Scuba diving is an underwater stroll

With the help of a vest and air source, a diver can sink to the ocean floor and have a look around. Instead of walking a trail and spotting Robins and Blue Jays, the reefs spit out the Whitespotted Toby, or the Devil Scorpion Fish (my favorite), or the coffee table sized sea turtles.

Scuba diving is an enjoyable hobby which has gotten more and more popular in recent years. PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, reports that they hold certifications for 28 million underwater strollers worldwide. A certification is the end result of passing a course and an open water swim exam.

PADI® (Professional Association of Diving Instructors®) is the world’s largest ocean exploration and diver organization, operating in 186 countries and territories, with a global network of more than 6,600 dive centers and resorts and over 128,000 professional members worldwide. Issuing more than 1 million certifications each year, and with over 28 million certifications to date, PADI enables people around the world to seek adventure and save the ocean through underwater education, life-changing experiences and travel. For over 50 years, PADI is undeniably The Way the World Learns to Dive®, maintaining its high standards for dive training, safety and customer service, monitored for worldwide consistency and quality.

From either the PADI linked page or FB page

The organization was started in 1966 by a couple of guys who didn’t like the status quo and wanted to do something better. Given its worldwide reach, one can’t help but wondering how they got established and grew into the association of choice.

This isn’t a situation of government setting up a bunch of rules and allocating a means of enforcement. This is associational work. Why people choose this certification process would be something to consider.

Grateful for family

Sounds trite, doesn’t it? Of course you are grateful for your family. No more of a surprise than you love your kids, as fiercely as I love these two beach bums:

The term family is often reserved for those with whom we share a household. The people who do the housework for the daily routine of food and lodging. But as we sat around our Thanksgiving meal this evening it was clear that the genesis of our lovely circumstances originated beyond the four sitting at the table.

Being thankful for good health, for example, cannot only be a tribute to our personal efforts. One must reach back and be thankful for all the good genes that have been passed down through the generations. And the habits of selfcare that were taught with quaint proverbs, like an apple a day keeps the doctor away, didn’t just pop into the family routine one day. But saying isn’t doing. Those who came before also showed us they were willing to pay more for fresh fruits and vegetables; they were willing to dedicate resources to better health.

The multigenerational passthrough of profitable habits doesn’t stop there. When parents establish the custom of aiding with advanced education, the gift is meant to tumble on down to the next generation and then onto the one after that. The payment of tuition is done with long views over a whole life, not short returns.

But when these habits of investing across and over people, of participating in a system of beliefs and not of immediate returns, then we are no longer talking about family as a gathering of four people. When choices have been thought through and tradeoffs considered; when families have evaluated outcomes and set norms; when all this circulates through decades worth of relations, then we are talking about something else. We are talking about family as an institution, as an economic force.

That is the sense of family we were grateful for this evening.

How to choose an island

Considering travel options to islands for some rest and relaxation can very over time. There are many that may meet the basic criteria of tropical beauty, access to beaches of equal quality, opportunities for water sports and boating, and a comparable level of lodging. But choosing one over the other can hinge on boring basics.

Going to distant shores is appealingly exotic. Leave all the standard stuff for those who have no sense of adventure. The travel cost is more as the sheer distance is greater. And there is a surcharge for the extra leg of travel to get well off the beaten path. There is the additional minor inconvenience of time zone changes, mostly born out in the transition back to working life upon return.

The extra travel expense can be recaptured by more reasonable lodging and meal costs as the cost of living differences are often substantial. For this reason such destinations appeal to the younger traveler. At least it was for me.

But then, when young children come along, the idea of having a drug store just down the street with recognizable remedies for toddler care is pretty comforting. And it certainly helps to know that medical services are in place if something more serious comes up. To further facilitate the excursion being pleasurable with the offspring, being in the close to grocery stores with favorite foods makes mealtime more pleasant. It is meant to be a vacation after all.

All these extras tip the practical ocean front in lieu of the exotic. Distant and cheep is great as a youthful solo traveler. But when dependents are in tow, it is no longer exciting to get caught up short on the bare essentials. Quite to the contrary, the reassurance of infrastructures around health and safety become exponentially more valuable.

How fear ties knots of inaction

On the one hand people worry that improving disadvantage neighborhoods will cause the evils of gentrification:

Now planners are trying to figure out how best to weave through north Minneapolis on the way to the northwest suburbs. But many people along the route fear real estate speculation and increased investment will render their neighborhoods less affordable. Hennepin County hired the University of Minnesota to study potential gentrification impacts and recommend anti-displacement strategies along the route—a first in Minnesota transit history.

Sahan Journal email newsletter

On the other hand there’s dismay that property values do not increase in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Here’s a headline and intro paragraph to an article in todays New York Times:

How the Real Estate Boom Left Black Neighborhoods Behind

While homeownership has been an engine of prosperity for white Americans, home values in places like Orange Mound in southeast Memphis have languished. What would it take to catch up?

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the same forces against gentrification were perpetuating poverty in neighborhoods they thought they were protecting?

The Woman in the Window with Amy Adams

I have to say that when the credits for The Woman in the Window scrolled across our TV screen last night I was left underwhelmed. I am an Amy Adams fan, so it was easy to click on the film tile when it appeared on the Netflix selection rollout. A fire was lit. Dinner was on our plates. We were ready for a nice Friday evening at the movies.

The plot is more or less predictable. There’s a build up to a horror scene, which I’d prefer to miss. But today, scenes of Amy Adams dealing with various situations throughout the film had my brain retelling her tale. Her character is struggling with agoraphobia which is present as an outcome of a severe mental health breakdown. Her acting is the only flicker of light that holds the movie together.

