On Sunday the frozen state of Minnesota turned 150. It’s our sesquicentennial! I’m an old pro at this, having lived in Michigan during their 1987 sesquicentennial (which means I can pronounce sesquicentennial, but can’t spell it without help). Some have argued that nobody really cares about 150 years of statehood. But I say it is a big deal, especially if you let me learn for free.

That’s right, on June 1 you can visit all Minnesota Historical Society sites and museums as well as Minnesota State Parks free of charge. Now that’s a celebration I can support.

But seriously, it is kind of cool. It’s fun to explore local history and understand how things came to be. Of course it shouldn’t be a chance to whitewash history—not everyone is eager to celebrate the sesquicentennial. After all, there have been people in Minnesota for far longer than 150 years and we didn’t exactly ask politely if we could have their homeland. Plus we have the distinction of being the location of the largest mass execution in U.S. history (how’s that for a tourist slogan?). That execution, by the way, involved military tribunals of questionable fairness, was personally reviewed by Abraham Lincoln, and ultimately only 38 of 303 death sentences were carried out, thanks to Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple’s pleas for leniency (go Episcopalians!). As hard as it is to read about these sad moments in our history, it’s encouraging to read about people like Whipple who stood up against racism and violence.

Sometimes history’s lessons are somber, but they’re still important.

On a less somber note, I am disappointed we don’t have better sesquicentennial swag. Where are the yo-yos?

Since this is my second sesquicentennial, I thought it might be interesting to move around and celebrate sesquicentennials as they come. If that sounds like fun to you, you better head to Oregon in 2009, Kansas in 2011, West Virginia in 2013 and Nevada in 2014. You could also celebrate centennials in New Mexico and Arizona in 2012, but that’s not as fun to say.

Detroit Red Wings Can’t Fill Their Arena

How sad is this? The Detroit Red Wings—currently on a franchise-high nine-playoff-game winning streak, in their 17th consecutive playoffs  (best streak in pro sports) and one win away from their fourth trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 11 years (having won the Cup in all three previous finals trips)—is having trouble selling out the Joe Louis Arena. Last year’s playoffs saw an end to a 425-game streak of home sellouts that went back to 1996.

What’s the deal? The Detroit economy must really be tanking. Or if you get too good people stop caring.

Whatever. I had to move to Minnesota to see the Red Wings in person. I’d love to go to a home game, and I’d really love to go to a playoff game. If you live in the Detroit area, do me a favor and go see some hockey. I may live in the State of Hockey, but Detroit will always be Hockeytown. Just don’t let me down now.

Caponi Art Park

Caponi Art ParkLast weekend I went to Caponi Art Park in Eagan, Minn., to check out the art. If you’re not familiar with it (I wasn’t), artist Anthony Caponi bought a chunk of land in the 1950s and build his home and art studio there. He started turning into his own personal art park and eventually secured a deal with the city and county to turn it into an official art park (MPR and Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine can summarize it better if you like).

It’s basically as far as you can get from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s manicured lawns and squared-off bushes without just dropping sculptures into the woods. Caponi has been shaping the land for 50 years, putting in paths, walls and even a ‘theater in the woods.’ And he also dropped sculptures all over the place, at least two dozen of them. The result is that you’re walking along the path and suddenly come upon a sculpture. Or you’re scratching your head and wondering whether or not that’s art. (Side Note: It reminds me of a friend’s farm in Frederick, Wis., where an artist family member installed sculpture. The tour consisted of “this is art,” / “this is old farm equipment,” and without the helpful guide you wouldn’t know the difference.) Parts of the park are like traipsing through the woods, while other parts feel like you’ve stumbled into the Shire.

Some of the especially cool artwork includes Struggle of the Elements, Snake, Monument to a Lumberjack and Walk in Outer Space.

Bottom line: It’s a cool park to visit (check out my set of pics).

Death in Many Forms: Cyclones and Cancer

Last week Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar (aka Burma) and officially killed at least 22,980 people with another 42,000 missing, 1 million homeless and unofficial estimates expect the death toll to top 100,000. Those kind of numbers, like the 2004 Southeast Asia Tsunami, are staggering. In contrast, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was a stronger storm than Nargis yet only killed 1,836 people (still a staggering number). I can’t imagine the reality of that kind of widespread death.

Today a wife and her three children from my church are burying their 42-year-old husband and father after a 3-year battle with cancer. This death, though expected and small in number, is equally as staggering.

Death sucks.

My only comfort is that death is not the last word.

And I mean that in the sense that I believe in a life after death, and in the sense that our response to death—how we live our lives in the aftermath, whether it’s the death of a lone man or multiplied thousands—says so much more about us than death ever could.

Gas Prices Too High? Slow Down

It’s a simple idea that’s finally getting some attention. Slow down and you’ll get better fuel economy, which means less pain at the pump. I talked about it before, but it’s good to see other folks trying the same thing:

  • Con-Way Freight of Ann Arbor, Mich., lowered the top speed of their 8,400 trucks from 65 to 62 mph and they’re saving $13.3 million and only adding 20-30 minutes to their shipments.
  • “I’m saving between $100 and $200 a week by cutting back from 72-73 mph to 60-65 mph,” said Dennis Sheridan, who owns an 18-wheeler and hauls freight on a contract basis throughout the Northeast.

Perhaps instead of pitching a gas tax holiday, certain candidates should be encouraging us to slow down.

What Are We Getting Into?

At a Cinco de Mayo part last weekend I talked to a couple who are the unofficial grandparents of a child adopted from Ethiopia. The child has a 13-year-old brother still in Ethiopia who the parents and working on adopting as well. When friends ask the mom if she knows what she’s getting into, she responds with, “No, I don’t know what I’m getting into. But I know it’s the right thing to get into.”

While that comment rings especially true with adoption, I think it’s often true in a broader sense. How can we know what we’re getting into half the time? But if we’re getting into the right stuff, it doesn’t matter.

How Confident Are You About Your Business Direction?

Those clever, creative and confident folks at Personality™ have put together a Confidence Evaluation that can help you, well, evaluate the confidence of your business or organization. It’s really about figuring out if your organization knows itself well enough to communicate effectively.

It’s a quick little eight-question PDF, and if you have the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader you can fill in your answers on the PDF, submit your info and get a free download of another PDF that thoroughly explains what you should do now that you know how confident (or not) your organization is.

It’s a pretty slick little tool and can help you begin to ask the right questions when it comes to marketing and communication. Check it out. Not only do I recommend it, but I also helped edit it (that’s my way of giving you the full disclosure).

Ignore Those ‘Elitist’ Experts

The Democratic primary campaign is getting kind of silly. When asked to defend her plan for a summer long gas tax holiday (which will save you $28) by naming a credible economist who think it’s a good idea, Hillary Clinton said: “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.”

So getting the opinion of experts is somehow a bad idea?

She went on to explain, “We’ve got to get out of this mind-set where somehow elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans.” Oh, so they’re elitist experts. Reminds me of a Jon Stewart bit from the Daily Show about how we should want the very elite running the country (“If you don’t think you’re better than us, then what the &#@% are you doing?!”). I can understand Clinton’s concern that we do what’s best for the vast majority of Americans, but I don’t think that means dismissing expert advice and accusing them of being elitist. That’s not populist, that’s paranoid. Or perhaps political.

The only thing that makes this gas tax debate more interesting is that Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain agree on it.

Explaining Food Riots in Haiti

Interesting (and lengthy) article explaining the causes and realities of the food riots in Haiti:

“Haiti doesn’t suffer from a lack of food because there’s no food, no! It is because the rich don’t understand the poor.” -Sylvie St. Fleur

A lot of it comes down to inequalities between the rich and poor, as well as big time mismanagement and corruption (within Haiti and without—U.S. aid practices share some of the blame).

Simple Living: Artwork for Darfur

Nadia Plesner Darfur posterI love this painfully poignant Darfur poster from Nadia Plesner:

“My illustration Simple Living is an idea inspired by the media’s constant cover of completely meaningless things. My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designer bags and small ugly dogs apparantly is enough to get you on a magazine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserves and needs attention.”

She’s selling posters and T-shirts with the image trying to raise money and awareness for the plight in Darfur. She’s also getting sued by Louis Vuitton for using their product in her artwork.

It’s like many things I’ve come across recently that painfully remind me how wealthy I am and how easy I have it. And it demands an answer.