of 2022.

Inconstant weather

Well, it’s 32°C in Morris today, with extremely low humidity and the potential for strong winds. I think that means the spiders will be stirring, so I’ve got to abandon grading for an hour or two to wander the streets looking for my little friends. I better do it now, since for all I know it’s going to snow later this week. That’s my excuse for evading my responsibilities, anyway.

Shut up, Ted

Once again, local old coot Ted Storck has a letter published in the local paper. He needs a friend to take him a side and explain to him that he’s looking a bit obsessive, obnoxious even, or maybe to just say, “Shut up, Ted.” He’s still upset that the neighborhood got tired of his loud, repetitive chimes, so he feels the need to explain himself, and he’s reading articles in the National Catholic Register to explain how it’s Satan that led to the removal of his noisy electronic gadget.

Awww. The article also states the devil hates the electronic recording used by some churches, or the electronic carillon bells that used to resonate across Summit and Calvary Cemeteries, and now is heard at St. Clare Church in Surprise, Arizona, after they were forced to be moved from the Morris cemeteries. If I were to read that aloud, I’d be sure to break into melodramatic sobbing as I got near the end of the sentence.

Clearly, the problem was that the devil moved into the corner house a block south of the cemetery, and has triumphed.

Shut up, Ted.