Tag Archives: Minnesota

Protecting Minnesota’s Waters from PolyMet Copper-Nickel Mine Pollution

Every single place that Copper-Nickle-Sulfide mining has been done — every. single. location. — the mining companies left behind a destroyed landscape. There have been no exceptions.

This sort of mining can not be done without destroying the landscape.

It is quite possible that Minnesota’s boundary waters are not saving, and we should just mine out the copper.

Or, not.

Look: Continue reading Protecting Minnesota’s Waters from PolyMet Copper-Nickel Mine Pollution

Minnesota’s Democratic Party (DFL) Convention, 2018

Today, Rebecca Otto, Minnesota Auditor, suspended her campaign for Governor of Minnesota.

Rebecca had run to seek the endorsement from the Minnesota DFL (that’s what we call Democrats in Minnesota). The state convention, at which endorsements are determined by a large collection of dedicated delegates and alternates, was held in Rochester. (Note: candidates can still run in the August primary, but it is often considered bad form to ignore the endorsement process.) I was there as a delegate. I’d never been to a state convention before, though I’ve been to plenty of state Senate District and Congressional District ones. The state convention was similar but ten times bigger, twice as loud, three times as long, and doubly exhausting.

Rebecca lost the endorsement process with a gut-punching and unexpected low number of votes on the first ballot, followed by a long period of chaos, followed by the exuberant endorsement of candidate Erin Murphy. Congratulations to Erin, who has doubled down on this process with her choice of picking a second Erin, Erin Maye Quade, as her running mate. That was a stunningly excellent choice.

But back to the Otto campaign. I was truly expecting the numbers to be different in this endorsement process. I was not personally privy to the detailed data on this campaign, but I had seen the top-line analyses. I expected Murphy, not Otto, to be in distant third. Clearly the numbers were wrong!

I don’t fault the people in the Otto campaign for getting that wrong. Well, yes, they did get it wrong, but this is not uncommon. I myself have had the job of counting delegates. I’ve gotten it at least as wrong. I know others who have as well. Campaigns often, perhaps to some extent, in most races, end up with incorrect delegate counts. (I note that as far as I know, the Murphy campaign had the numbers close to correct.) I have some ideas as to how this happens, and it might be helpful to work out some theory on this. But that is for later. For now, there is this one element of getting surprised by a low delegate count on the first ballot that I’d prefer to dwell on for just one moment:

It feels really, really, bad.

I don’t feel it is my place to relate how things were in the war room after the end of the process. That is private. But I was struck by one thing I’ll leak out. The people in the room, all of whom I have great love and respect for, exhibited the full range of expected emotional states from quietly stunned to liquefied-in-place, except for Rebecca Otto herself. Rebecca was the strength in the room. That was not unexpected, but I think it is something that should be said. I know she felt just as bad. I know her just enough to have sensed that. But she was not the quivering bowl of jelly I would have been.

I helped Rebecca in her campaign for two reasons. One is simply that she and her husband, Shawn, are my friends. But I’ve had a lot of friends run for office for whom I offered only perfunctory help. In the case of Rebecca Otto, there was another reason. I knew that Rebecca was blindingly smart, and a deeply good and honest person, and ever thoughtful. I know that for each area of policy, Rebecca would assemble her best assets and then ask them to assemble their best assets. These teams would then develop details and try ideas, in order to ultimately advance well developed proposals that could be brought to fruition in the State House to change the fundamental nature of economy, society, and culture in Minnesota, all in good ways. I was at the tail end of at least one of those assemblies, and contributed a bit to the policy development. There was a fact Rebecca often repeated in her stump speeches that I had worked on. I was proud to hear it mentioned again and again.

The other candidates are great people, great democrats, any one would be great as a governor, but I was supporting Rebecca Otto because I knew her approach and her results would be uniquely and powerfully transforming. People around the country were going to look at Minnesota, and go, “Wow, what the heck was that??? Why can’t we do that? Who did that? Let’s do that!” And the answer would be Rebecca Otto and the team she leads.

