Author Archive - Steve Hemmingsen

Go West, Young Woman, Go West

Posted: Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 8:39 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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“Go West, Young Woman, Go West.”
You might add “with a teacup, or maybe a teapot, in hand” to that bit of 19th century advice from New York newspaperman Horace Greeley.

It’s getting to be a regular event in South Dakota elections: lose it in the east, win it in the west. The latest example of this century old political divide is the dethroning of Princess Stephanie of Herseth. We haven’t made much of a trade, but the Princess rode the fence so long she must have saddle sores and had it coming.

I was home with a couple of friends election night watching KELO’s election coverage when upstart rabble rouser, speeder, stop sign violator, flaunter of court orders Kristi Noem edged ahead of our Princess and headed for the River of No Return, South Dakota’s Rubicon where, it turns out, there are plenty of returns. I told my friends, “This one is over. It’ll be all Noem from here on out.”

Just a few years before, Senator Tim Johnson salvaged what looked like a lost cause across the river. A couple of years later, Tom Daschle…one of the most powerful men in the country…lost it in the extreme east while John Thune was winning in the extreme west.

I used to joke that, “When you cross the river, you set your watch back 100 years.” That may be so, but in the current era in South Dakota politics, that’s where you find that last handful of votes. After that, you seem to achieve God-like status; Thune with no opposition, Johnson with a landslide one campaign and one brain bleed later.

As for this election, we witnessed a revolution founded in revulsion for what’s going on in Washington. I hope the Tea Party bunch…whom I thought were a bit nuts…now do what they say they will do; hold the firebrands…and flakes… they got into office accountable. I am fearful.

Watching Tuesday night unfold, I kept thinking, “I think we just decided that everything G. W. Bush did was absolutely right even though his goofy economic policies and wars are what launched the world into the mess it is now in.”

Well, it’ll be interesting to see how Herbert Hoover economics play out a century after their first disaster, the Great Depression. I’m not the fan of Obama-rama that I was going in, but I keep wondering where we would be without all that spending which everybody conveniently forgets started under the resurrected GW. No, the stimulus and bailouts didn’t create the jobs we hoped for. Hard to do in a country that no longer makes anything. We just sell Chinese crap to each other. But all that fake money floating around just may have been the brake on the elevator. You don’t know it’s there on the way up, but you sure as hell hope it works when you’re free-falling 100 stories, which this country has been for about a decade.

Hmmm. Maybe Minnesota needs a West River. Here they go again.

The Princess And The Speeder

Posted: Monday, October 18, 2010 at 8:13 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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I had every intention, especially lately, of sitting out the current political races since they have reverted to the same old drivel that was the norm before the Johnson-Thune/Daschle Thune extravaganzas. However, something finally caught my attention.

Amid the crappy commercials about absolutely nothing of importance, one stands out.
It’s the one by some Republican national group accusing our Princess Stephanie of launching attack ads against opponent Kristi Noem about Noem’s driving record, a record worthy of the Indy 500.

Perhaps the Republicans have forgotten how they lost that congressional seat to Republicrat Stephanie. Well, looking at her record it’s more like they lost a congressman and gained a princess.

Far be it from me to defend the Princess…her antics on health care reform pretty much soured me on her…but Noem’s driving record is an issue. Let’s go back to the Janklow days when we all thought it was cute that he was ripping all over the state at warp speeds, even diverting the Highway Patrol at times so he had a clear path according to testimony in his trial.

That trial, of course, was about a stop sign for which he didn’t stop. It sent one of our most effective leaders from the U.S. Capitol to a jail cell. It cleared the way for the loss of that Republican seat in Congress. I’m not sure Bill Janklow’s flaunting of the law didn’t send a message to certain idiots that speed limits and stop signs are only suggestions. I see drivers come billowing off gravel roads onto highways non-stop all the time.

Our leaders are obliged to lead and to live by the laws that they and the governing bodies they represent passed. It even galls me that the current mayor of Sioux Falls has given parking meter dispensation to the City Council. If it’s good for us, it’s good for them.

Yes, Kristi Noem’s driving record is rightfully an issue based on not-too-distant history involving the very seat she is seeking. Eighteen tickets? I doubt if I have had even a third of that in a lifetime of driving. Come on, Kristi. If you want to wreck your car, that’s fine. But sometimes you take somebody else with you…like a guy on a motorcycle.

