Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Ear samples day

This is the fifth year in a row I’ve driven out to Hastings, Nebraska to obtain ear samples from our production plots. It always makes for a merry two-thirds of a day trip that ends with lunch at the OK Cafe or Valentino’s. Unfortunately, this year I didn’t make it out until the afternoon due to an appointment I couldn’t miss, so my post-pic meal was Runza on the way home, a small sign of how busy I’ve been the past couple of weeks.

Leftover from a field day, 2010

The project is pretty simple: pluck three sample ears from each hybrid and place them on a paper with the hybrid number on it, along with a measuring mechanism. This year, my father designed a special paper that I could print and photograph the samples on. It’s always such a good day for me: last trip out to Hastings for a year, seeing the bountiful (or not, in some cases) harvest that will be on its way to our customers.

54B36

Hastings is only a little more than an hour from Seward, and there’s a Starbucks on the way. The trip doesn’t take up my whole day, although it’s long enough to throw a wrench in it. My dad used to go out to Hastings all the time when he worked for NC+ and they had the plant there, and the Starrs’ remain our last link to the area.

Starrs fields are on the outskirts of Hasting, near the Country Club and a high-end neighborhood that’s grown into their fields. The fields around them are a mixed bag; the worst look really bad. Today happens not to be a good day to get the seed, as I have to dodge leftover water from the pivot.

Well Watered

Starrs’ other field, Plum, is over by the railroad tracks and boarded on the south side by a bad dirt road. Said dirt road is so bad, this year I didn’t even bother to drive on it. It is easily the worst dirt road I’ve ever been on. In fact, I’ve probably been in off road situations that were worse. Only Nebraska. These fields were a gruel: of the eleven hybrids I had to obtain, six came from the two pivots in this field.

Chip of the Iceberg

Railroad Tracks that are the North Border of Plum

Monday evening, I rolled back to I-80 over the near-dry Platte and sped toward home, forced to make calls in the interim because of the wild month I’ve had. The pictures I took will go in my Dad’ file and will be sent to our growers. I’ll likely go back next year, and do it again.

Disposing of Used Samples

Fight a War

When I first graduated college seven years ago, I never wanted to do anything. I played a lot of video games, baked cookies and cooked dinner, watched shows and DVD’s over and over again.Three and a half years ago, I still didn’t want to do anything, other than the work my dad told me to do. I knowingly lived the lie; I pretended to be busy to people’s faces. But the truth of the matter was, I didn’t want to go out.

Then, as the winter of 2009 turned to spring, I found something. Or rather, something found me as a situation came together. I had just purchased my first iPod and had music at the ready to write to; it wouldn’t have happened without the music to fall into. Then there was a conflict that I came into, between me and a TV show I was watching. The story that came across the screen was one that I hadn’t held to be true in my heart. Thus, I put in my headphones, sat with my computer on my lap, and pounded the keyboard, putting the story in my heart into my computer for the day when I couldn’t recognize it from the story on the screen.

That day came sooner than I expected, and when it happened, I was hit with more bricks than I ever thought I could be. Even to this day, I can’t admit everything that happened to me that night.

It’s been over three years since that incident, and the story I’ve written remains in the drawer. It was a story that was written with the idealized passion of a young man who hid from conflict on the page, only wanting to prove the sincerity of his desire. Like a lot of single people, I wrote a relationship that was mostly infatuation and free of the conflict that normal relationships face. Perhaps this is why I don’t return to the story, because I have written it to be this great perfect world, and by opening it up, I will subjugate myself to changing that world in my head.

At the time I was writing that manuscript, I thought it would be the beginning of a writing career where I would write a novel every year or every other year, something like that. I didn’t care what I made, just as long as it paid bills that had to be paid. But afterward, I just kept rewriting the first half of the book for a year or so, never really getting anywhere. Eventually, I quit working on it, and moved on. Part of me is starting to regret that, if only because that was something I cared about passionately, and I rarely have passion.

I’m starting to write down ideas for that work again. I don’t know if it will get anywhere, but I know I love that project.

