Sunday, October 30, 2016


An “October surprise” in the 2016 presidential election has
occurred, and as always, it was unpredictable.

Some did predict other possible “surprises” such as new
very damaging “wikileaks” about Hillary and/or Bill Clinton,
a new scandal about Donald Trump, or a dramatic event
affecting U.S. foreign policy. But it was none of the above.
Instead, it was the revival of an issue which was thought no
longer pertinent, that is, the criminal investigation of Hillary
Clinton’s previous public service. That issue had become a
sleeping volcano after FBI Director James Comey publicly
declared he was ending this investigation weeks ago.

At that time, Mr. Comey was applauded by Mrs. Clinton, her
campaign and most Democrats for “good judgment,” and
was criticized by Mr. Trump, his campaign, and many
Republicans for “covering up” alleged wrongdoing by the
Democratic nominee. Mr. Comey subsequently made it
explicitly clear that he thought Mrs. Clinton had shown very
bad judgment in some of her actions, but it was also clear
that he was not willing to take any action just before the
presidential election in which Mrs. Clinton was one of the
two major party nominees.

End of story, yes?

Not exactly.  In the days and weeks following his decision to
end the investigation, Director Comey and the FBI itself came
under extraordinary scrutiny as various “leaks” and other
new information became public and cast a darker and darker
shadow on Mrs. Clinton’s previous actions. Rumors abounded
that various figures at all levels of the FBI organization were
unhappy with Mr. Comey’s decision.

Historically, James Comey is a Republican with a strong
reputation for honesty and integrity. For this reason, President
Barack Obama appointed him to be FBI director. In this post,
he works under the attorney general of the United States,
Loretta Lynch, another appointee of President Obama. No
matter what an FBI investigation produces, the final say about
whether or not a prosecution takes place is up to the U.S.
attorney general.

For this reason, perhaps more than any other, Mr. Comey’s
decision was widely accepted by the public. It was understood
by everyone that it was an inevitable fact of life that a
Democratic attorney general working for a Democratic
president who was actively campaigning for his Democratic
successor would not prosecute this case.

I have no idea what is on the newly discovered e-mails which
prompted Mr. Comey to reopen this investigation, but the timing
of it leaves only one reasonable conclusion --- that what is on them
is VERY serious material. There is no other possible reasonable
explanation I can imagine.

I want to stress that Hillary Clinton has not been charged with,
nor been convicted, of any crime. She is, in one of the most vital
principles of U.S law, innocent until proven guilty. At the same
time, recent leaks to the media involving her e-mails, her use of
her computer server, and her actions involving the charitable
foundation co-founded with her husband, the former U.S.
President Bill Clinton, have cast considerable doubt about her
judgment, ethics and character.

She has now been placed in a similar position to that of
then President George H.W. Bush in 1992 when he was running
for re-election. Days before the election, his former cabinet
member Casper Weinberger was indicted. At that point, his
opponent the Democratic nominee, Bill Clinton, and his
campaign made a major issue of this October “surprise,”
and many historians consider this event cost Bush his

The Clinton campaign is complaining that Director Comey has
defied the instructions of the attorney general in re-opening the
Clinton investigation. Of course they are! What choice do they
have? But the bigger question is what would move Mr. Comey to
take the action he has. An intelligent and savvy man, he knows
what he has done and the probable impact it will have on the
election only days away.

Alexander Butterfield was a loyal figure in the inner office of
President Richard Nixon. Under oath in 1973, before a
congressional committee, he revealed the existence of tapes
made of President Nixon’s private conversations in the Oval
Office. After subpoenas made those tapes public, it led to the
unprecedented resignation of a president of the United States.
History has not treated well those whose comments on those
tapes revealed wrongdoing. Mr. Butterfield is a minor, probably
unheralded, but nevertheless a genuine American hero.

That notorious incident in U.S. presidential history produced
figures of honor and dishonor. FBI Director Comey knows his
days in his present job will end in a few months (with the
inauguration of a new president), but he knows his reputation
will become the captive of history --- and his conscience will
not leave his side as long as he lives.

As I have suggested previously, the 2016 presidential election has
been an relentless inferno. Without question, the two major party
nominees are the least admired in modern history, The campaign
has been filled with scandal. pomposity, negativism and in
virtually every aspect, the least common denominator.

At the end, perhaps appropriately, we have had two tide-turning
events. One was an off-the record private tape and the other is
an unresolved criminal investigation. That the leadership of this
Republic will be decided under these clouds should be the
lament of all voters, regardless of their political views.

But that is where we are, one week from election day.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 28, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Front Page Is Not The Editorial Page

Andy Warhol once wrote that (almost) everyone gets fifteen
minutes of fame. That’s of course a typical sound-bite
aphorism exaggeration, but for those in certain professions,
such as political writing, it can be somewhat true.

