Athletics overall should come under scrutiny


In response to the Feb. 13 Letter of the Day: It's not just Tubby Smith and the University of Minnesota basketball program that have become a major problem for university President Eric Kaler, it's the efficacy of the entire Department of Athletics.

Speaking more as a taxpayer than a U of M alum (which I am -- 1958), I think it's well past time for the governor and Legislature to do a cost-benefit analysis of the athletics program and see if it isn't, as I have contended for years, time either to eliminate it outright (my fondest dream) or (more realistically) scale it back by leaving Big Ten football and basketball and joining a conference more appropriate for an institution whose succession of presidents keep claiming the U is a top research school and whose primary mission purportedly is education.

Those words prove disingenuous season after season, not in the win-loss column but in the mere fact that the athletics department obviously has taken on a life of its own, is not really a part of the entire university any more and has even prompted another recent letter writer to propose the franchising of the U brand, which might bring in more money but which would move the department even further away from the mainstream university.

The newly launched athletics magazine bears out my contention that major reform is needed now.


* * *


Merely a fascination, or is there more to it?


In response to "Lost in the debate: Why the fascination with firearms?" (Letter of the Day, Feb. 9): Fascination plays a small roll, if any, in firearm ownership and use. History, feelings, emotions and experiences play larger roles.

To the collector: appreciation of fine craftsmanship, recollection of history and pride of ownership, much as with any other type of collector.

To the hunter: craftsmanship of a fine tool, experience of the outdoors, humility of matching skills with game whose survival instincts far outweigh your skills, the camaraderie and experiences shared with friends and family, and hopefully a great meal that you brought to the table.

To the competitive shooter: the adrenaline and thrill of matching your skills against others, the satisfaction and frustration of the outcome, and the focus and training to improve your skills.

To the person in self-defense mode: Hope! Hope that you will be able to stop the attack. Hope that you don't have to kill anyone. Hope that you won't run out of ammunition before help comes. Hope that you will live to see your loved ones again.

To criminal or mentally ill people using a firearm: A feeling of power, payback and ability to create sheer terror in the victim(s) they are going to rob, rape or kill! The pleasure of seeing their victim(s) suffer, of life draining out of their victim's eyes, or the last breath coming from their bodies. A sense of amusement and satisfaction that they were smarter than victims who were not able to defend themselves.

If any criminals are paying attention to the debate (as they don't follow existing laws nor any new ones), I suspect they would very much favor stricter gun-control laws. Such laws will have little effect on them except to make their task easier.


• • •

I believe all the questions raised by the Feb. 9 letter writer about why people are fascinated with guns are relevant and expose the subtle hooks of an addiction. Just as with alcohol and drugs, some people can control their addictive triggers better than others.


• • •

Clearly the writer who commented on society's fascination with guns needs to look more closely at our society. I, for one, do not understand the fascination with hitting a little white ball with a club, then walking great distances to hit it again. I could go on and on.

Be grateful that we all do not enjoy the same recreational activities; otherwise, it would be so crowded you couldn't enjoy them. To each his own.


* * *


Let's take this idea a step further


May I offer a friendly amendment to the bill by state Sen. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo, calling for "Minnesota Blue" by Keith Haugen be named the "state poem" ("State poem: It rhymes, but is there reason?" Feb. 14).

Instead, let there be a state poetry anthology, issued from time to time by the university or Minnesota Historical Society Press at no cost to the taxpayers.

The first anthology could be edited by recently retired professor of poetry Michael Dennis Browne, building on the substantial bones left by Bill Holm, who edited a marvelous anthology of Minnesota poets, "There is No Other Way to Speak," for Minnesota Center for Book Arts in 1995.

The songlike "Minnesota Blue" should be forever included as the inspiration.


* * *


The nickel-and-diming of America continues


It's official. American Airlines and US Airways announced their merger, creating the world's fourth-largest airline. Get buckled in for more airline passenger fees and future nickel-and-diming.

With the merger, four airlines will control about 83 percent of all domestic seats. The industry has become very savvy at finding all kinds of ways to extract money from your pocket.

Aside from paying extra for that choice seat assignment, early boarding pass, checked bag, carry-on bag, sandwich, soft drink, pillow, in-flight entertainment, blanket, and frequent-flier award ticket, you may have to pay for that seat belt in the future (waived if you sign up for our credit card, for an annual fee).

I have another revenue stream idea for the airlines -- take out several rows of coach seats and have stand-up fares. Then, charge your stand-up customers a convenience fee for holding onto the buslike strap.

The fee frenzy and nickel-and-diming may catch on beyond the airline and banking industries, as more companies discover this incremental revenue-generating strategy.

So don't be surprised, when you order your next steak, that you will be charged a convenience fee for your knife and fork.