BartSimpsonCriminalIt’s difficult for me to admit this, but I feel I must: I have a criminal past.
In June of 1996, I was arrested by the Yankton Police Department and thrown in jail. I was 17 years old.
My crime?
At first, I thought my offense was watching the dumb Hollywood summer blockbuster “Independence Day.”
But I came to learn that my real crime had been violating Yankton’s juvenile curfew — something I, nor my parents, even knew existed until that night.
Here are the facts of the case as I recall them:
A couple friends and I decided to catch the late showing of “Independence Day” at the Carmike Cinema located in the Yankton Mall.
When we came out, we discovered that a couple of other friends had also attended, so we were in the parking lot catching up and discussing the film. I would guess that within 10 minutes of getting out of the movie, a handful of police cars came in the various parking lot entrances at high speed. We were curious as to what major crime had transpired that required such manpower and urgency. Did someone have drugs? Was there a fight?
Soon, an officer approached our group and asked us our ages. We were told we could not leave.
After some time, we were finally informed that we would be going to jail for curfew violation. We were handcuffed and hauled away in a cop car.
I’m not sure how many juveniles were arrested in the mall parking lot that night, but several of us were processed and locked up together in a drunk tank. We were not given the opportunity to call our parents.
Fortunately, one friend in our group was 18 years old. After we were arrested, he went home and his parents contacted the parents of those of us who were in police custody.
It was perhaps three in the morning before my mother was able to get me out of jail.
Our parents attended the eventual court hearing and there were some pleas to the judge that it was ridiculous that kids were being arrested for talking in a parking lot after spending money in the community to watch a movie. There was a meeting with the police chief. There was a letter published in the Press & Dakotan. However, at the end of the day, the judge found us guilty, and we were fined.
For many years, I had a very negative view of law enforcement that stemmed from this experience.
I had been detained, arrested and thrown in jail simply for standing in a parking lot and being under the age of 18. I felt an injustice had been perpetrated.
It was only after I became a journalist and visited regularly with police officers that I got over my jaundiced view of law enforcement.
Yankton still has a “Nocturnal Curfew for Minors” in its ordinances.
It states:
(c) Minors aged fourteen (14) and below. Subject to a reasonable defense, it shall be unlawful for a minor fourteen (14) years of age or younger to be in a traditional public forum or in a private establishment in the city on Sunday through Thursday between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. of the following day and on Friday and Saturday between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. the following day.
(d) Minors aged fifteen (15) and above. Subject to a reasonable defense, it shall be unlawful for a minor fifteen (15) years of age or older to be in a traditional public forum or in a private establishment in the city on Sunday through Thursday between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. of the following day and on Friday and Saturday between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. of the following day.
Reasonable defenses to subsections (c) and (d). The only “reasonable defenses” to a violation of subsection (c) and (d) are:
(1) The minor is accompanied by his or her parent;
(2) The minor is on an emergency errand directed by his or her parent;
(3) The predominant reason for the violation is that the minor is exercising First Amendment rights protected by the United States Constitution, such as freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and the right of assembly;
(4) The minor is not a resident of Yankton and is in a motor vehicle involved in interstate commerce; or
(5) The minor is traveling directly between his or her dwelling house and a place of employment, church, school, or a function supervised by parents and sponsored by the city, civic organization, or another similar entity that takes responsibility for the minor.
The stated purpose of the ordinance is also included: The Yankton Board of City Commissioners specifically finds that establishment of a nocturnal curfew for minors within the city limits is within the best interests of the city for the following reasons: (1) to reduce the number of juvenile crimes victims; (2) to reduce accidents involving juveniles; (3) to reduce additional time for officers in the field; (4) to reduce juvenile peer pressure to stay out late; and (5) to assist parents in control of their children.
Studies of juvenile curfew laws provide inconclusive evidence of their effectiveness. Some have found that they lower crime rates, while others have shown no impact.
In Yankton, there were 30 curfew arrests in 2014, and 53 in 2013. There were 239 total juvenile arrests in Yankton during 2014 and 227 in 2013.
I’ll lay my cards out on the table: I have a serious problem with criminalizing all of our youth between certain hours of the day. If they are engaged in vandalism, stealing, an assault, etc., arrest them for a crime. But what good comes of arresting a 16-year-old because he or she is walking in the park or talking with friends following a movie after 11 p.m. — as I know from experience does happen.
Nationally, most of the crimes perpetrated by school-aged youth are committed in the three hours following the school day, so it seems to me that is where our efforts would be better placed. This may involve a community-oriented policing component that isn’t currently in place, but I think community investment in the proposed expansion of the Yankton’s Boys’ and Girls’ Club would be one of the most logical answers if we feel there is a juvenile crime problem during the after-school hours.
Do parents in Yankton depend on the municipal curfew to enforce their own curfews at home? Do you feel it impacts juvenile crime? Did you even know there is a juvenile curfew in Yankton?