In the end, we are all Democrats. Just as importantly, those other guys? They are all Republicans. So, we have work to do. I like Erin Murphy. I will support her and her campaign, as the endorsed candidate. I’ll support all the endorsed candidates. I’ve been working on the campaign of our local Minnesota House, where my friend Ginny Klevorn hopes to unseat Representative Sarah Anderson, who is is a less religious but just as tea-happy mini-me version of Michel Bachmann, and leader of the evil Republican redistricting ploy in our state.

But I’ll be standing by for future versions of a Rebecca Otto campaign, should that happen, and I hope it does, somehow, sometime, somewhere.

A few notes about the other events at the convention.

The first one is a major piece of news that is still unfolding even as I write this.

Lori Swanson is the Minnesota Attorney General. Swanson has been the perennial heir apparent for that job forever. What I mean by that: everybody always assumed she’d be endorsed, then win. She has a great reputation and everybody likes her, etc. etc.

But this year, Matt Pelikan ran against Swanson for AG. Everybody seemed to like Matt, but everybody also said this about that race: we need Lori, she’s been great, Matt is great, but he has no experience, maybe he can run for something else someday.

Meanwhile, Swanson made a nuisance of herself at the very beginning of the pre-election season, last summer, telling everyone she might or might not run for Governor. This moved several good people into the position of running for the AG seat, but promising to pull out if Lori gives the governor’s race a pass. She pulled that trick (do I sound annoyed? sorry!) for way too long, using the fact that she was a state AG but also, not really an actual candidate, to exploit her moves along with other state AGs against Trump for positive Democratic Party cred.

At the convention, two things happened, then the boat tipped over.

First, Matt Pelikan, who is one very impressive young man, gave a speech that in my view was in the top three given at the convention, maybe the best one. He had the crowd on their feet. He also landed about eight good punches on the Swanson campaign, including noting Swanson’s NRA endorsement over the years, and her stand on various other issues that have become highly questionable even though everybody loves Lori and assumes she’s the automatic candidate.

Then, the Swanson campaign totally messed up their own presentation. Each campaign gets a certain number of minutes, then they have to get off the stage. Most campaigns have a short video, a person or two talk in favor of the candidate, then the candidate gives a rousing speech. Swanson had a mediocre video. Then, some dozen or so people lined up to each speak on her behalf. They were mostly unpracticed and poor speakers (including at least one who is an experienced politician who simply had not woken up that morning, it seemed). Each one spoke for 3-5 minutes. But they were supposed to speak for one minute! SO, half way through that awkward and embarrassing event, the whole lot of them got thrown off the stage, and Swanson never got to speak.

When the delegates voted, Pelekan had denied Swanson the endorsement. A very large number of delegates had probably figured, “OK, Lori is the obvious candidate, but Imma cast this one vote for Pelikan because he is so impressive.” The outcome of that vote was so astonishing, they had to bring in a special sweeper device to remove everyone’s jaws from the floor.

Before the second vote, Swanson dropped out. Ear shattering collective gasp.

My first thought? She’ll run in the primary for the AG slot!

My second thought, seconds later? No, wait! She’s running for governor!

And, low and behold, seconds ago as I write this, the news has leaked out: Swanson is running for Governor with Congressman Nolan as her Lt Gov.

In a less dramatic and less complicated event, former Republican and Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter ran against Senator Tina Smith for the endorsement. Smith got the endorsement, but Painter got a surprisingly large number of votes.

And, finally, another sad thing. I’ve always supported Jon Tolefson in his political career, and I wanted him to be endorsed for auditor. He had a lot of support, including the endorsement of the Environmental Caucus. In something of a surprise, Julie Blaha took the majority of votes on the first round, and Jon stepped away, allowing Julie to be endorsed by acclamation. That was sad for me, but more sad for Jon’s Mother, who was sitting with me in my unit delegation at the event.

That’s all I have for now, but later, there are some people I want to thank. First, some dust has to settle and and I have to go through some photos and videos I may post.

OK, everybody, get to work!

ADDED: Keith Ellison, US Congressmember and Democratic Party co-head, considering running for Minnesota AG? This makes no sense! The world is spinning in the wrong direction!

Trump almost won in Minnesota, thanks to Democrats

In a year in which Democrats show up, like they did in 2012, Trump would have been trounced in Minnesota. Instead, he barely lost. It was a very very close call, just a couple of percentage points.

This graph says it all:

One thing this means is that the Democrats, in putting up candidates in Minnesota, are not trying to win back Republicans or Trump voters. They are simply trying to win back their own.

Many months ago I coined the term “snowflake” to refer to liberals, progressives, or Democrats, who felt that since their own personal point of view is not perfectly represented in the mind of each and every other liberal or progressive or Democrat, that they should therefore complain incessantly, stay home from the polls, and sit there in a funk hoping someone like Trump wins the election in order to show the rest of them how bad they are being.

Unfortunately, the snowflake moniker has been co-opted, without my permission, by others! But, here, I revise it for the special purpose of talking about this graph.

Roughly six percent of Minnesotans are snowflakes.

This year, dammit, show up.

Also, in the coming convention, if you are a DFL delegate, vote for Otto because you don’t need a medium size male with a lumberjack shirt and a booming voice to win in this state.

Today’s Minnesota Third Congressional District Convention

Congratulations to citizen Adam Jennings for running a fantastic campaign in the Third Congressional District DFL!

Adam reminds us of the essential nature of the Democratic Leader. He embodies the spirit of Lettered Democrats and Progressives Past (JFK, RFK, FDR, and even TR and possibly LBJ on a very good day). The Jennings campaign did not prevail at today’s Congressional District convention, but they made an excellent showing, and many left the hall thinking, “Adam’s got to run for something important, soon.” My recommendation for a future run: Start calling yourself AJ. It flows.

Congratulations to Endorsed Congressional Candidate Dean Phillips for also running a fantastic campaign in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District. A somewhat more fantastic campaign, apparently, winning the 60% super majority needed to gain the DFL Endorsement on the first ballot! Continue reading Today’s Minnesota Third Congressional District Convention

Trump Ruins Everything For Everybody (but good news from Minnesota)

Donald Trump went into a snit and his babysitter wasn’t around to control him, so he barged into a meeting and slapped high tariffs on metal imports. The stock market suffered a mini-crash, and according to some experts, 2 cents per watt have been added to utility scale solar projects. Continue reading Trump Ruins Everything For Everybody (but good news from Minnesota)

How The Franken Thing Is Going To Play Out

… is anybody’s guess, but I have two supportable (and very different) hypotheses.

The first is short and sweet and I’ll give it to you straight.

Tweeden and Senator Franken get together, possibly with their families, and have a pow wow. They emerge from this to announce a newly formed organization to destroy the patriarchy in government. Franken throws his viability as Senator to the voters, and stays in the Senate, but the two of them launch a major campaign to rethink and rebuild gendered relationships at the levers of public power in America. All is well.

The second hypothesis is a bit different, and in this one, Franken resigns. Here’s why. Continue reading How The Franken Thing Is Going To Play Out

States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change

True that. In the US, energy policy and regulation happens much more at the state level than the federal level, and our federal government went belly up last January anyway. Some states will not lead, they will go backwards, but others will lead, and show the way.

So, here I want to highlight this new item in Scientific American by Rebecca Otto.

States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change
The Trump administration’s threats to abandon Obama’s Clean Power Plan and exit the Paris accords don’t necessarily mean all is lost

The word “corporation” does not appear in our Constitution or Bill of Rights. But as Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse notes in his book Captured, corporations had already grown so powerful by 1816 that Thomas Jefferson urged Americans to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Today the conflict between the unfettered greed of unregulated capitalism and the right of the people to regulate industry with self-governance has reached extreme proportions. Corporations now have more power than many nations and feel justified in manipulating democracy to improve their bottom lines instead of the common good.
Nowhere is this problem more pronounced than…

Then where? THEN WHERE??? Go read the original piece!

