The stuff we throw away (5×8 – 5/24/13)

Trashology in Duluth, behind school suspensions, after the fire in South St. Paul, the end of the apostrophe, and music for the locked-out soul.


There are are more glamorous ways to get out of town — the summer cabin, for example — but probably none as fascinating as Judy and Elmer Gilow, owners of a Winona company who are culling through the mysteries of Duluth this week. And by “mysteries,” I mean your trash, Duluth.

They’re trying to figure out what and why we choose to toss in the trash, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

“We’ve seen it all. Human remains. Dead animals. Nothing would surprise me now,” Elmer Gilow said as he dumped a container of rotten potato salad into the food category bin. And, by the way, the human remains weren’t found in Duluth.

On Wednesday the Gilows were sorting with their daughter, Kari Babler, and business partner Mike Rogers. The Minnesota natives sort garbage throughout the U.S. for agencies that keep track of solid waste.

“The dead animals are the worst — they smell REALLY bad,” Judy said.

“The worst is when it gets really hot or cold,” Elmer said.

“We had 105 degrees in Nebraska last year, and that was awful,” Judy added. “We do this part time, maybe eight or 16 weeks each year. … We’ve been as far away as Hawaii. … But I wouldn’t want to do this job full time.”

A lot of what they find is a failure — things that could have been composted or recycled. They’re expecting to find much more plastic this year than in recent years because of the explosion of single-serving packaging now.

It’s not surprising the couple is finding lots of rotten food. A study a few years ago found Americans throw away 40 percent of their food.


Saint Paul school officials say the number of suspensions of students is down after criticism over the number of minority students suspended for bad behavior. But that may not mean that behavior is improving, the Star Tribune reports.

The district class removed “continual willful disobedience” from the list of violations for which students could be suspended, and it also gave bonus pay to principals at pay where suspensions were reduced. Voila! Suspensions were reduced.

At St. Paul Federation of Teachers headquarters, union President Mary Cathryn Ricker said that she’s heard varied opinions from teachers as to whether the push to lower suspension rates has improved classroom behaviors. Some see it as a genuine effort to improve the school environment, she said, while others say it’s hiding work that needs to be done about disruptive acts.

Some students have weighed in on how safe they feel at school. Nick Faber, a veteran science teacher, surveyed third- through sixth-graders at his school about bullying and school safety. Nearly one-fourth said they felt “kind of not safe” or “not safe at all” at school, he said. Nearly two-thirds reported having been pushed or shoved at least once in the previous week. Teachers need professional development to help kids who’ve had trauma and chronic stress, and district administrators ought to put more resources there, rather than simply saying, “stop suspending,” Faber said.


This is what a classic Stearman airman looks like in typical condition.


This what a classic Stearman looks like when it burns…


I finally got a chance last evening to take a look at the damage from the fire that swept through the hangar, and several others earlier this week at Fleming Field in South St. Paul. The blaze started apparently while the plane’s owner refueled the airplane without ventilation.

Here’s another view of the fuselage.


Related aviation: Here’s a story you don’t hear every day – someone taking responsibility. A helicopter lost power over Honolulu and the pilot had seconds to act. Everybody lived. Then, risking legal consequences, the mechanic who worked on the helicopter stepped forward to accept responsibility. Now the insurance companies are suing him and he says he won’t fight it.

Hawaii News Now – KGMB and KHNL


The end of the apostrophe may be at hand, Slate suggests today.

The number of bloggers and websites suggesting that we get rid of the apostrophe for good has increased dramatically in recent years–and their position is not taken up as some sort of joke. Those who maintain the Kill the Apostrophe website, for instance, take this stuff seriously. The site’s manifesto notes that the apostrophe “serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who dont.” It asserts that apostrophes are redundant, wasteful, snobbish, and anachronistic in an era of text messaging. Apostrophes “consume considerable time and resources” and, according to the website, “Tremendous amounts of money are spent every year by businesses on proof readers, part of whose job it is to put apostrophes in the ‘correct’ place–to no semantic effect whatsoever.” We’d all be “better off without em.”

More from the learned world: Anything is possible, people. A fairly undistinguished professor at the University of New Hampshire proved a math theory that, apparently, the math world thought would not be proven in their lifetimes.


For more than a century–and perhaps as far back as ancient Greece–mathematicians have conjectured there are an infinite number of prime numbers separated by two. That would mean that there are an infinite number of pairs such as 3 and 5, or 41 and 43, or 269 and 271. What Zhang showed was actually that there were an infinite number of primes separated by 70 million. As any child who knows how to count knows, 70 million is a far from two, but Zhang’s proof–of something called the “bounded gaps conjecture”–excites mathematicians because it is the first time anyone has proven there are an infinite number of primes separated by an actual number.


What do Minnesota Orchestra musicians do when they’re locked out? The play. And teach.

MN Orchestra Visits MHS from Minnetonka Public Schools on Vimeo.

Bonus I: Kid President is back. This is a good thing.

Bonus II: More on why Daniel Alvarez is padding back to Minnesota.

Bonus III: It’s become a Memorial Day tradition on NewsCut. The story behind the picture.


(© John Francis Ficara)

If you’ve got a story to share about one who served, please post it below.


