One More Angel

A year ago at this time our family gathered for our Christmas celebration. Normally a happy and joyous time it would be cut short and the mood turned somber as we eventually  made our way to the hospital to be with our precious little Amber. Her courageous struggle would finally come to a conclusion with her family members present to bid her farewell. It was not what we wanted at this time but not unexpected. I had written a post called, Amber’s Journey, back in March of 2009 when we learned she would become a permanent part of our family. Her health had always been precarious, but like most parents and grandparents we hoped for the best and always looked forward to the future.  On January 5, 2010 we celebrated her life and then prepared to move forward with our lives. It was and still is difficult at times.

Amber will always be a part of our life and we will remember her this weekend as our family again gathers for our Christmas celebration. We will remember how she taught us what unconditional love is all about. Amber gave us an opportunity to teach our children and grandchildren to accept others who may be ‘different’. Amber reinforced our belief that we must all be advocates for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is incredible the number of lives she touched. We often hear the bad news about children who slip through the cracks but this was not the case with Amber. We are grateful and remember the strong advocacy of the public servants in our community who worked tirelessly on her behalf. We will remember the exceptional group of young adults who supported my daughter and her husband.

We will remember her incredible ability to survive. We will remember her moods, her desire to be cuddled, and the way she  communicated. We will remember her smile, her rosy cheeks, and her beautiful long hair.

We will remember how blessed we were to know her and how much we loved her.

The title of this post is inspired by this performance by Raul Malo and Michael Guerra.

Peace and solidarity,


In January of 2010 I was doing some searching for an appropriate piece of music for a video I was contemplating making. Of course, when you begin a search on the internet it can easily lead to endless possibilities and distractions. I came across a tune I had stuck in the back of my mind for about 35 plus years.

 In 1973 I was serving a 30 month stint at San Vito Air Station, Italy, as an airman with the United States Air Force Security Service (no, I was not a cop). San Vito A.S. was located in the heel of the boot in an area of the country that was mostly agriculture. The largest nearby city was Brindisi, an ancient port city on the Adriatic Sea. The Air Force installation was small, so housing for married couples was limited. When my wife arrived to join me we found a villa in a little resort town called Specchiolla.  Specchiola was home to many of the Air Force personnel stationed at the base and home to a few locals. During the summer this quiet, sleepy little village on the coast of the Adriatic Sea became the home to many people on holiday from northern parts of Italy and Germany. There were several restaurants in the village that were only open during the tourist season and were about four or five blocks from our villa. During those summer months they were very active and usually had live music most nights. It was during this time that I first heard a song that would stick with me all these years. We would often hear music on those hot summer nights coming from the restaurants. Our windows were open or we would be walking on the beach and there was one melody that apparently was very popular  in Europe at that time. We would hear it at least once a night but I never knew the name of the song or the name of the band that was playing.

My search in January, quite by accident, gave me some answers about this melody in my head and I found out how this simple tune has had an impact on at least two continents, and has been with me in one form or another all of these years.


The origins of the  melody have not been firmly established but it is apparent that its modern form became popular in 1974 when it was recorded by the Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble. I don’t know if they were performing in Specchiola when I was there or if it was a local band doing a cover. This YouTube video shows the group and all their hippie garb performing their hit single on television.

Some of you may say, “hey, that sounds familiar”. Well, you’re right. Johnny Mathis recorded a version around 1975 but it was adapted with words and became a hit and a Christmas tradition called, When A Child Is Born.  I like this version by Andrea Bocelli:

This tune has been covered by many artists and in many forms. It seems to have been very popular in Europe where it got its start and climbed to top of the charts again in 1994 when German DJ and techno record producer Mark ‘Oh released a version called, Tears Don’t Lie. This Mark ‘Oh guy has got a nice gig. All he has to do is play a record, pump his fist in the air, and yell, “get your hands up” to thousands of screaming fans.

As I said, many artists, many forms. Here is one by a Czech crooner by the name of Karel Gott. His version is called, Měl jsem rád a mám (I loved and I still do). Of course he is accompanied by a bevy of beautiful women.

My favorite version is the original version because it brings back memories of the peaceful little village I called home for two and a years. I am glad there are still remnants of the Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble around and are still performing Soleado to appreciative European crowds.

Peace & solidarity


Christmas Wishes

Christmas day is fast approaching and many are wondering if their Christmas wishes will come true. Retailers are hoping for a boost in sales, Senate Democrats are hoping to keep their act together and pass health care legislation, children are hoping they were good enough for Santa and families in Minnesota are bracing for a major winter storm and hoping it won’t totally ruin their Christmas celebrations.

For some families, a winter storm is the least of their worries. Last week  I struck up a conversation with a recently hired co-worker. He was a short fellow with an ever-present smile and eager to do his share of work. His english was broken but still good enough that we could converse. A recent immigrant to the U.S., he and his wife and many other families have relocated to Worthington from a refugee camp in Thailand where he spent the last ten years of his life. He is a native of Karen, a region in southeastern Burma bordering Thailand. His two sons are in Canada and he still has a daughter in a refuge camp in Thailand. Other family members are now in Australia. Of course our conversation turned to politics and government and he did not hesitate to show his disdain for the Burmese government and the military junta control over virtually everything. He also made sure that I understood that he was Karen, proud of it, and that there was a difference.

