Thursday, December 31, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Instead of going by stats, here are some favorites of mine:
The Iron Range: Join or Die
One ongoing project of mine is to seek strength in Iron Range cities, schools and institutions through consolidation and cooperation. This post (along with my rejiggered Ben Franklin cartoon) is a call to arms.
North vs. South
Iron Rangers think Duluth is "the South." We can't let Johnny Reb win, after all these years of being dead ... and geographically distant. Remember Stonewall Jackson's strained metaphor!
What's With the Guy in the Green Shirt?
Yours truly wanders, like a hobo, onto the floor of the Minnesota State House of Representatives.
Bob Dylan Portable Toilet Flap Leads to Desperate Plea
You've got all you need in the headline.
'Overburden' wins Northeastern Minnesota Book Award
You can look at the post, sure, or you can buy the book. I'd prefer Door #2, frankly.
Ironworld becomes Minnesota Discovery Center
And who would have thought this was a bad idea?
The Nine Circles of Hell (you know, for fun)
Sometimes I see things on the internet and just have the super fun time. Hell can be funny, if you try.
There's lots more in the archives to look at. You won't see too much after August 2009, but I'll be resuming blogging in 2010, ideally with an eye toward better blended content with a little less prattle about bloated economic development schemes.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Baby 2010 ... your work is cut out for you.
I'll be on 91.7 KAXE doing a riff on the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 at 8:10 Thursday morning. You can listen online at www.kaxe.org, where they also archive the live stream for one full week after broadcast.
Sunday, December 27, 2009 By Aaron Brown
The future, thirty-style
By Aaron J. Brown
This is normally the week I dress in ceremonial overalls, march into the swamp and meet the Oracle of the Sax-Zim bog for my annual New Year predictions. I almost forgot because I’ve been a little distracted with my birthday coming up. My birthday always falls between Christmas and New Year, which means that usually no one cares about it, including me. There is no school, no party, no cupcakes, you get your presents – sale items, largely – in a used grocery bag out back as you leave the Christmas dinner. They don’t remember if they mailed a card and my heart rate is standing at 120 because I ate a pound of sliced cheese and a glazed ham, so who’s counting?
But this year I turn 30.
Round number birthdays are often pointed out as being notable, but unimportant. After all, how different is 31 from 29, really? Well, I’ll buck the trend and say that this one does matter to me. I’ve had 30 good years, including two interesting and wholly different careers, one happy marriage, three great little boys and a highly erratic body mass, currently trending toward the metabolic apocalypse foretold by my elders. My generation seems to hold a collective belief that these things aren’t really suppose to happen until age 30, so maybe now I can sit back and cash in on the 10 years of shiftless angst I apparently missed out on. I hear these video game things are quite entertaining and that there is an entire World dedicated entirely to Warcraft. Wow, that must be so unlike this current, actual world. I tell you what, either way I’m tired of thinking.
But, if the Oracle is to be believed, I’ll need my wits about me. This year I did not follow the deer paths through the swamps of Sax, to the old Finnish cabin where the Oracle serves me coffee made from the pre-9/11 Hills Brother tins with the Arabian guy on them. Instead, I met the Oracle in town at a bar where her moose-fur dress would blend in and her garter snake hair would lay flat in low light. Her 2010 predictions, as always, began with future headlines:
- “Angry mob demands clarification of its anger”
- “Irony of NBC’s new show “So You Want to Be a Gladiator” not to be discussed”
- “Tiger Woods mistresses form new political party, sweep midterms”
- “New iPhone responds to light, heat; nears consciousness”
- “Depressed doctor: ‘A few beers OK now and again’”
The more detailed predictions followed after the waitress re-filled the popcorn and brought us another round of the mead-like libation favored by the Oracle.
Despite the grim economic and political news of 2009, the new year will bring untold prosperity for everyone. Except newspapers. She was pretty specific about that.
Consumers balk at advances in digital television when they realize what their aging, bloated faces look like after Burt Blyleven circles them during Twins games. Blyleven’s beard will be broadcast in 3-D, allowing children to scratch it for good luck from the safety of their own homes.
On that topic, the Twins will finally figure out how to beat the Yankees in the playoffs when Derek Jeter succumbs to exposure in a 2010 divisional series game at the new outdoor Target Field.
Minnesota will elect a new governor to deal with its record budget deficits and crippling economic problems. The Oracle refused to tell me the person’s name or even their gender. “Don’t get attached,” she said. “They’ll be gone as soon as it’s warm enough to hop a box car bound for Out West.”
“But what about me?” I begged the Oracle. What of my life at this symbolic juncture of turning 30? I can’t sing, I can’t dance, my upper body resembles an uncooked turkey. This is not what pop culture promised when I purchased that flavored bottle of health water!
“Be patient,” she told me. “Any number of chronic illnesses are known to cause weight loss without changes in diet or exercise habits. You never know which one you might get.” Then she and her snake hairs all winked at me.
So I’ve got that going for me. Things are looking up!
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune and author of “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.” Read more or contact him at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com.