Minnesota’s Gov. Dayton Gets Down To Beesnis

Using executive power, Governor Mark Dayton, recognized as one of the best governors in the US, has laid out protections for pollinators in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is ordered to implement recently developed recommendations related to neonicotinoid pesticides. Potential users must demonstrate a real need for the products, and use them properly. This and other state agencies will coordinate and develop a Pollinator Protection Team to develop and implement statewide goals, and keep track of things. The Governor created a Committee on Pollinator Protection to advise the Governor and state agencies, including experts on conservation, agriculture, etc.

The use of pesticides on public land will be reviewed and adapted to be more pollinator friendly. This also applies to landfills, transportation related lands, and other state government run properties. There will be no neonicotinoid pesticide products of an kind used in certain state facilities, and other uses will be seriously limited.

The objective is to cut down on pesticide use in a way that does minimal damage to agriculture, and to enhance pollinator health.

“Bees and other pollinators play a critical role in supporting both our environment, and our economy,” said Governor Dayton. “This order directs state government to take immediate action to alleviate the known risks that pollinators face. It also will create a new taskforce to study the issues impacting pollinators and recommend long-term solutions.”

I note that some of the press coverage goes ahead to make the claim that there will be opposition to this plan. But there isn’t any visible opposition to the plan. Perhaps it would be better to wait until some materializes before reporting that it exists. Looking at you, Star Tribune.

Here is the executive order.

Buying or Selling a Home in the Twin Cities, Minnesota?

If so, I have a recommendation for you.

We recently sold our old house and bought a new one, and moved.

The main reason we did this: to get closer to Amanda’s place of work. We managed to turn a commute that ran from 35 minutes to 1.5 hours (on really bad winter days) each way to one short enough that Amanda will usually bike, with about a five or six minute drive on non-biking days. Probably a ten minute drive on the worst winter days.

The main reason we did this now rather than a couple of years ago: our house was under water thanks to the GB Economic Crisis. In fact, we weren’t sure if we could sell the house at anything but a loss now. And, since we were trying to move into what is at present the best school district in the state (where Amanda happens to teach), the chances of finding a place to move to were somewhere between slim and none. And slim just left town after killing none.

But, we had excellent real estate agents working with us, and that made a huge difference. This blog post is, in fact, part of my thanks for and endorsement of Erik and Toby Nordin. They generally work as a team, and Erik was at the time the licensed agent (though Toby just became one as well), while Toby was the marketing guru. The Nordins work for Engle & Völkers, an international company that has recently moved into the Twin Cities area, and for which Amanda’s sister, Alyssa, works.

Erik and Toby gave us advice on what to do to get our house ready for sale. We followed their advice carefully, and rather than having to lose money on the sale, we walked away with a nice bit of cash. We sold the house in just over 24 hours after putting on the market, though it is a bit unfair to say that; the eventual buyers actually saw the house just a few hours into the process, but there was a bidding thing among the six or so offers we got.

Erik took us out to look at houses a few days after we sold ours. Twice. We found the house we wanted to buy with two bouts of searching. We know a few other people in our area that have moved recently, and most took weeks or months. One could argue that we are not picky, but see above: we were looking for an affordable place a bike ride from the top high school in the state, in a very fancy suburb.

(It turns out that Plymouth Minnesota has a sort of workers neighborhood right by the City Center. Erik knew about it, and showed us a couple of places here.)

Erik and Toby provided or organized all the necessary services and held our hands through every step. Their management of MLS data was excellent. They had great advice on anything you can imagine an agent can provide advice on. You need to know that I’m a person who normally does not like, trust, or have a whole hell of a lot of respect for most real estate agents. I was, after all, raised by one, and I’ve seen the sausage being made. Erik and Toby (and S-I-L Alyssa, and I suspect Engel & Völkers generally) are real professionals. If all agents and brokers were held to their standards a lot of people in the business would have to be looking for work elsewhere.

I’ve told our story to a handful of people who either just did the same thing, or who were in the process, and nobody has had an experience that went as smoothly, as successfully, and as quickly as ours. I attribute this to three things. A bit of random luck (maybe 10% of the outcome accounted for by this), a lot of hard work on our part, getting our place ready to sell (though it was fundamentally in great shape), and a huge amount of excellent work by Toby and Erik

So, thank you Toby and Erik.

