Mayor R.T. Rybak Sticks It To Greedy Tow-truck Terrorists

I’ve been towed exactly seven times in my life. Each time, it’s been a kick in the pants, because you never want to be in a position where a) someone has taken your vehicle without asking and b) they want a lot of money before they return it. That’s a ransom where I come from.

Approximately 400 vehicles were towed in Minneapolis over the weekend. A total of 17.1 inches of snow fell on the city, leaving many vehicles stuck during the snow emergency. The good news is Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak offered amnesty to anyone who was towed over the weekend, citing in many cases that vehicles couldn’t be moved because the streets simply wouldn’t allow it; stuck not by negligence but by Mother Nature.

So, high-five, Mayor. Thanks for preventing the tow-truck terrorists from fleecing helpless citizens.

No one’s ever happy to call a towing company and I can’t imagine a more miserable job than receptionist at a towing company. It’s a business of doom and gloom, legalized robbery, a damn racket. What never ceases to amaze me are the names these towing companies go by. In the Twin Cities, we have:

  • Always Available Towing — Seems like more of a threat than an assurance.
  • Cheap Towing — Define “cheap.”
  • Yeah Buddy Towing RecoveryTowing like a big shot?
  • A+ Towing Inc. Not a lot of A+’s in the towing industry, you know?
  • Gopher Towing — If the name was literal, I’d pay double to see that.

We’re blessed to have an off-the-street parking so we don’t have to park on the odd-numbered side of even-numbered streets running North or Northwest during the waning crescent if it’s a Tuesday in the second week of the month in an odd-number year if you’re a Libra and you live in a zip code with a square root between 245 and 247. Sure, MnDOT’s gone gangbusters on the social media front to help inform the general public of snow emergencies and dangerous travel conditions, but snow emergency parking procedure reads like an algorithm, and I can’t handle that math.

I’m just an English grad.

The Final 48: Enjoying the Last Days Before Dog Ownership

Again, another stock image of a goldendoodle. We're not getting this one. But, hopefully you can see why we're doing this.

In just over 48 hours, life will never be the same. Not for the next decade or so, anyway.

My girlfriend and I are going to pick up our goldendoodle from Peever, S.D. on Saturday. Meanwhile, the planner I am, I’ve been thinking through every last preparation necessary before we bring this dog into our home — dog-proofing, if you will. I’m up at night thinking about cords and expensive rugs and where to put shoes and how to quit leaving all of my clothes on the bedroom floor. I realize I’m going to miss something. Probably a lot of things.

We found ourselves at O’Donovan’s Sunday night, sitting around a table with two other couples who happened to be dog owners. We heard stories about cuddling, new tricks and adorable behaviors. We were stories about pee, poop and vomit. We talked grooming, food and expensive visits to the veterinarian. There we were, listening like young parents-to-be, warned over and over that our lives were about to change, but assured that it’s worth it.

I can’t wait.

One of my co-workers, whose Boston terrier recently took a tumble down some stairs and needed a $3,500 surgery to repair a broken leg, just the other day asked, plainly, why now? Why do you want a dog?

I told him I was ready to invest in something that would give back; something a little more engaging than new shoes or a new Apple product. I wanted something that required work and dedication — like a hobby — but also, something that relied on me, and something I could care for.

There’s no way around the fact this dog is going to change our lifestyle. The next few days, I really want to savor the things one can have or do when one doesn’t own a dog. The problem is I don’t know what those things are. I realize travel becomes a seriously complex equation with a dog in the mix. And I realize there’s going to be expenses along the way that I could never imagine. Uninterrupted sleep? Does that become a thing of the past?

Whatever. We’re ready for it. Ready as anyone can be, anyway. Last night, I spent two hours watching goldendoodle videos on YouTube. So, yeah.  All I know is whenever I imagine our dog-to-be, I hear this song:

(Note: Clearly, as evidenced by the past few weeks on The Miller Times, I’m excited to write about the pitfalls and payoffs of dog ownership. I imagine Olive/Cooper — we haven’t decided a gender yet — will take on a starring role here, so forgive me in advance.)

