mardi, octobre 31, 2006

All Hallow's Eve

I live in Minnesota where children bundle up and go trick-or-treating even when it’s 29 degrees. All you do is put on a color-coordinated coat over your outfit*.

Highlights from trick-or-treating:

We doubled the number of houses we visited last year, and at no point did I have to carry the candy or the trick-or-treater.

The neighbor who handed out 20-ounce bottles of Diet Pepsi last year handed out snack size bags of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish this year**.

After two houses where older women (estimated age = 70) gave us candy, TinyE said: “we just met two old people!”

Mrs. Duf tried to use Halloween to pawn off some nasty fruit snacks that no one in our house likes. As for me, I only hand out candy***.

Our neighbors gave us a huge Halloween-style gingerbread house!

Three neighbors handed out those organic “save the planet” chocolates that you get at Whole Foods****.

Does this happen in your neighborhood? After about 7:15, all the trick-or-treaters arrive by car (driven by their parents).

In order to shut down distribution, we have to turn off the porch lights, all the lights in the house, put the pumpkin in the backyard, and go to the basement.

In spite of all that, people still ring the doorbell. We think it's a trick.

*Unless your coat will fit under your outfit.

**In other words, she chose not to "stay the course." She identified her policy mistakes and corrected them.

***I don’t want to get egged, you dig?

****That’s right, our neighborhood is Bush Country…er….well, maybe not so much.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

I live in Minnesota, and I’m thinking about two statistics where I’m not normal.

First Interesting Statistic:

The Minneapolis Star Tribune posted an interesting statistic on Sunday.

It was:

For every $1.00 that a Minnesota family spends on housing, it spends $1.11 on transportation.

I assume that housing dollars include: rent or mortgage, insurance, utilities and maintenance.

I assume that transportation dollars include auto payments or leases, insurance, fuel, bus or train passes, maintenance and (maybe) parking.

Applying this standard, here’s how the ratio plays out at the Duf household:

In 2007, for every $1.00 we spend on housing, we will spend .58 on transportation.

And that counts the car payment I just took on*.

For most of 2006, for every $1.00 we spent on housing, we spent .21 on transportation.

And we live in a humble home.

But my wife’s commute is 1.1 miles. Mine is 12.7 miles.

She has no car payment and is content to drive her 1999 Toyota Corolla into perpetuity (she drives fewer than 7.000 miles per year).

Second Interesting Statistic:

Right now, in my wallet, I have $10 in the form of one ten dollar bill.

That’s way above average for me. Way.

I usually have $1.00 to $2.00, or no cash at all.

When I travel, I try to remember to get cash for tips and tolls.

This summer, Esquire magazine published an article on “the State of the American Male.” It was a breakdown of how men in different age groups answered the same interesting questions**.

One was: how much money do you have in your wallet?

I don’t remember the precise number, but it was something like $134.90.

And I’m all like – in 2006, who carries that much cash around? And, goodness - gracious, why?

*That’s right, I traded in the 1999 Subaru Outback (Anniversary Edition) for a used Saab. I won’t lie, I did it to stave off a gathering mid-life crisis of sorts. The 1999 Subaru Outback was one of my favorite characters in ILIM, and I’m sorry you had to learn of our disassociation this way.

**One of them was which would you rather have, a three way with Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johannsen, or $50,000.” An overwhelming majority of men took the $50,000. You’ll have to guess which of the two Duf would select.

lundi, octobre 30, 2006

I Hate My Job Today

I live in Minnesota, and I hate my job today.

I’ll be here in beautiful, bucolic and bountiful Bloomington, Minnesota, in view of the Mall of America*.

I’ll participate on conference calls.

I’ll send and receive phone calls.

I’ll send and receive email messages.

During a sanctioned break, I’ll tour the blogosphere, making a comment or two.

But my heart won’t be in it.

First, at noon, my heart will be in downtown Minneapolis at the Border’s bookstore.

Then, around 5:00, my heart will be in Rochester, Minnesota, where that amazing man will be stumping for Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar and Tim Walz.

That’s right, only 1.5 hours away, the next President of the United States, will winning hearts and minds, and I’ll be in Bloomington, watching the sun set** on our shrine to commerce.

“Stupid job. I hate you job. You’re so stupid today.”

“No, I don’t have to. Just get away from me.”

“Dumb, stupid, horrible job.”

*To be more precise, I can only see the parking ramp on the east side of the Mall.

**I think the sun sets at about 2:17 p.m. today.

jeudi, octobre 26, 2006

Other Things on My Mind Right Now

I live in Minnesota, and I’ve been known to listen to a Madonna song from time to time.

And I have to say, as I’ve gotten older, I find myself (in spite of myself) becoming more and more detached from popular culture (with a special hello to my good friend at A Good Yarn who is a pop culture goddess).

A typical weekday for me goes a little something like this (hit it!):

6:00 Wake up
6:01 – 6:10 Eliminate waste
6:11 – 6:19 Stare into the nothingness or skim newspaper
6:20 – 6:45 Veg out to ESPN Sportscenter
6:45 – 6:50 Shave
6:50 – 7:00 Shower
7:01 – 7:09 Eat 1.5 bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios (Sportscenter)
7:10 – 7:29 Check email, draft blog post
7:30 - 8:45 Beg, plead, wrestle, coax, yell, bribe and reward TinyE to school
8:45 – 9:ish Arrive at work
9:ish – 6:ish Work (some time on the internet)
6:ish – 6:45or so Drive Home
6:45 – 7:30 Dinner, dishes, skim newspaper

7:00 – 8:00 Watch Wifeswap (Mondays only)

7:31 – 8:00 Homework with TinyE, or crafts, or some such diversion
8:01 – 9:00 Watch sports, if available
9:01 – sleep Read*

What you’ll note about this schedule is that I have very little time to connect with the lives of celebrities.