Saturday, December 26, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Friday, December 25, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Santa’s Christmas punch list
By Aaron J. Brown
Dear Mr. Claus,
I am writing in regard to your recent Christmas delivery. People the world over enjoy your annual journey of love and generosity. I am, however, compelled to report some oversights by your organization in the Northeastern Minnesota distribution zone this Christmas morning.
Timmy, 15, of Hibbing, requested one (1) iPod Nano, but received one (1) iPod Nano with waxy ear buds. Wax likely originated from elf laborer, owing to peppermint taste and preloaded “quasi-Chipmunks” musical selection.
Sheila, 8, of Chisholm, asked for “Supreme Court Justice Barbie,” but instead received a “Supreme Court Justice Ken.” She already has seven of those.
Johnny, 14, of Keewatin, believes you made a mistake in his gift. He asked for “Halo 3,” not “Hello Kitty: the Game.” Also, what can you do to make Hello Kitty go away? Do you have to sign up for an expensive timeshare or something? Because I would.
Kimmy, 6, of Nashwauk, wanted a doll that could eat, sleep and wet. Instead, she received a doll that talked nonstop about these things but never actually did any of them. When she tried to throw out the doll, it cried and used guilt as a weapon.
Gus, 11, of Cherry, received a toy train handcrafted from wood. It ignited when he tried to plug it in. Gus now needs a new mattress, an oscillating fan and some Glade.
Beth, 5, of Hibbing, asked for world peace. While perhaps overly idealistic, your handwritten Orwell quote, “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength,” was both needlessly alarming and largely lost on your intended audience.
Walter, 4, was grateful for the teddy bear you delivered, but wonders why it was stuffed with what appears to be fingernails.
Caitlin, 10, received an iDog after seeing a demo version at a local store. However, she doesn’t remember the sample toy emitting a debilitating electrical shock from its iHindquarters every time it got excited. Hers does.
The children aren’t the only ones raising issue with your midnight run. Adults also advance grievances against you, Father Christmas.
Steve, 42, of Side Lake, advises you of the following: Just because a child asks for scotch, doesn’t mean a child should receive scotch.
Debbie, 35, of Marble, requests a new roof due to the damage she alleges you caused last night. She further believes the $50 you paid her son to “tell her it was a truck full of migrant workers” brazenly breached the ethical standards of your position.
Joe, 20, of Hibbing wonders why he always got socks and underwear when he was a kid, but since moving out on his own receives nothing but dirty socks and underwear.
Jane, 50, asks why your statistical model of measuring a child’s “goodness” always seems to mirror their parents’ social class. She also does not appreciate the “Your mommy is a commie” shirts featuring a smiling Bill O’Reilly you gave each of her children.
Mr. Claus, we’ve enjoyed your yearly visits dating back to the late 1800s, but fear that as Christmas has grown into a vast, commercial holiday season your attention to detail has slipped. We remind you of our vast military strength and the scant preparedness of your elfin militia at the North Pole.
You know, the guy who got another shirt this year.
Thursday, December 24, 2009 By Aaron Brown
O, Christmas ThreatAnother retro column on tap for tomorrow. Merry Christmas, everyone!
By Aaron J. Brown
It’s Christmas Eve. My column is due and I am so hosed. I’ll just have to warm over something I’ve written about before. (Rustle, rustle, rustle). Oh, man. I’ve already been doing that for the last month!
Wait, look at this! How did I even get this? It’s a transcript of a radio exchange between the Air Force and the Homeland Security Department from today. I’ve been getting stuff like this since I changed my Yahoo user name to “loves_to_bomb_unstable_nations.”
Unbelievable! And to think, I was able to find this and write about it in time to appear in today’s paper. Why, it’s a holiday miracle!
24 December 2006; 15:00
USAF STRIKE FORCE LEADER: Base, we are 10,000 feet over the Strait of Denmark. We have visual on a UFO. Can you confirm?
BASE: Roger, Strike Force Leader. We show a faint signal from a UFO at your nine o’clock. Can you identify?
STRIKE FORCE: I was afraid you’d ask. You know how today is Christmas Eve?
BASE: Sure do. I’ve got a bowl of adults-only eggnog waiting for me after my shift.
STRIKE FORCE: Right, well, we have visual on a jolly elf riding a red sleight pulled by eight standard ungulates and one lighted ungulate.
STRIKE FORCE: Hoofed mammals. I think these are reindeer. Anyway, Santa and his wing are flying mach one toward Greenland as we speak. Attempts to make radio contact have been met with carols.
BASE: Like, “Silent Night?”
STRIKE FORCE: I wish; it’s nothing but kids singing “Jingle Bells.”
It’s (garbled) really awful. They’ll be bearing down on New England in 30 minutes.
BASE: I’m patching you through to Homeland Security. They’ve been listening to your report.
HOMELAND SECURITY AGENT N.E. O’CONNER: Strike Force, does this elf look Arabic in any way.
STRIKE FORCE: Negative. This is Santa Clause. He is from the North Pole.
