I am turning into a curmudgeon

The doorbell has been ringing since about 6. Lots of little Ninjas, witches, and one adorable princess.

On the other hand, I also seem to be besieged by kids who are taller than I am. The offerings at my house are rather pathetic. (Skittles, since I have learned the hard way that the bite-sized Snickers I buy “for the children” do not ever seem to make it into the treat bags.) Still, if they’re willing to put on a mask, I’m willing to play along.
But just now there was a 16-year-old with no costume. He thrust a plastic Ziploc bag in my face … but he couldn’t be bothered to get off his cell phone to speak to me.

From the former English teacher

Thanks to Dictionary.com for clearing this up

fic‧tion  [fik-shuhn]


1. the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, esp. in prose form.
2. works of this class, as novels or short stories: detective fiction.
3. something feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story: We’ve all heard the fiction of her being in delicate health.
4. the act of feigning, inventing, or imagining.
5. an imaginary thing or event, postulated for the purposes of argument or explanation.
6. Law. an allegation that a fact exists that is known not to exist, made by authority of law to bring a case within the operation of a rule of law.

[Origin: 1375–1425; late ME < L fictiōn- (s. of fictiō) a shaping, hence a feigning, fiction, equiv. to fict(us) molded (ptp. of fingere) + -iōn- -ion]

From the Land of 10,000 Lakes

I am not much of a political prognosticator. (I figured Walter Mondale would win because all my friends were voting for him.)

But I’ve just come back from Minnesota. I am seeing Democratic activity in places where it has never been.

Minnesota’s 6th District, which stretches from the Minneapolis exurbs to St. Cloud, has been reliably Republican for years. After Mark Kennedy decided to run for the Senate, the Republicans nominated State Senator Michele Bachmann, a true social conservative.

The Democrats nominated Patty Wetterling, a child safety advocate whose son was abducted by a masked stranger and never found. Ordinarily, this conservative district (Bush won it in 2004 with 57 percent of the vote) would be considered to be a safe Republican seat. But a combination of Bachmann missteps (she recently announced that it was her husband who wanted her to run for the seat–she filed so she could be a “submissive” wife) and a general desire for a change have put it in play.

The 1st District race also shows that it is a bad year to be on the ballot with an R after your name. The district, largely agricultural, stretches from Wisconsin to South Dakota. Democrat Tim Penny, probably the most conservative Democrat in the House at the time, represented the district until his retirement in 1995 when he was replaced by Republican Gil Gutknecht. Until recently, he was thought to have an easy re-election.

But now both races have become competitive. Congressional Quarterly ranks the 6th district as “No Clear Favorite,” and the 1st as “Leans Republican.” The Senate race between DFLer Amy Klobuchar and former Congressman Mark Kennedy is all but over, with Klobuchar in a commanding lead, and the race called “Democratic Favored” by CQ.

Remembering my Mondale experience, I will leave the predictions for others. But for those of you who will be looking for indications on the night of Nov. 7, I offer this tip: if one of these Congressional races goes Democratic, there’s a blue wave coming. If they both go Democratic, that wave will be a tsunami.

More On the So-Called “Columbus Day”

Garrison Keillor says it best about the underappreciated Scandinavians and a most underappreciated Minnesota politician. He may be behind Salon’s premium wall, but here’s his conclusion:

“Look around today and you will find the Viking descendants, a calm and stoical and somewhat formal people, by and large, not given to extremes of fashion or chanting ‘We’re Number One’ or writing memoirs that hang out the family underwear. Walter Mondale is pretty much the prototype. He lost the presidency by one of the biggest landslides in history to an aging actor whose grip on reality, never firm to begin with, was becoming hallucinatory. Mr. Reagan was sort of the Columbus of our time, a better P.R. man than sailor, but so be it. Mr. Mondale is a buoyant man with a sense of humor who enjoys his life in Minnesota, where people are happy to see him, and when you do, you see that losing is far from the worst thing that can happen to a man. Far from it.

“What’s worse is the likely fate of the Current Occupant, who is contending with Pierce, Buchanan and Warren G. Harding for the title of All-Time Worst President. He’s got a good shot at the title if only because he’s had so much more to be worst with. (Any young persons who have been inspired by Mr. Bush to take up public service should be watched very closely.)

“I propose that we change Columbus Day to Bush Day, a cautionary holiday, like Halloween, a day to meditate on the hazards of ambition. We could observe it by going through the basement and garage and throwing out stuff we don’t want or need. Also by not mortgaging the house to pay for a vacation, and not yelling at the neighbors, and not assuming that the law is for other people. A day to honor kindness, industriousness and modesty.”