I’ve reach an age** where people who appear on the covers of magazines that are for the super-famous (like People or Vanity Fair or Us Weekly) are completely and totally unfamiliar to me. I literally have no clue who they are.

Unless it’s on NPR or Sunday morning political shows, I often have no idea what it is.

I have never seen “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost,” “Dharma and Greg” or any new show that started this season (“The Nine” is the only one that comes to mind). I have, however, seen 2 of the 3 Worlds Series games.

So, with that as background, I want to confess that for some reason, Madonna and Guy Ritchie adopting a child from Africa really doesn’t bother me that much. I feel like I should be outraged, but I can’t really muster up any regard for it at all. I don’t even care if she avoided the bureaucracy and red tape that we typically associated with international adoptions. In fact, I assume that the rich and famous often get advantages of this nature. I do think the child is in for some amazing culture shock. I do hope that adopting African babies does not become vogue (the 2006 version of the “Manny”). I do hope the child is not victimized by the media circus. I don’t necessarily think he will have a better life, but I know he will have a different life. I suppose the widower/father’s opinion matters overall, but it does not shape my response.

I don’t really care.

Is that wrong?

*I’m currently reading J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey.” Zooey is a boy. I did not know that until Tuesday of this week. Yes, I’m ignorant. I know almost nothing. My initial reaction to “Franny and Zooey” was that it was pretty darn good, but as the Franny “chapter” gives way to the Zooey “chapter,” Salinger goes from above-average to amazing. The letter from Buddy to Zooey was so good I read it twice.

**Age in this case really is a state of mind. People much older than I am are totally up on who’s who in popular culture. Also, where music is concerned, I try desperately to keep up with the college crowd***.

***I usually fail.

mardi, octobre 24, 2006

The Case for Minneapolis; or: The Case Against St. Paul

I live in Minnesota, and, within that, I live in St. Paul.

Some time ago I was standing in the Philly airport after a whirlwind 20-hour visit to the city of brotherly love*. I stopped to by a CD for my daughter. You know, one of those personalized jobbers that mentions her name in all the songs. Luckily, they had TinyE’s name on file. Behind me in line, was a man from Atlanta who was buying a CD for his daughter Emma. He asked me where I was from. I answered “St. Paul.” He returned a blank stare. Then I said “Minneapolis” – and he knew exactly what I was talking about.

Later that night, Mrs. Duf and I went to see “The Great Gatsby” at the new Guthrie Theater. The play was just okay, but it featured the same joke. Early on, whilst out in West Egg and East Egg, Nick Carraway says he’s from St. Paul. Blank stares. Later in the play, he says he’s from Minneapolis, and he’s greeted by smiles and knowing recognition. People think he’s cool and handsome and smart.

Around here, there are at least two jokes about the sister cities.

Joke of the first part:

Minneapolis wants to be Chicago; St. Paul knows its Des Moines.

Joke of the second part:

Minneapolis is the girl you date when you want to have fun. St. Paul is the girl you take home to your parents**.

When I first settled in the twin cities in 1990, I chose Minneapolis as my home. I was going to school at the time and lived in Dinkytown, and area near the campus of the University of Minnesota***. In short order I moved to the bustling and fashionable Uptown area. I lived in Minneapolis until 7 years ago when, during a personal crisis, I took leave of my senses and took temporary residence in St. Paul.

My wife (though at the time she was just a gal I was digging) lived in St. Paul. Her house was bigger and had more furniture it than mine did, so I moved in with her in St. Paul. I’ve regretted it ever since.

Every time I’m behind some yokel driving 30 in a 35 with their tires right on the dotted lines, I think I’m going to have a fit.

Whenever a car turns from the driving lane, blissfully ignoring the turning lane and slowing down scores of cars, I close my eyes and dream I’m in alert and speedy Minneapolis.

St. Paul and Minneapolis are almost the exact same size (in terms of population), but the comparisons stop there.

Almost everything worth doing is in Minneapolis. If you have a top ten list of the best restaurants, 8 of them will be in Minneapolis, and one of them will be in Stillwater.

The Twins, the Vikings, the Timberwolves and every team associated with the University of Minnesota has its games in Minneapolis.

The Guthrie, The Walker Arts Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts…they’re all in Minneapolis.

St. Paul has the State Fair, but Minneapolis has the Uptown Art Fair.

The two downtowns, when compared, tell the whole story. One is a cow town, desperately clinging to its glory days, and thanking God that the state capital (and capitol for that matter) is nearby. At 5:00 it’s a ghost town – unless the Wild have a hockey game. The other is a vibrant, architecturally significant place abundant with nightlife, condominiums, entertainments, eateries, vice and sport (though not necessarily in that order).

And I’ll say it. In the ice-cream wars Izzy’s and The Grand Ole Creamery are very nice, but Sebastian Joes and Crema are better. There. I said it.

Minneapolis has an amazing chain of lakes – Calhoun, Isles and Harriet, that extend by a canal to Cedar Lake. The have Lake Nokomis and the Minnehaha Creek with the Minnehaha Falls. They have an amazing bike trail that connects the city to its western suburbs. The have two Pizza Luce restaurants. They have Electric Fetus record store.

First Avenue, the famous nightclub (featured in the Prince film “Purple Rain”)…well, it ain’t on First Avenue in St. Paul, let me put it that way.

St. Paul had this really cool jazz club called the Dakota. It was very nice, and close to our house. Yep. It used to be located in Dakota Square on Energy Park drive in St. Paul. Now? Oh, now it’s on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

St. Paul has Como and Phalen, fine lakes, sure, but (trust me on this) they have no where near the charm of the Minneapolis group.

Our beautiful new light rail system, runs from the Mall of America, along Hiawatha Avenue to beautiful, glistening downtown…

I don’t even need to finish it, do I?

To top it all off, Minneapolis is a better run city. They plow their alleys; they pick up trash instead of having private companies do it; residents get two vouchers a year to dump trash items for free.

And the cherry on top? Yep…it’s on top of a spoon in Minneapolis.

*Home of Aerenchyma, SK and (at one time) The Keez

**Yes, it’s a bit unenlightened, isn’t it? But the implication is that Minneapolis is sexy and cool and might pull you out of your comfort zone. Minneapolis is racy and complex and kinda dangerous. St. Paul is conservative and says all the right things.

***Go Gophers!

jeudi, octobre 19, 2006

What Michael Told Me

I was flying home after an impromptu business trip yesterday. After two days of banging my head against the wall, I was really excited to spend some quality time drinking Dewars on the rocks and reading Martin Amis's "The Rachel Papers" (so far so good). I knew that as soon as our meals arrived* the gentleman sitting next to me would strike up a conversation. He did. Although I missed the 2.5 hours of uninterrupted reading, I really enjoyed our chat.

The gentleman sitting next to me, his name was Michael, had two school-aged kids. These are the three values he instills in them:

1. Learn a lot.
2. Make a lot of friends.
3. Behave yourself.

That about covers it doesn't it? And one could apply those rules to the work world too, no?

*Duf usually flies in the "forward cabin."

mardi, octobre 17, 2006

My Number One Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

1. Suffrage Supreme

Even as a kid, when confronted with the classic scenario – the genie, the lamp, the three wishes – my first two wishes varied wildly (pro baseball player, a guitar, fastest kid in my class, a kiss from Nicole, the cutest girl in my second grade class) but my third wish was always the same: three more wishes.

In other words, even as a kid I tried to work the system. Nice.

But what good is a wish if all of your wishes might come true. And if there is a problem with my wishes 10 through two, it is this: they really might come true. And my ten wishes (I think it’s the first series I’ve ever completed) would be extra lame if I didn’t have a wish that really stretched it out. If I wished for something so unlikely to happen that I’d need a genie from a lamp for any shot at all.

And so, for my number one wish, I wish that every adult would register to vote. I wish that every registered voter would vote (only once), and I wish that every vote would be counted.

If this one wish came true, I’m positive that my other nine would as well. But most of all, I’m convinced that something truly amazing, truly magical, something truly worthy of a wish would happen too.

If you haven’t registered to vote, do it.

If you’re registered, vote.

Vote if you always vote. Vote if you never vote. Vote for a candidate. Vote against a candidate.


lundi, octobre 16, 2006

My Number Two Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

2. Democrats regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate

I won’t even say why – it’s been ground we’ve covered so much. It’s time for change in Washington. Only the nuttiest nuts approve of the job that Congress is doing.

It’s said that most people exist in the political middle – being devoted to neither the left nor the right. If that’s true, then I would suspect that moderate republicans and everyone to the left of them would find value in a Democratic Congress to check the Conservative Executive branch.

Though it may not have been the most efficient model of all time, Newt Gingrich (for all my distaste for the man) made a fine foil during the Clinton years. We seem to work better when there is balance among the estates (executive, legislative, judicial, media). During the Clinton years, the balance of light (Clinton) and dark (Gingrich) led to some reasonable effective (though often polarized) government.

And if it’s good to have balance between the Executive and Legislative branches when the Executive is generally moderate and successfully pointed toward running the country well, it’s particularly true when the Executive is a corrupt incompetent bent on advancing oil interests and pioneering our migration toward an authoritarian theocracy.

Simply put, the Bush administration needs a check on its authority. And yes, Republicans have beat a hasty retreat from their past ties to the man, but we can’t really trust them to encourage Bush toward sensible policies, now can we? If the Republicans retain the majority in the House and in the Senate (and by all accounts it’s going to be very close), we can count on two more years of the Bush Administration, or, stated differently, two more years of failed domestic and foreign policy.

Two very quick examples:

From the foreign policy arena, I would point to the report prepared jointly by 17 national security agencies outlining how the war against Iraq has exacerbated global terrorism. I would also suggest that our focus on Iraq – really just an effort to maintain empire by maintaining access to the natural resource that fuels our empire (the British Empire was primarily fueled by coal, our empire, such as it was, was primary fueled by oil) – distracts us from more pressing foreign policy issues in Afghanistan and North Korea (to name but a few examples). We’re not safer under Bush. All the wiretaps and unlawful detentions and torture can’t cover up the fact that our leader is blind and a fool to boot.

From the domestic arena, I would point to the Bush tax cuts. We were told that they would stimulate the economy. Perhaps they have – the Dow is nearing 12,000, but the housing bubble might burst. Just like always, for every bit of good economic news, there is some bad news to share as well. Still, there is no denying that we went from a balanced budget to a record deficit. One in 12 tax dollars that are sent to Washington D.C. go toward interest on our federal debt (our national debt is $8.5 trillion). That is a failure of leadership and a result of an incompetent Administration not checked by Congress.

Next month, we have a chance to put a check in place. And if ever a President needed a check, it’s this President.

I recognize that voters tend to dislike Congress, but like their Congresswoman (or Congressman), but more is at stake this time that all that. The House race is going to be very close. The Senate race is going to be very close. If my wishes are going to come true, then the tide has to turn. If your representative is a rubber stamp for the President, then vote the scoundrel out.

jeudi, octobre 12, 2006

My Third Wish for the 2006 Election Part Two: I admit that I’m not so much FOR Hatch as I’m AGAINST Pawlenty

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

3. Mike Hatch Defeats Incumbent Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Governor

I’ll start with a confession.

Mike Hatch, our Democratic candidate for Governor lines up well enough with me on the issues, but I liken him to a Microeconomics text book. You know he’s chock full of accurate data and useful information, but he’s not exactly a page turner.

He is, in fact, a wonk. He is intelligent. He knows only one direction – straight ahead, and he’s made his share of enemies.

I’ve skimmed* his position papers on economic growth, energy independence, the environment, education, health care, and corporate responsibility. He’s thoughtful and focused on a better Minnesota. I really, really think he will make a fine Governor. In large part because I think he wants to be the Governor. But also because I sincerely think he’ll pass up fancy for significant.

Unlike his opponent.

I really, really, really cannot stand Tim Pawlenty. If you think I don’t like the Bush Administration, it’s only because you haven’t been around me when I’m discussing Tim Pawlenty.

I gave very serious thought to started a blog, just for this campaign season on why people should not vote for Tim Pawlenty.

For example, just before he last election, Pawlenty, who, after receiving public financing agreed to abide by spending limits, ran a “coordinated campaign” with the Republican party. What that means is that he avoided the spending limits by directing how the Republican party supported his campaign. He avoided a hefty punishment by agreeing to a $100,000 fine and agreeing to reduce is campaign account by an additional $500,000.

Not long after he was elected with less than 50% of the vote, Pawlenty was involved in another scandal. He was director of a Telecommunications company NewTel, the parent company of a telcom that was accused of cheating its customers.

Later, he was slapped on the wrist for failing to disclose $60,000 he received while on retainer for another telecom, Access Anywhere. Access Anywhere just happens to be owned by a Republican activist.

I cannot comment on the whole of Minnesota history. But I can say that I have been here since 1990, and he is, by far, the worst Governor we’ve had since that time.

And it ain’t even close.

I would take 30 years of Jesse Ventura before I would sign on for another year of Tim Pawlenty.

He has turned our state into a joke - much more so than Ventura.

I’ll give you my favorite example. Tim Pawlenty signed an NRA-drafted law allowing private citizens to conceal and carry handguns after licensing them. As a result, if you come to Minnesota, every business you enter has a sign which reads “This Business bans guns in the premises.” And I kid you not, every single out-of-town visitor who comes to Minnesota (unless they’re from Texas) comments on it. And it’s never with appreciation. It’s always in ridicule.

Pawlenty vetoed a bill to resurrect the a state Poet Laureate. He’s anti-poetry.

Pawlenty signed a pledge the last time he ran. He pledged not to raise taxes. In order to keep his pledge (and I have a lengthy argument on how pledges of that sort elevate the interest of the individual (the candidate) over the best interests of the state (the electorate). And, of course, he could not break his pledge, so he did what anyone else would do when faced with a revenue problem. First, he cut expenses. Our parks lost funding. Our schools lost funding. College education lost funding (and increased tuition dramatically). He cut aid to local governments (and THEY raised taxes – so, in effect, Pawlenty did not raise taxes, he just pushed a button to make counties and cities raise taxes!). He cut transportation spending. He cut spending on the environment and on support for the less fortunate.

Then, when he couldn’t cut further, he started looking for alternative sources of revenue.

Here are my favorites:

A “user fee” on cigarettes (not a “tax,” mind you, a “user fee”)
He looked to add “non-Indian gaming” as a source of tax revenue.
He increased user fees in parks.
And, my all-time favorite, he asked private construction companies bidding on an enormous highway project to lend the state the money needed to fund the project.

That’s right, he wanted to borrow from private corporations to fund a highway project with an estimated price tag of several hundred million dollars.

And then he was done. We are, under Pawlenty, officially the laughing stock of the nation.

Through the whole thing, he was a poster boy for conservative nonsense. He offered the Minnesota National Guard to defend the border. He passed the NRA bill (without READING it, and I’m serious). He rallied for prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments in Parks, and against equal rights for GLBT Minnesotans. As the government worked its way toward a shut down, he showed no leadership, but was quick with talking points and finger pointing as soon as the shutdown began. No serious observer sees him as anything other than a party opportunist. He wants a national office. He does not want to be our Governor. He knows his values are not the values of the majority of Minnesotans, and he governed like he has a mandate anyway.

For that reason and all the reasons listed above, I wish Minnesotans had a Governor who wanted the job of Governor. I wish we had Mike Hatch instead of Tin Pawlenty.

*They’re quite long.

mercredi, octobre 11, 2006

My Number Three Wish for the 2006 Elections, Part One: The Case for Instant Runoff Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

3. Mike Hatch Defeats Incumbent Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Governor

Two popular axioms – “united we stand, divided we fall,” and “the people, united, will never be defeated” are proven by the following mathematical truism:

44 > 54

That’s right, 44 > 54.

Let me explain by backing up a bit. In the year 2000, even though he lost the popular vote, George Bush “won” when the Supreme Court handed him Florida’s electoral votes. He then governed like he had a mandate.

We had our version of that here in Minnesota. Our governor failed to get 50% of the votes, but governed like he had a mandate.

Back to the math.