Then, it ceases to be cute. I’m sure Bill never figured it would happen to him, either.


Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010 at 10:50 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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The phone rings.  A politician answers and hears the mumbled, dreaded: “This is Kranz.  Here’s what I’m hearing about your campaign.  Can you confirm…”

If that phone rings now, it’ll just be to satisfy his curiosity.  After 27 years of doing his best to make usually mundane South Dakota politics interesting, Dave Kranz has retired from the Argus Leader.  I’m sure much will be written about Dave’s contributions, the columnist every politician read, but few admitted to, like a less-than-flattering political poll.

Dave Kranz as I know him.

Dave Kranz as I know him.

What few people know is that Dave and I have been good friends since roughly 1967, a couple of years before I had even heard of KELOLAND, when fate landed us both in our first “for real” news jobs, he at the Austin Daily Herald, me at the local television station.  It was again fate that we both ultimately wound up in Sioux Falls 15 years later.

We never spent a lot of time together except for occasional lunches, the last several years with our mutual friend and consigliari Jimmy the Priest.  It’s fun just knowing that the politicos who lunch at Minerva’s are wondering what unholy conspiracies this clergy/media cabal is cooking up.  And probably wondering why we have cloth napkins and they don’t. 

When I first met Dave…only his mother and the Argus call him David…he seemed to use the old novelty song “Tan Shoes and Pink Shoelaces” as a dress code.  That, while the rest of us cool people were dressing like “Laugh In.”  He’s improved somewhat.  His cars, no matter how new, and some were, always looked like he had parked them in downtown Baghdad on the eve of “Shock and Awe.”  I figure he skewed the whole Blue Book resale value system.  Got screwed on your trade-in?  Blame Kranz.

One day Captain 11 spotted Dave…Kranz…shambling out of KELO after a taping.  He shook his head and noted: “Hard to believe he’s one of the most influential people in South Dakota.”  That was really high praise since the Captain didn’t care much about politics, but he knew Dave Kranz on sight.

I used to listen for the paperboy to slam the screen door on Sunday mornings just to read Dave’s column, skipping all that news and lifestyle crap, enroute.  It just wasn’t quite the same when for some reason the Argus moved the Sabbath to Monday.  It was like Charles Kuralt doing Sunday Morning six days a week.  But that’s beside the point. 

Later, Dave and my son became friends, counting their baseball card wealth together. 

Again, a dash of fate.  Steve turns 37 today, on the very day Dave officially calls it a career.  Happy retirement Dave and happy birthday, Stevie. 

Now that we’re all supposedly at pasture, I look forward to more lunches with you and Jimmy the Priest…with cloth napkins, please.  I know you’ll look back at your career and realize, as I did, that you were having fun, even when it didn’t seem like it.  And by the way, I’m convinced that you wrote the Desitarada.  It’s pure Kranzonian.

Dumbass Americans

Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 7:56 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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It’s great. Iran has freed American hiker Sarah Shourd…apparently on some kind of bond…after a year in captivity on spy charges. Her fiancé and a friend are still in stir.

My impression is that these people are too dumb to be spies, or maybe just too naïve to experience the world. Here’s my question: “Who in their right mind in the current climate would go hiking anywhere in that part of the world, not to mention anywhere near the Iranian border?” If you do, ever heard of GPS?

I know people who want to go to the Holy Land…ours…who won’t go because of the obvious but probably less threatening environment in Israel, not to mention Iraq or Iran or counting the rocks in Afghanistan. It strikes them as just plain stupid. Strikes me that way, too. Although I might venture into Israel. But I don’t have a lot of family to get worked up about me doing something daring, i.e. dumb.

We live in a country that goes to other countries, starts wars, snatches people off the streets, hauls them to an island paradise in the Caribbean and throws away the key. But when one of us gets hauled in by some foreign dumpster of a country we expect special treatment. Maybe we’re finally getting that “special treatment.”

I always love it when we bomb the hell out of somebody, they shoot down the plane (usually a lucky shot) and then give us back the pilot. Maybe that era of lopsided good will is over.