I’ve actually had a few of these, though they were properly
short as predicted. In 1982, I wrote an article in a Minneapolis
newspaper I edited and published that predicted an unknown
Colorado senator named Gary Hart would emerge to challenge
Walter Mondale seriously for the 1984 Democratic presidential
nomination, and when he beat Mondale in the New Hampshire
primary, I was briefly “discovered” by the national media. (I
still prize a gracious letter to me from Hart campaign chair Ted
Sorenson asserting that I was the first journalist to predict
Hart’s national rise.) In 1985, determined to try to do it again.
I wrote in my newspaper that a then little-known Delaware
senator would be a serious candidate for president in 1988. By
1987, he was Michael Dukakis’s most formidable rival, and once
again I received brief attention. As it turned out, Senator Joe
Biden developed a double aneurysm and had to withdraw, but
I must note that he eventually did make a bit of a comeback,
and is currently the vice president of the United States.

Then in 1990 I began writing articles in a Washington, DC
newsletter that the governor of Arkansas was going to be
the next Democratic nominee in 1992, although at the time,
incumbent President George H. W. Bush seemed unbeatable.
Few took me seriously.

Finally, in the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014, I called the
the number of eventual gains for the Republicans, especially
in the U.S. house, as well as any other national pundit, and it
was briefly noted.

I have also on several occasions got it wrong. I did not think
Ronald Reagan would be elected president in 1980. I thought
Mitt Romney would win in 2012. And I did not see either Bernie
Sanders or Donald Trump coming on so strong in 2016. (I’m just
lucky, I guess, that most folks remember your successes and forget
your failures.)

This brings me to an op ed I wrote for my Prairie Editor blog a
few days ago that contended that many in the national media were
indulging in a kind of coup d’etat on behalf of one of this cycle’s
presidential nominees against the other one. Newt Gingrich liked
my characterization so much that he began citing it on various
national radio and TV programs, as well as posting it on the
biggest social media sites. Subsequently, numerous journalists,
print and broadcast media, and online sites noted my piece.

Newt Gingrich is a partisan in this year's presidential race. He is
on record as supporting Donald Trump. He often acts as a
surrogate for Mr. Trump (and, I might add, seemingly doing a
much better job most of the time advancing the Republican
ticket than the nominee himself does.

What makes my coup d'etat comment perhaps unusual is that I
have not endorsed, nor do I publicly support either candidate. In
fact, I have often criticized each of them when they said or did
what I felt were outlandish things. My purpose was not to serve the
campaign of one candidate, but to defend the responsibility of the
media to be fair in their reporting the presidential contest. I was
being critical of print and broadcast reporters and editors, not of
editorial journalists. My view can be summed up in one sentence:  
The front page is not the editorial page.

I make no claim to being "objective." In fact, my readers (who span
the whole political range from left to right) expect me to be an
opinion journalist and not a reporter. Nevertheless, I was for many
years a reporter, and I know the difference between fairness and obvious
bias. Nor does my assertion of a media coup d’etat come to most
American eyes and ears as a surprise. Almost every voter already
knows that much of the media is in the tank for one candidate. It’s
just also true that a large number of voters are pleased by this and
understandably perhaps are not being critical.

But I don’t think a biased media trying to predetermine the
outcome of the 2016 presidential race is good for anyone. Yes,
it pleases those who are for the candidate who is the beneficiary
of the bias in the short term, but in the long term it is an
egregious violation of the role of the media in our American
representative democracy. It trespasses on the rights and duties of
the voters, and it violates the underpinnings of one of the pillars
of our Republic --- the role and responsibility of a free press.

As I have already said, most adult Americans already know that
my contention of media bias is true in this cycle. Some who do,
and want to rationalize its occurrence, are openly acknowledging
it, and saying it is a good thing because the biased media is
protecting the electorate from an “evil” candidate. Words like
“fascistic” and “Hitlerian” are often employed wrongly to justify
this view. In fact, it is those who use this rationale, and these
emotionally overblown words who are the ones using elitist,
totalitarian and demagogic language to serve an arrogant and
dangerous view of the role of the media in America.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the American press was extremely
partisan. Newspapers in those days were unambiguously for one
political party or another, for one political candidate or another.
As the media grew and diversified in the early 20th century, radio
and TV came into being, and standards for a "fair" press emerged.
After World War II, the principle of balanced and fair reporting of
the news was firmly established, even as the institution of editorial
opinion expression was preserved and also flourished.

In less than two weeks, U.S. voters will choose their next president.
They need to make their decision not only from reading and
listening to the opinions of others, but even more vitally, from
being presented fairly the facts, issues and prospects that will
assist them to decide their vote.

I don’t think my assertion of calling out the media will amount
to very much in the larger scheme of things, but I’m glad to add
a voice to defend the principles which create, enable and require
a free media to do its job in a free country.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Are These Mutineers About To Take Over?

In a few days, a national election will take place in which a
political party of mutineers, led by a woman, could likely take
over the government. This nation, which has the world’s oldest
legislature, would almost certainly be turned upside down,
and the political establishments of both major parties thrown

Am I speaking about the U.S.A.? Are the mutineers Trump
supporters? Is the woman Hillary Clinton? Is the legislature
the U.S. Congress?

None of the above.

On October 29, 2016, the voters of Iceland will go to the polls
to elect their new government. The political party most likely
to win this election did not even exist three years ago. Iceland is
currently governed by a coalition of the Independence Party
and the Progressive Party. These two establishment parties now
trail the provocatively named Pirate Party that was founded by
Birgitta Jonsdottir in 2013 in response to a financial scandal
involving figures from the ruling government. Winning 3 seats in
parliament, the Pirate Party, led by Ms. Jonsdottir, promptly moved
to overthrow the nation’s blasphemy laws (Iceland’s version of
“political correctness”) and succeeded.

