From great grandma’s photo album

I love this old photo of my great great grandfather Anfinson at a political rally. He’s the one holding the flag. What a motley crew of citizens out and about supporting their favorite politicians. And lest you think there are no women involved in the political process, take a closer gander behind the mule to the left. A covey of proper women folk are gathered.

If they can handle the maintenance and advancement of American democracy, then I’m sure we can too.

Understanding the Problem

I so enjoyed using the light rail in Calgary that it got me thinking about transit and what it means to a city. Ironically it is Covid that put me on the bus in the first place. The rental cars were all booked, and I have family in the city, so I wasn’t dependent on public transport. I wanted to use it to give myself a little independence. What a pleasant surprise to find it so convenient, clean and timely.

(The other companion structural hardscape I noticed were the frequent pedestrian bridges arching over the thoroughfares. They lead people to the light rail stops, of course. They also bridge neighborhoods, which is very useful for parks and trail access. But I digress, back to transit.)

It is no longer controversial to say that real estate home values increase along light rail lines. Studies are easy to come by. Here is a section from a piece posted on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ site.

Property Values and Development

One benefit of light rail is its potential impact on nearby property values. There is much academic literature on this angle.

The research generally finds that rail transit has a positive impact on residential property values, although the impact is relatively small. One study found that property values in Portland, Ore., increased by $75 for every 100 feet closer a home is to a light-rail station, and the average home price in New York declined by about $2,300 for every 100 feet farther from the station.[1] In another study of the Portland rail system, the authors found that home prices increase as a result of being closer to a rail transit station, but the effect was only significant within 1,500 feet of the station.[2] Another study found that the typical home in San Diego sold for $272 more for every 100 meters closer to a rail station, but the distance to a rail station in Sacramento had no significant impact on residential property values.[3]

Saint Louis Fed

See the problem with the analysis? There is a pretty potpourri of measures. And the use of dollars (as opposed to percentages), as if property values in Portland are the same as New York or San Diego. The distances from the stations are in feet and meters. Then an observation is made that the effects are small– compared to what?

In math, every problem starts with definitions. You can’t very well solve for something if you haven’t determined what is at stake. We know that the public good transit exerts an externality on the private good, a home. But how does it work?

TO BE CONTINUED

Travel Notes

Connectivity notes: The upshot of the phone upgrade to an iPhone 13 Pro is that it appears to have been completely worth while. In past years I have had limited connectivity in the Calgary, Alberta area (through Sprint). This trip I had a signal virtually all the time- when we went for a horseback ride in Sheep River Provincial Park the data didn’t load until we hit some peaks. Now whether the improved connectivity was due to my conversion to the T-Mobile 5G network or simply due to a superior antenna in the iPhone 13 Pro, I will never know. No matter- the result is that I had far better service.

Photos notes: The photos captured my new phone are fabulous. It picks up the light, focuses properly and has an ease of use that allows my subjects to be captured in the moment. I am sure I will produce more fun stuff as I get to know the phone’s features better. And it sure beats carrying around a bulky DSLR camera, especially in the great outdoors.

One way to show the level of depth in every picture is to enlarge it several times and see how grainy the image becomes. You can see the shot at the lower right is still nice and crisp.

I’m excited to keep playing with my new phone toy to see what other party tricks are encased in its new blue finish.

Transit notes: Calgary transit system is quite good. The bargain price is $3.5CAD ($2.8US). Google maps provides estimate timing for bus and light rail arrivals which are remarkably accurate. This helps to reduce idle time in the use of mass transit which in turn lines it up more favorably against a car. I even looked up directions (Google Maps) by transit from the airport. The duration of the trip increased considerably– by forty minutes.

My first inclination was to eliminate the option. But then I started to consider how long it takes to rent a car. You have to get from the air terminal to the rental agency. Then you usually stand in line as other passengers are doing the same thing. All in all, renting a car often burns the same 45 minutes. I’ll revisit the option down the road.

Covid notes: Canada is still under a lot of Covid stress. You need to be vaccinated and show proof of a less-than-72-hour-old-negative-test result to enter the country. You need to create an ArriveCan account. You will be asked to show your vaccine card at restaurants. But it was the random testing at the airport, after arrival, that I thought was completely over the top. Oh well– they let me in and it was sure nice to be back in Alberta.

Being puffed up with knowledge goes way back

Taken from the Confessions of Saint Augustine:

But having then read those books of the Platonists, and thence been taught to search for incorporeal truth, I saw Thy invisible things, understood by those things which are made; and though cast back, I perceived what that was which through the darkness of my mind I was hindered from contemplating, being assured “That Thou wert, and wert infinite, and yet not diffused in space, finite or infinite; and that Thou truly art Who art the same ever, in no part nor motion varying; and that all other things are from Thee, on this most sure ground alone, that they are.” Of these things I was assured, yet too unsure to enjoy Thee. I prated as one well skilled; but had I not sought Thy way in Christ our Saviour, I had proved to be, not skilled, but killed. For now I had begun to wish to seem wise, being filled with mine own punishment, yet I did not mourn, but rather scorn, puffed up with knowledge. For where was that charity building upon the foundation of humility, which is Christ Jesus? or when should these books teach me it? Upon these, I believe, Thou therefore willedst that I should fall, before I studied Thy Scriptures, that it might be imprinted on my memory how I was affected by them; and that afterwards when my spirits were tamed through Thy books, and my wounds touched by Thy healing fingers, I might discern and distinguish between presumption and confession; between those who saw whither they were to go, yet saw not the way, and the way that leadeth not to behold only but to dwell in the beatific country. For had I first been formed in Thy Holy Scriptures, and hadst Thou in the familiar use of them grown sweet unto me, and had I then fallen upon those other volumes, they might perhaps have withdrawn me from the solid ground of piety, or, had I continued in that healthful frame which I had thence imbibed, I might have thought that it might have been obtained by the study of those books alone.

Miscarriage of History

A friend and I met for dinner recently. As we sat on the outdoor patio with a woven fence providing a nice block from the concrete urban surroundings, we caught up on family and old acquaintances. Once those topics had run their course, the conversation turned to current events in the city. It’s hard for even the ardent supporters of liberal progressivism not to observe the denouement of crime around them. As cycles go, the recent swing has whipped the curve right off the edges of the paper.

“Jxx’s mom once told me that the best of intentions in excess, often mutate into the worst of outcomes.” She said, a forkful of Tuna Poke Bowl suspended midway between her plate and mouth.

“Not just intentions,” I thought later as our dinner conversation replayed, “but those rallied by excessive analysis of history, and primed like a bonfire on the Fourth of July with the venom of anger unaddressed. No wonder Lake Street had been set ablaze”

History is a recall of the past, as a reminder of both the good, the bad, the productive, the detrimental, and how all of it came to be. History is to learn from, to recognize and to account for. To use the cognitive qualities of our brains, (those useful tissues which separate us from other mammals) to grow into something more than we were before.

I question who it helps to replay the worst of things again and again. Gnashing through history seems counter productive, erodes confidence amongst those who need their confidence rebuilt. Taking a group’s worst of times and displaying it on a jumbotron for all to relive, is, maybe even hurtful. And the motivation for those who rally such action may be spurred on by some inner and other anger.

Anger can turn a story into a saga. It may soothe one but create a burden on another, one of a younger generation, one in the audience. History isn’t meant to assuage miscellaneous anger, sending out sideway messages. History isn’t meant to be a tool to those who only wish to transfer their personal suffering onto a greater audience for their own peace.

New Tricks- BBC crime drama

I’m a sucker for cop shows. I find a new series and watch it through to the last episode while sticking to a diet of no more than one a day. Bosch was a recent favorite; a grainy late age LA detective with the stomach for justice over politics. He had a great side kick in Jamie Hector (also know for appearances in The Wire).

I was looking for a new series while trying to switch things up a little bit, and found something fun and new in the BBC production of New Tricks (also on Amazon). It’s a little bit older having been produced in 2003, but that doesn’t take away from the interesting mix of detectives with their foibles or their unique skills. A snappy veteran cop is given a threesome of retired detectives and assigned cold case files.

The story lines are clever instead of gruesome. There are no car chases. There is a dose of unsavory behavior. And a dash of OCD mania. In other words it is very British and very un-Hollywood. A perfect replacement for Bosch. Happy viewing!

Making Rules

One thing that bugs me is the lack of understand that making rules is more than making rules. A problem needs a fix. The answer is to make a rule for that! But requesting an audience to do something is foisting a power over them; it implies an authority and a compliance. It assumes that the work, or inconvenience, of following the rule has been judged to have a balancing positive effect.

More often than not, however, the rule making authority doesn’t follow through with compliance.

Recently, an acquaintance lamented that her town house association board was going through the complex, unit by unit, looking (most literally standing on the sidewalk out front in a little cluster) for unauthorized exterior embellishments. There was a rule on the books that owners were not allowed to litter the grass with such things as quaint stone benches, large urns overflowing with geraniums or petunias, or an artfully decorated signs bellowing WELCOME.

After a bunch of years of non-compliance, the residents of this twenty unit community were now going to be served notice to remove their horticultural self-expression. My friend didn’t want to give up her planters now that she had grown to enjoy them. Phooey on the rules!

How many municipalities set up ordinances which they cannot enforce and code compliances which go uninspected? Having the authority to do so, yet not following through creates complacency. Before you know it people are used to disregarding what is so carefully written down as community guidance. And worse yet, residents get angry and feel a suffered loss once enforcement action gets underway. If no rule had been written to start, wouldn’t the group be better off?

Writing rules, as a rule, needs to be taken seriously.

What should I remodel?

Clients who have been in their homes for a while will sometimes give their realtor a call to ask which home improvements they should tackle. Maybe they would really like a new kitchen but are afraid the expenditure would not be entirely reflected in the price of the home upon resale. This is true to various degrees for all improvements. The chart below gives you an idea of how much of a return one can get on various upgrades.

Of course these prices will vary depending on where you live, but it gives you a general idea of how the market reacts to different features. Kitchens are a popular upgrade as we all spend a lot of time in this space. When clients ask, is it worth it? They must be reminded that they are purchasing a kitchen partly for themselves, for their personal use. The return they eventually get at time of sale shouldn’t be as big of a factor as their personal enjoyment of the renovated space for the time they live in the home.

It is interesting to note that some of the greatest returns are generated by exterior remodeling such as a new garage door, siding and stone veneer. This drives home the value buyers place on curb appeal- the public face of the property. With this in mind we can hope to see, over time, that neighborhoods continue to line their streets with trees, fuss with a little landscaping and keep their home facades quaint and inviting.

Full Disclosure

Wouldn’t it be cool if every time a public figure spoke, and metered out their opinion, a subtitle line was ticker-taping across the bottom of the screen disclosing which identity the person was prioritizing in the rhetoric? I was just on Twitter and a few local policy types were out denying a certain support of Blah Blah Blah. But are they making such pronouncements as a member of a political coalition? As a citizen of the municipality? As a member of a family?

Because it would be helpful to know if statements are motivated by power positions or sincere objective evaluation of the issue at hand.

Mostly it seems to be about power for the ones with the loudest voices. This is unfortunate for the advancement of the public conversation. The merits, drawbacks and possible outcomes of amendments are not discussed as much as who can do what for whom. I know, I know, that is the political game.

But doesn’t anyone care about the actual results?

I always tell my clients that the only ones who know the market are the parties in the mix, making the decisions around the exchange. In political policy making the recipients of the benefits are only superficially involved in the conversation. It is always assumed the receipt of anything will be beneficial and well received. I think we are shorting ourselves out of feedback.

Political actors seem to respond more to power than to economics outcome. Being able to distinguish between rhetoric for themselves versus their parties versus their constituents would undoubtedly enhance the system.

Android versus iOS

For a couple of decades I was an android owner. The price differential was a three to one, yet for me the value wasn’t. I didn’t need an iOS to get my emails, text, and yes, even use it as a phone to talk to people. The androids were good enough.

Well… I spent the weekend setting up apps on my new iPhone 13 Pro. So here’s what changed and how things are going so far.

But first a little history. The other members in our little household have been ardent Apple supporters. As soon as grandpa upped the Christmas gift money, the first born consolidated some savings and bought his first iPhone. I thought nothing more about it than the need for adolescents to keep up with the other kids at school until we were on a road trip in rural Montana. All our phones lost service on the road, but the kids’ phones were the first to pick up a signal as soon as we hit Bozeman or Butte or Missoula. Given we were on the same plan, I had to admit their equipment was better.

With travel on the near horizon, the need for connectivity is an impending necessity. Upgrading to 5G and those experiences with rural travel had me reading through the spec list at the Apple counter. The kicker that brought the purchase home was the video editing software. I’ve been trying for a year an a half to clip and edit short video takes and had to bail (as often is the case when delving into new technology applications) on it as it was simply too time consuming to figure out. The iPhone 13 promised efficiencies.

Now that I’ve had it for a few days it is obviously a superior machine. It’s not just about image or style, but better features. At time of app setup you are given the option to disconnect from future ads. In skyping I noticed the superior audio. Reading the screen is easier on the eyes. I’m still playing with the camera but the first shots are quite good. I look forward to trying out all the settings at various times of day and night.

I have yet to get to the movie editing function. When I do I’m sure it will end up in a post.

Interesting architecture

I showed a house this week which had floor to ceiling plate glass windows, sight line views out every window onto nature, and a Wolf gas range which would make any chef perspire gently at the brow. It was also priced twice as much, quite literally, than other home of comparable size with similar lot amenities.

The name of the architect as well as the brand of each notable feature in the home was listed out prominently in the comments. And the quality of the materials and construction were evident– from the tiled heated driveway to the reflecting pool. But what exactly should one pay for artistic features?

First off, to state the obvious, there will be those who will pay nothing. They will prefer to allocate the extra expenditure to square footage, and purchase a mini mansion in lieu of designer small. Right out of the gate, the buyer pool is a subset of all buyers. But more than likely the final bid will come from a select few who follow and appreciate the particular architect. Which explains why the name is featured so prominently in the marketing materials.

One could say that their is a community of buyers who find value in purchasing a property of such a design. And since that community would be trading property amongst each other, that extra premium could be said to be non-fungible to the community. It will always exist amongst them.

Now this concept could be a hard sell if it weren’t for the recent popularity of non-fungible tokens, or NFT’s. This new fangled art is available for purchase for all those who invest in crypto currency. The value to those outside the crypto community is, well, zero. And what would happen if the crypto community disbanded, lost interest in a form of currency that requires mega wattage to mine? Then the NFT’s would be worth zero.

In the NFT example it is easier to accept the non-fungible feature as the technology makes a clean line between those who can buy, trade and value the tokens, and those who cannot. A home built by a particular architect has residual value not tied to its design features. But the premium people pay is non-fungible. It’s tied to the community who support and value the artist in question.

City councils and Core services

In the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to a lot of city council people make their pitch for the upcoming election. What has struck me is the number of individuals stressing that city councils are non-partisan in nature and the goal of the (mainly) part-time citizen council is to oversee basic city services. Basic as in getting the streets plowed and the garbage picked up. There is a definite less frills more nuts and bolts type of vibe.

Which is as refreshing as a jump in the lake after twenty minutes in a sauna.

One vibrant gal from a suburb which was built in the 50’s, you know the ones with the oversized, heavily treed lots partially covered by one level homes, won me over immediately when she expressed interest in hearing from all sides of an issue. Her family moved to the area when she was one and she, in turn, had raised her kids blocks from a park with maples and oaks. In her view her role is to preserve what is good about the city so others would settle in, as her family had done.

One issue she mentioned relating to housing was the desire to catch homes that need repair before they deteriorate to the point of being irredeemable. The typical municipal reaction to this is to enforce a truth-in-housing review of homes at time of sale, along with a possible repair obligations. A policy that’s a nice, if not evanescent, thought with absolutely zero effect.

Only a small sliver of the housing in a city is sold in a year. Distress in a building is a process which happens over decades. A roof, for instance has a 22-25 year lifespan. Damage from a leaky roof would result following many years of deferred maintenance. Putting the spotlight on the properties going to market continues to leave those which need help in the shadows.

The concern is real even if the solution is opaque.

Similar homes can have a range of pricing depending on how well they have been kept. Ones with new mechanicals command higher prices. Most properties have some sort of mix; a new hot water heater, old furnace, and ten year old windows. These settle in the middle of the range. And at the lower end the buyers realize they will need to jump right in and start making updates. But in all three scenarios the home is habitable. It is a viable shelter for the new owner. And the price is substantially greater than the price of a lot in the same neighborhood.

When the deferred maintenance meets a threshold where the market no longer feels it is viable- the extra kicker maybe settling cracks in the garage foundation wall, then the price drops noticeably. It hovers only slightly about the lot cost– positioning it for a possible tear down. This is the point where a lot of equity goes wasted. If some of the core mechanicals had been better kept, or the kicker ‘last straw’ flaw been averted, one could dodge the price dip.

Here’s where the city could forestall the shift from habitable to the mainstream, to demolish and rebuild.

The city could first play a roll by abolishing any type of truth-in-sale which is a complete waste of time, and second by directing services towards homes that are on the tail end of a slide. Owners in these situations are likely to be better off living in another type of property. Perhaps they need help decluttering, or with estate sale services, or a variety of non-profits which help with such things. Perhaps health issues are keeping them from making the switch.

Offering information and connecting people to service providers could help them to move before the property becomes unacceptable to main stream buyers. This will not only keep the properties in better shape it will facilitate a difficult move for a resident to a residence better suited to their needs.

Understanding Cultural Codes- Football Edition

The Vikings beat the Seahawks yesterday 30-17. That may not sound like much if you don’t follow the Vikings, or the Seahawks. But it is a big deal. Russell Wilson has lead his Seattle football team right up to the threshold of the Super Bowl for the last three years running. Whereas the Vikings lost their previous game by going wide on an easy field goal in the last minutes of the game.

I was back in my twenties when I realized what it was to be a football fan, part of the football culture. I was working at a bank with a bunch of guys and the sports talk was nonstop. I couldn’t figure it out. It sounded as dull as the first line of this blog to anyone who doesn’t follow the Vikings or the Seahawks. What could be so dang exciting about the scores of athletic events that run on the TV throughout the weekend?

I started listening to their chatter a little closer. One day after work, we were headed over to the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis (now long gone and replaced by the US Bank Stadium) as they had heard that Shaq O’Neil, a new rising basketball star, was in town and you could watch him practice. I was fascinated. They were so involved in the sport that they knew the youngest brightest player, and how to get a glimpse of him during a practice.

That was a watershed moment, when what it was to be part of the culture came into view. What was before me was multi-dimensional. It had history. It was not a bunch of scores and dates– even though that is the product which is most visible, most talked about. And there was the factor of time as well.

What gives sport fans emotion and compelling interest and utmost devotion to their teams is an understanding of what is being accomplished in the context of where the team has been. There’s the medical side of things with injuries and rehabilitations. There’s the training or education part of things with bringing along new recruits. There’s the stability part of things with the knowledge of the mature players. There’s the management side of things with coaches and agents. There’s economic side of things with trading and ginormous salaries. There’s a whole culture to football which is complex to follow.

That’s what makes it exciting. That’s what the fans are investing in their time and interest, supporting their favorites with viewing hours and ticket sales. They are the audience in the whole apparatus of football culture. And they love it!

An example of a public acting private

The claim I make is that entities which are primarily public in nature can be transformed to act like a private enterprise. Here’s an example.

A few years after I gave birth to my son, advertisements started filtering through our postal mail claiming the accolades of a variety of schools. The Parochial schools had the upper hand on morals and strong values. The charter schools within the district offered Spanish Immersion or a science and engineering focus. The International School of Minnesota, a private school, offers a nurturing environment for a level of education geared to compete on a world stage.

I get that the Lutherans and the Catholics need to advertise to be sure people know where they are. And advertising specialty schools within a district follows the same getting-the-word-out need that is the business of ad campaigns. But it was somewhat off-putting when the public school district to the SW of us started a direct mail campaign designed to raise questions the adequacy of our own district with the objective of luring families like ours to open enroll across district lines.

In Minnesota, funding follows the child. So by recruiting kids along the neighboring district boundaries, the school district is vying for additional funding. They are acting in a private market manner, using advertising dollars to draw streams of money and the stronger family units to their enterprise.

In my mind this manifests the same economic form as the bidding on masks by state instead of as a country. The school districts are operating under a Minnesota mandate, yet by delineating the interest group to school districts, their actions outside of their district takes on a private nature.

So what’s the harm in it?

