Top MinnesotaBrown posts for 2011

As 2011 comes to a close I present this blog’s top posts for the year. After that I’ll share some of my personal favorites. I’m always fascinated at how different those two lists end up being. In fact, the top traffic list reads like some kind of comedy of errors in my ill-fated attempt to “get away from politics.” Nevertheless, thanks to all of you for reading, for whatever reason. If this is your first time to the blog, here is the introduction.

Top traffic posts for 2011

  1. DFLer Carly Melin will vie for 5B House seat — When former Rep. Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) stepped down to become Commissioner of the IRRRB last January, this blog lit up as a special election in the heart of the Iron Range took place. Carly Melin started the race as a political unknown and became the Range’s fastest-rising political star. This post is No. 1 because the question of the year was “Who is Carly Melin?” Answer: the best thing that happened to this blog in 2011 (Google).
  2. Georgia chopsticks factory conjures failed Range experiment — When I heard a small town in Georgia invested in a factory producing American-made chopsticks for the Asian market, I compared it to the Iron Range’s attempt to do the same back in the 1980s. I learned some things about the history of that deal. The fact that this placed so high on the traffic list indicates that a lot of people in Georgia found this an interesting comparison.
  3. Iron Range Fourth of July 2011 — I compiled the parade and street dance schedule for the Iron Range’s busiest summer holiday. The growing success of doing this has me thinking of ways to do more reference material about the Iron Range to serve my strong Google rank in the area. Do you care about this? No, you do not.
  4. Minnesota redistricting to create “Great Northern” seat? — I spent a lot of time talking about James J. Hill’s railroad this year, in a variety of contexts. This one was about Congressional redistricting in northern Minnesota. Oh, how a small number of people care so very, very much about redistricting. They have the internet, though. Those ones.
  5. MN-8: Rick Nolan comeback bid shakes up race — The only part of my MN-8 election preview series to make the top ten was the item about former Congressman Rick Nolan. He might be here because he’s a strong contender (and I think he is) but also because of all the candidates he was probably least known to the under-40 campaign rabble that frequents this site. I’ve been holding on to this Nolan campaign photo of Rick pretending to fight “Chippy” the Chipmunk, a metaphor for the policies of Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8), for just such an occasion.
  6. MN-GOP redistricting plan offers Iron Range a Trojan horse — Boy, people love this redistricting crap. In all seriousness, the GOP plan for the Range will probably be regarded as a big wet kiss compared to what the court will do this February. Look for that in my “top posts” this time next year.
  7. Tony Sertich and the seachange on the Iron Range — This was a favorite post of mine about Tony Sertich’s appointment as Commissioner of the IRRRB. It’s about that, but also about the House seat he left open, his exit from the list of MN-8 candidates he had occupied since his first election, and the need for reform at the agency, something he’s still working on.
  8. “Iron in the Sky” air show slated July 22-23 at Range airport — This post is a verbatim press release about an air show at the Hibbing airport. My only original contribution to this post was the following dialogue: 

    To quote one airplane, “BBBBWWWWEEEEWSSSSSCCHHHHH!”

    “RRRRUUUUUUSSSSSSCCCHHHHWWWAAA,” added its friend, another airplane in the sky.

    This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever written.

  9. Babbitt fire destroys Zup’s grocery, other businesses — The hierarchy on my blog goes like this “Stuff about MN-8,” then “Summer activities,” then “Beloved Range places on fire.”
  10. Bob Dylan at 70 — This is the only of my newspaper columns to break the Top 10, a nice little piece about Duluth native and Hibbing-raised Bob Dylan turning 70 with some generational commentary.

This brings me to some of the work I did last year that might not have been tops in page rankings but that I hope you didn’t miss.

The MinnesotaBrown 2011 Digest

As I mentioned this week, I am the host, producer and co-writer of a public radio variety program called the Great Northern Radio Show. Our first episode debuted Oct. 15 in Hibbing and did very well. Listen to Hour 1 and Hour 2 if you missed it and look for our podcast and 2012 season down the line.

I was honored to be invited to speak at the TEDx 1,000 Lakes Conference Sept. 19 in Grand Rapids. I’ve been writing about many of the same themes for about five years and it was very satisfying to condense them into a 15-minute presentation that connects Iron Range past, present and future. Fans of my book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” will enjoy this, I think.

Minnesota Public Radio featured several guest commentary pieces on this year, each among my better attempts:

That House 5B Special Election last winter was a big deal for this blog. I stayed ahead of the local newspaper and radio stations and provided much of the state’s political class their best look inside the dynamic of the race. That being said, I did nothing more than some very basic, rudimentary citizen journalism. I could have done much better. There’s a lesson there as we blather about media. The old media is broken and the new media can’t pick up the slack yet.

I wrote last winter’s clues for the Hibbing Winter Frolic medallion hunt. This was my last year writing the Sal Winter mystery theme with “Love Reads Rough,” as the committee has since informed me that I am to return to traditional high school English teacher poetry this year. I think my 2011 tale of a corrupt mayor and petty small town politics probably influenced that decision. Well, that and my use of complex metaphor confused the small children actually searching for the medallion in large snowy fields amid below-freezing temperatures.