I’d be interested in hearing thoughts on this subject. Is the curfew something that the Yankton City Commission should explore with community members and law enforcement to determine whether it is necessary? Are there alternative measures that could be used that don’t cast such a wide net and criminalize all of our youth?
The 17-year-old in me won’t leave me alone until I address this subject with the community. I hope he isn’t being unreasonable.

What if I told you that the Yankton City Commission has spent almost exactly the same amount of time conducting meetings in public as it has in private this year?

It might sound hard to believe, but it’s true.

An examination of the available minutes for the Yankton City Commission in 2015 — which encompasses four meetings — reveals it has spent three hours, two minutes conducting its meetings in public. Meanwhile, it has convened executive sessions — or closed-door meetings — lasting a total of two hours, 42 minutes.

During 2014, the Yankton City Commission spent just more than 30 hours in regular session — and just more than 22 hours in executive session.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this indicates anything nefarious – and I am very sincere about that. I know the current commissioners to be good and honest people, and this issue is not about calling into question their integrity. There are legitimate reasons to hold executive sessions. The reasons listed for the four 2015 meetings are contractual and personnel matters.

However, I believe that elected officials and government employees need some measure of accountability for what goes on during these private meetings. Currently, South Dakota does not require that minutes or audio recordings be made of executive sessions.

The first thing I plan to introduce for consideration by the Yankton City Commission when I am sworn in May 11 is the adoption of an Iowa law that requires minutes and audio recordings of closed meetings.

During my time as a reporter covering local government, I found that the public was often bothered by the idea of boards going behind closed doors to discuss matters. It fueled speculation and distrust.

I think the Yankton City Commission — and government bodies across South Dakota, for that matter — could adopt this law that has been used in Iowa for some time and use it to reassure the public and promote transparency. Because the South Dakota Legislature is perennially reticent to enact open government laws, I believe we must take the lead at the local level.
If accusations of wrongdoing are made, there should be a record that can be reviewed by legal authorities to confirm or deny such accusations.

This can serve to protect elected representatives and government employees. It also encourages them to take seriously the limits placed upon executive sessions.

We have much to accomplish as a community, and the key to any good working relationship is trust.

I want to give Yankton residents as much reassurance as possible that their elected officials are conducting public business in public and, should we need to go behind closed doors, they can still hold us accountable.

As a community, we will also be able to hold our heads high as a beacon for open government in a state that is routinely considered among the worst in the nation when it comes to such laws.

Here are the two elements of the Iowa law that I am interested in adopting as policy for Yankton:

21.5 (1.j) — To discuss the purchase or sale of particular real estate only where premature disclosure could be reasonably expected to increase the price the governmental body would have to pay for that property or reduce the price the governmental body would receive for that property. The minutes and the audio recording of a session closed under this paragraph shall be available for public examination when the transaction discussed is completed.

21.5 (4) — A governmental body shall keep detailed minutes of all discussion, persons present, and action occurring at a closed session, and shall also audio record all of the closed session. The detailed minutes and audio recording of a closed session shall be sealed and shall not be public records open to public inspection. However, upon order of the court in an action to enforce this chapter, the detailed minutes and audio recording shall be unsealed and examined by the court in camera. The court shall then determine what part, if any, of the minutes should be disclosed to the party seeking enforcement of this chapter for use in that enforcement proceeding. In determining whether any portion of the minutes or recording shall be disclosed to such a party for this purpose, the court shall weigh the prejudicial effects to the public interest of the disclosure of any portion of the minutes or recording in question, against its probative value as evidence in an enforcement proceeding. After such a determination, the court may permit inspection and use of all or portions of the detailed minutes and audio recording by the party seeking enforcement of this chapter. A governmental body shall keep the detailed minutes and audio recording of any closed session for a period of at least one year from the date of that meeting, except as otherwise required by law.