The number of cabin owners in Minnesota has dipped down a bit from 125,000 in 2005, to 122,000 in 2012, according to Jeff Forester, Executive Director, Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates. But time at the lake is still an important tradition for many Minnesotans.

Today’s Question: Is owning a cabin part of your Minnesota dream?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Friday roundtable of political reporters discusses the legislative session.

Second hour: What if we never run out of oil?

Third hour: Tom Weber hosted Science Night Minnesota in front of a capacity crowd at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul this week. The topic was Mars exploration and the event featured a conversation with the chief scientist of the Mars Curiosity rover, John Grotzinger.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Historian David Blight, speaking at the Minnesota History Center about “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.”

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – Tech tips for older adults. Plus, why houses with dogs might be more diverse germ-wise.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – When author Richard Rubin tracked down the last veterans of World War I, he unearthed long lost stories. Stories the men had not talked about in 50, 60, even 70 years. Why so long? The veterans said: it had been decades since anybody asked them about the war. NPR reports on the last of the doughboys.

  • Robert Moffitt

    ATC/Bonus II: As a young boy, I knew a couple relatives who had served during WW 1. One of them was a gas attack survivor. His health was never good afterwards.

    Looking at both my mother’s and father’s side of the family, I have had relatives in uniform for just about all the wars our country has been in of the past 100 years. We have been unbelievably lucky — only one was killed in combat.

    Maybe we should give peace a chance.

  • Bonus III: My father served on the front lines during the Korean War. You can only imagine the horrors he experienced which haunted him for the remainder of his life.

    Several years after his death, I decided to try and find the daughter of my dad’s Army buddy. Ray was to leave Korea, bound for Nebraska, when he was blown up on the battlefield (before my father’s eyes) the day before his departure.

    My dad shared only a few stories from Korea, the story of Ray being one of them. Ray had never seen his six-week-old daughter, Teri.

    After a short search, I found Teri. Though we have not yet met, I hope to someday wrap my arms around her. We will have come full circle then, sharing the bond of our fathers who served together in Korea.

    You can read the entire emotional story here.

  • Susan in MN

    1) I’ve been known pull out the recycling from trash at work. I will also bring home all my recycling after camping this weekend. I’m amazed at what people throw in the dumpsters at state parks.

    4) I’m also known to add or subtract apostrophes from signs and documents. However, if it were to go away, I would not be heartbroken. Now, how about the comma?

    Bonus I: What a great antidote to the sad news we’ve had lately.

  • bri-bri

    “The site’s manifesto notes that the apostrophe ‘serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who don[‘]t.'”

    I realize that getting angry about misuse of apostrophes is as futile as calling for their removal from English, which, like all languages, will evolve however we collectively evolve it. Yet it still enrages me. What we really need is a drug that either cures apostrophe misuse or apostrophe-misuse-rage.

  • Bob collins

    // like all languages, will evolve however we collectively evolve it.

    Like “begs the question.” When’s the last time you heard THAT phrase used properly?

  • Chuck

    Oh no, Bob. “Begs the question” has long been a thorn in my side. And don’t even get me started on people’s pronunciations of various words.

  • St. Paul mom

    #2: “Teachers need professional development to help kids who’ve had trauma and chronic stress, and district administrators ought to put more resources there, rather than simply saying, ‘stop suspending,’ Faber said.”

    Faber hit the nail on the head.

    In our St Paul school, my son was bullied and his life was threatened by gang members after he reported to administration that he had seen them threaten some children at knife point.

    It was traumatizing. He could not sleep, could not eat, was unable to concentrate on school work, and was hiding during the day in case the students threatening him were looking for him. The students were not suspended, the school principal was incredibly insensitive to my son, and it took significantly longer to be resolved that it ought to have. The resolution being that my son’s dad and I called a meeting of staff other than the principal to put a plan into place.

    During this experience, I got to know some of the St. Paul police officers, and I learned that not reporting incidents per district policy was perceived to be a pattern this year in our school.

    I see the school to prison pipeline as a major issue of inequity in our society and am not a huge fan of suspension as a response to behavior; many kids get their only meals of the day in school. That being said, ignoring violent behavior does a disservice to all involved; it is paternalistic to assume that children do not need to be responsible for thier actions and it is blind not to see that children will mimic the violence perpetuated by systemic inequity. A child who is acting in this manner needs help and services, not to be exhiled by the community. The kids bullying my son were victims too; victims of a system that passes the buck. Perhaps interventions and prevention could have helped. Perhaps stonger anti-bullying measures could have helped.

    Thank you for the post. I am signing this anonymously so that I can continue to interact with the school district in an effective manner to advocate for my son.

  • Kassie

    Grammar elitists annoy me. If you are wrting a book or a PhD. thesis, then you should get grammar right. For the most part though, if you can follow the rules enough for people to understand you, who cares?

    I have a lot more respect for people who can communicate effectively with lots of different people from different educational/social backgrounds than someone who can write/speak without a single gramatical mistake, but can’t make themselves understandable to the average guy on the street.

  • CaliGuy

    Want a job where you get kudos for not doing your job? Be a school administrator.

    In the past two years, the MN Legislature has actually passed two different laws (teacher evaluation; termination policy for coaches) because administrators consistently refuse to step up, do the right thing, and take appropriate action.

    Instead of firing inept and spineless administrators, the call from the top administrator in St. Paul is “stop suspensions”. Go figure.