From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project: http://magazine.beloit.edu/?story_id=240813&issue_id=240610

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Middles (1)—North Dakota

[a] Dakota (北)   RF
Rugby, North Dakota is the geographical center of North America. If you think about it, this only goes to show how big Canada really is.

North Dakota—my homeland and reason for being—is much more significant and in medias res than Rugby, though (even in lower-case, and played by Euro-pugilists). It is the home of Phil Jackson and Lawrence Welk. Manhattan can't say that—no, not even Manhattan, Kansas.
[b] Rugby—le centre géographique   RF
 I have benefited enormously in my career from being from North Dakota. Let me explain. In the course of my teaching, I more than occasionally make mention of several places where I have lived (I do historical and anthropological research after all, so travel goes with the territory). I mention the small towns that "house" China's sacred mountains. There is a puff of interest. Then I mention major Asian cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo. Not so much as a glance of acknowledgment. I sometimes throw in a reference to Maine, which is sure at least to get a person or two to think about lobsters. I hold the trump card, though, and I have always known it. I was born in the most exotic location in the world.

"Well, I was born in North Dakota." I pause, and watch the interest percolate. "No way...Dude, you're from South Dakota?" "No," I say, "that would be North Dakota." They look at me as though they had never even thought about it. Most haven't.

If you think I exaggerate, let me give you a few examples. All are rigorously true, and can be verified with just a little bit of sleuthing (most of which I have provided with links). In April of 2003, the New York Times ran a story about Michael Jordan's last game for the Washington Wizards. He had lost a step, but knew enough tricks of the profession to stay viable as an NBA player and sometime mentor. The Times noted that the crowd was filled with well-wishers, and then added this peculiar note: "Dozens of fans held signs of admiration for Jordan, some claiming to represent places as far away as Fargo, N.D., and Taiwan."

[c] The other kind   RF

There is more. In the summer months of the 1984 presidential campaign, that same New York Times ran a map detailing the states that Walter Mondale needed to win if he was to defeat Ronald Reagan. The Times seems not to save its illustrations on the website, and it is probably just as well in this case. I may have been the only person to notice, but the big map had "SD" on top and "ND" on the bottom...of the Dakotas. It reminds me of the illustrations (from The New Yorker and eventually beyond) with the Manhattan skyline prominently displayed, and the rest of the country stretching off into nothingness.
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[d] Produce   RF
Let me be serious for a moment. I am able to poke fun at the way the rest of American society looks at my homeland. I learned good ol' Norwegian humility on the flat soil of the Red River Valley, and can take a joke. Make no mistake, though. I love North Dakota. My father used to pick up clumps of thick, rich soil—the blackest I have ever seen with flora stretching out of it—and tell me "look closely at this; it is the best soil anywhere in the world." He was right. The geological cycles of flooding and enrichment have created bounty that led, for example, to Steele County, North Dakota being listed as the wealthiest county in America in 1973. Anyone in Steele County could have told you that it was all a mirage (as the economy quickly showed)...except for that wonderful soil, which just keeps nourishing crops, through economic ups and downs.

For all of the talk of red and blue states, North Dakota has been centered in other ways. No one would make the mistake of calling the state a "bellwether," but it is surprising in its politics and even culture once you get to know it. It's not Missouri. No, it's probably a little bit to the left. Think about that. If you can even begin to understand it, you will "get" something that shallow urban thinkers all over the country don't understand.

Enough of politics, though. North Dakota is becoming a new cross between the Silicon Valley and the Fruits of the Nile or (Red River). I am worried. If North Dakota ever gets a second congressional seat, it will be a different state in a different time. A new era will begin and the riffraff from the big cities might journey middleward, thinking they will find a slower pace of life. They will, indeed, but will be absolutely insufferable while doing it. I don't think it is too far away, but one thing remains a very "un-middle-like" constant in North Dakota, and it serves to keep rapid population growth unlikely.

Minus forty degrees (it's the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit). Think about it before you pack the van.
[e] Temperature   RF

3 comments:

  1. For some reason I get upset when Wyoming is classified as in the Mid(dle)west. And when Mongolia is described as part of Central Asia.

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  2. Well, back in California now and Wisconsin, or at least Chicago, is "East"/even "East Coast" (and at Berkeley Mongolia is pretty much "East Asia!")

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