Winston Borden dies, learning from the starving, and the thoughtless outing of a transgender woman (5×8 – 1/21/14)

1) THE OLD STOVE LOSES A PAL

Win Borden in his element — the garden — in May 2013. Photo by Joey Halvorson.

There will be no more Facebook conversations between the old wooden stove and former legislator Win Borden. Borden, 70, died last night. His downfall from the state Legislature — he didn’t pay taxes and served prison time — was not something he ignored when he preached from his Facebook pulpit, from a small farm in Crow Wing County, where he retired to a life as a gentleman farmer and philosopher.

Over a year ago, he was diagnosed with cancer and documented his experience and things seemed to be looking up until a month ago when he stopped posting, except for one a week or so ago in which he announced he was going back into the hospital for more tests.

“He had been in failing health ever since his cancer was discovered, and the punishment of chemo and radiation takes a terrible toll,” his friend Pete Holste wrote. “But Win was an optimistic fighter until the end.”

Indeed, he had ordered seeds for spring planting.

He wrote this about a month ago:

At the farm this morning, I awoke with energy in excess and optimism in abundance. I am not sure why, but by the time I dressed and was headed for the kitchen, I found myself belting out the lyrics to The Man of La Mancha.

“To dream the impossible dream…to fight the unbeatable foe…to run where the brave dare not go…to try when your arms are too weary…to reach the unreachable star. That is my quest, to follow that stare, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.”

The wood stove heard me and was moaning when I entered the kitchen. “I don’t think you should audition for a Broadway show.” Oh my before I can thank her for her understatement, she goes on. “You’re a farmer, not a crooner, and while you can push a wheelbarrow, you couldn’t carry a tune in one.” Oh my I guess she makes her views clear.

“You are more adapt at reciting poetry. Why don’t you spend your
time reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven.’ You memorized it in high school and my guess is you still remember it.” Oh my she’s right. But talk about a transition from an optimistic song to the dark and sultry words of Poe in The Raven. A talking wood stove is more than I can handle. I don’t need a talking raven.

So I start to belt out the words that Frank Sinatra popularized in “That’s Life. That’s what people say. You’re riding high in April, shot down in May. But I know I am gonna change their tune when I’m right back top in June.”

Well that got the old stove laughing, she said, “Well their you go again from happiness to tragedy and back to happiness. That seems to be the way life often unfolds. Uncertain and unpredictable it is. You have demonstrated that life is kind of like riding a roller coaster–your not in control–and life has its up and down. You have been to the edge of the cliff more than a few times in life, but you have hung on and you need to continue to do that.” Oh my I guess she’s right.

I’ll hang on and hopefully do the best I can with what I am handed in life. I trust on this day your goal is the same. The best to you from the farm.

2) SHOULD MARIJUANA BE LEGALIZED IN MINNESOTA?

It may well be that legalizing marijuana emerges as the dominant issue in the upcoming Minnesota state Legislature now that Washington and Colorado have legalized it and the movement seems to be gaining some traction.

Writer Jim Walsh makes the case for legalization in a recent issue of the Southwest Journal.

In Minnesota, the land of 10,000 brew pubs, the government sanctions all sorts of potentially dangerous activities, from airlines to fast food to violent entertainment, but its heretofore staunch stance against medical and recreational marijuana suggests a lumbering body in bed with the prohibitionists of yore and a pharmaceutical industry that doesn’t want a populace regularly achieving a consciousness that questions authority, examines ways of being and living, and dares to demand the same liberty and freedoms afforded citizens of other states.

No, I’m not about to join NORML or become a champion of weed-smokers’ rights, but I will say that I know for a fact that many of your neighbors smoke weed, and that one of the last times I smoked was in December inside the Lakewood Cemetery chapel, after a friend lit up at the conclusion of especially poignant funeral, and on Christmas Eve in front of another buddy’s fireplace, when he offered me a hit of his liquid marijuana-spiked e-cig. In both instances, we were criminals and scofflaws, a designation the Minnesota Legislature should take seriously when it reconvenes Feb. 25.

But reader Jean Greenwood responded yesterday by telling the story of her son, who she says had his first psychotic episode because of marijuana (marijuana induced paranoia).

And Walsh maintains we are not truly free as long as smoking weed is a crime, especially since “guns, alcohol and tobacco are legal.” That’s an argument? It sounds flimsy, like an adolescent’s defense before a parent: ”It’s a free country!” Think about it: because x,y, and z dangerous things are legal, it’s okay to legalize additional dangerous activities? Incidentally, I feel pretty free — I’m sorry Walsh doesn’t and that weed is the touchstone for his sense of freedom.

I don’t know the data on marijuana, but I do know it changed, irrevocably, my son’s life. He now lives with schizo-affective disorder in a group home. Let us not take lightly the use of marijuana.

“The big question,” the Los Angeles Times writes today, “is why attitudes toward marijuana are shifting now. And the answer, according to pollsters and drug policy experts, is a complicated stew of demographics, personal experience, electoral success and the failure of existing drug policy.”