I should also mention that Engel & Völklers, in the tradition of many European countries, is both a great place to work (so I hear) and does a lot to “give back” to the community. For example, they are a major supporter of the Special Olympics.

A Television Series Set At The Renfest!!!

How about a television series made by some very talented people set in the context of a Renaissance Festival?

That, lords and ladies, is the plan.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 12.54.38 PMRenfest is a serial set in a RenFest, filmed at an actual Renfest, that combines the themes of “office politics,” a sort of anachronistic Big-Bang Theory, produced, written, stared in, and developed, by an outstandingly talented team including Shawn Otto (a Renaissance man himself, whom readers of this blog know well), Mary Jo Pehl, Jamal Farah, Dave Allen, and Trace Beaulieu.

The trailer demonstrates that this is an excellent project, and the plot layout of the first season makes me want to binge watch it as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the show does not exist yet. The creative team has decided to get this off the ground with a very ambitious but I think quite doable Kickstarter. The idea is to develop the project to the extent that it will be impossible to avoid it either getting picked up by a major distributor, or to become an excellent web based project. Personally, I’d love to see it be a Netflix Original or something along those lines, as the quality of the material is top notched.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 12.52.35 PM

Politics and battles of profound import and little consequence ensue. RenFest is a thoroughly entertaining workplace satire that will have you snorting your turkey leg as it skewers today’s complex social issues ripped from the headlines and writ ridiculously small. Sample future episodes listed below.

The show features the comic antics of Elisabeth (Mary Jo Pehl: MST3K, Cinematic Titanic) and her Somali-American assistant, A.K. (introducing Jamal Farah), as they tangle with festival general manager and despot Lloyd Gunderson (Dave “Gruber” Allen: Freaks & Geeks, Ned’s Declassified, Bad Teacher), the woefully inaccurate Viking (Trace Beaulieu: MST3K, Freaks & Geeks, Other Space) and other festival denizens. Think “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation” set amid the vibrant world of Renaissance festivals.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 1.03.16 PMWe shot a trailer and an incredibly funny mini-pilot in the fall of 2015. It’s written by Shawn Otto, who wrote House of Sand and Fog and developed a TV show with the legendary Joel Surnow (co-creator of 24). Award-winning veteran commercial director Joe Schaak helms the series with world-class cinematographer Jeff Stonehouse crafting the imagery. Paul Sadeghi oversees postproduction at Pixel Farm and we have a built-in cast of thousands.

The Kickstarter page for the project is here, rich in information and including a teaser video, and down the page a bit, a trailer.

Please click through and have a look, and give them money.

The Birds At Itasca and Other Matters

When I studied the Efe Pygmies of the Congo, I discovered (and yes, it was me who discovered this amazing fact everyone now knows) that the Efe organize their space in elongated linear trails. They knew all about everything along those specific trails, and their knowledge of other trails was often very limited. If an Efe person spent time living with a group associated with a trail, he* would learn about that trail as well. Most interesting is that one’s knowledge of important things like where to find food (or danger) was based on experience not on general principles. So an Efe off his trail, or another trail he knew about, was not much better than, say, me (after a couple of years gaining my own experience) at having a clue. Also interesting is that there is a relatively formal connection between historic families (you can think of these as “clans”) and regular use of specific trails or sets of trails. So an older male member of Clan X will tend to know all the trails anyone in Clan X knows.

Turns out this is true of Minnesotans as well….

Continue reading here.

Sins of Our Fathers, a New Novel by Shawn Otto

Sins of Our Fathers, by Shaw Otto, is coming out shortly but can be preordered.

JW, protagonist, is a flawed hero. He is not exactly an anti-hero because he is not a bad guy, though one does become annoyed at where he places his values. As his character unfolds in the first several chapters of Shawn Otto’s novel, Sins of Our Fathers, we like him, we are worried about him, we wonder what he is thinking, we sit on the edge of our proverbial seats as he takes risk after risk and we are sitting thusly because we learn that he does not have a rational concept of risk. We learn that his inner confusion about life arises from two main sources: the dramatic difference between his temperament and upbringing on one hand and the life he ended up with on the other, and from unthinkable tragedy he has suffered. And so it goes as well with the other hero of the book, Johnny Eagle, who is a flawed, almost Byronic antagonist. Flawed because he is not the bad guy yet is an antagonist, Byronic because of his pride. There is also a troubled young man, a full blown antagonist we never come close to liking, and a horse.