Husker Heartbeat 2012

This Husker football year marks several firsts for me. It’s going to be the first full year since I got my blog, and the first year that I will be contributing to a site that provides Husker content. I don’t think the contributions I have to write will affect how I watch Husker football, but I could be wrong. Before when I’ve watched the Huskers play in the past, I take some mental notes, and process my own opinion. While I enjoy the columns and stories in the papers around here, they do not define my full countenance on the team.

The place of Husker football changed in 2005 after I returned to Nebraska from college in the greater Milwaukee area. That fall, I worked for Valentino’s in the bowels of Memorial Stadium and had a few fly-on-the-wall moments. Having not been to a home game since 2002, I’d forgotten a lot of the passion of being at game day, and over the next four or five years, game day became the highlights of my year.

Over these seven years, players have come and gone, but the question of “when will Nebraska be back?”, hangs in the balance. Indeed, the first teams that I remember where the teams of the nineties, and as I followed the teams through my growing up years, I came to believe that going undefeated in college football easy. I’m not sure when that dream got shattered: maybe in 2002, maybe when Solich was fired. But as I followed the team more closely, I came to realize that it was college football that changed, not Husker football. So many football programs get on TV and compete now, and the internet age has brought a level across the college football world.

So then, why does this wide-eyed twenty-something still put on his hobbit hoodie every Saturday September through November and go to Memorial Stadium or sit in front of the TV? This question drives me crazy, especially when I consider that I could be seventy years old and not see a Husker team better than the one that played the year I turned twelve.

Who knows. I can’t changed where I was born and what I came to like when I was a kid. Go Big Red.

Harvest Day, Long Day

My Parking Marker at Omro

I rose that day shortly before five and dawdled for over an hour. Typical me; whenever I have a big project in front of me, I tend to do two million little choirs before I can get to it. I left my motel room a little before six, the sun peaking beyond the silo on the horizon. Should have been to the field by five-third and taken advantage of Wisconsin’s long summer days.

Today I would harvest silage samples from our plot in Omro, Wisconsin. I would need to harvest six plants from each of the eleven hybrids from our plot here, and, presuming I finished by nine, I would try to harvest samples from our plot over in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The other night, I had estimated that between the time of both harvests, drive time, and stopping time, I was looking at a twelve to thirteen hour day, minimum. Which was why I was concerned about starting early.

Sunrise on the Plot

I made it to the plot a few minutes after six, after a coffee and drink break at the the Omro (more wasted time, come on Derek). Thankfully, our samples are close to the road in this plot (in others, I have had to carry samples for forty-five minutes, leaving scratch marks on my arms). I get in, harvest quickly, and have my truck loaded before eight. I even have time for a short video.

After obtaining ice from Omro’s gas station/Subway/hardware store, I open up my GPS and get directions to Spring Green, figuring whatever route Mavis gave, it will be better than going back down County Roads to Waupun. The route calls for me to take the ten mile route east out of Omro, which I started on. But when I got to the east end of town, I decided that I would second guess myself less if I take the road I know as opposed to the one that’s potentially twenty miles out of my way. I head back to the county roads.

The familiar road down to Waupun didn’t feel as tiresome, only because I was numb to its curves and slow goings. I didn’t check my map when I was driving; I knew it would be a little less than an hour. I spent five miles on that trek stuck behind a flatbed truck loaded with hay bales. Scraps kept flying off, which didn’t bother me, but probably bothered the convertible (driven by a couple of hip grayheads) who pulled up behind me.

As I had found out the previous day, US 151 from Waupun to Madison was blissfully quick, compared to driving from Arlington, to Watertown, then up to Waupun. (An hour and forty minutes compared to four or five.) The route I approximated as the best (checking again the next day, I found others that were less urban) lead me through Sun Prairie’s pleasant suburban walls into Westconsin’s rolling hills.
That is the remarkable difference between the halves of Wisconsin on either side of Madison. The east half is generally flat, like Nebraska or Iowa. Westconsin is a majestic mess of hills and valleys, limestone popping out all over.

