Achieving dreams (5×8 – 7/31/12)

From Itasca to New Orleans, the dream of infinite flight, where was God in Aurora, was chivalry ever alive, and the wireless generation.

And back to work we go! It was a lovely vacation in Oshkosh; I spent it doing a radio talk show, meeting some fascinating individuals. I’ll be writing some of their stories in the next few weeks. Let’s get back to it.

One housekeeping note: I’m no longer approving comments with long URLs in them. The comment form below shows how to properly insert a working link. Please use it. Or at least try. If you mess it up, I’ll fix it.


I spent a great deal of time on vacation talking to people who chased dreams. There was the New Zealand pilot, for example, who always wanted to fly into the big airshow in Oshkosh. So he dismantled his plane, shipped it to California, reconstructed it there and flew it to Wisconsin last week, ending a two-year effort. Dream achieved.

benton_purnell.jpg This guy, Benton Purnell of Maine, started his quest to travel the Mississippi River from start to end in Minnesota in May. Here he’s going through our scenic locks and dams.

The trip started with the teenager and his father. Dad dropped out in Minneapolis.

Once, when the river was so narrow that he could touch each bank with a paddle, a wolf ran up to the shoreline to inspect Benton and his father before loping off into the woods.

“It looked like a husky, but it was as big as a St. Bernard,” he said.

Another time a deadly water moccasin slithered under his upside down canoe for the night, and struck out at him the next morning.

Another time, a good-sized carp jumped into his canoe.

Surprisingly, some of his most frightening moments came at the hands of relatively benign animals. He was charged by an angry beaver and drew an attack from a duck defending her nest.

“I almost fell right out of the canoe,” he said.

Early in the trip, in the backwoods of Minnesota, the absence of people was the danger, with help hours or days away.

The kid made it to New Orleans.



If electric-powered flight is ever going to be a reality, it’s going to take people like Chip Yates, who might’ve been close to blowing himself up earlier this month when the warning lights were flashing on his battery-powered airplane telling him to “stop.” Instead, he twisted a knob a little more and broke the 200 mph barrier.

Yates had just started flight lessons in May, he told me on Saturday. He got his pilot’s license in June. He had flown the airplane that broke the record only once — the day before the record-setting flight.

He intends to fly across the Atlantic on batteries, as soon as he conquers the next frontier — air-to-air battery refueling.


Just before I left on vacation, I wrote a NewsCut piece on the dearth of discussion about spiritual and religious questions in the wake of the Aurora massacre. There was hardly a peep.

That changed, a little bit, on Saturday. Writing on CNN’s Belief blog, Rob Brendle of Colorado, of course, provides no answers, but at least he’s willing to tackle the questions:

The debate over this theological tension has persisted for centuries, and I don’t aim to settle it here. Let me suggest simply that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to make our decisions meaningful. Consequently, much of what happens on earth neither conforms to nor results from his preference. There are at least four influences on human events: God’s will, to be sure; but also the will of Satan, our adversary; peoples’ choices, for better or for worse; and natural law (gravity, collision, combustion, and the like).

Many of the 4,000 commenters aren’t buying it.


A study of data from some of the worst shipwrecks in history reveals that “women and children first” was a myth. The study reveals that women and children were only half as likely to survive a shipwreck as the crew, which often stepped over them on the way off the boat, the Los Angeles Times reports today. Also having a better chance of survival: Men.


Where would you go if you could go anywhere. A filmmaker is producing, “The Wireless Generation,” about a generation of people who were smart enough to go into a business in which they can work from anywhere. It’s a Kickstarter project.

Bonus I: Almost every new technology has its “cool kid” period in which the refreshing entrepreneurial nature appeals to the Internet audience. Too often, though, the tech company evolves to a mainstream bully. Twitter may have just stepped over the line with its decision to spend the account of a journalist for allegedly publishing the email address of an NBC exec.

Twitter is “partnering” with NBC in its coverage of the London Olympics.

Writing in the Guardian this morning, Dan Gillmor expects Twitter to come to its senses, but considers the possibility that it won’t…

It will have demonstrated that it can be bullied by its business partners into acts that damage its credibility and ultimately the reason so many of us use it as a platform. And if that’s the case, there will be much less incentive to use it.

One of the great ironies in Monday’s events is that the corporate address of the NBC executive, Gary Zenkel, has now spread widely around the internet. This is the so-called Streisand effect, a term that arose when singer Barbra Streisand tried to suppress aerial photos of her mega-mansion on the California coastline north of Los Angeles. Her arrogance led to the widespread dissemination of the pictures, and continuing ridicule.

But the most important reminder for all of us who don’t own technology mega-platforms is that we don’t control them. Their owners do. Twitter’s mistake in this case comes at a non-trivial cost to Adams and his employer. They have lost – temporarily, one hopes – an important method of bringing people to the journalism they produce about the biggest London event in a long time. And until Twitter reverses itself, it’s telling its users they live or die on its servers at the whims of others.

Related: Poynter, for some reason, wants to make this column about Twitter scuttling a baseball trade. It should’ve been about a problem in journalism that predates the Internet — bad journalism and the lack of attribution.

Bonus II: Death of a piano. This seems so wrong.

Bonus III: I used to cringe at the portrayal of reporters in movies. But the portrayal is accurate, which should shame them no end:


A state task force has recommended that Minnesota pass a new anti-bullying law, but it does not offer proposed language for such a law. Today’s Question: What sorts of behavior should an anti-bullying law address?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The Next America – Diversity in our communities.

Second hour: Syria: The road to justice.

Third hour: Mosquitoes and deadly diseases.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): A panel discussion from the Aspen Ideas Festival about how the U.S. should respond to mass killings of human beings. What have we learned since the 1940s, when we said “Never Again”?

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The end game in Syria.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – A newspaper’s online comment section can be a rough place. In one city’s newspaper blog, a reader posted a comment that was anonymous, snarky and possibly defamatory. And that’s landed the newspaper in court. Should the paper protect the identity of the anonymous commenter? NPR considers the question.

  • Robert Moffitt

    Wow. The end of the video of the electric plane test flight is pretty dramatic.

  • MikeB

    Welcome back!

    Re: #1 – Good to see people living their dreams. While many just Walter Mitty their existence others are getting out there into the world, making things happen. I think this ties into the #3 item. People make decisions that impact themselves and those around them. Whether taking a boat down the big river or executing an evil plan, this takes a high sense of self efficacy. We can look to the heavens or the supernatural or elsewhere to rationalize our decision making, but choices are made, not handed down to us.

  • jon

    YAY 5×8 is back!


    If you believe you have free will, then you have the ability to go in and shoot up a movie theater.

    If you don’t believe in free will and you believe all of our choices are predefined by a single higher power in advance, then your higher power is one messed up entity.

    If you believe in multiple higher powers (God, Satan, Vishnu, etc.) then we are clearly all the play things of these higher powers likely with conflicting agendas.

    Ultimately those are the breaks.

    Personally I’d like to think we, humans, do have free will, and more over, most of us didn’t shoot any one today. Sadly it’s a big world, and statistically out of billions of people, some of them might choose to do things the rest of us have to regret.

  • boB from WA

    Welcome back Bob, and thank Paul Tosto for keeping us informed while you were gone.

    Re #3: Not having read the 4k+ comments, I cannot discuss the veracity of each commentator. However, Jon brings up an interesting point: Free will or not. My take is that we do have free will (think Adam and Eve in the Garden: they could have chosen not to believe the serpent). But I do disagree with the author’s contention that “what happens on earth neither conforms to nor results from his preference.” To me this is a form of Deism that rejects the sovereignty of God. Whatever decisions are made by humans, Satan, and God (in all of God’s manifestations) are all for God’s ultimate purpose. As limited human beings we will never fully understand how that works but rather we trust that it is for the greater good of humanity and creation.

    (Disclaimer notice: I am a Lutheran pastor and thus my views will be biased)

  • kennedy

    Re #3: Asking why God lets bad things happen assumes He wants (and has taken) control over creation. One of the temptations of Christ was to (in effect) assume political leadership of the world. The devil said humanity would be better off under Christ’s direct leadership and control. Christ rejected that. Theocracy is not the answer.

    We shouldn’t sit back and pray for God to take charge and save us from the next disaster, complaining for lack of miracles. The miracle is that we are each loved, called and empowered to make things better.

  • Jamie

    It’s amazing how people spin and weave these intricate stories and treatises in order to rationalize what people do and what happens to us.

  • kennedey

    See, that’s why people tend not to talk about religion in public.

  • Jamie

    So if Bob asks a discussion question about god, those of us who don’t believe in god can’t participate? We need to be in the discussion to challenge the premise.

  • Bob Collins

    Who said you couldn’t participate? But the question is about how people relate an incident to their faith, which basically eliminates an atheist from answering with any perspective since an atheist doesn’t relate an incident to a faith.

    Now, if the question is “is there a God?” that’s another story.

    But I don’t consider other people’s condemnation of how OTHERS view their faith to be a genuinely intellectual exercise in this context. It’s their faith, clearly it doesn’t have to be yours.

  • kennedy

    snark ≠ discussion

  • Jamie

    I guess I missed the part about how this was a discussion of how people relate an incident to their faith. I thought it was something like “where is the discussion about god as it relates to Aurora?”