seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy


Stories relating to the Twin Cities and Minnesota

LRT Planning

The Strib is reporting on St. Paul's efforts to prepare for Light Rail along University Avenue. I'm excited, 2013 cannot come fast enough.

You can see what they have in mind:

Citizens will get a glimpse at two open houses on Thursday (8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Old Lexington Library). A third public workshop on Friday will discuss light rail's impact on downtown (8 a.m. at the 5th Street Center, skyway level).

In the end, University Ave should be strengthened:

The plan, prepared by Urban Strategies of Toronto after months of discussions with residents, is extraordinary. It depicts clearly the challenges St. Paul faces in remaking one of America's ugliest urban strips in a way that doesn't chase away immigrant shops or low-income residents but adds vitality, beauty, safety and convenience. The plan lists 90 initiatives, including the infilling of big-box parking lots with sidewalk-oriented businesses -- a gradual transition from suburban to urban form. "The result will be stronger businesses, more vibrant neighborhoods and a more beautiful urban place," the plan proclaims.

Mac Party

I'm an alum of Macalester College (2001) in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Star Tribune is reporting that students there had a politically incorrect party which was racially offensive.

One student came dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member, accompanied by another student who was in blackface and wore a fake noose around the neck.

Wow. This is a difficult issue.

My first reaction to it is that this is not politically incorrect. Politically incorrect is saying Chairman rather than Chairperson or Chairwoman or just CHAIR. Using words and actions to make fun of the horrific history of race relations in the United States goes beyond political correctness.

To my mind, political correctness is not refraining from using known offensive racial epithets to refer to oppressed groups of people (or formerly oppressed, if you think it is over).

Would it have been different if people came dressed as Hitler with an emaciated skeleton with a gold star pinned to it? Perhaps someone did. This is not about the P.C. Police.

That being said, the party certainly may have been satirical. It certainly wasn't in "good" taste. But satire is something different. Definitely something different to students who were between 8 and 12 when South Park hit the cable-waves. I am a huge South Park fan myself and I have to ask if I would have laughed if the animated kids from South Park would have done this.

I probably would have. In horror. It probably wouldn't even make their top 10 offensive ideas. Is it different because it is on cable? Because it is animated? Or because I believe that the animators know that what they are doing is satirical?

Is my horror at the party or at the students who either

1) Did not consider how others would react when finding out about this party

2) Did not think it was a big deal

3) May actually be racist

I went to Mac and I think racism there exists to a much smaller degree than nearly any other area of our society. But there are people there who subscribe to racist beliefs. I like to think that more enter than leave; they discard their prejudices as they get to know people with varied backgrounds.

This is a thorny issue but not one we should be surprised by. I think our schools generally do a poor job of educating students about such things as civil rights and history in general. Even if they did a good job, would it matter to a person whose personality was created in front of TV showing South Park.

I am not holding South Park responsible here though - in part because it should be an adult show for people who can understand its humour (though this does rule out many adults) and I think too many parents have allowed their kids too much access to media that they were not prepared to handle.


I think we have been below 0 for 60 hours at the time of this writing. Won't be above it until tomorrow if they forecasts are correct.

Spent 8 minutes waiting for the bus this morning under an electric sign that flashed -26 every 7 seconds.

I think I got that new coat just in time! Nice and warm though my beard and mustache froze rather quickly. Can't complain though, this is the harsh weather that makes you feel alive and awed by the power of the natural world.

Hump Trouble

There has been some controversy at my school - the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. I have been involved in the situation and have been trying to resolve it. I talked to many people about it and then wrote the following summary. This led to my letter to the editor that was published yesterday.

Prior to that, I created this summary:

Professor Kenney sent an email to the personal list at the Humphrey Institute encouraging interested students to talk to her about joining Team Franken. For those who do not regularly read emails on the personal list, the list has been used in the past (by both faculty and students) to encourage students to support a candidate or volunteer their time or give money to a political cause.

For whatever reason, this particular email struck a chord and made it to the Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog. This blog seeks to scrutinize everything Democrats do. The blogger accused Kenney of misusing University resources by sending an email from her account that gave an unfair advantage to one candidate over others who would not have that opportunity.

