Tone deaf bosses, hiding a hijab, and the homeless patch of ND (5×8 – 2/10/14)

The Monday Morning Rouser:

1) SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT PAY YOU TO BE ALIVE?
With 46 million people living below the poverty line, the economic recovery is nowhere near as robust as we’d hoped it would be. We’re that much closer to the next recession in a cyclical economy. Is there a downside for the people who “have” to have so many “have nots”?

Activists in Europe have succeeded in injecting the idea of a guaranteed basic income into the mainstream. It’s a non-starter in the United States, the Boston Globe says, because it sounds like a socialist fantasy. But it has roots in the American legacy, with support from partisans from all sides of the spectrum, it says.

For pragmatists on the left, cash payments to all would be the fastest way to eradicate poverty, by making sure everyone, no matter their circumstances, has enough money to live on.

For the utopian-minded, it holds the promise of a liberation from work—a way to make sure that the next John Lennon doesn’t have to waste all his time lifting boxes in a warehouse. For conservatives, it is a tool for rebuilding the bonds of civil society, putting people’s fortunes back in their own hands, and wiping out the messy, piecemeal, nanny-state safety net in one swoop.

At the moment, the idea is widely seen as too radical a departure from the status quo. Working out the mechanics would be a nightmare, and even that 8-year-old might suspect—rightly—that some people would just give up working.

But even if the idea isn’t politically feasible in the short term, its proponents see it as the kind of deep-seated rethinking that may soon be needed to face a problem that doesn’t have an easy solution in our current system: that as technology, outsourcing, and other structural shifts transform our economy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that national prosperity does not necessarily mean there are enough good jobs for everyone who needs one.

Related workplace: How do CEOs get their big-money positions when they are so incredibly tone deaf? AOL boss Tim Armstrong was explaining to the little people in his company the other day why he was cutting their retirement contributions, noting two employees had “distressed children” who tapped their insurance to keep them alive. As if they were supposed to do something else.

Deanna Fei recognized who Armstrong was talking about — her daughter.

Let’s set aside the fact that Armstrong—who took home $12 million in pay in 2012—felt the need to announce a cut in employee benefits on the very day that he touted the best quarterly earnings in years.

For me and my husband—who have been genuinely grateful for AOL’s benefits, which are actually quite generous—the hardest thing to bear has been the whiff of judgment in Armstrong’s statement, as if we selfishly gobbled up an obscenely large slice of the collective health care pie.

Yes, we had a preemie in intensive care. This was certainly not our intention. While he’s at it, why not call out the women who got cancer? The parents of kids with asthma? These rank among the nation’s most expensive medical conditions. Would anyone dare to single out these people for simply availing themselves of their health benefits?

Once the blowback started, Armstrong issued an internal memo—not an apology—that sought to clarify how he had “mentioned high-risk pregnancy as just one of many examples of how our company supports families when they are in need.” Then he urged employees, “Let’s move forward together as a team.”

“We heard you on this topic,” Armstrong said in a letter to employees Saturday, announcing he’d restore the cuts to the retirement plan.

Sometimes, kids who had a tough childhood grow up to be more decent than their judgmental corporate overlords.

2) JUDGING A PERSON BY THEIR COVER
This part of the country can be a cold, cold place. And also the temperature drops significantly. A women covered up her hijab with a ski hat because of the cold, and found the world changed.

I found this realization absolutely hilarious. And entertaining. I started paying more attention to the difference in the way people treated me. It was fun feeling like everyone around me believed I belonged in their culture by default, and not as part of the begrudgingly adopted diversity piece of the pie. It was a good feeling. I secretly started looking forward to venturing out into the cold to further explore what it meant to be “normal.”

I became even more confident walking in my city. My city. All the stares were not racially related anymore. I was addressed as “lady” and “little lady,” something I had never heard before. Men would hold doors for me. Women would crack jokes with me. I became respectable, lovable, and accepted.

But did that mean that *with* hijab I am not as respectable? I am not as lovable? I cannot be accepted? I immediately began to despise the inequality, and it dawned on me that I acted like someone who was bullied for years, and finally was accepted by the mean girls, having been alluded that the mean girls became nice to everyone. I was duped. When in fact nothing had changed, and I had simply crossed over to another world for one season.

(h/t: Kate Hamlin)

Related: Mike Sam has announced he is gay. He could be the first active NFL player to come out. Unless the NFL passes on him at the annual draft. The initial reaction of NFL insiders was predictably cowardly.

3) THE HOMELESS PATCH OF NORTH DAKOTA
There’s a lot of money being made in the Oil Patch, and homelessness on the upswing. More and more people are showing up looking for work, finding none, and ending up on the street or worse.

In Watford City, N.D., Wayne Williams spent 2 1/2 days huddled against the cold under a dumpster. Somebody found him, took him to the hospital, and when he woke up, his feet were gone. (h/t: Ben Chorn)

Related: 100,000 Homes: Housing the homeless saves money? (CBS News).

4) IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO KEEP A 102-YEAR-OLD WOMAN IN HER OWN HOME
Like many elderly people, Marjorie Belmonte of West St. Paul has one wish: not to end up in a nursing home. There are programs to make that more likely, but nothing can replace neighbors who give a damn, the Pioneer Press reported.

One neighbor told me that my mother opens the curtain in her kitchen every morning,” (daughter Mary) Reiling said. “She said, ‘If I see the curtain is open, I know that Margie is OK.’ ”

Other neighbors shovel her snow.

“It feels like the right thing to do,” said 71-year-old shoveler Terry Roche, a volunteer at DARTS.

Even former neighbors help out: Deana Zapata, who lived next door for 23 years, still comes over to read to Belmonte every Saturday and Sunday.

Her husband died almost 50 years ago. “I’ve been living alone ever since 1965,” she says. “I like it that way.” (h/t: Paul Merrill)

Related: Centenarian credits longevity to keeping active (New Ulm Journal).

5) WHY ON EARTH DO WE LIVE AT THIS SPOT ON EARTH?
Oh, hey, look at that. Another subzero night has just passed. We haven’t had so many since “E.T.” was the most popular movie, I learned yesterday. Many of you weren’t even born yet, which explains a lot about our reaction to this winter, actually.

You know, they laughed in the employee kitchen last July when I wrote this. They had succumbed to the temptation to take a gorgeous July morning for granted. Fools.

You test our faith at times and sometimes we are weak. But you reward us on Saturday mornings in July and we renew our commitment to be strong with each breeze you send that says, “hey, I’m up here.”

Lamenting our winter is good business. We eat it up. It’s page view gold, and people tune in to TV stations, watching some weatherperson standing in the TV station’s “backyard” while telling people it’s too cold to go outside. Weather people are the carnival barkers of this generation. “Come see the bearded lady who hates winter!” “The amazing two-headed boy who can calculate the wind chill in his head!”

Somebody got married — outside — on White Bear Lake this weekend during the Art Shanty weekend, but don’t you dare compare this to Burning Man, artist Eric William Carrol writes on the Walker’s blog. That’s so… warm weather.

However the popular culture of ice houses is overwhelmingly male, isolative, and alcoholic. Sure, you might socialize with your fishing/drinking buddies, but it’s an unspoken rule on the ice that you don’t go around knocking on other people’s shanty doors and walking in uninvited.

The Art Shanty Projects completely subverts this aspect and turns the ice house into a family-friendly and open art experience that makes it OK for what midwesterners commonly find horrifying — approaching and talking to strangers. In that respect, the shanties (and midwestern culture) still have a ways to go.

I didn’t feel that the shanties had formed a tight-knit community yet (it was just the first day, and the Town Hall Shanty was still soliciting names for the community at the time of this writing). But should I even be expecting that tight-knit community from the shanties — or is that an expectation born from the comparisons to Burning Man?

Up on Lake Superior, the unusual frozen lake has opened up “ice caves.” That doesn’t happen often, and certainly not everywhere, which is why the rest of the country is noticing and think we’ve got something pretty neat going on here: winter.

This week, baseball spring training opens. The weather is also supposed to warm a bit. You can almost hear the death rattle of the season. And before you know it, it’ll be a Saturday morning in July. On her blog today, Kelly Barnhill makes the perfect point: How could you stand not living here?

The thing is? Even when it’s cold, it’s still pretty awesome. And there’s something that happens to us in the cold – an intense camaraderie, a joined sense of purpose, a collective pact of survival and victory.

We are Sam and Frodo in Mordor. We are the Light Brigade, facing certain doom, and going down fighting. We are the 10th Mountain Division, fighting and dodging Nazis on Nordic skis. Nothing makes you love your neighbor more than to help them build a glowing, multicolored ice castle in the front yard.

More W word: Duluth on cusp of matching cold-weather record (Duluth News Tribune)

Fredericton man builds $300 solar furnace, decreases heating bill (CBC News).

