Monday, July 31, 2006

On the road again

I'm heading out in the morning for the road trip back East. I'm planning on taking back roads through most of the trip and have selected the lovely city of Elkhart, Indiana as the lucky city to host me tomorrow night. Mapquest says that's 504 miles from Woodbury.

I'm thinking that's easily doable if I take Highway 61 along the Mississippi down to East Dubuque, Ill. That will allow me to cross into Dubuque so I can say I've been to Iowa. I've never been to Iowa. The U.S. Grant homestead is in Galena, Illinois, so I can pick up U.S. 20 and take that all the way to Elkhart.

Not sure where U.S. 20 goes through Chicago, but I think it's well south of the city. With any luck, I'll be through there by rush hour, and make it to South Bend in time to see the sun setting over "touchdown Jesus."

I'm taking my golf clubs with me. I may stop for a round on the trip there or the trip back. I've never broken 100. I'm feeling this is the year.

I've felt that every year for 20 years.

The Indians aren't in town -- they're actually in Boston -- so I won't be able to stop for a game there. Just as well. Sister Wendy called me from Fenway tonight before the game. I was ready to call her with one out in the 9th tonight and the Tribe leading the "boys of half a summer" 8-6. But then David Ortiz hit a three-run homer and the Red Sox one and I decided to save my cellphone minutes.

In the news

OK, just one more post regarding Oshkosh. Aero News Network today published a story about the BBQ I hosted there.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

BBQ pictures

I didn't get a chance to take any pictures from the big Oshkosh barbecue I hosted during AirVenture. But a few folks did and they're coming in dribs and drabs. I'm posting them here.

They had an accident at Oshkosh today. There was a line of planes taxiing out to take off. An RV (that's the kind of plane I'm building) from Canada was stopped when a warbird with its big prop hit it from behind and sliced it up, killing the passenger. That makes, I think, 3 people who were killed at Oshkosh this year.

By the way, if this sort of airplane stuff and Oshkosh really intersts you -- and if it doesn't, I'm sorry, we'll return to our regular programming shortly -- here's a newsletter I put together every week, which this week features the doings at Oshkosh.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Adios, Oshkosh

The temperatures pushed well into the 90s today, but I headed out to the flight line area anyway, an area of red-hot blacktop. Good thing, though, because the Blue Angels flew by in an unscheduled appearance. They can’t perform here because the “box”, an area of safety around any air show, isn’t big enough. But six F-18s flying in close formation is impressive as all getout anyway. Number 7 has been here all week and joined them on their final pass.

I stopped by to check out the RV-12 airplane again – that’s the one that’ll be available under the new light-sport rules (price yet to be determined and availability “sometime next year” according to Tom Greene) at Van’s Aircraft and introduced myself to one of the volunteer workers there who noted that “a lot of people had a hard time finding the RV BBQ you had.”

This gets me. I had a Web site, Van’s ran a half page column on it in the last newsletter they sent out, it was on Doug Reeve’s excellent Web site, the Yahoogroups list, the RVers list, about 4 other bulletin boards, sent out three individual e-mails, provided printable maps online and a step-by-step guide, and I even provided GPS coordinates accurate to 4 feet. It’s a good thing, I guess it wasn’t the navigation portion of a checkride.

I saw Lauran Paine Jr.’s new RV-8. He’s a retired (I think) airline pilot and regular columnist for Sport Aviation magazine who built parts of it as he traveled around the country for his airline. He’d take a small part, work on it, add it to the other small parts, and one day there was only one part left so he stuck an engine and a propeller on it and there it was. OK, maybe it was a little more than that. A sign on it said “it’s not finished yet but it’s finished enough to get to Oshkosh.” He flew in from Spokane.

I could only last so long in the heat so I made my way to the EAA museum since it’s air conditioned and, besides, I haven’t spent anywhere near enough time there during Oshkosh weeks past. Lots of heroes of various stripes speak there during the week. And I’ve never heard a one of them.

Today I did.

A lot of folks who know me know I have a special spot for the Greatest Generation. Years ago I had the idea of writing a book with interviews of that generation, average people who went off and did special things, like saving the world, then went back home and resumed average lives as if it wasn’t nuthin’. I never did the book, but Tom Brokaw did. He’s famous now and I’m living in a tent in a field in the middle of Wisconsin dairy country. Life is funny like that.

Tex Hill was one of the Flying Tigers. The U.S. wasn’t in the war in China, so it gave money to the Chinese government, and the Chinese then hired a company here to employ and provide warbird pilots.

Let’s review how good the Flying Tigers were. Two-hundred-and-sixty-nine planes went over to China. Only four pilots died in aerial combat with the Japanese. “We were the first guys to defeat the Japs,” Hill noted. The Japanese had been bombing a city called Rangun in Burma when the Tigers, a highly mobile group, arrived. “That was my first experience with war,” he said. “When we landed there were dead people everywhere. The Japanese were bombing the city every day.”

The next day the Japanese bombers came back again. None of them made it back to their bases.

“I was in a dogfight with a guy and I lined him up and I was only a few feet away from him and I could see him and I shot him down,” he said, “and another guy from overhead was coming at me and he put 33 holes in my airplane, but I got around on him and I shot him down,” Hill said.

