The ‘why’ of Duluth (5×8 – 6/28/12)

Civil engineering – Duluth style, and old man behind the most popular blog today, who is ‘Catholic,’ hot enough for you, and rock paper robot.



The most important question any news story can answer is “why” and thanks to MPR’s Dan Kraker, we have the “why” behind the Duluth flooding that occurred a week ago. Sure, we know it’s because 10 inches of rain fell, but — we learned in his excellent story — Duluth officials had planned for these sorts of events… more than 100 years ago.

Starting in the late 1800s, the city had built a sprawling network of channels to control runoff and creeks. The system includes 430 miles of pipe, 100 miles of ditches, 3,000 culverts and 12,000 catch basins, all designed to funnel runoff and stream water under the city and into Lake Superior.

But this was a 500-year-storm that the system couldn’t handle. Still, Kraker reveals the civil engineering genius of the 1800s. Duluth looked ahead, something it’s faced with doing again.

As utility crews suck out what the massive rains left behind, the big question facing Duluth and other cities is whether this “500-year storm” may be the new “100-year storm.”

“We’ve been expecting more large events like this for a number of years,” said Jesse Shomberg, communities education director for Minnesota Sea Grant, an environmental research group. “Predictions of climate change for decades have told us we should expect more large events.”

Shomberg said officials need to start planning for bigger storms that dump large amounts of water. But he acknowledges that the cost of adapting drainage systems may be prohibitive.

“We can’t afford to take out every one of the culverts around the city and double it, make it twice as big,” he said. “We can’t afford to make our bridges twice again as long to avoid the flows.”

The story presents a reality as the effects of climate change become more clear, if the experts are to be believed: as a civilization, we may not be able to afford to do much more than take it.

Related: Some of the people who helped around Willow River were nearby offenders…


The guy at the forefront of today’s Supreme Court decision on the health care law is an 81-year old man who’s been covering the court for six years and, admittedly, doesn’t really get the whole Internet thing. For wonks, however, he’s the biggest Internet sensation these days because he’s Lyle Denniston, who takes the Supreme Court and turns it into English, and beats everyone by putting it on a blog instead of the radio, or TV. Poynter refers to him as the “Betty White of bloggers.”

The Washington Post profiles the man this morning..

The Supreme Court does not make breaking news of its decisions easy. Public information officers hand out paper copies of each opinion in a room where electronics are not allowed. Reporters then dash to computers or telephones to broadcast the results.

In a case as complex as the one involving the health-care law — in which four separate legal issues are at stake — deciphering the opinion can take time. SCOTUSblog has four lawyers on hand for that task, and they will be checking over all live blog posts.

“The TV people out front literally won’t have it for about two minutes,” SCOTUSblog publisher and co-founder Tom Goldstein said. “After they hand it to Lyle, I expect 25 seconds after that, we’ll have it on the live blog. I would be surprised if the Associated Press can beat us.”

As for Denniston, he’s already written one must-read piece for the blog. It’s a how-to on reading today’s Supreme Court ruling.

What will seriously complicate the understanding of the Court’s ruling — on any of the four issues about the new law — will be whether the Court had to put together different combinations of Justices applying differing lines of reasoning in order to get enough votes for a bottom line, on each of the four issues. There could be Justices who think the mandate is valid, but that the Court does not have jurisdiction to decide it, or vice versa. There could be Justices who want to strike down the mandate, but not all of its provisions, whereas others would cast aside the whole law, from end to end.

SCOTUSblog’s live blog on today’s decision can be found here. They’ll start live blogging at 7:45 a.m.

Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver tries to figure out who’s likely to prevail. As usual, he’s taking a statistical approach to figuring it out:

… studies have found that predictions made by “expert” commentators on the Supreme Court do barely any better than a coin flip and are beaten by the statistical methods (a finding that follows the poor overall track record of experts in making predictions under many other circumstances). These experts are irrationally confident about their ability to read the tea leaves, and their predictions suffer for it.

There are, however, some statistical indicators that might be of predictive value above and beyond the number of questions during oral arguments. For instance, as Mr. Epstein’s study noted, the petitioner wins about 60 percent of cases before the Supreme Court. In this case, the petitioner is Mr. Verrilli and the federal government, so that would favor the mandate being upheld.


Robert Lee, 84, worked three jobs to put his children through Catholic school and continues to attend mass six days a week, the Fargo Forum reports. And he couldn’t be more disappointed in his church. His daughter, Trish Cameron, is the Catholic school teacher in Fargo who was fired because she disagrees with the church’s view on same-sex marriage. MPR’s Dan Gunderson profiled Ms. Cameron on Wednesday.

“One priest involved said to me, ‘We have compassion, too.’ But obviously, it wasn’t for this very honest, religious gal,” Lee said in a letter to The Forum.

The decision has sparked a renewed debate: When — if at all — is dissent allowed in a church? Should the stories even be broadcast and printed?

We’ve gotten a few letters, too, after Dan Gunderson’s story ran the other day.