Furthermore, Iowa Attorney General opinions have established:

A meeting may be closed under exemption (j) only when public discussion of the possible purchase or sale of particular real estate could be reasonably expected to increase the price demanded of that property or decrease the amount the government would receive in a sale.
The economic public interest that this exemption is intended to serve is clear. The exemption does not allow closed sessions for discussion of real estate in general. If a session is closed under this exemption, the records of that closed meeting must be made available for public examination when the transaction is completed or canceled.
Under Chapter 21.5(4) the minutes and tape recording of any closed session must be kept at least one year. If
more than a year should elapse between a meeting closed under Chapter
21.5(1)(j) and the completion of the real-estate transaction, the record of that closed session should be kept for a reasonable time after the completion of the transaction so it can be available for public examination.
I’ve been visiting with open government advocates in both South Dakota and Iowa about how this law could be adopted as City of Yankton policy. Preliminary discussions are that there is nothing preventing us from taking this step.
As a long-time advocate for more open government, this possibility has me genuinely excited. I look forward to discussing this matter with my peers in Yankton city government. Hopefully, I can convince them that this is a worthy action that makes our local government and residents winners.

What is your vision for Yankton?

I was recently reading about Dubuque, Iowa, which is considerably larger than Yankton but offers us a good example of how to develop a community vision.

Dubuque Iowa

A photo of Dubuque, Iowa.

 

In 2005, the Dubuque mayor stated, “The next five years will define the next 50 for Dubuque.” This kicked off a massive visioning process for the community that sought big ideas with broad acceptance that would have a long-term, positive impact on the growth and quality of life of the greater Dubuque community.

Read more about that process here.

I think Yankton needs to do the same thing.

We all need to come together, invest our talents and create a cohesive community vision for the long-term future.

We need to think big.

When I talk to people in the community, I sense a hunger to do big things because of a belief in the potential of Yankton to be more than it is right now.

Look at the small European island of Guernsey. A group there has set the goal of making it the best place to live in the world by 2020. Yes, you read that right.

It might sound crazy, but it’s also really inspiring. Similarly, we need to have the confidence to set big goals for Yankton. If we don’t believe in ourselves, no one else will, either.

Included in my personal vision of Yankton would be downtown and riverfront development; more public art, architecture, trails and other quality of life improvements; higher wages; and a community-wide focus on health and happiness that would have buy-in from all community members.

I don’t want to be a community where people ask, “Why don’t we have that?” I want to be a community where people ask, “How in the world did we get that?”

Let’s use the next five years to define the next 50 for Yankton and make ourselves and future residents proud.

Have ideas? Let’s talk about them on the Nathan For Yankton Facebook page.

FatherLeonardKayser(I delivered the following eulogy for Father Leonard Kayser at a couple of prayer services this week and wanted to share it here to provide anyone interested with some background on my great uncle, who was a tremendous influence upon my life. You should also take the time to read this fantastic story the Press & Dakotan printed about his life and influence. I’ve heard so many stories and expressions of love for Father Kayser this week that it really has ended up feeling like more of a celebration than a time to mourn. The key is to keep working toward the values he strove for during his lifetime.)

