Laura Waterman Wittstock

Laura Waterman Wittstock is president and CEO of Wittstock & Associates. The firm provides consultation in new projects, creative, development, assessment/evaluation, and governance. Read more about Laura Waterman Wittstock

Does Anyone Ever Eat Crow?

Posted by: Laura Waterman Wittstock Updated: February 28, 2010 - 4:15 PM

 In Minnesota, March 1 is an important day in some quarters: it is the crow opener. What? There is a season for killing crows? Cookbooks, even those that specialize in game, don't seem to mention crow feasts. American Indian cookbooks don't mention crow. The illustrious top chef of them all, James Beard, who cooked everything, makes no mention of crow roasts, crow pudding, crow fricassee, or crow pie. So it appears that despite killing them, Americans do not eat crow. So what then, is the reason for crow slaughter?

Crows are fairly long-lived: 17 to 21 years (as observed in NY state). The nesting to fledgling reproductive activity takes about four months - yes, a third of the year. That means only one brood per year. Fifty percent of the chicks die and of those who fledge successfully only 50% are with their parents a year later, according to the NY study. If the first nesting completely fails, the parents do not try for another brood but go on to the next year.

Crows are omnivores and will eat a lot of small mammals, worms, insects, and anything that moves. They hate their enemy the owls, which is why hunters carry fake owls with them when they hunt crows. Real owls take the heads off crows, so there is a very good reason to hate them. But the really bad enemy, the people with guns, hide and shoot the unsuspecting crows in an unfair fight. Since they are an unsavory bird, why, it might be wondered, is there a season on crows at all?

The Migratory Bird Treaty (Weeks-McLean Migratory Bird Law), passed in 1913-14, ratified between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) in 1916, went into full effect as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. Even though crows are migratory between Canada and the U.S., notably the plains and Canadian border states, the NY study observed that they will move when temperatures reach zero degrees, usually in January in Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are  also observed crow populations as far south as Oklahoma.

Crows were shot as "varmints" and thus were excluded from the migratory laws. They weren't considered food, they weren't considered migratory birds, and the pest label has stayed on the poor crow to this day. It's time to practice shooting at something else. Crows are part of the life of the Mississippi. They are part of the ecology that makes like beautiful in these parts. It always seems that we need laws to protect nature's creatures from human beings. Here is another one for the books.

The News That Isn't News

Posted by: Laura Waterman Wittstock Updated: January 31, 2010 - 9:41 AM

 South Dakota is undergoing another winter disaster, the second year in a row. Reservations in the state have been locked down without utilities, water, and food since the 20th of December, when Cheyenne River Tribal Chairman Joe Brings Plenty declared disaster conditions. Last year, President Bush declared an emergency and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was brought in to the reservations to provide relief. So far for this disaster, the president has not declared an emergency.

South Dakota governor Mike Rounds declared an emergency for the expected storm of February 3rd. Meanwhile, no state aid has been available. Water systems have been knocked out, which have affected reservation and small towns nearby, all over the northern part of the state.

Cheyenne River's northern neighbor, Standing Rock, which straddles South and North Dakota,has had disaster conditions prevailing as well, placing sick individuals, the very young and the very old at greater risk of dying. Some deaths have been reported. 

To date the Navajo Nation has sent crews to right the several thousand downed utility poles on Cheyenne River, a reservation the size of the state of Connecticut, The Wal-Mart chain has sent food, water, and some other supplies. But more than this is needed. When the Christmas 2009 storm is coupled with the expected second freeze and snow to come next Wednesday, the magnitude of the disaster will be doubled many times over.

Pine Ridge reservation, located in the southern portion of the state, has organized water delivery to Cheyenne River. Meanwhile, calls have gone out for the president to declare an emergency so relief and medical aid can begin to come on to Cheyenne River and Standing Rock.

The tribes in South Dakota have attempted to prepare for these disasters, but recent weather patterns have dumped huge snow falls in successive years. And, neither the  state of South Dakota nor the federal government have indicated preparation for these disasters. 

Help for the reservations is critically needed. Funds for Cheyenne River can be made to: Wells Fargo Bank, account number 5815904338, 1615 N. 7th Street, Rapid City, SD, 55701.







