This story about two runaway girls hidden by their mother (and maybe a network of anti-Family Court conspiracists) is fascinating.  (More background here.) The Strib is (justifiably) proud of its work here, since it broke the case open back in April.  The best parts of most articles, at least from the point of view of humor value, are the quotes from the mother’s lawyer:

Grazzini-Rucki’s attorney, Michelle MacDonald, criticized the placement of the children in foster care.

“Why are they not living with their mother right now?” MacDonald said.

Grazzini-Rucki, who was arrested in October, is being held in lieu of $1 million bail by Dakota County and housed at the Ramsey County workhouse.

(MacDonald previously ran one of the most epically awful campaigns for office that I have been aware of.)

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Doozy of a sentence

From the Strib, no prepositions were harmed in the writing of this sentence:

With his two young sons with him, a man rigged a car in a Lakeville home’s garage for a murder-suicide before fleeing until police soon caught up with him and the boys early Thursday, authorities said.

(The children were okay, too.)

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Unions on campus

The organizing push at UMN continues (Minnesota Daily).  From MPR:

By the end of the year, a group of faculty at the University of Minnesota hopes to get authorization to hold a union vote.

“It’s really about the loss of the mission of public higher education and just a concern that because of the trends in higher education where there’s more contingent faculty, there’s fewer tenure line positions, there’s less involvement of the faculty in the governance of the university,” [professor of science history Mark] Borello said.

Simultaneously, the university clerical and maintenance workers (organized with AFSCME and Teamsters, respectively) are in contract negotiations  (Minnesota Daily).  Cherrene Horazuk, the president of AFSCME Local 3800, has a real talent for picking out anecdotes that tell a clear story.  Among them:

  • the university gave a larger raise to the basketball coach after one disastrous season than it’s offering to all 1000+ clerical workers;
  • the union has been pushing for an anti-bullying provision in the contract; the administration’s counter-offer is to pay for “resiliency training”;
  • Horazuk ended the rally by saying, ‘In its strategic plan, the university is asking its best researchers and brightest minds to solve society’s grand challenges, and hopes to answer the question, “How will we ensure just and equitable societies?” The administration should start by ensuring a just and equitable university.’”


A bunch of good letters to the editor have been appearing in the Daily:


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“A Void” by George Perec (translated by G. Adair)

I knew about this book for a long time before I read it: it’s one of several translations of La Disparition, a French novel (really, a sort of detective thriller) written without the letter “e.”  The English translation holds to the same restriction.  I found the first few chapters (they are numbered 1 to 26, but there is no chapter 5) very confusing, before I realized that the entire novel is a big, self-referential joke; with that framework, the whole thing made much more sense and is a lot of fun. It was more work than anything I’ve read recently (unsurprisingly, the vocabulary is sometimes baroque), but I thought in the end that it was worth the effort.  Several moments sparkle brilliantly: the first character to whom we are introduced is named Anton Vowl; Chapter 10 ends with a series of famous poems, including William Shakspar’s “Living or not living” soliloquy and “Black Bird” (“Quoth that Black Bird, ‘Not Again’“); and a section titled “On Groups (by Marshall Hall Jr),” which includes the following paragraph:

It’s said that, just prior to dying, at night, at about 4 or 5 a.m., Galois put in writing on his jotting pad (Marshall Hall Jr, op. cit, folio B) a long, continuous chain of factors in his own form of notation.  To wit:

aa − 1 = bb − 1 = cc − 1 = dd − 1 = ff − 1 = gg − 1 = hh − 1 = ii − 1 = jj − 1 = kk − 1 = ll − 1 = mm − 1 = nn − 1 = oo − 1 = pp − 1 = qq − 1 = rr − 1 = ss − 1 = tt − 1 = uu − 1 = vv − 1 = ww − 1 = xx − 1 = yy − 1 = zz − 1 =

As part of his manuscript is missing, though, nobody knows to this day what conclusion Galois was hoping to draw from his calculations.

I think it would be interesting to compare other translations (according to Wikipedia, there are at least three others).


(I read another of Perec’s books a few years ago.)

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Things I don’t really believe, even though I know they are true

  1. Multi-ton hunks of metal and carbon can fly through the air via their own propulsive forces.
  2. Two people, conversing openly in public, can establish a code that is not breakable by someone overhearing the entire conversation.
  3. The University of Minnesota gave a larger raise (in dollars) to its mediocre basketball coach than it is offering to its 1600+ clerical workers



On contract negotiations, see also this.

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The Erdős FBI file

A cute little article here about Paul Erdős’s FBI file.  The short version is … that it’s not very interesting; the FBI routinely (and correctly) determined that he was just interested in doing mathematics.  In a Minnesota-centric note, it was Hubert Humphrey who helped him get a visa after several years of being blacklisted by the INS.  The writer of the linked article does get in a good punch-line.

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“Therapy” by David Lodge

I enjoyed Paradise News, so I thought I’d try another. Basically, I think Therapy is the same novel as Paradise News, but not quite as good. I have been promised that some of his others are better, and am planning on trying one or two of them out later this summer.

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