I have no way of knowing the actress’s motivation in taking this role. But her skill in it made me extrapolate all sorts thoughts about the fears which are crippling so many activities in our society. The fear to leave one’s house becomes representative of the fear to take on a venture, the fear to move across the country, the fear to create and build upon something new.

Mental health is at the crux of many issues in this country. It is a complex and difficult topic, and not one people often want to tackle. Instead of your typical representation in a homeless figure, this movie takes the life a professional women to show how crippling a mental health crises can be. Amy flushes out the many angles of this experience in her portrayal of Anna Fox.

You’ll have to watch the film to see if she can turn her life around.

$34.4 Mil is a fair amount of cash

That’s how much was raised in Minnesota yesterday during Give to the Max Day. Here is how the Minnesota Holiday started:

In November 2009, Give to the Max Day was supposed to be a one-time only launch party for the new fundraising platform GiveMN.org with a goal of raising $500,000. At the end of the day, generous donors had given more than $14 million in just 24 hours, smashing the goal out of the water, and starting a giving holiday in Minnesota.

https://www.givemn.org/giving-events/gtmd21/totals

Gala and fund raisers are nothing new. Just ask development officers at any non-profit. And many of the techniques employed during yesterday’s day of matchmaking originated from them: a limited timeframe, matching incentives, live-counters adding up the tally to meet a goal. What is different, here, is that the platform opens up a marketplace of giving. The boundaries of where and who is trading in the assists of work in the community changed. The benefactor was no longer one cause; a theater, a shelter, a youth center. Nor were the donors just the flashy wealthy crowd at a glitzy event in a downtown venue. This market is open to all Minnesotans, who can then feel empowered by grouping with others to support their passion of choice.

People give when they see the need. Citizens agree to pay taxes as an acknowledgement of the need. But they also don’t want to be the only one giving- it is a communal activity. A formal taxation system provides assurances that others are also on board to assemble the public goods as intended. In philanthropy, a one day event provides the accounting, the final tally, which confirms success back to its audience.

One can’t help but notice the parallels to the concept of state capacity. This has been a salient term in recent years. Here is how one researcher put words to it:

The concept of state capacity—“the ability of a state to collect taxes, enforce law and order, and provide public goods”1—was developed by political scientists, economic historians, and development economists to illuminate the strong institutional contrast that parallels the economic contrast between rich and poor countries.

https://www.niskanencenter.org/state-capacity-what-is-it-how-we-lost-it-and-how-to-get-it-back/

On Give to the Max day, donors pay funds (a tax) to support their chosen community works producer, who in turn transforms the funds into their specialized public good. The enforcement of product delivery is partially enforced by laws, but mostly by the pressures of competition to be a good producer for those who depend on the services provided.

What the Give to the Max platform allows is a wider marketplace. What Give to the Max Day shows by the $34,390,470 collected yesterday from Minnesotans tall and small, urban and rural, rich or light in the wallet, is that we have a notable amount of state capacity.

Paper commentary- Surfers & the Wave

There’s a lot to like in this paper, The institutional foundations of surf break governance in Atlantic Europe, by Martin Rode. The author looks at how surfers handle the distribution of wave riding opportunities. Behavior can span from excluding outsiders from riding the best waves, to the use of established norms to divvy up the crests enabling the riders to show off their favorite form. Rode points out that who owns the wave is the issue at hand.

Both regimes establish property rights over common pool resources with no state intervention, creating a setting wherein users face the question of cooperation or conflict. 

It might seem obvious that the ocean is a common pool resource, but the locals undoubtedly think the portion of water beyond their local beach is in fact owned by their town. By them. Often we think property rights are clear cut when in practice the tentacles of ownership claims creep in from many arenas of life. Parents might think twice about selling a small business before checking with their kids. A sports team may find community push back at the mention of the team being moved to another city. It has been well established that neighbors believe in their right to control surrounding property development. Most all forms of ownership can be challenged by some other group interest, even if only in small part.

It is also interesting that preferred data is taken from a Wikipedia style contributor website. The voluntary input of surfer enthusiasts is considered more reliable than sites written under the auspices of earning money from the information, such as travel guides. And it is not to imply that the later is totally unreliable, it’s just to say that on a gray scale, one has to filter information depending on whether a fungible transaction is in play.

Information on all surf venues observed herein was obtained from the participatory open-access website www.wannasurf.com. That site provides detailed travel reports for thousands of surf spots around globe, with most of the information coming from local users. Reports are confirmed further by designated area representatives in order to avoid possible bias.

Rewriting the present in anticipation of the future

There’s been a lot of brouhaha in recent years about how history is told and what words may or may not be used. I was just listening to John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia (if you don’t know him look him up) on a Twitter Live interview expressing discontent with the transposition of an individual ‘being the victim’ of an event in lieu of ‘being a survivor’ of an event. The framing, he said, settles a lingering tragedy around a fellow.

In addition to voicing the negative rather than the positive, there have been demands to take the lives and accounts from many generations ago, and rework the fruits of their labor into a present-day-acceptable version. David Livingston was Scottish adventurer from the first half of the nineteenth century. He spent his life exploring Africa and reporting back on what he had found. He was awarded the gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society in London and kept an association with the group for the rest of his life.

On Twitter today (yes it was only 37 degrees here) I saw this post celebrating the rewording of Livingston’s work. It extinguishes any credit to a man who spent a life exploring, documenting and passing along details on a large swath of a continent.

In fact the Livingston accounts couldn’t have been written in any other way. There were no maps of the area in and around Lake Victoria, by British, Arab or African geographers. So it would have been odd to write an account in an off hand, I’m just a tourist seeing things that everyone else has seen, type of way.

