I'm back after a couple of weeks off. Sorry for the sudden departure. I had to go back to New England on short notice for a funeral, and then back to Minnesota, only to head to Oshkosh on vacation. Now I'm back for a few weeks before going on vacation again. Only this time I'll spend vacation working in the MPR booth at the State Fair. Yeah, it's that fun.
Let's see, how do I do this 5x8 thing?
1) The state comes in for plenty of criticism in today's MPR story about the the rise in Chlamydia in Minnesota.
"It isn't going to come from the Health Department," Hadsall said. "It's going to have to come from the people of Minnesota who say that having this level of Chlamydia is unacceptable," said Candy Hadsall, who is an STD specialist at the Health Department. She said if Minnesotans want to stop the chlamydia epidemic, they need to come up with a new game plan.
Clearly, the people of Minnesota have spoken. Chlamydia? Meh. The only way to stop the spread is to (a) not have sex (that's not going to happen) or (b) use a condom. After decades of AIDS, surely condoms aren't much of a secret. And yet, people -- mostly young people, and mostly African American people -- are having unprotected sex at whatever risk they're willing to accept, and getting Chlamydia.
It's a political issue, too. Some pols and parents believe if you teach kids about safe sex, they'll have more sex.
The frightening part of this is Minnesota has one of the lowest rates of infection. It, North Dakota, the New England states (except Connecticut), Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Kentucky, West Virginia, and New Jersey are the states with the lowest rates of Chlamydia.
Here's the overview of the counties in Minnesota. Red is a high rate. White indicates no reported incidents.
So, who's got a plan that will work even if parents don't step up?
2) The Sunlight Foundation is scheduled to make its PoliGraft app live sometime today. Behind the name is a bucketload of cynicism, even by my standards -- when politicians are awake, they're on the take. Here's how this thing will work: "Using Poligraft is simple: just type or paste the URL or text of a news article, blog post or press release into it, and Poligraft will automatically scan that text for individual donors, corporations, lobbyists and politicians. Within seconds, you'll see how they've been doing business with each other. Once Poligraft highlights the names of donors, corporations, lobbyists, or politicians, you can click on those names to learn more.'' This is going to be fun. You'll be able to find it here.
3) A new Ted video. "After he swam the North Pole, Lewis Pugh vowed never to take another cold-water dip. Then he heard of Mt. Everest's Lake Imja -- a body of water at an altitude of 5300 m, entirely created by recent glacial melting -- and began a journey that would teach him a radical new way to approach swimming and think about climate change."
4) Pulitzer winner Mark Fiore suggests gadgets are the new fur and diamonds:
More tech: A booby-trapped Web site can reveal exactly where you live, the BBC reports.
Robbery victims willingly gave up their cash, but drew the line when the thieves demanded their game consoles.
5) Pillsbury has sent a cease-and-desist order to "Dough Girl Bakery," a small shop in Colorado. Apparently, the name is a little too close to "Dough Boy," the Pillsbury trademark. And, there was a Pillsbury Dough Girl at one point. The owner of the bakery has been told -- reportedly by General Mills' lawyers -- not to talk to the press. But the shop's fans are fighting back.
A Star Tribune poll finds that President Obama's approval rating among Minnesotans has fallen to 44 percent. How has your opinion of President Obama changed in recent months?
WHAT WE'RE DOING
Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) - First hour: The centerpiece of the financial reform law is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Midmorning asks what the new agency will do to protect consumers from dishonest financial industry practices.
Second hour: The "Gospel at Colonus" updates a Greek tragedy with gospel music and a Pentacostal sensibility. On Midmorning we'll hear Oedipus' trials and redemption set to song and find out why gospel music still has a place in modern theater.
Midday (11 a.m. - 1 p.m.) - Meet the Candidates: DFL gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza.
Second hour: From the Aspen Ideas Festival, a discussion about the role of social media in journalism today.
Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) - First hour: Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services.