America’s Dairyland and Its Capitol

Going Kris one better, in honor of Leif Ericson as well as my Olsen and Anderson forebears I spent the weekend at the epicenter of Scandinavian-America: the upper Midwest. The highlight was a visit to Madison, Wisconsin, where I spent my childhood summers, and the State Capitol building.

VA Capitol.JPGWisconsin’s Capitol, like the one in downtown DC and unlike the one in Richmond, sports a distinctive exterior dome — Madison’s is 3 feet and 1/2 inches shorter than the Nation’s and is the only granite state capitol dome in the U.S.. Wis Capitol Dome Night.JPGAt night, it is illuminated brilliantly and is visible for miles across Lakes Mendota and Monona, which border downtown Madison (the building’s website notes proudly that it is “the only State Capitol ever built on an isthmus.”)

Wis Capitol Rotunda.JPGAt the center of the four wings is a rotunda that rises several hundred feet. At the four corners are mosaics that pay tribute to GovernmentWis Capitol Govt Mosaic.JPG and the duties of its three branches (my favorite is “Legislation” — “represented as a powerful older man with a long beard who holds a stylus in his right hand and is seated by a sphinx symbol of wisdom”). Wis Capitol Legislation Mosaic.JPG

Several years ago the state undertook a massive renovation and restoration of the building, from its granite exterior to its oak woodwork and brass fittings. Wis Capitol Restoration.JPGFor those who grumble about the pace of work on our Capitol’s renovation and restoration, it should be noted that the Wisconsin project took over 12 years.

All in all, a perfect fall weekend — the kind of weather the Midwest offers up occasionally to delude people into thinking they might actually want to live there year-round.


kcolc.JPGWhat a pointless couple of days we just spent in Richmond! You’ll recall that during the Regular Session That Would Not Die, it was suggested that the way to deal with the Commonwealth’s transportation woes was to decouple the issue from the budget process and go into a special session devoted solely to transportation. So we did. And what did we get out of it? Bupkis.

Here’s what we’re left with at the end of the Road to Nowhere:

  • There was consensus among four of the five institutional players — House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the Governor — that any fix had to include a component that addressed our needs on a long term, statewide basis. In order to move from conceptual agreement to actual legislation, you need a bill bouncing back between the two chambers to talk about. On Tuesday, the fifth players — House Republicans — killed off the only discussion vehicle before us, SB 5013.
  • Additionally, four of the five agreed generally that the critical transportation needs of the two most populous and congested corners of the state — Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — had to be addressed separately through regional authorities. Once again, on Tuesday the Fifth Horsemen — House Republicans — shot down a couple of vehicles the Senate had sent over to us, SB 5016 and SB 5014. For good measure, they turned on their own, deep-sixing  HB 5056, a good-faith regional proposal brought forward by a handful of House Republicans. 
  • So what was still standing when the full House and Senate convened on Wednesday? A bill to raise around $1.5 billion statewide for transportation over five years. ($1.5 billion sounds like a lot, but in reality it would have netted Northern Virginia about enough to pay for a highway interchange each year.) Oh, and the Senate had signaled in no uncertain terms that the financing mechanism was unacceptable to them, so the bill would be DOA.
  • A bunch of bills tinkering with the transportation bureaucracy — many of them worthwhile, none of them earthshaking.
  • A bill allocating $339 million in surplus funds to various transportation projects around the state. I offered an amendment to redirect some of that money to focus on a transportation problem just over the horizon that has the potential to paralyze the entire Northern Virginia region: the Army’s plan to relocate 22,000 jobs over the next five years to the Fort Belvoir area. The road and transit network down there is totally inadequate to handle an influx of that magnitude, and it could very well create gridlock from the 14th Street Bridge to Fredericksburg. My amendment, alas, went down on a near-party line vote. Mark my words: we’ll all live to regret it.

Here’s the really bad part: by doing nothing this week, we’ve virtually ensured that nothing meaningful will happen on transportation for another two whole years. The reason: the political calendar. 2007 is an election year for all 100 Delegates and 40 Senators. If we couldn’t summon up the collective will to make the hard choices now, do you think we’ll be able to next year? Of course.  And pigs fly.

UPDATE: Channeling Oliver Cromwell, this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch summed up Special Session I perfectly.


The Virginia General Assembly from the perspective of 7 West.