from items published in the
(See the category index for more.)

This page (one of several):

Lori Andrews

William Ayers

David Banks


Newspaper items

index pages:

Lori Andrews
“What I learned from Barbie”

from the Chicago Tribune;

published in the Star Tribune July 25, 2023

When I was 7 years old, Barbie was my first doll that might have needed a job instead of a diaper change. I imagined my Barbie as an archaeologist or a veterinarian or, a few years later when the space race began, as an astronaut. Her future was unfettered.

In 1961, Mattel released the first Ken doll. For one year only, the debut Ken had flocked felt hair. Woe is me, my Ken doll started going bald.

At age 10, I wrote a complaint letter to Mattel — and got action. They sent me a new Ken head with blond plastic hair. By popping the heads on and off, my Barbie could have two boyfriends — a wise, balding older guy or a somewhat clueless but hunky surfer dude.

That experience could have inspired me to be a bigamist. Instead, my successful complaint letter led me to consumer advocacy.

Teen Talk Barbie, released in 1992, uttered the phrase, “Math class is tough.” Way to discourage girls from considering careers in STEM! Activists calling themselves the Barbie Liberation Organization visited stores, bought talking Barbies and G.I. Joes and switched the voice boxes. Then they put the dolls back on the shelf.

Customers who unwittingly bought the altered dolls found themselves with G.I. Joes that said, “Let’s plan our dream wedding” and Barbies that shouted, “Eat lead, Cobra.”

Within a few months, Mattel dropped that phrase — and even offered to replace the dolls that claimed they were math-deficient with math-savvy versions.

text checked (see note) Jul 2023

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William Ayers

additional category: politics

“Allow me to introduce myself”

written for the New York Times;

published in the Star Tribune December 9, 2008

Note (Hal’s): In 2008 Republican campaign propaganda, William Ayers was hyped as an “unrepentant terrorist” and a “close friend” of candidate Barack Obama.

— end note

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. [...]

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

I cannot imagine engaging in actions of that kind today.

The dishonesty of the narrative about Mr. Obama during the campaign went a step further with its assumption that if you can place two people in the same room at the same time, or if you can show that they held a conversation, shared a cup of coffee, took the bus downtown together or had any of a thousand other associations, then you have demonstrated that they share ideas, policies, outlook, influences and, especially, responsibility for each other’s behavior. There is a long and sad history of guilt by association in our political culture, and at crucial times we’ve been unable to rise above it.


Demonization, guilt by association, and the politics of fear did not triumph, not this time. Let’s hope they never will again. And let’s hope we might now assert that in our wildly diverse society, talking and listening to the widest range of people is not a sin, but a virtue.

text checked (see note) Oct 2009

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David Banks

additional category: politics

“At last, a clash of credibles”

Star Tribune Commentary page, August 15, 2012

The modern presidency is somewhat of a confidence game. A candidate seeks to gain trust not only for the chance to steer high-profile initiatives through a narcissistic Congress but also to control numerous less visible but equally consequential outcomes. The impacts are nearly countless.

If you’re playing any sport with a ball, you know to pass not to where your teammate is, but to where he or she is going to be. Campaigns being what they are, a similar concept applies to passing responsibility to candidates. Where might they really be headed? Do they have the credibility to get there?


text checked (see note) Aug 2012

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John Brandl

additional category: politics

“To state’s sorrow, Pawlenty and Legislature missed a bet”

Star Tribune Commentary page, May 20, 2003

To be a politician is to have an exquisite ability to rationalize, to see one’s own interests and the public good as coincident with the positions of influential lobbying organizations. I’ve been there.



item below checked (see note) when added

Note (Hal’s):
Apparently from the article quoted above, but not collected at the time, this excerpt was reprinted August 20, 2008, accompanying a Star Tribune editorial salute and memorial.

May he rest in peace. Without him, our own chances for peace (not to mention sensible government) are diminished.

This year’s legislative session came down to a tussle between the two dominant sets of interest groups at the Capitol: those for whom raising taxes one cent is anathema and those who believe that spending on government services automatically accomplishes fine results. No one in either the executive or the legislative branch of government took a public stance that both those silly positions are silly.

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Greg Breining
“Grain drain”

Star Tribune, April 3, 2011

Fixating on meat as the malady is a good example of the tail wagging the dog. The root problem isn’t that we cover our continent with grain to eat more red meat than we need. The problem is that we grow so much grain we hardly know what to do with it. So we feed it to cattle, put it in soft dringks, and even force ourselves to burn it in our cars. And why do we produce such an abundance of grain? Because we rig the market to make it so.

The real environmental problem is not that we eat meat; it’s that we insist on subsidizing inefficient and destructive grain production.

Note (Hal’s):
I thought this worthwhile, even though it oversimplifies. Some of the pressure to subsidize grain surely comes from those who feed it to animals. Meat (and possibly milk and eggs) would be more expensive without those subsidies. Of course, they might also be healthier.

— end note

“How lucky they are”

Star Tribune, October 30, 2011

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

You knew that.

But you may not have known that according to a mathematical model developed at the University of Minnesota, the fabulously rich get as rich as they do by chance alone. In a capitalist society, extreme concentration of wealth does not arise from extreme differences in work ethic, skills, investment smarts or other virtues. Nor does it come from connections, cronyism or crookedness.

Well, it does, but only some.

Mostly, extreme wealth comes from luck. In a laissez faire economy, within a few generations, a handful of players walk away with all the marbles. Because they’re lucky.

The policy implications should be alarming, especially if you’re a Paul Ryan conservative or Ron Paul libertarian who has been saying that economic liberty gives everyone a chance to grab the golden ring. It’s a vanishingly small chance. Indeed, if the model is accurate, the inevitable outcome of unfettered capitalism is oligarchy.



Extreme wealth is not a reward for virtue. Nor is it the ill-gotten gains of collusion. It is the inexorable outcome of dumb luck, the giant cardboard check of a national lotto.

As beneficiaries of a system that paid them way out of proportion to any effort or virtue of their own, the superrich are entitled to some of their wealth, but not all.

They should give a lot of it back.

text checked (see note) Apr 2011; Jul 2012

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Kevyn Burger
“Pandemic raises a time question”

Star Tribune, February 18, 2021

What Americans call “hump day” is known as “Little Saturday” (lillördag or lille lørdag) in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, where there’s a history of finding a small indulgence to make the middle of the week special.

“My friends and relatives in Sweden say it’s a way to raise up Wednesday, to do something cheerful or luxurious that’s usually reserved for the weekend,” said Ingela-Eilert Haaland, who moved to Minnesota from her native Sweden in 1994, married a Minnesotan and now teaches Swedish at the American Swedish Institute.

The tradition, Haaland said, came from the time when servants, who often worked on the weekend, had Wednesday night off.

text checked (see note) Feb 2021

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Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen