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Free Darwin on U of M campus comes with a catch

ALSO: Bad news for the economy; racial tensions are either rising or falling in Owatonna; and lutes.

You may never have heard of Ray Comfort, but he’s kind of a big deal in evangelical circles, perhaps most famous (or notorious, depending on your point of view) for teaming with former child actor-turned-evangelizer Kirk Cameron to explain why the banana (which Comfort dubs the “atheist’s nightmare”) disproves evolutionary theory; it doesn’t, but that hasn’t kept Comfort from chugging along.

So now it’s the sesquicentennial of the publication of “The Origin of Species,” and Comfort has decided on an unusual tack for publicizing his Creationist viewpoints: He’s handing out free copies of Darwin’s book on campuses, including, as Katherine Lymn of the Minnesota Daily reports, at the University of Minnesota. The rub? The book comes with a 50-page introduction, authored by Comfort, that purports to debunk Darwin. “It is kind of deceiving,” one student says of the book, although, if this MetaFilter thread is any indication, students nationwide are taking the books and making their own use of them: “one good binder clip later and she’s got a perfectly good copy of the On the Origin of Species,” one commenter says of a college-age friend.

Who can pass up free books in this economy, anyway? Despite hints that things might be improving, we still get news like this on a daily basis: According to Minnesota Public Radio’s Annie Baxter and Elizabeth Dunbar, unemployment rates were up in October, although “officials had expected the rise and said it wasn’t significant,” which is the kind of a statement that only somebody who still has a job would make.

In related news, things aren’t looking that great for Minnesota’s unemployment insurance. The deficit the fund is running, which we planned to be out of this month … well, those plans ganged aglay, as best-laid plans aft do. As reported by MPR’s Annie Baxter, the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund is far from being in the black, running a deficit of $94 million, and “We’re in deficit until 2015, absent some changes in law or dramatic changes in the economy one way or another,” according to Lee Nelson, chief attorney for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

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Additionally, according to the Star Tribune’s Kara McGuire, mortgage delinquencies are at an all-time high. She quotes Scott Anderson, a senior economist for Wells Fargo, who offers some distressingly plain talk: “They’re terrible numbers and they just keep getting worse.”

Even many of those with a steady income and a house that’s not looking at foreclosure get some bad news today: Minnesota’s property taxes may rise an average of 3.5 percent. But, as Bill Salisbury of the Pioneer Press explains, it could be worse. Firstly, it’s less than the 5.6 percent increase that Minnesotans, on average, experienced this past year, and it could have been even more: Salisbury cites Jim Mulder, executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, as explaining: “By law, cities and counties could have increased their property tax levies by the full amount that Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut their state aid. But counties appear to be levying for just 40 percent to 50 percent of their lost state funding.” Whew.

If the economic news is a bit of a downer, at least everything’s coming up lutes this weekend, according to MPR’s Allison Young, who tells of a summit of lute players this weekend . Alas, people who play the lute have no amusing collective noun to describe them — it’s not a thrum of lute players, or a fretting of lute players, but instead a group of lutenists. That being said, there are rumors that a 90-centimeter contrabass-lute will be on hand, which this amassing of lutenists have dubbed “Big Berta.”

You would think the promise of lutes might act as a talisman against disharmony — well, maybe you wouldn’t, but we at the Daily Glean have great hopes for the healing powers of plucked string instruments. Instead, this past week has been a dispiriting one, firstly with the ongoing case of the pranks-cum-assaults that local youths published to YouTube (and, as David Chanen of the star Tribune reports, has yielded two more arrests) which generated a torrent of hateful comments on City Pages, which David Brauer reported on. Now, Owatonna High School is in the news because of a fight between white and Somali students that left one hospitalized. The Star Tribune and WCCO-TV both cover it, although they don’t seem to agree on how settled the issue is: According to Bill Hudson’s Thursday story, “Calm has returned to the halls of Owatonna High School”; today, Curt Brown of the Star Tribune tells us that “Racial tension has been building at Owatonna High School this week.” Whatever the case, they both pin the incident on one thing: an inflammatory essay by a white student, ” alleging Somali privilege” according to Hudson, which was posted on the student’s class blog and passed out as paper copies. Both the Strib and WCCO demur in offering examples of the student’s paper, but the Owatonna People’s Press is less circumspect: “As one example, he said that though most students weren’t allowed to wear hats in school, the Somali students routinely wore hats without being told to take them off.

To cap it all off, even the Vikings are apparently in a foul mood. This, despite signing Head Coach Brad Childress to a three-year contact extension; no, as the Associated Press reports, haggling over a lease extension at the Metrodome has left the team in a tizzy: A day after the Vikings said a lease extension was out of the question, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission offered a two-year extension, with a threatened $4 million annual rent if the Vikes don’t sign the extension. Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs/stadium development, responded sharply, saying the offer “sends a very bad message to the owners, the state and the league about the ability to solve the problem in Minnesota.”

Lutes, people. Lutes.