I've long believed that what's killed the sense of community in America is the backyard deck and central air conditioning. When the front porch disappeared, so did a big chunk of our shared lives.
Everett Kuntz,, an Iowa native who settled in suburban Minneapolis before he died in 2003, loved the pictures of Ridgeway, Iowa that he took as a boy. As he was dying of cancer, his son promised to put them in a book. And a few months ago, he did.
"Sunday Afternoon on the Porch: Reflections of a Small Town in Iowa, 1939-1942" has been released by the University of Iowa Press.
Today, the New York Times wrote a terrific story about the book. Unfortunately, the Times didn't produce a slideshow to go along with it, which would have been as much fun as sitting and watching small-town America go by from the front porch.
I'll bet that somewhere within arm's reach -- or maybe in an old box in the basement -- you've got one picture from far in the past with a great story to tell. Dig it out and send it along. Tell me the story and maybe I'll post a series of snapshots.
It's funny how time changes the context of things. I passed a gas station last night and the price of a gallon of gas was $2.96. After $4 a gallon, it was like seeing a sign for free kittens. Funny, it wasn't that way the last time gas was this "cheap."
According to minnesotagasprices.com, the average price in the state for a gallon of gas is $3.019, and there are plenty of stations listed where gasoline is selling in the $2.85 range.
The last time the average price for gasoline in the Midwest dropped below $3 a gallon was February 2008, according to the Department of Energy. A year ago it was $2.74.
The recession is one reason for the drop. We also changed our driving habits because of the high prices. Will we change them back now that the price has dropped?(9 Comments)
I've detected another round of TV ads touting the benefit of cervical cancer vaccinations. "We chose to help protect ourselves against cervical cancer and other HPV diseases. Now the choice is yours," women in the ad say. Major guilt trip.
The Minnesota Legislature dabbled with the idea nearly two years ago before the sponsor withdrew the bill. There was already some pushback from some parents who said vaccinating girls against a sexually-transmitted disease was tantamount to saying "it's OK to have sex."
There was also some discomfort with some of the cash supporting the pro-vaccination campaigns around the country was coming from Merck, the company that made the drug, Gardasil.
Today, federal researchers report that only 1 in 4 girls have gotten the vaccine. About 4,000 people are dying from cervical cancer every year.
"The overall trends are good news," said Dr. Lance Rodewald, director of the Division of Immunization Services at the CDC′s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. His study measured progress on four area of immunizations, including the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Part of the reason for the low immunization rate -- aside from moral objections -- is the cost : about $360. Three doses are required before a girl is sexually active. But a recent study suggests another reason: the vaccine may not be cost effective.
Still, the issue is one where the feds and the state of Minnesota disagree. Federal health authorities recommend the vaccination. The Minnesota Department of Public Health does not recommend it because after five years, the effectiveness is in question.
Some people may not have a choice. A federal rule added Gardasil to the list of vaccinations that female immigrants ages 11 to 26 must get before they can obtain "green cards."(4 Comments)
While the economy continues to "falter" -- the Dow closed 600 points lower today -- the urge to panic is increasing, even though it won't do any good.
The reality is most Americans won't end up living under a bridge, and -- with any luck -- we won't lose our jobs. In the big scheme of things, we're pretty well off, and we know we are, even though we'll have a lot less money than we had. We know that economies that decline, usually grow in time. The older worker often has some protections of seniority. So why are so many of us stressed? Because our lives may not go the way we thought they would as recently as a few weeks ago and if there's one thing we cherish, it's plans that work. If there's one thing we hate, it's coming up with a Plan B. Few of our plans are working right now, however.
Barbara Tickner, 53, is a perfect example. That's her above with her boss, Judge Lloyd Zimmerman of Hennepin County. Tickner loves her job as a clerk for Judge Zimmerman, and from what I could tell during lunch today, her colleagues love her right back. She's so good at it -- she even made cookies last week for a jury -- Judge Zimmerman told me he hopes she never retires.
