5 x 8: The people who change things


Word has reached flyover country that the White House will honor Fatima Said of Winona on Thursday as part of its Constitution Week and Citizenship Day observances of “Champions of Change.” Said is executive director for Project FINE, a nonprofit organization that is focused on integrating newcomers through education.

She knows what it’s like to be a newcomer. She was one just 19 years ago, the Winona Post reported in a profile of her last month:

Project FINE Director Fatima Said was nervous and afraid when she first set foot in America 19 years ago as a refugee of civil war and genocide in Bosnia. A welcoming party of strangers carrying signs, flowers, and bowls of fruit earned her tearful thankfulness. She could not believe strangers would be so kind to her. Now, she feels again the waves of gratitude and emotion she felt on her first moment in America, but for a different reason.

When the Virginia McKnight Binger awards for human service were announced this summer, Said was one of the recipients. She donated her $10,000 award.

The White House ceremony will probably be a quick affair. They’re not even inviting the press. But it’s still an opportunity to consider why some people work hard for change, and some people don’t.

Discussion topic: What change would you like to make in the world and what’s your plan for changing it?


There’s no rule that says America has to have a middle class, economist Daron Acemoglu, of MIT, tells APM’s Marketplace. Median earnings in the U.S. were revealed yesterday: $51,000. They haven’t bounced back to pre-recession levels and maybe they won’t. There will always be a median income, but it may well be that the economic future are simply the people who have and the people who don’t.

So Marketplace turned to sci-fi writer Gennifer Albin and asked her to write a story about what things might look like in, say, 2038:

The two headed back to the room they shared, guided by the precise beam of the small flashlight. Sydney unlocked her drawer and pulled out an overlarge t-shirt to sleep in. Last shift hadn’t made the bed, but she was too tired to care, settling in and hoping sleep came easily tonight.

Maya crawled into the bed on the other side of the room, flashlight still on, and took out an e-reader.

“You aren’t going to sleep?” Sydney asked.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

“You’ll be dead a lot faster if you don’t rest before you go into the call center.” Sydney liked to worry. It reminded her of her mother.

“Hours got cut,” Maya said. “I talked a friend into letting me crash at his place. He’s got his shift at five. Might as well read now.”

“Okay.” But it wasn’t okay. This was the second time Maya’s hours had been cut this week, the fourth time this month. Sydney knew Maya needed the job if she was going to pay her rent, and Sydney didn’t like to think she might have to welcome a new shift-mate into her room. Maya was the least annoying one she’d had in the last two years.

Sydney shifted onto her side away from the light and tried to turn off the thoughts competing for her attention. She wanted to sleep before the water came back on, before it was time to get back to her first job.

Find the story here.

Related: Having a job doesn’t mean having a home (NY Times)


The last remaining drive-ins in Minnesota are hoping some digital projectors fall from the sky in the next week. The vanishing icons have to convert to digital — film companies are only going to distribute via digital — soon but the cost is prohibitive.

Project Drive-in — from Honda — is allowing people to vote for the drive-ins that will be given free projectors. Voting has been extended to Saturday.

“I’m only half-done paying for the equipment that I have out there, and it’s already obsolete,” a Spirit Lake, Iowa drive-in owner tells the Worthington Daily Globe today. “That’s why it’s very hard to take that we have to purchase new equipment already.”

At the drive-in in Luverne, the owner is using social media to try to spread the word.

More icons: Reunited with the childhood baseball glove.


As the trial of the Duluth head shop owner gets underway, leave it to the anonymous public defender who writes the Not for the Monosyllabic blog to inject some reality in the fight against legal substances that could be used by people to get high.

How many things do people use now to get high or drunk? Alcoholics who are particularly desperate have been known to drink mouthwash because there’s alcohol in mouthwash. There was the girl on Intervention, Allison, who bought cans and cans of computer duster and sucked it straight from the can to get high.

Glue, rubber cement, cough syrup, markers, nail polish, paint, whipped cream canisters…pretty much anything and everything that can be used to get high is used to get high.

So do we start charging every Target store manager for selling these products because people use them to get high? Do we only charge the Target store manager if the product doesn’t work for what it claims it’s for? Where do we draw the line?

And does it make a difference to criminalize these things? I’d argue that no, it doesn’t. It doesn’t do a damn thing. I don’t know a ton of people who are sitting around, thinking to themselves, “Well, if heroin weren’t illegal, I would totes shoot heroin.”