———

When Father Leonard Kayser looked back on his 50 years as a priest in 2009, he described it as “ordinary.”
“I graciously accepted each assignment as the Will of God for me at that point,” he said. “I was blessed by the people in every one of the parishes I have served. The years as Rural Life director (for the Sioux Falls Diocese) were especially blessed because I got to know many wonderful people and go to many places I never would have been otherwise.”
But how many of us would describe Father Kayser’s impact upon our lives as ordinary?
His gift was to ask questions of us, to call us out of our complacency and to encourage us to be better humans than maybe we thought possible.
Some have referred to his “prophetic voice.” It was real. It was revolutionary. And it was powerful.
If Father Kayser himself was ordinary, it was in the sense that he was a complicated figure.
He was a great man, but he was a man. He could be glowing and generous. He could also be short-tempered. Father Kayser had personal struggles, as all of us do, and I think they helped him connect with and help the individuals he encountered at the South Dakota Human Services Center and the Yankton Federal Prison Camp. He knew he could learn from them and did.
He was an advocate for all human beings despite whatever differences or shortcomings they may have in the eyes of others – and in their own eyes. He recognized human frailty and the difficult decisions that come with life, and he offered understanding and encouragement to individuals struggling with those realities.
When he saw mistreatment or neglect of mental patients or prisoners, he took action. He raised his voice. His advocacy wasn’t always popular with those around him, and he sometimes paid a price. But he couldn’t look the other way. Whatever these men and women were suffering from or might have done, he believed they deserved to be treated with kindness and respect.
I know how deeply he loved the Catholic faith and the Church, and yet he often criticized the hierarchy of the Church as too patriarchal and certain of itself. No human institution was beyond criticism. He believed women should be allowed as priests and actively supported that effort. He refused to condemn homosexuals. In other words, he was not afraid to express his deeply-held Catholicism in ways that some might deem controversial or even at odds with the Catholic Church.
He scoffed at the idea that faith could exist in a vacuum.
In a homily delivered in 2010, he related how a woman had complimented a homily he had given the previous week before she added, “It’s too bad we have to bring politics into all this.”
Father Kayser’s response?
“Sorry folks: Everything involves moral values and everything involves political decisions. Social justice is a constitutive element of the Gospel. We cannot talk meaningfully about charity until and unless we have first addressed the local, state and international issues of injustice.”
Social justice was a foremost concern for Father Kayser. As a member of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, for example, or the Catholic Worker Movement, he was committed to nonviolence, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and foresaken. He protested injustice, war, racism and violence of all forms.
Father Kayser could be found at protests against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. He opposed drone warfare. He recognized the institutional mechanisms that make poverty and suffering inevitable.
He was fond of quoting the fascinating British economist E.F. Schumacher, a man whom Father Kayser had met when he toured South Dakota in the 1970s and from whom he found much inspiration.
Listen to these Schumacher passages, and you will certainly hear the spirit of Father Kayser within them:
“The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”
 
“If human vices such as greed and envy are systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than a collapse of intelligence. A man driven by greed or envy loses the power of seeing things as they really are, of seeing things in their roundness and wholeness, and his very successes become failures. If whole societies become infected by these vices, they may indeed achieve astonishing things but they become increasingly incapable of solving the most elementary problems of everyday existence.”
Schumacher and Father Kayser shared a love of rural life and sustainable economics. In fact, Schumacher developed a set of principles he called “Buddhist economics,” based on the belief that individuals need good work for proper human development. He also proclaimed that “production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.”
Before a crowd in Danville, Ohio, in May of 1980, Father Kayser expressed why he believed family farms were so important while criticizing industrial farming.
“The hallmarks of a small family farm community and small towns traditionally have been stability, community involvement and strong family attachments. An integral part of this society for the most part has been high-quality education, strong religious traditions and an openness which encourages the democratic process.”
Later in the speech, he addressed the ills that had befallen the United States and which, I would add, have only become much, much worse in the last 35 years.
“While we still talk about being good, hard workers and making it, whether in town or country, we have had to change our whole value system, our way of looking at life, at the world around us. We too often talk about free enterprise as if it were still working.
“Too many of us associate our present kind of capitalism with the Ten Commandments. (The worship of capitalism, let’s face it people, is nowhere in scripture nor the teachings of the Holy Mother Church.) … We find ourselves engaged in a battle for economic self-survival that can only destroy our society if we continue to passively accept the present trend of this technological revolution.”

I’m sorry. At this point, I want to take a moment to thank Father Kayser for not suing me for plagiarism during his life, because, looking over these speeches now, I’ve clearly been stealing from his body of work. I plead ignorance!

FatherKayserWithNathanAndFamily cropped

This may be the last photo of me with Father Kayser, along with my mom, Nancy; my dad, Roy; and my brother, Ben. (My brother, Chris, was missing in action.)

I admired Father Kayser for all of the above reasons and considered him a mentor both politically and spiritually.
But there is something more I need to add, because I think it is important.
Those who know me have joked about the fact that I’m in a church delivering a eulogy for a man of such deep Catholic faith. Why? Because I don’t subscribe to any faith.
I am, at best, an agnostic.
And yet, I considered Father Kayser a spiritual brother and guide.
I never saw Father Kayser use Catholicism as a litmus test. He did not allow it to be a barrier to communing with another human being. He refused to believe his faith, or any faith, laid claim to the absolute truth. And he realized goodness and truth could come from many backgrounds and schools of thought.
I think that is why my own approach to life was never an issue between us. In fact, from my perspective, I think it drew us closer. In the often polarized country in which we now live, I think there is a lesson and a beauty to that fact.
Returning to 2009, when Father Kayser was looking back at his 50 years in the priesthood, he quoted a priest who was asked what he had learned during his life.
“His conclusion at the end of his life was, ‘I learned God is much bigger than I thought she was.’ I would kind of like to adopt that,” Father said. “There are so little black and white answers to anything, even in our strict theology in the Catholic Church.”
I would like to close with a T.E. Lawrence quote that Father Kayser was fond of using:
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
Father Kayser was a man who dared to dream by day. And the world he has left behind is a better place for it.

(The following feature on yours truly appeared in the Jan. 23-29 edition of the Yankton County Observer. You have been warned. BUT, on a serious note, I do really want to thank the Observer staff for giving me the opportunity to air my thoughts in a public forum. It was an honor to be asked to be a part of their weekly “Off the Cuff” feature.)

Name: Nathan Johnson

Birthday: November 12, 1978

Birthplace: Osmond, Nebraska

NathanCropped3 1-06-2015Education: English and History degrees from Mount Marty College

Occupation: Communications Coordinator at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

Family: Parents: Roy Jr. and Nancy Johnson; and brothers: Ben and Chris

Favorite childhood memory: Picking strawberries and eating them out of my mother’s or grandmother’s garden while taking a break from “work” on my sprawling backyard toy farm.

Growing up, I wanted to be an: astrophysicist or nuclear physicist (That was before I realized math is hard.)

First job: Feeding calves with my grandpa.

Prized possession: Whichever film, book or song I happen to be enjoying at any given moment …

All-time favorite movie: If you know me, you know this is an excruciating question for me to answer. So I hope you’ll be so kind as to let me parse my response. If we were to go by number of views, it would most likely be “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” That film was a comedic revolution in my world as a sixth grader, so it was studied endlessly. But if I could only take one film with me to the desert island, it might very well be Terrence Malick’s 2011 opus “The Tree of Life.” It would provide plenty to reflect upon as isolation tightened its grip upon my mind.

I would stay home to watch: “Doctor Who.” The Doctor is one of the greatest heroes I’ve ever encountered in fiction and is a role model for my life.

Best movie I’ve seen recently: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Best book I’ve read recently: “Love Letters to the Dead” by Ava Dellaira

Favorite author: Vladimir Nabokov. Why? Here is an example: “Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.”

Favorite sports team: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Favorite athlete: Teen Wolf from the classic 1985 Michael J. Fox vehicle, “Teen Wolf.”

Favorite performers: Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain, Samuel T. Herring (of Future Islands), comedian Doug Stanhope, Tim and Eric … and I’ll stop there because that’s where I need to take a breath …

Hobbies: Writing, blogging and consuming as much film, music and literature as my mind can handle. I also enjoy a good bourbon or scotch with friends.

Three things that can always be found in my fridge: cheese, salsa, beef sticks

If I have any warning, my last meal will be: Let’s assume I have short notice, so I’ve got to stay in town. It will be a grand buffet of Tokyo, Charlie’s Pizza, Mexico Viejo and El Tapatio. I feel sorry for the mortician, but a person shouldn’t go out on an empty stomach.

Least favorite food: Celery has always seemed rather pointless to me.

Greatest fear: That when I die, it will be on my porcelain “throne” in the “home office.” I’d like to die with some dignity, and I think it will be hard to accomplish in that situation.

Pet peeve: People who say, “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s certainly true, but not in the way they mean it.

Three words that best describe me: Introverted, Curious, Kind (None of those bad words you associate with me, of course.)

People would be surprised to know I: have been listening to The Carpenters a lot recently. I love Karen’s voice.

My girlfriend says I: I am single, but my hypothetical girlfriend would say I should stay. I’ll let Brett Anderson of Suede explain: “And oh if you stay/ I’ll chase the rain-blown fields away/We’ll shine like the morning and sin in the sun/Oh if you stay/We’ll be the wild ones, running with the dogs today.”

