Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Opposite of Cold: Event tonight, plus book trailer #2

We invite those in the area to visit the book-release party for The Opposite of Cold tonight (Thursday, 9/30) beginning at 6 p.m. at the American Swedish Institute. A reception with food and a cash bar begins at 6; a slideshow presentation and book talk with the authors and an introduction by architect David Salmela begins at 7. Author Michael Nordskog and photographer Aaron Hautala will be signing books afterward. More event details here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Activism and the new agricultural biotechnologies

This week's author feature is from the authors of Fighting for the Future of Food: Activists versus Agribusiness in the Struggle over Biotechnology, which tells the story of how a group of social activists, working together across tables, continents, and the Internet, took on the biotech industry and achieved stunning success. Rachel Schurman is associate professor of sociology and global studies at the University of Minnesota, as well as coeditor of Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents. William A. Munro is professor of political science and director of the international studies program at Illinois Wesleyan University. He is also author of The Moral Economy of the State.


Some people have asked whether our book is anti-biotech. In our view, that is not really the right question. The arguments over agricultural biotechnology are both deeply polarized and deeply polarizing (this is a key theme in our analysis). To characterize the book in terms of one or another broad label, such as ‘anti-biotech’ or ‘pro-biotech,’ is to adopt and to reinforce such polarization — it places our analysis in one of two possible categories. Yet, as we believe our book illustrates, such broad labeling obfuscates more than it illuminates.

To be sure, we offer a critical account of the agricultural biotechnology industry. But our purpose is to show that there are quite different ways of understanding technologies and their meanings, and that these different perspectives can be politically (and socially) consequential. In this case, it was the work of the anti-biotech activists that made these perspectives consequential. As social movement analysts, our aim is to show how and why they did so. Thus, while it is not uncommon to hear anti-biotech activists characterized as anti-science ideologues who don’t care much about the poor, we show that this kind of shorthand does not help us very much to understand the activists who constituted the anti-biotech movement. Their rejection of the technology was not simply visceral. They organized opposition on the basis of their personal and historical experiences, their deeply held values, and their political analysis of what the technology would mean for society and the environment. They developed their analyses collectively over time and in interaction with one another. In doing so, they observed and interpreted advances in science and technology that were associated with the emergence of scientist-entrepreneurs, changes in the legal system, the interests of the biotechnology industry, and the behavior of state regulatory agencies. We maintain that if one is to understand the roots of anti-biotech activism, as well as its political trajectory, it is crucial to understand these processes of “thinking work.”

This graphic appears in the introduction to Fighting for the Future of Food.

Moreover, in generating an analysis of these developments, activists acted not very differently from those in the industry, who also took a strong position though they stressed different values. The two groups drew opposing conclusions, the activists seeing peril where the industry saw promise. Our goal in the book is not to argue that one group is right or wrong, but rather, to reveal the concerns and motivations that both groups had and to show how these came into sustained conflict. As such, one of the key themes in our analysis is to show that, as political actors, both sets of protagonists in the struggle over agricultural biotechnology — activists and industry alike — were not only driven by, but also constrained by, what we call their “lifeworlds.” One can think of a lifeworld as a local culture and the people who constitute it. Lifeworlds are important for understanding the biotech struggle because they helped to produce shared accounts of the world and “normal” or commonsense ways of seeing and acting upon it.

Today, commentators sympathetic to the technology increasingly acknowledge that the technology has been ‘oversold.’ (See, for instance, this editorial in the July 2010 issue of Nature). As we show in the book, ‘overselling’ was a political mistake inasmuch as it gave the anti-biotech activists room to maneuver. But it was also culturally embedded in the industry’s lifeworld. In effect, industry scientists’ excitement about these new technologies was infectious; corporate managers felt this sense of excitement and promise and began to run with it. Then, acting as they would with any new product in which they had invested millions upon millions of dollars, they aggressively sought to market GMOs, which involved considerable hype and some hubris. The industry’s behavior not only outraged the activists but played into their hands. We argue that if we are to understand the struggle over biotechnology we must take the lifeworlds of both the activists and the industry seriously. Pasting a label on the book does not help to do that.


Find out more about Fighting for the Future of Food.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Laurie Hertzel series, Part 5: When I Was ... 38, and embarking upon a new career adventure.

When I Was ... is a monthlong series that appears on this blog on Mondays throughout September. The series, by Star Tribune books editor and author Laurie Hertzel, moves chronologically through Hertzel's early years and adventures in writing and while on assignment at the Duluth News-Tribune. You can find links to previous entries in the series at the bottom of this post.


When I was 38, I moved away from Duluth, and Toby saved my life.

We only made it as far as Beloit, Wisconsin, the first day. My dog, Toby, and I were headed to Columbus, Ohio, for three months, to live in the James Thurber House. I had been awarded a fellowship as journalist-in-residence, and we would be living in the attic of Thurber’s childhood home—the rest of the house was a museum, furnished much as it had been when Thurber himself lived there.

My plans were to teach a summer class at Ohio State University, work one day a week as a writing coach at the Columbus Dispatch, and, oh yeah, write great literature in my spare time.

Toby the Life Saver.
Toby's plans were to hang around the house and chase as many tennis balls as possible.

We had gotten a late start, and it was already evening when we started trolling Beloit, looking for a motel.

I don't know what kind of uncivilized state Wisconsin is, but motel after motel said, "Sorry. No dogs."

Some time after dark I pulled into a bleak-looking place just off the highway. The desk clerk told me that dogs weren't allowed, but then he took pity on me. Maybe I looked like I was going to cry (or, possibly, go ballistic). Or maybe Toby smiled his irresistible Toby smile—the one where his ears perked up and he tilted his head.

"We're remodeling the place," the clerk said. "I can rent you a room on the back side, in one of the rooms we haven't gotten to yet."

The front of the motel had looked reputable, if inexpensive. The back looked downright nightmarish. The isolated parking lot was rimmed by a wooded wetlands. Instead of brightly painted doors and cute curtains, these back units had ancient siding and doors that looked like a good kick would get you inside.

The lot was filled with battered cars and shady-looking characters milling about. I had a feeling that this half of the motel was the half used by the drug dealers and prostitutes. Oh yeah, and the people with dogs.

I hauled all of my belongings inside with me—all my summer clothes, boxes of books, Toby's stuff, everything that I was schlepping to Columbus. I would have parked the car inside the unit, too, if I could have wedged it through the doorway.

The room had one lumpy bed with an orange chenille spread, and a grungy bathroom with peeling linoleum. I picked up the phone to call a friend back in Minnesota, but the phone was dead. Toby cocked his head at me. As long as we're together, everything's okay, I was pretty sure that look meant.

I reached down and scratched him between the ears. It's just for one night, I said.

And the night was perfectly uneventful. Even in that wretched place, I slept like a rock, exhausted, no doubt, from driving all day. I do not like driving, even in the best of circumstances, and freeway driving in unfamiliar places was stressful.

In the morning, I leashed Toby up to take him for a walk, but before I could open the door, I heard a knock.

From a gap in the curtain I could see a young woman standing at our door. My heart almost stopped. "Who is it?" I said.

"Can you help me?" the woman said. "I need help!"

Somehow, she didn't sound convincing. I waited, but she did not go away. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to open the door. And I didn't want to let her know that my phone didn't work--although maybe she already knew that. Maybe her phone didn't work, either. Maybe none of the phones on this bleak and desolate part of the motel worked.

"Can you call the front desk?" I said.

“I need help!” she said again, and knocked harder. And before I could say anything more, Toby let loose with a volley of barks. He was a sweet dog, but he was protective of me, and his bark could sound ferocious. He threw himself toward the door and barked and barked and barked.

Through the crack in the curtain, I could see the woman dash away. And, right behind her, a large, scary-looking man who had been standing off to the side, just out of my view.

Toby continued to bark his most menacing, I-am-really-a-German-shepherd bark.

I sank to the floor. "Good boy," I said. "Good boy, Toby, good boy."

It was a long time before I felt safe enough to open the door and let him take his pee. Which he deserved that day more than probably any other day. And then I hastily packed up the car, and we headed back to the Interstate, and on to Ohio.


Read other entries in the series:
-Part 4: When I Was ... 30 and stumbled upon the biggest story of my life.
-Part 3: When I Was ... starting out as a reporter at the Duluth-News Tribune.
-Part 2: When I Was ... 19 (and a newsroom clerk at the Duluth News-Tribune).
-Part 1: When I Was ... quite young, an avid reader, and an aspiring librarian.

Laurie Hertzel is author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, published by University of Minnesota Press.

Click here
for more information, including a list of upcoming Minnesota reading events and links to Hertzel's website and Facebook page. You can also check out the News to Me book trailer.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

THE OPPOSITE OF COLD: Michael Nordskog and Aaron Hautala discuss their new, incredible Finnish sauna book and provide a few key pronunciation tips.

Michael Nordskog (from left) grew up
in the heart of North American sauna
country, and currently works as an
attorney, writer, and editor. Aaron
Hautala is the creative director and
owner of RedHouseMedia in Brainerd,
MN. His photographs have appeared
widely throughout Minnesota.
Last month, writer Michael Nordskog and photographer Aaron Hautala visited the Press for an interview and somewhat informal video shoot to discuss their very-soon-forthcoming new book The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition.

As many folks in the north country can attest, sauna represents one of life's great pleasures—sitting in 180-plus-degree heat and throwing cool water over hot stones to create a blast of steam (löyly), followed by a jump in the cool lake or just relaxing on a cooling porch. To the uninitiated, there is a strange, alluring mystique to the art of Finnish sauna. But to an ever-increasing number of people, Finnish sauna is as much a part of northwoods life as campfires and canoe trips.