It was real flying back then. Here at Oshkosh the vendors are hawking fancy instruments with satellite maps that tell you where you are and where you’re going. “We had no navaids,” Hill said. “We had some maps but when they agreed with what was actually there, it was a coincidence. We didn’t get any good maps until we shot down some Japanese.” They navigated their way home by having several listening posts on the ground and as they made their way back from a mission, they’d fire their guns into the ground, and the “listeners” on the ground would hear it and tell them where they were. I’ll bet he could’ve found his way to the RV BBQ.

Back then, the “red Chinese” – as Hill still calls them – were fighting the nationalists, but joined together to fight a common enemy. “They saved an awful lot of our guys,” he said.

“They were such a friendly people. When we stopped that bombing, the people just loved us. And we loved them,” Hill said. On one raid, we got to a field with over 100 bombers and over 100 fighters on it. It was one of those raids where you either lose everybody or you don’t lose anybody. It had to be total surprise. We got right down on the deck, about 50-150 feet, and they hit this airport that was essential to the Japanese. They got 7 fighters off and I shot the first one down and the guy behind me got the other six. Not one guy got one bullet hole in his plane.”

“I don’t know how long I’m supposed to talk,” Hill then said. “As long as you want,” someone in the audience shouted.

Remember Pappy Boyington? The TV series “Black Sheep Squadron,” made him a hero. But not to Tex. “That’s like hitting me with a cattle prod,” he said when asked about him. “Unfortunately the guy had a drinking problem. When you’re drunk you’re not fit for duty. He only flew 6 combat missions while he was over there.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that old Tex is a Republican. “I don’t think any president in this country has the burden this one has. Things are moving so fast,” he said, showing no concern for what we used to call political correctness when he addressed the Islamic movement. “Everywhere those people go, there’s problems. Even the moderates, if they embrace the Quran, there’s no room for anyone else.”

He’s an old man now, there’s not much voice left, and he had to be helped from a wheelchair up the steps to the small stage. When he sat down, 200 people stood up to give him a standing ovation, appearing to applaud not a man, but a generation.

It wasn’t nuthin’.

Artistry and decibels

Thursday July 27, 2006

Over the years at Oshkosh, there've been several times when my jaw has dropped and my breath has been taken away. Wayne Handley was the first pilot I ever saw stand his airplane -- the Oracle Raven -- on end and hold it there, then give it the throttle and make it climb again. He crashed some years later, survived, and retired. Of course, Scott Tucker is an amazing aerobatic pilot, and then there's the RV folks who provide us with a fabulous formation show at OSH, as they did on Tuesday.

Lately, though, I've felt somewhat guilty coming over here to Oshkosh and thinking, "oh, yeah, seen that. Yawn." But a few minutes ago I found myself being young enough to dream of being a jet pilot when I grow up, when your government sent two of the brand new F-22 raptor fighter planes to show their stuff over the skies of Winnebago County.

As one did his (or possibly her) thing down over the main runway, the other one came over here over the campground to entertain me -- and I assume a few others for awhile -- giving us a great show of their capability.

The pilot, like Wayne Handley, seemed to make his fighter stand still in mid-air, then put nose up and just enough throttle to hold it there in a vertical position, nosed it over to a flat position, and then gently let the nose drop into a dive with a kind of aeronautical artistry that nearly demanded music. But the dive was short, almost unnoticeable, and allowed enough airspeed to allow him (or her) to again trade it for altitude that in a graceful return to a vertical position. And as the pilot brought his newfangled plan around for the climb, he showed both afterburners ablaze to me and my binoculars to the point where I thought that any minute I'd be hit with a blast of hot air.

A couple of high speed passes over the main runway was followed by a third at slow speed as the pilot wagged his wings to the left, to the right, and to the left again... a traditional greeting to the crowd.

The pilot, someone's grandson or granddaughter no doubt, then ascended in a soft turn, joined up with his mate and from miles high circled the air in two 360 degree turns. I imagined the pilots inside spending time looking down, envious of the people that were on the ground at the greatest aviation gathering on the planet; people that were on the ground looking up, envious at their ability to fly two of the greatest airplanes ever developed.

At the conclusion of the second wide circle, another jet appeared in my binoculars' field of view ahead of the two fighter jets. One, peeling off to one side, the other disappearing in the dot of the larger jet. I wondered if they were now escorting some dignitary home, until I realized it was a tanker jet, providing a drink of fuel for each of the fighters to return home.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gone but not forgotten

Another day at Oshkosh. I lost my digital camera today. Rats.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Oshkosh Diary - Monday

Not much new in the farmfields of Oshkosh. The actual show opened this morning and I went down for a little while and took in one forum on avionics and building instrument panels. Now, I remember my problem with AirVenture; it makes me think too much about how I don't have the money to really build a plane. And yet, somehow I've gotten this far. Of course, when people ask, "where are you at on your plane," and I answer, "I'm on the subpanel (instruments)," they usually say, "ahh, it's time to spend money." So perhaps I've done this all wrong because I've noticed I've spent a generous amount of money on the project since 2001.

I also looked at dozens and dozens of the RV aircraft that people have built and have flown in and they are all gorgeous and appear to be much better than the one I'm building. They say paint hides a multitude of sins so perhaps I should stock up on paint while I'm here.

I woke up around 3 this morning and looking West I saw lightning and a thunderhead off about 50 miles or so so stashed as much as I could in the car and braced for a big blow, but we ended up getting only a small amount of showers and today it's windy and quite hot. A huge American flag on some business across the street from the Starbuck's I'm writing this at is blowing straight from the southwest. I wouldn't mind seeing it die down for Wednesday's barbecue I'm hosting, but I think this is pretty much it for the week.

My chief cook, who doesn't seem at all fazed by the prospect of cooking for 250 people, showed up from Tucson (actually, Chandler) yesterday afternoon and called this morning. So I guess I can stop asking people who pass the campsite, "hey, do you know how to barbecue chicken?" now.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

On the air at Oshkosh

I signed up for a T-Mobile hotspot account so I can have network access if I don't mind sitting in a baking parking lot for a few minutes. I tried to get cute and roam the region looking for a free hotspot. Rumor had it that a Ramada Inn nearby had free hotspot, but when I arrived at the address I had, there was a brand new Sears store there and the Ramada was no more. I figured I'd waste $39.99 in gas trying to save a few pennies.

The campsite is set up and already several RV builders have stopped by. I was pleased to stumble across Peter Denny a few minutes ago. Peter, an Australian, teaches at Washburn High and he gets kids to learn about aviation by building a plane. I've always wanted to meet him, but never have until today.

I use him, oddly enough, as an example of good teachers when my acquaintances, who haven't set foot in a classroom since they and their "C" grades graduated, start running down teachers. I use him and my oldest son's first grade teacher, then known as Ann Satre, who felt so concerned for Sean when he first moved here from New England, that she knew he needed a friend. And so one night, the doorbell rang, and Ann was with her dog. She said the dog --Madi -- needed a fulltime caretaker and since her daughter was off to college, would Sean please take Madi. We did and Madi was a fine dog. But not as fine as Ann was a teacher.

So the next time you feel like going off on teachers, ask yourself, "would I give up my dog to someone I work with?"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

PNP Audio

The audio from the Policy and a Pint session last Thursday has now been posted on the MPR site.

Click the link on that page that says "Listen to feature audio," at the bottom of the center blurb.

There was also an article in the University of Minnesota Daily. Here it is.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On to Oshkosh!

Summer at my house hits its peak when it's time to head to Oshkosh for the Experimental Aircraft Association annual AirVenture. For one week each year the relatively small airport becomes the world's busiest airport. That week, technically, starts Monday. I'm leaving Friday morning.

My campsite is already staked out thanks to a friend in Peshtigo who drove down to stake it out for the annual RV Builders BBQ, which I host each year. Carolie and I hosted our first one in 2003 and with just a little tiny grill, we had about 14 people. Carolie doesn't go to Oshkosh anymore, so last year Patrick and I handled the duties and about 70 people showed up. This year we have about 250 expected. We'll have three grills fired up and three campsites reserved and lots of volunteers bringing everything from canopies to coolers. Should be fun. It's on Wednesday.

My sister Cheryl, brother-in-law Willy, and Carolie were talking at breakfast last Sunday about how I've tried to get my nephew -- Cheryl's son -- to Oshkosh. He's an F-18 driver for the Navy. I think all pilots -- if not everyone -- should see the history of flight and meet people like Chuck Yeager and Frank Borman, meet the Tuskegee Airmen and find out how they never lost a bomber when flying escort. Talk to members of the Women's Air Corps, who actually were sent into combat conditions, but were never given military benefits by our support-our-troops-but-not-really government.

It's also a good place to meet members of the Greatest Generation, of which there are, of course, fewer every year.

In the last couple of years, putting on the BBQ has taken up more of my time, I guess, than it should as I haven't been able to get to some of the forums, which are valuable to people like me building an airplane. This year I'm going to try to attend more.

But what I really want to do is spend more time at the seaplane base at the bottom of Lake Winnebago. The show area itself is go-go-go with tens of thousands of people. But the seaplane base is a real laid-back spot under the canopy of trees on a spit of land that's about as pretty as you can find. They've got a corn-on-the cob night, but I think it's also on Wednesday.

So, lots of stuff to do over the next 10 days. But none of it gets done before I figure out how many pounds of potato salad 250 people will eat.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The party's over

Well, Patrick's graduation party went pretty well, all things considered. Not a lot of people, but a healthy dose and with the weather in the shade in the 90s, everyone was pretty well split between the air-conditioned comfort of the house and the sweet delight of endless sweating in the front yard, which is pretty shady in the afternoon, especially since I'd put up canopy earlier in the day.

That's my sister, Cheryl, and brother-in-law, Willy Bain up there sitting under the river birch. They hung in there until the Red Sox game started and, being New Englanders, one is required to watch the "boys of half a summer" when they are on TV. Since I have the MLB Innings package on Dish, they're always on. They drove up from Des Moines where they were visiting Willy's sister and have to endure me changing their names to "this-is-my-sister-Cheryl-and-her-husband-Willy.-They're-from-Maine." I just figure most Minnesotans have ever met rootin' tootin' people from Maine before. I know growing up in New England the concept of my sister driving up from Des Moines to visit me in Minnesota just never came up as a possibility. It is, indeed, a fascinating world full of endless possibilities.