“Americans don’t necessarily like pot more than they used to,” the Times reports. “The percentage of those who have actually tried it has stayed in the 30% range for three decades. Rather, Americans are simply fed up with criminal penalties they say are neither cost-effective nor just.”

Related: Minnesota family hopes for legalization of medical marijuana, the 'best hope' for their daughter (Forum News Service).

3) THE MINNESOTA STARVATION EXPERIMENT

How did Minnesota researchers learn more about starvation? By starving people. The BBC Magazine looks back at the University of Minnesota project that used conscientious objectors in the war. For six months they were starved while being required to walk or run 22 miles every week, expending over 1,000 calories more than they consumed each day.

It took months, even years, for the men to recover from the experiments, the BBC reports. Among the researchers findings: Starvation increases the need for privacy and quiet – noise of all kinds seems to be very bothersome and especially so during mealtimes.

(h/t: Nancy Lebens)

From the archive: American RadioWorks – Battles of Belief.

4) THE SPORTS-RELATED DISCUSSION WE REALLY SHOULD BE HAVING

Until Richard Sherman got in touch with his inner caveman on Sunday, one of the most intriguing story in sports was Grantland’s article about Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, the inventor of the Oracle GXI smart putter club. It outed Vanderbilt as a transgender woman, against her wishes.

She killed herself.

Yesterday, Christina Karhl, also writing on Grantland, said writer Caleb Hannan could’ve stuck with debunking Vanderbilt’s educational and professional claims, but lurched into an area he didn’t need to instead.

It was not Grantland’s job to out Essay Anne Vanderbilt, but it was done, carelessly. Not simply with the story’s posthumous publication; that kind of casual cruelty is weekly fare visited upon transgender murder victims in newspapers across the country. No, what Hannan apparently did was worse: Upon making the unavoidable discovery that Vanderbilt’s background didn’t stand up to scrutiny, he didn’t reassure her that her gender identity wasn’t germane to the broader problems he’d uncovered with her story. Rather, he provided this tidbit to one of the investors in her company in a gratuitous “gotcha” moment that reflects how little thought he’d given the matter. Maybe it was relevant for him to inform the investor that she wasn’t a physicist and probably didn’t work on the stealth bomber and probably also wasn’t a Vanderbilt cut from the same cloth as the original Commodore. But revealing her gender identity was ultimately as dangerous as it was thoughtless.

What should Grantland have done instead? It really should have simply stuck with debunking those claims to education and professional expertise relevant to the putter itself, dropped the element of her gender identity if she didn’t want that to be public information — as she very clearly did not — and left it at that. “That would have been responsible,” transgender activist Antonia Elle d’Orsay suggested when I asked for her thoughts on this road not taken. It’s certainly the path I would have chosen as a writer making this sort of accidental discovery, or would have insisted upon as an editor.

But because the site did go there, we have a problem, one that goes well beyond putters and overly contrived sales pitches. Because of this screw-up, we owe it to the ruin wrought in its wake to talk about the desperate lives that most transgender Americans lead and the adaptive strategies they have to come up with while trying to deal with the massive rates of under- and unemployment from which the trans community generally suffers. And we owe it to Essay Anne to understand how an attempt to escape those things became its own kind of trap, one Grantland had neither the right nor the responsibility to spring.

5) THE GIFT OF SIGHT

On her 21st birthday, Pat Knapp of Brainerd had lost almost all of her eyesight because of defective over-the-counter cold medication. It was 1965, and by age 69, she had used a white cane for half of her life. After her husband died last year, a neighbor suggested a specialist, the Brainerd Dispatch reports.

She was blind. But now she sees.

Knapp always had help from store employees when she shopped, and she always appreciated their help. But for the first time in December, she went shopping at a big chain store by herself. It was an amazing sight, to look at all the items on the store shelves.

“If you followed me around the stores, you’d laugh,” Knapp said with a grin.

Many people ask her what her late husband would have thought about the return of her vision.

“He would have said, ‘How come we didn’t meet him (Sabir) sooner?’” Knapp said. “He’d be so happy.”

Sabir said it’s important to always get a second opinion.

“Whatever the diagnosis, it’s not worth giving up,” said Sabir.

Bonus I: Who should be getting a raise? The person who came up with the idea for this ad:


Bonus II:
It’s sad, indeed, that Tim Jones of British Columbia has died. But when you depart this planet, there’s no better way to go out than to hear from the people who are alive because you were (CBC).

Bonus III: Why this cold snap isn’t a polar vortex (CNN).
WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and newly elected Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges

Second hour: Never-ending work-life balance conversations often center on mothers and work. Liza Mundy adds to the conversation about how mothers benefit from paternity leave in her recent piece in The Atlantic. She joins the show as today’s guest.

Third hour: What you need to know about credit.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – Libertarian political scientist and author Charles Murray, giving a Chautauqua Lecture titled, “Nurturing the Institutions that Let us Pursue Happiness.”

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – Do the Geneva II peace talks on Syria have a chance of surviving?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Italy cannot afford the upkeep of its many art treasures. To decide which few the government will repair, citizens have taken a vote. That’s brought praise for getting people involved in their heritage and criticism for demagoguery.
NPR will look at Italy’s experiment in democratizing art preservation.