A dream in the bucket (5×8 – 11/28/11)

U of M closes a pathway to a better future, droning on, how others see us while shopping, living small, and holiday leftovers from Aitkin.

The Monday Morning Rouser:


Earlier this month, I profiled a former gang member who now works with kids who are involved in gangs. He lamented that he doesn’t yet have “the credentials” to give him the credibility to help change a system that needs changing. His plan was familiar for getting them. He’s taking “general” (required) classes at Minneapolis Community & Technical College and plans to transfer into the University of Minnesota for an eventual degree.

I heard a similar story last month when I interviewed a Rochester Community and Technical College professor who told me about a young woman, an average student, who came alive at RCTC, finished her coursework, then transferred to the U of M, received her degree, and now works with at-risk women.

The story and pathway are similar to the dozens of people I interviewed a few years ago when I did the News Cut on Campus tour. Young people changing their lives and chasing their dream by understanding the system. The class credits at community and technical colleges were half as expensive (about $150 a credit) as at the big university, which was priced out of their reach.

So it’s not a little thing to their lives – and to ours – that the University of Minnesota plans to try to close the “loophole” by cutting the number of students it will allow to transfer in, the Pioneer Press reports.

But U officials say the flak is unfair. The decrease will be small, particularly for a university that enrolls transfer students at much higher rates than most of its peers, they argue. And stabilizing the number of transfers will help the U ease those newcomers into campus life.

“There’s this perception we’re talking about obliterating transfer students,” said Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. “The decrease we’re looking at is really a drop in the bucket.”

Or a dream in the bucket.

Related: What hope is there for the future when so many kids are living in cars?


“How much more automated can war become?” NPR asked over the weekend. Much more, apparently. Automated and remotely-controlled drones are back in the news after a U.S. helicopter attack in Pakistan mistakenly wiped out about two dozen members of the Pakistani military. Pakistan has ordered a drone maintenance base vacated.

“We’ve now got 57 Predators up, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, looking at different target points around the world,” says Air Force Maj. Gen. James Poss. “”Unlike a person that deploys to combat, our remotely piloted aircraft force never leave combat…”you do leave your ground control station and drive home and you have to mow the lawn.”

We’re not alone. Wired.com reports this morning that 50 countries are using drone technology now, suggesting future wars will be fought with a joystick and a comfy chair.

The Air Force is now attracting more people to “fly” drones than actual jets, NPR says. And this recent recruiting ad makes pretty clear pitch to the “gamers.”

Drones — a somewhat less lethal kind — are about to come to the civilian world, the Los Angeles Times reports. The FAA is about to release rules for allow civilians to “pilot” drones for police departments, utility companies, and farmers. Police departments in Minnesota are said to be interested.

“It’s important that the FAA is scrutinizing the safety of the technology, but they should also make sure Americans’ privacy is maintained,” said Catherine Crump, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney. “Having cheap, portable, flying surveillance machines may have a tremendous benefit for law enforcement, but will it respect Americans’ privacy?”

Especially when they put them in the hands of…. journalists. It’s already happened in Poland where a company has unveiled a drone for use by the news media. It was used to cover a demonstration in Warsaw a couple of weeks ago.


The Atlantic’s producer of its international channel drops into America’s Heartland — the Mall of America — to gauge the temperature of the little people in the Midwest.

This is how I knew I was back in the Heartland, where grocery baggers are still judged on their “speed, distribution of weight, and proper bagging style,” where strawberry Jello and Cool Whip is still served as a traditional dessert, and where much nasally lilting small talk is currently being devoted to the unseasonably warm weather. As a transplant, it has always seemed mildly ironic to spend Thanksgiving, the archetypical American holiday, in the place The Great Gatsby’s Nick called “the warm center of the world” — the Mid-West. Yet here I was, in south-eastern Minnesota, in the Driftless area. The first time I heard of this ovaloid Mississippi floodplain, I was standing in it, in the dirt of a field of baby corn in a town where everyone knew each other’s grandparents. I thought ‘Driftless’ was a reference to its stolid, hearty inhabitants, but in fact the term indicates a lack of glacial drift, the material left behind by retreating continental glaciers. Before today’s Nordic descendants migrated into this new far-North, the eroded plateaus and deep river valleys were covered with tallgrass prairie and bur oak savanna; its isolated ecosystems are still home to at least one endangered species, the Iowa Pleistocene Snail. [1]

Oh dear. It’s an “aren’t they cute?” piece. She got roasted in the article’s comments section, but it’s true: we shopped like nobody’s business on Friday.

Or did we? MPR’s Rupa Shenoy reports the Midwest spent less on average than less-cute sections of the country:

The region’s shoppers reported spending an average of $382 this weekend. That’s compared to an average of $432 in the Northeast, where the survey shows shoppers spent the most. The organization grouped data from nearly 4,000 people by regions of the country.

The Mall of America reported a record number of visitors. But Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture says most of the numbers you hear tossed around about Black Friday shopping are pure garbage, part of the hype to create a shopping frenzy.


How many square feet of living space do you need? An article in the Star Tribune yesterday — New Homebuilders Struggling to Survive — was accompanied by photographs of big homes, at least by conventional standards.

He is trying to market a new 2,330-square-foot house in Blaine for $329,900. In the same area there’s a similarly sized house built in 2003, but priced at $299,900 after selling for nearly $370,000 in 2004. In a nearby development there’s a 2004 house with almost 2,800 square feet. It’s a short sale and is about $135,000 less expensive.

That’s a lot of square feet. And a lot of money.