In 2016, following the scandal, a demonstration took place in the
nation’s capital which brought out a huge percentage of the entire
population. It is now considered the largest public demonstration,
in terms of proportion of the population, ever to take place in any
nation! (It would be the equivalent of 21 million Americans
demonstrating in Washington DC.)

From that point on, the Pirate Party has led in the nation’s public
opinion polls.

Iceland is one of the world’s smallest nations. It is also one of
the northernmost countries in the world. It is located entirely on
an island of active volcanoes, glaciers and hot springs, and has a
land mass of 40,000 square miles. Its population is 323,000 (about
the size of the city of Minneapolis). It was founded in the 9th
century A.D. by a Norwegian chieftain. It soon became an
independent commonwealth and established the world’s oldest
parliament, the Althing, in 980. Icelanders speak their own
language, Icelandic.

Unless Americans were bargain-hunting for airfares in recent
decades, and took advantage of Icelandic Air’s low rate flights to
and from Europe (always with mandatory stops in Reykjavik,
Iceland’s capital), few U.S. citizens have visited this tiny and
remote country.

Begun in poverty, and ruled from Scandinavia for most of its
history, Iceland won its independence in 1918, and became a
republic in 1944. With aid from the U.S. Marshall Plan after
World War II, the little republic industrialized, and is now rated
the 13th most developed nation on earth.

Iceland endured a financial crisis in 2008 (at about the same time
one took place in the U.S.), and many of its banks failed. Unlike
in the U.S., many bankers were jailed for their role in the crisis.
With an influx of tourism, and an international $4.6 billion
bailout, the country has recovered.

Recently, however, it was revealed that the prime minister’s wife
was involved in a financial scandal. The prime minister then
resigned and new elections were called.

Birgitta Jonsdottir is a poet, web programmer and former
Wikileaks activist in Iceland. She and her “pirate” mutineers
represent an entirely new direction in European politics. If the
Pirate Party wins on October 29 in this tiniest of European
nations, the reverberations of its mutiny could be enormous
throughout this entire ancient continent.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Roller Coaster In Hell

To say that enduring a volatile time is like riding on a rolling
coaster is a cliche, but enduring the 2016 presidential campaign
is something more --- like riding a roller caster in hell -- and
like nothing else we’ve been through collectively as a nation in
modern times. (There were some "infernal" campaign cycles in
the 19th century.)

There are now about two weeks to go. The formalities of the
primaries, caucuses, vice presidential choices, conventions
and TV debates are concluded. A few October “surprises”
have been trotted out. The polls are inconclusive (the most
accurate poll in 2012 shows Trump ahead by 2 points, two other
major polls show race tied, several major media polls show
Clinton ahead by several points).

Conventional wisdom, encouraged by the political and media
establishments, is now settling on a comfortable victory by
Hillary Clinton, a narrow take-back of control of the U.S.
senate by the Democrats, and major gains (but not control) in
the U.S. house by the Democrats. In short, a liberal landslide.

It could indeed turn out that way, but I would not rule out some
surprises, even astonishing ones, election night. Is that because I
know something secret, or even wish for something shocking at
the polls? No, it is because a presidential election cycle with so
much volatility, unconventionality, and surprise is more likely to
end with a loud noise than with a whisper.

Over the past eighteen months, I have commented regularly about
this election. After miscalculating which candidates would emerge
and win in both parties, I got the end of it partially wrong. Even
though I have been writing about voter dissatisfaction for years, I
did not see its apotheosis coming in 2016. I dismissed Donald
Trump early and often, especially after his celebrated “gaffes,”
and watched him rise back again.

I finally came up with the notion of the “mutiny of the masses,”
an uprising of a hitherto unrecognized group of Americans, many
of whom do not regularly vote, and some who usually vote for the
major parties --- all of whom are profoundly unhappy with how
government is managing its public affairs and duties.

After Bernie Sanders, the object of the liberal members of this
group was defeated for the Democratic nomination, the only
remaining champion of these mutineers was Donald Trump, the
Republican nominee. After the major party conventions, most
of the major media, including some in the conservative media,
turned their wrath on Mr. Trump in what I described as a
“media coup d’etat.” Mr. Trump, in the most unorthodox
presentation of a presidential nominee in memory, made his
way through three TV debates. Polls then wavered wildly as the
media and his opponents battered Mr. Trump even as more and
more damaging disclosures were made about Hillary Clinton,
her husband and their controversial mutual foundation.

Air Force One 2017 is now setting up its landing pattern over its
home air base. On the ground, millions of Americans await its
final touchdown,  and to see who comes out the door as it pulls
up to the electoral count. Perhaps conventional wisdom is right,
and the now-predicted winner will be the new president. Perhaps
the “mutiny of the masses” will have been only a passing phase,
and perhaps the media coup will have succeeded in its goal. I
have little concrete evidence against this conventional wisdom.

But in Brexit in the United Kingdom, national elections in
virtually all European countries, and the recent referendum in
Colombia in South America, a worldwide “mutiny of voters”
has defied the polls, the media, the experts and most

Can that mutiny happen here?