SinsOfOurFathersWhen I moved to Minnesota from the East, I quickly encountered “The Indian Problem.” Not my words; that is what people called it. Very rarely major news, but still always a problem, the concept includes the expected litany. Poverty, fights over spear fishing rights, casinos and fights over off-reservation gambling, and the usual racism. I lived near the “Urban Res” but was told never to call it that. Doing some historic archaeology in Minneapolis I came across a hostess, of the first hotel built in the city, who had written elaborate stories of Indian attacks in South Minneapolis, part of the Indian Problem, after which she and her hotel gave refuge to the victims. None of which ever actually happened. I read about trophy hunting by the farmers in the southern part of the state, who took body parts from the Native Americans executed as part of the Sioux Uprising, and heard rumors that some of those parts were still in shoe boxes in some people’s closets.

Later I married into a family with a cabin up north. I remember passing Lake Hole-In-The-Day on the way up to the cabin, and wondering what that meant — was a “Hole in the day” like a nap, or break, one takes on a hot lazy afternoon? And the cabin was an hour or so drive past that lake. Many months later, I did some research and discovered two amazing facts. First, Hole-In-The-Day was the name of two major Ojibway Chiefs, father and son, both of whom were major players in the pre-state and early-state histories of the region, of stature and importance equalling or exceeding any of the white guys, like Snelling, Cass, Ramsey, after which counties, cities, roads, and other things had been named. But no one seemed to know Hole-In-The-Day. It was just a lake with a funny sounding name like most of the other lakes. The other thing I learned was downright shocking: The cabin to which we have driven many summer weekends is actually on an Indian reservation, as is the nearby town with the grocery store, ice cream shop, and Internet. On the reservation, yes, but not near any actual Indians. So, I could tell you that I spend many weeks every summer on an Indian Reservation up north, and it would not be a lie. Except the part about it being a lie.

Otto’s book pits the white, established and powerful, Twin Cities based banking industry against an incipient Native bank and the rest of the reservation. The story is a page turner, but I don’t want to say how so, because I don’t want to spoil any of it for you. I am not a page-turner kind of guy. I am a professional writer, so therefore I’m a professional reader. I can put a book down at any point no matter what is happening in order to shift gears to some other task awaiting my attention. But I certainly turned the pages in Sins of Our Fathers. The most positive comment one can make about a piece of writing is probably “this made me want more.” That happens at the end of every chapter in Otto’s novel.

But just as important as Sins of Our Fathers being a very very good book, which it is, it also addresses the Indian Problem. It does not matter if you are in, of, or familiar with Minnesota. The theme is American, and I use that word in reference to geography and not nationality, through and through. Everybody has an Indian Problem, especially Indians. Tension, distrust, solace and inspiration in modernized tradition, internal and external, are real life themes and Otto addresses them fairly, clearly, and engagingly. “Fathers” is plural for a reason, a reason you can guess.

It is important that you know that Sins of our Fathers is not Minnesota Genre though it is set here; it is not Native American Relations and Culture Genre though that is in the book. It is action, mystery, adventure, white knuckle, engaging, well-paced, and extremely well written. There are aspects of this writing that recommend this book as an exemplar in plot development, character construction, dialog and inner dialog, narrative distance, and descriptive technique.

Sins of Our Fathers is Shawn Otto’s first novel (but not his first book).

Shawn Otto is the founder of Science Debate. He is a science communicator and advocate. He is also a film maker, and among other things wrote the screenplay for the award winning movie “House of Sand and Fog.”