A new documentary is about to be released extolling the virtues of culture of the “tiny home.” “TINY: A Story About Living Small” just posted this segment with Derek Diedricksen, author of “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks.”

The documentary makers are fundraising to finish their film.


Some video from Friday’s Fish House Parade in Aitkin:

Bonus: You know who showed more fight over the weekend than the current crop of Minnesota Vikings? Former Minnesota Vikings. Specifically, Joe Kapp, who got into a fight with Angelo Mosca, former Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ defensive tackle and professional wrestler, at a CFL Grey Cup Alumni Legends Luncheon in Vancouver on Friday. Joe is 73.


Local governments will begin holding hearings this week to give the public a chance to speak up about planned increases in property taxes. The increases reflect a shift away from state aid that formerly helped pay for local services. Today’s Question: Are property taxes the best way to pay for local services?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Will expanded gambling be the answer to the Vikings stadium quest?

Second hour: Monsters in America. From the witches of Salem to Freddie Krueger, monsters have been a staple of American culture. A historian argues in a new book that the American obsession with monsters reflects our fears, shapes our culture, and explains our history.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Augsburg College economist Jeanne Boeh discusses the condition of the U.S. economy and the importance of the retail sector.

Second hour: A debate from NPR’s “Intelligence Squared” series: “Would the world be better off without religion?”

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

Second hour: TBA

  • BenCh

    Thanks for the video on the kids living in cars… really tear-jerking.

    Re: #2- I can already see problems with letting civilians use drones. Do people not remember the uproar about being able to use RC Airplanes to carry C-4 (even though it couldn’t happen)? Although, I do like the idea of using a drone for police. It would allow them to search for drug plantations much easier (think California). I wonder if the Border Patrol is already using or thinking of using them?

  • Bob Collins

    Yes, the Border Patrol is using drones.

  • Matt B
  • This is NOT lucy

    I recall a comment on another thread regarding the insurmountable deficiencies of living conditions in Africa. The poster commented along the lines that it would be wonderful if instead of running to people aid who had been pushed off the cliff, we avoid the accident altogether. How does homelessness happen? How do we prevent homelessness?

    I find it odd that MPR can write about Black Friday shopping, (Greed), in one breath and then in the next write about homelessness as if the result of homelessness is a mystery.

    In our global economy how do these imbalances happen? I would think that if we are ‘global’ we are thinking as one, and one meaning all parts are equal and united.

    We have a saying where I come from, “Give an old lady a piece or two of fruit and she will be your friend for lifetimes.”

  • Jim Shapiro

    Regarding Children living in cars – God help America, Land where Black Friday is an important holiday.

    Regarding drones – This is progress? It’s hard enough to get HUMANS not to kill civilians.

    Regarding Joe Kapp – he has always been my favorite Vikings quarterback. His one punch KO of a jerk who attacked him only further solidifies this standing.

  • Bob Collins

    //I find it odd that MPR can write about Black Friday shopping, (Greed), in one breath and then in the next write about homelessness as if the result of homelessness is a mystery.

    My name is not “MPR.” It’s “Bob.” Now, why exactly do you find it odd that I’d write both about Black Friday and homelessness? Clearly, there’s two ends of the socio-economic universe there, but you seem to be suggesting it’s odd to write about both. I don’t really understand why.

    And where *exactly* is your evidence that I wrote about anything this morning from an idea that homelessness –or it’s result — is a mystery?

  • Heather

    My takeaway from the CBS clip wasn’t that people shouldn’t go shopping. It was that those kids are pretty incredible, and that their father is making the best of a bad situation for their family. Their words made me want to do something for them.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Heather – your desire (and subsequent action) to do something for children in need is heartening.

    Perhaps if we had a national day to help people in real need rather than to buy stuff that we DON”T really need, we would all be a bit better off.

  • This is NOT lucy

    “My name is not “MPR.” It’s “Bob.” Now, why exactly do you find it odd that I’d write both about Black Friday and homelessness”

    Bob, I was commenting on the sprinkling of articles regarding Black Friday all over the MPR news site, not just your article.

    Perhaps *odd* wasn’t the most **perfect**choice of words I could have used but I found it fitting. Maybe if you replace the word, ‘odd’ with the word, ‘interesting’ it might not sting the Big Ticket Donors for MPR as much and you won’t be asked to have me clarify what I meant.

    I think Jim sums it up best with his identifying the ‘Emperor is wearing no clothes’ by his statement:

    “Regarding Children living in cars – God help America, Land where Black Friday is an important holiday.”

  • This is NOT lucy

    Furthermore, Bob, when I read the bit and watched the clip on “Homelessness” after reading about Black Friday AND the comments to follow, it’s disheatening especially when that gap between the shoppers and those that live in the cars was intentionally created and could have been avoided.

  • Bob Collins

    If you want to question my integrity, it’d be easier if you’d just come out and say it instead of using innuendo.

  • This is NOT lucy

    Is it integrity Bob or is it more about pre-defined rules of what you can and can not say as to not bite the hand that feeds you. Especially when it is becoming to be the only hand that feeds you. (You meaning MPR as a whole.)

    I can imagine like most others have become, your hands are tied.

  • Bob Collins

    // I can imagine like most others have become, your hands are tied.

    I’ve been here 20 years and in that time nobody has ever told me what to say or told me I can’t say anything. I’m not aware of any other instance with anyone else in the newsroom.

    I realize that people outside the newsroom have said otherwise. But that doesn’t make it fact, it only makes them wrong.

    I’ll also point out that no other news organization in Minnesota has a blog like this, giving their employees the kind of freedom to write as they see fit. Not one.