That blogger apparently interviewed Professor Larry Jacobs and then quoted him at length. A reporter from the Star Tribune then took the story and apparently exercised the least possible due-diligence in reporting the story. Jacobs criticized Kenney in a somewhat unprofessional manner and erroneously suggested the personal listserv does not get emails like that regularly.

At this point, a blogger named Eva who works for the University asked the people in GPO who run our listservs to add her to the stu-personal list to see what the deal was. Having no policy on who can and cannot subscribe to the list, people in GPO added her but also notified the list that she was being added. Graham investigated her and found her to be a blogger as well and notified the list.

Many people then complained and she asked to be removed from the list. I had coffee with her on Monday and talked about the situation. I don't believe she has malicious intent in wanting to join the list so much as curiousity and a desire for background info on the situation. At any rate, I hope the new PASA will quickly work to create a clear policy of who can and cannot join the list so GPO is not put in that situation in the future.

More or less, this is the situation in which we find ourselves. I have talked with many people and while most people did not find Sally Kenney's email to be inappropriate in any way, several students felt that it would have been better to send such an opportunity through Career Services in the Graduate Programs Office to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

I have yet to find a student who feels we should not be given opportunities to work for campaigns - especially in a policy-shaping role. Those who believe conservative voices (or socialist or libertarian for that matter) do not have the same opportunities to offer positions to students insult the Career Services people who forward on all relevant policy opportunities to students so long as the position is an equal opportunity one (this is a requirement of the U). Additionally, many professors forward opportunities to students that they do not support because they want us to gain experience and career options.

Finally, I think there has been a lot of overly partisan thinking on this matter. I am not the only student at the Hump who
1) is not a Democrat AND
2) is not thrilled about Al running for Senate AND
3) eagerly volunteered to be a part of Team Franken

We are supposed to be professionals. I want to work on energy policy. I will be shocked if I find an employer who matches my political views. This is not a matter of supporting one candidate or another, it is a matter of notifying policy students of employment opportunities. If we need to explicity route all such notifications through Career Services then we can do that.

This brings me to my last point.

The Star Tribune is also supposed to be professional. The reporting on that story was wretched. It appears that Dane Smith rewrote the Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog post without any fact checking.

I am writing a letter to the editor that notes the factual inaccuracies and omissions from the story. This includes

- the fact that the email was sent to an unmoderated personal listserv which covers everything from last minute Gopher sports tickets to notifications of upcoming political events to gendered critiques of how we talk.

- it claims that Kenney was using "a taxpayer funded tool
not available to competing campaigns. ... It crossed the line into clear advocacy." Not only are we tools available to competing campaigns, it was certainly not clear advocacy. The personal list has seen posts from faculty with clear advocacy in them and this does not come close.

- Kenney was doing her job. Any professor that does not pass along such opportunities to students is remiss in their obligations.

- The whole situation was an invented controversy because no rules - written or understood - were broken. As a blogger, I believe this story illustrates all the negatives of the power behind blogs.

My letter to the editor was then published the next day (yesterday).

Published Again!

Someone else had to tell me that the Star Tribune ran a letter to the editor today from me (bottom of the page). The subject of it is a situation that I will provide background for in a day or so.

In the meantime, I got published twice today! w00t.

I was disappointed that they changed my key paragraph from:

Its most outrageous claim is that Professor Kenney was using "a taxpayer funded tool not available to competing campaigns. ... It crossed the line into clear advocacy." Not only are we tools available to competing campaigns, we welcome any relevant opportunities to do policy work regardless of partisan affiliation. If you have such an opportunity contact Career Services in the Graduate Programs Office.


Its most outrageous claim is that Professor Sally Kenney was using "a taxpayer funded tool not available to competing campaigns. ... It crossed the line into clear advocacy." Not only are we, the students, tools available to competing campaigns, we welcome any relevant opportunities to do policy work regardless of partisan affiliation. If you have such an opportunity, contact Career Services in the Graduate Programs Office.

I liked my version better.

Bike Trails

People have been asking if I want to stay in Minnesota after I graduate from the Humphrey Institute. Looks like I have one more good reason - Ramsey County may spend millions on building new bike trails. This means St. Paul will be connected to bike trails all over the metro area.