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: And The Winner Of The Third Debate Was......

I think I’ve done my share of criticizing some of my media
colleagues for their performance in covering the 2016 presidential
campaign, including admitting my own shortcomings, but I am
now compelled to pay homage to journalist Chris Wallace for his
performance as the moderator of the third and final  2016
presidential debate. He was easily the biggest winner of the
night in Las Vegas.

I know a good many of the national journalists who cover
presidential politics, and count many of them as friends, but I
have not ever met Chris Wallace. He has a distinguished media
lineage, being the son of broadcast legend Mike Wallace. (I would
think his late father would be immensely proud of his son today.)

Mr. Wallace has set the gold standard. He has demonstrated that
substance can be maintained by a strong and fair moderator.
Both major political parties should require his level of
performance in moderators of all future debates.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 17, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Robert Zimmerman, Laureate

Robert Zimmerman was born in Duluth and then raised in
the remote northern Minnesota town of Hibbing seventy-five 
years ago. He has now won the 2016 Nobel Prize for
literature. Along with the prize medal, he will receive more
than a million dollars. He doesn’t need it; he’ll probably give
it to charity.

He doesn’t need the money because he’s made a fortune over
the years, and he doesn’t need the recognition of the prize
because he’s one of the most famous persons in the world
where he is known as Bob Dylan, folksinger and songwriter.

I suppose the award will be a bit controversial since Dylan is
not formally a poet, a fiction writer or a dramatist --- the usual
categories for the recipients of the prize. The Nobel committee
has given him the prize for his lifetime of songwriting and lyrics,
a music form of poetry. Since the origins of poetry are generally
believed to have arisen from early music and song, I don’t think
even “purists” about what is literature, and what is not, have a
case against this laureate. Considering his enduring body of
work, which he has refined over half a century, and the impact
of it on American and world culture, I don’t think there is a
reasonable argument that he should not be so honored.

I share a few things with Robert Zimmerman, including
perhaps most strikingly, the same birthday (although he is older
than I am). We also share a similar background, and for many
decades I have lived in the Twin Cities where he made his early
foray into a musical life. Years ago, I dated a young woman whose
mother had been Zimmerman’s religious school teacher in
Hibbing, and she told me a few stories about when he came over
to their house. Decades after that, I settled in Minneapolis to
publish a newspaper in the neighborhoods of the West Bank and
East Bank where young Bob had come in the late 1950a as a
scraggly teenager with a guitar. One of my advertisers, now
deceased, was a West Bank bar owner who had operated an East
Bank coffeehouse a few years before, and he related to me his
first-hand account of young Zimmerman coming into his Ten
O’Clock Scholar one Friday afternoon, looking to play and
sing. My bar owner friend told Zimmerman that he could
perform that evening --- which he did. At some point in the
evening, while the Hibbing teenager was playing, the bar
owner’s wife came in and asked who was playing. After he told
her the name, she reportedly said, “He’s terrible. Fire him!’
And so ended, Bob Dylan’s first professional singing gig, as it
was told to me. (He had earlier played the piano for two nights
for Bobby V’s band). The bar owner also told me he ran into
Dylan years later in Manhattan, and Dylan had remembered
him and treated him graciously. Local folks have also reported
to me seeing young Zimmerman sitting on the sidewalk in that
East Bank neighborhood called Dinkytown, and performing
for passers-by, something which folksingers still do there
today. The area was, in fact, a place where many well-known
folksingers and musicians got started, including “Spider John”
Koerner, Dave Ray, Tony Glover, John Beach, Peter Ostroushko,
Butch Thompson, Willie and the Bees, and performers from the
legendary West Bank School of Music.

I published my newspaper for fourteen years in those
neighborhoods, and lived there for many years more. From
time to time, I would hear stories about Bob Dylan coming
back to the West Bank and the Twin Cities anonymously to
see family members and to hear some of his old musician
friends perform. I did not ever see him myself, nor have I ever
met him. I probably won’t either.

Although I make a living as a journalist and writer about
history, I am first an American poet. I attended the Iowa
Writers Workshop, got a degree there, and my work has
appeared in some of the leading U.S. literary magazines.
Books of my poetry and short fiction have been published.
I guess that makes me more formally a person of “literature.”
Some of my fellow writers and others, as I mentioned earlier,
might object to Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize for
literature. In fact, the Nobel committee has been quite erratic
in the recent past, awarding the prize on occasion more for
political “correctness” than for true merit, in my opinion.
On the other hand, a few years ago, the prize went to the
Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer who, in spite of being
almost unknown outside a few literary circles, was perhaps
then the greatest living poet in any language. That was an
inspired choice to be Nobel literary laureate that year --- just
as I think it was an appropriate choice to give the prize in
2016 to a Jewish kid from northern Minnesota who grew up
to sing to, and to inspire, so many around the world.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 10, 2016


What we are now witnessing in the 2016 U.S. presidential
election is an unprecedented media coup d’etat as many of
the combined media forces (but not all of its members) are
attempting to determine the next president before the voting
takes place.