44 > 36 + 16 + 2, or

44 > 54

And now to state it in a narrative fashion, if one candidate receives 44% of the vote, and his three ballot-listed competitors receive 36%, 16% and 2%, the candidate receiving 44% of the vote will be declared the winner. He or she will then lead with humility, long remembering that 54% of the people who bothered to turn up to vote, wanted someone else to govern.

This, among other reasons, is why I support instant runoff elections*.

And guess what readers. We’re about to do it again.

2002 Election Results – Minnesota Governor:

Tim Pawlenty (Republican) 44%
Roger Moe (Democrat) 36%
Tim Penny** (Independence) 16%
Ken Pentel (Green) 2%

2006 Election – Minnesota Governor
Results Based on NPR Poll Taken September 21st:

Tim Pawlenty (Republican) 42%
Mike Hatch (Democrat) 39%
Peter Hutchinson (Independence) 5%
Ken Pentel (Green) 2%
Undecided 11%

In other words, we will go from

44 > 54


42 > 46.

My wish – that we’ll learn from our past mistake. Tomorrow, I'll tell you why.

*My reasons: the will of the majority emerges; it will promote and encourage alternative candidates to run, potentially leading our return away from the devastating two-party system; one party cannot undermine the other by propping up an opposition (Republicans in Minnesota give in buckets to the Independence Party to undermine the Democrats); and alternative parties who win a significant portion of the vote, will be in a position to bargain for consideration of their major issues.

**Tim Penny was a 6 term member of the United States Congress, he served his entire Congressional career as a…wait for it…Democrat. I’ll concede that a Republican or two voted for him, but everybody knows he pulled a lot of votes away from the Roger Moe. Peter Hutchinson, a fine man with a great tradition of service, here really stands to do the same thing. Hutchinson, in the past, has been aligned with Democrats. He will pull enough votes away from Mike Hatch to potentially hand the election to Tim Pawlenty. The outcome that the Democrats, the Independence Party, and the Green Party want the least. Instant-runoff elections would solve this problem.

lundi, octobre 09, 2006

Fruits of the Blogosphere

Last night I did something that (I think) is a bit unusual in America.

I met for dinner, two “friends” whom I’ve never met before.

I was in Philadelphia* for work, and I knew that it was the hometown of one of my favorite bloggers, so I asked if she and her husband would meet me for dinner.

And they did. And they did it without any reservations (at least none that I know of). And they did it on short notice, and they were thoroughly awesome**. And it was wonderful, and we hope to do it again the next time I’m in the city of brotherly love.

It all reminded me of an event that took place earlier this year. I was out of town traveling for work. I went to a restaurant at the hotel where I was staying, and I had breakfast. The place was relatively crowded, and the only table left for me was a table for four.

Not long after starting to eat, two women sat down at my table. They made no comment to me. They sat. They went to the buffet. They sat again and started to eat. As they ate, they spoke to each other in a language that was Scandinavian. I could only pick out a few words like: “handsome” “charming” and “well-groomed.” I have no idea who they were talking about – but I digress.

After time, I struck up a conversation with my uninvited (but welcomed) breakfast companions and gradually got a place where I felt comfortable telling them that it is a bit unusual to share a table in America (especially without saying – “do you mind if we sit here?” – I left that part out). They explained that it’s not that unusual in Sweden. With coy winks, they asked me what I was doing later that night, and I said “polishing the sterling silver picture frame that holds the photo of my wife and daughter.” They were crestfallen, but…

That’s how I roll. I’m focused like that.

So, if I could share a table with two Swedish women who may or may not have a web log, then why could I not share a table with two intelligent, progressive and wonderful Philadelphians who do?

Anyway, I really enjoyed dinner with friends*** in Philly. I now have three friends I’ve met in person as a result of the blogosphere****.

*The City of Philadelphia was made famous by the hit film “Philadelphia” starring Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks.

**They were down to earth and just plain cool. If they lived in Minnesota, I know we’d hang. We talked about meeting again the next time I’m in Philly. Philadelphia also factors prominently in our nation's history, but I'm not clear on the details there.

***Notice the quotation marks, visible in paragraph 2 above, are gone. Awwww...

****The first was Jinx, a frequent commenter to ILIM.

My Number Four Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

4. The St. Paul Public Schools Referendum Passes (And Similar Referendums from Deserving Districts Pass too)

If TinyE's school was was eight blocks north of where it is, and 2 or so miles to the east, instead of getting $331 per pupil per year as a supplement for education, the school would get $833.

And look, I wrote about this recently, so I won’t write about it at length again*.

St. Paul Public Schools receive $331 per pupil per year in supplemental school funding. This is less than 1/3 of the amount per student in neighboring districts. When Mrs. Duf and I were shopping for kindergartens, we were blown away by the quality of the public schools in St. Paul. In fact, I entered the process with my heart set on sending TinyE to a private Quaker school near our home, only to find a public school I liked considerably more just 3 miles from our house.

As Mary pointed out in comments to my previous post on this subject, using private dollars to make up for deficiencies in public schools is a dirty little secret that is true in public schools all over America.

Schools with the means to do so hire additional staff to offer things like:

Physical Education
Computer labs
Science (elementary schools)
Teacher’s Aides
Custodial staff
Field Trips
Foreign Languages

And I’m old enough to remember a time when (except computer labs – ahem (oh, and foreign languages)) every school had these things.

But today, schools without easy access to parental support and community dollars tend to suffer. Our schools have parents volunteer as grant writers - writing up grants to get more money.

As a result, for right or wrong, I’m now convinced that schools succeed or fail at least in part because of where they are located. Parental involvement is also critical to a school's success. I know, I know, I'm master of the obvious.