In this video, which is the first of three videos we will be releasing within the week, Michael and Aaron chat about their adventures capturing the book's beautiful photographs and words, from rural areas in southern Finland to lakeside regions on Minnesota's north shore. The two discuss the history and romance of sauna, why being able to publish this book is so significant, and why you've probably been saying it wrong all these years. (Attention newcomers: It's "sow-nuh," not "sah-nuh." We swear.)

Next week, you can catch Mike and Aaron on Kare 11's Showcase Minnesota, where they will be making an appearance on Thursday (9/30). The book release party, which is open to the public, will be that same evening at the American Swedish Institute. A reception (with appetizers and a cash bar) begins at 6 p.m., followed by a slideshow presentation of the book's gorgeous photos at 7 p.m. and a signing afterward. We hope to see you there!

Find out more about The Opposite of Cold.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How the Philippine government propagates a model of "labor brokerage," even in a time of global economic crisis.

Robyn Magalit Rodriguez is assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University. She is author of Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World.


Despite an unprecedented global economic crisis, Filipinos are leaving the Philippines in the thousands for employment in hundreds of countries overseas.

It seems rather paradoxical; how is it possible for people from the Philippines to migrate during a period of crisis?

First, labor demand in labor-receiving countries persists. Indeed, long before the recent crisis, immigrant-receiving countries like the United States had been experiencing a major reorganization of employment relations, giving rise to what former American Sociological Association President Arne Kalleberg calls “precarious work.” He defines this as “employment that is uncertain, unpredictable, and risky from the point of view of the worker” (p. 2 in 2009, “Precarious Work, Insecure Workers: Employment Relations in Transition,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 74, p. 1-22). On one hand, it can be argued that migrants have always been confined to “precarious work.” On the other hand, more contemporary forms of employment precariousness are also creating new demands for migrant workers, including migrants from the Philippines. Migrants, Kalleberg argues, “are more willing than other workers to work for lower and to put up with poorer working conditions.” As the economic crisis deepens, it can only be expected that employers will continue to restructure work relations to further precarious employment conditions and if American workers continue to resist taking on these jobs, immigration will persist.

The Philippines supplies at least one-fifth of the world's seafarers. Find out more in this New York Times slideshow.

The expansion of precarious work, however, is a global phenomenon that also afflicts developing countries. In their bid to attract global capital, developing states have dramatically restructured employment relations in ways that generally favor employers and not workers. Employment precariousness creates social pressures in these countries, including increasingly restive social movements that demand better wages and working conditions, among other things. Rather than addressing these concerns, some development countries have turned to the export of labor—the second major reason for global migration during this period of global economic crisis. The Philippine government, as the article correctly points out, has perfected a strategy of what I call in my book “labor brokerage.” It has created a vast, highly rational bureaucratic process that mobilizes migrants for export. Though many would choose otherwise, Philippine citizens are opting to leave their families behind and work overseas.

While the world was reeling from the blows of the onset of the crisis in late 2008, the Philippine government hosted the recently formed Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and it was there where states, both labor-sending and labor-receiving, propagated the Philippine “model” of labor brokerage. Indeed, “guest worker” programs are being touted more and more by governments around the world as a means of addressing immigration “problems,” especially as increasing unemployment makes precarious forms of work more desirable to native workers than they used to be. Interestingly, the next GFMD meeting is being hosted by the Mexican government this year, while the Mexican state, it seems, is attempting to address its emigration “problems” by promoting mechanisms by which its citizens can leave the country through the legal channels that guest worker programs promise. Yet if the Philippines is a “model” it is ultimately a “model” of what one critic calls “legalized human trafficking.” Workers in the Philippines, even when covered by employment contracts and other laws that the Philippine government has introduced supposedly to protect workers, find themselves going from conditions of employment precarity in the Philippines only to be inserted into precarious employment conditions elsewhere in the world.

To make things worse, their status as non-citizens makes them all the more vulnerable to exploitation. Even when they are “legal” workers, employers’ interests for cheap and docile workers trumps workers’ entitlement to just terms of employment.


Read more about this topic in Migrants for Export.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Laurie Hertzel series, Part 4: When I Was ... 30 and stumbled upon the biggest story of my life.

When I Was ... is a monthlong series that appears on this blog on Mondays throughout September. The series, by Star Tribune books editor and author Laurie Hertzel, moves chronologically through Hertzel's early years and adventures in writing and while on assignment at the Duluth News-Tribune. You can find links to previous entries in the series at the bottom of this post.


The year I turned 30 I stumbled across the story of a lifetime. The newspaper sent me to the Soviet Union for two weeks to cover the expedition of a group of 33 Duluthians who wanted to establish a sister-city friendship with the Russian city of Petrozavodsk.