I hope I never have to: hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” again. Please. Have mercy on me.

I’ve never been able to: figure out the contents of my Great American Novel. They are very elusive and don’t respond to threats.

I wish I could stop: succumbing to the shackles of self-doubt. Also, I wish that, deep in my heart, I could believe there is something funnier in this world than flatulence. But every time I think I’ve dug down far enough to excavate that weakness for juvenile humor, someone let’s out a squeaker and I am left breathless and in tears from the ensuing laughter. I guess thousands of years of evolution have made us all comedians.

I’m better than most at: listening.

I could be better at: listening. Really, there is so much power in listening to people. And, sometimes, after listening to someone, you’ve got to have the strength to tell them that maybe they should talk less and listen more. Active listening also requires action.

I’m proud that: I survived a real-life sh** storm. Stop laughing. It’s true. Please refrain from referring to your “crappy week” around me. It triggers flashbacks.

I regret: that I often allow my shyness, especially with people I don’t know, to prevent me from engaging with others who could probably teach me a lot and provide me with rich experiences.

Best time of my life: is any time I can gather with good friends and make them laugh. (Little-known fact: I have a sense of humor.)

Worst time of my life: was my grad school experience, which ultimately had me jumping out of the ivory tower for the refuge of the real world.

Most embarrassing moment: Growing up, I had a tendency to throw up occasionally in gym class or at football practice. People noticed.

The most interesting place I’ve traveled to: Austin, Texas, always provides me with fun, thought-provoking and, as advertised, weird experiences.

If I could travel in time, I would visit: the year 2100 to see how climate change has impacted the earth and humanity. Maybe we’ll have found a way to counteract it. Or maybe we’ll be wishing those stubborn idiots at the beginning of the previous century (who, us?) had done more to cut carbon emissions.

I’d like to have a dollar for every time I: hear people say they don’t want to see a raise in any taxes. I could donate them to school districts across South Dakota and end our education funding crisis that the majority of our state’s residents don’t seem all that interested in addressing. If they were, it wouldn’t be getting worse after all these years. That’s not to say that taxes alone are the answer, but they will almost certainly play a role. That’s my stinger for the evening, folks. Good night! You’ve been a terrific audience.

The most interesting person I’ve met was: Father Leonard Kayser, my great uncle. I’ve always looked up to him as a man who advocates for all human beings despite whatever differences or shortcomings they may have in the eyes of others. He recognizes human frailty and the difficult decisions that come with life, and he has offered understanding and encouragement to those struggling with those realities.

Worst idea I’ve ever had: It’s hard to single out one, but how about the time I chose to slide down a piece of a metal grain bin with my hand on its sharp edge? That resulted in some screams for Mom and stitches in three fingers.

Behind my back, friends say that: if I were a flavor of ice cream, I’d be more cookies and cream than vanilla.

Major accomplishment: I’ve earned the friendship of some really great, supportive people in my life who keep me grounded, optimistic and inspired.

Future goal: Yeah, I will take more of the above, please. … And I’d like to run for public office.

A great evening to me is: good friends, good food, good spirits and … I should probably stop there.

When nobody’s looking, I: make hand gestures in front of electric doors in order to create for myself the illusion that I have super powers. It’s a real thrill.

The best thing about my job is: I am able to help a non-profit organization provide health care on a daily basis. It is important work, and I am proud of what 15,000 Avera employees are able to accomplish every day.

The most challenging thing about my job is: that, at the age of 36, I’m having to exercise parts of my brain I haven’t used in a while. I’m in a new environment that demands different skills, so I’ve been trying to get into a new groove.

The thing I like most about Yankton is: it feels like home.

Something I’d like to see changed in the area is: more of a focus on public art and public spaces that bring people together, inspire them and, therefore, strengthen our communities socially and economically. Those are features that can truly give communities an identity and help them create a lasting legacy.

One thing that really makes me angry is: how income and wealth inequality are causing our society to fragment and grow more desperate. This inequality has led to a decline in fairness and opportunity in many respects for the vast majority of people who live in this country and other places around the world facing the same challenges. A steady stream of studies is showing how destructive the accumulation of wealth into too few hands has on society. Unfortunately, they don’t really seem to be sparking any serious re-evaluations of our economic system.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s: that kindness is more important that intelligence, beauty or any other attributes humans often long to attain. A little kindness can go a long way, and a lot of kindness would make this world a much more hospitable place for humans during their relatively short stay on it.