We can’t claim to value education in America. We just can’t. Our teachers are underpaid, governmental investment in education, particularly when considered compared to other priorities, is a joke. We all know our schools are underperforming, and we all know that from one mile to the next there is potential for wild variations in per pupil funding amounts. We have an infrastructure crisis in our schools. We limit most schools to the basics and don't even try to fund things that used to be standard. Too many students have horribly outdated text books, or no text books for core subjects.

Corporate leaders, concerned about the state of education in America, have taken the initiative to try to effect meaninful change. Someone must take the lead. Too many elected officials have dropped the ball.

Around the world, countries who value education more than we do, are putting us to shame.

This referendum will take supplemental funding in St. Paul from $331 to $593 per pupil per year. This is still just over half of what some districts receive. But this referendum represents a chance to level the playing field for those schools that don’t have access to private support, and for those students who happen to go to school in St. Paul instead of in North St. Paul/Maplewood ($833) or, to make the point with greater force, in Apple Valley/Rosemount ($1,042).

*Never believe me when I promise brevity.

My Number Five Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

5. Amy Klobuchar defeats Mark Kennedy, United States Senate, Minnesota

Republicans try to argue that Minnesota is swing state. We have a Republican governor (who won when two more liberal candidates cancelled each other out) a Republican U.S. Senator (who won when our beloved Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash two weeks before the election). Four out of eight of our Congressional districts are led by Republicans (thanks to some DeLay style gerrymandering). If our state has two Republican Senators in Washington, it will be quite difficult to argue that we are a progressive state - that we haven't given ourselves over to conservative value at least half the time. I might just throw in the towel.

But there is ample reason to think that Klobuchar will win. She has the lead right now, and, if my recent trip to Cottonwood, Minnesota, is any indication, she is playing well out state. Kennedy will be very strong in the first ring suburbs where folks have given themselves over to evangelical Christianity and no new taxes (not necessarily in that order). Everywhere else, Klobuchar looks to take the majority.

Were Kennedy to win, we would have two Senators falling all over themselves to read the Republican party talking points first. Our other Senator Norm Coleman is obsessed with criticizing the United Nations and Kofi Anan, even as significant Minnesota transportation, education, health care and public safety issues beg for leadership. He clearly has designs on higher offices. Even though just a few years ago he was a Democrat – all the sudden all of his views changed and now he’s the standard bearer for the administration. Not a moderate Republican - a dyed in the wool, what's our view on this again? puppet for Bush.

Kennedy is no different. He cares more about his party than he does about Minnesota. His campaign is devoted more to mud than it is to the serious discussion of issues. Thank Goodness that, so far, a vicious smear campaign against Amy Klobuchar has not put a significant dent in her lead. For several years, Klobuchar has been a strong county attorney in the largest county. She is senatorial in every way, and will represent us well. She talks specifically and sensibly about Iraq and not generally about terror. She talks about tax justice and health care. She talks about prescription drugs and Medicare. She will be a strong voice for new priorities in Washington.

jeudi, octobre 05, 2006

My Number Six Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

6. Patty Wetterling defeats Michelle Bachman, U.S. Congress, Sixth District, Minnesota

Just as the Fifth District is the most liberal and progressive district in the state, the sixth is the most backward and most conservative. I consider Michelle Bachman the worst candidate running for office from Minnesota. She's articulate, attractive and polished, and all she does is spew hate.

Patty Wetterling is a national hero, a leader in our nation’s efforts to aid families with missing children. She has a wealth of experience passing legislation at both the state and federal level.

Michelle Bachman is the face of homophobia in Minnesota. She spent a lot of time in the Minnesota legislature, promoting a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. For her efforts, she has become a star in the Republican Party.

Wetterling is under near constant attack by Republican National Committee dollars. They claim that she wants to raise taxes because she has called for sanity with respect to the tax breaks to the wealthiest 3%. Bachman has used her ad dollars to promote herself as a business woman, who is a fiscal conservative. What’s missing is the fact that she is obsessed to the point of distraction with homosexuality and with a socially conservative agenda is that is horribly out of step with just about every part of the state except the sixth district.

Bachman has bought into the “war on terror” agenda 100%. So, a vote for her is a vote for “stay the course” in Iraq, and a vote for two more shoes in Washington supporting homophobia, xenophobia, Christianity, but not supporting, health care, sensible foreign policy, the environment, schools, tax justice, or many other things we need more than tired debates on the latest phobia. She supports a war against Iran. She twice authored bills in the Minnesota legislature to honor Ronald Reagan - one to celebrate his birthday and the other to name our loop (494 and 694) in his honor. She opposes academic freedom. She opposes the teaching of evolution in public schools, believing that God's word establishes creationism as superior to science.

Wetterling would make an outstanding Congresswoman. She’s passionate, intelligent, articulate, sensible, and not out to read right from the Republican playbook. I heard today that this election is a statistical dead heat. Go Patty, go!

My Number Seven Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

7. Keith Ellison wins the Minnesota Fifth District Congressional Race

Wishing for Keith Ellison to win the Fifth District Congressional race is about like wishing that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. It’s a forgone conclusion. But I wish for it anyway.