My oldest son, Sean, was by too. He didn't get equal treatment in my photo tour of Patrick's life but his day is coming. Here's Heather, who lives down the street. For a time I called her my daughter as she and Sean -- that's him the background -- were best friends for a long time, going back to 2nd grade, I guess. But they each went their separate ways and the paths cross on occasion but I don't think there's much there there anymore. By the way, click for larger images. Sean is an intern in the I.T. department at MPR this summer and if you're looking for a rising I.T. kind of star, hire this kid.

Speaking of MPR, Perry Carter, his wife Sheryl, and their sons, Corey and Aaron stopped by. Perry, until recently, was director of broadcast operations -- or some such fancy title -- at MPR until he finished second in a two-person race when some jobs were combined. He's from New York, originally, but Sheryl is from Boston and way back in 1993, I guess I helped convince them to move here. I was from Boston too, so MPR brought them out here for a look at the place, and used the Ashland Oil luxury box at the Twins game and I was invited along, I think, to talk Bostonian to them and convince them to move here. They did, and moved to Woodbury. We never saw enough of them but they're the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. We had them over for Christmas and Thanksgiving when they were feeling like Bostonians stuck in a foreign land. Aaron babysat for us.

These were little kids and I hadn't seem them in awhile until Saturday. Aaron is 23 years old now, a handsome lad of obvious dignity who just finished four years in the Air Force and is now going to do psych ops for the Army Reserve. Corey is on delayed entry to the U.S. Marine Corps.

Mom and Dad are moving back to Boston for now. And if you're looking to hire one of the finest men in the world, hire this guy. It doesn't matter what the job is; he'll do it better than your other choices.

The kids, except for Corey, I think, are staying behind and we've let them know that we expect them here for Thanksgiving. We look out for kids here at what folks call "Bob's Place." Even when they're not kids anymore. I meant to take a picture of the family, but didn't. With Corey going into psych ops, he'd probably have to kill me anyway.

Also on the MPR front, Tim Pugmire and his wife, Gail came by in the evening after spending the day at a grad party in St. Joseph, where -- Tim reports -- it was even hotter. In the "old" newsroom, Tim and I had cubicles next to each other; the best cubby mate I've had in the business. But now he's hanging with the cool kids at the Capitol.

Hot? Yeah, you betcha. During these times I remember my mother telling me how much my Dad enjoyed hot weather. In his later years, after retiring at 62. He enjoyed farming a piece of the 7 acres as "Farmer Fred." He'd be down there with jeans on (never wore shorts), and long-sleeved shirt, sweating up a storm and apparently loving it. When it gets this hot, I try to tell myself I'm the son of Fred Collins Jr., and somewhere inside me there is a yearning for dangerously warm temperatures. Instead, I spend the time wondering if there's any chance my twin brother and I were adopted by my parents; possibly on a lark when they were at a graduation party or something.

Also visiting Bob's Place, was this young lad, Elias, the son of a friend of Carolie's. He's a mellow kid who spent the day being passed around. I didn't hear him cry a bit. He didn't sleep. He just hung out. Here I'm asking him if "it's hot enough for you," just to see how he'd respond to the stupidest question ever asked. He didn't say anything, though. I'm pretty sure, however, that if he weren't 5 months old, he'd say "that's a really stupid question," which is the sort of thing we teach kids at Bob's Place, in hopes of stamping it out of the lexicon forever.

I was able to break everything down and put it away, including the canopy, by 11 p.m., since I wasn't sure what sort of weather would come our way. I went out to deliver some newspapers this morning at 3:30 a.m. (it was 84 degrees then), and could see thunderstorms to the north, but finally convinced myself that the "heat island" that experts say doesn't exist -- but that every rational person knows does -- had steered them away. Finally around 10 a.m., we got a good shot of rain.

Carolie, Willie, Cheryl, and I went to a late breakfast at Key's Cafe, and then we stuck them on the highway for their trip back to Des Moines.

Des Moines. I still can't get over that.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A 90 second review of 18 years

We're having a graduation party for our youngest son tomorrow. In planning for it, we crossed our fingers and hoped it wouldn't rain. We never dreamed we'd end up having it on the day the earth spontaneously combusts, if you believe all the local news.

It's been three weeks since we became empty nesters. Patrick has moved out and into an apartment with his older brother, Sean. And Carolie and I are left to reflect on the quiet of the empty nest -- a sound which is both joyous and sad at the same time.

Last night at Policy and a Pint, Sean Kershaw of the Citizens League had their new baby daughter in a cradlette; couldn't have been more than two weeks old. I stopped myself before intoning that they should enjoy her because they grow up fast. I didn't want to sound like all the doting old-timers who said the same thing to me when we were lugging babies around.

But I do remember the age when I'd hold each boy like a football and think "I have to remember what this feels like because they grow up so fast." Truth is, you remember doing it, but you don't remember what it feels like.

And when they do grow up, you realize that the series of days that often seemed like they'd never end, weave into years that pass at the speed of life.

