Pandemic Journal (# 30): More Days in the Pandemic

One of the objectives of this Journal is recording what it is like to live during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is another such report.[1]

First, here are the latest pandemic statistics as of September 27 (2:06 p.m. EDT). The world has 32,892,000 cases and 994,400  deaths. The U.S., 7,119,400 (the most in the world) and 204,400; and Minnesota, 96,786 and 6,938.[2]

Now to more positive news from my wife and me, both grateful to continuing to be healthy.

Last Wednesday (September 23) we started our first excursion outside the City of Minneapolis and nearby western suburbs during the pandemic by driving 237 miles from Minneapolis to Tofte on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Our initial drive on Interstate 35 from Minneapolis to Duluth was blessed by a beautiful sunny day and by listening to classical music on the Symphony Hall channel of SiriusXM on our car radio. I especially enjoyed the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with its joyous choral music. Although I do not know the German words that the choir was singing, I know the melody and enjoyed singing the melody along with the choir. Hearing this symphony again reminded me of its  thrilling performance  by the Minnesota Orchestra in Soweto, South Africa in August 2018.

We also listened to Mozart’s oboe concerto and a Haydn symphony. All of this music reminded me of the genius of these composers and their ability to continue to thrill us today.

Moreover, this music relieved my mind from obsessing about the many problems facing the U.S. and the world.

When we got to Duluth we stopped at a Dunn Brothers Coffee Shop on London Road to buy one delicious chicken sandwich on cranberry/wild-rice bread to share. Then we went up the hill in the city to the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, where we have been many times, hoping to see migrating hawks and other birds. Unfortunately for that objective, it was very warm with little wind and hence no birds.

After Duluth it was northeast on State Highway 61 along the North Shore.

In the town of Silver Bay we stopped to buy a bottle of wine, but could not find the store. In a parking lot I asked two masked women where we could find such a store. They did not know. Although it is often difficult to recognize people who are wearing masks to protect against the pandemic, one of the women’s distinctive hair enabled me to recognize her as a friend from my Minneapolis church, so I called out her name, and I was correct. She said she thought she had recognized my voice. Another woman, whom I did not know, then directed us to the nearby store, and a bottle of wine was secured.

When we arrived at Tofte we drove north on County Road 2 (the Sawbill Trail) to go west on Range Road 166 (Heartbreak Ridge, which is named for early loggers’ broken hearts for their inability to haul logs up or down the ridge during the winter). After arriving at Range Road 343, we turned around and went back to the Sawbill Trail, seeing beautiful fall foliage both ways.

We then returned to Tofte and checked into the AmericInn in the town, where we have stayed before. Because of pandemic restrictions, there was a more limited free breakfast designed for take-out or eating in your room. There was no servicing of our room during our two-night stay so that the two of us would be the only ones in the room. The motel clerk said they had had an extremely busy Fall, which confirmed our earlier unsuccessful attempts this summer to go to the North Shore.

The first night we ordered take-out from the Bluefin Grill across Highway 61; the salmon and salad were acceptable.

On Thursday (September 24), after breakfast at the motel, we returned to the Sawbill Trail to drive north in order to go east on Range Road 164 (the Honeymoon Trail), which is famous for its colorful fall foliage. Indeed, the yellow leaves of the poplar trees and the red of the maple trees were gorgeous.

At the end of the Honeymoon Trail, we turned and went north a short distance on the Caribou Trail (County Road 4). Then we turned right and went east on Murmur Creek Road (Range Road 332) and Pike Lake Road (County Road 45) to see more beautiful fall foliage. Then it was south on County Road 7 to return to State Highway 61.

We then drove northeast on Highway 61 past many places we had seen before—Lutsen Resort, Cascade River State Park and Grand Marais—to Judge C.R. Magney State Park, where on a beautiful early afternoon we hiked uphill along the Brule River and the easier downhill hike back.

Afterwards we returned to Grand Marais and stopped at our favorite restaurant—The Angry Trout—for a wonderful meal sitting outside on its deck overlooking the Harbor on a beautiful (but breezy and cool 49 degree) day. My wife had a white fish dinner while I had a bison steak dinner.

Then it was back to the motel in Tofte. The next day was colder and rainy so we left to return home. We were glad we had been to the North Shore again, had seen the beautiful fall foliage and had excellent meals. Indeed, we did not recall the intensity of fall colors on previous trips to the North Shore, and we learned afterwards that the birch and poplars in their fall yellow finery were a week or so early. We were lucky.

We thus re-emerged in the turmoil of U.S. politics: Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett  to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court and Senator McConnell’s intent to orchestrate an immediate Senate confirmation of Barrett, even before the November 3 presidential election; Trump’s continued threats to not abide by the results of that election; and more. These issues will be discussed in future posts.

This morning I attended the virtual worship service at my Minneapolis church (Westminster Presbyterian). The sermon (“The Wonder Table”) by Rev.Tim Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor, was based on Exodus 7:1-18 and Luke 13:10-21. He called for us to have a sense of wonder and curiosity to see what else there might be beyond the immediate situations of life. He also pointed out that people with hard hearts like the Pharaoh in the passage from Exodus will protect their power at all costs and that Jesus called out the hypocrisy of the synagogue leaders in the passage from Luke.(After the text of this sermon is available, another post will explore its message.)

This sermon also quoted from a recent New York Times column by David Brooks, who has spoken several times at our church’s Town Hall Forum.[3] Brooks said in  his column, “I came to faith in middle age after I’d been in public life for a while. I would say that coming to faith changed everything and yet didn’t alter my political opinions all that much. That’s because assenting to a religion is not like choosing to be a Republican or a Democrat. It happens on a different level of consciousness.”

Brooks continued, “During my decades as an atheist, I thought the stories were false but the values they implied were true. These values — welcome the stranger, humility against pride — became the moral framework I applied to think through my opinions, to support various causes. Like a lot of atheists, I found the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr very helpful.” He also added the following comments on his personal journey of faith:

  • “About seven years ago I realized that my secular understanding was not adequate to the amplitude of life as I experienced it. There were extremes of joy and pain, spiritual fullness and spiritual emptiness that were outside the normal material explanations of things.”
  • “I was gripped by the conviction that the people I encountered were not skin bags of DNA, but had souls; had essences with no size or shape, but that gave them infinite value and dignity. The conviction that people have souls led to the possibility that there was some spirit who breathed souls into them.”
  • “What finally did the trick was glimpses of infinite goodness. . . .Divine religions are primarily oriented to an image of pure goodness, pure loving kindness, holiness. In periodic glimpses of radical goodness — in other people, in sensations of the transcendent — I felt, as Wendell Berry put it, “knowledge crawl over my skin.” The biblical stories from Genesis all the way through Luke and John became living presences in my life.”
  • “These realizations transformed my spiritual life: awareness of God’s love, participation in grace, awareness that each person is made in God’s image. Faith offered an image of a way of being, an ultimate allegiance.”
  • “I spent more time listening, trying to discern how I was being called. I began to think with my heart as much as my head. . . . But my basic moral values — derived from the biblical metaphysic — were already in place and didn’t change that much now that the biblical stories had come alive.”
  • “My point is there is no neat relationship between the spiritual consciousness and the moral and prudential consciousnesses. When it comes to thinking and acting in the public square, we believers and nonbelievers are all in the same boat — trying to apply our moral frameworks to present realities. Faith itself doesn’t make you wiser or better.”
  • “In a society that is growing radically more secular every day, I’d say we have more to fear from political dogmatism than religious dogmatism. We have more to fear from those who let their politics determine their faith practices and who turn their religious communities into political armies. We have more to fear from people who look to politics as a substitute for faith.”
  • “And we have most to fear from the possibility that the biblical metaphysic, which has been a coherent value system for believers and nonbelievers for centuries, will fade from our culture, the stories will go untold, and young people will grow up in a society without any coherent moral ecology at all.”

I thank David Brooks for speaking so eloquently about his spiritual journey.

Here ends this report on several days of this individual’s life during the coronavirus pandemic.

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[1] See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: Pandemic Journal.

[2] Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2020); Covid World Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2020).

[3] David Brooks Speaks on “The Role of Character in Creating an Excellent Life,” dwkcommentaries.com (May 16, 2015); Brooks, How Faith Shapes My Politics, N.Y.Times (Sept. 24, 2020).

Ted Turner’s Superstation in the Crosshairs

Ted Turner

In 1969 Ted Turner, the now famous media mogul, bought a defunct Atlanta UHF (Ultra High Frequency) television station and put it back on the air as WTCG. As an over-the-air station, it also was microwave-linked to many cable companies in the Southeastern U.S. In December 1976, however, Turner through his company (Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.) decided to offer his station nationwide via satellite to all cable companies. By 1978 it was on cable systems in all 50 states and became known as a “superstation.”[1]

The company that carried the station’s signal to the satellite was Southern Satellite Systems, Inc.  under a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Initially Southern Satellite received the signal over the air by a UHF receiving antenna and then retransmitted it to a satellite transponder leased from RCA. The satellite transponder in turn relayed the signal down to cable systems’ receiving antennae on earth, and those systems retransmitted the signal by wire to cable customers.

In March 1979, pursuant to FCC permission, Southern Satellite began to receive the WTBS signal by direct microwave connection, instead of off the air except when the former was not operating. Under this approach, WTBS was able to send local commercials over the air in Atlanta and national commercials via the microwave connection to Southern Satellite.

