July 2008

The headline indicates a fiasco:  District owes more money to get bus out of storage than what it was sold for.   This article appears in this week’s Morrison County Record and all I can say is, how do supposedly intelligent people get themselves into such idiotic situations?

Here’s a summary of the situation for those who don’t want to click through to read the story.  The Little Falls School District had a bus sitting by the Central Office Building five years ago.  The space where the bus was sitting was needed for the Arts & Crafts Fair, so the bus was put into storage at Auto Max.  It was only supposed to be there for a few days, but no one from the district made arrangements to get it out of storage.  Duane Doble, owner of Auto Max, tried to contact transportation people with the district in order to have the bus picked up, but no one from the district acted on his calls.  As the time stretched from a few days to five years, Doble felt guilty about charging the district $10 a day for storage, so he dropped his fee to $1 per day.  Instead of charging the district $18,250 (my basic math estimate) for storage, Doble was willing to settle for $1,500.  Pretty good deal, wouldn’t you say?

When the district finally got its act together, it opened bids to sell the bus.  It got the high bid of $300 from Dave Kalpakoff, but decided not to sell him the bus because it wouldn’t cover the entire cost of the storage bill.  Instead, the district decided to give Duane Doble the bus in lieu of the bill.  He’s going to scrap it.

Could somebody please tell me the logic of this?  If the high bid is $300 and that’s all you can hope to get out of this old bus, why would you not accept the offer (thus, living up to a promise) and then pay the balance of your much-reduced storage bill (thus, living up to an obligation)?

To top this all off, the district’s Business Manager, Nancy Henderson, concludes by saying, “I don’t think the district will be doing business with Auto Max in the future.”  How incredibly snide!  As though it’s the fault of Auto Max that no one from the district came to retrieve the bus.  Frankly, Doble has shown that he is a thoughtful and kind-hearted businessman through all of this and he deserves the district’s future business.  However, I wouldn’t be so unkind as to saddle him with the district’s inept behavior.  Honestly!

I do hope Doble got enough out of that scrapped bus to recover what was owed him.

My school of fish isn’t gonna ride this bus,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Addendum (7/27/2007):  In today’s edition of the Morrison County Record an apology letter from Nancy Henderson appears.  Way to go, Nancy, for making amends for last week’s comment.  (Sorry, I can’t find an online version, otherwise I’d provide a link.) – P.F.A.P.


It’s been almost four weeks since the hostage situation took place at the Morrison County Government Center.  This fish still feels shaken by that event and will try not to comment directly on it further other than to say that the Morrison County Record did a fine job of covering the various angles of the situation.  (If you want to find the Record’s articles, just go to its website and type Gordon Wheeler into the search feature.)

What I’d like to do, instead, is discuss property rights because this is ostensibly what was at the root of the event.  When it comes to owning property, most Americans believe that property owners should be able to do whatever they want with their property.  In direct opposition to this thought is the belief that we also get to decide what our neighbors do with their property.  (How often have you found that your lawn aesthetic doesn’t match that of your neighbor’s?  Or complained about how that neighborhood feed lot is going to decrease the value of your property?)

So, which is it?  Do we get to do what we want with our property, or are we going to set up rules that restrict what our neighbors do?  There are no easy answers to this question, yet, when there is a dispute over property rights, someone has to step in and make some sort of decision.

That’s where our govenment officials come in – our county commissioners, city administrators, planning & zoning officials, and inspectors.  Not only are these officials concerned with making decisions about individual property rights, they also have to keep an eye on what’s good for an entire community, plus make sure their decisions square with local ordinances and state laws.  The latter can be notoriously difficult to interpret due to vague language that’s meant to cover all possible situations.

These officials juggle all of the aforementioned requirements and variables in making their decisions and sometimes their decisions don’t sit well with the property owner or with the public.  Then what?  Well, the property owner and public can learn to live with the decisions or the decisions can be appealed to a higher authority.  Perhaps a particular law in question needs to be revised, in which case those concerned with the issue can head to the legislature and work that angle.  If a property rights decision seems particularly unfair, but can’t seem to be resolved with a particular set of government officials, perhaps it’s time to use the power of the vote to bring new leaders into the situation.  The point is that there are all sorts of potential solutions to a property rights disagreement.

The real crux of the matter, however, is that property rights decisions are notoriously contentious because of the underlying premises I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Sometimes there just isn’t an easy fix, no matter how thoughtfully officials contemplate an issue, and no matter how hard a property owner works to get a decision changed in his/her favor.  What we need to change is our idea of owning property.  While we may legally “own” a piece of property, we don’t really own it.  We’re just borrowing it for a time.  It behooves us to think about who will be using the land next and start making decisions not simply for our own selfish needs, but for the needs of its future inhabitants.

I’ll share my reef, if you’ll share yours,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I was listening to a program on Minnesota Public Radio this past week on which Michael Osterholm, former Minnesota epidemiologist and current director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, was a guest.  Osterholm is a HUGE supporter of food irradiation.  At one point during the program, he said that there are still fervent anti-irradiation people out there and he referred to them as “radicals.”  The way he said the word made it very clear to me that he is unwilling to listen to anyone who has anything to say on the issue that disagrees with what he believes.  That’s not a good way for a scientist to behave.

Please don’t irradiate me!  (Trust me, I won’t taste very good that way.)

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

The following is a report from Fish Wrap Correspondent Black Molly:


On Friday, July 11, 2008, the Morrison County government and citizens bade a fond farewell to County Administrator Tim Houle.  Tim has served the county since 1994, first as County Coordinator and then, when the county narrowly approved the redefinition of the position, as County Administrator.  Houle is leaving Morrison County in order to serve as the new Crow Wing County Administrator, a position he was a candidate for in 2000.

The afternoon event was filled with gratitude for the work Houle has done for the county and region from such dignitaries as Representative Al Doty, the Morrison County Commissioners, former Representative Steve Wenzel, and several commissioners from adjoining counties.  One of the Crow Wing County Commissioners spoke at the event, saying that Houle had induced a rare unanimous vote among Crow Wing’s Commissioners when the decision was made to hire him.

Senator Paul Koering had attended the event earlier in the afternoon, but was unable to stay to present Houle with a plaque of appreciation.  This, along with other plaques and gifts, was presented through the course of the afternoon.

Along with expressing thanks for his work and sharing congratulatory remarks, county staff gave Houle a bit of a roasting.  Perhaps toasting would be a more appropriate word, but not toasting in the sense of raising a glass.  Instead, employees of Morrison County Public Health presented Houle with a golden toaster, a symbol of Houle having banned the use of a toaster in the Public Health office after several incidents of burnt toast set off fire alarms in the Government Center.

Further, Houle was presented with a Superman “S” to wear on his chest after making public remarks about the fact that he was an ordinary guy who didn’t have a big red “S” underneath his shirt.  Several comments were also made about the reflectiveness of Houle’s head and how Nathan Richardson, one of the county’s founders, and Houle were rivals in the head size department.

The presentation ended with Houle saying that he had played only a small part in the county’s accomplishments and that everyone, from the front-line county workers dealing with the public on up to the County Commissioners, was responsible for how well the county is being run.

In this fish’s opinion, Houle’s modesty is sincere, but he most assuredly deserves credit for the leadership he has brought to Morrison County and his use of that leadership to inspire those in the county to provide friendly and efficient service to Morrison County’s citizens.

We’re going to miss you, Tim.  Thanks for your dedication and service.

Your Fish Wrap Correspondent,

Black Molly

Public release date: 9-Jul-2008

Contact: Claire Bowles
New Scientist

10 people killed by new CJD-like disease

A NEW form of fatal dementia has been discovered in 16 Americans, 10 of whom have already died of the condition. It resembles Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – with patients gradually losing their ability to think, speak and move – but has features that make it distinct from known forms of CJD.

No one yet knows how the disease originates, or under what conditions it might spread. Nor is it clear how many people have the condition. “I believe the disease has been around for many years, unnoticed,” says Pierluigi Gambetti, director of the US National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Cases may previously have been mistaken for other forms of dementia.

Since Gambetti’s team wrote a paper describing an initial 11 cases referred to his centre between 2002 and 2006 (Annals of Neurology, vol 63, p 697), another five have come to light. “So it is possible that it could be just the tip of the iceberg,” Gambetti says.

As in other spongiform encephalopathies, such as CJD and mad cow disease (BSE), the brain tissue of victims is full of tiny holes. This damage is thought to be caused by the accumulation of prions, misfolded versions of a brain protein called PrP that can convert normal PrP molecules into their own misshapen form.

Some features of the new disease are different, however. All known disease-causing prions resist degradation by proteases – enzymes which digest the normal form of PrP. But prions from patients with the new disease are broken down by the enzymes.

Some very rare forms of CJD run in families and are caused by mutations in the gene for PrP. Six of the cases described in Gambetti’s paper were from families with a history of dementia, suggesting a genetic cause. However, these people had no mutations in their PrP genes. “Maybe there are other genes that have an influence on the disease,” suggests James Ironside of the UK’s National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh.

Most forms of CJD develop spontaneously, for unknown reasons, but can be spread if someone is exposed to brain material from people with CJD, for instance, by neurosurgery using inadequately sterilised instruments.

One variant of CJD has been linked to the consumption of contaminated meat from cattle with mad cow disease. If the new condition is similarly caused by something in the victims’ diet, or another environmental cause, new measures might be needed to protect public health.

Gambetti is now conducting experiments in mice to see how the disease is transmitted. He suspects that there is no cause for alarm. “I believe the disease occurs naturally, and is not due to environmental causes,” he says.




New Scientist Reporter: Andy Coghlan