Using a private mechanism within a communal goal can gut out the ability of part of the group to be successful. If all the strong families (both in an educational sense and in an extra-time-to-help with education resources sense) shift over to the adjacent district, then the balance of talent and resources and parent time required will be substantially weakened for the families left behind.

This process works against the state mandate to educate all kids. The districts can act as private as they like outside the state mandate with entities like textbook vendors or playground equipment manufacturers. But the communal structure of all those who fall under the mandate should make it clear that direct mail marketing with the deliberate intent to shift funding dollars across district lines is counter productive to the expressed agreement.

Every Word Leads to Every Other, and No Spaces Between

We do not speak of geography,

so shortcuts cannot affect our way.

I cannot even permit your saying “No shortcuts,”

because the blackbird must sing three notes

before it sings a fourth,

because there are (movements

to be passed through)

no shortcuts,

because the bubbles that rise to the pond’s surface

must work their way through the lily roots,

and each concentric circle touch the shore.

 

This is not geography,

because we cannot foretell

where we are going,

seeing as how we are carried,

and know only where we have come,

recognized if we are lucky

by where we were last.

The rose leaf has no destination

when it drops through the trellis

and could not land on the bench

without drifting by the hedge

and does not after all stay

 

anywhere. A breeze lifts it

beside the cat who comes round the corner

of the hedge to find the lizard,

a surprise impossible to fall upon

by crawling through the hedge

with any idea of shortcut.

I find myself

in a garden of no geography,

and could not have come another way

when I did not even know

this as a place where we would arrive.

Judith Lee Stronach (1943–2002) was a journalist, poet, arts patron and social activist. A leader in numerous human rights and peace organizations as well as Buddhist groups, she was also a great friend to Inquiring Mind and served as poetry editor for the past few years.

Forces and Forms

Yesterday’s post was about the two forces which influence how we use our time and resources. Sometimes what we do is heavily weighted by social implications, such as activities within a household or religious community. Sometimes what we do is almost entirely transactional like filling up a tank of gas– no thought is given to the vendor as price and convenience is the primary focus. These impulses or desires to satisfy the self or the group are always in play to various degrees.

What’s interesting is that groups of shared interest also act under the forces of the self or the community. Remember during the onset of the pandemic when everyone was trying to get their hands on the N95 masks? The weakness in the notion of an ubiquitous public became apparent when states started bidding against each other for imported masks, driving up prices. Each state formed a private bidding entity before the outcry of the on-line audience demanded the form change from individual states to the entire US. That the delineation of who was treated like community within the bounds, and who was treated like a private entity on the outside, shift from the state boundaries to country boundaries.

For decades the best known book written about cooperative behavior in groups was The Logic of Collective Action, Public Goods and the Theory of Groups by Mancur Olson. Buried deep in the book the author quotes quite a long section by Hans Ritschl, a German economist. This section best explains the two forces:

In the free market economy the economic self-interest of the individual reigns supreme and the almost sole factor governing relations is the profit motive, in which the classical theory of the free market economy was appropriately and securely anchored. This is not changed by the fact that more economic units, such as those of associations, cooperatives or charities, may have inner structures where we find motivations other than self-interest. Internally, love or sacrifice, solidarity or generosity may be determining: but irrespective of their inner structures and the motives embodied therein, the market relations of economic units with each other are always governed by self-interest.

In the exchange society, then, self-interest alone regulates the relations of the members; by contrast, the state economy is characterized by communal spirit within the community. Egotism is replaced by the spirit of sacrifice, loyalty and communal spirit… This understanding of the fundamental power of the communal spirit leads to a meaningful explanation of coercion in the state economy. Coercion is a means of assuring the full effectiveness of the communal spirit, which is not equally developed in all members of the community.

The objective collective needs tend to prevail. Even the party stalwart who moves into responsible government office undergoes factual compulsion and spiritual change which makes a statesman out of a party leader… There is not a single German statesman of the last twelve years… who escaped compliance with this law.

It’s curious that Mancur Olson takes the time to promote the ideas of a man whose work is not available in English on Amazon today. But in the following paragraph, Olson makes one thing perfectly clear:

Ritschl’s argument is exactly the opposite of the approach in this book. He assumes a curious dichotomy in the human psyche such that self-interest rules supreme in all transactions among individuals, whereas self-sacrifice knows no bounds in the individual’s relation ship to the state and to the many types of private associations. The organizations supported by this self-sacrifice are nonetheless selfish in all dealings with other organizations.

page 101 of the 1971 printing

Whereas I think the mask example bares evidence of the selfish behavior of the states. There’s the chronic complaint that the FBI won’t go the dance with local law enforcement. The CDC has been critized recently of having maintained too tight a reign on COVID research at the expense of the goal to protect lives from the virus.

The duality I speak of in this blog is about form. An individual or a group can behave as an economic unit both in a communitarian way from within and a private enterprise when competing with other groups on the exterior.

Combining forces

I got the title wrong on the post from yesterday. Dawkins describes how it is possible to obey to biological urges towards selfishness while simultaneously using the faculty of reason to weigh the benefits of cooperation. He observes that our human ability to conceptualize how better outcomes occur through advancing the group interest plays us against short term selfishness. It is long-term selfish.

What Richard Dawkins describes isn’t the duality I refer to, but the human characteristics which set the stage for duality. Despite the ever present desire to declare: ‘it’s mine!’ our conscience, our capability to withdraw and look back on ourselves, our recording of history leads us to understand the benefits of responding to altruistic inclinations.

This supports the idea that economic actions can be motivated by dual forces captured in one transaction.

Consider the factors which motivate a choice of professions, of career paths, a considerable monetary decision over a lifetime. If one chooses an employer closer to home for lesser pay, than there is a blending of the benefits brought to bare on the family over income. Or, say, one decides to be an overseas war correspondent due to a strong belief in the necessity for transparency. Society yes, family no. If one considers where people volunteer their time, the choice is between forgoing monetary income in support of a group benefit: firefighter, rotary member, church relief services.

Everyday resource commitments are made in a blended fashion between monetary flows and altruistic featherings.

The duality I speak of in this blog is of a transformative nature. It’s described by Hans Ritschl, a German economist from the early part of the 20th century. More on his insights tomorrow.

Richard Dawkins describes duality

It is possible that yet another unique quality of man is a capacity for genuine, disinterested, true altruism. I hope so, but I am not going to argue the case one way or the other, nor to speculate over its possible memic evolution. The point I am making now is that, even if we look on the dark side and assume that individual man is fundamentally selfish, our conscious fore sight our capacity to simulate the future in imagination could save us from the worst selfish excesses of the blind replicators. We have at least the mental equipment to foster our long-term selfish interests rather than merely our short-term selfish interests. We can see the long-term benefits of participating in a ‘conspiracy of doves’, and we can sit down together to discuss ways of making the conspiracy work. We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism— something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.

Final chapter of The Selfish Gene

The illogic of free riding

Free riding, benefiting from a collective good without having incurred the costs of participating in its production.

The problem of free riding was articulated analytically in The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (1965) by the American political economist Mancur Olson. Relying on an instrumental conception of rationality, according to which rational individuals make choices that they believe will bring about the outcomes they most prefer, Olson argued that there is little rational incentive for individuals to contribute to the production of a public (or common) good, given the costs they would incur, because they will benefit from the public good whether or not they contribute. 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/free-riding

Mancur Olson makes the case that collective action goes contrary to human impulses, as the desire to look after oneself will induce all parties to free ride. This collapses a system where everyone takes and no one gives. Natural impulses, Olson argues, reduce or dispel the desire for collective action.

Collective activity to advance the economic objectives of a group are abundant, so there is little need to debunk the idea that cooperation amongst all sorts of groups is natural and ongoing. In fact, when you think about it, the system is most efficient when free-riding occurs.

Take the example of our neighborhood fence. Like many suburban clusters, a wooden privacy fence was built along the busier road which abuts the perimeter homes. This both distinguishes the area and lends privacy to those properties. At the turn in off the main road there is a sign and little extra wooden feature. A small association fee is due every year for mowing along the fence, insurance and upkeep of the entrance.

At some point the fence was aging to the extent of needing repair and possible replacement. Of course the interior neighbors didn’t feel they should pay, or perhaps not pay as much, as the perimeter homes as they benefit the most. About the same time a hail storm came through, as they often do, and caused damage to roofs and siding nearby. The association manager was also an attorney and was able to make a claim through the insurance policy for a complete replacement of the fence.

It’s likely that there were several residents who would have thought to have the fence assessed. But the manager, who gave his time voluntarily, was the one who initiated the project and saw it through. The rest of the neighbors were free riding off his time, education and experience. But how would it be efficient if everyone in the neighborhood had the exact qualifications?

The neighborhood is better off if there is a variety of skills available to the group, not only the business paperwork type of skills. The neighborhood doesn’t need an attorney in every house, it is better off having a mix. It’s more advantageous have a handful of home people to see that school bus pick up and drop off goes smoothly (especially when temps are bottoming out at twenty below). Older people can be prone to watching houses to the point of being nosey– but that helps keep crime down. Then there are the lawn perfectionists who lend out turf advice and fertilizer spreaders. Others may have job contacts or buddies in media who promote the local Little League.

You see free riding is what we all do if you look at everything from the individual lens. But as a group, it is best if everyone steps up voluntarily with their own unique skill or service. That’s called weaving a tapestry of community to catch everyone and bring them along.

Apples

Fall colors are creeping across the foliage here in the North Star state. Temps are dropping into the 50’s at night. And mums are appearing in planters snuggled up to front doors. This time of year families head to apple orchards for hay rides and hot cider.

Minnesota has a long history of cultivating varieties of apples. The sweet and tangy Honeycrisp still commands an extra $1-$1.5 a pound at the grocers. But if you’re wondering how best to use your apples, the Saint Paul Farmers Market has but together a flow chart for you.

Early learners find out that A is for apple. The apple has the dubious distinction of temping Eve into dragging all the rest of us into a world of lurking temptations. An apple was Newton’s famous inspiration. Apple Records was founded by the Beatles in 1968. Rene Magritte’s famous painting places a floating green apple in front of the face of a man in a dark grey suit. Now you can access your music through Apple i-phones. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Religion, science, the arts, technology, public health and education. The apple is well represented in the infrastructure of our lives.

It’s mine!

There’s a good chance that upon strolling by a pre-school classroom you’ll hear: It’s mine! The voice comes from a toddler who is grabbing the Preshool Playhouse plastic airplane from one of his chums. Ah- the battle over ownership starts young. There is a natural inclination, for some more than others, to own something. To be in charge of something. To have control.

Ownership around the house can be communal. The appliances don’t all have coin slots as the washer and dryers do in apartment buildings. Who ever is a part of the household makes use of most things. Perhaps within the confines of a bedroom, private items are stored which are off limits to the general public of the home.

Ownership of the upper-pay, prestigious jobs once belonged almost exclusively to ivy league educated men. Feminists from the 60’s and 70’s would have you believe that these jobs were public to all white men. But this is rather silly when you think about it. The club was a much smaller subset of men who smoked fat cigars in dark paneled rooms and who bought suits from the same clothier and who all shot below 90 on eighteen holes.

Isn’t the tussle over abortion about the ownership of the fetus? To whom does the baby belong: the mother or society?

Say hoodlums set up shop in a local park. Pretty soon none of the neighbors use the park as they are adverse to being mugged. The ownership of a wooded greenspace, that once belonged to a city, now is captured by a subset of the city. And they are not likely to relinquish their place of business voluntarily.

Ownership of a home maybe noted to a couple on the title in the county records, but all that space in between the homes is a joint concern. The effect even edges in over the maintenance of the front yards. Rules about grass height, number of vehicles in the drive all point to a view that the aesthetic of the street is owned by the neighborhood.

The Armed Forces will set you up with an education which you internalize for a private benefit, but not before you serve for four or six years. That way your employer can capture some of those employable skills. Other employers will match a stock option retirement investment in order to tie their employees into an ownership mentality.

The divorce courts have a lot to say about ‘That’s mine!’ Whereas each partner of the matrimonial union may be viewed as an individual by their employers, the court looks at the household when giving guidance on who owns what. You see you can be an individual as well as one member of a group all at the same time. And your ownership position maybe influenced simultaneously by this duality.

Ownership types are good to understand. Ownership by the individual or a group operate under different maintenance plans and incentives. So not only do we need guidance on the dissolution of group ownerships, but we can also be more effective in all sorts of trade once by utilizing the appropriate incentives and mechanisms for each type of proprietorship.

What smart people don’t get

When people refer to smart people they are generally talking about people who do well in school, people who go on to college, people who get professional jobs in fields like IT or legal or accounting or consulting. Those are the smart people. The ones who carried a high GPA, the ones who got into the best schools, the ones who decipher the paperwork that others can’t read. Smart people have high paying jobs with a fair amount of job security.

But aren’t smart people only really smart at book work types of things?

What smart people like to think is they are smart in ALL types of things. They are smarter than the guy who got a GED, until they have a flat on the side of the road and that guy comes to change their tire. They are smarter than the gal who had a baby in high school, until they are turning to that daycare worker for advise on the best finger foods for two year olds. They are smarter than the plumber who went to vo-tech until they can’t figure out the lack of water pressure in their pipes.

What smart people don’t get is that their self-appointed snugness creates an atmosphere of arbitrage when interacting with the less smart. What smart people don’t get is that, since they are in fact not smart in many practical things of life, those who are can take advantage of them without their knowledge. They can finesse a plugged j trap into a main drain flush. They can suggest the entire service door be replaced instead of just the rotted threshold board. They can recommend all sorts of more comprehensive solutions instead one that is simple and sufficient for the situation at hand.

What smart people need to get is that there are levels of smartness within each and every field. And thus it is to their advantage to treat with respect those who earn it within an occupation, instead of only respecting certain occupations.

Defund the Police- Update

There’s been a volleyball match all week in the courts to determine the destiny of a ballot question for Minneapolis voters. The issue at hand is the reporting structure of the Minneapolis Police Department, requiring its lead officer to be accountable to the mayor as well as the city council people. Presently the chief of police reports only to the mayor.

On Monday, Jamie Anderson, a Hennepin County Judge struck down the question for the second time in seven days. “The court finds that the current ballot language is vague, ambiguous and incapable of implementation, and is insufficient to identify the amendment clearly.” I think she even implied that it was deliberately misleading, but the quote eludes me now.

In the summer of 2020, eight of the thirteen city council people of Minneapolis stood on stage in a public park and made a pledge to Defund the Police. It turns out the pledge was the easy part. Little progress has been made in the crafting and architecture of a program that would replace traditional policing with something better.

Meanwhile crime has escalated citywide. Violent crimes are up about 20 percent. The police force is down twenty percent.

Two of the council members from this heady period are not seeking reelection, including the City Council President, Lisa Bender, citing family reasons. Still- an organization called Yes 4 Minneapolis plunders forward with a political answer to the city woes when a utilitarian one proves elusive.

One benefit of the bruhaha is that it has shown a spot light on the cleverly worded proposal meant to sound reasonable and caring. It has also risen to a loud enough public status that the Governor, and several state Senators have felt the need to weigh in against the city charter change.

Just a few hours ago, at the end of the work day, the Supreme Court of MN overturned the lower court ruling and granted the ballot question’s legitimacy. Just in time for early voting which starts tomorrow.

Praise for Emily

The brain is wider than the sky, 
  For, put them side by side, 
The one the other will contain beside.
  With ease,and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea, 
  For hold them, blue to blue, 
The one the other will absorb, 
  As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God, 
  For, heft them, pound for pound, 
And they will differ, if they do, 
  As syllable from sound.

Emily Dickinson’s mind was so much her own that there is nothing in literature quite like her unpredictable twists of thought and her trick of changing cryptic non sequiturs into crystal epigrams. She is inexhaustible and inimitable.

Lives of the Poets

The battle of Largs- the Vikings’ retreat from Scotland

The Battle of Largs (2 October 1263) was a decisive, albeit small, battle between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde near Largs, Scotland. Through which Scotland achieved the end of 500 years of Norse Viking depredations and invasions despite being tremendously outnumbered, without a one-sided military victory in the ensuing battle. That said, the victory caused the complete retreat of Norwegian forces from western Scotland and the realm entered a period of prosperity for almost 40 years.

Wikipedia

The battle for ownership of land and all things seems to be part of the human condition.

Lighthouses- are they public? And why not-

It was a few years ago now that I introduce these structural ideas of capitalism as a system subjected to simultaneous influences of public and private interests at every transaction. My first approach was to make the argument that pure public goods really don’t exist. The classic example of the lighthouse, which provides a seemingly non-excludable benefit by beaming its bright lights across the water, can be taken private. As can virtually all goods.

More evidence that public goods, as classically defined, falls apart under scrutiny is fully unpacked here in Our Problem is a Problem of Design. (Wow, written some four years ago. Where does the time go?)

But the lighthouse, along with any other good, can have degrees of public and private holds on their value. And so it isn’t the nature of the good which determines it’s ownership, but the way that it is used by individuals or groups of individuals. The division of capitalism as the system of private interests and politics as the system of public interests isn’t the correct demarcation.

The division is that capitalism is a comprehensive economic system of public and private interests, where the actors simultaneously evaluate their private and their group (public) interests at time of transaction. The mechanism in each sphere is different but the end choice is a blend of the two. The division puts politics in a separate arena which handles the style and substance of governance.

Structure, Milanovic, & Capital

Chapter Nine in A Book of Abstract Algebra by Charles Pinter starts off in solid math fashion, with definitions.

Human perception, … is based on the ability to recognize the same structure in different guises. It is the faculty for discerning, in different objects, the same relationships between their parts.

The dictionary tells us that two things are “isomorphic” if they have the same structure. The notion of isomorphism of having the same structure is central to every branch of mathematics and permeates all of abstract reasoning. It is an expression of the simple fact that objects may be different in substance but identical in form.

There are lots of cool things that happen when objects, whether tangible in the material world or fabricated through logical thought, share a structure. Properties that apply to one, apply in the same way to another. The natural numbers are a system of 1, 2, 3 which will always multiply add and divide in a like manner, whether they are counting buffalo, beans or bananas.

A professor of economics at Harvard, Branko Milanovic, identifies capitalism as the sole surviving economic system in his book aptly titled, Capitalism Alone. The structure in this case is an economic one: ‘referring to production organised for profit using wage labour and mostly privately owned capital.’ He proposes that the creation of value through production and trade occurs in this manner across the world.

The West, and the US in particular, is the cradle of capitalism, home to Ayn Rand. But now that China in particular has shown how a communist country can harness this economic system, the different categorization of structures needs to be flushed out. Milanovic offers Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism for the West and Political Capitalism as representative of the Chinese system. The Economist summed it up:

Milanovic outlines a taxonomy of capitalisms and traces their evolution from classical capitalism before 1914, through the social-democratic capitalism of the mid-20th century, to ‘liberal meritocratic capitalism’ in much of the rich world, in particular America. He contrasts this with the ‘political capitalism’ found in many emerging countries, with China as the exemplar. These two capitalistic forms now dominate the global landscape. Their co-evolution will shape world history for decades to come.―The Economist

The idea is that the pursuit of value through private trade is the core structure, and yet it can be pushed around and molded by political actors from liberal democracies such as the US, to social democracies in northern Europe, to authoritarian countries in the East. But in its original state, capitalism produces private capital. All the other efforts in society to provide public services, or safeguard the poor, or educate the young are done somewhere else- but not in the economy.

Here lies the weakness in this argument. It is well established that all sorts of social structures provide value to individuals and communities, and these too are economic in nature. There are resources, and labor and transactions. There is capital. It seems necessary to incorporate all fields of economics into one structure rather than push off the inconvenient ones on politics.

What I propose is that at the core of capitalism is capital, but not just private capital. At the core of capitalism is capital which is often in blended ownership of private and public interests. There is capital which is much more private and unfettered by social concerns, like currency, stocks and bonds. But even these instruments are in part valued by their country of origin. The legacy of their political backing influences value.

And then there is capital which is moderately blended by public and private interests. The buy local movement in produce of today, or the buy USA textiles and Ford or Chevy of yesteryear. If you pay extra for these items, than that premium is to support the public interest of a local sub-group. But the mixing doesn’t stop in commodities. Utilities are mostly blended between public and private. Capital, it seems, has a complex nature.

On the seriously social end of the spectrum there are goods that society resists assigning any monetary or liquid value, such as human kidneys. The trading in this case depends on a string of interlocking transactions between group members who all share the similar ambition of gifting an organ to a friend or relative. But a trade still occurs, the capital has a social dimension and the outcome results in tangible value.

