We are dismayed by Jon Bream’s Aug. 20 open letter to Garrison Keillor (“Time to leave ‘Home’ ”) and believe he is in the distinct minority of Minnesotans in voicing his view that Mr. Keillor’s nationwide tour and repeat appearance at the Minnesota State Fair are overkill.
As admirers of the creativity, clean humor and talent evidenced in Keillor’s work, we relish the opportunity to hear radio repeats of “A Prairie Home Companion” on Sunday afternoons. We beg to differ with Bream’s remark that Keillor is neither a singer nor a comedian. We consider him to be gifted at both and would like to see him continue.
To suggest that Keillor must reinvent himself is, in essence, veiled ageism. Acknowledging that Keillor’s “mind is still alive, alert and agile,” Bream follows with the non sequitur that Keillor should limit himself to nonfiction. Why should Keillor say good night to Guy Noir and adios to Lefty when audiences nationwide still clamor to buy tickets to sold-out performances?
Garrison Keillor has brought Minnesota folklore into homes all over the country for several decades. Many love him and want more. To unfairly attack him not only isn’t Minnesota Nice, but it was downright nasty.
Sheryl Ramstad and Lee Larson, St. Paul
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Relevant to Bream’s article, from the American Public Media newsletter:
“Cherish the MN State Fair. Wherever you find beauty, simplicity & truth, know that there is a committee somewhere planning to improve it-don’t let them do it.”
— Garrison Keillor
(He’s one step ahead of his critics.)
Suzanne Pates, Sun City, Ariz.
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To suggest that Keillor should move on completely from the trappings of “Prairie Home” might be heresy to some, but in my opinion it’s long overdue. Popular memory wishes to forget that Keillor quit radio completely and abruptly in 1986 and moved to Denmark. He was gone for a number of years, and when he did come back on the air it wasn’t with “PHC.” It was with something he called “The American Radio Company,” and its home base was supposed to be New York, not Lake Wobegon. Keillor promised with a certain amount of ballyhoo a “different” kind of radio variety show for his return. He spoke of a more cosmopolitan feel, with more jazz and thoughtful personalities featured. In other words, not powdered biscuits or bluegrass wall to wall. The surprise was that when the show premiered, it sounded an awful lot like Rusty and Lefty and nothing like Dave Brubeck. I was very disappointed, as were others who were looking forward to something a bit more hip and intellectual, as promised.
In just a year, Garrison dropped the pretense and went back completely to his original creation. I’m with Bream in the feeling that there was always more to Keillor than ragtime, church hymns and phone calls from “mom.” (Terrible!) Why he never broke out of the Lake Wobegon hoosegow and in later years stopped trying is troubling. Maybe he gave us everything he had. But for some of us, it’ll be sad to one day talk about him in terms of “what might have been.” But then, only Mr. Keillor knows.
Larry Ripp, St. Paul
AUTOMATION AND JOBS
A perfect storm, indeed. What are we going to do about it?
D.J. Tice’s Aug. 27 column “Automation, minimum-wage hikes, jobs: A perfect storm brews” reminded me of an old cartoon showing two scientists looking at a three-stage formula on a blackboard. The beginning and end stages show a lot of math, and the middle stage says, “A miracle occurs.” The advice from one scientist to the other is: “I think you need to work on the middle step.”
I am also a firm believer that the human race will eventually be much better off when we have mastered the new way of life offered by increasingly effective automation, but it also presents us with a toxic brew of economic and social issues that need to be resolved before we can enjoy the benefits. We currently live in a second Gilded Age, in which a tiny minority of wealthy people leads superstar lifestyles and the bottom half of the population lives in increasingly desperate conditions.
In the short run, increasing automation will predictably enhance the wealth of the top 0.01 percent of the population and make the lives of the bottom two-thirds even harder. The first Gilded Age was marked by continual labor strife, and millions of people worked (and suffered) for the benefit of a handful of people. This time, using computer efficiency, the rich can be even more effective in sucking up the wealth of the nation.
We cannot put the genie of automation back in the bottle, and at some point, the benefits will greatly outweigh the disadvantages, but until that time, we risk ever greater income inequality, social unrest and perhaps starvation for some percentage of the working poor.
Paul O’Connor, Bloomington
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Tice ended with enticing comments: “[A]nd no doubt a future with fewer drivers and cashiers is coming with or without minimum-wage hikes. But policymakers should consider carefully how best to help vulnerable workers adjust to the ever more automatable world ahead.”
Are minimum-income policies ahead? Of course, such a change in approach would be complicated, but it is an answer to a world in which being a traditional worker becomes less and less common. Not everybody is going to be able to have well-paying, skilled, full-time jobs in the future. The need won’t exist. The highly skilled may have no practical choice but to support an extended family of sorts in order for society to function — partly for the sake of the meritocracy itself. Income taxes for them might have to go back to the rates applied in the 1950s that reached as high as 90 percent on marginal income. To supplement a subsistence-level minimum income, more and more people will have to engage in the “gig” economy. And a certain amount of qualified volunteer work might have to be required and verified in order to receive minimum-income payments. Time will tell.
Jim Bartos, Brooklyn Park
Can’t criticize executive abuse and leave out legislative version
Stephen B. Young, in his Aug. 27 commentary “Heavy-handed is the head that would wear a crown,” about the case that was subsequently argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court on Monday, elided the most important fact of all: The (Republican) Legislature started it. Legislators inserted a “poison pill” into the tax bill. This pill would have effectively negated the Department of Revenue, robbing the executive branch of its ability to function by defunding it. There is no substantive difference between Gov. Mark Dayton’s and the Legislature’s two acts, and the Republicans, under Kurt Daudt’s leadership, are guilty of exactly what they now accuse the governor of doing. With this fact omitted, Young’s article was effectively stripped of any authority whatsoever.
There is an apt construct in the law of equity (nonmonetary judicial relief) that says that one may not receive the assistance of the court if he or she approaches it with “unclean hands,” i.e., bad acts. If this poison pill isn’t the perfect illustration of unclean hands, I can’t fathom what is. The court should declare, “A pox on both your houses,” and leave the two branches of government free to slug it out or work it out, and eventually, they will, for the sake of those whom they represent. This is Minnesota; we solve problems.
Mary McLeod, St. Paul