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


Newspaper items

index pages:

David A. Fahrenthold
“Save the planet? It’s irrational”

from the Washington Post;
published in the Star Tribune
December 8, 2009

It is a global problem, with no obvious villains and no one-step solutions, whose worst effects seem as if they’ll befall somebody else at some other time. In short, if someone set out to draw up a problem that people would not care about, it would look exactly like climate change.


Climate change

Another problem with climate change is called “system justification.” This refers to humankind’s deep-seated love for the status quo and willingness to defend it.



A third problem is that psychologists say humans can fret about only so many things at once — the technical term is the “finite pool of worry.”

In a small study around San Diego in 2007, researchers hung four fliers on doorknobs. One told homeowners that they should conserve energy because it helped the environment. One said saving energy was socially responsible. One said it saved money. The fourth said the majority of neighbors in the community were doing it.

The researchers waited and then read the meters. The houses with the fourth flier showed the most change.

text checked (see note) Dec 2009

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Andrew Fiala
“Then again, the sources might lie – it’s really an easy thing to do”

written for the Fresno Bee;
published in the Star Tribune September 27, 2012

We prefer stories that reinforce our other ideas and beliefs, pleasant stories that are easy to understand. No politician is going to admit that public affairs are incredibly complex, that human behavior is difficult to control and that unpredictable events will disrupt even our best-laid plans. The politician tells us instead that he or she has a clear plan for success and confident knowledge of the situation. And we are glad to believe. We desire certainty in an uncertain world.

Psychological well-being may hinge upon our ability to deceive ourselves in the face of uncertainty and failure. When you make a mistake, suffer rejection or embarrass yourself, you have to find ways to downplay and ignore the truth so you can move forward. Self-doubt and self-recrimination can be paralyzing. It is useful to fudge the truth about yourself and your own abilities.

There may be an evolutionary explanation of our ability to deceive and dissimulate. The struggle for prestige involves a large dose of bluff and bluster. Outright deception is useful in struggles for scarce resources and in battles for territory and mates.



Lying is usually thought to involve a deliberate intention to deceive. But the best liars are those who are so sure of themselves that they don’t even know they are lying.

This brings us back to the political echo chamber. The more a lie is repeated, the easier it is to believe. It is possible, then, that politicians don’t deliberately lie. They may believe the tales they tell, supported in this belief by the reverberations of partisan advisors and supporters.



text checked (see note) Oct 2012

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from an obituary of the
Rev. Aengus Finucane

Obituary attributed to “news services”;
published in the Star Tribune October 14, 2009

His credo, oft-repeated when stumping for donors, was: “We have a strong inclination to do evil — and you have to fight like hell to do any good.”

text checked (see note) Oct 2009

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Cory Franklin
“Experts don’t always know best”

written for the Chicago Tribune;
published in the Star Tribune
14 April 2022

There is an aphorism that if you put a cup of soup in a bowl of garbage, it’s garbage. And if you put a cup of garbage in a bowl of soup, it’s garbage. Along those lines, if you inject politics into science, it’s politics. And if you inject science into politics, it’s politics.

text checked (see note) April 2022

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Thomas L. Friedman
“Cheney has it all wrong on how to deal with oil habit”

from the New York Times;
published in the Star Tribune
10 February 2006

We have a small gasoline tax, but Europe and Japan tax their gasoline by $2 and $3 a gallon, or more. They use those taxes to build schools, highways and national health care for their citizens. But they spend very little on defense compared with us.

So who protects their oil supplies from the Middle East? U.S. taxpayers. We spend nearly $600 billion a year on defense, a large chunk in the Persian Gulf. But how do we pay for that without a gas tax? Income taxes and Social Security. Yes, we tax our incomes and raid our children’s Social Security fund so Europeans and Japanese can comfortably import their oil from the Gulf, impose big gas taxes on it at their pumps and then use that income for their own domestic needs. And because they have high gas taxes, they also beat Detroit at making more fuel-efficient cars. Now how tough is that?

Finally, if Cheney believes so much in markets, why did the 2005 energy act contain about $2 billion in tax breaks for oil companies?



text below checked (see note) when added

“Suddenly, Iran is flying a little lower”

from the New York Times;
published in the Star Tribune
30 October 2008

As Vladimir Mau, president of Russia’s Academy of National Economy, pointed out to me, it was the long period of high oil prices followed by sharply lower oil prices that killed the Soviet Union. The spike in oil prices in the 1970s deluded the Kremlin into overextending subsidies at home and invading Afghanistan abroad — and then the collapse in prices in the ’80s helped bring down that overextended empire.

Incidentally, this was exactly what happened to the shah of Iran: 1) Sudden surge in oil prices. 2) Delusions of grandeur. 3) Sudden contraction of oil prices. 4) Dramatic downfall. 5) You’re toast.