I want to make clear that I have not endorsed either Hillary
Clinton or Donald Trump, and that I have criticized each of
them on occasions when I thought it was fair and appropriate.
I found Mr. Trump’s  recently released video tape comments
to be crude and unacceptable, and I found some of Mrs.
Clinton’s comments in the release of texts from her speeches
to be inappropriate and seriously wrong-headed.

Those are only my opinions, and I know they are not shared
in many cases by partisans of each candidate. Nonetheless,
I don’t feel it is my job or prerogative to tell my readers how
to vote in this election.

Unfortunately, many newspapers, magazines, major and cable
TV and radio networks are  choosing to take part in an attempt
to influence the outcome of the election way beyond what I
think are the acceptable standards of the media’s role in a
presidential election. To be fair, it is not only the liberal media,
but some in the conservative media as well who have joined
into this endeavor.

This has taken the forms of days and weeks of one-sided
press coverage (I distinguish that from editorial opinion), hours
of relentless and repetitious broadcasts of the most salacious
material about Mr. Trump while downplaying equally serious
material from Mrs, Clinton’s hitherto unpublished speeches
and e-mails, obviously biased moderators of the TV debates
so far, and generally one-sided coverage of the campaign itself
once the primary/caucus season was concluded, Before that,
the media clearly overplayed its coverage of Mr. Trump, and
did so mostly uncritically, giving him an unfair advantage
against his Republican nomination opponents.

I make a distinction between opinion writing and reporting
journalism. It is understood that some are writing with a
partisan point of view. My attention here is directed to those
who presume to be addressing their readers and audiences
without unfair bias.

Media bias is nothing new. Polling of reporters show that an
overwhelming majority of them are liberals and Democrats.
(Decades ago, it should be noted, most in the media were
conservatives and Republicans.) Balanced coverage is perhaps
an unrealistic expectation, but the behavior of so many media
institutions in 2016 goes beyond mere bias. The front page is
not the editorial page.
No wonder all polls of public attitudes
show trust in the media to be so low.

It is understandable that much of Donald Trump’s manner, and
many of his words, turn off media and establishment elites in
both parties. It is fair to criticize him for his lapses. But Hillary
Clinton also speaks controversially and has made egregious
mistakes. To try to pretend that she does not have equally low
credibility is unjustifiable.

Fortunately, the final say in an election rests with the voters.
Donald Trump might well lose on November 8 because he was
not able to persuade enough voters that he should be president.
Perhaps he will make a comeback. It is not up to the media,
however, to try to predetermine that result by bullying the public
into their own way of thinking.

For whatever reason history has presented the American
electorate with two such flawed nominees, it is up to the voters
to sort this dilemma out on their own.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


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Friday, October 7, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: On Writing About Food And Restaurants

Although I am a literary (poetry and fiction) writer who makes
his living writing about history and politics, I have throughout
my writing life devoted part of it to an ongoing conversation
about food and dining out. But I’m certain that if any of my
writing lasts for any time, it will not likely be my food

We theoretically spend one-third of our lives asleep. Unless you
are a medical doctor, physiologist or psychiatrist, there is not
much to write about this huge block  of time in our daily lives.
I calculate, however, that most of us spend 3-6 hours a day in the
purchase, preparation and consumption of food. Of course, if
you are in the food/restaurant business, that daily time is much
more. It is, therefore, not a superficial or unimportant part of
virtually everyone’s daily life.

I became a professional journalist by editing and publishing two
small newspapers. I had not intended to do this. Instead, after
getting a degree from the Iowa Writers Workshop, I went to New
York City to work as a literary editor and poet. Soon enough,
however, my lack of funds brought me to Minnesota and a plan
to create a literary publishing house, and when that proved
economically unrealistic, I began to publish two community
newspapers, one in the suburbs and one in the heart of urban
Minneapolis. What made my newspapers distinctive perhaps
was that I was a literary writer and not a trained journalist.

In those days, the early 1970s, the extraordinary food culture
renaissance we are now enjoying was in its relative infancy. High
cuisine, fine wines, specialty coffees and teas, and farm-to-table
produce had been available to the very affluent for decades, but
an incipient food culture now began to be shared by many middle
class Americans. This was often led by those from Mediterranean
backgrounds, including the Spanish, French, Italian, Balkan,
Greek and Middle Eastern. Those who originated from more
northern European cultures often came later to this culinary

I had come from a family which prized good food --- although until
I was in my teens, I had little contact with most ethnic food
cultures except my own plus the standard Chinese and Italian fare
from local restaurants in my small city. My grandmother was a
legendary cook, but the range of her menu was small. Her daughters
were all excellent cooks, but except for my childless Aunt Reta, the
food choices were limited. Aunt Reta once invited me over to her
house (when I was twelve) to make crepes Suzette from scratch, and
it was a thrill. The only problem was that it didn’t take much liqueur
to get me tipsy, and when my mother came to pick me up, she was

Trips to New York City and south Florida in my teens made me
gradually aware of more and more food cultures, and by the time
I got to Minnesota in my late 20s, I presumed I knew something
about food.

In fact, my food education had only begun.