Because it's a graduation party, we have to have one of those posters, you know, of the lad through various stages of his life. So this week, Carolie has been in the den, pouring through old pictures and sighing...a lot. I'd look too. But I'd wait until she went to work. And then I looked through them. And sigh.

Both of my kids were just gosh darned cute. They're still cute now in an 18 and 20 sort of way. But nobody can be, you know, cute like kids can be.

So come sit by me, dearie, and let a doting old-timer show you what I mean.

OK, some of these are little blurry because back in the old days we had this stuff we called film. I don't have a scanner so I've taken a picture of a picture. Let's sort of ignore the Robert Goulet look for just a second and agree that the old man has gotten old. But here they are when the nest was full, and a lot smaller.

I like these pictures of Sean and Patrick together. They were brothers like any other brothers and at times they beat the bejeebers out of each other. But I always told them "your brother will end up being the best friend you'll ever have," and I think that's true. This was in our old house in the woods in Sheffield, Massachusetts (the Berkshires). I loved that spot.

See that look on Patrick's face. That's the way he approached life growing up. He started every day racing out the door to take on the world, sure that it was going to be the coolest day ever. And for him, usually, it was. I think he got that from Carolie's side of the family.

This was taken in Saco, Maine on the day before we moved to Minnesota. I'd already been out here working a month and went back home to fetch the family. It was my parents 50th anniversary (I think) so we gave them a weekend at the oceanfront in Maine and had a family reunion before we split up to the far ends of the universe. There was a volleyball game that someone else on the beach was having, and Patrick wanted to play. He's stewing a bit here because they were big kids and he was a little kid thinking he was big enough.

And then he turned 4, which was a birthday I missed because I was in Minnesota working. I don't think there's a bigger regret I have than missing that birthday.

I had the bright idea one Saturday morning (I watch all those do-it-yourself shows) of making suet for the birds. So out came the Crisco and peanut butter and other slimy things, and in went the hands. It doesn't get any better. Just ask Patrick.

Patrick was a good worker and ace window washer.

And then they start sprouting. And off to school they go. Now there's a whole bunch in between here. A lot of baseball. A lot of baseball. He was the best catcher I've ever seen... ever. Because we watched a lot of baseball together, he knew the game inside and out when other kids were building sand castles at shortstop. I remember once he worked out a play when a runner was at third and first. The opposing coach tried a double steal and Patrick threw the ball as the runner on first started toward second and as he threw, the runner on third broke for home. Only, unbeknownst to everyone except for Patrick and the shortstop, the two had worked out the play where Patrick would actually throw the ball, not to the secondbaseman, but to the shortstop who was charging. And the shortstop would throw it back to Patrick for an easy inning-ending out at home.

The place went nuts and as Patrick ran off the field with his shortstop buddy, the assistant coach, who was an idiot, said "don't you ever do that again. We'll tell you what plays to run." Morons didn't faze him much. That'll be helpful as he goes out in the world.

And then one day, I looked up and, well, here we were.

I don't really know how it went so fast. But it went fast. Damned fast.


Images from PnP

Michael Wells, the brains behind much of the MPR Web site sent along some pictures from last night's Policy and a Pint session. He says the audio will be available Monday.

This is me, on the left, listening to Judy Blaseg Hansen say something that is way more insightful than anything I had.

This is me, on the left, reaching for some ginger ale, which I paid for, by the way.

This is me, on the left, listening to Jeff Blodgett say something that's way more interesting than what I have.

I must've been there for my boyish good looks.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

You can't buy inspiration

Well, I give them all credit for coming out at 6:30 on a Thursday evening to listen to someone like me talk about campaign finances. But they did. OK, they didn't come to hear me; I just happened to be on a Policy and a Pint panel that covered for me. Jeff Blodgett, the former campaign manager for Paul Wellstone, and Judy Blaseg Hansen, who knows a little something about politics since she covered the Capitol -- that's the Capitol, the one in Washington.

And me? Who am I? I thought about it several times during the event when Judy thought it was "sad" that I think there's nothing wrong with the political process that better candidates won't solve. Is it really that bad that I want to be inspired by leaders? Really? Since when?

So what am I? I think I'm a cynical idealist. I refuse to give any politician my vote until that politician has earned it. And they earn it by answering questions, about knowing what it's like to be a working stiff today, and being honest with me, rather than becoming bland, formulaic wallpaper who think that money can compensate for their lack of passion and inspiration.

Sound familiar? Yeah, you know who I'm talking about. I'm talking about most every politician you know. And it's true, as Jeff said, that one has to be careful about casting a wide net on the subject of uninspired politicians, but he acknowledged that, especially with Democrats, there are far too many without something to say, looking for more money with which to say it.

Is money -- the abundance of it or the lack of it -- the root of all evil in politics? Boy, I just don't think so. I don't know whether money follows the vote or the vote follows money, but for the most part, I don't care anymore. I recognize it takes a lot of money to run for office, but I can't help but think of a good line in a mediocre movie (The American President), "Americans are desperate for someone to lead and in the absence of real leadership, they'll follow the first person that steps to the microphone." Yahtzee!

We've had a lot of chumps step to the microphone, but few of the brave and courageous kind. You know, the kind who stay in the race to, say, a primary because that's how important it is for their voice to be part of the campaign.