I Didn’t Almost Die in the Portland Terror Plot. Neither Did You

Captain Jonathan Sassman, of the Corvallis Police Department, examines fire damage at the mosque where Mohamed Osman Mohamud worshipped while a student at Oregon State.

Over the weekend, I had this urge to write about the foiled terrorist plot in Portland, Ore. In case you’ve been stuck in a five-day tryptophan-induced coma, the FBI arrested Mohamed Osman Mohamud on Friday after he attempted to detonate a car bomb nearby Pioneer Courthouse Square, where a mass had gathered for the annual Christmas tree lighting.

The catch: Mohamud’s explosives were fake. They were supplied by the FBI as part of an undercover operation dating back to August 2009. Feds swooped in to make the arrest after Mohamud dialed a cell number to detonate the explosives.

My first impulse was similar to anyone who lived and worked near Ground Zero on 9/11 or anyone who regularly used the 35-W bridge in Minneapolis prior to its collapse. I wanted to write about the what-ifs.

What if I had never moved and Beth and I had stayed in Portland over Thanksgiving and decided to se the Christmas tree lit? What if I had been on the MAX, passing by Pioneer Courthouse Square just as Mohamud’s car bomb exploded? What if I had friends and co-workers who were there? What if?

None of that matters. We can’t let it. The moment we start to ponder the hypothetical and let it affect our lifestyle, the terrorists have won.

All that matters is what did happen. Mohamud had been on the FBI’s radar for over a year, under careful surveillance, and no one in Portland was ever truly in danger, especially on Friday. Mohamud provided the smoking gun when he attempted to detonate the explosives, and and unless Mohamud’s public defender can successfully argue entrapment, I’m sure we’ll see a speedy trial resulting in a lifetime prison sentence.

Here’s something that absolutely did happen. On Sunday, there was an actual terrorist attack. An arsonist set fire to the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, which is 80 miles south of Portland. Mohamud occasionally attended the mosque while a student at Oregon State University. The fire was discovered in time to save the mosque, but an administrative office was severely damaged.

That’s what the War on Terror has brought us to, apparently — burning places of worship. Again, we’re letting the terrorists win.

I’m so sick of arguing with anyone who unequivocally paints all Muslims as terrorists. There are nearly 1.57 billion people on this planet who are Muslims. Not only is it stupid and unjustifiable to claim nearly 23 percent of the world’s population partakes in terrorist activity — it’s irresponsible.

And we need to quit thinking about all the times we almost died, when, as with any car accident or house fire or natural disaster, time and place dictated otherwise. It simply didn’t happen.

Maybe we had been in Lower Manhattan an hour before 9/11 or we had taken the 35-W bridge to work that day. Maybe we sold a car that was involved in a wreck the next day or we’d been in a hotel that caught fire right after we checked out or we just returned from a vacation in the Cayman Islands before a Category 4 hurricane came barreling through. It’s so plainly human to latch onto our mortality whenever it comes into question. (Read: My post from yesterday.)

Ultimately, two things matter: What happened and what didn’t. The almosts aren’t even worth entertaining.

50 Tyson’s Sudden Fame Raises Concerns Over Handlers

I live about three blocks from Edison High School, where one of the most popular rap artists on YouTube is a senior.

Antonio Henderson-Davis, 17, is better known as 50 Tyson. His viral YouTube videoshave been viewed more than 10 million times, he’s been featured on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 and even landed a record deal with former NBA point guard Troy Hudson‘s label.

One more thing: 50 Tyson has autism.

On Sunday, the Star Tribune ran a feature on Henderson-Davis and the story is now free online. It’s a gripping tale about the autistic teenager, bombarded by newfound fame, whose eager to please. He’s surrounded by watchful parents, concerned teachers, supportive classmates and handlers, like Hudson, who may or may not have his best interests in mind.

