Men Who Would Speak The Truth: Blitzen Trapper In Lincoln

I’ve probably mentioned this here before, but Blitzen Trapper is an amazing band.

I’ve seen the Portland, Ore., band live three or four times now, and it just gets better and better by the year. When it comes to guitar rock with a southern twist, Blitzen Trapper is the best in the business to my ears.

When I saw the band Wednesday night, it did not disappoint me. Judging by the enthusiasm of the crowd, I wasn’t the only one who walked away satisfied.

I captured several songs for posterity. Enjoy! (If you’re looking for cowbell, it’s in the third video.)

And here is an official video from their latest album, “American Goldwing.”

How They Want Me To Be: Best Coast In Omaha

What is the best coast?

I don’t have a dog in that fight.

But there is little question as to which side of the country Bethany Cosentino is talking about with her band Best Coast. The new album cover for “The Only Place” features a bear hugging the state of California.

I’m not lying.

The titular song also conjures up images of the West:

Why would you live anywhere else?
Why would you live anywhere else?
We’ve got the ocean, got the babes
Got the sun, we’ve got the waves
This is the only place for me

I fell in love with Best Coast the first time I heard “Crazy For You” on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” a couple years ago. The hosts were playing songs from the bands they were looking forward to seeing most at that year’s SXSW.

Now, two years later, Best Coast has joined the upper echelon of indie rock stardom. Cosentino even has a line of clothing with Urban Outfitters.

I first caught the band live at the 2011 Kanrocksas music festival. It was 100-plus degrees that August day, but the band sweated out a good set.

When I saw Best Coast was making a stop in Omaha to promote “The Only Place,” I knew I wanted to see the band again in a more intimate (and climate-controlled) setting.

A large crowd joined me at the Slowdown for the event.

Bethany Cosentino

Cosentino’s voice was absolutely heavenly, and hearing it live it only reinforces the decision to put it front and center on the latest record.

The four-piece band didn’t waste much time with chit-chat. They just kept playing the tunes, including all their biggest hits and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms.”

Watching an extended performance, I started to feel some of the critical responses to Best Coast had merit. Namely, they have a basic musical template that does not vary much, and Cosentino’s lyrics are, well, basic, and don’t stray far from a well-worn template. In other words, too much of Best Coast in one shot can leave you feeling a bit numb.

However, with that said, I find a lot to love about the band’s template. “The Only Place” is a very enjoyable album (“How They Want Me To Be” is a favorite), and I am very curious to see where the band goes next. I hope new ground is forged, but even if it isn’t, some catchy tunes are a guarantee.

I captured a couple of videos from the Omaha performance that shows just how good Best Coast sounds live.

What Are You Worth?

Chances are, you aren’t worth much.

I don’t say that as a commentary on your value as a human being. Rather, if we compare your annual salary to that of the average American CEO, you don’t stack up — at least probably not for a couple hundred years.

Is it OK that the lowest-paid employees at a company would have to work almost 9,100 years to earn what the CEO of the company earns in one year? Is there at least room for debate that maybe there is something slightly unethical about such a wide disparity?

I think so. But I run into plenty of people who think the CEO is worth every penny and that if someone is only earning minimum wage, that is all they deserve, as well. After all, the CEO is taking on all that risk!

Well, not really. I think you could argue that in many cases the minimum wage worker is taking on more personal risk working for a large company than the CEO.

A CEO can oversee mass lay-offs and the value of a company plummet, and he/she will still depart with the so-called golden parachute for all that “good” work.

However, when the CEO cuts hundreds of jobs for short-term financial gain, there is no parachute for the low-wage earner. Especially in today’s economy, those individuals are thrown to the wolves — or, even worse, the creditors.

But that’s OK, right? Only lazy and unmotivated people have low-paying jobs. Everyone gets their just desserts. The structure of our economic system is as fair as it gets. We can’t possibly improve upon it. Right? Right? (Yes, the sarcastic tone is very much intended.)

What prompted all of this? AP science writer Seth Borenstein did an analysis of CEO pay in this country compared to that of the typical worker. It really puts things in perspective.

WASHINGTON (AP) — David Simon of Simon Property received a pay package worth more than $137 million for last year, and the typical CEO took home $9.6 million, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Here are some ways to think about just how much money those salaries represent.

