Welcome to the jungle

The wife and I moved into our house in Worthington last August and walked outside together to survey the lush landscaping.
“They’re weeds,” Sandy said, pointing to an area saturated with tall, green plants with pointy leaves.
“No, they’re not,” I said.
“They sure look like weeds to me. I think we should pull them out,” she said.
“Let’s see if flowers grow,” said I.
Our place is wonderful, especially if you like outdoor plants. I love them. I don’t know how to control them, but sure do appreciate the way they make our yard look “filled in.”
Sandy thinks it’s a little TOO filled-in. We have a plant area in the front lawn next to our deck area and another bigger plant area starting at the back yard deck and winding all the way around the side of the house to the opposite corner. In short, about three-fourths of the circumference of our house is encircled with plants, and for most of the way the plants are packed more densely than the hair on a yak.
The variety is amazing. There must be 40 to 50 varieties of plant species around our house. And, yes, I know at least some of them are weeds, because I’ve chopped more than my share of healthy thistles over the past year (and although thistles can, technically, sprout purple flowers, I know a thistle when I see one).
All these non-weed plants, apparently, are what they call “perennials.” I know this now, but I didn’t know it during the winter months when everything was barren.
Sandy and I thought that, maybe, nothing would grow back in the spring.
Boy, were we wrong!
By late May, every square millimeter of our plant areas were filled in, and by early June many of the green things were as tall as our waists. I was correct about the flowers, because some of those “weeds” produced very pretty flowers of blue or white. I’m glad I didn’t hack them to death prematurely. But Sandy may yet be correct about some of the other odd-looking stalks; flowers have yet to grow on them, and unless they produce something pretty and fragrant in the next couple of weeks or so, I may have to admit she’s at least partially right.
Flowers or not, as of two weeks ago things had most definitely gotten out of hand. There was just too much of it all. It was looking like our own private jungle, so I stalked outdoors to take matters into my own hands.
The idea was to pull a few of the “plants” so as to give the others a little more room to breathe. But by then the mosquitos had taken up residence.
After two minutes I emerged from jungle covered in welts. There was a cloud of mosquitoes around my head, and they followed me all over the yard. Swatting furiously, I could not keep them off. The sound of them was ferocious, and I swear that they looked as large as small birds. The Amazon basin doesn’t have mosquitoes as big or as vicious as these.
This is, I suspect, what happens when you’ve got a jungle in your yard and you haven’t the wherewithal to deal with it.
But I’m not giving up. I’m going back there. I’m going to trim those overgrown plants if it’s the very last thing, I do — which it might. I just hope Sandy doesn’t find me lying there one day, covered in big red welts while wearing my pith helmet and holding a machete.

Brains don’t make sense to me, either

I have several nerdy tendencies and one of the worst, I suppose, is an interest in intelligent design theory which compels me to digest numerous books and articles about how intelligent life got here, and why.
I don’t know if I really understand two percent of what I’ve read about the subject, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
Seems to me, the question basically boils down to whether life occurred and developed randomly, with chance as its guide (the Darwinist approach), or it required a supreme intelligence (which, I assert, is the more rational option given the amazing complexity of the information-based systems that we see). If you think you could randomly toss all the letters of the alphabet over the Sahara Desert, wait 100 million years, and find that they miraculously arranged themselves to form the Declaration of Independence, you are a Darwinist).
Materialists have a hard-enough time convincing John Q. Public that life is just a lucky break. What then, can they tell us about the brain?
I came across a scientific article the other day titled, “Why Can’t We Explain the Brain?” and my own quavering gray matter began to buzz and whir. In other instances, I could give myself headache trying to understand the strange brains of Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Dennis Rodman, but it turns out that even our brightest scientists and philosophers can’t even begin to explain where “consciousness” comes from.
For several decades now, the biggest brains among us have attempted to unlock the mystery of consciousness. Sure, we’re getting better at detecting areas of the brain that are stimulated due to the various functions, but we’re no closer to understanding what makes us self-aware. As the article states, we can’t “see” consciousness no matter how many times we study the behavior of the brain’s neurons, dendrites, synapses and what not.
There was a time when the geniuses behind brain research tried to tell us that “mind” is really nothing more than the natural unfolding of evolution. We started out with small brains, then they got progressively larger as the eons came and went, and consciousness is really no more mysterious than the result of molecules firing out in all sorts of directions. They told us that one day science will figure it all out, and when they do it will be no more miraculous than anything else we take for granted.
Yet here we are today. No farther along in explaining it.
Personally, I rather enjoy the fact that the smartest brains among us can’t yet explain how this base of power actually works. I like it that there are still some profound mysteries in the world — which leads me to think that explaining Joe Biden isn’t really all that necessary.

