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West End News Jan. 5

Late night broomball at Sawbill Outfitters
Late night broomball at Sawbill Outfitters

Finalcut_20120105_WEN.mp34.49 MB

I was pleased to read that Tofte Township was moving ahead with plans for a new cell tower. The same article mentioned that a new cell tower is also being planned for Taconite Harbor. Hopefully, the two new towers will finally bring reliable cell service to the West End.

When I was in Africa last year, the village I visited had no electricity, no running water and most people were subsistence farmers living on less than $300 per year. But, they had excellent cell service, with a choice of three providers and good service everywhere. Almost everyone I met had a cell phone. They had to take them to a shop with a generator to have them charged and bought their minutes in small quantities on scratch-off paper slips, but they used them constantly, including a clever system of transferring money between people by cell phone. My African hosts were shocked to hear that I did not enjoy reliable cell service at home. They think of the United States as being technologically advanced and they also wondered how I could possibly live with the inconvenience of no cell service.

Seven or eight years ago, I had a chance to visit Norway House, Manitoba, a town about the same size of Grand Marais, located way up at the north end of Lake Winnipeg. Everyone in Norway House seemed to have a cell phone and used it frequently. Everyone seemed so comfortable and adept with cell phones that I was moved to ask how long they had enjoyed cell service. To my surprise they informed me that it had only been five months and they couldn’t imagine life without it.

Here at Sawbill we have a long-standing tradition of inviting our crewmembers back to enjoy the New Year’s holiday with us. We get a good crowd every year, mostly current crewmembers, but also a few who have moved on to what they call “the real world.” They are a very easy group to have for company because they have all lived here, so they just move back into their old rooms and pitch in with the cooking, cleaning and daily chores. They also entertain themselves, making music, playing games and especially playing outside. Every year, they adapt themselves to whatever the weather offers them. Some years it’s been ice fishing, other years it’s been skating, skiing, sledding, fox and hounds, snow cave building and even a polar plunge through the ice. This year the highlighted activity was broomball. They spent half a day shoveling and resurfacing a rink on the lake. The main game started late on New Year’s Eve and ended with champaign on the lake at the stroke of midnight. Cindy insisted that they all wear helmets for safety, so we scrounged every bike and ski helmet that we could find. We didn’t have enough, so one fire fighters helmet and one antique motorcycle helmet were pressed into action. The brooms were also a ragtag collection of whatever could be found. It would have been a strange sight for any passing fox or wolf to behold.

I was very distressed to observe the level of spending - and the effectiveness of that spending – by the so called super-PACs leading up to the recent Iowa caucuses. In a nutshell, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a case last year that now allows corporations to campaign independently for or against political candidates with no limit on spending and no disclosure on who is contributing to the campaign. Judging by the millions spent by super-PACs in Iowa, we are in for a barrage of negative advertising this election season, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. In my opinion, this is a terrible development for American democracy. Already corrupt politicians now have a virtually unlimited source of money. Even honest politicians will be forced to play this big money game, making them beholden to the money, rather than their constituents. I don’t want to be cynical, but I can’t imagine that foreign governments and corporations, who now are prohibited by law from contributing to American campaigns, will abide by that law when they have an easy and untraceable conduit to pump money into our elections. In the face of this terrible decision, we are in real danger of losing the democracy that the founders dreamed of. History clearly tells us that the founders specifically wanted our public policies to be driven by the concept of one voter, one vote, rather than one dollar, one vote.