O’CONNER: Their powers of disguise are getting better. Strike Force, I need you to bring down this terrorist.
STRIKE FORCE: Bring down Santa Claus?
O’CONNER: To the sea. Light him up.
STRIKE FORCE: That doesn’t seem, uh, very Christmas-y.
O’CONNER: Strike Force, engage!
STRIKE FORCE: Roger. Strike Team, lock on. Fire! (pause) Report? Did he just throw candy canes at the missiles to misdirect them? Hey look.
He’s waving. He’s got a sign. What’s it say? “Merry Christmas, Strike Team. Please hold fire or Santa will put you on the naughty list.”
Base, I am not going on the naughty list. I’ve been helping old folks across the street all year long. I am not giving up my Nintendo Wii that easily.
O’CONNER: That’s a terrorist trick. Fire again!
STRIKE FORCE: (garbled) Fine, but you owe me a Wii. Strike Team, Fire Two! (pause) Report? Candy canes again! Oh, man. Look at Santa. He’s mad. Oh, he’s real mad …
SANTA (jamming signal): Ho Ho Ho! Santa’s not new to the skies, boys and girls. He’s got lots of presents for the good boys and girls of the world and he’s not going to let a little dogfight like this stop him. Hey, Strike Team. You’ll find your Nintendo Wii somewhere below in the Davis Strait. Ho Ho Ho!
STRIKE FORCE: No! Eject, Eject!
BASE: Flash dispatch cold water rescue team to coordinates (garbled)
O’CONNER: Are you running tape on this? You are, aren’t you? The War on Christmas has gone from cold to hot.
STRIKE FORCE: (tapping Morse code on an iceberg): C-O-M-E (pause) B-A-C-K (pause) S-A-N-T-A
Wednesday, December 23, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Tune in from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 26 (Boxing Day!) on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota and streaming live all over the world at www.kaxe.org.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 By Aaron Brown
It seems fitting that the region responsible for the core fuel of the industrial revolution, that might (controversially) mine the elements needed for the Information Age, may yet provide the kind of understanding we'd need for interstellar travel and a higher order of physics. I keep telling people that the Iron Range ain't exactly sunshine and lollipops, but it is far more interesting and important than meets the eye. Read more about this theory, with jokes, in my book.
Sunday, December 20, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Stockings, hung with care
By Aaron J. Brown
So here’s the premise. Some time ago it was expected that a proper young lady’s family would pay some dude to marry her, something called a dowry. During this time, legend has it, one particular nobleman living in the Byzantine Empire lost a bunch of money in some sort of elaborate ancient way, so much that he could not afford to pay decent dudes to marry his three daughters. The legend continues that old school Nicholas (skinny and not yet a saint) heard about this and was totes like “no wayz.” He then threw (!) three bags of gold down the chimney of this particular family and those bags of gold landed in the daughters’ stockings hanging below (!).
From there, you can imagine what happened next. The three daughters were married away to proper dudes and began the 15-century march of progress toward the Feminist Movement. Nicholas died horribly. OK, this isn’t true. He died in a regular sort of 4th century way. But he did become a saint and well-known for his gift giving, leading to the legend of Santa Claus. (As we all know the current Santa is former “Home Improvement” star Tim Allen, also known as Buzz Lightyear).
From this arose the tradition of hanging stockings on the mantle, or at least in the general space around a large television, in anticipation of Santa Claus filling them with candy, toys and iTunes gift cards. Unlike in the original legend, we don’t wear the modern Christmas stockings hung with care. Not ever. Our current holiday stockings are stripped of function, ridiculous, decorated with yuletide imagery, stitched crudely down the center by a Southeast Asian peasant or possibly a relative. I wonder what St. Nicholas would think of these facade stockings? Surely he would respond with a Byzantine phrase that would be lost on you and me.
Meantime, at our house, the stockings hang waiting for Santa to fill them with Halloween candy (We’re in a recession so Santa shops the sales … besides, orange is kind of like gold.) We haven’t developed any particular tradition relating to stockings, except for the standard “contents are usually edible and wrapped in some kind of metallic scraps” tradition. When I was a kid the stocking was where Santa left the action figure and later the Pearl Jam CDs. In fact, a generation of children who ran to their rooms to listen to Pearl Jam on Christmas morning just might explain a lot of the problems in this mixed up world of ours.
The stocking tradition has variations around the world, almost all of them involving footwear. In Holland and Hungary, kids get presents in their shoes. Most other places use either regular socks or the decorative stockings I’ve already mentioned. Who knew that the tale of St. Nicholas would have such legs! Ha-ha!
In all seriousness, St. Nicholas was really just a rich guy who gave away his fortune anonymously to people who needed help. That’s the true spirit of the season often forgotten as people pour into the malls and box stores looking for just the right stocking stuffers, the sorts of things that say “we hope this will tide you over until you look under the tree.” After St. Nicholas died others carried on the tradition of filling stockings and providing unannounced gifts, a tradition that became attached to Christmas all over the world.