WTBS’ programming included old movies like the classic “Casablanca” with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and old syndicated television programs like “The Bob Newhart Show” and “I Dream of Jennie,” under licensing agreements, exclusive to the Atlanta area, with the owners of the copyrights.

This “superstation” operation was challenged by Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., a Minnesota corporation headquartered in Minneapolis. It owned television broadcast stations in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida and Albuquerque, New Mexico that had exclusive copyright licenses for “Casablanca,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and “I Dream of Jennie.” All three of these Hubbard stations were in areas reached by the satellite-carried signal of WTBS.

The case, which was filed in Minnesota’s federal court,[2] alleged that Southern Satellite and Turner Broadcasting had violated the copyrights on these programs that had been licensed to Hubbard. The key issue for these claims was whether Southern Satellite qualified for the common carrier exemption in section 111 of the Copyright Act of 1976. This exemption existed for carriers that acted merely as a conduit between the distant broadcast station and the interested cable systems. I served as the principal lawyer for Southern Satellite in this case.

The Minnesota district court eventually concluded that Southern Satellite did qualify for this exemption and, therefore, granted its motion for summary judgment without a trial. The appellate court affirmed this decision.[3]

During the pre-trial discovery phase of the case, Hubbard’s attorneys took the deposition of Ted Turner in Atlanta. This was during the 1982 NFL players’ strike when Turner Broadcasting joined others in arranging games by substitute players. These substitute games were not well attended or watched on tv on the first weekend, and Turner was busy at his company making arrangements for the second weekend of such games.[4] At his request because of the press of business, his deposition was held at his company’s headquarters.

His regular outside counsel in Atlanta told me before the deposition that Turner was a tobacco chewer, and some of his depositions in other cases were shorter than anticipated because the female lawyers asking the questions were grossed out by his tobacco chewing and spitting his expectorate into a paper cup during the deposition. (This, however, was not a problem for Hubbard’s attorney.)

Ted Turner sailing

After the deposition, I joined Turner and his lawyer in Ted’s office to review the just completed deposition. I noticed the many sailing trophies in the room. (In 1977 he was the captain of the yacht that won the America’s Cup, was Yachtsman of the Year four times and recently was elected to the National Sailing Hall of Fame.[5])

This obviously was a very important case for both sides and was vigorously contested at the trial court, court of appeals and Supreme Court levels. Throughout it all, however, I had a thoroughly professional relationship with Hubbard’s attorneys, Sidney Barrows, Byron Starns and Patricia Schaffer of the Minneapolis firm of Leonard Street and Deinard. As noted elsewhere, unfortunately this was not always true in my career of lawyering.[6]

I, therefore, came to believe that is was important for attorneys publicly to acknowledge when lawyers live up to the best of the profession. Accordingly at the conclusion of this case’s hearing on cross motions for summary judgment at the district court, I told the court, “I would like to express my appreciation to Sidney Barrows and to Byron Starns and their law firm as well as John McDonough [Hubbard’s in-house lawyer]. This has been a lawsuit in which the adversaries have dealt very harshly with one another in terms of the legal issues, but in terms of professional relationships it has been great. I appreciate that.” Mr. Barrows responded, “It is in line with what Your Honor said in another argument about our being a noble profession.” The Judge said, “I sense that too and I appreciate it.”[7]


[1] Wikipedia, TBS (TV channel), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TBS_(TV_channel); Wikipedia, Ted Turner, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Turner; Ted Turner Enterprises, http://www.tedturner.com/home.asp. In 1979 Turner renamed the station “WTBS” and branded it “Super Station WTBS,” and in 1981 he developed an electronic system to feed local ads over-the-air in Atlanta and national ads via satellite. There were other subsequent name changes. In 1987 it became “Super Station TBS;” in 1989, “TBS Superstation;” and in 1990, just “TBS.”

[2] Post: Minnesota’s Federal Court (June 28, 2011).

[3] Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc. v. Southern Satellite Systems, Inc., 593 F. Supp. 808 (D. Minn. 2004), aff’d, 777 F.2d 393 (8th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 107 S. Ct. 643 (1986), reh’g denied, 107 S. Ct. 964 (1987).

[4]  Farnsworth, NFL crossed the line on Replacement Sunday, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Oct. 2, 1982), http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/NFL-crossed-the-line-on-Replacement-Sunday-1097669.php.

[5] ajc, Turner in sailing hall (Aug. 2, 2011), http://www.ajc.com/news/ted-turner-in-sailing-1069456.html.

[6] Post: Ruminations on Lawyering (April 20, 2011).

[7] Transcript of Hearing, Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc. v. Southern Satellite Systems, Inc., No. 3-81-Civil-330 (D. Minn. June 21, 1984.)