What determines the sliding scale of private to public divisions depends on the political management of the country and the multitude of social arrangements present where the economic transactions occur. But the structure of capitalism, which dictates the rules of how the system works, contains private and public capital, not private alone.

9/11- Twenty years on

Twenty years ago, a blue sky day started the same as most days. With my infant child in his car seat behind me I drove the short distance to Golden Valley Lutheran where he attended daycare. He was four months old at the time and we had just started at the daycare, so I’m sure I was pre-occupied with the drop-off routine. As we walked in, with the car seat handle crooked in one arm and Aaron’s blankie in the other, I overheard a background conversation about a personal aircraft colliding into a skyscraper.

The sun was shining bright through the windows yet the atmosphere in the building was buzzing with electricity. I didn’t think much of it except to perhaps wonder about the level of concern in the air. Next stop my office. In that ten minute drive, the situation had unfolded. My office manager already had pulled out a TV in our conference room and other agents were gather around it on office chairs. The towers were on the monitor. One was smoking. People were trying to catch up to the story. We all sat mesmerized and the speck of a plane hit the second tower.

Now there was no confusion, only horror at the clarity of what was to become of all those people set up for their workday in Manhattan.

It gets fuzzy on how exactly the day went. One of my brothers made sure to call all of us, as we live in various locations across the US and Canada, to be sure everyone was OK. My husband worked in downtown Minneapolis at the time, and the employees were evacuated out of fear of cascading attacks. For several days following the event it was as if the ashes from the east coated our neighborhood with a quiet mourning. More homes flew American flags from their front porches.

I choke up even now at what happen to those folks. Their last phone calls to their loved ones. The doom that must have settled in as one building toppled.

Two years ago, for his graduation present, I took Aaron to New York City over a long weekend. We were on the upper level of the tour bus while going through Lower Manhattan when the fire trucks were called for a bomb threat. It was chaos. The fire engins could barely move through traffic. We were transfixed. The New York tour guy was thoroughly unimpressed. What his city had experienced twenty years ago will dwarf alarming incidents for decades to come.

Love logic

A few days ago on Twitter, a poster asked: What is love? Elon Musk of space travel fame (amongst other things) responded with this shot of his (presumably) adorable child. Like all new parents, I too was taken aback by the strength and uniqueness of the emotion which ties us to our children.

It’s not the passion love that you feel toward a sexual partner. It’s not the bonding devotion love you feel toward your parents. It’s the I care about every detail of your life, every atom of your existence, type of love. The I will be pathetic in support of your interests type of love.

In most cases, there are two people with this magnetizing pull to every child. This they share even when the bond between each other maybe thinning. The couple can go to the school play and revel in their child’s performance while at home they are putting on a show of a happiness between them.

And if the marriage becomes too strained and talk of divorce crops up like thistle in a bean field, then the wisdom dished up is, Stay together for the kids’ sake. The cliché advice is to put the interest of the children (the implication here is that the children receive guidance and support from both mom and dad) first and suck up the tedium that settles in after the first decade of marriage.

But this is all wrong. It’s backwards.

Isn’t the joy and satisfaction of watching a child succeed amplified when done with the one other person who shares that same interest? Aren’t there synergies when additional care and support is needed to bolster that child up when shared between the two people in the world who can be counted on to step in?

Sharing the job of parent is a benefit not just to the child but to the parents. And it’s a relationship that last a lifetime. The logic of love says that parents should stay together for themselves, the group, and not just the children.

Relative reality and does it matter?

If you follow my blog you know that my childhood was spent abroad as part of a US diplomatic family. My parents were partial to third world countries, and living conditions often involved political upheaval. When we would return to Midwestern America for home leave or between postings, I found myself fielding questions about what had made it into the newspapers.

They were curious about the violence and warfare printed in bold across the masthead. They were curious about the loss of life due to famine or flooding. In their minds the reality of our domestic surroundings landed squarely between goulash and appalling.

What they couldn’t key into, and quickly lost interest in any efforts of expanded explanation, is that the headlines were just a snippet of life occurring all those miles away. There were still shop keepers opening their storefronts, kids going to school, bureaucracies slowly cranking out their workloads. The airplanes flew out of the airports, cars took people to their appointments. You just couldn’t go anywhere, you had to stay away from the trouble.

People in the Midwest knew one thing about the places where we lived and they simply chose not to make a complex ecosystem of the foreign community part of their reality. This is us here in the US. Over there, across the world, they are shooting at each other. And before you judge my fair family members too harshly, don’t we all do that all the time?

For instance, do you remember the first time you met an individual with a substantial disability, like being in a wheel chair? Wasn’t the disability so all consuming that you couldn’t move it out of your focal view and enter the context of the person’s daily activities? Aren’t there areas in the city you live in right now that are inaccessible to you whether it be because they are too wealthy or too poor? The lives the people who live in those spots are out of the scope of your reality and it is hard to fill in the missing pieces.

The reason I bring it up is to emphasize that even though other people live in systems out of our normal patterns of activity doesn’t mean that our interests will never overlap. In fact there are probably many circumstances in which crossing paths could be mutually beneficial.

The point is to not get so distracted by one feature as to shut out entire groups of people from the reality of our lives. Because for as interesting as we all think we are, we are actually more ordinary than we’d care to admit.

Today is Labor Day

In the US, the first Monday in September is a day dedicated to the celebration of labor, or the efforts of workers. Initiated in the late nineteenth century in recognition of the labor movement, it continues as a federal holiday even as labor and trade unions have evolved and changed in their missions.

I look forward to the time when it also celebrates the service oriented labor that is given without wages in the interest of the family or the community. At the national level there are formal service organizations like Teach for America or even the National Guard. But total hours put into formalized service structures are peanuts compared with those packed into a neighborhood.

Work as described in this blog (categories) is performed without intended recognition or accounting. And on an individual level, this is exactly the way it should be. But it would be useful to have a group accounting of labor hours necessary, for instance, to field a little league team, or girls scouts group. That way if an adjacent neighborhood would like to initiate such a program they would know what was required of them.

Or lets say the work is the type needed to care for the elderly, within a family. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know over x generations, x person hours of support is needed, in general, for a family member who ends up in need. That way, in a long term planning type of way, siblings and cousins can think ahead to who can play that role, who can take on that type of work, instead of hiring it out.

Our city keeps track of the number of volunteer hours that are used to run the numerous community get togethers throughout the year. That labor is counted on to pull off the events which draw in hundreds of residents and non-residents to events such as Music in Plymouth and Bark in the Park. After a number of years, the city volunteer coordinator can sense how many hours the community has to donate, a sense of what the capacity of the community is to provide these free services.

So for planning purposes, it would be nice if there was further tracking and celebration of service labor as well as paid labor. Instead of simply extending a nod to a certain culture of volunteerism, or institutions of community support, with actual numbers, one could plan with reasonable certainty.

There’s more of it around than one might think.

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet

Taking full advantage of the long weekend here in the US, I read my softback copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s new book lakeside. It’s easy to find praise for this fictional story of Shakespeare’s domestic life in Stratford-upon-Avon, so I won’t dwell on the wonderful prose and endlessly interesting historical references.

Since this is a blog about home economics, I can’t help but key into the detailed transactions which are laid out in the book. Specifically the family relationships and obligations which landed Shakespeare in London. For without the The Globe to provide the stage, and the city to provide the audience, it is hard to say how the bard’s career would have evolved.

As a lad of eighteen, Will marries a woman eight years his senior. She has a dowry and a faithful brother to support her wishes. He comes from an established merchant family that has some financial struggles. They are both odd ducks-

Will’s mother Mary is required to make room for her daughter-in-law, to take her into her household and help with the care of the grandchildren. And it is Mary who objects the loudest at the plan for Will to set up an extension of the family glove business in London.

…At which Mary could say three things: Agnes is no girl. She is a woman who enticed a much younger boy, our boy, into marriage for the worst possible reason. And: You forgive her too much, and only because of that dowry of hers. Don’t think I don’t see this. And: I am also from the country, brought up on a farm, but do I run about the place in the night and bring wild animals into the house? No, I do not. Some of us, she will sniff to her husband, know how to conduct ourselves.

“It would help matters,” her son is saying, airily, insistently, “help all of us, to expand Father’s business like this. It’s an inspired idea of his. God knows things in this town have become difficult enough for him. If I were to take the trade to London, I am certain I might be able to “

Before even realizing that her patience has slipped out from under her, like ice from under her feet, she is up, she is standing, she is gripping her son by the arm, she is shaking it, she is saying to him, “This whole scheme is nothing but foolishness. I have no idea what put this notion into your father’s head. When have you ever shown the slightest interest in his business? When have you proved yourself worthy of this kind of responsibility? London, indeed!

The plan had been instigated by Agnes’ faithful brother. There is some outstanding obligation between the families which allows him to influence the father, to allow for Will’s departure. It is the extraction of a chit which he plays on behalf of his sister.

What if William Shakespeare, thought to be the greatest dramatist in the English language, had not made it to London? What if his life had been denied matrimony and fatherhood? What if one of the players in the economic distribution of inheritance and obligations to marriage and family had set an imbalance in the transactions?

What Maggie O’Farrell accomplishes is a flushing out of the possible infrastructures which may have contributed to a brilliant man reaching a pinnacle of performance.

Tired

Dream Variations
Langston Hughes – 1902-1967



To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

A Few More Dollars- movie review

This 1965 Clint Eastwood western is a power drink of machismo. Produced by Sergio Leone, an Italian producer and script writer, and shot for the most part in southern Spain, it is a replica of life in the wild west which didn’t even make it to American viewers until 1967.

The plot is simple. Very simple. You might start to question the time you are devoting to the film if the cinematography didn’t excite your visual senses to the point of telling the rest of you to sit back and relax. And then there’s Clint. I mean, who can wear a poncho and look that exquisite.

The man competitions are relentless. It starts simple, shoot’em up type of scoring. (*warning* lots and lots of bodies punctured by bullet holes in this film!) But then it gets a little more complicated. There are hat shooting tricks and duels on deserted dusty main streets under big skies. There are poker games in the saloon. And then even more complicated, the bounty hunters start to collude. And then they don’t. And the bandits collude, and then they don’t.

But the economic incentives at the heart of the movie are spelt out for the audience right after the opening credits in white lettering on a red backdrop:

Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price.
That is why the bounty killers appeared.

There are only two women in the movie. A hotelier, an uncharacteristically coarse figure who drools at the sight of Eastwood, appears briefly towards the beginning of the film. And a beautiful young woman who, years before, had robbed the ruthless convict Indio of his manhood by shooting herself while he was raping her. He carries her musical locket to antagonize his agony again and again.

And in this tale of chasing dollars from a bank vault or the bounty for fourteen gangsters, we find out that for some, it is not about the money at all.

Well worth a watch. Did I mention that Clint was in his early 30’s and….?

The word Police

A self-appointed word-police-person is out scolding a gardener group member for implied Anti-Semitism. Wandering Jew is the common title for this attractive plant and used as such. What’s the mindset of someone who calls out a stranger in a very public way? See something, say something?

I wonder if that is how they live in their own household. Do they turn every infraction their child commits into a teaching moment? What a luxury to be able to draw-up the busy life of a household in motion to a full stop, in order to reprimand the word, comment, gesture, or eye movement!

Or what about an infraction out in public, at a store, or at a friend’s house? Ms Joyce might carry post it notes which say “dear, we don’t use that word now, we use this one.” And the child must bare it like a scarlet letter on their jersey. This might make for rocky friendships. The discomfort of watching the scolder put her discipling ahead of whatever activity is underway, an activity intended to be fun or enjoyable, could very well cause a dis-invite the next time around.

The fact is we are always letting things slide because life would be MISREABLE if all we did was scold our kids and spouses on all that we think they could do better. Maybe it is easier to call out total strangers for this reason– it can be done without shouldering any consequences.

Addis street scene- early ’70’s

It has been a while since I’ve posted a vintage photo, so here is a scene from Addis in about 1974. The wall in the foreground encircled our residential compound, separating our house from all those along the road below. In parts it was studded with broken glass, and stood at ten feet above our yard, dropping fifteen or more to the road below.

The tall eucalyptus trees frame the edges of the photo. This is appropriate as their distinctive smell lingers in every memory of the mountain top capital. Fresh and pungent.

A smoke also lingers amongst the branches as there was always a fire lit, smoldering out of a cook top or a chimney. Although the daytime temps can be warm, the high elevation promises a cool night’s rest. Back then most women snuggled into the white muslin wraps just like the figure striding down the road.

Come morning the roosters were as reliable as the rising sun, beating the rays to the shuttered windows at announcing day break. Our first night in that house, with jet lag still playing on the rhythm of the waking hours, the crowing was unexpected. Exotic. It wasn’t long before the sounds of roosters were the steadfast signal of life on a new day.

Maybe difficult to pick out in the picture is all the corrugated tin which was (still is?) the roofing material of choice. Rust isn’t a problem, I think, due to the elevation. But when the rains come the clatter is impressive! It makes one feel extra dry to hear exactly how much water those roofs protect you from.

The recent pictures I’ve seen of Addis are nothing like it was when we lived there. There were no skyscrapers. Bole road to the airport was the only thorough fare. So I don’t know if the red clay roads such as the one by our house are still maintained by the pounding of foot traffic and donkeys loaded with bundles of firewood.

Someday I hope to return for a visit and find out.

Post note: Our Addis house is one of the tiles in the banner for the blog. Can you guess which one?

What rent control won’t do

This fall both the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul will have questions around rent control on their ballots. The latter’s proposal is the most straightforward. It asks voters for the right to cap annual rent increases at 3% with no exceptions (an exception might be to increase rent at a higher rate after a major renovation to the property, for example). This, I’m told, would be the most restrictive rent control measure in the country.

Minneapolis’ proposal beats around the bush a little bit as the ballot question simply asks to allow the Minneapolis City Council to investigate rent control stabilization. Many people feel that should this request pass, then the city council would simply move forward on any initiatives they felt appropriate without further input from constituents. (There’s that Minnesotan passive aggressiveness again.)

The movement seems to find momentum from the social justice warriors. We’re going to protect the citizens from the capitalists!

There’s no interest in considering price signals as a way of communicating resource allocation, or a neighborhood’s strengths and weaknesses. And maybe more importantly the relative power of the public goods in each little nook of the city. Clearly there’s no interest in comparing prices and using those relative differences to match prospective renters to the areas which would offer the greatest capacity at meeting their short comings.

The only issue at stake here is whether the stabilization controls rent increases. Because this is thought to be economically beneficial to the renter.

Capping rents however does not make a landlord keep a property in good repair; it does not prohibit them from collecting rent and not pay their mortgage. Rent stabilization does not make a landlord vigilant about the heating and cooling system, nor replacing aging appliances. It doesn’t stop them from hedging on the required time notice for entering the unit, nor being adept at keeping the noise down in the building.

Capping rents does not make the bad landlords more responsive in any way.

But most importantly, rent stabilization does not transfer any wealth to renters in times of steep real estate appreciation. When prices are climbing as they have in recent years, it does not alleviate the feeling that some folks are being left behind.

Helping transition renters to owners, showing them the ropes on caring for and managing their own home, does put them in a position of gaining wealth. And that’s the goal good-willed people should be setting their sites on. Not arbitrary price fixing.

The Midwest spirit of place

Native plants of the Midwest, Alan Branhagen

How better to set a stage than to describe its landscape. Alan Branhagen sets about cataloguing all the plants native to the Midwest in a photo filled book with nice descriptions. He is affiliated with the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, said to be one of the leading botanical gardens in the country. I certainly enjoy spending an afternoon touring various landscapes. Should you ever visit the Minneapolis St. Paul area, I hope you do as well.

Overvalued or undervalued- homes edition

According to researchers at Florida Atlantic University these cities are the top ten over valued cities in the US.

  1. Boise, Idaho – 80.64%
  2. Austin, Texas – 50.72%
  3. Ogden, Utah – 49.70%
  4. Provo, Utah – 46.16%
  5. Detroit, Mich. – 45.57%
  6. Spokane, Wash. – 45.21%
  7. Salt Lake City, Utah – 42.41%
  8. Phoenix, Ariz. – 42.31%
  9. Las Vegas, Nev. – 41.88%
  10. Stockton, Calif. – 38.50%

We’ll get to their methodology in a minute, but the first thing an aspiring realtor is taught in real estate school is that buyers and sellers determine the value of a home. If more buyers want to buy a home in Boise than sellers are willing to give them up, then prices go up. It’s not an overvaluation. It simply is the market signaling that Boise’s the place to be.

The methodology used for this report is the spread in the property values in these cities, as they diverge from a calculated long term projection of the property prices. Here’s how they report their methodology.

Comparing values to historical trends is interesting in the sense of: Wow, Utah and the Non-Costal West are really becoming popular. This maybe true because of the new work from home arrangements, as inferred in the article. It could be true as a response to wanting more time in the great outdoors after being confined during Covid. The numbers can even get topsy turvey as percentages of low values are easy to bolster. (80% of a low number is still a low number.)

The appearance of Detroit and Stockton on the list is certainly a welcome surprise. That these two cities are outpacing their historical price increases indicates they are fairing much better than they have in the past. This isn’t an over-valuing of real estate. It is a signal that, hey- these communities are pulling together and people want to live there.

Similarly, it may not be wise to think of Virginia Beach as a bargain. The long term trend amongst employers appears to be to allow virtual work. The highest priced areas with the least family friendly infrastructure are going to suffer from this arrangement. A downward decline in the price of Virginia Beach real estate could very well just be starting.

Historical price trends are very one-dimensional. Real estate is a multifaceted product. Its pricing can provide all sorts of information through a more complex model. I’d say the top five influences on value (in no particular order) are 1. crime 2. proximity to jobs 3. schools 4. parks and environment 5. transportation.

A supply chain for progress

Why do men like metal and women like fabric? I’m not sure. So when I had children I tried be a gender neutral toy provider. Despite my efforts, my son liked anything with wheels and my daughter clung to her blankies and dolls.

In the last few years I’ve had two experiences where access to a machine was a game changer. Advice from a trusted advisor to purchase a Lenovo Yoga opened up a whole new level of work and writing. The mobility of internet ala hotspot made any park bench my office. It changed the timing of how I interacted with clients. I became more efficient as there was less remembering and follow up.

The impact was multifold and multilayered.

Why hadn’t I done it sooner– or why don’t women in general do more machinery? When I was young I remember an incident when we were stuck in some foreign outback. The details are foggy, but there was the necessity to clear the road of scree. I had gloves and was digging in when a male adult asked for them. He could do it better! He wanted my tool and assumed he’d secure them. (He didn’t.)

Perhaps it is a silly story. But weren’t women’s sports disregarded for years as boring? Aren’t the beginners at anything shrugged offed as irrelevant and uninteresting?

Machines also need maintenance. There maybe tricks to getting it started, like the lawn mower in the spring with old gas in its tank. If you have a friend to call, the fix can be easy; a couple pushes to the primer. If you don’t, you may give up on the machine and decide it’s easier use the old push blade mower that spins and slices a choppy lawn.

Two buddies who enjoy each other’s company can trade off helping each other with their projects while learning new tricks. A solo attempt can lead to discouragement, and abandonment of the machine that seems too much trouble. The ongoing supply chain of support and knowledge, success and overcoming setbacks is what facilitates progress.

A roto tiller is a great help in the garden. One can create a bed all along a wooded edge by spending an hour watching a gas powered blade turn the dark brown clumps into finely grained soil. But one needs a truck to fetch the instrument from the hardware store, and perhaps some muscle to load and unload it.

The point is, that it is about more than just the machine. It is a process. To an inexperienced farmer a tractor is of limited use. As soon as it requires maintenance, parts or a good kick to the tires, it becomes a burden instead of a boon. There isn’t a product result that will solve a systems problem.

Finding a way to quantify the meaning of different pieces of the supply chain is a way to see the gaps, discover better matches between groups with capacity and groups with potential.

Failure to act on easy words

There’s been tremendous conversation over the last year and a half about being more inclusive. The number of Director of Inclusion titles on LinkedIn recently provides testimony to the level of interest in this topic. Everyone from the PTA to private businesses profess the need to be more inclusive of others in our daily lives.

But many people seem to stumble in the implementation. Take a PTA greeting table at the kickoff of the school year parent event. There’s a group of volunteers standing behind a desk displaying pamphlets and clipboards for an email signup sheet. There’s chatter and interaction, but not with the parents streaming by, with each other as they catchup on family updates.

