Where are we risk free? (5×8 – 9/14/11)

Where can nature not touch us, laughter as medicine, a man, the earth, and a dog, dispatches from the suspicion society, and victims fight back in Minneapolis.



Every time there is a disaster of natural origins, it seems, there is this comment: “Why do people live there?” We heard it quite often whenever the Red River flooded, but we don’t hear it quite so often as we did before people realized where food comes from and the geology of Minnesota.

With the BWCA fire raging yesterday, a commenter on one of my posts wrote…

“We keep building houses where rivers flood. We keep building houses where forests burn.

Maybe we shouldn’t build houses where rivers flood, nor where forests burn?”

I heard a similar thing when Mother Nature tried to wipe Vermont off the map a few weeks ago. How did those cities end up near a river? Rivers were the engine that powered the industrial revolution and the expansion westward. Where else would you locate them?

Another commenter — this one a resident of the area up north — countered:

“This fire has moved into areas quite a distance from the BWCA. Are we only allowed to live in big cities? Many of the people that are in threat of evacuation live a distance from the Boundary Waters, and do not support the way that the fire is managed, and would never take a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. Are you saying we should all move into large cities that don’t have trees or water, and are filled with caring folk like you. I would rather die in a fire.”

Let’s think about this. Where are we safe from risk? What risk can we reasonably foresee where nature is concerned? And when you chose where to live, what considerations did you employ to be sure you’re safe from that risk.

Disasters have been declared in all but two states this year.

The current fire is the largest one in Minnesota since 1918. What happened then? This. The Cloquet fire killed almost 500 people.

Cloquet looked like this after the fire (Photo: Minnesota Historical Society):



New research out this week confirms that laughter can make you healthier. The problem is not all laughter can make your brain release the chemicals that act as a natural painkiller, the BBC reports.

Slapstick humour seemed to score highly whereas clever stand-up comedy routines, though found to be enjoyable, had no effect on raising pain thresholds.

Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, who led the research, believes that uncontrollable laughter releases chemicals called endorphins into the body which, as well as generating mild euphoria, also dull pain.

“It’s the emptying of the lungs that causes [this effect],” he told BBC News.

This was identified as the perfect painkiller:

Did that do anything for you?


Erik Bendl of Louisville, Ky, made it to Glyndon yesterday as he walks across the country – in increments – to raise awareness of diabetes. Bendl is pushing a giant globe and is accompanied by his dog. He started in Wisconsin and made it through the Twin Cities last month.

On his blog, he points out one of the joys of rural Minnesota (and many other rural parts of our nation): People wave.

In the White Earth Indian Nation the road was narrow and when cars approached I would patiently get off the roadway and stand in the ditch as the vehicles passed. Often whole families would stop and get out to talk or wave. Up on the busy commuter highway ten the trend seems to be the drive by picture and the stop click and drive away without a word as we get close. There are also those who stop in the driving lane so they can get a picture with traffic speeding toward them. Tisk, tisk! I would think their safety would be more important and a snapshot without the glare of a closed car window is not worth a high speed incident. We won’t bite, well, I won’t. Pull off and say hello or at least Smile and wave.

Love yourself, go for a walk!


Since all of the Sunday chuckles about picking the wrong day to join the Mile High Club, there’s been almost no coverage of the three people who were hauled off a Frontier Airlines flight in Detroit on 9/11. Too bad because Shoshana Hebshi has a compelling story to tell that tells us more about where we are on the 10th anniversary than any of the stories we were fed last week.

Hebshi was one of those “detained.” And she has a blog

They took him to another room, and I heard an officer tell him to remove his clothes. He was going to be searched. I could not fully grasp what was happening. I stared at the yellow walls and listened to a few officers talk about the overtime they were racking up, and I decided that I hated country music. I hated speedboats and shitty beer in coozies and fat bellies and rednecks. I thought about Abu Ghraib and the horror to which those prisoners were exposed. I thought about my dad and his prescience. I was glad he wasn’t alive to know about what was happening to me. I thought about my kids, and what would have happened if they had been there when I got taken away. I contemplated never flying again. I thought about the incredible waste of taxpayer dollars in conducting an operation like this. I wondered what my rights were, if I had any at all. Mostly, I could not believe I was sitting in some jail cell in some cold, undisclosed building surrounded by “the authorities.”