You can really play when you’re that big

My 4-year-old grandson Jake got his robin’s egg blue T-ball uniform last week and couldn’t wait to try it on. He insisted on practicing in full gear, and then he went outside and ran up and down the lawn asking his mom, Kari (my daughter), to time him. After returning to the house, Jake continued to “practice” in the living room.
Kari told him she was “so excited” to watch him play his very first game and Jake asked, “Do I really get to play when I’m this big?”
Kari said, “Yes!” and Jake responded like any other self-respecting serious ballplayer when anticipating the big moment.
“I’m nervous,” he explained.
Learning of this episode, I went to Kari’s Facebook page and saw the decked-out ballplayer in pictures. Jake was indeed in full uniform, with a robin’s egg blue cap matching his jersey, and his clean white baseball pants overlapping a tiny pair of black cleats. He’s also wearing a big smile, handling the ball in his right hand while holding the baseball glove I bought for him on his third birthday — it’s black and yellow and it’s so little I can barely squeeze my pinkie into it. But for Jake, it’s just right.
Ah, to be young when summer beckons!
I remember when my oldest grandson, Clay, began his T-ball career. I watched him play at every opportunity, and I’ll never forget how when I showed up with my lawn chair he seemed to forget about what he was doing at the moment. He stole my glance every five seconds, just to be sure grandpa was really there to watch him.
All throughout southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, the summer youth sports scene is beginning to play out. It is a marvelous time of year when youngsters get to dream heroic dreams and fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings get to watch them and try to remember what it was like when they were that young and carefree.
I still remember my Little League baseball days. I remember that my entire summer revolved around the games. I counted each day, each hour, each minute to the next game at the Sibley, Iowa, park where we played our little contests. I remember that if it rained on game day — or if there were even a threat of rain — I was beside myself with worry. The very idea that my game could get rained out literally could inspire a tantrum.
And I particularly remember my dad standing next to Mr. Clarey — our coach — during one particular game while I was in the on-deck circle swinging my little wooden bat. I remember overhearing Mr. Clarey talking about me to dad. “He’s a chip off the old block, isn’t he,” Mr. Clarey said.
I hope dad was half as proud as I was at that moment.
As for Jakey, he will play many a ballgame in Mankato with his dad, Mike, watching and puffing out his chest. Have fun, Jake. I plan to be there as often as I can, with my lawn chair.

Hot pink under fire in Iowa

Native Iowans such as myself have looked upon it as a source of pride that the visitors’ football locker rooms at the University of Iowa are pink. The color was chosen in 1979 by legendary Hawkeyes football coach Hayden Fry, who believed in the use of psychology to defeat Big Ten opponents.
The color pink, said that eminent leader of men, creates a calming effect that tends to turn aggressiveness into tameness. So he ordered the visiting teams’ locker walls, shower stalls, floor — yes, and the urinals, too — to be colored in shades of pink.
Fans applauded. Anything that could provide an edge for the Hawkeyes, however slight, can’t hurt.
So Iowa became famous for corn, flatlands, and pink locker rooms.
That may all change, however. Today Iowans are debating whether pink should stay or go. This is because, of course, a bunch of pantywaist, I mean, community spirited students at the U of Iowa are waging a campaign against the color. An editorial in the student newspaper, “The Daily Iowan,” in fact provided a laundry list of reasons why pink visitor locker rooms are (and I quote) “childish, sexist, embarrassing, stupid and outmoded.” And furthermore, it represents “a belief in sexist norms of male superiority and violent masculinity.”
What’s more, say the distressed students, “Professors who have voiced concerns about the locker rooms have been met with intimidation from Iowa fans (a pretty standard tactic of misogynists when trying to delegitimize their opponents).”
Now, I’m not exactly sure what a misogynist is, but I’ve been around the block long enough to know it’s a big word and one that gets thrown around a lot on college campuses. Seems to me that it is not good to be called one of those things. So, obviously, the anti-pink crowd means business.
I mean, they’re really bringing out some big guns here. Consider this editorial fragment: “The culture of hyper-masculinity, embodied by the locker rooms, is exactly what leads to the rape culture — the tolerance of widespread sexual assault through victim blaming and the enforcement of patriarchal norms — which results in the egregious sexual-assault problem the campus (and campuses across the country) grapple with.”
Wow. I never knew. I suppose you have to be in college to understand these things.
Still, I remain unconvinced that the anti-pink movement will ultimately produce its desired effect in Iowa. New York, maybe. But I think it’s pretty hard to convince a majority of Iowans that pink is so sinister. Why, heck, if pink were a bad color, why was there no outrage when major league baseball players used pink-colored bats on Mothers’ Day?
Listen, I think those students are going about this the wrong way. In this country, there’s only one sure-fire way to ensure serious outrage. And that would be to claim pink is homophobic.
Yep, that oughtta do the trick.

