A shortage of skills (5×8 – 5/16/11)

Who wants to get dirty, Duluth’s honor flight, end of the Memphis hub, the cow retirement home, and Hawking on heaven.

This week’s Monday Morning Rouser, to be honest, isn’t that much of a rouser. The sound isn’t very good and you’ll be required to provide most of the melody yourself. But it’s a great way to start the week because it reminds that you just never know what the day and the week will bring. At a concert in Toronto a weekend ago, Rayna Ford asked Paul Simon to play his 1972 hit, Duncan. She said it’s how she learned to play guitar. So he invited her on stage to sing and play. And that’s how someone who learned to play guitar by listening to a Paul Simon record, got to play and sing with Paul Simon.

You can hear an interview with her here at the incredibly horrendous CBC As It Happens Web site. Click “part one” and scroll to 19:00.


Skilled labor — it’s a nice phrase to describe people who go to work and get dirty. And there’s a shortage of it now, TV’s Mike Rowe told Congress last week. People wanted their kids to go to college.

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch, that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber – if you can find one – is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.


It remains a curious fact that Washington, a city of memorials, created a memorial to the Vietnam War and the Korean conflict before it ever got around to World War II. In Minnesota and other states, volunteers are racing time to try to get the remaining World War II vets to Washington to see it. In Duluth on Saturday, the latest “honor flight” took several vets for the one-day visit.

On the flight to Washington, the vets were given a “mail call.” Youngsters wrote them letters, similar to the letters from home during the war.

“This kind of wants to make you cry. It’s overwhelming they went through all this without us knowing,” veteran Lorraine Larson told the Duluth News Tribune. (Pictures here)


Does anyone around here still keep track of what’s happened to the former pieces of Northwest Airlines? When the merger of Delta and Northwest was announced a few years ago, the first reaction was “what happens to Northwest’s hubs?” “There’ll be no change to the hubs,” Delta officials responded.

Indeed, significant changes usually happen several years after a merger. The Cranky Flier blog notes that Delta is dismantling the former NWA Memphis hub:

So why does this matter? Well, it’s a shot at the heart of how hubs work. The idea of a hub is to bring in traffic from a variety of cities, aggregate it in one place, and then put people on planes to other cities. So you might only have 1 person from Lafayette, LA wanting to go to Chicago, but when you combine that with the little numbers from Montgomery, Baton Rouge, Lubbock, Austin, etc, you get enough to fill that airplane. When you start taking away these small cities, it will inevitably make the other flights at the hub perform worse as well.

If Lafayette is gone, that’s one less person that will fly on that flight to Chicago. Maybe that’s the tipping point for making that Chicago flight unprofitable. You could try a smaller airplane, but most of these are already on pretty small jets. In the end, when you start whacking away at a hub like this, it generally hurts the chances of that hub sticking around.

Meanwhile, another drinking pilot has been hauled off an airliner. The pilot of an AirTran flight at Minneapolis St. Paul blew .05 on the breathalyzer. Scratch one pilot career.


The Perennial Plate is an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating, its Web site notes. Chef and activist Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine have finished the first season of a 52-episode look at sustainable food in Minnesota by going on the road in search of happy cows in retirement. They found them.

The Perennial Plate Episode 53: Lucky Cows from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.


What’s beyond the moment when the brain finally shuts down? Nothing, Stephen Hawking says in an interview in the Guardian. His comments go beyond his 2010 book in which he argued there is no need for a creator to explain the origins of the universe. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” he said.

Bonus: What’s happening here? It’s a gravel road bike race.


Reader Mike Vanderscheuren sent this photo this morning:

Bob, I thought you might be interested in this semi-insane bike race which takes place in Spring Valley, MN called the Almonzo 100. On Saturday, 500 riders started what turned out to be a brutal day on the bike – 40 degrees, rainy and muddy. The conditions were so bad, only about 100 riders finished, with the last riders coming in at around 1am. Unlike other sponsored races, there is no entry fee for this event. It is totally unsupported (meaning you are on your own – for all food and water, mechanical etc.) and 99% of the ride is on gravel back roads. It is becoming a cult-classic among local cyclists, with the conditions only adding to the folklore. On other interesting thing is, while it does attract the race crowd, the $0 entry fee and promise of physical challenge attracts cyclists of all kinds.

Full disclosure – my company is a sponsor of the event – we donate prizes and a small amount of money $250 to support the race director’s efforts.

The photo was taken Saturday by Eric Leugers. Here’s the race blog.


Today MPR News begins a series of reports exploring the issue of bullying and what can be done to address it. Today’s Question: What’s been your experience with bullying?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Democrat legislative leaders discuss the effort to come up with a budget.

Second hour: . Is today’s popular music indicative of increasing self-absorption, or is defining a generation by the billboard charts a bit of a stretch?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Republican legislative leaders discuss the effort to come up with a budget.

Second hour: Former National security advisor General James Jones at the National Press Club.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: TBA

Second hour: Recovery after brain injuries.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – In the kickoff to his week-long series, MPR’s Tom Weber reports on what Minnesota could be doing to respond to bullying in its schools.

MPR’s Tim Post says the University of Minnesota’s law school expects to lose most, if not all, of its state funding this year as lawmakers consider cuts to higher education funding. He’ll examine the impact.

  • My husband is one of those skilled workers who gets his hands dirty, or rather greasy, every day. He works as an automotive machinist in Northfield and has been doing this for more than 30 years. He is always swamped with work and could work 24/7 and never get caught up. As it is, he works long days and nearly every Saturday.

    Very few individuals do the type of work he performs, which puts him in high demand.

    He has a two-year vocational degree in a related field, but learned automotive machining primarily on his own and now has an excellent reputation for quality work.

    College isn’t for everyone. College no longer holds the promise of employment. I think we do need to think more highly of those individuals who work with their hands and their brains (my husband uses detailed math skills daily). Their work is no less important than those of individuals with a four-year degree.

  • John P.


    It’s just sad to think that I was shown no alternatives to the college track in high school, and that was the 70’s.

    We badly need to restore the status of people who build things and work with their hands. A good mechanic or builder is worth their weight in gold.

  • Jamie

    // “CBC As It Happens Web site.” //

    What is horrendous about this website?

  • kennedy

    Stephen Hawking is brilliant in his field. His knowledge and understanding of our physical universe is extraordinary. However, he would not be my first choice for spiritual insight.

  • lucy


    and some skills become an artform