How exactly are historic figures from our past supposed to have predicted the future dynamics of civilizations and write their work to the correctness demanded in generations to come? Or is it up to us to take their work in the context of their time?

Walk, daily, philosophers do

In addition to being good exercise for your body, walking massages the mind. Jean Jacques Rousseau was known for walking. A search will happily provide you with pages of suggested JJ Rousseau walks.

Toward the end of his life he wrote a collection of ten essay’s which are thought to be some of his most lyrical writing.

The closing lines of Troisieme Promenade sure are pretty:

Mais la patience, la douceur, la résignation, l’intégrité, la justice impartial sont un bien qu’on emporte avec soi, et dont on peut s’enrichir sans cesse, sans craindre que la mort même nous en fasse perdre le prix. C’est à cette unique et utile étude que je consacre le reste de ma vieillesse. Heureux si par mes progrès sur moi-même, j’apprends à sortir de la vie, non meilleur, car cela n’est pas possible, mais plus vertueux que je n’y suis entré.

Infrastructure Bill- MN edition

There’s been a lot of celebrating today with the final presidential signature scratching ink across the infrastructure bill’s pages. It’s a lot of cash, that’s for sure. This was the speculation, a few weeks ago, on how the dollars would shake out for Minnesotans:

As with other recent large federal spending bills, the state has some idea what amounts will flow from the various categories but will have to wait weeks, perhaps months, for specific guidance on how it can be spent. The state usually spends about $2 billion a year on road and bridge work from fuel taxes and bonding and will likely receive an additional $4.8 billion over five years for that purpose from the federal law.

In addition to roads and bridges, early estimates are that Minnesota will also get $818 million for public transportation; $680 million for waterworks; $297 million for airport improvements; $100 million to expand broadband access; $68 million to expand electric vehicle charging networks; $20 million for wildfire protection; and $17 million to increase cybersecurity.

MinnPost

Compatibility, a review

I recently switched to an iphone after years of android use. It has been fun to compare their functionality. The ease of the transition is a tribute to Apple’s focus on the user experience. There is one feature, however, that I miss. It is Google Lens. My last phone was Google Pixel and the Google Lens icon is at the lower right hand side of the screen when you open a jpg. For instance, as I sort through some old travel photos from my youth, I often want to know where a shot was taken. Check Google Lens- Presto! It matches the image to ones on Google Maps.

Fath Ali Shah

I tried all sorts of methods to store and open this image from Iran on my new phone but gave up, and went back to my Google Pixel. Tapping on the picture on my old device summoned up web results which identified the location in seconds. The 4000 BC etching is located under a fortified wall at Rey Castle, near Teheran. Subsequent postings by the collective of google map supporters offered views of the image and surrounding landscape from multiple angles.

More than likely I’ll discover how to use Google Lens on my new device. But the fact that so many features are user friendly and this one is not made me reflect on how we are at the mercy of structures easily within our reach. And how we don’t make time (partly because we may not appreciate the benefits) of structures which we have yet to discover.

During the lockdown my family and I started a daily walk routine as it is good exercise and it was one of the few activities open to us. We used aps to monitor distances and times, and struck out looking for new scenic trails. I’m not sure how many times we shook our heads in disbelief that we had only now discovered so many pleasing miles in our figurative back yard.

On a recent trip to Calgary I discovered the ease and reliability of public transit. It was forced on me by the difficulty to secure a rental car in the era of Covid. This reminded me of when I took my kids on the Great Northern Railroad from Minneapolis to Glacier National Park. The line runs from Chicago out to Seattle skirting the northern most border of the US States. It appealed to me as it gave me a break from road tripping with young children and I thought it would make an impression on them. Many of the other passengers from places like Minot, Culbertson and Wolf Point used the rail frequently. It was their preferred form of transportation.

The dominance of some IT structures has made me wonder about other patterns in my life which have steered my activities. Where else have decisions kept me from advantageous experiences? What other take-it-for-granted services are people not using optimally which would make their lives better? And how can we reveal those little connectors to better engage a just-next-door infrastructure we have yet to discover?

Serving up platters of truth

In the first of a newly posted set of podcasts entitled Minds Almost Meeting, Agnes Callard and Robin Hanson tackle the two horned paradox of honesty. Agnes explains that the first horn is to “hold up your communication to the standard of it’s being honest, which is to say, being as truthful as you can.” They define honesty as a form of communication which seeks to work toward actions which results in good. And this is where life is complicated as being truthful can be at odds with an action outcome from such communication.

On the one hand we have a standard for what it is to be honest, and on the other we have the desired action of a good outcome through honest communication. The tension occurs when the words, phrases or inactions are not uniformly applied. Here’s an example. Say the mom of the ace pitcher on a Little League teams says, “We’ll be there” in response to the coach’s tally of who will be at a final playoff game. Earlier that same day the mom told her neighbor, “We’ll be there” when asked about the couples’ interest in a night of canasta.

The same words. The same intentions. But not the same level of commitment. Being a no show to the playoff game is completely different than missing an evening with neighbors over cards and a few beers.

Let me backtrack a minute, to be sure your thoughts have not settled into the neglected neighborhood life, to be sure we are still talking about economics and not social niceties. Youth sports is known to have several benefits. Kids who participate learn about teamwork, prioritize their time, do better (on average) in school and exercise regularly. The persistent advantages from youth sports surface in public health and well being. (There are costs, of course, to the infrastructure which supports these games– but that’s for another post.)