I began writing regularly about food after being invited to be the
food critic of one of the state’s largest daily newspapers. The pay
was tiny, and I had my own newspaper, so I declined the offer and
began writing restaurant reviews for my own publication. This was
at the time when general interest in dining out was beginning to
boom. My anonymous reviews became my newspaper’s most popular
and best revenue-generating feature.

I have always tried to be very careful writing about food matters
I don’t know much about. I’m not a chef, nor am I a farmer,
nutritionist or restaurateur. I do have a wide-ranging palate, love
to eat, and am willing to explore for food adventures. I also took
the time to befriend talented young chefs and imaginative
restaurateurs. I soon became immersed in the local food culture,
and on frequent trips across the country, I went out of my way to
go to celebrated restaurants. A few years later, I began to lecture
(about politics) on transatlantic and other cruise ships where an
extraordinary range of fine dining was available. In my travels
abroad, especially in Europe, I aggressively sought out local
dining experiences.

I am still not truly an “expert” about food, although I have
acquired some knowledge about preparing food, running
restaurants, the difference between fresh and not-so fresh
produce, the experience of the world’s wines and craft beers,
and the cameraderie of sharing tables with other food lovers.

I also have noted the excesses of food snobbery, the artificial
preciousness of some food writing and descriptions, and the
all-too-frequent lack of good value in food pricing in grocery
stores, markets and restaurant menus.

But it is a special delight to be introduced to a new vegetable
or fruit, encounter a superb new recipe, enjoy well-prepared
foods, have a great restaurant experience, and be poured or
brewed an extraordinary wine, coffee or tea.

Being a storyteller, my approach is to try to put my food or
dining experience, good or bad, into the context of an
anecdotal account that might interest a reader. I constantly
look for not only new foods and recipes, but also the many
wonderful characters in the food culture who make it possible,
that is the chefs, the restaurateurs, the baristas, the sommeliers,
the waiters and waitresses, and of course those who grow and
produce the food we eat.

What I have learned most is that there is poetry, mystery,
philosophy and music in the food we eat and drink. It’s not
something you can learn in a school, or even acquire by reading
a cookbook. Thanks to our new food culture, it isn’t even
necessary to spend a lot of money (although some do).

For me, food writing is about paying homage more to what we
spend our time doing. Eating and drinking is something each of
us does every day --- in fact it takes about a sixth of every day of
our lives.

That this inevitable daily act can also include so many of
the insights and pleasures of our conscious life makes writing
about food perhaps as incomparable and revelatory as some
other subjects we usually take more seriously.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


As readers of this site know, I both predicted and supported
Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine to be her vice
presidential running mate. Moderate in his record, genial
and likable, I thought it was a very good match.

The public response to Mr. Kaine’s performance in last night’s
only televised vice presidential debate in Virginia indicates
that Mr. Kaine and his advisers made a serious mistake in his
debate manner, that is, his constant and usually annoying
interruptions of his opponent Mike Pence.

I also thought Mr. Pence was a good choice by Donald Trump
as his running mate, and the Indiana governor fulfilled that
with a steady and calm demeanor in the debate.

Reasonable arguments can be made that each of the vice
presidential nominees had good arguments on the issues that
strengthened them with their respective political bases, but a
national TV debate, especially when there is only one, is mostly
about visceral impression. The overwhelming consensus, even
among many liberal media commentators, was that Mr. Pence
won the evening.

What Mr. Kaine had most to offer supporters of Mrs. Clinton
was that, in addition to competency for the job, he was likable,
something his running mate was not. After last night’s debate,
the Democrats now have a ticket with two persons who could
be perceived as less than likable. Mr. Trump is also perceived
negatively by many voters, but now he could be perceived as
someone with not only a competent, but a likable running mate.

This will not have a huge impact on the final vote. The second
person on a national ticket rarely does. But it does give Mr.
Trump a boost at a time when he really needs it, and gives him
an instructive model for his own approach to his upcoming
second debate with Mrs. Clinton.

In their first debate, both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton
frequently interrupted each other, and I think that such a tactic
dos not appeal to most undecided voters --- the voters who
now count the most to who wins on November 8.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 3, 2016


With the slow, but increasing, realization that we, the human
race, are on the verge of replacing ourselves with machines,
it is perhaps of special interest to go back to the earliest
moments when this profound insight first appeared in our

Perhaps the most notable of these took place just after World
War I when a young Czech playwright/novelist named Karel
Capek wrote a play titled mysteriously “R.U.R.” that
premiered in a Prague theater, and quickly became a
worldwide sensation.

A bit of history: Czechoslovakia had long been part of the
Austro-Hungarian empire in Europe, but had its own historic
culture and language. After World War I, it finally received its
own independence as a combination of Bohemia and
Slovakia, two ancient European small states which had
emerged from the Dark Ages. The George Washington of
Czechoslovakia was Tomas Masaryk, a brilliant democratic
and humanist figure who was the small nation’s first president.
Incredibly rich in folklore and culture, but small in population
(less than 10 million), the Republic of Czechoslovakia
continued as a center of art and innovation on the newly
liberated European landscape. Composers such as Antonin
Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek; writers such as
Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Kafka remain giants today in
world culture. The word “bohemian” has become a word in
English because it captured so aptly the subculture of Western
artistic life of the 19th and 20th centuries.