The Karen people have sought independence from Burma since 1949. Charges of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution have been leveled at the Burmese government, now known as the Republic of Myanmar. The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) has been documenting the plight of the Karen people for over 17 years and has a wealth of information in the form of reports, pictures and video on its website. KHRG also can be found on Facebook and Twitter. 

My Christmas wish? Health and happiness to all my family and friends, a world without war and a future where my new union brother will be able to reunite his entire family.

Kawthoolei is the name used by the Karen people for the state they wish to establish. It has several possible meanings: Flowerland, Land without Evil, and The Land Burnt Black. Whatever its meaning, I know that it is a beautiful country ravaged by war.

 Here is a video of  traditional Karen music:

Here is a video with a series of clips. Beautiful, interesting and sad.

Peace & solidarity,


11/09/09 UPDATE: Harmon Park is safe. According to members of the Save Harmon Park group the Pipestone city council met in closed session again tonight (11/09/09) and when they came out they announced that they had taken a vote and had declined Coborn’s offer for Harmon Park.

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead


If you happen to be a Facebook user then you will know that you often get all kinds of unsolicited invitations to become a fan of someone or something or to join a cause. It is easy to do with a couple of clicks and you can then beat your chest and say, “I support the ____ CAUSE.”  Recently I received a suggestion from a FB friend that I have known for a long time. She suggested that I join the Save Harmon Park cause. My curiosity got to me so I signed up and discovered that the city of Pipestone was considering selling part of their premier city park so that it could be developed  into a Coborn’s Superstore which would include a car wash and a gas station/convenience store. Coborn’s, Inc. is a Minnesota grown corporation founded in 1921 based in St Cloud with locations in the midwest, primarily Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.

The Pipestone County Star carried the first story, Coborn’s Superstore on the drawing board, about this development on October 7, 2009 and it was soon after that the opposition formed their group.

The Save Harmon Park group has been busy. They now have 276 members in the FB group and are using this social media tool for discussion, communication and organizing. They have contacted news organizations to get their story out, organized a petition drive which garnered 400 signatures to present to the city council, generated numerous letters to the editor and had over 100 people at a recent city council meeting to speak against the sale.

The city of Pipestione has had a rough year. Bayliner shut down its operations and Suzlon announced significant layoffs. The stagnant economy and unallotment by the Governor have also contributed to the tough situations faced by the city council. While the influx of cash from the sale of the park and future property tax collections may seem attractive now the Save Harmon Park group believes that it is short-sighted and I sympathise with them. I think it is a bit arrogant for Coborn’s to believe that the citizens of Pipestone would give up their park without question. I wonder what they were thinking when they were picking their ideal spot for a new store.

Did the conversation go like this?

 “Here is a great location” !

 “But wait, isn’t there a city park there”?

 “So what, our green will trump their green”.

For me, another reason to dislike this idea is Coborn’s political stance on health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act. They have opposed both and urged their employees to do the same in an internal memo. In a Minnesota Public Radio report, Coborn’s director of communications, Steve Gottwalt says, ” the company frequently shares information with its employees about factors affecting its business”. Steve Gottwalt also happens to have another job as a  Minnesota state representative in district 15A and  is a member of the Republican caucus.

Visit the Pipestone County Star website to keep abreast of the situation and to read the letters to the editor. Here is just one example. If you are on Facebook search Save Harmon Park.

I can’t help but think of this song.

Peace & solidarity,




























































































I think I remember my mother telling me, ” If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all”.

Peace & solidarity,


Town hall meetings on health care reform seem to be the hottest ticket in town these days for the media, activists, and constituents on all sides of the issue. Representative Tim Walz from Minnesota’s 1st congressional district held a town meeting on August 2oth in Mankato at the Mankato East High School. Concerned citizens from across the district traveled to Mankato from Worthington to take part as did I and two of my union brothers. Unfortunately for us, our 90 plus mile trip was marked by unavoidable delays in getting started and detours on Highway 60. We arrived  a few minutes after the doors opened but the place quickly filled to capacity. Many of the people that came to participate left but there was still a crowd of people from both sides of the issue that stayed to show support or protest. Initially, there was anger  and demands to be let into the building from the anti-reform folks but they soon realized that was not going to happen.

Teamsters Local 120 had a  good contingent of people there on the outside with signs in support of reform and of course they drew the ire of the opposition. Although they were called “union thugs” and accused of unfairly loading up the auditorium they remained calm, even engaging some of the opponents in lively but peaceful discussions. I noticed other people doing the same, each side trying to convince the other that they were right. I doubt if there were any serious conversions amongst the outside crowd.