Typical Westconsin

So I weave through the mess on Wisconsin Highway 19, a slim two-laner. In Wanaukee there’s a Culver’s, and as several billboards have wet my appetite, I’m tempted to eat there. But since it’s not quite 11 A.M., I decide to pass even though I may not find a town large enough for a fast food place. I met up with US 18 ten miles from Spring Green, and I end up crushing a Subway sub in 1,600-pop Mazomanie.

Around 11:30 and halfway through a podcast on Bach, I make it to Spring Green. Like Omro, our hybrids are a short walking distance from a place on the road where there is a clear marking place, the driveway of a house. It’s overcast, which I’m grateful for, but as I’m in the middle of tying the bundles together, I begin to feel raindrops. I worry I’ll be soaked through and have to drag my feet through mud, but I got all the samples out and in the back of my truck in time and pull out of field while it’s still not raining. It starts raining as soon as hit curvy Wisconsin Highway 23 down to Dodgeville.

My Parking Marker at Spring Green

When I opened the back of my truck, I found half of the ice melted. I’d bought the same amount of ice that I had two days ago, and it was melting at a faster rate, proving there’s nothing like Casey’s ice. I piled in the new samples and headed into town to get some extra ice. Ice acquired, I stopped by Acardia Books again to get an iced mocha. I’m filthy and shouldn’t be going into coffee shop with old issues of The New Yorker on the wall while I’m reeking of muddy soil, but the thing is, I don’t care.

It is roughly sixty-seven miles from Spring Green to Dubuque, aka the end of the massive Westconsin hills and windy roads.  US Highway 30 is one of the great blessings of these travels: two lanes of light traffic for over two hours of the drive from Dubuque. I’m not as fortunate on the other side of the Mississippi: it rains, which slows me somewhat, but it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been. The sky is still light.

When I reach Dyersville, Iowa, I make a point of getting off the highways and find a place to download the full episode of the Herd on ESPN Radio. McDonald’s WiFi is crap, but I make due at the public library. I fume the whole seven minute drive into Dyersville to find the library; how extra options make us so pushy. But I get my podcast, and once I’m west of Dubuque, the drive feels down hill.

I reach our researcher’s place by 7:30, and my Dad comes to help me unload the samples. I am relieved to have this down while it’s still light. We finish quickly, and then I head back to my parents’ apartment for dinner, remembering last year when our plots where in Owatonna, Minnesota and Reinbeck, Iowa.

Issues Etc. Vidcasts: Liturgy and American Revivalism

Driving across Wisconsin and Iowa, while exhausting and tiring, was a great time to get caught up on some Issues, Etc. podcasts that had been piling up. Issues, Etc. works great on the road espescially when you have series, which thanks to Pastor Will Weedon, I did.

I’d referenced this before, but I wanted to mention again how great Dr. Larry Rast’s podcast on American Revivalism is. It goes a long way to showing how dangerous emotion-driven Christianity and the idea of “new measures” are. Dr. Rast, I hope you write a book on this.

Acts 2 has to be the most-abused chapter in all of Scripture. The feminists use it to justify woman pastors, the non-dems use it to justify throwing out the liturgy, and the real extremists use it to justify universal redemption.

The Omro of it All

Building by the Fox River

The road to Omro from Waupun (and US HWY 151) is fifty solid minutes on Wisconsin County Roads. I suppose I shouldn’t complain and should be grateful to the people who are willing to work with us, but last Tuesday as I made my way up County Road M, past the swivel in the road at County Road TC, I thought to myself, “Maybe it’s worth the extra twenty miles to take the major roads through Fon Du Lac and Oshkosh.”

This past trip marked my fourth trip to Omro overall. The first was last year, when I passed the town without much notice on a Thursday morning, exhausted after crossing Lake Michigan the previous night. Each of the other three trips, I ended up hanging around the town for an extended period of time that was longer than I intended. I didn’t have to go anywhere.

