Immigration, a Wisconsin Love Story

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal on Saturday, October 29, 2011

If your 50s or 60s are closer than they may appear, this will be familiar.

If this was an American story, it would so closely resemble the plot of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” that those of you familiar with the novel would instantly recognize the main characters, Lieutenant Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley. Those names will do.

This, then, is the story of Frederic and Catherine, and it begins as World War II is ending.

Frederic is severely wounded and taken to a hospital where he meets Catherine, a volunteer. They fall in love. After the war they marry, and a son arrives. They look around them, consider their future, envision its years unfolding in the United States and decide to emigrate. They arrive in Wisconsin in the 1950s, and this becomes an American story.

I met Frederic and Catherine in Milwaukee not long after that. I was impressed by how much she resembled Ingrid Bergman, an impression undiminished even now. What I remember most about Frederic were his eyes. Frederic’s intensity, his steadfast determination to succeed in his adopted country was there in eyes that combined all he had witnessed with all he planned to accomplish.

Frederic turned opportunity into success. Did I forget hard work and determination? They were always part of Frederic’s narrative.

Two more sons are added to the story and go on to replicate the success of the parents. Like their parents, they live in Wisconsin. They are part of our narrative, our lives, the lives familiar not only to those of us with 50s and 60s in the rearview, but to all of us.

Here’s a story within this story. There is very little, from woodworking to electronics, that Frederic cannot understand and then build. Of course, woodworking involves an occasional bent nail. Frederic saves them and teaches his sons to straighten them.

My father, who, incidentally, was Catherine’s uncle, taught me to do the same thing. Not only is that a habit of thrift that I suspect is something near to genetic, but it is also a revelation of the kind of determination to succeed against long odds that is the story of Frederic and Catherine.

The micro becomes the macro. The gesture begets the achievement. Those hours in the basement with a coffee can of bent nails, a hammer and the anvil end of a machinist’s vise pay off someday.

Here’s another inside story. While I enjoy visiting Frederic and Catherine in the modest Sheboygan home they’ve shared since the 1950s, I also come away from each visit with a sense of envy. Catherine keeps their home so clean that when I leave I return to a home where I know I’ll never match Catherine. She is also one of those people who can create a meal for many out of thin air in a kitchen smaller than an RV’s. In short, her skills and determination match Frederic’s.

Those skills united to give us the contributions their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have given us. What they brought to the United States and to Wisconsin they have given back many times over. Their arrival meant our perpetuation. Their success was our enrichment.

As long as the United States is the symbol of hope and the promise of a better future, it will be the singular model by which the rest of the world measures success just as Frederic and Catherine did.

Shouldn’t we celebrate that? Shouldn’t we drop the nasty campaign rhetoric of electric fences and out-of-control citizen patrols of the Southwest and replace it with a proud understanding of what it is about us that makes people want to be part of us?

Shouldn’t we look to the splendid example of Frederic and Catherine, even if now they may be Juan and Rosalita, or Jesus and Maria, and ask ourselves what might have happened if we had said no to their hope just as they were saying yes to our dream?

Link to the essay in the Wisconsin State Journal:

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A Calf Needs a Cow’s Milk, But You Don’t

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal on Saturday, October 15, 2011

The first and only legitimate use for a cow’s milk is to feed her calf. 

Every other use that follows was forced on us by tradition, habit, marketing, questionable science, political pressure or any of those in varying combinations that arrived glass by fat-lined glass when we were defenseless children. 

It’s time to throw them off and move on to a diet that excludes many of the dairy choices we’re making.

The recent, annual World Dairy Expo at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison was a fascinating spectacle. All that effort bent at balancing the weight of a cow’s daily milk production with her daily manure production. Despite that, one irrefutable fact remains: The first and the only legitimate use for a cow’s milk is to feed her calf. 

A charity chili cook-off was held a week ago in La Crosse. The charity part of it was admirable. The inclusion of ice cream chili in the competition was not. La Crosse was also the place I first heard about dessert pizza. I’ve tried but have been unable to put both of those dietary horror stories out of my mind. To balance them off I think of Org.

Org was the person who walked out of a cave and discovered an animal with double the number of cordial orifices that, until then, were not in her or his experience base. Org noticed that one or more of the orifices were dripping a white substance. The rest is history. 

The only other thing you should know is that Org never studied nutrition. Org was simply struggling to exist in a hostile environment. To Org fat was good. The consequences leading from its ingestion were not part of Org’s experience base, which is very much to the point here.