Soviet Union

“An analogy, if you please”

from the New York Times;
published in the Star Tribune
10 December 2009

[...] “If there’s a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al-Qaida build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” Cheney contended that the United States had to confront a very new type of threat: a “low-probability, high-impact event.”

[...] Cass Sunstein, who then was at the University of Chicago, pointed out that Cheney seemed to be endorsing the same “precautionary principle” that also animated environmentalists.

Of course, Cheney would never accept that analogy. Indeed, many of the same people who defend Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine on nukes tell us not to worry at all about catastrophic global warming, where the odds are, in fact, a lot higher than 1 percent if we stick to business as usual. That is unfortunate, because Cheney’s instinct is precisely the right framework with which to think about the climate issue [...]



If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax, what would be the result? As a country, we would be stronger, more innovative and more energy-independent.

But if we don’t prepare, and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell.


Climate change

“Religious intolerance is unhelpful, yes, but this is a two-way street”

from the New York Times;
published in the Star Tribune
20 September 2012

I don’t like to see anyone’s faith insulted, but we need to make two things very clear — more clear than President Obama’s team has made them. One is that an insult — even one as stupid and ugly as the anti-Islam video on YouTube that started all of this — does not entitle people to go out and attack embassies and kill innocent diplomats. That is not how a proper self-governing people behave. There is no excuse for it. It is shameful.

And, second, before demanding an apology from our president, Ali and the young Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Sudanese who have been taking to the streets might want to look in the mirror — or just turn on their own televisions. They might want to look at the chauvinistic bile that is pumped out by some of their own media — on satellite television stations and websites or sold in sidewalk bookstores outside of mosques — insulting Shiites, Jews, Christians, Sufis and anyone else who is not a Sunni, or fundamentalist, Muslim. There are people in their countries for whom hating “the other” has become a source of identity and a collective excuse for failing to realize their own potential.

Compare to:

Ahmed Tharwat

[...] I know that these expressions of intolerance are only one side of the story and that there are deeply tolerant views and strains of Islam espoused and practiced there as well. Theirs are complex societies.

That’s the point. America is a complex society, too. But let’s cut the nonsense that this is just our problem and the only issue is how we clean up our act. That Cairo protestor is right: We should respect the faiths and prophets of others. But that runs both ways. Our president and major newspapers consistently condemn hate speech against other religions. How about yours?

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William Gibson

from an interview in the A.V. Club portion of The Onion
Volume 43 Issue 34
August 23, 2007

Copyright © 2007 Onion, Inc.

“Cyberspace” as a term is sort of over. It’s over in the way that after a certain time, people stopped using the suffix “-electro” to make things cool, because everything was electrical. “Electro” was all over the early 20th century, and now it’s gone. I think “cyber” is sort of the same way. The things that aren’t cyberspace seem to comprise a smaller set than things that are.



I’m not a very intentional writer. I try to be as unintentional as possible. What I basically try to do is invite the zeitgeist in to tea. I haven’t been reading much contemporary fiction lately, but if you’re seeing characters operating on the outside of things that they can’t fully comprehend, then you’re seeing part of the zeitgeist, and I think you might also be seeing an emergent, new kind of realism, where the individuals that write books are willing to admit to themselves—and to some extent to the reader—that they don’t know what the hell is going on. I mean, if they’re trying to be really honest, and they’re not just trying to sell some conspiracy theory, they’re writing about characters who don’t know what the hell is going on, because... well, we don’t.



text checked (see note) Aug 2007

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Gary Gilson
“Resolve to improve how you write”

Star Tribune, 10 January 2021

Clarity? In response to my invitation to explore “obscurantism,” a reader in Eau Claire, Wis., Michael Lindsay, submitted this gem – with only nine syllables:

“Disambiguate obfuscation.”

Clear enough?



“Tips for choosing the best words”

Star Tribune, 1 October 2023

Avoid jargon: “This is not my first rodeo, but that’s above my pay grade, so at the end of the day I’ll circle back so we can think outside the box, drill down to increase our bandwidth, gain traction and move the goal posts.”

What I’ve relied on, instead, is developing my ear for language by following the writer Pete Hamill’s advice for writers. One word: “Read.”

“Stuffing sentences too full can baffle”

Star Tribune, 3 December 2023

Our goal as writers: clarity.

The best expression of that ideal I’ve ever heard came from the Roman rhetorician Marcus Quintilianus (35-100 A.D.):

“We should write, not so that it is possible to understand us, but so that it is impossible to misunderstand us.”



“To write well, read skilled writers”

Star Tribune, 31 March 2024

I recently watched a TV interview with the composer, musician and singer Paul Simon by “CBS Late Night” host Stephen Colbert. Colbert asked Simon to describe his process of writing music and lyrics: Is he a perfectionist?

Simon pondered a bit before explaining that, in creating a song, he writes a part he decides is really good; another part that’s pretty good; and something else that’s just OK. Then, he says, he looks at the just-OK part, and he decides he hates it.