And it is not only that people don’t even try to make eye contact into a crowd and bring a newbie parent over to explain what the PTA does. The closed group body language promotes the idea that we are all friends, and you would be an outsider. Of course friends group together to do good work. But to not cover that up temporarily in order to welcome in newcomers is self-defeating.

Very few people (who have never been an outsider themselves, through travel for instance) can handle the social discomfort of standing by a relative stranger without congenial conversation. So as soon as a silence fills the void between them, the established one feels that pressure to move onto a more festive atmosphere. And often does exactly that.

Sometimes there is a deliberate effort to exclude people from the topic at hand. This time not because they are the minority (which fittingly makes them a valuable resources for some such chatter) but because they are lumped into a greater group of suburban people who are not suppose to voice an opinion of any matter Minneapolis.

The self conscious tension around urban political matters and the upcoming elections of all the City of Minneapolis’ city council members has brought down a sound barrier of complete disinterest in hearing from anyone beyond the city boundaries. At a time when bias and self deception is at an all time high, I speculate that leaning into interaction from those beyond your social boarders would be fruitful.

For all the talk of inclusion, the fencing off into action groups is at the route of anything systemic.

Food Deserts are apparently a mirage

Someday I’ll have an academic explain how a study can be written and published when right in its text it admits that the concept in question fails to be validated. In the case of (US) food deserts:

Perhaps because of the wide variety of measures used and places examined,
study results have not reached a consensus on the characteristics of areas
that lack access to healthy food. Studies have produced conflicting results as
to the correlation among race, income, and access to healthy and affordable
food. Many researchers have concluded that neighborhoods consisting
primarily of minorities—in particular, African Americans—with low
incomes have fewer supermarkets than wealthier, predominantly White
neighborhoods (Berg and Murdoch, 2008; Powell et al., 2006; Block et al.,
2008; Larson et al., 2009). Others, however, have found either no correlation,
or that minority and low-income neighborhoods have a greater number of
grocery stores and are closer to these stores than wealthier areas (Alwitt
and Donley, 1997; Moore and Diez Roux, 2006; Opfer, 2010; and Sharkey
and Horel, 2008). These mixed results may not be surprising because these
studies are of localized areas. However, results from the two national-level
studies are also inconclusive. Powell et al. (2006) found that ZIP Codes with
more minorities and lower income populations had fewer chain supermarkets
but more nonchain supermarkets. USDA (2009) found that, on average,
low-income and minority populations were closer to supermarkets than
higher income individuals and non-Hispanic Whites.

Characteristics and Influential
Factors of Food Deserts,
by Paula Dutko
Michele Ver Ploeg
Tracey Farrigan

I don’t get it.

Are there truly so few good ideas that we have to pursue those which have no backing? Are we such a wealthy country that we can afford to throw money at inconclusive results?

Or do we want so badly to offer an answer, that a corruption is better than nothing at all?

Charlotte Mew, a poet you never knew

Monsieur Qui Passe

A purple blot against the dead white door
In my friend’s rooms, bathed in their vile pink light,
I had not noticed her before
She snatched my eyes and threw them back to me:
She did not speak till we came out into the night,
Paused at this bench beside the klosk on the quay.
 
God knows precisely what she said—
I left to her the twisted skein,
Though here and there I caught a thread,—
Something, at first, about “the lamps along the Seine,
And Paris, with that witching card of Spring
Kept up her sleeve,—why you could see
The trick done on these freezing winter nights!
While half the kisses of the Quay—
Youth, hope,-the whole enchanted string
Of dreams hung on the Seine’s long line of lights.”
 
Then suddenly she stripped, the very skin
Came off her soul,-a mere girl clings
Longer to some last rag, however thin,
When she has shown you-well-all sorts of things:
“If it were daylight-oh! one keeps one’s head—
But fourteen years!—No one has ever guessed—
The whole thing starts when one gets to bed—
Death?-If the dead would tell us they had rest!
But your eyes held it as I stood there by the door—
One speaks to Christ-one tries to catch His garment’s hem—
One hardly says as much to Him—no more:
It was not you, it was your eyes—I spoke to them.”
 
She stopped like a shot bird that flutters still,
And drops, and tries to run again, and swerves.
The tale should end in some walled house upon a hill.
My eyes, at least, won’t play such havoc there,—
Or hers—But she had hair!—blood dipped in gold;
And there she left me throwing back the first odd stare.
Some sort of beauty once, but turning yellow, getting old.
Pouah! These women and their nerves!
God! but the night is cold!

And Paris, with that witching card of Spring Kept up her sleeve,—why you could see The trick done on these freezing winter nights! While half the kisses of the Quay—

Food deserts, and other not so silly sayings

The term food deserts is about as silly as affordable housing; both try to capture the notion of a thing instead of the understanding of a system.

A food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, in contrast with an area with higher access to supermarkets or vegetable shops with fresh foods, which is called a food oasis.

The idea goes something like this. People who live in high poverty areas, which often- if not always- are high crime areas, have fewer choices in grocery shopping. Hence it is the obstacle of getting to a supermarket which causes a poor diet and resulting health problems such as obesity. The policy solution thus is to bring a product, fresh fruits and vegetables, to the neighborhoods. Problem solved!

In time of yore, or my grandmother’s generation, farm families across rural Minnesota spent the winter without access to fresh food. It isn’t until June that early lettuce comes in and can be eaten from the garden. Most vegetables are harvested July through early September. Of course strawberries are plentiful in late June, but the apple tree branches don’t bend with fruit until fall.

Tomatoes are still canned (the process of storing produce in a jar with an airtight lid for use through the winter) by many today who enjoy the fruits from their gardens for things like salsa and pasta sauce. And cabbage is converted in some mysterious process to sour kraut. The Red Wing Stoneware Company produced crock pots of various sizes for winter storage in cool cellars.

The point is that many people across the world find ways to store the makings of a balanced diet for consumption through out the year. Eating from a healthy menu depends on a process of accumulating, storing, preparing and eating. Home economics, as it was taught in school a half a century ago, was designed to address this topic.

One of the classroom experiences was to make simple meals like a hamburger goulash. A pound of ground beef, elbow macaroni noodles, a can of tomato soup are its readily available ingredients which are easy to store. You can even purchase such items at many convenience stores.

Now, it seems, we don’t want to teach lifelong skills. Problems are deemed to be the lack of a product, a purchase, a consumable good. And if the government simply puts that good in the hands of the poor, then all will be solved. Or not.

How does that verse go?  “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Mathew 4:19.

PBS’s Unforgotten – Series Review

After I wrapped up Bosch, the story of a crusty police detective who hits the streets of LA to secure justice for the victims of crime, I was at loose ends for a replacement. I needed a new setting and a new protagonist. We had switched streaming choices recently which opened BBC up for viewing. That’s how I came across Unforgotten: Unforgotten is the critically acclaimed British crime drama series starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar

Instead of the old-shoe-leather-worn-beat-policeman made detective, the protagonist is a mid-aged woman whose brain clicks through every clue and its potential like the wheels on a slot machine. She knows the odds are low for bringing to light the violent offender responsible for the skeletal bones under an old boarding house, but press on she does.

Her lighter step and softer expression is a nice contrast to the scowl of a graying cop who has seen more corruption than he cares to claim. Her compassion toward the mother of the lost son is displayed through action and not just words. She is interesting. She is sincere.

The story line is strong. Like any good mystery, part of the reason the audience cannot predict the outcome is because they are being denied information. But the plot in Unforgotten has you noodling right along with DCI Cassie Stewart and her partner DI Sunny Khan. They’re a good pair, contrasting yet supportive.

There’s a freshness about discoveries made due to new technologies or abilities, like pulling apart and refurbishing a diary. Although buried under a body for forty years, a little of this, a little of that, and the scientists are able to read the entries. And there is a dash of corruption to be sure there are plenty of gangsters in the mix.

Overall the series has everything I could ask for: interesting characters, thought provoking plot, sympathy to the victims (to take the edge off the violence), and super actors from across the pond. I recommend watching.

Architect/Builder in Kenya says:

Here are some comments from an architect/builder, Sacrinos. (@dnahinga), in Kenya regarding the obstacles to building housing for the average Kenyan. Interesting throughout, especially the land use comments:

The pricing model in Kenya's Construction Sector/Real Estate is Colonial and Punitive.

It is akin to trophy pricing. All clients become as pricey as elephant tusks.

Let us reason together.

Short Thread 1/n.

After the Colonists grabbed Land and the Means, they quickly put up roadblocks to Home Ownership.

One being approvals for Self Expression

A house is the most express image of the Builder. Thus his native language

It was no longer possible to just build

2. Now if you have lost acres of communal and individual land, it is virtually impossible to Express your wealth as a fraction of the same Assets you lost.

You do not have the wherewithal.

So, it is a scorched earth where everyone must rebuild their wealth from scratch.

3. As the First Gatekeepers would have it, it's professional #misconduct to charge unprescribed fees.

A board has all powers to make laws, "for the scale of fees to be charged by architects and quantity surveyors for advice, services, and work done."
AQS Cap 525 (f)

Walk with me.

This is the formal housing cost structure in Kenyas #RealEstate.

So, the Colonists became the Levites in the sector. Basically taking a tithe from everyone that wishes to Build or be Adviced to Build.

What is the market effect? Facebook and Quacks* step in.

These powers need to be returned to the Free Market Mechanism.

This does not in any way encourage anti-competition but allows for competence, supply and demand to calibrate the lowest and highest prices people are willing to pay.

Intellectual Assets do not need Price Fixing.

Price Fixing of Intellectual Assets makes the Consultants unable to offer their services to the people below a Certain Wealth Threshold.

It also ensures and guarantees a thriving Black Market for Unprofessional Services.

It stifles growth in the Sector. We need to ReThink it

The current Top Down Board Sanctioned Pricing Model assumes all people who want to build have all the money.

All the Consultant has to do is to check a schedule and prescribe a % Fee.

It treats housing as a Noun and not a Verb.

Unfortunately, the next generation of Home Owners are:

1. Struggling with Savings.
2. Have practically little to no Assets to extract a %.
3. Can successfully build incrementally.
4. All the insider knowledge is NOT with the Gatekeepers. How will you stop people from building?

Reality Check.

Colonial Natives are now Digital Natives.

We innovate or die.

It is time to let the market mechanism allow for creation of an efficient, profitable way to serve the less affluent so we can stop looking forward to building towers only.

Set Architecture Free!

Dear Architect, Engineer, QS et al.,

Q. Have you lost clients because you tried to charge prescribed fees?

Dear Client. Have you lost a Professional because the prescribed fees was Impossible?

Let us see.🙏🏿🏡🏘🔨

If the 1933 Pricing Model was followed, Real Estate consultants would be controlling between 5% to 10% of all value created from their Consultancy Work.

Hypothetically, every 11nth Client would make the Consultant wealthier than any of the previous 10.

Project Value being K.

Originally tweeted by Sacrinos. (@dnahinga) on August 19, 2021.

Nobody likes the outsider

This morning we had our weekly exceptional properties meeting at a nice two story home in Plymouth. It is similar to the Tuesday morning meeting realtors have with their sales offices in that there is networking of the inventory coming to market, and buyer needs. There is also conversation around what agents are seeing in the market.

The brisk activity has driven prices to new heights at all price points. Normally the entry levels homes are pushed up fastest as more buyers can afford these, and the momentum ricochets upwards stalling out in the higher price bracket. The discussion this morning centered around the numbers that indicate the luxury market surge is outpacing the entry level homes.

Here is the most recent data from the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors comparing the Twin Cities’ Average home price increase to that of the Lake Minnetonka Area.

Lake Minnetonka is a twenty-two square mile nautical playground for wealthier Minnesotans. The story goes that these folks have benefited from swelling stock portfolios over the last fourteen months and are not shy about showing up with cash offers for lakeshore dwellings in the $1-2-3 million range. Hence the price increases here are up 21.9% over last year, almost double the increase over the whole metro.

But here’s the kicker- one agent complained that the last few homes her clients bid on in multiple offers, have all gone to Californians. Then another agent quipped that prices here are nothing to them (which is true!). And another confirmed such fact findings.

It reminded me of an article I read a few years ago in the South China Morning Post: Chinese buyers abandon Australia’s housing market, still get blame for rising prices. Even when foreign buyers had fallen by 80%, the public was still blaming rising prices on the outsiders.

Gentrification sums up these same negative impulses. Someone from the outside, who has more money (or is willing to spend more money) than me on real estate in my back yard is creating a cost burden. In most cases, when the analysis is done, the one event– a few Californians purchasing Lake Minnetonka shoreline- isn’t enough to drive the prices. The discomfort might have more to do with stranger danger than statistical facts.

Negative numbers

Historically, efforts towards social amelioration fall into a category of charity or gift giving. It’s optional. It’s nice. Thus devoting time or resources to such things can only provide positive results.

So if your ambitions are to save a life, there is no possible negative outcome from your action. Whether your efforts are to curb climate change or to shelter the homeless or to raise funds for education, the number system only allows for a net positive social conclusion.

Living with the Corona virus has debunked such primitive thinking. The cautious trepidation at drug approval, intended to save lives, has most probably taken lives. The closing of schools intended to save lives, may have led to the rise in teens carjacking and in turn their tragic deaths when their joy ride collided with a street light.

Perhaps in the time before Covid it was more difficult to think abstractly about the positive as well as the negative outcomes. Perhaps it was too intangible to think that activism towards one cause, say gay rights, in fact squeezed out activism for addressing abuses in the criminal apprehension and persecution for petty drug crimes.

What the virus has done is lay bare at our feet the reality that it is not just in business matters that resources are limited, outcomes are interconnected, and well intended efforts can produce negative outcomes.

Negative numbers were not always accepted by mathematicians.

Thus, “modern” algebra is not so very modern, after all! To what extent is it abstract? Well, abstraction is all relative; one person’s abstraction is another person’s bread and butter. The abstract tendency in mathematics is a little like the situation of changing moral codes, or changing tastes in music: What shocks one generation becomes the norm in the next. This has been true throughout the history of mathematics.

For example, 1000 years ago negative numbers were considered to be an outrageous idea. After all, it was said, numbers are for counting: we may have one orange, or two oranges, or no oranges at all; but how can we have minus an orange? The logisticians, or professional calculators, of those days used negative numbers as an aid in their computations; they considered these numbers to be a useful fiction, for if you believe in them then every linear equation ax + b =0 has a solution (namely x = -b/a, provided a 0). Even the great Diophantus once described the solution of 4x + 6 = 2 as an absurd number. The idea of a system of numeration which included negative numbers was far too abstract for many of the learned heads of the tenth century!

A Book of Abstract Algebra, Charles C. Pinter

Although rationally it is accepted that there are tradeoffs in these choices between social interests, we don’t act like we know there are tradeoffs. We don’t do analysis like there are tradeoffs. We don’t approve funding like there are tradeoffs. There simply doesn’t appear to be an acceptance of the abstract concept that the allocations of time and resources function as an economy and not a charity.

Housing as a system not a product

I’m really looking forward to this paper, “The Effect of New Market-Rate Housing Construction on the Low-Income Housing Market”, by Evan Mast. Here’s the abstract:

I illustrate how new market-rate construction loosens the market for lower-quality housing through a series of moves. First, I use address history data to identify 52,000 residents of new multifamily buildings in large cities, their previous address, the current residents of those addresses, and so on for six rounds. The sequence quickly reaches units in below-median income neighborhoods, which account for nearly 40 percent of the sixth round, and similar patterns appear for neighborhoods in the bottom quintile of income or percent white. Next, I use a simple simulation model to roughly quantify these migratory connections under a range of assumptions. Constructing a new market-rate building that houses 100 people ultimately leads 45 to 70 people to move out of below-median income neighborhoods, with most of the effect occurring within three years. These results suggest that the migration ripple effects of new housing will affect a wide spectrum of neighborhoods and loosen the low-income housing market.

I checked at the Hennepin County Library, my resource for such things, only to notice on the National Affairs posting says that it is forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Affairs.

What is exciting about the author’s approach is that it illuminates the idea of housing, not as a one time purchase product, but as a system through which people cycle over the course of time. You would no longer have any interest in your student housing, for instance, but it was entirely adequate at the time you lived there.

To look at housing as a system acknowledges that people have different housing needs at different stages of life. Migration is a positive activity, to achieve better circumstances. This counteracts the politically popular concept of “building affordable housing” which is an oxymoron as new construction is the most expensive form of housing.

With this understanding of a system, the efforts to improve people’s lives maybe implemented at each stage by matching them to the community which offers the best support for their interests. By viewing housing as a system of placement within a community, more people can become community workers, and traders of services which benefit the group.

Thinking of our foreign service families in Afghanistan

If you’ve been away from the news lately, there is a tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan. Below is a summary of the events leading up to the situation in Kabul.

It was a preferred posting for U.S. diplomats until 1979 when Amb. Adolph Dubs was kidnapped then killed by pro-Soviet police. The Peace Corps & USAID were sent home, and the U.S. mission greatly diminished to just dozens of people.

https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/the-day-embassy-kabul-forever-changed

(2/11)

Ten months later, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the embassy was reduced to being a “listening and reporting post.” On Jan 31, 1989, with the Soviets gone and civil war imminent, it was evacuated on newly-sworn-in SecState Baker’s order.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1989/01/27/us-embassy-in-kabul-to-be-evacuated-closed/b6b168c0-0931-4058-9d37-93ca39bd5e6d/?no_nav=true

(3/11)

That day, Marine Sec Guard James Blake left in the chancery a note with a U.S. flag. It read: “Take care of it. For those of us here, it means a lot; for those of you yet to enter Kabul, it could mean a lot to you. We Kabul marines endured, as I'm sure you will.''

(4/11)

For 12 years, 60 Afghan colleagues took turns watching and taking care of the embassy grounds. They tended to the gardens and ensured the chancery was left alone. They were frequently jailed and rocketed. (More in this @amywaldman @nytimes story)

https://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/18/world/a-nation-challenged-kabul-unsealing-time-capsule-at-the-american-embassy.html?referringSource=articleShare

(5/11)

In Oct 2001, the Taliban tried to break into the chancery, firing into the front doors' bullet-proof glass, but they never got inside. After the Taliban fell, Marines entered the chancery again and found a place frozen in time — and the flag and note from Blake.

(6/11)

That flag was raised at the Dec. 18, 2001 embassy re-opening. I was sworn in at the same flagpole two years later. Some of my colleagues had also served in the 70s & 80s, eager to return to Afghanistan, to do all possible for a new U.S. diplomatic and development mission

(7/11)

We worked grueling hours, driven by a deep belief that our work was essential, buoyed by so many gains, even though the bullet-ridden chancery front doors reminded us of the Taliban threat. The embassy grew dramatically in capacity and size the next decade.

(8/11)

In 2003, we were roughly 100 ppl. By 2010, with the civilian surge, it swelled to roughly 1,500. Thousands of Americans have served at this embassy. Many colleagues served repeated tours the last 15 years, by choice. Thousands of Afghans have worked side by side with us.

(9/11)

I can't imagine the stress at the embassy today. I can't imagine the terror our Afghan friends, colleagues who believed in us, watched over us & our sacred embassy space must feel. That flag has meant everything to us. Please keep thinking of them, thank them, don't forget them

#EvacuateNow

A clarification. The U.S. must get our Afghan colleagues and allies out. The mission the last 20 yrs would’ve been nothing without them. #EvacuateNow = everyone: the U.S. officials, yes — but also scores of Afghans who supported the U.S. mission needing SIVs

And Afghans needing other emergency visas because of their commitment to advancing democracy & civil society through journalism, NGOs, human rights, more. Them & their families. Grateful to former colleagues trying to make this happen #AfghanLivesMatter
#SaveAfghans #HelpAfghans

Originally tweeted by Katherine Brown (@_KatherineBrown) on August 15, 2021.

Choosing is part of the deal

When we travel, I’m usually the one who figures out all the logistics. A direct flight to a not so distant destination is easy to plan. After weighing the various departure times and prices, and taking into account the shuttle service to the hotel or condo, the choice is relatively apparent. The type of trip can add considerations, like a ski trip includes extra luggage and a drive up to the ski hill.

Juggling a more complicated journey with multiple flights and modes of transport, requires further evaluation. This is especially true if you are toting along your kids whose complaints from discomfort can grate on you like finger nails on a chalkboard. So the analysis then insures extras like timely food availability and total travel time.

I’ve been having quite a time finding viable air travel to Kauai for our trip over the Thanksgiving holidays. I’m not sure how far west you have to go before Hawaii becomes a popular sunny destination. But Minnesotans generally go south to places like Cabo or Cancun, the Dominican or Costa Rica. It is even much easier to fly to Europe than to Hawaii. As a result the connections to the Aloha State are either quite irregular or considerably more expensive.