Jesse Ventura won the race for governor simply by opening his mouth and saying something on the same stage (a debate in Hibbing) next to two professional politicians -- Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman -- who were well schooled in how to say nothing when saying something. Ventura was brash, but people thought he was at least being honest and straightforward with them. And as much as he wigged out in his last years in office, I think they'd vote for him again if he ran again. I think people are that averse to bland.

And my profession doesn't get off unscathed. We've become really poor at requiring politicians to answer the questions we ask, and call them on it when they don't. If someone is bland, poll-driven, doesn't answer questions, and is bankrupt of real ideas, we should say so.

So why, as Judy suggested, is that something that "teenagers in the audience should cover their ears" for? Why is that a view she finds "sad?" I don't know. But I think it's OK to demand more of the people who want to lead us...whether it's on the parks board or the presidency. Candidates, make me want to follow you when I ask you the question "why?" and money will be the least of your challenges.

Is that so much to ask?

I understand the MPR folks are going to encode the audio and put it on the Web site. I'll look for it and let you know.

Money and politics preview

Tonight I'm doing Policy and A Pint at the Varsity Theater. The subject is money and campaigns. I think my pals at the Current couldn't get a guest when they were setting this up, so they asked me. Then they found some good ones (including former Wellstone campaign manager Jeff Blodgett) and the're too nice to say, "never mind, Bob." That's my story, anyway.

So while I've been working on the plane construction project this week (lots of news there, just haven't had time to write it), I've been thinking about how money fuel politics.

But what fuels money? I think it's the laziness of voters. If voters really took the time to educate themselves, the effect of money -- at least for ads -- would be lessened. As it is, people often make their choices on stupid premises. A few years ago, they elected Sharon Anderson in the primary for attorney general. Why? They didn't know anything about her but they figured, "if her name is Anderson, she must be OK." They were wrong.

I think a lot of politicians blame money for their own failings. Mark Dayton isn't running again because, he says, he doesn't want to go through the nonsense of raising money. Fine, then don't raise money. Run a cheap campaign if you think your ideas are so important. Cripes, you're a sitting freakin' U.S. senator, you'll get coverage just because of who you are. Then there's that franking privilege stuff with the free political ads disguised as "constituent newsletters." No, I think Mark Dayton didn't want to be a U.S. senator anymore.

This week, Ford Bell dropped out of the race for U.S. Senate. Why? He said he realized he couldn't raise enough money. Maybe true. I don't think he was going to win anyway. But he took it this far, what's two more months? Don't spend the money if you think your ideas are wroth getting out there.

There is something that's more important than money when it comes to elections. Incumbency. More on that later.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Right here, Provenzano!

I need more sawhorses around the house. So I got up early today, grabbed the keys and headed to Home Depot to buy some 2x4s and some of those plastic little jigs. Just stick the 2x4s in the plastic, turn the screws, and voila! One sawhorse.

But as I started to get into the car, I thought, "wait a second! I've got a bunch of wood out back, scraps from the world's longest deck rebuilding project, why don't I just make sawhorses out of that?" Save the money on lumber. Save the money on gas.

I remembered an episode of This Old House in which Tom Silva gave a lesson on how to build a sawhorse. Armed with Google, I searched for it online and found the page, printed it out, and went to work.

Three hours later, I had three sawhorses. OK, that's an hour per sawhorse, or roughly 45 minutes more per sawhorse than Tom Silva, but I was taking extra measurements and going a little overboard on a few details. That and the battery on my cordless screwdriver gave out. That's my story.

So why is this a big deal? Because in junior high school -- or maybe it was in high school, I forget -- I flunked "industrial arts." Flunked, to me, is a "D." It wasn't the only "D" I ever got, but it was the only one I cried about. (The "D" in geometry in 11th grade didn't concern me that much because I was more interested in getting a date with Kathie Morse, who sat next to me.) Guys aren't supposed to flunk shop. I flunked shop.

I not only flunked shop. I was embarrased in front of the whole class while I flunked shop. We were making one of those typical wall plant holder things that mothers and fathers get from their industrial artists every year. We were supposed to learn about using a compass to make perfectly centered, symmetrical "handles." But I couldn't master the compass and made a plant thingamabobber that looked, well, drunk.

And I know it looked drunk because Mr. Provenzano, the teacher, ordered everyone in the class to turn off the machines and pay attention as he grabbed my drunken plant thing and displayed it to the class, noting that it did, in fact, appear inebriated. Yep, funny stuff for a teenager. Class act, Mr. Provenzano.

And, so I've lived with that for a long time. When I was learning to fly, I flunked the final exam -- called a checkride. That bothered me too, so much that I'm constantly reading about flying and working on being a better pilot to prove to myself that the first checkride's failure was a fluke.

But that industrial arts "D" was no fluke. I earned it. And in most of the years since, I didn't learn it. Until about 10 years ago when I started accumulating tools and began to be more interested in making things. I kept it and it and I've gotten better.

Back to the sawhorses. I needed them today because today I started mating the wings on the airplane I'm building by hand in the garage.