Second hour: Our image of the wise and happy old preacher may be as outdated as a sharp slap on the knuckles from the nun. That's because of clergy burnout. Research shows members of the cloth are now more likely to suffer from obesity, high blood
pressure and depression, than the rest of us.
All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) -(4 Comments)
On a sweltering day like today, a healing drink of cold water on a public golf course can be rather hard to come by. Turns out it's sort of a tough decision for Minnesota golf course operators whether to provide a few coolers for customers, many of whom develop a mighty thirst during a typical four to five hour round (especially those who walk rather than drive a power cart).
Anoka's Greenhaven course removed its on-course water coolers at the beginning of season.
"It was not an easy decision," said General Manager Larry Norland, who admits to a smidgen of worry about golfers becoming dehydrated.
A water cooler enclosure sits empty near the 14th tee at Greenhaven golf course in Anoka, Minn. (MPR Photo/Bob Ingrassia)
Norland said it was getting too expensive to comply with the Minnesota Department of Health's extensive guidelines for the safe dispensation of drinking water on golf courses. Norland figures it would run the course up to $6,000 per year in extra labor costs.
The Health Department issued the guidelines in 2004 in response to the death of an Arizona teenager in 2002. The 15 year-old golfer died, and 82 others were sickened, after contracting the Norwalk virus. Arizona health authorities believe the common link was the on-course water coolers at the Thunderbirds Golf Course in Phoenix. The course ended up settling a lawsuit from the boy's parents for $3 million.
Greenhaven golfers can get water inside the clubhouse at the beginning of their round, of course, and can fill up as they pass the building again during the course of play, but that's clearly less convenient and adds to the length of play. And as any golfer knows, courses try to get you to play as fast as possible.
Plenty of other Minnesota courses no longer provide drinking water, partly because they fear lawsuits over contamination. They include Theodore Wirth, Three Rivers, Pebble Creek, Southbrook, Albion Ridge and Glen Lake.
Many other golf course have made the opposite decision of course, believing they can reduce the risk of health problems by careful handling of water. Indeed, there appear to be no accounts of golf course water cooler-induced illnesses in Minnesota.
"I don't know of any health instances at all," said Gary Edwards of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Workers at the Inver Wood golf course in Inver Grove Heights bleach their coolers every night, and wear gloves when filling them with clean water and ice.
"It can be a problem not having water out there for golfers," said Inver Wood manger Al McMurchie. "You can just as easily get sued is someone heat strokes on you."
It does cost extra to provide safe coolers, said McMurchie, but it's worth it from a customer service standpoint. "People get a bad taste in their mouths when they have to spend two bucks on a bottle of water," he said.
McMurchie says the Health Department checks on its water handling practices once a year.
Courses that continue to provide on-course water, or are watering their customers again after having pulled coolers for a time, include Meadowbrook, River Oaks, Bluff Creek, Chominix, Braemar and Ramsey County courses. Many are now using sanitary plastic liners in their coolers to minimize the risk of contamination.(2 Comments)
So, that's it, then. Brett Favre lasts one season with the Vikings. Several news organizations are citing sources saying Favre starting calling Vikings players and coaches last night to tell them he's retiring.
ESPN is also reporting on the contents of text messages Favre has been sending.
The tendency is to dismiss it as just Favre being Favre, but logic says there's really no good reason to come back. He had a miracle run to the NFC Championship Game last year based partly on that -- miracles -- and even if he did come back at age 41, the odds are that the season would be less satisfying, not more. Why come back when you can go out relatively on top?
That wasn't the case a year ago. Favre was coming off a horrible season with the New York Jets and he wanted to prove he could still play. He proved it. What's left to prove?
Not everyone buys the argument. "History can't always be our guide, and I'm sure some of you probably think I'm just in denial. Trust me, I'm not. You're not using your capacity as an intelligent human being if you don't have deep, deep reservations about the sincerity of Favre's mindset right now," football commentator Kevin Seifert says.