At every thought of my offsprings’ (and spouse’s) objections to waiting out layovers in the likes of Phoenix or Las Vegas, the dollars I was willing to spend for one versus two connections kept mounting. Then it occurred to me that they really needed to be in on the choosing. Since all the choices are middling to poor, we would have a more favorable experience if everyone decided on the deal.

It’s so easy to take something on and make the decisions. But to deny others the overview of choices is to deny them the ability to process two layovers and fourteen hours of travel. If the choice is made for them, and all the choices are subpar, then they will be dissatisfied no matter what.

It is similarly easy for elites, or politicians, or heads of non-profits to make choices for the vulnerable people they serve. Many times these choices are from a selection of far from ideal circumstances. But when the recipients are denied the ability to make a choice, they are denied the practicality of seeing how the result is still incrementally better than another option.

North by Northwest- a Movie Review

I finally was able to talk my husband into watching a classic film with me, and it was a success. Hitchcock’s unparalleled skill at maintaining suspense throughout the two hour tale proved to my spouse that old can be good, very good indeed.

You do have to overlook (or maybe find endearing) the painted scene backgrounds and the dubbed in film running in the windows of a taxi in motion. The music however is delightful and enhances the mysterious mood. But the caliber of photographic images captured by the camera lens throughout the movie are exemplar.

Cary Grant is of course a dream. Eve Marie Saint treads along that fine line of goddess-like blond and the self-sufficient female. It’s not surprising she won best supporting actress for the role. It was also delightful that she was not the solo female amongst a bevy of strapping men. The mother of Grant’s character is quite a character herself, and there is grumpy German housekeeper to boot.

I loved all the iconic 50’s (the film was produced in 1959) architecture. There are plenty of floor to ceiling windows, wood beaming and stone facades. The UN building’s oblique skyscape is instantly recognizable. But the barebone gravel road infrastructure in rural Indiana was a good reminder of how much has been built in the last half a century.

Hitchcock the master story teller outdid himself. The film is a work of art.

There’s no ‘i’ in housework

Aussie household are in turmoil after their census included this simple request.

“In the last week did the person spend time doing unpaid domestic work for their household?” the ABS asked.

Perth Now

I mean seriously, is there a better dog whistle to get couples yapping at each other over the perennial debate about who does what around the house?

“Include all housework, food/drink preparation and clean-up, laundry, gardening, home maintenance and repairs, household shopping and finance management.

The ABS asked Australians to estimate the amount of hours they’d spent on such unpaid work, offering five options ranging from none to more than 30 hours.

Social media was alight with debates on who gets credit for what in the ongoing partnership of domesticity. But I question if sorting by individual is more useful to a national government than sorting by household.

Call me nostalgic but I remember when people used to comment: “The Johnsons, they do so much for the community.” There was a time when couples were considered as a unit. And when you think about such things as unpaid work, a longer time frame, one that would allow each person to perform different duties at different times, makes more sense.

I know of several men, now in the twilight years of life, who were completely preoccupied with work-for-money jobs in their younger years, but are now fulltime caregivers to their spouses. There was a time when they would have been disdained for doing nothing within the household. Now they devote a majority of their time to enabling their household to stay together.

From the government’s point of view I would think this is the interesting unit of analysis: the household. How much time in unpaid labor is required to nourish a household? to educate, to retain good health, to keep in secure mental balance? These household averages could be quite useful.

Instead the census question seems to be provoking some fudging of the numbers.

Since last night, there have been countless reports of family rows over who spends the most time on chores — from who does the bulk of the cooking to whether putting your own dishes away can be used to bump up your “unpaid employment” tally.

But maybe more importantly it reinforces the ‘i’ in an arrangement that is about the ‘we.’

Neither a borrower nor a lender be~

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius instructs his son not to get involved in the borrowing or lending of money from friends. This bit of advice has given commercial banks and credit unions a bit of a boost in fulfilling the need for third party credit. Which in turn provided me with one of my first jobs as a lender behind a banker’s desk in the lobby of a local bank.

Back some three decades ago, before electronic magic of all sorts, we used to take applications by handwriting the information into neat little squares on a paper application form. Whether the applicant sat across the oversized dark wood desk or we talked over the phone, the interaction also served as a time to discuss the customer’s ambitions, the time frames and mechanics of the process. This was something called customer service.

The bank advertised car loans and home equity loans, reserves on checking accounts that would advance when the account was overdrawn, or unsecured lines of credit. Over the course of a week it wasn’t uncommon to look at 80-120 applications. These required information on employment history, wages and asset and liabilities statements. So as you can imagine, one starts to get a sense of the earning potential from a variety of employments. And where people spent their money.

Having been raised in a private school type of environment, I was unfamiliar with the whole segment of society that fell outside the professional class. Socially I was only familiar with families whose parents earned a living as a result of a higher level of education. And, of course, was steered to going to college to attain a similar standing. Imagine my surprise when I took an application from the service manager at a midsized car dealership in town. He earned twice what the average attorney made.

Granted this was during an era when there were an abundance of attorneys achieving their Juris Doctor. But still. A service manger, or any one wielding a wrench under a vehicle was not suppose to rise even to the lower edge of the white color professional crowd. This was the first crack in the veneer encasing an implied class and resource structure.

Come to find out there were whole neighborhoods of folks who worked in the trades at all sorts of income levels. They didn’t drive jaguars, they drove trucks with carried similar price tags. Their hunting dogs needed kennels so they lived in cities that were not only pet friendly, but didn’t mind a fifth wheel parked on the concrete pad along side the oversized double garage which was sheet rocked, heated and had a TV sitting area.

I had no idea of the social depth or financial variation of such folk. They weren’t simply a group, a class. They were a whole ecosystem with pecking orders and special interest subtleties.

Two Races

I SEEK not what his soul desires. 
  He dreads not what my spirit fears. 
Our Heavens have shown us separate fires. 
  Our dooms have dealt us differing years.
Our daysprings and our timeless dead 
  Ordained for us and still control 
Lives sundered at the fountain-head, 
  And distant, now, as Pole from Pole.
Yet, dwelling thus, these worlds apart, 
  When we encounter each is free 
To bare that larger, liberal heart 
  Our kin and neighbours seldom see.
(Custom and code compared in jest-- 
  Weakness delivered without shame-- 
And certain common sins confessed 
  Which all men know, and none dare blame.)
E'en so it is, and well content 
  It should be so a moment's space, 
Each finds the other excellent, 
  And--runs to follow his own race!

by Rudyard Kipling

When math is not your friend

Let’s say everything in your life, that was summed up by numbers, did not add up in your favor. It would be like being on the team that always had to be the good sport and loose to all the other teams. At first the players might simply be happy to be on a team, out practicing and attending games. But then the scores keep starkly representing the loosing side, and it is harder and harder to keep up moral.

Or maybe you’ve tried to learn the game of golf. There’s the mulligan on the tee off shot. Then you loose your ball in the long grass. Ooops– one plops in the stream cutting across the fairway (after a dramatic twelve foot bounce off the boulder rip rap). As you approach the green there’s hope for a two put finish. But it is not to be. A couple of chip shots over and back. But who’s keeping score anyway?

Now what if everything in your life was like that. Your parents struggled when the numbers didn’t add up in their favor when it was time to pay the monthly bills. There was concern at school when the numerical representation was not favorable for your school work. How do you think you would feel about math?

Math shouldn’t be out of reach for so many of our students. God’s gifts are sprinkled around throughout a population and not divvied up by socio economic designations. If a whole group is coming up short of math majors we should really try to figure out why. It will effect their whole lives. It will make our educational system subject to the grifters who filter in when there is demand for a service and yet no supply.

Rain Day

A clap of thunder around 6am this morning was a welcome sound as we have had an incredibly dry summer. The drops on the roof seemed like a foreign sound and when they petered out after only a brief prelude, I was quickly disappointed. But the clouds circled back upon themselves and wrung out a nice soaking. I sat on my front porch under the overhang just to enjoy the clatter.

When the rain let up around noon I made a trip to the nursery, bought a few new plants and went to work. If soil is dry it turns to concrete. No point in tugging on weeds as the stems break leaving the roots in the ground. A moist soil is much more cooperative. So out went the weeds and in went some blue stem prairie grasses and a red leafed spirea shrub. Some variegated hosta were split and some burgundy glow ajuga moved to a high traffic spot.

Was Rome’s expansion due to an understanding of platters?

My most underrated source of interesting books come from estate sales. You never know what you might come across, which is part of the fun of it. But you can be sure to see books that are not on the front tables at the bookstores. And you can actually stand there as long as you want sifting through them creating two piles: ‘maybe’ and ‘definitely.’

It’s a treat to come across a collection of philosophy books. Partly because people’s shelves often hold various genres of novels, but fewer homes house books on thoughts. I brought home a bundle a few weekends ago which included a Cornell University Press soft cover on the expansion of Rome. Chester G. Starr Jr notes:

If we are to understand the significance of Roman history and the reasons for the expansion of Rome, it is worth stop ping a moment to investigate this Roman character, as revealed in traditions and in religious beliefs. The traditions, which were preserved mainly in the family and so passed from father to son for generations, were often tied intimately with landmarks about the city; points such as the Tarpeian Rock, the Lake of Curtius, the Sister’s Beam, and others each had its tale pointing some patriotic virtue. Together, these traditions reveal a patriotic people who were above all else obedient to established, legal authority–the family, the state, and the gods.

The Emergence of Rome, As Ruler of the Western World by Chester G Start, Jr

When writers use the word tradition in this setting I really think they are referring to the work of the family, which ends up being in large part the work of women. The guys are off leading, soldiering or earning money. The women are maintaining the traditions. But note how clearly the groupings by mutual objectives are stated: family, state and gods.

Did the Romans understand better than anyone in their day that each of these obligations created an economic ecosystem or platter? That the mission of Rome could be an overarching ambition which left the families and their local cities free to pursue their priorities?

It appears that the Romans expanded across territories with a clear deal on the wind. Give us a few of your good men and you will be protected under the umbrella of the Empire. Other than that, we won’t tax you and you are free to go about your business.

As they advanced, the Romans opened up roads along strategic routes and established colonies of Roman and Latin families as permanent garrisons at key points. Land hunger certainly must not be discounted as a reason for the expansion of Rome; it has been estimated that conquered states on the average lost one-third of their land for the benefit of Roman settlers. Otherwise the defeated were not unduly penalized. They yielded control of their foreign affairs, they entered a permanent alliance with Rome by which they agreed to furnish a set number of men to the Roman army, but they paid no taxes and retained autonomy in their local affairs.

Furthermore the Roman infrastructure of roads, bridges and aquafers benefited the general public. The Romans understood how to give in public goods so that could gain what their warring faction desired, an army of the most physically able. A balance of exchange was struck between the multiple groupings of the public and the private.

Circus Maximus, Rome

Paul Erdos~ couch surfing problem solver

Paul Erdos was of my grandmother’s generation, born in the same year, 1913, yet half a world away in Budapest, Austria-Hungary. His genius revealed itself early on. “By the time he was 20, he had found a proof for Chebyshev’s theorem.[14] In 1934, at the age of 21, he was awarded a doctorate in mathematics.”

Erdős published around 1,500 mathematical papers during his lifetime, a figure that remains unsurpassed.[6] He firmly believed mathematics to be a social activity, living an itinerant lifestyle with the sole purpose of writing mathematical papers with other mathematicians. Erdős’s prolific output with co-authors prompted the creation of the Erdős number, the number of steps in the shortest path between a mathematician and Erdős in terms of co-authorships.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Erd%C5%91s

Paul Erdos committed his life almost exclusively to the mathematics community. For his own reasons he chose not to have a family of his own. Although allowed to travel at will to his country of birth, he chose not to settle there, (until his death as he buried next to his parents “in grave 17A-6-29 at Kozma Street Cemetery in Budapest.”)

… Paul Erdős, became perhaps the most notorious mathematician of the 20th century. Erdős spent nearly his entire life crashing on other mathematicians’ couches and subsisting on the small sums he received for giving talks at universities around the world. He also had a fondness for devising math problems and offering bounties to anyone who could solve them.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/cash-for-math-the-erdos-prizes-live-on-20170605/

So dedicated to his pursuit of mathematics, he used cash prizes to lure others into joining him in its unraveling. By providing a private incentive he wished to enrich the public he enjoyed so much. His prizes still survive today.

Erdős continued that tradition. Over the course of his lifetime he offered rewards for hundreds of problems that he himself dreamed up. Amounts ranged from $25 into the thousands, depending on how challenging he thought the problem was. Today Graham controls a small fund left by Erdős, who died in 1996, for the purpose of making good on those bounties.

In 1974 Erdős paid off his first major sum: $1,000 to the Hungarian mathematician Endre Szemerédi for a problem Erdős had posed some years earlier. Szemerédi tackled the problem because “he said he could certainly use the money,” said Graham. Decades later Szemerédi would win the Abel Prize, commonly regarded as the Nobel of mathematics, for work that stemmed primarily from his solution to this Erdős problem.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/cash-for-math-the-erdos-prizes-live-on-20170605/

For most people, their primary or first degree community is their immediate family; those housed under the same roof. This mathematician cared not for real estate. His community thrived on the images of abstract notions brought down to earth in formulaic representation, sketched out on paper.

In full disclosure of the Bees

The real estate market has been moving so fast and furious lately that some buyers are opting to waive the right to have an inspection on the home. This way the seller knows the negotiations are done once the papers are signed. A couple out in Pennsylvania also forewent an inspection when they came across a hard to find parcel in their preferred school district.

Weaver bought the 1872 farmhouse in Skippack, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, in December and told CNN the seller’s disclosure mentioned there were bees in the wall. But since the couple bought the home in the winter, she said the bees didn’t seem to pose much of a threat at the time of purchase.

“On the seller’s disclosure it said ‘bees in wall’ and that was it and I think because one, we didn’t see them and two, we were just so floored that we actually found land in the (school) district that was within our price range that I didn’t really ask any questions about those bees. I didn’t think it would be that big of an issue. It didn’t even cross my mind but when spring arrived that’s when we started to see them.”

https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/02/us/pennsylvania-honeybee-removal-trnd/index.html

The seller is obliged to disclose. If you are in doubt whether to mention the bat you found on your front stoop, write it down. It can’t hurt. The buyer is obliged to investigate any concerns prior to writing their offer, or during an inspection contingency. It is better for everyone to know what is exchanging hands.

In this case the package included 450,000 bees which had created a home for themselves within the wall framing over a thirty-five year period. It’s not uncommon to see a bee around the ridges of clapboard siding or hovering at the soffits, selecting a site for a hive. Perhaps that is what came to mind for these buyers. (Although it is hard to see how they missed the honey dripping down the wallpaper inside.)

In any event we need the bees! And it is great they were able to find a professional who knew what to do.

Over the span of a week, Lattanzi removed each and every tile on the portion of the home the bees occupied, treading carefully to not harm the bees and find the queen, which he found Friday.

I like to plants flowers to promote the bee population. They seem to like my tea roses the best.

Tunnels in Norway

Subterranean roundabout– Norway

A few years ago we visited Norway as a family, retracing a few familial heritage sites. It was great fun as we had done a similar trip some forty years earlier. This time we were working off research my cousin had done through Ancestry.com and thus had honed in on additional family farms throughout the Oslo to Bergen area.

One memory from stepping off the plane back in the 70’s was that all the kids were blond and tall like me. After living much of my childhood in Asia and Africa, this was delightful. Similarly, on the more recent trip I kept having feelings of deja vu, when the waitress was slightly sarcastic like my cousin or the viking haired checkout guy nodded and chuckled in repressed good humor. Returning to an ancestral home can be a reflection back upon one’s self and one’s family. For me there was undeniable comfort in my surroundings.

Back when my ancestors left the country in the mid 1850’s most all travel was through the fjord system as the mountainous landscape makes for difficult road construction. The ferry system is still a significant player in the transportation infrastructure as it was in the 70’s. We drove along narrow roads with stunning vistas across fog filled fjords. But there are many more tunnels through the mountains now. In fact Norway boasts the longest tunnel in the world.

At an astonishing 15 miles (24.5 km) long, the Lærdal Tunnel is the world’s longest. Costing 1 billion Norwegian kroner to build (that’s about USD $110 million) the tunnel connects the small communities of Lærdal and Aurland.

Its design is admired all around the world, as it incorporates features to help manage the mental strain on drivers. Every 6km there is a cave to separate sections of road. The lighting varies throughout the tunnel and caves to break routine and provide a varied view.

https://www.lifeinnorway.net/norway-facts/

Meat markets

I took a second glance at Costco today as my cart wheeled by this display, to be sure it wasn’t a typo. A C-note for a pound of beef. Seems high.

Is it just me or does it seem contradictory to others that those who frugally shop at a high volume retailer may not be the same person as those interested in extremely expensive beef?

Public good pricing by personality

Public goods affect the price of housing– but not always in the same way. Here’s a list of the good and its special influence.

Most mercurial: crime. Public safety is a clear deal breaker for consumers. If residents fear for their personal safety, they will move. News of this nature travels fast. And the result is that people react quickly with an inverse correlation to price.

The master delineated: school districts. The influence of public goods can hang loosely around an area, such as the effects of being near an arts district. But the opposite is true when it comes to school districts. The home is either in or out. The selection of schools makes for bold dividers in the search for homes.

Uniformly utilitarian: transportation infrastructure. Commuting distance to work and distance from family and/or support groups is very much a part of the home selection process. So time to and from major employment hubs effects pricing, as well as marketability in a downturn markets. But people are not passionate about transportation, it doesn’t bring forth a feeling of any sort. It is simply a useful fact of daily life.

The most hidden: status. People don’t like to admit it’s part of the deal. It is communicated in hushed tones that so and so politician raised his family one street over, three houses up. The name of a famous writer who own the book store in the quaint brick store front across from the park and elementary school slips into the conversation. Status is made known in an understated yet clearly revealed parlance.

The most emotional: historical districts.

Most long lasting: parks. Once parks are made part of the city grid they are there to be enjoyed for generations. Nature in its wisdom is seasonally consistent with it lessons of growth and beauty, change and renewal.

Romancing Infrastructure

City Union Bridge spanning the River Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland

River Clyde

The Glasgow people do take pride
In their river both deep and wide,
In early times the youth and maid
Did o’er its shallow waters wade.

But city money did not grudge,
And dug it deep with the steam dredge,
And now proudly on its bosom floats
The mighty ships and great steamboats.

No wonder citizens take pride
For they themselves have made the Clyde,
Great and navigable river,
Where huge fleets will float forever.

Dunbarton’s lofty castle rock
Which oft’ has stood the battle’s shock,
The river it doth boldly guard,
So industry may reap reward.

But more protection still they deem
Is yet required so down the stream
Strong batteries are erected,
So commerce may be safe protected.

Old ocean now he doth take pride
To see upon his bosom ride
The commerce of his youngest bride,
The fair and lovely charming Clyde.

James Mcintyre

Stories with Family Trees

A millennial in our family is a natural story teller. He captures the room, and doesn’t disappoint. The yarn maybe local or from abroad, it may include self-ridicule and human foibles, but it will always tease out laughter from the crowd. There are the words of course, but the delivery is timed, the pauses on point, the gestures and facial animation delightful.

He’s not one of those center-of-attention people either. The ones who propel themselves forward on a wave of egocentricity. So I was a little surprised when he started ribbing his dad over his style of narration. “It’s just that you and R always dive deep into the whole relations thing. This person was related to that, then they were divorced, and those two are second cousins to this that and WHATEVER.”

“Get to the story,” the middle aged man lamented. What’s the purpose of all these relations?

His father and uncle would mull, hesitate and then correct themselves as they identified each individual, who happened into their story, by clan. And quite often there was an off-shooting telling of why they lived on this farm and no longer lived on that one, or who they were married to way back when.

This wasn’t Christmas after all, so why replicate Matthew, Chapter 1?

For people like his uncle, who had lived his entire life in a community, knowing the relations is part of the story. It fills in an understanding that otherwise leaves questions unanswered. It tallies up and equals out exchanges that only make sense against a backdrop of community history.

The urban youth has no sense of such lingering ties, except perhaps in his own immediate family. But to live in a small town is to carry a ledger of chits and repayments.

Which real estate technology companies will survive?

The following infographic compares total venture funding in Real Estate Technology to the number of companies in each category.  Which Real Estate Technology categories do you think have the most traction and potential for growth? At Venture Scanner, we are currently tracking over 642 Real Estate Technology companies in 9 categories across 46 countries, with a total of $9.5 Billion in funding. To see the full list of 642 Real Estate Technology companies, contact us using the form on http://www.venturescanner.com.