He punctuates his description with this gem: “The ear goes to the irritant.”

text checked (see note) Jan 2021; Oct, Dec 2023; Apr 2024

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Hermann Goering
during trial at Nuremberg

attributed in a letter to the Star Tribune, 13 January 2003

Why, of course the people don’t want war...but, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.



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Barry Goldman
“We’ve met Public Enemy No. 1: It’s us”

Los Angeles Times;
published in the Star Tribune March 9, 2011

Oliver Sacks, in his wonderful early book, “A Leg to Stand On,” discusses a neurological condition called somatoparaphrenia. Patients with this disorder experience “a denial of ownership” of their body parts. Sacks remembers being called to deal with a patient who had fallen out of bed. [...] The patient reported that he had found a strange leg in bed with him. He thought it was a cadaver’s leg that a nurse had put in his bed as a joke. But when he attempted to throw the horrible thing out of the bed, he somehow came after it — and now it was attached to him.

I’ve been thinking about somatoparaphrenia lately in relation to our nation’s ongoing war against the public sector.



They are us. You can’t just drill holes in their end of the boat and expect to stay afloat.

Look, I’ve been arbitrating labor cases for 20 years. I know something about waste, fraud, nepotism, featherbedding, laziness, corruption and stupidity. And what I know is you don’t have to go to the public sector to find them. [...] For every bloated public bureaucracy, there is an equally sclerotic corporate structure.

It is not government that is the problem, it is people in groups.

text checked (see note) Mar 2011

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Jack Gordon
“ ‘That story coming up. But first...’,”

Star Tribune, 12 May 2004

“A giant meteor that scientists are calling a ‘planet killer’ will strike the Earth this evening at approximately 8:43 p.m. Details at 10.”
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Kent Greenfield
“Court got the answer wrong in Citizens United but asked the right question.”

written for the Washington Post

published in the Star Tribune, January 21, 2012

In fact, saying corporations are not persons is as irrelevant to constitutional analysis as saying that Tom Brady does not putt well in handicapping the NFL playoffs. The Constitution protects the rights of various groups and institutions – whether Planned Parenthood, Bob Jones University or the AFL-CIO – though they are not “natural persons.” Humans gather themselves in groups, for public and private ends, and sometimes it makes constitutional sense to protect the group as distinct from its constituent humans.

There are ways to address inordinate corporate power in politics that avoid razing the house to rid it of termites. Many ramifications of Citizens United can be addressed with more aggressive disclosure rules, limits on political involvement of companies receiving government contracts or mandates that shareholders approve political expenditures.

But as the denunciations of Citizens United peak this weekend, it’s useful to keep in mind that the biggest problem with corporate power was not created by the Supreme Court. The key flaw of American corporations is that they have become a vehicle for the voices and interests of an exceedingly small managerial and financial elite – the notorious 1 percent. That corporations speak is less a concern than for whom they speak and what they say. The cure for this is more democracy within businesses – more participation in corporate governance by workers, communities, shareholders and consumers.

If corporations were themselves more democratic, their participation in the nation’s political debate would be of little concern and might even be beneficial.

text checked (see note) Jul 2012

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Ron Grossman
“Lost civilization scholars re-create 4,000-year-old brew”

from the Chicago Tribune

published in the Star Tribune, July 14, 2013

Indeed, the Sumerians, who lived in what is now Iraq, used those innovations to lift human society to the level of a civilization for the first time, according to one school of thought. The Sumerians were one of the first peoples to realize they could preserve their thoughts by setting them down in writing. Their version of writing, known as cuneiform and inscribed on clay tablets, has enabled modern scholars to understand how the Sumerians felt about ethics, education, religion and beer.



text checked (see note) Jul 2013

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Carolyn Hax

Tell Me About It

from the Washington Post

in the Star Tribune 8 June 2009

Whenever you have trouble with all (group name here), it isn’t about (group name here), it’s about you. I’ve found this to be a useful self-diagnostic tool.

It applies when every boss at every job is a nightmare; when all other drivers are jerks; when all adherents to a belief are monsters, liars or fools. It applies even when there isn’t just one group, but instead any group will do [...]

in the Star Tribune 21 December 2009

Your “future dream wedding day” will be less than perfect because you, your groom, and life are less than perfect. The more you ask life to grace you with improbable things (such as, perfection in a catered event involving alcohol and family members), the more gleefully life giggles when it barfs on your dress.

I think I typed that a little too gleefully.



in the Star Tribune 29 October 2010

I am a staunch nonbeliever in bean-counting in relationships. For intimacy to develop and flourish, each partner has to give freely, without regard for fairness, and both have to receive gratefully, without tap-tapping their feet for more.

Such balance isn’t something you can just decide unilaterally to have; each of you has to establish your side of the equation, ungrudgingly, on faith, at a pace that feels right. Then, you watch for it being reciprocated to the point where it feels only natural to entrust yourselves to each other.



text checked (see note) Jun, Dec 2009; Oct 2010

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Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen