Thursday, August 30, 2007


A letter to Senator Larry Craig of Idaho:

Dear Senator Craig:

I see that you got yourself in yet another humiliating situation in a men’s room. You and I are close to the same age, and by my calculations we have been going into public restrooms without chaperones for at least 50 years.

Your confusion in the men’s room led me to reflect on my “unwritten rules” of conduct for when I am in a public restroom—perhaps they will help you stay out of trouble in the future.

1. Look twice to be sure it is the men’s room you are going into.
2. Be careful of what you touch or sit on.
3. Do not smile or make eye contact.
4. No peeking into closed stalls. If the door is shut, assume that someone is inside.
5. Keep your eyes straight ahead when standing at the urinal—no glances right our left or down. It is okay to look at the ceiling.
6. Only use a stall in the direst of emergencies.
7. No foot-touching with the guy in the next stall—that is poor boundaries.
8. No hand-holding.
9. No foot-tapping.
10. If you get caught with your hand in the wrong stall, say you are reaching for the toilet paper.
11. Do not stand against the sink or you risk wet pants.
12. No reading in the men’s room.
13. Get in and out as fast as you can even if your hands are not dry.

Senator, I think you should get a second chance—to use a public restroom. If you follow these rules, you will not get into trouble.

I saw George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today (August 29, 2007) and he said words to the effect that your wife is a real heroine for standing beside you. I must differ: your wife is an enabler who should get brave and kick you out of her life just as fast as she can. I know you can’t imagine the pain, humiliation, and embarrassment you have caused her, but I imagine that she feels it every minute of every day.

Your sexuality doesn’t matter to me. What matters is your lack of authenticity and how your denial of who you are continually gets you into trouble.

Your nutty explanations for your behavior and for your guilty plea tell me that you would rather be an idiot than gay or bi-sexual. I’d rather have a senator who is gay or bi-sexual than a bonehead. We already have plenty of nincompoops in Washington.

Show some courage and judgment Mr. Craig—wash your hands of the whole mess, come out of the bathroom, and be the man that you are.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


My wife and I stopped at the Moorhead Hornbacher’s recently. A tall, muscular young man ran past us in the parking lot. He was outraged and out of control. He screamed profanities at a young woman in a car. He kicked the car’s door, pulled it open, and dragged the terrified woman to the pavement. My wife called 911.

The man got into the car and accelerated, tires squealing, past us. The woman walked away. He circled around and caught up to her, got out of the car, and ordered her to get in and drive away.

The August 23, 2007 Star Tribune reported that at least a half-dozen people witnessed a rape in St. Paul. One tried to help. None of the others intervened or called the police. The lack of intervention in this case is similar to one in Minneapolis 10 years ago when a woman’s face was slashed down to the bone at a bus stop in the bustling Uptown area. No one stopped to help or called the police.

Also on August 23, 2007, Mike McFeely, sports columnist for The Forum, wrote about the uproar about professional football player Michael Vick who pleaded guilty to committing violence against dogs and the outrage about his despicable acts. He also wrote about the lack of outrage about 40 instances of alleged violence against women by professional football players since 2000 (animal abuse and child, spousal, or elder abuse often go together).

Experts believe violent incidents against women are vastly underreported: for every assault where police are called, at least three or four go unreported. Estimates range from 960,000 to three million women annually who are physically abused by an intimate partner. Emotional abuse magnifies these numbers.

Fargo/Moorhead has its proportional share of these statistics: in 2006 the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center served 1561 victims.

The verbal and physical abuse of women (and children) by men is a dark and dirty underbelly of a community. Many of us live in denial. Others are afraid to speak up. Many lawyers enable abusive men in exchange for money. Reputable companies profit from dehumanizing women. Some judges are ignorant of the dynamics of abuse. Some celebrities demonize women. All bear a share of responsibility for domestic violence. Deep down many in our community still blame the victims of domestic violence—maybe because many men see a little of themselves in the abusers.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

No man has the right to harm the body or spirit of women and children—never, ever.

Women and children are not responsible for men’s violence—never, ever.

Men, along with women, need to stand up and support their wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters against the cowardly monsters in our community. The police, judges, lawyers, teachers, and other good people who collude with this malignancy on our civic soul because they are afraid to stand up to it, feel overwhelmed by the sickness, are confused by the distorted thinking, or fear losing something need to find their courage, enlighten their ignorance, and do their jobs.

Our greatest mistake is to refuse to look this dark behavior in the face—to not confront evil is to enable it and give up our freedom.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I was in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007.

I went to dinner with my daughters and their families. We sat down and looked at the television above our table. A news helicopter flew over a fallen bridge. Suddenly my daughter said, “That is Minneapolis.” We realized it was the 35W Bridge. We watched in stunned silence.

I thought of Matt, my stepson. He worked in downtown Minneapolis and sometimes took that bridge home at night. I called him and left a voicemail: “Let us know you are okay.” I felt scared.
I called Melanie, my wife, home in Moorhead. I told her what happened. The next two hours, until she heard from her son, were the worst of her life. She didn’t know if her boy was alive or dead. Finally he called; he was okay. He took another route home, went jogging, and saw the immediate aftermath of the bridge collapse. Ours is one of thousands of stories—how fortunate we felt.

Inspection reports show a bridge known to be at risk for many years.

My friend and colleague Diane Olson, Ph.D. was head of the Employee Assistance program at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (approximately 1999-2000) after being an independent psychologist and consultant for them for years.

Olson hated how the Human Resources Department of MNDOT was led. She told me of a dehumanized and dysfunctional management that abused people routinely. She so wanted the managers to see the impact their actions had on others. Olson, not outwardly emotional, cried as she told stories of how the executives hurt others in passive/aggressive and cowardly ways.

She was humiliated and marginalized as she held up the mirror to the organization. Another psychologist and co-worker said, “They stripped her of her professionalism.”

Shortly before she was hospitalized for aggressive and terminal cancer (August 2000), Diane called me and said, “I feel awful. I don’t know if I am sick or if I am just so depressed at work.” It turned out she was both.

As she lay on her deathbed, she said over and over again, “I am so relieved that I don’t have to go back to MNDOT.” Her professional assessement of the human resources department was also her expert opinion of the MNDOT-wide culture.

In 2003 the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a series of investigative articles about MNDOT that covered many years and reflected Diane’s experiences. The articles described an organization torn between pressures to get roads built and between laws, regulations, and regulators, which slow MNDOT down.

The newspaper discovered laws violated, mismanagement, rules broken, conflicts of interest, and excessive and questionable consultant fees and practices much to the detriment of women, minorities, the disabled, and the taxpayers of Minnesota. Paranoid managers shifted blame, hid their actions, smeared their critics, investigated their opponents, destroyed public documents, manipulated public opinion, and lied to protect themselves.

I know about cultures and how hard they are to change. I wonder if the MNDOT culture changed since 2003. I suspect it has not.

My question for investigators is: “How did the culture at MNDOT impact the inspection and decision-making processes when risks to I-35W were uncovered?

Would an engineer have the courage to call for a bridge shut-down in the MNDOT culture? What drove decisions—money, safety, or politics? What pressures were put on people—their work and their reports? Is telling the truth welcomed at MNDOT? What would have happened to an engineer who called for a bridge shut down?

We need to know the answers to these questions.