Simon’s $137 million is almost entirely in stock awards that could eventually be worth $132 million. The company said it wanted to make sure Simon wasn’t lured to another company.

HOW LONG IT TAKES OTHERS TO MAKE THAT MUCH: A minimum wage worker — paid $7.25 per hour, as some workers at Simon malls are — would have to work one month shy of 9,096 years to make what Simon made last year. A person making the national median salary, $39,312 by AP calculations, would have to work 3,489 years.

BY THE HOUR: Assuming Simon worked a 60-hour week, his pay was $43,963.64 per hour, or $732.73 per minute. To put that in perspective, the minimum-wage worker would have to labor for nearly three years to make what Simon earns in an hour. The average U.S. worker makes slightly less in one year than Simon makes in an hour.

COMPARED WITH AMERICA’S CEO: Simon makes about 342 times the $400,000 annual salary of President Barack Obama. In fact, if you add the salaries of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court justices, all the members of the Senate and House of Representatives and all 50 governors, it is less than $110 million, so Simon makes well more than government’s top 600 leaders. In the past 100 years, U.S. taxpayers have paid a total of $80.6 million, adjusted for inflation, to presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Obama.

The median CEO salary of $9.587 million:

HOW LONG IT TAKES OTHERS TO MAKE THAT MUCH: A minimum wage worker would have to work 636 years to make that much. A person making the national average salary would have to work 244 years to make the median CEO salary.

BY THE HOUR: If you assume the CEO works a 60-hour week, the pay comes to $3,072.84 per hour, or $51.21 per minute. To put that in perspective, the minimum wage worker would have to labor more than 10 weeks to make what the median CEO earns in an hour. It would take the average U.S. worker nearly a month to make what the average CEO makes in an hour.

COMPARED WITH AMERICA’S CEO: The CEO who made the median salary took in 12 times the total $789,674 in gross income that President Obama reported last year. But it is less than half the $20.9 million in income that presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney reported in his tax filing.

Reading About That ‘Dam’ Groundbreaking Has Given Me An Itch

It’s Friday.

I need to help you laugh.

Actually, considering my week, I need to help myself laugh. Let’s laugh together, shall we?

You may or may not have read the story I wrote in today’s Press & Dakotan about the 60th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the Gavins Point Dam. I recommend it, not because I wrote it, but because I find that sort of history interesting.

As part of putting it together, I revisited some issues of the Press & Dakotan from 1952.

So, you are greeted on the front cover of the May 19, 1952, edition of the paper with this:

Cool, right?

So you’re reading along, and for the groundbreaking story’s finale you are asked to please go to page 8. Simple. No problem.

And then you come to the end of the story.

“Wow. What a momentous day that summed up,” you think.

Oh, but what is this final bit of bold text at the end? Oh. Oh!?

Now, that you mention it, I do need to get rid of this “dam” itch …

Think Yankton Has Had Interesting School Elections Lately? Check Out Mitchell’s School Board Race

No matter what your position has been in the last several Yankton School District elections, I think we could all agree that the characters and issues involved have made them quite interesting.

At times, we probably all questioned whether we were in an alternate reality where the normal rules of logic just don’t apply anymore.

Well, things here may very well pale in comparison to Mitchell, where Craig Guymon, a self-described “ole junk yard dog with a demanding bark that’s going to loudly air our community’s Culture of Deceit & Social Stink,” is, um, raising a stink.

In its story on a Tuesday School Board candidate forum titled, “Guyman Inflames School Board Forum With Pledge To Fire Superintendent,” the Mitchell Daily Republic reports:

Mitchell school board candidate Craig Guymon delivered on his promise to “light the room up” at the Mitchell Board of Education candidates’ forum Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute.

Dressed in a camouflaged T-shirt and cap, Guymon delivered an opening statement that set a theme: “I believe the control freak Joe Graves needs to be fired.” Guymon, nearly shouting at times, said he was taking the opportunity to exercise his First Amendment rights. Guymon used every opportunity during the meeting to criticize Superintendent Graves’ leadership.

About 80 people gathered to hear incumbents Neil Putnam and Theresa Kriese debate the issues with challengers Ed Potzler, a retired software engineer, and Guymon.

