morrison county record

According to the latest edition of the Morrison County Record (November 30, 2008 print version), the Board of  the Little Falls Golf Course is hosting a contest to name the Golf Course restaurant.  (I’d link to the article online, but it doesn’t appear when I search for it.)  Yippee!  A contest!  What a great way to get the community involved, but there’s a catch.  According to the contest rules, the name must have the words “Mississippi River” included in it because the Golf Course is situated on the river.

Talk about hamstringing the contestants.  If the Golf Course Board is so wedded to the words “Mississippi” and “River,” why doesn’t it figure out its own name?  The board is half to two-thirds of the way to a name already.

The Golf Course Board has also set a few other rules.  (And I’m paraphrasing here.)  The name must position the Golf Course restaurant in the minds of visitors and residents.  It must be brandable and easy to market.  It has to be distinctive in comparison to other golf courses (or is that golf course restaurants?). And, it must be an easy-to-remember name, which I guess hearkens back to that positioning rule, because it’s hard to position a restaurant that no one remembers.

When it comes to marketing and branding, long names are unwieldy for customers unless they are very, very memorable and catchy.  Now take the word “Mississippi,” which is already a mouthful, add the word “River,” and then add some other word or words to create the name.  If the name gets too long, I guarantee that customers will find a way to shorten it.  If the name itself is too difficult to easily shorten, the place will probably be referred to as the Golf Course restaurant and that will be that.

Along with saddling contestants with already-chosen words, the Board has decided not to reveal (or, perhaps, overlooked revealing) what will be served at said Golf Course restaurant, as though everyone in the community has already been there and knows what’s on the menu.  What is the ambiance of the restaurant?  The name must accurately reflect that ambiance in order to properly position it in the minds of customers.

According to the Record article, “Additional contest rules are available online and entry forms may be downloaded at Entry forms may also be picked up at the Little Falls City Hall . . . .”  I sure hope City Hall has those entry forms, because when I went to the Golf Course website to check on a menu, I could find no entry form or information about this contest at all.  As the contest deadline is December 19, will there be time to get this online?

Methinks this contest could have used a little more forethought.

Trapped in a water hole,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel


The Morrison County Record has published a story about the United Way of Morrison County on its website and in the pages of the this week’s print edition.  There’s more to this story, some of which can be found at the Live Un-tied website maintained by Jody Scott-Olson.  The site includes Scott-Olson’s original press release, in which she calls for the resignation of the Executive Committee members of the Morrison County United Way.  It also has a copy of the resignation she was asked to sign, complete with its offer of money in exchange for silence on financial matters of the organization.  For those of you unaware of how nonprofit organizations are supposed to operate, they are required by law to maintain transparency of their operations, including financial information.

Watching this story with a wide, goggly fish eye,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

In perusing the paper version of this past week’s Morrison County Record (August 10, 2008), I noticed that the Letters to the Editor section was heavy on the pro-Republican letters.  In fact, all of the political letters were pro-Repub.  Supposedly the Rec tries to keep things even, but I find it hard to believe that the newspaper didn’t receive a single pro-Democrat letter in the last week.  If you local Dems are feeling slighted, feel free to leave your comments on Fish Wrap.  Of course we’ll moderate everything – we don’t need a libel suit – but go ahead and defend your position.  Because this is the web, your audience is potentially world-wide.

Fish of a feather, flock together (assuming you’re a Rooster Fish),

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

It’s been almost four weeks since the hostage situation took place at the Morrison County Government Center.  This fish still feels shaken by that event and will try not to comment directly on it further other than to say that the Morrison County Record did a fine job of covering the various angles of the situation.  (If you want to find the Record’s articles, just go to its website and type Gordon Wheeler into the search feature.)

What I’d like to do, instead, is discuss property rights because this is ostensibly what was at the root of the event.  When it comes to owning property, most Americans believe that property owners should be able to do whatever they want with their property.  In direct opposition to this thought is the belief that we also get to decide what our neighbors do with their property.  (How often have you found that your lawn aesthetic doesn’t match that of your neighbor’s?  Or complained about how that neighborhood feed lot is going to decrease the value of your property?)

So, which is it?  Do we get to do what we want with our property, or are we going to set up rules that restrict what our neighbors do?  There are no easy answers to this question, yet, when there is a dispute over property rights, someone has to step in and make some sort of decision.

That’s where our govenment officials come in – our county commissioners, city administrators, planning & zoning officials, and inspectors.  Not only are these officials concerned with making decisions about individual property rights, they also have to keep an eye on what’s good for an entire community, plus make sure their decisions square with local ordinances and state laws.  The latter can be notoriously difficult to interpret due to vague language that’s meant to cover all possible situations.

These officials juggle all of the aforementioned requirements and variables in making their decisions and sometimes their decisions don’t sit well with the property owner or with the public.  Then what?  Well, the property owner and public can learn to live with the decisions or the decisions can be appealed to a higher authority.  Perhaps a particular law in question needs to be revised, in which case those concerned with the issue can head to the legislature and work that angle.  If a property rights decision seems particularly unfair, but can’t seem to be resolved with a particular set of government officials, perhaps it’s time to use the power of the vote to bring new leaders into the situation.  The point is that there are all sorts of potential solutions to a property rights disagreement.