Sins of Our Fathers by Shawn Otto

JW, protagonist, is a flawed hero. He is not exactly an anti-hero because he is not a bad guy, though one does become annoyed at where he places his values. As his character unfolds in the first several chapters of Shawn Otto’s novel, Sins of Our Fathers, we like him, we are worried about him, we wonder what he is thinking, we sit on the edge of our proverbial seats as he takes risk after risk and we are sitting thusly because we learn that he does not have a rational concept of risk. We learn that his inner confusion about life arises from two main sources: the dramatic difference between his temperament and upbringing on one hand and the life he ended up with on the other, and from unthinkable tragedy he has suffered. And so it goes as well with the other hero of the book, Johnny Eagle, who is a flawed, almost Byronic antagonist. Flawed because he is not the bad guy yet is an antagonist, Byronic because of his pride. There is also a troubled young man, a full blown antagonist we never come close to liking, and a horse.

SinsOfOurFathersWhen I moved to Minnesota from the East, I quickly encountered “The Indian Problem.” Not my words; that is what people called it. Very rarely major news, but still always a problem, the concept includes the expected litany. Poverty, fights over spear fishing rights, casinos and fights over off-reservation gambling, and the usual racism. I lived near the “Urban Res” but was told never to call it that. Doing some historic archaeology in Minneapolis I came across a hostess, of the first hotel built in the city, who had written elaborate stories of Indian attacks in South Minneapolis, part of the Indian Problem, after which she and her hotel gave refuge to the victims. None of which ever actually happened. I read about trophy hunting by the farmers in the southern part of the state, who took body parts from the Native Americans executed as part of the Sioux Uprising, and heard rumors that some of those parts were still in shoe boxes in some people’s closets.

Later I married into a family with a cabin up north. I remember passing Lake Hole-In-The-Day on the way up to the cabin, and wondering what that meant — was a “Hole in the day” like a nap, or break, one takes on a hot lazy afternoon? And the cabin was an hour or so drive past that lake. Many months later, I did some research and discovered two amazing facts. First, Hole-In-The-Day was the name of two major Ojibway Chiefs, father and son, both of whom were major players in the pre-state and early-state histories of the region, of stature and importance equalling or exceeding any of the white guys, like Snelling, Cass, Ramsey, after which counties, cities, roads, and other things had been named. But no one seemed to know Hole-In-The-Day. It was just a lake with a funny sounding name like most of the other lakes. The other thing I learned was downright shocking: The cabin to which we have driven many summer weekends is actually on an Indian reservation, as is the nearby town with the grocery store, ice cream shop, and Internet. On the reservation, yes, but not near any actual Indians. So, I could tell you that I spend many weeks every summer on an Indian Reservation up north, and it would not be a lie. Except the part about it being a lie.

Otto’s book pits the white, established and powerful, Twin Cities based banking industry against an incipient Native bank and the rest of the reservation. The story is a page turner, but I don’t want to say how so, because I don’t want to spoil any of it for you. I am not a page-turner kind of guy. I am a professional writer, so therefore I’m a professional reader. I can put a book down at any point no matter what is happening in order to shift gears to some other task awaiting my attention. But I certainly turned the pages in Sins of Our Fathers. The most positive comment one can make about a piece of writing is probably “this made me want more.” That happens at the end of every chapter in Otto’s novel.

But just as important as Sins of Our Fathers being a very very good book, which it is, it also addresses the Indian Problem. It does not matter if you are in, of, or familiar with Minnesota. The theme is American, and I use that word in reference to geography and not nationality, through and through. Everybody has an Indian Problem, especially Indians. Tension, distrust, solace and inspiration in modernized tradition, internal and external, are real life themes and Otto addresses them fairly, clearly, and engagingly. “Fathers” is plural for a reason, a reason you can guess.

It is important that you know that Sins of our Fathers is not Minnesota Genre though it is set here; it is not Native American Relations and Culture Genre though that is in the book. It is action, mystery, adventure, white knuckle, engaging, well-paced, and extremely well written. There are aspects of this writing that recommend this book as an exemplar in plot development, character construction, dialog and inner dialog, narrative distance, and descriptive technique.

Sins of Our Fathers is Shawn Otto’s first novel (but not his first book); it is due out in November but available for pre-order.

Shawn Otto is the founder of Science Debate. He is a science communicator and advocate. He is also a film maker, and among other things wrote the screenplay for the award winning movie “House of Sand and Fog.”