Vikings coach Brad Childress will talk to the media about this later this morning. In the meantime, go about your day as if life were normal.
He is -- or was -- a candidate for braces, according to research from the University of Buffalo.
"It is a basic tenet of orthodontics that force, over time, moves teeth," said Swansan Tabbaa, an assistant professor of orthodontics at the university's School of Dental Medicine and lead researcher on the case study, told LiveScience.com.
The problem, the university says, is that people with pierced tongues "play" with their new friend. Its study, though, seems to involve one woman:
The tongue was pierced seven years earlier and every day for seven years she had pushed the stud between her upper front teeth, creating the space between them and, subsequently, habitually placing it in the space. The patient did not have a space between her upper front teeth prior to the tongue piercing.
Bob Ingrassia at Minnesota Today's Statewide blog has the story of the flip camera that was sent aloft and -- is this any real surprise? -- was lost:
Camera? Balloons? I've got just the guy to look for the camera. Jonathan Trappe went for an 11-hour balloon ride last week after taking off from Oshkosh.
If you like playing with maps, and visualizing the extent of individuals' economic woes, this is your lucky day.
The Administrative Office of US Courts has released state-by-state maps showing consumer bankruptcy filings. Minnesota, as you can see, has more than its share of bankruptcy filings compared to its neighbors, and many other states, too. Click on map for a larger view.
In Minnesota, the mean debt is about $244,000. The mean assets is about $160,000. "These figures are total debt, the bulk of which will be mortgage and auto debt, which debtors must pay if they want to keep their homes and cars," the blog Credit Slips reports.
Auto loans? Here's a map from the NY Fed on auto loans that are more than 60 days past due. Note that in Minnesota, the most frequent occurrence of bad debt in auto loans is outstate (blue is the highest percentage).
The Fed has several categories of maps available, including student loans, mortgages, and bank cards. But what we most want to know on subjects like this is "is it getting better."
Here's a map showing the year-to-year change in mortgages that are more than 90 days in arrears. Red indicates a worsening. In Minnesota, it's worse.
In fact, for most every segment, things were worse in the 1st quarter of 2010 than in 2009. The exception seems to be bank cards. In particular, Grant County in far western Minnesota, is the one county that stands out for the severity of debt problems. Nearly 9 percent of the population there lives below the poverty level.
You can play with the maps here.
The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota sent out a press release today noting that two Minnesota communities -- Woodbury and Eagan -- were singled out in a report "Summertime Blues, 100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues." It was put together by Sen. John McCain and Sen. Tom Coburn.
Both communities installed geothermal heating systems in ice rinks.
In Woodbury's case, the system was built at the sprawling Bielenberg athletic complex.
Says the report:
When it comes to keeping the local ice rink up to date, Woodbury, Minnesota does not plan to just skate by. Woodbury has allocated more than $2.3 million to upgrade its heating systems at a local ice rink, using $503,900 in stimulus funding. Funding was provided by the Department of Energy through the energy efficiency block grant program to help install a geothermal heating and cooling system that would, among other things, "prevent heat from the roof from warming the ice surface," and "provide heat for the west rink spectators."
The phrase "among other things" invites the obvious question: What other things?
In Woodbury's case, the other things was the main thing: Saving taxpayers' money. According to a January article in the Woodbury Bulletin, the project will save more in energy use alone than the investment.
Bob Klatt, city parks and recreation director, said Woodbury expects $3.9 million in energy savings over 20 years. That should be achieved by eliminating the use of natural gas, reducing electricity use and cutting back operational costs because the new system is automated.
Whether a $3.9 million return on a $2.3 million investment (most of which was bonding money, by the way) is a good deal is worthy of scholarly debate, but it was more than just spending stimulus money for the benefit of a few tushes.
Shouldn't the critical elements of the discussion be pointed out in any evaluation of the investment?(5 Comments)