The real crux of the matter, however, is that property rights decisions are notoriously contentious because of the underlying premises I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Sometimes there just isn’t an easy fix, no matter how thoughtfully officials contemplate an issue, and no matter how hard a property owner works to get a decision changed in his/her favor.  What we need to change is our idea of owning property.  While we may legally “own” a piece of property, we don’t really own it.  We’re just borrowing it for a time.  It behooves us to think about who will be using the land next and start making decisions not simply for our own selfish needs, but for the needs of its future inhabitants.

I’ll share my reef, if you’ll share yours,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

On 3/25/2008, the Morrison County Record printed an article written by columnist Peter Graham in Farming and Your Freedom with the headline Can Iraq Rebuild its Ag Economy? 

In his article Graham refers to a story published in the High Plains/Midwest Journal and writes, “it will take millions to put them back on their feet and help them become productive again. It will also take enlightened government policy-on the part of the Iraq and the U.S. governments.”

The operative words being enlightened government policy.

 Unfortunately, in his 400 day stint as administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) (the American body that ruled the “new Iraq” in the early days of the U.S. invasion) Paul Bremer issued a series of directives known as the “100 Orders”. These orders established the blueprint for the new Iraq.  Among the items contained in the 100 Orders relevant to Graham’s original question is Order # 81, officially titled: Amendments to Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law.*** (Enacted by Bremer on April 26, 2004.)

Order 81 is a legal tweak establishing strong intellectual property protections on seed and plant products that a company like Monsanto (producers of genetically modified (GM) seeds and other patented agricultural goods) required prior to moving into new markets like Iraq.  

In a nutshell, Order 81  mirrors the business conditions created years earlier in India, conditions leading Monsanto to highly profitable success within that region while simultaneously unleashing a pandemic proportioned onslaught of suicides among Indian farmers, the subject of the PBS documentary The Dying Fields.  

While the U.S. stopped short of mandating Iraqi farmers to purchase from corporations like Monsanto, basic laws of nature coupled with Order 81 could quickly and easily leave American agribusiness claiming rights on Iraqi farm fields regardless of where they obtain their seed supply.

Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer found himself tangled with Monsanto in a lawsuit after a few rogue GM seeds blew from a truck passing by his land. Monsanto didn’t care how the Roundup® Ready plants got there, as far as the company was concerned, Schmeiser was in possession of an agricultural product whose intellectual property belonged to them and they didn’t care how it happened. Monsanto sued Scheimer for $400,000.00 .  


In 2005 the Centre for Food Safety(CFS) reported that Monsanto had a 10 million dollar budget and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers. Monsanto admits to aggressively investigating farmers it suspects and according to the CFS report, evidence suggests that the number of farmers investigated reachs into the thousands.

Prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq it was illegal to patent seeds. Now, under U.S. decree all that is necessary to obtain a patent is to be the first to “describe” or “characterize” the plants.*

While technically, Iraqi farmers are not being stopped from saving and sharing seed from their traditional crops as they have always done, there is now nothing stopping Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, Bayer and other multinationals from “describing” or “characterizing” Iraq’s traditional seeds. Once this is done Iraqi farmer will be prohibited from saving and sharing the very seeds that have been cultivated and passed down in their country for generations and they will be forced  to buy them from who ever owns the patent.   Also, Iraqi farmers can be sued by companies like Monsanto if they discover their non-GMO crops polluted by GMO crops planted in their vicinity like Percy Schmeiser did.

It is important to note that prior to Abu Graib’s infamous tabloid debut that the city was once host to Iraq’s seed bank. In 1996, Iraqi botanists packed up 200 kinds of seed and sent them to Syria for safekeeping. When the Iraq war began the Abu Graib seed bank was looted, all that remains of Iraq’s long, rich agricultural heritage are the seeds held by its farmer and those shipped to Syria.

While it would be nice to think that the intentions of the U.S. government are honorable, the broader U.S. plan appears to be geared more towards incorporating Iraqi agriculture into the massive web of U.S. agribusiness, leaving Iraq to grow a few high-yield cash crops for export instead of growing basic crops to feed the Iraqi people. Subsequently, under the U.S. policy the state-run food companies (who had traditionally provided a food basket to every Iraqi household rich or poor), will be privatized under the policy, farm subsidies will be eliminated and the traditional Iraqi food baskets assured to every household, will only be provided to the poorest of Iraq’s people.

While Graham’s article insinuates that the U.S. is working to ensure that Iraq regains its capacity to feeds its own people, exporting high-yield cash crops has not proven to be a successful mean of reaching this objective.

Graham ends his column with, “Root suggested that we make our research available to Iraqi farmers and where practicable send experts over to help. He believes, though, that there may be more value in bringing the Iraqis to America to be trained and then to be sent back to revitalize their agriculture and begin feeding their own people. Who wants to see an Extension specialist blindfolded and awaiting execution for helping farmers to farm?” 

