The work we do that nobody notices (5×8 – 9/16/11)

Pulling rail in St. Paul, the first step for a photographer, Tango time, what do we have against knowledge, and the bounty on the woman who talked to Rep. Bachmann.

I’m on Morning Edition this morning at some point to talk about the Senser case. I’ll post the audio here later on, though I doubt there’ll be much on ye olde radio that faithful NewsCut readers haven’t read on the newfangled technology already.

Update 9:52 a.m. Here:


I admit to having been ambivalent about light rail coming to Saint Paul — I’d still like a bus to Woodbury, please and thank you — but it’s been nothing short of fascinating watching the process of construction of the Central Corridor. Outside our window at the World Headquarters of NewsCut on one of the hottest days of the summer, for example, two workers dug deep into the ground using only a 5-gallon bucket (too many important cables and pipes to use machinery). Repeated over an 11-mile stretch, and coupled with thousands of other seemingly mundane tasks, a transportation system rises.

The other night they “pulled rail” over on University Avenue. The rail is dragged from the welding shop to the street. “Transiteer,” who writes the “Let Their Be Light Rail” blog, found it fascinating so she shot a little video.

Here’s the thing: A couple of years from now, someone’s going to get on a LRT train and ride down the rails, and not give a thought about how they got there. Who welded them together? Who pulled them in place? Who directed the traffic? Who did all the little things that — all added together — is a big thing? And who did it in the middle of the night?

That’s true for just about everything that we use that someone else built at some point — sometimes with nothing more than a five-gallon pail — and then they moved on to do something else that someone else won’t think about later.

Friday discussion point: What contribution to someone else are you leaving behind today that they won’t think twice about later?

(h/t: City Hall Scoop)


In many ways, this item also falls under “the work we do that nobody notices.” You open up the newspaper today and you see a picture of a Medal of Honor recipient. We don’t think “who took that?” “What was involved in getting the picture that was just right?”

This is a remarkable picture.


That’s Joao Silva, who was assigned by the New York Times yesterday to cover the Medal of Honor presentation to Dakota Meyer, a former Marine.

It was Mr. Silva’s first assignment as a staff photographer for the Times since he was released from Walter Reed Army Hospital. While working as a freelance photographer for the paper almost a year ago, he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan and lost both of his legs.

Joao is a civilian. And he is a citizen of South Africa and Portugal. Yet the American military had given him access to the same care received by the troops whose risks he shared as he tried to bring home a richer understanding of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For this, he had something to say.

“Dear President Obama,” he wrote by hand. “Thank you and the American people for your hospitality. For allowing me to recover at Walter Reed, where without a shadow of a doubt, my life was saved.”

He added: “With admiration, Joao Silva.”

Trust me on this: You should not continue your Friday without reading this first.

As for Dakota Meyer, this quote (relayed by Steve Inskeep) from “The Wrong War” seems appropriate:

For a man to charge into fire once requires grit that is instinctive in few men; to do so a second time, now knowing what awaits you, requires inner resolve beyond instinct; to repeat a third time is courage above and beyond any call of duty; to go in a fourth time is to know you will die; to go in a fifth time is beyond comprehension.

Meyer’s performance was the greatest act of courage in the war, because he repeated it, and repeated it, and repeated it.


There’s a symmetry to life at this time of year. The State Fair ends, we get our first frost, and Vikings fan perch on a ledge. It’s right. It’s the order of things.

This is part of that order. Apples:


Ali Lozoff at The Current found those last evening, an affirmation that the universe is zipping along and everything is in its correct orbit.

Former colleague Bob Ingrassia, now a bigshot in the public relations business, shot this video for one of his firm’s clients explaining the rollout of SweeTango, the University of Minnesota-bred apple for which a Lake City grower’s cooperative owns exclusive rights in these parts.

This is the first big rollout of the variety.

The new apple variety was unveiled by the U of M about the time its patent on the Honeycrisp — the official apple of Minnesota — expired.


“If more ads were like this, I’d watch more ads,” my colleague, Julia Schrenkler said to me yesterday when she e-mailed me this link to an ad promoting BBC Knowledge. Then I watched it and I had a different reaction: “Why isn’t a show about knowledge on the air in the US?”

BBC KNOWLEDGE from weare17 on Vimeo.


The bounty is getting higher for the woman who allegedly told Rep. Michele Bachmann that the vaccine against the virus that leads to cervical cancer caused her daughter’s mental “retardation.”

Local Dr. Stephen Miles offered $1,000 the other day. Yesterday, bioethicist Art Caplan, a former University of Minnesota professor, upped it to $10,000.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Medical Association’s House of Delegates, which is meeting in Duluth, will vote today on a resolution that would back annual chlamydia screening for everyone from ages 15 to 25 — whether male or female, whether sexually active or not, the Duluth News Tribune says.