The rules of the road

I recently listened to a radio broadcast where a man and his wife discussed the secrets to a good marriage.
It is important, they said, for married couples to accept their mates as they are and to refrain from targeting certain specific areas when making negative comments. The wife said, for instance, that the worst thing you could do to a husband is to complain about his driving.
I laughed when I heard it. My driving skills (or lack thereof) have been the subject of Sandy’s critiques throughout our 35-year marriage. The woman on the radio said that husbands are particularly sensitive when discussing their driving habits, so my first reaction was to applaud her wisdom.
Probably the biggest fight Sandy and I have ever had as a married couple (I’m sorry; it was a “discussion”) occurred one weekend several years ago when I was behind the wheel and we were returning home from a road trip to her parents’ house. She had mentioned to me before that I always seemed to stray too close to the center line on highways, and that it scared her. I told her, of course, as husbands are prone to do, that she was being silly. I’m not THAT close to the center line, anyway, and if she were sitting where I sat she could plainly see that I had at least two feet of center line to spare.
She respectfully disagreed. So finally — just to avoid further “discussion” — I moved over, closer to the other side of the road.
This, however, did not suffice. I had overcompensated, she said. Now I was driving too close to the edge of the road, and that was just as scary as being too far in the opposite direction. What’s more, she questioned my motives. Could it be, she wondered, that I went SO FAR to the right out of spite?
“Of course not,” I replied calmly (well, maybe not quite that calmly). And I told her how difficult it was for me to be EXACTLY where she wanted me to be. And where would that be, anyway? Should we get out of the car together and measure exactly how many inches of road were visible on both sides?
Well, things got a little more intense at that point, if you know what I mean.
Thankfully, that was many years ago. We’ve learned to move on. One of the great things about marriage is that couples usually do learn how to avoid “discussions” like these after the first one occurs. And the wife and I have become quite good at avoiding the most sensitive subjects. I don’t want to say that the subject of my driving is off-limits, but the afore-mentioned incident had the best effect on the both of us. I try very hard now to stay in the middle of my side of the road. She tries very hard not to talk about it.
As for my driving skills, generally, I have a higher opinion of them than Sandy does. We don’t argue about it. We just agree to disagree.

Hollywood is not for real

I may not watch the film “Heaven is for Real,” which has just been released in movie theaters and which purports to tell the story of a young boy who, in a near-death experience, is said to have visited heaven.
I enjoyed the book. It treated the subject of life after death respectfully, reverently even, and I came away from it feeling inspired. But even though reviews I’ve read of the movie version, starring Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear, are generally positive, I can’t help but nurse a nagging unease. I have developed such a distrust of the Hollywood movie industry that instead of enjoying the production I’m likely to be looking for fault lines — secondary themes mostly — things put in, things left out, that water down the real message of the book.
I can certainly understand the desire of movie-makers to appeal to the widest audiences possible. That’s how they make money. It’s also how they leave many moviegoers feeling let down.
But it also used to be true that mainstream movies were made with the audience’s sensibilities paramount. No more, I think.
As “Heaven for Real” is getting rolled out, there are some other popular movies making the rounds that —according to reviews I have read — reek of a kind of unwholesomeness that makes me think twice about what I used to call “entertainment.”
There is now a Johnny Depp vehicle called “Transcendence,” where the main character dies and is resurrected as a computer program — but a dark, malignant all-powerful one that mocks any higher purpose and instead talks about “creating your own god.” Meanwhile, another popular film, “Noah,” purports to be based on the Biblical character from Genesis, but not really. This Noah, according to various reviews, embraces the message that humanity is not to be wiped clean due to its sin against God, but because of its sin against the environment. The ark is built to save the innocents — not Noah and his family who still strive to follow God — but to save the only part of God’s creation that really matters — the animals.
The way I see it, if you want to belittle biblical concepts to sneak radical environmentalist propaganda down the throats of the unwashed masses, go right ahead. But this is stretching artistic freedom just a little bit too far, don’t you think?
Now, I don’t want to get carried away here. I haven’t seen either movie. I have seen other movies in the past after reading troubling reviews about them, and found them to be nothing like what the reviews said. But I also believe that for an increasing number of movie-makers today, political agendas are what drive the story. The trust that movie-makers once shared with their audiences has been broken.
We all enjoy a little entertainment, of course, and we’re all on the lookout for inspiration where we can find it. But I wonder how many other would-be film fans are like me, thinking that when I’m in the mood for inspiration, today’s American movie industry just isn’t a very good bet.

