Secrets of the Vatican, the great mailbox standoff, and the new Skymiles (5×8 – 2/26/14)

For many years now, NewsCut has been an experiment and it’s time to evaluate one of those experiments: 5×8. I’ve been considering making some changes to NewsCut, principally with eliminating the daily 5×8 aggregation, which, frankly, takes an increasing amount of time to put together, in favor of merely putting up several individual posts in the morning hours. Would all the typical 5×8 items end up appearing on NewsCut? Probably not, since the “mix” of stories I find on a given morning are as much a part of what I’ve been trying to do as what the stories are. But this might be a nuance that isn’t apparent or even desired. Or maybe it is; I don’t know.

Your feedback on how — or even whether — you consume 5×8 will help give me some more information. Here’s a short survey you can take to provide that feedback. There are only a few questions (and room for you to tell me whatever else you might want to tell me). I’d very much appreciate your taking a minute (or less) to provide some feedback. It will only be helpful if most of you take the survey.


Why did Pope Benedict resign? In its documentary last night, PBS’ Frontline uncovered “threats and scandals” beyond the clergy sex abuse crisis — money laundering and corruption at the Vatican Bank; the release of internal documents revealing cronyism, power struggles, and allegations of blackmail within the Holy See.

The documentary said there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture within the Vatican when it comes to priests’ sexual orientation and finds that some priests are embarking on illicit relationships despite vows of celibacy.

“Here in Rome it’s very easy to meet a gay priest, on a bus, in a church, and in important churches like St. Peter’s,” one Vatican guide who says he has had relationships with several priests told Frontline. “It’s even easier when you go to gay clubs and gay bars. You see them in the bars, and then at the altar the following Sunday.”

The documentary said the current pope had intended to resign as cardinal at the time he was elevated to pope.

Related: Benedict Dismisses Renewed Rumors About Why He Left The Papacy (NPR).

Priest searched online for sexual images of children, according to police report (Minnesota Public Radio News).

One-Third Of Millennials Who Left Their Religion Did It Because Of Anti-Gay Policies: Survey (HuffPo)


We have reached the point of winter where we’ve done all we can to outsmart it; now we just face the realities of it and adjust as best we can. The roads are horrible and likely to stay that way until it warms up. We complain, but we’re smart enough to know the reality.

The newspaper doesn’t quite make it to the front door, so we walk a little farther down the driveway. It’s rough being a newspaper carrier. He/she makes the adjustments she can make, so do we. That’s the way it is in winter in Minnesota.

We drive a little slower down the street because the cars are parked a little farther away from the curb because of all of the snow. It happens. It’s winter. That’s reality.

Reality and the U.S. Postal Service have never been familiar to one another.

I went out in the middle of the storm last week — at night — to snowblow around the mailbox, mindful of the gratitude my mail carrier would have for my effort. But it didn’t matter. In the middle of the night, the city plowed the sopping-wet snow four feet high along the road, the temperature dropped, and it froze.

I snowblowed a path to the mailbox and I tried to get rid of as much snow as I could. But it would take C-4 explosives at this point. Not that I didn’t try, mail carrier, but I broke an auger on my snowblower doing so. That cost me $150.

A little appreciation of my effort? I didn’t get it. I got this:

And yesterday I got this:

As everyone in Minnesota has been told, you’ll just have to be patient, mail carrier. We’re all in this together. I know this makes it difficult to drive right up to the mailbox, but there was actually a time when people threw a satchel over their shoulder and walked from house to house.

The mail carrier can’t do that anymore. It’s against the rules to step down from their truck, and take two steps along the shoveled path to the mailbox.

And so we’ve reached the point of winter where unrealistic expectations collide with a people who have made every concession to winter that we can make.

Related: Global warming/climate change won’t affect the number of cold-weather deaths (Weather Channel).

The era of accumulating frequent flier miles on the cheap is over. Delta is announcing its revamping its SkyMiles program. You’ll get miles based on how much money you spend, not how many miles you fly, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports today.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether consumers, who are tethered to airlines because of these types of programs, start flying other airlines. If it’s harder to get frequent flier miles, is it easier for you to fly another, cheaper airline?

The next time you watch a movie with a crowd scene, take notice of how many women aren’t in the crowd, actress Geena Davis told students at the College of St. Benedict yesterday. Leading roles and crowd scenes feature only abut 17 percent women, the St. Cloud Times says.

“That means that all the fictitious worlds that are created, the underseas kingdoms and the villages and planetary colonies are made up of only about 17 percent female presence. You think you’d almost have to go out of your way to leave out that many women,” Davis said.