If Graham is truly that naïve it is perhaps time he retire his column. It took nothing more than a cursory glance at the sources used by the High Plains Midwest Journal to see that the universities commenting on Iraq were departments notorious for being heavily financed by the multinational corporations who stand to profit from Order 81.

In the end maybe extension specialist will find themselves blindfolded and awaiting execution in Iraq because the 100,000 Indian’s who committed suicide between 1993 and 2003, some of whom died in their fields after ingesting their last bottle of Roundup, failed to capture any real attention.

*The Hague Regulations requires that an occupying power “re-establish and insure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” The imposition of major structural economic reforms is viewed by legal scholars around the world as a violation of international law.










I’m sad to see Joyce Moran leave the Morrison County Record, sad and maybe a little dismayed. For the short time I worked at the Record Joyce was one of my supervising editors and I appreciated the qualities she brought to the Record. While my other editor was busy sanitizing everything I wrote to make local officials look good sponging out direct quotes from public meeting that he didn’t want the public to read, it was Joyce who ultimately went to bat to retain the integrity of stories that were published. 

With Joyce Moran gone maybe Tom West can just turn the paper over to the GOP make a few minor changes in their lit pieces and add his name to it …errr, or did he already do that?


Olive Rockfish

In this week’s issue of the Morrison County Record (March 23, 2008), there’s an article by Liz Verley about the Little Falls City Council’s discussion concerning the Dewey-Radke house.  (See Section A, page 4, or do a search on the Morrison County Record’s website using the term “little falls city council”.  The article is called, “Council discusses whether to repair Dewey-Radke house”.)

The Dewey-Radke house is located next to the entrance of Pine Grove Park.  The Deweys offered the house to the City of Little Falls in 1974 so that it could remain a part of Pine Grove Park.  This makes sense because the park wraps around the house’s property.

For as long as I can remember, the house has been little used by the city.  The West Side Improvement Association has been using it for meetings and activities for the past few years, but this organization’s use also appears to be minimal.  The trouble is that it is a house – great for living in, but lousy for any kind of intensive public use.  Most houses are not built to be handicapped accessible, but this particular house, which is of the 1890-1920 vintage, was constructed long before society took that sort of thing into consideration.  Also, like most houses, the floor plan isn’t conducive to public use, what with the rooms designed for individual, private use and small gatherings, not large group activities.

The city is now struggling with what to do with the home.  It is in need of repairs, to the tune of $150,000, according to the Record.  That’s a lot of cash and the city isn’t sure the home is worth it.  Jerry Lochner, the city’s Public Works Director, has suggested that it may need to be torn down “if we can not find a public purpose for the building.”

The City Council isn’t taking the situation lightly, which is a good thing.  Little Falls has become known state-wide for its active pursuit of historic preservation.  If the city starts knocking down historic buildings willy-nilly, people will note the hypocrisy.  Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult for a city or municipality to own a formerly-private home because of the costs involved in repurposing and maintaining it.  Taking care of homes is not the first priority of a governmental unit.  In fact, houses and their attendant property are revenue streams for the government, so owning private homes works against a city’s budget in more ways than one.

Compounding the problem for the City of Little Falls is that it owns not one private home, but several.  In addition to the Dewey-Radke home, it owns the Burton/Rosenmeier home, which houses the Little Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Weyerhaeuser and Musser homes, collectively known as Linden Hill.  This is contrary to what Council member Brian Crowder is quoted as saying in the Record.  He said, “As a city we do not have anything to do with Linden Hill.  We need to look at taking care of city property.”  Well, Linden Hill is city property and while the homes are being looked after on a day-to-day basis by the Friends of Linden Hill, ultimately, the city does still have responsibility for the homes.

The city ended up with these properties through the generosity of those who bequested them and, in the case of at least three of the homes, the city was given funds to assist with maintaining them.  Frank and Alice Dewey provided funds for the Dewey-Radke home and The Musser Trust provided an endowment for Linden Hill.

According to Brian Crowder, the Dewey Trust has earned “over $1 million in interest used by the city,” and he suggested using some of that to repair the Dewey-Radke home.  What a sensible idea.  But, if the city hasn’t been using that money on the home to date, what have they been doing with it?

Even if there is funding available to make necessary repairs, the city is still going to have to figure out how to use the Dewey-Radke home, something it hasn’t managed to do in the 34 years it has owned the structure.  I’m sure it’s not for lack of brainstorming sessions; it’s just that sticky a problem.

While I offer no solutions to the current dilemma, I would like to offer a tip.  If you are considering donating your house to a city or municipality – don’t do it.  Just don’t.  I know you have an emotional attachment to seeing your house preserved as is for all eternity, but that isn’t how things will work out.  What you’re doing is putting a governmental unit into a position that it is not equipped to handle, even if you provide a generous amount of funds for the home.  Much better to create a nonprofit organization devoted directly to the house and turn the funds over to it.

My other piece of advice is this.  If you are a governmental unit – don’t accept a house.  Just don’t.  Learn from the situation Little Falls is in and save yourself the hassle.

The weeds I’m in are bound to decompose,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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