It’s the same question I always bit my tongue from asking when boxer Mike Tyson…sort of a human foreign country…was convicted of rape. I always wanted to ask the victim, “What were you doing as a contestant in a beauty pageant in the room of one of the judges…a human juggernaut…at two in the morning or whatever time it was?” P.C. being what it is we don’t ask questions like that.*

Oh, what the heck. We’re Americans. We’ve managed to incur everybody’s wrath. We’ve made it a point. But we’re still special and are entitled to special treatment. It’s only a matter of time until we have a CEO with a tattooed snake crawling above his necktie as we laugh at people who wear veils.

Yes, Yacov, it is a wonderful country.

*I can say all this stuff because nobody seems to be commenting anymore, anyway.

Pot Shards

Posted: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 1:30 pm
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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I’m not a big fan of art festivals, particularly the ones around here that tend to have the same exibitors in the same places year after year after.  However, it’s a “sameness” that the Nordic culture as a whole seems comfortable with since the same people attend these fests year after year after year. 

On the rare occasions that I do take these things in, I do go out of my way to check out Michael Osborn’s creations.  He’s a multi-tasker from the Bushnell art colony: a painter, potter, putterer and woodworker. 


We’ve become friends over the years.  So, I was jolted the other day, since I had been contemplating a visit to quirky little Bushnell, anyway, when up popped an email for Michael announcing he’s calling it quits, at about the same age I did.  Part of it is all that “sameness.”   

Having nothing of importance on my agenda, I moved my visit up on the schedule and paid Michael a visit at his home and studio next door to the gas station-cum-bar that I wrote about long ago.

Michael’s house and studio are for sale and you might be able to make some good deals at this weekend Downtown Sioux Falls Arts Festival, sameness be damned.

Take This Job And…Do It!

Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 8:06 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater expressed the feelings of a lot of us…dare I say most of us…when he hit the emergency slide after getting hit on the head with some overhead luggage, telling the airline to take his job and put it where the sun don’t shine.

But most flight attendants don’t do that. Here are a couple of cases.
When I went to Hawaii last winter, the woman in front of me had her seat reclined and I couldn’t get my lap tray down. It would have been a struggle anyway. The flight attendant said she would take care of it. I said: “Hey, my girth isn’t her problem and it looks like a meal worth skipping anyway.” But the flight attendant who obviously had weighty issues of her own tapped the lady and asked her if she could put her seat up, that there was a “tall guy” behind her. I just rolled my eyes and laughed at the tact, the diplomacy as said flight attendant scurried around trying to serve 250 malcontents in confinement.

On the flight from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls, I told another flight attendant that I needed a seat belt extension, that I was “too tall.” She looked at me with a straight face for about a second, then went hysterical, laughing: “I just don’t know what to say!”

Keep in mind that at this point we had either been in airports or planes for something like 20 hours. We were all a tad giddy, so I thought I was just being helpful during the seatbelt demonstration when I held up my extension to help demonstrate how you buckle your seat belt. Most of our group was sitting behind me and everybody started laughing, except my son. He was already asleep.

When we were taxiing the “stew” as we used to call them came back, pointed a finger at me and said: “You! If that door hadn’t been closed you would be off this plane.” I gave her my contrite look and she started laughing again, adding: “Well, that tone always works with my husband and kids.”

When we landed in Sioux Falls, I stood up and demonstrated how to unbuckle a seatbelt.
That was followed by more passenger laughter this announcement: “All troublemakers may leave the plane now.”

One of our fellow travelers told my now-awakening son “You should have seen the trouble your dad got into.” He just yawned and asked “What did he do now? I can’t take him anyplace?”

Take This Job And…

Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 10:19 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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I’m listening to a call-in show about this Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who got bopped on the head by a woman wrestling her overhead luggage, grabbed himself a beer, pulled the pin on the inflatable emergency slide and kissed his job goodbye.

He’s our latest anti-hero, the guy who actually went to the window…an airplane door in this case…and said, in effect, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” and then jumped a handful of feet to freedom.

Some callers on the show are pointing out that he could have endangered the passengers by his actions, that he is there to calm the hordes of us riding in inhumane, airborne steerage, not to act out our fantasies about our own bosses, our own fixes, our own stressed out lives. But most of the callers thought it was a pretty good harmless…even funny…expression of what they were thinking.

That’s why we have anti-heroes, people who try to set thing right the wrong way. We always have had: Jesus when he tore up the temple, Robin Hood, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde and, in the jet age, the mysterious D.B. Cooper who looted Northwest Airlines for a sack full of money and hit the silk over the Northwest woods never to be seen alive again. We all like to imagine he’s out there someplace, living in some shack in the woods or on some tropical island, but he’s probably dead. He may be dead, our dreams aren’t. We silently cheer guys like this on. Why? Because we know darned well that even if we went totally off the deep end most of us would never have the guts to pull the pin on a beer, a slide and say “the hell with allaya.”

We liked Jesse because he robbed from rich bankers and gave it to the poor, an aberration as I understand history. He really didn’t help the poor that much. It’s Bonnie and Clyde, in that order of billing, because who would care if Clyde himself shot the hell out of everything. He’d just be another thug. But Bonnie? She carried feminist protest to a lofty peak just by matching Clyde bullet for bullet. D.B. Cooper? By the late 20th century we all hated corporate America and airlines, even when the food and service were only on the fringes of turning awful. He stuck it to ‘em good.

I just have a hunch that flight attendant Slater was sick of being an employee that his employer didn’t know or care that he existed. The word “invincible” comes up in this radio discussion, but I suspect dispensable more describes how Slater was feeling about life in a society where we save plastic bags and oil-soaked pelicans and throw away people.

In a way…a more orderly way…I did the same thing when I retired ten years ago, but I planned it for two decades instead of two seconds. Steven Slater’s sudden departure was a heck of a lot more entertaining than Steven Hemmingsen’s. But, then, I don’t want my job back. I hear he does.

Another time I’ll spin a couple of funny flight attendant stories of my own.

Our Own Little World

Posted: Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 8:28 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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South Dakota politics ’10…not 101, ’10, as in 2010…is off and running. The first significant debate among the congressional candidates has been held. But wait a minute; is it 2010 or 1910? Oh, yeah. It’s South Dakota, in the world, but not of the world.

There’s Blue Dog Democrat Princess Stephanie who fought health care reform, but won’t vote to repeal it, chastising her Republican challenger, Kristi Noem, for alluding that she…Noem…supports privatizing Social Security. I’m already confused. This sounds more like a Republican primary than a general election.

Why is this even an issue? How can anybody in their right mind, after what we have been and are going through even let “privatization” slip over their tongue and past their lips? Do you suppose that private Social Security accounts would have been immune to the financial collapse? My privatized IRAs didn’t seem to have that immunity and I’m invested pretty conservatively…or I thought I was. Just yesterday, Wednesday, the Dow dropped 200 points because Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is suddenly worried that the “recovery” is losing steam. Who would have bailed out the people who had faith in the market, manipulated as it is, when their checks went down that vortex into a land where money…a tangible thing…just disappears with no accounting or accountability? Nobody.

And what recovery was that, Ben? The financial gurus watch the economic statistics get up from the mat like a punch-drunk boxer only to fall on their face again. The hell with the statistics. Look around you. Do you see any signs that things are getting better? Just look at the little town by the lake. In an average year, three or four new houses (not cabins anymore) are built on the lake. This year, there is one. Last year there were none. This year’s entry is a doctor. Does that count as a recovery? The government is now slashing something like 132 thousand jobs. The Pentagon is looking for dead wood. This all counts, too, you know. Privatize Social Security in this climate? You gotta be nuts! The only sane moment in the whole debate that I could glean was the Independent candidate B. Thomas Marking when he pointed out that we are into Social Security so deep that there’s no turning back.

Maybe if the government hadn’t borrowed all that money and spent it on wars…

Is This Sounding Familiar?

Posted: Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 10:03 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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Does any of this sound familiar?
We have Wiki leaks, thousands of top secret papers that, between the lines, document a better case for getting out of our current wars than staying in them. We’ve had 160 suicides among our servicemen fighting those wars, not to mention increased drug use. After all, we are once again in the Garden of Eden of hard drugs. We’ve been at it for ten years, but we are “making progress.”

We make progress in the winter, when it’s too cold to “insurge.” July was our worst month ever in the war. We go backward in the summer, our construction season, the Islamic world’s “destruction season.”

About the only thing that separates this mess from the one in Vietnam half a lifetime ago is the phrase “Light at the end of the tunnel. Similarities include a Commander-in-Chief who seemed to see the light until he was elected, and a dash of pentagon papers.