What’s in your stocking this holiday season? It doesn’t have to gold to be good.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” won the 2008 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for creative nonfiction.
Sunday, December 20, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Would you like to know why?
In an incident involving one of my many unexplained spastic gestures a veeeeery small amount of coffee splashed from the tiiiiiny little hole in the coffee cup's spill guard and gently moistened the side of four books. The coffee did not penetrate into the books and the stains are very, very light. Almost, but not quite, imperceptible.
Soooo. Wouldn't it be fun if you bought one of these books and then I wrote an entertaining description of the stain and its origins inside the book? It might be the wittiest thing I've ever written, damn near better than what's in the book itself (but not quite!).
Contact me if you're interested. I'm serious. These will be hot collector's items. The pleasing aroma of coffee makes any reading experience more pleasant. I'll shave a couple bucks off the price and give you free shipping. You can't beat this deal. My contact info is up above. First come, first serve.
Friday, December 18, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Hey, you've been working hard. Maybe it could be a gift for you.
"Overburden" won the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award earlier this year and has received many fine notices in an unusual mix of publications. This will probably be my last "Overburden" event for some time as I continue work on some new projects.
I hope to see you Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. in Grand Rapids.
Friday, December 18, 2009 By Aaron Brown
For those who prefer their essays in print form, the way God intended, I'll also be running this piece as my Sunday column in the Hibbing Daily Tribune, featuring several bonus paragraphs! It's a Christmas miracle!
You can hear "Between You and Me" from 10 a.m. to noon on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota or streaming live all over the world at www.kaxe.org. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
Thursday, December 17, 2009 By Aaron Brown
State Sen. Tom Bakk (June 13, 2008)
State Rep. Paul Thissen (Nov. 17, 2008)
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (April 24, 2009)
Former State Rep. Matt Entenza (May 4, 2009)
State Sen. John Marty (June 23, 2009)
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner (July 13, 2009)
State Rep. Tom Rukavina (Aug. 11, 2009)
State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (Aug. 17, 2009)
Former State Sen. Steve Kelley (Oct. 18, 2009)
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (Dec. 16, 2009)
These interviews will be edited and expanded for a new e-book I am planning. Also included in the e-book will be further analysis of the race and some unique content about political organizing on the Iron Range. After Christmas I will publish a "Path to Victory" series that details how I think each DFL candidate could win the endorsement and/or the nomination, plus a look ahead at how they might match up in the general election against yet-to-be-determined IP and Republican candidates.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 By Aaron Brown
So, the research library remains shuttered after all, until this mess is sorted out.
UPDATE: It was pointed out to me that Hometown Focus (a Virginia, Minn.-based Range weekly and online publication) had this story first. It's a good one.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 By Aaron Brown
First, the facts:
- This interview took place at Zimmy's Bar and Restaurant in Hibbing on Dec. 9, 2009.
- It was very cold outside.
- R.T. Rybak is running for governor.
- Rybak knows his way around a porketta sandwich.
First, people who know me know I love Zimmy's for its food and Bob Dylan motif. I go there often enough that the waitresses bring me a glass upon entering, say "here's your diet," and I am never offended. When I can get a gubernatorial candidate to meet me there, I will. Nothing provokes honesty like several dozen massive images of late 1970s Bob Dylan on the wall watching and judging your every action.
Second, this is Minnesota. It's always cold in December and yet somehow that never cools off the politics. Less than two months remain until the Feb. 2 precinct caucuses -- the date that will cement front-runners and begin to drive lagging candidates out of the race.
Third, despite the attempted narrative of R.T. Rybak being drafted into the race after his recent resounding mayoral re-election in Minnesota, the political class knows well that Rybak has been considered a major candidate for some time. His visit to Hibbing this particular day was part of his statewide campaign roll-out tour.
It's the fourth fact -- the porketta proficiency -- that caught me by surprise. In addition to a classic and seemingly effective sweep across a large and well-connected Iron Range lunch crowd (you find a lot of young professionals and business people at Zimmy's at this hour), Rybak downed a classic Fraboni's porketta sandwich while telling me his campaign platform. He spoke and ate, but you only heard the speaking, you never saw the eating. I don't know that one can learn that particular political skill, rather it's the hallmark of a natural born candidate.
After nine other interviews with nine other DFL candidates, all of them viable to varying degrees, this one produced some of the same themes Democrats should expect from their nominee this year.
"I was born in a great state and I'm not going to die in a mediocre one," said Rybak. This is the line he's pushing everywhere and it's pretty similar to the theme advocated by every DFL candidate. To paraphrase, Minnesota is not only in danger of losing its status as one of the best states to live and work, but also of declining in the fiscal chaos of California and the educational outcomes of the Deep South.
Unlike most of the other candidates I've interviewed, however, save some of the early ones like Bakk and Thissen who developed their own narrative, and Rukavina, who bleeds Iron Range bona fides, this is not what we started talking about. Our conversation actually began by e-mail prior to the interview and centered around the Iron Range, our changing economy and jobs. He was kind (or prepared) enough to read and apparently nearly memorize my book about the Iron Range. He spoke of one of the concerns I often speak of here on the blog, the so-called "brain drain" of talented young people away from the Iron Range and the difficulty of attracting specialty professionals to the area.