The Ben Franklin-style pharmacy

Omro is a pleasant city of just over 3,000, enough to seem substantial, but still really small. There’s a Piggly Wiggly and a BP/McDonald’s travel sitting on the east end of town, a small token of independence. The old fashioned, Ben Franklin-style pharmacy was in a state of remodel when I came in looking for twine. They didn’t have any, but I did find some at combo gas station/Subway/hardware store down the street.. There is a modest courthouse and town museum. It’s the smallest town I’d ever seen to have two thrift stores (until someone corrected me of this on Facebook), and there’s a bar next to the baseball fields which you could easily mistake for a machine shed. The largest restaurant location in Omro, a green roofed bar standing alone with dark tinted windows, currently sits empty. It is pledging to reopen in September “under new management.”

Omro’s Courthouse

I tried to off the restaurants in town and liked both. First, it was the Colonial Cheese House, and the last time, I sampled Jake’s Pizza, whose ad was on a tray in my room at the roadside motel. I was skeptical, but after obtaining the twine I needed, Jake’s was the first restaurant I walked by on the street. (Other than an authentic Mexican place, the likes of which I can find in Nebraska. There were two employees behind the counter, both on the phone most of the time I was there. I ordered a fish dinner and sat down to wait, expecting to write a full post by the time my food came. When the girl brought me my food, I’d written a measly two paragraphs. The way she handed the container to me, I knew it would be great, and it was. A small business ten miles from a major city has to work that much harder to keep its business.

The most distinctive part of Omro is the Fox River, which runs roughly through the middle of town. The city has several parks next to it, and there are a few homes with docks. In many ways, the river is to Omro is like Yellowstone is to Wyoming: a very unique feature, but it doesn’t seem to upgrade the town that much.

Bench on the Fox

It is in my work as a field monitor over the summer that I have to rely on the Omros, the Tomahs, the Reinbeck, Iowas, and the Doniphan, Nebraskas to get the things I need, like that ball of twine or the ice to keep the samples cold. I don’t romanticize these small towns, but I’m grateful for their presence. I admire the Jake’s Pizza and the gas station that takes in two other businesses, because they have to do more with less too stay in business. And every little memento I take from those towns, like that ball of twine and the legion baseball T-shirt of the Omro Dairy (“Thundering Herd) I bought at one of the two thrift stores, is logged into my brain and will be remembered every time I see that ball of twine or wear that T-shirt.

House on the Way out of Town

Why Economist Should Play Settlers of Catan

I was introduced to the game Settlers of Catan at a game night with some friends from church. The game instantly fascinated me, because of its complexity and how resources had the potential for different values based on which numbers were on top of them. I went home  and downloaded Catan to my iPod and got into it.

In the first game I’d played on the board with people, the experienced players tried to get a settlement on a region for each resource so they wouldn’t have to trade, and I mimicked this strategy in my first couple of computer games I didn’t win a game and walked away frustrated, but I noticed something: the value of a resource changes during the game. Ore, for example, isn’t valued much early the game, because everyone wants to build roads and settlements to avoid getting hemmed into one or two areas, so everyone wants to trade ore for brick and wood. But as the game goes on, players value ore more because they’re trying to get cities.

After I took a break and realized that my initial assessment was comprehensive enough. Trying to get a settlement on each resource was too hard and tiring, and even if you did, it wasn’t worth much if it was on a 2 or an 11 or a 12, numbers that aren’t rolled much.

I considered our present economy: who get the most value for their work? I’m not talking about workaholic lawyers and doctors; although their work is very valuable, they have to put in a lot of time to get that value. No, the most valuable people in our society are consultants, people who can come in and increase the average earning power of workaholics and companies with some tweaking and telling them which markets to pursue. Apply that principal to Catan, and I only needed to control one or two resources to win at the game.