Again I ask the question: “How will we know if we’ve won or lost in either of these
—- holes?” We aren’t in it to conquer territory. Once again, we take it during the day and give it back at night, or a day later, or a week later, or a month later, or ten years later. We’re trying to conquer hearts and minds, 13th century minds that don’t want to be conquered. Every report I see tells me we will win their hearts when we go home, probably leaving a lot of destructively useful largess behind.

Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats…Republicans who believe in abortion…whine about the deficits which re-started with these endless military sagas under a devoutly Republican administration. I know how we can save a billion dollars or so a day; get out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Put the peace dividend into health and education. Or just squander it away like we did with the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War. Do whatever, but get out.

We went into Afghanistan searching for Osama. All we have is an endless string of inane home videos of him thumbing his nose at us with the help of our so-called friends who wish they didn’t have the U.S. millstone around their necks either. It’s hard to say you’re looking for the guy and letting him live in your caves at the same time. Caves, Hell; he’s probably a Chevy dealer in Islamabad.

We went into Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction. The only weapons we found were the ones we brought with us…and IEDs. Then we switched to the salvage title of “Regime Change.” We didn’t find the first; we did accomplish the second, after a convoluted fashion.

You can’t play offense against a team that disappears when the ball is snapped. So let’s put some of that peace dividend into one heck of a good defense and some good intelligence for a change.

My Impending Immortality

Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 at 8:08 am
By: Steve Hemmingsen
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Okay. I’m back, I’m back. Doug’s been nagging at me and ever since the paychecks stopped I have been feeling a lot less inspired to “opine.” And, I have a lot of other equally unimportant things to do now that I have crossed the Medicare Rubicon. That is still surreal since nobody, including me, ever expected I would reach this threshold.

I’ve just opened my Monday morning emails. An acquaintance tells me that my car’s (pickup) air conditioner is responsible for cancer, miscarriage, liver problems and all sorts of stuff. It’s the benzene interacting with that new car smell or something like that. Shouldn’t be a big issue in the little town by the lake. There hasn’t been a new car around these parts for 20 years. Why pay for that first 5 thousand miles?

I don’t know if this latest red flag is for real or not. We are bombarded by nightly by health warnings: raw milk in Minnesota, bad paint from China in case your kids eat their toys, some sort of heavy metal in souvenir drinking glasses from fast food joints in case they aren’t broken in the first week, not to mention the litany of warnings about the fast food joints themselves.

We are living in a truly paradoxical time. We are bombarded with health warnings. At the same time, the biggest worry of our government and our kids is that we boomers, the sloppiest generation spawned and spoiled rotten by the Greatest Generation, are on the verge of immortality, in spite of it all.

Our country can’t afford to have us live forever, we are told. They panic us with fears of government-ordered euthanasia…not to be confused with youth in Asia…at the same time we’re spending billions to find cures for newer diseases, like Alzheimer’s. We used to call that senility. Our grandparents had it if they lived to be 70 or 80 to start with. It was accepted as part of life, the parts wearing out. The latest figure on life expectancy in this country is 77.7 years. When I was born, in 1945, the best I could expect was 65 years and change. I’ve taken lousy care of myself based on that estimate. Alright, it was 65.9. So I still have about .8 years left on that estimate.

The fact is, for all of these threats, we are living longer than ever. Cancer and senility would be among my last choices for the “final exit,” but I’ll bet a 90 degree day hauling golf cars with no air conditioning in the pickup would hasten my demise a lot faster.

Oh, I’m still checking the regular gas versus E85 mileage. It’s looking like 12 miles to the gallon versus 16, but I want to run one more tank of E85 since my first one wasn’t normal driving. A car dealer in Webster tells me the rule of thumb is that a difference of 60 cents a gallon is what equals out the cost/mileage ratio, so we are right on the cusp. He did say he thought 80 cents would be more realistic. So, assuming things don’t change it’s just a matter of where you want your money to go: BP, OPEC or the American farmer.  And somebody asked my opinion of the change of command in Afghanistan.  The only change I would care about is the General who says, “Let’s get the hell out of here and go home.”   Come to think of it, didn’t our Commander-in-Chief promise that during his campaign?

Have to go now. It’s the doorbell. I’ll bet it’s that damned government euthenologist again. There. I’ve even invented a title for him…or maybe her.

“Hey, I still have .8 years credit, Get outta here!”

Whoops. It’s just the Schwann’s guy.

“Get outta here. Your ice cream is killing me!”