The thing is: She'd planned to retire in 2010, spend some time in Florida or at the cabin, do some volunteer work, and occasionally play with her new granddaughter. Those plans are, if not on hold, certainly up in the air (The "rule of 90" allows employees whose age and length of service adds up to 90 to retire).
Her husband is a remodeling contractor, a business that is a pretty well paired with the economy. Their health insurance comes from Barbara's job. Like many of us, she's put money away for retirement and the numbers were larger a few years ago than they are now. They sold the home in which they raised their three children a few years ago for a much smaller bungalow in Minneapolis. They were working the plan.
"During the housing boom, I used to say to my husband, 'who's going to live in all of these $500,000 condos?" she told me today, figuring something wasn't quite right with the economic math. By all accounts, she and her husband have done all the right things, and yet this week, like so many Americans, there's high anxiety. "We've been very fortunate not to have to rely on a lot of credit, but I'm amazed at how the world revolves around credit."
We're all getting those economics lessons this week. As for Barbara's future? "We're just playing it by ear," although she acknowledges reading and hearing the economic news is draining. She may yet retire on schedule. She may not.
For now she's still holding onto the possibilities of life after a career in civil service, maybe even working in retail. "It would be nice to have customers come in with smiles instead of handcuffs," she joked.
By the time the economy turns around, we will literally be poorer, but wiser. Economic downturns are nothing if not great teachers.
Here's what I learned today:
(1) It's easier to survive an economic downtown when you have a job you love and you're good at.
(2) If you don't have one now, when things turn around, go get one.
(3) You can change your plans and keep your dreams.
(There are many people experiencing the economy in different ways. I'm interesting in telling all of the personal stories in one fashion or another. If you'd like to tell me yours, please contact me.)
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According to a news release that's crossed the inbox, lawyers for a homeowner in St. Paul are suing the city over a police raid on the eve of the Republican National Convention.
Says the release:
The first lawsuit resulting from the police invasion of a St. Paul home prior to the Republican National Convention will be announced at a press conference October 10. Notice will be served on the city of Saint Paul that lawyers representing Michael Whalen will seek $250,000 in damages. Whalen's duplex on Iglehart Avenue was cordoned off by St. Paul police working with the FBI and Homeland Security people. Whalen and his tenants and guests were held at gunpoint for several hours, not allowed to leave - and no one allowed to enter.
It has not been disclosed what prompted the raid. An FBI agent (perhaps Scott Zimmerman) had requested entry an hour earlier. When denied he apparently called the St. Paul authorities who sent two dozen or so officers into the streets, alleys and entrances of Whalen's home.
When these officers also were denied entry, they held the premises under armed guard while police tried to create a legitimate reason for an invasion. After an hour or two, Officer Langfellow swore that Mr. Whalen had supported Irish Independence some 20 years ago, had co-owned a bookstore for a whole year with Sarah Jane Olsen also 20 years ago, had recently failed to put his address numbers on one half of the duplex and had received heavy boxes by US Mail.
The sworn affidavit, supporting the request for a search warrant, also contained a straight-out falsehood about Whalen's activities that day. Amazingly, a judge of the District Court found all this sufficient to issue the warrant - for the wrong address! The items listed in the warrant for seizure did not include Irish literature, letters from Ms Olson, unused address numbers nor the vegan literature in the heavy boxes.
It might be noted that Whalen's guests included journalists who are part of the growing people's independent press movement, which documents and web-publishes police abuse around this land of ours. Some of these folks were raided again elsewhere and some were arrested as they documented the new face of St. Paul, formerly the most livable city in America.
Mr. Whalen is represented by attorneys Ted Dooley and Peter Nickitas, both members of the National Lawyers Guild. Dooley will be among the speakers at the press conference.
On Thursday, MPR's Laura Yuen took a look at St. Paul's protection against lawsuits like this, an insurance policy the city required the organizers of the convention to buy.
The city required the Minneapolis-St. Paul host committee to buy insurance costing $1.2 million that would pay up to $10 million in damages. The policy doesn't have a limit on legal expenses.
That means St. Paul won't have to tap its self-insurance fund unless the damages exceed $10 million. The policy also covers other cities that provided officers for security during the RNC.