Bonus I: Are the Winter Olympics for the rich? (Washington Post).

Bonus II: Black male students feel targeted by U of M crime alert, school officials grapple with creating a “safe for all” campus (Minnesota Spokesman Recorder).

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Writer Justin St. Germain was haunted for years by the murder of his mother at the hands of her fifth husband, by the signs he might have missed. In his new memoir “Son of a Gun” he tries to make sense of what happened, and the role that his mother’s death continues to play in his life. (Rebroadcast)

Second hour: Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins Kerri Miller to talk about hot political topics.

Third hour: The endless rock history debate: The Stones or the Beatles?

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – — Sartell Town Hall Debate: Should chickens be allowed in residential neighborhoods?

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg tops the list of Americas most generous donors but can wealthy philanthropists really make a difference?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – – It’s that time of year when hibernation seems pretty nice. Curl up for a long winter’s nap, and wake up when it’s a whole lot warmer. It turns out that hibernating animals offer intriguing scientific clues that could have huge medical implications for humans. Scientists at the University of Minnesota Duluth have identified the genes in a specific kind of fat found in Minnesota’s golden gophers—technically a kind of squirrel—that allow the animals to raise their body temperature a remarkable 56 degrees in less than three hours when they emerge from their winter slumber. Their work could someday help pharmaceutical companies develop something akin to a magic diet pill–drugs that burn fat in humans. MPR’s Dan Kraker will have the story.

With Valentines Day approaching, NPR’s All Tech Considered looks at love in the digital age. First stop: artificial intelligence. Could it evolve to the point where people form romantic attachments to their apps?

  • Paul Weimer

    I need to get up there and photograph the ice caves, since its so infrequent that they are accessible like this.

    • John O.

      That makes two of us, Paul.

  • jon

    @#1 The mincome experiment in canada has been mentioned on news cut before.

    @#5 Low unemployeement, low cost of living, low cost housing… all seem like good reasons, tag in that the twin cities are world class venues for the arts, and a 15-30 minute drive to state parks, forests, etc. Of course these weren’t my reasons for coming to this place, but they certainly make a convincing argument to stay here.

    @#5 bonus, of course the winter olympics are for the rich…
    Do you know how much it costs to do things like playing hockey? or any skating really? or skiing, or curling, or really any of the things that are done in the winter olympics? The cost of entry to these sports is extremely high. Now for comparison lets look at summer olympics… running, long jump, things like handball, and basketball, all of which have extremely low costs of entry, usually the cost of a good pair of shoes.
    Even the “expensive” sports in the summer olympics have a low cost of entry at the beginner level, bicycling for instance, a $20 bike will probably not be competitive at an international level, but on streets around the world kids can race each other on $20 bikes. What does a cheap set of skis cost by comparison? and bindings? boots? clothing? poles? googles?
    That isn’t even including the cost of building ski runs (you could cross country ski without those)

    Then for the olympics in particular, countries closest to the equator are often the poorest countries, winter sports aren’t feasible in these places.

    • John

      I believe you can get a pair of skates for under $100, ditto for a bicycle. Cross country skis are relatively cheap (especially used). So, the cost at the beginner level isn’t really different from many of the summer sports you mention. It’s not a fair argument you make to compare entry level equipment for summer to olympic level equipment in the winter.

      All the sports are for the rich at the olympic level. All of them – summer or winter.

      • KTFoley

        The cost of winter gear in MN doesn’t have much relevance. The article is about high-income vs. low-income countries that participated in the Olympics since 1990, not individuals.

        Unfortunately, the Washington Post didn’t name the countries in the various data clusters. What is the likelihood that the participating countries marked as “low income” also turn out to be in warm locations? Then who would be surprised that none have won a medal in winter, while some countries in the same category took home medals for summer games?

  • Jack Ungerleider

    #2 – I think this has been true through out America’s immigrant history. Eventually the children decide that cultural assimilation and being “normal” is more important than existing traditions. They adapt their ethnic and religious practices to be more “American”.

  • Dave

    Mr Armstrong has a legal obligation only to his shareholders. Those shareholders don’t care two wits about your premature baby who is now a beautiful, walking, talking girl. They don’t care that he made $12m last year. All they care about is making money on AOL stock. If humiliating the company’s workforce and cutting their benefits results in shareholders bringing home more bacon, then God Bless the United States of America, the greatest nation on earth.

    /end bitter, cynical rant.