Too tedious for modern times

There’s nothing sacred in baseball anymore. This year, they’re making umpires superfluous with the wholesale embrace of instant replay. Next, they might make the games seven innings instead of nine.
Tradition is only a word among the majority of American sports fans nowadays. I understand that. Few of us prefer to hold onto rules that have withstood the test of time, because most of us only live in the now. We also have the attention span of 7-year-olds. Perhaps that is why I listened to a debate on a major sports channel the other day where it was argued that major league games are too tedious at nine innings.
Never mind that nine-inning games have been the norm since the mid-1800s. In the 2010s, nine innings is too long to have to sit through. And never mind that pitchers who throw no-hitters would in the future have to have asterisks next to their names in the record book. Record books are for geeks.
OK, then, if we really want to speed up the game, let’s talk turkey. First of all, let’s re-think this embrace of instant replay. It slows up the game. It interrupts the natural flow and turns baseball into a courtroom drama. You say you like instant replay? Then you’ll love watching Perry Mason reruns.
If we’re serious about shortening baseball games, we can look at other avenues. For one, the commissioner can insist that the strike zone be more tightly enforced. The time between pitch deliveries can be shortened. We can shorten the length of time between innings which is now used so that we can cram more TV commercials into it.
So the games are too long, eh? If they’re too long in baseball, they’re too long in football and basketball, too. Three and one-half hours for a National Football League game does seem a little unnecessary, don’t you think? And why must the final minute and a half of a college or NBA basketball game take half an hour to complete?
Seven innings in a major league baseball game? I suppose then we’d have to invent a new term to go along with it — the “fifth-inning stretch.”

It could happen, couldn’t it?

I am pleased and honored to announce a few changes coming soon to the Daily Globe newsroom. The changes involve several of us, and obviously will require some adjustments on the part of our readers.
The changes begin at the top. Managing editor Ryan McGaughey will be picking up stakes with his family and moving back to New York State, where he originated from, and starting in mid-April he will assume his new position as a member of the New York Times editorial board. We will miss Ryan greatly, but we believe he will deliver some important and passionate opinion pieces regarding the national political scene — enhanced, of course, by the expertise he developed while plying his ample journalistic skills here in the Midwest.
Features editor Beth Rickers will be leaving, too, joining Barbara Walters and crew on the popular ABC news and commentary show, “The View.” We wish Beth all the success in the world and only ask that she not forget the little people she met along the way. Senior reporter Julie Buntjer is leaving to work for the Minnesota State Fair. It’s a full-time job lining up concessions and exhibits for the Fair, and Julie plans to go above and beyond the call of duty to actually judge some of the 4H events, as well. Finally, our community content coordinator, Aaron Hagen, will be leaving to join ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay where he will annually share his personal thoughts on the best and worst college athletes angling for multi-million dollar contracts. Aaron, of course, was one of the few people in America to correctly predict that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder would be a bust, and — go figure — certifiable draft gurus don’t come along every day.
I also have some personal news to announce. As many of you know, it has been a lifelong dream of mine to play shortstop for a major league baseball team, and … well … the other day I got a call from Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. As you may be aware, the Tigers’ regular shortstop, Jose Iglesias, is likely to miss the entire season due to injury, and the team has been scrambling to find a suitable replacement for the past several weeks.
Mr. Ausmus explained to me that the search for a replacement has been less than satisfactory. And even though I am now 57 years old, he believes I may be able to play the position at least as well as the players he now has on his roster. He wants me to try out for the team.
Well that’s pretty much all the news I have for now. I realize, of course, that the calendar date today is April 1. I just want you to know that just because this is “April Fool’s Day,” that doesn’t mean everything you just read isn’t true. All these things could indeed occur just as I have said.
In an alternate universe.
OK, I can’t conclude this blog without admitting something that actually (Scout’s honor!) happened to me when I was 11, maybe 12 years old and growing up in my little northwest Iowa town of Allendorf. An older friend of mine, Dick Oldenkamp, handed me a copy of the latest Sibley Gazette, and right on the front page was a screaming article announcing that Sibley, Iowa, had been approved for a new major league expansion team.
I swallowed the story hook, line and sinker. I thought to myself, “Why not? It’s a major league team just six miles away! If people will go to Minneapolis and Kansas City to watch major league baseball, why wouldn’t they also go to Sibley?” I believe I even wondered out loud if I could get a job as a bat boy.
When Dick reminded me what day it was — April 1 — my level of embarrassment reached into the stratosphere.
Ever since, I’ve been extra skeptical of anything I’ve ever been told. Maybe that’s why I got into the news business.
Happy April Fools Day, everyone.