I heard the officers discuss my impending strip search. They needed to bring in a female officer. At least they were following protocol, or something to that nature. Still, could this really be happening?

Be sure to read the comments section.

Don’t expect it to get any better, James Fallows suggests today:

Someday, inevitably, there will be another terrorist-style attack involving air travel. We know that just as we know that someday there will be another schoolyard mass shooting, and that in the typical American day around 50 people will be murdered and around twice that many will be killed in car crashes, many by drunks. (And just as we know that there will not be “another 9/11,” because hijackers will never again be allowed to fly a plane into a skyscraper. If the passengers don’t stop them, the Air Force will.) We know of those certainties but understand that the means of preventing them are either impractical –don’t let anyone drive — or politically or socially unacceptable (see: the NRA). Somehow we treat anything scare-labeled as “terrorism,” and above all anything involving airplanes, as a separate category. So even those politicians who might want to challenge security-state thinking don’t dare take the risk. All the more so with Democrats, who can’t afford to seem in any way “weak.”


According to the U Daily, police found Lee Thomas Charette, who was bleeding, and assumed he was the victim of an assault on Sunday morning. But after receiving a call from the actual victims, the officers determined Charette was an assailant in the armed robbery.

More crime news: The Gumby bandit has turned himself in to San Diego police. Insert joke about going to the Pokey here.

Bonus: Caroline Kennedy could’ve edited the tapes of her mother to sanitize things a bit. She didn’t. “People need to understand the purpose of an oral history,” she said today. It was “an obligation to be honest,” she said.

Memo from the Department of Personal Indulgence It’s my wife’s birthday today. At dinner last night, she said her best birthday present ever was the homeless woman who waved her keys yesterday and said “I’ve got keys!” The reason she had keys — a home, a future, food, health care — is because of the birthday girl. In three months, the innovative program that put keys in the hands of a homeless woman will be eliminated.


The forest fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area has grown rapidly in recent days. Hundreds of firefighters and members of the National Guard are trying to contain it. Today’s Question: How should authorities decide which wildfires to fight, and which to let burn?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: A new study examines harsh punishments leveled against school-aged children. While it’s legal in 20 states to paddle a child. Midmorning examines the best methods to address behavioral issues facing our schools.

Second hour: Diana Abu-Jaber, author and professor at Portland State University. Her books include The Language of Baklava, Origin, and Crescent. Birds of Paradise is her latest book.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Joe Nathan of the Center for School Change discusses what the latest math and reading test results really mean.

Second hour: A debate from the Intelligence Squared series: Is it time to end the war on terror? The debaters are Peter Bergen, Juliette Kayyem, Richard Falkenrath and Michael Hayden.

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

Second hour: Political talk with Ken Rudin, senior Washington editor for NPR.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Nearly a quarter of all residents in Minnesota and Wisconsin are considered obese. While that’s lower than the national average, it’s forced hospitals like Gunderson Lutheran hospital in La Crosse to retrofit equipment Nationally more than six in 10 hospitals around the country have seen an uptick in the number of morbidly obese patients, and more than one in three hospitals have been renovated to account for obese patients. MPR’s Elizabeth Baier will have the story.

Dan Gunderson has the fourth installment of the MPR News’ series on the health — or not — of watersheds in Minnesota. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is changing the way it monitors the states rivers and streams. A pilot project in northwest Minnesota is examining the health of an entire watershed rather than individual lakes or streams. Several state agencies and local organizations are involved in collecting data, and in crafting a message to convince local residents to make necessary changes to improve water quality.

State finance officials are preparing to sell the tobacco bonds that were part of the recently passed budget solution, but big questions remain about how that sale will actually work, how much money it will raise and whether the bonds are even legal. The bonds represent $640 million of the agreement that erased the state’s $5 billion deficit and ended the state government shutdown. MPR’s Tim Pugmire will have that story.

Nearly a century ago, Germany’s central bank tried to rescue the country’s ailing economy. That led to inflation, which helped pave the way for Hitler and the Nazis. So today’s European economic bailouts have some Germans worried. NPR will have a hyperinflation history lesson.