Venture Scanner

Since Zillow and Trulia became part of the real estate experience over a decade ago there has been an onslaught of technology companies attempting to disrupt the business.

Yet realtors and clients are, for the most part, going through the same processes in a move as they did in generations past. Was technology more about how information is delivered than about a new means of moving (in the purchase and sale of real estate)? Is technology providing a means of communicating and marketing instead of fundamentally changing the real estate transaction?

Maybe more on point is which of these technology companies will survive by providing a superior service and which will go to the wayside.

Chaucer’s henpecked husbands

The husbands portrayed by Chaucer are uniformly unromantic and pathetically unheroic. Rarely in literature have males been so roundly ridiculed, so easily cajoled, and so blandly cuckolded. Chaucer’s married men are regularly henpecked, humiliated, beaten, betrayed, and exhibited as objects of defenseless servility. In a few rare instances-“The Knight’s Tale” and “The Franklin’s Tale” are two of them-Chaucer allows that marriage and love can flourish in the same bed. But the poor husband is at peace only if he relinquishes the role of master and remains a servant to his termagant spouse.

Lives of the Poet’s, Louis Untermeyer

Apparently the macho male, master of his family, is a more modern creation. From the 1300’s to today, something changed in the power structure of marriage. Domestic power in the Middle Ages swilled around the women. And Chaucer didn’t mince words on how its influence appeared in the fairer sex.

Women as women, however-and, in particular, women as wives were terrible realities. They were not merely shrewish but shameless, garrulous, greedy, disloyal, and licentious. Worse, they were united in an un written but universally recognized conspiracy to subject their husbands to every possible indignity. The husband of Philippa cannot be definitely identified with the creator of The Canterbury Tales, but it is unlikely that a happily married author would speak so scurrilously of the marital state and take obvious pleasure in so many humiliating incidents, grimly detailing the triumphs ofSo wifehood and the ignominious capitulation of the woman’s miserable partner.

In the 600 years since Chaucer is thought to have wrote The Canterbury Tales (around 1380) household power dynamics made a mighty shift. Now that women have come back into their own, maybe it’s time to be on the watch once again for the hen pecked husbands.

Miguel- painter extraordinaire

Our 33 year old home needed a complete repaint. We had painters out over the years to paint south and east side. I’d tackled the bits in the front around the brick facia. But a color change and some wood repair were in order.

This wasn’t the first year the birds had hollowed out one of the old knots in the cedar siding to nestle in a hatch of their young. The downy woodpeckers had interrupted my work day last fall and would only fly away to the nearest branches when I leaned out the window and banged on the wood.

This spring brought new visitors. Squirrels leapt from our ash tree to the roof and pried open a bit of the bargeboard to let themselves in. “That’s it!” I declared to my husband, “there are more critters living in our siding than people under this roof.” Finally, I had won the argument.

Diligently I called out three painting contractors, walked the perimeter of the home with them discussing color change, no color change and all that is paint related. The bids came in and, as often is true, there was a fair span in the numbers. The one we chose was the most economical but, perhaps more importantly, they were the only ones who did wood repair in house.

After a bit of a wait (three months- there is a shortage of workers in our fair metropolitan area) Miguel appears as a one man show. He has an extensive collection of aluminum ladders. His supplies and tools are neatly laid out on tarps. And he’s got a little paint splattered radio that belts out classic rock.

Now our house is two story on the street side dropping to two and a half in the back. I’ve been up on a ladder only three quarters of the way up, feeling sway of the rungs as I progress upward, the earie nothingness of being up in the air. Not Miguel. He’s moving up and down those metallic stepper machines. There’s at least three of them leaning against the house at any one time.

It was not always peace and Orlando and Dawn, however. One morning he I could hear the ladder knocking the side of our home as I imagine he was struggling to get the draw cord to extend it upward. “Puta!” he yelled at it more than once. Did I mention he was from Costa Rica?

Much of the time the tunes were drowned out by the pressure washer or the power saw cutting up repair pieces, or the shop vac as he vacuumed up the paint chips from off the landscape rock. The paint sprayer droned away as it coated the whole caulked up, primed over, cedar clapboard encasement. “Twenty-Seven gallons,” he bragged to me, “the wood just kept soaking in the paint!”

The guy was amazing. He was so focused on the task at hand I thought if I interrupted him it might throw his momentum. When he had pretty well wrapped things up he stood back a house away, arms folded, and took in his work from the sidewalk. It did look fantastic.

My brother stopped in from out of town the following week. As he came to the front door, he touched the siding and said, “this is what we need to do, get new siding.” Yes– Miguel had made the whole exterior feel new again.

To be angry at someone

Doesn’t it seem like people prefer to be angry at someone rather than at a situation? People want a person to blame not a set of unfortunate circumstances. There’s a need to create an visage to be on the receiving end of wrath.

Maybe it’s the awful boss instead of a mismatch of work tasks to worker. Maybe it’s the spouse who is irritating rather than an outside stress on a marriage. Maybe it’s the politician instead the vexing insatiability of social needs.

It must be more satisfying to the point the finger at a person, to shake one’s fist at them.

I suppose the desire to embody the frustration in a person, is that it makes for an easy solution. Separate from the person, and voila! the source of the rage is removed. Except it is not.

Placing the burden of anger at a person’s feet the easy. Understanding and seeking solutions to larger problems is complex and denies a quick solution.

Standardized Reporting

There’s an internal posting at our company for local non-profits who are looking for volunteers or resources. Here are the first several entries:

This is one way to get the word out, connecting suppliers with those in demand. I just realized where I can take some left over dog food that I’ve had in the house for a while.

But if I had my druthers, I think it would be useful to have a standardized non-profit snapshot. The information I would like to see as an investor would capture a quantification for the number of hours and dollars flowing through their system. Then it would be nice to see a rating for delivery effectiveness. Some sort of measure representing how much of the time and resources donated goes toward the services accomplished. Then there could also be a few other stats like size of paid workforce, total volunteer hours, length of time in business, service area.

A site connected to a data base with this type of information could be useful to donors and public funders alike.

In fair Verona

It seems like July is vacation month based on the photos spanning Martha’s Vineyard to the Black Hills popping up on social media. Lots of quips about time with the family, delivered with various innuendos. Aspirations of time alone to read proffered as acceptable time off activity.

Personally, I’m dreaming of Northern Italy. Fly into Milan. Check out the fashion culture with my daughter. Find Da Vinci’s Last Supper mural painting at the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Relocate to Verona. Bike around Lake Garda. It looks feasible to plan a day hike in the mountains just to the north.

Cap the trip off with a tour of Venice. Check out Piazzo Saint Marco, the bridges, the canals. The art. And reflect in the gold mosaics’ on the Basilica that it was the free flow of people and their goods which are responsible for the still lingering wealth.

The Butterfly

The Butterfly

by Alice Freeman Palmer

I HOLD you at last in my hand,
— Exquisite child of the air.
Can I ever understand
— How you grew to be so fair?

You came to my linden tree
— To taste its delicious sweet,
I sitting here in the shadow and shine
— Playing around its feet.

Now I hold you fast in my hand,
— You marvelous butterfly,
Till you help me to understand
— The eternal mystery.

From that creeping thing in the dust
— To this shining bliss in the blue!
God give me courage to trust
— I can break my chrysalis too!

Cherishing free speech

As a young adult I couldn’t figure out why my other liberal arts college friends rejected Wal-Mart for the more upscale Target for their basic shopping needs. Prices were better at the first (at least back then) and after living abroad where open air markets and shops with expired grocery items were common, lights, electricity and working refrigeration seemed luxury enough.

I was standing in line for the cash register one evening, after a long day at work, when it became clear. A few customers back in line, a mom taunted her toddler’s bad behavior with something intended to be discipline. Predictably, a wail spewed forth from the chunky cherub who was probably as tired as the rest of us. (It isn’t necessarily the big red carts which roll noiselessly over polished floors that make the bullseye more pleasant.)

Or, most of us have been at a social gathering where a couple simply can not contain the anguish currently residing between them. One throws an upper cut in the form of a small quip. The other gives an eye roll or swallows a guffaw. Their negative energy swills around the party on commentary and off the cuff remarks.

When I was at college we never framed each other up by political orientation. Well– almost never. There were a few jokes at the expense of the president of the Young Republicans (very ardent!). And the sandal wearing, longhaired hippy whose clothes billowed out marijuana odors might have been the butt of a joke or two. But nothing remotely similar to the angst experience on campus prior to Covid.

A mom is free to reprimand her child in public, but I’m not sure it is as productive as waiting until they get back to a quiet one-on-one setting. A couple is free to duke it out at a social gathering, but will find themselves alone with their problems once at home. Students can sign petitions, and march and jeer at the opposing parties. And here, I am sure they are ruining part of the experience that is called college.

All the hoopla around advocating for one’s political opinions has not proven to be all that productive either. If the taking of a knee, the shouting through a bull horn, the waiving of a flag is not advancing the cause, then it’s only being profitable to the petitioner. It’s really a privatization of a public concern.

Freedom of speech is precious and should be cherished. An audience can be receptive to the grifters who use it provocatively, or we can gently suggest a more appropriate place for personal conversations.

Are homes infrastructure?

WASHINGTON (July 15, 2021) – A top official from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development joined policy experts from the National Association of Realtors® on Thursday to discuss solutions for the nation’s historic housing supply shortage. The virtual policy forum went in depth on research commissioned by NAR and authored by the Rosen Consulting Group, which found that the U.S. is in the midst of an “underbuilding gap” of around 6 million housing units dating back to 2001. The report, Housing is Critical Infrastructure, has taken center stage in national conversations on housing policy, particularly after President Joe Biden last week reiterated his administration’s focus on housing as part of its broader infrastructure push.

https://www.nar.realtor/newsroom/once-in-a-generation-housing-inventory-crisis-in-focus-at-realtor-policy-forum

There is definitely a shortage of homes. Are they infrastructure? By definition infrastructure is a good which is shared by many– and for this reason it is inclined to be a public good. Bridges could all be fee based private goods with a toll booth taking up collection at either end. But they are provided in an open public manner because their nature lends itself to public consumption.

Homes lend themselves to private consumption. Every effort toward public housing has failed. Which leads us to pursue homes in a private goods market. The role of the public is to assist those who find themselves in need, by supplementing their ability to obtain housing in the neighborhoods which provide the greatest access to amenities which match their needs. Hopefully, with the long term goal of self sufficiency.

As far as the public’s role in fanning the coals on housing production, that is done by rolling back restrictions and costs involved in the home building process. The mumbled language of infrastructure and rehabbing unit dances around the two actions which would improve the lives of those without adequate shelter.

The 70’s weren’t all bad

I was showing houses to a couple in the 90’s and the area they were fond of was full of split entry and bi-level homes. Abruptly Mr. Buyer spits out, “Nothing good came out of the 70’s. Not homes, nor music.” Partly he was referring to the floor plans, but the construction materials also had changed quite a bit from the plaster walls and hard wood floors of the 50’s and 60’s. Early sheetrock was not too pretty and plywood in far from hardwood.

Split entry homes have since cycled back into fashion. Pottery Barn helped out with their glossy representations of living spaces with heavy brown beams. These were standard fare in the vaulted living room ceilings of the 70’s. The dark trim thundered back into demand to edge out the new walnut stained floors. Golden oak was put to the door after a long run in the 80’s and 90’s.

I had heard the criticism of the splits before, but that my buyer would trash a decade of music all in one blow. I mean, this was the decade I received an electronic clock radio with flaps that clicked over every minute. It could wake me up for school with a song! Seasons in the Sun crooned non-stop that summer out of that little machine.

We were living abroad when someone brought Elton John records out to us. Who couldn’t like Bennie And The Jets, Rocket Man, Don’t go Breaking My Heart? I think the Boston album with a space ship on the cover was in that care package as well. What was it’s title? It’s More Than A Feeling. I don’t think I heard the Eagles until later that decade, but Hotel California is still a favorite.

By the end of the 70’s ABBA and the BEEGEES had created a whole new sound. Olivia Newton John and John Travolta brought the romantic musical to a new generation. I was in french boarding school at the time and everyone wanted a translation to You’re The One That I Want. I did what I could with the first verse:

I got chills. They’re multiplyin’. And I’m losin’ control. ‘Cause the power you’re supplyin’, it’s electrifyin’!

The words got a little easier after that.

A marketer and a mission

Rodney Smith Jr has appeared in my twitter feed on more than one occasion. His tag line is: Making a difference one lawn at a time. He mows the grass that need to be mowed. A seemingly small thing, to mow a neighbor’s yard. But not only do they benefit, the neighbors benefit too.

I have no way of checking up on Rodney but he has 118K followers and his account reports over 9000 tweets. His posts are similar to the one above. Sometimes there’s a wave from the fortunate homeowner in the vicinity of Huntsville Alabama, his home location.

You might say he is the sales and promotion arm of the institution called neighborliness. There’s a story on every block of the neighbor who shovels the widow’s driveway, or clears the sidewalks before they ice over. Rodney not only has made a name in mowing, he has taken it to a new level. He created a 50 lawn challenge, and his followers are posting up and showing how they are playing along.

Two girls from Kentucky raised enough money for a trailer and advertise as You Mow Girls. A youth from Kansas signed up for the challenge and shows off his new T-Shirt. Another from Mississippi posts a photo of his first lawn. Kids from Oklahoma, South Carolina and Dayton Ohio are also in his feed, and that’s just in the last two days.

This guy is the Starbucks of lawn care. He’s taken a basic necessity and stepped up production across these wonderful United States. He’s connected with workers and their natural inclinations to help out. Rodney is handy enough with social media to show them the recognition that no one asks for, but certainly doesn’t mind getting.

There’s demand out there for more Rodney Smith Jr’s.

Fenced In

Lack of progress is often addressed with the ‘we can do better’ call to action. Things will get better if we just man the boat and check the weather. There is an assumption that everyone is sailing on the same winds. When in fact, there are people in the boat tacking against the wind or dropping the sails completely.

The naysayers can have the best intentions in mind. The naysayers can further the direction of the journey by making others fight for it, define it even further than they had originally considered. The naysayers help refine decisions. But sometimes the naysayer simply sink the ship.

Fences, a play written in 1985, is set in a familial scene where a father naysays his son’s ambitions of becoming a ball player. It didn’t work out so well for him, he reasons, so success will elude his son as well. He will save him the pain. Or will he? Does a father use his power as an adult out of faithfulness to old anguishes, or is he truly acting to cushion his progeny from life’s hardships?

The playwright, August Wilson, doesn’t render judgement.

But anyone who has been around a decade or more knows, to misuse a position of power is to tread away from progress not towards it. In this story, father derails a chance at a football career, so son leaves home and makes good in a military life. You might say he overcame his naysaying father, but at the expense of any further family support through early adulthood. You might say son was better off without them, but at the expense of their greater community.

Wilson, who wrote this Pulitzer prize winner while living in St. Paul, provides more examples of how social exchanges can fence in a family. In business, once the money runs out, no one shows up for work. The business shuts down. In family, chits and obligations can continue to pile up. When left outstanding others must step up to pay the bills. And then possibly others still.

Hedonic approach vs user frequency, which is better?

The paper, Recreational and Resource Economic Values for the Peconic Estuary System, by James J. Opalueh, Thomas Grigalunas, Jerry Diamantides, Marisa Mazzotta, and Robert Johnston was written in 1999 as a study of the value of the Peconic Estuary system on the eastern end of Long Island. They used four methods to estimate value, but let’s compare just the first two: the hedonic pricing method using home values as the dependent variable, and a travel cost study. Here’s their introduction:

I.B. 1. Introduction and Overview


No single method can capture the value of the variety of services provided by the natural assets of the PES. Recognizing the many uses of PES natural resources, we designed and implemented a suite of four non-market valuation studies in order to provide estimates of the value of particular services:


(1) A Property Value study examines the contribution of environmental amenities to the market price of property. Using the Town of Southold as a case study, the Property Value study was designed to measure values of amenities to residents living in the immediate vicinity.


(2) A Travel Cost study uses original survey results to estimate outdoor recreational uses in the PES and the economic value that users have for four, key PES outdoor recreation activities: swimming, boating, fishing, and bird and wildlife viewing. This study also examines the impact that (A) water quality has on the number of trips and the value of swimming and (B) the effect of the catch rate on recreational fishing, important recreational uses of the estuary and activities much affected by water quality and resource abundance.

page 11.

Now this report looks at a fairly significant natural amenity, but isn’t the idea that residents place value on any public open space going to be subject to the same analysis? Whether a park with playground equipment, a lake with a swimming beach or a ravine with hiking trails; all these open spaces are valued both by homeowners who live in close proximity as well as others who come just for a visit.

The first approach the authors use to estimate a value of the public amenity is to calculate the portion of the home sale prices which can be attributed to the proximity of the natural resource. The idea behind the process is, if you could have exactly the same home, how would the value of the home change as it moved away (or toward) the public amenity.

We apply economic methods using the property value (or “hedonic” method) to a database comprised of all Southold real estate transactions in 1996 and GIS parcel coverage data for the town. Briefly, the analysis estimates correlations between property values and levels of valued environmental attributes, including open space.

page 27

Here is a further explanation on how the regression model works:

The Property Value technique is based on the assumption that a relationship exists between the market value of a property, and the characteristics of the property. The Property Value method uses a statistical technique called “multiple regression” to assess the impact of each characteristic on the market value of the property. The technique simultaneously compares a large number of properties with different prices and different levels of each characteristic. The method establishes which characteristics are associated with higher values, which are associated with lower values, and which have no significant impact on values. The model also estimates the dollar magnitude of these impacts–that is, it estimates how large an impact is likely to be caused by a specific level of a specific characteristic. Using this technique, the impact of different environmental amenities on nearby property values can be estimated.4 The technical details of the property value model (or hedonic technique) are presented in Appendix A.

page 16

Please read further through their paper for the statistical details, but what I would like to focus on is the equity, or capital, which is captured in each home due to its association with a public amenity. Buyers and sellers in a well functioning marketplace are bidding on the homes and thus determining what the market will bare for this infrastructure (not sure why it is considered a non-market approach). There is a premium in the offer price for greater access, hence they are pricing out the desirability of the public good.

In addition to what the authors derive as dollar figures for the market value retained by residential properties, they also note that there is value to people who use the estuary from a distance. This value is derived by a second process in step two. It is done by estimating number of visits, or trips made to use the open space. In a sense it is a user fee estimation.

I think they go awry by shifting from a capital perspective to a user perspective. We pay our water bills on a user based system but that does not represent the value of having the pipes in place to pump fresh water to all residents. And certainly metro user fees do not equate with the cost of installing mass transit. Analyzing visits more appropriately syncs with management issues such as how many lifeguards to have on duty, how often the trash bins need to be emptied and so on.

I offer a platter perspective for the inclusion of the value to the greater public who use the estuary. The residents adjacent to the estuary, who enjoy a view over an open space and a walking trail out their back yard, enjoy one level of access. The group of people who live in the local town have another relationship. And people who visit from across the county may derive yet another coefficient in front of the data which represents access to natural amenities within their reach.

At each level exists in an eco system- or platter– and a data set representative of the value of these public goods.

Sludge Audit

Far and away the biggest obstacle blocking first time buyers from owing a home is fear. There are two types. Fear of the house. And fear of a poor decision.

The purchase of a home is one of the bigger commitments the average guy or gal makes in their life. And the product is a large, multifaceted, multi-mechanical type of a thing. Most people lack a thorough understanding of all that exists behind the sheetrock walls, the workings of the appliances or what exactly is, or is not, connected at the street.

But sign the papers they do. Nod at the inspector as he or she prattles off a variety of flaws in the property. It isn’t any specific understanding of a home that makes buyers secure in knowing everything will be alright. It’s that they most probably have parents and siblings who own a homes, and since they do it– hey it can be done!

When you don’t have that family background of assurances, you don’t have that same sense of security about the whole thing. If a landlord was always the one to fix something, or a management company ‘sent someone over’ then a whole bunch of conversations about ‘what do we do when this happens’, ‘what’s the best way to handle things when that happens,’ and ‘good grief we don’t call a plumber for that, do you now how expensive they are?” went missing.

And if you’ve never eavesdropped on such an analysis, then fear fills up and grows in this void, the void left by not knowing who exactly to call when this beast of a thing called a house has an issue.