Here’s one:

Your story on the “Catholic teacher fired for same sex marriage views,” does not expand the perspectives of your audiences. In fact, it promotes a viewpoint on the marriage amendment.

Another story that exists within this debate is the existence of a silent group of people who believe in the ‘permanent things’ of our society and culture that have sustained and nourished us over the centuries. One of these is marriage – used in its traditional sense.

I dare not speak up about my views on marriage in my neighborhood or at my workplace in fear of both personal and professional repercussions. If I did, I would be labeled, “backwards, a bigot, strange, close-minded, one of those people.”

Every day in the “news,” I read about city councils, corporations, law firms, etc. coming out against the marriage amendment. What about all the people that work in those entities who disagree. Is it safe for them to hold to those traditional views in those environments?

You are constantly highlighting the dissenters in the Catholic Church. Why? Why not a dissenter in General Mills, or a law firm? I bet it would be very difficult to find someone to “come out”” with their traditional views because they would be afraid.

MPR, please try to understand the Catholic Church before doing more of these stories. The Catholic Church is not a democracy. It never has been and never will be. It has a hierarchy. And, in order to be Catholic, one should adhere to the Catholic Church’s teachings. If one does not believe in its teachings, they are free to leave. Trish Cameron can leave the Catholic Church if she does not agree with its teachings. Please go and talk with a prof at the Catholic Studies Dept at UST. Be informed.

I recently received a call from MN United for All Families asking me how I was planning on voting on the amendment. I honestly do not know how I am going to vote, not because I do not support traditional marriage, but for other reasons. I told them that I support traditional marriage.

The caller then asked me (1) why I would not want to let two people who love each other to marry. Then (2) she told me a tragic (and I do mean tragic) story about a person who died and the person’s same sex partner not having any legal rights related to the person’s deceased partner after his/her death. Then, finally, (3) she asked me if I knew any GLBT people. None of the questions that I was asked really had anything to do with changing the definition of marriage.

If people really want to dialogue, let’s at least be smart about it. Let’s talk about love and what it really means before we talk about denying two people who are in love the right to marry. What is love? Let’s talk separately about the legal rights same sex partners should have – this is not about changing the definition of marriage. And, it seems a little immature to imply to someone, “if you only knew GLBT people like me, then you would think it was okay for them to marry.” Really?

If this is the dialogue that Trish Cameron wants, please spare me the pain. But, this is the dialogue that MN United for All Families is having with people over the phone. It does not move the issue along and actually distracts from the heart of the issue. Do a story on this.

MPR please make an effort to understand orthodox religious people before doing these stories. And, I mean religious people who adhere to their faith as it has been preserved through the centuries. Recognize that these people believe in and respect authority. Also, please accept that we believe in God, and believe that God created the world and all its creatures and gave it meaning. We believe that gender matters. Marriage has always been what it is and we so no reason to mess with something as important and meaningful as marriage is. We really believe these things. We are not just sayin’ it to keep people from marrying.

In my opinion, your stories on this issue are not objective.

There are two important sentences, however, in both the Gunderson story and the Forum story.

(Monsignor Mike ) Foltz and (Bishop Michael) Hoeppner did not return calls from The Forum seeking comment.

And from Gunderson’s story…

Bishop Hoeppner’s office did not respond to an interview request.

This is, obviously, not a subject the Diocese in Crookston wants to discuss. This is not a discussion between people who are Catholic and those who are not, not even with people who consider themselves faithful and people who consider themselves “lapsed.”

One cannot logically allege an intentional disinterest in presenting another perspective on a story, while simultaneously refusing to provide the other perspective on a story when asked.


Physicists have produced the highest man-made temperature ever. They smashed gold ions together to — as the Los Angeles Times reports — “produce a quark-gluon plasma like that which existed in the first instant after the Big Bang that created the universe, and in doing so have produced what Guinness World Records says is the highest man-made temperature ever, 7.2 trillion degrees. That is about 250,000 times hotter than the temperature at the core of the sun.”

I see.

Here. I think you’re going to need this:


In Japan, scientists have created a robot that will win at Rock, Paper, Scissors every time. Every time.

The robot can recognize what a human hand is about to do.

“This technology is one example that show a possibility of cooperation control within a few miliseconds,” the researchers write. “And this technology can be applied to motion support of human beings and cooperation work between human beings and robots etc. without time delay.”

Bonus I: New video (posted a few hours ago). Old event. The Minnesota Ironman Bike ride, held in early May. There’s an MPR news director in here.

Bonus II: How to fix the Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck (


A Catholic elementary school teacher in Moorhead has lost her job for admitting to her superiors that she disagrees with the church on the Minnesota marriage amendment. Today’s Question: When you’re among others of your faith, do you feel free to dissent without fear of retribution?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Analyzing the health care ruling (if there is one).

Second hour: Health care, Syria, and student loan debt.

Third hour: Even more on the health care ruling.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Dr. David Agus on his best-selling book “The End of Illness.” He spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – More health care ruling discussion.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – How the health care ruling affects Minnesotans.