However, Czechoslovakia and its writer Karel Capek also
added a new word to English (and virtually all other world
languages) which applies importantly to the 21st century.
The play title “R.U.R.” stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots.
In Czech, “rossum” means “reason,” and “robot” means
“drudgery.” The word robot has its origins in the Czech word
for “slave.” Capek’s play is the very first appearance anywhere
of the word robot (the playwright gave credit to the actual
invention of the word to his writer brother Josef.)

Today, “robotics” has become a central term in the evolution
of human activity. The word robot now stands for virtually all
machines created to do the work of humans. In the 1920’s,
robots were concepts of the future. Today, they are being devised
and put to work everywhere in virtually all human activities as
they replace human workers.

Since the early 1920’s, science fiction writers and films have
portrayed increasingly sympathetic or threatening versions of
robots. The apotheosis of the former were lovable characters in
Star Wars. More ominous robots, however, have appeared in
books and films as a force that brutally takes over the human
race and eliminates or enslaves it.

An even newer and related technology is artificial intelligence or
AI. This has presented itself less physically as robotic machines
and more as hyper-thinking entities. Curiously, Capek’s robots
in 1920 were more a premonition of AI than of robotics. In his
play, the robots are actually artificially created thinking beings,
more like “cyborgs” or “androids.” Capek presciently also
foresees the robotic revolution producing more goods at much
lower prices, as well as its disrupting human society.

Karel Capek was one of the world’s great futurists. A thinker
and philosopher, as well as a playwright and novelist, he was
during his short life on the cutting edge of what was then
anticipated as the future of humanity. His play “R.U.R.” is rarely
performed today, and science fiction writers such as Isaac
Asimov have criticized it as a bad play because it ends on an
optimistic note (the last surviving human being in the play turns
over the world to two robots, calling them “Adam” and “Eve”).

But we need to remember that tragic time. Czechoslovakia, it
turned out, would only exist for 20 years. Its allies, Britain and
France, turned it over to Hitler without a fight at Munich in a
notorious betrayal. Capek himself, only 48, died from pneumonia
on Christmas Day, 1938 --- only weeks after his beloved republic
was sold out by Neville Chamberlain and his cohorts. Many
believe he actually died from his broken heart sensing the
holocaust that was to come. (His brother Josef, the man who
actually invented the word “robot,” perished in a concentration
camp shortly afterwards.)

After World War II, Czechoslovakia traded the beast of Hitlerian
fascism for the beast of Soviet communism. Only in 1990, as the
Soviet Union was crumbling, was an independent, democratic
Czechoslovakia revived. It soon was divided into two separate
nations, The Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prague today is an
exciting cultural center of the new Europe.

In that extraordinary time and in that extraordinary place,
Karel Capek had a remarkable vision of the future, and he chose
to see it with hope and promise. Only about a decade after
putting robots into the human vocabulary, he was faced with one
of the most unspeakable depravities human beings ever created,
a depravity made solely by human evil with no assistance from

Today, with robots and AI about to replace a major part of all
human work, and change forever how we live, the future is
also threatened by new and malign human frailties. Who can
fault the futurist Karel Capek for his timeless statement of hope
and survival?

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 1, 2016


The Republican majority has grown large enough, most
would agree, that there are very few seats the GOP could
pick up in 2016, and even should Republicans win the
presidential election, they are unlikely to make net gains
in either house of the next Congress.

There are some exceptions to this, and one of the most
notable could take place in the remote northern Minnesota
border district known popularly as “The Range.”

That is the Minnesota 8th congressional district, and the
race is a re-run of the one in 2014  between incumbent
Democrat (in Minnesota called the Democratic-Farmer-
Labor Party or DFL) Rick Nolan, 72, and businessman
Stewart Mills. 44.

In 2014, the contest was very close, with incumbent Nolan
narrowly winning only by about 3000 votes (about 1%)
over his first-time challenger. The political circumstances
in MN-8 in 2016 are quite different, however, and could
produce an upset in November.

The Iron Range is historically an ethnic working class
district in northeastern Minnesota. Central European and
Scandinavian early settlers supplied the backbone of the
historic iron mining industry which sent the valuable ore
by ship and rail to refining and smelting centers to the
east. Early Finnish immigrants were perhaps the most
radical, and populism remains part of the 8th district’s
political character, but this political personality is changing.

After World War II, the Minnesota 8th district elected and
re-elected DFLer John Blatnik to Congress for 14 terms, and
when he retired, his former chief aide James Oberstar took
the seat. In these post-war years, the 8th district supplied the
state Democratic Party (DFL) with large and reliable
majorities which, added with those in the increasingly liberal
“Twin Cities” of St. Paul and Minneapolis, supplied enough
votes to overcome Republican majorities in the suburbs and
outstate. One of those who had created the DFL in 1944 was
Hubert Humphrey who first became mayor of Minneapolis
and then in 1948 a U.S. senator. With several former aides who
themselves ran for elected office, including Walter Mondale,
Mr. Humphrey presided over several decades of liberal
hegemony in the state.

That political dominance ended in 1978 when Republicans
swept the top state wide races in upset wins for governor and
two U.S. senate seats (the rare occasion of two senate seats in
the same cycle was precipitated by Mr. Mondale’s election to
the vice presidency and Mr. Humphrey’s death). In spite of this
“Minnesota massacre” as it became known, the 8th district
and the two Twin City districts remained reliably DFL.