Once there, we met a whole community of ex-pats, people who had been born in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and had been brought, as children, to the U.S.S.R. in the 1930s with their parents, idealistic Socialist Finns. Most of their fathers had been lost to Stalin’s purges, and these transplanted American Finns had had a hard life, but through intelligence and resourcefulness they had flourished.

It was an amazing story, and a few years later I went back alone for a month to interview these people at length for a book. The summer of 1991 I spent two weeks in Finland, doing research at the Institute of Migration Studies in Turku, before taking the train to Russia (where I would stay for two more weeks). I had two days in Leningrad before taking the overnight train to Petrozavodsk, and I was extremely homesick. I couldn’t speak or read the language, and I spent the two days wandering around the city on foot, afraid to stray too far from familiar places because if I got lost I was doomed.

The graveyard attached to a park along the
Neva River in northwestern Russia.
That second afternoon I found myself along the Neva River, in a park with a graveyard at one end. I had been walking for hours, I was tired, I hadn't been home in a long time, and I missed my dog. I was feeling lonely and immensely sorry for myself.

The graves were mostly of heroes of what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War and we call World War II. The markers had faces engraved on them, the faces of handsome young soldiers, and red stars. The graves looked well-tended, and they made me feel even sadder. After a while, I sat down on a bench. The thought of spending another two weeks away from home felt overwhelming. I had no one to talk to. I couldn’t even read a newspaper.

Up the path came two stout women in headscarves. They had dogs with them — dogs that lay politely at their feet as the women sat down nearby and began to chat.

I decided to walk over and, using sign language and the only Russian phrase I knew (Без перевода, which means "excuse me,"), make it clear I wanted to pet the dogs. Maybe I could play with them — toss a tennis ball, watch them run. I missed my Toby so much.

I thought about it for awhile, and then I got up and started over. “Без перевода," I said. The women looked up, startled. They were wearing cotton aprons over flowered dresses, and one of them held a large walking stick. Up close, the dogs no longer looked appealing. Their eyes were red, and one of them had a badly torn ear. At my approach, they leaped up and barked.

The woman gave them a sharp hit with her stick and yelled. The dogs lay down again, but watched me, growling ominously. The women turned to me and let loose a stream of Russian words. I have no idea what they were saying; Russian is a harsh-sounding language, and to me it sounded as though they were yelling.

"Без перевода," I said again, and walked back to my bench. I sat down and stared out at the late June afternoon, and foolish tears rolled down my cheeks. I had a 12-hour train ride ahead of me to Petrozavodsk, and two more weeks before I would be home.


Read other entries in the series:
-Part 3: When I Was ... starting out as a reporter at the Duluth-News Tribune.
-Part 2: When I Was ... 19 (and a newsroom clerk at the Duluth News-Tribune).
-Part 1: When I Was ... quite young, an avid reader, and an aspiring librarian.

Laurie Hertzel is author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, published by University of Minnesota Press.

Click here
for more information, including a list of upcoming Minnesota reading events and links to Hertzel's website and Facebook page. You can also check out the News to Me book trailer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

On the crisis of public education

If you regularly keep up on education issues or the latest documentary releases or are an all-around movie aficionado, you've likely seen this compelling and emotional preview for the much-talked-about documentary Waiting for Superman, which is directed by An Inconvenient Truth's Davis Guggenheim and opens nationwide in October.

What you might not have heard is that the movie also has a print companion. School Library Journal has compiled this information along with a list of wonderful new books that also delve into the problems with the U.S. public school system and how it can be, could be, or should be reformed. Included in this list is UMP's Organizing for Educational Justice: The Campaign for Public School Reform in the South Bronx, by Michael B. Fabricant (Minnesota 2010). Here are a few snippets from the book's introduction:


The crisis of public education has been systematically documented by both the media and the academy during the past half century. As the problem of failing schools and students has persisted, the strategies for addressing this breakdown have clustered around three approaches: market initiatives intended to stimulate competition, standards as a spur for accountability, and community organizing as a tool for creating the necessary parent power to leverage both a redistribution of resources and influence that tilts to poor communities of color. These approaches, however, have generated dramatically different levels of resources and legitimacy. Equally important, the political economic context that in large part accounts for this crisis is all but ignored.


In the past ten years, poor parents increasingly dissatisfied with the performance of public schools in their communities have begun to develop organizing campaigns to create pressure for needed change. The emergence of community organizing as a strategy for changing schools and improving learning culture is only fifteen years old. Yet research by the Institute for Education and Social Policy (IESP) in New York City indicates that the work has proliferated across the country to sixty-six groups involved in issues ranging from school safety to quality of classroom instruction. These groups are located in a number of cities including, but not limited to, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City. Mediratta, Fruchter, and
Lewis note that “when combined with groups identified through other studies at least 200 community groups are currently engaged across the country in specific organizing campaigns for better local public schools” (3).