Then there is fear number two. The fear of making the wrong choice and having everyone else in on the mistake besides you! For some reason there is frequently a large audience in on home buying conversations. Said audience has plenty of opinions, even when they themselves have not been in the market for over a decade. And these are generously and gratuitously provided.

Many buyers can get caught up in the moment of an objection presented in a workplace conversation, but after further vetting the issue with other homeowners they often right themselves back to an even keel. Those who have few homeowners within their networks are pressed to gather enough information. They don’t know who to trust. There are disparate levels of confidence.

Although the classic policy response to getting more renters into homes is pecuniary, my sludge audit reveals that it is social, as opposed to financial, support which is lacking.

Home buying and hedonic regressions

Here’s a fun game you can play if you are presently in the market for a home. One could consider a variety of home characteristics, but if you are in the market for a school district, the pricing lines should be very crisp. And you must be in the market for your own family. Speculating on what others will do just isn’t the same.

If you are not familiar with hedonic regressions, it is a mathematical process where given a set of data, which is subjected to an equation built with defining characteristics, the numbers reveal the various levels of importance of each feature. If we are looking at housing prices, the coefficient in front of the school district data will tell how much of the home price was dedicated to that selection.

But you don’t have to be a math geek with access to a bunch of data to come up with a result! I’d say any buyer who is seriously evaluating this choice can shoot from the hip (after looking, bidding and seeing the values the properties commanded at close). Ideally you want to be considering two school districts which both contain similar homes to choose from within their school boundaries– say a 90’s built two story with four bedrooms up and a nice yard for the kids.

Even non-number types of buyers will be able to discern the differences when their money is in play, or their abilities to access other ideal features. School districts can swing a home value price as much as 15%, so on a home of $450K, a $67K difference. That’s noticeable. And consistent opinions about districts, which affect a great number of buyers, filter out in the numbers.

Buyers do not need regression models to calculate the price of other features. The distance to job centers, for instance, or the premium for a prestigious neighborhood. People will pay to be closer to work in order to spend less time in the car. They will also pay for neighborhoods with corner restaurants, quaint historical business crossroads and neighbors with recognizable names. The numbers here are large enough so that no pointy pencil needs to scratch out a calculation.

But there are hundreds of neighborhood features which are priced out in the offer on a home. And many of these could be better understood with the help of a little math.

Robert Louis Stevenson weighs in on Shadows

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Source: The Golden Book of Poetry (1947)

The Quiet American – A review

I happened to pick up this novel by Graham Greene at a recent visit to an estate sale (an excellent source for interesting books). I’m sure my hand fell on it as it reminded me of so many books that floated around my childhood home. Bindings with the likes Le Carre, Mitchener, and Follett printed on the spine, littered our book shelves.

I had read a Greene book before, and enjoyed it, but the fact that I can’t recall its title is proof that it left little more of an impression. This one is a different story. It does not surprise me that BBC News listed The Quiet American in the top 100 most influential novels.

I always like a puzzle, and the first pages tell of a murdered American. But this intrigue quickly falls to the background behind group ambitions. The CIA has its objectives, the British journalist his, the French colonist theirs and the Vietcong their own. Each character acts as one but is representative of many.

And each tells of their domestic obligations. The focal point of this angle of the story is the rivalry for the affections of the beautiful Phuong. Guided by her sister’s advice, the young goddess pursues a marriage contract over loyalty, highlighting the traditional stringent norms of the Brits versus the immature brashness of the Americans.

Post world war two spy novels are one of my favorite genres. They are old fashioned now and carry a very male dominant perspective, but the international settings and inter-country conflicts will always hold my interest.

Mirror, mirror

You know how you feel the same as you did when you were twenty years younger, or thirty-five years younger? The thoughts you carry are often the same, or slightly developed. So this leads us to think our physical appearance, or age, may just as well be the same too. The shock only sets in when, for example, a newscaster on the nightly news looks to be about twelve. That’ll make you straighten up.

This isn’t the only thing in life we fool ourselves about. For some inexplicable reason we all are blinded to many of our own flaws. For that matter we don’t always see our strengths very well either. As good as the mind can be at analysis and observation of others, being frank with ourselves is out of reach.

This can be a problem. Perhaps we don’t realize our potential. Perhaps we pursue the wrong things. Perhaps we get ourselves into trouble by telling ourselves we’re really not doing the things we are in fact doing.

It should be as easy as looking into a mirror. And in a way it can be. Most of you have probably noticed how we carry similar traits as our families. I didn’t grow up in close proximity to my cousins, but when we get together our phrasing can sing out the same tone and emphasis. In addition to physical traits, families carry interactive traits. And in observing these we can fit ourselves into the potential of similar activities. We can learn from it.

So when you see your families tomorrow for your Fourth of July celebration, appreciate that they are all reflecting little mirrors back at you. Take it in. Make the information useful. And thank them for this subtle unobtrusive feedback.

Bayesian understanding and the Bible (speculative)

In probability theory and statisticsBayes’ theorem (alternatively Bayes’ law or Bayes’ rule; recently Bayes–Price theorem[1]:44, 45, 46 and 67), named after the Reverend Thomas Bayes, describes the probability of an event, based on prior knowledge of conditions that might be related to the event.[2] For example, if the risk of developing health problems is known to increase with age, Bayes’ theorem allows the risk to an individual of a known age to be assessed more accurately (by conditioning it on their age) than simply assuming that the individual is typical of the population as a whole.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayes%27_theorem

What the Reverend Thomas Bayes came up with three hundred years ago has proven very useful as it allows predictions for future events based on a history of past events. Later on the concept was formalized by Pierre-Simon La Place as The Central Limit Theorem. Its statistical applications are used widely in medicine, pharmacology and finance.

But that’s not the part I find most interesting.

What we don’t know is Bayes’ philosophical aim in the hours he must have spent whittling away at untruths to reveal what endures. We have more insight into the thoughts of Richard Price, the man who shepherded Bayes’ manuscript to the Royal Society after his friend’s death.

What probably motivated Price to work on Bayes’ manuscript were the theological implications that Price perceived in the result. At this time in his life, Price was deeply immersed in theological and philosophical study. Price notes in Bayes (1763a) that Bayes had written an introduction to the paper; but Price did not include Bayes’ introduction and instead supplied his own. In other manuscripts of Bayes that I have seen (Bellhouse, 2002), Bayes typically gives no motivation for the mathematical results that he presents. The same may be true for his essay on probability. Price only says of Bayes that:


… his design at first in thinking on the
subject of it was, to find out a method
by which we might judge concerning the
probability that an event has to happen,
in given circumstances, upon supposition
that we know nothing concerning it but
that, under the same circumstances, it has
happened a certain number of times, and
failed a certain other number of times. He
adds, that he soon perceived that it would
not be difficult to do this… .

Later in the introduction to Bayes (1763a), Price states that:


Every judicious person will be sensible
that the problem now mentioned is by no
means merely a curious speculation in the
doctrine of chances, but necessary to be
solved in order to a sure foundation for all
our reasonings concerning past facts… .

Further on in the paper, after discussing de Moivre’s work, Price states:


The purpose I mean is, to shew what reason
we have for believing that there are in the
constitution of things fixt laws according to
which events happen, and that, therefore,
the frame of the world must be the effect of
wisdom and power of an intelligent cause;
and thus to confirm the argument taken from
final causes for the existence of the Deity.


What motivated Price to work on this paper was that to him the result provided a proof of the existence of God. Price came back to this theme in his theological work Four Dissertations (Price, 1767), which is mentioned by Morgan in the context of refuting Hume. A discussion of Price’s argument was given by Thomas (1977, pages 133 and 134).

The Reverend Thomas Bayes DR Bellhouse

Both Thomas Bayes and Richard Price were ministers and thus it is safe to assume they found truth in the teachings of Christianity. We might even speculate further that Bayes’ was trying his hand at a logical representation of the existence of the Holy Spirit among men; that Christians should trust one another to act in the ways of Jesus without the need for an immediate tally of deeds done.

For instance, consider a case of twelve neighbors living along a road; one might go to the effort of picking up the stray garbage; one neighbor may call the police at the sight of an intruder; one might petition the town to install a stop sign for safety. It really doesn’t matter which neighbor did which deed in consideration of the benefits to the street.

Such acknowledgements of individual skills, yet participation toward the work of a group, also appear in the Bible. Consider the passage in first Corinthians, Chapter 12 (King James Bible)

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you
ignorant.

2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols,
even as ye were led.

3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the
Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that
Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which
worketh all in all.

7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit
withal.

8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the
word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing
by the same Spirit;

10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another
discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another
the interpretation of tongues:

11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to
every man severally as he will.

12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the
members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is
Christ.

Don’t get caught up in the Christianity part, especially if you are not of the Christian faith. The understanding of the group is what is important. Everyone in the group is an individual with a variety of skills. When working on behalf of a joint mission, however, they become an indistinguishable member of the body. Like a drop of water in a river.

This is not the same as political socialism where a few at the top decide everyone is equal and push down resources in a fashion they deem equal. The starting point here is that everyone is blessed with differences, and can employ those differences and contribute them to a larger group. Once given, the reward is to each member equally. Just as each neighbor on the street benefits from living on a cleaner, safer street.

This is what I speculate Rev Bayes was trying to prove.

Housing Bubble?– maybe not

The cost of a home to a consumer is greatly influenced by the cost of mortgages. As the chart below shows, the monthly payment hasn’t really changed that much on the median priced home between 2006 and today.

The data also shows a how housing prices are catching up to a long term trend rather than accelerating into a bubble.

Both graphs provided by Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors

Markets and Emotions

Cloudy day on Lake Minnetonka

The old school way of thinking about markets was that anything traded with money was a rational exchange. Any trades involving domestic issues- family, health and well being and so on- were emotional. The world of men was based on pecuniary calculation. The world women was based on the heart. Thankfully such views are considered old fashioned.

Markets are the culmination of thousands of choices, but sometimes the people behind them are reacting with emotion. Take the corn and soybean market this spring as reported in Successful Farming:

The corn and soybean markets have had a tumultuous last three months. A significant rally in both was followed by a sell-off, then a recovery to challenge highs and then, another sell-off.

Each of these moves has been more than the markets have rallied or dropped in over five years. Corn futures peaked on May 7, rallying more than $1 in three weeks. Dry conditions affected the second crop corn in Brazil, otherwise known as safrinha crop. This was on top of a rally of more than $1 since fall. Just as quickly, December futures lost $1.38 on good U.S. planting progress. They then rallied sharply for the second time, with futures peaking at $1.28, as dry weather in the U.S. became a growing concern.

Farmers have the option to pre-sell their crop through the spring and summer. And often this is done in segments, so it is not a one and done decision. Needless to say, following worldwide ag conditions and gleaning insights into pricing can be stressful.

All this volatility can become exhausting, leading one to believe there is no real way to figure out markets and, therefore, perhaps the best thing to do is nothing.  While understandable, this can be an expensive perspective.

When December corn futures rallied and traded above $5.50, it was a price that hadn’t been seen in seven years. When prices peaked at $6.38, this was even better, and farmers who did not sell at $5.50 were happy. Yet, in a very short time, prices dropped from $6.38 to $5.00.

For over a year and a half, the strong sellers’ market in housing has forced buyers to bid on homes in multiple offers. The listing price is set, but there is no way to know what other parties are bidding. In addition to offer price, closing date and terms come into play. Through the experience of making an offer, and failing to secure the winning bid, buyers learn what it takes to be successful.

What never gets dull is watching how the bulk of the buyers will bid within a relatively small variance. Independ of each other, without knowing more than a list price, out of eight bids on a house, five are likely to be within 2% of each other. It’s the bid from the buyer who has had enough, who has looked enough, or who wants it bad enough, which will reach high and secure the home.

The emotion for the farmers and home buyers is over fleeting opportunities, one for annual income and the other for the place they plan to live out their lives. But emotion doesn’t mean markets aren’t working. Emotion is just another feature. Just like the sentiment that goes into owning a Crist Craft, like the one in the photo, to splice through the waves on Lake Minnetonka.

Timing a move

People move households a variety of times throughout their lives for a variety of reasons. Depending on your data source, Americans move every 7-9 years, with more frequent moves in young adulthood and more sedentary behavior in later life.

This makes sense. As folks move through different stages of life, both from an income stand point and a lifestyle standpoint, they want a different combinations of neighborhood amenities. These are not questions of ‘good’ things versus ‘bad’ things. These are simply mixtures of choices.

When you are young you may want to live near entertainment and restaurants. Once there are kids in the household, going out to shows and restaurants quickly takes a back seat to prioritizing daycare, schools, and after school activities. Stability of residence can be important at this stage as rearing children benefits from consistency.

If the norm is to move, to seek out new living arrangements that better suit new objectives, than wouldn’t incentives that lock people into a location be holding them back? Financial incentives such as rent control do exactly that. It discourages mobility.

And I’m not saying people who need help shouldn’t still receive help. I’m saying that paying people to live in the same set of living circumstance through all stages of their lives goes against the norm. Which leads one to believe it is a drawback in the long run, for a perceive protection in the short run.

Facts about SW light rail

I happen to be by the Blake Rd light rail stop today and snapped a few phone pictures. It is really something how concrete is poured into suspended molds. The MSP area has been reluctant to put money into this sort of infrastructure– and there is plenty of money involved. But once a line is up and running, the fans show up and hop on board. It will be interesting to see how the need for commuting evolves as corporations entertain employment at a distance.

Southwest LRT at a Glance:

The approximately 14.5-mile route (PDF) will serve the growing communities of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie.

16 new stations with connections to streets and trails will be built, attracting new residential and commercial development.

In 2014, there were approximately 64,300 jobs within ½ mile of the proposed stations and 126,800 jobs in downtown Minneapolis. By 2035, employment is expected to grow to 80,900 within ½ mile of the proposed stations and 145,300 in downtown Minneapolis – a 18% increase in employment.

In 2014, there were about 35,800 people within ½ mile of the proposed stations and 16,400 residents with access to the 5 shared stations in downtown Minneapolis. By 2035, the population within ½ mile of the proposed stations is expected to grow by 56 percent to 55,800, and the population of downtown Minneapolis is expected to grow by 117 percent increase to 35,600.

The total project budget is $2.003 billion, funded by a combination of federal, county, state and local sources.

Construction began in 2019.

An estimated 7,500 construction workers will be needed to build the line, with $350 million estimated construction payroll.

The total project cost is $2.003 billion. Committed funding sources for the Southwest LRT:

Hennepin County: $591.4 million

Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB): $218.9 million (provided funding until dissolution in 2017)

Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA): $199.5 million

State of Minnesota: $30.3 million

Other local contributions: $26.4 million

Eden Prairie Town Center Station: $7.7 million ($6.14 million CMAQ, $1.54 million Eden Prairie)

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will provide $928.8 million through the New Starts program with a Full Funding Grant Agreement which was signed in September 2020.

The Metropolitan Council

Carbon Credits for Me, more work for Thee

The title Minnesota Farmers: Cashing in on the carbon bank, fighting climate change? says a lot about the direction this article takes. Farmers in the Mankato area are taking advantage of a new Biden initiative towards climate change.

President Joe Biden said he wants American farmers to be the first in the world with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. How they might achieve that goal is still unclear — but one idea getting a lot of attention involves paying farmers to store carbon in the soil.

It’s called carbon banking, and some see it as one way to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While the concept has been around for decades, it’s still finding a foothold in ag-heavy states like Minnesota.

The mechanics of this deal goes something like this. When farmers extend the extra effort to bury carbon in the soil, they get paid for their work from corporations. In exchange for the dollars given to the farmers, the corporation receives a credit which allows them to pollute. Net result: the farmers don’t pollute but the corporations do.

Lilliston agrees that the work and money farmers like A.J. Krusemark invest to store carbon will have long-term benefits for the environment. But he argues that all that work won’t do much to help mitigate climate change if big companies are then allowed to buy those carbon credits to offset their own pollution.

This arrangement probably won’t last for long as the farmers are going above and beyond their compensated efforts, while the corporate credit purchasers are not. One group is working toward a mission, one is buying their way out of the mission. The incentive signals are all wrong. Furthermore, the groups are poorly delineated. We all have an interest in global climate change, but voluntary cooperative efforts seem to work better when the players are closer and can see progress.

Skeptics of carbon banking practices say that, in order for it to have real climate impact, the carbon storage must come in tandem with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — not as a replacement for that pollution.

Advice on bridging group relations, from Sidney

I work with a lot of younger people who I find lazy and self-absorbed. When I try to give them advice, they don’t seem to listen and want to do things their own way. The other day one of them said to me “OK, Boomer”. What am I doing wrong?

I am a Gen X, and I am going to give it to you straight. The fact that you find your younger colleagues lazy and self-absorbed is disrespectful and reveals more about you than them. If you want to feel any respect from your colleagues, you will need to respect them first.

“OK, Boomer” is not a term of endearment and perhaps demonstrates the challenges your colleagues have relating to you. Good working relationships take effort from both sides, so it might be time to try a little harder with them. Should “OK, Boomer” come up again, why not ask your younger colleagues if something is cheugy and see how that conversation goes!

As one of the more experienced employees, you have a responsibility to cultivate a workplace of inclusion. Rather than feeling threatened by younger members of your team – who bring much welcome energy, ideas and diversity to work – I would encourage you to seek to understand them. Consider asking your workplace to set up a reverse mentoring plan where you can get to know some of your younger colleagues on a deeper level so you can learn from them and feel able to work more cooperatively together.

The Sidney Morning Herald might be pointing out the obvious here– but can’t this bit of advice be applied to just about any two groups lacking compatibility? Divide them up by generation, race, occupation, income…we like to hang with our own. Hence it is a sacrifice of time, an expenditure of effort, a potential loss in some way, to ‘see it from their point of view’ and fill in the gap in order to bridge a cultural divide.

The journalist goes onto say that “good working relationships take efforts from both sides.” Too true for a public of two, or an organization, or a city. One side may have to initiate interaction but the other must also be receptive. The exchange requires more effort. This effort is called work.

The interesting measure is the capacity of the organizational group to do the work necessary to bridge the subgroups into one.

Walking in the trees

Walking is not only good exercise but is a way to touch nature. Ho Hum you say– but not so fast. Even on a well trodden path around Fish Lake Regional Park you can play the “identify the tree game.” Disclose your guess. Take a photo of the leaf. Then have google lens look it over, and “voila!” You have a winner.

The two on the left are the Norway Maple and below the Red Maple. In the middle, coming at the tips of wonderfully craggy branches, are the Red Oak and the Gambel Oak. And to the right top is the American Elm– really hard to find the elms as they were taken down by Dutch Elm Disease And below the White Poplar, which look to have canopies of coins jingling in the sky when the trees grow enormously tall.

Still not impressed? Nature shows us how to sort. How to see things that are similar and things that are slightly different. And then we have to give them names so we can talk about them. This is useful.

Then you can see how other things have properties in common, and see their differences. Take 1. Midwest men laid off after jobs went abroad, 2. Renters resisting gentrification 3. Proponents of environmental reviews. All three are (were) caught (fear being caught) out by the greater group accepting an exchange that will leave their situation worse off.

When America agreed to trade away manufacturing jobs, workers were left unemployed and unable to regroup. When a deteriorating neighborhood gleans the interests of redevelopment, those without the foothold of ownership face higher monthly expenses. When a mine in Northern Minnesota opens, the fear is that it will pollute and damage the environment.

In the first case the damage was done and the fallout was deemed to be larger than first anticipated. The thought was that workers would be able to adjust, take on new employment, and carry out their lives. Note to self: cash derived from private employment is only one aspect of a job, other social aspects include status, stage of life, relationship to others in family.

In the second case, renters are organizing to stop improvements and redevelopments in their area as they feel they will not benefit in any way. They feel that they will loose by either having to move to another area within their price range or face higher rents justified by the neighborhood improvements. Given the lack of understanding of the complete package of social implications and costs in 1., there must be a better calculation for the compensating factors for renters while still proceeding with neighborhood rejuvenation goals in 2.

Environmental reviews appear to have become a political way to slow down a project to the point where investors simply move on. The best way to discourage business– just keep requesting more stuff. If the community has standards, as all of them do, then enforce the standards and be done. It’s up to the business to take the risk. They will be the ones shutting down if they can’t.

All three scenarios involve transactions between public groups and private interests at multiple levels. Each scenario describes a little piece of a very large system. The conflicts and aggravating conversations around such issues stem in part from a lack of enumeration of the various tradeoffs at play. Striving for a proper sorting of what is public and what is private will contribute to being able to count it all out.

