In search of our character (5×8 – 4/7/11)



I’m heading to Moorhead today to help MPR cover the flooding of the Red River. So posting here today will be a little light and there won’t be a 5×8 tomorrow. What there will be, hopefully, is some dispatches from flood country.

I’m anxious to get a feel for this creeping “complacency” mentioned in Dan Gunderson’s story. I checked with the neighborhood that I usually follow during the floods and the sandbag dikes were completed in two days. That’s hard work considering volunteers have been hard to come by, apparently. And that strikes me as the story. Where are the volunteers? Has it not been dramatic enough? Are there other things to do? Is there just too much need?

Many of the volunteers I encountered in 2009 were from the Twin Cities, and many of the agencies that responded were metro area fire departments and sheriff departments. But times have changed in two years. Minnesota has been in “every man for himself” mode, and the legislative session has certainly set the agenda for this new Minnesota. “You’ve got problems? Hey, I’ve got problems, buddy!”

You know the best part of covering flooding in the Red River? Getting away from that mentality.

The Fargo Forum provides a little hope again with a story today that it’s the kids — you know, the lazy, video-gaming, short-attention-span kids that never leave their computers? — who are showing the way. About 1,500 high schoolers fanned out in the area to help yesterday. They’ll be back today.

Untitled from FCC Interactive on Vimeo.

This video from the Army Corps of Engineers is a good example of the intricacies of foiling a flood. We see lots of people with sandbags around homes and neighborhoods, but that’s the most obvious effect. More often than not, however, a river’s pathways into neighborhoods and into homes is fairly sneaky.

And, of course, when the floods are done, all of this will have to be undone.


You can catch a plane, but you can’t catch a break, Minneapolis St. Paul. Statistics guru Nate Silver has been studying which airports have the most unfair fares. Minneapolis-St. Paul is 4th.Silver said part of the reason, of course, is that Delta has such a large market share. But, surprisingly, he says when Southwest Airlines — they were supposed to lead to substantially cheaper fares here — operates at an airport like ours, it supresses competition from other cheaper airlines.

The most overpriced small airport in the country, by the way, is La Crosse.


The St. Paul City Council ordered Tuan J. Pham to move his 7-foot-tall white-marble Jesus from his backyard, the Star Tribune reports today. The crime? It’s within 10 feet of the Mississippi River bluff.

Rules are rules, of course, so the City Council ordered it removed.

Mitch Berg, at Shot In The Dark, says the man wasn’t asking for much — just a variance, which are granted all the time.

Mind you, it’s a variance. Not a change in the law. A variance. For a statue. In a private garden.

Should Tuan Pham have been allowed to keep his statue where it is?Market Research


Some jazz musicians are known as much for their wit as for their chops. It’s National Humor Month, apparently, so NPR has assembled five jazz songs “that are designed to make you laugh.

More seriously, it’s worth pointing out that today is Billie Holiday’s birthday, Dale Connelly reminds us.

What strikes me is how casually the world would have overlooked her, as countless millions born into similar circumstances have been. It is completely whimsical that we got to hear her voice at all – it could so easily have gone another way. Jazz impresario John Hammond went to a club to listen to a different singer but heard Billie Holiday instead. She caught a break and made a lasting impression, and as a result people will be listening to Billie Holiday long after the rest of us are forgotten.


I’m looking for volunteers to try this in the Twin Cities. It won’t be close, but it will be dangerous.

(h/t: Ken Paulman)

Bonus: All of those ideas you may have had to get out of jury duty? Don’t use them.

Viral video of the day

It’s the little things that give you a clue that everything is going to fall into place today.


Unless negotiators can reach a deal to extend the government’s authority to spend money, the federal government could shut down this weekend. How would a federal government shutdown affect you?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: What’s the future of renewable energy?

Second hour: Will Rogers- cowboy comic to political insider.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Former Sen. Dave Durenberger on the GOP proposal to eventually eliminate the Medicare program for seniors.

Second hour: Baseball analyst Howard Sinker previews the Twins home opener on Friday afternoon.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Solutions to the debt crisis.

Second hour: Remembering Manning Marable and considering his life work — a biography of Malcolm X.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – New data from the Census Bureau show much of the metro region’s growth has been in the second- and third-ring suburbs, where five cities alone added more than 68,000 people – that’s nearly one-third of the growth in the last decade. The suburbs are also becoming more ethnically diverse. How are the suburbs handling the growth and the challenges brought by diversity?

MPR’s Jess Mador will have the story.

There are some devices that aren’t well known, playing an important role along the Red River. Gravel Blisters, Trapbag Levees, Aqua Dam Levees, Hesco Levee, Aqua Fences and Big Bags. Tom Robertson will report.

MPR’s Euan Kerr says minimalist composer Philip Glass collaborates with choreographer Lucinda Childs to remount a dance piece at the Walker Art Center which was booed in Minneapolis when first performed in the 1970s.

NPR takes a closer look at Brett Baier, an emerging player at Fox News.

  • Bob Moffitt

    I don’t often agree with Mitch Berg, but today is the exception. I say leave Jesus alone.

  • Mark Snyder

    I agree with Bob. Leave Jesus alone and let Mr. Pham pay to rescue or replace it when it falls off the cliff.

  • Jeanne

    It all goes to show how one ‘squeaky-wheel’ neighbor can make a city council dutifully genuflect. Give the man the variance and move on to other business.

  • jay sieling


    Thank you for how you cover the flood fight in Fargo/Moorhead. I was enthralled reading your posts last year. So many stories. And some are very sad. We just learned last night that a family lost a loved one after a day of sandbagging. A heart attack. Thoughts and prayers to all up there, but especially the Goering family.

  • danny

    I know that I am less sympathetic for the people affected by the floods because they’ve had ample warning over the previous two years. They’re in a flood area, they should move rather than expect others to expend time and energy to save them.

  • Heather

    That *sounds* easy, Danny, but relocating is harder in practice than in theory.

  • Ken Paulman

    I ride by Tuan Pham’s house every day on the way to work. From Ohio Street, I can see at least two other similarly sized, religious themed statues in his front yard (an angel and a cross) that the godless freedom-haters in city hall aren’t asking him to move.

    Interesting that this detail hasn’t made it into any of the media coverage.

    Nor do we hear that Pham has more than 100 feet of yard from his back door to the bluff line – plenty of room to put up as many Jesus statues as he wants without violating the zoning code. One would think that a business owner might have the good sense to check in with the permit office before spending that much money on a monument.

    For the record, I don’t object to the statue or its location. I hadn’t paid much attention to it until now.

    I do, however, object to the ensuing politicization of the decision that will, as it always does, distract us from more pressing issues.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Vee vil haf no statues! Zee law ist zee law!

  • Jamie

    Ja wohl, mein Fuhrer Shapiro!

  • Phil

    I would be really curious to see how a road bike does versus a bus for long distances 5mi, 10mi in the Cities. Probably faster, but unfortunately seasonal.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Dearest Jamie –

    I promise to be benevolent when I’m elected dictator.

    Except with NPR. Damn liberals!

  • Matt W

    Bob, I would be all OVER a big wheel vs. bus race. Maybe Lexington to Dale on University (A bit of a challenge unless it lunch hour) Although a run through downtown St. Paul would be invigorating.

    To be honest,thought, it’s more about the Big wheel. I missed out a couple of years ago when there was a company that sold adult-sized ones and I’ve be yearning for one ever since. But the child-sized one makes the race more of a contest.

  • Suzanne

    #5 – This is the best viral video since the Macabeats (the Yeshiva University glee club) covered the Dreidel Song to the tune of Dynamite!