Even occasional gatherings of neighbors for beer and a barbeque or game of cards can generate economic benefits. People hear about jobs or set up connections to contractors or suggest areas in the community which are in need of support. The network marketing that transpires at social gatherings is of value. It is not resented in the way that cigar smoke filled rooms at men’s clubs were in days of yore. The neighborhood is not exclusive in that way. In fact it is a priority to make attendants feel welcome and comfortable.

And for that reason when a guest wears a colorful dress with animals print, she will more than likely receive a compliment. Since the priority in this platter of economic activity is create an ambiance which is fun and upbeat, to be sure that the people are happy to be present, and thus will do their best to get along, little lies are very permissible. It is not a deceit as it goes towards the action of the good of the group activity.

Whereas social niceties is not what is expected for the Little League playoff game. The commitment here is to the team and to winning the game. A no show by any family would be a considerable let down.

Lives are big and messy. We are involved in many activities that vary throughout our lives. The paradox of dishonesty as presented by Agnes Callard is minimized when you align the various economic platters with their expected norms. It’s much easier to accept that in social gathering there will be a lavishing of less than honest flattery.

I do to the Individual, or to the Union?

My daughter came home from high school the other day questioning the appropriateness of a teacher (a math teacher nonetheless) in some way incorporating ‘obey thy husband’ in a conversation with a female athlete. Daughter was sure this was out of line. But as in many cases, the story was missing context. The teacher had switched out his identity. He was on the field as the liaison for the high school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Still, daughter was a little taken aback by the submissiveness language.

I shared my own story of how decades earlier, while still in the wedding season of life, I had sat up a little straighter in the pew when the bride utter the Missouri Synod version of the Lutheran marriage vows. ‘Obey my husband’ is still pegged in there between ‘honor him’ and ‘keep him in sickness and in health.’ For the most part the Lutherans church keeps in sync with current trends. Yet this blanket submission seemed as archaic as gilded lettering on a manuscript, then as it does now.

As the teacher was working outside of his day job, he was within his prerogative to reveal a small part of his belief system. My kids had experienced an elementary school era of celebrating every other religion by name, while deferring to their own as a holiday celebration. This has conditioned them to think something is amiss if anything Christian is actually voiced above a whisper. The act has become paramount to a missionary conversion of some sort.

But what bugs me more than propping Christianity in a dark corner, is this attention to minutia which distracts from form. The quick objection to a few words of a ceremony takes away from the conversation of what it means to marry. This drilling down of a few words under the assumption that they will fasten a female’s will to some objectional subjugation is a distraction from the more fruitful conversation of the nature of the binding of two individuals in marriage. What does it look like when offset within a community of mutual cooperation? What form do they become when unified before friends, family and God?

I think it would be helpful to view the new couple and ensuing family as a grouping, a new unit. And within that unit the work its members will get done will more likely be based on skill than specific assignment. But from the outside what that unit consumes or contributes is based on the collection of their activities. If they choose to present their views to the outside world by giving one partner the microphone, this would seem to benefit all of them.

No matter the form of a grouping–a couple, a minority, an association– there are frequently others, on the outside, trying to manipulate their public voice. Trigger topics are metered out to stop conversation about form, the basic building blocks of social arrangements. Those few short words, or few awful people, are set out to distract, so folks divert their time to manufactured issues. And in the confusion their voice is stolen.

Last thoughts- Missoula

We had some extra time for a walk around Missoula. Parking the car on a spur of a road near the University, we struck out on this path leading us westward along side the Clark Fork River.
The trail infrastructure was quite good. Paths were wide and used by cyclists, walkers and runners. This pedestrian bridge allowed for a scenic river crossing.
If you’re going to have a bench- might as well create an artistic setting.
After getting in a good walk, stop in at one of coffee houses in the historic downtown for a latte and slice of pie.

Tales under open skies

There are two writers who come to mind when I think of the open plains and jagged peaks of the great state of Montana.

Ivan Doig writes of immigrants from Scottish Highlands taking to the land that reminds them of their home country. Between the covers of The Whistling Season and Dancing at the Rascal Fair, it is the ranchers and teachers and forest service workers who tell if their lives; the lives of those who pulled a wilderness into a habitable home.

Don’t bother with his books if you are not interested in descriptive language. A reader who resists words layered in a think paint of illustration should move onto Stegner. Because the beauty of Doig’s writing brings color and emotion into the landscape and lives of those who settled this part of the country with hopes of a better life.

Annie Proulx is another who writes of the American West. She is probably best known for writing the story behind the 2005 film Broke Back Mountain, directed by Ang Lee. There’s a quirkiness in her stories that keeps me interested. A reminder that life is rarely unfurled in a straight and orderly fashion.

Craft sales and trading posts

As morning breaks over the Bitterroot Mountains in western Montana, the outlines of the craggy ridges materialize against the lightening sky. Big Sky. It’s the state’s motto. The blue atmosphere embraces you from all sides like a hug from a friend who will not leave you.

Montana is still remote enough to attract super stars who know the locals won’t be impressed by their presence. No autographs or selfies required. There are still craft fairs where the fine art is in the both besides Brenda selling her fleece lined choppers, made with used sweaters bought at thrift stores. She turned 83 today and we all sang Happy Birthday after the announcement came over the PA. She told me she didn’t have time to sit around. Idleness is not an option.

It’s hunting season and the locals are passionate about their public lands. Miles of it are open to hunters. They are out looking for moose, elk, prong horns if you are ambitious. Low lying clouds roll over the peaks. You can’t miss the beauty of the place. It’s all around you.

The Addis I Knew

Addis skyline in 1974 from the Hilton Hotel

Our posting to Addis was one of the longest in my childhood, so naturally I have many memories from our time there. We arrived in September, at the end of the rainy season. Since our housing wasn’t ready, we lived temporarily at the Hilton Hotel. This photo was taken from one of the upper floors. I believe that is Menelik II Ave rising up on the right side of the photo. If you google present day photos of Addis, you can see how the city has been transformed.

We were fortunate to have traveled across the country during our time. From the Awash valley, to Djibouti, to Lake Langano, up into the Rift Valley, and to trout fishing in the Bale Mountains.

I hope some day to travel there again. But the news update below isn’t encouraging. So for now, US travel is it has to be!

We are seeing the crisis/death of 2nd generation constitutions: Ethiopia with its diversity-sensitive constitution, federalism & self-determination clauses, mirrored in the angst and twitches in South Africa 2/7

Ethiopia reminds us of the limits of the “modernisation” (read big infrastructure ) model that “brings” development and nurtures cohesion through satisfied stomachs. It was rising until it fell 3/7

It also demonstrates that African dysfunction can’t always be attributed to the colonial experience. Ethiopia wasn’t colonised and led a highly storied war against the Italians 4/7

It shows that the existence of a large foreign presence in a country – a regional hub – is no inoculation against state collapse 5/7

Ethiopian conflict proves what has been observed in conflict literature: the best predictor of war in a country is a prior experience with war. Once you break your “peace virginity”, just expect more children down the line 6/7
📸EPA

Last, on a light note, having a Nobel winner ( PM Abiy & Wangari Maathai in Kenya) and great Gold-winning runners (Haile Gebrselassie or Eliud Kipchoge) is no guarantee of peace 7/7

Originally tweeted by Charles Onyango-Obbo (@cobbo3) on November 5, 2021.

Who’s highjacking Voice?

Since George Floyd was murdered on the streets of South Minneapolis on May 25th, 2021 the Minneapolis Police Department has been cast as the great villain in the story of racial injustice. The casting, directing and drumbeat against this service provider has been loud and persistent over the past eighteen months.

Democracy allows those who do not wish to be activists, and stand on street corners shouting their opinions, to express their will in the private ballot box. Thanks to the electoral process we can now see how the breakdown of broadly held opinions.

Question 2, regarding the defunding of the Minneapolis Police Department, appeared on the Minneapolis ballot as follows:

Department of Public Safety

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot? 

It is not only interesting that the question was firmly rejected by Minneapolis voters in a 56% to 44% margin, but the breakdown of where it was rejected is worth noting. The heat map below shows how the question fared across neighborhoods. In very general terms the southern green portions is where most of the protests and burning of buildings occurred in the summer of 2020. The forest green knot in the mid-right range is the location of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.

The quickest demographic map I was able to ferret out (from mncompass.org which is an excellent resource!) is this one, which also shows St. Paul. But it will do the trick. I want to point out that the top left hand section of the map is an area of Minneapolis strongly favored by minority residents. If you cross reference this nook with the map above you will see that these folks strongly opposed question 2. In other words they support the MPD.

Source: 2014-2018 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, adjusted to fit current neighborhood boundaries using the 2010 Census counts. The 5-year estimates represent averages of data collected over that time period. https://www.mncompass.org/profiles/city/minneapolis

It’s good to remember that the loudest voices can, and seem to often, highjack the voice of those who either aren’t ready or aren’t able to speak for themselves. This was true with the early feminist who chose to speak for all women. This has been true in the last eighteen months for those claiming to speak for the black community.

But the truth is fast friends with democracy, and eventually will find a way of expressing itself.

Yes to the incumbent Mayor, No to power to the Council

Minneapolis voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, crushing the hopes of supporters that outrage over the killing of George Floyd would translate into one of the nation’s most far reaching experiments in transforming public safety.

https://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-voters-reject-plan-to-replace-police-department/600112156/

Humor me

Maybe you will play along with me, and entertain the spaces I want you to imagine.

The one we know well won’t be hard for you to conceptualize. The selfish one. The profit motive, cash intensive one. But there’s the second space too. It is outlined by time, energies and outlays for group things. The things we call public. So, if you can, hold these two dynamic spheres, one of initiating activities toward private profits and a second contributing to yields for the group, in your mind for a minute or two.

The first part of the story is familiar to you. It’s about how private equity firms (there are many big ones like Blackstone, Apollo and Bain) go in and buy up old or floundering businesses and rip away any remaining social ties that may cling to them. Pensions? Gone. Employment contracts? No more. A trustee companion to the surrounding community? I think no longer.

An alumni from my alma mater, Gretchen Morgenson, is a senior financial reporter with NBC and can tell you all about sphere one in her book, The Hidden Force Behind Wealth Inequality in America. In the clip below she focuses on the results of private equity firms becoming the owners and custodians of nursing homes.

The claim that the private equity firms live in the for-profit sphere, and in turn are destructive to social riches is irrefutable. But it is by design. Perhaps it serves the same purpose as the destruction of ancient Sequoia trees in a forest fire. This is part of the process. But most would agree that there are many possible points of optimization in the process of externalizing social contracts and extracting their value through dollars to shareholders.

To come at the quandary from another angle, try to imagine where the flip side of the activities of private equity firms reside. Where in the two spheres is the opposite enterprises underway? Instead of extracting dollars and putting social benefits to rest, dollars are inserted into a network of social activity to substitute for care, education, food and so on.

A place where, at every turn, a community is propped up, rather weakly I might add, by subsidies is also messing with the spheres of activity. And in such a neighborhood where 60-70-80% of the residences live below the poverty level– actors are being stripped of the possibility of engaging in mechanisms of self accomplishment and achievement.

Whether the misuse of money is in the private sphere or the public sphere, the net result is, as Gretchen postulates, a dark force behind wealth inequality.