How do you like them apples, Provenzano?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bob the birdwatcher

When I was a kid, we spent a lot of summers at our trailer on Plum Island in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Every once in awhile, we'd go swimming at a pristine stretch of land at "the other end of the island," which was actually the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic Flyway. I was too young to be interested in watching birds then and by the time I realized it had its endearing qualities, I was a father with two kids who were too young to be interested in watching birds. I said to my wife on one excursion with the boys to Plum Island that when they were older, I'd like to go birdwatching there. But that's 1,200 miles away now. Fortunately, we have the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. My mother bought us a membership last year when she was here, and it's become one of my favorite places. Last week, I saw in their newsletter that there was a bird walk this morning. And so Carolie, who has the day off, and I got up early and met the gang.

We started out at 9 with, perhaps 25 people. It was supposed to last 90 minutes. We ended at about 1 p.m. with 5 or 6 left. We had a great time, even though we're not experienced in recognizing too many bird calls. But we did learn, again, that if you slow down and look around, there are fascinating sites.

We were not 3 steps from the start when someone -- her name was Phyllis if memory serves -- recognized a yellow throated cuckoo. This, we were told, was a rather rare bird in these parts and the group was suitably excited, even though to me it looked pretty much like a bird in a tree far away. And I didn't hear the damned thing say a word.

We marched onward through the bog walk and came upon a yellow breasted warbler, which did seem to sing a lovely tune. Apparently yellow is the color of the day.

We found several goregeous wildflowers. These trips to the Arboretum always make me want to come home and roto-til my lawn.

Click here for a nice picture of a purple wildflower.

But back to the birds. We saw hummingbird perched on the top of a dead tree in the bog. They don't call them "dead trees," at the Arboretum, however. They call them "snags," because "dead tree" suggests no life and this one clearly had a hummingbird on it. I can't say as I've ever seen a hummingbird perched before. I just put a hummingbird feeder out front of Bob's Arboretum, but so far... nothing.

I found this woodpecker on a dead tr...err...snag.

And this cardinal, while no big deal, I suppose, was kind of cool because, well, I just happen to like cardinals.

We also saw -- or heard, I forget which -- a yellow somethingorother. If I were any kind of birdwatcher at all, I would've brought a pad and paper along to record our various discoveries. But the fact remains, I am no kind of birdwatcher at all, I guess.

We did find a red fantail shoulder hawk nest in a tree in the Dayton wildflower garden, found out the song we've always thought was a phoebe, is actually a chickadee. Cripes, I can't even nail the call of the birds at the feeder out back.

Walking back, there was some commotion with some birds. "Somethings got them pissed," the naturalist said, invoking the naturalist lingo. "Maybe it's an owl," Carolie said. She walked a couple more steps and found that she was correct.

Picture of an owl

And here's an interesting discovery. On the wildflower walk, there are these large plants that cup water. Some birds like to drink out of them, and apparently tree frogs like to sit in them and do whatever tree frogs do for entertainment.


That was pretty much it. We spent a little time walking around some of the gardens at the Arboretum. This place can turn anyone into a decent photographer.

Garden and fountain

The lilly garden

That picture doesn't do it justice, Click here for a better picture.

Oh, look! The mate of the common loon.

Carolie in the garden

Before we left, I renewed my membership at the Arboretum. I wish it weren't an hour away, but perhaps it's best that it is. It's a good chance to escape the overdeveloped world of Woodbury. Our good feeling from the morning lasted about a half hour, until we passed the first gas station and noticed that a gallon is now $3.09.

Maybe I didn't need that pad-and-paper afterall, since I distinctly recall, now, seeing a red-necked price gouger today.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Endless summer

So how was your summer? It's the 4th of July, a date which will always mark the end of summer somewhere in my mind's consciousness. Old family sayings and pearls of wisdom can do that to you. This was my mother's. She used to say that July 4th to her was always the end of summer. I don't know why other than it was just another example of one generation handing its psychosis off to another. Thanks.

Face it, don't you feel just a bit of melancholoy on June 21? You're just getting cranked up with the good weather and all of a sudden the days start getting shorter. And, sure, you still have a great time, but it's a great time of the "last dance before shipping off to war" kind of great time. The sun has a date with Brazil. And you've got a snowblower to fix.

It was a lot easier to reconcile when I was a kid and was in school. The end of summer was when school started again. Then one grows up and is deprived forever of the first day of school and, thus, there is no way to mark summer's end. All one is left with is one thing one mother said on one day.

Maybe that's the real reason I've taken two months off from work. One more summer, one more time.

July 4th be damned.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It's time to kick some ass!

Confession, they say, is good for the soul. If so, I'm about to be very, very good to my soul, because as a onetime news editor once known for the ability to smell out news and occasionally described years ago as "the conscience of the newsroom," I've become more like the kind of news editors that I've grown to loathe over the years -- the kind that don't give a rip when mental health "professionals" kill kids.

I'm in abundant company because only two reporters in the Twin Cities -- and apparently just one editor (all worked for the Pioneer Press) -- thought that restraining a 7-year-old girl until she was lifeless is a story worth covering in great detail. Think of all the crap that news departments cover (the other night, WCCO-TV's headline was "Where do middle names come from?"), and then tell me a logical reason why the people responsible for telling you the "news" didn't think this was a news story.

