tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Stein on 'Expelled'

I posted earlier about the movie Expelled. Well, two weeks ago, Ben Stein was in Rochester, Minn., speaking at a meeting I was covering. I had a chance to ask him about the movie. Here is what he said:

Expelled is a movie about a serious issue of academic suppression. Every person in this room, including yours truly, would agree that Darwin’s theory of evolution explains a huge amount about how speicies evolved. It doesn’t answer some of the very basic questions such as where did gravity come from? Where did thermo dynamics come from? Where did life originate?

Darwin himself said these are questions beyond my ability to figure out. For me to try to figure them out would be like a dog trying to figure out a law of physics. In fact, Darwin said, the way I see it, some of existence was designed and some happened by accident.

But in today’s modern campus setting, you are not allowed to say that. You are not even allowed to say what Darwin said. You have to say it is all accident, random mutation and natural selection. If you say, "Look, can we go back to where Darwin started?" and ask the question on that basis, you get ostracized and lose your job.

We think that is a serious abrogation of the laws of freedom of speech in this country and we’re concerned about it and that’s why we made the movie.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Urban Adventure

It was raining at 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning, when we started our urban adventure by walking four blocks to a bus stop. There were 16 of us in the group, and only two umbrellas between us. Needless to say, we hustled; thank goodness for the shelter at the bus stop.

A friend and I chaperoned 14 eighth and ninth grade girls. It was an end-of-school-year gathering organized chiefly by my own eighth grader. She asked for my help with the planning; I figured that since most of the kids live in the suburbs, they may not have had a chance to ride a city bus or the light rail train; they may not be comfortable navigating the streets and skyways of downtown Minneapolis. Let’s plan an urban adventure, I thought, and make sure the kids get these experiences.

Rain wasn’t the best way to start the trip, and the moist weather fogged up the windows on the bus, so we missed most of the urban scenery on the way into downtown. But once we got into a building and up to the second floor, the skyway system kept us dry and gave us a great view. We snaked our way from Hennepin Avenue to City Hall. I led the group, with my buddy John at the rear, making sure the girls we between us. It was crowded on the skyway at about 11:45, and there were a lot of distractions, but we stuck together and made it just fine. I think the highlight was the tunnel from the Hennepin County Government Center to City Hall, where you get to see an impressive display of falling water from below street level.

Twice each month, the Mayor of Minneapolis sets aside an hour in the middle of the day to visit with anyone who wants to come in. He calls it an open house. I had called the Mayor’s office only the previous Thursday, wondering if there was any chance we could see him the following Wednesday. It would be a long shot to get on his schedule with such short notice, but I figured I would give it a try. And boy, did I get lucky. Open house was scheduled for that day!

We visited with Mayor R.T. Rybak for about 15 minutes. I was so proud of the girls, who greeted the Mayor politely, listened attentively, and asked intelligent questions. For more on the meeting, see my other blog at

It was still raining after the mid-day meeting, so we went back to the Hennepin County Government Center and ate our bag lunches in the massive atrium. It was a beautiful setting, with the fountain and reflection pool, as well as the twin towers which rise 20-plus floors, forming an “H”, which is the logo for Hennepin County.

After lunch, we took the light rail train to the Mall of America. There is a stop right in front of City Hall, and a ticket is only $1.50. The ride is smooth and this time, unlike the bus ride, we could see out the windows. The views through the city, along Ft. Snelling, and around the airport, are interesting. The city is teaming with so much life. Once we reached the end of the line at the Mall of America, the girls shopped for about an hour before getting a snack at Orange Julius and car-pooling back to my house. My wife and a friend met us at the mall with their vans to provide the rides.

As these girls advance through high school and college, my hope for them is that they will get the opportunity to travel and see places such as New York City, Washington, D.C., maybe even London or Paris. My hope is that this little trip into Minneapolis served as a decent primer. In order to understand the world, I think it is good to travel to someplace you haven’t been before, someplace outside your normal routine and outside your comfort zone. It’s a big world and God gave the whole thing to us. Let us never stop exploring.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Paid by the word?

The freelancers at my college newspapers used to get paid by the inch. The pay was something like 50 cents an inch, so a typical feature that went 30 column inches was good for $15 -- which was pretty good pay for a college kid way back in the early 1980s.

Staff writers, on the other hand, got paid a (modest) weekly salary. We were expected to write at least two stories a week, although sometimes it was more if there was big news on our beat. The length of the story was a consideration only to the extent that space was limited in the newspaper.

I left college thinking the freelance gig was better. I never had a problem generating more words; clearly I would do better getting paid according to volume.

As I have been in journalism for more than 30 years now, I understand that it's not about the number of words; it's about what those words say. Give me a well-written short story any day over a long-winded story that doesn't say much. I also now know that it is much more difficult to write a solid short article than it is to write a long one.

Well, the internet appears to be turning all that around. I had to laugh at this essay about a newspaper that is actually judging the productivity of its journalists according to the number of words they write. It's a newspaper where words are apparently viewed like widgets produced at the factory. Newspapers have got enough problems these days trying to figure out how to stay relevant. If this is any indication of their thinking, newspapers are surely doomed.