In March, one of Minnesota’s finest elected officials, Martin Sabo, announced his retirement. It came as a surprise to many. Soon thereafter, Democrats endorsed Keith Ellison to represent the party in its effort to keep the seat. Nearly every candidate who lost the party endorsement stayed in the race and ran again during the primary. Some pretty powerful party people turned their full attention toward knocking Ellison off during the primary. Mike Erlandson was the former Chair of the State DFL party (our name for the Democratic Party, it stands for Democrat Farm Labor) and had Martin Sabo’s support - he was his former Chief of Staff (In one of my favorite moments of this campaign season, The Minneapolis Star Tribune endorsed Erlandson. Later, after Ellison won the primary, a conservative letter writer argued that the paper is doing everything it can to elect Ellison!). He also beat out former State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge and City Council Member Paul Ostrow. Reichgott Junge was backed by tons of money from Emily’s List (I gave to Emily's List in the past, I’ll never give again). Ellison has been criticized for parking tickets, for delays in paying taxes, for articles he wrote as a student, for attending the million man march (Ellison is an African-American) and for his faith (Ellison is a Muslim). First it was by folks in his own party, and now is it by the second most disgusting candidate on the ballot in Minnesota this November, Alan Fine. Ellison’s issues: withdrawal from Iraq, single-payer health care, economic and environmental justice, etc., are hard to hear for all the negativity.

As an African-American male myself, much of the criticism pointed at Ellison felt like a subtle expression of how our society feels about African-American men in general. His opposition is far too sophisticated to state it directly, but something in the approach suggested a reservation not directed at the man himself, but at black men in general.

Nevermind, Ellison will laugh last. He’s going to win by a country mile. Very few people see Fine as anything other than a gadfly. Minnesota will have a wonderful Congressman, who happens to be African-American and Muslim, a man in the tradition of Paul Wellstone, for its Fifth District representative.

mercredi, octobre 04, 2006

Mark Foley is Just a Symptom, for the Disease, You Must Look at the Whole Mess Generally

When I look back on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, several thoughts come to mind:

I was disappointed in Bill for giving the scandal machine true grist for the mill.
I was sad that impeachment was sought and obtained.
I was upset that his legacy of economic prosperity and international diplomacy and peace would be tainted by the lowest kind of failing.

The scandal rippled out: thousands and thousands of voters chose an idiot over a wonk, in large part because the wonk was tied to the adulterer (translation: people “elected” Bush over Gore because they were mad at Clinton and saw Gore as connected to Clinton). Gore chose Leiberman as his running mate to distance himself from Clinton’s moral failing. Lieberman, a prominent, pro-impeachment critic of Clinton, was a great way for Gore to establish himself as a morally-sound man. Or at least challenge efforts to find him guilty by association.

And the Republicans, ever the opportunists (as are Democrats, yes, it’s true) rode to “victory” on a platform of morality.

Grand assumptions were made.

First, that if we made a return to their values, to Christian values, if we placed the Ten Commandments in parks and courthouses, if we allowed prayer in schools, then moral lapses like the one Clinton experienced would not happen. We’d all be morally sound and squeaky clean.

Second, however unstated or understated it was, that Republicans, or, more appropriately conservatives, were morally superior to Democrats/progressives/liberals.

And the social agenda took center stage. They decried homosexuality as a sin. They talked about prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments. Abortion/Plan B/Terry Schiavo and the sanctity of life were all trumpeted. All with the unspoken implication that conservatives value morality and “godliness” more than liberals/progressives/Democrats do.

In fact, the Red State/Blue State divide was buoyed by an undercurrent of Religion. Bush “won” a second term in large part because he cheated in Ohio, but also because, we were told, morality voters were fed up with the state of things in America.

During his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Barack Obama spoke eloquently about how we, those of us who live in Blue States, worship a mighty God too. And he was/is right. But evangelical churches turned more and more political. They showed DVDs prepared by candidates and PACs to support whatever cause you can imagine – amending constitutions, Middle East policy, tax policy, etc. Churches, especially mega-churches, endorsed candidates – conservative candidates. They developed a massive get out the vote effort, all with the goal of electing Republicans. By electing Republicans, they hoped to fuel a return to a more moral America.

My mother-in-law, who often makes astute observations about the world, made a point months and months ago that really struck a chord with me. She said (I’m paraphrasing) “that America is no worse than it used to be. It was as dangerous to let a kid play in a park in the 1950’s as it is today, we just know about things more than we used to.” And she’s right. It’s the digital age. Words once spoken are now sent by Instant Message where they can be printed and saved. Scandals that were swept under the rug, now play out, day by day, on the internet. The incidents of pathology probably haven’t increased. There are, proportionately, the same number of pedophiles and rapists and kidnappers and (most despicably, and I come near tears just thinking about it) people who would seek to murder children in Amish schoolhouses in Pennsylvania. We just know about it more than we used to.

And my point of this very long post which shows no sign of tapering is this: if we know anything from the Mark Foley scandal it is this:

No party can truly claim the moral high ground.
We, as humans, often lack the strength of our convictions.
Most politicians (regardless of party) value power over virtue.
Our systems encourages this approach.
Pride goeth before the fall (and our conservative friends were very proud, very proud indeed)

I would ask for the following:

Anyone who knew of this, however playful they perceived it to be, should resign immediately.

Republicans, should be seen for what they really are: an imperfect party filled with imperfect people – a party that manipulates the religious right for political gain.

Republicans are no better able to lead our return to morality than anyone else. Consider the evidence:

Mark Foley

Dennis Hastert

Karl Rove (more great Rove stuff here and here)

Clark Allen

Jack Abramhoff

Newt Gingrich

George W. Bush

I say again, George W. Bush

Rush Limbaugh

And it’s not just individuals. Companies with ties to the Bush Administration like Enron (a number of impressive articles are linked here) and Halliburton suggest a conservative system of values that isn’t exactly Christ-like.