Here's the only one I can think of: they all have healthy children. They've got a good excuse for not caring. They're ignorant. I'm not. I've watched people try to navigate the "Titicut Follies" production that is the Minnesota -- and certainly Wisconsin -- mental health system. Though there are the occasional bright lights who have figured out that it's perfectly reasonable that the most complex organ in the body can get out of kilter, far too often we found puffed-up phonies who used their education to come up with new -- and often undetectable ways -- to say "what this kid needs a good kick in the ass."

That's what Angellika Arndt needed, apparently. And she got it, until she was dead according to a Pioneer Press article, which -- unfortunately -- is now behind a premium content firewall.

Angellika Arndt, a 7-year-old Wisconsin girl, passed out after being restrained at a Rice Lake counseling center. Arndt died May 26 in Minneapolis, where she was hospitalized after the incident. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner ruled her death a homicide.

A 7-year-old girl who died a day after being physically restrained by employees at a Rice Lake, Wis., counseling clinic was placed in a so-called "control hold" because she was "gargling milk," according to a report by state health officials.

In an investigation into the girl's death, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services also cited "multiple violations" of state law at the Northwest Counseling and Guidance Clinics, including the law governing physical restraint of clients.

As I understand it, there's been a correction to the story. Apparently "gargling milk" was just a sample of her behavior, not the reason she was restrained until dead. As if there is a reason that justifies the death of a 7-year-old.

Now, I know what you're saying, Minnesota. You're saying, "hey, that's Wisconsin, that's not us." And you'd be right. But let me ask you this question: why is that what you're thinking? Where's your outrage?

A man gets shoved in a police car on a hot day and passes out, and the police department answers for it for weeks (appropriately so). A convicted cop killer goes to death row, and people protest it for years. Need more? Guantanamo Bay anyone? Omar Jamal ring a bell? All causes that seem to spur a "how can this happen?" response from a significant portion of the masses, a response that is documented by reporters and anchor people, thanks to people like me who determine that it's "news."

Here's another confession -- or more accurately, a disclaimer. My wife spends an inordinate amount of time working on behalf of parents of mentally ill children in Minnesota, trying to get the system to recognize the value of parents as partners in mental health treatment. Far too often, from the stories she tells me, some mental health "professionals" think parents are the ones to whom you say "thanks for your kid, now go away while we 'treat' her," just before they slam the door, and -- occasionally -- kill their patients.

I've often wondered why she spends so much time trying to change the system, rather than just telling the parents who call for help during a crisis, "shave his head, give him some crutches, schedule a fundraiser, and call the newsrooms." The people with the healthy kids who run newsrooms respond to that.

But we -- I -- didn't respond to Angellika Arndt. I think my wife gave me a "heads up" that this had happened before the Pioneer Press printed the article. And I did what so many other people do, except that I didn't even put enough effort into it to shrug my shoulders. I just said "oh well. It happens," and turned up the volume on the ballgame.

We deal in "facts" in the news business. Here's a couple of facts: there's no reason a 7-year-old girl should die while in the hands of mental health "professionals" and there's no reason I and the people in my business should ignore the situation when one does.

But we did.

Shame on me and the people in the news business. Shame on you for not kicking our ass.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

When locusts strike

The other night -- I think it was Thursday -- I arrived home to this. Don't be fooled by the relaxed appearance of the dog. He's actually wondering, "where the hell is the kitchen table?" I'm with the dog.

It turns out we were ravaged by locusts, otherwise known as children who are setting up their own apartment. Sure, we tell them that if things don't work out, they can always move back home; there'll always be a light on and a bed waiting for them. It's a good thing we didn't mention anything about there being a kitchen table.

Of course we want to help them make their way in the world so we help them whenever we can. Because they just recently finished their teenage years, we had gotten use to the notion that they didn't hear a thing we said. Ever. So when my wife muttered something about needing a new kitchen table and giving one "to the boys" for their apartment, I didn't really think much about it.

Until Thursday night.

I think my wife, Carolie, is happy to be rid of the thing because it actually is a leftover from the '70s, when she was just starting to make it on her own. The thing screamed '70s, in fact. It screamed it pretty loudly because the leader of the locust pack, my oldest son, Sean, refused to take the chairs that went with it. "No chairs, no table," Carolie said, in what may be the first rule we've actually been able to enforce since "no peeing in the pool."

I'd love to tell you I have great sentiment for the dearly departed table; that it was the scene of many a family dinner in which full days were recounted and fatherly advice dispensed. But with me being in the news business and all, I never had a schedule that permitted such things. If we could get everyone seated at a table once or twice a year -- Thanksgiving or Christmas, for example -- we had a good year. No, the table was primarily used as places to build "piles," a subject that I'll surely get to later.

So what we're left with is another unfinished "Dad project." It's an old table from one of Carolie's relatives. And the chairs, I think, we took from her parents. Oh cruel irony! Now it sits there, mocking me as all of my unfinished projects do. "Sand me! Stain me! Put piles of worthless junk on me!"

They say dogs have great hearing and I think the mutt knows something. I think he can hear the locusts heading this way. I think they're coming back. I think the dog remembers me saying something to the kids about wanting a new couch.