The Wire– a review

If you prefer drama to comedy I can recommend the HBO series The Wire. The first of five seasons came out in 2002 when the TV in our house was featuring Barney and Dora the Explorer. A crime drama portraying the grisly conflict between law enforcement and the (mostly drug) criminals wasn’t in the cards.

The story lines hold their own with intrigue and surprise, along with character development. Every season probes a new scheme, a new crew of gangsters, while bringing along the established cast and story threads from past seasons. From Wikipedia:

Set and produced in Baltimore, MarylandThe Wire introduces a different institution of the city and its relationship to law enforcement in each season, while retaining characters and advancing storylines from previous seasons. The five subjects are, in chronological order: the illegal drug trade, the seaport system, the city government and bureaucracy, education and schools, and the print news medium. Simon chose to set the show in Baltimore because of his familiarity with the city.[4]

What holds up so well is the consistency of the norms, whether they are those which the criminals obey or the ones the mainstream players abide. Each side has heroes and crooks, has chivalry and villainy. Each side has bad luck and good fortune. Each side has weakness and substance abuse. A few try to pass from one side to the next.

The Wire is lauded for its literary themes, its uncommonly accurate exploration of society and politics, and its realistic portrayal of urban life. Although during its original run, the series received only average ratings and never won any major television awards, it is now widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time.

The Wire – Wikipedia

You will also realize how far technology has come in the last twenty years. The primary tool used to capture the drug dealers is “by getting up on their phone,” or getting court authority to tap phones. When the first season opens these are pay phones on the corners of the gritty streets of Baltimore.

As long as you can tolerate a little violence, it’s well worth a watch.

Laughter

I think people would agree that humor is difficult to translate. If you find yourself outside your native tongue, there a chance that more than once you’ve looked blankly around a table of laughing smiles wondering what you missed. “Ah– you must understand the politics,” one French house mother told me as I looked to her for answers. Or at least you must understand the inside joke at hand.

At a basic level, comedy provokes a laugh even when the trip-and-fall is predictable, or the bonk on the head likely. But anything more sophisticated pulls the audience onto an inside turn on a speedway, straining the limit between jest and tastelessness. Comedy depends on a dupe. And this can only be alluded in order to preserve decorum.

That’s how inside jokes develop by profession. If you are a nurse anesthetist, for example, there are bound to be comical events to be shared amongst coworkers, without insensitivity intended. But when is the boundary crossed and who should have access to the ditties that are sung at the end of a tough day’s work?

I’ve always admired people with a good sense of humor. Ones who can tease out a good laugh from an audience without going too far. Maybe in part because humor is still a mystery to me. Maybe because a belly laugh does everyone a bit of good.

With political correctness taking so many topics off the table, laughter is being squelched into small, tight groups. Just when I think we all deserve a little time to be light-hearted.

Muzzling

I wish I would stumble across a history of the use of tax incentives as a means of financing affordable housing (google?). When I first heard about the various tax rebate methods, including tax increment financing (TIF), it felt a little back door. And it probably was. I suspect political appetite for funding housing, which is hands down the largest tranche of a family budget, was chronically weak.

While looking into the Four Seasons Mall project, I discovered that Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) have become fungible. This means non-affiliated C-Corporations invest equity by purchasing the credits. In return they receive a reduced tax obligation into the future. Give up cash today and receive a stream of money through the forgiveness of an obligation into tomorrow.

On the one hand I salute the effort to generate more financing partners by detaching the credits from the project. (Originally the real estate developer received the credits in order to make the numbers work despite lower rents on the affordable units.) At the same time, by detaching the credits and allowing a C-Corps to purchase them, the mission motive is eliminated and transformed into a pecuniary one.

Furthermore, the successful projects are decided by a bureaucratically designed scoring system. Projects are given points based on a list of objectives. The scoring may or may not actually prioritize the weighted demands, nor the quality of the potential social outcomes. I have no doubt that the Four Season Mall site was passed over as the pecuniary assessments of income (or lack there of). It’s hard to imagine the complex outcomes from residents interacting with higher quality schools, transit, and associational groups can be condensed into a few points on a scorecard.

An alternative to scoring and progressive tax plotting is for mission focused folks to be the equity partners in on the project. This is what happened at Cranberry Ridge. Construction just started on the three story building on May 25th.

The development by Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative (Beacon) features 45 apartments for families who earn less than $52,000 a year for a family of four. Twelve of the homes will be for families who make less than $31,000 a year for a family of four. 

The Plymouth Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) and Metro HRA each awarded 10 rental assistance vouchers to ensure the homes will remain affordable for future residents with the lowest incomes. Capital funders include the local nonprofit Outreach Development Corporation, Minnesota Housing, Hennepin County, Wayzata Community Church, Plymouth HRA, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, and Wells Fargo. General contractor Shaw-Lundquist, architect BKV Group, and civil engineer Loucks have worked on the planning and development. Many individual donors provided seed funding to support the planning, organizing, and technical work to get Cranberry Ridge approved and fully financed.

The key component in this potpourri of interested parties is Interfaith Outreach (and Community Partners–IOPC), a very successful faith-based social service provider. With forty years of experience helping families in crisis, they are a mainstay in serving those in need. In a sense Cranberry Ridge brings their clients to them, to the neighborhood, making it that much easier to do what they do best.

I much prefer to see the money and the mission be served up in combination. Incentivizing C-Corps to avoid taxes, instead of support the spirit of community, is counter productive. It allows corporations to bypass a progressive tax code. It also gives a general audience a reason to view corporations as tax evaders. Making it all about money is the motivation in the private market, but this is a public good.

And I hesitate to be critical as I realize that “the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is the most important resource for creating affordable housing in the United States today.” However, one result of the process is that the numbers work out more favorably in mixed use projects. This means that more units are built for the moderately poor instead of the desperately poor.

The Interfaith Outreach folks think this is a mistake. The thought is to house to the most vulnerable first and then work up to nicer housing for the less poor later. They want money to be used more efficiently. Here is a statement from the organization made to the Minneapolis city council which summarizes this view, and expresses recent disappointment in the city council’s lack of interest in taking up the conversation.

Housing is expensive and we will always need to provide shelter to those who can’t provide for themselves. It seems we’ve outgrown the need for a back door approach. Matching the appropriate investors with projects, and residents with neighborhoods could further long term objectives.

The complexity of being affordable

Cracked crumbling asphalt is an unusual site in the more affluent suburbs of the Twin Cities. In fact the number of areas that would be considered distressed across the metro is pretty slim in relation to its size. So it’s a bit of a puzzle why the Four Seasons Mall in Plymouth, a relatively wealthy third tier suburb, has been left unused for the past twelve years.

First Wal-Mart purchased the site, but the neighbors said ‘no.’ It would draw too much traffic off the well traveled State Highway 169 which connects the Minnesota River Valley with the far northern points of the state, where the outfitter town of Ely serves as a portal to the boundary waters. That whole thing took a handful of years.

Then the city spent some time on getting a mixed use project approved on the sixteen acre site which included upwards of several hundred affordable units. Not bad for a fairly wealthy area of town. Here’s a news clip Plymouth Approves Four Seasons Mall Redevelopment – CCX Media explaining the project, and here is a commercial real estate synopsis on the site.

Just recently the whole project came apart because the tax credits were allocated to another project by the Fed’s scoring system. Two years after the community said ‘yes’ to welcoming a housing product that is often rebuked, a chart put together by bureaucrats says ‘no.’ Although I’ve been unable so far to find out where the subsidies were put to use, the feeling seems to be that the funding went to an area with greater need. Which I assume means an area with a higher density of people living in poverty.

Sure enough, according to a study on Low Income Housing Tax Credit, by the Urban Institute:

The program structure can promote the concentration of units in poorer places. Although the program only requires that 40 percent or more of the total units in the property be set aside as affordable, most properties are developed with affordability restrictions on all units to maximize the equity investment because only the affordable units qualify for tax credits. The allocation structure also provides an incentive to build in low-income communities designated as Qualified Census Tracts or Difficult Development Areas.

On the one hand political units like the Metropolitan Council maintain pressure on the greater metro to come up with their fair share of affordable housing unit, on the other hand the means of financing such rehabilitation and new construction can by politically allocated to neighborhoods already carrying more than their share of disadvantaged citizens.

If I were to house people who needed a little extra help in life, I would make the argument that it is sensible to do so in a community with a little extra time and expertise on their hands to help out. But I can’t choose where to house folks as I am not able to purchase tax credits along with friends and neighbors of similar minds.

The process simply isn’t that simple. Here’s a visual that is helpful.

Needless to say the multiple layers of bureaucracy add cost to the process.

LIHTC is an economically inefficient method for producing affordable rental housing. The process
of allocating and awarding tax credits is time consuming and complex. A study produced by the State of Washington found that it frequently takes twice as long to put together a LIHTC-financed project than one that is market rate, in turn contributing to higher legal and other transaction costs (Keightley 2017; Mitchell et al. 2009). Costs are also driven by the complexity of some LIHTC deals. A GAO (1997) study found that the process of syndication (pooling resources from multiple investors) can claim between 10 and 27 percent of project equity. LIHTC projects also have few incentives to keep costs low because reducing development costs would result in not using the full tax credit issued for the project (Mitchell et al. 2009).

From what I gather, low income tax credits are sold to any corporation who wants to invest in them. There is no mission, there is no sense of service. It is a pointy penciled transaction sketched out by a corporate CPA. Does it make more sense that a scoring system by the Federal government with a tongue twisting list of acronyms (CDBG,HOME,AMI, and 60% of this and 30% of that) be the mechanism for matching supply with demand rather than a neighborhood saying yes to affordable housing?

Honestly– the serpentine system seems to be more about keeping people out of the conversation than in it.

Walking the Lakes

For whatever reason walking suits me. It’s good exercise. Conversation always flows, so a companion is a good idea. And you never know what you might stumble across. This evening is was a doe and a fawn traipsing up from the shore of Medicine Lake and meandering through the lawns as if the neighbors didn’t mind.

I’m in good company. William Wordsworth was a walker too, in his Lake District.

Sweet was the walk along the narrow lane
At noon, the bank and hedge-rows all the way
Shagged with wild pale green tufts of fragrant hay,
Caught by the hawthorns from the loaded wain,
Which Age with many a slow stoop strove to gain;
And childhood, seeming still most busy, took
His little rake; with cunning side-long look,
Sauntering to pluck the strawberries wild, unseen.
Now, too, on melancholy’s idle dreams
Musing, the lone spot with my soul agrees,
Quiet and dark; for through the thick wove trees
Scarce peeps the curious star till solemn gleams
The clouded moon, and calls me forth to stray
Thro’ tall, green, silent woods and ruins grey.

Sweet Was the Walk: A Poem by William Wordsworth

Now to learn to write poetry!

Rank your favorite public good

If there were a ranking for ‘the best’ public goods– how would it go?

A public good here at home-economic is a good which a group makes available to everyone in that group. For the purposes of this list, let’s extend that delineation to the political boundaries of the US. What are the public goods here in the United States that promote a service to its constituents, while maximizing individual freedom?

I’d have to say the winner is our road system. Most all roadways in the US are open to anyone’s use. Except for a handful of toll roads, there is no charge to the user, and little restraint in their availability. Furthermore there is timely efforts to keep them clear of obstacles.

I started with drinking water, but many people in the US use private wells. And then there was that problem in Flint and the complete absence of water in a number of spots in California.

Then I thought personal safety– which is the oldest public good. Here again, the variance in quality provision of protection varies too much across the states to say that it is consistently available.

Education is meant to be…but we all know the pitfalls here. Even though we do it much better than most.

Nope– it’s definitely the roads. More people have access to the open highway than other pubic good.

But what say you?

Mysteries around Google Maps

I started posting my photos to google maps about four years ago, undoubtedly because some AI trick prompted a friendly message onto my screen encouraging me to do so. As I became more familiar with maps, and the cooperative efforts of people around the world to share what they were seeing on the ground, I began to value the service. Which led to more postings.

For instance, I was going through childhood travel pictures and family members could not recall the location of this fortification.

Google Lens was helpful, but it suggested more than one fortified option. The choices spanned destinations from the Punjab to Egypt and in between. Fort Attock Khurd looked the most promising so I went to Google Maps and found it sitting beautifully overlooking the River Indus.

Then I paged through the photos posted by recent visitors to the area. With a little adjustment for perspective, the ramparts, curved walls, the river all came into focus. It’s truly (I’m going to show my age!) spectacular that I can access vacation photos from someone on the other side of the earth. It allows for such ease in piecing together a road trip taken half a century ago.

So now I am asking my AI friend, if he/she is listening: Explain the mystery of why some of my photos get so many views and some not. For example, this park is located in a sleepy little suburb and the park itself is nice but not as heavily used as others. The numbers under the playground equipment are particularly strong– it doesn’t seem like the best photo to me out of the group. Why so many views?

I wrote about this DQ about three weeks ago and the views on it have taken off. I guess it is ice cream season. And people often search for food and restaurants. Still it seems like a lot in comparison to other photos of equal quality.

I liked the shot of the Minneapolis skyline from under the I94 Bridge. Maybe I’m biased because we had such a nice bike ride along the river. The river flats area is famous for being the low income housing area of a century ago.

My all time high views is of a beautiful beach at Fish Lake Regional Park in Maple Grove. I do love that park. In addition to the beach, there are walking trails, you can rent a variety of water craft and there is a dog park. We have an extensive regional park system in Hennepin County, and maybe the numbers reflect the number of patrons planning visits.

Still– if AI big sister is listening: Please explain the variance in views!

Recognizing Structure

Human perception, as well as the “perception” of so-called intelligent machines, is based on the ability to recognize the same structure in different guises. It is the faculty for discerning, in different objects, the same relationships between their parts.

The dictionary tells us that two things are “isomorphic” if they have the same structure. The notion of isomorphism of having the same structure is central to every branch of mathematics and permeates all of abstract reasoning. It is an expression of the simple fact that objects may be different in substance but identical in form.

A Book of Abstract Algebra

Avian Objections

“There’s Wilson’s warbler, and Swainson’s warbler, and Kirtland’s warbler,” lists Kenn Kaufman, author of several birding field guides.

“You’ve got Nuttall’s woodpecker, and Cassin’s vireo, Cassin’s auklet, and then there’s Botteri’s sparrow, and Bachman’s sparrow,” he says.

Monuments and Teams have changed names as America reckons with racism.

Of all the names listed above there is one which is objectional to inclusive activists. Can you pick it out? Can anyone pick it out, regardless of their background? You’ll have to read the article to find out which one symbolizes oppression. In my mind, if no one can select the offender, than no offense has been done.

This whole renaming thing comes across as people on a mission (not the right kind of mission) to create a story where they get to play the knight in shining armour. A search for misdeeds. Uncover and disclose them! Then become the agent who sets the whole thing straight.

Some may say, ‘What’s the harm in it?’ If changing names makes just one person more comfortable than it is a win. Yet, there are only so many hours to devote to things. NPR can only run so many stories. There are only so many resources available to rectifying a wrong. If you gear everyone up to work on the ones which produce little results, than disappointment is all that will follow.

And anger–eventually.

If activists engage people in work that makes no contribution to the mission, than aren’t they involved in some sort of taking? Those hours of work can only be spent once. You can change a bird’s name or perhaps they could be spent being a big brother-big sister, working a job fair, teaching English as a second language classes, finding someone a place to live. Changing the name of the Wilson Warbler to the little warbler with a cap wouldn’t be something I’d tweet about.

Can houses be made anew?

Speculating on innovation in housing is harder than you would think. I’m not sure if we take the basics elements of the structures as givens, or if they are fundamentally difficult to innovate. Here’s a new listing I have coming on the market at the end of the month– what could we do better?

The single family home on a plot of its own is still the most preferred housing option outside of the densely populated mega cities. According to statista, “as of September 2020, there were 213.3 million single-family dwelling units in the United States and only 38 million multifamily units.”

This one is above average in square footage, and about double the median priced property in the metro, but it still has the same structure as most single family homes: lot, dwelling, garage. The city provided infrastructure for utilities determines the type of mechanicals which service the property. In this part of the country natural gas is the established solution for heating and electricity runs the lights and air conditioning.

One innovation which is more visible around town than ever before is solar panels. One can see them glistening on more and more roof tops. But the breakeven point for installation is still out about 7-9 years, which makes it a difficult purchase. There are no heating solutions more friendly than natural gas on the horizon. The only other efficiencies toward energy conservation can be achieved through additional insulation and careful review of appliances.

Perhaps innovation will be more about how we use the space within homes rather than the structure itself. More complexity to household formation, particularly in the mixing of generations, could bring down the square footage per person ratio, leading to less utility consumption. Using the space in a single family home as a home office will keep cars off the roads.

Innovation in the near future may well be about usage and not structure.

Platters of yesteryear

Robert Putnam, a sociologist from Harvard, is probably best known for his seminal book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. From wikipedia:

Putnam surveys the decline of social capital in the United States since 1950. He has described the reduction in all the forms of in-person social intercourse upon which Americans used to found, educate, and enrich the fabric of their social lives. He argues that this undermines the active civil engagement which a strong democracy requires from its citizens.

Putnam outlines at length the waning of voluntary associations.

Putnam noted the aggregate loss in membership and number of volunteers in many existing civic organizations such as religious groups (Knights of ColumbusB’nai Brith, etc.), labor unions, parent–teacher associationsFederation of Women’s ClubsLeague of Women Voters, military veterans’ organizations, volunteers with Boy Scouts and the Red Cross, and fraternal organizations (Lions ClubsBenevolent and Protective Order of ElksUnited States Junior ChamberFreemasonryRotaryKiwanis, etc.).[1] Putnam used bowling as an example to illustrate this; although the number of people who bowled had increased in the last 20 years, the number of people who bowled in leagues had decreased. If people bowled alone, they did not participate in the social interaction and civic discussions that might occur in a league environment.[1]

In my mind what is being tracked here are the platters where exchanges took place, and not the actual amount of work or resources engaged in production of a shared asset. The bowling leagues provided the venue for friends and neighbors to gather, extend a hand, overhear who needed a job, step-up if someone passed. But as the clubs of father’s or grandfather’s became out of date it is just as feasible that younger generations found new places to gather and organize.

But why then are the number of volunteer hours reported in the American Community Survey lower? Perhaps people were engaged in informal volunteer work, unpaid work to help a friend or member of the community, without being associated with a formal organization.

Consider American life from the 70’s up to the writing of this paper in 1995 (followed by the book in 2000).

The observations in the book coincide with two decades of increasing divorce rates in the US, of households being split apart. Moving homes is time consuming enough, then there are the additional logistics of separating both financially and emotionally when the cause is a divorce. This closing out of marital arrangements can easily last a year or more.

Furthermore the schedule of a single person with children is bound to be quite different from a married couple. Whereas there may have been an easy agreement of, ‘you get to golf, I get book club, you handle sports leagues, I’ll manage PTA,’ everything gets a little trickier to plan when you no longer share a household.

There are a variety of reasons why marriages came apart and people preferred to dedicate resources to undoing their marital bonds rather than hanging in for the golden anniversary. There was a reckoning with this institution that may still be in play. But the reality remains that there are only so many out-of-paid-work hours to devote to family and community. If those are being devoted to a reassessment of marriage, then they will not show up on the American Community Survey under volunteer hours.

Platters III

The image of platters is useful in visualizing where the economic implications of culture plays out within groups. The exchanges, trades, evaluations of mission-minded individuals transpire on platters, whether it is in the support of a university, a corporation, a hobby, or a tight knit community.

In a recent conversation, we speculated about how remote work will inhibit culture. When professors no longer reside in the same small town as their college, the social activities of years gone by will never materialize. When judges no longer have offices in the same building, they can no longer stroll down the hall and run a scenario past a colleague. If corporate employees only engage over zoom there are no casual exchanges post meetings to develop an ease of interaction.

These are examples of how physical distance renders exchanges of ideas and resources difficult. Trade is muted as the agora, the platter, evaporates on the electronic mechanisms.

In contrast, there are situations where platters are nested, and the appropriate level of control is opaque. Authority at the local level is generally preferred. At some point, however, the effects of parochial rules can create negative outcomes for the larger platter. Zoning, for example, can restricts housing to the point of increasing housing costs regionally. Than there is an argument for the rules to be made over a larger platter. If public safety of a city gets to the point that places of shared institutions such as universities, convention centers and so on are experiencing extraordinary crime, than impositions of safety measures by the greater group seem justified.

The mission morphs to various compositions of platters depending on the demands to meet the mission. And then, when demand subsides, the dynamics relinquishes trade and interaction back down to the most basic level.