January 2011


Prairie Fire Newspaper went on hiatus after the publication of the September 2015 issue. It may return one of these days but until then we will continue to host all of our archived content for your reading pleasure. Many of the articles have held up well over the years. Please contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or an interest in helping return Prairie Fire to production. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and supporters - the quality of Prairie Fire was a reflection of how many people it touched (touches).

Quarks, Muons and Moses or "What I Did on My Vacation"

By Eli S. Chesen

We are leaving Iraq, contemplating the building of mosques in Manhattan, quibbling with our founding fathers’ church-versus-state paradigm, and in the meantime various and sundry indigenous religious wars are conflagrating in locations beyond the awareness of the geographically challenged. We have been killing each other for hundreds of thousands of years as uncivilizations argued over who was or was not a genuine prophet speaking for this God or that God.

Organic Label Certification: What's in a Name?

By Justin Van Wart and Charles Francis

Organic” on a label at the local grocery store usually prompts thoughts of a pesticide-free, exceptionally nutritious and better-tasting product. While there is evidence pointing to the superior quality of some organic products, there is also evidence to the contrary. In the midst of this confusion, does the word organic mean anything? How does a product become certified as organic and what faith can we have in the label? It is no wonder that consumers are confused.

Elderquest: Gender Identity in the New Old Age

By Charles Nicholas, Dee Aguilar and Sarah Quandahl

Elder heroes behave very differently from younger ones: their journeys are often inward rather than outward, backward rather than forward, slow and intentional rather than fast and impetuous. But their actions are just as heroic, if not more so, for the stakes are higher, time is short and the flesh is weak. Victory, and it’s far from guaranteed, is full acceptance and then a willingness to let it go as one helps others to prepare for the ascendancy of the next generation. This is what we call the elderquest—the search for wisdom, connection and integrity in later life, and those who go on this quest are providing us with new and more positive narratives for successful aging.

The Renaissance Resonates in Nebraska

Illustration by Bob Hall

By Carole Levin

There are a number of great joys we still have from the time period known as the Renaissance, one of which is attending productions of the plays of William Shakespeare. In Nebraska there are many chances to experience the plays. Nebraska Shakespeare presents plays every summer in Omaha at Shakespeare on the Green. In the spring, summer and fall Flatwater Shakespeare presents plays in Lincoln. This coming June it will be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the following October “Othello.” Before either of those productions Ian Borden will direct “Twelfth Night” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in April. For many who attend these plays in any of these venues, it is the first opportunity to see a Shakespeare play, and it can be a revelation and give people insight into the Renaissance.

Book Review: "Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization" by Steven Solomon

Review by Carolyn Johnsen

“Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization”
Author: Steven Solomon
Publisher: Harper

In this massive book, journalist Steven Solomon both traces the history of Earth’s civilizations through their uses of water and issues warnings about the effects of water scarcity on contemporary societies.

The history stretches from irrigation in the breadbaskets of the Nile and Mesopotamia to commerce on the Grand Canal in China, to the British defeat of the Spanish Armada, to the invention of the water wheel, to steam power’s importance in the Industrial Revolution and to what Solomon calls the “sanitary revolution” of the 19th century.

Book Review: "Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christoper Lasch" by Eric Miller

Review by Jon Lauck

“Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christoper Lasch”
Author: Eric Miller
Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Christopher Lasch was born in Omaha, Neb., in 1932. By the end of his life, cut short at age 61, he had become one of the most famous intellectuals in the world. A product of and one-time devotee of the American Left, Lasch later became a brutal critic of American liberalism. Throughout his life Lasch embodied a prairie skepticism about the vision and drift of his fellow intellectuals and the reality of modern “progress.” Midwestern progressivism, Lasch said, was “unavoidably part of the political tradition in which I was raised” and was a “reference point to which I was always in one way or another returning.”

Where Have All the Moderates Gone?

By Randall Moody

Where are Sherry Boehlert and Jim Greenwood when we need them?


Right! Few people other than their constituents knew who they were when they served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and probably nobody knows who they are now. But I remember them vividly as Republican moderates who helped pass important legislation or block bad bills and amendments. They retired from Congress a few years before the Tea Party arose like the Monster from the Deep Lagoon to stomp out all moderation. Boehlert and Greenwood anticipated the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party and knew they would be among its next targets if they hung around.

What Does Sustainability Look Like in Nebraska? A Conversation Worth Having

By Jay Leighter, Ph.D.

What is the value of listening to someone else’s point of view? What is the value of explaining my own point of view to people who think differently than myself? What is the value of a conversation on critical Nebraska resources among people with diverse experiences and backgrounds? What is the value of conversation leading to a set of questions about Nebraska resources and then being able to answer those questions in the moment? What is the value of developing opportunities for the citizens of Nebraska to do all of these things while focusing on the topics of land, food, water, energy and materials?

The XL Pipeline Gamble

By Julie Myers

The original Keystone One pipeline (which has leaked four times in its first six months of operation) is routed through clay soils in eastern Nebraska, avoiding both the porous Sand Hills and the immense Ogallala Aquifer.

By contrast, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, currently seeking State Department approval, would strike through 110 miles of Nebraska Sand Hills and sit directly over the deepest part of the Ogallala Aquifer. It is, by all accounts, a far riskier proposition, if for no other reason than it will funnel up to 21 million gallons a day of chemical-ladened oil over an irreplaceable source of clean water.

A Safe Prescribed Burn

By Gerry Steinauer

On the morning of April 10, 2009, the Missouri River breaks in northeastern Knox County, Neb., were still winter brown and snow lingered in shaded pockets. Along a gravel road, a few miles south of Santee, a burn crew busied themselves among an assemblage of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), pickups and fire engines. They were preparing to set fire to 500 acres of the adjacent Jim Goetz family pasture. By mid-afternoon the prairie hills would be enveloped in flame and smoke.


“Some Holiday Notes”
Dec. 30, 1982

Within the Polk, Neb. Horizon the world was white Christmas morning. The big snow had slipped past to the north leaving only a thin covering here. If snow is a Christmas blessing, we are grateful for its thinness. Thinness in snow cover, the human silhouette and line of cursive script, is preferred. It is not admired in hair on head, winter coats or soup.

Sonny's Corner: Immigrant Detention in the Heartland: Nebraska’s Place in the Immigration Debate

By Juan Manuel Pedroza

Nebraska stands at a crossroads on immigration policy, even if the state does not make many people’s list of immigration hot spots. As reported recently in the national media, momentum behind restrictive policies in the state is mounting. As the federal government steps up enforcement and states enact policy experiments, immigrants face a formidable challenge: staying under the radar while living and working in a hostile climate. Urban Institute research sheds light on how immigration policies can cause collateral damage. Learning from past experience, Nebraska can do better than simply retreading policies that criminalize workers, separate families and overlook immigrant victims of crime.

Immigration in Nebraska

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