Rafael Ortega, one of the Ramsey County commissioners pushing the idea, said a way to make the proposal more attractive is to create a bicycle facility at the Union Depot, which is scheduled to become a regional transportation hub.

"People could park their bikes like they park their cars," Ortega said. "This is something that makes sense, this is something that adds value."

Ortega said the bicycle facility, which could include showers and storage space, will allow commuters or riders a seamless connection between the trails and the rails, making it more likely that people will leave their cars behind.

This is a great idea - people can bike to the Depot, lock the bike, shower, and head to work. Small businesses that cannot afford showers to encourage bike commuters will get a great benefit.

LRT: Loop it!

I remain a strong supporter of the Central Corridor LRT (light rail train). It will connect St. Paul to Minneapolis via rail along University Ave. The project is moving ahead, scheduled to open in 2014 or 15.

Currently, there is a question of whether it will loop through St. Paul or run down Cedar Avenue. The Pioneer Press recently covered the situation. I think the loop makes more sense for St. Paul. The closer you put that rail line to the Xcel Center, the more useful it will be.

If you want to let City Hall know how you feel about it, you can write to them


Those of you who who are outside Minnesota may have not heard that December sucked for Minnesota. It is one thing for us to have a brown Christmas. It is quite another for us not to have had snow before Christmas. Some areas received a tiny bit of accumulation, but I have yet to see snow stick in my neighborhood.

Not that we have been lacking in precipitation. It has been raining off and on for several days. Raining in Minnesota in December. Awesome. This weather sucks and it seems like it is the wave of the future rather than a seasonal anomaly. We did get some snow on New Year's Eve, but I doubt it will stick for long.

This is not to say that this year's shitty weather is a result of climate change. A friend of mine likened weather events to climate change like this:

When you are shooting with loaded dice that make you twice as likely to roll 2 sixes at the same time, you cannot be sure when you roll that combo if it is a result of the loaded dice (because it will happen naturally on occasion with proper dice). We have loaded the dice for shitty weather.

Some people continue to refuse to believe that humans are not contributing to climate change. I liken this to a group of people sitting in a parked car in a parking lot in July at noon on a sunny day. Much like we are dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, they are slowly rolling the windows up while commenting that the car appears to be getting warmer.

Occasionally a gust of wind will blow and temporarily cool them off. When that happens, one person in the group notes that their actions could not possibly be contributing to the increasing heat of the car. "Besides, even if the car is warming, it is probably the natural cycle of events." The others are confused about the physics of glass trapping heat and therefore say nothing.

To liken this to our situation in the real world, we have to impose penalties to roll the window back down. Rolling the window back down is incredibly difficult. Waiting too long to merely stop rolling the windows up (ignoring temporarily even trying to roll them down) is foolish.

Every year we wait to stop rolling the windows up increases the cost we'll pay to roll them down. Each coal plant we build now because it seems cheapest will raise electricity costs in 20 years when it must pay to release carbon into the atmosphere. That plant will continue operating for 40 years after that, possibly longer because those plants are HUGE and built for many decades.

The time to act is now.

11, Oct, MN

Kimmi snapped this shot of me a few minutes ago.

MN Snow

We had our first flurry this morning - I guess this is our first flash-blizzard. Lasted a few minutes - not more than 10 I guess. I hope it is a prelude to a super snowy winter.

Fools who do not know better (funny video) will likely seize upon this as evidence that we are not putting enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Those of you who haven't seen me in awhile - check out the beard!

Here Come The Repubs

The Republicans are going to hold their 2008 convention in St. Paul. Not the Twin Cities. Definitely not Minneapolis. Not that they or the press seem to notice, but they are having it in St. Paul. The city in which I live.

The Strib covers the misunderstanding - no one seems to understand that St. Paul is not Minneapolis.

First, Republican National Committee Cochairwoman Jo Ann Davidson announced Wednesday "that Minneapolis was the best choice" to host her party's 2008 national convention. Then, the New York Times on Thursday added insult to (shoulder) injury with this headline: "G.O.P. Picks Minneapolis As '08 Site Of Convention."

This is not about partisanship - but get it right, or find a different city. I am going to explode when every other Republican speaker at the convention in St. Paul talks about how good it is to be in Minneapolis.

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