If they did so, the state’s doctors would be going beyond national guidelines, which recommend screening only females who are sexually active.

More medicine: Three smart things about urine (

Bonus: Mason Jennings at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. His road trip, in conjunction with The Current, is raising money for Hunger-Free MN.



The Pagami Creek fire in the BWCA, taken Monday afternoon and sent to us today by Greg Lindberg of Plymouth. Click on the image for the full version.


It’s cold again. The temperature yesterday morning tied the all-time record low for the date in the Twin Cities. Today’s Question: In your home, how do you decide when it’s time to turn on the heat?

“I’ll probably turn on the heat tomorrow morning,” I said to Mrs. NewsCut last night, gingerly acknowledging that she would once again win the standoff we have each year to see which one of us is the weaker.

“Oh, put on a sweatshirt, you big baby!” she said.

It’s going to be a long winter.


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour:The real threat of ‘Contagion’

Second hour: In a recent op-ed, William Deresiewicz arguest that no symbol is more sacred in American life right now than the military uniform. What are the implications of America’s ‘cult of the uniform’?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Minnesota native Norm Ornstein talks about the condition of our public discourse and elected government.

Second hour: Midday marks the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota Vikings, with Jim Klobuchar and Tommy Mason — the first Viking.

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: How will efforts to control the federal budget affect the nation’s long-term R&D spending?

Second hour: How two PhD dropouts built Google.

  • Dave S.

    Yep, it’s apple season. Two weeks ago, the front page of Cub’s insert in the Sunday paper was all about apples. “Apple Fest”! “Enter the contest to name our new apple!” “Look at all these apples on sale!”

    So upon my next visit to Cub, I started looking at all the apples. I was hard pressed to find some that weren’t grown in Chile. Ultimately, I found two varieties. Weird.

  • bench

    I got to see Mason Jennings here in Duluth. While it seemed like half of the people who RSVP-ed for the event didn’t show, it was still an amazing concert (especially for free). He has a gift, and some great stories.

  • Josh

    Unfortunately there isn’t a show about knowledge in the US, because it seems the mainstream frowns on intellectualism. The average american would rather watch the dance moves of a b-list celebrity than learn something new.

  • PpFt

    I’m currently addicted to YouTubing BBC QI (“Quite Interesting”) which is a game show with an interesting premise hosted by Stephen Fry. A user called NickfromFulham has uploaded an extensive (complete?) collection of episodes.

    They started in 2003 and have planned for 26 years (!) — each year’s series according to a letter of the alphabet. It is 2011 and they are on the letter H, thus each episode has themes like “House and Home”, “Hoaxes”, “Humans” etc. (Daniel Radcliffe was on for the episode “Hocus Pocus” and displayed a rather alarming depth of trivia knowledge both related to wizardry and not…)

  • Paul (@princejvstin)

    That picture does show the challenges firefighters have with fighting this fire that was mentioned in the piece about canoeing into the BWCA.

    Fire and Water. Powerful.

    Its a bit early for Sweettangos and Honeycrisps, but my stomach is rumbling in hunger at the thought…

  • Julia Schrenkler, MPR

    Your reaction to that BBC Knowledge video was the right one.

  • Susan

    As a woman who was diagnosed with HPV 20 years ago, I seriously wish there had been a vaccine and a mandate 30 years ago.

  • Sara

    Thank you for the reading recommendation. Now I can continue my Friday, with that powerful story at the front of my mind…

  • Jim Shapiro

    Knowledge is power.

    If people in the US really knew what’s going on, those in power would be in big trouble.

    So we get bread and circuses, and funding for education gets cut,

    but somehow funding for wars – and our undereducated “heros” who fight them – always seems to be there.

  • lucy

    “Knowledge is power.

    If people in the US really knew what’s going on, those in power would be in big trouble.”

    That’s right Jim. And it would appear when you have exposed the Truth, you get banned from NewsCut.

    I can only speculate this sudden ban to the exposure of those in power (of sorts) who are big funders of MPR. So what else is new.

    Although my email address is legit I predict this post too, shall be deleted.

  • Bob Collins

    Lucy, maybe you should stop posting for a few minutes and go check that e-mail address. You’ll find an email that’s an hour old.

    At the moment, you’re trolling and you need to stop.

  • Jim Hartmann

    Re: pulling rail, a remarkable sight for me is to see bits of what may once have been an extensive rail system popping up like the bones of dinosaurs from under layers of eroded streets. The people who once lived here must have been an advanced civilization.