A premise of these campaigns is that public officials must be held accountable by the communities they serve if schools are to be improved. The organizing is intended to both publicize the poor performance of local schools while fighting to make certain the public investment necessary to change those conditions is made. Schools in these communities share common problems of crumbling facilities, overcrowded classrooms, shortages of qualified teachers, high turnover of principals, and very low achievement levels. Organizing has taken place where these conditions are most intolerable. To enforce such perspective, parent power sufficient to challenge policy decision making must be developed. In general, parent groups are too weak to unilaterally build a campaign around complex school-based issues. Organizers and advocates for parent involvement have indicated that the most effective groups, such as the Parent Action Committee (PAC) of the Mount Eden section of the Bronx, have built a base outside the school through relationships with community-based organizations. Eric Zachary, an organizer at the Institute for Education and Social Policy, and Shola Olatoye suggest, in Community Organizing for School Improvement in the South Bronx, that a proposition being advanced by parent groups is that building “parent power in low income communities can be a viable alternative to free market solutions (like vouchers, tax credits, charter schools) for holding public schools

Importantly, some part of the call of parent groups is for a more just distribution of resources to low-income schools. As Jonathan Kozol noted in Shame of the Nation, it is clear that the “resources devoted to public schooling have never been distributed equitably; instead the resource distribution has always been highly correlated with the class and racial composition of local communities.” These discrepant funding patterns largely explain the lack of adequate educational preparation of low-income students of color. Critically, money matters for poor and minority students. But money alone will not solve the problem of low student achievement. Zachary and Olatoye note that Connell indicates in The Midnight Hour that both money and targeted investment are essential to improving the quality of education, “and neither will happen without the other” (2). Conservatives have consistently failed to acknowledge the importance of increased strategic investments in public education.

Zachary and Olatoye have indicated that the challenge for progressive activists and scholars in and outside the academy is to present a “compelling paradigm of how to transform schools so that all children receive a high quality education” (2). This must be done without defending the generally poor performance and practices of inner-city low-income schools. Such a progressive paradigm must trace the failure of public schools and offer as a potential corrective the political will to make certain that investments are made and programming implemented that have the potential to transform learning and achievement. A number of local communities have determined that the struggle to change conditions in local public schools that produce and reproduce failure will not come from policy makers but rather from the neighborhoods in which the schools are located. Parent education organizing represents to date the most powerful assertion of a communal will to transform the learning and achievement cultures of local public schools. That assertion when combined with strategic organizing is a ray of hope for altering the policy discourse regarding public schools.

As noted, the discourse on education reform has been monopolized by politically conservative policy makers and bureaucratic technicians emphasizing privatization and high-stakes testing. Missing from this discourse are the politics and expertise of parents who live daily with the failures of public education. Parents have the least complicated motives for improving public education: the success of their children. In the absence of parent-led initiatives to reform public education, the prospects for fundamental improvement are likely dim. Present policy direction promises to transform public education into ever-more-degraded testing centers, offering students an increasingly static and dead-end education.

The broad context for this Bronx organizing initiative is the largest school system in the nation. As the IESP has suggested, it serves largely poor (75 percent), black (72 percent), and Latino (13 percent) students with limited English proficiency. It is a school system where half of high school students fail to graduate. Perhaps most important, the New York City public school system has been undergoing a significant restructuring of financing, school units, and educational standards as well as policies under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


The primary purpose of this book is to describe and learn from a unique, parent-led organizing campaign in New York City. The Community Collaborative to Improve District 9 schools (CC9), a parent-led consortium of six neighborhood-based agencies in the South Mid-Bronx, is unique for two reasons. First, having started as a small group of parents who discovered that their children’s elementary school reading achievement was among the lowest in the city, the collaborative grew until it attained the power to bring the reforms it demanded to scale: in 2005, New York City applied the reforms CC9 had sought to one hundred low-performing elementary schools. The CC9 campaign for lead teachers, as Anne Bastian notes in Making a Difference, is the most significant policy reform achieved by a parent-led collaborative in New York City in several generations. The effort illustrates how a community initiative shifted relationships of power between three major stakeholders: low-income parents, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and the Department of Education (DOE). Recent data developed by the Academy for Educational Development in fall 2006 suggest the reforms have contributed to improvements in student reading and test scores. CC9’s success demonstrates that parent-led initiatives are perhaps the best hope for promoting the increased investment and targeted reform necessary to improve student achievement.


More about Organizing for Educational Justice: follow the link for the book's table of contents and to find out what others are saying about the book.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Accidental Journalist on MPR

Today on MPR's Midmorning, Laurie Hertzel, author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, chatted with Marianne Combs about her earliest reporting experiences at the Duluth News-Tribune and why good journalism will never go away.

In case you missed Hertzel's book launch at The Loft Literary Center last week, here's footage of the event, which includes an introduction from author and longtime Star Tribune reporter Peg Meier.

Want to meet Hertzel in person? Find a list of her upcoming readings here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Laurie Hertzel series, Part 3: When I Was ... starting out as a reporter.

When I Was ... is a monthlong series that appears on this blog on Mondays throughout September. The series, by Star Tribune books editor and author Laurie Hertzel, moves chronologically through Hertzel's early years and adventures in writing and while on assignment at the Duluth News-Tribune. You can find links to previous entries in the series at the bottom of this post.


Laurie Hertzel bought this silky blouse and suit when she first became a reporter. After about a week on the job, she learned that it wasn't exactly practical for all breaking-news assignments.

In those early years, when I was first a reporter, the newsroom was a vibrant and busy place. The old guard was retiring, and most of the new reporters were fresh out of college and eager to make their mark. There were way more reporters than editors, and so we had a lot of freedom. Editors would assign a story in rather vague terms (“I hear there’s a guy up the Shore who wants a traditional Viking funeral. Go talk to him.”) and we’d grab a set of car keys from the little wooden box that hung on the wall by the police scanner, and off we’d go, up the highway, out of town, into the great vast piney Northland.

Oh, it was fun. In my memories of those years, it is always summer, and I am tooling up to the Range or over to Northwestern Wisconsin, maybe with photographer Joey McLeister or John Rott or Steve Stearns, and we are gabbing the whole time, telling secrets, laughing, talking nonstop.

Joey and I went to Grand Marais one year, to write about a Maxwell House coffee commercial that was being filmed up the Gunflint Trail. We stayed in the old East Bay Hotel, with its crooked floors and bathroom down the hall and tiny black-and-white TV that seemed to play nothing but reruns of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Our room looked right out on the rocky shore of Lake Superior, and at breakfast we ate their famous raisin-rye bread and watched an osprey walk up and down the beach. I don’t remember much about the commercial itself, now, except for the theatrical producer who strode around in the great north woods trying to build drama out of a steaming cup of coffee.

She and I also drove over to Iron River, Wisconsin, one year to write a story about a fish hatchery. We talked to the hatchery guy for what felt like hours, in a small, closed room that was very warm and smelled of fish. He droned on and on about hatchlings and water temperature and fish production. Did I fall asleep? Not quite. Did Joey? I’ll never tell.

Rott and I went to Two Harbors once to cover a story about a civic celebration. We were separated in the crowd, but on the way back to Duluth found out that his lead photo matched the planned lead of my story perfectly. Now that’s a good working relationship.

It wasn’t all fun and features, of course. Photographer Chuck Curtis and I covered the fire that destroyed the old Buffalo House resort just west of town. A wood stove had exploded, and the whole place burned to the ground. It was my first spot-news story, a frigid day in March, and the water from the firefighters’ hoses froze and everything was white and icy and very slick. I’d been told to find the guy in the chief’s hat, but when I went up to him, he was manning a hose and just shook his head. The owner of the resort was nearly in tears, and he refused to comment, either. And I thought, “How in the hell am I supposed to get this story?”

And then up pulled a TV truck, and out popped a glamorous blonde news anchor, who approached the chief and refused to take no for an answer. “This will just take a minute,” she said, lights and video trained on the poor guy, and he continued to fight the fire, but he also gave her information, and I thought, “Ah, this is how it’s done.” And when she finished I barreled my way in behind her, and got what I needed.


Read the series' other entries:
-Part 2: When I Was ... 19 (and a newsroom clerk at the Duluth News-Tribune).
-Part 1: When I Was ... quite young, an avid reader, and an aspiring librarian.

Laurie Hertzel is author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, published by University of Minnesota Press.

Click here
for more information, including a list of upcoming Minnesota reading events and links to Hertzel's website and Facebook page. You can also check out the News to Me book trailer.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Perspectives on "The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America's Public Schools"

Stuart Biegel is a member of the faculty in the School of Law and the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. He has served as Director of Teacher Education, Special Counsel for the California Department of Education, and the on-site federal court monitor for the San Francisco public schools. He is the author of the casebook Education and the Law and Beyond Our Control? Confronting the Limits of Our Legal System in the Age of Cyberspace. His latest book, The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America's Public Schools, will be available this month from University of Minnesota Press.


This past year, one of my UCLA students, writing about California Proposition 8 and the effort by some of its proponents to turn the ballot initiative into a referendum about young people, the K-12 curriculum, and parental rights, told this story:
[During the Prop. 8 campaign,] I worked as a teacher’s assistant at an elementary school. While helping out after school, a plane passed overhead and wrote in the sky “Gay Marriage is Unnatural.” When my students read what it said, one of them, a young boy of about eight, began to cry. I had no idea what had suddenly come over him, and when I asked him what was wrong, he just looked at me and asked, “My parents are unnatural?” This question struck me hard and I was at a loss for words.

The UCLA student went on to write that incidents such as this led her to better understand the realities that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, their family members, and their friends face in education settings today.

I wrote The Right to Be Out to help shine a light on these issues. Our public schools are filled with LGBT students, administrators, faculty, staff, parents, community volunteers, and their families, friends, and allies. They often have multiple identities, and may also be people of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, highly religious, dedicated athletes, etc. Many confront a wide array of challenges on a day-to-day basis.

This book takes a strong position on behalf of equal treatment for LGBTs. At the same time, the book recognizes that LGBT issues impact people of every sexual orientation, every gender identity, every religion, and every perspective on religion. Implicit in such an approach is a recognition that a safe and supportive educational environment -- built upon shared values and geared toward a greater appreciation of our pluralistic society -- can lead to a better world for everyone.

While some may argue that you are either with the gays or with the religious and never the twain shall meet, this is not true for substantial percentages of our population. Many LGBTs are very involved in religious activities and pursuits. Many branches and denominations of organized religion are increasingly welcoming to LGBTs, and the “freedom of religion” guarantees of the First Amendment are clearly there for everyone, gay or straight. Recognizing all these interrelated points can help us find a reasonable middle ground.

Many gay and gender non-conforming students are happy, well-adjusted, valued, and fully accepted members of their school communities. Many others, however, face radically different circumstances, and are encountering horrific mistreatment on an ongoing basis. Still others are somewhere in the middle, experiencing a combination of support and denigration that can make day-to-day realities rocky and unpredictable. In this context, there are many within public school communities who seek to keep any mention of LGBT status or LGBT issues out of the discourse, whether it be in the classroom, in the hallways, in faculty meetings, or in professional development. Yet it is not possible to address problems in any setting without being able to talk about them. Not talking about problems only allows them to fester.

School officials often approach LGBT issues with the perception that things are highly polarized. Yet, as the book demonstrates over and over again, there is great opportunity for progress here, identifying a reasonable middle ground that can be both palatable and inclusive for all members of school communities.

As stated in the Preface to The Right to Be Out, I do not “presume for one moment that the task of effecting further change in K-12 education around these matters is an easy one. Even as the book notes how far we have come, it invariably recognizes how far we still have to go ... But an optimistic best-case scenario is essential if further change is to occur. We may not get to a best-case scenario any time soon, but it is imperative that we continue working in that direction.”


Find out more about The Right to Be Out.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Laurie Hertzel series, Part 2: When I Was ... 19

When I Was ... is a monthlong series that will appear on this blog on Mondays throughout September. The series, by Star Tribune books editor and author Laurie Hertzel, moves chronologically through Hertzel's early years and adventures in writing and while on assignment at the Duluth News-Tribune. You can find the first entry in the series here.


When I was 19, I started working as the newsroom clerk at the Duluth News-Tribune. (Pictured above is the Duluth News-Tribune newsroom around 1978.) My job was to answer the city desk phone, write obituaries, call down to the harbor twice a day to get the marine traffic, and walk across the street to the county courthouse to collect information from marriage license applications, divorces, building permits, and bankruptcies. All of this suited the snoop in me very nicely, and I loved it.

I did not have my own place in the room, but moved from desk to desk, taking over reporters’ vacated spots like a vagrant. In the mornings, I sat at the city desk, but in the afternoons, when the nightside city editor showed up, I had to find somewhere else to sit. This could be challenging, because the morning News-Tribune shared a newsroom with the evening Herald, and when both staffs were working, the room was crowded. More than once I found myself without a place to sit, and one day, my work mostly done, no typewriter or phone available, I took my book and went and sat on the floor by a window and started to read.

Some of the reporters thought I was making a political statement about the overcrowding, and they cheered me. But really, I was just passing the time until someone went out on assignment and I could nab his desk. I was far too shy to make a statement like that, even if it had occurred to me. In those years, I felt myself not exactly a part of that room, but an observer of it. The newsroom was full of larger-than-life characters, fascinating people that I never tired of watching as they went about their work.

There was a sportswriter—quite famous, locally—who had been born with no arms below the elbow. He could still type 100 words a minute, though, using rubber-tipped rods that clamped to his upper arms. There was a chunky, fast-walking copy girl whose job it was to run down the hall to the composing room with sheaves of typewritten copy and wire photos. She once called in sick because she said she had scratched her eye on her pillow—a truly bizarre injury that I figured must be a fluky, once-in-a-lifetime thing. A couple of weeks later, she called in sick and said it had happened again.

There was a copy editor who once cross-country skied to work in a snowstorm, six miles from Lester Park, put out the morning paper, and then, when the storm didn’t abate, slept the rest of the night on the newsroom floor.

There was a former mayor turned reporter, and a big burly guy who covered the waterfront—and who took the month of November off every year to work on the docks himself. It was legend—I wasn’t there at the time and cannot promise that this is true—that he once walked to work in a blizzard, crossing the Blatnik Bridge from Superior, a bottle of whiskey tucked under each arm. One was for the way to work, and one for the way home.

Me, I was not a character; I was just a shy person sitting in the corner, and, occasionally, on the floor.


Laurie Hertzel is author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, published by University of Minnesota Press. Click here for more information, including a list of upcoming Minnesota reading events and links to Hertzel's website and Facebook page. You can also check out the News to Me book trailer.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New series by Laurie Hertzel: When I Was ...

Today the UMP blog is kicking off a monthlong series by Star Tribune books editor and author Laurie Hertzel. The series, When I Was ..., will move chronologically through Hertzel's early years and adventures in writing and while on assignment at the Duluth News-Tribune. Read on about her multiple early career ambitions.

This series will appear on the UMP blog on Mondays throughout the month of September. See below for links to subsequent posts.


A young Laurie Hertzel reads with her brother, David,
on the steps of their childhood home in Duluth.
Gateway to Storyland was one of their favorite books.
When I was growing up, my parents gave us books for every birthday and every Christmas. I was only seven when I got my first Laura Ingalls Wilder book, Little Town on the Prairie--yes, they gave me the series out of order--and I was deep into reading it one afternoon when Ace Levang stopped by.

Ace Levang was my father’s friend, an English professor at UMD, and I loved him because every time he visited he crouched down to eye-level and asked me, very seriously, what I was reading. After I told him, he then wanted to know what I thought of the book.

In the case of Little Town on the Prairie, which I had only just started, I wasn’t sure what to tell him. “The chapters are short,” I said (Chapter One was less than a page). He laughed, stood up and said, “That’s a valid criticism,” and went off to find my father.

Books, his attentiveness told me, were important. Reading was a serious pastime. This reinforcement was terrific, because my ambition even then was to write my own book some day.

I started with comic books, even though I couldn’t draw, and spent hours in my room creating paneled stories that featured characters based on my favorite comic book hero, Millie the Model.

When I got a little older, I left illustration behind and ventured into journalism, creating a family newspaper, which I filled with what passed for news in our house—the dinner menu (laboriously recreated, right down to the nightly vitamin pill that I always worried was really for dogs—our veterinarian uncle sent them to us by the cartonful), the comings and goings of my nine siblings, and the birthdays of my friends.

Always a mimic, I channeled the inverted pyramid structure of newspapers just as I had previously channeled the big-city adventures of Millie the Model.

At fourteen, it seemed that it was time to get busy on my future. A friend had gotten a job as a page at the public library (and yes, we laughed about being pages in a building filled with books), and I thought it sounded like a perfect job. The Carnegie Library in Duluth was one of my favorite places, with tall stained-glass windows, marble floors, and a cathedral-like rotunda. Best of all, it was filled with the most precious items on Earth—books.

It wasn’t very long, though, before I grew terribly bored at my job. Yes, I was surrounded by tempting books, but no, there was no time to read any of them. My job was this: I put them away. I spent a lot of time in the back workroom, where all the returned books were dumped. Some of us sorted them onto carts, and some of us wheeled the carts out into the library and put them back on shelves. On those rare days when we got everything put away, we spent our time reading the shelves to make sure that all the books were in the proper order.

I learned pretty quickly to keep an eye out for certain men who liked to hang around the library. One of them sat at a table and copied poetry into a grimy notebook in his big scrawly childish hand; he’d rip out the page and carry it over to us and tell us that he had written it just for us. He was a slow, shy guy and seemed harmless, but there was another man, rather good-looking, with dark hair, who was of more concern. The dark-haired man used to stand on the other side of the shelf from me and when I squatted down to shelve a book he would squat down, too. It was pretty clear what he was trying to see—the library required us pages to wear skirts to work—and often his creepy presence would send me fleeing for the safety of the workroom.

It didn’t take me very long to know that libraries were probably not my future. Writing books was one thing. Tending to their care was something else entirely.


-Part 2: When I Was ... 19 (and a newsroom clerk at the Duluth News-Tribune).
-Part 3: When I Was ... starting out as a reporter at the Duluth-News Tribune.
-Part 4: When I Was ... 30 and stumbled upon the biggest story of my life.
-Part 5: When I Was ... 38 and embarking upon a new career adventure.
-Part 6: While journalism has come a long way since my Duluth years, the fundamentals have—and will—stick around.

Laurie Hertzel is author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, published by University of Minnesota Press. Click here for more information, including a list of upcoming Minnesota reading events and links to Hertzel's website and Facebook page. You can also check out the News to Me book trailer, which was recently featured as Shelf Awareness's book trailer of the day.

Want to know what's on the cover of the book? Check it out (click image to enlarge):