I honestly know next to nothing about the ins and outs of the Mitchell School District and Guymon’s history with it. (Guymon is also not a big fan of the Mitchell Daily Republic.) But I will say that, for better or for worse, Guymon adds an entertainment value to the school board race that the other candidates do not. (You really do owe it to yourself to check out the video of the forum here to get the full effect of Guymon’s personality.)

Want to know more about Guymon? He’s done you a favor and written “The Book of Guymon.”

On a serious note, I offer some free, if unsolicited, advice to Mr. Guymon (who will probably lump me in with the biased readers) : You may very well have legitimate issues with the Mitchell School District and, in particular, its superintendent. At the very least, I have no doubt you are being true to your beliefs. But the way in which you are delivering your message pretty much guarantees that your audience either isn’t going to listen or won’t take you seriously — even thought they might find you entertaining.

But maybe that’s how you prefer it.

Spending Time In My Mobile Temple

This was my view last weekend as I sat in the cab of the windrower, my mobile temple.

If I had to pick one reason to go back to the family farm and work, it would be to windrow alfalfa.
What is that, you ask?
When you’re out driving in the countryside, do you ever notice the rows and rows of alfalfa? A windrower is the machine used to cut the hay and place it in those rows, or windrows.
I’ve been operating what they call a self-propelled windrower for more than half my life.
It’s always been like a mobile temple for me.
It’s where I’ve spent hours contemplating religion and politics. It’s where I’ve wrestled with the process of getting over a girlfriend. And this past weekend, it’s where I attempted to come to terms with the fact that my grandfather is making a slow, painful journey into his eternal rest.
Just as the windrower cuts the alfalfa, collects it and places it in an orderly row, time in that machine allows me to sort through my thoughts, grab the important ones and attempt to make sense of them.
The rows of alfalfa the windrower leaves behind could just as well be my thoughts unspooling.
And, yes, that analogy did indeed occur to me while sitting in the windrower.
It’s difficult to explain why I prefer spending hours in a windrower versus a tractor or a truck — though I’m content to operate those machines, as well.
Perhaps it’s the smell that makes all the difference. One of my favorite aromas (besides lilacs) is the smell of fresh-cut alfalfa. Encountering that smell on a cool night can create shivers that then give way to familiar comfort. It provokes a desire to be still and absorb the moment.
Or maybe it is the very action of placing that alfalfa into orderly rows that is so important. Something about the experience of being in a windrower makes my mind operate differently than if I was on a walk or a drive in my car.
At this time, I should probably mention that time in the windrower isn’t necessarily always a peaceful experience.
Gopher mounds can clog up the header and require me to sweep away the cached mud and alfalfa. It can be a frustrating struggle, especially if the alfalfa is packed so tight in the conditioner that you can only pull a few stems out at a time. Also, a single rock can break off some of the knives and create the headache of trying to replace them.
It’s also unpleasant when an animal accidentally gets swept up into the header. You never know what is residing beneath that green blanket of hay, and there have been times when I’ve looked back to find that bird or rabbit parts are strewn along with the alfalfa.

No hands!

I even once turned my head back to find that — horrifyingly — an entire fawn had literally been sawed in half by the knives. The alfalfa was tall enough that I never had a clue it was lying there. That doesn’t leave you with a good feeling, I can tell you.
Fortunately, I’ve never had a similar run-in with a skunk. However, my uncle did. That experience stinks, I can tell you.

The only time I ever used the windrower as a weapon was one late morning when I ran across a very strange badger. I had never before, nor have I since, seen a badger at mid-day, and he was not behaving as a badger typically does. To put him out of what I imagined was his misery, I ran him over with a tire. The fact that I was able to do so tells you this badger was not well.
As silly as it may sound to admit it, one thing that has always registered with me when contemplating a move to supposedly greener pastures is that I might not be able to get back to the farm and enjoy those precious days spent in the windrower, cutting a swath through that green ocean and delving into all those thoughts I don’t get to visit during the course of a regular day.
I would no longer have access to my seasonal mobile temple. I’m not sure if my mind would be able to cope with the permanent loss of such a comforting and yet provocative sacred space, however unconventional it may be.