You can read the story here. And if you do read it, I’m curious what you think. Please come back and comment.


Protest of X-ray Scans Could Bring Holiday Travel to a Halt


One thing many travelers aren't thankful for this Thanksgiving? Full-body X-ray scanners.

I won’t be flying home for Thanksgiving and I feel sorry for anyone who is. The furor over full-body X-ray scanners could come to a boiling point if enough protesters observe National Opt-Out Day on Wednesday, a day when fliers are encouraged to decline the X-ray scan in favor of a pat-down.

The idea is to create a major headache for the Transportation Security Administration on one of America’s busiest travel days. In other words, “Screw everyone who’s indifferent about the X-ray scans — I’m going to bring the security checkpoint to a grinding halt to make a difference, even if it means you’re eating cold turkey Thursday night.”

Where I come from, that’s terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the Opt-Out’s official website is littered with heavy handed prose to illustrate the X-ray scanners as a sure threat to our liberty, freedom, privacy and any other manner of buzzword. From the site:

“[Wednesday is] the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government’s desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an “enhanced pat down” that touches people’s breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner.  You should never have to explain to your children, “Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK.”

The “aggressive manner” seems a bit vague. I might’ve went with “rummaged.” People pay to be handled in an aggressive manner. No one appreciates being rummaged.

I haven’t experienced the wonderment of the full-body scan, but I have been a 13-year-old boy. Nearly every boy in America has considered the development, purchase or use of X-ray glasses as a means to secretly scan the female form. About the time I started writing clumsy poems for girls, I wanted to save up to buy a pair X-ray glasses I’d seen in the back of Mad Magazine. Eventually, reason led me to believe that X-ray glasses would allow me to see not only through cotton, but likely through flesh. I wasn’t about to spend $19.99 and the better part of my puberty staring at skeletal systems.

We do know that the scanners used in airports are a little more detailed than the X-ray you’d get at a hospital. To that end, I get the fear. No one should have to worry about nude photos of him/herself being spread across the Internet. The images could be a little less, oh, crisp?

This all comes back to safety. I’m a staunch supporter of the ACLU and I despise the USA PATRIOT Act and I think airport security checkpoints are often a bungled series of gaffes not because of the technology they use, but the people they employee. Come on, paranoid passengers, and say it: I don’t trust TSA employees. That’s much different than distrusting a technology, isn’t it?

Let’s not blame this technology. The technology is not the problem. The problem, if one was to arise, would stem from an employee of the TSA distributing an image to anywhere beyond the checkpoint. That would be a major privacy punishable — I would imagine — as a federal offense. It should be easy enough to ensure every scan is encrypted with data to identify every TSA employee who administered and/or laid eyes on the image.

The discussion over these full-body X-ray scans will continue on, and I can’t think of anything less productive to the debate or less considerate to other passengers than trying to slow security checkpoints on the eve of Thanksgiving. That’s not “our way of life.” Opt-out of the opt-out and take the time saved to write your congressional leaders a letter.

National Opt-Out Day isn’t a protest — it’s a massive inconvenience.

St. Cloud Students Vote to Pay Up, Save Football

Had St. Cloud State students not voted to increase student fees, Husky Stadium would've been much lonelier on Saturdays in the fall.

This week, students at St. Cloud State University voted to increase student fees by $1.74 per credit hour to save the football program.

How did such a major decision come to a student vote?

The SCSU athletic department faced  deficits of $550,000 in fiscal year 2012 and $600,000 in fiscal year 2013. Student fees, the budgetary equivalent of duct tape at state universities, were seen as one of the few lifelines that could rescue Husky football. So, the SCSU student government coordinated a vote and 20 percent of the student body showed up over three days to approve the measure.

President Earl H. Potter III confirmed the vote yesterday and  promised students and faculty he has no intention of cutting any sports. In the meantime, administration and the athletic department will work with boosters and corporate partner to strengthen revenue streams.

As a St. Cloud State student, it might’ve been easier to vote no. The increase is capped at 12 credits, so no full-time student will pay more than $41.76 for a school year. Still, that’s $167.04 over four years alongside increasing tuition and book prices and shrinking faculties and course offerings. As part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, SCSU’s academic budget will be cut four percent in 2011 alone.

For those of you keeping score at home, college students, in general, are paying more to receive less than ever before. But don’t feel sorry for St. Cloud State students, because at least they still have Husky football.

I wish President Potter would’ve taken the heavy handed approach and said something like,

“No more. While we honor the 88-year history of our football program, we cannot expect to burden students with more fees unless their investment is fruitful. Just 100 men among our 20,000 students play football, and I can’t fathom more than a dozen will continue on to playing or coaching careers. This is a new era for St. Cloud State University, but we will go on without football. We are a proud state institution, and what does or doesn’t happen for a few hours each Saturday afternoon in the fall won’t harm our reputation. This is in the best interests of the students and the school.”

Yeah, right.

Did I mention I’m a huge college sports fan? Basketball, especially. Don’t think I was one of those bitter jerks who didn’t support his college’s athletic program. I did. Faithfully. But had the athletic program just gone and disappeared, each and every sport, I would’ve been fine. I went to college to get a degree. I’m reminded of how expensive it was each month when I cut a check to payback my student loans. A percentage of that debt came from student fees, paid out over five years and dispersed to clubs, organizations and causes I couldn’t begin to name.

If SCSU students are content with paying up so young men can play a sport, so be it. I suppose that’s honorable and part of a liberal state of mind I generally respect.

My only question is what if the library had been in peril? What if the debate team was on the verge of extinction or the theatre department was drying up? What if the student newspaper could no longer afford printing costs?

Kudos to SCSU students for delving deeper into their student debt, so long as that charitable nature exists when other groups need it, too.

No, Really — The Timberwolves Make a Great Anniversary Date

I follow Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Anthony Tolliver on Twitter on the good advice of my friend Joe Eckert, who attended Creighton along with Tolliver and good vouch he was “a good dude.”

Maybe you’ve heard of Tolliver. Shortly after LeBron James told the world he was “taking his talents to South Beach” on ESPN’s one-hour special, The Decision, Tolliver took to YouTube tell tell the world he was going to play for the Wolves:

Yesterday was mine and my girlfriend’s third anniversary. Money’s been tight, so I had to get creative to come up with a date. Luckily, my girlfriend is a sports fan. I was aware Tolliver gives away home tickets via Twitter whenever the Wolves are in town. That said, I kept close watch on Twitter all day, until:

Bingo! So, I responded as quickly as possible:

Though I wasn’t the first to respond, Tolliver decided to give Beth and I the tickets anyway, given it was our anniversary. We sat in Section 133, Row H, just a few rows from the Timberwolves’ bench. We were surrounded by wealthy season-ticket holders, players’ friends, players’ girlfriends, players’ wives and players’ mistresses. So romantic.

Awesome game, too. Both the Los Angeles Clippers and Wolves are more likely to make the NBA Draft Lottery rather than the NBA playoffs, but there was plenty of young talent on the court, including several players from the vaunted high school recruiting class of 2007. From the Timberwolves (with their class ranking): Michael Beasley (No. 1), Kevin Love (No. 6), Kosta Koufos (No. 16) and Jonny Flynn (No. 22), who is injured. From the Clippers, Eric Gordon (No. 2), DeAndre Jordan (No. 8) and Blake Griffin (No. 23). These players have competed against one another for years now, so it made for an entertaining match-up.

How’d it shake out? The Wolves won 113-111 after Beasley hit a game-winning shot with 2.3 seconds left. We had a great view, too:

So, nothing but good vibrations from this new Timberwolves convert. I love the product on the floor right now, even if the team is too young to reach the postseason.

I also appreciate my girlfriend, who is willing to put up with a guy who, in desperation mode to take her on a date, resorted to Twitter and the uncommonly good nature of an NBA player.