Related: Young girl’s generosity on display at Paint the Rink Pink (Rochester Post Bulletin).

When we last left Christopher Tasava of Northfield, he was finishing the Arrowhead 135, the International Falls-to-Tower bike, hike, or ski race held in the coldest weather of the year.

But what happens to people who ride their bike for two straight days in -40 weather? His new blog post provides the answer:

Unlike my raging appetite, other physical effects have mostly disappeared. My frostbitten nose healed disgustingly but rapidly, and is now back to normal in both appearance and function. That is, it’s still “very big” (according to the girls) but doesn’t get especially chilled when I am out in the cold. I am sorry that anyone had to see my nose repairing itself. The process was pretty gross.

My fingers and toes also got mildly frostbitten. The fingers are fine now, but my toes continue to feel somewhat numb, as if they’re perpetually waking up after “falling asleep.” I debate whether this numbness is due more to the extreme cold or to the fact that I wore the same boots for something like 30 hours, but either way, I am still dealing with it. I think that the numbness is gradually diminishing. I sure hope it is.

One somewhat odd effect, or perhaps side effect, of the race is how comfortable I feel on my bike right now. I’ve always felt good on the Beast, but my riding position – long, deep pedal strokes; a slightly hunched back; hands wide on the bars – is now familiar and pleasing, as well as comfortable. Some of this comfort is physical, but some of it is also psychological: this is how my body survived those hours and hours in the middle of the night…

Bonus: The latest viral documentary that’s actually an advertisement comes from a lingerie firm in Thailand:

How has your view of President Obama changed over time?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Why women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain

Second hour: As the President comes to St. Paul as part of his “year of action” tour, we will take a look at his initiatives over the course of his presidency and how they’ve fared compared with those of other presidents.

Third hour: Why I read.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – American RadioWorks documentary “State of Siege: Mississippi Whites and the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – A stunning new report shows that childhood obesity rates have dropped by 43% for kids 2 to 5 years old. What has changed in the last decade and what does this mean for the country’s obesity epidemic?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – MPR’s Mark Zdechlik will wrap up President Obama’s trip to Saint Paul.

California’s drought has state officials there looking at alternative water sources, like the ocean. Tapping into seawater requires an expensive desalination plant, which some say can harm the environment. Others argue that it’s worth the price for this reliable, drought-proof resource. NPR reports on California’s debate on desalination.

  • John O.

    #2) And the postal service wonders why they are broke?

    • Except the USPS isn’t “broke.”

      The USPS has been forced to pre-fund future retiree health benefits since 2006.

      “This mandate is the primary cause of the agency’s financial crisis. No other government agency or private company bears this burden, which costs the USPS approximately $5.5 billion annually.”

      – APWU President Cliff Guffey

      • but the next postcard will say “we’re not delivering anymore; come pick it up at the post office.” and the natural solution is — as it has been — go green and have bills delivered by email, pay them online, read pdf versions of your magazines etc. It’s pretty easy to make mail delivery more irrelevant.

        • True, but there are still some items that still need the ol’ “hard copy.”

      • BReynolds33

        “which costs the USPS approximately $5.5 billion annually.” The actual end to that sentence is: “… and prevents the American taxpayers from being forced to bail out the pension plan when the USPS eventually, and predictably, fails.”

      • John O.

        Here’s the next graf in one of their news blog posts that immediately follows your statement above:

        “In addition, the Postal Service has overfunded its pension accounts. The USPS has overpaid into the Federal Employees Retirement System by more than $11 billion. Two independent actuarial studies have concluded that the agency has overfunded the Civil Service Retirement System by billions of dollars as well.”

        • “Graf?”

          • media shorthand for “paragraph”

          • Ah, thanks. I’m just a lowly media consumer.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    #2 – Solution: Leave the suburbs for the city.

    • David

      This. My letter carrier carries the letters to my front door. I even shovel my front stoop for them.

  • dschille

    #2) we need to invent some sort of telescoping mail box pole.

    • jon

      I’ve seen some setups where the mailbox pivots on it’s post, and a few where the post goes up 6 feet and then the mail box hangs down on chains…
      Either of these might be helpful if the plows went all the way over to the mailboxes (if they hit them they swing out of the way) but they don’t (probably because most mail boxes don’t work like that)

    • Sure enough, there are mailbox extenders.

  • Chris

    #2 – How odd.
    We live a south of the river suburb and our postal carriers park the vehicle, throw the bag over their shoulder and walk house to house all year round. The only change they’ve made this winter is to walk up and down the driveways as the snow is too deep to follow the usual path across the front yards.

  • jon

    @#2) I have much respect for the postal service, and I’ve seen many of them getting out of their car to get to the mailboxes I’ve not gotten a notice this year yet, and my mail box is currently very nearly unreachable by car due to the same circumstances you describe.

    At some point we are going to have to admit that the grumman LLV is a terrible vehicle to drive around in a minnesota winter. I’ve helped push more than one mail carrier out from snow banks over the years, they all agree these trucks suck in the snow.

    Luckily these trucks are end of life (almost every one of them is over 20 years old, which is the age required for collectors license plates in MN) and when we replace them we need to look at regional solutions… so that rural carriers get the vehicles that can travel longer distances, and carriers with shorter routes get trucks that go shorter distances… warmer climates can stick with 2wd and colder climates need to get awd or 4wd…

    Also why can’t plows push all the snow over to side of the road that doesn’t have mailboxes?

    • Well, they do but there’s no room over there either. I mean, sometimes there’s nothing anybody can do. The weather gives us all we can handle and we handle it the best way we can. But there’s a limit and sometimes bureaucracies are just going to have to bend a little. Because everyone else already has.

    • David

      My letter carrier drives a Dodge Caravan, so maybe the old mail trucks are being phased out. Though I was behind one in traffic yesterday that couldn’t get going since it was so light and was getting no traction.

  • Thomas Mercier

    #2 I think my city got sick of paying for mailboxes they’ve destroyed with their plows. So their strategy has been to avoid plowing within 2 feet of the curb since the first snowfall of the year and place the burden on the homeowners to adequately clear around mailboxes.

    • Do they give you a rebate on your taxes, since a properly plowed road is one of the government functions for which we’re assessed.

      • Thomas Mercier

        In the last big snowfall their first pass in my neighborhood was after 8 AM. The snowplow got stuck. I’ve given up on expecting much from my city, which saddens me incredibly.

    • David

      Near the family cabin in northern MN all the mailboxes are on chains for a very long pole so when the plow does hit the boxes they swing out of the way. The road near the box gets plowed and the mailbox owner gets their mail.

  • #4 doesn’t surprise me since I learned of the Bechdel Test

    Far too many movies fail this simple test. I’ve watched Nebraska, Gravity and Her this week and all three of those Best Picture movies didn’t make the cut (although to be fair, Gravity only has two characters).

  • John

    1) I didn’t watch the show. I’m glad I didn’t, but I also kind of wish I had. I don’t think anything that came out of it was particularly shocking or even surprising to anyone who has paid any attention to the Church the last 10-15 years. It’s sad that an organization that was (presumably) founded to provide hope for the destitute some 2000 years ago has been so thoroughly corrupted in its mission.

    It’s my understanding (un-substantiated as far as I know) that back around the time Luther decided he needed to go do his own thing, a monastery was a safe place to be if you were homosexual. Not that the Church condoned the behavior, but you could go there and not have to marry, father children, etc. I can’t imagine the moral dilemma that gay men had to deal with while preaching against something that was part of them.

    Carry forward a few hundred years, and it’s maybe not surprising that the priesthood has a significant number of semi-closeted gay men involved at various levels. It is surprising to me that the attitude and official stance of the Church has not softened significantly on that front.

    I’m not Catholic, never was. I have visited the Vatican twice, mostly to marvel in its magnificence (which it is) and look at the art (which is amazing). It’s been several years now (probably 10), and I will not go back – even if I have the great fortune to visit Rome again. The misalignment between the top and bottom of the church heirarchy is amazing. I saw some of the most valuable art in the world, and then when I get home I hear from my friends that the priest is passing the plate for extra collections to fix holes in the roof. It’s disgusting.

    I don’t remember where I was going when I started this, but I’ll end on this: I believe the Church has accomplished some great things over the last 2000 years. They’ve also done some terrible stuff. I fear that on balance, the terrible is beginning to outweigh the good, and I don’t think it can survive that drastic a move from its official goals and mission.

  • Nikki

    #3 Delta posted a calculator on their website to compare the current program to their new one. My most traveled flight is from Hartford to Minneapolis/St. Paul. It’s an expensive flight (usually between $419-$460). When I punched in the range, I was surprised- at the lower end ticket, I only lose 5 miles, on the higher end, I’ll end up with an additional 200 miles.

    Regardless of the change, I wasn’t going to stop flying Delta. They’re the only airline with a non-stop flight between these two cities. Flying non-stop gives me an extra day on a round trip. My time is precious and i want to squeeze as much time in my vacations as possible.