Archive for September 16, 2009

Torture and Hypocrisy

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment


This morning, as part of my continuing catch-up efforts following our trip last week, I finally read James McPherson’s article in the current NY Review of Books reviewing a few of the many books on Abraham Lincoln that have appeared recently in celebration of the bicentennial of his birth. McPherson is himself an eminent scholar of Lincoln and the Civil War era, author of the mammoth, Puliter-Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom, which I read with pleasure many years ago. Having just a few minutes earlier read Glenn Greenwald’s latest blog post at Salon, about an editorial in today’s Washington Post, I was particularly struck by one passage about Lincoln in McPherson’s article.

Let me start over again, with a look at the WP editorial on which Greenwald commented. Read more…

The Rural Life

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment


Norman Borlaug, the great plant scientist, father of the Green Revolution, and recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, died on Saturday at the age of 95. I have little to add to what has been written about him in many places, such as this NYT obituary. When I read the obituary yesterday, though, I was taken by the one short passage about his childhood, as it made me think of the life my father-in-law must have led at much the same time among Norwegian immigrants in rural northeastern South Dakota.

Norman Ernest Borlaug was born on March 25, 1914, in his grandfather’s farmhouse near the tiny settlement of Saude, in northeastern Iowa. Growing up in a stalwart community of Norwegian immigrants, he trudged across snow-covered fields to a one-room country school, coming home almost every day to the aroma of bread baking in his mother’s oven.

He was a high-spirited boy of boundless curiosity. His sister, Charlotte Culbert, recounted in an interview in 2008 in Cresco, Iowa, that he would whistle aloud as he milked the cows, and pester his parents and grandparents with questions. “He’d wonder why in some areas the grass would be so green, and then over here it wouldn’t be,” Mrs. Culbert recalled.

Gail’s great-grandparents came to South Dakota from Norway, and her grandparents and father grew up there. Much of the family, including Gail’s father Stewart, would ultimately leave South Dakota for the Seattle area, but one of Gail’s uncles stayed behind. The uncle’s three daughters and grandchildren still live there. Gail visited regularly when she grew up. Her last visit — and my only one — was in June 1999. We went with Stewart and Joel so Stewart could attend his 60th high school reunion in Groton. Gail, Joel, and I stayed in the tiny (really tiny) community of Claremont with her aunt, while Stewart stayed farther north in Britton with one of Gail’s cousins. We almost made it to his parents’ family farm between Claremont and Langford, but the road was under water. Indeed, much of the area was under water, a phenomenon you can see if you fly east from Seattle to New York and look out the left window. The standard route takes you over Aberdeen, the main city in northeastern SD, with Groton another 20 miles to the east and Claremont 20 miles north of Groton. Look to your left and you’ll see lots and lots of lakes that weren’t there 70 years ago. Somewhere amidst the lakes is the farm.

Stewart’s life was nothing like Norman Borlaug’s, but like Borlaug, Stewart never left the farm behind. I don’t think he ever felt as at home as when he was around one. He would have enjoyed our little garden if he were still alive. Gail picked our first tomatoes of the season — at long last — just yesterday. She’ll be using them in tonight’s dinner. I hope.

Categories: Biography, Family, Science