Stop and feel the sunshine

I recently watched a nature show on PBS and a guy came on and said we all need to take a moment to step back, set our hectic lives on pause, and go outside on a sunny day. Turn our faces into the sun and feel the warmth. We are to marvel, if we can, on the fact that it exists.
Ah, yes. The beauty of the natural world is too easily taken for granted. The sun, the plants, the animal life, everything that is around us. We spend so much time indoors behind a desk or behind a television set —or behind our computers —that we have lost our ability to be amazed at God’s incredible creation.
And then the next day I received my copy of that handy 5-inch by 8-inch Department of Natural Resources magazine, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, at the Daily Globe. That little bi-monthly has often, in the past, been put on a shelf as I moved on to more pressing matters, but the March-April edition contains a delightful photograph of pink and white orchids taken by Jim and Judy Brandenburg.
Jim Brandenburg, it might be fair to say, is a living Minnesota legend. There is an impressive Wikipedia page devoted to him (you know you’ve arrived when you’ve got a page devoted to you on Wikipedia), and for good reason. He is perhaps best known for his more than 25-year association with National Geographic magazine, but his outstanding work also extends into books and filmmaking. His best-selling book “White Wolf” led to a film project on the same topic that has been seen in more than 120 countries.
Brandenburg’s national and international awards are too many to mention here, but it is a point of pride that he was born and raised in Luverne, studied at Worthington Community College and once worked as a photojournalist at the Daily Globe.
The Brandenburg orchids are so beautifully photographed that one might prefer looking at them in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer than to see them in person. But as beautiful as the photographs are, it is also a pleasure to peer at the remainder of the magazine to see a piece on spruce grouse and Minnesota frogs.
Did you know that there are 14 species of frogs and toads in Minnesota?
Besides that, there is an article on John James Audubon, the quintessential naturalist of the late 18th and early 19th century whose depictions of American birds still fascinates today.
Tomorrow is March 20, the official first day of spring. Happy we are that we’re not still trapped in our sub-zero Minnesota winter and we can now don our spring coats and gaze at the natural beauty that surrounds us. It is easy, as adults, to lose our fascination with the world. But I think we’d be happier people if we took the time to stop and smell the roses — or turn our faces toward the sun.

The Vikings’ strange quarterbacks conundrum

I’ve been thinking a lot about the National Football League draft these days.
And what I’m thinking is that, for me, it’s more fun than the Super Bowl.
Certainly, it’s more satisfying.
This year’s biggie between the Broncos and the Seahawks was essentially over on the very first play from scrimmage. And if that wasn’t bad enough, even the commercials were boring.
But the NFL draft never disappoints. Because no one knows which players will develop into stars and which will bust, every football fan’s fantasy is free to roam.
This year’s draft will begin on May 8, which is later than usual, but the kickoff date never really matters to real fanatics. The countdown has begun.
Up here in Vikings country, most of the drama seems to center upon quarterbacks, which has been pretty much the story (more or less) ever since the team’s last serviceable quarterback it has drafted, Daunte Culpepper, was taken in 1999. For some strange reason perhaps unknown to anyone but Bud Grant, the Vikings over the last decade and a half have been unable — or unwilling — to develop their own quarterbacks from the ground up.
After Culpepper flamed out in 2005, the Vikings turned to Brad Johnson, who actually was drafted by these very own Vikings, themselves, in the ninth round of the draft in 1992. But Johnson doesn’t count because he left and came back, and never became the “franchise quarterback” any other self-respecting NFL franchise looks for. He was the kind of guy teams use to “hold” the position until a real franchise quarterback can be found.
Problem is for the Vikings, they rarely seem to look hard enough for a franchise guy, and when they think they’ve found their starter, he’s usually someone they’ve acquired because he’d outlived his usefulness somewhere else. This explains QBs like Jim McMahon (1993), Warren Moon (1994-1996), Randall Cunningham (1998), Jeff George (1999), Gus Frerotte (2008), Brett Favre (2009-10) and Donovan McNabb (2011). Some of those guys weren’t bad. But one should always beware of the Vikings’ forays into the college quarterback pool, especially lately, because it might turn up guys like Tavaris Jackson and Christian Ponder.
So if you’re a Viking fan, the 2014 draft offers special drama. There are many purportedly fine quarterbacks rising to the top of the draft (Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr, to name a few) and the quarterback-poor Vikings draft eighth overall.
If there’s ever a time for them to find a real good quarterback in the first round of the draft, this should be it. My prediction is they go for a linebacker.