If I had something to do over, I would: probably procrastinate too long to do it over.

I can die happy once I’ve: come to terms with the insignificance of mankind in the scheme of the universe. So much human struggle is tied to the idea that there is something that makes us exceptional. I think it’s important for us to recognize that ultimately we are no more significant than anything else we may encounter — a dog, a flower or a cloud. Everything is made from the same stuff. We are exceptional in the sense that we have the intelligence and drive to destroy things on a large scale. Therefore, I think we are charged with using what intelligence we have as humans to cooperate with each other — to be kind to one another — and preserve and protect the world that surrounds us. Once I truly comprehend all of that, I’ll be able to die happy. I’ve got some work to do!

At my funeral, I hope people say: I’m glad we aren’t having ham sandwiches again at a funeral. This sushi is great! By the way, what is this green stuff in the rolls? Soylent green, you say? Wow, that’s delicious. What great taste Nathan had. Wait! Taste? Nathan? Soylent green!? (Cue the “Twilight Zone” music …)

My Favorite Movies Of 2014

Posted: January 18, 2015 in Entertainment, Film

(This article ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Press & Dakotan and can be found here.)

When I look at my list of favorite movies for 2014, I am struck by how many of them pushed boundaries from both a storytelling and technical level.

Despite the many challenges that face the film industry, people who want to create find ways to do it and are not settling for the status quo.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Birdman” have received the most Oscar nominations this year, and they also feature on my list. “Boyhood” also received some Oscar love. The fact that some of the other films on my list — particularly “Under the Skin” and “Nightcrawler” — received no major recognition is a crime against celluloid. But if I wasn’t upset about a snub, it wouldn’t be the Oscars.

Unfortunately, if you didn’t travel to theaters outside of Yankton, you didn’t see more than one of these films on the big screen. (I believe “Nightcrawler” had a run in our community.)

Without further ado, here is the list:

10. Snowpiercer

This was a smart and very fun piece of science fiction from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. It follows a rebellion of the oppressed on a train racing around the world. The elaborate locomotive holds the remnants of humanity after an attempt to halt climate change miserably fails. It is at times scary, thrilling and absurd, and it definitely has some analogies for our current times with its depiction of a class system and the privileged elite.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

This is Wes Anderson’s most complicated vision ever to be brought to life — and that’s saying something. The visual flair and intelligence on display in “Grand Budapest” is sometimes hard to keep up with but worth the investment. Ralph Fiennes shines.

8. Boyhood

What can I say about “Boyhood” that hasn’t already been said in the volumes of critical praise it has received? It is an ambitious cinematic experiment filmed during the course of 12 years, and it succeeded in capturing the growth and life experiences of a fictional boy and his family members during that time. It’s such a simple idea, but one that could have failed at so many turns. I feel like its impact on me was not as profound as it apparently was with many other critics, but it was an incredible journey, nonetheless.

7. The Rover

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic films that explain little, and “The Rover” fits into that category. In it, a man (played by Guy Pearce) is hell-bent on recovering his stolen car. Along the way, he picks up a mentally handicapped man (played by an impressive Robert Pattinson) who accompanies him on the long trip in the Australian outback.

6. Force Majeure

“Force Majeure” is an examination of male and female gender roles and how different rules apply. It is also a look at how fast family dynamics can change based on a split-second decision. Despite the beautiful and tranquil setting, the film is both a comedy and a drama that, if you watch with a significant other, will fire up some potentially heated conversations once the credits have rolled.

5. Nymphomaniac

I love movies that have an energy that invigorates me while giving me little idea of where they will go. There is a thrill in the unknown. Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” is hours and hours of sexual and psychological exploration. Ideas are clutched tightly and then let go. It’s certainly not a journey for the faint-hearted soul, because — as you may have guessed from the title — it does not shy away from its subjects. Von Trier has never been known for his timidity. Hop on for the ride, so to speak. Try not to fall off.

4. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The slick cinematography and jazzy soundtrack make the audience feel like it is actually in a New York City theater following the behind-the-scenes dramatics of an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Michael Keaton shines as the former cinema superhero Riggan Thomson, who is trying to revive his career without the use of a mask and costume. The film is a reflection on the creative impulse and the feelings of self-doubt that so often accompany it. Edward Norton is great, too, as an indulgent, unpredictable actor.