Solving problems across the entire economic landscape is preferable. Looking for optimizations in multidimensions will provide greater insights. Sorting the industries which favor the nature of the communal or the nature of the private will point out short comings. Understanding the role of subsidy intervention and the power of group relationships will create leverage.

All of this can be stretched across a framework of public and private spheres.

Matrix is more than a movie

The movie Matrix made a big splash in 1999, propelling Keanu Reeves to stardom. He wasn’t the producer’s first pick for the lead, Neo, a programmer who senses something in his environment is not quite right. The matrix refers to a simulated reality, created by intelligent machines. As long as the lives of the actors were contained within this vessel of distraction, their bodies energized the mechanical systems.

The dictionary confers a similar definition for the word matrix:

  1. an environment or material in which something develops; a surrounding medium or structure.”free choices become the matrix of human life”

Once a surrounding medium or structure looses physical form it can be challenging to see, and we can start to question if it is still there. The mimes from my youth, following the lead of the famous Marcel Marceau, would stand on Paris street corners gesturing in such a way that you could visualize the wall their elbow leaned against, or the box that encased them. See for yourself.

In mathematics a matrix is a grid of numbers, like an excel spread sheet. The numbers are arranged in such a way that they represent value descriptions for a variety of features.

Say life was simple and one could devote free time (time away from a job for money) to one of three activities. Time caring for children ‘x’, time for keeping food in the house ‘y’ and time for exercise ‘z’. Collecting hundreds of these sets would generate some baseline numbers. But soon enough sorting subgroups reveal new environments. And further investigation reveals that groups can have a variety of properties when they interact.

What we are looking for are the numbers that go astray, that vault off the charts, that tell us “This is where we need help!” The numbers will spell out an environment that we cannot see, yet we can still be confident it is defined. And as such it can help us solve for situations that leave others behind. We have to let the matrices, like the mimes, form the space for this type of calculation.

Haunted Houses

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – 1807-1882

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapoursdense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

Windfalls from Me but not from Thee

Is it just me or do others feel like the idea for a capital tax is about feeling a little green over business windfalls? Chance smiled on the likes of Bezos and Zuckerberg in the game of life, but they didn’t really do anything to deserve all that extra cash. They just happen to be at the right place at the right decade for the culmination of years of societal work. Or more importantly, they figured out how to tap it.

The COVID money was a windfall for some families. I heard more than one interviewee expressing an appreciation for how the unexpected chunk of cash enabled them to relocate, or search out new employment. One mom said she got her kids passports so they would be able to travel once the virus subsided. Without the windfall from the government subsidy, she wouldn’t have had the money for such luxuries.

Minnesota runs a state lottery. It was established by voter referendum in 1988. Its total revenue garners as much as $668.6 million per year. I always see people lining up at the customer service counter to buy their numbers when I’m at the grocery store. Here are some of the latest jackpots.

Minnesota State Lottery prizes

Windfalls used to entice tax revenue seem to be OK. Windfalls as a chance outcome from mass distribution of pubic funds during a pandemic seem to be OK. But windfalls due to business savvy and persistence need to be reined in by taxation. The accumulation of all that cash is villainous, an affront to all that is moral.

Windfalls, it seems, are good if implemented by me but not by thee.

Moving money & the unrealistic unrealized capital gains tax

Years ago a friend pointed out that it is easier to capture money when it is moving. As workers earn a wage, it is easier to capture a tax as funds transfer from the employer to the employee. At the time an asset is sold, it is easy to capture a tax from the dollars passing from one owner to the next. When purchases are made at a cash register it is easier to add on a sales tax. You get the picture.

And for this simple practicality, the asset tax or Biden’s wealth tax, was doomed from the get go.

There are other practical reasons that gum up the whole idea. Assets fluctuate in value over periods of time. So the years that the asset increases in value you pay a tax, but the years the asset decreases in value the government pays you back? Sounds like an accounting nightmare. Sounds like a scenario made for grift.

Maybe it’s more than just the practicality of money on the move. The severing of ownership leads to a settling of accounts, which includes an obligation to the greater group in the form of a tax. Use of assets for philanthropy, start-ups (basically business charity), endowments and so forth is a different type of supporting the greater group than the stream of funds channeled through taxes to pay for services.

The problem it seems is in the mechanism to draw the substantial assets to turn them over to political process. And maybe that a good thing.

In appreciation of HG Wells

I’m just now reading HG Wells. I wasn’t into science fiction as a child, so I never picked up The Time Machine when it was making the rounds amongst my brother’s middle school things. How fortunate to have left this work untouched, to be able to dabble in such writing today. Part of the appeal of novels like War of The Worlds was the terror of it. As captured in this passage where the British are fleeing from the invading Martians.

The legendary hosts of Gothe and Huns, the hugest armies Asia has ever seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede — a stampede gigantic and terrible – without order and without a goal, six million people, unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind.

But I particularly like the descriptions which conjure up amazing visuals, such as this one.

Directly below him the balloonist would have seen the network of streets far and wide, houses, churches, squares, crescents, gardens already derelict – spread out like a huge map, and in the southward blotted. Over Ealing, Richmond, Wimbledon, it would have seemed as if some monstrous pen had flung ink upon the chart. Steadily, incessantly, each black splash grew and spread, shooting out ramifications this way and that, now banking itself against rising ground, now pouring swiftly over a crest into a new-found valley, exactly as a gout of ink would spread itself upon blotting paper.

At the end of the nineteenth century, ballooning allowed everyday folks to reach upwards to the skies. Leading his audience up to the heights of the clouds, in order to show them what lay below, must have enthralled their imagination. And those of generations to come. Just how many cartoons of your youth stole this visual of thick black ink spilling over a hand written map on parchment paper? I can think of many.

Movies of the story have also been made and remade. In all there have been seven films depicting HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. The most recent feature, from 2005, was directed by Steven Spielberg, and stared Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. I’ll have to get around to watching it!

To hire a Mayor

In about a week elections will be held here in the US. The presidential spot won’t be on a ballot for another three years, but there are still some important races in the works. Like the Mayor of Minneapolis.

With the largest commercial center in the state also home to many government service centers, public institutions like the University of Mn (home to 60,000 students) and sports and entertainment centers, it’s sometimes hard to get your head around the fact that only the residents of Minneapolis vote on core services like who is in charge of public safety. (The city proper has about 420K residents whereas the entire metropolitan area has a population of 3.65 million people.)

The city of Minneapolis has been engaged in a very vocal discussion around this issue and in the following video clip you can get a feel for how the political positions have shaken out. The incumbent mayor has risen in his position since the death of George Floyd had him numb and silent. He is more confident and more assured about the path ahead and his contribution to the journey.

There are three other candidates in the conversation. One represents the left/Marxist progressive angle, then there is a the center progressive/climate action candidate, and lastly a very articulate representative of the immigrant community. All in all the clip is worth watching as it pulls apart some common themes seen across the democratic party more generally.

Minneapolis also uses rank choice voting, and the moderator raises the question of whether collaborative efforts on the part of two of the candidates fulfills the intentions of this form of democratic determination.

Jump to minute 17 to get right to the debate section of the hour long public affairs show.

Dark Forces

Dictionary.com is my go to for spelling and definitions. I get their word of the day in my email box and amuse myself (as time permits) taking their quizzes. Today they had a click bait section on the different names for Satan.

Perhaps the most well-known name for the Devil is Satan. This name appears repeatedly in the Bible, such as in Luke 22:3 when the Devil is blamed for Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus Christ: Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. 

The name Satan is recorded in English before the year 900. The English word comes through the Greek Satán from the Hebrew word śātān meaning “adversary.” Whatever name he goes by, the Devil is said to be the adversary of God: the Devil is out to destroy God’s work or to tempt humanity into turning away from God toward evil.

Many of the references come from the Christian tradition, but fear not. A similar nefarious force appears across cultures.

Of course, the Devil appears in Muslim scripture as well. Ash-Shaytān comes from the Arabic al-Shaytān and is etymologically connected to the English Satan. The “ash” or “al” indicates that one is talking about the Devil (with a capital D) as opposed to a devil or demon.

The name Ash-Shaytān has several different variants in Arabic, including ShaytanShaitan, and Sheitan.

https://www.dictionary.com/e/s/devil-names/#1

I bring this up only because when people write about failed institutions the fall guy or gal is always a leader of some sort. The blame is laid at the feet of some the top banker, bureaucrat, general or prominent figure. I can’t really see how institutions fail due to one individual, powerful or not. The implementation of services and work following the guidance of norms rests with all the hundreds of individuals who partake in the activity.

Institutions can fail because humans are subject to weaknesses. Whether it is a Jinn sitting on a shoulder, or a dark force rustling through the trees, the inclination for each and every person to be tempted into a corruption large or small is real. Do you know of a teacher who has marked down a grade because they found the student arrogant? Or a banker who omitted to waive some promotional fees because the customer had been a you-know-what?

These are small corruptions. But they are real. The great recession of 2008 was a pyramid of small to progressively large corruption at every level of the mortgage industry; from the loan processors all the way up to packaging of the investment portfolios. Sure everyone wants to go after the high buck Wall Street guys, but $40/yr title closers were prosecuted for fraud as well.

Maybe due to my Christian background it is easy for me to accept that temptations are present and real. That human weakness is part of the deal. But it seems like the way the story is often told is that the average person is neutral to good, and only those with a lot to gain or loose can be tempted. It is erroneous in the the same way that the gift of charity is only considered a plus on the spread sheet of social accounting.

Whatever framework is used for the mechanics of institutional production, it must allow for negative numbers. For as dictionary.com reminds us today, there are evil forces everpresent amongst us.

Stories about visiting soldiers

I pick up used books in all sorts of places. When I drop off a load of goods at the Goodwill (I have no patience for hosting garage sales, all that storing and sorting and ticketing), I always pop into the retail part of the store to see what books have found their way to the shelves. There’s inevitably an eclectic mix. That’s where I might have picked up A Bell for Adano, by John Hersey. I had never heard of it. The cover said it had won a Pulitzer Prize and a few page flips showed it was set in Italy. The odds were in my favor.

It started slow. About seventy pages in I’m questioning who this guy is–he studied at Yale and Cambridge, then taught for several decades at Yale. He was born in China. Interesting enough to keep plowing through the story of an American major put in administrative charge of a small Italian town in the early years following the allied victory in Europe. The writing is clear but unimpressive.

Then some economics filters in. He starts with endearing stories about wine and hair cuts.

He traced the black market in wine to the house of Carmelina, wife of the lazy Fatta. The very first person who bought wine from Carmelina, on the very first night of the invasion, was Corporal Chuck Schultz. Carmelina’s story to the Major was that the Corporal had just handed her a dollar and walked away. Schultz’s story was that the Italian lady had haggled and shouted and threatened to call the police. In any case, Schultz paid a dollar. The regular price for that grade of wine before the invasion had been twenty lire, or twenty cents.

Four soldiers sauntered into a barber shop one morning, and made motions with their fingers around their skulls that indicated they wanted haircuts. None of them could speak Italian, so they based their payment on what they had last paid for haircuts in the States.
Each plunked down a fifty cent piece and said: “Keep the change, Joe.” The regular price for haircuts had been three lire, or three cents, shaves had cost two lire. Here in one morning’s work, the barber had made two hundred lire. He retired to a life of leisure, and refused to cut any hair for three weeks, till his money gave out.

Then the vignettes turn more somber. There are two economic platters, that of the American soldiers and that of the local Italians. The clash of the two is upsetting a balance of exchanges. The most basic needs of the villagers are put at risk.

The welfare of the town was really threatened by the black market in food. Peasants, instead of bringing their grapes and melons and fresh vegetables into the town market, would go to the various bivouac areas and hang around the edges until they could catch a straggler. Then, in the heat of the day, they would tempt the Americans with cool-looking fruits, and would sell them for anywhere from ten to twenty times the proper prices. It got so bad that city people would buy what little fruit did reach the town market, and would take it out into the country to sell it to the foolhardy Americans.

To stop, or at least to curb, the black market, Major Joppolo did three things: he put the town out of bounds to American soldiers, who from then on could enter only on business; he had the Carabinieri stop all food-stuffs from leaving the town; and he fined anyone caught selling over-price or under-measure three thousand lire– a lifetime’s savings for a poor Italian peasant.

Major Joppolo is struggling with how to manage the economic forces which drive fungible exchanges for commodities, such as the desire to sell to the highest bidder. When two very different economies intersect with one another, how does one straighten out the obligation to community versus pull of premium pricing? How indeed do other social commitments, such as those to far away marriages, all pan out when distance and time and groups live temporarily in close proximity to one another?

I will read on to find out. I’m starting to like this guy Hersey.

For C.W.B.

Elizabeth Bishop

                           I

Let us live in a lull of the long winter winds
      Where the shy, silver-antlered reindeer go
On dainty hoofs with their white rabbit friends
      Amidst the delicate flowering snow.

All of our thoughts will be fairer than doves.
     We will live upon wedding-cake frosted with sleet.
We will build us a house from two red tablecloths,
      And wear scarlet mittens on both hands and feet.

                          II

Let us live in the land of the whispering trees,
    Alder and aspen and poplar and birch,
Singing our prayers in a pale, sea-green breeze,
    With star-flower rosaries and moss banks for church.

All of our dreams will be clearer than glass.
    Clad in the water or sun, as you wish,
We will watch the white feet of the young morning pass
    And dine upon honey and small shiny fish.

                         III

Let us live where the twilight lives after the dark,
    In the deep, drowsy blue, let us make us a home.
Let us meet in the cool evening grass, with a stork
    And a whistle of willow, played by a gnome.

Half-asleep, half-awake, we shall hear, we shall know
    The soft "Miserere" the wood-swallow tolls.
We will wander away where wild raspberries grow
    And eat them for tea from two lily-white bowls.

Skin in the game: Librarian Edition

Downtown Minneapolis branch of the Hennepin County Library system

Here’s a story about skin in the game.

I was a little irritated with the library folks during the whole Covid thing. I felt the restrictions on library access carried on well past the point of other ‘returning to normal’ trends. The buildings were completely closed to traffic for over a year and when they did reopen, patrons were allowed 15 minutes to retrieve their materials and leave. Finally, in recent months the branches have been open (with masks) for people to linger.

I had swung into a branch with tall airy ceilings and well spaced furniture to review a book that had popped into one of the blogs I follow. Skimming a book can give me a pretty good indication of whether I’ll want to devote time for the full read. In this case, I simply wanted to re-shelve it but given the sensitivity to the virus, I walked it back to the entrance area and book return.

I approached the lady peeking out from behind a large pump bottle of sanitizer gel (if I never smell sanitizer again it will be too soon), rubber gloved hands folded over each other just below her sky blue mask, with seemingly nothing to do. She pointed over to the book return conveyor belt. But next time, she said, I should go ahead and shelf the book myself. The protections, it seems were just for her. Protecting the next patron from virus germs I could have left on the book, did not rise to her concern. Gels, masks, gloves were for some show, but not the one that protects the public.

In order to reveal how people really feel on an issue, calculate what they will give up, if anything, to achieve their ideal.

Two sided games people play

There are many types of two sided games that people play. Say a politician devotes a large share of his time and energies to a light rail project which in the end is funded. He has a bragging rights to getting a project through, a resume builder. But in his own life he has no interest in using mass transit. It’s inconvenient. It’s time consuming and he’s a busy man.

Or consider the high-priced neighborhood’s reaction to the light rail line plundering down along a low use section of rail, right behind their carefully painted turn-of-the-century homes. No- no rail here when there are so many better routes! Law suits. Delays. The same folks who entertain mega-donors on verandas decked out with overflowing flower planters, raising funds for the morally upright party, have a thing or two to say about transit for the masses skimming exclusive dominium.

Then there are the folks who will use the transit for commuting as it is the best option for them. They will consider the location of the rail in the choice of their housing and their employment. Their lives are not devoted to political activism or moral considerations. Even though the thought of cleaner transport may appeal to them it is a straightforward balancing of accounts and utility which drives their decisions.

There’s a separate accounting for the time and energies and dollars for each of these actors in the development and consumption of light rail.

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.

From my cousin: It’s definitely Cambridge, where he lived:

This pic is Main Street in Cambridge Iowa. The buildings match up.

Cambridge, Iowa, Main Street

I think they’re either campaigning for, or celebrating the victory of 

Frank Jackson, Governor of Iowa 1893

http://uipress.lib.uiowa.edu/bdi/DetailsPage.aspx?id=194

This would make Anfin about 55 y.o.

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.