Do we really need to know how to spell? (Five by 8 – 9/8/10)

Forty-three degrees in the Twin Cities this morning. Forty-three. That ushers in the most terrible time of the year for households with spouses — the annual stare-down to determine which one will be weak enough to turn on the furnace first.

We know that summer is over, of course. The State Fair has ended. The kids are back in school. And the DNR has started posting fall foliage updates, which — frankly — has us feeling pretty good about what’s coming:

1) Why do we need to spell correctly when our computer programs will correct our mistakes when we don’t? Oregon education officials have decided that students will be allowed to take their writing tests this year with spell checkers.


Officials said spell check is an accepted part of life “in the workplace, college, post-secondary training and the military.” Hmmmm. Computers have calculators, too. Is it time to stop teaching math?

“The decision to let students artificially enhance their spelling skills might create a fake boost in state writing scores next year, depending on how the state adjusts scoring protocols,” complains Susan Nielsen, the associate editor of The Oregonian newspaper. “That boost could give the public a misleading impression that, hey, Oregon schools are doing just fine (despite their big classes, short school year, volatile funding, groaning pension costs and vanishing electives).”

Perhaps our guidance should come from Mark Twain:

“But I appeal to you in behalf of the generations which are to follow you, … age after age, cycle after cycle. I pray you, consider them and be generous. Lift this heavy burden (traditional spelling) from their backs. Do not send them toiling and moiling down the 20th century still bearing it, still oppressed by it … I pray you, let the hieroglyphics (old spelling) go, and thus save millions of years of useless time and labor to fifty generations of posterity that are to follow you… This cost of time is much too expensive. It could be employed more usefully in other industries, and with better results.”

(Photo via Flickr)

2) I’m looking for tattoo fans to step forward for a future blog posts. What does your tattoo say about you? Why did you do it? Why do you keep doing it? The Boston Globe had the good sense to set up a photo booth at a tattoo convention. Here’s the guy who took home “best of show:”


3) I pointed out yesterday that the gubernatorial campaign so far seems closed to any issue except the economy. MPR’s Elizabeth Stawicki injects a welcomed bit of diversity to the discussion with her story today about the three major candidates’ position on health care reform.

Health care reform is an issue that isn’t helping Democrats at all, according to a recent Kaiser poll, and it is the second-most-important issue in the mind of voters, according to the survey.

But back to jobs, for a moment. The Star Tribune takes apart the candidates’ economic plans with local economists, who seem less than enthusiastic about them. Former Federal Reserve economist Art Rolnick links one issue with another. “The best way to create jobs is to educate your kids,” he says.

Meanwhile, NPR continues its occasional series on tax policy by looking at a young Connecticut couple, who agreed to open their books. Curiously, while it reveals the taxes the couple pays, it doesn’t reveal how much the couple makes.

4) Guys, everything you think you know about dancing is probably wrong, according to a new study. Researchers say they intended to find out if male dancing is like wild animals, which may indicate the man’s health, reproductive potential and current hormone status.

“We thought that people’s arms and legs would be really important. The kind of expressive gestures the hands [make], for example. But in fact this was not the case,” the lead researcher told the BBC. “”We found that (women paid more attention to) the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head. It was not just the speed of the movements.”

“Dad dancing” got low marks.

5) The next phase of the stadium wars? When new stadiums are built, the old ones are abandoned or are demolished. Frequently, the New York Times reports today, taxpayers are still footing the bill on the old facilities when the new ones are built.

The finances of public authorities are often murky. To determine that the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, which was demolished in 2008, has $61 million in debt remaining and will not be paid off until 2021, one must sift through 700 pages of bond documents.

With more than four decades of evidence to back them up, economists almost uniformly agree that publicly financed stadiums rarely pay for themselves. The notable successes like Camden Yards in Baltimore often involve dedicated taxes or large infusions of private money. Even then, using one tax to finance a stadium can often steer spending away from other, perhaps worthier, projects.

“Stadiums are sold as enormous draws for events, but the economics are clear that they aren’t helping,” said Andrew Moylan, the director of government affairs at the National Taxpayers Union. “It’s another way to add insult to injury for taxpayers.”

Bonus: A man trapped by rubble in Haiti had a severe spinal cord injury. By all rights, he should be paralyzed and hopeless. Instead, he’s walking, and has returned to Haiti, thanks to some people who gave a rip. How’s your day?


Most students in Minnesota are heading back to school this week, if they haven’t done so already. What would you like your kids to learn by the end of the school year?


Paul Douglas and Will Steger have a news conference to link extreme weather with climate change. I’ll take that in and have a post later on.

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Reverse gender pay gap.

A surprising finding in the latest census data shows that young, single, childless women are out-earning their male counterparts. One expert says that it all comes down to women attaining more education than men.

Second hour: Recent research on birth order — you probably read about this on 5×8 a few weeks ago — suggests that though oldest children are smarter, the younger ones work harder.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Steven Smith talks about what Congress may accomplish when it returns next week, and how its actions will be shaped by the looming election and the prospects for change in control of the House and Senate.

Second hour: TBA

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: NPR political editor Ken Rudin.

Second hour: Arianna Huffington is mad. Big banks, she argues, got taxpayer money and turned it into huge profits instead of lending it out. Politicians in Washington let them get away with it. Not to mention, the nation s fiscal system is broken. Arianna Huffington on her new book, “Third World America.”

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – MPR’s Euan Kerr profiles a St. Paul photographer who is opening a huge show at the Walker and releasing material from his new project “Broken Manual,” which investigates the idea of men escaping from society.

  • John O.

    Wee knead two no how too spell sew wee dew knot use the wrong homonym.

  • Al

    \\the annual stare-down to determine which one will be weak enough to turn on the furnace first.

    When we bought our first home the inspectors were required to put in a new furnace by the city inspector. That happened in mid-summer and it was never tested. When it came time to turn it on the first time we both held out as long as we could. After buying our first home we weren’t exactly flush with cash. We got back from the in-laws very late one weekend night and it was clear it was time for the furnace. It must have been less than 60 degrees inside and below 32 outside..

    We turned the furnace on and the house promptly filled with smoke! We immediately shut it off and spent a long night under heavy blankets with windows open to get the smoke out. As we found out the next day, they ship new furnaces with a thin coating of oil on the heat exchanger to keep them from rusting. That’s what was burning. Since it was installed in the middle of the summer, the installer never turned it on to test it out. Ah, the unexpected surprises of home ownership.

  • bsimon

    “Wee knead two no how too spell sew wee dew knot use the wrong homonym.”

    A Friedman column from today or this week in the NYT included the phrase “rung out,” which me inner pedant says should be “wrung out.” While it grated my nerves to see the mistake, on the other hand, his point was not lost – communication occurred, so what’s the big deal?

    re: items 3 & 5, it just occurred to me that Art Rolnick might be a good write-in candidate for Gov.

  • Kim E

    “Wee knead two no how too spell sew wee dew knot use the wrong homonym.”

    We also need to know how to spell so that people will (PLEASE!!!!) start using the correct “it’s” and “its,” and “their,” “they’re,” and “there”!!!! That’s something spell-check will not correct!

    2. I think “Best of Show” tattoo guy should never be required to wear a shirt. It looks like a bodysuit.

  • John P.

    “. What does your tattoo say about you? ”

    For the guy in the photo, it says he didn’t quite have to guts to get nipple tattoos. Not that I blame him.

  • mindtron

    “What does your tattoo say about you?”

    I have three tattoos and for me they are all representative of important parts of my life. 2 may be more easily parsed by others while my third is more deeply symbolic of a large change in my life.

  • Heather

    You can’t always trust spell check. Years ago, I worked at the American Medical College Application Service (which administers the central application for med schools in the U.S.) and every year, we would get desperate calls from applicants begging us to edit their essays, which we could not do.

    Let’s just say it can be a little embarrassing to mis-spell “public” or “organism”.

  • kennedy

    Speaking of paying debt on unused stadiums, I’d like to know if debt on the Metrodome construction is still being serviced.

  • Kevin M

    I’ve found tattoos to be like bumper stickers – the first one takes a lot of thought, pondering, meaning, and time to decide, but after that you’re constantly looking forward to getting your next one. As for the why, I just like them, aesthetically.

    I don’t like my first one anymore – I was 18, I don’t regret it because it represents who I was at that point, but I am glad I was wise enough to get it where a shirt covers it. The three I’ve gotten since then I love, and they represent, in order: My value system (no, it’s not a cross); my old friends I’m lucky enough to still be close to; and my identity of myself. I hope to soon get one signifying the upcoming commitment I’m making to my fiancée (and no, it won’t be her name).

    P.S. in re: spell check, in the vein of heather’s post, my sister once e-mailed our parents from college to tell them she had run into an ex-boyfriend, but was so over him that she blew him off and went on with her day. You guessed it – she left out the word ‘off.’

  • Momkat

    I’m so glad to know there are other couples who play chicken over turning on the furnace. Dadkat and I do the same thing with the A/C but I’m usually the one who caves on that one.