There is enough fat in milk to kill you if you drink enough of it over a relatively short period of time. Milk made into cheese intensifies the fat concentration. So eating a chunk of Colby or a pizza will kill you even faster. If they don’t they’ll treat you to quadruple bypasses or any number of wonderful, similar procedures. If you’re lucky enough to escape those, then your waist size will double what it was in high school and you’ll find yourself clogging the aisles of markets in a borrowed electric chair.

To the left of my keyboard is a little tub of light yogurt (yoghurt). When I’m done writing this it goes in the garbage. Most yoghurt is made with an enzyme you don’t want to know about that was, way back in time, derived from a cow’s stomach. 

Now that enzyme probably comes from a bunker located off Exit 8-A of the New Jersey Turnpike. The tub here next to my keyboard is different. Although I can’t be entirely sure, I suspect its enzyme was derived from Jamie Lee Curtis and flown here from either France or Greece.

What is sure about the tub is that its first ingredient is non-fat yoghurt. That’s not what the little tub contains. It is only its first ingredient. After that come modified corn starch, fructose and kosher gelatin followed by 13 other ingredients that have no relation to cow’s milk except for the fact that they’re part of a delivery system connected to the burgeoning dairy industry that combines tradition, habit, marketing, questionable science and political pressure to put the tub in a dairy case near you. 

You’re not buying yoghurt when you buy the little tub. You’re buying into an illusion that will, given time, either make you sick or kill you. The illusion is that you’re making a good choice in buying the tub of yoghurt, or any of the other products out there running wild in a dairy case near you. 

Well, fellow cheese heads, that isn’t true unless you know what’s in the product and how it will affect your health. If you don’t you are Org, just out of the cave, making a decision you only think is good.

Link to the essay in the Wisconsin State Journal:

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Stay disappointed with Ryancare

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday, July 26, 2011.

Here’s a fool-proof, two-part plan guaranteed to effectively improve health care in the United States. First, require all hospital administrators to work from desks that share space currently occupied by their emergency room admissions staff. In that space there would be no cubicles, no partitions of any kind. Everything that the admissions staff hears the administrators would hear.

Second, Representative Paul Ryan and his fellow members of Congress, regardless of age, should be stripped of the health care benefits they now enjoy and be forced to rely solely on Medicare. Instead of seeing the attending physician in the Capitol as often as they want for a referral to Bethesda Medical Center they’d have to take their chances in the nearest ER waiting room.

This two-part plan would be in effect for five years. By then, my guess is that there wouldn’t be a health care issue for any of us to worry about.

What Representative Ryan is proposing isn’t an overhaul of Medicare, it’s insurance allowing the present, private health care providers to go on with business as usual. In Madison, that allows Meriter and UW Health to play loose and fast with the welfare of the citizens they purport to serve by building duplicate facilities to chiefly enhance their respective bottom lines.

Here’s an example of what the business-as-usual health care monster sounds like, taken from a June 23, CBS News feature on the closing of Huron Hospital in impoverished East Cleveland. Residents of East Cleveland had relied on Huron for 75 years and CBS’s Cynthia Bowers asked Huron president, Dr. Gus Kious, about local apprehension over the impending closure.

“Well, Kious replied. “the people we serve are used to being disappointed.”

It’s taken me a while to decide whether that statement is more insensitive than offensive. Truth is, it is both and is indicative of how our pre-Obama health care system has been allowed to roll over us for a very long time.

In the early 70s I was the purchasing director for Divine Savior Hospital and Nursing Home in Portage. I arrived after the board of directors had approved renovations to the existing facility, some necessary, some not. Chief among them were improved lab facilities and better emergency room access. Also on the list were a new meeting room for the board of directors and a greatly expanded office for the hospital administrator. That board room would be enhanced by a custom built table that turned out to be so long that it had to be cut in half to be moved into the room. The administrator’s office would be graced by original works of art. As the renovations got underway the third floor of the hospital was closed due to a drop in occupancy. Staff from that floor was either laid off or transferred to the newer, adjacent nursing home. But life went on as usual for the board of directors and the administrator. The table went into the board room, the art was hung on the administrator’s office walls and, to relieve the staff doctors of the arduous duty of covering the emergency room on weekends, a group of doctors was hired to drive up from Madison.

In the almost 40 years since, health care has either gotten better or worse depending upon which side of the looking glass you’re on. If you’re on the pampered side you’re living with state of the art equipment that duplicates identical equipment across the street at your competitor’s facility, original art on your walls, dedicated parking and the rest. If you’re on the other side, well, you are used to being disappointed.