My February trip to St. Paul to appear on “Almanac” prompted this amusing tale of big city public TV and high class suburban child habitats. Cathy Wurzer was very nice to me this year, inviting me on Almanac after I appeared on her Morning Edition show about the 5B race and then calling on me to close the show at the MPR/Northland’s NewsCenter economic forum in Duluth last spring.

Wouldn’t be a year if I wasn’t condemning political cronyism on the Iron Range. And again.

I am proud of many (perhaps not all) of the Sunday columns I wrote this year, but I especially enjoyed this one in which I got to speak with former Rep. Lona (Minne) Schrieber (DFL-Hibbing), the first woman elected to serve in the legislature from the Iron Range.

Can you spot the theme? On mining and the future in northern MinnesotaThe steel hauled ’round the world and what it means. Got them post-industrial small town bluesToday’s Range pioneers must break the circle.  100 years young, a new Iron Range century. Iron Range 2011: everything is wonderful, nothing is safe. Range future debate enters crucial phaseThe sound and the fury over Range taconite revenue. Big Range ore shipments signal big opportunity for diversification. Bad ‘economojo’ plagues Iron Range and beyond. Good times roll on the Range, in theory.

Future. Future. Mining. Future. Jobs. Uncertainty. In short, you can see that mining jobs are real, good and will be around in historically small numbers for some time. But in the long run we need a more diverse economy and mining, particularly mining politics, can get in the way of the necessary innovation. On a side note, I now must stop using “The Sound and the Fury” as a headline concept, along with “and what it means.” I presented some non-mining ideas in “Range towns should look inward for future possibilities,” “Entrepreneurship and the future of places like the Range,” and “One vision for Range economic diversification.”

Of course there was plenty more on broadband expansion in rural Minnesota as a way to diversify the economy. Blazing new trails for Minnesota’s future. Don’t hate me because I’m elite with the tubes. Some progress, more work ahead for rural Minn. broadband. Turning leaves, reading the signs. Tech infrastructure only the first half of the battle. The internet freedom fight for the future. For Range broadband, entrepreneurs may be the key. Naturally, having Google pass over Duluth for its Google Fiber project was a setback.

I like to write about place. In these lost places we find the holes in our economy. When a mining town disappears. This blasted husk of a building is our coliseum. The places of the Range, bypassed, bygone, but not forgotten. This last post about an evening in Marble prompted a mini-outrage and a response in “Leave Marble Alone.”

There was a fire in the Soudan underground mine last March. No one was hurt and repairs continue. The episode inspired a sketch in our first Great Northern Radio Show.

Burned a lot of ink on the Minnesota state shutdown and the political attack on a local Iron Range economic development fund. These now seem like ancient history but none of the core problems were addressed and we’ll be fighting this all over again next year and especially in 2013. 

My friend Tom Anzelc took a run at undoing legislation that covers up information about Range economic development projects. He’ll take another run this winter.

Planes, trains and automobiles.

Sometimes the classified ads tell a story in just a few words. Even a sprawling epic.

We said goodbye to former Rep. John Spanish, Lew Latto, Geno Paulucci and Keewatin’s own Ron Ciochetto. It occurs to me now that I failed to mention Renee Tomatz in Hibbing, whose passing leaves a huge hole in the humanity of the central Range that we all must endeavor to fill.

My goal of reading more books in 2011 was mostly a failure, though I read some good ones like “Let the Great World Spin” and “The Rise of American Democracy.” I won’t get a damn step closer to writing my novel until I get off this infernal internet and read some real books.

I commemorated the 83rd anniversary of President Calvin Coolidge’s visit to the Hull Rust Mine in Hibbing with the story of his time on the Iron Range. This prompted some follow-up discussion as well.

Hey, you like the copper mining? You don’t like the copper mining? Either way, I wrote some on the nonferrous mining issues in northern Minnesota. The mighty din of the mining meetingThe copper sirens call. The sound and the fury of Range mining politics. Tepid St. Louis County mining resolution reflects need for new perspective. Professor Jeff Manuel has written some great history-based guest posts for me. His 2011 contribution was “History shows copper mining has always been tricky business.”

Another of my favorite columns was this look at the 2010 census numbers and what they say about northern Minnesota. Also, try “Up north it’s more change than migration.”

A flying squirrel visited our home last spring. I continued to offer sarcastic commentary about Asian carp. Also, cougars.

Finally, I was featured in a book about famous Minnesota lunches. There are only a few ways to get into a book like that and I think I’ve done all of them.

There are many, many more posts that were fun to write. I’m sure I missed some. The broad themes, however, seem apparent. Feel free to talk about the posts that mattered to you in the comments or offer suggestions for 2012. I’m glad you come back to read this blog every so often and wish you the very happiest new year.

Photos: (Top) The sunrise over Itasca County Highway 8 on my way to work, Rick Nolan fighting a chipmunk (Nolan campaign), my top notch House 5B Special Election graphic, a Hibbing Taconite haul truck, and smoke emerging from the Soudan underground mine shaft last spring (DNR).

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