I revised my initial take on how the resources changed throughout the game. When the players choose their first two settlements at the beginning of the game, all of the resources had an equal value. To be successful, I had to choose a place on the board where I would get one resource constantly and could flip that resource into whatever I needed. For example, I would put my first settlement on a port where sheep traded at 2:1, and my second settlement on two sheep regions. It doesn’t matter that the sheep aren’t a critical resource throughout the life of the game; as long as I could flip them at that rate, I could easily convert the sheep into whatever I needed.

So as I’ve played, I don’t bother making long roads across the board; I build more and more on main resource squares, especially if it’s on a 6 or an 8. If I get a city and settlement on one of those numbers, I can pretty much assume I’ll win the game.

There is a second secret I’ve found to succeeding at Catan: take what you’re given. If you end up taking wheat as your main resource and find yourself with two ore and two wheat a couple turns into the game, take an ore if someone else is willing to trade it and build a city. Don’t worry that you only have two settlements; ore’s going to get more expensive as the game goes along. Part of getting value is taking what people are willing to trade when they want to trade it. Say you can trade wood at 2:1 and it’s early in the game. If you don’t have a settlement on a sheep region, you’re better off taking a sheep anytime someone wants to trade it, even if it helps your neighbor at an inconvenient time. The game is about getting value whenever you can.

Any comers?

Return to the Road

I first tasted daylight yesterday around 5:10. I had to run out to Hastings and pick up some seed, and then take it to Ames in the afternoon. I debated about getting up and trying to leave by 6, getting to Starr’s at first light. Instead, I rolled over, slept some more, and got up at 6:15. Still left a bit at 7:10.

This is the time of year were I start wearing thin of driving. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing fields, and I love hitting up certain restaurants. But after this much time in the road, I need to spend a month at home to recoop mentally and put the ideas I’ve come up with to the page. I love the photograph, but I need time away  from it Labor Day weekend at the lake can’t get here soon enough.

I make the jaunt to Hastings at least four times a year, the last time being when the ears have filled out and I take measurements and pictures for our buyers. I can usually make it in an hour and twenty minutes, but Saturday I took my time. I stopped for a flash rain and got Starbucks in York. The barista was way to friendly for 8AM Saturday morning, but I got a receipt for a $2 drink after 2 PM.

I get to Hastings at 9, right when our grower was supposed to have a meeting. We load seed and talk about the drought. They had to shut off one of their pivots for a week during detasseling, but their starting to come back around. There’s a reason my dad tries not to call the growers between August 1 and August 18. It is the fear range when they’re worried about the size of the ear, and understandably so.

The Platte is dead dry, and I don’t just mean shallow as usual. I mean there’s no water in it and farmers have been disking it. I have to drive 65 back because of my load, making the road more tedious than ever. Funny thing is, driving five miles below the speed limit on the interstate is so relaxing. You rarely have to pass anyone and can just relax in one lane. I get home and take another nap before eating a carefully planned last meal, packing, and leaving.

The packing for this trip was easier: since I will just be going to fields, I only need grubby shirts and shorts. I take fewer books than on previous trips. I do the dishes, hang up the last load of laundry, and bolt.

On the way to redeeming my receipt for a $2 drink, I find out it was easier to get to a Starbucks in Omaha off the interstate than I’d originally conceived: just take the I-680 and get off at Pacific, there’s one right by Westside High at 87th. It’s one of the best Starbucks I’ve ever been to, sitting at the corner of a strip mall so half of the walls have huge windows on them. I get my drink, write a little, and head out.

I listen to Issues, Etc. as I drive, programs on the Old Testament prophets mostly. This the time of year where I have seemingly unlimited time to catch up on all the stuff I like to listen to, especially Issues. That’s a lot of what makes this worthwhile.

Issues are black and white

Penn State Sanction: Cruel and Hypocritical

Finally, some thoughts on the Penn State NCAA sanctions.

To surmise, I don’t have a problem with the NCAA giving Penn State a penalty. What I do have a problem with is the NCAA fining Penn State $600 and then telling their fans they have to fill Beaver Stadium seven Saturdays a year for the next ten years, at the same ticket prices they’ve been paying (and even higher as the years go on).