Homosexuality Is Not Homicidal: The Strange Dialogue About Gay Rights

I like to think I’m a tolerant person.

When you are in the line of work I am in, you really don’t have a choice.

Inevitably, I encounter people whose ideas I find flawed or perhaps even ugly. Sometimes, and I’m sure you can relate to this, I run into people that have plain old disagreeable personalities.

But at the end of the day, I do my best to treat everyone the same, whether it is on an interpersonal level or writing about them in a story. It’s a matter of professionalism, as well as a personal approach with which I am comfortable.

Being exposed to so many personalities and ideas on a daily basis, there is constant reinforcement that very little in this world is black and white — as much as people would sometimes like that to be the case. These interactions during my nine years in journalism have helped me grow as a person and better understand how the world works.

But it’s a lifelong class. The learning never stops.

That is a long introduction to the issue I wish to address, which is the matter of gay rights.

I was raised a Catholic in a small rural Nebraska community, and still live in a small city in South Dakota, but I don’t ever recall subscribing to the idea that there is anything wrong, moral or otherwise, with being homosexual. It never made any sense to me, even though I live(d) in a place where it is (was) popular to believe that is the case. I would like to think I am part of a majority in my community, as I have no statistics at hand to tell me one way or another, but I wouldn’t put money on that horse. At best, I would expect there is a majority of people in this area who would say they are OK with someone being gay “as long as they don’t rub it in my face,” which essentially means, “people can be gay as long as they stay in the closet.”

Do any of you disagree with that characterization of the local populace?

My hope is that with time, these attitudes will continue to evolve. I still encounter way too much overtly anti-gay sentiment (and that does include the old “hate the sin and not the sinner” line, as there is no sin in two consenting adults expressing love for one another), but it has come a long way in just the last couple decades.

Believe it or not, all of this is a lead-up to some real laughs.

As you may have heard, Lincoln, Neb., is considering an ordinance that would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Sadly, this is a controversial issue.

The Lincoln City Council recently took more than six hours of testimony from more than 70 people on the proposed ordinance.

The Omaha World-Herald summed up the arguments:

Proponents of the ordinance described it as a matter of fairness, of gays and lesbians being able to live openly and to acknowledge their loved ones without fear of losing their jobs.

“You have an opportunity before you to not just make Lincoln more welcoming for gay and transgender people, but also to improve our economy and business culture,” said Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, the organization that spearheaded Lincoln’s ordinance.

“People should be judged at work by their performance, not their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said.

But opponents said the ordinance would impinge upon their religious freedoms by requiring them to accept behavior they consider immoral.

“Our faith is something that’s been the moral code for four thousand years,” said the Rev. Chris Kubat, director of Catholic Social Services.

“Now” — he snapped his fingers — “you’re going to force us to do something that’s against our faith. Last year we assisted more than 28,000 people. Most weren’t Catholics. If people are hungry or naked or thirsty, I’m going to help them. I don’t care who they are or if they’re gay, but don’t force me to cooperate with behaviors against our faith.”

Kubat said the church’s opposition to the proposal would be “mitigated” by an amendment that creates an exemption for religious organizations, but he said the church would prefer to see a conscience clause exempting individuals based upon their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Some video footage from this hearing has gone viral.

In particular, provocative, if non-sensical testimony from a woman who is known to Lincoln residents for her regular flyers has been making many major sites.

If you read the entire World-Herald story above, you’ll notice that she is not quoted. Honestly, I wouldn’t have quoted her in a story I wrote either, because her testimony is so fanciful. I would guess that some sort of mental illness plays a role in her behavior and beliefs.

Jon Bershad at Mediaite had an apt description:

You know what’s not funny? Hate. You know what’s also not funny? People going on hate-filled rants. However, you know what is funny, people going on hate-filled rants that make so little sense that they sound like someone took the worst comments from a political message board, mixed all the words around, translated them to Japanese, and then translated them back. And that’s what happened at a council meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska and it resulted in one of the craziest videos you’ll see this week.

What exactly are we talking about? Here is the video (and take note of the reactions of the guy sitting behind her):

Now, did you also notice the older lady sitting in the background who kindly sat through that testimony? She testified, too. Quite honestly, I prefer her speech.