While the Twin City metro area was seeing significant growth,
however, environmental issues and foreign competition had
decimated the iron mining area, and the Range suffered
steady and dramatic population loss. The district’s largest city,
the Lake Superior port of Duluth, maintained its urban
liberalism, but some of the blue collar, Catholic, pro-life
and conservative voters on the Range found themselves at
increasing political distance from the significantly more
liberal and pro-choice DFL voters in the rest of the state.

In 2010, 18-term, aging incumbent Oberstar was defeated by 
GOP challenger Chip Cravaack in a stunning upset, but the
DFL won the seat back in the 2012 presidential year with former
Congressman Rick Nolan, a native of the district who had
moved to southern Minnesota, and won a seat there for three
terms from 1975 to 1981. At that point, Mr. Nolan retired, and
went into private business. In a rare example of a political
career revival, he then emerged in 2012 after 30 years in
private life, to resume a seat in Congress.

Minnesota’s 8th district is one of those traditional Democratic
areas which is more socially conservative and traditionalist
than most liberal urban districts throughout the U.S.  Like
similar districts along the Great Lakes “rust belt,” it is a region
altered by departing manufacturing and mining industries,
rapidly changing demographics, and recent redistricting

(In fact, this might be one of the last elections in the 8th district.
The state is likely to lose one congressional seat in the 2020
census, and this would probably redraw northern Minnesota
into one district, combining much of what are now the 7th and
8th districts.)

Mr. Nolan had several advantages in his first re-election in
He was the incumbent, the district was still rated D+3,
Mr. Mills had not run for office previously, and the DFLer
had a superior GOTV effort, supported by incumbent DFL
gubernatorial and U.S. senate candidates running statewide
against relatively weak Republican opponents. Mr. Nolan also
had the resource of liberal national PACs which poured in
massive funds for advertising into the race at the very end.

This cycle Congressman Nolan remains the incumbent, but
his opponent has a hard-fought previous campaign under his
belt. Unlike 2014, when Mr. Mills depended primarily on the
state party for his GOTV, the challenger has his own major
effort underway. There are no DFL statewide candidates
running in 2016, and the Democratic presidential nominee,
usually a major asset in this race, trails Donald Trump in the
8th district. Mr. Mills family business was sold in the past year,
and he has access to virtually unlimited personal campaign
funds. Conservative PACs seem likely to match liberal PAC
funding this cycle in this race, and at least one private poll
reportedly now rates the district R+1. In any event, the
Republican candidate will not likely be caught by surprise by
any last-minute push by his DFL opponent as he was in 2014.

Mr. Nolan does have the new advantage this cycle, however, of
having no third party candidate on the ballot to drain votes
from his candidacy. In an interview at the annual state DFL
convention in Minneapolis, Mr. Nolan expressed his relief
that no Green Party candidate was running in 2016. In 2014,
the Green Party candidate, running against the incumbent’s
environmental record, received more than 11,000 votes or 4%
of the total cast. Prior to the Democratic national convention,
Mr. Nolan endorsed and supported the presidential candidacy
of Bernie Sanders (who is much more popular in the area
among DFLers than Hillary Clinton).

Environmental issues highlight one of the challenges that face
Mr. Nolan in the district. Attempts to revive the mining industry,
and thus re-employ many out-of-work miners on the Range,
bring environmentalists and labor unions into open conflict in
this part of the state. Normally, these two groups form part of
the liberal party’s base, but in this northeastern district, they
are at odds. Mr. Nolan has tried very hard to walk the fine line
between them, but as has happened in coal country in
southeastern Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania,
once large Democratic majorities now vote heavily Republican.

Another handicap for Mr. Nolan is his “F” rating from the
National Rifle Association (NRA). Mr. Mills has been endorsed by
the NRA, and is an enthusiastic hunter. Mr. Nolan also is a hunter,
and has been running TV ads proclaiming this, but his long-time
opposition to many NRA issues cuts into his support in the rural
part of the district.

One of first-time candidate Mills’ novelties last cycle was that he
was a conservative with long hair. This year, the Republican has
cut his hair, and the change seems to be working to his advantage.
A member of prominent business family in the district, Mills has
emerged as a folksy campaigner, and an articulate critic of the
Obama administration economic policies, including his strong
opposition to Obamacare (which as a businessman first drew
him into the congressional race two years ago). Mr. Mills also has
been a vocal critic of the Obama Iran deal which Mr. Nolan
voted for, and of the administration’s reduction of the military
and its foreign policy in the Middle East.

Rick Nolan will likely receive more votes in the 8th district than
Hillary Clinton, and while there are no DFL statewide candidates
to help him, the liberal party’s GOTV organization, a legacy of
the late DFL Senator Paul Wellstone, remains one of the most
effective in the nation. Mr. Nolan is an experienced campaigner,
but he faces a much tougher race this cycle than in the past two.

Having once demonstrated that a second political life is
possible in Minnesota, Rick Nolan, however, could discover in
2016  that even political re-runs, unlike TV re-runs, do not play
indefinitely, and can run out of time.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.