April 9, 2002

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


One of the things in life that are fun to look forward to, as well as to do, is looking at one's mail. I don't mean email either. That is more of a pain in the butt. If you are a typical computer grunt, you will get 20 emails a day and 18 are spam. Each day I get emails promising me larger and firmer boobs, the secret of making $100,000 a month at home, and the opportunity to buy Enron stock. As much as I try to create filters to stop these asinine emails they still come in droves.

No, I am talking about the timeless joy of snail mail - mail that is made of real paper and ink. Sure, I get junk mail everyday, but that is just fuel for my shredder. It takes far less time to ignore a Publisher's Clearinghouse envelope than some slow downloading spam offering a free vacation to Alabama.

Bills are never fun to get either, but mail is like life. You get the good with the bad. Most of the mail is fun to get. In our house we subscribe to at least six magazines. It is always fun to see what is on the cover. Magazines offer a bit of quiet time where the mind can enjoy the power of words and the eye the power of an image. I hate to admit it, but I always page through Time and Newsweek first for the photos and only later settle down to reading the articles.

The most popular piece of mail, next to the Ely Echo, of course, is Discover magazine. It is a popular science magazine that is written for the non-scientist at a level that is higher than what you might see in a newspaper, but not as dry as a science thesis. Both my wife and I are guilty of hiding the Discover magazine from each other until we have had a chance to consume every article. I have been known to stay up until 2 A.M. reading an issue of Discover. Call me a geek, but I enjoy knowing what the latest and the greatest ideas are of how this world and universe work.

One nice thing about snail mail is the surprises that can come. Maybe it is a nice handwritten note from my Mother, or some small rebate check sent to me from our flaky governor, but it is always a pleasant highlight to an average day.

You never know what you may learn from the daily mail. Just last week our beloved St. Louis County Commissioners sent us an interesting "community report". In it was all kinds of important information to make us like St. Louis County. Did you know that Paris, France is in the same latitude zone as St. Louis County? No wonder we have so many French tourists. Another interesting factoid that the Commissioners were impelled to tell us at our expense is that it is as far from Duluth to the Northwest corner of St. Louis County (135 miles) as it is from Duluth to St. Paul (136 miles). Even more important is the fact that our county is bigger than Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia. I am not sure if the Commissioners are planting the seed that we should secede from Minnesota and become the 51st state, or whether we should become part of France?

One thing I really enjoyed was the totally bogus graft showing that our incomes in Minnesota have grown faster than taxes from 1985 to 1999. We are lead to believe in 14 years the county budget only went up 19.4% or barely over 1% a year. State spending went up about 27% in 14 years. That works out to about 2% a year. Anyone who has looked at their property tax statements will know that we have seen in the last five year double digit growth in what we owe. Our income tax bite has not gone down either. This year we had property tax reform that resulted in most seeing a decrease in this year's bill. (Isn't it an election year? Hmmmm.) What is funny is the value of all my property went up by double digits. So when the next legislature decides we can't afford property tax reform, the new tax rate combined with the new valuations will result in some of the biggest tax increases in the history of the state. Those boys down in St. Paul sure know how to snooker us wilderness boobs.

What is really amusing is that in the same article that had this fantasy graph showing how cheap our government costs, is the fact that the 2002 St. Louis County property tax receipts will be $78 million and for 2003 it will be $84 million - an increase of 9%. Hard to figure with inflation running less than 3% and nearly no new construction.

The article on Homeland Security in the Commissioner's newsletter was another piece on non-information. It was high on rhetoric and low on specifics. I feel safer knowing that the knowledge of our existence is extremely low in the Middle East. Just as the East and West Coast folks ignore the Midwest, so the world ignores us. They can keep on ignoring us, too. We are our own best kept secret.

It is easy to see that good old snail mail is and will continue to surprise and entertain us. Be it mail order catalogs with the latest fashions or newsletters comparing us to Paris, we are lucky to be served by the United States Postal Service. Getting mail is one of the few free things that happen in life. And for those with wood stoves in their homes, the mail is just another opportunity to heat their homes with all those postal items that are full of hot air and useless factoids.

Like a fool I did my taxes on a computer for this year. If I had any brains I would hire one of our St. Louis County Commissioners to do it for me. With their math abilities I would probably get the biggest IRS refund ever. Let us hope that the average person does not use "Poli-math" or the Federal Government, as well as Minnesota, will go broke.


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