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After deadline: My favorite Germans: Heisenberg and Sgt. Schultz

April 27, 2018 GMT

Unless you’re a nerd like I am, your familiarity with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is limited to old episodes of Star Trek where they got around this law of quantum mechanics by saying the transporters (the “beam me up” things) had something called Heisenberg compensators.

Like I said: Nerd.

Anyway, the uncertainty principle, named for German physicist Werner Heisenberg, simply states that, on a quantum level (electrons, photons, etc.), you cannot know simultaneously both the position and momentum of a particle. It has to do with particles that are also waves or act like waves or like to wave when they pass by.

Honestly, I have a minor in chemistry — including classes in physical chemistry — and it still baffles me.

Poll Taxing

I bring you this esoteric lesson in physics because I’m always amazed at what we can’t seem to know when writing a story, including just how our stories affect the real world.

This week, I had a story about a contest being run by Minnesota Public Radio for Minnesotans to name their favorite lake. With the Final Four in this contest starting this past Monday, my story hit the paper focusing on a matchup between Lake Superior and Lake Pepin. Since Lake Pepin is in our readership area, I interviewed a pro-Pepin partisan who pleaded with voters to cast their ballot in Pepin’s favor.

Lo and behold, Pepin — once my article got online — jumped out to a lead for a while Monday, at one point up 59 percent to 41 percent. In the end, it was all for naught, though for a while it looked like Lake Pepin might actually win.

In fact, initial results showed Lake Pepin winning, so it was pretty darned close. How much of Pepin’s success was a result of my story, I wondered? Did I deserve to have a statue erected in my honor in Lake City? Well, now I’ll never know, but the fact is stories in the newspaper can make a difference.

They Love Me There

It all reminds me of Pine Island, and a school bond referendum that led to a new elementary building there.

When Pine Island was in the middle of its facility planning and bond referendum about the new elementary school back in 2013, I attended just about every school board meeting and several community engagement sessions, writing about the plans and ballot measure for the new elementary school. I wrote stories about how the school board and administration saw the need. I talked to people at meetings who tended to agree.

After the referendum passed and the school was built, I often joked with the Wise Woman and children as we’d drive past the town on US Highway 52, “Ah, Pine Island. They love me there.”


I’d written fair coverage, and the vote was positive. Several people in Pine Island — Mayor Rod Steele and Superintendent Tammy Berg among them — thanked me for the stories.

But had I changed the voting outcome with my articles? Possibly. Had I meant to sway voters one way or another? No.

Maybe the true measure of my impact is the fact that the school isn’t named “Brian Todd Elementary.”

Nice vs. Nicer

This all brings me to this week’s news that Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark is running for Minnesota House Seat 26B. Now, I like Tyrel. He’s a nice guy, and he seems earnest in his determination to help people through public service.

However, Tyrel (I know him well enough, I generally call him by his first name) is running against Nels Pierson, the current occupant of Seat 26B.

Nels (whom I know slightly less well, and usually address as “Rep. Pierson”) also seems earnest in his determination to help people through public service.

The fact that he was behind the wheel of a golf cart in one of the most harrowing rides of my life is something no one should hold against him. (He was just keeping up with the line of golf carts, and it was my own discomfort with not being in control of the vehicle that scared me.)

As this important House race moves forward, I hope the best man wins. I also hope nothing I write sways anyone to think I am picking one over the other. Since I live in District 25B, I won’t actually have to choose between two nice guys.

So please, don’t ask me who to vote for between Nels and Tyrel. When it comes to this issue, I plan to embrace that other great German: Sgt. Hans Schultz.

“I know nothing. Nothing!”