There was one tense moment before we left when a man came walking over carrying a sign that can only be described as despicable. It was met with cheers from many of the right wing crowd and boos and groans from the supporters of health care reform. Several people confronted him and it wasn’t long before one man got very angry and emotional. Fortunately the Mankato police department had several officers on the scene and one of them walked over to observe. He did not let it escalate and escorted the man away from the crowd to calm him down. We left about 15 minutes after that but I did have an opportunity to take a number of random pictures which I have put together as a video below.

Bluestem Prairie editor, Sally Jo Sorensen, was inside at the town hall meeting and has her observations and a summary of news accounts in, CD-1: Post health care town hall meeting media roundup and CD-1: Post health care town hall meeting media roundup, part #2. She also gently nudged me to write  my observations in her post, Outside the Walz town hall: LaRouche “Obama as Hitler” sign stirs passions.




Peace & solidarity,



 moerkealbumpics030August 6, 1945, Sentimental Journey by Les Brown was topping the charts and the war in the Pacific was lingering on, but on this day it would take a historic turn. A lone B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay would release a single bomb nicknamed “Little Boy”. The ensuing blast would virtually destroy the city and thousands and thousands of its residents. President Truman would make an announcement later that morning that the United States had used a new weapon, an “atomic bomb”. The devastation of Hiroshima and 3 days later of Nagasaki quickly brought and end to the war and a new era of weapons of mass destruction.

The pictures in this post were taken by my father who was part of the occupation forces in Japan. He and his fellow soldiers were on a train that passed through Hiroshima and he managed to snap a few pictures. The picture above shows the magnitude of the destruction. One lone building and twigs sticking out of the ground that I imagine were once trees.

This next picture shows the remnants of a tank near the railroad tracks. What is notable about this picture is what is absent. There is nothing in the background.



In the picture below we see several men from the Australian military at the train station in Hiroshima. Waiting to leave? Pondering what they have seen?  





As they travel to their next duty station the train would take them to scenic parts of Japan, untouched by the war. My father took this shot as they crossed a river and it is one of my favorites. I often look at the young man with his head resting on his folded arms and wonder what thoughts are going through his mind.






Peace & Solidarity,



The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that Al Franken is indeed the winner. Read the opinion here.  Governor Pawlenty needs to do his job now and sign the election certificate. The sooner he does that the sooner he can get back to running for president.

I have updated my side bar to reflect Senator Al Franken’s new status.

Peace & solidarity,



The Marshall Independent is reporting that former Minnesota House minority leader Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall will formally announce his bid for governor on July 7.  His plans include a campaign tour throughout the state, starting with the Twin Cities and with visits to Duluth, Rochester and Mankato.

Oh, by the way, he also mentions that voters have until Tuesday to take advantage of the campaign political refund program that his best bud, Governor Pawlenty, has decided to eliminate. I wonder how that is working out for you Marty?

Peace & solidarity,


Today at approximately 10:00 A.M. a portion of the JBS Swift plant was evacuated due to an ammonia leak. The Worthington Daily Globe was on the scene and covers the story in 40 JBS employees treated after ammonia leak.  Daily Globe photographer Brian Korthals was able to take a few pictures from the roof of  a vehicle just outside the JBS property (we watched you from the cafeteria windows).

I was one of the many evacuees who hastily left the building and fortunately was not affected by ammonia. The group of employees I was with were at the back of the property for about 35 minutes when we were told we could reenter the building through the front and proceed to the facilities cafeteria which was unaffected by the leak.  I was then able to get a better idea of what was going on because I had a good view of all the emergency vehicles that were gathered outside the front of the building. My thoughts were with the brothers and sisters who were being transported to the hospital. I hoped that they would all be ok and according to published reports most were treated and released with only a few admitted for further observation. The leak was contained and after the affected areas were cleared of the ammonia we returned to work.

UFCW Local 1161 officials were on the scene and will be actively involved in the ensuing investigation of the cause of the leak and the effectiveness of the evacuation. I have my own observations and thoughts which I will share with the Local 1161 and JBS Swift.

Ammonia leaks are serious.

They can be deadly.

Once the cause of this leak is accurately determined, it is extremely important that preventative measures be taken to prevent its recurrence. A critical look at evacuation procedures is also necessary to determine if the evacuation could have been done better. Hopefully the end result will be a safer workplace.  Of course, I am sure MNOSHA will have a role in the investigation. The state OSHA officials investigated an ammonia leak at this plant in January of 2008 which resulted in the JBS Swift receiving a citation and a nominal fine. I wrote about that incident in a previous post, JBS Swift workers evacuated. Workers were evacuated and hospitalized during that incident also and the cause of the leak was determined to be a faulty valve.

I have been involved in several evacuations over the years and once got a shot of ammonia.  My eyes, nose, throat and lungs were immediately in distress and I couldn’t get fresh air fast enough. I turned out ok (well, some may say my brain was affected). It is something I will never forget. I do not live in fear of an ammonia leak but I am acutely aware of its deadly potential. I hope I never experience another one.

Peace & solidarity,