People are either going to do drugs or they aren’t. Illegality isn’t really much of a factor in that decision, so far as I have ever seen. Whether it’s illegal or not, people are going to use drugs.

So, are we accomplishing anything by locking people up? By creating more and more things that are now illegal to own, use, posses, or sell?

(h/t: Brian Shipe)


France is ready to ban child beauty pageants, because of their creepy hypersexualization of kids, the BBC reports today. Under the law that passed a test this week, if you put on a child beauty pageant, you could go to jail for two years.

Related: Pretty babies (Vogue)

Bonus I: Your General Mills moment. Cheerios leverages the death of a grandparent and joins the ranks of undead endorsed cereals like Count Chocula (Stephen Colbert). They’re doing cartwheels in Golden Valley.

Bonus II: Last night’s baseball play of the day.

Bonus III: What Did Barney Rubble Do for a Living? (Neatorama)

Bonus IV: Ohio’s Amish country at harvest time… by air.

Can mass shootings be stopped?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: As with the Republican Party, the Democratic Party also saw fissures within its own party regarding Syria. Other issues from the environment, to gun control to the budget, show even the President’s party is not always a unified one. As the republicans continue to ‘soul search’, will Democrats do the same? Are they prepared for 2014?

Second hour: Money and the war on cancer.

Third hour: Where are we five years after Lehman and the recession’s start?

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Intelligence Squared series: Four experts debate the question, “Is the U.S. drone program fatally flawed?”

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The U.S. House is planning to vote this week on a bill that cuts food stamps by $40 billion over 10 years. Food stamp funding used to be part of the farm bill, but House Republicans this summer decided to vote on the issues separately. It’s the first of a series of controversial votes coming up in the next few weeks as Congress begins to grapple with the budget, and the whole process has the potential to lead to s federal government shutdown. Brett Neely will report.

MPR’s Dan Olson profiles Ojibwe artist Mel Losh who works from his small home in Bena and is recognized widely for his bead and quill work. The art form is important to American Indian culture, but Losh cannot find anyone in his community who will carry on the tradition.

What does it mean to join Brazil’s new middle class? For Enilda de Carvalho it means a new TV, microwave, and hopes that her daughters will have an easier life. NPR looks at Brazil’s new middle class.

  • MrE85

    3) I just heard about this from an old high school friend in Indiana. I worked at two Drive-In theaters in Indiana, both are long gone. Hat tip to Honda for doing this. BTW, it’s not just the drive-ins that are have to make expensive switch to digital projectors. It also threatens the last remaining single screen small town theaters. In some places, such as Windom, MN, the community is stepping up with donations.
    5) Viva la France!
    DC) The Dems are always divided…that’s part of their naïve charm as a party.

  • BJ
  • Lisa

    2) Unless we think defacto serfdom is the way to go, I really think we need to re-examine our values as a society that makes this a possibility.

  • BReynolds33

    What change do I want to see in this world, and what is my plan to change it?

    I would really like to rid the world of stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons. I am open to suggestions on how to accomplish this goal.

    Also, the paying of school superintendents six figure salaries makes my skin crawl, but the only way around that one is for people to ditch the idea that throwing money at education isn’t the answer, which would involve them having been educated in the first place, which doesn’t really work since the education system is run by people making six figure salaries despite 30% of their students not being able to pass basic reading comprehension tests before graduation.

    My plan to change that comes in the form of really long sentences, with numerous commas, posted on various websites that uneducated (stupid) people will never read anyway. It seems like a solid plan.

    • David

      How much do you think the executive officer/manager of an organization with thousands of employees and budgets that are measured in 100s of millions should make?

      This is a serious question.

      • BReynolds33

        Our school district is small. There are not 1000s of employees. Maybe 400 at the most. The budget is likely in the tens of millions, not hundreds of millions. I am not sure what that has to do with this, anyway, but I will play along.

        A CEO or equivalent makes what the market commands for their services. Managing a business, with shareholders and a multitude of investments to manage gets to make big money. Their services command a premium rate. I have zero issue with a private (as in not owned by the government) business paying their employees whatever they wish to pay them. Millions if need be.

        A school superintendent is not the leader of a business. They are the leader of a small form of local government, and by paying them six figure salaries, we take money out of the coffers for things like… I don’t know… teachers. I would rather have two teachers making 50 grand than one superintendent making 100 grand.

        Maybe the superintendent of Anoka-Hennipen is valued at six figures, but why for a school district a fraction of the size?

        My question back to you would be: If said executive officer / manager of an organization with thousands of employees and budgets measured in the 100s of millions turned out a product or service that failed 30% of the time, how long would you expect them to be employed, and are you still willing to pay them a premium rate to keep them around?

        • Kassie

          I don’t see paying a superintendent $110k that big of a deal. Your best paid teacher makes probably about $70k. Their boss, the vice principal should make more than that, so $85k. Their boss, the principal then should make more than that, so $95k and their boss more than that, so $110k. That’s just how it works. Plus, being a superintendent requires a lot of education, a lot of years of experience, and being in the public eye, on top of a whole lot of responsibilities and duties. It seems fair to me that they be compensated for that.

          • BReynolds33

            Why should a principal make more than a teacher? It is not “just how it works.” Lots of people in the world make more money than their boss. Pay isn’t based on how much people who report to you make. If a principal has been on the job for a year, they should make more than a teacher who has been around for 25 years? Nah. That’s ridiculous.

            And I really don’t care if a superintendent is in the public eye. They do nothing… absolutely nothing… on a day to day basis to improve the education of the children in the district.

            While the requirements of a school board to hire someone to be in the job may require a specific education, years of service, etc, there is nothing is the actual duties that requires a specific level of education. Much as with almost every job on the planet, a college education is good right up until you actually have to do something.

            In our district, our superintendent was never a teacher. He has never done anything but manage people. He has a PhD, and somehow that qualifies him to tell teachers how to teach, despite having never actually done it himself.

          • David

            The market is setting the rate for the most part right? Looking at the link mentioned below it looks like the larger districts pay more and smaller districts pay less (generally).

            I don’t think that a good teacher would automatically make a good superintendent, and neither would a good superintendent automatically make a good teacher. I think a good superintendent should be a good manager of people and money. They should be setting the strategy and policy for the district and getting the best people in place to set the district down that direction. Those direct reports would specialize in different areas (curriculum, facilities, finance, HR, etc).

            It sounds to me that you are dissatisfied with the super in your particular district. While I know it is easy to make general statements, it introduces confusion into the discussion. And the rest of us don’t know what district/area of the state you are referring to.

            Since the districts across the state are varying in student size, employee size, geographic size let alone what the home lives of the “average student” looks like in districts I would argue that some supers should take in less than 100k and some should take in more than 100k. Which according to data a few years old (but easily accessible via google) seems to reflect the state of super salary in MN.


            Finally, I would argue that a good superintendent should be doing (and does do) things day to day to improve education for the students of their district. If they are not, that is when the board should step in.

            Does your distaste for public administration salaries extend to city administrators?

          • BReynolds33

            Most of what I read here I don’t see much relevance to the conversation. However, know I have lived in multiple districts, and never has a superintendent shown they have a skill set worthy of a salary that is double or more than the median salary. This isn’t confusion about one person, but rather, a structure of top heavy school districts that have superintendents, vice superintendents, principals, vice principals, associate principals, vice associate principals… We pour money into schools, and far too much of it goes to people sitting in offices rather than teaching kids.

            I’m not sure what your last question has to do with the topic, so I will just leave it alone.

          • David

            I agree there are probably some extra layers of admin (and “independent consultants”!!) in most districts eating up some costs that could be otherwise spent more directly on students. I just don’t think its as easy as saying this gal who makes 101k is worthless while this guy who makes 99k is the answer to our problems. (I also don’t think that is actually what you meant per say). All I was trying to say (poorly it seems) is that there are (and should be) many factors influencing the salary decisions a board makes.

            Thanks for spending a Wednesday considering something with me I would not have otherwise considered so deeply.

          • BReynolds33

            No problem. I hope it was a worthwhile discussion. The six figure mark is arbitrary, absolutely. It is the overarching concept, I guess that fires me up. Thanks for chiming in. Good to know there are other living beings somewhere in the interwebs.

  • DavidG

    There may be no rule that we have to have a middle class, but when you look at the countries that don’t have one, they’re not exactly the picture of social, political, or economic stability.

  • davidz

    #2 — Last night’s Marketplace (I think it was) seemed to equate median income with middle class. They’re hardly the same. The median income of Shannon County, SD (on the Pine Ridge reservation) is decidedly not middle class (just shy of $21K, below the poverty level of $23.5K). Westchester County, NY has median income ranging from $77K to $96K. $96K puts a one income family into the 77%. Not the 99%, but a whole lot closer than the 5% of Shannon County).

  • DavidG

    related to number 4, the NYTimes had this interesting article on addiction research: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/science/the-rational-choices-of-crack-addicts.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0