President Obama Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

Posted by: Laura Waterman Wittstock Updated: October 10, 2009 - 8:09 PM

 On Friday October 9, president Barack Obama received an early morning call telling him he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. He won in the judgment of the Nobel Committee in Norway for "{capturing} the world's attention and giving its people hope for a better future." (NY Times)

That was at 6:00 a.m. Before noon an unlikely group including the Republican National Committee, Hamas, the Taliban, Rush Limbaugh, Iran's foreign minister, and a member of the Afghanistan parliament joined in denouncing the committee's choice. These grumblers and second guessers made the choice seem even more like the right one. The world in fact reacted as people in the time zones woke to the news of the name of the person who had won the prize. Everyone had an opinion. People in countries worldwide stepped up to microphones and expressed their congratulations. There was criticism too. Nowhere, it seemed, was the criticism greater than in the United States. Opinions ranged from saying he hasn't done enough to deserve this, to the more scurrilous. However, here  in Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty said, "...the appropriate response is to say congratulations," 

The president himself was deeply moved and even echoed the sentiment that he did not deserve to "be in the company of so many transformative figures who have been honored by this prize."

Yet president Obama is a transformative figure. His presidential campaign and promise to change the way the U.S. does its business was immediately challenged by a wall of economic failure when he stepped into office. Such redoubtable giants as Alan Greenspan did not see, or said he did not see the tidal wave of pain imposed on Americans - nothing but the Great Depression had inflicted such financial hurt. The young president assessed the depth of the awfulness and set a course to prevent outright failure of the financial sector, one that would certainly affect most other countries of the world. A mortgage debacle built on a mathematical model that showed itself to be unworkable left much blood on the floor. Around the world, reverberations and echoes of the economic losses shook one economy after another.

The Nobel Committee said, "the question we have to ask is: who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world?" (NY Times). Well, in the previous year, Mr. Obama was running for president. As he crisscrossed the U.S. new voices came forward. People from all backgrounds stepped forward to help the campaign and later many voted for the first time in a presidential election. An emotional song, written for the Texas primary told of Mr. Obama's humble beginnings, his work in Chicago, his understanding of labor and those who do physical work. Although in Spanish, the song soon captured Latino and hundreds of thousands of other voters with its charm and open-eyed fervor. 

Around the globe, echoes of the song were expressed by people who would never vote for an American president. What was the difference? What elusive moment was being captured? It was trust and hope that the future was going to change for the better. That's a heavy load for young shoulders. It's a heavy load for the United States that had gotten used to cowboy diplomacy and slapping the United Nations around in an all too familiar pattern of abuse. 

Taking the route of diplomacy, cooperation, and the path to peace is un-cowboy like but it isn't leading with the chin, either. A lot of muscle has to go into a peace effort  as it strains to prevent chaos. Congratulations, Mr. President. You have joined that good company of transformative figures.


Black, As In Gorilla

Posted by: Laura Waterman Wittstock Updated: September 21, 2009 - 3:05 PM
Presidential candidate Barack Obama faced numerous charges of being a "racialist" for discussing or even mentioning his African American experiences, family, and friends. The usual suspects Ann Coulter, cable TV personality and the more introspect Thomas Sowell, fellow of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University in California pushed their views of the "racialist" Obama on Fox cable channels. Commentary to the contrary was labeled racialist as well when it necessarily brought in topics involving race. There was no winning the tic tac toe game in which the right wing had made the first move.

Now with president Obama in office, the steady drum of jokes and jibes laden with comments on race and African Americans are to be expected. This kind of racism was sure to surface and it requires no response. It has always been there in an underground of slime and now it exposes itself on the Internet whereas once it was spread on small disc recordings, sold out of the back of stores.

But recently, two public utterances have broken the surface. 
In January 2008, William R. Farr, a Greeley CO businessman read imaginary telegrams in a speech congratulating University of Colorado president Hank Brown. The event took place at the National Western Stock Show. Farr pulled out a piece of paper and said he had a telegram from the White House. Then he said, "They're going to have to change the name of that building if Obama's elected." Mayor John Hickenlooper said "I don't think he intended any mischief or malice, but it was inappropriate."

Afterward, Farr said he regretted making the remark and apologized 
to anyone offended. “I apologize for that,” Farr told a reporter as 
soon as the banquet ended. “I mistook it to be humorous, 
but it was something I shouldn’t have said.”

Then in June 2009 former state Senate candidate Rusty DePass commented on the escape of a gorilla from the Riverbanks Zoo by saying it was an ancestor of First Lady Michelle Obama.  "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors -probably harmless," he said. When the GOP activist was reached by phone he said, "I'm as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest." But then DePass amended his apology. He said, "the comment was hers, not mine," adding that the First Lady made statements in the media recently that we are all descendants of apes. However a search for any Michelle Obama comments on the subject turned up no news articles confirming the DePass assertion.

So it seems that there is little chance of avoiding race in the coming years of the Obama presidency. Racial blasts with tepid apologies such as seen in these two examples will bloom into a fire walk for the country. Still, some seem to long for the parochial little America of Andrew Jackson. Now the US leads the world with its muscular economy, and social examples. 

Not in Jackson's time. He was born in the Waxhaws area near the North and South Carolina borders. Back in 1828, a mere 647, 286 votes were enough to elect Jackson president. 

While president he was known as a populist and used his presidential veto liberally. "Let the people rule" he said. Yet when it came to the first peoples of the country, Jackson saw them as obstacles. The lower south was home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chicasaw and Seminole nations. To the whites of the Carolinas, they stood in the way of the cotton industry. In 1814 Jackson commanded U.S. military forces against part of the Creek nation and they lost 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama.

Populism was only for whites. Native nations only had the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal to based on treaties and a Constitutional right to negotiate with the federal administration. However Jackson's heavy fist forced the Cherokee out to Oklahoma, on foot, over the infamous Trail of Tears.

The lessons of Civil Rights, education for all, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid have been equally heavy for those who long for the Jackson days of white race supremity. They won't come back. Neither will the days of Strom Thurmond or Jesse Helms. Nor Governor George Wallace or Sheriff Clark. We have come a long way from Jackson, but a couple of nostalgists like Farr and DePass don't mind soiling themselves just for the sake of old times.

Seeing Stars Once Again in Minneapolis

Posted by: Laura Waterman Wittstock Updated: July 15, 2009 - 2:44 PM
When the old central library came down in 2002, so did the Minnesota Planetarium. The library was only old in the sense of bad planning, not that it was an ancient building. Budget cuts in the early sixties doomed the building to a short life-span. But when the library came down and its contents were either boxed and stored or continued in circulation in the "old" Federal Reserve Building, there was no temporary home for the Planetarium. It was simply gone, vanished except in the memories of its loyal patrons. Even today, people will call the Planetarium office (if they can find the number 612-370-9116) and ask for the hours or the location of the new Planetarium. Better still those interested should go to the website -

In 2005, well after demolition, the Planetarium held focus groups with Minneapolis and suburban residents. The interest in whiz bang science was high. Young people (and those not so young) wanted to reach out and operate equipment that would put them in touch with the stars. New science museums, great video and film, and the ever-yearning curiosity about just what is out there and who we on earth are in relation to the rest of the universe. The new Planetarium intends to deliver on all those wishes. The new facility, sitting atop the new downtown Minneapolis library will bring science and wonder within easy reach.It will be the most modern of the regional planetariums. Reason enough to plan on buying tickets in 2013 when the facility is completed and operating.

Meanwhile the Planetarium is not exactly completely gone. The spiffy name of the whole works is the Minnesota Planetarium and Space Discovery Center. In small scale, the Planetarium's ExploraDome is hopping from here to there along the Minnesota landscape, keeping school children up to date and excited about space, the not so final frontier. 

The ExploraDome is 25-feet in diameter, and comfortable inside for a class of squirmy elementary students. The more refined older students also fit nicely in the Dome. The curriculum meets Minnesota State Science Standards and is also a heck of a lot of fun. Adults who have experienced the Dome as it stopped at the downtown central library or the Hennepin County building have been star-struck. Even better, a  group met at All Nations Church to see the constellations from the perspective of Dakota astronomy. What, it must be imagined, will the new Planetarium be like in all its wonder when it opens as the jewel atop the glass wonder in downtown Minneapolis?


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