"We've got to have the kids learning how to be ready for the economy of the future," said Rybak, who went on to explain how schools on the Iron Range and throughout Minnesota need to deliver a diverse education that includes not just what you find on state standardized tests but also technology, art, music and advanced language.
The adaptability that comes with a 21st century approach to education and the economy, he said, will create jobs.
"There's no magic to this," he said. "One reason I'm running is that I've proven in Minneapolis that I can put people to work."
Minnesota's best governors, according to Rybak, find ways to grow jobs while expanding the economy. It's not unsurprising, perhaps, that the governor Rybak cites as a model is Hibbing's own Rudy Perpich. (You can decide whether he brought this up because we were in such close proximity to an ore dump or because Perpich is the last DFLer ever elected governor -- back before the internet).
"The state has always played a role in the economic development of the Iron Range," and vice versa said Rybak. "The governor has always been either the region's greatest spokesman or someone who ignored the place." Rybak said he intends to pay attention. "Rudy Perpich was a salesman for the Iron Range," said Rybak. "I've been that kind of salesman and I can be that kind of salesman for [unique regions of Minnesota like the Iron Range]."
Fundamentally, Rybak's plan for the Range and the rest of Minnesota goes like this:
"It's about having a long term plan. It starts the moment a kid is born and ensures that the kid has all the resources he or she needs along the way."
Rybak cites summer job programs he pushed in Minneapolis that trained at-risk and economically challenged youth for the workforce. He also cites efforts to build economic development from the ground up.
"A home run project can put a lot of people to work, but I come from a long line of small businesspeople," said Rybak, whose great-grandfather, grandfather and mother all ran stores in New Prague and Minneapolis. None of these businesses were mega projects, Rybak said, but they all created jobs. His focus would be on helping small businesses find the loans they need to grow and operate in the new economy.
That philosophy extends to the Iron Range, where Rybak said he wants to see more investment in new mining technology and in other related industries to help the area compete. It didn't hurt that in his campaign patrol around Zimmy's that day he ran across executives who worked for Magnetation, Inc., a newer Iron Range company that salvages previously unusable ore deposits from the mine dumps around the area. Magnetation is one of the few Iron Range businesses that added jobs in 2009. Rybak said that innovative processes like those used at Magnetation are areas to build upon for the future.
Rybak expressed support and interest in Iron Range Resources, the unique state agency that manages the Iron Range's iron ore production revenue received in lieu of property taxes from mining companies, still the region's largest employers.
"[The IRR agency] was set up to take money for today to build tomorrow," said Rybak. "The 21st century mineral fund, and other funds, are a key to the area's success." Compared to other mining regions, Rybak said the Iron Range has weathered the economic changes of the last few decades much better because of this agency and its mission.
"The future of the Iron Range is not just on the streets of its towns, it's around the world," said Rybak. "If we're competing around the world we need a governor who stands up for the Range. The mines on the Range -- the most environmentally efficient in the world -- should not be at a disadvantage in a world marketplace."
After the Range topics, Rybak responded to questions about the state's troubled budget situation.
"The state is in crisis," said Rybak. "We're not creating jobs and the budget is in chaos. You might ask why would anyone want to be governor? Well, it's familiar to me."
Rybak then pointed to his record in Minneapolis, confronting joblessness, crime, a poor economy and a budget out of whack. (Steve Berg at MinnPost recently explored the validity, largely true, of Rybak's record).
"If the state is in chaos, we need someone who has not just a progressive vision, but also proven results," said Rybak. I've shown this."
Rybak stresses a progressive but independent-streaked philosophy about the state budget.
"People need to be honest about the budget," said Rybak. "Tim Pawlenty and I both raised taxes. The difference is that I told you about it. I managed the state's largest city out of similar budget circumstances. We've got to keep our values straight. Those with the most money pay the most. Put less burden on the property owners. Help school districts and maintain [local government aid].
"There has been a lot of rhetoric in people saying they're not raising taxes when really the burden was being transferred to schools and local governments," said Rybak.
Rybak touched briefly on health care, chiding critics of health care reform ("We already have health care rationing in Minnesota.") He related funding problems in health care and education to the larger economic picture.
"Growing jobs is the only solution," said Rybak. "We need to stop cutting things that could create jobs, but we do need to cut and reform government. Government needs to cut spending. State spending over recent years is up 12 percent while (Minneapolis spending) is up just 1 percent.
"One thing I can do as a Democrat is that I can tell how people are selling this bill of goods and remind them of the damage that the policies of Pawlenty and Bush have done. I've shown that a big city can work efficiently with taxpayer dollars."
On education, Rybak stresses a change to the way we fund schools.
"Right now if you live in a place with high property tax wealth or if you live in a place where your parents and their friends can pass a referendum, you're fine. But if you don't, you aren't offered the same opportunities as everyone else," said Rybak.
"We've got to get more young families to relocate to places like the Iron Range, help people buy their first homes," he continued. "More important, we need to inspire people to stay on the Iron Range. We can't have kids getting an education where their whole brain isn't being developed."
As we concluded our talk, Rybak stressed his devotion to good government oversight and management, and made parallels to the Iron Range experience based on his experience as the descendant of immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic.
"The neighborhoods where I'm from is full of people who care, but people who are fed up with too much government," said Rybak. "I'll be honest about how government should work.
"I can win this race for a generation of of people in this state who've never had a Democratic governor out there creating jobs the way a governor should," said Rybak, pushing away an empty plate. "It's not just a Range thing." But, he joked, "I can come to the Range and inhale porketta."
I wasn't initially planning to mention the mayor's meal as part of the piece. But I've never seen anyone consume a sandwich so quickly and neatly while expressing soundbites as fast as I could write. I've seen the prior, I've seen the latter, but never at the same time. I only mention this because it fits with how I'd describe Rybak's appearance in Hibbing, an appearance that seems to match the reviews he's getting elsewhere:
This guy has star power. Maybe that's good, maybe that doesn't jive with our Minnesota-ness, but it's there. He had three staffers, his wife and a Republican shadow blogger (identity not yet affirmed) in tow with him and he moved around a room like a governor would. People noticed him and seemed to respond positively.
That said, I most appreciated how he had clearly prepared for an interview with a citizen blogger. He spoke fluently about Iron Range issues, not in great depth -- perhaps owing to time restraints, but much better than one would expect of a Minneapolis mayor.
My final question to him was what he'd tell a guy at the bar, a guy who generally votes DFL but doesn't like the idea of "Minneapolis," known locally as the dirtiest 11-letter word there is.
"If the phrase on the ballot was 'generic person X,' mayor of Minneapolis, I wouldn't expect anyone here to vote for me," said Rybak. "I've done something different with job creation and I've walked the walk in a way people here might appreciate."
Rybak's weakness is the saleability of a record, even a good one, that includes the word "Minneapolis" in greater Minnesota. There's also the thing with the initials (didn't get to talk about that). But as I said to a friend after the interview, if Minneapolis is strike one, and the initials thing is a strike two, I can't think of a strike three from the point of view of a DFL voter.
R.T. Rybak is an instant contender for the DFL endorsement this spring and one of only two or three who could mount a successful primary campaign against Mark Dayton, probably Matt Entenza and perhaps others. His interview with me shows that he's already running what seem to be general election campaign messages, and it's in a traditional, modern, image-driven general election where Rybak might flourish. I don't know that any Minneapolis mayor could sell Minneapolis to the whole state, especially the Iron Range, but if one could his name would be R.T. Rybak. We shall see, won't we? And soon.
R.T. Rybak's campaign website
My candidate series is now complete. Previous posts have included (chronologically) Tom Bakk, Paul Thissen, Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza, John Marty, Susan Gaertner, Tom Rukavina, Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Steve Kelley. It bears mentioning that my first interview was with Tom Bakk on June 13, 2008, more than 18 months ago. A lot has changed since then so stay tuned in coming days as I release a few "mop up" analysis pieces that look broadly at the DFL field as it now stands. As we near precinct caucuses I plan to release an inexpensive e-book of the interview posts, along with in-depth analysis of the campaign and a one-of-a-kind guide to conducting political campaigns on the Iron Range. Every campaign should buy a few copies for their field staff, as should reporters and other humanoid lifeforms.
Monday, December 14, 2009 By Aaron Brown
My take on the MDC/Ironworld situation was published in the Hibbing Daily Tribune yesterday.
This is about as good as the Minnesota Discovery Center can expect at this time. A much more difficult task remains in finding revenue to reopen a more streamlined facility for the next tourism season. That work continues.
UPDATE: A roundup from today's Duluth News Tribune
Monday, December 14, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Prime yourself for the Rybak post by reading the other nine DFL governor candidate interview/analysis pieces I've already written:
Sunday, December 13, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Problems of an iron world demand iron will
By Aaron J. Brown
Ironworld (by any other name) is, or was, the interpretive center designed for the sole purpose of telling the story of the Iron Range. In a fitting metaphor, the facility has struggled to survive since our region’s economic and population decline that began in the early 1980s.
Known briefly as the Minnesota Discovery Center before its abrupt closure last month, Ironworld, previously the Iron Range Discovery Center, explored the human struggles that turned an isolated patch of wilderness into one of the nation’s most fascinating cultural and industrial places. The Iron Range remains a fascinating region of great potential; but that potential cannot be realized until we get a few things straight. Among them, Ironworld. Or Minnesota Discovery Center. Or whatever you want to call it. In many ways we can consider this matter a metaphorical test of the Range’s 21st century capabilities.
In the old days of the Iron Range, such as those described in the Ironworld museum experience and in the irreplaceable records and archives held within the Iron Range Research Library, these sorts of discussions were shorter-lived. A library, or a theater, or a cultural center of any kind would exist by the sheer will of one of the following: 1) a mining company, 2) a prominent official and his followers, 3) the people who lived, worked and died in this place. I dare you to tell me this is not still true today. Our history – the history detailed quite extensively in an empty building now being shuttered for the winter – displays many such examples. How quickly they can be forgotten without reminder.
The Iron Range struggles with Ironworld much the way it struggles with other problems: employment diversification in a mining region, population and school enrollment decline, a changing global economy. The answer to these and all woes is connected: Self-awareness and self-determinism, brilliantly combined with a collectivist spirit of the common good. That’s the spirit of the Iron Range, or it was once and could be again.
I have noticed a few trends in my decade as a young Iron Range professional, a label I am rapidly aging out of. Many well-meaning (and a handful of self-serving) public officials, community activists and opinion leaders are often sidetracked from the problems we face by fads, false idols and desperation. The jobs fairy never deposits quite as many FTEs as promised and that big Whatsit Factory on the edge of town, well, that always turns out to be too good to be true after all. Maybe Ironworld can’t be Disneyland or Branson, Missouri. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Tomorrow, the Iron Range Resources board will meet for its regular meeting. No one expects, nor is the agency required to provide, a final solution for the Minnesota Discovery Center problem. Indeed, everyone thought such a solution had already been forged with the new independent nonprofit status for Ironworld a couple years ago. I have many friends involved and probably too many conflicts of interest for this statement to be considered objective. Nevertheless this is no time for objectivity.
There is much we don’t yet know about why Ironworld, or the Minnesota Discovery Center, had to close so abruptly and in such an ugly way. There are only a few ways to reopen it, none that are politically pleasant. There are many we could and perhaps eventually will blame – management, to be sure, and probably the board of directors – but that’s all academic now. The real question is can the Iron Range run itself? Can we tell our story, live our story, without killing ourselves?
A 21st century Iron Range economy will look a lot different than the old red ore mining economy of the last century. It will, however, be built much the same way: brick by brick, with shovel-dug foundations that hold longer than our natural lifespans or those of our children. That’s what our immigrant ancestors had in mind and, despite our seemingly new problems, this remains the worthiest goal.
Wouldn’t it be great if their story, our story, was preserved for those here on the Iron Range to experience and learn from? Wouldn’t it be great if we honored our past, and our future, by accomplishing small goals, one at a time, until we’ve realized a big one? Such an outcome is still possible, for Ironworld and the Iron Range. Let’s get it right.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more or contact him at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His recent book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” won the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. He will be signing books this Saturday, Dec. 19 from 1-3 p.m. at the Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids.
Friday, December 11, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Circle me, Jeebus, they got an interview with Bert Blyleven.
"Between You and Me" airs between 10 a.m. and noon Saturday on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota and streamling live all over the world at www.kaxe.org.
Thursday, December 10, 2009 By Aaron Brown
"Overburden" is a part-funny, part-serious creative nonfiction title written in a memoir style. I delve into the region's history, culture and challenges with a light-hearted nod to life under 30 in a mining town (I still have a few days before I turn the big 3-0, so I'm going to wring the life out of that one). The style is similar to my weekly newspaper column and radio essays. In fact, some of my best columns from the last few years are included in the book as mental breaks between my longer original essays.
The book makes a good Christmas gift for anyone curious about or confounded by the Iron Range, along with all those who love it and want to see it survive the 21st century.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009 By Aaron Brown
District 2142 released the following preliminary precinct results last night:
The three precincts that overwhelmingly opposed the referendum -- Cook, Orr and Tower-Soudan -- were the three communities that stood to lose a school. In Tower-Soudan's case, their school will become an elementary. Cook and Orr will receive a new school in between the two towns, somewhere in the wilderness.
Cherry, Cotton, Albrook and Babbitt-Embarrass clearly carried the day for the referendum. These schools easily could have closed had the referendum failed, sending students to nearby districts. As it stands, Cherry and Babbitt-Embarrass will be remodeled and Cotton and Albrook will receive a new shared school at the southern end of the district. It's interesting how differently Albrook and Cotton reacted as compared with Cook and Orr. I guess I'd theorize that Cook and Orr's business and civic communities lined up heavily against the bond. Albrook and Cotton lack such infrastructure.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009 By Aaron Brown
The series has been getting good reviews and will be retooled as a cool, cheap e-book before the State Convention this spring in Duluth. Look for the post later in the week or first thing next week.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Though there is disagreement on this characterization, district officials describe this referendum today as existential. If it passes, they exist in some new form. If it fails, they will have to look at dissolving the district and closing some of the schools -- perhaps forming a new district and perhaps not. Parents, students, educators and political leaders will be watching the results tonight very closely.
Sunday, December 06, 2009 By Aaron Brown
‘How Rude’ our world really is
By Aaron J. Brown
In the terrible, yet beloved 1990s TV show “Full House,” one of blond child characters belts out a catchphrase in every episode. Sometime between when the cutest, smallest blond child says something adorable and the time that comes later when the touching violin chords accompany an adult saying something serious and sincere, Stephanie Tanner says “How rude.” Ha-ha-ha! You had to be there.
The line operates off a visceral human truth, people are rude, possibly more so now than at any time since people used buckets as toilets, emptying them buckets out second story urban windows before sacking major cities to forcefully convert millions to whatever it was they called a religion. For instance, now store clerks talk on cell phones instead of snarling at customers and denying service based on race. How rude.
On the topic of rudeness I find myself caught between two worlds. As a communication instructor, I teach politeness theory to hundreds of people every year. At the same time, insofar as politeness is concerned, I rather feel I was raised by wolves. We had rules about polite behavior growing up, but the rules were often day-to-day, rather than focused on the true meaning of politeness – consideration of another person’s feelings before you do or say something. I feel guilty now about a lot of the people I never thanked or apologized to for things I was completely unaware of at the time.
But that’s not to say that I’m 100 percent polite today. Indeed, each day I spew unwittingly rude comments. Sometimes I find myself walking down the halls at work seeing friendly people whose names I know, and with whom I could engage in wonderful conversation, and instead I dart into my office, eat my “sammich,” do some work and then escape like a refugee to my next class or meeting. How rude.
In class, I teach a concept called Wolfzen’s Bulge Model of Politeness from Joseph Devito’s “Interpersonal Messages.” The theory, depicted as a line graph with the characteristic “bulge” in the center, shows how we are most polite to the people with whom we share the most middling amount of intimacy. Most people are polite to prospective lovers, possible friends, mysterious colleagues and the people who touch our food right before we eat it. But for actual lovers and friends, the co-workers we’ve known the longest and the cook who delivered one bad meal after 20 good ones, we’ll let them have it. The same is true of strangers we expect to never see again. Who cares, right?
One time I was dashing through a busy mall. I was late to meet someone and it was one of those sidewalk sales with slow people milling around junk, like gypsies. Slow gypsies. Anyway, I bump this lady, see. And she’s got coffee, see. And, so, she spills this coffee all over her hands. I suppose it would have been hot. Normally, even the impolite teenage me, would have, indeed should have apologized and inquired as to her well being. That’s exactly what I was about to do, I swear. But as we turned to face each other, she scrunches up her face and sneers “Well, excuuuuuuuse you.” I paused, feeling the strong pull between my continued hurrying and the desire to do the right thing. I looked into her eyes, thought, and finally said, “meh,” waiving my hands at her dismissively as I rushed to my rendezvous.
So, listen. It’s been a lot of years but, sorry lady. I’m sorry I spilled coffee on you even though you were kind of a jerk. Your being a jerk and me spilling coffee on you were separate matters and for my part in this, I’m sorry that I …. Yeah, listen, I’ve got stuff to do.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com or in his recent book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range,” which recently won the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. He’ll be signing books this Thursday, Dec. 10 at Howard Street Booksellers in Hibbing from 5 to 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 05, 2009 By Aaron Brown
My opinion is short and sweet: The unique history and culture of the Iron Range demands preservation. Ironworld (by this or any other name) is in the public good and a variety of funding sources should be involved in bolstering and reorienting the facility. The funding model should keep the facility financially sustainable and focused on the core mission of Iron Range historical and cultural interpretation, especially for area students and specifically in the preservation of an irreplaceable collection of Iron Range records and archives. Anything else is good, but extra, and subject to increased financial scrutiny. I think the Iron Range gets one more chance at getting the Ironworld situation fixed and then, that's it. Let's get it right.
Friday, December 04, 2009 By Aaron Brown
The holiday tour for my award-winning, well-reviewed, otherwise-hyphenated book "Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range" is off to a smashing start. The day after Thanksgiving we had a pleasant reception at Woodward's in Virginia. On Dec. 5, I'll be returning to the Zenith City for my first ever book signing at Northern Lights Books and Gifts in Canal Park. I'll be there from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
"Overburden" makes a great holiday gift for Iron Rangers, fans of history, politics or children, and especially anyone negotiating the strange netherworld between a increasingly technology-driven life in a blue collar place. It's funny with a little bit of serious, smooth with a little bit of rough. "Overburden" won the 2008 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award in the Memoir/Creative nonfiction category. Check out my book page for more information.
Friday, December 04, 2009 By Aaron Brown
"Between You and Me" airs from 10 a.m. to noon on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota and streaming live all over the world at www.kaxe.org.
* The book signing is from 11-noon in Duluth.
Thursday, December 03, 2009 By Aaron Brown
When KeeTac comes back in January and Hibbing Taconite resumes production in March all of the Iron Range's 21st century taconite plants will be back in business. We've still got a long way to go in our region's economic growth and job creation, but this will help. And then there's a crippling state budget deficit. But this will help. This is good. Let's just run with that.
UPDATE: The Hibbing Daily Tribune is reporting that some maintenance workers are being recalled starting next week. January 2010 is the target for taconite production.