Norway’s Prodigal Son

Posted in America, Clips, Culture on January 16, 2017 by frankbures

img_2017-01_jeff-johnson_reindeer_03_gLast year one of our neighbors, Jeff Johnson, announced that he was traveling to Norway to compete in a reality TV show called Alt for Norge . The concept was intriguing: Members of the diaspora return home to experience (and compete in) the culture they had mostly lost. The show has been a massive hit in Norway, and I undertand other countries are expanding the franchise. Keep an eye out for casting calls in an ethnic enclave near you! Jeff talked to me about the experience for Minnesota Monthly:

“I’d never seen any reality TV show of any kind, so I didn’t really know what it was about. I was told that it can be very competitive, but for us that was not the case. None of the people on the show wanted to do any backstabbing, and whenever someone had to leave we cried like a bunch of grandmothers at a funeral. I was not prepared for the depth of emotion that show pulled out of me.”

“I grew up in a rural North Dakota farming community. My uncle went to first grade not knowing a word of English. My father spoke fluent Norwegian every day of his life. Have you heard of the Laws of Jante? They’re a series of laws written by a Danish author about Norway in the 1930s: Don’t think you can teach us anything. Don’t think you have anything valuable to say, and Don’t think anyone loves you. It pervades Norwegian culture. On the show we had a ceremonial burial of the Laws of Jante. I was bawling my eyes out, because that was basically my childhood.”

Read the rest here.  (Photo by Joe Trelevnen)

Brief lessons for 2020

Posted in America on January 11, 2017 by frankbures

A version of this ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Things we learned don’t matter in 2016:

Polls don’t matter
Pundits don’t matter
Debates don’t matter
Fact checking doesn’t matter
Facts don’t matter
Honesty doesn’t matter
Newspaper endorsements don’t matter
Tax returns don’t matter
Medical records don’t matter
Flip flopping doesn’t matter
Approval ratings don’t matter
War chests don’t matter
Grabbing genitals doesn’t matter
Ground games don’t matter
Experience doesn’t matter
Competence doesn’t matter
Policy doesn’t matter
Foreigners don’t matter
Being compromised by the FSB doesn’t matter
Hair doesn’t matter

 
What matters?

Charisma matters
Entertainment matters
Panache matters
Promises matter
Narrative matters
Rural America matters
Emails matter
Patronizing matters
Elitism matters
Hopelessness matters
Vision matters
Bubbles matter
Tribalism matters
Turnout matters
Identity matters
Religion matters
Race matters
Gender matters
Anger matters
Fear matters

New Strings Attached

Posted in America, Clips on January 10, 2017 by frankbures

img_2016-11_philanthropy_main-illo_gA story about the evolution of philanthropy from Minnesota Monthly:

Young donors also have different priorities from past generations. They’re less inclined to give to arts and culture, religious causes, or umbrella groups such as the United Way. Instead, they lean toward animal welfare, the environment, and civil rights. But according to Jason Franklin, who studies philanthropy at the Johnson Center, this change may or may not be permanent.

“If you begin giving on a large scale early, you’re still exploring who you are, where you’re going to live, and what issues you care about,” he says. “So your giving tends to be more exploration and experimentation. What we don’t know is how we will be more like our parents when we get to our parents’ age, and how we will always be different because of generational experience.”

Read the rest here.

New Nonfiction Class

Posted in Art, Events, Writers, Writing on October 4, 2016 by frankbures

imagesThis winter, I’ll be teaching a small online class through The Loft Literary Center. In the past I’ve taught classes on narrative nonfiction, freelancing, profile writing, travel writing and other subjects. This course is designed both for people starting out and for those who want to shift career directions. We will focus on any genre students want to work on and cover practical skills of reporting, structuring your stories and selling your work. The ultimate goal of of the class is to finish with at least two polished, professional clips to use and sell. Please contact me if you want more info: Nonfiction Intensive: Building Your Portfolio

 

Running Circles Around Us

Posted in Africa, Clips, Culture, Running, Science on August 29, 2016 by frankbures

Crawley1From Scientific American

When the starting gun fires at the Olympic track in Rio de Janeiro, there is little doubt who will be in the lead. In the Men’s 1,500 Meters Asbel Kiprop will be up front. In the women’s 5,000 meters Almaz Ayana will run away, and she may also take the 10,000 Meters. In the marathon Helah Kiprop will push the women whereas Eliud Kipchoge will be the one to watch among the men. In the Men’s 800 Meters, David Rudisha will likely hold his title and maybe break his own world record.

In other words most of these races will be dominated by runners from, or with roots in, east Africa—namely Kenya and Ethiopia, with a few Eritreans and maybe a Ugandan also standing out. Mo Farah, currently at the top of the ranking for 10,000 meters, was born in Somalia and raised in the U.K., and now trains in the U.S. Bernard Lagat, who just won the U.S. 5,000-meter Olympic qualifier (at age 41) is Kenyan-American.

East African runners have dominated for the two decades since Kenyans started winning in the mid-1990s, followed by Ethiopians shortly thereafter. This has lead to great soul searching on the part of former distance powers like the U.S. and U.K. Yet reasons for that Crawley3dominance remain hotly debated, and science has had little definitive to say about it.

The reigning theory in the West is that runners from east Africa have some evolutionary advantage over runners from other backgrounds.

Read the rest here.

Beyond the Machine Age

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Geography of Madness, Science on August 10, 2016 by frankbures

From Undark:

It used to be that when I looked in the mirror, I saw many things: a body; a collection of cells; a fantastic kind of machinery. I didn’t see these things because they were a reflection of reality, or because the body and brain are, in fact, machines. I saw them because I was born in America, and that is my culture.

In our country, we have what’s known as a mechanistic understanding of our bodies. We imagine ourselves to be machines made of meat and bone. We see the doctor as a mechanic whose job is to find the broken parts and fix them. For at least a century this has been our primary metaphor for talking about sickness and health, about how our bodies work and break down. In its popular 1960s television special, National Geographic flatly described the human body as “The Incredible Machine.”

The body is incredible, but my view of it as a machine — the validity of that metaphor — started to break down in the process of researching my book, “The Geography of Madness,” about the so-called “cultural syndromes.”

“Of course, one cannot think without metaphors,” Susan Sontag wrote in her 1989 essay, “AIDS and its Metaphors,” “But that does not mean there aren’t some metaphors we might well abstain from or try to retire.”

Read the rest here.

newbod

Eating Alone Together

Posted in Africa, America, Culture, Travel on July 29, 2016 by frankbures

the-rotarian-column-dinnerFrom The Rotarian:

There is a new ritual in American life. It goes like this: Whenever you invite someone to dinner, you must inquire about any special dietary needs. Because today, it seems that nearly everyone has drawn a line around foods that cannot pass their lips.

This could be because of allergies, moral qualms, lifestyle choices, health issues, or simple preference. The person might be a vegetarian who eats fish, a carnivore who hates carbs, a glutton who avoids gluten, or a time bomb waiting to be set off by a nut. (Asking ahead makes for a more pleasant evening than calling an ambulance.)

Hospitalization aside, one reason for this shift has been the moralization of food. Our dining choices have become identity choices, a way of saying, “This is the kind of person I am,” or “This is the kind of world I want to live in.”

This is a luxury of our age. The hunters, villagers, and small bands of Homo sapiens in times past would have thought it extremely strange, and possibly hostile, to assert one’s preferences in this manner.

Read the rest here.