3. Only Lovers Left Alive

Do you sometimes feel like a vampire who has lived for centuries and has become bored with the petty pursuits of humanity? If so, this is the film for you. Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” is the best thing the iconic director has made in a long time, and it is damn cool. I mean, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s cool. Except it has a lot more brains than those now ubiquitous pinup posters. The devotion to art and human creation expressed in the film is exhilarating, as is its expression of frustration and disappointment in where the human race has landed.

2. Nightcrawler

“Nightcrawler” is about an entrepreneurial young man on its surface, and many people are tempted to see it as a critique of a bloodthirsty and craven media. But I think that is severely underestimating the palette of this film. To me, “Nightcrawler” is a condemnation of the inhumanity of capitalism. Look at the United States and its total devotion to the religion of hustling. We live in a society where almost all human interaction and activities have been reduced to a dollar value. Lou Bloom is the coyote who comes in from the hills surrounding Los Angeles to scavenge the city for sustenance. He is America — a place where we’ve almost universally chosen to judge each human being’s worth on his or her ability to earn money doing whatever task necessary. The more disregard you show to your fellow human beings in the pure pursuit of the almighty dollar, the bigger hero you can become in the cathedrals of American thought. Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were reading this for my political rants. On to number one …

1. Under the Skin

With shades of such cinematic luminaries as David Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick, as well as director Jonathan Glazer’s utter determination not to hand things down to the audience, I was mesmerized by this film from its opening scene to its last. The role of Mica Levi’s hypnotic, alien and downright creepy soundtrack in transporting my mind into this universe cannot be understated. By showing us what it’s like to be an alien in a human’s clothing, “Under the Skin” shows us what it means to be human on a very functional level. This is not only a movie of the year, it’s quite possibly a movie of the decade.

———

Honorable mentions for 2014 include: “Inherent Vice,” “Whiplash,” “Selma,” “Ida,” “Happy Christmas,” “Stranger by the Lake,” “A Trip to Italy,” “It Felt Like Love,” “Dear White People,” “Obvious Child,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Babadook,” “Locke,” “Starred Up,” “A Most Wanted Man,” “The Drop,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Calvary,” “Frank,” “Wild,” “A Field in England,” “Top 5,” “The Congress” and “Listen Up, Phillip.” That’s a lot of good film watching.

Best documentaries I saw? “Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets;” “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia;” “The Missing Picture;” “Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger;” “Happy Valley” and “20,000 Days on Earth.”

Most overrated film I saw in 2014? “American Sniper.” It was much too simplistic for my taste.

Loving ‘Half-Gifts’

Posted: January 12, 2015 in Music
Tags: , ,

I’ve certainly felt this, but I’ve never created something so beautiful from it.

I need you to listen to “Half-Gifts” by the Cocteau Twins. And I don’t mean “half-listen” while you’re surfing the Internet or watching television.

You need to give it your full attention.

Here are the lyrics:

It’s an old game, my love
When you can’t have me, you want me
Because you know that you’re not risking anything

Intimacy is when we’re in the same place at the same time
Dealing honestly with how we feel, and who we really are

That’s what grown-ups do
That is mature thinking

Well I’m still a junkie for it
It takes me out of my aloneness
But this relationship cannot sustain itself

Intimacy is when we’re in the same place at the same time
Dealing honestly with how we feel, and who we really are

That’s what grown-ups do
That is mature thinking

I just have to know how to be in the process
Of creating things in a better way
And it hurts but it’s a lie that I can’t handle it
I still have a world of me-ness to fulfill
I still have a life, and it’s a rich one even with mourning
Even with grief and sadness

I still care about this planet
I am still connected to nature and to my dreams for myself

I have my friends, my family.
I have myself
I still have me

OK, now let’s do this together. Let’s have a moment. Let’s be humans and in and out of love and everywhere in between.

http://youtu.be/-n9nmtgXwAs

What if I said that I actually preferred this cover of the song by Scandinavian singer Moto Boy? What if I told you it is even more beautiful than the original? (Do NOT tell that to the Cocteau Twins fans!) Would you do it all over with me? Would you?