And look, my goal is not to criticize people for mistakes they’ve made or addictions they’ve had. My goal is not to poke fun at tragedy. My goal is to point out that if we treated all these folks the way Clinton was treated, or if we denied to conservatives the ability to speak on matters of principle and morality because one person fell down, well then I’m sure we’d have a different executive branch than we do today. We’d have different political priorities. We’d have less ham-handedness and pride.

Does conservative “leadership” call to mind a return to morality to you? Do recent efforts to minimize scandal suggest the high road? The lies behind the war against Iraq. The revenge sought against Valerie Plame. The greed, the drugs, the fraud, the lies, the nationalism – does any of it seem moral? At what point to we call these conservatives on the carpet for their hubris?

And let me answer my own rhetorical question. We call them on the carpet at the point when the average citizen finally puts it all together. Our leaders are incompetent. They seek an authoritarian form. They lie. They cover up. They are indifferent to the death and suffering which is a direct result of their incompetence and dishonesty. They are, in their own eyes, flawless. They don’t respect you. They don’t respect me. They don’t respect life. They only respect power.

For where you have…selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

James 3:16

lundi, octobre 02, 2006

My Number Eight Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

8. Wisconsin says no to homophobia in its State Constitution

Same sex marriage is not allowed under Wisconsin law. But, just as in so many other states, fear that “activist” judges will overturn state-sponsored discrimination, has led religious groups to seek constitutional amendments. By amending state constitutions to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, conservatives extend very far, the day in the future when reason finally triumphs over hate. All the states who rush to amend their constitutions today will, fifty or one hundred years from now amend them again to remove these provisions. Proponents of the Wisconsin amendment are using this effort to prove that same-sex marriage bans have traction outside the Bible belt.

As you can imagine, I want to prove them wrong.

I won’t go into a lengthy discussion of how efforts to limit marriage to one man and one woman mirror step-by-step 19th and 20th century efforts to outlaw marriage between people of different races (even to the point that anti-miscegenation proponents cited biblical justifications to support their argument just like people who support same sex marriage today do, they used the slippery slope argument (if you allow blacks and whites to marry, then you have to allow a man to have more than one wife, etc.)). I won’t sound off about how these efforts sustain homophobia, which, at its darkest, includes violence against our GLBT brothers and sisters. I won’t get into the tyranny of the majority. I won’t talk about equal rights for all citizens or equal access to state services. I won’t talk about the bastardization of constitutions, so that they move past an expression of rights that we hold dear and treasure, and toward the latest political flavor of the day. I won’t talk about the steady elimination of the separation of church and state. I won’t go on and on about our migration toward a Christian theocracy.

I’ll spare you all that, and I’ll just wish that we would have one state that would find the courage to stand up to discrimination and ignorance. I’ll just wish for one state to say it’s time for all of this homophobia to stop. Wisconsin has the chance to stem the rising tide. My wish is that they will do so.

My Number Nine Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

9. Mark Ritchie defeats Mary Kiffmeyer, Minnesota Secretary of State

In the 2000 Presidential election, Katherine Harris, in her role as Secretary of State, did her level best to make sure that George Bush carried the state of Florida. In the 2004 Presidential election, J. Kenneth Blackwell did his level best to make sure that George Bush carried the state of Ohio.

Minnesota has its own addition to the ignoble tradition of Republican Secretaries of State undermining the integrity of the once-sacred right to vote.

Her name is Mary Kiffmeyer.

Kiffmeyer asked the Department of Justice to investigate voter registration forms in Hennepin (county seat is Minneapolis) and Ramsey (county seat is St. Paul) counties. The popular metro area counties tend to skew Democrat - and that's putting it mildly. The Department of Justice said the forms were fine. Later, she wiped a bunch of Independence party candidates off the ballot only to be overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Then, as her piece de resistance, she sent anti-terrorism posters to every polling place in Minnesota for the 2004 election. The posters warned voters to watch out for men wearing perfume and muttering to themselves. Many thought her goal was to decrease voter turnout.

When election season began, half the state tossed their hat in to replace this incompetent (and insane?) woman. Ritchie, the Democratic party nominee, has distinguished himself in “get out the vote" efforts. In a perfect world, Bruce Kennedy, the independent candidate, would win and would succeed in his effort to promote instant runoff voting. But, ever the fan of political realism, I ackowledge that this is a two person race. Given that reality, I hope Ritchie wins and wins big.

My Number Ten Wish for the 2006 Elections

This post is part of a series listing my ten wishes for the upcoming election. Each day I will post one wish starting with number 10 and working my way up to the wish I desire most. Because we should think globally and act locally, you’ll notice a Minnesota slant to my wishes. If you’re a progressive or a liberal or a left-wing nut job from another state, I hope your wishes come true too. And now, without further delay, here’s today’s wish…

10. Robert Menendez defeats Tom Kean, Jr., United States Senate Race, New Jersey

Robert Menendez was appointed by John Corzine to fill his seat in the United States Senate when Corzine left the Senate to be Governor in January of this year. Tom Kean, Jr. is, by all accounts, a moderate Republican. But he is, still, a Republican. Simply put, given the rate at which incumbents hold onto seats once elected, a win by Tom Kean, Jr. would give the Republicans a seat in a state that typically sends Democrats to the United States Senate. Polls show the race to be a dead heat and also show that 6% of voters are undecided. NPR recently ran a story, and if name recognition decides the race, then Menendez will finish a distant second. Everyone remembers Kean’s father, the popular two-term Governor who was also a member of the 9/11 Commission. I see this race as a possible swing race determining which party controls the Senate. If Menendez retains the seat, I think that bodes well for Democrats overall.