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A new year and some ongoing tales

ALSO: Minnesota, and journalism, loses one of its greats; Bachmann and the census seem headed for an ironic denouement.

The Daily Glean may have taken a break for a few days, but the news stops for nobody, and it can be a bit hard to be a humble news encapsulator and see so much news that is crying out for encapsulation, but you’re out buying noisemakers and funny hats and liquor, and so, for a few days at least, something like a Minnesota judge ruling against Tim Pawlenty’s unalloting tax money for a food program (accompanied by a strongly worded note saying that the governor had “crossed the line between legitimate exercise of his authority to unallot and interference with the legislative power to make laws”) will simply have to remain in a pre-encapusulted form.

But the advantage of news is that it is an ongoing concern — for instance, Pawlenty plans to appeal the judge’s ruling, talk of revising the unallotment laws. so we can get back to the story in 2010 when the governor freshens it up a little in the courts. Likewise, although we at the Daily Glean were compiling a collection of naughty Christmas carols when the underwear bomber set fire to his leg on Northwest Airline Flight 253, you don’t try to blow up your unmentionables in an airplane bathroom without the story chugging along in the press for weeks. Just today, City Pages linked to a story from the New York Times explaining that citizens from “state sponsors of terrorism” and “countries of interest” will receive extra scrutiny at airports — and one of these countries is Somalia, which, as CP points out, is likely to be a bit of a pain in the butt for Minnesota’s large Somali community.

This has all encouraged Minnesota’s resident security expert Bruce Schneier to write one of his occasional essays excoriating our response to terrorism, in particular what he calls the “theater of security,” in which time- and money-wasting new policies are put into place that look like they make us safer, but do not actually reduce the risk of an airplane terrorist attack (the odds of which FiveThirty has calculated as being about one in 10 million; the odds of getting struck by lightning is about one in 500,000, by comparison). “Our current response to terrorism is a form of ‘magical thinking,’ ” Schneier says. “It relies on the idea that we can somehow make ourselves safer by protecting against what the terrorists happened to do last time.” He has expanded his thoughts about the Underwear Bomber in a few places on his blog as well, writing about what worked, where else he has discussed this, and, in this essay, complaining that “I wish that, just once, some terrorist would try something that you can only foil by upgrading the passengers to first class and giving them free drinks.

Today is inauguration day for both Minneapolis and St. Paul’s mayors, but for Chris Coleman, it’s likely to be bittersweet: The big news this weekend was about the death of his stepmother, Deborah Howell. News that she had been struck and killed by a car in New Zealand sent shockwaves through the Twin Cities journalism community, many of whom had worked directly with Howell during her long tenure as editor at both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press — her impressive resume is summarized by the New York Times in its obituary of Howell.

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Coleman is quoted as being “devastated” by Howell’s death in the Pioneer Press’ remembrance of her, whose title sums up what a lot of her former co-workers remember about her: That she was “Tough, loyal, a little profane — and a journalist to the core.” The New York Times’ David Carr calls her “The Editor Everyone Should Have Had,” and offers a truly entertaining sampling of both Howell’s dedication to getting facts right and her profanity: After he had applied to her for a job, she confronted him at an awards ceremony with the following words: “You (redacted) the middle name of the publisher of our newspaper in that (redacted) story you wrote the other day. I have no idea how you could be so (redacted) stupid, but I’m putting your application on the spike …. You’re a hard worker and a good writer, but none of that is going to make a difference if you can’t get the facts straight.”

Both MinnPost’s John Camp and Joel Kramer offer their memories as well; James Lileks adds a few on Twitter, including these two observations: “Deb Howell was the most accomplished cusser I’ve ever met. Cap’t Haddock-level poetry;” “When she cussed you out, you stayed cussed for 17 hours. You pulled F-barbs out of your skin in the shower the next morn.” Good journalists and great editors are increasingly rare, but really first-rate cussers appear so infrequently as to be the stuff of legend, and now this world is missing one more of each of these, and there’s nothing to say about it except what a tragedy, and what a shame.

The census begins its long process with what ABC calls a “$300 million campaign Monday to prod, coax and cajole the nation’s more than 300 million residents to fill out their once-a-decade census forms”; the tale is doubly interesting for Minnesotans, firstly because Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has been so vocal an opponent of the census, and secondly, because Minnesota might lose a seat in Congress as a result of the census. As the Star Tribune reports, “If Minnesota loses a congressional seat, Bachmann’s populous Sixth District could be carved into pieces. She likely would have to battle another incumbent to hang on to her seat.” They then note that “We’ve noticed that her anticensus rhetoric has lately ceased.” In other Bachmann news, the congresswoman was declared “Wingnut of the Year” by CNN (“for sheer tonnage of wingnuttery,” says CNN contributor John Avalon); the video is available on City Pages’ web site.

It’s been a good season for the Vikings, and, as Rick Alonzo of the Pioneer Press details, a lot of that has to do with Brett Favre , who “threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns” in Sunday’s game against the Giants — and that was just in the game’s first half! This Favre kid is starting to look like he might have a real future in football.