Representative Paul Ryan wants you to remain disappointed. When he’s in the Capitol in D.C. he doesn’t have to leave the building to find the best of medical care. Chances are he doesn’t have to wait for that care. Best of all, he’s covered under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. Sitting on that kind of cushion it’s easy for him ask the rest of us to make sacrifices he’ll never have to experience.

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Fair Season is Fat Season

Published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on July 14, 2011, titled:

It’s fair (and fat) season


Fair Season is Fat Season

Fair season is fat season, and nowhere will it be celebrated with more fatty fervor than at the 160th Wisconsin State Fair beginning Aug. 4. That gives the rotund citizens of Wisconsin 11 lard-drenched days to celebrate their latest achievement, an adult obesity level of 27.4%, up from 25% in 2009.

Weigh to go, Wisconsin! Just keep cramming down those brats, fried curds and fish fries, and you’ll easily hit 30% by New Year’s.

Those who waddle this year through the gates in West Allis and to the fair’s food stalls will find deep fried butter, an ice cream sundae with bacon, and peanut butter cups deep fried in banana batter, according to a recent Journal Sentinel article.

But none of them comes close to what’s available from Grundhofer’s Old-Fashioned Meats in Hugo, Minn. Grundhofer’s is 340 miles northwest of West Allis, and its Gummy Bear Brats place it light years ahead of this year’s fair food. Nevertheless, there’s still time for some enterprising fair vendor to close that gap. After all, 340 miles is a mere 12-pack and three trays of curds away.

If fair season is fat season, it’s also fun season. That, it might be argued, is why deep fried butter and all the rest exist – for fun. For example, ice cream is for fun. There is little nutritional reason for the existence of ice cream. Brats are for fun, too. But there are healthier ways to give our bodies protein than by eating brats.

And you really don’t want to know what goes into the peanut butter cups deep fried in banana batter, or the deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hot dog on a stick or even an average brat. But, hey, we have to have some fun, right?

Agreed, but we don’t have to eat to do it. Eating is for nutrition. Eating is also supposed to be a bit boring so we’ll stop before we keep breaking our own adult obesity records.

Think about it. Wisconsin has gone from a 25% adult obesity level to 27.4% in two years. Unfortunately, that was the easy part. Going back to 25% will be the hard part. Achieving 20% may be impossible.

It doesn’t help when the fair’s spokeswoman tells the Journal Sentinel that deep-fried butter is “big, doughy, warm, butter-filled deep-fried goodness.” She’s paid to make promotional statements like that, but, in truth, deep-fried butter is well beyond nutritionally counterproductive. It might be argued that, to a healthy body, it’s relatively poisonous.

All of this might be marginally OK if the fat stopped when the fair ends. But it won’t. When the deep fryers are emptied and cold for another year and Wisconsinites have gone home, somewhere in the state’s restaurants, sports bars and road houses, the heart-stopping delicacies will be replicated.

It’s going to happen, and our adult obesity levels will accelerate. You might call that fun, but I call it disgusting. Because that’s what it is.

Copyright 2011 Karl Garson

Link to the essay in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

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The Egos of Time and Place: Rome and the Overture Center

This essay was published in The Wisconsin State Journal on June 25, 2011 as:

Of Egos, Rome and the Overture Center.

A link to The Wisconsin State Journal page:

The Egos of Time and Place: Rome and the Overture Center

Rome is a small settlement built along the south bank of the Owyhee River in Malheur County, Oregon. U.S. Highway 95 runs through it on its way south between I-84 in western Idaho and I-80 in northern Nevada. Rome is a beautiful place. The Crooked Creek Range and the Steens Mountains rise to the west of it and the Mahoganies are seen to the north from the bench that rises directly above the hamlet from the north bank of the Owyhee.

Rome is so remote that mail was once delivered there, and may still be, by single-engine aircraft, weather permitting. And it is the place where, in late April, 1866, Jean-Baptise Charbonneau suffered an accident while attempting to cross the Owyhee.

Places like Rome allow the imagination to skip back to the 1800s when the place was nothing but raw boards and hope and its founders stood on an improvised platform to pronounce that here, along this mighty river, someday in the near future, a city would grow to rival the great Rome in Italy.

Well, that didn’t quite work out for them. In this, Rome, Malheur County, Oregon is much like the Overture Center in Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin. Egos ran high in the inception of each and with each those egos have come to some dust.

Of the two, I much prefer the town in Oregon. It is what it is and pretends to be nothing else. On the other hand, the Overture Center is what it is, which is a hybrid between a Trojan Horse and a white elephant, and continues to pretend that is it not.

When you’re in the Overture Center you can imagine you’re in one of the halls of Lincoln Center in New York City, population 8,175,133. Problem is, you’re not. You’re in Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin, population 233,209. The Overture Center was not built to match the city it is in. Rather, it appears to have been built to match the ego of W. Jerome “Jerry” Frautschi and  endeavors based on a foundation like that are notorious for not quite working out as planned. The reality all too often turns out not to have matched the genesis ego, just as the present day reality of Rome, Oregon turned out not to have matched the brave pronouncements of its founding fathers. If I had to place a bet on the long-range prospects of one or the other, my money would go down on Rome and, btw, I picked the 24 to 1 winner of this year’s Belmont Stakes, Ruler on Ice.

After he was injured at what is now Rome, Oregon, Jean-Baptise Charbonneau was taken to the Inskip Stage Station in Danner, Oregon, where he died on May 16, 1866. His gravesite there is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s worth a visit if only to consider the sweep of history that surrounds you. Charbonneau was the son of Sacajawea and the two of them knew something of how the mix of ego, hope and reality can be sometimes good and, at times, not so good. Perhaps everyone involved with the decisions affecting the Overture Center should visit Rome and Danner, Oregon to come to terms with that mix. After all, nothing else seems to be working for them.



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Wisconsin and the Waters of Summer

Published in The Wisconsin State Journal on June 16, 2011 as:

The original water parks still beckon

Link to Wisconsin State Journal page:

Wisconsin and the Waters of Summer

I haven’t been to Waubeka, Wisconsin for years. But I think of that small, Ozaukee County communityas often as I think of my father. And I think of him frequently on days like Flag Day.

You may have missed Flag Day on Tuesday, June 14. It was a work day, after all, just as it often was for my father. And it arrived after the mosquito bites and sunburns of the Memorial Day weekend were becoming just an ordinary part of the ordinary days of summer.

My father and I traveled to Waubeka in an REO Speedwagon with “Cedar Grove Bakery” lettered neatly on its sides. He was the bakery’s part-owner, deliveryman and salesman. And since I was his passenger he was also my mother’s day care provider. Mornings and early afternoons he delivered baked goods to farms, country stores and village groceries scattered across Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Washington counties in places like Belgium, Boltonville, Dacada, Fillmore, Fredonia, Holy Cross, Newburg, Silver Creek, St. Michaels and Random Lake.

But he seemed always to arrange our lunch stop in Waubeka. When the weather was warm and fair the stop would be at Stony Hill School, above the North Branch of the Milwaukee River. From some mysterious place my father would bring forth sandwiches and something to drink and we’d sit by the school and he’d tell me about Flag Day and how the observance originated there.

And then we’d walk down to the river where we’d always be very quiet. My father had a reverence for water and I suppose that is why that reverence lives in me now. He’d emigrated across the Atlantic, from Germany, in the mid-1920s. He’d seen the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor from a perspective I’d never learn to appreciate during his lifetime. And he took his first job in West Bend, along the South Branch of the Milwaukee River.

Cedar Grove Bakery was located in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, close by the western shore of Lake Michigan. We’d return there mid-afternoon to refill the REO for a short, late-afternoon run to farms and the fisheries that thrived along the lake back when. The fisheries left with the Lake Trout in the 50s but I remember they had ponds where live trout were kept for sale. While my father went about his business I’d wander down to the ponds to watch the huge fish crease the surface of the water with their dorsal fins.

You will, perhaps, understand by now that water is central to my life experience, especially natural water, more particularly the natural waters of Wisconsin. So you might also understand that I get a bit edgy when a place claims to be the Waterpark Capital of the World in a state that arguably was the water park capitol of the world before there were artificial water parks.

You will understand, perhaps, why, with natural water readily available and modestly affordable in Wisconsin’s countless city, county and state parks; in its streams, rivers and thousands of lakes, I cannot understand why anyone would choose to immerse themselves and their family in chlorinated water enclosed by lurid plastic and fake stone, especially if that dubious choice cost them a bundle of ATM cash and credit card debt.

Maybe it’s time we got real about our state, got out there into its natural state so that we might begin to retrieve an understanding of what we have thrown away.

Copyright 2011 Karl Garson

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