The NCAA knew the death penalty could obliterate PSU football (and decimate their non-revenue sports). So they decided, let’s keep the program going and force them to play with a lesser team. But even though fans just root for the clothes, they won’t root for these clothes if the product in them is struggling to be on par with Purdue.

Penn State has to do something financially for the victims of sexual abuse and Jerry Sandusky, no question. But you cannot send the program to the doldrums. PSU drew just under 98,000 fans for their game against Illinois, 10,000 under capacity, when the team was 7-1. How many people are going to show up when Bill O’Brien is going 3-9?

The NCAA set a heavy precedent with the USC sanction for the Reggie Bush’s trangression, and by the looks of things, they were trying to double up here. But just giving Penn State the same penalty as USC (2 year bowl ban, 10 scholarships a year over 3 years, for a total of 30 lost) would have been greater, given how much deeper USC’s talent base is and how much more “well adjusted” USC. But we shouldn’t expect the NCAA to understand situational punishment or spirit of the law over letter of the law.

I have asked several people who aren’t college football fans if they think Penn State football should be given the death penalty, and all of them have said no (many of these people work in education). Really, NCAA, if you wanted to give PSU the death penalty, you should just do it. Don’t try to save the money.

Appealing Flaws

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
John Grisham’s novel The Appeal, while a work of liberal propaganda, raises many issues conservatives must confront. Grisham, a self-described moderate baptists who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election, draws his lines clearly, using a tort case against a big company: on the one side, there are the big corporations who use “Christian values” to mask their agenda of advantages for the rich. Then there’s the real church, the one that’s concerned with helping the poor above all else. Just judges, in Grisham’s mind, will always take the side of helping the poor. While I do think that helping the poor needs to be an important part of the judicial system, Grisham draws too many generalities when it comes to religion and excludes the obvious connection between the liberal philosophy he’s advocating and abortion.

Grisham’s perspective, however flawed, does provide insight as to how the Democrats have won the upper hand in the current political arena: cast them as rich, out-of-touch bureaucrats who use empty values to mask greed. Jack Donaghy has done as much to ruin Republicans’ image as George W. Bush did. Growing up, I always thought of Republicans as a party primarily defined by religious, traditional values, but political parties are much more complex. In light of the financial crisis where big corporations share much of the blame, it does give me second thought about the party I belong to. Truth be told, I get my political news from SNL most of the time. Being a true Lutheran, I’m politically apathetic.

Politics aside, there is a bigger problem in this regard, and Grisham takes advantage of American’s (and even Christian’) lack of religious knowledge). There’s more to churches than just large, suburban, and callous, and urban and outreach oriented . Grisham writes little about specific beliefs in The Appeal, andI wonder if he would be surprised to find out that churches who preach social activism over Christ forty years ago are now dying off in America.

As Lutheran, I understand this personally. My own church body, the LCMS, while trying to resolve its issues, has congregational practice that can vary quite a bit from congregation to congregation, and with that, teaching also can very. Not to get into that debate, but churches just can’ be judged actions only. Their teachings (and specifics) should be debated too.

Yes, many Christians have abandoned missions in the cities for houses in the suburbs. Repentance is needed, but we cannot go into these neighborhoods with just food and money. If we don’t preach Christ to these people, than they are worse off than before. This is something that cuts at me personally, because my own church body, while doing notable acts for the poor, does have a track record of pushing doctrine, sometimes too hard.

As far as cases like the one Grisham describes, sadly there are instances where families who suffer injuries aren’t compensated fairly by the courts system. But the judicial liberalism that Grisham advocates for victims is the same logic that legalized abortion, which in many ways slaps the poor in the face by telling them, “The world doesn’t have room for your unexpected babies.” Grisham subtly ignores this fact and does his readers a great disservice by doing so.

But conservatives should read and deal with the issues raised inTthe Appeal, because these are the tactics that lifestyle left are using in their arguments against them. The winning side of a political debate isn’t the one that’s right, merely the one who frames its argument the best.

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